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The Ghost Bridge

I've read all my life and like to write the odd short story too.

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Fabiana Navarro had a large cane basket on her back and was busy at the market. First item was a medium sized bottle of Sherry vinegar because she was making Andalusian gazpacho for her lazy husband Diego. She already had the tomatoes because she grew her own and they were far bigger than any others in the market anyway. Fabiana’s gazpacho was unrivalled and had been for years. Anybody that knew her, and that was most in the village, talked about it.

She needed garlic for the gazpacho. Good garlic was scarce this year because of the drought, and they’d picked and eaten the last of their own, which they’d found rather small and bitter. She knew that this seasons garlic were going to have a consequence on her gazpacho and it would be chatted about behind her back, but the bitter garlic was going to affect everyone’s gazpacho, even, Celesta Durazo’s, who people were beginning to talk about as someone to watch for in the gazpacho circle. Celesta was half Fabiana’s age and had spent five years living in Barbastro, the home of the pink Barbastro tomato. Celesta had carefully concealed cuttings of the Barbastro

She had everything else for the gazpacho as she grew her own white onions, cucumber, apples and olives. Olives were her secret ingredient. Of course, olives weren’t her secret. What would gazpacho be without olive oil? Her secret was how she fed her olive trees. She’d planted them herself sixty years before. Fabiana had planted on the other side of the bridge, decades ago, high up in the forest, in a tiny piece of land that nobody cared about. She feed them a mushed mixture of old pomegranates and black beans. She was sure she could hear the olive trees singing when she carefully forked it into their roots. It gave the olives a fiery peppery taste that no one in the village could come close to. So, once every two weeks she’d cross the bridge and when nobody was watching, make her way slowly up the hill taking two filled bags of pomegranates and rotting black beans but with apples on top to disguise her load, so that the villagers thought she was trading on the other side.

The olives would be waiting for her.

Fabiana was gossiping with the cucumber vendor at the market. They were certain that Mrs Suarez’s husband was having an affair with Coleta, the new barmaid. Coleta had just arrived from Madrid. She was outrageously attractive with wild long black coiled hair and black eyes to match.

She was only twenty three and here in the village, as far away from a unpredictably jealous boyfriend as she could be. She didn’t intend to stay long but already the daily takings at the venta had almost doubled. Mrs Suarez was only one of many that should have been very worried about their husband’s as they lined up at the bar, drinking their beer as fast as they could just so they could hear the sweet deep words from Coleta, ‘would you like another?”

Two customers looked impatiently at each other listening to the two at the cucumber stand. Fabiana finally saw the glare in one of their eyes and bid her cucumber vendor goodbye. She headed back home.

At home Fabiana cut up the big Roma tomatoes. Then she went over to the far side corner and lent down to pick up the heavy white clay earthenware pot that had once been made by her mother as her wedding present. It was now more than sixty years old. Close by was a mouse. “Diego,’ she yelled, “Diego, where are you? that mouse is back. I thought you said you’d got it?”

Her husband Diego, was sitting outside on an old wooden slab, in the shade, slowly carving a deer out of a small piece of wood. He’d carved hundreds of deer over the years and sold them to tourists in Miguel’s shop in the village. He took his time because he had plenty of it and that’s why they were so good. Diego was two years older than his wife and both were now grey and worn from a long marriage.

Diego heard his wife call out but took no notice. It was very peaceful where he was. The sun was shining and he was in the shade. These days he felt the cold a little but he was warm today and he could hear the river in the distance. He always wanted to hear the river. The river was the soul of the village.

Next, Fabiana appeared next to him. “Diego, I call you and you never reply. There’s that mouse back. You come get rid of it.” Diego carried on whittling away and then slowly he put his piece of wood and knife to one side and followed her in. It was nearly three in the afternoon and that was time to join Mateo, Jose and Ferdino down in the village, as he would every day except Sunday. They’d drink red wine, talk about how the young were lazy and not good for anything. Then they’d talk about the mayor and how he was no good either. Sometimes they’d go inside and play cards but that usually ended in an argument.

Diego had been a tall man in his youth, taller than others but now he was quite stooped. He wore a long white moustache. His father had been the local tanner and Diego had left school at thirteen to join him. When his father got too tired of it, he took over but when Diego got too tired of it he shut it down because their son had left the village to go to Catalonia.

“Diego, the mouse is over here in the corner.” Diego shuffled over to where Fabiana was pointing and slowly bent down. “There’s no mouse here, “he said. “Well there was, but you were so slow that not even he could be bothered waiting around for you.”

“Well I’m sure he’ll be back,’ said Diego. “I’m going to town to discuss things with Mateo” “Can you bring back twelve garlic, I forgot them. I’m making gazpacho,” said Fabiana.

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In the tiny village of Lucieno, population 346, over the centuries, many houses had fallen down. Some were rebuilt and some never rebuilt. There had been a drought in the area for more than a decade and closer to two and as the drought lingered, younger people moved on.

Lucieno was a small brick village with just sixteen shops now, although there had been eighteen, but the last two was now crumpled ruins. They were all joined together in a line, facing the bridge. The bridge was why tourists came to Lucieno, but only a few, because it was a dusty two hour journey by car.

No buses went there and it was the end of the line, the only way out was back the way you came. But for the few that did get to Lucieno, the journey was worth it to see the old Roman bridge and the deep, deep gorge below it.

The bridge had been built by Roman hands nearly two thousand year before.

It connected the poor side of Lucieno with the more well to do, but the more well to do were only slightly better off than those on the other side. Mainly they traded with each other, otherwise they had little to do with each other.

The bridge was magnificently engineered, as all Roman bridges were of this time, with a deep perfect brick arch that had taken countess people and livestock over it for centuries. It joined the two sides of a very deep ravine with the constant sound of the river Donyar, feed from the mountains one hundred kilometres to the east. Many found peace just leaning on the side of the bridge listening to the low chatting of the river, way down below.

Lucieno was mainly scattered farm houses on subsistence allotments. Most within sight of each other.

As what always happens in small settlements like this there were family feuds. There was brother pitted against brother, family against family. Some rifts were a hundred years old or longer. There was the odd murder but not one murder case in decades had been answered by the police because Lucienon’s no matter what side they were on, wouldn’t give them any information. They didn’t want police to settle their quarrels, they wanted revenge.

The Toledano family grew crops and fruit. Mainly for themselves and to trade with neighbours they did get on with and the rest they would sell. Their house was similar to all others in the area, handmade of brick and timber. Hundreds of years old and leaking everywhere whenever they were fortunate to have some rain.

Sometimes Cristian Toledano would think back to the late afternoon when he was alone in the upper field picking oranges. It was hot that day. The picking was slow and there was nowhere to hide from the sun and the heat. The fruit was hard to break from the stem and he was weary now and wanted to lie down and sleep but his father had said the baskets must be full before he could rest. As he leant over to put more fruit in a basket he felt a stab in his leg. He looked around and there was Sergio Velez and his two younger brothers.

“Why you picking still in this heat,” said Sergio. Cristian didn’t answer. He had always been bigger than all boys in the village and for that he had been picked on as long as he could remember. He could easily beat any boy but they hunted him in packs, never alone, just like the afternoon with Sergio and his brothers.

When Cristian didn’t answer, Sergio gave him another prod with the stick, but a little deeper this time in his other thigh. His brothers stood in formation close behind him. Cristian had learnt to just carry on what he was doing otherwise like a lion pack they’d jump on his back and front trying to pull him down. So he picked some more oranges and put them in the last half full basket. Then there was another much sharper jab from behind with the stick this time and with a twist.

Cristian saw nothing but a flash of fire burning in front of him. His body was on fire, his eyes were on fire. He could feel his breath turn to fire. He turned and sprang at Sergio. The two brothers saw the fire in his eyes and fled never even looking behind them.

First he broke Sergio’s arm in two then beat the stick across his face. Still the fire wouldn’t go out and he stomped on him until Sergio wasn’t screaming any more. The screams were heard in the lower field by Cristian’s father and brother who ran and threw Cristian to the ground and held him down the best he could. Cristian managed to get out of his father’s and brothers grip and once again smashed the stick across the still body of Sergio. Then the fire was gone and he calmly sat down with his head in his hands rocking from side to side.


Isma Beerman was a tourist in town and from the UK. She was staying in the only venta in town, which served the most astonishing rabbit paella she’d ever tasted. The recipe hadn’t changed for centuries. She had driven to many towns in Spain trying to find something that she hadn’t found yet. It had been a bad year. Her marriage of only two years had broken up and so had her parents.

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After marinating her Roma tomatoes overnight, Fabiana decided to feed her olive trees on the other side of the bridge. She carefully mushed what old pomegranates and black beans she had left and started the walk. She could hear the chipping of Diego’s whittling but just quietly went out the side and down the steep cobbled path towards the bridge.

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Cristian Toledano’s father asked Cristian to pack the cart for the market and venta on the other side of the river. They had shot twenty four rabbits overnight which they loaded onto the cart as well as thirty six sacks of oranges. The oranges weren’t getting the money they were the last year, but that was because the drought had reduced everyone’s size of oranges and some people were taking less for them. They had to take what they could get.

Cristian hooked the cart up to the donkey and they slowly trotted towards the village.

Isma finished her beer at the venta and made her way down to take a better look at the Roman bridge.

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The day, as every other day at 11am was hot and cloudless. Isma was peering down at the water far below and heard but took no notice of the donkey. When it got closer she looked around and saw Cristian leading the donkey and cart and only a few others on the bridge. One was an elderly bent lady with a cane basket full of apples on her back.

She also noticed a young boy who had just walked onto the bridge from the village end.

There was a loud crack and before her eyes the bridge collapsed into a macrocosm of tiny parts. She found herself looking at the other two and the donkey and cart as they went downwards. Sometimes the others were sideways and looking at her and sometimes they were upside down. It was curious seeing the donkey upside down. She wondered what had happened to the boy.

Isma did have a little smile at this sudden change of direction. She had been looking over the side contemplating whether to jump, when the decision was made for her.

Halfway down, Isma was excited to see some quite distinctive fossil formations from the Triassic period, even though she was sideways at the time. She remembered this period well from studying her degree in palaeontology at Bristol University, and briefly wondered whether she may be the first person in history to have seen them in this part of Spain. She took a mental note.

As always and with impeccable timing God’s almighty left palm swopped down the bottom of the ravine to cushion the fall of the travellers and take them all to paradise, before their discarded bodies were scattered over a considerable distance on the rocks below. I say as always, but that should be mostly, as God is known to let the odd one slip through his fingers.

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The boy in a state of absolute fright had leapt an extraordinary two metres to the edge of the bank where the bridge had been a second before.

Fame was all his as he was interviewed by the Valencia Times the next day and was then known widely as Mateo Ortega, the boy who survived the Lucieno bridge collapse of 1967.

Sometimes he regretted that his fame had overtaken his achievements, such as the time of his first job interview. Fifteen years after the bridge collapse, Mateo had graduated Valencia University with honours in engineering and was rightly proud of his 160 page thesis on the first use of concrete in Roman engineered bridges of the 200 AD era under Emperor Caracalla.

In the interview he was hoping this would be brought up but when the manager of Copista Engineering, Varcib Parci found Mateo was from Lucieno, he cut Mateo short, much preferring to hear what it was like clinging to the side of a cliff where a Roman bridge had once been, with the end of his life only ten slipping fingers away.

For the thousandth time, Mateo explained he wasn’t that close to death. A young powerful villager had grabbed him mid-flight and they both tumbled to earth on safe ground.

But just like the media, Varcib Parci didn’t like to believe this story.

“Welcome to Copista Engineering, Mateo, you can start next week if you wish,” said Varcip Parci. Mateo thanked him and left.

Straight away Varcib was on the phone to his wife. “ I’ve just met the boy left hanging on the ravine face for days in Lucieno. He’s going to work for us.”

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