Bewildering Stories

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The Bridge

Part V, installment 2

by euhal allen

“The Bridge” began in issue 99.
Part V began in issue 109.

Ferd and Elvira Hammet were looking forward to a couple of weeks in eastern Oregon and the chance to show the kids a different kind of desert, a high desert. They were going to see the sagebrush in bloom and see the sun rise over Abert Rim, watching the rising sunlight glisten off the colored mosses that grew below the rim’s edge, and then cross the thousand-foot high pillar that once let the Bridge make its crossing there.

The kids were especially entranced by the thought of seeing Summer Lake lying below Winter Ridge and how, if it was cold enough (and in that country it usually was), to see the lake’s steam rise up towards snow on the ridge.

They would go through Paisley, where they had the Mosquito Festival in the summer, and down to Goose Lake and into northern California. And everywhere they would romp and play by the ruins of the Bridge and blow clouds of steamy breathe in the high desert air.

So they packed their warmest clothes and their sturdiest shoes for the trip. Suitcase after suitcase piled into the old car they had finally been able to afford.

Tommy Tinker came over to tell them good-bye and to have a good time and to say that he didn’t know how he was going to do without them until they were back. And, to give them the little bag of crystal keys that were the real reason for the trip.

* * *

The New York Times headline read: Bridge Conspiracy Foiled and the story told of the security forces of the government tracking down the terrorist group who sought to overthrow the government and start some sort of utopia based on what their leader felt was the Bridge’s original plans for the planet.

That there was a terrorist group that had been foiled was true. They were a bunch of kooks who were going to become the heroes of the world, just like other such groups that too many times became a single paragraph in a history book.

That they were affiliated with some “Bridge” conspiracy was not accurate. But, since all of them had been conveniently destroyed in the raid, and no one really knew what they were all about, they became, at least to the President, at Vice-President Gravely’s suggestion, a reasonable way to assure the people that the threat that President Hobart so valiantly fought was finally taken care of.

* * *

Dr. von Seltzen was inconsolable. His wife, obnoxious and vain as she had been, still had been good to him and he had truly loved her. The loss of the children just made the pain that much more unbearable.

Dr. von Seltzen had stayed in that morning with a little cold and his wife and children left gaily for a short climb up the mountain behind the Alpine village his wife just had to visit. He had told them not to go too far and they had assured him that they would not, that they just wanted to admire the snow on the peaks and get some pictures to send home.

The avalanche had caught them and they were overwhelmed quickly. The men in the village had not been able to find their bodies. They told Dr. von Seltzen that they would find them later, when more of the snow was gone.

So, Dr. von Seltzen came home alone, and sat and cried alone in his office in the main house.

Tommy and Amelia and their children began to pack things to move back to the Ranch Foreman’s cottage when Dr. von Seltzen asked them to stay.

He did not want to be there in the main house all alone. He wanted to hear Amelia working in the kitchen, singing as she did when she was happy. He wanted to hear the children playing in the house or the yard. He felt that it would be better for him if he could have that activity of Tommy’s family around him.

So they stayed and did their best to comfort him in his grief. Amelia, finding out his favorite foods and making them, sternly admonishing him when he did not eat well. And he would grump back at her, telling her that he didn’t need a mother. But they both knew that he did and that he enjoyed the attention.

So, bit by bit, he seemed to conquer his grief and began to smile a little. He even got the courage up to go into the Rose Garden his wife had loved so, and there he would talk to the roses as he had talked to his wife at times, gently. And every day thereafter he would go out and pick a rose for his desk and put it in the silver vase he had bought his wife on their first anniversary.

Slowly, the Tinkers, seeing his progress, became a little less concerned at his depression and were able to watch him a little less. And the house became happier in the evenings when Dr. von Seltzer would come out of his office and discuss with Tommy the plans for the ranch and the need for this or that to be done.

Then one morning Tommy came to knock on the office door and found that it opened at his touch. Dr. von Seltzen was not there but there was a large envelope on the desk with his name on it.

Tommy picked it up and opened it. There was the deed to the ranch and it was signed over to him and his family. There was a good-bye note that said that he, without Gloria and the children, could not continue to live.

Another note explained that he had learned to love Tommy and his family and, that since neither he nor Gloria had any living heirs, he wanted the ranch to be theirs. There was also a power of attorney that transferred the von Seltzen bank account and ranch funds to him.

About that time he heard a commotion coming up the drive, and he turned and saw that some of the villagers had arrived and they were calling out his name. He went out the front door, dreading what they might say.

They told them that, quite early that morning, Dr. von Seltzen, in a full fishing outfit, had come to the docks and had taken a boat out towards the open bay, right in the spot where the current from the outgoing tide was the strongest. “Well, since no one had ever seen Dr. von Seltzen fish before, they all stood and watched him, figuring to catch him in some mistake or another.

“Then he did the strangest thing. He set his fishing gear aside and grabbed the spare anchor and cut the rope off down near the bottom of the boat then wrapped it around his neck several times. Then he just stood up and fell out of the boat.

“They’re out there now trying to find his body but, with the tide going out the way it is, we don’t figure they will find him.”

* * *

The Great Meeting Room saw a slight change. All the cubicles had doubled in size and there were now chairs to sit in, two in each cubicle. Blanca Martinez arrived, still robed, in her cubicle and wondered at the changes as another person appeared across the room from her. And being robed and hooded, neither could tell what the other looked like. They stood quietly and waited, sure that some mistake had been made or that some instructions would soon come.

The view screen came on and there was the Dream Singer. She did not sing. Instead she stood there quietly and waited. Slowly the wall behind her changed into a panoramic view of the Bridge as it had been just before the bad days. When the picture was sharp and clear the Dream Singer spoke. She said only, “Know your brother or sister.” And then she waited again.

Blanca wondered what she meant when she heard the other one in the room say, “I think she means to remove our hoods and look at each other.” And even as she spoke she flipped her hood back and Blanca let out a gasp of surprise and recognition. It was Elvira Hammet, the gardener at the von Seltzen ranch.

Now it was Blanca’s turn and she followed Elvira’s lead and removed her hood and heard the rough texture of Elvira’s laugh, followed by the biggest hug she had ever received. “Oh, Blanca,” Elvira said tearfully, “I am so glad it is you,” and she started laughing all over again.

What could Blanca do but join in and rejoice that now she knew for sure another in the village shared her goal.

Throughout the Great Meeting Room, in each cubicle, like meetings were experienced. Tears and laughter and hugs and handshakes seemed to spring out everywhere.

Then there was a sound from the Dream Singer. At first it was her voice in a low hum and then she made the start of a song.

She sang of finding a friend and coming together; of helping each other in building futures that they could both live in. She sang of trust and she sang of danger shared; of pain and sorrow, shared; of joy and laughter, shared; and as her song ended they saw another robed one come and stand beside her and they knew that a new direction had been started.

* * *

Vice-President Gravely, going through the material President Hobart had continually sent to his Vice-President and dumping anything that smacked of the “Bridge conspiracy” into a convenient waste basket was troubled by something, but he was not quite sure what it was.

So, following a hunch, he picked out some of those papers that he had tossed and looked at them a little more carefully. He noticed that the names of certain villages or towns kept showing up in those papers. It bothered him, but he was not certain why.

Bob Gravely did not like mysteries, so he went through the material again and set certain ones aside until he could figure out what was bothering him.

* * *

Katia Shapirov woke with a start. Something was wrong! She looked around the white room, at then white bedclothes and at the person, dressed in white, holding her wrist and looking at an instrument of some sort. She tried to get up, to get away from all the white, but her body refused to obey her commands, and she found herself floating away again and then she was quiet.

Hours later she woke again and this time she managed to stay that way. Remembering her last little episode she checked her arms and legs to see if, now, they would obey her. They did, but grudgingly. Slowly she started to get up.

“Katia!” came Alexis voice, “Stop it. Lie still. You must lie still.”

“Alexis,” she replied, “what has happened? Why am I here? I can’t be here. I have so many appointments. I must sing.”

“You must rest. You have worked yourself half to death. Others will sing.”

“Others will sing? Who, Alexis, who? There is only one Dream Singer!”

Alexis smiled, “Cyr has been teaching some to sing. He uses recordings of your voice and makes them practice for hours at a time. He calls them his chorus, his Singers of Dreams. Their robes are much like yours, but lighter in color. Now they take turns singing at the Great Meeting Room. It has worked well.”

Katia could not believe what she was hearing. “Why would Cyr do such a thing? There can only be one Dream Singer; otherwise all this can not work.”

“Why?... Why?... Because Cyr, as well as a lot of us, saw that you were working yourself to death. If you die, we will have lost our Dream Singer.

“The people have been told that you have become ill, but that you will get better soon. They know that they are not listening to you when these others sing. They also know that you can no longer do everything. We have become too many for that. The Singers of Dreams will now share in your work, and you will get well.”

* * *

Elvira and Ferd Hammet hadn’t been talking too much lately. They had never in all their years of marriage kept anything secret from the other. Now they each had a secret and they each felt the guilt of keeping it from the other.

Finally Ferd could not take it any longer. “Elvira,” he said quietly, “I got something I must tell you. I been keeping it to myself for a while, but it don’t seem right not telling you.”

Elvira answered, “Well, Ferd, I ain't been exactly hon...”

“Elvira, you’re not making this easy on me by talking right now. Just let me finish and then you can talk, or bust me one or what ever you need to do.”

Elvira shushed and set back in her chair and waited for Ferd to finish. It would make it easier for her to have her say afterward.

“A while back, at the meeting before last, there was another person in that little room I always go to. There was the Dream Singer on the screen and she told us to know our brother or sister and there was this other person there. We just took off our hoods and there we was.

“It was Piotr Martinez, Elvira. We been partnered some way or another. We are supposed to work together in some way, I guess, but I don’t know how yet. There, now I told you and now I feel better.”

Elvira laughed and cried at the same time. “Oh, Ferd, I was so worried because I had not told you that I had been partnered with someone. I felt guilty you not knowing. I got Blanca for a partner. You think maybe we should have them over for dinner some time soon?

* * *

The Vice-President came into the Oval Office and waited until the President was finished with his current business. Then he laid some spreadsheets on his desk, and stood back to wait for the President’s questions.

President Lockly looked at the papers and saw names and numbers and not much else. “What are you trying to tell me, Bob?”

“Mr. President, I have been weeding out of my files the information that President Hobart kept sending the Vice-President’s office and throwing them away as we discussed. Then something struck me as a little funny. I put some of the papers aside, ones that seemed to me to be a little suspicious.

“Later, I got some reports on the economic comeback that we have been feeling in the last few months. That is when it hit me, John. I know it looks coincidental, but that coincidental?”

The President looked exasperated, and replied, “I am not following you, Bob. What is coincidental?”

“The names of the villages, Mr. President. Both on the reports the President Hobart sent to the VP’s office and the economic progress reports. They’re the same villages and towns.

“The percentages of economic growth in the towns that President Hobart identified as possible Bridge strongholds are much higher than the growth percentages anywhere else. These towns are not just doing better; they are doing better by double digits. That seems a little strange to me. Doesn’t it to you?”

“No, Bob, it doesn’t. You must keep in mind that most of these towns are situated on the old Bridge roadsides. They are easier to get to and therefore have become commercial centers for trade. It is just plain economic sense; trade goes where the roads go.”

“You’re right, Mr. President, I thought that myself, but... look at the growth figures for these coastal towns. They are not centers of anywhere and their growth figures are higher than those more attractively located.

“And, another point is the amount of fish they have been catching. They have been catching more fish in the last couple of seasons than at any time since the Bridge was destroyed. In fact, the catch levels they are having now are at almost the same level as they were when the Bridge was helping them.”

The President was startled. It did make sense; the Vice-President’s figures did make sense. Even more impressive was that this was the man who scoffed at President Hobart’s “paranoia” about the Bridge. This was the man who told him that he would have nothing to do with the “Bridge conspiracy” nonsense.

“Okay, Bob,” the President replied, “you have my attention on this matter. Keep checking it out as you have been. Check, quietly, to see if any other country has figures that can match these in some way.

“I will have the intelligence boys do some on the ground checking. If your figures are right and, if President Hobart was right, we could be in for a real fight.”

Proceed to the conclusion of part V.

Copyright © 2004 by euhal allen

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