Volume 1 Number 2

MYTHOLOG

Spring 2003



Indian Ferry Bridge

Charles Lipsig

Roy Sadowski sighed as he got into his car.  The Greene County Commission meeting had lasted until nearly eleven at night, and now he was heading back to his empty house.  

When his wife had died, two summers ago, he decided that he would not run for reelection.  He hadn't realized until the last few meetings that that was all he had left.  He was nearing sixty and, though he had no financial worries--selling his real estate firm and a few smart investments had given him more than enough to live comfortably the rest of his life--there was nothing to look forward to.  The kids didn't want him around where they were, and he didn't want to leave Redfield for any big city, anyway.

There was a tapping on his window.  "Hey, Sadowski.  You okay?"

Roy rolled down his window.  It was Michaels, the reporter from The Nathanton Times who covered the commission meetings.  "Yeah, I'm fine, thanks.  Just thinking."

"You thinking 'bout the Indian Ferry Bridge?"

"Not the bridge.  Just a personal matter."

"I can write about that, too."

"Not tonight, Michaels."

"Oh, come on, Sadowski.  I'll buy you a drink.  Final thoughts of a county commissioner upon his retirement.  What're you going to do with your life?"

"I'm heading home."  He tried to start the engine, but it stalled.

"How you going to vote on the bridge?"

"Most likely, I'm voting no."  He tried the engine again.  This time it caught.

"You're kidding.  But you live on that road."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you live on Indian Ferry Road?"

"Michaels, I live twenty-five miles east of the bridge.  And it's the highway that goes over it, not my road."

"So you're definitely voting against it?"

"I haven't decided, for certain, but that's most likely,"  The window closed, he backed out of the space, and drove away.

That was a good question.  Michaels' last county commission meeting would probably decide whether Indian Ferry Bridge would be fixed.  Greene County was bisected by the Cherico river, and the Indian Ferry Bridge up on Route 104 was the northernmost of a half-dozen bridges in the county.

It was showing its age.  Engineers said that if it wasn't rebuilt or heavily repaired (so that it may as well be rebuilt), it would have to be closed in a few years.  The state would pay for half the cost if the county would ante up the other half, but the funds weren't guaranteed available the next year.  In fact, with the new governor coming in, they would almost certainly not be.  The county commission would have to decide in the next meeting whether the bridge would be rebuilt.

The question was whether it was worth repairing.  Not having it would be a nuisance, but there were bridges about ten miles in either direction.  Indian Ferry was nothing more than a dot on the map: there was a gas station, a few fishing camps, and five or six families there.  Route 104, on the other hand, was a nice road across the state, but there wasn't much on it in Greene County.  In fact, Redfield, in the northeastern corner of the county, was the only community of more than one-thousand people.

It's probably not worth rebuilding, Roy thought to himself.  But I might as well take a look at it before I decide

His usual route home was to cross the river in East Nathanton and take County Route 22, which angled northeast, up to Redfield.  But if he drove North, he could pick up 104, five miles west of the bridge.  There wasn't much he could see at night, and it would take him a little longer to get home--but then, he wasn't all that eager to get back to his too-empty home, now with Marie gone.

His thoughts grew darker and lonelier, until, by the time he was turning onto 104, he was thinking, Maybe it's time I joined Marie.

illustration by Amanda Burkinshaw A few miles on, just before the Indian Ferry Bridge, the highway made an s-curve to the left, then back to the right.  Roy saw the girl in the glow of his headlights.  As he slowed down, he saw she was young, with her dark hair in braids, wearing a fringed buckskin jacket and jeans. 

There's a thirty years' flashback, he thought.  Though the girl's skin was dark enough that the Indian look might be a matter of ancestry.  

He hadn't picked up a hitchhiker since before he'd married Marie--and he didn't think much of the idea now--but the girl looked harmless, maybe even in need of help.  Besides, he admitted to himself, he was lonely.  He didn't expect anything, but it would be nice to imagine. 

He stopped the car and opened the door.  The girl got in.  "Where you going to?"

"East," said the girl with a smile.  It was a nice smile.  "Just drive east."

"I can take you as far as Redfield, if you know where that is."

"About thirty miles further East than I'd be without your kindness."  Her smile widened.  "I know where Redfield is.  And thank you very much for the ride."

Just as he was about to put the car in gear, he looked at her again.  "I'm not helping you run away or something, am I?"

She laughed.  "I'm over eighteen, if that's what you mean.  Besides, if I was a runaway, would I tell you?"

"I guess I'll have to take my chances, then."  He looked over his shoulder, saw no one coming, and pulled back onto the highway.

He took another look at her.  "Do I know you from somewhere?"

"I'm from around here.  By the way, I'm Amadahy.  Or Madee, if it's any easier."

"Roy. Roy Sadowski."

"Are you the county commissioner?" 

He glanced over at her as they reached the bridge.  "I'm surprised you've heard of me."

"Hey, some of us do read the newspaper now and then."

Suddenly, there was a huge jolt and the car bucked.  For a second, Roy had to fight the wheel to get the car back under control.  "Damn, that bridge does need fixing. Pardon my French."

"No problem.  I've used worse myself and that was definitely one damned bump."

"So what do you think, Madee?" Roy asked, as they made it over the bridge.

"Think about what?"

"The bridge.  Since you read the paper and are an informed citizen, do you think that this bridge should be rebuilt?"  

"Oh, definitely."

"How come?"

Madee laughed.  "I can't believe you're asking me to tell you what to do."

"I pride myself on listening to public opinion.  Even in my last days on the commission.  So why do you think the bridge should be rebuilt, because, frankly, I'm wondering why, myself."

"Okay, let me ask you something first.  That bridge we crossed - do you know why it's called Indian Ferry Bridge?"

"Because there were Indians there?"

"Because there were Indians there. In fact, when the white men came, the natives were already using it as a crossing.

"White men?  So you are native?"

"More than you realize," said Madee, lightly.  "But to your question, before this road was numbered Route 104, it had a name--Indian Ferry Road.  It keeps that name, down where you live."

Roy looked at her.  "You read phone books, too?  Or you been talking to Michaels?"

Madee continued as if she had not been interrupted.  "Before that--before the whites came--natives had used this road for centuries.  The mound builders were the first people to walk it and to name it.  It may have been a game trail to the river, even before the first people came."

"You know this?"

"A lot of it can be figured.  There are some stories and some lore that I was taught.  If you ever dig into the old documents of this county, you'll find a few mentions of mounds between here and Redfield.  Old Flattop Hill is one of them that's still around, though few realize it is manmade."

"Looks like I picked up the right hitchhiker.  So why do you think the bridge should be rebuilt?  Because the road has been here since before Eve choked on an apple seed?"

"It would be a shame for something that has lasted for thousands of years, and is still serviceable, to be so idly destroyed.  What do you think?"

Even with his eyes on the road, Roy could feel the girl's boring into him.  "I don't know," he said.  "What you say sounds rather airy-fairy to me."

Madee laughed until she almost choked.  "Airy-fairy?" she finally managed to say.  "Well, that's one I haven't heard in a long time.  But it's so wonderfully perfect.  Airy-fairy."

"I'm glad you're amused.  Especially since I'm not convinced."

"That is a shame," said Madee.

"I know," he sighed.  "Listen, I understand what you're saying.  I'm sure that if I looked through the historical records, I'd find you're right or as right as anyone else could be.  What you said about Old Flattop makes sense--and I grew up playing on top of it."

"But...?" 

"But, I'm a nuts and bolts guy.  The fact is that I don't think that the county budget is up to the bill--even with the state chipping in half.  And I can't justify spending that much money to rebuild the bridge based on insubstantial sentiment."

"Something so airy-fairy?"

"Yeah, something so airy-fairy."

Madee's voice dropped half an octave as she said, "I'll make it worth your while."

Roy drove is silence for a minute or so, then said, "You make it very tempting.  I'm a lonely man, you're quite the pretty young thing, and my career is near enough at the end that there isn't anything scandal will do to ruin it."

"But...."

"But, no.  I'll keep my integrity into my retirement.  Thank you, though."  He glanced over at her.  She looked lost in thought.  "Honestly, though, I don't understand why this is so important to you."

"You know my reasons."

"I do," replied Roy.  "They're just-"

"Airy-fairy," Madee interrupted him.  Then she said, quietly, "But so am I."

"Actually, you seem rather down-to-earth for all your talk."

"I mean," said Madee slowly, "I am a fairy."

Roy nailed the brakes and pulled to the side of the road, bringing the car to a sudden, squealing halt.  "Come again?"

"I'm a fairy--a fairy of the highway.  I've been around since the Indians first walked this road." 

"A fairy?"

"Fairy, manitou, guardian spirit. I'm not exactly up on folkloric terms, even if I know what traffic wrecks macadam and what concrete will endure.  I do know you that if you break up the road, you'll break me."

"Get out," Roy said.  I've picked up a nutcase.  

Madee smiled calmly, unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the door.  "I've made my best case.  Almost.  See you later."  With that, she was out of the car and closed the door behind her.

Roy looked over his shoulder to see that she was clear.  He checked his mirrors to make sure no traffic was coming and, seeing nothing, started to pull back onto the road.

The next few seconds were confusion.  There was a jolt, then Roy felt as if he and the car were falling.  There were wavering lights coming right at him, then the feeling of impact and a horrendous crashing sound. 

Then... nothing.

***

When he awoke, it was sudden and complete.  He started to sit up.

"Lie down, Roy," said a male voice.  "Stay down."  

Things came back into focus, and he saw Charlie Travers, his doctor and friend since grade school.  The were several other people with him, other doctors and nurses, Roy supposed. 

"What happened?"  

"You had a stroke while driving and had an accident.  You're going to be fine."

"What about the girl?  Is she okay?"

The medical staff exchanged glances.  "What girl?  There was no girl," Charlie said in an unsteady voice.

"She could have stayed, but at least she's okay.  Was anyone in the other car hurt?  Or was it a truck?"

"No one else was hurt, Roy."  Charlie put a hand on Roy's shoulder and squeezed.  "You just get some more rest.  You should be out of here in a few days."

As Roy rested over the next few days, Charlie filled him in on what had happened.  "You blacked out and drove off of Indian Ferry Bridge," Charlie told him. "Luckily, enough of your car was above water that you were able to breathe until the EMTs could get to you."

"That can't be right.  I remember crossing the bridge and driving a good five or ten miles."

"The brain does some odd things when it gets hurt." Charlie said.  

"Maybe," said Roy.  "That girl said some mighty strange things, after we crossed the bridge."

"What girl?  You asked about a girl when you woke up."

"I picked up a hitchhiker just before the bridge."

Charlie shook his head.  "There was no one else in the car with you, Roy.  And the doors were locked, so there can't have been someone got out and swam away."

"She was a young woman," Roy insisted.  "Even odds which side of legal she was.  Black braided hair.  A lot of Indian--Native Indian--in her."

Charlie rubbed his chin and looked down.

Roy smiled weakly.  "I know you too well, Charlie.  You're trying to decide whether to tell me something.  You may as well spill it."

"I'll be back," Charlie said.

It was a couple of hours before he came back, carrying a yellowed page torn from a newspaper.  He held it up to Roy, folded up so that only one small picture was showing.  "Is that the girl, Roy."

The photo was of a young woman with dark hair in braids, clearly of native ancestry.  "It's her.  That's Madee.  What happened to her?"

"She died."

"Oh, my sweet Jesus."

"She died more than thirty years ago, Roy.  Read the article."

Sara Hawk, age 17, and her boyfriend, had disappeared after leaving a party in Nathanton.  No one had been sure whether they were dead or had run off together. The boy's family had been upset with him for dating a non-white girl.  Roy remembered hearing about it back when it happened.

When Roy's car had gone off the bridge, it had fallen on the wreck of another old car--a car that had two bodies inside.  The plates identified it as the car that Sara and her boyfriend were driving.  Whether it had been an accident or suicide would never be known.  How the car had not been found or spotted for more than thirty years was another mystery.

Roy looked up from the paper.  "What--?"  His mouth was dry, and he reached for the water at bedside.

"What happened?" Charlie finished the question for Roy.  "I don't know what happened, Roy.  Maybe you saw the car in the few seconds you were falling, and your subconscious put it all togther.  I don't know."

"And I dreamed her?  That doesn't seem too likely."

"All I know, Roy, is that I don't believe in ghosts."

"I don't either, Charlie.  I don't either."

***

Roy Sadowski's last meeting as county commissioner was held the day after he was discharged from the hospital.  He voted to have the bridge repaired.  

"Hey, Sadowski!" called Michaels, after the meeting.

Roy got into his car and rolled down the window.  "Yeah.  What do you want?"

"Any last words before you head home?  Want to say why you voted to fix the bridge?  Because it nearly killed you?" 

"Later, Michaels," said Roy and rolled up the window in his face one last time.  Then, he rolled it down again.  "Tell you what.  I'm not disappearing from Greene County.  Give me a call and we'll arrange something."

"Where you going now?"

"I have to go see a bridge."  He rolled the window back up, started the car, and drove away.

Until the bridge was fixed, Route 104 was closed just short of it--at Fish Camp Road.  Roy parked the rental by the side of the road and walked the rest of the way.  There was the hole in the side of the bridge, where he had driven off.  Down by the bank, there were dark gouges in the grass, where both his and the older car had been dragged from the river.

When he returned to his car, he wasn't surprised to see Madee standing by it, thumb out, hitchhiking.  But there was something different about her.  She looked a little older--clearly a young adult now.  She also didn't look as much like Sara Hawk. 

"Where you going?" Roy asked.

She smiled widely.  "To Redfield.  Got a friend I want to visit."

"Well, Miss, it just happens I'm going to Redfield.  Problem is, I'll have to go the long way 'round.  Seems the bridge is out here."

"So I see."

"Mind you, I hear it's going to be repaired in a year or two."

"So I've heard.  Thank you for the ride."

The young woman buckled her belt and winced as it snapped across her chest.

"You okay?" Roy asked.

"Sore ribs.  They'll heal in a year or two."

He looked at her, then started up the car.  "You going to stay a while in Redfield?"

"As long as the highway goes through there."


Illustration by Amanda Burkinshaw


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