SHINY IDEAS Sample Fiction

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THE BRIDGE

Prologue


The mountain road was steep and treacherous, the cliffs on the right looming as vague, jagged shapes above in the fog and rain, while water streamed in rivers across the road and plunged over its edge into the misty depths on the left. If the rain weren't pounding so hard, the sound of the roaring river in the chasm far below would have been deafening. But the downpour beat like thunder on the roof of the carriage, the vehicle lurching like a wild creature, throwing its inhabitants back and forth inside as though they weighed less than nothing.

One of them was a woman, far gone in pregnancy, and her husband cradled her against him as securely as he could manage. Their two sons had to fend for themselves as best they could, and were having a difficult time of it. The elder, a young man of about twenty, kept grabbing at the handle of the door to gain some stability, and continually lost his hold every time the carriage lurched. His brother, a boy in his late teens, had given up trying to hang onto anything, finally huddling on the floor of the carriage.

"Father!" shouted the older brother over the din. "We can't go on like this! What can we do?"

"Nothing," the man answered, making an effort to speak calmly even as he had to raise his voice to be heard. "If we stop, we will probably be swept off the road. We have no choice but to go on."

"How much longer will it be like this?"

"I don't know. I can't tell how far we've gone." The man clutched more tightly at his wife as the vehicle lurched again, one arm around her shoulders while the other braced against the carriage wall.

"I pity the poor footmen outside. It's a shame they can't come in here, or ride in the other carriage. It must be hell to be out there in this."

"They have to be," said his father. "Far better that, than to be in here and unable to control what happens."

His wife looked up and suggested, "If you want to go out and help them, I think I can manage alone -- "

"Nonsense." The man gave his head a firm shake. "You need me here, and one extra set of hands isn't likely to make much difference."

"You know I don't mean an 'extra set of hands,'" she said. "There may be other things you can do -- "

"Not those things," he said. "The kind of thing you mean cannot be done without preparation."

"But don't you need to try?" his wife insisted. "Do you truly believe this is a natural storm?"

The man's sober eyes regarded her a moment, before he finally looked away without replying.

The younger brother, who had been silent for some time on the floor, now stirred as the carriage seemed to settle momentarily. He crawled onto his seat and gingerly untied the flap at the back of the carriage, peering through the opening. Located as it was, beneath an overhang where most of the family's luggage was stowed, it escaped much of the downpour. But the vicious wind almost tore the leather flap from his hands.

"What do you think you're doing?" his father demanded at once. "You're going to let a hurricane in here!"

"I was just trying to see how the others are faring -- " the boy began, but he gasped as a sudden gust of wind choked off his words. The flap flew out of his hands, fluttering madly against the overhang above the opening, and he clawed at it.

Then he forgot it entirely, as the world jerked beneath him. He watched in horror as the carriage travelling behind them slid sideways on the mud-slick road, the horses losing their footing in a sudden gushing torrent of water from the cliffs above. The road became a quagmire, and the mud flow dragged the carriage inexorably toward the chasm's edge. He saw the door fly open, and watched someone trying to come through the exit, but the carriage tilted so steeply that the person was thrown back inside.

Even through the thundering roar he could hear the screams, and he turned in panic from the opening, screaming himself, "Get out! Get out! We're going over!"

It wasn't too late -- not yet. He scrambled over his brother for the door, flinging it open and leaping out. Already the road under his family's carriage was turning to mud and beginning to disintegrate. He rushed forward, toward the footmen and the horses, but his feet slid out from under him in the slick muck. He shrieked as he fell to his knees and hurled himself aside to avoid the beating hooves of the horses. He saw the carriage sliding, its door still open, and there was his brother backing out of the opening, reaching inside, then arms windmilling as he lost his balance and fell backward, out of the vehicle.

The lead horse came down, landing on the younger brother's legs, and he screamed at the sudden agony. Helplessly he watched, still trying to pull himself forward with his arms in the mud, as the entire edge of the road turned into dark, dirty soup and collapsed into the chasm. He screamed again as the carriage teetered for a final horrible moment on the edge, and then --


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