Erotic Review Magazine

Bridge of Dread

by James Como / 23rd June 2017

Professor Alfred Fenshaw knew he that must confront the Void: where else but on the Bridge of Dread?

These faculty committees were of a piece: business (so-called), people, little speeches, gossip, results: none.  Hours murdered, and neurons.  Fenshaw did nothing but think of his office; who would be waiting.  Mary Ellen, no bra, no panties, slight skirt, plush lips, and the will and skill to use the whole kit for his pleasure.  She was short, voluptuous, twenty years old, and a junior, which meant she’d be around for another year.  And she wanted nothing in return.  Sure, she expected pleasure of her own, but such was her ferocious response to his ministrations that her pleasuring became his as well.

That was on Wednesdays.  On Fridays there was Estelle, tall, lean, long-haired, very imaginative, a senior.  She’d be waiting for him at three, after his two-hour lecture.  For two years Fenshaw had come to know every part of her supple body, the most delicious he’d ever tasted, and the most interesting.  She knew Mary Ellen, even knew about her and Fenshaw, but she didn’t care.  Mary Ellen would have cared, had she known about Estelle and Fenshaw.  But how could she?  Truth be told, Fenshaw looked forward more to Fridays than to Wednesdays.  Estelle lacked Mary Ellen’s imagination, but she had stronger skills.

Still, he looked forward most to Mondays.  That was Sylvia’s day.  She was no match for either Mary Ellen or Estelle.  But she had a masochistic streak that perfectly suited Fenshaw.  Sometimes she would even bring along a cat-o-nine-tails for him to use on her.  She would beg to be spanked, humiliated.  Fenshaw often thought that she had read The Story of O one – or maybe six – times too many.  Mary Ellen and Estelle were work; that is, they worked him, though compliantly.  Not Sylvia.  She was there to be worked.  She followed his favorite class, Intro to Philosophy.

All of this had been going on – in a staggered way, of course, the three partners had not come into his life at once – since his arrival three years earlier at Wagner College, where he had been offered both an Associate Professorship and tenure at the same time: too good to refuse.  His publication record was strong, his teaching even stronger, his marriage strongest of all.  He was, he thought, in perfect equipoise: fit, handsome in a flamboyant way, professionally fulfilled, domestically satisfied, and sexually replete – both perfectly happy and utterly unthreatened by boredom, which is what he feared most.  And he was doing the girls some good, he thought.  Oh, their fathers would not understand, but the initiation he provided was priceless, part and parcel of a well-rounded liberal education.

Now it was Friday.  Ten to three.  He was revved up after teaching a particularly energetic class – well, truth be told they were all and always energetic – on the Nineteenth Century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “the father of existentialism.”  S.K., as he was commonly referred to, was Fenshaw’s specialty, and that set him apart – and above – because S.K. was a serious challenge to anyone who would seek to understand him, let alone teach him.  Irony, despair, his anomalous “either/or,” and of course Dread – always with a capital D – these were S.K’s key concepts.

A student of S.K. had to be not only very intelligent but very, very strong psychologically, to navigate through the heavy weather of gloom that was Soren Kierkegaard.  Hell, even Kierkegaard wasn’t strong enough for his own heavy weather.  He broke his engagement for religious reasons – he was seriously Christian, a disposition that Fenshaw found curious and so rarely mentioned – and died when he was thirty-nine, a target of semi-ridicule and a disappointment to his parents.

Fenshaw was almost panting as he opened the door to his office and beheld Estelle, as beckoning as ever, perched on the edge of his desk, all legs, all legs.  But he was stunned when he noticed someone else, a colleague he barely knew but didn’t like, sitting . . . at his own desk.

“Excuse me.  Rulx?  Rulx is it?  Can I help you, Rulx?”  Fenshaw favored the plain English surname form of address.  It made him feel, as he put it, “superordinate.”

“Well, yes, Professor Fenshaw, you can help me.  Pardon me for taking your chair, but there is no other and, as we can both see, the desk is already taken.”  (That was a Fenshaw trick, no extra chair: visitors had to stand and therefore leave all the sooner.)  Rulx held Fenshaw’s eyes with his own and simply waited, motionless.  Then, “Miss Pettibone has told me that this hour is reserved for her usual tutorial, but the hour is not noted on your schedule, so here I am interrupting.  Miss Pettibone” – Estelle had not stopped smiling – “has told me she wouldn’t mind if I took a few minutes.”

Rulx now stood.  Though nearly six feet, he was dwarfed by the six-foot-seven Fenshaw; and he was trim, maybe a hundred and seventy-five pounds, without any of the pectoral pronouncements of the larger man.  Still, he stared into Fenshaw’s eyes and, except for having stood (in one easy notion, Fenshaw noticed), he remained immobile, relaxed, his fingers resting on the desk.  Fenshaw took one step around his desk toward his chair, but still Rulx did not move.

“Excuse me, Rulx.”

“Of course,” Rulx said, as he stepped to his left so that Fenshaw had to either shove him aside or move in sideways.  He moved in sideways and sat, and now Rulx was looking down at him.

Rulx said, “Ms. Pettibone, would you excuse us for a brief spell please?”

“Estelle . . .”

But before Fenshaw could say more, the girl had slithered off the desk, her skirt riding high.  She watched Rulx who, she noticed, did not take the conditioned glance.  He just couldn’t be gay, she thought, and said, “certainly.  I’ll be in the outer office, Professor Fenshaw.  I don’t mind waiting, as long as you add your time with Professor Rulx to the other end of our session.”  And she was gone, closing the door behind her.

Rulx then moved to the front of the desk and sat where the girl had been sitting.  He said, “Professor Fenshaw, can you provide the source of the following quotation?  I know it is Kierkegaard but I simply cannot place it.”

“Really, Rulx, I –”

“It’s short, honestly.  Here is it:  ‘And thus it is eternity must act, because to have a self, to be a self, is the greatest concession made to man, but at the same time it is eternity’s demand upon him.’”

“That’s from Sickness Unto Death, Rulx.  And if you have any other such quotations, I suggest you see the Kierkegaard concordance in the library . . .”

“Yes, I thought so.  Sickness Unto Death.  But the translation is so poor, Professor Fenshaw.  What do you think?”

“You’ve read the original, then?”  Fenshaw’s tone was deeply sardonic.

“Oh yes.  In fact, the original manuscript.  Have you seen it?”

“No.  No I haven’t.  My doctoral work didn’t require – .”

Rulx interrupted.  “Fascinating, really.”  And with that Rulx stood, turned, and left.  Fenshaw hadn’t understood those last words.  Rulx had spoken in Danish.

When Estelle, her eyes glassy, walked back in she went right to the desk, raised her skirt and leaned over, standing on her toes. With her elbows resting on the surface, she arched her back, her legs spread.

“Fuck me, Fenshaw.”

He wedged his hand high between her legs.  “You’re already soaking wet.  Estelle.  You’re panting, you –”

“FUCK ME!”

And that is what Fenshaw did.  He had not noticed that, in the course of a few minutes the world had reversed its rotation and was spinning harder and faster, into a vortex, and that, like a superbly skilled and feral fellatrix, was sucking his soul right out of him.

It was Fenshaw’s custom to stay late on Fridays, to let the traffic over the Verrazano Bridge thin out.  He would have a latte, maybe, with a croissant, at the faculty dining hall, then do some paper work.  He would leave at about 7:30 and be home to Brooklyn Heights by quarter past eight.  He then would read a story to his two children – twin girls, six years old – and after that he and his wife would have a late, light supper before watching a movie.  This Friday would be no different.

Except it was, almost as soon as he approached the bridge, ten minutes after pulling out of the parking lot.  That’s when, instead of relishing his time with Estelle, which was his wont, he began to think of Rulx.  What had happened?  What had he really wanted?  Why had he, Fenshaw, yielded to the smaller man’s physical presumption?  To his poise and purpose.  To his understated and implicit rudeness.  It certainly wouldn’t happen again.  He decided that the very next time they met, he would turn the tables.  He would be the one with poise and with some purpose.  Who the hell was this guy anyway?

Most people did know that Rulx was a Full Professor and Senior Fellow with a think tank at the Villa Monastero, on the shore of Lake Como right outside Varenna; that he was an accomplished scholar and polymath, as well as some sort of a multi-lingual diplomatic troubleshooter.  The rumor was that he had been in some tight spots and had handled himself physically, but no one quite knew what that meant.  Some said he was a fencing champion, others a boxer, still others a gymnast.  Another camp claimed he was none of those, that he was a writer of tall tales with himself cast as the hero, but the one or two people who searched couldn’t find any such stories.

He was congenial company, always enticing others to speak about themselves; he was good-humored and in fact really was an accomplished story-teller.  On the other hand he was not known to have any close friends, not even collegial buddies.  He drank only enough to be sociable, but he smoked expensive cigars, Canary Island robustos.  Though not particularly handsome – if you were old enough you might think of Jean Paul Belmondo – he dressed expensively and moved with what one faculty wife called “feline grace.”

Among those wives he was popular, and appealing to co-eds, whom he treated aloofly.  His manners were flawless: “old school courtly,” said another faculty wife.  Did he have a wife, a girlfriend?  A boy friend?  No one knew.  He looked as young as most junior faculty.  At Wagner he was researching – he was known to be a world-class researcher, not least owing to his linguistic ability, acute mind, commitment to detail, and what once-upon-a-time was called Oriental patience – he was researching Flemish influence on the settling of Staten Island, which influence no one else at the college knew existed.  People did know he was from Belgium, but, if you called him Belgian to his face, he would correct you: “Flemish,” he would say.  You would not make the mistake again.

He was precisely the sort of man Fenshaw could not abide.

At the end of that train of thought is exactly when it happened for the first time.  By now Fenshaw was approaching the middle of the very long bridge.  Owing to fog and mist the night was particularly dark.

He couldn’t see past his headlights; nothing of the bridge itself.  He knew there were other cars but couldn’t see those either.  It seemed to Fenshaw that he was in some sort of void, that moving left or right would make as much sense as going straight ahead.  Was he close to being the edge?  Maybe he should ease right . . . or left.

That’s when he realized that he had drifted – to the right, he thought.  Towards the railing.  He couldn’t see it but he felt it must be close, that if he kept going he might run into it, or skid against it.  Now he realized he was drenched in his own sweat.  And that his whole body was rigid.  And that maybe – but how could he tell? – maybe the railing would not hold and he might plunge into that void.  So he braked to a dead stop, trembling.

In a few seconds – it seemed much longer to Fenshaw – a car slowly passed him.  That, Fenshaw knew, was his lifeline.  If he followed those tail lights he would be okay.  So that’s what he did, closely, too closely.  At the off-ramp at the bottom of the bridge the other car gradually stopped.  Fenshaw had no choice; he stopped right behind it.  When the driver got out and Fenshaw saw that it was Rulx, he pulled out and drove past, hoping that he had not been recognized.  He arrived home shortly after nine.

On Monday he felt his old self.  Taking the bridge back to work had offered no problem at all, and he was looking forward to his time with Sylvia.  When finally he made it back to his office – late, but not too late – there she was.  But she seemed somehow unready.  Her skirt was long, her blouse loose, buttoned up and sleeved, her hair up, her arms crossed.  And there were no accoutrement.

“What did you think you were doing Friday night, Alfred?  Were you following us?”

Fenshaw could not process the words.  Ordinarily Sylvia would have been on her knees by now, tears filling her eyes.

“I . . . I . . . was not following you.  It was coincidence.  And . . . what . . . are you talking about?  I didn’t see you, Sylvia.  Were you there?  I saw Rulx.  Only Rulx.  I didn’t know he was driving the car in front.  You were with Rulx?”

“Yes, I was with Professor Rulx.  We had been talking a long time.  We have spoken often.  He’s the most attentive person I’ve ever known.  He shows me the utmost respect.  No condescension.  Well, I opened up to him, told him everything – and he never judges.  Not even a raised eyebrow.  He asks questions, about myself and who I am.  And that’s why I saw things I never knew before.  But he never says what or what not to do.  He never even uses the word ‘should’.  So I invited him to meet my grandparents in Williamsburg.  It turns out they already knew of each other, so they really hit it off.  Remember?  They were with the Resistance in World War Two, just like his parents.  Oh no.  You never knew that, did you Alfred.  In fact you know very little about me, don’t you.  Nothing beyond the carnal.  Well, Alfred, I’ve been thinking.”

Fenshaw had recovered himself enough to pose.  “Really, Sylvia?  Really.  And just what have you been . . . thinking . . . about?”

“About S.K. of course.  Who else?  Do you know Professor Rulx has much of him by memory?  Extraordinary.  Here is one thing we discussed, Alfred.  From the master’s Either/Or.  It goes, ‘My either/or does not in the first instance denote the choice between good and evil, it denotes the choice whereby one chooses good and evil / or excludes them. . . . It is therefore choosing to will’.  I think that’s right.”

“What the fuck are you trying to say, Sylvia – other than you deserve a thorough spanking?  Now, turn around and pull up that ludicrous skirt.  I might let you – ”

But Sylvia merely walked past Fenshaw.  Before opening the door she said, “I won’t be back, Alfred.  You should be relieved to know that we’re completely done.  Our filthy secret dies here.  But if you ever again make an approach to me, for whatever reason, I will file a complaint – and go to your wife.  Or I may just skip all that and confess all to my grandparents.  You’d be surprised how fit those old fighters are, and how they’ve kept up their skills, and how serious they remain about freedom.  Believe me, Alfred, they would not bother with any authorities.  So, now, I’m choosing to choose.  See what a good teacher you’ve been?”

And with that she was out the door.  First Fenshaw wondered what had happened.  Then he thought, “Rulx.”  And finally – a mistake he’d regret – he decided to call Rulx out.

Again he stayed late.  He told himself he was getting paper work done.  In fact he was planning.  How would he approach Rulx?  Confront him?  Embarrass him?  Maybe just lay him out?  Fenshaw thought that out.  He stayed in shape, was a physical guy, had even wrestled some.  He was bigger and stronger than the slighter man.

Fenshaw started for home.  As he approached the bridge his mind was on Rulx.  Just what would he say that would provoke him?  There couldn’t be people around.  They would witness the provocation, which would bounce it all back on him, and there was no knowing what Rulx would blurt out.  So his gears were turning when it began to happen again.

This time there was no void, just cars zooming by, honking.  In his rearview mirror he saw them pulling out to pass him.  So it was he who was going too slow.  Thirty?  Really?  That anxious.  So he . . . slowed down.  He should try to get to the right, be less of a nuisance.  Relax.  Forget the big picture.  Concentrate on what’s right in front of him, like when he was with – then he realized that the more to the right he slanted, the closer to the railing he came, and so the closer to driving off the bridge and so –

Into his mind jumped a version of a passage from Sickness Unto Death: “Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.  A synthesis is a relation between two factors.   So regarded man is not yet a self.”

That’s it! he thought.  To be an authentic self he must know the infinite, and the infinite is what the void held for him.  He would aim at the void, and in doing so would become the self that would regain control of his despairing self.  It all made sense now.  He jerked his wheel to the right – and crashed into the railing, causing the car he had cut off to crash into him.  His airbag popped, pinning him to his seat, then deflated.  The low speed had saved him.

The police brought him home, and home he stayed on Tuesday.  He could not fathom what had come over him, other than a simple panic attack.  He had had them as a child.  He knew he would have to return to work on Wednesday, in spite of his growing anxiety about crossing the bridge.

But it turned out there was nothing to be afraid of.  On the way he thought of Mary Ellen, and the distraction got him easily across.  When finally he saw her in his office he actually began to pant.  She was leaning backwards against his desk, her skirt up, and she was rubbing herself.  Her “lovely kitten” (Fenshaw’s designation) was glistening and he saw that her fingers were too, when she brought them to his mouth.

“Go down Alfred.  Don’t touch yourself till I’m done.”

Fenshaw’s confusion got the best of him, and he hesitated.  She had never ordered him to do anything, and now she expected him to obey.  And he did.  Much later he would try to think it out: masochism and sadism being one coin, sex being about power, choosing to yield to power itself being powerful.  Later he could ask, What the fuck had come over Mary Ellen?  Too much assigned porn reading in her Women’s course?

After having her own orgasm she saw that he was flaccid.

“Alfred?”

“I’m sorry Mary Ellen, I don’t know –”  And then it got worse.  Mary Ellen laughed.  Not a chuckle either, but a side-splitting howl.  And then worse still.  As she laughed she pointed, looking down at Fenshaw, still on his knees, shriveled member in hand.

She stepped past him, turned and said, “this was fun.  I’ll be back next Wednesday for the same, Alfred.  You know, I prefer you orgasmless.  You work so much harder – ironic pun intended.”

Fenshaw, still on his knees, was shaking.  That evening he called his wife to say he had had too much to drink at a late reception and didn’t want to risk the drive.  He would sleep in his office.

The drive home the next day was untroubled.  Fenshaw couldn’t explain it.  He had had no anxiety, the bridge was just a bridge, the void was all in his mind, he thought, and he wasn’t ready for the infinite.  He resolved that when next he saw Mary Ellen she would be kneeling.  At that his mind turned to Estelle, and as he thought, he imagined, and as he imagined he tumesced, so that he had to stay put a few minutes after pulling into his driveway.  He was himself once again, he thought.

The next day, Friday, was the usual committee meeting: he was comforted by his usual thoughts of Estelle.  But as he walked from the administration building to his office on the perimeter of the quad he saw – he saw Rulx speaking with Estelle near the gazebo, about fifty yards down.  He stopped and gawked.  Then he gawked wider when he saw what happened next.

A senior colleague, Ignaz something-or-other, the most distinguished scholar at Wagner, joined Rulx and Estelle.  Rulx and the old man hugged heartily, and the old man air-kissed Estelle on both cheeks, European style.  Then the old man and Estelle walked away.  When he arrived at his office he found a note in his mailbox.  “A.  Am meeting with Prof. Ratomski about grad. school.  Will be in touch.  E.”

His glands felt swollen with rage.  He dropped his bag outside his door and left.  He would find Rulx and have it out with this meddlesome – twerp!  He found him in the admin lounge.  A few colleagues were clumped here and there, but Rulx was sitting alone, reading.  Fenshaw walked to him and said, “I’d like a word, Rulx.”

“Really, Professor Fenshaw?”  Rulx was looking almost straight up at the tall man standing close.  “It seems you want more than that.”

“Stand up, Rulx.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to sit, Professor Fenshaw?  Standing and facing each other implies confrontation.”  But Fenshaw said nothing, so Rulx pushed back his chair and stood, maybe two feet away from Fenshaw, now clearly an adversary.  The few colleagues present fell silent and watched.

And that’s when Fenshaw threw a punch with his left hand, intended as a hook.  Rulx bobbed beneath it and immediately popped back up.  So Fenshaw threw a straight right hand.  Rulx twitched to his left, Fenshaw’s fist passing an inch to the right of Rulx’s face.  Embarrassed, not least by Rulx’s unruffled poise, Fenshaw reached out with both hands – this he did with impressive quickness – and grabbed Rulx’s shirt.  Rulx drew his arms up between Fenshaws’, pried them apart to break Fenshaw’s hold, then wrapped each of his forearms under Fenshaw’s upper arms, so that now Fenshaw was pinned, his arms locked straight out at each side of Rulx’s body.

Fenshaw was red with rage as he struggled to free himself, but the smaller man was improbably strong, so his struggles were futile.  Then Rulx began to move Fenshaw around the floor in a semi-circle.  Not far – within an arc of perhaps forty-five degrees – first one way then the other.  To anyone looking on it seemed the men were dancing.  This lasted for some ten seconds.  When Rulx stopped the movement he surprised everyone by hugging Fenshaw.

“Thank you, Professor,” he said, “I look forward to our next turn.”  As Rulx walked out of the room, with Fenshaw paralyzed in place, the people in the room . . . applauded.  Fenshaw, with what dignity he had left, sat.  He saw that Rulx had forgotten his book, in fact not a book but galley proofs of one: Kierkegaard’s Sygdommen til Døden’: a Conceptual Analysis of ‘Dread’ from the original manuscripts rendered into English – by Reynard Rulx.  Fenshaw picked it up, shuffled out of the room, slammed into the men’s room nearby, and . . . wept.

For the next month the two men saw nothing of each other.  Estelle didn’t return, but Fenshaw did service Mary Ellen according to her instructions, various permutations of subservient humiliation which, for Fenshaw, never had a happy ending.  During this spell his travels across the bridge were untroubled.  Sure, word of the confrontation between the two men had gone the rounds, but no one mentioned it in Fenshaw’s presence.  His life once again seemed to have attained a perfect, if grotesque, equipoise.

That is, until he overheard two co-eds giggling over the incident.  “Turns out,” said the tall one with the long, brown, undulating hair, “Professor Sex Machine is a real pussy.”  “Oh what the hell,” said the smaller redhead in the tight-fitting bicycle shorts, “doesn’t mean he’s not a sex machine.  Just ask Mary Ellen.”  At that Fenshaw actually wobbled and would have hit the ground had he not fallen into a column along the covered walkway.  He leaned into it for a full two minutes, then stood, shoulders hunched, and shambled away, looking like nothing more than tossed off dirty laundry.

He left late.  As he walked through the parking lot he thought, What the hell has happened?  And then, Whatever it is that prick is behind it.  And then, Is that Estelle getting out of a car?  Unfortunately, his latent lizard brain rose.  He jogged after her from behind, and just before reaching her grunted “Estelle.”  She had not walked far.  She stopped and spun quickly, which made him stop.  He was within arm’s length.

“Hello Alfred.”

“What have you been up to Estelle?”  His breathing was becoming labored.

“Grad school applications.”
“Ah yes.  Cognitive linguistics, is it?”

“No.  Of course not.  Why in the world –”

“I saw you chatting with –”

“Ignaz.  Yes.  But not for linguistics.  He’s promised to introduce me to Ludmila Petru-Shevskaya, the Russian who writes of travels to the shadow-world.  She believes that no amount of labor can save you once you’re there.  You should look her up.”

“Come back to my office with me, Estelle.  I’ve missed you, and I believe you’ve missed me, too.”

“Listen Alfred.  That was one part of me, not the whole.  And I no longer allow it to control the whole.”

“What bullshit, Estelle.  Who do you think you’re talking to?”  He had raised his voice, his breathing was short.  The anger was rising in him and he knew it.  So did Estelle.

She remained calm.

“Really Alfred?  Really?  Then what about our beloved S.K.?  Thanks to you I went back to him.  A passage from Sickness Unto Death.  I’ve memorized it, or most of it.  It’s all your influence, Alfred, really.  I’m positive you’ll know it.  ‘This precisely is the reason why he despairs.  Because he cannot consume himself, cannot get rid of himself, cannot become nothing, the sickness of the self. . . .’”

More fucking quotations?” he shouted.  “That’s enough!”

His veins now popping from his temples.

She continued.  “‘ . . . in a profounder sense, what is intolerable to him is that he cannot get rid of himself.’”  Estelle was looking straight into Fenshaw’s eyes now and could see his pupils dilating with rage.

“Estelle –”

Still she continued.  “‘To will to be that self which one truly is is indeed the opposite of despair’.  So you see, Alfred, I’ve chosen against despair, which I have been in for too long, and a despair of the worst kind – the kind that does not even know itself as such.”

“You bitch, you fucking bitch, you –”

Me the bitch?  Me, Alfred?  Aren’t you projecting?  I mean, according to your pathetic little dominatrix – ”

At that the reptilian brain took over.  He grabbed Estelle, spun her around ferociously, and pushed her to her knees.  He flipped up her skirt and tore down her panties, and – fully erect now – was about to sodomize her when Estelle, who in fact had not resisted, spoke.

“Alfred!  Think!  If you do this you will be a rapist.  But not for long, I promise.”

Pressing her down at the base of her spine, his knees between hers so that she was opened to him, Fenshaw said, “you mean I’ll die?  Why is that, Estelle?  Do you think Rulx will kill me?”

For just a moment there was silence.  Then Estelle spoke softly.  “Rulx?  No, Alfred, not Rulx.  Why would he kill you?  I will kill you.”

Fenshaw stood and backed away, the lizard brain receding.  Estelle stood too, lowered her skirt and, holding her panties in a ball, walked away.  She hadn’t bothered to turn around but did mutter, “for your information, Alfred, my epiphany really was due to your influence.”  Fenshaw neither heard nor watched her.  Instead he turned and hurried towards his car.

That’s when he noticed the car Estelle had gotten out of.  She had not been driving after all.  He realized now that she had left from the passenger side.  Standing at the open driver’s door was Sylvia, her phone to her ear.  She had seen it all.  Now he sprinted to his car, labored with the lock, finally made it in, and drove too quickly out of the lot towards the bridge.  By the time the campus police arrived on the scene the lot was empty.  Sylvia’s second call had been to Estelle, who asked her to leave and not to mention the incident further.  As she saw Fenshaw nearly falling into his car, just before pulling out, she had made a third call.

Fenshaw entered the bridge slowly, ten miles an hour.  At the middle, in the left lane, he braked gently.  The night was dark, not only with the absence of starlight and moonlight but with rain, too.  The surface glistened, glistened like – often had Mary Ellen held a mirror to his face when he was done pleasuring her.

He knew that beyond the railing was the void, and within that void was dread, his very own dread.  He began to quote aloud from Sickness Unto Death, “this sickness in the self, is the sickness unto death.  The sickness and its torment consist in not being able to die.”

Well, now he would see for himself.  All he had left was Dread, and he would submit to it, face it, welcome it, become one with it.  He feared his depravities and its humiliations more than the void and the Dread it held.

When there were no more headlights or taillights in view he jerked the wheel to the right and floored the gas pedal crashing into the railing.  It bent, and for a split second he felt a jolt of panic, as though a switch had been thrown.  But the railing did not give.  Instead he found himself stopped cold, leaning over the steering wheel.  He had never had his airbag reloaded, so his chest had taken the hit.  His front wheels were on the small shoulder but still behind the bellied out railing.  Again he wept.

The next thing he saw – he could not say how long after the crash – were headlights to his right.  A car was stopped with its nose a few feet from the passenger door.  He heard tapping on his window and turned his head.  There he saw Sylvia and, holding an umbrella, Rulx.  He opened his window and looking up into the face of the man he thought his nemesis said, amidst his blubbering, “please, please . . . please get me across this bridge.  I can’t get home by myself.”

“Of course we’ll help, Professor Fenshaw.  You have a case of gephyrophobia, fear of bridges, more common than people think, because the people afflicted don’t admit it.  Please come with me into my car.  Sylvia will drive yours.”

Rulx reached into the car to help Fenshaw, who looked at Sylvia and said, “I’m so sorry.”

“I know,” she said.  “As the master put in – I can’t help myself, Professor Rulx – ‘faith is a miracle, and yet no man is excluded from it.  For that in which all human life is unified is passion, and faith is a passion.’  The the leap into faith.”  And with that she got into Fenshaw’s car as he walked with Rulx to the other one.

Suddenly Fenshaw stopped.

“I need to go back.  I forgot something.”

“Is it important?” asked Rulx.

“Of the utmost importance, Professor Rulx.”

So Rulx walked Fenshaw back to the driver’s window, where Sylvia handed him a sheaf of papers that were on the passenger seat.

“You forgot this in the lounge, Professor Rulx, after my . . . my outburst.  I had to read it.  I hope you don’t mind.  It is brilliant.  Beyond brilliant.”  At that Fenshaw handed the galley proofs of Rulx’s book back to him.

“Thank you, Professor Fenshaw.  I couldn’t fathom where I’d left it.  You know, your opinion carries considerably weight with me.”  Then, after a short pause, “now, best be on our way.  Your family must be worried.  Sylvia,” Rulx said, leaning towards her, “I’ll follow you.  But take it easy, please?”  Then in a whisper, “you might want to call him ‘professor’ from now on.”

And off they went, Fenshaw twisting around in his seat so he could take a long look at the bridge behind him, and at the void surrounding it.  But he saw no Dread, which he hoped – so earnestly, so very earnestly – would never rise to him again.

 

 

Professor Alfred Fenshaw knew he that must confront the Void: where else but on the Bridge of Dread?

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