Storyteller on the Bridge

Sharon Cogbill


I had lived under the bridge support beam for eight months, quietly growing, perfecting the art of camouflage. It was a good life, kissed by breezes off the lake, warmed by the sun in the afternoon and enlivened by foot traffic who were my prey. I did not like humans, they were my meals and meals in waiting, but sometimes I wished for a few moments away from the smell of them. Their scent lodged in my nose, making me perpetually hungry.

Do not be surprised that I had other desires beyond feeding, for all sentient beings have rich inner lives. My dreams are colorful and pleasing, wrapping me as they do in the remembered joy of my embryonic beginnings. My life was always solitary by human standards, for I began as what appeared to be a drop of spit. No person walking past imagined I was more than that, but even then, in the dawn of my arrival on Earth, I was wondrous and variable. I could be a drop of saliva and vanish under an inquisitive gaze. It is the vanishing that has enabled my survival, for I lack the claws of other creatures and my teeth are small, more like the tips of safety pins. To the student of such matters, I am vulnerable and unprotected, but because of the vanishing ability my creator gave me, I am able to thrive in the alien circumstance of a city overrun with humans and various smaller life forms. I cannot exist on a fare of rats or beetles or even pigeons, so numerous in this region, for although they may serve during a dry patch, they make me sick if I dine on them for more than a few days. I require the flesh of humans.

The first human who nourished me was a small boy. Separated from his parents on a hot day, he had been complaining in a high grating voice and they were happy to let him fall behind, to allow his whine to recede into the less perplexing background of traffic noises. I absorbed him easily, quickly, he was a plump boy with very little gristle, and when his mother responded to the silence, turning around to search for her son, he was already half disassembled within my digestive organs. I may have burped and emitted a particle of light, for I was young and inexperienced and given to forgetting myself in the ecstasy of eating, but my reflexes were rapid and reliable, and her eyes wiped over my surface without stopping.

There was a digit of his middle finger that I partially spit out while pondering the larger issues of existence — such as why we are here and where we are headed — topics that are part and parcel of the examined life. I was too taken with reverie to suck it back before she eyed it floating there, dangling from my invisible mouth. Her screams disturbed my pleasant post-feeding stupor and I resolved to feed more intelligently in the future, to select prey that would be less supervised. That is easy to do in a large city. Every day brings distressed and damaged individuals to its curbs and sidewalks, the forgotten homeless or soon-to-be homeless. Add to that the drunken ones puking in alleyways and the lost teens who have run away from home and you have a hunting ground most adequate for me and my kind.

My growth was rapid and soon my mass clung to a considerable area of the bridge underbelly. My appetite kept pace and before long I had to make a new plan since the beams restricted me and bridge traffic no longer answered my needs.

With misgivings I strayed from the bridge. Every creature is reluctant to leave its first home, its first sleeping place, its first vantage point where the wonders of existence have been seized and savored. Every inch of the bridge held special memories for me but I had to expand my hunting grounds. I had no choice.

I traveled deftly on the river, hitching rides on motor boats and mimicking the ripples on the surface. A gull almost gave me away, pecking at my ears and pestering me with loud calls but I was able to retain invisibility and when I entered the parts of the city that hugged the shoreline, the gull spun about and departed. Its bitter calls to the indifferent air left me unmoved for all of life is the dream of the creator made manifest. I am beloved by Him, the one I call Spit-Maker.

The first days there were touch and go. I missed the safety of the bridge, the metal and shadows that assisted my deception. To make do until I could find suitable fare, I fed on dogs, the pets people pamper. One schnauzer was taking a dump, its owner occupied with digging out a plastic bag to remove the turd, when I began my appetizer. I finished the main course just as the owner looked up to find his dog gone, or rather most of him. I’d left the head in the leash so the man would not be alerted to my feeding. I can do that when it serves, consume with precision.

For about a week I thus contented myself, feeding on small dogs and the occasional pigeon, but the bird of love is not to my liking, too feathery and with too much blubber to please the palate, and dog is much too meaty with a disagreeable under-taste of grit and fur. Soon my body began to lose its strength and I knew I had to move on to humans.

It may surprise you that my body weakens so quickly. I am very responsive to my environment, depending on it as I do. My body shrinks but I cannot die; I am immortal. Spit Maker saw fit to make me that way, spitting me out as a drop of Him so I have no ending, no way to perish. Just as the macrocosm is infinite, so too the microcosm. In times of scarcity, I become smaller and smaller, entering the micro realms where there is much to sustain me. Indeed, I can thrive there for ages if needed.

Feeling myself lose vitality, a sensation likened to a slight tremble, I knew where I was headed if I did not find human food quickly. I did not want to enter the microcosm, though its pull can be seductive, so I decided to leave the dogs behind. It soon became apparent that women shoppers would sustain me. They seldom give attention to anything outside of their desired purchase and are often blinded by fantasies of how others will respond to their new acquisition. That afternoon, I supped contently on a woman trying on high heels, and kept her friend, who was absorbed with her image in the long mirror, in my eye as possible desert. It was so easy to slide in and out of changing rooms without stirring a curtain that I became bored with it and went in search of greater challenges.

In the bars where men and women go in search of fresh encounters, I found what I sought. The dark lights and loud music befuddle their senses but they constantly monitor each other which made my task difficult. I had to waylay meals in the restroom stalls or near the tavern exit when one of them stepped outside to smoke. Smoke is disagreeable to me but I’m able to whisk it to good effect, which assists my concealment. Hours of feeding weaken my magnetic field, a critical part of my invisibility, and smoke can be a blessing.

You must be curious about my makeup. It is quit simple. Spit-Maker is noted for economy of design, “nothing extraneous” being His first command. Imagine a thin transparent film that takes on the outward appearance of whatever surface it chooses. You may think of chameleons as comparable but they are clumsy and slow, whereas my tissues anticipate and transform so speedily that the event fails to arouse interest. It does not register for the intended victim at all.

You may wonder why I’m telling you this story but by the time you’ve formulated that question, I will have dissolved your vocal chords so you cannot scream. Thus silenced, you will stare in disbelief as I proceed with feeding on you, rapidly approaching the afterglow I seek, the lush well-being that follows a meal. It is too late for you to squirm, your torso is devoured, and too late to run, your legs are partially digested. You are, even as you struggle to comprehend this sentence, no longer able to respond, for I have rendered you numb and motionless. Be happy for the numb part — I am considerate and do not lack compassion. You may be amused by the realization that as you devoured this tale, I was devouring you. You are, even as you reach for thoughts in a brain flickering its last sparks, no longer what you once were. You are, if I may express appreciation, a feast most delicious, a superb repast. You are, to use one of your admirable expressions, history. Don’t you enjoy the symmetry of that? This story and your story as one; all the same. All the same.



Sharon Cogbill is a throw-back to a former time, a time of discovery and exercise of interests without academic sanction. Trained as an abstract expressionist just before that style yielded to other forms, she emerged with no interest in claims to stylistic superiority or the insistence that she focus on one thing, either art or writing. At present, she writes short stories and poetry and is working on a novella. She has trod a metaphysical path for much of life. Her imagination sometimes takes her to the razor’s edge of the dark side and when it does, she steps gingerly.