A big thank you to Ken Broad’s Picture This and Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press for their fantastic pictures and prompts which inspired this piece and although I did a story for Sonia G Medeiros’s August challenge already, oddly this one fit too.
The Bridges of Fantasy County
I never felt at home in the place where fate decided I was to be born. The people there were few and far between and mainly kept to themselves. Outsiders never ventured in and fear kept the residents in their place. Legend told of one person who had deliberately entered the town but ultimately they had decided to leave it to return to their own home. The only way out was across one of the four bridges located on the North, South, West or East of the town. Rumour had it crossing the bridges was the easy part, it was dealing with what protected the bridges that was the challenge.
When my mother took her final breath, I mourned her passing as a dutiful child should and gave her a proper send off. Then I wasted no time as I packed my rucksack with the items I had borrowed from my deceased neighbours and made my escape plan. As far as I could tell, Mother was the last person to pass from the odd virus that afflicted everyone in the town, everyone except me of course. I decided to set out and seek my father in the real world. He was the person from the legend. I was told once by a seer that read my palm that he was still alive, was working as a merchant and had gone on to have another family.
I immediately ruled out the bridge to the south. That was nothing more than a narrow footpath made out of planked wood that led across the swamp. I had visited it only once in my life and the horse like tail of the bunyip could be seen laying across the algae ridden bridge. I backed away and hid from sight just in time. The beast looked like an overgrown hound with flippers as he emerged from the water, sensing my presence he let out his ear piercing cry and turned in my direction to reveal through his snarl that his teeth were as long as my arms. I ran as fast as I could, not wanting to be his next meal.
The bridge to the east was made of chain and was hung hundreds of feet above the watery death below. The cliffs nearby were the roosting place for dragons. I knew better than to even visit that area. As dragons were not an opponent I wanted to try to take on.
I decided instead to try the railway bridge located to the west thinking it was my best chance. It had been told the beasts that guarded that bridge only came out at night. As I stood on the edge of it, the sun beating down on my head from above, I could hear a howl that made me tremble. I slowly made my way to the middle and could see a man waving to me near a row of trees at the other end. I was relieved to see the sight of another human and raced in his direction. Then just as I reached the end of the bridge and stepped one foot off of it, his figure changed from human to wolf, almost in the blink of an eye. I started to back away from him confused by what I saw. My legs betrayed me and I fell. The creature lunged at me and grabbed at my boot twisting it in his powerful jaw. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the gun I had taken from the sheriff’s body and aimed it at my attacker. It did not kill but instantly stunned the beast. The blast clearly woke the others of his kind and the eerie sound of their calls told me they were not far away. I was free from the creature’s clutches but there would be more approaching soon. I stood and limped back in the direction I had come from. When I glanced back there was a pack waiting for my return. I decided against revisiting them.
My last and final chance of escape was to the north, I had prepared for this turn of events and I headed in that direction. The evening was already drawing near by the time I had reached it. I pulled on my cape as there was a chill in the air. The beauty all around could easily lull someone into a false sense of safety. As the arched bridge suddenly appeared before me, I waited at the foot of it for the keeper to greet me. I knew he wouldn’t be long. I was right, the hideous creature ambled slowly across the stone bridge and stood before me. The smell of rotten fish flesh was all around him. He drooled as he looked down upon me, there were scales in his beard. As my heart pounded, I told myself to keep my wits and remain calm.
“Whadda ya want?”
“I want to cross the bridge.” My voice nearly faltered.
“It’ll cost ya.”
“I am prepared to pay.” I tried to sound more confident.
“If ya can’t yull be my dinner, I aven’t had a decent meal ina centry.”
“I know the risks.”
“I want the night sky.”
I tried not to smile as I was pleased that the troll’s request was the one I had expected. The legend of the troll had told that he would turn to sand if he ever came out in very bright light. That was why the magic of the bridge made it only appear late in the day and disappear at dawn.
The witch of the woods had been one of the last victims of the virus. I waited for her body to decompose before I rifled through her home. There she had a collection of jars holding and odd assortment of items. One jar particularly interested me. I now pulled that jar out of my rucksack at held it up for the troll to see.
His face contorted into what I believe was meant to be a smile, “whadda ya think that is?”
“It is a jar of the night sky.” I said confidently.
“Do ya think me a fool?”
“No, I find you most clever, which is why I knew you would be very pleased with this jar.”
The troll eyed me up and down, his blood red eyes studied the dark swirling contents within the jar and then he said, “open it.”
“Are you sure you want me to open it?” I teased.
“Just open it.” He demanded.
I tilted the jar so the lid was facing his direction, and then slowly began to unscrew it, all the time hoping the witch had labelled it correctly. As I swiftly pulled the lid to the side, I closed my eyes as the bright bolt jumped from the jar and struck the troll in the chest. When the crack of thunder ended, I opened my eyes to see a pile of dust where the troll had been stood. I dropped the jar that had once been labelled night lightning and strolled across the bridge towards my freedom.
A long wall ran along the water on the other side of the bridge. In contrast to where I had just come from it appeared the sun was rising instead of setting. A tiny rustic door was set in the wall. My body grew weary I was tired from my adventures. My ankle still paining me and reminding me of the dangers the world held. Cautiously I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The long corridor in front of me filtered in glorious rainbow coloured light. As I walked along it, various emotions and memories of my life washed over me, some caused me pain and sorry but ultimately they left me feeling very much alive and hopeful. There were doors along my right, promising to be portals to spectacular worlds but something told me to keep going until I reached the end.
As I grasped the handle on the final door I drew in a deep long breath. I turned the handle and walked out into the bright sun. I was in a colourful and bustling bazaar, people smiled as they brushed by me, the smell of spices and exotic foods filled my nose and the enchanting music from a nearby band soothed my soul. I wandered from stall to stall drinking in everything around me, it all delighted my senses.
I was particularly drawn to a large stall filled with numerous treasures. A small monkey hopped from items of furniture, to piles of dishes and finally onto the shoulder of a girl not much younger than myself who looked oddly familiar. She tickled the monkey under its chin and stared at me as I studied her back.
“Father, there is someone here for you.” She said slowly, not taking her eyes from me.
Her father stood up from behind a pile of woven mats and walked towards me. It was then that I came face to face to someone who looked like an older version of myself. I had found my father and my sister, I had found my true home at last.