Harmony Baxter hated it in the city. She hated the way people ignored each other as they hurried on their way, and the constant noise and light that made it impossible to think. She’d lived here her whole life, always being afraid, although she never knew what it was that she was so scared of.
Ronnie had picked another fight with her after school, something stupid about how short her hair was. Rather than get a ride home from him, she decided to walk. She was about to turn up the street towards her house when she felt a small vibration in her bones. It felt almost like something was calling to her.
She kept walking, feeling it get stronger until she stopped across the street from the bridge. It ran over the park, and had been there long before Harmony had been born. The sidewalk led under it, running off to a dirt path. It looked like a normal sidewalk: even paving, a small bit of grass growing to one side. Even the chain link fence on the one side shone just right in the fading afternoon sun. Most people passed by with, their eyes focused on cell phones or the ground two feet in front of them.
Harmony was the only person to notice the woman step out from under the bridge. Something about it felt off. Maybe it was the woman’s hair style, or her peasant blouse and long flowing skirt, that stood out. Maybe it was how she seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“That’s ridiculous,” Harmony said to herself. “Probably just didn’t see her in the dark.” The vibration had returned and seemed to move with the woman. For a moment, Harmony considered just heading back home, but she felt a sudden urge to know what it was about the woman that made this happen.
The woman walked down the street ahead of her, staring up at the buildings in the area and muttering quietly to herself. Harmony did her best to keep up with her through the bustling streets. When the woman stopped in front of a window to stare at her reflection, Harmony was forced to walk past her.
The woman muttered to her reflection, “Just need one. If I can find one, I’ll be okay.”
Harmony frowned. The woman looked older up close. Small lines appeared around her eyes, and her hair was shot through with streaks of gray. When she’d walked out from under the bridge, she’d looked like a young woman in her prime.
Forced to walk into the crowd, Harmony lost the woman. She tried to circle back around the block, but by the time she’d returned the woman was gone. Harmony walked back to the bridge, and waited to see if she’d return.
Twenty minutes passed, then thirty. Harmony sat across the street from the bridge, staring into the darkness underneath it. The shadows pulsed like a heartbeat. Her eyelids grew heavy and she rubbed her palms against her eyes in an effort to stay awake.
She’d just decided to head home when the woman appeared. She looked older now, having aged very quickly in the hour or so since Harmony had last seen her. Hobbling towards the bridge, the now old woman carried a baby in her arms. Harmony watched as she disappeared into the darkness under the bridge, the baby’s cries echoing in the night.
She waited outside of the bridge the next day, and the day after hoping to see some sign of the woman or the baby. She spent a whole Saturday watching the darkness under the bridge, but nothing happened. When she’d try to sleep at night, the darkness behind her eyelids would pulse like the shadows under the bridge.
After a week or so of waiting, she saw the woman again, following her down the same path through the streets. She stayed behind the woman easily enough. The woman stopped at the window again, and this time Harmony refused to move. She waited just up the block where she could easily see her. After a few minutes, the woman blinked and then hurried off into the crowd. She moved so quickly this time that Harmony lost her.
With no way to find her, Harmony once again went back to the bridge and waited. This time, the woman returned with a drunk man. He leaned heavily against her, running his hands over body and leaving sloppy kisses on her neck. Half-dragging him into the darkness below the bridge, the woman’s expression never changed from a look of grim determination as they disappeared into the shadows.
Harmony waited for several seconds, then walked across the street towards the path. The shadows under the bridge stayed dark, and the path seemed to run off into nothingness. She stopped at the sidewalk’s edge, and stared into the darkness. She still couldn’t see anything, although she felt the pull of the shadows from where she stood. They called to her, begging her to take that last step inside.
No matter how hard she wanted to step forward, her legs wouldn’t move. The darkness pulsed in rhythm with her heart, faster every second. A man shoved past her, and for a moment she thought she was going to fall in. Fear and longing mixed in her mind right before she hit the pavement hard.
Harmony limped away from the bridge, checking herself for injuries. The further away from the bridge she got, the more her head began to clear. She sat down across the street in her usual spot, staring into the darkness. She felt it laughing at her, mocking her. She wanted to hate it. More than she had ever wanted anything.
She was about to give up when the woman stepped back out of the shadows. If it hadn’t been for the same clothes, Harmony wouldn’t have recognized her. The once gray hair was now a dark, chestnut brown and her skin practically glowed. She stared at Harmony for a second, their eyes locking. Then, with a faint smile, she wandered off into the crowd.
Getting to her feet, Harmony followed after the woman. It didn’t take long to realize that they were following the same route as before. This time, the woman drew all of her attention. It felt like there was a warm, clean bubble that surrounded her, and Harmony wanted nothing more than to be a part of it.
When the woman stopped at the window, Harmony stood next to her. She felt the woman watching her in the reflection, but couldn’t find the words she wanted. Every time she opened her mouth, nothing came out.
“What’s your name, girl?” the woman asked, although Harmony didn’t see her mouth move.
There was brief nod. “Why are you following me?”
“I don’t know,” Harmony said. She felt the moment slipping away. She wanted to beg this woman to take her away from this world. She didn’t want to have to think anymore, or to worry. “I think I’m supposed to go with you.”
“Under the bridge.” It was a statement of fact, with no judgment behind the words.
“Yes,” Harmony said. The woman was aging again, the beauty and light already beginning to fade around them. “Can you take me there?”
The woman turned on her heels, and began walking back the way they came. She moved so suddenly that it took Harmony a second to follow her. The small bubble of warmth she felt slid away, and she shivered in the afternoon breeze.
Hurrying after her, Harmony shouted, “Wait!”
The woman slowed a bit, and Harmony was able to catch her. “I don’t even know your name,” Harmony said. “Who are you?”
“Evelyn,” the woman replied, as though it were obvious. Her hair was a dark gray now, and her skin had become wrinkled.
“It’s always been Evelyn,” Harmony said, although she didn’t know where the words came from. Evelyn was walking slower now, and Harmony took her arm to help her along. The older woman’s bones shifted under Harmony’s hand.
The bridge loomed over them now, but with Evelyn, there was no pain. Harmony knew that if she could just stay with the now elderly woman, everything would be fine. They stopped just outside the path that led into the shadows when Evelyn collapsed.
And just like that, everything collapsed. The world rushed back in around them. Harmony’s head began to throb, the pressure building inside her skull. She wanted to scream. The smells of the city filled the air around her. The sweat and piss and spit of the people around her. The sounds of their bodies digesting the decaying matter in their stomachs.
It was too much.
She crawled towards the shadows, leaving Evelyn behind. Somewhere, under the bridge, she knew that she could find peace. She hesitated at the sidewalk’s edge. Evelyn was aging faster now. People stepped over her body, ignoring her as they went on their own way. Nobody stopped to help.
Harmony dragged herself forward, into the cool darkness. The air smelled cleaner here. Glancing back at Evelyn, she watched the old woman smile before crumbling to dust. Cold arms wrapped themselves around her. Her body floated into the darkness, and she watched as the entrance to the path drifted farther and farther behind her.
A thin voice echoed out of the shadows around her.
Do you come of your own free will?
Harmony nodded and glanced back at the city street fading further into the distance.
We can help you. You can be like her. Nothing will ever hurt you again.
“What do I have to do?” Harmony asked.
All you have to do is let us in.
The entrance was just a pinprick on the horizon. A lonely star that twinkled in the darkness. Harmony blinked back tears and sighed. “And you’ll let me come back out again?”
Harmony heard the smug satisfaction in the voice. She closed her eyes and felt the arms tighten around her. “What if I don’t want to stay?” she asked.
The arms around her loosened a bit. Gravity tugged her back down, and the darkness faded a little.
What do you have to go back to?
Harmony stared back out at the world she came from. She watched the people stumble past the bridge, never looking at anything but the ground ahead of them. She closed her eyes and floated for a second. She thought of her parents, who always yelled at her, and that asshole Ronnie who talked to her like she was an idiot.
You could be beautiful forever.
“Forever is a long time,” she said.
Yes, it is.
“It would be so easy to stay here,” she whispered.
You would never be alone or unappreciated.
There was an urgency to the voice now. A faint, pleading edge to something that had sounded so perfect. She could see the sidewalk from here. A bus rumbled by in the fading afternoon light, so close she could practically touch it.
“It’s not supposed to be easy,” Harmony said, feeling the darkness fade a little. She thought about her friends at school, and her little sister. For a moment, she even thought about pizza. Something roared behind her, and a cold hand brushed against her shoulder.
Harmony stepped out into the light and blinked. Taking a deep breath, she stepped out onto the sidewalk. She smiled up at the last bit of sunlight that warmed her skin, and then turned to go home. She did her best to ignore the smell of the city, and just
Across the street, a girl stood in shock as she watched Harmony emerge from the shadows. Staring into the darkness below the bridge, she watched in silent fascination as they pulsed with the rhythm of her heartbeat.
©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.