Some places are really scary aren't they? Dark narrow lanes, lonely woods, cobwebby corners. the scariest place I ever knew was an old bridge just outside of town. It used to take the old railway over a dirt lane that no one ever seemed to use. The railway had been dismantled many years before and the old brick bridge had almost disappeared from view in the dark trees and bushes that grew on the that old dirt track.
I discovered the bridge when I was exploring by myself when all my usual friends were busy. My surprise in finding it was tempered somewhat by a shiver of fear as I approached that dismal spot. There was hardly a sound to be heard in this shady culvert. The air was still and dank. The underside of the bridge dripped water down into the lane from little stalactites. Plants and moss gradually reclaimed the structure for its own.
As I stood under the great curved brick arch I sensed a feeling of excitement and fear all mixed into one. The laneway curved away darkly in both directions and standing there I felt completely cut off from safety. Even the plaintive sound of rooks high up in the spinney on the hill from where I had come had been stilled. I had a discovered a very different world. It was cold there. Much colder than it should have been on that Spring day. I want to run away but somehow stood transfixed to the spot.
I couldn't make up my mind which way to go. There was no lowing of cows in the meadows, no bark of dogs in farmyards, no reassuring sound of vehicles on the main road. I was completely cut off.
Wait! What was that? It sounded like whimpering. Slowly I edged out from under the bridge. I looked up the bank from where the sound was coming. Was there anything in the shadows? I peered cautiously towards a snuffling sound.
Then I could see what it was. There in the shadows well out of reach more that half way up the bank at the side of the bridge was a little boy. He couldn't have been more that three years old . He sat up there among the dock and the nettles, the trailing ivy and the hazel twigs. His clothes were torn and soaked and his face, arms and legs were scratched and dirty.
"Are you all right?" I called out.
"I want my Mummy," came the reply.
"Where is she" I asked.
With that he cried again, tears streaming down his grubby face and his little body shook with heart rending sobs.
"Just stay there while I get some help," I called out.
The sobbing subsided a little. His tousled head nodded and his big dark eyes looked at me eagerly as he said:
"Fetch my Mummy!"
"OK. Just stay still while I get some help."
Uncertain where to find the help I had promised, I came away from the bank and was amazed to that he immediately vanished from my sight, so well was he camouflaged up there.
I ran up the lane and after a few minutes found a tiny cottage where the track ended. It looked sad and neglected. No smoke rose from the chimney, there was no sign of life and the walls were covered in creeper that stretched up to the gutter. I went round the back and in the garden where there was a woman wearing boots, old khaki trousers and a ragged old jacket. She stopped digging the garden when she saw me.
"What are you a doing here?" Her voice was coarse but not unkind.
"There's a little boy by the old railway bridge, that's crying for his mother, Can you help?"
My words came out all in a rush, but hardly had I finished when she said:
"No, there ain't." As she shook her head and looked anxiously towards the house.
"But there is," I went on. "He's all wet and dirty and can't get down. You must help."
"It's all right boy, He ain't really there."
"But he is," I insisted. " He's crying and has nasty scratches on his legs. He needs help."
The woman kept glancing at the door of the cottage and she spoke now in barely more than a whisper.
"You're imagining things. There ain't no boy there now."
"Then I will have to get him down myself." I said.
With that the back door of the cottage opened and there stood an old white haired woman dressed all in black. She was just as I had imagined a witch would be.
"What's that boy want" The old woman cried out.
"He's lost his way."
"Has he found our Reggie?"
"No, no! Go back inside. I'll show him the way back."
"You sure he ain't seen our Reggie?" The old woman pleaded.
For some reason I remained silent. Some sixth sense told me something strange was going on.
The woman in boots then grabbed my hand and marched me back to the lane and kept walking until the cottage was far behind. Not until then did she speak again.
"He's dead you know. He was my little brother Reggie. He was killed by train many, many years ago."
The shock of what I heard must have shown on my face as she went on.
"He must have strayed on to the track. We didn't find him 'til the next morning. His little broken body was lodged halfway down the bank by the side of the bridge."
"But who did I see?"
"You saw him all right . He keeps trying to get back to his Mum."
"But your mother thought I had found him, doesn't she know he's dead?"
"She does, but won't admit it. She's been expecting to come back for nearly forty years."
By this time we had got back to the bridge. I pointed out where I had seen the little boy. There was nothing there now. In fact nothing seems scary anymore, especially with a grown up at my side. I could hear insects buzzing, rooks were calling in the spinney and everything looked a lot brighter.
"Why did I see him?"
"Because you didn't know he was dead,' was the simple reply.
That bridge is long gone now, and so is the cottage. The lane is part of a bypass around the town. From the spinney the rooks can see the the new housing advance across the hills toward them.
But where is that little boy? Who is he crying out to now to help him?