Crumbled Blacktop–Rough Cuts #3

I saw the woman on the bridge right before she jumped. 

A little context: I often take long drives on the weekends. I get in the car, crank the music up and drive until I want to turn around, then I usually come home. I usually go on either Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes, especially if the world has been particularly cruel, I go on both days. Still, on a handful of occasions, I drive until it gets dark, stopping only for gas and food, then park for the night on the side of the road at a rest stop or in a state park if one was near. On those occasions, I usually spend the next day driving home.

This was a Saturday, which was shaping up to be the first day of a two day bender. My head ached, as did my heart. The lady I loved—Lelani—left me a couple of days earlier, while we sat at a restaurant during my lunch break. She barely touched her food and she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked her. 

She stared down at the table. Her hands were in her lap. When she brought her right one up she had the ring I gave her when I proposed four months earlier (and she said yes then) in it. She set the ring on the table. 

“What’s this?” I asked. I knew what it was. I knew she was breaking up with me. 

She shook her head. “I can’t do this.” She stood and walked off, leaving me sitting at the table, staring at the engagement ring. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to chase after her and find out what was going on, what happened and how I could fix it. The other part told me it was over. Our turbulent on again, off again relationship was over and chasing her down would do no good. That part won out. 

I paid for our meals, stood and walked away, leaving the engagement ring on the table. 

This is what I thought about as I drove roads I don’t remember and lost hours I would never get back. And my head hurt and my heart hurt and I wanted nothing more than to stop hurting.

I got off the interstate hours before, following road signs for a town I never actually found. I did come across old houses along the road with rusted out cars in drive ways or sitting up on blocks in front yards. I didn’t see any people and I didn’t pass any other cars. The road was blacktop that was more crumbled than whole with weeds and grass growing through all the cracks and crevices. 

I drove slowly, as if on a dirt road with deep ruts that made the front end shiver and the back end shake. At some point, I turned the music off, silencing some punk rock band or other—I truly can’t recall which one it was. The world grayed at some point and the music felt off, as if where I traveled commanded a quietness that felt loud in my ears. 

I rounded a curve. Ahead about a hundred yards or so sat the bridge. Even from that distance, I could see it was old and wooden. I won’t lie and say my curiosity didn’t suddenly pique. There I was on an old forgotten road after spending all day in my own head and that was in my sights. I drove on, but by then I was mostly on the road’s shoulder and trying to stay off the bumpy black top. 

About fifteen feet from the bridge, I pulled off the side of the road and parked next to a tall, thick tree with bare branches. It was well into mid-afternoon by then and I would need to start trying to find my way back to the interstate. But the bridge … I had to see it up close. 

That’s when I saw her. She stood in the center of the bridge, her back to me, looking out at the world to her right. She wore a light colored blouse and blue slacks, kind of like the ones my grandmother wore when she was alive. Her hair was gray and she was thin—maybe too thin, as if she were sick. 

I got out of my car and closed the door gently. I didn’t want to startle her. Thinking about that now, it sounds stalkerish. I wasn’t trying to be creepy but I thought it odd that there was an old lady out on this road that didn’t seem to have a name and with no other cars to be seen besides mine. I was afraid she might have wandered off from a home and she was lost, or maybe her car had broken down and she needed help.

For a minute or so, I stood at the front end of my car and stared at her. She didn’t move. The slight breeze that came off the water blew through her hair and ruffled her shirt. I took a step forward, suddenly very concerned for this woman I had never met. My head swooned and the pain that had been small earlier, bloomed.  I was slow about it but I made it to the edge of the bridge. The wood was mostly rotten; there were quite a few holes in the planks and some boards were missing all together. The rails to either side were mostly warped but still in place. 

“Ma’am?” I called. “Are you okay?”

She didn’t look back at me or even flinch like she had heard me. 

“Ma’am?” I called again, a little louder this time. “Are you okay?”

I took a deep breath. My head still thumped but it wasn’t swimming. I stepped onto the bridge. The wood was soft beneath my feet and I hesitated, afraid I might fall right through to the … the what? I couldn’t see water in either direction, just land on my side of the bridge and land across it. Up until that moment, I didn’t notice what was beneath the bridge or what it crossed over. I leaned to my right to peer over the rail. I saw muddy water, but it couldn’t have been much more than a wide creek; the bridge probably wasn’t needed.

When I looked back at the woman, she had turned around and now stared at me. Her jaw was slack and her eyes were blank. Beneath her eyes looked like bruises. Her hands hung down at her sides and the front of her blouse had a large brown stain on it, almost in the center of her chest. I knew immediately she had been shot, or at the very least, stabbed.

“Ma’am …” I said. Both of my hands were out in front of me, as if trying to keep her from moving. “You’re hurt.”

I looked down, then took a few unsteady steps toward her, then looked up again. She hadn’t moved. Her eyes still looked distant and her jaw was still slack. She didn’t see me. I was almost certain of that. It didn’t matter if she could see me or not. I could see her and I couldn’t leave her out there to die. Every few feet I looked down to make sure I didn’t step through a weak spot or fall through a hole that was already there. And every few feet my head spun and I had to regain my bearings.

Thirty or so feet from her, she seemed to notice me for the first time. Her eyes seemed to clear and her jaw clamped shut hard enough for her teeth to clack together. She looked out at the world beyond the bridge’s rail. 

“No,” I yelled when she moved far quicker than I believed she could. She took four quick steps, put her hands on the top wooden rail, her foot on the bottom one, then launched herself off the bridge. She didn’t scream. She didn’t yell. She just plummeted. 

I went to the rail and looked over, the pain in my head forgotten. The woman was gone. She didn’t land in the water or hit dry ground. She was just gone, as if she had never been there before. Maybe she hadn’t been. 

“No, no, no, no,” I said over and over. Then, as if someone watched me, my skin began to crawl. I was in a horror movie come to life and fear gripped my heart. I backed away from the rail and hurried back toward my car the best I could. The pain in my head intensified with each step I took. I reached the end of the bridge, stepped off and started to run for my car …

And somehow ended up back on the bridge, standing where the woman had been when I first saw her. I turned, first to my left to the side of the bridge I had no intentions of walking to, then to my right, to where I stepped onto the bridge and where my car … my car didn’t sit on the side of the road where I parked it. It was off the road, the front end smashed into the thick, tall tree. The front windshield was splintered right about the spot a head would have struck if …

I touched my forehead and pulled back red fingers.

“What’s going on?” 

I touched my head again, this tim planting my palm on my forehead. The skin there was torn. I could feel flesh bunched up near my hairline. I probed a gash that seemed like it ran the length of the top of my head, feeling something hard that could only be my skull. I pulled my hand free and looked at it again. Blood dripped from my fingers and palm. I wiped my mouth with my other hand and suddenly felt the urge to run, that something was terribly wrong and I was in danger. 

I ran for my car, not worrying about the holes or weak boards in the bridge. I couldn’t hear my feet or my breaths or feel my heart beat hard in my chest. I only felt the heavy weight of panic and fear in my chest and mind and the sharp, intense pain of the headache that seemed to split my skull. I reached the end of the bridge, stepped off and was back in the center where the woman had been. 

I almost ran for my car a third time but didn’t. Instead, I walked toward the other end. My legs grew weak as I walked and I didn’t think it would matter what happened when I reached the other end. I reached it and stepped off the bridge and back onto it in the exact same spot as before. 

Now, I stand here, in the center of the bridge. I can see both ends of the bridge, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t step off of it. But this waiting, this feeling of being trapped here with no way to get help isn’t the worst of it. That’s reserved for the creature standing at the end of the bridge where my car is. It came up in an old style horse and buggy, both of which are black. It stepped away from the buggy. It is not much taller than I am and it wears a hooded robe. In one of its hands—hands that look skeletal—is a long pole with a sharp blade on one end. It’s spoken a couple of times, but I can’t make out what it’s saying. It can’t be anything good. It’s on the bridge now and coming toward me. A darkness spills off of it, like a thick fog rising into the air and going out before it. It’s coming for me. It’s …

I can’t run away. I’ll just return to this spot and it will be waiting for me. But what if … what if I jump over the rail and off the side of the bridge? What if …

AJB

GONE–ROUGH CUTS

Over the last couple of days, I wrote this story based on the picture in the body of the post. I saw it on social media and it really hit home with me. IT IS COMPLETELY UNEDITED, so please don’t trash it because of errors I may have made. Yes, I know I could have edited it, but I want to try something. When you get to the end of the story, I would love for you to leave your thoughts on it. Also, would you like to see more of Abigail Sherman and find out what happened later in life? If so, what would you like to see? I hope you enjoy the first story of what I’m calling ROUGH CUTS, completely unedited first draft pieces. 

Here is GONE. Please like, share and comment. It is very much appreciated.

GONE

Her name is Abigail Sherman and she used to live in a small neighborhood where everyone knew her as Abby and knew her parents as Gail and Wes. She was six when her family moved away from their nice home with the chain link fence, a huge back yard with lush grass and a pecan tree in the back corner. Sometimes they set up a tent and slept under the stars. They had cable television and this thing called the internet, though Abby didn’t quite know what that was. She wore cute pink dresses and took baths daily. She went to a good school for first grade and had made several friends whose families often had cookouts or ‘get togethers.’

When they left home one morning, she didn’t know they would never go back. Her mom handed her the pink book bag she used for school and her stuffed bunny, Floppy Ears. Then she took her hand and they went to the car, just her and Mom. 

“Where’s Dad?” she asked from her car seat in the back.

At first her mom said nothing but in the mirror Abby saw her wipe at her wet eyes. Then her mom spoke and said one word. “Gone.”

For Abby that word didn’t mean much. She didn’t understand such a small word. 

Gone is just Go with a N added, she thought, so he must have went somewhere. He’ll be back. 

For Gail, gone meant everything. Abby would learn that in time, but at first, it was just go with a N added

She’s still six and Gone is what she and Mom now were. Gone from their comfortable home, gone from her bed, gone from the big back yard with the pecan tree in the corner. Gone from the school where her friends still were, but where she no longer belonged. This is something she didn’t understand either. If she belonged before, why doesn’t she now?

They went from a place Mom called a hotel to another one, to sleeping in her car. Eventually, the car became Gone as well. She didn’t understand that, but she understood things were bad. Mom didn’t smile and she was constantly on the phone at the hotel. Abby tried to ‘mind her own business,’ but with just Mr. Floppy Ears to keep her company, she couldn’t help but hear Mom’s end of the phone calls. It was after one of those calls where Mommy argued with someone on the other end about it not being her fault Wes did what he did. She slammed the phone down on the receiver. That’s when Abby approached her mom with questions.

“Mommy, why did we leave home?”

At first, Gail didn’t answer. How was she supposed to answer such a question from her sweet, innocent child? Then she did. The conversation went like this:

“We had to.”

“Why?”

“Your dad … well, your dad …”

“What about Daddy?” Her blue eyes were wide and full of wonder and how can you lie to a child who will eventually learn the truth?

Gail pulled Abby onto her lap and put her arms around her. “Your daddy got into some trouble and …”

“Bad trouble?”

“Really bad trouble.”

“Is that why the police came?”

“Yes. The police were not happy with Daddy and they took him away.”

Abby nodded, said a soft “Oh.” Then she added, “But why didn’t we stay home so when he came back we wouldn’t be gone?”

Gail sniffled. “We had to leave. I didn’t want to, but they made us.”

“Who is they?”

“The police.”

Abby sat up and looked up. Tears were in Mom’s eyes and she stared off toward the wall of the hotel that held a large painting of a bull and a man with a red cape and his arm pulled back to throw a long spear he held. “Are we in bad trouble, too?”

Gail shook her head, sniffled again. This time, she wiped at her eyes with the palm of one hand. “No, Sweetie. We’re not in bad trouble. Just Daddy.”

Abby stared at Mom. She didn’t know how, but she knew Mom was lying. She only called her Sweetie when things were not good. They were in trouble. In six-year-old Abby’s mind, they were in bad, bad trouble. 

Abby pushed away from her mother’s chest and slid off her lap. She went to the hard chair with the blue cushion on it where her book bag sat. She put her crayons in it. Then went to the small dresser near the foot of the single bed the two of them shared and pulled the few clothing items from it. She put those in the bag. She then picked up Mr. Floppy Ears and set him next to the bag.

“Abby, what are you doing?”

“Getting ready.”

“Getting ready? For what?”

Abby turned to her mom. She almost rolled her eyes but didn’t. “To be gone again.”

And they were gone again. This time, with no car to go in. They walked, Abby with her backpack on her shoulders, Mr. Floppy in one arm and holding Mom’s hand; Mom carrying a black trash bag over one shoulder and her head down toward the road. They walked until they came to an overpass.

“Stay here,” she said.

“Why?” Abby asked.

“Just do it. If anything happens, scream.”

That scared Abby. Chills ran up her small arms. “Where are you going?”

Gail jerked her head toward the dark underpass. “To make sure it’s safe.”

Though her mother wasn’t gone long—two minutes at most—it seemed to last the entire night. Abby peered into the darkness but could only see a faint impression of her mother. Tears formed in her eyes and her bladder suddenly felt like it would let go. She licked her lips and held Mr. Floppy Ears close to her chest. She let it her breath out when her mom came back into view.

“Come on,” she said.

“Is it safe?”

“As safe as it’s going to get tonight.”

Abby took Gail’s hand and they stepped into the darkness of the overpass. Once beneath the road above them, Abby’s eyes adjusted to the dark. It wasn’t a big area and the road connected the small downtown area to what looked like a neighborhood on the other side. A long fence separated the two sections of town. 

“Here,” Gail said and reached into her trash bag. She pulled out a pink blanket, one that Abby hadn’t seen in a while. It was her ‘sweet sweet,” at least that was what she called it when she was smaller and younger than she was then. One corner was frayed where she chewed on it when she was teething. Abby took the blanket and held it to her cheek. It didn’t smell freshly washed, but stale, as if it had been at the bottom of her closet or under her bed in her old house.

Gail led her close to one of the walls of the overpass. On the ground was a long piece of cardboard. “Lay on that,” she said. “It will be better than laying on the hard concrete.”

“What about you, Mommy?”

“Don’t worry about me, Sweetie. I’m going to be right here beside you.”

Abby first sat on the cardboard. It was thin and old looking. Then she laid down. It was stiff and hard and nothing like a mattress on any bed, not even one of the firm ones in the hotels they stayed at. She pulled the blanket over her shoulders. Her legs stuck out and that bothered her, but at least her arms were covered. She clutched Mr. Floppy Ears tight to her chest and stared off at the fence separating one part of town from the other. Before she could close her eyes and fall asleep, she wondered if that was their life now. Living under a road that cars passed by overhead on. Eventually, her eyes grew heavy and the last thing she saw before falling asleep was her mother with her knees to her chin and her arms covering her face. Abby thought she might be crying.

When she woke, the sun was out. Her body hurt when she sat up and the blanket lay beside her. Mr. Floppy Ears was still in her arms, but Mom was nowhere to be found. 

“Mommy?” 

She stood. Her heart sped up. 

“Mommy?”

She spun in a circle, taking in her surroundings and hoping her mother had just laid down in a darker corner or was sitting somewhere else. Maybe she was beyond the fence. The couldn’t have gone too far. She left without Abby and her trash bag laid near the cardboard bed. 

“Mommy?”

She ran to the open end of the overpass and looked up the road, then down it. Cars passed overhead, their tires thumping on sections of concrete. A bird chirped from somewhere. A lawnmower grumbled angrily from the neighborhood behind her as it chewed up grass. A dog barked then grew quiet. But Mom was nowhere to be found. 

“Mommy?”

Abby ran to the other end of the overpass, crossed the crumbling blacktop and stood at the fence. She clutched it with her right hand as Mr. Floppy Ears dangled from her left. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She sniffled.

From where she stood, she could see a road and the fronts of several yards. Most of them were neatly cut. On the porch of a house painted yellow with several creepy looking lawn dwarves standing watch in the yard, an old woman sat in a rocking chair. Her hair was gray, verging on an ugly shade of blue. She wore a long gray gown with some sort of pattern on it that Abby couldn’t make out from that distance. The old woman stood and went to the edge of her porch. She looked toward Abby then went down a couple of steps. 

Abby turned and ran back under the overpass. She went to the piece of cardboard she slept on the night before and sat down. She pulled the blanket over her knees, then pulled her knees up to her chest. With Mr. Floppy Ears sitting tight between her chest, Abby cried. 

After crying, Abby straightened her legs and stared toward the entrance of the overpass. Her stomach grumbled. Abby crawled to the trash bag and looked inside. There were clothes and some toilet paper. There were a couple of dollars in a clear zip up bag. There was a grocery bag with a couple of small bags of chips. There were no other food items and no drinks. Abby took a bag of chips, sat back on her cardboard and ate quietly. It did little to satisfy her hunger, but it was better than nothing.

Abby remained on her overnight bed. Her bottom hurt from sitting. Her back hurt from laying the night before. At some point, she saw the old woman near the fence. She pretended not to see her. After all, she was a stranger and strangers meant danger. Instead, she reached into her bag, hoping to find something to do until Mom came back.  Her crayons sat at the bottom of her bag. She pulled them out—a box of 64 with a convenient crayon sharpener in the back. She never used the sharpener, preferring to peal away a little of the paper wrapper at a time until it came completely off on its own.

She looked for a pad or any paper but couldn’t find anything. Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head. She let out a sad breath that rattled in her chest and sniffled. Tears threatened to form in her eyes again. From the corner of her eye she saw the woman walk away and all the tension in her little body went with her. 

Abby thought about Mommy and Daddy and got angry. Daddy did something bad and was gone. When she fell asleep last night, Mom was beside her. Now, she was gone. But Abby was not. No, she was still here and she was alone. She thought of home, her room, her table where she drew pictures at. So many of those pictures hung on her walls and …

Abby stood. Her legs and back hurt as she did so. She looked at the concrete wall she had leaned her back on. It was rough to the touch, but not too bad. Once, when she was only four, she drew on the wall behind her bed. Daddy had made her a tent of pink sheets and closed tacks and she hid inside with her crayons and her imagination. She got into trouble that day and Daddy painted over the walls eventually. 

“Daddy’s not here,” she whispered. “He’s gone.”

But … Mommy …

“She’s gone, too,” she whispered. That word—gone—she still thought of it as go with a N, but it started to take on a new meaning. It wasn’t just go it was never come back. Maybe that was what the N stood for: never. 

Abby picked up her box of crayons and flipped the lid open. She plucked out the black and set the box on the ground. She didn’t care that it tipped over. She cared only about the things that were gone in her life. She thought about drawing stick figures of Mom and Dad, but decided they left her—they were gone by choice—and drew something else. To the left of her cardboard bed, she drew a series of squares that formed a dresser with a television on top of it. To the right of the cardboard, she drew a table with a bird cage on it. She never owned a bird, but had always wanted to. Next to the bird cage she drew a box, then wrote the word CRAYON on the top of it. Directly above the cardboard and between the dresser and table, she drew a window, much like she would if she had drawn a picture of a house. In the body pane, she drew a candle with a flame she imagined flickered from time to time. 

When she was done, the crayon was not much more than a nub. She stuck it back in the box and sat down. At some point, she picked up Mr. Floppy Ears and laid back on the cardboard. She pulled the blanket over her shoulders and stared at the crude window. Her eyes grew heavy and Abby slept.

She woke to the sound of a car door closing. She sat up and blinked several times. It was still daylight out and Mommy was still nowhere to be seen. 

“Hey, little girl,” a woman called. 

Abby looked to the edge of the overpass. Two women stood next to a police car. The blue lights were off. One of the women wore a police uniform. Her brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She might have been Mommy’s age. The other woman wore a gray gown and her hair was a shade of ugly blue. 

Abby grabbed Mr. Floppy Ears and pulled her knees to her chest.

The lady cop walked up to her, knelt beside her. “Hey.”

Abby said nothing.

“You don’t have to be scared. I’m not going to hurt you. Mrs. Hayworth saw you and thought you might need some help.” She pointed back to the lady with the blue hair. “What’s your name?”

She licked her lips. Her heart thumped hard in her little chest. Her skin felt cold and wet at the same time. 

“It’s okay,” the officer said. “My name is Camilla. It’s nice to meet you.”

“My name is Abby. I like your name.”

“Thank you. I do, too. There’s not many Camilla’s out there these days. I like your name, too. Is it short for Abigail?”

Abby nodded. 

“Okay, Abby. Can I asks you a couple of questions?”

Abby nodded again. She squeezed Mr. Floppy Ears a little tighter to her chest. 

“It’s okay,” Camilla said. “I’m not going to hurt you. Neither is Mrs. Hayworth. We’re just here to help you. Okay?”

Another nod came.

“Abby, are you here by yourself?”

A nod.

“Okay. Umm … did you run away from home?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“How did you get here?”

“My mommy brought me.”

Camilla looked around. “Where is your Mommy?”

Abby shrugged. “Gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Where is your daddy, Abby?”

Another shrug. “He’s gone, too. He got in trouble and he’s gone.”

“He got into trouble?”

A nod.

“Abby, do you know where you live?”

Another nod.

“Can you tell me.”

“I live here. See the window and the dresser and the table. I watch tv from right here and I draw on that table with my little bird. He doesn’t make much noise.”

“I see.”

“Are you hungry, Abby?”

She nodded, a little more intensely than before.

Officer Camilla stood. She held out her hand. The nails were pink. “Come. Let’s get you something to eat and we’ll see if we can find your parents.”

“They’re gone.”

“Yeah, but I hope I can make them un-gone for you. Would you like that?”

Abby nodded, reached up and took Camilla’s hand. They started to walk away, then Abby let go of the officer’s hand and went back to her piece of cardboard. She picked up the box of crayons and took the nub of the black one out. With it, she wrote on the wall just below the window. When she was done, she dropped what little bit of black crayon was left into the box and shoved it into her book bag. She zipped it up, slung the bag over her shoulders and took Officer Camilla’s hand again. 

As they walked away, she glanced back once. On the wall below the window were two words: Abby GoN.