Bridge Burner Hyperion, p.1Jared Rinaldi
BRIDGE BURNER HYPERION
Copyright © 2015 by Jared Rinaldi. All rights reserved.
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Table of Contents
Chapter I: The Wasteland
Chapter II: The Digger
Chapter III: Dinner Party
Chapter IV: The Fade
Chapter V: Barkskin
Chapter VI: Yama Dempuur
Chapter VII: Where the Stories Sleep
Chapter VIII: The Gaping Maw
Chapter IX: Lady Magdala
Chapter X: Crack and Brack
Chapter XI: Beyond the Cusp of Nowhere
Chapter XII: Down the Foxhole
Chapter XIII: Pilot
Chapter XIV: The Descendants
Chapter XV: Sounds from Space
Chapter XVI: Hands of the Father
Chapter I: “The Wasteland”
A man in an open shirt waves to me through the heat. It’s just the two of us, me on a cracked two-lane, he and his white stomach shimmering like a fish belly away in the grass. “Nice bike,” He shouts when he’s closer. The rocks slide from under his steel-toes as he ascends out of the gully, up towards the road. “Where you headed with that thing, anyway?”
I size him up for a moment, watching how he sucks on his teeth and fidgets with the buttons on his open flannel shirt. Dad had a shirt like that, so worn you could see the green ink in his skin. “California, eventually, but right now I’m just trying to make it to Vagner.”
“California, huh? Goddamn, that’s far.” The man’s voice is sandpaper, but its cadence a swinging jive. He squints at the orange orb descending from the sky, his crow’s feet running deep. “A’int never been myself, though I always wanted to taste the ocean, maybe catch me some salty fish. Vagner’s a nice little place. You should be heading that way, though.”
“Really?” I look behind me, into the dust swirling about the road. “My map says its on this road.”
“Let me see that,” He says. I pull the travel-worn road atlas, ol’ Rand McNally, from the bungees strapping it to my pack, and open it to the page entitled ‘New Mexico.’ The man looks over it, scratching his chin through his big red beard. “Well, look here. You missed this here turnoff. Right here, look.” He points with a finger as fat as a cigar to a faint gray line that meanders from Route 60, which I had been following, to a dot that is sure enough labelled ‘Vagner.’ It’s maybe fifteen miles back the way I came.
I had never seen that swirly gray line on the map before, had never seen another road besides 60 all day. In the rare shade I would find, I’d stop and consult the atlas, making sure I was going the right way. I’d always be right on the same thin black line, straight save for two weak bends. Grady was at one end, Vagner, the other. It was thirty one miles between the two towns, which was around three to four hours of straight biking, five, if my legs weren’t having it. I’d never even a sign, save for that one for route 60. It had shook in the wind like an old man, the dozen or so bullet holes in its white face closed off by rusted scabs. That had been early in the day, an hour or so after the sun came up. Once the sun started its descent, I knew something was terribly wrong, that I had somehow messed something up. I double, then triple checked my map, but each time the same set of information revealed itself: thirty one miles, thirty one miles, thirty one miles. The road had grown, I thought. Somehow, the earth had stretched that one part of Route 60 out to be two times its original size.
A hurt click had showed up in one of my crankarms around lunchtime, a remnant of the mean ol’ Ozarks, mountains just west of the Mississippi. I decided to focus my attention on the click while I waited on Vagner to materialize. I fashioned a variety of breathing patterns around it. Two breaths a click, then triplets, dotted eighths. I figured in a low bass line. Each revolution of the bike sprocket was a tick in time, like that of an invisible metronome. Now instead of thinking the road had stretched, I was trying to prove to myself that I was instead moving, that time hadn’t let me slip. But what if it had? What if there was just endless yellow grass, barbed wire and burned out adobe farmhouses for the rest of my days? As evening descended, I started to look underneath the map, thinking that maybe, instead of west, I was heading somewhere under and down, maybe even between the pages. Somewhere beneath, deeper. Each click of the crankarm became another league descended, another layer peeled back.
“There’s no way I missed that road.” I say to Crick. “And Vagner was on Route 60, not on some side road. I wouldn’t miss something so obvious.”
“It’s an easy road to miss.”
“I guess it must be.” In Maryland, I had biked up the side of a mountain for over an hour, to get down the other side in just five minutes. Problem was, it turned out to be the same road I originally climbed. I had to bike up the entire hill again, cursing myself for the time I lost in making such a stupid mistake. At least then, there were people all around me, civilization.“It’s got to be at least five already. You have the time?”
“I don’t got a watch.”
“Well, whatever the time, I got to get a move on. It’s supposed to storm tonight, and I should’ve been somewhere with a roof hours ago. I’ll be needing to stay indoors tonight. It was real nice meeting you... um...”
“Crick,” He says, in a way that makes it seem he’s never said the word aloud before.
“Real nice meeting you. I’m Will, Will Koster. Maybe I’ll see you if you ever make it to California. Take care.” He waves to me as I begin to bike back in the direction I came, headed for the road I somehow missed.There’s no way I could’ve missed it. Just no way. I barely have time to scold myself with this train of thought when I hear a familiar hiss, and feel my weight sinking into the road. Crick comes up, his freckled hands on his hips and his head nodding.
“Looks like you got a flat,” He says, pointing at the deflated tire.
“Yes, it would look that way, wouldn’t it. How perfect. Why wouldn’t I get a flat just now?” I throw my helmet to the ground, the plastic clacking off the hard-packed earth. I start ruffling through my pack, looking for my patch kit.
“You never know what’s going to come your way out here,” Crick drops to his haunches next to my bike, which I’ve flipped upside down and balanced on its seat and handlebars. “This is God’s country, and sometimes the big guy upstair’s got a sick sense of humor.”
I laugh. “All you people out here really think this is some sacred place, huh? Or is that just a local saying? I heard some other guy call this ‘God’s country’ just this morning. Last guy I saw before I met you, actually, back in Grady.” Crick looks at me expectantly, wanting me to continue. While I’m jimmying my tire wrench into the rim, I begin to tell him about the man I met back in Grady earlier in the day.
I had camped the night before behind some overgrown shrubbery behind an abandoned office building adjacent to a quarry. I knew Grady was ten or so miles still ahead, and I would need to stop there to get water, maybe some grub. I made it through the few buildings that made up the town, and then spotted the gas station, hanging aloof from the rest. I had been filling my water bottle up from a dusty hose when he had stepped in front of the sun: “You best fill plenty up with water before headin’ out there. That’s longest road I been on, that 6
“That piece of shit won’t make it to Roswell, let alone California. You crazy or something, boy?” He eyed the ancient, twenty-six incher I had rode in on, which was now propped up against his shop. The tires were worn to the threads, and the frame’s paint was covered in so heavy a dust it faded into the shop’s siding. “I’ve heard of people who want to go die out in the desert, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Sometimes, it gets so hot, that a man’s organs can burst, right in his gut, like a mouse in a microwave. No sir, better ways to take a man’s own life than that,” He had smiled then, and his teeth were like old sponges. “Ah, I’m just horsin’ around. I hope I didn’t offend none,” I capped my water bottle and told him there was no offense taken, that his was just one more disbelieving voice in a series I’d been hearing since I left upstate New York.
“New York?” His eyes were about to burst from his head.
“Yup. And this is the home stretch,” I told him. “California, here I come.”
“Home stretch?” His face grew serious. “Hmph. Well, let me tell you something, boy, this here a’int no New York. This is God’s country,” Bart wiped the back of a fat, greased hand across his lips before pinching up a fresh piece of snuff. “And you best mind.”
Grady was a hiccup of a town just over the border from Texas. It had a deserted motel, a greasy spoon with hemorrhaging leather booths, Bart’s dusty diesel pumps, and not much else. The gas station attendant with the spongy teeth stood guard at the end of it all, his face beat to pudding as he looked out west, waiting for the sands to take him.
“Biking all goddam day without a goddam soul in sight, that’s what you’ll be doing,” Bart called after me as I restarted my way on Route 60, his voice crackling over the air like an old-timey AM radio. “You’ll tire, boy! I’ll be seeing you back with me soon enough.” He was the last person I saw, until Crick had popped up in the yellow grass.
“Interesting story,” Crick says. “Sounds like he knew what he was talking about.”
“I think the sun cooked his brains a bit, that’s all. And hey, I ran into you, didn’t I? That’s one soul I’ve happened upon, at least.”
“Yeah, but I’m lost, too. Two lost souls don’t account for much.”
“Hey man, so tell me something. What are you doing out here? I mean, you don’t have a car, right? And Vagner’s fifteen miles that way,” I hold his gaze for a moment, hoping he’ll jump in and answer. I don’t know how to continue my line of questioning without it being kind of rude. “Do you live out here?”
“I don’t know,” His face darkens, and he licks his lips. His gums are huge, it’s why he always sucks on his teeth. They cover an extra large portion of his front teeth. “I heard my boy was locked up somewhere around here. I’ve been looking for him for a long time, and that just led to me kind of wandering. Sorry, mister... Will, you said? Right, well, you’ll excuse me, but I was never very good with remembering things, and as I get older, my brain can’t seem to hold onto anything no more. I remember this morning, there was a ring of flowers I walked up on out there in the field. It was hot already, and there was a nice shady spot under a pile of rocks. I thought it looked like as good as any a place to take a nap, so I said, oh what the hell. Then I woke up, and saw I was next to a road. I saw you.”
I begin to wonder at the red in his cheeks, if its really from the sun or from a bender the night before. His body is sinewy tough, his beard the type that has collected innumerable particles of sawdust and fiberglass from working odd jobs through his manhood. His life shows itself to me in one simple, tragic flash. I knew men like that, friends of my Dad, the types of men my friends grew up to be. I feel all these memories flooding back, just by looking at this man. “Do you have water?” I ask, hoping to change the subject. He shakes his head. That means the two of us are running on empty. I can smell the salt on my skin, sliming my body in a lukewarm sweat. This tire is being tricky, won’t come off very easily. Then I feel a cool drop of water on my hand, followed by another and another.
“Oh no, would you look at that?” Crick says, his eyes to the north. While the sun still beats strongly on us as it descends through the afternoon haze, there’s a front of black clouds moving south towards us.
“At least we won’t be thirsty,” I say, letting the water fall on my lips and tongue. Crick moves to the center of the road and spreads his arms wide. The pavement drinks up the rain greedily as it falls in heavier quantities, darkening it in slow spreading patches.
“My, that’s nice,” He says. In response, there’s a low grumble.
“Great. Thunder,” I say. “And I’m pretty sure I feel hail, too.”
As the rain falls, so does the dust in the air, settling upon the ground. I can see far into the scrubland. Walls of rain traipse across the horizon, like a cloud of locusts weaving its way south. Between us and the encroaching storm clouds is a butte as brown as pond water. It seems to have just popped up from the ground, like a mushroom. The entire landscape seems to point to it, as if its an axis for the world. At its peak, under an eave of overhanging rock, is a faint light.
“You see that?” I say.
It could be a fire, the way it licks around the dark.
“That the sun peeking through?” Crick asks.
No, because the sun has gone away, the thunderheads having swallowed it whole. The gloom of early twilight watches from the east as the clouds come to take it too. What we’re seeing, this light up on the butte, is more like the moon. It’s a part of the evening, as incongruous in the day as a bat or raccoon. It flickers as low as the surrounding shadows, drawing them all inwards like the vortex at the center of a dark galaxy.
“That’s a fire. Somebody’s up there,” I say, flinching under the hail. I’m stuffing all my bike tools into my backpack. “Come on, this storm is going to be bad. We’ve got to get to that hill, find some shelter.”
“Fine by me,” Crick says, shouldering my pack. We both shuffle down the embankment and start jogging towards the light, my bike bouncing on its flat tire beside me, the jangling of its parts muffled under a loud clap of thunder. The storm is rolling in quickly, and with it comes a darkness, in mood as well as in the dimming of the day. Something is amiss, as if I’m drifting away from safety. What are we running towards? What’s waiting for us on the top of that butte, keeping it’s hands warm by the fire?
“Hey, watch for them holes,” Crick says, pointing to a deep one he just about clopped in. The rain smacks our cheeks as we rush forwards, chain-mail curtains of it. “They’re all over the damn place! Why are there so many goddamn holes?”
“I only wanted to see what they tasted like,” says a voice in a low, reedy monotone. It comes quickly to my ear and then fades just as fast, a Doppler whisper.
“What’d you say?”
“What?” Crick says. “I didn’t say nothing,” His beard is nearly brown from all the water it has sopped up, like a bristly sea sponge.
“Leave me the crispy little bones with all the juicy meats inside.”
There’s a hole which we’re coming up on, bigger than any we’ve seen thus far. The voice creeps up from it, and I can almost see it, embodied in a thick black shadow with long, velvet fingers. Crick’s and my legs keep moving, but my eyes are stuck on the shadow. I’m so distracted that I miss seeing the cusp of the other trench right in my path. Crick hollers in time for me to skid to a stop, but my tired legs get caught up in my old bike, and I tumble over and down, down and down...
...into the hole.
“Sweet little baby bones,” The voice says, as if its lips were a hair’s breath from my ear.
The sand and gravel catch my fall, scraping my knees and forearms for their trouble. The wet sand is cold on my palms and knees. The whispers reverberate off th
“You alright?” Crick hollers down from the cusp. I can’t catch my breath to answer him. The black shapes run their inky tendrils along the hole’s muddy rim, moving like shadow puppets with ataxic, disjointed limbs. No matter the angle, the faint light never catches any other feature. They remain a set of dark aberrations throbbing against the sky, as if trying to break free of their two dimensions. They’re down here with me, too. As my eyes adjust, I see them, swirling about me like a whirlpool.
I make a dash for the sloping edge of the hole, and leap up, clawing at the sand as I try to climb my way out. With each handhold, the rim seems to grow further away, the upper world becoming more and more out of reach. I see Crick, whose white stomach seems to glow. He’s so distant now, might as well be hanging in the sky, the lone star which the storm clouds have allowed to shine through. The dark shadows flit about him, never quite touching his body, a swarm of gnats billowing around a white flame.
“Such a sweet little body,”
“A shallow feast of pauper meat,”
Lightning cracks, like a camera bulb set on automatic, the trigger held tight by the sky’s trembling finger. The light bounces around the hole, a flickering strobe, and I can see the shadows clearly now, as they stop their spinning around me and creep closer. They look human enough, and I see that yes, that shape is a waif-like body, and that those are legs, good god, spindly legs, like a those of an insect. But still, they keep only two dimensions, with no color, no discernible features.
“Crick! Help me! Please!” The muddy walls crumble in my hands, and I fall back into the hole, landing in a heap on top of my bike. My ankle gets caught in the chain, and still, the shadows creep closer.
“Tear it up, tear it up, tear it up,”
There’s a suction from underneath the ground, a cold inhalation of stale breath, as if the earth has opened its jaws, wider and wider, until the flesh around its mouth has started to split, letting out what has been buried deep underneath for time immemorial, something older than the daylight, older than the earth. The rain falls in vertiginous sheets until the hole fills with reddish brown mud, the earth choking on its own ruptured body.
“Delicious fresh wounds,”
Lightning flashes, and the hole lights up again, detritus shaking down from its walls. The shadows have gathered around me. There are dozens upon dozens of them, their bodies flickering like the flames of a campfire. They’re reaching for me, and as their hands come closer, I feel the warmth of my body start to leave. A coldness seizes my body, and the faces I’m staring into are so devoid of reason or of sense that I feel my mind starting to slip. The mud is sinking and I’m going with it. Yet, even under such a heavy cover of darkness, there’s still a light which shines through it all, a pinprick of a star which becomes the sole thing to focus on outside of the madness.
“No, No, you stay away,”
“He belongs to us now, he was promised,”
The more I focus on the star, the more aware I am of just what I was giving up to the hole and the shadows. I see in the star a beauty beyond words, become aware of its nature, of its existence. It shakes me awake.
“No, your bones are ours,”
“Sweet, delicious meat,”
The shadows begin to slide off me, and the earth stops sinking.
“Come on, Will, help me lift you,” It’s Crick. His hands are under my arms, and he’s dragging me out. I start moving my legs, first using Crick as leverage to gain my balance, and then shuffling with him, until we’re both up and out of the hole. Crick’s lays down, hands on his temples and eyes closed, breathing heavily.
“What... the hell... was that...” I get up, and my body moves with a lightness that I hadn’t expected. I almost trip forwards and back over the edge when I go to look for my bike. What I had thought to be a hole no larger than a children’s pool and just as deep has become a gaping maw, an abyss of unknowable depth, and my bike is nowhere to be seen.
“Get away from there, Will!” Crick grabs my wrist. His shirt is a testament to his struggle out of the hole: clods of sandy mud and silt still hang from the flannel.
“But, my bike, my backpack...”
“Come on, we’ll have to come back for ‘em,” Still breathing hard, he starts to pull me away. We’re running. The butte looms ahead, a giant’s silhouette on a gun-metal gray screen. The ground is throbbing, ebbing as our manic steps trounce it, surging back when they leave again. Though I make sure to stay on solid ground, each footfall ends up being precariously close to the edge of another hole that has just happened to have opened up. The periphery world around the butte swirls like a kaleidoscope, small holes blossoming into nebulous voids, flat shadows swelling and consuming. Whatever is happening at the outer limits of my vision, at the fringes of my irises, is reshaping the fuller world. As I look back to old Route 60 and the way we came, I see a moth eaten lattice work of black holes and sand. The low lying storm clouds weave in and around it, turning the once solid form of the world into a memory, a broken promise. And the shadows march after us, in shadows of their own.
“What’s happening?” I say.
“Will, look! Stairs!”
Turning around is almost a headlong tumble. “Stairs?” And then I see them, straight ahead, their crumbling plank steps as brown as the butte they’re clinging to. Crick almost slips into a hole, which had dilated as he stepped, but I grab him by his thick elbow.
“You okay?” I ask. He nods.
“Just run for the stairs, man,” He says. We both jump over what I assume is another trench, but is merely a wet line in the sand, glistening brown and red and encircling the butte. I step right through it, smudging the unbroken line.
“I think things are moving around when I’m not looking,” Crick says. “Holes keep opening up in the ground and the hill gets further away, but only when I’m not looking. It all stays put if I keep my gaze on it.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I say.
“Nope, sure don’t. But it’s happening, sure as sugar. Just look at the hill. See, it wants to go. It’s trying to get away from us, but as long as we look at it, it stays.” The giant mound of earth before us does seem to shake, as if stuck in place by tectonic magnets beneath the surface. The fog that had come in with the storm and encircled the butte has blown apart and retreated. The hill with the stairs in its side is trembling like linen on a clothesline, but our gaze is keeping it rooted. “We’re almost there.” Crick says.
It’s as if we entered a bubble, though there are no light-bending arches overhead or around us, no tangible separation from the outside world save for the line in the sand we crossed. The holes have stopped sneaking up under our steps, and the dark shapes have stopped their pursuit. My breathing is labored, as if cotton has been stuffed down my throat, and my eyes are about to pop, but the stairs are so close. Our pace only quickens. The rain has stopped, settled, leaving a trace drone in the air, a vacuum, suffocating our sprinting steps like a wool blanket.
“Go first,” Crick says, nodding to the stairs, his face within kissing distance of the butte’s base. I move to the first step, a splintered board on the verge of crumbling to dust. “Come on, Will, let’s go!” The strain in Crick’s voice is tighter than when we were running. Everything seems on the verge of slipping, of escaping through the blurry cracks at the edge of my vision. Crick seems to be the only thing grounding it all, his body glowing like a pale sun.
“Go!” I turn and start up, taking the softest steps my worn sneakers will allow. There’s no railing to hold on to, only the rock face which I follow with my left hand. I can hear the dust and what I’m hoping are vestigial pieces of wood falling from the beams under the stairs. The whole structure creaks of neglect, each step emitting a more pained groan than the last. Still, I climb, higher and higher. The clouds have parted directly above the butte, revealing a sky the color of a jaundiced bruise, which the dark clouds roil
The next step I take cracks under my feet. I move quick enough to make it to the next before it completely crumbles. I watch it fall, my breath catching in my throat when I see how high we’ve come. The ground is spinning, a slow whirlpool of yellow grass and dirt. I hug the side of the cliff, the blood rushing from my head, vertiginous flowers blooming under my closed eyelids.
A hand touches my ankle. “You mind helping me up?” He’s reaching to me across the chasm where the stair had been, where there is now only a few spears of broken wood pointing accusatory fingers at the storm. “Snap out of it, man. We’re almost to the top.”
“I... I can’t see straight, Crick.”
“Yes, you can,” His arm is stretched as far as it will go. I can see muddy tiger stripes on his forearm, the marks where I had grabbed hold when he pulled me up and out of the trench. I reach down, and Crick takes my hand. He leaps across the empty space above the broken, pointed wood. Just then, the dark cloud, which had been hanging back, going no further than that line we crossed in the sand, swells. Thunder booms, right before the cloud comes violently crashing in. I feel like I’m a small child on a lonely stretch of beach, watching as the shoreline totally recedes and feeds a wave whose snowcapped, frothy peak brushes heaven as it rushes in towards me.
Crick pushes past, yelling to me as he darts up the remaining stairs. I snap out of my daze, and start after him. We’re taking the steps as fast as we can, two at a time when possible. The whispering shadows are back, having ridden in on the oncoming storm cloud, flitting about like licks of slow lightning. Their voices have become incomprehensible save for an obviously violent intent, moth teeth gnawing on static.
“I see the top. Come on,” And Crick and I make it over the last stair and the cusp of the butte, diving onto the ground as the shadows crash into the side and explode like an angry wave into a jetty. We watch as the darkness vault straight up above us, the shadows and storm consuming the only clear patch of sky in the mesa.
“Is that it? Are we safe?” I ask.
“Dunno, Will. But what I do know, is that I can’t run no more,” At first I think that Crick is merely talking about his endurance, and how he has used it all up running across the plains and up the stairs. But then he moves a shaky hand away from his right shin, revealing a dark patch on his jeans.
“Is that... blood?”
“There’s broken glass all over the ground,” He says, nodding towards the final stair we dove over. I see what he means. There are large pieces of broken glass bottles laid out on the ground, jagged pieces of blue, red and green. “Someone set a trap,” He says, wadding up his filthy shirt and pressing it to his shin.
“I... I think it looks worse than it really is.” I say, really having no idea. “You’ll be alright.”
He grimaces, like he’s not so sure. “It stings like hell,” He says. “Where’s that fire at? Maybe they got something to drink to help with the pain.”
The butte top has settled into a purplish dusk; there’s no fire to be seen. Several large rocks dot the area, which can be no larger than half a football field. The landing we’re on slopes up to a ridge, the top of which completely conceals the other side of the butte.
“It looks like there’s a path up through those boulders, if you look close enough.” Then I see it: an orange light which peeks out from the lip of the path and flickers on the backs of the boulders.
“Come on,” Crick says, trying to get up.
“Wait, are you sure about this? Whoever’s tending that fire, probably also put the glass there. He might not like visitors.”
“You got another plan?” Crick asks. His question is genuine, without a trace of sarcasm. He’s also strangely calm, considering the roiling mass of black chaos which spins around us and how much blood there is coming from his wounds. I feel sick for him.
“No. Not really.”
“Well, alright.” Crick gets up and dusts himself off. He’s wrapped his flannel shirt around his shin, revealing a set of tightly corded muscles beneath his pale skin. “We’ll be as careful as we can.”
Chapter II: “The Digger”
Bridge Burner Hyperion by Jared Rinaldi / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on37 votes