Darrius Boyle was on his drive home from college when he fell asleep at the wheel. It was past midnight, probably a bit later than he should have been driving, and rain poured down in torrents.
Darrius’s car hydroplaned before the bridge and sent him off the road. The car flipped and landed upside down in the river before he came to. By then, it was far too late. When the authorities finally found the car – found him – he was still buckled in.
Fifteen years later, a small memorial still rests by the roadside where Darrius had lost his life. Bouquets of flowers adorn the area. They are bountiful and full of life in late spring, but by autumn the leaves have withered, and the flowers come and gone.
Two high schoolers named Ben and Lily frequent the area. They often park in the nearby pull-off spot and walk down to the river, wading in the shallow spots. Sometimes they glance at the memorial as they walk past it, but they don’t know Darrius or his story. In reality, he was just some broke college kid passing through small towns, heading home for the weekend to surprise his little sister for her birthday.
One day in late spring, Ben and Lily scratch their initials with sharp rocks on the concrete under the bridge – forever linking themselves to this location, somehow. They eventually spray-paint it when they both realize they want something more permanent.
Time passes. Ben and Lily finally research Darrius Boyle, learn his story, and leave flowers near his memorial when they remember to. It only makes sense.
On gentle summer days, Ben and Lily strap kayaks to the top of their car, unload, and let the river guide them downstream. On occasion, they stop at a small, wooded island and make love before beginning the vigorous paddle up the river.
And on a fall evening around twenty years after Darrius had lost his life, Ben proposes to Lily as they watch the sunset – pinks and purples intermingling, harmonious. They kick off their shoes, roll up their jeans, and wade to their initials under the bridge. They spray-paint over each letter to mark their new beginning. Underneath, they add the date: 9-23-22.
Lily starts to climb the steep bank uphill, toward the car. Ben stops. He turns around and gazes out toward the river.
“Hope you had a good life, Darrius,” he says quietly.
For some reason, Ben’s feet, his ankles, become warm.
“I did,” he hears, almost like a whisper as cars roll by. Goosebumps prickle the young man’s arms.
“Be well, Ben,” surfaces from the depths, rolling across the water. Ben’s heart gets caught in his throat. He turns away and dashes toward the bank after his fiancée. She turns around, laughs at his frantic display, and then takes his hand as he falls into step beside her.
I sometimes wonder about our lives — both those who are here and those who are no longer with us — and about how we are all probably more connected than we think. I wanted to write a story that somehow “connected” strangers’ lives, even if for a moment or in a strange, small way. I think this story is as much about Ben and Lily as it is about Darrius.
Thank you so much for reading “By the Bridge” — I hope you enjoyed it!
Writing prompt: Consider writing about an unexplained phenomenon that you have either heard about or witnessed yourself. For an extra challenge, weave it into a work of fiction.
Have a great weekend, everyone!