The voices screamed in my head. Insistent, unrelenting, the words pounded against my skull with their morbid demand: “Jump, Jump… JUMP!”
I hovered between the final two ramparts on the right side of the bridge. In crossing the structure, I’d neared the end of the bridge, I was almost to safety, but the voices stilled my movement. A malignant force beckoned me to the edge of sanity until I stood trembling, preparing to throw myself onto the rocks below. How did I get here? I was just out for an evening stroll. I must remember…
Ah, yes. Following dinner, I’d gone out for my customary evening constitution. I wandered aimlessly through the Scottish countryside, absorbed in the beauty that surrounded me, making mental notes so not to lose my way back to the inn where I was staying. After some leisure minutes had passed, I felt a presence behind me. Turning, I saw a large dog of an unknown breed, dirty and soaking wet, some paces behind me. Thinking strays were probably common here in the country, and not feeling threatened, I continued on. A short time later I again sensed that someone or something was following me. I glanced back and there again was the same large mongrel, only this time, the canine was joined by another dog of large size, yellow eyes, and filthy black, wet, mud-caked fur. The crisp air rushed over me, chilling my bones. Something about those dogs wasn’t right, something… I stopped, not giving my imagination another inch, and merrily pressed on with my country walk.
Evening settled into dusk, and a large moon loomed on the horizon. Fog drifted over the lane. I whistled and took in a deep breath of the fresh air. While relishing the chilly air, I wondered about the dogs I’d seen. Could they still be behind me? I listened intently and only heard the sounds of my own footsteps and the breeze caressing leaves of nearby trees. No padding paws, no panting –nothing but the quiet of the countryside and the day seeping into night. Considering my fears, I laughed under my breath. Dogs don’t follow people around on their evening jaunts. The thought is preposterous!
I told myself not to turn, not to look, then promptly stopped and spun around. Before me stood a pack of at least a dozen dogs of medium to large size, all of them sopping wet, covered in mud and filth, their eyes hollow yet fixed intently on me. I gulped. I stepped back. They stepped forward. The largest dog of them all, the first I’d seen, stepped out in front of the pack, barked, and showed his teeth. My blood froze. The alpha dog leapt forward, the pack followed closely behind, and I hurled myself along the path.
Trees rushed past me while the moon lit my steps and I rushed into an unavoidable wall of fog. Gray and white covered my vision. My feet and heart pounded in unison. I smelled water and the cooing of a flowing stream came to my ears.
I looked down. I was no longer moving. I stood still, my hands on the cold stone of this ancient, cursed bridge. And, to my right, there they were –the dogs, slowly stalking toward me, drenched in fog, their voices in my head screaming as one, commanding: Jump, jump… Jump!
I clenched my eyes shut and cried out for them to stop, to leave me be, to let me go. Suddenly, cold hands were grappling at my limbs, pulling me, pushing me to the ground. I thrashed and screamed to be set free. Then, a soothing voice, telling me I was safe. I opened my eyes. A kindly woman and man knelt over me. I recognized them as the keepers of the inn.
After bringing me to my senses, the couple helped me to my feet and we began our walk back to the inn. Along the way they explained that they’d heard my terrified cries and had run out to find me at the bridge’s edge, appearing as if I intended to throw myself into the stream below. Horrified and embarrassed by my own actions, I thanked them profusely for saving me from any possible self-harm and vowed not to take another solitary evening stroll for the remainder of my stay at their lodging. As we entered the inn I remarked that I was glad the pack of dogs had not attempted to follow us back from the bridge. The innkeepers fixed me with a curious look. I’d been all alone, they said, there hadn’t been a single dog in sight.