(Quick thing, this blog hasn’t been updated regularly, I’m trying but it’s hard, there is a lot going on, I’m sorry)
There are many reasons for somebody to find themselves on a bridge. Perhaps they can’t swim and need some way to cross a river. Perhaps they can swim but they’d really rather not, because it’s just too late in the afternoon for that sort of thing. Maybe they can swim and they want to swim, but they have a job to do and they simply don’t have the time to waste. These are all very valid reasons to find somebody on a bridge, reasons that might apply to many different people. These reasons do not apply to Sam Hester, however.
Sam Hester was on a bridge that cool winter afternoon because he had nothing better to do and, like so many people these days, because he was sad. When Sam was sad, which was much too often, he did a few different things. First he would stare at the wallpaper in his room with a detectives eye, because the colour matched his mood, and because he could sometimes make out shapes in the design if he squinted hard enough. If that didn’t work, which unfortunately was all too common, he would find a nice, well-worn book, and wrap himself up in bedcovers. It couldn’t be a new book, it had to be one he’d finished a hundred times before, and it couldn’t be a long book, because that just felt like work. It needed to be a book where he knew every twist and turn, and where he knew the characters better sometimes than even himself. That way he didn’t have to focus, he could just enjoy their company.
When staring at the wall got too boring and when his brain was too eager to wander from the page, Sam Hester would put on his shoes and go sit on the bridge. His parents didn’t know that was where he was going but they didn’t ask, so it wasn’t like he was hiding anything. He was just going out for a wander, breathing in the salty breeze, listening to the seagulls squawk their painful song. It was normal, he was pretty sure, and if it wasn’t it ought to be.
Sam hauled himself up onto the railing and dangled his feet over the edge. The bridge didn’t seem that high, not really, but he was still pretty small and he didn’t think he wanted to find out what would happen if he fell. He gripped hard with his hands, ignoring the biting cold of the metal against his skin.
Sam tried not to think of all the things that scared him. Of course, the very act of trying meant the thoughts were inevitable. There was big school in only a few weeks now, and his parent’s arguments that only seemed to get louder as time went on. It wasn’t all so bad really, but it wasn’t great, and Sam missed great.
He peered out across the river. Town, where everyone went to buy their ice cream at the weekend, was drifting lazily to sleep across the water. Lights went on and off in the gaggle of houses to his right. It could be interesting to watch some nights, but it was never more interesting than the water in all its shifting mystery. This afternoon, though, it was the forest that caught his attention. Those trees, staring blankly, restless in the wind. Alex’s mum used to drive them down the road to visit grandma. It felt like stepping into a fairy-tale, and not one of the nice kind.
Wind blew through Sam’s hair. He leaned forwards, peering straight down into the water below. A hazy groan called out from his left, and Alex snapped his attention towards the trees. They were still there, hadn’t moved. It seemed somehow darker, though. Along that road through the forest at least. It wasn’t exactly late, it shouldn’t be so dark, but it was winter. Sam decided it was normal, or hoped it was at least.
Back to the water now, alive with currents. It didn’t scare Sam to look at the water, it was somehow comforting in its strangeness. He didn’t understand the water, he didn’t understand how it could hide so many mysteries, how it could conceal a whole other world. Yet he knew it to be true. As true as his hands, loosening a little from the railing. As true as his breathing, heavy and scratchy, maybe even painful. As true as his heart, beating so fast, driving such panic through his veins, such tangible anxiety.
“The stars are coming out” a voice called. “Just for tonight, kid. Just to say hi to you and me.” It was deep sound, and old, as if the forest was somehow singing. “Can you hear me kid? It’s going to be beautiful.”
Sam cast his eyes around, the voice like an echo, impossible to follow. “Where are you? I can’t see you.”
“I’m down here” the voice called back, and as Sam peered down into the river below his eyes began to focus and he could see something. A boat, bobbing gently beneath the bridge, and a man sitting in it, knees held tight to his chest, a yellow rain coat shimmering under the first whispers of the moon.
When Sam saw him, the man waved weakly. “Listen kid. I should probably be telling you to head off home. It’s a silly thing, to run away. But just stay a little longer. Wait and see. You’ll thank me.”
“I’m not running away” Sam said, confused. “I’m just sitting here. Who are you? Go away.”
The man paused. “You’re not running away eh? Your parents just let you wander about at night?”
Sam opened his mouth to answer, to say it wasn’t night, it wasn’t late at all, but then he felt the chill in his spine and saw the darkness, approaching with careful persistence. “I’m not talking to you” was what Sam settled on saying.
The man chuckled. “You’re doing a great job at that, kid.”
“Shut up.” Sam knew he shouldn’t talk to strangers, especially not to old men in boats, but he was all the way up here while the man was all the way down there. It didn’t feel dangerous. “Seriously, go away, I was here first.”
“Oh you were here first were you? How do you reckon that? I’ve been here for centuries. I live under the bridge, see. I’m the troll under the bridge.” The man fell back, then, and water splashed up and into the boat. He started laughing, a mirthful, quiet laugh, and Sam felt himself smile just a little bit too. He caught himself, and shook the smile away.
“You’re not a troll.”
“You shut up.”
Sam shut up. Not because the man told him to, of course, but because he noticed something in his body. He noticed how suddenly light it felt.
“So, kid, if you’re not running away from home, what are you running away from? It’s cold, wouldn’t you much rather be tucked up in bed?”
“So you like the cold then?”
“So what is it? Why’re you here?”
Sam knew why he was here. He was here because he was sad, and because the wall was boring and the books too much effort. He was here because he didn’t want to sit in his room for a second longer, because he felt like it was a coffin, because it was getting smaller and smaller every day, so small he could hardly breathe. He knew why he was here, but he couldn’t say it. He felt like such a baby when he tried to say it.
“Why’re you here?” Sam asked eventually. “If you hate it so much, what’re you doing it for?”
The man shrugged, dipped a hand into the water, swirled it round and made a tiny little whirlpool. “I guess I’m running away from home as well.” He drew his hand from the water, looked up, right at Sam now. “But it’s okay. Just wait for the stars. They’ll wave hello, and we’ll wave back, and we can go home like nothing’s wrong.”
Sam shifted on the railing. It was really getting cold now, and his hands were burning just a little. He wasn’t running away from home. He liked his home, and his parents (when they weren’t fighting at least). He liked his friends and he liked his books and he liked hot chocolate and regular chocolate and chocolate covered raisins. He wasn’t running away from home. He was just taking a break from it.
“How long do I have to wait?” Sam asked, quietly.
The man shrugged. “Any second now.”