The sun beat down on him like a hammer pounding on an anvil. July was the hottest on record and it was rumored that there was no hope of rain in sight for at least the next month. Running down the old dirt road Matthew heard the holler of Mary Ellen behind him "wait for me!" she cried as she tried desperately to keep up with him. Running faster, he felt his long legs carry him across the dusty ground, almost like a gazelle. Running was something that he loved to do. His heart pounded in his chest as he rounded the last corner and approached the old bridge. When he came to the center he stopped and leaned over coughing slightly, his chest heaving with deep fast breaths.
A minute or 2 later Mary Ellen came around the corner. As she came onto the bridge he could see that she was all covered in dirt and her one knee was skinned up. Stopping when she got to him she glared at him. "Why didn't you stop Matthew?" she demanded of him. Matthew kneeled down a moment to look at her leg. After a moment he rose and said "awe hell Mary Ellen, that's nothing but a raspberry, you get worse than that all the time." Matthew walked over to the edge of the bridge and leaned against the old rusted steel beams that arched up and overhead like a rusting skeleton of times long ago. Mary Ellen walked over and leaned against the railing with Matthew "you better not let Dad hear you talk like that. He will take the belt after you and you won't be able to sit for a week!" Matthew kicked at a rock on the wooden floor of the bridge and didn't reply. After a while he slowly wandered along the railing running his hand over the wide rusty steel that angled up and down along the sides.
Matthew found his eyes wandering up to the steel beam along the top of the bridge. At a distance the bridge seemed so small, but from here that top beam seemed to tower above him. After a while Matthew wandered along the bridge to the end and sat down on the edge of the road where it sloped down towards the dry river creek. The river had never been much more than a creek as long as he could remember. Even in wet years it had never been more than a foot or two deep for 11 months of the year. The only time there was more was during spring thaw when any snow that they might have been lucky to get during the winter would run off down into the creek bottoms.
Matthew tosses a stone down into the creek bed and watched it kick up a little cloud of dust. After a while he felt Mary Ellen sit down beside him and he sat their in silence. Tossing another rock down into the creek bed he reached over and punched Mary Ellen in the arm. Jumping slightly Mary Ellen turned and punched him back in the arm. Laughing Matthew pushed and was immediately pushed back. In just a moment Mary Ellen and Matthew went rolling across the road laughing and wrestling kicking up dust clouds all over the place as they rolled around.
Finally after a few minutes of rolling around they stopped and caught there breathe and laid there in the dirt looking up at the clouds and smiling. Matthew found his eyes back wandering towards the bridge and the sloped metal beams that lead up to the upper beams. Pointing up at the bridge he called out "Hey Mary Ellen, betcha if we tried we could shimmy up that beam all the way to the top there."
"I don't like that idea Matthew, you know that I am scared of heights.", was the only reply he got from Mary Ellen. Staring silently at the bridge for a while Matthew felt the idea growing inside him like a spark that landed in the scorched grass along side the road. Slowly smoldering into thought, and thought eventually burst into the flame of action as he stood and walked over to the edge of the bridge.
Slowly testing his theory Matthew took a few tentative steps up the wide beam that helped form one of the sides of the bridge. Quietly and deliberately testing the angle of the steel Matthew stepped up a few more steps finding the beam too steep to just walk up. In the background "Matthew get down from there" could be heard from Mary Ellen as she rolled over and stared at what he was doing. Matthew just ignored her concentrating on the bridge and looking it over closely. Matthew walked up to the bridge and reached up grabbing hold of the edges of the railing and straddled it lowering his body against the rough slope of the metal. reaching up above him Matthew grasped the edge of the metal just above one of the large rivet heads that ran in twin rows along the edges of the beam pulled himself a little higher until his feet stopped touching the ground. Reaching up higher Matthew inched his way higher and higher up the beam pulling himself along by the riveted steel until he was a number of feet off the ground. Only then did he stop to turn and look down at Mary Ellen who was now nervously pacing back and forth below him.
"Matthew, you get down from there! If Mom or Dad see you up there you are going to be in so much trouble!" Mary Ellen shook her finger at him as he looked down on her. Winking at her Matthew shouted down "Don't fret Mary Ellen, I am only about 8 feet up, why don't you come up and join me?". As if to emphasize his point Matthew started to inch higher on the beam. Matthew stopped climbing when he realized that he could not feel any more steel above him and looked up realizing that he had climbed almost all the way up the top and he was clawing at empty air." Looking down Matthew flinched slightly as he saw he now semi frantic sister below him. "MATTHEW GET DOWN HERE!" she cried up at him. "You come up here he hollered down at here, or are you too scared?" This started a long bantering between the two each pushing the other along with taunts and jeers. The final straw was when Matthew said "What, you can't do it because your a girl?" Mary Ellen had never been one to stand for being told she wouldn't couldn't or shouldn't do something because she was a girl and she walked over to the bridge muttering as she straddled it and started to inch her way upwards. Matthew seeing her climbing up towards him crawled out onto the top beam of the bridge and carefully swung his leg over the edge of the bridge and rose to a sitting position before swinging sideways a little to help Mary Ellen who had now reached the top and was shimmying out onto the top beam of the bridge. It was here that Mary Ellen was when she heard the distant rumble of a truck off in the distance. "Matthew, we gotta get down now, someone's coming!" Mary Ellen hollered at him in fear. "Oh quit your crying Mary Ellen, whoever it is can't see us up her unless they are looking for us. Just sit still and wait for them to go by." fearful Mary Ellen quietly chewed on her lower lip and looked into his eyes and quietly nodded as they heard the truck rumble closer. As the truck rumbled onto the bridge everything seemed to slow down to Matthew. The bridge groaned and shook as the truck started it's trek across the old steel and Matthew looked as Mary Ellen started to slip, the vibrations rippling through the bridge had loosened her grip on the steel and down she started to slide. As Mary Ellen slid her one foot caught on a rivet causing her body to lift away from the steel and hover almost in midair balancing on just that one foot, before she started to tumble off into open space her arms and legs flailing as she plummeted backwards down into the empty river bottom. The sound of her voice screaming made ever part of his body ache with fear and pain as he looked down at her arms and could do nothing but clutch the trembling steel and scream as he saw her fall. Mary Ellen struck the ground with a sickening thud. The sound would be something that he would never be able to forget, semi-hollow, like a watermelon dropped on the ground. Matthew barely remembered scrambling down the steel beam as the truck came grinding to a halt. Sliding down the river bank Matthew did not even feel the underbrush as it tore at his face and hands, all he could think about was getting to the river bottom. Matthew ran over to Mary Ellen's side and cradled her head in his arms as he looked into her eyes. Blood trickled from her nose and out of the corner of her mouth. "Speak to me Mary Ellen! he cried out as he looked into her fading eyes. Mary Ellen couched slightly "Matthew, it hurts so bad" she managed to whisper. "Make it stop hurting" he heard as he saw bloody bubbles form at the corners of her mouth. "Oh my god Mary Ellen, I am so sorry" Matthew cried, his tears falling down onto her dust covered face leaving streaks down over her cheeks. Mary Ellen felt her lips tremble "Matthew I can't swallow, my throat is so dry, can you give me a drink of water?" Matthew shook as he cried "I have no water Mary Ellen, I'll go get help, sshh". Mary Ellen looked up to him with tears in her eyes "don't leave me Matthew, it's too late. I don't want to be here alone, Just hold my hand for a moment". Matthew grasped her hand in his as tears streamed down his face. Oblivious to the sound of the man in the truck scrambling down the bank Matthew looked into Mary Ellen's Eyes as he felt her grow still. With a sound like a wounded animal Matthew screamed as he saw her take her last breathe, his body heaved with great sobs as he held her hand and looked down on her. The only water around was the tears streaming down his face.
Matthew sat straight up in bed and gasped for air. His sweat soaked hands clawing at the sheets. Crying out he screamed "Make this hell go away!" as he slumped back against the bed.
|Table of Contents