A Bridge Just Far Enough
1472 words long
"...the last few steps you'll have to take alone." (Shel Silverstein, "This Bridge")
Notes from the author:
There was a cave in my writing prompt, which was the Virtual Writers' World prompt post for the week beginning January 19, but there was also this: "Use the following words to inspire a poem or short story: injure, kiss, bridge." And I got rebellious about the kisses. "I dislike the way the Virtual Writers World prompt usually comes back around to something 'romantic,'" I wrote, "so let's be seditious and make it metaphorical." The waves could kiss the shore, but damned if the injured soldier was going to kiss anyone on either side of the bridge.
Generally speaking, I'm part of a U.S. generation that grew up associating war with oil-haunted desert sands. I tried not to linger in that lazy cliche. The bridge, my main character's escape out of the frying pan and into a miraculous fire, was also an escape for me, an opportunity to take the story far away from anything you'd see on CNN.
The injured officer lay upon the beach, watching the waves line up one by one to kiss the shore with shy affection then, as each kiss left the shore unmoved, to retreat, humiliated, and be swallowed up by the sea.
Neither had the bridge left any impression upon the sand. It had vanished once it was no longer of use. That is the nature of magical things. It had saved the soldier's life by facilitating her escape to this abandoned strip of nowhere. Then, to all appearances, it had left her here to die.
The past twenty-four hours, if that's how many there'd been, felt like a dream. They'd had a dream's surreality, and all the horror of nightmare. The war was over. The troops had been returning home. None of it should have happened.
Granted, the ambush made a certain amount of sense. Generals sign treaties, commanders declare truce, but the message takes time to propagate. This is especially true when harsh sanctions rob the occupied citizenry of rapid communication technology. The party that had lain in wait for Lt. Carhide and her crew, maybe they just didn't know that hostilities had ended. Or maybe they didn't care. Maybe they were just waiting to express their displeasure with what the occupying troops had done to pa's back forty, or to the cattle that had been grazing there, or to pa himself, or to pa's little girl.
Of such atrocities, Lt. Carhide had tried to keep clean any hands over which she had authority. It's important to be able to think well of yourself after carrying arms into foreign lands. You have to be able to justify to yourself every time you pulled the trigger.
So it was deeply unfair that her troop should be the one to get ambushed, after all she'd done to enforce their best behavior. Still, as far as the ambush party was concerned, the invasion itself was a deeper injustice. Someone had to be punished for it. Any representative of the occupying force would do.
She barked orders into the comm unit. "Hold your fire. Hold your fire! Divert course to--" The carrier reversed, back-pedaled, U-turned. Lt. Carhide herself covered their retreat, armed with nothing but a handful of rocks. She was hoping that the gesture would count for something.
Maybe it did. Everyone in the troop got away, except for her.
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for February 27, 2015. The fictionette appears in its entirety (1472 words) at Patreon and is available to all Patrons pledging at least $1/month.
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