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Beneath Devil's Bridge
Author: Loreth Anne White

 


ON DEVIL’S BRIDGE

We spend most of our lives afraid of our own Shadow. He told me that. He said a Shadow lives deep inside every one of us. So deep we don’t even know it’s there. Sometimes, with a quick sideways glance, we catch a glimpse of it. But it frightens us, and we quickly look away. This is what fuels the Shadow—our inability to look. Our inability to examine this thing that is in fact our raw selves. This is what gives the Shadow its power. It makes us lie. About what we want, about who we are. It fires our passions, our darkest desires. And the more powerful it gets, the greater we fear it, and the deeper we struggle to hide this Beast that is us . . .

I don’t know why He tells me these things. Maybe it’s a way of obliquely bringing out and addressing his own Shadow. But I do think our Shadows are bad—his and mine. Big and dark and very dangerous. I don’t think our Shadows should ever be allowed out.

—From the diary of Leena Rai

2:04 a.m. Saturday, November 15, 1997.

Leena Rai stumbles onto the old trestle bridge near the log sorting yard. The night is crystalline. Cold. Eerily quiet. She can hear the wind high in the tips of nearby conifers, the soft lapping of water against rocks under the bridge, the distant, omniscient thundering of the twin waterfalls that plunge down the granite cliffs of Chief Mountain from over a thousand feet up.

She shivers and draws her scarf higher around her neck. The movement makes her sway. She catches hold of the railing and laughs. Her emotion stems from a toxic mix of anxiety and a thrilling, daring sort of anticipation. Mostly she’s comfortingly, numbingly, deliciously drunk on vodka from the almost-empty Smirnoff bottle in the pocket of the oversize military surplus jacket she is wearing. It isn’t her jacket. It’s his. Smells like him. Woodsy. Some pine resin. A residual scent of aftershave. And just the particular aroma that is him. All blended with a loamy whiff of moss and dirt from the forest floor where she was pressed on her back a short while ago. Leena shakes that unwanted memory, the pain. She waits for the heavens, the full moon, the Milky Way, the tops of the trees to stop their spinning, and when the motion slows, she sucks in a deep, steadying breath. The air tastes like autumn.

She continues her way across Devil’s Bridge. She can see the black water of the sound in the distance, and a few lights from the pulp mill twinkling across the water. Her breath comes out in ghostly puffs. As she nears the south end of the bridge, nerves bite harder. She stops, reaches into her pocket, unscrews the cap on the vodka bottle, tilts back her head, and swigs. She wobbles and the drink spills out the side of her mouth and dribbles down her chin. She laughs again, wipes her mouth, and slides the bottle back into the big pocket. As she does, she sees something. A shadow. A noise. She squints into the darkness as she studies the shadows on the bridge ahead. A car approaches. She blinks into the sudden flare of headlights, then it’s gone. A truck barrels past, throwing a blast of hot, exhaust-laden fumes her way. She feels turned around all of a sudden. Which way is the right way?

Focus.

She can’t screw this up, this special invitation to meet beneath the bridge at the south end, a place where teens often gather to smoke, drink, make out. She wobbles onward. Another car passes, blinding her. Leena stumbles off the sidewalk into the road. The car swerves. A horn blares. Her heart beats faster.

She squints into the darkness, her gaze fixed on the end of the bridge.

Don’t screw this up. This is what you’ve been waiting for . . .

Leena pulls the jacket tighter around her body as though it will offer her fortitude. It’s too large for even her frame. Which is why she likes it. It makes her feel petite, and that’s a gift. And warm. Like a hug. Leena doesn’t get hugs often. She can’t actually recall when someone last hugged her. Her little brother gets hugs. Lots. He’s cute. It’s easy to love Ganesh. She, on the other hand, gets scowls. Warnings. People say she is stupid. Or never good enough, or right enough—just an ungainly, oversize, lumbering, inept spare part. A nuisance inside her own home. At school. She wishes sometimes she could get out of her own body. And she sure as hell can’t wait to get out of Twin Falls.

But right now she’s trapped. In this stupid town. Inside this physical body that people can’t see past. They can’t see who Leena is inside. How deeply she feels things. How she loves to write—poetry, prose. He knows, though. He says her words are beautiful. He sees her. When she’s with him, she sometimes believes her whole world might change if she can just hold on and push through for another year or two. And then she will get out of this place. She will go far away. Overseas. Africa maybe. She’ll work in exotic places doing things where people need her. She will write about those adventures. For a newspaper perhaps. She’ll become someone different. When she’s away from him too long, those dreams blur, fade. Everything goes black again. And Leena sort of just wants to do everyone a favor and die. But then she goes to him, and he says something nice about her poetry, and she feels a fluttering of her heart, a shuddering of primal wings beating through the hot darkness in her soul. El duende. That’s what he says Federico García Lorca called it. It’s the spirit of creativity, and he says Leena has it buried deep inside.

She reaches the end of the bridge and starts down the steep gravel trail that twists around and leads beneath the Devil’s Bridge overpass.

A car rumbles above. Headlights silhouette trees. Then all is black. Dead quiet. Leena feels disoriented. Fear whispers. She moves carefully, feeling her way with her feet down the dark trail. A distant part of her brain sends a warning. It’s too quiet. Too dark. Something is off.

But the vodka keeps her moving down the trail. To the rocks. To the water. A dot of orange suddenly flares bright in the blackness under the bridge. She sees a partial silhouette, then it fades. She smells the cigarette smoke.

“Hello?” she calls into the darkness.

“Leena—over here.”

The voice sounds behind her. She turns.

The blow comes fast. It smacks her on the side of the face. She staggers sideways, stumbles, and falls hard onto her hands and knees. Gravel bites into her palms. The world spins. She’s confused. She tastes blood. She tries to take a breath, but the next blow strikes her in the back of her neck. She flails face-first into the ground. Stones cut into her cheek. Dirt goes into her mouth. Another hard wallop, as if from a mallet, smacks between her shoulder blades.

Leena can’t breathe. Panic swirls. She raises her hand to make it stop. But the next kick is to her head.

 

 

TRINITY

NOW

I don’t even know when it started . . . long before that cold November night when the Russian satellite hit the earth’s atmosphere. By the time it happened, there was nothing any of us could do to stop it. Like a train set on its rails miles away, it all just came trundling inexorably down the track.

—From the true crime podcast It’s Criminal, “The Killing of Leena Rai—Beneath Devil’s Bridge”

Wednesday, November 17. Present day.

I watch the green tractor move along a line of poplars in the distance. The trees are leafless, and a ghostly mist sifts across the valley. Three seagulls swoop and cry in the tractor’s wake, diving to snatch whatever is being exposed by the teeth of the plow. Heavy clouds hide the surrounding peaks. A soft drizzle is beginning to fall.

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