Part I, installment 1
by euhal allen
“Uncle Hiram! Uncle Hiram! They done it ! They’s a road out there! A brand new road, Uncle Hiram!”
Hiram Tinker opened one eye just enough to look down at his nephew Tommy, and groaned.
“Tommy Tinker,” he said, “don’t you know better than to wake up an old man this early in the morning?”
“But Uncle Hiram, I was telling you that they is a new road out there. It cuts right through where Gooseberry Ridge used to be, crosses our south meadow, and goes right on beneath Stony Gap.”
“Tommy Tinker, how many times has I told you not to be telling lies ’less you can make them sound convincin’? I come home across Gooseberry Ridge last night and there wasn’t no road there. They sure isn’t going to be one there now.”
With that, Hiram Tinker rolled over and went back to sleep.
* * *
Seiji Kurihara stifled a yawn trying to break through his pose of alertness. It would not do for his father to see that he was still sleepy. A real fisherman should greet the morning with wide-eyed joy. Both he and his father would lose much face if he should fall asleep on this fishing trip. In order to look busy Seiji began inspecting the nets, a job he had done the night before, but one that always found approval among fisher folk. Lulled by the rhythmic chug-chugging of the engine, Seiji almost fell asleep again. He would have if the engine had not suddenly stopped.
Looking up to see what the trouble was, Seiji found himself gazing open-mouthed at a Bridge that hadn’t been the day before. Following the graceful spans with his eyes, Seiji sought to see the end of the Bridge There wasn’t any. There was only span after span heading in a southwesterly direction toward China.
* * *
Alexis Shapirov tried not to awaken. The party last night, the vodka, it would not be good to wake up now. Perhaps it would never be good to awaken again. Who was making all that noise? Not even the refugees running from the Germans had made such a clamor.
It was too much. Alexis staggered to the window to demand silence. There was no window. Nor was there a wall.
Alexis found himself looking out over a newly constructed road, barely two feet in front and ten feet below him. It was snowing on the other side of the road. It was snowing above him. No snow came into his room. Cautiously, he reached out toward the space above the road. His hand stopped where his wall used to be.
* * *
Katia Harrigan was entranced. Speaking to her mother, Olga Harrigan, Katia said, “Isn’t it such a beautiful, beautiful thing. The spans seem to go on forever. Look at the ships in the harbor! They seem like models next to it. And it appeared in only one day. Someday, I will walk it from end to end.”
“Da, it is beautiful,” Olga replied. “But, perhaps, also dangerous. Da, in this beauty I feel danger.”
Katia turned to her father. “Papa, you don’t think anything so beautiful could be dangerous, do you? It can’t be, it is a miracle!”
“’Tis full of life you are, Katia. Aye, and you see beauty in everything. But remember, Katia, that sometimes a miracle for one person is a disaster for another. Listen to your mother, girl.”
* * *
A red phone rang in Washington, D.C. President Walters picked it up. “No, Premier Karpovich, we didn’t have anything to do with it. Yes, our forces are on alert and guarding all entrances to the grid... Yes, we will co operate fully with you on this... No, Premier, it doesn’t look good for us, does it?”
Fear rode supreme at the United Nations. No country was untouched. They were all connected by the road grid. Great transoceanic spans tied the continental masses together. Faced as they were with a universal threat, the delegates ceased their continual bickering in an effort to make a unified stand against whatever was coming.
* * *
An editorial in the New York Times read, in part:
Let us hope that whatever it is that built this thing is benevolent. We could use a benefactor to guide us from our childish tantrums. This could be a Bridge to unity as well as a road to disaster. We would hope that our leaders would act with patience and care. Surely the power inherent in building such a structure would argue such a course on our part.
Boyd Hobart put the paper down on the growing stack of newspapers by his desk. Referring to the New York Times editorial, he said to his wife, Mellony, “At least someone has a little sense. Out of fifty newspapers, that is the only one that hasn’t given up the human race for lost or hasn’t demanded that we bomb the thing out of existence.”
“The people are afraid,” she replied. “You can feel it everywhere. People weren’t made to react to something this big. I don’t understand why you aren’t afraid, too.”
Maybe I am,” he said as he got up, put on his coat, and headed for the door.
Standing on his front porch, Boyd looked down the hundred yards to the local part of that which had caused all this trouble. It looked peaceful and harmless enough under the setting sun. Soon the darkening skies would allow it to assume its soft nighttime glow. “Why,” he thought,” is it here?
* * *
Jonkil et Sharma leaned back in his relaxer and thought, “It was done well. Then, of course, it is always done well.”
Hiram Tinker brushed the sweat from his brow. Climbing up to Stony Gap was never easy, especially for someone as old as Hiram. “Dad-blamed Bridge-thing,” he grumbled, “cut me clean off from town. If it weren’t for the tunneling under Stony Gap, I’d never get to town.” The Bridge, as everyone called it now, had been there six months and Hiram hadn’t been to town more than three or four times since it appeared. “It would be a whole lot easier if the danged thing would just let a body walk across it.”
* * *
Life had been good for Seiji Kurihara since the Bridge had come. For some reason the fish seemed to be attracted to the great piers that upheld the five-mile spans of the structure. All in the village had more than enough to eat. They could sell everything extra that they could catch. Soon Seiji’s father would be able to buy his own boat. Yes, indeed, the Bridge was a friend.
* * *
Alexis Shapirov gripped his rifle in his unwilling hands. It was unfair that the government had declared a national emergency and all writers with less than five years experience in being published as semi-productive. Of course, a lot of other trades were likewise classified, but writers? All because of that stupid Bridge. “I suppose guards for it had to be found somewhere,” he thought, “but why not peasants instead of writers?”
* * *
Katia, walking up to the edge of the Bridge, reached out to touch the invisible, but impenetrable, field that was always there. She could not feel it. It did not seem to be there.
Taking a chance, she stepped onto the Bridge. “I always knew,” she said, “that I would walk you, Bridge.”
“As I knew, too, this thing, Katia. You are welcome here.”
President Walters looked at the new appropriations bill that was to be presented to Congress. Forty billion dollars for new roads, bridges, and tunnels. Forty billion dollars just to go over, under, or around the Bridge that had divided the whole country into sections by its uncrossable net.
The money would have to come out of somewhere, but certainly not the military. They might be needed! At least the people had to be assured that they could handle anything that the Bridge sent out, when it did. The fact the military had nothing that could even touch the Bridge must be kept from the people, and especially from the Eastern Powers.
* * *
The Bridge didn’t even rate front page in the Times any more. The appropriations bill story would be more than comfortable on page two, or ten, or twenty. It would be placed in proportion to the fuss about it in Congress. The same was true for the now everyday airlifting of people and things back and forth over the Bridge. Actually, the dislocation wasn’t as bad as everyone thought. The Bridge was always very level and there were always gullies or gulches to go under it as well as hills above its many tunnels. People just had to get used to new paths. It was all old hat now. No, the front page was saved for things like starlet Shawna Tracey’s third marriage.
* * *
Boyd Hobart, it seemed, could not get enough to eat. It was that four mile hike down to the gully and then the four miles back up the other side just to get across campus to his history classes. He wished that he were a full-time instructor. It didn’t seem sensible to make that trip every day just for one or two classes. The Administration had vetoed putting them all on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday basis so he was stuck with the daily hike.
It’s not that Boyd minded losing weight, he just didn’t feel that the end justified the agony. It only helped a little that Mellony approved his new slim figure. Of course, now that she was making home-made bread every day, there was at least the knowledge that the smell of fresh baked bread would give him the endurance for the last hundred yards of the Great Trek. It was too bad that she only made one small loaf a day.
* * *
Jonkil et Sharma studied the reports carefully. There was something there not quite as usual. Of course, every project was a little different. But, this seemed a little too different.
Hiram Tinker was downright mad as he stomped across the meadow. Stooping every once in a while to pick up another rock for his bag, he headed for the Bridge. “Dad-blamed Bridge,” he said, throwing his first rock. “You done messed up everything. Good or no good, I’m aimin’ to throw every one of these blasted rocks at you. You not only make me bust my gut climbing over Stony Gap, you make it downright unhandy to go play checkers with old Pilt Johnson. Been doing that every Thursday night for thirty years now, and you done ruined it, you bristle-nosed hog, you”
“I’m sorry Hiram,” the Bridge answered. “Of course a regular Thursday night checker game is very important. You are more than welcome to go across.”
In all his years, Hiram Tinker never knew that he could run so fast.
“Tommy,” said a breathless Hiram as he got to their cabin, “Tommy, that Bridge talked at me.”
“That’s not very convincin’, Uncle Hiram.”
* * *
Denzo Kurihara had his new boat. Fishing, and thus life, was good. Seiji Kurihara should have been happy. But the Bridge had brought more than prosperity to Seiji and his family. It had brought also a question to Seiji. Every day as he looked at the structure he found himself wondering where it ended. He had seen the maps of the grid and knew that it didn’t really have an end, but there was something about the Bridge that called Seiji, something that told him, that for him, at least, there was an end, somewhere.
The Kurihara’s boat was tied up at the fourth pier out from the village, seeking protection from the rising wind and waves. The Bridge had been found to always be a calm in these little storms and so, many boats sought protection from it when they came up.
Seiji gazed at the great pier. “Where do you really go, Bridge, and why can’t I go with you sometime?”
A door opened in the pier opposite from Seiji. “Come, Seiji, if you really wish to. You are welcome to go where I go. But, if you come, you must leave your knife behind.”
Seiji dropped his knife to the deck of the boat and jumped for the door. As it closed behind him, he could hear his father screaming, “Seiji, NO! SEIJI, NO! SEI. . .”
There was a most imperceptible feeling of motion, a short interval, and then a definite, if gentle, stop. The door opened and Seiji stepped out. It was warm and quiet on the Bridge. The road beneath Seiji’s feet was the same slate grey of the whole Bridge, a slate grey that he knew girded the globe. Across the way, perhaps a hundred feet away, stood the twin to the pier that he had come up in. Down the middle of the Bridge was a small rounded hump, no more than three or four inches high, and it, too, continued as far as the eye could see.
Seiji walked over to the railing at the edge and looked out. He could see the waves rising, the wind blowing, but all was calm on the Bridge. Looking down, he saw his father searching the spans for some sign of him, and so he waved.
“I wish he knew that I was all right,” he mumbled.
Seiji saw his father jerk as if startled, then relax some, and soon the boat headed back under the Bridge, seeking safety from the storm.
“It is all right, Seiji. I have told him that you are well and that I will care for you.”
Short minutes later, Seiji heard the swish of the pier doors and his father was soon standing next to him.
“I had to come, Father. It has been calling me, somehow. I had to know what was here. It says that I can go where it goes. It is something I must do; with your permission, I hope.”
“Grandfather Kanaka once told me that every fish must swim in his own water. Some are caught in nets. Yet, still, every fish continues to swim in his own water. It is not for me to chose the water for you to swim in, Seiji. I can only hope that I have taught you to swim well.”
Later, after the doors in the pier opened and closed again, Seiji was alone.
* * *
Ever since he had been guarding the Bridge, Alexis Shapirov had been talking to it as if it were alive. At first, he blamed it for all his troubles. Then he blamed it for the weather that he had to stand guard in. Then he began trying to insult it, telling it that it was disgraceful. Every decent Bridge or building was made of cleverly fit pieces, like a good book, but that was not so with this Bridge. It was all one piece, or at least it seemed to be.
“How can you be respectable if you’re just one big lump, Bridge? You have no class, no frills, no excitement. Every great building has a climax. Where is yours, Bridge?”
“A climax, as you know from your writing, can be hidden, Alexis. A good climax should indeed be hidden at the beginning and only be found when the end is near.”
Alexis put his rifle at the ready position. “Whoever said that had better come on out into the open. I’m warning you, I will shoot.”
“I am out in the open, Alexis. I said it, your big lump of a Bridge, remember.”
“Certainly, there is no hard feeling on my part, Alexis. A big lump of a Bridge would not have feelings anyway, would it? You look very cold there this evening. It’s always warm on my roadway. You would be welcome to come aboard. Of course, you have to leave the gun behind.”
Why, Bridge? What are you after?”
* * *
“Bridge,” said Katia, “I think that I will call you Cyrano. Do you like it?”
“It hardly seems fitting, Katia. No matter where you look, you will not find I have a big nose.”
“Cyrano did not just have a big nose, he also cared. He could love, unselfishly. I think you are like that.”
“Then, for you, I will be called Cyrano.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by euhal allen