Kirkland’s Pond Bridge by Colin Pryor
Kirkland’s Pond Bridge
by Colin Pryor
Kirkland’s Pond sat next to Fenton High School. A former mill-pond turned state park, it served as a recreational area to thousands of boaters, fishermen, and day hikers from all over the area every year. To the Fenton High students, it was a favored after school hangout. A few small trails connected the grounds of the school to the park, and were often used by the students to avoid paying the entrance fee. The dark woods around the pond provided shade (and cover) for almost any activity, legitimate or mischievous. The park boasted a few sports fields, picnic pavilions, campgrounds, and a small waterpark. Of course, it also boasted its fair share of legends, from the ghost of a student who supposedly hung himself in a tree on the disc golf course to Bigfoot sightings, the park seemed to be a nexus of paranormal activity to the students at Fenton, who would rarely venture far into the park alone.
There was one tale that was well known to the students at Fenton High, the legend of the Kirkland’s Pond Bridge. The bridge wasn’t much of one really. At one end of the pond, a spillway had been built to allow the pond to drain into a river, and Kirkland’s Pond Road had been built over part of the spillway. Almost all the students knew one thing about the bridge: you didn’t drive over it late at night.
The details of the legend were sketchy at best. At some point in the near past, a young mother was driving down Kirkland’s Pond Road with her two children in the back seat. According to the legend, she was either picking them up from a sleepover that had ended far too early or from their father’s house to rescue them from abuse. Either way, the night went from bad to worse when they crossed over the spillway. The weather had been bad, it was either raining heavily or the road was covered in ice, depending on which version of the story you believe. The spillway was flowing heavily and the river below had turned into a torrent. As the car hit the bridge, the young mother lost control and the car hit the guardrail at full speed, bursting through it and tumbling to the bottom of the ravine and into the rapids below. The mother was knocked unconscious and came to sometime later, still buckled into the driver’s seat. She was aware that the car’s windows were broken, water had flooded in, and the car was being swept slowly downstream, deeper into the woods.
When she was finally conscious enough, she turned to the backseat to find that both of her children were unconscious. Despite her injuries, she unbuckled the seat belt and squirmed into the back of the car as it finally came to a rest on a sandbar. She shook the children and screamed their names, but it was no use. Neither of the children woke up, the crash had claimed them both. The woman was in agony, and the sight of her two dead children drove her mad. She crawled out of the wreck, injured and bleeding, knee deep in water. She screamed toward the sky and clawed at her arms and face. In this fugue, she decided that her children weren’t in the car at all, but must have been swept out of it by the river. She began wading upriver, back toward the road, clawing at her arms and screaming her children’s names, searching all over for them. Several times, she was swept back by the rapids, but she continued, determined to find her missing babies. She was more animal than woman by the time she finally reached the spillway, broken, bleeding, and raging against the current and the storm, driven on by adrenaline alone. Somehow, she knew she couldn’t climb up the spillway, so she grabbed onto a nearby tree and pulled herself from the river. She willed herself to walk through the thick, muddy banks, and climbed the hill to the road.
When she finally reached the road, daybreak was coming. Some semblance of sanity came to her then, and she collapsed on the side of the road, wailing on the asphalt. Soon, a car came down the road and saw her too late. The driver slammed on their brakes, putting the car into a skid on the slick road, but it was too late. The car struck the woman, ending her wretched ordeal.
Now, the students at Fenton High won’t drive over the bridge at night. They believe that if you do, your car may stall out and come to a stop in the middle of the bridge. As you wonder at this, and try to restart the engine, the specter of the heartbroken mother will appear outside your car, disfigured in death as she was at the end of her life, her bones broken, the skin on her face and arms hanging in bloody strips where the car’s glass and her own fingernails had ripped it away. She will search your car for some indeterminate amount of time, looking for her two lost children. Eventually, your car will start again, and you will drive off the bridge terrified, but unscathed.
David and Sarah were a young couple who had just moved to Mill County. They had left their careers in the city to “find a simpler life” and to “get away from the hustle and bustle.” David worked as a loan officer at First Fenton Bank and Sarah had taken a job as a Social Studies teacher at M.T. Chilton Middle School. They had bought a house on the outskirts of Fenton in a small neighborhood. As newcomers to town, they made friends quickly. Their neighbors and coworkers took them in with all the graciousness and curiosity you could expect from small town folk. They spent their weekends with David mowing the lawn and Sarah tending to her small vegetable garden, and attending cook outs and school events. After a few months, they felt assured that their decision to move to the country was the right one. They were relaxed and content, and were even talking about finally having children, which would please their anxious parents to no end.
In the autumn of their second year in Fenton, they were invited to Dr. Parsons’ Halloween party. Bill Parsons was the local dentist, and he was obsessed with Halloween. Some of the town residents claimed – in jest – that it was only so he could distribute more candy around town than anyone, drumming up more business for himself in the process. Dr. Parsons’ house was decorated from top to bottom from the middle of September all the way through October for the holiday. The night before Halloween, he threw an enormous party for the town. Everyone came in costume and brought food for the potluck. Dr. Parsons knew how to organize a party, and it got bigger every year. The house was decorated with the usual assortment of ghosts, witches, and monsters, orange lights, fake spider webs, and tombstones in the yard. He set up a small haunted house in the basement, and younger kids could trick-or-treat through the rooms upstairs, each decorated in a different scary theme. He had even organized a hay ride through the woods behind his house, complete with hot apple cider and hot chocolate to help keep out the chilly autumn air. There were Halloween themed games like Pin the Arm on the Zombie, bobbing for apples, Wrap the Mummy, and a Jack-o-Lantern carving contest. At the end of the night, Dr. Parsons would light an enormous bonfire in his backyard, and everyone would gather around and tell scary stories until the fire dwindled to embers.
This year was David and Sarah’s first time attending the party, and they were dazzled by it. It seemed like everyone in town was there. Everybody dressed in costume. Dr. Parsons was dressed as Frankenstein’s monster this year, and Mrs. Parsons as his bride, complete with a white streaked, three-foot tall wig. The yard and house crawled with townsfolk dressed as zombies, monsters, mobsters, and all manner of other ghouls and goblins.
“Could you imagine trying to organize a party like this back in the city?” David asked as they walked to the door. He was dressed as an overgrown boy scout except he had a large plastic arrow sticking through his back and out his chest, covered in sticky fake blood.
“You could try, but you would never get this many people to show up, and almost everyone would be ‘too cool’ to dress up,” Sarah replied, equally impressed. She had dressed as a girl scout, carrying a bow and quiver of arrows, and wearing a huge Archery Achievement badge. They were hoping to win the costume contest with their slightly skewed sense of humor. They were just hoping everyone would appreciate the joke.
They walked through the front door and were immediately greeted by Mrs. Parsons. Her tall wig bobbed as she welcomed them to the party.
“Dave and Sarah, right? Welcome! Bill has told me all about you. Dave, he was so happy you could help him with financing the office renovation, it’s really coming along nicely, we’re hoping it’ll be done by Christmas. And this must be Sarah, so nice to meet you, sweetheart!” she yelled at them over the music.
“Not a problem at all, we are glad to help,” David replied, also straining to make himself heard over the strains of “Monster Mash.”
“So great to see you both, make yourselves at home. Hot apple cider is over there on the table, food is all over, so help yourself, and most of all, have a spooooooky time!” Mrs. Parsons said as she walked into the next room to mingle with other guests.
“I’ll bet she doesn’t have time to stop moving all night,” David said to Sarah.
“I can’t even imagine how she does it, I would be curled up on the couch with a glass of scotch by now,” Sarah replied.
They made their way over to the table with the hot apple cider and saw that someone had thought to set a bottle of rum and a bottle of cinnamon flavored vodka next to the Crock-Pot with the steamy brown liquid. David ladled out two mug’s worth and dribbled a bit of rum into one and vodka in the other.
“Which one do you want?” he asked.
“Ooh, hard choice, I’ll try the vodka this round, I think,” Sarah replied.
They sipped the hot, spiced drinks and immediately felt warmed from the inside. They smiled at each other and delved further into the party. During the night, they talked with most of their friends and coworkers, and met a few people they hadn’t yet. If there was anyone left in town they hadn’t met after that night, they would have been stunned.
They took part in a few of the games. Sarah managed to pin the zombie’s arm to its head, much to David’s delight, and during Wrap the Mummy, Sarah wrapped David in so many layers of toilet paper, he thought he may be picking it off of him for a week. They talked and laughed, ate more food than they should, and had a few more hot apple ciders between them. Soon enough, they made their way to the backyard with the rest of the revelers for the bonfire.
When they reached the back deck of the Parsons’ house, they saw Dr. Parsons and a few other people gathered around a pile of tree branches and old pallets that must have been ten feet high. When Dr. Parsons noticed the crowd on the deck, he waved at them.
“Thank you for coming tonight, everyone. Judy and I can’t tell you how much it means to us to have everyone over to our house for this party. This is our favorite time of year, and to share it with such wonderful people makes it all the more enjoyable for us. Now, before I get too mushy, let’s make it a little warmer out here, huh?” Dr. Parsons asked his guests.
A few cheers went through the gathered crowd. Dr. Parsons lit a small piece of wood and slipped it into the bottom of the pile, then backed away a respectful distance. In about a minute, the bottom of the pile was glowing orange and before too long, flames rushed up to the top of the pile, licking at the night sky. The crowd cheered louder now and made their way into the yard, where they found rough-hewn log benches and moved them closer to the fire. Some took seats close the fire while others made their way from group to group, greeting people they hadn’t seen yet or commenting on someone’s costume. A few groups sat on the ground in circles, telling scary stories to each other. David and Sarah joined one of these groups.
They sat on a blanket on the ground in a small group surrounding Jim Frederick, the chief of the local volunteer fire company. He regaled them with the story of the accident on Kirkland’s Pond Bridge. Apparently, he had just joined the fire company earlier that year and was one of the first emergency personnel on the scene.
“That poor woman,” Frederick said as he finished the story, “driven mad by the death of her children. That was the only explanation for what happened to her. I can’t imagine how hard she had to fight through that storm, it’s a wonder she didn’t drown in the flood.”
David and Sarah wandered around the fire to some of the other groups and heard more stories, some scary, some funny, but all entertaining. After an hour or so, clouds had moved in overhead and rain started to drizzle on the party. The crowd dispersed into the house or to their cars. It was getting late, so David and Sarah said their goodbyes and walked down the street to their car.
“You know, we could drive home on Kirkland’s Pond Road instead of taking the highway,” David suggested. “Maybe we’ll see a ghost tonight.”
Sarah smiled and nodded at her husband. She was almost always up for a little adventure. David started the car and turned on the lights and wipers. It was raining much harder now. All around them, couples and families ran for their cars. David put the car in drive and rolled slowly onto the road, only picking up speed when they left the Parsons’ neighborhood.
They drove slowly down the backroads, winding through the countryside with recently harvested corn fields on either side of them. David drove extra slow because of the rain. These roads were narrow and wound through fields and woods. Other cars and deer were of particular concern because the rain had made the road slick. A sudden movement or rapid deceleration at the wrong time could send them careening into a ditch or a tree.
After a few minutes, David turned onto Kirkland’s Pond Road. The road goes through the woods and down a slight incline before traversing the spillway. On a clear night, with a bright moon, it can actually be very beautiful, but tonight, David’s only focus was on the road and the rain. It was hard to see more than a few feet in any direction, so David let the car creep onto the bridge, not doing more than 20 mph or so. Likewise, Sarah was focused on the road ahead. Since they had turned onto the road, she had been keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.
“Funny,” she thought, “I haven’t been this excited in years.”
Just then, David perked up at the wheel, his gaze drawn straight ahead. Sarah knew what the was looking at. In the road ahead was a glowing shape, something small in the road. The car began to pick up speed.
“What are you doing?” Sarah half screamed.
“Nothing, my foot isn’t even on the gas,” David replied, panicked.
The glowing figure grew ever closer through the windshield as David pumped the brakes to no avail. As the car approached 50 mph, the crouched figure in the road seemed to stand up and hold its hand out toward the car. David panicked and jerked the wheel toward the side of the road. The car hit the guardrail and tore through it, launching off the bridge and into the precipice below. David’s hands gripped the steering wheel while Sarah reached over to him with one hand and held the other out in front of her. After what seemed like an eternity, the car struck a tree, destroying the entire front of the car and peppering Sarah and David with broken glass. The car fell to the ground with the gut-wrenching sound of twisting metal and broken glass.
Sarah regained consciousness first. Rain fell on her face, and she looked around, dazed. David was sitting next to her and seemed to be breathing, but his arm was twisted and sitting at a strange angle on his lap. His face and hands were cut and bleeding from the glass and his left knee had been shoved all the way against his chest, pinned under the crushed dashboard. She looked down at her own arms, and saw they were also cut and bleeding, but otherwise fine. Her legs appeared to be mostly unharmed as well. Sarah tried to wake David, but he was out cold. She unbuckled her seatbelt and tried the door handle, it was jammed. As she pulled at it, hoping it would give, she heard an agonizing wail coming from behind the car. Sarah craned her head and could see the specter of the woman approaching the remains of the guardrail. Sarah began to panic, she had to get out of the car. Another wail pierced her ears, louder, maybe closer than before. Sarah rolled to her back and used the soles of her boots to kick the remaining glass from the windshield’s frame. She lunged forward through the gap, scraping her stomach and legs against the few remaining shards as she squeezed through the windshield and onto the hood of the car.
Sarah slid face-first down the hood of the car and gripped the trunk of the tree they had run into as she eased herself off the car and into the muddy rapids of the stream. The ghost wailed again, louder still. Sarah knew now she was being chased. She also knew she couldn’t go back toward the bridge. She didn’t know if a ghost could hurt her or not, but she didn’t want to find out now. Sarah swam with all of her strength downstream, letting the current carry her wherever it was strong enough. After a few yards, she grabbed onto the trunk of another tree and looked back toward the car, trying to keep her head above the rushing water. From this vantage point, she could see the ghost approaching the wreck of her car.
“Oh, God, David!” Sarah thought.
She began to swim back upstream, but she knew there was nothing she could do, so she grabbed back onto the tree and watched. The phantom approached the car from the rear and seemed to crawl up the trunk and onto the rear windshield, pressing its hands and face against it, trying to peer inside. Then, it moved to the passenger side of the car, using its hands, which looked more like claws to pull itself along the side of the car. It then looked through the rear passenger window and moved around to the front of the car, clawing along the windows and onto the hood of the car, pressing its deformed, ragged face against the glass and making a strange sobbing noise. It seemed to notice David, and it moved to the driver’s side window. It reached back with one of its claws and punched the window, cracking it. Sarah gasped with terror when she saw this. She was terrified for her husband and what this thing might do to him. The ghoul reached back again and punched the window a second time, sending shards of glass into the cabin of the car, all over David. He stirred a bit, but did not wake. The woman grabbed his face in her claw and turned it toward her. Then, she moved her face directly toward his, the remains of her nose hovering no more than an inch from his. Her head moved about rapidly, scanning David’s face for some sign of familiarity.
Sarah knew she had to do something to distract the ghost before she could do anything to harm David.
“HEY!” she screamed at the top her lungs.
The ghost drew her head back from David’s, but she kept his head in her claw as she tried to determine the source of the noise. Sarah held onto the tree tighter.
“HEY! OVER HERE!” Sarah screamed as she waved one arm, trying to draw the ghost’s attention.
It let go of David’s head and moved in Sarah’s direction, spurred on by Sarah’s screams.
Sarah let go of the tree and plunged back into the water, swimming as hard as she could. Behind her, the ghost hovered over the surface of the water, its legs hanging limp beneath it and its claws outstretched toward Sarah. Sarah swam, kicking for her life and paddling with all the strength left in her arms. She swallowed whole gulps of the muddy water a few times, but kept pumping her arms and legs. She could feel the ghoul chasing her, and could hear its mournful wails whenever she lifted her head from the water. Soon, the current picked up speed and Sarah lost control of her swimming. The water spun her around as she went downstream. She reached out for anything she could grab to help regain control, but couldn’t get a good grip on anything. She was straining to keep her head above the rushing water, and trying to keep from swallowing any more of it. She had rolled onto her side when her back suddenly collided with something solid and water rushed up into her face. She managed to press into the tree trunk behind her and get her head above water. Then, she turned around and grabbed onto the tree. Sarah looked around, trying to regain her bearings. She could see the glow of the specter in the woods upstream from her, and it was growing brighter.
As Sarah looked around in the darkness, she tried to make out any way to get out of the water. The stream was much wider than it normally was, and to her it seemed that she was stuck in the middle of it. A few yards downstream, she noticed what looked like an oddly shaped mound of dirt, it almost looked like the roof of a car. As she looked at it in wonder, she noticed it was the roof of an old car, and the top half of the windows. She dove back into the rapids and paddled hard toward the old wreck, diving under the water and through the rear window. She turned around to face upstream and pressed her feet into the door on the other side of the car, and her hands against the ceiling, bracing herself against the current.
Water rushed into her face, so she pressed her head against the ceiling, where there was a small gap between the water and the car. She could still see out the window of the car, and could see the figure of the ghostly woman coming closer, wailing and sobbing between screams of pain. The ghoul stopped at the tree Sarah had braced herself against only moments before. It pressed its face against the rough bark of the tree and moved its head around rapidly.
“Can it smell me?” Sarah almost asked aloud.
The woman’s ragged, twisted face looked up quickly in Sarah’s direction and it let out a loud wail. It pushed off the tree with its claws and squealed as it flew towards Sarah’s hiding place. Sarah held her breath and plunged her head under the murky water. She tried to open her eyes, but couldn’t see anything, it was too dark and the water too full of mud. Sarah’s body tried to float to the surface, so she reached around in the darkness, trying desperately to find something to hold onto. One of her hands found the remains of a seatbelt, so she grabbed tight and pulled herself further into the water. She heard the sound of metal tearing as the ghost tore away the door of the car. More water rushed into the car and Sarah almost lost her grip. She reached with her free hand and grabbed onto something smooth and hard. She felt a cold, hard grip on her arm and suddenly she was out of the car and flying over the water. Before she could get her bearings, she felt a thud as she was thrown onto the shoreline opposite the car. She slid to a stop in the mud and looked up to see the ghost woman hovering above her.
The ghost’s face was terrifying up close. There were claw marks all the way down its drawn, sunken face, and ribbons of skin hung in strips from its chin. Most of its hair was missing, leaving patches of long, stringy hair hanging down to its shoulders. Its mouth hung open and its eyes were just bloody black sockets. It held Sarah’s shoulder down with a claw-like hand at the end of one spindly, crooked arm and held her neck in the other. The face moved closer to Sarah and she recoiled in disgust, closing her eyes. She could hear the thing sniffing her. She could feel it move from the top of her head, to her chin, then to her neck, and her chest. Finally, it moved to Sarah’s stomach and lingered for a while. It loosened its grip on Sarah’s shoulder and moved the claw down Sarah’s body to her stomach. Sarah opened her eyes when she felt the claw-like fingers scrape lightly against the exposed skin of her abdomen. She saw the ghost moving its head and rubbing her stomach with its claw, and making a noise that sounded almost like cooing.
Then, Sarah realized she was still holding something in her hand. Something smooth and hard. She lifted her hand out of the mud and turned her slightly to look. She felt nauseous when she realized she was holding a small human skull. Then she recalled Fire Chief Frederick’s telling of the story.
“We never found the children, God bless ‘em,” he had said. “There had been so much rain, the car was likely covered by mud. We never had a chance of finding it. We searched for days, but never found it.”
Sarah realized now exactly what she was holding. She thrust the skull into the ghost’s deformed face. It reeled back at first, but then snatched the skull away with its free hand. It reeled back, loosening its grip on Sarah’s neck. It held the skull gingerly with both hands now and emitted a mournful sob again. It brought the skull close to its own face and began sniffing it. It shook its head and sniffed again. Sarah watched as the ghost drifted backward toward the flooded stream. It turned away from her flew in the direction of the wrecked car.
Sarah got to her feet and slowly worked her way back upstream through the mud. When she got back to the car, she could see the tell-tale flashing lights of an ambulance on the bridge. She yelled out to the paramedics over and over again, straining against the sound of the downpour. Her voice went hoarse from yelling and she dropped to her knees in exhaustion. She dropped her head to her chest for a moment, and when she lifted it, she saw a bright white light flick in her direction.
“Flashlight!” she thought excitedly. “Down here!” she screamed one more time. The light trained on her and she could hear voices on the bridge.
“I can see them! They’re down there!” one of them yelled.
Sarah collapsed back into the mud beside the car as the paramedics rushed through the mud to get to her.
Sarah awoke with a start. Her eyes strained against the bright light all around her. As her vision adjusted, she realized she was in a bed. Soon, she realized she was surrounded by the familiar trappings of a hospital room. She fell back against her pillow and looked around the room. She could see another bed across the room surrounded by a thin, green curtain. She desperately wanted to get out of the bed, so she could see if David was in the bed next to hers, but she was too exhausted. She fell into a deep sleep again.
Sometime later, Sarah woke once more. This time, there were voices all around her. She opened her eyes to see a doctor talking to two nurses at the foot of her bed.
“Oh, Doctor, she’s awake, look!” one nurse exclaimed.
“So she is. Sarah?” the doctor asked.
“Yes?” Sarah replied.
“Good, good. Sarah, I’m Doctor Jenkins. You’re at County General Hospital. Do you know why you’re here?” the doctor asked.
“There was an accident,” Sarah managed to say, her voice still hoarse from screaming. “Where’s David, where’s my husband?” she asked.
“David’s doing alright,” Jenkins replied. “He’s right here in the next bed,” he said as he pulled back the curtain.
David laid in the bed behind the curtain, bandaged from head to toe.
“I know it looks bad, but David’s injuries were much worse than your own. Mostly just broken bones, but he’s going to be in a body cast for at least a few weeks. He’ll pull through just fine,” Jenkins reassured her.
“Most importantly, the baby looks fine,” the younger nurse blurted out.
“Baby? What baby?” Sarah asked, confused.
“When the paramedics brought you in last night, we ran a few routine blood tests, you’re pregnant Sarah, we’d put you at about three weeks,” Doctor Jenkins said.
“Pregnant,” Sarah wondered aloud.
She put one hand over her mouth and rubbed her belly with the other. She could feel scabs forming over the small, delicate scrapes the ghost woman had left behind.