Boys on the Bridge

Fiction by Jon Sokol

Sebastian’s phone buzzed in his pocket at 4:20. He glanced over at his grandmother who sat on the crippled couch.  Her hands were buried in the pockets of her threadbare house coat and she seemed completely engrossed in the slap fight taking place on Springer.  Carly was lying on the floor with him. She was wearing only a Pull-Up and stared at the television with her chin propped in her hands, a bag of generic Cheez-Its spilled out on the carpet between them. He eased his phone out and saw the text from Justin. “On my way.”

He kissed his little sister on the top of her head and raised up to his knees. “I’ll be back in a few,” he said. “Don’t eat too many of those crackers. I’ll fix you some tacos for dinner.”

Sebastian padded out of the trailer in his sock feet and sat on the top step to slip on his duct-taped Wellingtons. He heard Justin’s Suzuki Quadrunner long before he could see it in the distance zigzagging along the dirt road. A red cloud billowed behind him coating the cotton plants on both sides of the road with a pink argillic dust. Sebastian went back inside and changed out of his good polo and put on a dirty Slipknot t-shirt. Justin was waiting for him in the yard when he went back outside.

“Check it out, Seabass. I got her fixed up.”

Sebastian grinned at his friend. The four-wheeler’s original camo pattern still showed under the coat of red barn paint Justin had used in an effort to conceal the fact that he had stolen it from a hunting camp after the opening weekend of deer season.

Despite the warm late October afternoon, Justin wore a hoody, once blaze orange, now a faded yellow. It had been a hand-me-down from Justin’s younger sister, who had outgrown the sweatshirt. It was still too big for the eighteen-year-old boy who, despite his six-foot frame, was as skinny as a pulpwood bolt.

“Hop on,” Justin said over the sputter of the engine. “If I cut it off, it might not start again.”

Sebastian straddled the ripped seat and Justin goosed the ATV down the gravel driveway. Justin twisted back the throttle when they hit the road. The motor’s snarl drowned out the steady hum of the industrial fans cooling the long chicken houses. Poultry farms were still somewhat of a novelty to the area. New ones seemed to pop up randomly and with alarming frequency replacing what had once been dairy farms, ag fields, hell even forests.

Justin stood up on the foot pegs, hunched over the handlebars, so Sebastian would not feel like he was riding bitch. But it just meant that he had Justin’s ass in his face.

They ripped along like this for two miles until the hay fields gave way to slick barked pine trees that towered over them blocking the afternoon sun. The road sloped down into a hardwood bottom and they came to a stop on Satin Bridge. The bridge’s cement parapets were covered with illiterate graffiti, like modern-day cave paintings marking the presence of generations of North Georgia delinquents. Years ago, some idiot kid had spray painted Hail Satin, which was still clearly visible and had given the bridge its name.

Sebastian slid off the four-wheeler and peered over the edge. The dry summer had choked Sandy Creek to a thin stream trickling through moss-covered concrete rubble. Wild hog tracks dimpled the stream bed. A flooded greenfield stretched out on the other side of the bank. A ladder stand was propped against an oak tree a few hundred yards from where Sebastian stood. He could see a spec of orange and wondered if the hunter could see them.

The ATV’s engine backfired like a bullwhip and died. “Piece of shit,” Justin said, climbing off and letting it sit in the middle of the bridge.

“This isn’t where you swiped this four-wheeler, is it?” Sebastian asked.

“Uh-uh.” Justin scrolled through his phone and set it down on the seat as a 2 Chainz song began to play. “I took it off some boys down in Hesters Bottom.”

Justin bobbed his head to the music and shuffle-stepped to Sebastian and sat on the low wall dangling his boots over the side. “Never thought I’d say this, but it’s kinda boring now that we’re out of school.”

Sebastian stared into the creek.

Justin slapped him on the back. “For me anyways. Have you told Chelsea that you decided to go to college?”

“Course I have. She was the first person I told after you.”

“She flip out?”

“Dude, Georgia Southern ain’t but a couple hours away.”

“You’re not coming back here, though.” Justin noticed the hunter and flipped him off. “Think he saw that?”

“Why’d you say I’m not coming back?”

“Well, why the hell would you? You got a chance to escape this shit town.”

Sebastian did not answer. It was a legitimate question. He lived in the trailer with his grandmother, and at times it was also the stopover for other wayward kin. His Uncle Spec was living there now while out on bail for trafficking Ecstasy. Both his parents had been in and out of prison for most of his life. At least when they were incarcerated, he could go visit them with Granny Dee. He never saw his mom and dad when they were not in jail.

“Where you think I’m going to go?” Sebastian asked.

“Somewhere. Anywhere.”

“Maybe I’ll come back ask Chelsea to marry me one day.”

“Yeah, and move to Atlanta.”

“I can teach school here just as easy as anywhere else.”

Justin spat in the creek. “Dude, if I see you step foot in that high school again, I’ll personally beat your ass.”

“What the hell?”

“You don’t need to spend your life teaching English to little redneck bastards in this town. You remember what we did to Mrs. Davis freshman year?” Justin asked, pronouncing the “r” in Mrs. so it sounded like Meerze.

“Yeah, but I think she was predisposed to breakdowns,” Sebastian said. “I’m tough enough.”

“The point is, you dimwit, you can go somewhere you don’t have to be tough.”

“Like where?”

“Like teaching at a college.”


“Yeah. Professor Seabass.” Justin smiled, revealing a black front tooth. “Sounds good, don’t it?”

Justin slipped over the edge of the bridge, an eight-foot drop, and squish-landed in the creek. He scrambled up the riprap under the bridge and found an empty box turtle shell, bleached white from the sun. He shook the shell until a joint fell out. He sniffed it and placed it behind his ear and clawed his way back up the bank to the road and walked back on the bridge.

“How many more do we have left?” Sebastian asked.

“Last one.” Justin licked the joint and let it dangle from his mouth while he fished for his zippo. “But I got a call in to Skeezy Pete.” He lit up and passed the spliff to Sebastian. “I told him my dad had a copy of The Quran and he said he’d trade me four j’s for it.”

“What’s he want with a Muslim bible?”

“Says he’s just interested in other religions, but I think he just wants to piss off his momma.”

“No,” Sebastian said, holding smoke in his lungs. “Why’s your dad have one?”

“Bro, he sells a shit ton of goats to the Muslims around here.”

“You don’t find it strange that he’s the pastor of a Baptist church, does business with Muslims, and reads The Quran?”

“I don’t think he actually reads it. Just sets it out in the barn so they see it,” Justin said. “As for doing business with them, he figures if he’s got to represent them on the county council, he may as well make money off them.”

Before Sebastian could continue his questioning, a Dodge Ram came rumbling down the road. Justin took the joint from Sebastian and snipped off the cherry with a pair of fingernail clippers and stuffed it all in his pocket. The truck stopped on the bridge next to the boys. The driver appeared to be in his fifties. He wore camouflage and an orange ball cap. Sebastian looked out over the green field and saw the hunter was no longer there.

“You boys smokin’ dope?” the man asked.

Justin rolled his eyes.

“No sir,” Sebastian said, giving Justin a look that begged him to keep his cool. I don’t need to get busted for bullshit. “You see any deer?”

The man pointed to the phone on the four-wheeler. “How the hell am I supposed to see any deer with all that godawful racket you’re playing?”

“This is a county road, ain’t it?” Justin mumbled.

“Yes, it is,” the man said. “And y’all can do what you want as long as you stay off my property.”

“You from around here?” Justin said.

“It don’t matter where I’m from, boy,” the man said. “The next time I see you in that creek, I’m calling the law.”

Sebastian stepped in front of his friend. “Look, we’re sorry. We’re not trying to cause any trouble.”

“See that you don’t. I’ve got trail cameras set up and I’ll know if you’re trespassing.” The man looked over Sebastian’s shoulder and glared at Justin. “You got it?”

“10-4,” Justin said, flashing the man his black-tooth grin.

“Do I know your daddy?” he said looking back at Sebastian. The boy stayed silent but his flushed face gave the man his answer. “Trash begets trash, I see.”

The man backed his truck off the bridge, turned around in the road, and rumbled off. Rocks kicked up and plinked off the truck’s undercarriage.

Laughing, Justin took out the joint.

“What’s so funny?” Sebastian asked.

“I’m going to steal those cameras.” Justin took a deep drag. “I can sell them down at Santiago’s Pawn Shop. He’s…” Justin looked into overcast sky, “…discreet.”

Sebastian shook his head when Justin offered him the joint. “Dude, you’re going to wind up in jail if you keep it up.”

“Not in this county,” Justin said. “As long as I’m not Black or Mexican, I’ll just get community service for petty theft. And that’s only if I get caught. Which I won’t.”

“My mom and dad are white.”

“Bro, I’m not trying to put down your folks, but—“

“Yeah,” Sebastian said. “Forget I mentioned them.”

The last time he had seen his dad’s face was when he picked up a copy of one of those Busted! newspapers they sell on convenience store counters next to the cigarette lighters and horny goat weed. He’d been arrested for domestic battery and cruelty to animals. The woman he’d been shacking up with had to have her jaw reconstructed and was then sent to the county’s women’s prison to await her own trial for offenses Sebastian neither remembered nor cared about. He had not seen his mother in two years, not knowing whether she was locked up, on the run, or dead. She hadn’t even gotten out of her boyfriend’s car when she dropped off Carly at the trailer.

Maybe his friend was right. Why would he want to come back here? For most people living in this town, birth, life (or what passed for a life), and death all occurred within a five-mile radius. His thoughts ricocheted to Carly. Justin handed him the joint again. This time he took it.

“How about you?” Sebastian asked. “Ever thought about leaving?”

“Of course,” Justin said. “But what am I going to do? It ain’t like I got a scholarship. Or decent grades. Or money. Hell, when it comes to breaking out, this town is as secure as a supermax to most of us.”

“How about the Army?”

Justin’s cackle sounded like a coyote yip. “And go fight for God and country?” He chunked a rock into the creek. “I’d rather sell goats to the Arabs than have them kill me in some godforsaken desert.”

“Naw, man. All that’s winding down now,” Sebastian said, leaning against the four-wheeler. He crushed the tiny reefer butt into the dirt. “You could put in a few years learning a trade or something, then go to college when you get out.”

“Dude, I’m not like you.” Justin narrowed his eyes, but Sebastian couldn’t tell if it was the effects of the weed or if his friend was actually getting serious. “I’m good here. I’m not looking for something better.” He stared down at Sebastian’s ratty boots. “But you got a chance to do something. And I’m telling you, you need to get out of here as fast as you can before you get swallowed up just like your folks.”

Before Sebastian could respond, another car came over the hill, creeping toward the boys.

“Now what?” Justin said.

It was a sheriff’s deputy. “Shit.” Justin tossed something in a small plastic bag over the side of the bridge. The cop stopped in front of the four-wheeler. The license tag on the front of the car was a Georgia state flag. The old one that was half Confederate.

The window rolled down and the deputy lowered his Costas down on his nose. He glared at the boys. A wad of dip bulged from his lower jaw. “Y’all up to no good. I can tell it.”

“No sir,” Sebastian said. “Just riding around.”

“Can’t be driving that thing on public roads.” The deputy looked at the ATV and clucked his tongue. “You got proof of ownership?”

“Not on me,” Justin said.

“I weren’t talking to you, boy,” the man said to Justin. “If your daddy knew you were down here smoking dope again, he’d beg me to lock your ass up.”

Justin started to bristle. The deputy spat in the road. Sebastian stammered. “Sir, we weren’t smoking. I swear. We’ll leave now and go straight home.”

“That’s right,” the deputy said. “But you ain’t driving that four-wheeler. Push it out of the way and get in back. I’m driving you home.”

The boys wheeled the ATV to the side of the bridge. The deputy had gotten out of the car and was holding open the back door.

They didn’t talk on the drive back up the road. They passed by Sebastian’s trailer without stopping. A mile later, the deputy turned into Justin’s driveway. The deputy let him out and waved to the boy’s father, standing on the front porch with his hands in his overall pockets and shaking his head. The cop closed the door on Sebastian.

They drove back to the road and passed by Sebastian’s trailer again. “Where are you taking me?” he asked.

“Home. Where you belong.”

The deputy stopped again on the bridge. He got out and took a picture of the ATV with his cell phone. He then walked down the creek bank. When he came back up on the bridge, he was holding the baggy that Justin had thrown over the edge. His boots leaving wet prints on the concrete bridge.

He opened the back door of the car and told Sebastian to get out. The deputy pushed Sebastian’s face down against the trunk lid and clamped on a pair of handcuffs.

“You think I didn’t see you throw this crystal?” The deputy shoved Sebastian back into the back seat and closed the door. He got back into the driver’s seat and turned to look through the wire cage at the boy. “Knew it was only a matter of time before you’d start taking after your goddamn daddy.”

A few miles before they got to the blacktop, they fell in behind a tall tractor. Even with its spray booms pulled in like a giant insect, there was no room to pass on the narrow dirt road.

An impenetrable cloud immured the deputy’s car and crept through the air conditioning vents in curling tendrils. The deputy slowed down to give some space behind the plodding tractor. But there was no escape from the choking red clay.

Jon Sokol

Jon Sokol is a writer, forester, traveler, and furniture-maker. He lives in Northeast Georgia with his wife, Karen. He mostly writes fiction often drifting toward southern gothic and his fascination with all things peculiar. Jon’s short stories and essays have appeared in the James Dickey Review, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Southern Literary Review, Gutwrench Journal, Reckon Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Cowboy Jamboree, and other journals and anthologies. In 2021, he graduated from Reinhardt University with an MFA in Creative Writing. Jon can be found online at and @JonSokolWriter on Twitter.