Andrew awoke to the sound of tiny waves lapping at the shores of a riverbank. The wet, sandy ground beneath him sucked him in further, inch by inch, as the water splashed around him and then retreated before he could finally stir. A full moon watched him from above as twinkling stars danced around it to the tune of the whispering trees in the warm, summer breeze. Despite being in the middle of July, Andrew shivered as he lay on his back, and he realized that he was drenched in the dank river water, and the moonlight made his skin look icy cold, which it was.
When he sat up, he immediately threw his palm to his forehead from the rush of a sudden pounding sensation underneath his skull. A searing pain shot through his face when his fingers touched the bloody gash, making his teeth ache and his head throb with his heartbeat. Even though his hands were already wet, he could feel the warm, thick liquid ooze down his wrist and arm.
He stood up and wobbled like a drunk as the wet sand collapsed beneath his feet. His mouth was dry and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. An ugly aftertaste that tasted similar to gin lingered with his mouth and mixed with his thick saliva. After his slightly blurry vision adjusted to the darkness, with the help of the moon, he slowly twisted around to take in his surroundings.
The river was about three quarters of a mile wide, and much further upstream was a suspension bridge that crossed over high above it. Its metal cables and supports reflected the moonlight and the bridge glowed in the dark. Tall trees lined both hillsides of the river, their silhouettes shivering and twisting as the river carried the breeze downstream.
Where am I? was the first thought that came to Andrew’s painfully pulsing head. Lost, he wandered toward the tree line and disappeared into the thick woods.
It was much quieter surrounded by the trees as they absorbed any sound that attempted to travel through. The night had become still, and the moonlight could barely break through the canopy of the forest, sending slivers of spotlights through the cracks of the leaves and branches. Andrew tripped and stumbled, fell and tumbled, but he was persistent in finding help as soon as possible. Thick roots caught at his feet, and sharp, bare limbs poked into his injured forehead.
Several hours accompanied each passing mile, and yet the sky remained dark, the moon remained bright, and the stars remained still. Andrew never strayed from the straight line that he had been walking in, fearing that one wrong turn would lead him in circles, and have him lost in the woods searching for help, forever and ever. He couldn’t remember when the sounds of the river had finally ceased either, but it was too late to turn back around.
I should’ve followed the road from the bridge, his aching mind thought, but then concluded that he was too dazed to make any kind of rational decision.
He grew exhausted as his feet blistered and swelled, as his dirt and cut-covered hands trembled, and as the night seemed to last for an eternity. The woods had swallowed him in, and he became certain that he would never find a way out. Just when he was about to give up on his search for any form of help, his foot thumped onto the cold, hard pavement of a deserted, two-lane road.
A heavy fog hovered just above the asphalt and curled around his feet like a cat welcoming its owner home. The road twisted around the trees and stretched for miles, spilling out from the darkness in both directions. No car headlights were in sight, and there didn’t seem to be a single living soul in the area. With his best judgment, which was currently at its worst, Andrew took a chance and turned left as he started walking down the road. The calmly rolling fog swept in the same direction like a lazy river, and he saw it as a sign that he was on the right path.
The road was flat and well-maintained despite its deserted location. Andrew walked along the very edge of the shoulder in case a speeding car whipped around one of the winding turns, and every few minutes he would check over his shoulder to see if any headlights faded in from around the last bend. However, the road remained empty as far as Andrew traveled.
He wondered how much time had passed since he’d woken up at the riverbank. He didn’t have his phone on him, nor a watch, or even his wallet for that matter. He was a man with no identity, and someone with supposedly an infinite amount of time, which was how long he believed his trek had lasted since he’d started. Somehow, he managed to continue forward, dragging his feet along the asphalt to help break the deafening silence that followed him.
As Andrew rounded another wide, empty curve, he noticed the faint outline of a large, rectangular structure. Dozens of them, all lined up along the road. Buildings. A town. He began to jog pathetically toward civilization, his legs on the verge of collapsing like wet noodles, and his breathing strained and dry from a parched throat.
He slowed to a walk once he entered the town, and he noticed that many of the buildings were dark on the inside, closed for business and uninhabited, much like the woods and deserted road he had started to become familiar with. Walking up the stoops of some of the businesses, Andrew peered inside the dark windows in hopes of finding any help whatsoever, someone who must be working late, or just now ending their shift. The hope descended with his shoulders as he slumped into a depression when he realized that the entire town was empty. Even the streetlights remained dark, and not a parked vehicle was present.
Andrew continued down the main street of the town, peeking into the dark alleyways in between the buildings for even a sign of a dumpster cat or stray dog, but even they were nowhere to be found. He even shouted out loud, from the top of his lungs, and the only response he received back was the ghost of his echo. And that’s where he realized he was: a ghost town.
He walked up to an intersection and stood in the very center, observing all four directions to determine which street would be the best option to take. He slowly twisted his body from one street to the next, paying close attention to any changes in the darkness: a light in a window flashing on, a headlight rounding a street corner, or even something as simple as a cough or a sneeze from another person to help break the eerie silence that had fallen upon the town when he arrived.
Down one of the streets, a blinking light caught his eye immediately. It was a neon sign in a window that buzzed the red words ‘OPEN’ every time it flashed on. Andrew’s heart fluttered in excitement, and he ran down the street while ignoring the protests from his headache and worn legs.
The building was actually a small, one-story brick house converted into a business. A short, rusted iron fence enclosed the property, and a front gate hung loosely at the front of the property. English Ivy carpeted the front yard and scaled the walls of the house, covering it like cobweb. A large willow tree stretched upward and outward, acting like an umbrella over the entire property. In the front window, soft, yellow fairy lights drooped from the ceiling, glowing with the ‘OPEN’ sign that hung against the glass. Beyond the fairy lights, the interior of the house flickered with candlelight, casting shadows that hopped back and forth as the candle flames twitched. Andrew couldn’t see much inside, but he figured that someone had to have been in there.
He pushed past the gate that screamed with every turn in its hinges and possibly alerting the property owner of his presence. The walkway to the front porch was cracked and weathered, and tall sprouts of weeds and grass pushed the fissures further and further apart.
A wooden sign hung from metal chains above the porch steps, and Madam Mallory was hand painted in black, elegant cursive. Beyond the sign was a purple door and a golden knob, both of which seemed to stand out from the rest of the dark property. Andrew stepped onto the porch, the floorboards whining beneath his weight, and he reached for the metal knob.
He allowed the door to slowly swing open by itself, and the strong scent of incense rushed into him and wafted into his nostrils, becoming tangled in his nose hairs. He remained at the doorway for a moment before stepping inside, and the door managed to creak shut behind him by itself.
Andrew stood in the small entryway of the house. To his left was a coat closet, and to his right was an open doorway, only blocked by a curtain of wooden beads. He strained to look past them and into the next room, which he assumed was the former living room of the home. Finally, he stepped through. The beads buzzed and rattled around him, whipping back and forth, side to side, after they slid over his shoulders.
The living room was a wide, square space cluttered with furniture and decoration. Red curtains were pulled shut and blocked every window from the outside view, except for the front window where the ‘OPEN’ sign hung. Dull green, floral wallpaper wrapped around the room and made it darker than it really was, but the dozens of flickering candles that surrounded Andrew illuminated the interior just enough to navigate through with ease. Antique vases sat atop many bookcases, the shelves filled with so much literature that they had started to sag. Crystal balls lined the fireplace altar that twinkled in the dim candlelight, and above them were various paintings of mystical figures, intricate line art, and the familiar ‘third-eye’ portrayal of psychics and spiritual readers.
A golden-yellow, circular rug lay in the middle of the wooden floor that groaned with every footstep as Andrew began to maneuver through the room. He cautiously walked toward a small, round table that sat atop the rug and only a few feet from the empty fireplace. A stack of tarot cards sat on the tabletop, placed next to a silver candelabra that held three tall, melting candle tapers.
Andrew stared at the tarot cards before looking up and around. “Hello?” He called out, and the house creaked back. “Is there anyone here?” After receiving no response, he resumed his attention back at the tarot cards, and the empty seat across the table from him.
With a shaking hand, mostly from exhaustion, he flipped the top card over, revealing a reversed (upside down) Death. Andrew cocked his head, tilted the card a smidge, and saw a skeleton in armor sat atop a white horse, holding a black flag with a white rose on it. A man lay dead beside the horse, while a child, a woman, and a bishop knelt before Death. In the background was a cliff with two pillars that stood on each side of a rising sun. Further below the cliff was a river, and a small boat sailed down it.
Andrew felt uneasy when he saw the card. A shiver crept down his spine. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and his skin grew bumpy all over. His attention turned to the dark entrance at the back of the living room, when a creak of a floorboard escaped from the blackness beyond the doorway. He stared intently at the darkness before returning back to the tarot cards.
He flipped the next card over, revealing a reversed Wheel of Fortune. The card showed four figures in each corner: an angel in the top left, an eagle in the top right, a bull in the bottom left, and a lion in the bottom right; each held a book in their hands, and all four possessed wings. In the middle was a circle split evenly by eight lines, each line pointing to either a Hebrew letter or English letter (the English letters spelling out TORA or TARO, depending on which direction one read the letters). A golden snake wiggled downward on the left side of the circle, while an Anubis rested against the right side of it; sitting atop the circle, was a Sphinx.
Andrew gently lay the card down onto the table when the dark, empty fireplace suddenly whooshed to life! He jumped backward, almost tripping over his tired feet. As he caught himself, he turned slowly to a low, relaxed cackle.
From the shadows of the dark house appeared a very old, short woman. White, straw hair fell over her shoulders, trickling down her back, and swayed as she hobbled into the room with a wooden cane. She possessed a large, crooked nose that jutted from her face like a beak, and it sat atop a wrinkled mouth with the lips curled inward. She was decorated in loose clothing and hanging jewelry that jingled with every limp; the candlelight made it look as if she was dripping in gold. Wrinkles merged out from the center of her face like lines in sand, and her eyebrows drooped downward and gave her a permanent expression of sadness, even though she smiled. Beneath the sad brows were two gray, cloudy eyes. She stopped at the table as Andrew took a step back.
“Hi…,” he hesitantly said.
The old woman motioned to the empty table chair beside him. “Sit,” her voice carried as a breath of air.
Andrew remained standing. “I need help. I’m hurt.”
“You are lost,” she replied.
“Yes, and I need a phone. I need to get to a hospital.”
“Sit,” she repeated. “I will make you some tea.”
“I don’t need tea,” Andrew protested. “I need a phone!”
The old woman only smiled crookedly before she turned around and made her way back to where Andrew assumed the kitchen was. “There’s no phone here,” she said before disappearing back into the shadows.
He looked at the empty chair next to him, and then back at the front door, wondering if he should continue searching for help, and someone with a phone. After a moment, he considered how long he had been wandering before, and finally concluded that he could rest at this place of business for the night.
As he sat down, the old woman returned with a bowl of water with a washcloth soaking in it, held gently in one of her bony hands. She rested it on the table before she sat down herself. Andrew took the washcloth and wrung the water from it. He nursed his gashed forehead, wiping away the caked blood and smudges of dirt around the wound. He winced in pain with each pat, but gritted his teeth and looked at the woman.
“Thanks,” he said quietly. The woman only nodded as she rested both hands on her cane. Andrew looked around the living room once again. With the fireplace now lit, the room was much brighter. He returned his gaze back to the woman. “You must be Mallory?”
She nodded with closed eyes. “You’ve been wandering for a thousand years.”
“Yeah, it feels that way. I’m lost. Where am I?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Madam Mallory said softly. “This town, it has no name. It’s where the lost come to be found. We have passersby every night.”
“Does anybody else live here?”
“Oh yes. Hundreds.”
“Perhaps one of them can give me a ride to the hospital,” Andrew suggested, but Madam Mallory shook her head.
“Nobody ever leaves the perimeter of this town.”
Madam Mallory shrugged the question away. She uncurled an index finger and placed it on top of the Wheel of Fortune card. “Do you know what this means?” She asked. Andrew shook his head.
“This card is the Wheel of Fortune. The wheel represents a cycle that everything experiences. Life will have its ups and downs, depending on what the universe has planned. It suggests that there are outside happenings that are out of your control, and you mustn’t fight it. No matter which way the wheel turns, it is impossible to try and change it. Instead, you should accept what is happening; an inevitable crisis has underlying opportunity, and when you’ve been pulled in a new direction from the previous path that you’ve been taking, you should accept that there are things in which you cannot control. However, this is a significant moment in your life. The Wheel of Fortune presents change that is certain to happen, and soon. These changes, they are personal, and it is up to you to decide which path you want to take, whether it is creating a new one, or turning around and retracing your steps to ensure that you’ve made the right decisions in life.
“Although, I will warn you: you’ve presented this card to yourself in reverse, signifying that luck is not on your side. You must feel helpless and powerless, no? That gash on your head, and the lack of a phone—or people for that matter. Presenting the reverse of this card may not indicate that bad luck is entirely at the fault of the universe. Have you made any decisions recently that could have contributed to your present circumstances?”
Andrew thought for a moment with the washcloth pressed against his forehead. “I remember…driving…”
“Go on,” Madam Mallory pushed gently.
“And then I woke up at the bank of a river. That’s all that I can recall.”
“You will remember in due time, Andrew.”
He was about ready to ask, how do you know my name? when the kettle in the kitchen began to whistle, starting low and transforming into a shrill scream. Madam Mallory pushed herself up from her seat with the cane and wobbled into the darkness of the house. The whistling made Andrew’s headache worse, but it died down as he heard Madam Mallory take the kettle off of the stovetop and pour the steaming water into a cup.
She returned to the living room carrying the cup of tea on a small plate. The dishware jingled with her shaking hand. She set the tea down in front of Andrew and slowly made herself comfortable in her seat. “Drink. It will make your head feel better.”
Andrew blew the rising steam from the surface of the tea and sipped loudly. He nodded as he set the cup back down and said, “It’s good.”
Madam Mallory nodded with him before she resumed to the Wheel of Fortune tarot card. “I’d like to add,” she started, “that the Wheel of Fortune also reflects a resistance to change, especially if it is one that you have been forced into. As I had mentioned before, do not fight it; allow these changes to run their course, whether are you consciously or subconsciously trying to prevent these changes from happening. If you do not accept this change, this transformation, then you will be stuck in this circle of events, going ‘round and ‘round for an eternity.”
“Transformation?” Andrew asked as he took another sip of tea. The heartbeat pulse in his head had started to subside.
“It will be wonderful,” Madam Mallory said with a big, toothless grin. “You just need to allow it to happen. Now drink…”
Andrew looked down at his tea and took another sip. Before he could even swallow, Madam Mallory reached over and lifted the cup of tea as she helped feed it to him. He drank it with ease despite how hot it had seemed only a minute earlier, and before he knew it, the cup was empty. He smiled sheepishly at Madam Mallory and set the cup on the plate. As he did so, he snuck a peek at the Death card, and his smile faded.
“Are you afraid of death?” Madam Mallory asked.
“Are you?” Andrew asked back.
“Look at how old I am,” Madam Mallory chuckled. “Do you think I should be afraid of death?”
Andrew chuckled with her, then they both quieted down. “I am,” he said.
“There is no need to fear death. It is not the end, but merely only a beginning. Besides, you shouldn’t be weary of this card. It is entirely misunderstood, and possesses a completely different meaning.” Andrew’s shoulders fell an inch with a breath of relief. Madam Mallory continued, “Much like the Wheel of Fortune, this card also signifies change and transformation. It is meant to represent something of the past being no longer; closing one door, and opening another. However, if you resist, you will experience an everlasting turmoil of emotional pain, as this unwanted characteristic will live with you always unless you accept that you have a new path in life. This is the time to purge those things—belongings, memories, baggage—that are causing the pain.”
“My girlfriend…broke up with me recently,” Andrew hesitantly admitted.
Madam Mallory smiled. “What was her name?”
“Katie,” he smiled back. His headache had now completely disappeared.
“Describe her to me.”
Andrew remembered for a moment. “Well…she has the most beautiful…no, the most amazing green eyes. That was the first thing I noticed about her when we met. She has deep, red hair, and kind of pale skin. She complains about it, but I don’t think it’s that bad. She’s got a great body, the second thing I noticed, and lips and hands that were always soft. And her smile, it was so…uplifting. Whenever she smiled, it made me happy.
“She was adventurous and loved to explore new places. Every day was something new with her, whether it was in the city or in nature. She was smart, she was funny, and she was an awesome cook. Katie was my soul mate. I knew it from the very beginning. We fit together perfectly. And one day, she just…left. She didn’t want to be with me anymore.”
“You were going to ask her to marry you.”
“How did you know?”
“I can sense it, in your voice. From within you.” She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. “Look at the card. You’ve played it in reverse as well, showing that you are resisting the change that is currently happening in your life. This can put you in a sort of…limbo, feeling stuck with no sense of direction. You must confront the issue of the past, and let it go in order to move on.
“Take heed, however,” she said lowly, “for if you attempt to start your new journey without resolution, or even try to change the outcome of events, you will be met with unfortunate consequences—ones that can be emotionally destructive…and others that can only be downright terrifying.”
She hissed the last word while narrowing her eyes, sparking a fear within Andrew that removed any and all comfort he had found in the home before. The room appeared to move around the two, twisting and warping ever so slightly. The candlelight faded and flickered, as if a malevolent force had fallen suddenly upon the house.
“How will I know when I’m on the right path?” He asked. “How do I know when I’ve met that transformation?”
“Everyone’s transformation is different. It is not something you seek, but you will know when you see it. You are pulled by the very strings of your heart, and your gut speaks to you from within, an instinct that you should always trust. It will be the most wonderful sight you’d ever laid your eyes upon, and you won’t be able to resist the temptation that it presents.
“Look for the shimmering emerald, Andrew. That’s when you know you’re on the right path.” Madam Mallory pushed herself up from her seat and started to turn away from the fire. “Just remember,” she paused where she stood and looked back at Andrew, “do not resist the path you feel you need to take. If you fight against it, you will be faced with something awful.” The stare she gave Andrew left him speechless. “You must leave now. It is time for me to go to bed.”
“Wait,” Andrew stood up as well. The sudden rush upward left him dizzy, and he stepped slightly to the side to regain balance. Madam Mallory paused and looked back at him, most of her face covered by a flickering shadow. “Can I stay here? I need sleep. I am so tired. And my head needs to heal.”
“You shouldn’t sleep if you’ve suffered a concussion,” Madam Mallory informed. “You will find the help that you need once you leave.” She turned and began to walk away. Andrew wanted to call out, but he lost sight of her as his vision suddenly jumped upward diagonally. He regained his vision, with the room suddenly lost in a spin, and he noticed that Madam Mallory was no longer in sight.
Andrew turned and began to drag himself toward the front entrance. He bumped his shoulder into the doorway with the curtain of beads, and they whipped behind him, clattering against the doorframe and walls.
He pushed himself into the front door, grabbing the doorknob and twisting immediately. The door opened, and he spilled out onto the front porch.
An uproar. Excited commotion. Yelling, screaming, laughing, hollering; trumpets, drums, horns; bright lights, flashing lights, colorful lights; hundreds of people, an active town, the stench of alcohol.
The sudden rush of people added a splash of life to the once deserted town. They crowded the streets and flooded the businesses that now happened to be open. Bars and restaurants were packed from wall to wall, everyone plastered with smiles and liquor. Street performers were scattered along the sidewalks, pounding fists onto drums, playing cover songs with brass instruments, and performing tricks and stunts to wow their growing audiences.
It was some sort of celebration, but Andrew was too delirious to see what for. He struggled to his feet and his legs wobbled beneath him. His mind was clouded and his hearing was stuffy, like water was trapped inside of his ears. She put something in the tea, his thought echoed in his head. The ground attempted to slip up from beneath him, but with each blink, his vision returned to normal.
He shuffled down the porch steps and stumbled down the walkway toward the front gate. As he pushed through, he nearly tripped into a group of drunken partygoers who paid no attention to him as they tossed back their beers. When Andrew turned around to shut the gate, he noticed the property completely empty.
The house was gone, the ivy was gone, and the sky was wide and open without the willow tree hanging carelessly over the yard.
What’s happening to me? His mind raced. He sluggishly stepped backward away from the empty property, suddenly afraid and very anxious. What did she do to me? He pushed through a sea of shoulders and arms and backs as he traversed down the middle of the street. The loud music had him spinning in every direction, and the spitting laughter and obnoxious, excited yelling had everyone’s faces warping into unnatural, stretched monstrosities.
Andrew continued to shove his way along the crowd. He fell through the wall of people and into a bubble of sidewalk next to a brick wall of a building. As he pushed himself against the wall and upward to his feet, he heard his name being called out to him. Whispered to him…
As he studied each and every face that passed by him, the female voice that beckoned his name spun around inside his head. He stepped away from the wall and lumbered down the sidewalk.
He stopped when he saw a woman.
She stood at the end of the block, at the corner of the large intersection he had stood in when he first arrived into town. She had fiery red hair that brushed just above her shoulders and glistened like steel under the party lights. It paired perfectly with her pale complexion, which was covered with a deep, emerald-green dress. The color made her green eyes pop and almost radiate with an emerald glow, and they were staring deep into Andrew’s brown eyes.
She looked so familiar to him, but he was too far to determine from where.
Look for the shimmering emerald, Madam Mallory’s voice appeared inside of Andrew’s drunken head. His feet scraped the sidewalk as he stepped forward, and he was carried by a hypnotizing urge to approach the woman. As he neared closer, her features became more detailed; his heart suddenly plummeted into his stomach where it churned and rotated, covering it in acid and chewing it away. It was Katie.
She called his name, but her ruby red lips did not move. She turned away from the awe-struck Andrew and glided through the hundreds of people smoothly and effortlessly.
Andrew shoved his way through the crowd, ignoring the outrageous hooting and shouting, the splashes of alcohol, the deafening noise of entertainment. He called for Katie, who was just out of sight of Andrew, her head blending in with the dozen others that blocked his view. As he continued to elbow his way through the streets, he saw her turn, and he called for her again with a cracking voice. His double-vision grew watery as tears welled up in his eyes.
“Katie!” He called, again and again and again. “Why did you leave me?!” He cried and cried.
She ignored his calls, never looking back and continuing down the road that lead to nowhere. Her emerald-green dress slithered behind her like a snake’s tail. She reached the edge of the town, where the ocean of people suddenly cut off as if there was a line that they could not cross. She didn’t hesitate as she quietly walked out of the crowd and down the dark and empty road that winded into the woods.
Andrew ran to the edge of the crowd, a few steps past them, before he stopped and looked back at the wall of partiers. He remembered what Madam Mallory had said, about how the people here never leave the town, and turned to look back at Katie. The shadows slowly engulfed her as she walked further down the road.
He wasn’t sure if he should follow. The idea of getting lost in the woods again, or not finding another sign of civilization for God knows how far, made him extremely hesitant to follow this woman who looked like his ex-girlfriend. His stomach gurgled the tea inside of it, and his coherent thoughts began to dissipate.
Is this a good idea? Was the last thought he could remember.
He started his journey back the way he came, following the woman in the emerald-green dress.
Andrew jogged foolishly down the road to catch up with Katie, who continued to walk silently and gracefully along the fog-covered asphalt. The moonlight shimmered down upon the two. Her dress seemed to float above the ground with the fog, and it undulated majestically with the side-to-side movements of her hips.
“Come back, Katie,” he slurred to her. “Why did you leave me!” His voice echoed in the silent woods. Snot dangled shortly from his nostril and he wiped it away with his dirty sleeve. “I love you so much, and you just leave! You just walk away!”
“Bitch!” He weakly yelled out with a cracked voice. He stumbled to the side of the road, tripping over his feet and nearly face-planting into the wet ground. He managed to catch himself and stumble back onto the asphalt where he straightened himself up.
“You’ll never find someone like me,” he sloppily yelled at Katie. Then he said to himself, “God, I miss you so much…”
The two rounded a wide bend before approaching the suspension bridge that crossed over the river Andrew had awoken next to. He slowed to stop and stared at the bridge that stretched high into the dark sky, towering over him. When he looked back down at Katie, she was nowhere to be seen.
“Katie?” He yelled, and walked onto the bridge.
It was dark on the bridge, except for every one hundred feet where a tall light post stood and shone down onto the lanes. A pedestrian walkway was reserved for one side of the bridge, while the other was protected by a short, metal fence barrier, worn and rusted from the powers of nature. The breeze picked up and turned into gusts toward the middle of the bridge, wildly blowing Andrew’s black, curly hair.
He approached the side opposite of the pedestrian bridge, where Katie stood on the railing of the barrier, holding on to one of the bridge light posts and facing the road. The wind blew her fiery red hair and made it flick into the air like flames. Her emerald-green dress rippled in the gusts, whirling around her like it was dancing.
“What are you doing?” Andrew slurred.
She only looked at him with a shadowy expression of sadness. Before he could say anything else, she released her grip from the post and stepped backward.
“No!” He screamed as he ran for her.
Her arms lifted upward carelessly as gravity pulled her down. Her emerald dress parachuted beneath her but failed to slow her down.
Andrew crashed into the barrier, nearly tumbling over himself, and he thrusted his hand at the falling Katie. He snagged her wrist, and she became a pendulum hanging from the side of the bridge. Her arm crept further and further from Andrew’s sweaty, weakening grasp.
She looked up at him, her eyes nearly glowing emerald. They shone; they shimmered; they produced a warmth in the cold, dark pit of Andrew’s stomach. His shivering skin in the cold, blue moonlight loosened up from its goosebumps as her radiating green eyes seemed to grow brighter. Her eyebrows declined in nothing but sadness, as if Andrew absorbed a happiness from her through his grip.
“Let me go,” she whispered quietly. Then she smiled.
It suddenly filled him with a sense of comfort and serenity. Her eyes and smile spoke to him not with words, but an emotional monologue that lifted him up and away from the feeling of loneliness and hopelessness that he had started to befriend. It was a sense of beauty he had long forgotten, and he found himself staring at one of the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
“Let me go…”
He could feel himself loosening his grip. The old woman’s words echoed in his head and mixed with Katie’s. Be free…, it whispered with the wind.
Katie’s soft fingers sunk through Andrew’s relaxing fist, the overwhelming feeling of release and tranquility covering his body like a warm blanket. He closed his eyes as the sense of everything lifting from his shoulders pulled him away from the moment, like being lifted from a dream that had lasted for an eternity.
“I love you,” he whispered one last time.
He opened his eyes and watched Katie fall gracefully while time was at a standstill. The moonlight grew brighter as she neared the water. Her dress created a firework of shimmering green emerald, as she fell toward the shimmering emerald river, staring back at him with shimmering emerald eyes. It was a sight that a photo could not capture, but it was an image that would forever be burned in Andrew’s mind.
However, the moment that he watched Katie disappear beneath the surface of the river in an eruption of splashing water and fizzling bubbles, his face dropped as the peace of mind and placidity that filled his body was sucked from him instantly, and the moonlight suddenly dimmed its spotlight.
“NO!” Andrew shrieked. He pulled himself over the railing of the barrier, his feet tumbling over his head, and he fell downward for forever.
He sank beneath the glassy surface with an explosion of tiny bubbles squirming up for air. His eyes remained closed as gravity pulled him further into the abyss of the river deep. Slowly, his body turned and faced the darkness, and he opened his eyes.
From the poor moonlight that broke through the rippling water, he managed to see a shape form before him. Rectangular, blocky, metallic. Headlights, a license plate, a damaged front bumper and hood. A car remained suspended underwater, tilted upward with the front pointed toward the surface.
Andrew wasn’t sure why, but he sloppily swam toward the driver side of the car. The window was smashed open and the interior of the car was almost pitch black, with just enough sparkling moonlight flickering inside. He pulled himself through the frame of the window and slithered into the car.
The cramped space had Andrew twisting his body every other way. His clothes became tangled on the parking brake and gear shift, and his legs threatened to get trapped in between seats and small spaces. He faced the backseat of the car and noticed the back window completely shattered, and the infinite blackness that the car floated above. Something moved within it.
Andrew pulled himself toward the backseat as the object floated out from the darkness below. It was round and porcelain white, and crept toward him from the sea of black. The moonlight shimmered and his surroundings grew brighter, making it easier to see.
Something extended from the thing in the dark. Andrew squinted his eyes as he focused as hard as he could in the poor lighting. Another protrusion extended from the object. An appendage, reaching for him. A hand. The round object was a face; red hair delicately swayed in front of it in the fluidity of the water.
An emerald green dress faded into view.
Andrew backed away, his stored breath slowly fading.
She gripped the back window frame with long, cadaverous white fingers and pulled herself into the vehicle. Her red hair swam away from her face as the moonlight flickered against it.
Her eyelids were missing. She possessed a wide-eyed stare from two milky eyeballs that bulged from her sunken sockets. She was missing her nose. Her mouth was twisted into a large, skeletal grin, with her lips peeled backward and exposing the receding blue-gray gums that made her teeth unnaturally long. Her skin had tightened against every curve of bone, stretching her mouth to give her a permanent expression of psychotic, nightmarish happiness.
Andrew would’ve gasped if he weren’t underwater. His heart ceased beating when he saw Katie’s dead face, and the stillness of his blood sent electric shivers through his body. He kicked himself away from the monster, contorting his body so that he could maneuver through the cramped interior of the small car. He choked on his depleting oxygen, becoming disoriented in the cold, murky water.
Smack! Andrew rammed his face into the windshield of the car. He began smacking it with the palms of his hands, attempting to push through the glass if he tried hard enough. The clear barrier of the windshield collected the bubbles of breath as they erupted from his mouth in complete panic. Slaps soon turned into close-fisted blows as he became desperate to break through and swim away from the terror that crept behind him, and to catch his dying breath.
Katie’s skeleton hand snatched Andrew’s ankle, and yanked him downward. He belted a muddy, wet scream with a jet of bubbles exploding from his mouth. Wet, decaying skin peeled and flaked off of her fingers and wrist as he attempted to kick away her tightening grip. His heel smashed into her jaw, unhinging it in a cloud of black blood and ripped skin and muscle. A shrill, bubbly shriek wailed from the darkness of her throat as she pulled herself toward Andrew. Her bulging eyes grew black with blood, and her jaw fell downward, contorting her mouth into a long, freakish, permanent scream.
Andrew grabbed the frame of the driver side window and pulled himself toward the opening, allowing the car to continue sinking further into the darkness. His lungs burned from suffocation, and his throat begged him to breathe.
Katie’s atrophied arm snagged around his waist and squeezed the skeletal whites of her fingertips into his skin.
Andrew lashed his arms outward in one last attempt to swim away, the remainder of his oxygen supply rupturing from his open mouth in a weak scream. He thrashed his body around to escape Katie’s death grip, but it was frozen in place. The tightening pain in his chest pulsed through his body, and his entire cavity burned.
A flood of water involuntarily spilled down his throat.
His ghostly moan of defeat trailed behind him as he was pulled down with the car. The last thing he saw was the army of small bubbles rushing up toward the rippling, moonlit river surface before the darkness of the deep clouded his vision.
It was late into the night when Andrew decided to leave the town’s festive atmosphere of Saturday night parties and events. The streets were closed off for the rambunctious, drunk college students and workers celebrating a hard-earned paycheck, free to roam from one bar to another.
Stumbling amongst the sea of slurred conversations and alcohol-laced laughs and hollers, Andrew managed to find a place to rest on the sidewalk, against one of the brick walls of a bar. He wasn’t sure how long he had sat there, but it was enough time to finger through his drunken thoughts, the taste of gin coating his mouth from the last drink that he had.
He watched the faces of those who passed him. Every woman he looked at, he could only see Katie staring back at him. The woman who he was sure he would spend the rest of his life with. The one he currently imagined sitting next to him, drunk as well and leaning on his shoulder while trying not to pass out.
The reason why he was drinking in the first place.
Without her, he was lost.
She was gone forever; a woman who wasn’t as committed as him, and one day just decided to leave, abandoning Andrew in the dark of his loneliness, his hopelessness, his emptiness.
An emptiness that needed to be filled.
Andrew thought that a night out on the town would have made him feel better, happier, but the result was the complete opposite. He pushed himself up and away from the brick wall, fiery tears welling up in his eyes and stinging his vision so that it was hard to see. He wasn’t sure what he was saying, but his drunken wails and cries, lost in the celebratory cacophony of the crowds, called out for Katie in hopes to find her and bring her back to him. But alas, she was nowhere to be found.
So he pushed forward, every so often belting her name, and shrugging off the shoulders and arms and shoves of those he walked past. His head spun in circles, and his drunken eyes followed, correcting themselves each time they reached the corners of his vision. He tripped over his own feet as he trudged down the street toward the edge of the crowds, pulled drunkenly by an invisible string.
The amount of people tapered off dramatically once he reached the end of the street. Beer bottles, flyers, newspapers, and leftover trash from food vendors and restaurants littered the block.
Andrew turned a corner of an intersection and entered a much darker, quieter section of the small town. Like a zombie, he wobbled to a small, four-door car parked on one side of the street while digging in his pant pockets. The metallic jingle of keys echoed in the stillness of the block, despite the town’s celebration happening just around the corner. He unlocked the vehicle with the key fob, and as he reached for the door handle, he stopped for a moment with one clear, coherent thought: is this a good idea?
His inner monologue dissipated as the car door clicked open, the interior lights greeted his seat, and he climbed inside without a second thought.
The dark, winding road was difficult enough to drive sober, but Andrew was on auto-pilot as his car sloppily rounded each bend. His eyes were red and swollen from crying, and his eyelids hung lazily over them. “I loved you so much,” he sniffed, wiping his nose with his sleeve. “Bitch…” he mumbled to himself, before being slightly woken up by the trembling ground beneath his tires. Half of his car had driven off the road and onto the bumpy ground that separated the asphalt from the surrounding woods. He swerved the steering wheel to the left, and the car squirmed back onto the road and into its lane. Andrew unconsciously buckled his seatbelt.
The car rounded a large curve, crossing over the lane divider and nearly running off the road once more. Tires threatened to shriek as they skidded along the asphalt before straightening up and spinning down the road toward the towering suspension bridge that crossed over the river.
The large structure had Andrew in awe, and he leaned forward in his seat as he passed under the archway of the bridge to get as much of a view of it as possible. It leaned and warped and twisted around above him in his double-vision, and he watched it with his mouth agape like a curious toddler.
He looked down in front of him. The steering wheel had turned on its own in his loose grip. The fence barrier appeared in his headlights. A bridge light post blinded him.
The airbag didn’t deploy at the moment of impact. Everything smashed to black as his forehead rammed into the steering wheel. An explosion of sparks rained down on the car as the light post toppled downward. Metal scraped against metal like nails on a chalkboard as the vehicle sliced through the fence barrier, and everything rushed forward. The car soared through the warm, night air in a deafening silence. The front end tilted down, and the trunk-end rose upward and over. At one moment, the car seemed frozen in time, upside down over the river.
And then it crashed into the water.
The back window exploded in broken glass and white, foamy water. It sprayed upward at the windshield and rained back down on a dazed Andrew, his face streaked with deep red blood from a gash on his forehead. The cold water rushed into the car and churned violently as it engulfed the interior of the car.
Andrew groggily groaned in his seat, dazed and not completely aware of the dangerous situation he was in. His drunken eyelids threatened to fall shut, ready at any moment to pass out, or fall unconscious; whichever came first. His breathing relaxed, and the sound of the bubbling river below lulled him to sleep. The water grew nearer to him, gushing over the headrest.
The rush of adrenaline shot alert through Andrew’s nerves as the water washed over his face. He threw himself forward and gasped for air, suddenly sober, as the water continued to glug, glug, glug inside. The intruding liquid rushed upward faster and faster, while water on the outside of the vehicle lapped over and onto the windshield as the front of the car quickly disappeared underneath.
Restrained by the seatbelt, he unbuckled it as the flood of water engulfed his seat and upward toward the dashboard. He grasped the door handle and pushed, but it wouldn’t budge with the pressure differences between the inside and outside of the car. His chest became submerged, followed by his shoulders, then his neck.
“Oh God, oh God,” he cried.
He tilted his head upward so his mouth touched the glass of the windshield. He hyperventilated quick, short breaths, blurring his view of the full moon in the sky.
“No…” he whimpered, the water washing away his tears.
He choked in one last bubble of air before the water washed over his face.
His palms slapped the windshield like it was an invisible force-field. He punched at it, but only bruised his knuckles in the process. His poor last breath made moving difficult, and he could feel his energy levels, already strained by the alcohol, slowly falling.
Andrew sunk away from the windshield, feeling for any kind of opening in the darkness of the river. His watery vision disoriented him even further than his double-vision already had, and his diaphragm twitched for air while his lungs cooked in his own carbon dioxide. Each direction he swam, his gashed forehead smacked into a window, disorienting him even further. He felt like a pet fish trapped in a terrarium, except with no ability to breathe.
His mind was cloudy; he couldn’t think clearly, and how he could try opening the door again with both sides of the car now at equal pressure. Instead, he faced the driver side door, gripping the passenger assist handle. As a last resort for survival, he kicked. Hard. His shoe thumped heavily against the driver side window, and each movement weakened him further. He noticed the corners of his vision growing darker and fuzzier. He could hear static build up with the whirling wish-washing sound of the undulating water as his hearing began to fade. He kept his mouth closed, but his diaphragm pulled downward and his lungs attempted to expand.
Each kick became more frantic as his grip continued to loosen from the assist handle out of fatigue and suffocation. He could feel his face turning red and purple, and his whole body tingled with a strange sensation.
Finally, he reared both feet back, pulling his knees to his chin, and using the rest of the energy he had left to smash both of his feet through the window. The crack of the tempered glass sounded like the snap of a bone, and the flimsy pieces of spider-web window floated peacefully into the darkness.
Andrew sluggishly reeled his feet back into the vehicle and began to pull himself toward the window. He could feel the car sinking deeper, and the increasing pressure in his head exacerbated the throb of his bleeding gash. His eyelids grew heavier, his eyesight had become nothing but a blur, and his lungs were on the verge of deflating. The water around him was completely silent, or maybe he had lost his hearing as he drowned. The car emitted its dying creaks and groans as it fell, with any loose objects floating upward and becoming trapped beneath the windshield. His seatbelt hung freely in the water, and he pulled it outward from its roll as he swam through it. Unbeknownst to him in his delusional state, the seatbelt caught against his chest.
He gripped the frame of the broken window and pulled himself outward, kicking his feet frantically toward the surface now that he had found a way out of the car. The seatbelt snagged against his chest and yanked him still. He fell downward back into the car, and out of desperation and sudden fear, he thrashed his legs about, kicking at the lap strap of the seatbelt.
Guided by invisible hands, the lap strap loosely wrapped around his ankle and began tightening more and more with each kick. He pulled at the window frame, and the car sunk faster and further. Andrew thrashed forward with his arms, and kicked with his free leg while poorly attempting to shake off the lap strap. The seatbelt zipped tight as the car yanked on it, and he was pulled downward. The last breath he had saved for his trek back to the surface of the water was released, carrying his screams with his body as it was dragged toward the darkness.
He scratched at the water and kicked with the last of his energy before he lost feeling in his arms and legs. The silence of his hearing turned into a dying, high-pitched ring. The taste of the murky water traveled past his tongue and down his throat.
He coughed a small burst of bubbles.
As he descended into the darkness, before it overtook his vision, and as his body grew colder and colder with each descending foot, he stared up above him at the surface he was once so close to reaching.
The bubbles slowly ascended toward the rippling flow of the green river water. In the moonlight, the rising bubbles shimmered, and the surface of the water looked exactly like emerald.