The if bridge, p.1
The If Bridge
Copyright © Sal J. Armato 2009
Book cover and interior beautifully
designed by Tina Ann Armato
Nit-picking and proofreading
kindly provided by Jessica Armato
This book is dedicated to Tina,
my love, for supporting me
when I found I needed to
do more with my life.
Any similarities between
the characters in this book
and persons, living or dead,
is really kind of spooky.
No animals were harmed
in the writing of this book.
You must race
the rising sun
for the deed
to be undone.
For if you dare
the die is cast
as is your fate.
Maggie Golden spent this rainy summer day looking out her bedroom window. The window faced the road that led into town, and cars and trucks zoomed by day and night. Beyond this road lay a shimmering lake with more than a few geese bobbing lazily about. Sometimes all you could see of these birds were their tails pointing skyward as they fished for their supper. And beyond this idyllic lake stood Halfway Mountain, named so because people said standing on its peak you were halfway to heaven. All in all, not too shabby a view.
Maggie wondered, watching the traffic, where all these people were going? Where all these people were coming from? Who were all these people anyway? Then, in the hopes of adding a little excitement, she started to make up little adventures about them… like what if that driver in the red sports car was a beautiful lady spy, and the driver of the dark blue sedan following her was a handsome FBI agent hot on her trail. He would catch her, their eyes would meet, they would fall in love and… Hold it. Back up. Lame story. Who cares, she thought, I have got to find something better to do.
Basically, Maggie was bored. Really, really bored. Her best friend Molly Morgan had broken her foot and was out of commission for a while. It had been a stupid accident that Maggie had played a part in. Played a leading role in, some might say. But no one could get a straight story from the girls as to what actually happened. All anyone could piece together was that it involved a Karate round-house kick, Molly's dog Bernie (who is a yellow lab), and a brick. And, well, of course, a broken foot. Anyway, the Morgans weren’t too happy with Maggie at the moment, so she kept her distance. This was day five and counting that Maggie had not seen or talked to her best friend. There was nothing to do.
She propped her head up between her hands, which squashed her face and gave her fish lips. She admired herself in the window's reflection. Then she went back to watching traffic. Since it was a nasty, rainy day, the drivers had their headlights on. Maggie found she could cross her eyes and the lights would all blur into one continuous stream.
Then something caught her attention. It moved slowly, slowly across the road. It stopped, then it moved again. It looked like a rock. A rock? No, rocks don’t move. It was a turtle. And apparently a turtle with a death wish, because this one was moving straight into the flow of a long line of turtle mashing machines barreling down the road. Maggie held her breath. Maggie closed her eyes. Maggie opened one eye. Maggie opened both eyes. “Damn,” she said, as she ran from her room, flew down a flight of stairs, and ran out the front door as her mother called after her to “Put your jacket on if you’re going out, and why are you going out on such a miserable day anyway?”
Then suddenly the world went into slo-mo. The rain almost pausing. The traffic almost stopping. Her heart barely beating. And the turtle standing road-kill still. But it wasn’t road-kill. Not yet anyway. Not if she got to it in time. So she ran. Ran as fast as she could, and while running she bent low and scooped the turtle up in both her hands and continued running past both lanes of traffic. She stopped, breathing heavily, just before the lake, looked down at the turtle and smiled. Smiled, at least, until it bit her. Then she yelped and dropped it on the grass where it hid in its shell for a moment, finally popped its head and feet out, stared right at her, and started moving slowly towards the bushes. “You’re welcome,” she said as she rubbed her sore finger. And that is when she first met him.
He was about her age, 12 or so. Thin with dark hair that defied gravity, and he wore glasses—unusually large plastic frame glasses—which magnified his eyes. He wore a T-shirt and shorts, had bandages on both knees, and his sneakers were untied with the laces flopping into a puddle. And, uh, well, he had an umbrella hat on his head. One of those geeky things you can find at a “dollar” store. They were so cheap because no one would be caught dead wearing one. Well, this guy was caught live. Maggie couldn’t keep her eyes off it.
“How’s the finger?” said umbrella head. “These turtles can get mean when they’re scared. This one I call Lord B-B-Byron.” He looked down as he spoke.
“Lord Byron? That’s your turtle?” Maggie said, somewhat dismayed. “So exactly why are you letting him play in traffic? Trying to thin out the turtle population?”
“No, he just got away. I was l-l-looking for worms,” he stammered, still looking down. “Byron and Shakespeare love worms, s-s-so I always look for some when it’s raining. They come to the surface when it rains and I can… ”
He stopped talking as he heard the soft crunch of footsteps on gravel. And as he looked up he saw Maggie walking away.
“Hey, that’s really pretty rude, you know. Just w-w-walking away while someone is talking to you. At the very least you could say goodbye or s-s-something.”
“Yeah, well, goodbye or something then, tent head,” said Maggie, as she ran back across the street, up the steps, and into her house. She stood there dripping for a moment, until she felt her mother’s burning stare. Then she braced herself for the barrage of words to come. But she was wrong. All her mother said was “Go and dry yourself before you catch cold. And mop up that hallway before somebody slips and breaks their neck. And next time would you please take your jacket and a hat.”
Then her mother walked away, muttering to herself and shaking her head. Maggie thought she heard her mother say, “I wonder if I could trade her in for a nice quiet lap cat?”
Later, back up in her room, with a towel wrapped around her head, Maggie looked out of her window again. She was just in time to see that strange boy walking away… with his turtle tucked under his arm. It was raining harder now, and he had taken off his looney hat and was using it to shield Byron from the rain. He was walking against the wind, balancing his turtle, his jar of worms and his umbrella hat. Maggie couldn’t help but smile.
Light can play tricks on the eyes, but so can the dark. Shadows loom larger than real life, so innocent branches can appear as monstrous arms reaching out to take hold of you. Even closing your eyes may not help, as swirling patterns and shifting shapes still appear on the movie screen behind your eyelids. And they can take on ominous forms. Try it. Weird, huh?
This is how Maggie spent the late evening hours as she stared out her window. Trying hard to spook herself. It was the latest in her I need to find something to do games. But this one had taken on a life of its own. Several times she gasped aloud as an imagined hand clawed at the air beside her, sending a chill down her spine. Close call. They may be fast, but I’m faster, she thought. Try as she might, however, she was still anxious. It was: shadows 3, Maggie 0.
But there was something moving out
Then, strangely, Maggie sort of split in two and started having a conversation with herself.
“What time is it?”
“Who is that?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“No, I’m not. It’s him.”
Yes, it was him. (We don’t know his name yet, but be patient, I’ll get to it). It was the strange boy Maggie had met earlier in the day. He had a flashlight and appeared to be searching the ground for something. Mercifully, he wasn’t wearing his hat. But then again it had stopped raining. Suddenly, he disappeared into the brush towards the lake. Maggie waited for him to reappear.
And Maggie waited. And waited. And waited. She was getting edgy. It was now 10:53.
“Where the heck did he go,” she whispered to herself. “It’s awfully creepy late at night by the lake.” Actually, she had never been to the lake late at night. Seemed pointless. Her window had a better view.
Now, you have to understand something about Maggie. If she saw something wrong, she had to make it right. Saw something broken, she had to fix it. Saw a boy vanish… well, she had to find him.
So she snuck down the stairs, stepped carefully to the right of the squeaky boards, and after grabbing her jacket, went out the front door, closing it carefully behind her, but making sure it was unlocked so she could sneak back in later. And as she stepped outside, one lone car came cruising by, then quickly faded into the distance. Not much traffic this time of the night.
But the car had temporarily lit the road, and now it had been plunged back into darkness. Wow, I can’t see a thing, thought Maggie. I should go back and get a flashlight. But then she heard someone crying out. “Ugh, uh, no, get away from me, ahhh.”
Maggie froze. What was she getting herself into anyway? She didn’t even really know this kid. She had just met him once. She didn’t even know his name. No, wait, someone needed help and she was the only one here. She just had to help. It was the right thing to do. Sometimes it stinks having a conscience.
And sometimes it stinks when you come face to face with a skunk.
There they were. The skunk to her left, and a sobbing and somewhat smelly boy sitting on the ground to her right. Well, looks like it’s Maggie in the middle, Maggie thought to herself, as she stood between these two stinkers. She had been walking without looking down and her foot bumped something hard. It was the kid’s flashlight. She picked it up and aimed it at the skunk. For a moment it stood like a statue, almost appeared to grin, then perhaps not liking all the attention it was getting, waddled off into the night.
“Are you OK?” said Maggie to the boy.
“I think so, but I s-s-stink,” he said.
“I noticed. Let’s see what we can do.”
“He only sprayed m-m-my sneakers.”
“Well, thank goodness. Take them off… your socks too, and I’ll find you a pair of shoes to wear.”
“Thanks, uh… ”
“Maggie, my name is Maggie.”
“Hi Maggie. M-m-mine is Tim.”
Tim explained he’d lost his watch earlier and was afraid his Dad would be mad. So he came back to look for it. Then they went over to Maggie’s Mom’s shed, where she found an old and rather large pair of galoshes. When he put them on, Maggie thought, Boy, head to toe this kid is some kind of weird.
He sputtered out a thank you and left for home. Maggie stood by her door for a while, watching him fade into the darkness. And after she could no longer see him, she could still hear the whoosh, whoosh, swooshing of his shoes.
Once again, Maggie couldn’t help but smile.
The morning sun felt good on her face. Maggie stretched and yawned and then stretched some more. She had slept well in spite of lying awake for a while rethinking the day. It had been a rather exciting day (and night) after all. She decided that today there would be no looking out of her window. Today, same as yesterday, she would participate. No longer would she merely sit and observe.
She threw on a shirt and jeans and slipped into her sneakers. Then she washed her face, brushed her teeth, and finally came bounding down the stairs. Her Mom, Judy, was in the kitchen sipping tea and working at her laptop. She had the kind of job that you didn’t need to comb your hair for, and you could spend the whole day in your PJs. Who would know? Well, she would know. So she combed her hair every day and put on her working clothes. OK, just a T-shirt and jeans, but it still made her feel good about herself. It showed that she respected herself. These are little but important things.
Another important thing was being a good Mom. Judy was raising Maggie by herself, and working to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. She was a good Mom, and her Maggie was turning out just fine, thank you. Not that it’s all that easy raising an I’m almost a teenager.
“I found a pair of old galoshes by the front door this morning. They smelled really bad. Like a skunk. Do you know anything about it?”
“Why would I… ”
“I thought I heard the front door last night.”
“Mom, I don’t… ”
So through tears, Maggie explained everything that had happened the previous day. Even the part about leaving the house at 11 pm to go help Tim. Judy frowned at that, but she did not interrupt and let Maggie continue.
Now, some people equate wisdom with age. And some people feel that morality needs to be tempered by circumstance. But Judy knew that, at 12, Maggie had approached the problem the best she knew how. Someone needed help and her daughter had risen to the occasion. Should someone be punished for such a selfless act? No. But didn’t Maggie need to understand her actions could have been dangerous, and that she should have awakened her mother and not have gone it alone? Yes. And so Maggie and her Mom talked to each other, and remarkably, both listened.
Later that morning Maggie rode her bike along the lake. She passed Tim, who was peering into the bushes with a pair of binoculars. She braked hard and came skidding to a stop. “My Mom found the galoshes,” said Maggie.
“I thought you might n-n-need them,” said Tim.
“Does it look like those things would fit me?” Maggie asked, raising her foot up and pointing to her sneaker.
“Well, your feet are kinda b-b-big,” said Tim.
“Way to go to charm a girl, Romeo,” bristled Maggie. “Look, forget the shoes. What are you doing? Searching for pygmy worms?”
“I never d-d-did find my watch and my Dad was furious when I told him I lost it. He told me I’d better glue my head on so I wouldn’t lose that too.”
“Wow, that was harsh.”
“Yeah, well, he ch-ch-changed a lot when my Mom died. He doesn’t smile much any more.”
“It’s OK. He’s really not a bad guy. He’s just sad.”
“So how about I help you look?” asked Maggie.
They looked and looked and looked. They retraced Tim’s path all along the lake. No watch. They checked where he had been digging for worms. No watch. The morning turned into afternoon and… still no watch.
They were getting hungry, so Maggie went home to get a couple of sandwiches and some lemonade. She made peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Tim had never had one and was a little suspicious, but he loved it! He asked for the recipe.
“Tim, it’s a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Can you guess what’s in it?”
Then, through Tim’s binoculars, they took turns watching two fishermen sitting in a rowboat in the middle of the lake. Maggie had the spy glass.
“Uh, no, Tim, they’re not actually waving,” Maggie squeaked. “Not a five finger wave anyway.” She quickly put the binoculars down. Tim’s face turned bright red and he stopped waving too.
The afternoon flew by like a balloon set free. The kids played and laughed, dug for worms, and had worm races. They spent a little more time, not much, looking for the watch. But no luck, still no watch.
The sky had turned a reddish orange and the sun was huge and floated low in the sky. The clouds were so thick they looked like huge spools of Fairy Floss… you would know it as cotton candy. The air was sweet and cool with just the slightest breeze. It was the perfect day.
And Maggie and Tim were two fun-tired happy and brown-soap dirty kids. But that’s the beauty of being 12. You can be a kid when you want or you can act like you’re all grown up. On this particular day they both decided to be kids.
Then Maggie’s Mom appeared by the front door and called out to her, “Hey kiddo, dinner’s ready. Made your favorite… squid lips.”
“Ugh, Don’t ask,” said Maggie, shaking her head and turning to Tim.
“Yum. OK Mom, I’ll be right there,” Maggie called back in her best you’re embarrassing me voice.
“Well, see you Tim,” said Maggie.
“Yeah, s-s-see you,” said Tim.
They turned and went their separate ways.
Yes, it had been a perfect day. One they would never forget. They both knew, without saying a word, they would be sharing more of these days.
More importantly, on this perfect day, both of them knew they had found a good friend.
“So when do I get to meet Molly?” asked Tim, as they sat on the steps in front of Maggie’s house. “You’re always talking about her and I w-w-want to meet her. Have you called her? Hello, earth t-t-to Maggie. Are you reading me?”
Maggie had been avoiding calling Molly’s house. She was afraid her Dad would answer the phone. He was a big bear of a man with huge arms, long wild hair and a bushy beard. He looked like a professional wrestler. In reality, he was an accountant. Go figure.
And another reason Maggie had been avoiding calling was that several times now when Maggie had gone online and saw her friend was signed on, just as she went to chat, Molly was suddenly gone. She would sign off. It could have been just a coincidence, but it almost seemed like Molly was avoiding her. Was she?
The If Bridge by S.J. Armato / Fantasy have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes