Blood Bridge was old. Not only the oldest in Cross, but possibly all of Massachusetts, and Susan had come all the way down from Brattleboro, Vermont to photograph it. She sat in her car, just off the side of the narrow dirt road in a large open patch among the trees. She let the car idle, the heat set on low as she checked her cameras. Both the 35mm and the digital still looked good.
Putting both camera straps around her neck, Susan turned off the engine and pocketed the keys. Opening the door, she stepped out into the brisk air. Massachusetts wasn’t as cold as Vermont, but it was close. Pulling her sweater down past her waist she walked towards the bridge.
Blood Bridge was an oddity, especially in New England with its covered bridges. Built entirely of fieldstones the bridge spanned an old, dry stream bed at the bottom of a deep gully. The sides of the gully stretched nearly forty feet down, if Susan remembered the history right, and the bridge had a total length of one hundred paces. She could see how the bridge was wide on either end, narrowing to just a foot or two in width at its center. What held the bridge together no one knew, nor seemed to concerned to find out. Susan couldn’t see any mortar as she came to a stop in front of the bridge.
A large, heavy yellow chain ran between a pair of granite posts, effectively stopping any sort of wheeled traffic from proceeding. On a steel post was a sign warning of the bridge’s undetermined age and structural stability. Everyone was warned to stay off of it, and trespassers would be arrested and fined.
No one, Susan knew, had any idea when the bridge had been built. It was called Blood Bridge simply because the Blood family had been the first family to find it, and to warn others not to cross it. In fact, every snippet on-line or in a book had reiterated the point. Even the Native Americans hadn’t known who’d built the bridge. For some unstated reason, they had avoided the area like the plague.
Superstitions, Susan thought, stepping over the chain. Lifting her 35mm she began taking photographs, capturing the power and the mystery of the bridge as best she could.
The sun fought to pierce the canopy of leaves bright with their Fall colors, but the air around the bridge remained dim and heavy. Susan worked her way through five rolls of film and several hundred digital shots in the first few hours.
She wandered back to her car and dug out her thermos. Pouring a cup of coffee, Susan drank a little, noticing for the first time the curious silence of the forest.
No birds, no squirrels, no insects, she thought.
Not even the leaves made noise as the wind tugged them free and sent them to the forest floor.
And not a single leaf landed on the stones of Blood Bridge.
Susan set her coffee down half-finished on the console and got out of the car. She snapped pictures of the bridge as she walked towards it. She caught images of the leaves as they twisted and veered away from the stones to fall and settle on the dry stream bed.
She continued to take pictures until she ran out of film and memory space. Susan hurried back to the car, loaded up again and ran back and jumped the chain. She hurried onto the bridge, moving steadily to the center as she worked. Her steps were strangely silent as she walked, as if the stones devoured all of the sounds around them.
When she reached the center of the bridge Susan took photos from every angle possible. Finally, she lay down on the stones and took pictures of the leaves as they fell towards her. Finishing off a roll of film, she sat up, shaking her head. She grinned as she wound up the roll, popped the back and took it out.
The bridge shook slightly.
Susan put her hands out to steady herself.
Nothing else happened.
Shaking her head Susan reloaded the camera, closed the back of it, and lay down on her stomach. The chill of the stones seeped through her clothes as she took focused on the end of the bridge and the chain beyond it. She liked the way the linked metal swayed.
The chain wasn’t swaying, the bridge was, ever so gently from left to right and back again.
Carefully Susan got to her feet, an unpleasant feeling sprouting in her stomach. The daylight had slipped away, hidden by a thick cover of clouds. The light was dim and the hackles rose on the back of her neck.
Walking cautiously on the bridge she heard a slight rumble, as if something heavy was being moved beneath the bridge.
A deep, horrific voice called out in what sounded like German, and Susan started to run.
Fear drove her, something wild and primal within knew that whatever thing had spoken was wrong.
Leaping the chain her digital camera spun and snapped off of its strap, crashing to the ground. Susan didn’t stop. It wasn’t worth it.
Louder crashes echoed out against the trees, and the voice called out again as the unknown thing climbed noisily up out of the gully. Susan reached her car and got in just as a disturbingly high-pitched laugh burst out from beside the bridge.
Pulling out her keys Susan spilled the rest of her coffee onto the passenger seat, and she started the car, looking at the bridge and seeing the owner of the voice.
It was huge and female. Long dirty blonde hair fell in filthy locks to giant breasts which swung freely beneath a shift made of old fabric. Toothless human and animal skulls hung from lengths of chain wrapped around her wide waist. Her skin was gray, the color of stone, and her features were square. She didn’t stand much taller than Susan, but she was broad. When she saw Susan she grinned and called out in her harsh language.
Susan slammed the car into drive, and it lurched forward. The right front tire exploded as she hit a stump which jerked the car down and to the right, where it smashed into a massive oak. The airbags deployed and smashed into Susan’s face, breaking her nose.
Leaving the car running, Susan scrambled out of it, stumbling to her feet. The gruesome woman stood in front of the chain, shaking her head and laughing. Susan started to run, tripping and falling, sprawling out across the dirt. Panting, Susan got to her feet, glancing behind her.
The woman was walking towards her, singing softly. The chains rattled gently, the skulls bumping against one another hollowly as her feet scuffed across the ground.
Susan turned her attention back to the road. An old pick-up truck was rumbling along towards her. The driver started flashing the lights and hitting the horn. Susan lurched to the side of the road, clinging to a tree as the truck passed by. It rumbled to within a dozen feet of the strange woman, who had come to a stop. The truck did the same. The driver shut the lights off and turned off the engine. Susan watched as the driver’s side door opened.
A tall old man stepped out. He stood ramrod straight, his hair and long beard white, his old flannel shirt and jeans were well cared for. Closing the door, he placed his booted feet wide, calling out to the woman in her own language.
The woman laughed, pointing at Susan.
The old man laughed in return, nodding. He walked around to the back of the truck, opening the tailgate. Susan saw the carcass of a deer, which the old man grabbed and pulled out effortlessly. The body thudded to the road loudly, and the old man dragged it to the woman, leaving it at her feet. She said something to the old man, and he chuckled, giving her a short bow.
The woman laughed and took up the deer, slinging it over a shoulder easily. Turning around she walked back to the bridge. Susan watched the woman step around the granite posts and go down the left side of Blood Bridge, disappearing into the gully.
The old man turned around quickly as soon as the woman was gone. “You’ll need a tow,” he said, nodding towards Susan’s Volvo. “I’ll give you a ride to Thomas.’”
“What was that?” Susan managed to ask.
“That was Freja,” the old man said. “And we’d best be quick about getting in the truck. Sometimes a deer’s not enough.”
“But what is she?” Susan asked, stepping away from the tree and looking nervously back to the bridge.
“A troll,” the old man said. “The Norse left her here long before Columbus came.”
Susan blinked, shaking her head. “A troll...my camera…”
The old man glanced up at the digital camera by the bridge and chuckled. “Best to leave it, young lady. We’ll be lucky to get your car out of here. Come now, I’ll bring you to Thomas’. He’s got a wrecker, and he’s taken cars out of here before for me.”
Susan felt her head spin as she closed her eyes. “Wait. Before? How did you even know?” she asked, opening her eyes.
“Camera,” the old man said, motioning to a hunter’s camera mounted in a birch. “Motion activated,” he said, turning away from her and walking to the pick-up. “And as for before,” he said, opening the driver’s side door and looking back to her, “you’re not the only one foolish enough to step out on Blood Bridge. How do you think Freja got those skulls?”
Climbing into the pick-up he looked at her and asked, “Coming?”
Susan sprinted for the truck.