written by James Rada, Jr.
A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment
1: The Crossing
Thomas Hamilton reread the text message on his smartphone. He called Paula’s number a third time, and the call joined the other two in her voicemail. He texted, “Can we talk?” He doubted it would be answered.
“I don’t want to see you anymore.” Her message earlier had been short and direct, but it made no sense to Thomas.
Paula broke up with him using a text and then ghosted him. Who does that? Didn’t he deserve an answer as to why? He could drive over to her apartment but doubted she would even answer the door.
Thomas glanced at the ring box sitting on his desk in the den. What was he to do with that? It was his grandmother’s wedding ring. He had been planning on giving it to Paula on the first anniversary of their first date next week. He didn’t see that happening now.
He pulled open a drawer in his desk and dropped the ring box inside. Then he walked back to his bedroom and changed into sweat clothes.
He went outside and started jogging down Old Mill Road to Old Frederick Road where he turned right toward Loys Station Park. He ignored his anger, sadness, and confusion and just ran. If he could exhaust himself, maybe he could ignore things for a while.
Thomas wore a reflector vest over his clothes because the shoulders were almost nonexistent on the roads around here. There wasn’t a large amount of traffic, but it only took one careless driver to put him in the hospital, or worse.
He crossed over the old Western Maryland Railroad track. He did not know who used it nowadays, only that if he wasn’t careful, it could trip him up.
He was glad he had worn his reflector vest because, as he neared Loys Station Park, it quickly grew foggy. He reached the parking lot for the playground at the park and started walking. He had run further than he planned, which was fine, but he needed to rest before he headed back to his house.
He hoped the fog would burn off soon or at least move on to somewhere he wasn’t jogging. It would only make things that much more dangerous for him.
As Thomas walked in a large circle around the park, he came upon an old man sitting on one of the stone walls that bordered the road and led up to the Loys Station Covered Bridge. The bridge was one of six covered bridges remaining in Maryland, of which three were in Frederick County. The 141-year-old Loys Station Covered Bridge spanned 90 feet over Owens Creek.
Thomas had noticed no cars in the parking lot, so the old man must have walked here and was probably waiting for the fog to lift.
The man raised a hand and waved. “Hello, Thomas.”
Thomas stopped his loop and walked over to the man. He didn’t recognize him, but he looked familiar.
“You look done in,” the man said.
Thomas nodded. “I just ran three miles.”
The old man chuckled. “You might be planning on running three miles, but you’ve only done two miles so far.”
“How do you know that? Do I know you?”
The old man cocked his head to the side. “I imagine you think you know me, but I know you a lot better.”
“Really?” Who did this man think he was? If he was a stalker, Thomas would have wished for someone prettier.
“Paula just broke up with you, didn’t she?”
Thomas’s eyes widened. “How could you know that?”
The old man grinned. “And she did it with a text. Who does that?”
“That’s what I thought.” Thomas paused. “Who are you?”
The old man stood up. “That’s not important right now. What is important is that you need to believe that you will find happiness again.”
It was easy to say, and it might even be true. Thomas didn’t feel that way right now, though. It would probably be a long time before he felt that way again.
“You didn’t deserve to be treated like that,” the old man said.
Thomas nodded. “No, I didn’t.”
“Do you want to know why she did it?”
“How would you know?”
“Because I saw it happen. Not the text you got, but I saw why she broke up with you. She was at the Ott House last night and met one of those big wigs at FEMA. He was all-right looking, I guess, but he was flashing a lot of money, and he took an interest in Paula. He was buying, and the last I saw, they were making out behind the bar and heading back to the FEMA campus.”
The old man said it clinically with no emotion, but every word cut into Thomas, and he winced from the pain. He wanted to scream for the man to stop talking, but Thomas knew the man was telling the truth. Paula liked to go to the Ott House because she had worked there a few years back. She was also very focused on making a lot of money while Thomas was happy running his family farm. It would never make him wealthy, but it made him happy.
“I know it’s hard to hear,” the old man said. “But what would you say if I told you the love of your life is on the other side of this covered bridge?”
Thomas moved closer to the stone wall and leaned over so he could look through the opening of the bridge.
On the other side, he could see a young woman walking along the sunlit road. He leaned back and looked down the side of the bridge. He couldn’t see the other side because of the fog, but what he saw looking through the bridge was clear and sunny.
“What is going on?” Thomas asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean there’s no fog when I look through the bridge.”
The old man shrugged. “Some things can cut through the fog we see and focus our attention.”
Thomas rolled his eyes. “You’re too tall to be Yoda, so don’t try.”
The old man chuckled and stepped onto the road. “I’ve told you everything you need to know.” Then he walked across the street and kept going until Thomas couldn’t see him in the fog.
Thomas climbed over the wall so that he could see more easily through the bridge. It was still clear on the other side. He could see the young woman walking across the field beyond where the road turned to the left.
He leaned over and looked down the side of the bridge. The fog was as thick as muddy water, probably even thicker on the other side of the bridge than this side.
Yet, Thomas wasn’t seeing that through the bridge. He walked across the road and looked down that side of the bridge.
What was going on?
Was that woman the love of his life that the old man had been talking about? Not that he believed the crazy man, but Thomas was curious about how the fog looked from the other side.
Was it a dark wall or like a fluffy cloud that had settled on the ground?
He started across the bridge and changed his life.
Look for what happens next in our December issue