The Long Drop

Locals call it the Long Drop.

It’s a half-mile of weathered steel that stretches across a river five hundred feet below. Built in the early 1930s, the bridge is still in use, although there have been attempts to close it. Even a few to destroy it full stop.

It remains, though.

The Long Drop has been a…troubled place since its ground was broken. The first death, that of nineteen year old Ogden March, came only days after he and his crew began clearing the land. He’d been a chopper, felling trees to make way for progress. While it was officially classified as an accident, those that were present stated that, when Ogden heard the telling crack of the tree about to give way, he’d stepped deliberately into its path.

He’d stared straight at his screaming foreman right up until it crashed down on him.

The site was plagued by a number of similar “accidents” throughout its construction. Half a dozen men never saw the Long Drop completed. More than that quit part way through the process, claiming that it was doing something to them. They were having negative thoughts and nightmares they’d never experienced before. But for every one worker that left, another was waiting eagerly to take his place, and the bridge was finished.

There were hopes that it would draw interest as a modern marvel of engineering prowess. That people would come to admire the view, an impressive sweep of the surrounding forested hills that turned a brilliant red and gold in autumn. That it would bring a new transport route, and thus, new life, to the area.

Instead, it brought the jumpers.

Maisie Hitchens, a 34 year old mother, went over only a week after it was opened to the public. She’d driven to the bridge with her toddlers in the backseat, parked the car at its entrance, and walked to the middle of the Long Drop. By the time other passers-by realized what was happening, she was already up on the rail. She simply let herself go, and disappeared into the river far below.

She was followed by a string of others. Men and women, a few children. Some bodies were recovered, others were carried away and lost somewhere downstream. Town officials said it was an unfortunate consequence of such a structure and, for a time, there was an increased police presence situated at either end of the bridge to discourage those who came with no intention of crossing.

Until Jackson Fike, a rookie officer regularly assigned to the Long Drop duty, leapt to his death a month after his first shift at the bridge.

It was his death, that of a young, well-liked man, that really put people in a scramble for answers.

Why would someone in the prime of their life commit suicide?

Why would he leave his new bride and unborn child in such a way?

What was wrong with the Long Drop?

The engineers behind it said it was a fairly common phenomenon. New bridges often came with a body count. They said it was “the call of the void” that attracted people who were already experiencing dark thoughts. While they grudgingly admitted the number of suicides was unusual, they refused to attribute anything supernatural or superstitious to it.

The townsfolk weren’t quite so dismissive. They demanded that the bridge be blessed. It became quite the production. Crowds gathered. Priests came. They splashed their holy water. They said their prayers. They laid their hands upon the metalwork. Hearts and minds were appeased.

That night, a fourteen year old girl who’d been present for the blessing threw herself from the bridge.

While the number of people who came to end their lives at the Long Drop lessened over time, it by no means stopped. The flow was slow, but steady, and at least one person a month went over the edge.

It became a haunted place. Some believed the spirits of the departed remained and continued to walk along the bridge and in the woods around it. It became a popular spot for teens to spook each other with tales of ghostly wanderers. Some simply seemed sad and would ignore the living, others were said to be angry, even violent, and would try to pull unsuspecting victims over the railings.

Few, however, really looked into why so many went to the Long Drop to kill themselves. It was just brushed off as being quick and easy. There’d be no mess for loved ones to contend with.

I, like most others, always accepted that justification.

I grew up in a neighboring small town and was well acquainted with the history of the Long Drop. My family was part of it. A great uncle, Pat, had disappeared when he was in his forties. His body washed ashore a few miles from where he’d jumped. I’d never met him, so he was just another faceless name to me, but my grandpa took it hard.

He blamed the Long Drop for his brother’s death, like it was some kind of living beast. When I pointed out that the bridge had only played a small part, he wagged a gnarled finger in my face and told me to wise up.

“It’s not the bridge itself,” he snapped. “It’s what it’s built on.”

He must have thought my expression too skeptical, because he clammed up and dismissed me. It was hard to take Grandpa seriously in that moment, especially after he was a few beers in, but I couldn’t deny he’d at least piqued my curiosity. If nothing else, it sounded like he had a story to tell, and I was interested in hearing it.

It took a few tries before he finally did. Initially, he thought I might be mocking him, but when I kept bugging him every time I visited, he wore down.

We were sitting on his porch, sharing a couple drinks and watching the sun set over the hills. He’d grown quiet, as he often did when savoring his whisky, and I took the opportunity to bring up the Long Drop again. His wrinkles deepened into a frown and he shifted. The ice clinked in his glass, loud in his silence.

“Come on, Pops,” I urged. “What’s under the bridge?”

“Don’t be smart with me, Sammy,” he warned.

“I’m not. I really want to know.”

One bushy brow rose sceptically.

“Please?”

He leaned back in his rocking chair and I thought he might continue to ignore me. Finally, he sipped his drink and glanced at me out of the corner of his eye.

“How much do you know about it?”

“What everyone knows, I guess. That people go there to commit suicide.”

He made an unhappy rumble in the back of his throat. “That’s only half of it.”

Grandpa had been a few years younger than his brother. When he learned of Pat’s death, he’d been devastated, but also confused. The two had been close. So close that they’d bought a large plot of land together and built their homes on opposite ends of it. They got married and raised their families side-by-side. There was very little that they hadn’t done together.

“Pat wasn’t suicidal,” he said with certainty. “He wasn’t even depressed. He loved his wife and his kids, his work. He had friends and hobbies. There was never a time in my life outside our daddy’s death that I ever even saw him sad. And Pat wasn’t any kind of actor, either. I’d have known if something was wrong.”

Neither Grandpa or Great Uncle Pat had used the Long Drop much when they were young men. Their business didn’t take them into that town much and, when it did, they preferred the more scenic backroads to the bridge. It wasn’t until Pat’s wife got a job as a receptionist and needed rides into work that he began opting for the most direct route to get to her there. He began crossing the Long Drop twice a day.

And he began to change because of it.

It was just little things that Grandpa noticed leading up to Pat’s death. Pat was more distracted than usual. Antsy and restless. But not depressed. Grandpa would find him standing outside the barn, just staring out in the direction of the bridge. Pat couldn’t explain why. He just said he felt something, like a tug in his gut, pulling him toward the Long Drop.

Grandpa told him to stop taking his wife to work that way every day. Pat agreed.

Two days later, he vanished.

“After they found him, his…body, I started looking for answers,” Grandpa said quietly. “Anything and everything I could find on that damned bridge. A lot of news articles about suicides and excuses for them, but not much else. I didn’t think I’d find anything. Not a real reason for it, anyway. All those deaths.”

In a last ditch effort, Grandpa put out ads and fliers requesting any additional information about the Long Drop. He got a few letters from engineers offering their insight into the workings of the structure, which he wasn’t interested in, and some from other grieving people who had lost family and friends to the bridge. It seemed as hopeless a venture as his initial research had been.

About six months after Pat’s death, when Grandpa was beginning to lose hope that he’d ever learn more, a car came down his drive and a woman he’d never seen before climbed out.

She introduced herself as Eddie.

“She was young and wore a lot of yellow, but she was a serious thing. Said she was working on a history of the area, something to do with the occult, which sounded ridiculous to me then. I didn’t know what to make of her, this tiny woman who came armed with books and binders. She came inside like she owned the place and covered my whole kitchen table in her papers.”

The one he remembered most was a rough sketch. Some kind of snake-like beast, but instead of a single tail, it had dozens of tentacle appendages. Each one ended in a mouth, stretched open as if they were all screaming. Eddie had tapped her finger against the drawing and said something Grandpa didn’t catch at first.

“Thecthilias,” she had repeated. “The Emptiness. The Burrower Beneath. A creature not of this world.”

“It was at that point I began to question this woman’s sanity,” Grandpa chuckled grimly. “But she was adamant that I hear her out, so I did.”

Eddie was as intense as she was bright. She had meticulously kept notes, photocopies of journals, articles, all about some kind of worm-creature that could eat its way through dimensions. Once it created its nest, it would raise its many tails and begin to sing.

“Its song draws food to it. Thecthilias is endlessly hungry. No matter how much it consumes, it is never satisfied, and it will continue to sing and lure and eat until it is either driven out or its food source is depleted,” Eddie had explained.

Grandpa decided to play along and asked what it ate.

Eddie replied without missing a beat. “Souls.”

The creature’s song was like irresistible bait to those able to hear it. Eddie hadn’t worked out why some could hear it and others couldn’t, she figured it was a frequency thing, but for the ones who could hear the siren song, it was only a matter of time before they found a way to sacrifice themselves to feed Thecthilias.

Grandpa told her she was nuttier than a bucket of pecans.

“There was a cult here in the early 1900s,” Eddie ignored him. “They existed only to usher in these kinds of monsters to bring about the end of times. I’ve interviewed a few members who still live around here and I’ve found their writings. Here, look.”

She’d pushed a stack of papers toward him, but Grandpa didn’t touch it.

“They say that they managed to attract Thecthilias and it tore its way into this world, where it made a nest. That bridge, the Long Drop? It’s built over that nest. That’s why so many people are killing themselves there. To feed Thecthilias.”

“You think my brother killed himself to feed some kind of…space worm?” Grandpa had asked her.

Eddie said yes, she did.

Grandpa thanked her for her time and practically shoved her out the door. She was still trying to talk when he slammed it in her face.

“Never heard from her again,” Grandpa sighed. “But it’s hard to forget something like that.”

“You believe her?” I asked.

It was a bit of a shock, given Grandpa’s stern and steadfast nature. He shrugged noncommittally.

“I didn’t,” he said slowly.

“But?”

“But there was a kid in town. Gilbert. Good kid, made money mowing yards in the summer. Used to come out here and do a bit of mine when I let him.”

“Yeah, I remember him. He, uh…he jumped from the Long Drop our senior year.”

“Yep,” Grandpa said. “He did some work for me that year. I had to let him go, though. He was sloppy and distracted.”

Grandpa looked down at the whiskey in his hand, long and hard.

“I talked to him about it once. Figured he had a girl or some such on his mind. But he asked me if I could hear it, too. The sound, almost like a song. I’m not proud to say that I grabbed him by his scruff and gave him a shake. Demanded to know what he meant. He got scared, though, and ran off. Never saw him again. Not until he was on the news.”

We sat in silence for a time, both of us caught up in our own thoughts.

After a while, I cleared my throat. “So you believe her now?”

“Don’t rightly know one way or the other. All I know is I stay away from the Long Drop, and you should, too.”

I nodded and let my gaze wander across the yard, out toward the woods, in the direction of the Long Drop.

I don’t rightly know that I believe that woman’s story, either. I try to be a realist, like Grandpa.

But I still haven’t crossed over the Long Drop since, and I don’t mean to ever again.

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