Under the Bridge

by George T. Philibin



     “Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!” Eddy Burkes screamed at me.

     “You’re a Chicken, you always was a Chicken! You always will be a Chicken! When something big happens around here you’ll never be in on it!

     Eddy continued his barrage of insults at me as he and Billy Martin and Timmy Allison picked up speed riding toward the park. Elroy smith just rode around in circles listening and looking at Eddy, then at me.

     As I watched them, Elroy stopped; he looked over at me, then turned his head towards Eddy as if waiting for me to come. I didn’t move; Elroy seemed frozen waiting for me to do anything. I stood still just eyeing Eddy. 

     “Well! Well! Well! We have us another Chicken! No, two yellow Chickens. Boy the Chickens are showing themselves now. Chickens! Chickens! Chickens!” Eddy screamed at us enjoying every second of it, for he laughed and laughed.

     Finally, I couldn’t stand Eddy’s insults anymore, and Eddy could easily take me in a fight, but I screamed back at him with, “Eddy you’re stupid! That’s why you flunked the fourth-grade!”

    But Eddy kept pedaling even harder.    

    Elroy pedaled closer to me and asked, “D-Do you think they will really go down there?”

    As I watched Eddy and the others turn onto Maple Avenue, I answered more to myself than to Elroy, “Oh, he’ll go down there, he has to now. If he doesn’t, well you know, everybody will find out that he chickened out too.”

    “The policeman said to stay out of there. They say a crazy man lives down there,” Elroy stated.

    “My dad said a ghost lives there. He was just trying to scare me so I'd stay out,” I added. “They don’t even know what happens down there.”

    As I looked towards Eddy and heard him still screaming, a cool breeze signaling that fall was already here blew back my hair. A cool breeze that mixed with fresh cut lawns and the sound of lawn-mowers in the distance, and one that chilled me even in bright sunlight on a warm day and pushed my hair back over my forehead, already some leaves had started falling to the ground.

    “You’re right. That Eddy’s stupid. Real stupid; he’ll get Billy and Timmy in big trouble or they’ll vanish like the rest of them,” Elroy said with more confidence.

    “I wonder what happened to all the people that vanished, you know? Remember when the policeman came to our school? Well he said to stay out of there. He said that ever since the bridge was built during that depression people have been missing who go down under it,” Elroy said as he watched some leaves dance along near the curb.

    We could still hear Eddy yelling his insults calling Elroy and me the biggest chickens in the world. But his voice started to wane, blending in with the rustle of leaves that the cool breeze made when catching them. Soon we couldn’t hear him.

     “Wanta ride over to the park and watch what happens?”

     “Yeah---but I’m not going near that path that goes under that bridge,” Elroy said.

     Once at the park, we made it to the north end and parked.     

     The entire area, more than two acres, around the bottom of the bridge had a high fence surrounding it in order to keep kids outs, mainly. And “No Trespassing” signs large and easy to see were plastered all over the fence.

     At the beginning of a path that led down under the bridge from the park, a service gate very tall with swirled iron bars locked and secured and heavily shaded by old oak trees, stood still like a centurion ready to stop all who approached easily. And a “City Works” sign on one of the swing gates, and a “No trespassing” sign on the other, studied us if we got too close. 

     However, some said the fence was to keep something in. I heard some older boys say that once when mom took me to the park about six years earlier.

     “Do you see them?” Elroy asked.


     “I wonder where they are?”

     “They must be headed near the fence.”

     “I bet they locked their bikes to that iron post by the gate, I bet they are,” Elroy uttered.

     We slowly rode between two teams playing baseball, and we looked around to see if any sight of Eddy or the two others might appear. Nothing, no Eddy, no Billy, and no Timmy. The pitcher on one team screamed something; we stopped. But he was hollering at an out-fielder.

     Just as Elroy had expected, their bikes were locked to the iron post but no sight of them.   

     The service gate beyond the post was closed, but we knew that Eddy, Billy and Timmy could climb over or craw under the fence unseen behind some trees or shrubs at certain points. The only problem, a policeman or city-worker might see them, and it was known that if one of us kids got caught, he would be taken in and arrested. That had been said over and over again by our parents, teachers, and the policemen who visited our school. Do not go down under the Sixth Avenue Bridge!

     We parked near a pavilion and sat on a picnic-table inside shaded from the sun and near a family enjoying themselves. However, the older daughter glared at her younger brother who must have irritated her somehow without his parents seeing. He stood proudly looking back at her with an accomplished look about him.   

     “They got in!” Elroy said louder than usual.

     “I bet they did,” I answered.

     “Man, they-are-in-big-trouble. Really big trouble. You know the police watch. Hell, they are the ones that you have to look out for!”

     “They’ll wind up in juvenal court for this one,” I added.

     “I bet they’ll have to go to one of those parole officers and stuff like that,” Elroy excitably said.

     Although we were at least half a football field away from the iron gate, I felt the cool dampness radiate out from the thick woodland behind it, and the scent of spruce, oak and evergreen mixing with the dampness danced towards us uninhibited by bright sunlight.

     “Let’s get outa here. I don’t want nobody thinking we were with them,” Elroy finally said.

     Elroy was right: If the cops got them and saw us they might just as well take us along; the traffic cops have seen all of us riding around together at times.

     We left the park the same way we entered. One baseball team must have lost, for some players were flinging their bats and kicking at the earth. We avoided them for they were a few years older and might think we were laughing at them just because they lost.

     “Want to wait for them at my house and have supper,”  I asked.

     “No, I-I better be getin’ home. Dad gets mad if I’m late for supper, you know. He’ll be getting home soon, and you know mom made supper for me, I’m sure, but I‘ll be over later,” Elroy said.

     Elroy rode off slowly and glanced at the park once or twice.

     I stayed near the park for another ten to fifteen-minutes watching every kid riding a bike, walking, playing or just hanging around, but not one was Eddy, Billy or Timmy.

     Finally, after not seeing them and not wanting to go near the iron post to look further, I started for home, but couldn’t stop looking back at the park until it disappeared after I turned down an alley.

     The smell of fried chicken came from our kitchen; Mom had supper ready, and for once I was on time.

     “Is everything Ok Honey?” she asked after studying me for a moment.

     I hesitated briefly trying to think of how to tell her about Eddy and also how to keep out of trouble, for she didn’t like Eddy and didn’t want me playing with him.

     “George, what’s wrong?” again she asked but more sterner.

     “Nothing much. I had a fight with Eddy. He rode up to me and Elroy and said that he was going to sneak down under the bridge to see what’s down there. And if I didn’t go, he would tell everybody that I chickened out. I told him he was stupid. Elroy didn’t go either.”

     “That’s good that you didn’t go. Eddy knows to stay out of there. He’s been told at school, I’m sure about that.

     “I’m glad that you used good sense, and I’m glad that Elroy also used good judgment. I always liked Elroy. See I told you about Eddy. He’ll get you in trouble,” mom said.

     Mom turned and walked over to the sink. She paused thinking for a second then said, “Eddy said that he was going down under the Sixth Avenue Bridge next to the park?”

     “Yeah,” I answered as I grabbed a piece of chicken.

     “I’m going to call Eddy’s mother!”

     Alarmed at my mom going to call, I started to say, “They probably...” but stopped after I remembered their bikes locked to the iron post.

     Sweat formed at once on my forehead for the heat from mom’s cooking still lingered with the smell of batter made from eggs and flour. I sweated more and had to wipe off my forehead with my shirt as mom walked into the living room to call.

     She called. And I heard her on the phone with Eddy’s mom who must have gotten very angry for I heard my mom say, “Yes, I know how it is. Yes, it’s like talking to a wall sometimes.”

     After hanging up the phone, she came back into the kitchen and asked, “Who else went with Eddy?”

     I told her. And again she went to the phone and called Billy and Timmy’s mothers.

     Just then, dad came home and kissed mom while she was still on the phone.

     After hanging up the phone, mom quickly told dad about the episode, but said that I did the right thing and wasn’t in any trouble. I hoped dad saw it that way!

     “Good boy!” dad said as he patted me on the shoulder then began eating his supper. Dad’s right guard sliced through the aroma of chicken, and seemed to cool off the kitchen somewhat, for I stopped sweating and felt much cooler now.     

     He started telling mom about a truck that ran over a curb and crashed into another truck, but mom’s eyes told us that she was very worried about Eddy and the two other boys.

     “Don’t worry Honey, “dad said. “They’ll just taunt each other and when the first kid runs outa there, the others will follow. Believe me I know these things.

     “I’ll bet this Eddy was bragging about how tough he is,” dad said as he looked at me.

     “Y-Yes he al-always tries to showoff.”

     “See, that’s all it is. He knows one of the other kids’ll get scared first,” dad added.

     A real fear settled over me. Dad was wrong. I knew it. And I couldn’t keep quiet about following Eddy, Billy and Timmy to the park and looking at their bikes locked to the iron post.

     “I rode over to the park with Elroy-a-and their bikes were locked to that iron post by the gate. I d-didn’t go near the gate; I looked over at it from the ball-field. W-We stayed away from it,” I said very nervously.

     Why didn’t you tell me this!” mom asked swiftly.

     “I don’t know---you called Eddy’s mom so fast---I g-guess I forgot!”

     Dad still eating his supper said, “That’s Ok, you didn’t go with them. But you should have told mom about following them sooner.”

     But dad wasn’t angry for he started on another piece of chicken and devoured it in no time.

     “George, I want you to stay in the yard until I hear from Eddy’s mother,” mom said.

     “That’s a good idea. We don’t want you involved. They’ll probably get caught. Cops patrol down there along the city service road and they arrest all trespassers,” dad said while devouring a chicken leg.

     But mom had a real worried look in her eye; she finally gave me a hug and said, “George, believe me, I’m very proud of you for listening to me and your dad.”

     Pete came over and we played basketball in the driveway.

     I told him about Eddy going down under the bridge but didn’t say much more, especially that my mom called Eddy’s.

     “Good, when he gets caught he’ll have to say in forever,” is all that Pete said about Eddy.

     Elroy never came over and I decided not to call him.

     We played basketball for a while then oiled and polished our bikes, and when Star Trek came on we raced to the television.

     After Pete left, I fell asleep on the couch, but mom got me up, told me to take a bath then go to bed.

     Much later that night, I’m still not sure what time it was, mom frantically shook my arm as I slept.

     I woke up. She whispered at first but her voice rose as she said, “There’re two policeman downstairs. Eddy, Billy, and Timmy are missing and their parents are frantic! They want to talk to you!”

     With the mention of policeman, sleep vanished and I stood up wide awake and scared.

     “Wash your face off and comb your hair then come downstairs,” mom ordered.

     I heard her tell someone that I’ll be right down, and a strange voice answered, “Thank you Mrs. Williams.”

     The bathroom window was open and the cool night air entered waking me up even more now as I did what mom told me.     

     After I started downstairs, I slowed as soon as I saw the two policemen, one in uniform and the other in a suit, waiting for me inside the front door.

     I stopped in front of them and felt the fresh night air again that entered with the two officers and an odor of leather faint but present struck me as one of the officer said, “George, we’d like to ask you some questions about Eddy and Billy and Timmy. You know them don’t you?”

     “Y-Yes”, I answered.

     “Where did you last see them?”

     “By Elm and Maple---Sir,” I answered.

     “Where were you and the three boys just before that time?”

     “They were riding around behind Gianto’s Market,” I answered.

     “Me a-and my friend Elroy w-were in f-front. We weren’t with them, Sir,” I quickly added.

     “How did you all meet on Elm street,” the detective asked.

     “Me and Elroy then rode down Elm and then Eddy, Billy and Timmy passed us and waited for us near that large house on the corner,” I said.

     “Did you see anybody following you?”


     “Were there any strangers just standing or sitting in a car that you noticed anywhere?”

     “No, just the regular people,” I said.

     “What do you mean by the regular people?”

     “You know, the people that live in the houses there and the ones that wash their cars all the time,” I answered.

     “What happened next?”

 “Eddy said that he was going to go down under the bridge and if I didn’t go he would say we were chickens. I said he was stupid. He is you know. He fluked the fourth grade. Right, mom?” I said looking at my mother.     

     “Have any men stared at you or looked at you in a funny sort of way or just smiled as you passed by?”

     “Sometimes Mr. Gianto stares at us when we ride in his parking lot and a bus driver stared at us for a long time once when we rode next to his bus....”

     George,” mom exploded, “I told you to stay out of traffic!” 

“S-Sorry mom but we didn’t see the bus at first.” I returned quickly.

     “Who else?” the detective further asked.

     “T-The policeman directing traffic a-always w-watches us r-really c-close all the time and sometimes w-when we ride on the sidewalk---h-he stares at us.” I answered.

     The uniformed officer smiled somewhat at my remark and the detective just raised his eyebrow glancing at my mom and dad for a moment.          

     I answered many more questions, and for the next fifteen to twenty minutes the detective asked me so many questions that I started forgetting the ones he asked me at first.

     “George,” the detective finally said, “you did the right thing by telling your mother, and also the right thing by not going with them. Rest easy son, you ’re in no trouble.”    

     Mom told me to go back to bed, but I listened at the top of the stairs and heard the detective say: “We talked to Elroy Smith, I know his dad Tony, and Elroy says pretty much the same thing George just said.”

     The officers thanked my mom and dad and said something that I couldn‘t clearly hear because the officers were now out on the front porch.

     After the two officers left, mom came upstairs and talked with me.

     “You told the detective everything, didn’t you Honey?” mom asked.

     “Yes----everything that I know--honest mom, I did!” I answered.

     “Honey, I believe you, I do. Your dad and me are proud that you obeyed us by not going near that place, and proud that you told the detective everything like a young man should.”

     As she held me, a tear started running down her cheek, and as she held me tighter the longer it ran, until she finally said, “Thank God you didn’t go.”

     She stayed with me a little longer but didn’t say much, then, after kissing me goodnight on the forehead and tucking me in and making sure the window was locked, she slowly walked over to the door.

     She left the door open, turned on the hall light and must have did something else, for she didn’t go downstairs for about three minutes.  

     I fell asleep again, but Eddy’s image now implanted itself into my memory as if Leonardo De Vinci and Michelangelo had grabbed my soul and used their combined talents insuring that Eddy’s face would be with me forever,  indisputably a perfect sculpture of him---as he looked the last moment that I ever saw him!

     Mom woke me up early. She wanted me to go with her to the park because she volunteered her services the best she could with the search taking place.

     At the park, diesel fumes from a fire-truck engulfed me as it passed, and I coughed until the air cleared. But before long the truck started to back up, unsure where to park probably, but this time I ran over to Mom who was standing near a police car parked at the curb talking to the same uniformed officer that came last night. The fumes missed me this time.

     Fireman, city workers and an entourage of volunteers, included dad for it was Saturday, oozed through-out the entire area under the bridge and the surrounding areas.                                                                                                            

     Furthermore, the surrounding sections were wooded and had expensive homes with large lawns, but the homes were spaced apart following some guideline set down in a building code. Tickets and small forests islands often separated these homes.    

     Search parties working all night were so close to one another that they looked more like a crowd that leaves after a NFL football game has ended.

     Elroy’s dad directed some fireman, for he was a lieutenant in the fire department.

     He came over to my mom who was hugging Eddy’s mom, and with Billy and Timmy’s parents present, he said very kindly with a deep voice that transmitted confidence and authority: “We have almost five hundred people down there. That’s around one person per five hundred square feet! We’ll miss nothing! Everything possible will be done to find you boys!”

     Eddy’s mom thanked him and she seemed to feel better after Elroy’s dad reassured her about the city’s commitment to find the boys.

     I was standing about fifty-feet away watching a city fire and ambulance crew take something out of the ambulance, when the aroma of strong coffee made me turn around.

     Elroy’s dad stood next to me holding a coffee in his hand. After looking at me for a few seconds, he finally said,  “Thank you George for keeping my Elroy out of trouble. My Elroy is a good boy, but he’s no leader. I know that and his mom knows that. But you George are a leader. Thank God that you and my Elroy are friends.”

     For three days search parties combed, but nothing turned up. Eddy, Billy and Timmy’s bikes locked to the iron post was the only evidence the police found relating to the boys.

     I knew that mom didn’t like Eddy, but she cried with Eddy’s mother that day in the park. 

     After three days the search was called off, but volunteers continued to look.

     Eddy, Billy and Timmy vanished. Nothing!

     As fall settled in leaves fell off the trees and made the area under the bridge more barren, as seen from the sidewalk above on the Sixth Avenue Bridge.        

     A few volunteers continued to look but after three weeks, the city once again locked the gate and reposted and posted new “No Trespassing” signs, more now than ever before. And the city placed wire-mesh over the fence making it look more like a wall now than a fence now.

     During the first day of school, all my friends hung around me at recess asking questions like, “Hey, did you see the space ship?” or “What did the monster look like?” or, and I hated this question, “Why didn’t you go with them?”

     Finally after a week I refused to talk about that day with Eddy and that caused a fight or two.

     Elroy, bigger than me, didn’t say much about what happened but he wasn’t hassled.

     Finally, interest in Eddy at school diminished just before Thanksgiving.

     When I returned after the Christmas holidays, only one girl that I knew since the first grade, Susan Kapp, wanted to talk about what happened. She waited for me outside the school entrance alone, and, making sure that nobody was in hearing range, she asked, “ George, you feel Ok don’t you? I mean, you and Elroy have been a little quieter or something. Do you know what I mean?

     “I want you to know that I think you did the right thing, really you guys did. You guys didn’t do anything wrong, you know.”

     A light covering of snow caused salt to be put down on sidewalks, I noticed as the winter air hit my forehead cooling off the sweat that formed quickly as Susan talked to me about last summer.

     The air chilled me a little but also sharpened my senses, and a moment or two after she finishing I said, “Yeah, but I didn’t chicken out! I wasn’t afraid of that place! You see it was more like...” I started to say.

     George I know that you didn’t chicken out! That’s nothing to do with it! Why do all you guys including my brother always try to act so tough! Really, it’s so stupid you know!

     I can do this--or I dare you to do that-or you’re afraid of this---all the time showing off to prove how tough you guys are!” Susan blasted at me.

     “No! No! No! You see it wasn’t like that. I don’t know, it was different. Some strange thing like being lost yet knowing where you are, or like standing at the movie counter and feeling eyes on you and you turn around and there’s one of those creepy kids looking at you with a smile, but nobody is really there. I can’t explain it and Elroy can‘t either. You’d  have had to been there when Eddy rode away to understand. Just ask Elroy; he’ll tell you the same thing.

     Susan moved a little towards the sidewalk as she listened to me.

     She paused a second after I finished, then said with a much calmer voice, “Walk me home.”

     My thoughts were still mixed together trying to understand how I really felt about Eddy’s disappearance and what led up to it, and without thinking over what she said I answered, “Ok.”

     Her house wasn’t far from school. We talked on the way home, and I felt much better afterwards.

     The remainder of my last grade school year flew by quickly and the following summer just as fast.

     In junior high, I played football with Elroy, and we both made the team during our first year. Elroy also succeeded in wrestling winning all-city his first year. I tried out, got on the wrestling team but didn’t accomplish much more than letter. Elroy became a talented athlete.

     High School finally came and once again I walked to and from school, for Washington Franklin High was only three blocks from my house across the Sixth Avenue Bridge and one block down Parkview Way.

     Often Susan, Elroy, and Tina, a girl that Elroy liked, and me would walk home together; we all lived on the other side of the bridge.

     Elroy lived down from the park behind the transit garage, I lived east of it, Susan lived across the street at the bridge end one block in on shady lane. And Tina always went home with Elroy, and then her mom would pick her up after work. I walked Susan to her front door ever day after Elroy and Tina cut through the park taking a short-cut.

     One day as just Elroy and me walked home together, the girls had to stay for French club, he stopped in the middle of the bridge and looked down into the hollow that both of us never had ventured into as kids.

     The air was clear and cold and our breath was frosty as we stared down into the hollow.

     The bridge vibrated a little as cars crossed, and a transit bus laboring to pick up speed after a stop on the other side of the bridge, belched out black fumes, an odor that I hated now. The bridge vibrated more with each stroke of its engine, it seemed, until it crossed over and headed downtown.

     Maybe because we were alone, Elroy in a very unusual display of anger screamed down into the hollow with, “You sick bastard! If you can hear me hear this! You’re a sick-O! A sick-O! A real sick son-of-a-bitch------you hear this!”    

     I stopped. I never heard Elroy bluntly scream like that before.

     He turned to me and said, “Yes! Some really sick son-of-a-bitch. And you know what’s funny? They could still be somewhere today and the sick-O is keeping them locked up!”

     I never thought much about them still being alive; then the picture of Eddy formed so vividly in my mind that I couldn’t see anything else for a moment until I regained my senses in a second or two.

     “Maybe,” I answered. “Maybe they are. I seen stories about kids abducted by sick-Os and when they get older they finally run away. Some didn’t even know their last names right.”

     “Yeah,” Elroy said. “I seen that movie too. Man I though that I would never say this--but I hope some sick-O does have them, alive that is.”

      As we looked and talked, a cool breeze blew slightly pushing my hair back, a breeze that my memory recalled and one that I haven’t felt in years.

      Elroy stepped back from the handrail; he looked around very carefully and watched an elderly man drive an old car across the bridge.

     The elderly man looked over, but the car continued towards the intersection where it stopped for a red light. Another man looked our way, but didn’t appear too interested.

     “I have to get home for supper. You know dad gets mad if I’m late. Hey, catch you tomorrow,” Elroy said with his usual good spirits.

     A few days later as I drove Susan home from McDonalds, I told her what Elroy did. She looked at me, or studied me  then finally said, “George, that happened a long time ago. Whatever happened to them is really no concern to you or Elroy. Elroy and you and me have known each other since---what? Kindergarten? But George you guys have to forget about it. I know you never talk about it, but George I know sometimes it is on you mind. George, forget it---let it pass. And tell Elroy the same. He’s almost like a brother to me, you know that. George we’re graduating soon and it’s time we started thinking like adults.”

     I took Susan’s advice the best I could and did forget sometimes. But I never completely forgot, especially Eddy’s face chiseled on my memory. 

     High school passed and before long Susan and me were in college together, a local university not far from home.

     Elroy got a scholarship in wrestling to a state school, but we kept in touch and hung-out together during breaks.

     Summer break after my second year in college, and before I had time to eat breakfast, Elroy called and said, “My good ole boy George! How ya doing man! Guess what I got us? Dad got me and you a union-scale job with the city for twelve weeks. You believe that? We will be making three times the minimum wage. You hear George---three times!”

     I answered with “Elroy are you sure about that?”

     “Hey--you know me! Would I make this up? Ole buddy if you want it be down at the city garage today at ten.”

     We talked some more. I really didn’t want to work yet, just hang around with Susan, swim, shoot pool, and enjoy myself for a week or two, but three times the minimum wage!

     After Elroy hanged up, the aroma of eggs and fresh coffee took my attention away for a moment until the thought of “three times” sunk into my head.

     I stopped before lowering my fork as the “three times” finally won over any plans that I had made for summer.

     The city just received a huge grant from the Federal Government designated for parks and beautification projects.

And the mayor being interviewed on television pushed his own pet project with, “All trees, shrubs, and tickets under the Sixth Avenue Bridge will be cleared out. Once that is completed, landscaping by a local company will insure that that area remains open and clear. And new and brighter street lights will be placed in the park and integrated with the landscaping down under the bridge to insure an open, well lit addition to the park but more importantly: That area then will be easily watched,” the mayor said on television. His first priority and a good public relation ploy in which city council would have a tough time now going against him on that issue.

     Part of his speech quoted in the paper referred to Eddy, Billy and Timmy with, “...and never again will a pervert or pedophile or person twisted in mind be able to stock from a vantage point of stealth near a park and....”

     Mom got me up the next morning, and as the cool morning air entered my window waking me up, I could tell that mom wasn’t too comfortable about me working.

     I heard about the federal grant money but not the mayor’s first priority concerning the bridge yet.

     As I sat down waiting for my eggs and bacon, I sipped some coffee. Mom very quiet at first, finally said, “Maybe they’ll send you to a different park. We have lots of parks. And there are other sites that need cleaned up. Yes, I just noticed the garbage in that vacant lot down by the shopping center.”

     I didn’t know what she was talking about and was still thrilled with three times the minimum wage when I mimicked Arnold Swartzenager’s voice by saying, “Me and Elroy will fight the devil with his own pitch fork and steal his golden fiddle for three times the minimum wage.”

     George---that’s not funny! ------You know what happened there!”

     I froze not understanding her apparent concern, but I finally figured out that the hollow under the bridge must also be in the beautification budget.

     I answered in another way that really didn’t calm her down with “Well, it’s about time the city did something with that place.”

     I could tell she was nervous and finally said, “You’re right. There are plenty of other places they can send me.”

     “George, Eddy’s mother has been sick all these years since Eddy disappeared. Please George, try to get somewhere safe!” mom pleaded.

     Elroy and I would be working together because all the college age boys and some of the girls hired for the summer were assigned to the hollow which runs under the Sixth Avenue Bridge.

     The city instructed us on how to pick up garbage, glass, tin cans, old tires and used appliance that were tossed aside, and lectured us on drug paraphernalia and what to do if we found any. Then they gave us rubber gloves, safety goggles, trash bags, and inspected us to see if we had the correct steel toed-shoes, pants and shirts on. Before we could start, we had to purchase our own work-shoes, pants and shirts.    

     The city started clearing next to the parkway which ran north and south, and we worked east down the hollow that was starting to form when approaching the Sixth Avenue Bridge from our direction.   

     A logging company had already started cutting down trees ahead of us, for we could hear chainsaws winding themselves up before making a cut.

     Three bulldozer each with its diesel engine sending out blue-black smoke as its blade began biting into earth or rock or muck mixed with litter that seemed to align each side of the small creek running into the hollow, filled the air with engine roar.

     Already much of the area was cleared of shrubs and small trees, and that’s where we began by picking up litter and junk on the hillsides, or pushing what we could down to the flat where the bulldozers could get it.

     The smell of fresh cut timber carried by a constant summer breeze often turned to an burnt oily smell from the bulldozers work up ahead.

     The work wasn’t too hard and we had fun throwing old rags or plastic bottles at one another sometimes.

     “Look at that thing!” Elroy said.

     “I think it’s used to drag out logs. Yeah, see the wrench on the front?” I answered.

     “Man, they are serious about this. Did you ever see so many men working like this before?”

     “Nope, it looks like a movie in a way. Almost like we’re building the panama canal,” I answered jokingly.

     We worked our way closer to the bridge, and two weeks later we were at the fence that surrounded the area under the bridge, and the hollow became deeper with its sides now inclined up rather steeply. And as we worked into the hollow, deeper with each hour, dampness permeated mixing with the smell of cut wood and uprooted shrubs that were left for the clean-up crews still behind us.

     The fence had been torn down last week, and we now worked ourselves into the forbidden zone---as we always called the area under the bridge---and trees became much thicker with the sounds of chainsaws all around us echoing and reverberating up and down the hollow.

     On the level flat in the hollow’s basin, about half the shrubs and trees already had been cut, but the steep hillsides thick with trees and growth were yet untouched.

     “It’s stale down here,” Elroy said when we were directly under the Sixth Avenue Bridge which hid the sun.

     “And damp.” I added.

     “Damp and stale and dirty with bugs and-----Hey-- look at the size of that rat!”  Elroy screamed.

     “That’s not a rat, that’s a possum,” I said after looking at the rodent for a moment.

     “Man--are you sure!”

     “Yeah, look how stupid it walks. And slow. No rat moves like that,” I answered.

     We watched the possum hobble up the hillside and disappear under some undergrowth.

     “I bet all the noise woke him up,” Elroy laughed.

     “Probably did,” I answered. “I don’t know if they just come out a night or not.”

     We worked all day under the bridge picking up junk or discarded tires; I found a coin in an old tobacco pouch dated more than fifty-years ago.

     “I never knew so much stuff’s been tossed from the bridge down here,” I said.

     “Man---this place is a garbage pit! Really---a garbage pit!” Elroy answered, and he was right. Odors similar to a garbage site now added their rankness to the smell of fresh cut timber and diesel fumes.

     The next morning after the safety meeting, our foreman gave Elroy and me a new job assignment: “See that service road that goes up to the park? Well, I want you guys to pound in these marker-flags every ten to fifteen feet on both sides. Make sure they are across from each other. Make sure they can be seen. Space them like those over there. And roll any rotten logs off the road if you can and tell me if anything is blocking the road. We’ll be using that it soon.”

     We started up the service road and realized that it was what we always called the path leading down under the bridge.

    Elroy took the left side and I pounded the markers in on the right.

     Pounding in the marker-flags went fast. And before long, we were almost up to the iron gate that separated us from the park.

     “Hey---let’s take a break here,” Elroy suggested.

     “Sounds good to me,” I answered.

     We both sat down on a log that was about ten feet off the road and relaxed and rested since the road became steeper near the top. 

     Chainsaws buzzing below us and diesels powering up filled the air, and an occasional shout from a logger told us that they were working up this side of the hollow now.

     The breeze blew from the park side and kept the odor of diesel fuel and the rankness from below the bridge from us. The sweet smells of wild flowers and sap, and maple trees settled over us as we sat enjoying our break.

     “Just think man,” Elroy said. “Pete, Joe and Mike are making minimum wage bagging groceries over at the shopping center. And you know they are busy all the time.

Boy would I like to see their faces if they could see us doing nothing now and making three times the money they are!”

     “Yeah,” I said, and could imagine them bagging groceries.       

     “Susan’s working for Giantos. You know he’s not so mean, really,” I said,

     “He must have changed then. He came out pointing his finger at me once for just riding my bicycle around his parking lot,” Elroy said.

     “He probably was worried about insurance,” I answered.

     “Yeah, come to think of it that probably was the case,” Elroy answered back.

     “Tell your dad thanks again for getting me hired with the city.”

     “Hell man, you know dad thinks of you like one of his! His passed over a lot of others just to get you! He said he knew that you wouldn’t make him look bad!”    

     We sat and talked for a while laughing at another college kid who worked with us the other day and fell into the creek while trying to pick up an old tire.

     The kid had no coordination. He couldn’t ever pick up litter right with his poker. And when a black snake looked up a him, he fell over backwards and got muck all over himself.

     As we continued to talk, I felt a cool breeze touch my face pushing my hair back over my forehead. Although the breeze was cool, sweat started forming on my face and especially my forehead.

     Elroy stopped talking; he must have felt the same breeze, a breeze that bubbled up memories.

     The forest seemed darker yet the sun still burned brightly. Each tree grew, it seemed, but no movement could be detected, and yet their branches reached out for us and turned in our direction as we sat, but nothing had really changed. And the air turned stale, eliminating all sweet smells that helped us relax.

     Elroy tightened up, bent forward a little, and assumed a defensive posture as if he were about to be challenged in a wrestling match.

     Now the sounds of chainsaws and diesels sang together. They seemed farther and lower in pitch than just a second ago, and carried themselves with the cool breeze that surrounded us.

     I looked around, but the cool breeze kept striking my forehead from every direction with equal force!

     Finally, Elroy jumped up and said, “Let’s get up to the park.”

     He started up the path but stopped about ten feet ahead of me.

     I got up slowly for it seemed that I was heavier than before, then started up the path, but Elroy didn’t move until I was ahead of him.

     The cool breeze continued to strike my forehead, but now as we climbed, laughter or the combination of sounds from the chainsaws and diesels and echoes mixing together to produce a sound similar to laughter, was pushed towards us by the cool breeze as we lumbered up the steep path.

     We rounded the last bend and the path became level and straight and the iron gate stood ahead of us only thirty-yards or so.

     Beyond the gate, which was unlocked and wide open, the park was bright with kids chasing one another and mothers holding their babies talking or strolling or playing

patty-cake with their three or four-year olds.      

     Eddy’s face came to me again. Every detail about him during the last day I saw him became even more clearer now as the cool breeze continued its message, a message, I’m sure, but one that I didn’t understand!

     We both stopped. Aligning each side of the path starting at the iron gate were twenty-one stones, about ten-inches high resembling three-sided pyramids and spaced evenly apart. Not fieldstones, but some volcano type formed by extreme heat. Yet, each stone was similar to the others as if it had been chiseled by a stone mason or molded artificially by an industrial process.

     When the image of Eddy finally ebbed back into the caverns of my mind, I realized that my eyes had been focused on the last stone that aligned the path.

     Elroy was looking at it too. We both heard laughter ring in the trees and surroundings and knew that we were the center of it!

     Man----don’t touch it!” Elroy screamed as if he already knew what lurked under the last stone.

     “I have to,” I answered more to myself than to him.

     Again, with more confidence than before, and with will power forcing me, showing me, coaching me or directing me, I said with much determination: “We-have-to-look-under-those-stones!”

      I didn’t know if Elroy was still there or not. All colors gyrated into black and white as if I just flipped the channel to an old television movie; void of color yet filled with images, images that were distance but close, strange but familiar, unfocused, but now focusing as if a hand were adjusting the screen by turning the brightness knob, then the contrast knob, then the brightness knob again until the picture became clearer and sharper!

      I walked over to the last stone. Elroy, I’m sure, stayed on the path and sweated more with each step I took

until I stood next to it.

     I stooped down, grabbed the stone with both hands and looked at it, but paused momentarily as I saw a picture of myself of years ago!

     I was riding bicycles with Elroy, and playing in the park, and walking with my mom, and laughing with my dad, and wrestling with one of Elroy’s older brothers, and waving to Elroy’s dad as he passed by in his fire-truck, and watching Susan play hopscotch, and yelling at Billy, “You’re it!” as he chased Timmy trying to tag him, and watching Eddy practice throwing a pocket knife into the ground, again and again, and hearing Elroy tell a teacher that he wanted to an astronaut, then added “Maybe” a few seconds later, and seeing Eddy’s face for the last time, then I pushed the stone over and it went thud landing on its side resting motionlessly as its underside stared up a me!

     Elroy screamed. I stepped back almost tripping over another stone, but caught myself before I fell.

     Elroy’s face froze; his eyes fixed to the bottom of the stone, and my eyes also glued to a sight that I knew for years!

     Eddy’s face was engraved or molded or honed or inlaid on the bottom of that stone! A perfect image of him as I remembered him on the last day that I ever saw him!

     In horror Elroy said, “I’m getting outa here! No--that can’t be so---l-l-look at it! It’s-it’s Eddy!”

     Elroy ran out to the park, but I stayed. The cool breeze vanished and the forest became silent again with the sounds of chainsaws and diesel engines down in the hollow. And the smells of wild flowers and oak trees and maple pushed out any staleness that lingered.

     I turned over another stone, the next one up, and Timmy’s face appeared. The next stone had Billy’s face.

     I turned over another stone, and a strange face that I didn’t know showed itself on the underside!

     After looking at the stranger’s face that stared back at me for a moment, I then walked up to the park breathing deeply and unsure about my footing.

     Elroy was waiting for me outside the iron gate in the sunlight and sweating, but he seemed a little calmer now.

     “Was that really a face?” Elroy asked. “Eddy’s face?”   

     “Yes,” I answered in a pensive mood.

     “And the others?”

     “-----Billy and Timmy’s.”

     “We have to tell somebody!” Elroy said quickly.

      I looked past the iron gate at the stones still sitting upright and knew that we must report this. Yet, I didn’t want to be the person. No, it was too coincidental that the both or us would find something relating to Eddy, Billy and Timmy after all these years, but we had no choice.

     “Man--we gotta do something---call the foreman!” Elroy said again but more frantic.

     “He---wasn’t here then,” I said fumbling over my thoughts but starting to think clearly again.

     I tossed Elroy my cellphone and said, “Elroy, you better call your dad!”



The End


Ó 2004 by George T. Philibin.  My name is George T. Philibin, and I’m employed with a local public utility. I served in Viet-Nam, attended the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown campus, worked in coal mines, steelmills and a dairy once.

     I started learning proper grammar about ten years ago in order to effectively write grievances for our union members. And I started writing articles in a newsletter, and started sending letters to senators concerning working people, political issues, and my opinions on important national matters.

     I’m no longer involved with the union, but to my surprise, I fell in love with writing! It’s fun!  Composing words that strike a chord in someone is really fascinating, and the more I write, the more I’m learning how to strike better chords! 

     “Under the Bridge” is my second attempt at writing a short story.

E-mail Underseeboot@aol.com