No one noticed the boy by the bridge. Perhaps I should never have noticed him either, were it not for his outdated clothes, and the way a puddle of water was always gathered beneath his bare feet. It came from his soaked garments, that constantly dripped—dripped—onto the pavement, never drying, always remaining drenched. A faint tinge of blue highlighted the edges of his lips, and dark, hollow shadows filled in the skin, tight against bones, around his vibrant blue eyes. The little beret he wore always sat slightly askew on his curly mop of strawberry hair. He looked at the world with eyes so wide, and so large, that I was constantly reminded of my young nephew. “Why—why—why—” A child such as my nephew would ask; baffled, amazed, adoring a world so new, so wondrous. Every day on my walk to work he was there, lingering by the light-pole, standing in his little puddle, watching the rush of people bustle past him, never stepping in his puddle.
Even in the heat of a blistering summer day, when temperatures could swelter so high and sizzling, no one questioned the lonely puddle. It truly should not have surprised me, not any longer. I had seen the mundane’s of the world blatantly ignore dragons, gargoyles and unicorns—just to name a few things. There was a wool over their eyes, and it was difficult to acknowledge that which went beyond the comfort; the fantastical just outside the peripheral vision.
On a particularly nice spring day, when the sun was not to scorching, and a few clouds wisped the sky to hide the dragons therein, I moseyed my way down to the bridge with my lunch bag in hand. I stopped by the light-pole, where the boy still stood, watching the traffic passing him by.
“Hi.” It was always best to start with the simplest of greetings.
He did not respond right away. Considering he was used to be ignored, it was understandable. When I did not move, his eyes shifted upward in confusion.
“You can see me?” He straightened his beret. I sat myself down, leaning on the light-pole. I smiled. “I’m William Elbert.” “Ah.” Recognition of my name filtered away the boy’s anxious look. “Adelaide’s Gate Keeper.”
I started unpacking my lunch. “Bit famous am I.”
The boy laughed, shifting from leg to leg. “Don’t play dumb. You are the protector of the Gates. We all know you.”
By we, I had to presume he was referring to everyone of the Underside Reflection.
“I suppose my name does get around, but really, I am just a bartender.”
The boy frowned. “I…don’t know what a bar is.”
“What year did you drown?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I do not know. But it was before this bridge was built.”
I nodded. Sometime before eighteen seventy-seventy then, or perhaps even earlier; I was quite sure there had been something here before City Bridge was officially built.
Biting into my burger I looked up at the wisps of clouds. The shimmer of two silver dragons snaking through the white tuffs grew a warmth in my chest. I really missed the sky.
“What’s your name?”
The boy did not speak for the longest time. I simply continued with my lunch.
“If I tell you my name, will you banish me?” His voice quivered.
I wiped my lips on a napkin and nudged my glasses slightly. “I’m not in the business of banishing ghosts who pose no threat to the mundane.”
The boy tugged on his soaked sleeves, looking away to the river. “Franklin Herbert Donaldson.”
I wrapped up my lunch bag, taking a final sip of my can. “Well, Franklin Herbert Donaldson, I have a proposition for you. How would you like to come and haunt my Bar?”
He stared at me blankly. “That is impossible, sir. I cannot leave the place of my death.”
I tugged out a chain from beneath my shirt, revealing dozens upon dozens of keys. “Oh, but Franklin, did you forget who I am?”
Franklin’s little chest had begun to rapidly expand in desperate gasps, as if he could breathe again. I winked as I took a key, settling it on the pavement beside his puddle. “I think you’ll make a wonderful edition to my Bar’s staff.”
“Thank you…” Franklin whispered. I was sure it was just an illusion of the sunlight against the water dripping down his cheeks, for I knew ghosts could not cry, but it appeared as though he was weeping in his gratefulness.
I turned the key, feeling the surge of magic flood through me as the leylines throughout the city converged. The tattoos down my arms lit up in a soft glow. The circle of the Gate seeped out from beneath my feet, swallowing Franklin and his puddle.
“I just figured you’d much rather be in a place where folks can see you. A place where you belong.”
So, this is a little short story - or even a character study perhaps - that I tossed up the other day. There is a project I sometimes want to work on, but I just haven't gotten around to all the research it would take before I even start writing the novel. I've got the basic concept, characters in my head, but, it's the "world" that needs more building. It is a great excuse for me to go and explore Adelaide though. XD