The voice is calling, calling. It hasn't been still in almost a week. Inviting, cajoling, whispering in my ear during the dark hours of the night. No manner of light, happy communication with family or friends has been capable of removing this notion from my mind.
I make my way to the river by starlight. The mists hang low, graying out the trees and bushes. What, on any other night might be an ethereal fantasy landscape, complete with animals from the realm of imagination and myth, now seem more of the land of nightmares and terrors with the tendrils of mist stealing along the ground in rivulets, twisting around the stones and stumps beside the path to the river. White, luminescent snakes writhing their way toward my own destination, the bridge.
No ordinary, concrete and steel edifice crossing a raging torrent, but a slender, covered span inside which I have spent many a solitary, though not lonely night. A safe haven, if you will, from the drudgery and dullness of the workaday world of reality. A place for imagination and fancy, for wishes and dreams, for the world of the mundane to be left at the portal, disallowing entrance to the dimly lit interior. Though familiar, the bridge that comes into view as I round the side of a great tower of spruce seems, somehow different. Not wrong, if such a word would even be appropriate, just different.
I step from the path I follow onto the moss covered planks of the bridge, noting the rush of the river only a few feet below me. The water flows from the mountains and is cold in a bone-aching manner. The cleanness of the stream is quantified by the fact that it emerges from the realms of the inner-earth less than three thousand feet from where I stand. It sweeps from the mountain in a rush, the waterfall at its source creating a never disappearing rainbow in the sunlight with sparkling drops nourishing the verdant foliage along the near banks and slopes in its headlong tumble down the mountain. Here the slope has gentled a bit and slows the water to a more peaceful, though never still, flow. During the day, sunlight may dapple the bridge with the shadows of leaves or the passing cloud may cool the air for a moment or two. But at night. At night.
I follow the voice as though in a trance, though I am aware of all that transpires around me. I am aware of the night creatures that sit, unseen, behind the low undergrowth observing my passage. The owl, far off, emitting his mournful call, the mice under the leaves, the raccoon that hurries off at my approach.
I must find that which beckons me. The voice, so familiar, yet so strange. The melody that plays just out of range of my hearing. The fragrance of the voice. The aroma of the call. Leading me on, through the woods that I wander at will in the light, but leave nearly unexplored past twilight. The siren's call to the sailor might have much in common with this wraith of whispers and invitations. Not allowing one to ignore it nor allowing indifference, once noted. "Come .. Come."
Stories have been spoken, late at night around camper's fires or during children's sleepovers of strange and mystical beings that inhabit the forests and rivers. Beings of far off lands and magical dimensions that should never have found their way to our corner of reality. Creatures born of spirit, not flesh or made from stone instead of bone. Creatures that flit from branch to branch on wings of gossamer silver or rise from the rock strewn ground to block the way of the unwary. All of this is knowledge roiling around in my mind as I traverse that one step from the night shrouded path I followed to the gloom and mystery of the bridge.
Mostly gone are the sounds of the river. Not its current nor its passage amongst the rocks and roots along the banks intrude their voices within the boundaries of the bridge with more than a muffled undertone. Even the voice has stilled. With that cessation my head seems to be wrapped in cotton. Perhaps this is what near deafness feels like.
"Come .. Come." The invitation returns, low, almost sultry in the delivery. Almost ... familiar. The night recedes and the blackness of the interior fades to a dark, dark gray. A glow, more feint than that of a single lightning bug illuminates a figure. No, no figure, but a darkness that is more so than the surroundings. A blackness that is more than shadow. A shadow that seems more than flesh but less than whole. A shadow that has a missing place. Incomplete. Not finished.
I am drawn to this phantom on the bridge. I am inexorably drawn. I find the sensation not unappealing nor do I find it unwelcome. As though the shadow may have searched for me for many years, or I it. Now we are found. Peace.
John was found the morning of the nineteenth of June. The place of his demise was a covered walking bridge within a few hundred yards of the cabin he and his wife shared until the night of her passing. He had become a recluse afterward, preferring to spend his time exploring the woods or writing the books that were so well loved.