DECEMBER 2023, SHORT STORY, 3900 WORDS
February 15, 2:15 p.m.
I’ve tried to post the photo of Francesca’s Bridge—yes, the bridge—about a gazillion times. Hopefully you all can see the pic? This might be the biggest discovery yet for our Haunted New England group!
Damn, I don’t think it’s uploading.
February 15, 2:16 p.m.
You know the rules, GirlWithGreenRibbon. No photos, no cred. Delete your post.
February 15, 2:18 p.m.
The photo still won’t upload.
If anyone’s going to keep an open mind, it’s this group. Remember how we were chatting about the bridge a couple months ago, how it just disappeared after Francesca’s murder in the ’70s? A whole covered bridge, just poof.
Well, since I lost my Ghost Tours of New England tour business to my ex in our split (don’t get me started), I’ve had time on my hands.
I’ve been tracking down other New England properties owned by the Warwick family—and found something! Apparently the Warwick family moved the bridge to another piece of land. Maybe they didn’t want “nosy” people like us looking around.
This is the only land the Warwicks still own—and to think that the family used to be as rich as the Rockefellers!
Okay, signing off to look for a spot with better reception.
February 15, 3:30 p.m.
Fuuuuuck! The suspense is too much. If the photo won’t upload, can you describe it?
And lol imagine your ex-douche’s reaction when he learns you have discovered Francesca’s Bridge.
February 15, 4:10 p.m.
AUDIO RECORDING [transcribed by a voice assistant]:
Ha, ha, yeah. Picturing my ex’s face is priceless. Especially after he lied in our divorce about how he was responsible for all the research in our tour business. As if! He couldn’t find a ghost if it jumped out and screamed “boo.”
So, the bridge. I couldn’t find a spot with enough bars to upload a photo, but I’m hoping this sound file will go through. [Unintelligible] I’m going to describe the bridge as I walk through it. You’ll get the audio, if not the visual.
Some of you probably have seen the crime scene photos—they’ll give you some idea that this isn’t one of those charming Vermont covered bridges on Instagram. It’s cramped and dark, and hunches over the small stream where it was moved. As I’m walking through it, the walls seem to press inward, and the wooden treads are stained and wet—runoff from the snow, I guess. The bridge is angled so that direct sunlight doesn’t touch the interior. The air is a whisper colder inside the bridge than outside of it.
Now I’m standing at its center. Here, I’ll put my phone over the stream so you can hear it. Other than the water, there are no other sounds here — no birds, cars, nothing.
What would it be like to see Francesca’s ghost?
Haha, guess I freaked myself out. Right when I put my hand on a truss, there was a cold sensation at the back of my neck. I swung around, and lost my grip on my phone, but no one was there.
Just a breeze coming through the bridge.
God, I wish I could get my phone to upload a photo for you all.
[END VOICE TRANSCRIPTION]
February 15, 4:16 p.m.
You know the rules, GirlWithGreenRibbon. No photos, no cred. Delete your post.
February 15, 4:30 p.m.
Ok boomer. Yeah, Summerof69, that means I’m looking at YOU.
This could be one of Haunted New England’s biggest finds!
And it could help GirlWithGreenRibbon get back on her feet.
And you want her to DELETE HER POST?! Fucking give me a break.
GirlWithGreenRibbon, where is the bridge now? And did you get any vibes? See the ghost of a college girl dressed in a bloodied tie-dyed shirt and bell-bottom pants?
February 15, 7:00 p.m.
Send me the bridge image, GirlWithGreenRibbon, and I’ll make an NFT. We can use the money to move the bridge back to its original location.
February 15, 10:00 p.m.
Okay, so the bridge is in northern Vermont, almost in Canada. A tiny village called Aldergate in the Northeast Kingdom. Have any of you been to this part of the state? It’s remote, almost no cell phone reception. Maybe that’s why I can’t get the photo to load.
The owner of my Airbnb said the Warwicks used to run the land as a gentleman’s farm. When I told her about finding Francesca’s Bridge, she looked skeptical. She said Tropical Storm Irene washed out the county’s last covered bridge back in 2011.
I showed her the photo of the bridge on my phone. She insisted she’d never seen it, but she rubbed her arms like she’d gotten a sudden chill.
Until that moment, I had worried I’d wasted money on this trip—my ex got almost everything in the split and I’m living on fumes. But her reaction told me I was right to drive up here and spend money I don’t have. Francesca’s Bridge is a story every gal can understand—being wronged, hurt, and wanting to voice your pain, your anger at a world that treats you like you’ve vanished. If I can track down the bridge, maybe I can bring peace to Francesca Doyle.
Ha, maybe I’m just projecting about the crap that’s gone on in my own life.
I’ll going back to the bridge tomorrow night. Just to see if I can catch sight of anything spooky, or as Influencerzzzz says, a vibe.
February 16, 7:00 a.m.
I’m contacting the admins about removing this thread. No photos, no proof.
February 16, 10:00 a.m.
Is there a king in the Northeast Kingdom? And would he be interested in some NFTs?
February 16, 10:15 a.m.
Longtime lurker here and amateur historian—and a huge fan of the Haunted New England group. After GirlWithGreenRibbon initially posted this thread, I went to the Boston Public Library to dig into the archives. The library keeps microfiche of the Vermont Gazette, a newspaper that covered the murder and its aftermath closely but which is now defunct (RIP local journalism). I skimmed through issues from the early 1970s, when Francesca was murdered and the bridge disappeared.
Look, I’m deeply sorry to say, GirlWithGreenRibbon, but I’m doubtful you’ve found the bridge.
Ghosts are enticing. They are comforting. They make us think that there can be some form of closure, of retribution, after someone has been murdered or met an untimely death. But that says more about our desires than reality. Ghosts reflect our own fantasies and projections.
But there are facts, and here they are: Francesca was a student at Dartmouth in 1973 where she met Sterling Warwick, heir to one of the nation’s great fortunes, built on railroads and lumber. During her senior year, she was murdered on a covered bridge located on the Warwick estate in Hanover, New Hampshire.
No one was convicted of Francesca’s murder, but Sterling Warwick was the prime suspect. He disappeared the day before he was due to be arrested. Some people believed the local police tipped off his family.
Soon, stories emerged that Francesca was haunting the bridge. It became a rite of passage for young men to park their cars in the middle of it and honk three times. Urban legends sprang up about Francesca dragging some men—supposedly “bad boys”—to either hell or the underworld. In some stories, she simply ripped their hearts out. Classic urban myth material.
There was a kernel of truth to the tales: the newspaper documented two cases of young men dying on the bridge—natural causes, though. Heart attacks, the coroner ruled.
Anyway, a year after Francesca’s death, her family asked the Warwicks to tear down the bridge. They argued that their daughter was denied the dignity she deserved in death; that her murder location had been become a spot of “ghoulish fascination”—and that her name had become a byword for a teen dare and was only prolonging their suffering.
The newspaper quoted the Warwicks as saying that they planned to talk with their lawyer about their options.
And then soon after, the Warwick family sold their estate, and the new owners discovered the bridge had vanished from its original location in New Hampshire. This, too, fed into the mystery about Francesca’s Bridge.
I believe the Warwicks destroyed the bridge. It doesn’t make sense for them to move a structure where their son was suspected of murdering his girlfriend. To my mind, they would have simply taken it apart and sent the lumber to be burned at the electric plant.
But to play devil’s advocate, say the Warwicks did move the bridge, you’ll be able to authenticate the bridge by looking for a carving in the third brace. It should have a heart with F.D. + S.W. (Francesca Doyle + Sterling Warwick.)
That’ll confirm its authenticity. And please post a photo!
February 16, 10:52 a.m.
<Snort> thanks for mansplaining ghosts to us, Charlie.DiAngelo.
February 16, 10:55 a.m.
Um, I don’t think I can mansplain since I’m a woman.
February 16, 10:56 a.m.
Well, whatever. I believe GirlWithGreenRibbon.
And I’m putting out a prayer for Francesca’s soul. A woman gone before her time.
Here’s a photo of her from 1973. She was a queen, right?
February 16, 11:32 a.m.
I’m gonna make an NFT of Francesca’s photo. She would have approved.
February 16, 11:37 a.m.
DigitalExploits.nft, some fucking respect. Please. Francesca’s murder should NOT be a money grab.
One thing I never understood: What did someone like Francesca see in a guy like Sterling Warwick anyway?
February 16, 11:38 a.m.
February 16, 11:45 a.m.
To avoid getting accused of “mansplaining,” I’m just going to leave this news article from the Hanover Free Press archives to speak for itself.
Murder Victim Was Well-Known Activist with Ties to Violent Extremist
By H.M. Novik
HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE (October 17, 1973)
Francesca Doyle’s murder has shocked the community of Hanover, but her friends say the Dartmouth college student would want to be remembered through her activism, not her untimely death.
“She was anti-capitalist, a feminist, a voice for the disenfranchised. A real groovy chick,” said Sharon Rothstein, a classmate at Dartmouth.
Doyle led a group of college students called the Thread & Circus, known for their peaceful anti-capitalist activities at factories and government buildings. Their most famous event occurred this fall, when the group climbed Vermont’s capital building in the middle of the night and wrapped its dome in yards of tie-died fabric.
Friends say she met the suspect through her government protests. Sterling Warwick was involved in a group that advocated change through violence, and was reportedly being watched by the FBI.
“She liked his ideas,” Rothstein said. “Not the violence part, but his critique of capitalism. And personally I think she liked that the heir to one of America’s most loaded families was part of a revolutionary group.”
But in interviews after her death, her friends said they had harbored concerns about Warwick.
“The guy was just arrogant and entitled,” said one former classmate, who asked to remain anonymous because of their involvement in Thread & Circus. “He was always trying to control her, and control our group. He said we weren’t doing ‘important’ acts of protest—I guess he only saw damaging property or people as important. Not cool, man.”
One of her friends told the Hanover Free Press that they believed Doyle had informed the FBI about Warwick’s activities.
February 16, 2:15 p.m.
According what I heard, Francesca was no angel. She got around, if you know what I mean. No wonder she ended up how she did.
February 16, 2:18 p.m.
Slut-shaming a victim is wrong and disgusting, SummerOf69—I’m reporting you to the admins for violating the group’s standards.
Francesca was in the first group of women accepted at Dartmouth. She was described as smart and ambitious. She would have done something badass with her life.
February 17, 2:10 a.m.
Jeez, can’t you take a joke?
Good luck with the admins. They should have already banned GirlWithGreenRibbon from the group! What makes you think the admins will listen to you?
Okay, okay—I didn’t want to admit this, but I was in the same class with Francesca at Dartmouth. Believe me, she wasn’t perfect. She promised herself to one guy, then turned around and threw herself at another.
The Warwick family lost everything. And people won’t stop talking about that damn bridge.
And even after her death, her ghost was still screwing over promising young men. Who are the victims here?
February 17, 7:11 a.m.
Thanks so much for your research, Charlie.DiAngelo. I’ve been talking with more people around here, and no one will admit to having actually seen the bridge. But there are stories about it.
The only word for it is creepy. Despite all these legends and bits of folklore about Francesca’s bridge, but the locals still swear that the bridge doesn’t exist. And…well, I’ve started to wonder what I saw. Maybe it wasn’t THE bridge. I’ve been studying Google Maps, and the stream where I thought I saw Francesca’s bridge clearly does NOT have a bridge on it. Maybe I was in a different spot than I thought?
Then there are the local legends: There are plenty of variations, but the basic idea is that the ghost bridge appears at certain times—on the full moon, or on Francesca’s death anniversary, or whenever a woman nearby needs help. These stories say that sometimes an apparition appears to walk through the structure and doles out punishment or aid or whatever is needed.
Some men around here have gone missing in the last 50 years, and the locals darkly joke that they were “bridged”—somehow stolen away by the ghost bridge. When I asked my Airbnb host about it, she shrugged and said it’s more likely that these guys ran off, or got lost in the wilderness and died of hypothermia.
I think Haunted New England may be on the trail of something big.
Charlie.DiAngelo is probably right that the Warwicks tore down the bridge.
But what if that wasn’t enough to destroy it? What if the bridge itself is haunting the Warwick family—or what is left of it?
I’m going to return to the location later today to see if the bridge is still here.
February 17, 8:10 a.m.
There’s no fury like a woman scorned. And believe me, Francesca couldn’t deal with rejection. She got her claws into a promising man with a real future and ruined his life. Good riddance to her and that bridge.
For what it’s worth, I’ve reached out to the admins again.
February 17, 8:11 a.m.
You wonder why the admins haven’t fucking responded? That’s because I am the fucking admin, SummerOf69, and no way am I going to ban GirlWithGreenRibbon for posting about her discoveries.
You, on the other hand, are one strike away from getting kicked out of the group.
February 17, 8:15 a.m.
Francesca didn’t deserve to die like that, SummerOf69.
And hey, the Boston Library keeps Dartmouth’s yearbooks—I’m looking through the one for 1973 right now. The suspect in their deaths, Sterling Warwick, has this written under his name: “Best time ever: Summer of 69, haha.”
<Stares suspiciously at SummerOf69>
February 17, 9:11 a.m.
Holy shit, Charlie.DiAngelo, are you saying SummerOf69 is Sterling Warwick?
February 17, 9:27 a.m.
Goddamn it. SummerOf69 has gone offline—it looks like he deleted his account. Has anyone heard from GirlWithGreenRibbon? And where does SummerOf69 live? Is he within driving distance of Aldergate?
February 17, 9:27 a.m.
No idea where he lives. I’ve looked through his posts, and he mainly chatted in conversations about haunted bridges (see the discussions about Gold Brook Bridge and the Chiseltown Bridge). Maybe he joined this group simply to keep tabs on research into Francesca’s Bridge…which would make sense if he’s, you know, Francesca’s murderer.
February 17, 9:28 a.m.
[Direct Message to Influencerzzzz, DigitalExploits.nft and GirlWithGreenRibbon]
I’m DMing because I thought it was best to take this off the main channel so SummerOf69 doesn’t see this, in case he comes back. I’m calling in sick and driving up to Aldergate. I live in Boston, so it should take me three hours. I’ll DM you when I know more.
February 17, 9:29 a.m.
[DM to Charlie.DiAngelo, DigitalExploits.nft and GirlWithGreenRibbon]
OMG!!! I used my admin power and snooped around: SummerOf69/Sterling Warwick appears to live in Woodstock, Vermont. That’s like a two-hour drive to Francesca’s Bridge so he could be there before you, Charlie!
February 17, 10:11 a.m.
No matter what, there’s an NFT somewhere in this.
February 17, 10:12 a.m.
Are you a bot, DigitalExploits.nft? Nah, don’t answer it. You’re probably programmed to say “no” whatever the case might be.
February 17, 1:00 p.m.
[DM to Influencerzzzz and GirlWithGreenRibbon]
Grrrr—how can someone keep asking about NFTs when we’re on the verge of a) finding Francesca’s murderer and b) one of our members is at risk!
I’m in Aldergate—and GirlWithGreenRibbon wasn’t kidding about the reception up here. I’ve hiked to a small hill to get just one bar. Not bandwidth enough to post a photo.
I see the bridge. It’s just in the hollow below, a gloomy-looking thing with dark timbers and a slouching roof. There are some figures inside the bridge but I can’t make them out. I’m going to go down there. I’ll post more as soon as I can.
February 17, 1:18 p.m.
AUDIO RECORDING [transcribed by a voice assistant]:
Woman’s voice, whispering: This is Charlie. I’m recording this for evidence. There are two people on the bridge. They are arguing. I’m going to get closer.
Man’s voice: I told you to stop.
Charlie: Sterling Warwick! Yes, I know who you are. I’m calling 911.
Woman 2: [quiet voice] There’s no reception out here, Charlie.
Man: This damn bridge won’t leave me alone. And I’ve paid enough of a price. I can’t go to jail for what—some nobody of a girl.
Charlie: Get off her! Stop!
February 17, 2:30 p.m.
[DM to Charlie.DiAngelo and GirlWithGreenRibbon] Tell me you’re okay! I’m freaked out. I’ve called the police in Aldergate. Let me know ASAP what’s going on!!!!!
February 18, 3:15 a.m.
Charlie.DiAngelo and I are at the hospital—not sure yet exactly what happened.
Yesterday, I went back to look for the bridge. I was just relieved to find it was still there—it wasn’t a figment of my imagination after all.
I found the initials scratched into the truss and felt a thrill. This was the actual bridge!
But then I got a feeling of being watched. I wasn’t scared because I thought it was Francesca. I talked to her, telling her that she wasn’t forgotten, and went on and on about that and our group.
I felt calm and centered until I saw a figure walking toward me. But it wasn’t a ghostly young woman—it was an older guy. A real, living person. He called out my username, so I knew it had to be one of you. He started yelling about me stirring things up, about ruining the lives of decent men, how Francesca had deserved what she got.
My heart was going like a zillion miles a minute. I knew I must be facing Sterling Warwick, and he was blocking the side of the bridge that exited to my car. The other end of the bridge is just forest. I backed up against the truss with Francesca’s initials. Sterling lunged at me.
Then I heard another voice—another real person. Charlie! She was also on the bridge, and it seemed like a miracle.
Charlie tried to pull him off, but he wouldn’t let go of my shoulder. His other hand had a blade. I knew that knife was going to find its way into me, and I couldn’t help thinking that I was so stupid. So idiotic for chasing some idea of finding justice for Francesca.
For reclaiming ghosts for myself.
For trying to send my ex a message that I can hunt ghosts even better than he can.
All of a sudden, the air seemed dead—not a breeze, not a sound. It was like we were in a vacuum. Sterling’s grip loosened.
I peeled open my eyes and saw a faded figure in a tie-dyed shirt and denim bell-bottoms. Her face was empty—not of expression. Just empty, like it was a piece of blank paper. Like someone had erased her identity. Charlie grabbed me, and her hands were shaking. Or maybe it was my hands.
The figure beckoned, and by god, I wanted to follow her. But she put a hand up to stop me. She was beckoning for him. Sterling yelled at her, calling her vile things. And she stepped closer, so close that I could see the weave of her shirt.
She reached into Sterling’s chest, and her hand vanished inside it. He grunted and fell backwards, hitting his head on one of the trusses.
Charlie yanked my arm.
I’ve never moved so fast in my life. We collapsed against my car.
When I looked back, I swear I saw Francesca’s face. Her actual face, like she appeared in her college photos. A smile from the darkness of the bridge. And then the bridge faded—that’s the best way I can describe it.
The police don’t believe us.
Sterling Warwick’s body was found in the stream, below where the bridge had been standing. They said he must lost his footing and had a heart attack when he fell into the freezing water. They said there’s never been a bridge that crosses that stream, and are implying that we are making up the story. Or that we’re delusional.
Charlie said to tell you all that she takes back everything she said about ghosts.
Maybe people can’t always get closure. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back on my feet after my split from my ex.
But I can’t shake the image of Francesca’s face because in that last moment, when I saw her smile, I know she at last got what she wanted. I always thought of these stories as quaint, with a grain of truth hidden inside them. But I realize now that I didn’t want to look too closely at the truth; just wanted to tell the tales to our customers, to entice them with embellished tales. Each story is wrapped around a crime, an unfair death, someone’s tragedy.
I’m writing this from my hospital bed. Charlie’s asleep; everyone’s asleep except me.
I’m uploading the photos of the bridge. Maybe this will prove to everyone that it did exist—even if it was a ghost bridge. I don’t think it will return.
In the darkness, I see Francesca’s blank face turning toward me, her hand reaching out, and I’m finding my footing at last.
Aimee Picchi is a journalist by day and Nebula-nominated science fiction and fantasy writer by night. Her short fiction has been published in Apex, Podcastle, Fireside Magazine and Flash Fiction Online, among other fine publications. She’s a former classical musician (viola) who graduated from Juilliard Pre-College and the Eastman School of Music. She lives in Burlington, Vermont with her family. You can find her online at aimeepicchi.com or on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.