Dark Of The Woods

A Young Man Must Confront His Fears
Confronting Fears

I first met Thomas under the Lonely Bridge. We called it the Lonely because it no longer had any utility. It was a small wooden bridge that spanned a ravine on the western edge of town. The problem was it no longer led to anything but some dense growth that stood in front of an even denser forest. I’m not sure what used to lay beyond it but we’ll come back to that.

It was my 34th birthday and frankly, I didn’t really have anyone that I was close to in that town, so I decided to spend my time exploring. I suppose that I chose west because we’re always trying to make our way back home. Or maybe I was just following the setting sun. Or, maybe I didn’t choose at all. Maybe Thomas drew me to himself.

The paved road became a pitted dirt path and I could just make out the bridge ahead. The smell of rain came pretty suddenly and I quickened my pace to head for the wooden shelter.

When I smelled the cigarette smoke I briefly considered turning around and finding another place to wait out the rain, but my curiosity was piqued and I made my way down the shallow ravine. His laughter was quick and sharp as I tripped and hit the newly formed mud.

At first, I couldn’t see through the rain and mud but when I had wiped my face, I looked up to see a man about my age standing over me with his hand extended. He had a cigarette between his wide grinning lips.

“Thanks,” I said as I took the proffered hand and made my way to a dry spot.

“Come here often?” he asked with a half-smile as he took his place a few feet away.

“No,” I replied, “I’m pretty new here, don’t know a lot of folks. And it’s my birthday, so I thought I’d treat myself to an adventure.”

“Happy Birthday,” he said, and looked at me as if waiting for an introduction.

“Oh, sorry. My name is Cosmas.”

He mulled that over in his mind but made no other mention of it as he smoked the last of his cigarette.

“And how old are you today Cosmas?” He spoke with almost no enthusiasm in his voice.

“34”, I said with a brief moment of reflection.

I thought I saw his eyes glaze over a little when I said that, as if he were remembering something dark and unpleasant, but he quickly came back to the conversation, though a bit reluctantly.

He turned his face away and said in a slightly quieter tone, “I’ll see you around.”

“Wait,” I replied as I stood. But, in the time it took me to lift my head he had already vanished. The only indicator of his presence being the lingering smell of smoke.

I walked home in the rain that day. I realized he hadn’t even shared his name and although I was still annoyed at my unfortunate tumble into the mud, I was more annoyed at losing the opportunity to make a new friend in this small town. Without a name I couldn’t even inquire about him.

I spent the next two days at home with just my work and my laptop. It wasn’t an exciting life, but it was peaceful. Sometimes though I wondered if peace were enough. What kind of life was spent alone? Even a good life. Often, I wished I could find a friend to share my boredom with. Maybe even a couple of misadventures. I thought about that man under the bridge. Our conversation was exceedingly short but I felt I learned something about him through his demeanor. He was quiet and reserved. He had a haunting about him, but he seemed to enjoy my little mishap.

He was sad.

I didn’t know what his circumstances were but it almost felt familiar and I in turn felt for the man. Maybe I would see him again. Maybe he was looking for a friend too and didn’t know how to find them.

I decided then that him and I would be friends if I ever saw him again.

- - -

I encountered him several days later in perhaps the most unexpected way. As I emerged alone from the old theatre building that night, I began to make my way home. I did own a car but it had little purpose in a place this size and the Spring chill was something I always enjoyed.

As I rounded the corner of the old edifice, I was struck in the head with a half full soda cup. I whirled around expecting to find the one other patron I had shared the film with but the street was empty. Just as well, I thought, especially since I couldn’t think for the life of me what I had done to warrant that kind of treatment.

Confused and sticky I turned to keep walking when I heard that familiar chuckle and it dawned on me that the soda had hit the top of my head. I looked up to see the man from the bridge perched on the edge of the theatre roof. I couldn’t exactly make out his features but I knew it was him, and for some reason I knew he was wearing that half grin people get when they think they’re clever.

“What are you doing man?” I asked with an angry tone. But I was secretly happy to have found him.

“Come on up and join me,” he yelled down.

I don’t know what drew me to this character or why I was so keen to get to know him, but against my better judgment and fear of heights I climbed the aged fire escape and once again took his hand to scramble up the rest of the way.

The view of the town was stunning and I began to understand why he took on this dangerous endeavor.

“What’s your name?” I asked, not wanting to let him slip away again so fast.

He looked at me sidelong with that grin and hesitated a moment like maybe I didn’t really want to know.

“Thomas,” he said quietly as he turned again to gaze at the sky with its ever-growing clouds.

Looking back, I don’t think he ever told me his last name and for whatever reason, I never asked.

“What are you doing up here?” I wondered. “And why did you hit me?”

He laughed again.

“I’m enjoying the view, same as you. As for the soda, well, you looked thirsty.” He laughed again.

“I guess you like scary things, huh?” he asked.

“What do you mean by that,” I said.

“Well you just sat through that vampire flick and you’re not with a girl…so, you must like a good scare, right?”

Tom was right. I had always been into scares and mysteries. As a kid I fell asleep to many monster movies and books. I suppose I never grew out of it.

“Yeah,” I said, “ever since childhood. Mom thought it was weird, but Dad convinced her if it wasn’t giving me nightmares then it wasn’t doing any harm.”

“That’s good,” Tom said, “it probably toughened you up a bit.”

I nodded with a smile. He reached into an inner coat pocket and withdrew a cigarette, which he offered to me. I declined and he lit it.

“You ever seen one?” he asked out of the blue.

As he said this a police car drove by and I ducked quickly out of sight.

“They can’t see us,” he said.

I stood cautiously and composed myself, not wanting to appear weak but also not wanting to be in trouble with the law.

“So, have you” he asked again.

“Seen what?” I said with a puzzled look.

He took another drag.

“A ghost.”

I admit I got a little chill when he said that, though I’m not sure why.

“That’s kid stuff,” I told him with uncertain certainty.

“Is it?” he said back. “You wanna find out?”

“What do you mean?” I wondered.

“Remember the old bridge we met under?”

“Of course,” I said, noting it was only a few days ago.

“Well, in the thick of those woods is an old house. Nobody there. Nobody living anyway.”

This time I laughed. Tom didn’t laugh back.

“C’mon,” he said, “you like scary things and I’ve got an itch for an adventure.”

Chapter Two Coming Soon

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