One of our photographic expeditions of covered bridges George determined that he wanted to visit a bridge named Carver’s Mill Covered Bridge, located approximately two hours from my house when traveling the speed limit and an hour and a quarter when George drove. He was keen on seeing this bridge because an arsonist—likely a teenager—destroyed it approximately 10 years previously but had been rebuilt a few years later. According to reports, George had heard the bridge was in all aspects identical to the original structure.
The amateur cartographer who had hand drawn the map to Carver’s Mill Covered Bridge gave little attention to details. The bridge lay in an isolated rural area on a county road. Very few landmarks, such as road numbers or other intersecting or parallel roads, or even towns appeared on the map, so we could not find its location. Instead, we pulled into what we believed to be the nearest town of some size, at least compared to many others we stopped at for gasoline or to take a restroom break. A road sign informed us that we were in actuality entering Carver’s Mill, so our conclusion naturally was the covered bridge was in the immediate vicinity. The town had a square in its center, and George rolled up into one of the angled parking spots around the courthouse and we sought the aid of a local to give us directions to the bridge.
A haggard woman I hypothesized had lived about 60 years sat on a bench, and she continuously dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. She possessed disheveled stringy, gray hair, her clothes were worn and dirty, an unpleasant odor reeked from her being, and every once in awhile she would hit herself squarely on the forehead with her balled up right hand while mumbling, “Why did he go? Why did he go?”
We also saw a group of people gathered on one side of the courthouse, some seated in chairs and others standing. Most of the ones standing wore uniforms of some sort, but we could not discern what type of uniforms they were.
“Looks like a wedding,” said George.
The old woman immediately looked at him and said, “Evil, that’s what he is. He shouldn’t be marrying her if he doesn’t love her, and he doesn’t!”
“Pardon me?” said George.
“She’ll find out soon enough. He don’t love her, don’t love her at all. He loves another…”
George and I made a quick departure from her and looked for assistance from other quarters, which we found maybe 30 feet away in a professional-looking woman, smartly dressed and coiffed and emitting a much more pleasant aroma.
“Could you give us some help?” I asked.
She replied pleasantly, “Certainly, if I can. How could I help you?”
“We’re looking for the Carver’s Mill covered bridge and this old map we’re using is not very good. We haven’t been able to find it.”
“Oh, you must’ve gotten hold of the one drawn by Morgan Delaney back in the 1940s. If you go to our library there’s a much better map there, but I can easily direct you. Which direction did you come from?”
George explained our route, which he mostly got correct.
“So you came in over there?” she pointed to the road that we had traveled. We nodded and she continued, “Then all you have to do is follow the same road out of the other side of the square,” and she pointed in the appropriate direction.
We introduced ourselves more formally and explained the purpose of our expedition. Her name was Janice, she was a lawyer who spent most of her days in the courthouse, and she was polite in her apparent interest, but it was not likely she cared, other than from the standpoint of being friendly.
“It’s a good place to photograph. There’s lot of different perspectives to take a picture from,” she replied. “It’s a pretty bridge.”
Before we returned to the vehicle I said, “Somebody having a wedding over there?”
“Of course you wouldn’t know about that, you’re not from around here,” Janice replied. “I don’t suppose you’ve even heard about the wedding.”
“And what about that old woman sitting on the bench?” interrupted George.
“Her? She’s not an old woman, believe it or not. Barely 30, if that.”
“Must’ve had a rough life,” I said.
“Sure has. Now about the wedding—“
Just at that minute the fire siren sounded with its moaning wail. A couple of seconds later somebody pulled up to the parking area, screeching the car’s tires. As he exited the car he yelled, “The bridge is on fire! The bridge is on fire! Come on everybody, the bridge is on fire!”
The woman who was about 30 years old but looked twice that age lifted her head and began bawling vehemently, yammering something unintelligible.
The wedding broke up and men and women ran past us. Then we saw that their uniforms were those of fire fighters. Most of them ran to the fire station, which was only a couple hundred feet from where we stood.
“The bridge?” said George? “The bridge is on fire? Again?”
“Hold on!” said Janice. “You don’t need to go there—“
We did not hear anything else she said, for we were rolling in a few seconds. A fire truck and a couple of other vehicles with flashing lights forced us to pull over to the side, delaying our departure, and it quickly drove out into the countryside. In spite of George’s lead foot, we lost the fire engine.
When we arrived at the covered bridge no one was there—no people, no fire trucks, no police, nothing, just the bridge, and it was not on fire.
“Do you suppose there another covered bridge around here?” I asked.
“Not that I’ve heard about,” answered George.
“What other kind of bridge could’ve burned?”
“They came this way. I’m going to drive farther. We’ll have to come to them eventually.”
No other bridge of substantial size appeared before us, nor did we find any on fire. George drove for a few miles, and then bewildered we headed back to town.
The young woman who looked old had vanished and there was no indication that a wedding had been in progress when interrupted by a fire alarm. The courthouse lawn looked completely undisturbed. There were no chairs, no arch, and no trampled grass.
Janice emerged from the courthouse and walked to us.
“You didn’t find anything, did you?” she asked.
“No,” said George. “How’d you know that?”
She sat on a bench and asked, “You have time for a story?”
We nodded and sat down as well on an adjacent bench to listen.
“It was ten years ago—ten years today, in fact—that the woman you saw earlier experienced one of the worst tragedies in the town’s history. Her name is Lauren Ralston, and as I told you earlier, she is only 30 years old at the most. She was either 19 or 20 when it happened.
“This very day ten years ago Lauren was getting married to her high school sweetheart, a young man named Eric Feeley right over there on the courthouse lawn,” she pointed to where we had witnessed the wedding earlier. “Lauren was quite immature and possessive of Eric. She didn’t want him going anywhere or doing anything without her. He was a fire fighter, which was something she didn’t like because it took him away at times.
“Lauren was not prepared for marriage in any way. She frequently accused Eric of being unfaithful and demanding that he make a choice between her and being a fire fighter. Eric tried to downplay it, but everyone knew it bothered him because her possessiveness was trying to take him away from something important to him. She felt jealous of fire fighting, plain and simple. There was never any other girl Eric was interested in, but Lauren’s jealousy gave him no end of grief.
“She finally talked him into getting married, and like I said, today is the anniversary of their intended wedding. They were right in the middle of the ceremony when the fire alarm went off, Bill Peters came rushing over to the courthouse in his car and yelled at everyone that the bridge was on fire.”
George and I looked at each other quizzically.
“Just hang on,” said Janice. “Hear the rest of the story.
“All the fire fighters made an instant decision—they were going to save the bridge, which is our most notable landmark. People come from many states just to take pictures of it. We usually have fireworks in the little park in the field across the road from the bridge on the Fourth of July and town picnics on Memorial Day and Labor Day. It’s always been like our most sacred place for the town.
“Standing up there, ready to get married, Eric had a decision to make. He looked at Lauren and said, ‘I’ll be back shortly and we’ll finish.’ He never came back alive, though. While fighting the fire the floor of the bridge gave way and Eric plunged 70 feet down into the shallow water. The fall probably killed him outright, but if not, a big portion of that end of the bridge landed on top of him.
“Lauren was devastated and has lost her mind. You see what she looks like today, and just ten years ago she was a beautiful young girl.”
“I thought she was 60 years old,” I said.
“She looks that old,” she said, “that’s for sure. No one ever sees her except for this one day every year, when she comes and sits on a bench while the wedding’s going on behind her. She cries about Eric and is still mad at him for choosing fighting the fire over marrying her.”
“You mean someone schedules a wedding every year on this day?” said George. “Do you have a re-enactment? Isn’t that kind of cruel for Lauren?”
“Uh, George, I don’t believe what we saw were real people,” I said.
“Shadows,” said Janice. “Just shadows of what happened ten years ago. The first couple of years everybody was kind of frightened and upset when they saw them. Now, we just let them get on with their business. They don’t bother us, we don’t bother them. Some people say they’re nothing more than concoctions from Lauren’s mind, but somehow we can see them. I personally have never believed in ghosts, and I don’t really have any other explanation for them, so I just call them shadows. We think they’ll go away when Lauren dies. Until then we see them once a year.”
“What do you think?” asked George on our trip home.
“I think it’s something I can’t explain,” I replied. “Strange, just strange. Shadows, she said. I guess I’ll go with that, too. We thought we saw something, but they were just shadows, our eyes playing tricks on us.”