Bridge to Forever
By A.M. Stickel, BP Editor
Changed in the twinkling of an
eye, what we shall be has not yet come to light.
pretty face…” are the last words I remember before impact.
Of his side of the
bridge I would only ever hear what he said in that last moment, and from my
side hold but the memory of the middle of a thought. After beginning the
necessary steps toward all the moments we’d saved ourselves for so chastely,
they were forever denied us.
Before the burning
and wailing that rose and fell there had been a lifetime of possibilities
promised by flower-scented, white lace. I screamed as bouquets became incense
and maidens and youths went up in smoke. Cherished friends offered on the same
sacrificial altar, their names, let alone faces, have been cauterized by shock.
I awoke in the
shallows near the sandy bank of a stream. No footprints led from the empty road,
so I must have rolled free of the wreckage and drifted without drowning. On the
road to the future I had been too distracted by the others to notice the
passing scenery. Now I was part of it. And, untouched by fire, save for my
ruined finery, I was alone for the first time in my life.
Standing up, I
dripped and shivered. How cold and swift the waters were! The forest met the
edge of the stream, and rising mist obscured the road. Birds sang to one
another in the woods. I sensed this was a place apart, untouched by outsiders,
yet open to respectful exploration.
My community was
isolated “to prevent contamination.” We lived in a highly structured,
close-knit society. There were elders we youngsters never saw. Children instructed
each other, wove their own garments, and raised their own food (and babies left
with them). When old enough to mate, children went to what we called “the
bridge”; in our minds we heard the calls and saw the faces of our mates-to-be,
and they saw and heard ours.
Too hungry and
thirsty to be sad and frightened, I bent over and scooped up water, then plucked
ripe berries from the bushes at the water’s edge, cramming them into my mouth. All
of it tasted much better than what I was used to from the vats. So much for contamination!
A narrow path led
from the sandy bank into the woods. I entered the leaf-and-needle-strewn shade
that cushioned my every step. Shadows flitted overhead, but the birds had
stopped their chatter. I could hear my heart.
fresh and new. Drowsy from my feast, I sighed and plopped down on a rock next
to a tree, let my head rest against the soft, fragrant bark, and listened to
the creaking of limbs stretching up toward the light. Was that the low rumble of rising
sap? I closed my eyes to hear it
A breeze with a
salty tang woke me. I felt a few drops, and noticed that the road mist had
spread to settle on the trees and dull the light. I rose and followed the
enticing scent. Sometimes fallen logs or piles of boulders delayed me. Paths
diverged from mine into musty, darker depths, but I kept to mine, which offered
more and more open spaces full of grass and ferns and colorful flowers. I
plucked and ate a few flowers. Sweet!
We used to scare
each other with stories of the water no bridge could cross: the sea. This water
held those we used to eat, but that
could eat us—the fish. We all imagined they looked enough like us to fool us, with
anyone led by curiosity to follow one into water forced to fight them, the
loser becoming the winner’s meal.
I wasn’t thinking
about all that until I rounded a huge gray rock and almost plunged over the
edge of the forest into the sea. To one side of me blue water tumbled over a
series of rocky shelves to join the green foam splashing against sharp rocks at
the very bottom. Shiny silver beings leapt from the sea, heaving their large armless,
legless bodies from one rocky ledge pool to the next. The lucky few able to
reach the top disappeared into the blue rush spilling from the forest. They
were too busy to notice me. Good! I
wouldn’t have to fight and risk being eaten.
I decided to climb
the tree next to the path, since it had several drooping branches. I wanted to
look out across the water to see what might be on the other side. Like many of
my friends, I loved to climb just for the joy of stretching my eight limbs. Once
I reached the top of the tree, I felt the sturdy, translucent wings of an elder
unfold from my back as the last of my wedding silk fell away. Who knew what
exciting discoveries lay ahead now that I was no longer isolated from them? It
was as if I had found a bridge to forever.