Flash Fiction Contest Winner #30 – “Toll Bridge”

Please note: Flash fiction stories are submitted by members of our Discord server. Many contain adult themes and may be objectionable to some readers.

“Toll Bridge”

As the sun sank west of Lake Balman, Jessica thought back to the last time she crossed this bridge. Seventeen years ago, exactly, but the feeling of childhood anxiety wasn’t gone. Parents arguing, a brother with leukemia, and a dog with irritable bowel syndrome, it was safe to say that wasn’t a good vacation.
     Neither was this one.
     At the end of the bridge was a booth. In it, a figure stood, waiting to take her toll. A beat-up PT Cruiser pulled away from the window and she took its spot, rolling down her window to greet the attendant. An old man leaned against the door, waiting. He slowly turned around to reveal half of a face, the other portion mangled and held together by stitches and staples. A single eye socket was unoccupied as the other eye drifted aimlessly over her car. Wet film coated his face, emanating from the missing flesh.
     Great. I’ll be lucky if he can even hear, she thought to herself, disdain all but spoken aloud. He leaned past the window and gave her a weak smile. All it did was pull his face even tighter against his skin, the humid moisture doing nothing to alleviate what must have been the ugliest face she had ever seen.
     “Heading up for the holidays?” he fought out, the words more of a wheeze.
     “No, just family. How much?”
     “Two dollars, ma’am, cash or credit?” He punctuated his sentence with a raspy cough.
     “Here, card.”
     With a flick of her wrist, she passed it over to the old man, who receded from the car. She let herself breathe once again, having unknowingly held it the entire time.
     “Awful weather we’re having. It’s usually much sunnier.”
     “It was rainy last time I was here.”
     He made a noise, maybe one of resignation.
     She glanced all around her car, letting him mumble to himself. The clock read 4:53 P.M. Too early for it to be dark.
     “Who are you here for?”
     “Like, I said, family.”
     “Who are you here for, Jess?”
     Her stomach turned and she snapped her head to see him facing her again. A thin smile was still plastered on his face.
     “My husband. He’s sick.”
     “Ah, the sick do love Balman, don’t they?” With that, he offered her card back and she took it, returning it to her bag.
     “I’ll raise the bar for you now, ma’am.”
     Nodding, she kept her eyes on her lap.
     “Oh, and one more tip.”
     A wrinkled hand darted to her chin and violently twisted her head to the side, forcing her to stare at him. His free arm reached up and cradled her cheek, a finger finding its way to the corner of her eye. Jess felt a shudder run down her spine.
     “I hope the exterior’s in good condition. The scratches don’t buff out.” He licked his lips and let out a pained chuckle. Then, he let go and turned back to his control panel.
     “You and your husband have a nice trip, now. Do check out the museum, it has so much to offer,” he said in an artificial voice.
     He slammed his hand on a button and the bar raised. Dropping her foot as hard as she could, Jess pulled out of there and sped off of the bridge. Breathing heavily, she felt the first tear roll down her cheek.
     It’s all worth it. It’s all worth it. He’ll be so thankful.
     She prayed to the god she didn’t believe in that everything would be okay. It wasn’t last time. Remembering back to that trip, her stomach turned into a knot. The screams were still fresh in her mind.
     When a dog loses everything in its stomach, it tends to get hungry. Having nothing else to eat, sometimes that dog will turn to the only option it can find.
     Sometimes, that option is the recently-deceased corpse of her brother.
     On the other side of the lake, in the pathetic town of Balman, they brought back her brother, but nothing could bring back his missing eye. Nothing could bring back the other half of his face.
     A bump in the road sent the car shaking, and a bag hit the side of the trunk. Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel as she slowed down. They were too close now, she didn’t want to damage her husband’s body any more than the electric chair already had.