Monday, October 14, 2013

Prompt: That bridge isn’t going anywhere

Thanks to Lukasz for permission to use his hauntingly beautiful photo, “Old Bridge”!

Henry slogged through the wet sand two steps behind Sarah. Her footprints barely made a dent, while he felt it pull against his tattered boots with every step. The cold water seeped in, too, which just made the whole trip worthwhile. He tried to burn laser beams into Sarah’s back with his eyes.

“I know what you’re doing. Stop that,” she said without turning around. Damn, she had eyes in the back of her head. She had to. Only Mom had been better at catching him doing any little thing he wasn’t supposed to. Were *all* women like that? Were all men doomed to lifetimes of critical observation? It hardly seemed fair.

He played innocent. “Doing what? I’m just following you.”

“Quit glaring. We’re almost there.”

Seriously. How did she *do* that?!

“See? There it is!” Sarah stopped so suddenly, Henry bumped into her, pushing her forward a stumbling step. She was so excited, she didn’t even yell at him. She just grabbed his arm for balance and pointed across the endless marshlands.

Henry shielded his eyes and stared at the distant…bridge? He shook his head. “Oh no. No, Sarah. No way. Forget it. Let’s go back now. There’s no way…”

She pinched his arm. Hard. “Ow!”

“Don’t be such a baby!”

About the pinch? Or the bridge?

“Sarah, look at it. There’s no way we can cross that. It’s falling apart.”

She dropped his arm and started forward again. “Nonsense. Come on. You’ll see, Have a little faith, won’t you?”

He couldn’t think of a suitably scathing remark to that. He followed her, partly out of habit, partly out of the desire to see her admit defeat. Partly out of hope. There wasn’t any possible way she could be right about this. Was there?

His heart sank as they made their way closer and closer to the bridge. It stood in the middle of nowhere, connecting nothing to nothing. The wooden supporting beams were so worn that some had big holes all the way through them. Algae covered the lower parts of the beams, where they had been washed by years of high tides, day in and day out. Since the water had receded, they stood in the wet sand, barely holding up the old bridge. However it had once begun, it now stood as a lonely sentinel to the failed communities of the marshlands. There was nothing connecting them to the mainland any more. Especially not this bridge.

He felt a spark of anger, and every sodden step fanned it toward Sarah. This had been her crazy idea, her mission. She had dragged him across the marshlands for days, living on land crabs and sea urchins. He had missed almost a week of fishing, and how would they make that up? They would miss another week getting home, and all for nothing.

By the time they reached the bridge, he was ready to punch more holes through the closest worn struts. He planted his feet in the sand and his hand on his hips and bellowed his frustration instead. Sarah stopped but didn’t turn around through his entire tirade. Finally, he ran out of things to say and stopped, looking at her and past her to the old bridge and past it to the open water. And past that, where they could not see, to the mainland. A job, a home, a lover – someone who wasn’t related to them – that’s what Sarah had promised each of them. He’d been a fool to believe her.

“Henry, we can’t stay here. You know it’s killing us. If we can’t get across to the mainland, we may as well drown ourselves and save ourselves the trouble of a slow marshlands’ death. Old Hannah promised this bridge could still get us across, if we will just have enough faith to climb up on it and see.”

She pulled out a long woven-grass rope and threw the looped end up toward the bridge. It fell short, dropping back down into the sand. Henry watched her try three more times, and then he marched over and grabbed it from her. “Oh, give me that. You never could throw worth a damn.” He whipped the rope overhead and flung it up, high and true, looping the rope around a broken pole on the bridge with his first attempt. He thought Sarah would be annoyed.

She just smirked. “Thanks, bro.” she reached over and took the rope from him, pulling it taut as she walked toward the nearest support. She pulled out a handful of open D pins and a small mallet, pounding the first pin in about knee high, and the next one in about head high. She pulled on the rope and stepped up onto the first pin, pounding the next one at her new head height.

“Yeah, well, someone’s got to do the heavy lifting when you’re around. But knock yourself out there, sis,” Henry muttered, as he grabbed the rope and began to climb after her.

When they reached the top of the bridge, Sarah was gracious enough not to say anything as he climbed up after her and lay on the wooden slats, drawing in deep breaths of sea air. She walked along the length of the bridge, and he jumped up, following gingerly after her, sure she would crash through a board at any moment. Or he would, being much heavier than her.

They reached the other worn, broken end, well out over the low tide, as the sun reached the horizon, sending gold and orange shooting across the clouds. Sarah sat down and pulled out a couple of sea urchins she had picked up earlier in the day. With her penknife, she scrambled them in their spiny shells, then held one up to him. He scowled, but sat down to eat with her.

What else was he going to do? Not stay up here, that’s for damn sure. He’d eat, then convince her they had to go back before the tide locked them up here for the night.

“I’m not going back,” she said, looking out across the water.

“I hate it when you do that,” he muttered.

“Do what,” she asked innocently, then turned and grinned at him. She looked so like her child-self that he laughed aloud.

“Okay, sis. You know we have to go back,” he said more gently than he had intended.

She shook her head. “We can’t get far now anyway. Let’s just stay up here tonight and then we’ll decide what to do in the morning. Okay?”

Henry stared out over the water and up at the multi-colored clouds in the sky. She was right. They couldn’t’ get far back across the marshlands, and the bridge would at least be safe and dry tonight. He nodded curtly. “Fine. But I’m keeping my cloak. I don’t care if you’re cold with no fire.”

They sat in silence, watching the sun set. Henry tried to see any sign of land on the watery horizon. He never could. With the first shake of the bridge, Henry thought, “Great, it’s going to collapse in the rising tide tonight.”

It shook again. Sarah gripped his hand, and he thought she was afraid. He peered at her face in the dimming light. It was excitement, not fear, that he saw there. The bridge shook again. And again. He leaned out and looked over the side.

Unbelievably. Impossibly. The struts were lifting one by one out of the sand and rising water. The bridge was walking out to the sea.

Dogs in house
Houdini, Brindle
Time writing:
40 minutes
October word count:



  1. Prompt: That bridge isn’t going anywhere

    From a distance, it looked like a groyne, bizarrely placed in a reasonably sheltered alcove along the estuary, towering above the neighbouring piers. Upon reaching the shore and releasing my dog to run, I realised it was the remains of an old bridge. I spent only a moment thinking that made more sense before the thought dawned it made even _less_ sense.

    The far side of the estuary from here was nothing more than some mud flats, a bare corner of forest way off to the left, and then open ocean. Where ever could the bridge have once _gone_? Unless it took a fairly acute turn, that bridge was a bridge to nowhere.

    My dog – a Chesapeake bay retriever that most people mistook for a somewhat fluffy chocolate lab – had stopped a good fifty feed from the bridge. His wavy coat was ruffed along his shoulder blades, his body stiff. I approached and could hear a low growl; I had heard that sound only during hated thunderstorms before.

    He turned to look at me, then again at the bridge. He stepped backwards, gave me an almost instructional shake of the head, and let out a very soft bark. “Hey bo—“ I cut off my words at his next head turn and quite clearly commanding stare. He backed further; I backed too.

    Time writing: 25 minutes

    1. Hmm, what's got the dog so upset? Nice sense of danger. Good internal dialogue. Um, what's a groyne? ;)

    2. Thanks!

      A groyne is a breakwater -- I think it is a British term. I learned it from a guy who studies shorelines, and the word stuck with me.

  2. Ooh! I love the imagery at the end!

    Nice set-up of Henry's attitude right at the beginning. I felt a big foggy over their ages -- initially, I guessed quite young, then adults, and now I'm thinking perhaps late teen.

    1. Thanks! I think teen. I think it took too long to tee up to the final image, but I had fun with their byplay. :)