The Cranshaw Bridge (a short story: 1,278 words)
Emily stepped onto the stone bridge; her hand brushed the brass bell and it rang with the lightest of chimes. But she wasn’t listening – her mind was whirling with many thoughts – and an emptiness in her heart that she felt could never be filled. The mists gently swirled at the base of the folly bridge. She clutched a telegram from the War Office – she had looked at it a thousand times and now she only need glance at the first words. “We regret to inform…”
She had hoped that her Howard would return from the war, but with so many of the young men of the village now laying with her Howard in some foreign field she knew that she would always be clutching at straws, hoping desperately for his return. Her hand rested lightly on the stone wall and she remembered when Howard had first constructed this folly, with its small pond beneath. She had laughed when he had unveiled the “troll bell” that had to be rung whenever they stepped upon the bridge, less the troll would emerge and demand payment. But now it all seemed so empty. A sense of purpose came over her, and she climbed up onto the bridge wall and stepped off. It was only a short drop – but onto stone.
The two developers stood on the bridge, looking at Cranshaw House.
“So, she’s selling the family house then? I reckon we can convert it into 30 self-contained units and make a tidy sum. But what about this bridge?”
“Unfortunately, we need to keep it here – Mrs Williams is the granddaughter of the original owners and she now lives in the Lodge house on the edge of the estate and insists that as part of the sale she can walk up to the bridge every day. You do know that this bridge is a grave site to the original Cranshaws – she topped herself off it, you know.”
“So that’s why it gives me the creeps. I wonder what that stick at the end of the bridge is for?”
“No idea, but apparently it has to stay as well.”
“Well, whatever, just the conversion will net us a small fortune, especially if we can knock her down a few grand so she can keep this pile of pointless stones in place.”
Julie left the front door of Cranshaw House and walked to the bridge. She often would head over to have a crafty cigarette – the rules of the House meant that none of the residents could smoke indoors – but this time, she walked with shaking hands, her heart broken. The letter, delivered by an officer, was all she carried. Her Tim was missing in Action, presumed dead. The Torpedo had struck the troop ship square on and it had sunk in minutes. Although the Navy and the Army had mounted a full search and rescue they had not found any survivors – and the sea temperatures meant that survival would be very limited. With no Tim, she had nothing to live for – her life revolved around his and she missed him terribly when he was away; more so now that she thought he would never return.
She stepped onto the bridge. The chill in the air would seem more noticeable to anyone else but Julie – who was in a trance state. She stepped to the edge of the bridge, ready to climb onto the stone wall, when… she heard a bell ring behind her. She stopped, turned – but there was no-one there.
“Hello?” she said, her voice shaking. Her question was met with silence, but it had brought her back into the moment. She wondered if there was someone else from the house also having a cigarette – so she walked back to the house and her flat.
The next day came slowly, but with a lack of sleep came an increased resolve. Julie walked purposefully to the bridge. She stepped onto the stone folly – and instantly she heard that bell, ringing repeatedly loud and clear, coming from her side. She could swear it was coming from that stick! As she stood, trying to making sense of that ringing bell that didn’t exist, it suddenly stopped.
“Did you hear the bell?” Julie looked ahead to see a lady standing at the far end of the bridge.
“I heard the bell – did you hear it too?”
“I… I’m not sure; I think I heard something… but…”
“Yes. You heard the bell. There used to be bell on that stick – many years ago; it rusted and fell off back in 1960. I’ve heard that bell ring once before; tell me, and I do apologise for being so forward, but have you received bad news about a loved one?”
Julie felt a cold shiver; at the same time she wondered who this lady was. The lady saw confusion in Julie’s eyes and spoke.
“I apologise – I must seem quite mad. I am Margaret Williams, my family used to own this House and my grandfather built this bridge for my grandmother before he was called to fight in the Great War. I remember that my grandmother received a telegram from the War Office telling her that my grandfather had been killed; she committed suicide from this bridge. But he hadn’t died – a fellow soldier had been mistaken for him as my grandfather had been injured and was in fact returning home at the time. He arrived back at the house the very afternoon that my grandmother had died.
“As I said before, I have heard the sound of that bell once before – and it was been because someone has received news that a loved one has believed to have been killed but they’ve returned days later. Tell me – have you received such news?”
Julie showed Margaret the now crumpled piece of paper; some of the ink smudged as the tears caused the ink to run. Margaret looked at the letter, tears forming in her eyes. She looked up at Julie, whose own eyes were red once more from the tears that could not flow anymore. Then a voice cut across the empty silence.
Her name was being shouted from the house, loud and clear, making both the ladies start. They looked up to the house, and standing in the entrance to the large hall was a man in full military uniform.
“Tim!” cried Julie, the tears flowing once more, but now for relief and happiness. She looked back at Margaret, who smiled and nodded, and with no further words Julie ran back to the house.
Margaret stood on the bridge as the silence retook the area once more.
“Thank you Emily and Howard, that’s one soul saved.”
Later that evening, Julie recounted the tale to Tim as they sat, cuddled on the sofa. Tim had explained how he had been trapped in the boat as it sank with three colleagues, but that they had managed to work their way round the parts that had trapped air to fashion a raft and collect enough rations to sustain them through the long days before being picked up by a fishing trawler.
“We ought to be friendly and see her again” suggested Tim. Julie agreed and later that next day they walked across to the Lodge house. A man stood by the fence, weeding the small vegetable allotment.
“Excuse me” asked Tim, “But could we speak to Mrs Williams? I believe she lives here.”
The man rested on his hoe.
“Well, she used to a few years ago” said the man, “But she died about 1982.”
“That can’t be!” said Julie “I spoke to her on that bridge yesterday!”
The man looked directly at Julie.
“I’m very sorry miss, but you must be mistaken. Margaret committed suicide from that bridge in 1982 – she had received a letter wrongly informing her that I’d been killed in the Falklands conflict.”