#BOSK-DN3B31-BRIDGE

DON’T BURN ALL OF YOUR BRIDGES THEY’LL CATCH YOU STUPID HERE USE THIS ODORLESS POISON THEY’LL NEVER KNOW

J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 4 ☆ 2017 January 15

I

The portrait o’ a cliché sunrise: a yellow circle peeks ’bove the horizon, causing flecks o’ white light to reflect off the tips o’ each tackling wave; the baby-blue sky swarms with pink cotton candy clouds; the thin black M’s o’ seagulls flap their wings through the wind, squawking. You might have e’en read this same description in ’nother 1 o’ my stories.

You won’t in this 1, however. There were no pink cotton candy clouds, but just a flat gray sky—& though there was certainly a rising sun & there were flying seagulls, they were all shrouded by the foggy air.

You can imagine the chilling effect this muggy weather had on the temperature, causing Edgar to shiver under Autumn’s clutching arm like a Chihuahua.

“¿How long do you think this bridge goes?” Edgar asked quietly, not for fear o’ anyone o’erhearing, but simply from habit.

The noisy gales smothered his words.

“¿What?” Autumn asked loudly.

Edgar raised his voice: “I said, ‘¿How long do you think this bridge goes?’”

“Hopefully not long,” Autumn replied loudly.

“¿You don’t want to ask for your planning or whatever?” shouted Edgar.

“It’s your ball,” shouted Autumn.

“It’s probably not important,” Edgar said mo’ quietly. “I doubt anyone would be able to hear me, with how quiet I am.”

“¿What?”

“I said… O, ne’ermind.”

“¿What?”

Edgar just shook his head.

“I can ask, if you want,” shouted Autumn.

Edgar only shook his head ’gain.

But Autumn charged up to some random bearded fellow & shouted, “Hey, ¡guy! ¿How long does this bridge go on till the Cinnamines?”

“¿What?”

Autumn repeated, shouting so loud that her face reddened, “I asked, ¿How long does this bridge go on till the Cinnamines?”

“That’s @ the end, & it’s quite long, fellow.”

“¿What?”

The bearded fellow shouted mo’ loudly, “I said, the end’s quite long, fellow.”

“OK, thanks.”

She returned to Edgar before the bearded fellow could shout what & told him what he’d said.

“¿What?”

With pitch rising in annoyance, Autumn began to repeat herself, only for Edgar to shout back, “I already heard you.”

“¿Then why did you ask me…?”

“He didn’t ask you; I did,” shouted the bearded fellow as he walked back toward them.

“¿Why?”

“I heard you say something before you left & I wanted to make sure it wasn’t obscene.”

“¿Why the fuck would I say something obscene to you?”

“I don’t know. I thought you might be unreasonable.”

“That doesn’t mean I’d say something obscene to you.”

“¿What?”

“¡Fuck off!”

“OK.”

The bearded fellow faded into the fog, ne’er to be seen ’gain.

Autumn’s eyes were etched with petulant lines as she felt the gusts blow her bangs all o’er her face, as well as causing the edges o’ her jacket & sweat pants to flutter all round. She was only grateful her glasses provided a’least 1 benefit: they blocked anything from being flung into her eyes.

1 reason she held Edgar to her so tightly—other than the warming factor—was the fear that he would be swept clear off the bridge by a particularly muscled gust & into the Pacific. E’en if he could swim, she didn’t think he could easily get through that wasp’s nest alive.

Indeed, she become so suspicious that e’en both o’ them together might be whistled off that she gripped the top bar o’ the side fence, ignoring the stinging cold it inflicted on her naked hand.

Autumn looked ’head, only to see once ’gain that the fog covered all that was not within a 5-meter radius. As far as she could see, the bridge went straight ’head, unsteered.

Autumn mumbled under her breath, “It’s just a ’scuse by the writer to hide this browser’s low draw distance.”

The trek so far was mostly mute, except for the sound o’ everything flapping & blowing. Autumn actually enjoyed having a peaceful venture for once, being so used to constant movement & the need to consider hundreds o’ issues @ once, 1 wrong peg taken out causing the whole plan to topple. This time Autumn finally had the opportunity to multitask, to better plan what they’d do when they finally reached the crystalline Cinnamines.

These petunias were stepped on when she suddenly heard the jingling bell o’ a bike ’hind her, causing her nerves to strain like an OCD working for Double Dare.

“’Ey. ‘Ey, Madame.”

She slowly turned her head back as if ready to puke gak on him. She saw that ‘twas indeed someone on a bike—a youthful-looking late-teen or early-adult with a baseball cap & white dress shirt with an upraised collar.

“’Ey, Madame, ¿would you happen to know which way is to the Cinnamines?”

“¿Which way?” asked Autumn, still trying to comprehend the question. “¿What do you mean which way? There’s only 1 way to go: forward.”

“¿Are you absolutely sure?”

“’Course I’m sure,” said Autumn, her voice drying as she spoke. “¿Do you see any other direction in front o’ you?”

The bicycler scratched the short tufts o’ light brown hair protruding from his cap. “Well… I thort there might be some hidden alternative path I couldn’t see. Thort they might be trickin’ me some way.”

“¿& how would ‘they’ do that?”

“I must admit, I’m not quite sure. You know how crafty they can be.”

Autumn paused to think o’ some way to ’scape this torturous tortuous conversation.

“Just go straight. That’s the only direction to go—& yes, I’m sure.”

But rather than speeding forward, as Autumn had hoped he would, the bicyclist’s eyebrows narrowed, & he asked, “¿& how do I know you’re not 1 o’ them?”

“¿1 o’ whom? ¿The bridge builders?”

“The aliens who put this here bridge here.”

After a short pause to allow Autumn to reflect on how annoyed she felt, she replied, “You know what I’m wrong.” She pointed to the side. “Turn right round here. That fence is just a hologram put there to fool you.”

The bicyclist raised an eyebrow. “¿Now how do I know you’re not trying to trick me into riding right off into that sea there?”

Autumn’s eyes widened in exasperation.

“¿Why are you e’en asking me if you can’t trust anything I say? ¿Don’t you realize the futility in this endeavor?”

“¿How do I know you’re not just trying to trick me into thinking this venture is futile?”

Autumn turned her head forward ’gain.

“Ride on past us & ask someone else. As far as I’m concerned, you no longer exist—& if you persist on reminding me you exist, I intend on tripping your bike.”

“How do I know you’re not just trying to trick me into thinking you don’t think I—¡Augh!”

Suddenly, the bicyclist felt his bike topple o’er, tossing him onto the ground.

Hopefully he’ll stay down, thought Autumn.

But she knew this was wishful thinking, & cringed when she heard the squeaking o’ wheels beside her once mo’.

“I must say, mate: That was very rude o’ you.”

“I don’t take harassment kindly.”

“I can see that,” said the bicyclist. “Now, ¿what if I just fell down into that water down there? Think o’ how heavy that would feel on your conscience.”

“As light as a balloon,” said Autumn, still refusing to look @ him.

“Well, I might just report you to the Bureau o’ Un-neighborly Behavior. ¿What would you feel ’bout that?”

Rather than inform him that neither was there a “Bureau o’ Un-neighborly Behavior,” nor were they neighbors, Autumn simply replied, “You’d better hurry before I get there 1st.”

“¡You’re on, Bluejay May!” he shouted, & then pedaled on with ’nough speed to power a ghost-scaring lightbulb.

As she watched the bicyclist become engulfed in the fog, Autumn heaved a heavy sigh.

“This is already taking too long,” she muttered.

“¿What?” asked Edgar, turning up to her.

Autumn raised her voice. “I said, ‘This is already taking too long.’”

“O.”

“¿What?”

Edgar said mo’ loudly, “I said, ‘O.’”

II

Ships drifted by every once & a while, their sails flapping wildly in the wind. This was to be expected: Baguette Bridge spanned o’er so much sea, ‘twas inevitable that some parts would have boats traveling through. What bothered Autumn & Edgar was the way they’d leap o’er the bridge ’stead o’ safely slipping ’neath.

Though ‘twas already gloomy weather to begin, the boats’ metal-whale-chest bottoms cast e’en thicker shadows o’er them before gravity snatched them ’gain with a loud splash.

The first time Edgar saw this, he turned his head round to capture everyone’s reactions. Autumn was the only one who had 1, sliding her feet back instantly & blurting, “¿What the hell?” as she gaped up @ it.

Everyone else, however, stared forward with the same blank stares that must’ve been painted on their faces, they stuck so tightly.

Their expressions’ stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality was only belied by their total sameness compared to each other. In fact, Edgar noticed with horror that some o’ their fellow pedestrians all-o’er appeared the exact same as others, as if they were cloned, or the Programmers were getting lazy with their DNA design. Some differed only in hair or sweater color; some not e’en that much.

Edgar turned to Autumn & said, “¿Do you think we should ask someone ’bout it?”

“¿About what?” Autumn shouted, the wind still dampening their voices.

“About the… You did see the ships jump o’er the bridge like whales, ¿right?”

“Yeah, ’course I did. ¿How could I miss them?” said Autumn.

“I think everyone else did.”

“Well, that’s their deficiencies.”

“¿But shouldn’t we ask ’bout it? ¿What if 1 o’ the boats doesn’t make it all the way & slams right down on us?”

“¿How are they going to help prevent that when they can’t e’en recognize when it happens in the 1st place?” said Autumn. “We should be mo’ equipped to prevent that ourselves—& we’re not. It’s a risk we have no choice but to make.”

Still, Edgar couldn’t keep his head from wandering round the short vicinity unharassed by the fog, sight glued to the uncanny valley dwelling on the other bridge-walkers’ faces.

You shouldn’t judge a TV dinner by its box art, thought Edgar. After all, you have a literal skull for a head.

“I’m sorry,” Autumn said loudly: “I’d expected it to be better weather; but apparently not.”

Edgar tried to nod, only for the wind to push his head back so hard he feared it’d snap right off. His hand almost slipped off his hood, the hood flapped so hard gainst it.

It has to end ’ventually, he thought. It has to end ’ventually.

He soon found his attention waning, anyway, held hostage by the exhaustion beginning to pull him by his fibers. His chest & lungs had been battered by the wind so long that he wasn’t sure how long they last ’fore collapsing.

Autumn must’ve noticed, for he faintly heard her say, “¿You doing all right, Edgar?” as if he had cotton in his ear drums.

He practically gasped out, “Yeah…”

“We can stop for a rest if you want.”

“’K.”

They sat gainst the cold metal railing, Autumn’s arms & legs wrapped round Edgar like warm vines made out o’ cotton while he pulled his robe farther o’er his shivering shins.

This arrangement didn’t last long, however. He felt Autumn’s arm jerk him & pull him up to his feet & ’way.

“We need to hurry,” was all she said.

Edgar noticed the shadow sliding toward him from the side & looked up to see ’nother ship’s plump belly.

It slowed as it reached the middle & stopped.

Then it appeared to grow.

III

The tax the wind inflicted on his heart was nothing compared to the sharp throbbing it went through now as they sat decimeters ’way from the colossal hole in the bridge, his throat scraped raw by the constant in-&-out o’ air, his nostril cavity stinging clogged with packed emotion—fear, sadness, o’erexertion.

“Well, there goes the assumption o’ safety in which we were ne’er naïve ’nough to believe,” said Autumn, her own voice interspersed with pounding breaths.

“Y-you don’t think anyone was hurt, ¿do you?” asked Edgar.

“’Nothing we can do regardless. It doesn’t seem as if anyone else is concerned.”

Edgar gazed round the still-crossing faces & gaped @ the blank expression on each o’ them. e’en those who ran into the hole simply leapt the whole 15-meter distance. Granted, some o’ them hit invisible blocks, knocking them into the aquatic void; but no one else’s expression expressed any reaction @ all.

“¿Do we keep going?” asked Edgar.

“¿Why? ¿Do you not want to?”

“I just meant… strategically. Like, would it be… ¿What’s that word you use? O: futile.”

Autumn paused for a second ’fore replying, “We’d be no safer going backward than forward; & I don’t know if we have the superhuman jumping abilities to pass that hole.”

Edgar twisted back to face her. “Plus, there’s those invisible blocks.”

Autumn’s mouth stiffened as it oft did when she was willing her mind to ignore invalid but somehow accurate outcomes.

After a few seconds, she finally said, “Well, anyway, we have plenty o’ time. Take as much as you need to recuperate, since it doesn’t appear as if this bridge will end any time soon.”

“I’m ready if you want.”

“¿You sure?”

“Yup.”

They stood & continued their walk. Edgar wasn’t sure if he’d just gotten used to it or if the wind died down a tad, but he seemed to struggle less gainst it.

Then he noticed a subtle growing strain in his vision & discovered ’twas becoming brighter. He looked up & saw the sheets o’ gray break ’way as if they were cut apart by silly scissors, revealing a baby blue background, 1 o’ which held a burning yellow arc, from which white rays spread as Saran-wrap tentacles. As if God flipped his atomic thermometer, Edgar felt a static-like heat tingle round him under his robe. The same must’ve happened to Autumn, for she stopped to pull off her jacket & tie it round her waist. Edgar copied her.

“I was thinking it’d get colder if anything,” she said as they resumed their trek. “I thought we were heading north.”

“You know how weird the weather is in Boskeopolis,” said Edgar.

“True.”

E’en so, Edgar was still surprised by how quickly the heat built & built. He’d expected it to cap quickly, but it continued to rise to the point that Edgar felt sweat cover him. His boots—which were an oven inside—would stick to the metal floor. He could feel the heat radiate from ’neath.

“I suspect this bipolar weather is connected to this bridge’s other oddities,” Autumn said as she wiped her forehead.

Edgar was struck by metal blindness: his vision o’erpowered by the wall o’ white light shining off the light-gray steel floor.

A’least the ships have seemed to stop leaping o’er us.

I probably shouldn’t have thought that…

Edgar’s attention was taken by Autumn’s voice:

“¿Here, can we stop ’gain?”

After they stopped, she held a hand out & said, “Here, ¿you want me to take that jacket?”

“It’s fine,” said Edgar.

“Yeah, but I want to use it.”

Edgar untied it & handed it to her, & then watched as she tied it round her waist, but in the other direction, with the back covering in front o’ her. Then she pulled off her sweats & tossed them o’er her shoulder.

They proceeded ’gain, only to notice the light begin to dim & the heat feel as if ’twere evaporating. ’Long the ground was a darkening gradient; looking up, Edgar could see the clouds crowd ’gain, some mashing together in identical gray.

Edgar could tell ’fore she e’en started talking that Autumn was annoyed by this development by her mouth stiffening ’gain.

“The weather’s definitely not mere chance,” Autumn said as she wrapped her arms together.

IV

Autumn knew the bridge was trying to keep her from crossing. ’Twas specifically built to keep people from crossing. If not, ¿why wasn’t it just a straight walkway? ¿Why was it full o’ holes & varying elevations so that 1 misstep or missed jump would sink them into the aquatic gallows below?

This became worse after they crossed a pile o’ bewilderingly-placed barrels. Perhaps they were a warning o’ that human logic faded further the further she went. As they passed them, out o’ nowhere pink fish suddenly jumped out the sea through the aforementioned holes in the bridge & charged directly @ Autumn & Edgar, knocking them back with such force that they rolled backward in a ball, slamming back into the barrels.

“¿You OK?” asked Edgar.

“Yeah. ¿& you?”

Edgar nodded. “I’ve ne’er seen fish jump that strongly.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed this bridge has many 1sts.”

But Autumn wasn’t one to let impediments impede her, so she led Edgar down the bridge ’gain, only for a fish to hop out the same hole, hitting them just as before, & knocking them back into the same barrels as before.

“This is ridiculous,” Autumn said as she sat up, knocking off the barrels that were toppled o’er her.

“You don’t think they know we’re trying to cross & intentionally trying to stop us, ¿do you?” asked Edgar, rubbing his bruised head.

“I think the whole fucking bridge is conspiring gainst us,” Autumn said as she stood upright, only to lose some o’ that assertion when she saw a passerby giving her the tilted brows. She didn’t want his brows, tilted or untilted; they were far too bushy.

“Look @ the way they built this bridge,” Autumn continued as she held her arms out o’er the area. “¿Who would build a structure this way? ¿How? ¿What, did some shits-&-grins just set dynamite in various places? ¿Why all these holes?”

“I read somewhere that there have been funding problems for street repair…” Edgar said quietly, tapering off e’en mo’ quietly.

“¿But you notice how this is only a problem for this bridge?”

“Yeah, that is kinda weird,” Edgar said as he scratched the side o’ his face.

“No matter,” Autumn said as she turned forward ’gain. “No bridge’ll best me.”

As it turned out, when they went forward ’gain, they were hit by ’nother fish—or the same fish: it happened the same way, so Autumn assumed ’twas the same, stubborn fish—& knocked into the same barrels.

“All right, I have a plan,” said Autumn, still sitting in the pile o’ barrels.

“¿You notice that these barrels rearranged themselves when we left them before?” Edgar asked as he looked down @ those round him.

“I tried to ignore it, but failed as well as you did,” said Autumn. “Anyway, wait back here. I’ve got an idea.”

Autumn kept edging forward, closer & closer to the hole, eyes locking onto it with sweat dribbling down her forehead.

The second she saw the fish jump up, she jumped back, causing the fish to miss & flop futilely onto the bridge.

“¡Ha! ¡Fuck you, fish!” Autumn exclaimed as she bent down to point @ the fish, only to get the plug by ’nother passerby giving her mo’ tilted eyebrows.

“All right, let’s try ’gai—¡Fuck!”

When she stepped forward, ’nother fish jumped out in the same pattern as the previous, tackling her back into the barrels yet ’gain.

As she stewed there, she stared @ the hole for weaknesses to exploit. For a while, she feared her best bet would be to try jumping o’er the bastard—but how she could jump that high, she couldn’t e—

“¡O, I’m an idiot!” Autumn said as she slapped her forehead. “¿Why not just move to the side & jump up while it’s hopping past me?”

So she led Edgar toward the hole &, edging just past where she was before, quickly pulled them to the side just as a fish was jumping out. While the fish landed ’side them, Autumn hopped o’er the hole, Edgar leaping just ’hind her.

’Fraid o’ the fish hopping @ them in the other direction, Autumn sped them forward.

“Well, hopefully we won’t have to worry ’bout that an—¡Shit!”

Though she tried to twist ’way, there wasn’t nearly ’nough time ’fore ’nother hopping fish smacked into them, causing them to roll all the way back to the barrels.

Autumn buried her head into her upraised hands.

“What obnoxious bullshit,” said she, her voice muffled by her hands.

So they carefully traversed the bridge using the same pattern o’ edging toward the hole & jumping aside @ the last second. Though they still made a few mistakes, they ’ventually passed the last hole, only to meet a tall metal wall.

“¿What now?” Autumn said slowly & deeply.

She marched toward it & knocked so hard that she hurt her knuckles.

No answer.

She looked round & saw the railings on the sides o’ the bridge.

“Perhaps we can climb o’er it,” Autumn said as she went o’er to the nearest railing.

With an extra boost from Edgar, Autumn was easily able to reach the top o’ the railing. However, it didn’t take long for her to see that from there the wall was still a’least 2 & a half her height. e’en Edgar hoisting her would fail.

She looked round the outside edge o’ the bridge to see if she could go round the wall from the side, but saw that the wall went on for meters & that the wall o’ercropped the bridge & was smooth to the side. No chance to stretch her legs round, nor walk ’long any edge.

She sat down & opened her pack to pull out her hookshot. However, a few tries o’ flinging that o’er the top, & almost having it land on & impale her head, confirmed to her that the top was just as smooth—nothing to clasp.

“Maybe they want us to do something silly, like collect a bunch o’ fish bodies & climb them to reach the top,” said Edgar.

“We’d just get sent back to the—O…” Autumn’s eyes widened, only to cringe a moment after. “O…”

“¿What?”

“We need to bring 1 o’ those barrels, don’t we,” said Autumn.

Edgar turned backward & looked down the long path they’d already taken.

“Wait here,” said Autumn as she slid down to the ground.

“¿You sure you don’t need my help?” asked Edgar.

“No. It’d be less tedious if only 1 o’ us has to go back & forth.”

So Autumn went all the way back—which was easy, as Autumn was blindsided by a fish & knocked back to the barrels in a second—& went forward yet ’gain, this time hefting a barrel the whole way.

Maybe this barrel offers protec—¡Nope!

The fish burst through her barrel & knocked her back.

After an hour, she finally reached the wall with the barrel intact. So nervous was Autumn that something would go wrong & she’d have to do it all o’er ’gain that she felt her hands shake—which, she knew, would also increase her chances o’ screwing up.

Keep calm, idiot. This is the easy part. So long as we’re slow & careful, we’ll get through this obnoxiousness.

She let Edgar hoist her up ’gain, & then hoist the barrel up.

Here comes the risky part.

Then she set the barrel aside, keeping it closely in her sight in case she saw signs o’ it budging in the wind, & held her arms down to help Edgar up. The second she was sure Edgar had reached the top, she grabbed the barrel as if ’twere a lifesaver.

She set the barrel gainst the wall, climbed up, & helped Edgar up.

Please don’t break… Please don’t break…

It didn’t. Not e’en as she climbed onto Edgar’s shoulders—though it did tip side-to-side o’er the thinner railing.

From there she could see the top o’ the wall just a few centimeters ’bove. She hopped as high as she could, gripping the top edge with the tips o’ her fingers, sucking in air to distract her mind from the seering pain o’ such ice-cold pressure from the tug-o’-war o’ hard metal & gravity.

“¡Edgar, hurry! ¡Jump & grab my legs!”

She didn’t hear him reply, but did hear the barrel wobble mo’, & then felt thick arms press her pants to her legs, followed by a splash. Autumn looked down to see Edgar’s bright face & the barrel bobbing in the gray seas.

Voice full o’ heavy breaths, Autumn said, “Climb up me.”

“’K.”

Edgar did just that, & then helped Autumn up.

“Well, a’least the worst going down the other side will give us is a li’l fall—¡Shit! ¡No!”

Autumn was interrupted by a pink fish hopping from the other side o’ the wall, knocking them into a ball rolling all the way back to the barrels.

V

Autumn knew this was a bridge no mortal was meant to cross all the way. ’Twas clear that e’en the architects were ne’er able to get past that bullshit with the fish & barrels, for past it was nothing any human would e’er allow to fester further if they realized its existence.

The barrels, the fish, the seemingly-random holes in the bridge—these were unintuitive, but technically possible. What Autumn saw past that wall was simply impossible. It defied geometry & physics themselves.

Autumn couldn’t e’en tell if they were still on a bridge @ all: there were parts o’ that… clump o’ solidness that kind o’ looked like parts o’ the bridge she remembered, just not in the places she remembered them being. She saw what she remembered as a part o’ the railings on the floor. Most o’ the “bridge,” however, was comprised o’ shapes she’d ne’er e’en seen: random #s & letters, peoples’ faces, & for most o’ it, just solid blackness.

Worse, e’en the sky & seas round them were twisted into incomprehensibility. Well, technically they were still recognizable as the sky & seas; but they were now covered in scattered black boxes themselves, as well as some o’ the other aforementioned images.

’Course, it wasn’t so much the horrific imagery that liquefied her & poor Edgar’s nerves so much as the inability to discern what was solid & what wasn’t that bothered her. All she knew was that the bridge-looking parts—e’en the railing parts on the ground—were usually solid, she she kept to them, as if playing a real-life game o’ dodge the lava on the rug.

This plan expired, however, when the incomprehensibility increased, till there were no mo’ bridge parts, only a black void with a few abstract shapes here & there.

¿What now? thought Autumn as she stared off @ the void, standing on the last bridge-looking piece she’d seen.

She must’ve been mo’ ’fraid than she thought, since her body felt locked up—so much so that she could hardly register the frigid wind @ all. She tried to move her limbs ’bout to loosen herself up a bit, but then realized that she couldn’t move @ all. E’en trying to move her pupils proved futile. Nor could she move her mouth to speak to Edgar.

She hadn’t time to ask Edgar if he was OK, anyway. A moment later, the thought, I hope Ed— froze in her mind.

VI

Both knew they were nearing the end o’ the bridge. They could tell by the way the flat gray sky splayed open in deep blue & pasty yellow, clouds pulsating neon & off just ’fore emitting a crash & then unleashing a pike o’ lightning, striking the bridge’s metal with ’nough force to rattle it like a flimsy cage; they could tell by the fog shattering into rain splattering all o’er Autumn & Edgar like soft but still-cold glass; they could tell by twist o’ the bridge in complex shapes; & they could tell by the frenetic sounds all round them, as if the Programmers were casting a soundtrack on the world.

Edgar wanted to stop & take in this aesthetic starburst, only glimpsed in photos on online maps, & taken in full-dose by only a few expert explorers; but he knew how dangerous ’twas to linger & followed Autumn closely.

Now Autumn was determined not to let anything deter her from victory. As one understands the ol’ mentor who mysteriously makes one perform tedious chores, she now understood all o’ the past tedium as preparation for this last path.

She didn’t let the winds constantly flipping left & right like revolutionary governments push them off; though she kept heading steadily forward, she went slowly, ready to lean in the other direction the second the winds changed. Nor did she let the greater proliferation o’ perforations in the bridge stymie them: she watched each meters before hitting each. She timed jumps whenever the wind hit its interim. All the while, she kept an eye up @ the “Eye o’ Kracko” in the clouds for signs o’ glowing: ’pon glowing she’d know ’twas time to dive ’way from ’nother charging bolt.

Time lost meaning in these strumming moments, the attachment ’tween them & their environs losing thread after thread. All Autumn noticed was the drumming in her chest, the hot sweat mingling with the cold rain, the aches in her limbs reminding her that she still had them, & the slippery half-grasp on Edgar’s sleeve arm, constantly reminding her o’ the tenuousness still o’ their success.

But bugs always sneak into the most carefully-coded program: she @ 1st forgot to factor in the rain-created slickness o’ the bridge, colluding with her abrupt jumps to cause her to slip, banging faces & limbs gainst the steel ground, nearly allowing the gusts to brush them right off the side like leaves. The ground was too smooth to clutch, so Autumn had to immediately leap to her feet, pulling Edgar up with her—as well as feeling as if her pulmonary cords were being pulled, as if the winds were crowding into her lungs, stretching them past capacity.

The deeper they went, the mo’ people emerged, occupying already-limited space, leaving less from which to dodge the bolts & causing them to bump into everyone in the wind. ’Course, the people were invulnerable to the lightning & wind—not that they were inhumanly perfect @ dodging & adjusting, but that bolts went straight through them like wind, & the wind didn’t appear to budge them a bit. Who they were & why they were there, Autumn didn’t know. ’Cause o’ their imperviousness to the weather & her early establishment o’ the fact that this bridge was sentient, she could only assume it put them there just to fail her.

& fail her they did, delaying her & Edgar’s jumps after every bolt, forcing Autumn to time her jumps & position e’en mo’ precisely. She was so off on timing 1 that she still felt the burn o’ the blast knock her a li’l to the side.

Though her mind continued to pump her bones with the need to keep energy, the environ still sapped @ it thirstily. ’Bove all o’ the showers & thunder, the lumbering noise o’ the bridge’s metal groaning filled her mind. Every sight: the clouds sinking into darkness, the waves dashing themselves up @ the sides o’ the bridge, & the handrails o’ the bridge itself lurching—foretold a world falling apart.

No use worrying. Only constant progress can give me victory.

1 lesson she’d learned from experience was that despite muscle aches telling her that she couldn’t go on any further, her body could go on just ’bout as well as before for hours. Though sucking in her saliva & deep breaths didn’t make the ache dissipate, it did seem to spread it into a dull numbness that could be tolerated for just a minute mo’—perpetually just a minute mo’.

The weakness this tiredness bestowed on her was worse: ’twas invisible, since it weakened the very mind that would notice it—& gradually. Her mind seemed to require mo’ & mo’ energy to focus & plan lightning dodges & hole hops.

’Twas in this state that Autumn was felled. Not in 1 dramatic stroke or by some extra-clever trick: the law o’ averages simply caused 1 bolt to hit her directly, knocking her & Edgar apart. But while Edgar landed a meter backward on the bridge, Autumn was knocked right off, flipping o’er the guardrail.

The second Edgar could, he stood & rushed for the rail off which she had fallen; but he could see nothing down there but empty, thrashing waves.

VII

The clamor, the agitations, that unprofitable splendor o’ weather that preyed on them like phantoms o’ the day became still in the hush o’ the night, its only extravagance being the red moon hanging o’er a dark tower in the distance.

Standing on the edge o’ the bridge’s black rafters, Edgar stared into the seas, whose shimmering fringes glowed red like flames under the moonlight. In them was still the afterimage o’ Autumn as she was falling in, sinking ’long with all o’ her treasure.

Though he knew it’d do no good, Edgar still couldn’t stop the burning tears from falling. Though he knew it’d do no good, Edgar still thought ’bout Autumn’s lost youth, how oft—O, how oft—he’d feared this day would come & how oft—O, how oft—he’d wished it’d happen to him 1st; for his heart was hot & restless, & the burden laid ’pon him seemed greater than he could bear.

The rain dropped in ’gain, 1st in a few drops, & then in pourings. It brought ’long with it black flapping birds. He almost wished they’d carry him ’way.

However, these dreary thoughts were held fast by the sight o’ a bright red light to his side. He peered into it only to gasp when he saw next to it Autumn’s dilated eyes, ’hind glasses gleaming under the moon like shields. She hung under the eave o’ a rail by 1 arm while holding the other out. Edgar ran o’er to her & grasped her hand, helping her up.

“Thank you,” said she breathlessly.

Then she wrapped her arms still soggy like December snow round her skeleton in love & their lips met like floods o’ delicious music.

Then they turned & continued down the bridge toward the Cinnamines, golden leaves scattering ’hind their footsteps.