Flash Lit Challenge: Anticipating Guests

Peter crossed the town square, admiring the garlands of fresh flowers and fingering the gold coin in the pocket of his jacket. Tables had been set up and laden with food and drink, and the lads from the inn sat in the corner by the fountain, tuning their instruments. He waved as he passed them and joined the stream of townsfolk headed toward the bridge in ones and twos and family groups, dressed in their Sunday finest, clutching their own gold coins. His belly fluttered with nerves but he couldn’t stop from smiling. Tonight he would dance with his love again.

On the bridge, a little girl of about five raced ahead to clamber up the stone edge-wall and walk along its top, arms splayed out like wings for balance.

“Margery!” a woman called, far back in the crowd. “Get down from there!”

The child ignored her mother’s entreaties. Peter just happened to draw up even with her as she put her foot down wrong.

Time seemed to slow. Her legs wobbled, struggling for balance, and tangled in her frock. Her small body began to topple. Without thinking, Peter lunged, reaching out over the side to catch her around the waist as her mother’s screams echoed off the stones of the bridge. The river roared far below, icy and swollen with spring snow melt.

Somehow he found himself sitting against the edge-wall, holding the little girl as she shook and wept. Her mother reached them at last and pulled them both into her arms, sobbing, thanking Peter over and over. A crowd gathered. Neighbors patted Peter on the back and comforted Margery’s mother, but dispersed quickly once it was determined that all was well.

Peter finally stood, buzzing with the rush of disaster narrowly averted. He brushed off his trousers, adjusted the fall of his jacket.

Something felt wrong.

He patted his jacket pockets: no coin. He searched the stone cobbles of the bridge: no coin.

A cold dread swept over him, as dizzying as the great height of the bridge over the river, and he began to retrace his steps.

***

Midnight, and he had not found his coin. His neighbors all shook their heads sadly and offered hollow words of comfort, but none had a coin to spare. Times were tight.

He watched as the visitors came across the bridge and into the arms of their loved ones who stood waiting in the gaily bedecked square. The coins placed on the stones in the graveyard had dissolved into mist. The dancing would begin soon, and would not stop until dawn, when their visitors melted back into the graveyard. He stood on the edge of the bridge wall where he had saved the girl and looked down, sure that it had fallen out of his pocket and into the river.

“Amelia,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.” Would she think he had forgotten him? Could he wait another year? The river churned on below, heartless and cold as the grave.

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