Hey, it’s Claire. I’m in Depressingly-Nowhere County, PA investigating that mysterious bridge jumper Hank emailed me about.
The bridge is a train trestle, built in 1911, that runs a nauseating two hundred feet over a weedy, rocky gorge that’s impossible to easily access unless you’re one of those weirdoes who loves hiking into weedy, rocky gorges full ancient Genesee Cream Ale cans. The trestle’s been closed to all traffic for over a decade. It’s basically the kind of rusty old death structure you’d associate with dangerous teenage dares and mid-Pennsylvania industrial decay.
A massive graffiti tag on the northern side reads—I kid you not—“HEAVY METAL HEART”. Which is my favorite Sky Ferreira song. But the tag is 80s-old and must date back to some boombox-carrying Dio fan. I’m filled with dreadlove-nostalgia by how much this entire place reminds me of my childhood hometown.
I spent three mornings and afternoons sitting in my car with a thermos of coffee, smokes, and protein bars, watching the trestle from the muddy P.O.S. road on the west side of the gorge. Locals told me the mystery jumper appears about once a month, falls to his death, leaves no trace in the gorge, and reappears weeks later. Assuming the sightings are only once a month, I hoped his actual appearance was a lot more frequent—that sometimes he appeared and jumped and there was simply nobody there to see him.
I got lucky. The man came jogging out of the woods on the far side of the trestle at 1:21 P.M. on the third day of my watch. I followed him with binoculars and he was exactly like the description in Hank’s report. Thirtysomething years old, six feet tall, and fit. Gray sweatsuit with the hood up, bright blue sneakers. Dark Irish handsome. And yeah, when he stopped in the middle of the trestle and pulled back his hood, his curly black hair was marvelous. It’s hair I can imagine grabbing onto, hard.
He looked physical. Not a ghost, in other words. He expelled vapor when he breathed like a real warm body. If his hair was a wig, as Hank suggested, it was a damn good wig. There was light, cold rain and I watched his hair dampen and sag as he was standing on the trestle’s edge, staring off to the north.
My heart was pounding for the guy. He looked confident and calm, but there was something sad and spacey about him. Not hypnotized or drugged. Just resigned to what he was doing, as if he had, in fact, made his death jump dozens of times before and there he was again. That there was meaning in the act, or some necessity that drove it, but it would never be a thing he wanted or enjoyed.
I got out of my car and yelled, “Hey!” as loud as I could. It took a few seconds for my voice to reach his ears. Incredible timing—he heard me the instant he started to jump and looked in my direction. I met his eyes through my binoculars for one quick second, and let me tell you, it was like a thousand volts: connecting with someone who’s just about to fall two hundred feet to his death.
It was one of those time-warp moments. He fell in slow motion, it was over in a blink, etc. If I watched him do it fifty times, I don’t think I’d ever NOT have the gut-punch feeling that his body just watermeloned open on the rocks.
From my vantage point, I couldn’t see the spot where he must have landed in the gorge, so I drove a ways along the road, got out of my car, and climbed a wooded hill to the western end of the trestle. Then I walked across the trestle itself. The structure was semi-frozen and exposed, and there were gaps and breaks and “holy hell I’m not the daredevil I used to be” sections every few steps, and I reached the middle of the trestle and got down on my hands and knees to look over the edge.
No body. No trace. I couldn’t find a single scuff mark on the trestle itself. If I hadn’t been trembling and trying not to lose my s____ from vertigo, I’d have been as relieved and amazed as anybody who’d just witnessed a resurrection-grade magic trick.
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to wait on the trestle itself. I’ve got to meet this guy.
— Report filed by Claire Maple
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