“Don’t be a pussy, Ryan! Just do it!”
I would’ve rather stuck my head in a blender and turned that shit on puree than do this, but I didn’t have a choice. It was either go across the bridge or be called a pussy the rest of my life. Or at least until the end of the summer. When you’re eleven, there’s really not much of a difference.
The only way to end this endless teasing was to cross the troll bridge. Well, we called it the troll bridge. We weren’t sure what it was really called back then. It wasn’t anything special, just a small stone bridge that went over a creek just outside of town. It wasn’t used much anymore, it wasn’t big enough for a car to go over and there was talk of tearing it down, but it just never got done.
I was scared of my own shadow back in the day, but there was just something about that bridge that put off any sane person. Maybe it was how solid your steps sounded when you walked across or how you swore you could hear dripping water, even during a hot, dry summer like that year.
Kids would say a troll lived under there. Which really was a ridiculous notion, the ditch underneath carved itself ever deeper every year during the spring floods but it still wasn’t deep enough for a giant troll. Still though, stories about a half blind, drooling monster from your worst nightmares ready to grab any passerby was enough for me to keep my distance.
But the kids made it a rite of passage. Cross the bridge and come back. Some of the more daring kids would stick their arm over the edge to taunt the troll into grabbing them.
I was the only kid who hadn’t done it yet. Darren was the one who practically dragged me there on that boiling summer afternoon. I felt like I was about to be baked alive, the back of my neck already felt stiff and tender with a sunburn. He gave me a shove and I nearly fell on my face.
I swallowed. “I’ll do it, I’ll do it!”
Darren nodded and crossed his arms, everyone’s eyes on me as I stood at the troll bridge.
Just there and back, I told myself, and maybe they’ll finally leave me alone.
My intent was to leg it as fast as I could. Like ripping off a band aid, the trick was to do it quickly. First pass I did just that. I reached the end before I knew it, turning around and throwing my hands in the air. I did get a few cheers but Darren was less than impressed, just staring me down as I began the return journey.
I came to a stop when I heard music.
My mom was making me take violin lessons at the time and it had become habit to listen carefully if I heard it playing on her CD player or if there was a busker at the local farmer’s market. But this wasn’t a CD or an amateur. This music sounded almost ethereal with how perfect it was. And much to my shock, it was coming from right under my feet.
Forgetting about my friends waiting for me at the other side, I walked to the side and stuck my head over the edge. I heard their startled gasps as I teetered a bit, trying to get a look at the musician making that delightful sound.
On first glance I thought they were a woman, their nearly white blond hair was so long it almost reached to their thighs and they were startlingly beautiful. They weren’t wearing a shirt though and they were absolutely a dude. They didn’t have shoes and only wore mud spattered jeans. Their violin was pristine, the brown wood shining as the bow hummed across the strings. The man sat near a puddle, eyes closed as he continued to play.
“Ryan, what are you doing!? We get it already, let’s go!”
Darren’s irritated voice shook me from my daze and I stood back up, sheepishly walking back to my friends. Somehow the few feet of difference made it impossible to hear the violinist. It didn’t matter though, everyone was cheering me on and clapping my back. Even Darren looked upon me approvingly, a rare occasion indeed. The sound of an ice cream truck in the distance caught our attention and ten minutes later we were all enjoying a delicious frozen treat and all talk of the bridge was forgotten.
But I didn’t forget the violinist. And I couldn’t forget how perfect his music was.
The next day was supposed to be my lesson, but Mr. Birk had come down with the flu so I was free to do what I wished with my time.
So I chose to go back to the troll bridge. Alone.
I was lucky I didn’t break my neck sliding down the bank, even more so that I didn’t accidentally drop my violin case. My mom would’ve blown her top if I’d broken the damn thing.
My perilous journey had not been in vain, as the moment my feet touched the ground I heard the music. I looked up and there he was. The violinist.
He clearly knew I was there, judging by his smirk, but he paid me no mind as I walked through the empty river bed up to him. I almost reached the puddle next to where he sat when I came to a stop. I don’t know why exactly I stopped, I suppose some instinct deep inside told me I should go no further. Or maybe it was common sense not to get too close to the weirdo with the long hair playing a violin under a bridge.
So instead I opened up my violin case and presented it to him. “Hey, um… I play too,” I said, my voice shaking.
The violinist’s playing came to an abrupt stop and he looked up at me. My skin crawled as I stared back into his eyes. I’m not quite sure what was wrong with them, it was like the river blue color of the iris had started to bleed into the whites of his eyes, making them unnatural in appearance. “… Show me,” he said, sounding breathless in his excitement.
And so with shaky hands I managed to squawk out ‘Happy Birthday’ to this incredibly talented man. My cheeks were probably bright red when I finished. I felt ashamed that I’d performed for someone so incredibly talented.
The violinist was quiet for a moment before raising his hands to clap. “Bravo, bravo! It’s been so long that I’ve had someone play for me, it’s a real treat. Would you like me to show you some things?” He said.
I couldn’t nod any more vigorously and he laughed, picking up his own violin and starting to play.
I was there until the sun was going down. My fingers were cramping and my arms ached but I was learning so much. I only realized so much time had gone on by when I looked up and saw the sky was turning orange. “Crap! My mom’s gonna kill me, I’m late for dinner!” I hurried to pack away my violin. “Sorry for taking up so much of your time, can I come back next week?” I’d been having so much fun that I never even bothered to ask his name.
“I’m afraid, my little friend, that next week you should stay as far away from my bridge as you can.”
The man was now beside me, tilting up my chin as he shook his head. His eyes seemed to be an even deeper blue now that it was starting to get dark. “You’re just lucky you did everything right, not knowing who you come to. But it’s going to rain next week, and it will rain heavily. So keep your distance, because next time your luck will not save you,” He said.
The heat of the day didn’t take away from the chill that shot down my spine. I only nodded wordlessly before bolting, clambering out of the river bed and scraping my arms up something good before I ran home. As predicted my mom was about to send out the dogs for me and I was just lucky she didn’t send me to bed with no supper.
I’m not sure what else I expected coming from a crazy guy living under a bridge. But his weather prediction ran true. Storms and pouring rain. All week. I imagine that river bed overflowed with raging water.
My mom woke me up early on Friday morning to tell me the news. Darren and another of my friends Jacob had drowned last night.
The theory was that they’d gone down to play and one of them fell in. The other tried to help them out and ended up getting washed away as well. During the funeral all I could think about was the violinist under the bridge. Had he drowned too? They hadn’t found another body, but he could’ve just been washed away.
I didn’t make the same mistake that Darren did. I waited until the water levels went down a bit before heading back to the troll bridge. It wasn’t close to overflowing anymore, instead it was just a small stream that probably wouldn’t go above your ankles. I crossed the bridge and listened carefully. All was silent except for the sound of bubbling water for a few minutes.Then I heard the violin once more.
I ducked my head over the edge and looked down. There he was, still playing, his feet resting in the water. I felt relieved and almost called out to him when I realized he had something stashed behind him. A bright red bicycle.
Darren’s bright red bicycle.
I didn’t stick around. I took off running and never looked back. I never went back to that bridge and I never will.
As I’ve become an adult, I’ve found out two things about our little town. One, that we’ve always had an abnormally high amount of drownings for the area. It’s not uncommon to lose five or six people a year, sometimes more, usually children or women. Unusually it doesn’t even have to be a flooding season for people to die, all there needs to be is a few inches of water for a body to turn up. And two, that bridge had a name before we called it the troll bridge.
It was the Nixie Bridge. Named after a creature that lurked underneath, playing his violin to lure in those who were foolish enough to listen to his song.