The Fifth Tale - Bridge
Simon P. Clark
The bridge had always been there, but she'd never heard the voice before. It called to her, over and over, saying her name, whispering things.
‘Who's there?’ she said. She moved a little closer and turned her head. ‘Stephen? Is that you?’
The voice was too soft to make out. The light was starting to fade. The sound of water carried on the breeze. She shook her head, turned away, and ran back to the house.
The kitchen was busy, all steaming pots and scullery maids.
‘Is there someone under the bridge?’ she asked.
‘What's that?’ said Cook. She wiped her hands, panting a little.
‘The bridge. I thought—‘
‘Oh, don't you go messing with that,’ said Cook. ‘There's fae in the bridge. You leave them be.’
She took a pinch of salt and threw it over her shoulder.
‘Never you mind, girl Out the way now, there's dinner to make.’
‘Watch the roast!’ shouted Cook, and she turned away, her face getting redder.
Peters was in the hallway, polishing the banister. His shoes squeaked when he moved. He winked when he saw her.
‘Little Miss,’ he said.
‘What's fae?’ she asked.
‘Hm? Come again?’
‘Fae. Cook said they're in the bridge.’
‘Ohh you mean the Little Folk. Faeries, that is. Just an old story. I wouldn't worry.’
‘Oh, yes. The bridge is the boundary. I think.’
He turned back to his polishing, the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth.
‘What do you mean, boundary? Boundary for what?’
‘Oh, I don't know. Hunting rights, maybe?’
She crossed her arms. ‘But what does that mean?’
Peters paused his polishing. He put his hands on his back, puffed his cheeks out. ‘I'd ask your father. He'd know more.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Fine.’
The door to the study was closed. She stopped to look out of the landing window. She could see the bridge and the trees behind it. The river was fat with snowmelt. It flowed higher than usual, lapping against the grass by the banks.
Lia, said the voice. She frowned, took a step closer to the glass.
Lia, it said. Help me.
‘What are you?’ she said. Her breath fogged the pane.
Help me, it said. I'm in trouble.
‘How do you know my name?’
The world outside was silent and cold. She touched the glass. It was cold.
‘Hello?’ she whispered.
From beneath the window came a raw screech, a flash of black and white, the sound of beating wings. A magpie burst from the bushes. Lia jumped back. The bird flew higher, the sun flashing on its tail, and then was gone. The study door opened. Her father peered out.
‘Darling!’ he said, surprised. ‘Is everything alright?’
She looked at him, unsure.
‘Um,’ she said.
‘I . . . I just had a question.’
He opened the door wider, inviting her in. ‘What's that?’ he said. They stepped into the study, its walls lined with books, the air thick with the smell of smoke, and something else, something sweet.
‘It's about the bridge,’ she said. Her father picked up his paper.
‘They were saying downstairs that there's fae in there. And that it’s a boundary. I was wondering...’Her voice trailed off. She felt silly and young.
He looked at her a moment, blank-faced. Then he smiled. ‘Oh, that. Local legend. Gosh, that's an old story. Now, how does it go? Our family made a deal with the faewe won’t hunt beyond the bridge all the way up to the woods; and in return they won't hunt on our land.’
‘Well, of course.’
‘For what? For babes! What did you think fae hunt? I don’t think there’s much else they want,’ he said. ‘Peskies, my father called them. The peskies in the water.’
‘Peters called them the Little Folk?’
‘That too, yes. There’s a few names.’
For a moment they were both quiet. Lia cleared her throat. ‘There’s someone there,’ she said. ‘There's someone under the bridge. I heard them talking.’
‘There shouldn't be.’
‘But I heard them.’‘Peskies?’ he said, raising an eyebrow.
‘No. I don’t know. I heard them talking, though.’
‘Hm. I'll call Rogers, have him take a look. Could be a vagrant.’
‘Could it be the faeries?’
Her father laughed, took a sip of something honey-coloured. ‘Now, now,’ he said. He smiled. ‘Anyway, they couldn't come this side, could they? The boundary, remember? So, nothing to worry about. I'll have Rogers take a look.’
‘Okay. I guess . . .’
He nodded, rustled his paper, and turned to his desk. The conversation was over.
At breakfast the next morning her father called her over. ‘We had a look around the grounds,’ he said. ‘Didn't see anyone. Thought I'd let you know. Must have been one of the fellows working on the garden.’
‘So there's no one?’ she said.
‘No one,’ he said, and he squeezed her hand. ‘Now, hurry on, you have lessons later.’
She chewed her toast, stared out the window. The sky was grey, getting darker. It was going to rain soon.
‘I'm going to go outside for some air,' she said. 'While the weather’s okay..’
’Hm?’ said her father. ‘Oh, fine, fine.’ He was reading something. She went to find her coat.
It was cold outside. The wind was coming down the hills, bringing more frost with it. She stood on the bridge. The water ran higher and higher.
‘Hello?’ she whispered. She pulled her collar tight.
Lia, said the voice. Lia. Will you help me?
‘Who are you?’ she said.
No name. Many names. Too many, maybe. There was something like laughter in the air.
She swallowed. ‘Are you . . . are you fae?’
The voice didn't reply for a while, and when it did, it was different. Playful, thought Lia, and whining. .
Fae? it said.
‘The . . . the faeries. You live in the bridge. If that's you, I mean. Are you?’
Faeries in the bridge, said the voice. It sighed and grew louder. Faeries in the bridge? Yes. Yes. And what else?
‘Um,’ she said. ‘I don't— what do you mean?’
What do you know?
‘That this is the boundary. You can't cross it,’ she added, louder, raising her voice against the wind. ‘You can't,’ she said again, and then she stepped backwards.
Ohhhh, said the voice, so low it was almost a growl, like the rumble of a stomach. Can't cross. Yes, yes. Fae. In the bridge. Can't cross. Yes.
Somewhere under the bridge, where she couldn't see the water, something splashed.
Help me, said the voice. Please. Please, do.
‘How?’ She looked back at the house. Would her father be watching?
Please, come and help.
‘I don't know how.’
Come and see, said the voice, and tell about the fae.
She heard another splash. She smelled somethingstrange, like smoke and candles and dust and fur.
‘I don't know,’ she said.
I just want rest, it said. I just want aid. It sounded hurt, now, like an old, wounded thing.
‘If we go to the kitchen, I can—’
Just come down. Please. Please, young Lia. Come and tell me about the fae. Come and tell me what you know.
Tell me what you know, said the voice.
Lia’s face was cold. She should call her father. She knew that.
She took a step closer to the water.
She should call Rogers, or Stephens, or Cook. If someone needed help, or food, no one would mind.
She took another step closer.
‘Can . . . will I see you?’ she said.
Yes. Yes, of course!
More splashing, but further down, still out of view.
She was right up by the bridge now, so close she could reach out and touch the stones. They were frozen, rough, too cold to rest against.
One more step, said the voice, and you can tell me about the fae.
She looked back again. She felt the spray of the river as it poured over the rocks.
I just want to hear the story, said the voice.
Just the story.
Just the lovely words. You have them, don’t you? I smell it. I hear it. Please, Lia. Why not?
She bit her lip. It sounded so sad. And faeries were nice, weren’t they? What harm could they do? She’d read that they were nice, in the books she had in the nursery.
‘Maybe,’ she said. She bit her lip. ‘But only for a second, right? And only if you if tell me your name.’
Yes, yes, I will. I agree.
‘Okay,’ said Lia. ‘I’ll come down.’
She took another step, right across the boundary, and walked into another world.
Bridge, Eren Tales © Simon P. Clark 2014. All rights reserved.
Photography © Brandon Rechten 2014. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission
from the author or publisher is prohibited.