What's done is done. The past can't be changed and, as hard as it may sometimes be to accept it, that's just the way it is. We are not privy to the future and what's in store for us but, sometimes and on very rare occasions, unforeseen forces step in to change those yet-to-take-place events. But what if a past event, and a tragic one at that, altered the future and prevented a tragedy? Well, that's exactly what this story is about.
The town of Powell, Mo., is a small rural community located in southwest Missouri. I don't imagine that many folks have heard of it, but the town does have something which has been recognized as special -- the Powell Bridge.
The bridge was completed in 1915 and is located about a quarter-mile southwest of the town proper. The 209.9-foot structure which spams Big Sugar Creek has found its way into the United States National Register of Historic Places but, to the folks in Powell, it's just the old bridge.
Jasmine was not a natural-born Powell resident as she had only lived there a few years, but somehow the town and the lifestyle just seemed to fit her nicely. She lived there with her husband and two girls, Dahlia, age 7, and Laura, age 6.
It was in the early summer of 2019 when it happened, a day that could never be forgotten. Jasmine had been shopping while her husband and the girls went to a favorite fishing spot. The place was near the old bridge and, although the property belonged to the Molder's, nobody seemed to object to an occasional trespass.
Jasmine hadn't been home long when the girls walked in.
"Daddy said he had to go into work for a while. He might be home late so he said we should eat lunch without him."
Dahlia seemed to imply that she was hungry and it would be alright if the threesome didn't dally long.
"OK," Jasmine smiled as she acknowledged Dahlia.
"Mommy, look what the boy gave Laura," Dahlia continued.
Jasmine's hands were filled with cans of beans, baking potatoes and meat wrapped in white butcher paper.
"I'm busy, what is it?" "A piece of metal."
Jasmine placed the groceries on the counter.
Sure enough, it was some sort of metal object. As she scrutinized the tarnished object further, it looked to be a medical alert medallion. She had trouble making out the words inscribed but the name "Nelson" was legible, as was the name "Batman." "Where did you get this," she asked. "A boy by the bridge gave it to Laura."
Not knowing what to make of the story yet curious, Jasmine telephoned her husband. She asked about the time spent near the bridge and she asked if anyone else, possibly a young boy, had been there.
"Nope, we were the only folks there. There wasn't any boy. They probably just found the darned thing and are telling you a fairy tale."
"I guess you're right," Jasmine replied.
Jasmine knew nothing of a drowning many years ago but she believed that the medallion was possibly something important, but important to who? Not knowing exactly what to do or who to call, she made a decision. She would call the sheriff's office.
The call was placed and she stumbled through a brief few words of description as to the nature of her call.
"There's this medallion my girls found. It looks like some kind of medical alert thing and well, it might be important to someone. The name on it is hard to read but it looks like Nelson, well Nelson something."
Jasmine returned the phone to the charger.
"OK, girls, now a sheriff's deputy is coming over so I hope you're not making up a story about how you got this thing."
"No Mommy, the boy gave it to Laura."
"Yeah," Laura chimed in, "Nelson gave it to me."
It might have been close to an hour but Jasmine heard the sound of a car's engine out front. Looking through a pane of glass in the living room door, she saw a man wearing the unmistakable uniform of a deputy but walking beside him was an elderly woman.
"How odd," Jasmine thought. "This woman surely was not a deputy."
Before the knock on the door, Jasmine turned the doorknob.
"Hi, I'm the one who called."
"Hi, I'm Deputy Slater and this is Alice Chambers."
"Hello, please come in."
Jasmine was still wondering why the elderly woman had accompanied the deputy and her curiosity could not wait for an explanation.
"Ms. Chambers is it? Can I ask why you're here?"
"Maybe I can explain," the deputy said. "You see, in 1954 Alice's grandmother took Alice and her brother Nelson to Big Sugar Creek just downstream from the old bridge. Well, to make a long story short, Alice's brother fell in and drowned. His grandmother tried to save him but the water was too deep and the current too strong. Alice was seven years old and her brother just six."
"OK, but what's that got to do with this medallion the girls found," Jasmine asked.
"Well, a day later the boy's body was recovered a short distance downstream from the bridge. The parents identified the body but something was not recovered -- a medical alert medallion. The metal thing's purpose was to alert folks that he had a rare blood type, AB."
Just as Jasmine thought, the medallion was important.
"Can I take a look at the thing," Slater asked.
Jasmine reached out her hand and, as she opened her fingers, the old medallion became visible.
"Oh my God," Alice spoke in not much more than a whisper.
The deputy looked at the object briefly then passed it to Alice.
With the passage of only a few seconds and as she wiped away a tear in a broken voice, she said, "Yes it's Nelson's."
"Well, you're welcome to it," Jasmine spoke.
"Mommy, the boy wanted me to give it to Mary."
"Not now, Honey."
"What was that," Alice asked.
"I think it's just a made-up story, but I'll tell you what the girls told me about finding the medallion. 'They said they went under the bridge while my husband was fishing and Laura slipped and almost fell in the water. The girls said a boy grabbed Laura's arm and pulled her back to the creek's bank. I know this sounds crazy and made-up.
'It was then that, at least this is what they told me, the boy gave Laura the medallion. Well, anyway, that's the story the two told me, but I'll bet they just found it alongside the water.'"
There was unexpected silence. Alice once more looked at the medallion.
"My name is Mary Alice but Nelson used to call me Mary."
"How could the girls have made that up, how could they know that," Jasmine wondered?
Another moment of awkward silence ensued.
"That sure is strange, and kind of eerie," Slater commented. "When I heard about the medallion with the name Nelson, I got a hold of Alice and she asked if she could come here with me. That's how she heard about the thing."
Alice placed the medallion in her pocket and turned to leave.
"Mam, Laura said to the teary-eyed woman, Nelson said to tell you that it wasn't Zee's fault and he's with her now."
"What name did you say?"
"Zee, Mam, Nelson said, Zee."
The old woman called the girl. "Dear, come here."
Without the slightest hesitation, Laura walked to her.
Alice gently placed her hand on Laura's head. "Zee was my grandmother's name. She always blamed herself for Nelson's death. She took her life two years after the accident."
"Mary," Laura spoke as the woman removed her hand from her hair.
The boy called the thing "Watman." The old woman searched for a breath.
"What's wrong?" the deputy asked.
"Nelson had a speech impediment. He had a real problem pronouncing the letter 'B' so he called the medallion his 'Watman.'"
There is such a thin line between life and death. For eons of time, those before us have pondered the question: Once that line is crossed, can the departed return. There was a day, a brief moment, when two girls in Powell say that a boy named Nelson crossed back over that line, and crossed for the best reason of all, to save the life of an innocent child.
Mary Alice went to the Powell Bridge each day for some time but the boy called Nelson never returned. Sometimes, and mostly on warm summer nights, she wondered how the "Watman" was found upstream from the place Nelson fell in.
This is a work of fiction, maybe.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.