When the fog rolls in across the bay, and you can hardly see your hand in front of your face, the saddened and desperate multiply in the darkness. The bridge, scarlet arches of golden opportunity, is there to welcome those who have shut the doors to any other option. Once there, the air is suffocatingly fresh and the only reminder of the ocean below is the crashing of the waves. You can stand there all night, surrounded by fog and dark thoughts, as I once did, and you can even gaze around in the faint hope that someone will see you, ask you what you’re doing, try to stop you. But, rather than spotting a guardian angel, I saw only another man, a man whose face resembled my own in its desperation and hopelessness. Perhaps that is why I hesitated my own destruction; his somehow seemed so much more urgent to stop.
I was running before I knew that I had moved, and shouting before I wanted my mouth to open. He jumped with more conviction than I ever could have felt, staring into a whirling abyss below. The tail of his coat and the hat from his head were the last of him swallowed by the great cloud of white fog. In all probability, I was the only one who saw him that night, the only one who would know about the missing man that would be advertised for in the papers in the following week, and the only one who would know exactly why. I didn’t know the man. I had no idea who he was, and I hadn’t seen his face properly either. What I had seen of him would burn in my brain for the rest of my life, as it burned against the back of my eyelids then, a repeating scene.
I stood there for maybe another hour, glancing every few minutes at headlights speeding by, foolishly considering forcing one to stop. That wouldn’t do. Instead, I paced, hands in pockets, taking only a few steps before kicking something solid. It wasn’t part of the bridge – my foot would have known immediately. No, this was something smaller, sized conveniently for a gentleman’s coat pocket. A small notebook it was and it teetered dangerously at the edge of a similar doom to its presumed original owner. Taking a step back, I knelt down, picked it up, and turned it once over in my hand. Another glance into the white, billowing ravine below told me it was time to go home, no matter how much my curiosity bribed me to sit down then and there, and read a dead man’s notebook.
My curiosity set the notebook ablaze in my pocket, burning through my patience quite quickly as the bus continued on its route, the route home. Just a few more stops, I told myself, only a few to my warm bed and supply of good tea – neither of which I expected to need ever again when I first gazed down over the edge of the bridge. The bus squealed to a stop once more and I found myself, hand clasped around the little book in my pocket, disembarking from the steel time-trap. On the opposite corner, with neon light blinking, was an inviting coffee shop, the kind with enough tables and chairs but not too many people.
The tea was bitter but the place was warm enough; I drummed my fingers on the cover of the notebook. Small, green, and faded, it
appeared no more than a sad man’s journal. With a heavy sigh, I opened the book, wincing as the spine cracked ever so slightly. The first page was blank save for a scrawled name at the bottom right corner: Charlie Caron. Legible and cleanly written, the handwriting was a tease of the story to come, a story I sat there reading for several hours, until forced out of the café. But, before all that, I turned to the second page and read the most intriguing title:
The Lessons We Should Learn From Dead Men
It is apt that my life, such as it is, should begin and end with the same act of desperation…
Thank you for reading this excerpt!