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an occurance at owl creek bridge
The hair on the back of my neck rose with the chill that crept over my skin. I drew in a deep breath, the icy air burning my lungs, and turned to face whatever was behind me. As I turned, the dark evergreen and brown of the forest crept across my vision. Only part of my mind was paying attention. The other part went over the events that got me here in the first place.
“Freak!” they yelled. “Witch!” That was the worst one. “Psycho!” God how I wished that last one were true.
It would be so much easier to just be crazy. Then at least I could go to a shrink and be normal after a few months of psychotherapy. But I wasn't crazy, and I would never be normal. Today I didn't even bother to see who was yelling the insults. I just looked down at the puke gray linoleum tiles beneath my feet.
Suddenly, like a storm, anger swept through my being. Who the hell were they to judge me? Instantly I looked up and met their pathetic, ridiculing looks. “You can all go to H***,” I hissed. Then all at once that disgusting gray floor was slipping away. Cracked white walls going with it. A burst of light from outside, and long, powerful strides carried me away from that wretched institution they called a high school.
The air rushing in and out of my chest tasted like rain, but water had not started falling from the cloud covered sky yet. The earth covered in pine needles and fallen leaves was soft, absorbing the impact of my feet. Trees, tall and proud, radiating their wisdom and age, serenely rose up out of it.
It felt so good, running. Just leaving everything I hated behind. Rather than think of where I was going, I let my nearly silent feet guide me. After a while I hardly noticed the movement. On and on I went. Deeper into the forest that seemed never-ending. As darkness fell, I slowed to a walk but did not stop. That is, until the trees parted.
At first I thought they were opening into a clearing, But as I approached, a rickety, little wooden bridge was revealed to me. My mind blanked and old memories gushed through my brain.
“Mary, why aren't you in heaven?” the voice of my child-self murmured through my thoughts. I had asked this question to one of the first lost souls I had ever gained the courage to talk to.
“I can't cross the bridge” was her reply.
“The Owl Creek Bridge. It connects the Earth to the Everlasting”
“Everlasting?” I had never heard this term and was confused.
“It is all that is, was, and ever will be. It is where everything that dies is supposed to go.” I was fascinated by this 'Everlasting', but one question haunted my mind. “Mary, why aren't you there?”
A look of shame crossed her face as she whispered, “Because I'm afraid.”
My mind was drawn back to the current situation. I finished turning the rest of the way around. My eyes were met with the sight of a lost soul. He, as in the cases of most lost souls, took the form I assumed his body had before it was put in the ground. I suppose he had been attractive when he was alive, when his strong jaw and strait nose weren't accompanied by the sunken, gaunt cheeks of peace-less death. When his dark eyes were filled with the light of life, and not haunted by whatever kept him here. Only one aspect of him remained beautiful: his hair. Jet black, falling a little messily to his slumped, once strong shoulders.
“Help me,” he rasped, reaching out to grab my shoulders. I took a step back. I could see and talk to the dead, sure, but I had next to no idea of how to help them.
“HELP ME!” he yelled this time, his voice sounding tight due to his all-consuming despair. He took a step forward.
“I don't know how.” My own voice shook.
“You have to, you have to.” His chin dropped to his chest, and he covered his face with his hands.
Then it dawned on me, “You gotta cross the bridge.” I don't know how I knew it was this bridge, but somehow, I did. Slowly, he looked up at me, “Will you come? Please, please say yes.” His words were barely above a whisper.
“Okay.” It was the only thing I could think to say to him. I offered him my hand. “Come on.”
That first step onto the bridge was the scariest. It groaned painfully under my weight. I looked back at the soul. He looked eager, so I collected myself and moved forward. “What is your name?” I asked tentatively. I was trying to distract myself because, although there was no water under the bridge, it was a god awful long way down.
“Oh really...” and then my stomach collided with my brain. Dazed, I looked around. I was aware that I had fallen, but where to exactly? Everything was gone except for Cole, replaced by barren whiteness. There was no ceiling, there were no walls, just white.
“This isn't right,” Cole muttered. “This isn't where I'm supposed to be.” Suddenly his dark tortured eyes where enraged. “WHY?” he yelled at me.“ Why did you bring me here?”
I shrank back from him, cowering a little. 'Enough.' That single word rumbled through my mind. The voice that carried it was not my own. I could tell by the way Cole's attention shifted away from me that he'd heard it too. He was staring over my shoulder, slowly, I turned. To my complete shock an immense owl stood just a short distance from us. Its golden eyes and dark feathers gave if an air of unmatched elegance. The voice, I assumed belonged to it rolled through my thoughts again.
' To continue, you must face your life.'
The whiteness was suddenly replaced with a scene:
“How dare you?” a man, Cole, I realized, hissed, holding a gun to another man. They stood in an ally, shrouded in darkness.
“You are my best friend!” Cole's image-self yelled, his voice pained. The real thing stood beside me, his face even more gaunt and pale than before.
“Cole, let’s talk about this,” the other man spoke now, as attractive as the first, but with fiery red hair and grass green eyes.
“No, I will never forgive you -” suddenly the red haired man was trying to wrestle the gun from Cole's fingers. BANG! Somehow the trigger had accidentally been pulled. A stream of blood ran down from the full lips of the red haired man.
“Reed, oh God, oh Reed!” Both Cole and the image-Cole choke out the words. The image-Cole dropped the dead man's body in the pool of blood that had gathered on the ground, picked up the nearby gun, and turned it on himself.
The image had gone silent, but soft sobs continued next to me. I tuned to the man at my right, his tortured expression killed me. “Cole?”
Slowly he turned his face to look at me. “What?”
“Why did you kill him?”
“I didn't mean to!” he cried out.
“Why did you pull a gun on him?”
“He slept with my wife.” His low voice rasped as he said the words. I could do nothing but look at him with pity and shock.
Finally, “I'm sorry.” The words were so inadequate that I wanted to write them down and burn them, but it was all I could think to say.
“I didn't mean to,” he said again.
“I know.” My reply was sudden, and I was very sure of myself. “I know.” I said with conviction this time. “I also know you need to forgive yourself or you will be stuck on earth like this for ever.”
He looked into my face for a long time, and, slowly, his own cleared. “You’re right.”
Again we were surrounded by white; the owl had returned as well. “Why do you forgive yourself? You committed a terrible crime.”
“Because it is time for me to move forward.”
The owl nodded once to that and we fell again. This time I made a soft landing. I opened my eyes.
Pure, unabridged, astonishment replaced all words that could have come to my mind at that moment. I was standing in a field of grass, and above me the night sky stretched endlessly, bright stars covering it from every horizon. But what caught my attention was how every individual blade of grass reflected the entire sky above, creating a land and sky-scape more beautiful and intricate than words could ever hope to describe.
A soft sigh emitted from Cole, “Thank you,” and then, with a gust of wind that made the field of stars so dazzling with movement it hurt, he became a part of what is, was and ever will be.