The children in the town of [REDACTED] knew better than to cross the old bridge in the park, especially during the evening hours on foggy nights. Even the grown-ups stayed clear, knowing that those who dared venture out were doomed never to be seen again, and everyone knows grown-ups are usually pretty naïve when it comes to such matters. They had even made an effort to stop people from crossing the bridge by making a gate that closed every day an hour before sundown to block access to the park. The grown-ups seemed so proud of themselves for “protecting the little ones”, and so the children didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was a waste of money better spent buying birthday and Christmas presents. Everyone knew better than to cross that bridge, so there was no reason for a gate at all.
Unfortunately, Eleanor was nobody, and even if she was somebody she was a very stupid little girl.
Born and raised in the next town over, little Eleanor had only recently moved to [REDACTED] when her parents divorced and her father and new stepmother got full custody of her. Though she fancied the idea that she was just too clever to get along with the other children, the opposite was in fact true. She was nearly as ignorant as a grown-up, constantly questioning things and demanding evidence for every trivial truth. Some of the harsher rumors claimed that she didn’t believe in ghosts, aliens, or even the completely inarguable fact that the fourth grade homeroom teacher Mr. Mason was a werewolf-demon hybrid from Heck who worked for the Devil himself. Thus, Eleanor had rightfully replaced “Paste-Eating Patty” as the village idiot in [REDACTED] Elementary School.
Even so, Eleanor was very prideful. No matter how much the other children chastised her for saying silly things like “There’s no such thing as baby biting sewer clowns”, she persisted. It wasn’t long before everyone started avoiding her, fearing that her blatant disrespect of the supernatural made her dangerous and unlucky. At first Eleanor didn’t seem to mind too much, as her vanity deluded her into thinking she was better off alone anyway since apparently she was just sooo much more intelligent than all the other children anyway.
Still, even nobodies get lonely, and so when she heard the other children discussing the matter of the old bridge in the park, she couldn’t help but to butt in.
“Oh come on! How is a bridge going to eat children? It’s just a bunch of stones!”
The children had heard her say many strange things, but now she had gone too far. Even the grown-ups knew how dangerous the old bridge was! A few of the kinder, more patient ones gave Eleanor a pitiful glance, reminding themselves that she didn’t know any better. But while things like Mr. Mason and the sewer clowns were survivable, the old bridge in the park promised at LEAST a bazillion percent chance of never being seen again. Sure the children hated Eleanor, but they wouldn’t wish such a fate upon even the worst of little girls. They begged and pleaded with her to drop the subject as she demanded “proof” and “credible sources of information”; some were valiant enough to promise to invite Eleanor to their birthday parties if she’d only promised never to cross the bridge.
But stubborn little Eleanor wouldn’t listen to reason or bribery. She swore to them that she’d prove that the old bridge was nothing to fear using a hand-me-down video camera she’d received on her ninth birthday.
“Tonight, I’m going to cross the old bridge!” she said, “and then you’ll see how foolish you all are!”
There was no way to stop her from killing herself without putting some effort into trying. Distraught, the sweet and generous children of [REDACTED] decided they’d try and be nice to Eleanor on her last day alive (all except Patty who wasn’t too keen on being the stupidest child in school again) by not stealing the dessert from her lunch and not throwing worms at her during recess.
Eleanor didn’t appreciate their efforts.
That night, Eleanor snuck out of the safety of her home, biked to the park, and struggled over the gate. Tonight was particularly foggy, and it took her longer than expected to get to the bridge. Apparently, the gate wasn’t the only precaution the grown-ups took; they had also changed the paths around so that the only way to get to the old bridge was by following the winding deer paths through the marshy woods.
It was eerily quiet. No owls hooted and no crickets chirped. Any reasonable person would have recognized this silence as an omen of horrible tragedy to come, but not a girl who denied even the existence of moon vampires. Armed only with her reckless self-confidence and a flashlight, Eleanor walked to her own demise.
By the time she found the bridge, it was nearly a quarter past ten, widely known in the town of [REDACTED] to be the most sinister of times. Obviously, this was true; why else would the grown-ups rush them to their rooms and demand they sleep until the sunrise promised their safety? Eleanor either willingly ignored the time or just didn’t know its significance as she turned on the camera. Eleanor gave a cheery smile into the camera and said her hellos, almost passing as a normal little girl until going into a smug little rant about how stupid she thought everyone was and how she couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces when she proved to them that she was right. She was so self satisfied that God Himself probably considered striking her down with a lightning bolt for being so prideful, but then decided He was better off not wasting His precious time.
She lifted her foot to step onto the bridge but hesitated, as if just for a second the ignorance clouding her mind had cleared. It wasn’t too late to turn back. If she chickened out now, the other children would surely only make fun of her cowardice for a few weeks, and as a bonus she’d not suffer what was most likely a horrible death.
After an agonizing twelve seconds of thought, Eleanor put her foot down on the stone of the bridge. When she wasn’t immediately exploded into confetti or elsewise injured, she let out a whoop of celebration and started bragging incessantly to her camera; meanwhile, God was probably reconsidering His leniency.
As she walked on, she prattled on to the camera and bragged about how clever she was. All in all, it took nearly five minutes of self-righteous babbling before Eleanor realized something was amiss.
“…This is a very long bridge, isn’t it?” Thinking she had misjudged the width of the river, Eleanor peeked over the railing only to see there was nothing below her. “And it’s so foggy I can’t see a thing… maybe people have gone missing because they fell off...” Despite her efforts to see the river (she couldn’t even hear it, no matter how much she tried to clean and pop her ears), the fog made it impossible to find it… but it had to be there, right? And so she continued on, every step making her more and more anxious. At this rate, her camera was going to run out of batteries.
Any rational person would have turned tail and run screaming like a banshee that had stepped on a Lego, but again Eleanor hesitated. She checked the time on the watch she had borrowed from her stepmother as if it would tick out, “Nope, everything is perfectly normal, do carry on!” in Morse Code.
“…This must be broken. Surely I’ve not been walking for a whole thirty minutes!”
Her panic only rose when she checked to see how long the camera had been recording. Eleanor hadn’t pressed the button, and all this time she’d been talking to no one like a complete maniac. Before she had time to swear aloud, her flashlight had the nerve to flicker. Not only had she forgot to record this experience, she’d left her spare batteries at home!
Eleanor was in trouble, though she didn’t yet realize how much trouble she was in. Even now she thought the worst that would happen is she’d get lost on the way home without any light to guide her way. Her shoulders slumped, and with a pout she turned around to head back before her batteries died completely. She felt almost as dumb as she was, wandering into the woods so under-prepared. Cockiness killed the cat, Eleanor supposed, though by “killed” she actually meant “non-lethally inconvenienced."
Maybe she’d try again tomorrow night. It felt like three hours passed, but in reality it was closer to two and a half. Eleanor, patron saint of not believing anything without proof, ignored the very real evidence of her stepmother's watch telling her it was nearly one in the morning. Unable to control herself anymore, she burst into a sprint and ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, desperate to see the bank of the river.
Her flashlight gave out, and so did her confidence. She screamed as loudly as she could and fell into a heap onto the cool stone of the bridge. What was she supposed to do now? Turning back clearly wasn’t any good, and seeing as the park was closed, there was no one around to hear her pitiful cries for help. And so Eleanor gave up. Instead of running around screaming, she opted to just sit there and wait for the sun to come up. Surely it’d be a waste of energy to do anything more.
Hours passed by, slower than maple syrup right out of a too-cold fridge. Eleanor did anything she could think of to pass the time: practice multiplication in her head, figure out what she’d tell her father when he found out she’d been out all night wandering the woods, anything but acknowledge that maybe she’d never get off this bridge alive. Though instead of fearing monsters, she was still afraid of earthly things like dying of wolves or boredom. To prevent at least one of those things, Eleanor put on her camera (for real this time), and began recording her goodbyes. At the very least, she thought, she could delete it if everything turned out alright.
As if on cue, a light in her peripheral vision caught her attention. She quickly turned the camera off and got to her feet. Was it the sun already? No, it wasn’t the right color, and it was too small. Could it be?
“Hey! Help!” Like a moth drawn to a bug-zapper, Eleanor scrambled to her feet and darted for the light. “Help me!!!”
“Helloooo?” the light, or more accurately the ancient old lady holding the light, responded. “Are you lost, little girl?”
Eleanor slowed to a quick jog, tears of relief swelling in her eyes. No child in the entire world had ever been more happy to see a weird stranger on a bridge. “Yes! Oh thank you so much, I was getting worried that I’d never see anyone again!” She couldn’t yet see that the old woman had no eyes, or that her right arm appeared to be made of solid gold. She didn’t see the many rows of bristle-like teeth or the fingers that seemed to have twice as many bones as they should have. If she had, maybe she’d have stopped herself before running straight into the monster’s arms and hugging her close.
“Please, will you take me home?” The monster was taken aback; she’d eaten many children, but this was the first to so quickly give itself up to her. This was very fortunate for Eleanor; if the monster were more focused, she’d have unhinged her jaw and swallowed her whole before Eleanor had the chance to look up and realize she was in mortal danger.
With a scream, she threw herself off the monster and back the way she came without even looking back to confirm what she saw was real. Skeptic or not, she was more prepared to face the lonely bridge before facing what seemed to be an actual monster. The old woman regained her wits and let out a cackle before chasing after Eleanor.
“Don’t you want my help anymore?” Her feet pitter-pattered in such a way that it sounded like she had three sets of feet. Eleanor had never been an athletic child and was still plump with baby fat and too many Christmas sweets, but there’s something about being terrified half to death that really gets the adrenaline pumping. “Slow down, sweetie, it’s been too long since I’ve had a good meal! I can’t keep up!”
Eleanor never listened, but for once it did her some good. Her lungs burned as she gasped in just enough air to propel her into safety. Though she didn’t know it, the other children’s carefulness was saving her. The monster was weak enough from hunger that she actually stood a chance of surviving.
She was panting too hard to hear that the river was babbling below. Her eyes were too clouded with tears for her to see the sun was rising and the fog was fading away. The moment the light of morning reached down to the bridge, the monster let out a horrible screech and quickly scurried down into the river, but Eleanor was still running until she was off the bridge and nearly out of the woods. Finally, she slowed to a walk to let her lungs rest.
She’d done it. She survived the old bridge.
With a start, Eleanor looked at her camera, and nearly sobbed with joy. The whole thing had been recorded! There was concrete proof of the horrible monster and her escaping; heck, she had really only screamed the one time so she probably looked pretty brave. The other children would be so impressed with her!
Her tearful rejoicing settled, into a worried frown. If this was true, then what else was? Was Mr. Mason really a demon? Did she really have to worry about sewer clowns and moon vampires and ghosts? Heck, it didn’t matter. All that mattered is that she survived, and if she could survive this, she could survive any crazy old thing. Her confidence rose again. No longer was she blind to the world around her. Now she knew better, and she’d use her knowledge for good. Where did that bridge monster come from? Clearly it was weak to sunlight and could only live in the darkness. Maybe she could destroy it!
But she would need help. The other children knew things, but they were too afraid to fight them. It was time for that to change. Things in this town were going to be completely different from now on. Together, they would rid this town of whatever monsters may plague it! Eleanor sprinted off the bridge and through the woods, breaking out into the road leading back home---
The truck had seemingly come out of nowhere, flattening Eleanor before she knew what hit her… literally. And thus the first child ever to survive crossing the old bridge died, not because of the monster that haunted it, but because she was too stupid to look both ways before crossing the street.
Written by MoistSquelch