Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lakebridge Autumn By: Natasha Troop

The town of Stansbury, Vermont has survived over four hundred years of tragic events. The town survived because otherworldly beings and powerful humans have always controlled the lives of the people willed them to forget each terrible event. As the bloody conflict between those forces has been raging, the people have stopped forgetting. Fear and grief have replaced peaceful ignorance and the powers that be no longer care. In Lakebridge: Autumn, Stansbury will fall.



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Excerpt:

one

            Mark stopped looking out of the windows in his father’s “sports van” somewhere around Nebraska when, for the 5 millionth time since they had left L.A., his mother announced that there was some amazing vista to be seen, recorded it, and then turned the camera on Jessica and him to get their awed reactions to a field of corn. Because nothing was more amazing than the fact that people in other parts of the country grew corn or raised cows or had trees or mountains or whatever. As often as possible these days, he would remind her that all these things existed in the great state of California. He and Jessica were supposed to stop all the nothing they were doing to act for mom’s little adventure film, which she would go back home and edit into her library of “Grayson Family Adventure Films” dating back to sometime in the late period of the last millennium. He loved calling it that because his parents would always have hysterical fits at the idea that the bulk of their lives was lived in what amounted to a prehistoric era that produced nothing of note but the unceasing nostalgia that continued to drip onto the skulls of the modern age like some Chinese culture torture. He wished they could all just get over it and let new things happen.

He was pretty sure the stars of the films, not his mom who was almost never caught on camera due to his dad’s disinterest in holding it - she said she preferred to make cameos like some famous director from back before she was born who she said made amazing films that he should watch, which he always followed with an “I’ll get right on that, Mom,” and never did quite get right on it or anywhere near it - had lost their motivation somewhere around “Graysons 6: Orlando Extreme” when his parents had the great idea to bring kids from Southern California, which was not super humid and populated mainly by giant bugs that could carry away a baby in the dead of night, to Florida, which had apparently missed the memo on insecticides, to go to amusement parks that were copies of ones they had in California. Those parks had been documented quite extensively in the epic 3-part saga that made up Graysons 2, 3 & 4. His mom tried a reboot for Graysons 5 because that year his dad was out of work and they had a “staycation,” which was to say that he and Jessica were free not to be trapped in an adventure film for a good part of their summer break and discovered that doing nothing at home and hanging out with friends was preferable to constant close contact with their parents and each other, which, as much as he loved them because they were all awesome dorks, didn’t seem as much fun as it did when he was happy to be thoroughly awed on camera in his mom’s earlier and better films.  This trip however, wasn’t a vacation at all. It was part of “life’s great adventure.” They were moving. Mark argued that California was the adventure capital of the world and there was never any reason to even think about leaving it to go somewhere else that could not possibly contain nearly as many optional activities to not take advantage of but know that they are there anyway. But when it came to “life’s great adventures,” his opinion and even Jessica’s opinion, which mattered somewhat less than his because she was Jessica, were inconsequential because they weren’t really the adventurous ones who needed to “explore the possibilities of the world beyond” as his dad had said when trying to sell the concept of leaving everything in L.A. behind and moving to Nova Scotia, Canada, so his father could do whatever secret thing it was that his father called the “Business of Information Sciences” and then tried to play off as something that was so dull as to be beyond the interest of his children. This was true to the extent that whenever he began to try to explain it, they couldn’t even begin to understand him and was untrue in that they never knew what to tell people who asked what their dad did for a living and why he was always going from one place to another. Jessica kept telling people he was a spy because she was absolutely certain he was a spy and when she had asked him if he was a spy, he replied, “What do you think?” and she ran away screaming because her response to anything frustrating was to run away screaming. This was, in fact, what made her an amazingly compelling character in most of mother’s cinematic enterprises.

At this point, it didn’t matter if his dad was a spy or not, they were going to be stuck in someplace called Lunenberg that his friends, after finding it on a map online, had dubbed “Beyond the Edge of Nowhere” from which no one ever returned.  Even though they promised to stay close online, he knew that once he had been firmly banished beyond the realms of the imagination, he would fade from their lives because, as his mom epically failed at rationalizing, at 16 they really weren’t that close at all but more “temporally connected by fluctuating circumstances.” This made him feel ever so much better about his life, which was apparently built upon cosmic whim.

            He felt a poking in his side. He opened his eyes and glared at Jessica. It was his glare that said without saying, “I don’t want to see whatever it is, which is why I am not looking.”

            She glared back a retort, “I’m just an instrument of torture employed by motherdear to destroy your will.” Then she went back to staring out the window without really looking at anything. She had that ability to be in the room with you without really being there. Mark admired that skill and had tried it, but had never been able to quite so effectively evacuate his consciousness from his body. He had asked her where she went when she went away. She smiled and said, “Elsewhere.”

            Right about now, Mark wished he was elsewhere, like Santa Monica, instead of riding along at a reasonable speed through a state that he only cared about because there was an ice cream factory here that you could visit and eat a mountain of ice cream. He was going to sit there and eat a whole crazy mountain of chocolate-chip cookie dough. What he didn’t care about were leaves, which seemed to be what Vermont was most famous for if you listened to his mother go on for the last five hundred miles about how they were so lucky to visit Vermont in early November when the leaves were changing because it was nature at its most glorious. He looked up pictures of Vermont in the fall and the leaves changed colors and it was nice. But after he’d seen a picture of something on the net, he didn’t get all hot and bothered about seeing it in the flesh or through a car window or ever. But to hear his mother go on about the leaves you would think it was a religious experience.

            Mother-the-director had her camera’s eye on him. “So Mark. If you could, look out the window wistfully, as if seeing fall foliage in full bloom has finally allowed you to see God’s beautiful world for the very first time.”

            Really? Hmm... He had two options. He could be snarky and do something that would cause friction with her. That was his overriding instinct. When all else failed, he always went with snark first and dealt with the consequences later. He had only recently become a real expert at the manufacture of snark. He used to be something of a consumer, using snark he found on television and the net. But as he grew older and learned the ways of snark, he developed master level snark skills and believed he could only be a true adept if he put them to constant use.

So his initial, near reflexive response was  “There is no God according to Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawson and I don’t like watching things die, even leaves.”

But he held his tongue, an even newer skill that he was trying to master, and considered a second option where he would do exactly what his mother wanted and, in return, she would be happy and life would be better for everyone in the sports van. It was an interesting option because it would surprise them and make them reconsider who this person in the back seat was. They would think to themselves that their Mark must have been abducted by aliens and replaced with an android Mark who was programmed to be polite and acquiescent. They would ponder whether they should mourn the loss of their disagreeable human son or celebrate his replacement. If he were in their place, he would celebrate. Who wanted a nasty, inconsiderate ass when they could have a helpful and loving, somewhat subservient machine who may not actually be possessed of real emotions, but emulated them very well and defaulted to an “agreeable” setting?

Or perhaps there was a third option…hmmm.

Mark took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment, then, letting the breath go, stared out the window for a moment. Okay, it was pretty cool, actually. He would never say that, though. It would be giving up too much power. After a moment, he turned back to the camera and sniffled a little, as if the beauty of nature had brought him to tears. And then his masterpiece, “If there truly were a god, he would make it like this all the time everywhere so that the whole world could enjoy this beautiful vista. That this is only the death cycle of leaves and only a small number of people get to see it is proof there is no god.” And scene! Thank you, Vermont!

            His mom turned off the camera and smiled at him. “Thanks, honey. That was great. I’ll edit out the part about god and whatnot and keep the rest. Great working with you, Mark.”

            Mark couldn’t help but laugh along with her and now the rest of the car. He could never get the best of her no matter how hard he tried. She was truly the master. Even though everyone else stopped laughing, his dad didn’t. His dad was such a dork.

“That was good, Mark. I’ve been looking for proof that there was no god and that was a good one. Well done, boy. I’m going to put that one up online.” His dad was always putting everything he said on the internet. His dad spent more time on the internet than Mark did and that was saying something. But for some reason, half of his dad’s time was spent writing things about Mark and Jessica and then waiting for people to comment back to him how wonderful a father he was to have produced two such amazing kids.

Mark was getting a little hungry. “Dad?”

“Yes, my lad.” Dork!

“Where are we and is it anywhere near food?”

His dad checked the GPS. “It looks like we’re coming up on Stansbury. Alex, what do we know about Stansbury?”

Mom put her camera down and picked up her smartphone. Mark picked up his as well and started checking for places to eat in the town. Instead, he found some information about a bunch of accidental deaths there earlier in the year. That made this town interesting. “Can we stop there, please?”

* * *

            Alexandra Grayson looked up from her phone for a moment to stare at her son. For the first time in over a thousand miles, there was something more than a surly teenager angry at being transplanted from his life. He would never understand it was far more a disruption of her life as it could ever be his. When you’re 16, things seem dire, but life is in flux anyway. When you’re 45, losing everything you’ve known for over half of your life - your home and place in the world and mostly your real friends - the ones that would still be there on the phone or the net or whatever, but really wouldn’t be there. She believed there was the family you were born into and then the real family that you made for yourself, the people who mattered beyond blood ties and who you loved because they had earned your love and you theirs. She saw her blood family as an obligation. It wasn’t that she didn’t love them, it was that she was obliged to do so and that caused stress. For as much as she would do anything for them, she didn’t like them very much and if she had to choose where to spend her vacations, she’d rather sit in a coffee shop with Brenda and Lainie talking about the nothing important of life for hours on end than visit her mother and have those important conversations about all the mistakes she had made over the course of her life and how those mistakes were dooming her children to fail miserably. Fail the way she had when she had chosen not to be a dermatologist and pursue a career as a graphic artist because it would make her happier. It had until her company shipped the jobs over to South Africa where people apparently had more time and fewer demands. That conversation would take up about 30 minutes before she went out back to smoke a joint and try not to cry and hope her kids didn’t see her run out back upset from the harshness of her mother’s words. After that, there would be a tense week of pleasantries and repeated trips to the back yard to defuse her ever-armed emotional bomb. The sad fact was, visiting her mother was infinitely preferable to visiting Sandy’s parents. Agatha and Whitmore saw her as a climber who obviously married their son in the hopes of gaining access to their immense estate which wasn’t really all that immense anymore. It had been immense about two generations before, but had slowly dried up over generations of Graysons who felt that it was their God given right to be wealthy without having to do a damned thing about it. Sandy was fairly sure there would be nothing like a fortune left for him when his parents finally kicked the bucket. She secretly hoped they would die soon just so she would no longer need to visit her rich in-laws who couldn’t even bring themselves to say hello to her without including the word “gold-digger” in the tone of their voice. They didn’t even like their grandkids, whom they apparently saw as an inevitable drain on the Grayson family coffers. Fortunately, visits to the Grayson estate were few and very far between. Invitations were not extended and requests were not made. It worked out well for all of them.

It’s too bad her mother didn’t have the same attitude. She had an expectation of at least one yearly visit, preferably Christmas. This bothered her because year after year she had to turn down invitations to Lainie’s house, which meant that she could not be in the presence of her spiritual sister and there would be less joy …or, actually, no joy. Never any joy at mother’s and hadn’t been since her mother slowly murdered her father. No one really believed that Alex’s mother killed her father except for Alex and Lainie. It was a given that Lainie took her side in everything, so she assumed that she believed Alex because it was her duty as most vital, important and exalted friend in the world to believe in her crazy theory. A theory based on the hard facts that that her mother had known of her father’s issues with cholesterol and was less than helpful in aiding him in sticking to a diet that would have helped him live a longer life instead encouraging him to eat whatever he wanted if he wanted because he was a grown man who could make his own decisions and she loved him and wanted him to enjoy himself even if it meant his life would be shortened and his grandkids would never get to really know what an amazing person he was. A slow murder so she could then be the widowed martyr and make demands on her only daughter who disappointed her time and again. The only good part of this move to the frozen over part of hell was that her mother would never drop in for a visit and she could make excuses about not coming to South Carolina for Christmas because she had made Sandy promise that, at least at Christmas, they would fly back to L.A. to spend the holidays with her real family.

            She understood why the kids were a little less than happy at being banished to Nova Scotia. She tried to make the best of it. She read that it could be quite beautiful. The problem was that they were a Southern Californian family and were still having a hard time wrapping their heads around the reality of the Great White North as their new home. The decision was a no brainer, though. There are times in one’s adult life where the universe opens up to you but for a moment and gives you a choice to do something completely different and wonderful, but you have to sacrifice something in your life to have access to it. Sandy kept saying he was like Odin, giving up his eye for all that knowledge. This made Alex laugh because if there was anything Sandy was less like in this world, it was a Norse god. But he knew she had a thing for Norse gods and was always trying to find some way to place himself in that pantheon. She had to make him promise on the point of being sacrificed to said gods that he would never refer to himself as Thor or to any part of his anatomy as a hammer again. Ever. Conceptually, affairs with deities were lovely to daydream about until she came to the realization that she would ultimately be left caring for the demi-god that always resulted from a one night stand with some all-powerful thunder god who liked nothing more than to get in and out like lightning. She didn’t need that and she didn’t want Sandy to be that kind of guy. He was already awesome.

            She looked over to her awesome amazing husband with whom she was willing to travel to the actual end of the earth with, giving up everything she thought that mattered because it all mattered less than being with him. “Wasn’t Stansbury in the news a few months ago? Something about a bunch of people dying there?”

            Sandy shrugged. “Was it on the real news or the fake news?” Sandy always referred to cable television news as the fake news. To him, the real news came from NPR or the BBC, and even then he was a little suspicious of it because he didn’t believe that anyone fact checked anything anymore because if they were shown to be wrong, they could claim that they were expressing a contrary view, an opinion. He lamented to her that facts no longer existed before wondering if they ever really did.

            “Fake news. All the fake news stations were there.”

            “How about the real ones?”

            “If they were, it was to report on the reporting…how the news coverage itself was actually the story.”

            He laughed. “Ah. Metanews.” He did that slight turn to the kids in the back that indicated that he was talking to them without actually taking his eyes off the road. He had seen so many Moose signs recently that his road hazard paranoia was particularly high. One sign in particular read: “Moose – Stay Cautious.” He was convinced that it was as much for the moose as it was for the drivers. “Mark. Jess. You’ll be happy to know that we’ll be less in the loop where we’re going.”

            Jess didn’t actually pay any attention to her father. She was lost in whatever world she had created for this trip. She told Alex that one day she was going to write extended series of novels that took place in all the imaginary worlds she invented on their trips. Jess knew every last detail of at least four worlds. She said two of them were not particularly notable and would only be interesting to the kinds of people who liked to catalog insects or collect stamps. She said they were detailed beyond measure, but nothing ever really happened in them. Once she started imagining a place, however, she could not leave it be until it was complete. She said she would be a poor excuse for a god if she left worlds partially completed because the people who lived there would eventually wander into an unfinished void. Given the power of a void to be reshaped by a strong mind, one such as her might elect herself to be a god and alter her world in some way that Jess did not approve of. She would eventually have to come back and destroy the world or at least all the people there for pretending that she either didn’t exist or, worse, were as important as the great and powerful Jessica Ellen Grayson. Alex asked her daughter to tell her about one of the worlds once and was met with the same kind of look she got when she asked her daughter if she was still a virgin - a look somewhere between mortification and embarrassment that told Alex to back away slowly and leave her daughter alone with her worlds, and hopefully her virginity, still intact.

            Mark looked up from his phone. “Not true, father o’mine. While Lunenberg is teetering on the very edge of the world, it will not fall off because it is still in the loop enough that if I want to watch the fake news on the internet, I still can. I can even read fake news sites if I like and be unduly influenced by opinions that are disguised as facts if I so choose. I will defend to the death my right to be misinformed!”

            Alex thought to say something to Sandy, to offer him some measure of sympathy, but she saw the slight grin on her husband’s face and knew he was pleased by Mark’s outburst.

* * *

            Sandy was pleased by his son’s response. The boy had been taught well, even if he thought he was displaying rebellion against his father’s extremist views on the state of the world. The fact was, when he said things like that, it showed that he had been listening enough for the messages to sink in, to be indelibly imprinted in his mind. It meant that Sandy was a successful father by his own measure. What he thought on the matter was all that counted because if he believed himself to be successful in his life and his endeavors, then he could sleep well at night. Others, like his parents, might think less of his philosophies or choices and might think themselves to be something less than successful as parents because he did not accurately reflect what they wanted him to be, namely duplicates of themselves. His father had made it clear in no uncertain terms that Sandy was his great failure as a person, that as hard as he had worked to imprint his life pattern on his son, it never took. His father was certain the whole move to Canada was meant as a personal insult, one last dagger in the back of the man who had given his boy so many opportunities to be the perfect, successful man Dad felt himself to be.

            Amazingly, moving to Canada had nothing at all to do with his father and everything to do with monitoring a group of anti-environmental extremists who had taken up residence near Lunenberg and were suspected of working to develop herbicidal toxins that would wipe out much of North America’s forests. No one was quite sure why anyone would want to do this, but since the turn of the millennium, a number of anti-Earth groups had shown up looking to create the End Times in their time. Sandy worked for a branch of the U.S. government that monitored these groups and, if necessary, “deactivated” them. Jake Morris, his superior in so many things, but mainly at work, liked that term because should anything ever be leaked out to the fake news – never the real news because some people actually thought the real news was as factual as the fake news even though it was mostly fake as well – the verbiage had to be ambiguous enough to leave his organization’s exact activities open to interpretation. Jake laughed at those who, in trying to bring about the end of days, ended their own days. Jake tried to find humor when he could about this particular task because it was really quite horrifying that some people were so narcissistic that they couldn’t handle the idea that the world didn’t have to end and, because they were so sure the world was going to end, wanted to be there to see it. Sandy tried to laugh at Jake’s jokes, but there was nothing funny about any of it to him. He took these people very seriously and had no moral problem deactivating them. He wanted the world to go on until the sun gave out and if he was personally responsible in any way for the continuation of the human race, then he was a much more important person than his father could ever claim to be. His father never did anything for anyone else. He certainly wasn’t a key figure in saving the human race from the release of a virus, created by a radical faction of neo-Mayan fanatics, that sterilized whomever contracted it and was set to be released in Los Angeles in 2012 to fulfill the prophetic interpretations of their ancestor’s calendar. His father never deactivated a cell of gnostic monks who had been working for a thousand years to bring about the end times via subversive messaging in everything from illuminated Medieval texts to personal ads on internet barter sites. These messages spawned thousands of sub-cults and conspiracy theorists who “put things together,” as one told Sandy before being sent to wherever it was that Jake set up for the kind of crazies to be evaluated for deactivation or reintegration. Some were actually able to be rescued from their insanity, or at least did not represent a true danger to the world at large. The monks had stepped things up big time as the end of the millennium approached to the point that they were cleaning up everything from Algerian death cults to self-proclaimed warlords in rust belt cities who were trying to remake the world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland that they could rule some small part of because they were obviously fit to be armor-clad despots. Cleaning up the monks and their spawn was a fulltime job for over a decade and when they were finally deactivated, there were some in the government who felt Sandy’s group could be repurposed. Jake had to explain to a lot of different people that the monks weren’t the only ones trying to bring about an apocalypse. During that process, he discovered more than a few end-timers in the government and some at very high levels. Sandy would do his job when necessary and to whomever it was necessary. He never told anyone, especially his family, because people shouldn’t have to live their lives knowing that there were so many twisted individuals and groups out there trying to destroy everyone and everything. He didn’t want his kids worrying the way he did that any day, at any time, someone could decide that the world should be destroyed and explode a nuke or two, starting a chain reaction that didn’t stop until everyone was dead. He wanted a world without end for his family and he worked to make it so.

            In the past, he would have gone to Canada by himself, but Jake was pretty clear that perhaps L.A. was not the best place to be, given the news he was hearing. Jake said he’d bring Sandy back when the business in Canada was taken care of, but it might be best to settle the family somewhere out beyond the edge of things for a time. Sandy loved his family enough to uproot them and they loved him enough to come without too much complaint.

            He looked over at Alex who was smiling at her phone.

            “What’s up?”

            “According to this, if you stop in about five hundred feet, we’ll be right near the world famous Lakebridge, which, according to just about everyone, is entirely useless and very creepy.”

            Sandy spied Mark’s interested face in the rearview. “A very creepy bridge? The deuce you say!”

            Mark tried to affect something like disinterested interest. “How could we miss out on something that is both useless and creepy? It will be like visiting Uncle Dennis.”

            Alex laughed. “He’s right, Sandy. Your brother is useless and creepy.”

            Jess magically spoke. “You’re all mean. I like Uncle Dennis.”

            Sandy saw the place to pull over to see the bridge and pulled over. “I’m going to stay out of this conversation for fear that my useless and creepy older brother might psychically tune into people speaking his unholy name and decide to vacation in Nova Scotia in the near future, uselessly taking up our couch and creepily eating all of our oatmeal. Let’s stretch our legs.”

            Sandy got out of the car and took in the beauty of the autumn foliage that surrounded them. Why would anyone want the world to end when it continued to produce this glorious display? That the end cycle of these leaves was so gloriously expressed, washing the trees, the forest that rolled along over hills as far as he could see with this gold-red fire…Sandy didn’t believe in any deity, but this was as divine an expression as he had ever come across and it made him sad that a bunch of nutjobs wanted to destroy this. It made the whole move worthwhile that he was going to deactivate them.

            “Mr. Grayson?”

Alex beckoned him from behind her camera. Any excursion out of the car was an excuse to add to her continuing family saga. While some of the car commentary would prove interesting someday when she edited together her reel of in-transit outtakes, it was when they were out and actually doing something, seeing something, that he was happy to be a part of her enterprise. Although he never gave voice to it, every time he went to work, he accepted that there was a possibility he wouldn’t come home. But really, every time Alex and the kids were away from him, he accepted that they might not come home either. Accidents were just as likely to kill people as nihilistic assholes. So these video moments where he was actually involved in the lives of his kids were priceless because should anything happen to him, and he was fairly sure the odds weighed more heavily against his untimely demise than theirs, they would be able to spend time with him in some fashion. He knew it wasn’t even close to enough, but it was better than the memory of a dead person who would fade from distinct memory and become the concept of a person, somebody they used to know and love whom they couldn’t quite recall. Because of Alex, he would always be available.

“Kommend, Frau Regisseur!”

“Dankeschoen. Could you ask our dear daughter to join us, please? I’m not sure if she knows we’ve stopped.”

Sandy thought that it wasn’t so much that Jess didn’t know, but would prefer to stay wherever it was she had gone in her head. He also knew that if he got her out of her head and into the woods, she would suddenly be something like his little girl again, the one that was there before the teenage doppelganger showed up one evening when she was twelve and replaced his beatific child.

He knocked on the window, startling her back into the world. She looked up at him with a languid expression that often came just before her persona shift, as if she had pressed a reset button in her head. He wished he could do that.

* * *


            Damn it! She needed to snap out of contemplative mode. She could easily get stuck in this headspace, letting any old thought take her wherever it was going. When she was decompressing from creating worlds, she usually gave herself a few hours of contemplation before she entered her version of the present tense where she was simply a part of what was going on around her and not thinking about how everything reminded her of other things. Okay. Prepare to evacuate mind in…

            10

            Vermont reminded her of those old timey paintings that were on the covers of magazines in antique stores. Still life recreations of that thing people thought of as simple even though the people being depicted might chafe at the thought that their lives were lacking the complications of those who believed their own lives to be somewhat more complex…

            9

            …she would have to take mental pictures of the beautiful changing leaves because she wanted to create a whole world in her mind where it was autumn in Vermont everywhere all the time…

            8

            …she loved the word autumn. She loved to write it and see the flowing letters leave the end of her pen…

            7

            …if they had places like this in Nova Scotia, she was happy to trade L.A. for them even though she really didn’t like the cold all that much. She worried it would kill her because she was convinced she would die from the cold…

            6
            …she wasn’t afraid of dying but she didn’t want to die either. She had too many worlds to create and she had yet to document even one of them in a meaningful way because the technology was not yet available for her to give them the kind of life they needed. She was waiting for the day when she could mentally interface with a virtual world design program and simply let the worlds loose from her brain where others could then share in them. People would visit her creations and interact with the vast civilizations she brought into being and allowed to thrive, except for the evil ones that she occasionally wiped out with a flood or fire or frogs, giant voracious city-destroying frogs…

5

…she hoped she would see some kind of new animal that she hadn’t seen before and be able to talk to it. Even if it didn’t answer her, she would believe in her heart that it understood her because all animals understood what humans said and just didn’t care to talk back to them…

4

…she wondered at what point on the upcoming outing she would choose to entertain her mother’s camera and her brother by running away screaming, which she had made a trademark early on in her mother’s film adventures and felt compelled to continue to do in spite of the fact that she really had no reason to run away screaming because she wasn’t really afraid of anything…

3

…she saw her mother coaxing a pre-excursion commentary from Mark and regretted not being outside of the car just yet to hear it in all its glory. She looked forward to watching it on screening night, which was usually a couple of months after the trip. Mother spent a lot of time editing, scoring and generally doing her best to make family trip videos as watchable as they could possibly be. Jess wished there was some kind of film festival out there devoted to these things because then her mother could get the public recognition she rightly deserved for making family features that were actually watchable and compelling…

2

…she saw her father doing his little stretches. She hoped that whatever spy adventure he was on next didn’t kill him because he was the best daddy in the world. Even though she knew he was off saving it, she wished that someone else could take over so he could stay at home all the time and be safe. As much as she was not afraid of dying herself, she was petrified of something happening to anyone in her family because they were all the best people she knew and she never wanted to be without any of them…

1

Jessica let her rambling thoughts recede and entered the present as she exited the car.

“Glad you’re with us, Jess.” Her father smiled at her the way he always did when she was in the present.

“Glad to be here, Daddy.” She smiled back and meant it.

“Jessica, dear. I would like you to take the lead.” Mother ordered from behind as she created the mise-en-scène.

Mark snarked, “Why does she get to be Indy today?”

Jessica laughed, “Because you’ll always be short and round.”

Before Mark could attack her, Jessica charged down the trail, walking fast enough to keep her brother from retaliating and slowly enough to enjoy the woods and let her mother and father know it.

She spun around, walking backwards so her mother’s camera-eye could see her. “It’s beautiful here! I just wish there was something purple or violet and then all the colors would be here for us.”

Mark looked to the camera as well. “I don’t see anything blue.”

Jessica laughed as she spun back around. “Look up, dear brother. All the blue you could ask for, painted between the tops of the trees.”

She saw the sun flash the water of the little lake up ahead and she was just about to report it when she caught a glimpse of brown off the path to her right and stopped short. She dramatically turned and gestured for her family to freeze quietly and look in the direction she pointed. To look at the moose in all its majesty.

Even Mark, “Cool,” quietly as to not spook the beast.

Jess turned to her mother and whispered, “I’m going to talk to him now.” Before she could be stopped, she left the trail to get a little closer and spoke to the beautiful beast in words she knew he would understand. “I’m so happy to see you, Moose.”

He looked at her as if he understood and would say the same thing back to her if he could.

* * *

            The Moose looked at the human and wondered why she was making her noise at him when it was obvious he didn’t understand her. She certainly didn’t understand him when he told her and the ones she was with to leave as quickly as possible, that there was something awful at the lake. He warned all the other animals away, but he could never get through to the humans.

            He turned and walked away from the lake, hoping the humans would follow him back to the grey rock.

* * *

            Jessica wanted to follow the moose wherever he was going, but she also thought it might creep him out and was simply happy to have met him. She turned back to her family.

            “Did you get that, Mom?”

            Thumbs up from behind the camera and Jessica was moving, but she stopped as soon as the bridge came into view. Wow! “Wow! It looks like someone painted the bridge across the lake. Like it’s hardly real.”

            Mark actually whistled agreement before the snark. “That’s actually pretty cool. Useless, but cool.”

            Jessica turned to him. “Why useless?”

            “Because in the time it would take you to walk on over to it and cross it, I could walk around to the other side where it ends.” Mark looked a little perplexed for a moment. “Do bridges end, Dad?”

            “They don’t end like a story ends, but they have ends. So you should have said that you could walk over to the other end.”

            Mother signaled for their attention with the quiet cough that she could easily edit out later. They obediently turned to the camera. “A challenge was issued. Is it accepted?”

            Jessica smirked at her brother. “Accepted. No running.”

            Mark smirked back. “Sibling rivalry in action, Mom. What more could you ask for?”

            The camera turned to her dad. “Ready? Set. Go.”

            Jessica tried not to speed walk because she saw how casually Mark was strolling, but she didn’t want him to be right. That would suck because he would be right all the way to Lunenberg. As she approached the entrance to the bridge, there was a voice in her head that was trying to tell her something, but she worried if she listened, she would get lost in what it was saying. She promised herself to stay in the present, so she kept walking even as the voice all but screamed at her to pay attention. She saw Mark rounding the other side and ignored the creeping fear of the fact that there was just about no light inside the bridge. Even though it wasn’t that far across, she couldn’t make out the light at the other end. She knew if she kept walking forward, she would reach it and easily be there before Mark. It was really dark, so she pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight app. There! Now it was still really dark, like the dark was eating up the light as it left the phone. She thought the voice in her head might be worth listening to for a moment, but Mark could not be allowed to achieve victory, so she shut it off entirely. She turned the phone light off as well. It wasn’t doing her any good. She took a deep breath and walked, cautiously, but not too slowly. Her family was right here and she’d be fine.

            She was about halfway across the bridge when she felt a hard tug, like something had caught hold of her insides and was trying to pull them out. The voice in her head broke through.

            “RUN!”

            She obeyed, turning back and running as fast as she could. She could see her father at the entrance smiling in the sun, but he couldn’t see her yet, see that his baby was in trouble. She started to scream, but whatever it was that had a hold of her stopped the breath from escaping.

            Jessica felt it yank once more as it set its hook into her soul.

* * *

            He had his line set into her now and for the first time since his return, he felt something like hope that he could escape from the construct. The entity within that kept him trapped here promised he would be joined with it until it escaped. It gloated that it would leave him behind in the wreckage, but it had not counted on her.

            Her name is Jessica Emily Grayson. She was born in someplace called Encino and she is a maker of worlds. Ah, her father is just right there…

            He found the line of energy that connected the girl to her father and extended his reach through the girl to her parent, being sure not to absorb any of it into himself because then the Other would have access to them both and it would use him as a conduit to feed. As long as he was on the bridge, what was his belonged to the Other. He needed to escape.

            The man’s name is Sanford Charles Grayson. His friends call him Sandy. He is a savior of the world. His wife is just right there…

            He found the line of energy that connected the man to his spouse and it was full of power and love. He extended his reach through the man to the wife and mother.

            The woman’s name is Alexandra Elizabeth Grayson. She has made an art form of loving her family and she is hiding something from him.

He had an anchor off of the bridge. It was almost enough.

            “It’s not enough, Francis.” That voice like manic harps echoed through the interior of the construct. He looked up at the angel the Other pretended to be, the figure it had drawn from his own mind so many years ago as an image of purity and virtue. It was a dark distortion of the idea of love he once expressed.

            “I won, Jess!” A voice laughed from the other end. He found the line of energy that connected Alexandra to the voice, her son. It was a love the entity would never understand. He extended his reach through the mother to the son.

            The boy’s name is Mark Zachary Grayson. He wishes he was special.

            But you are special, Mark. He whispered into the boy’s soul. You are my salvation.

            “You may not leave, Francis! You do not have my permission!” The Other screamed at him, the force of the anger warping the music of its voice out of tune. But its halo went on spinning and its smile never grew teeth.

            The family’s connection was strong enough for him to escape the bridge. It happened in less than a moment. At least it seemed like less than a moment. Was that time again? He wasn’t sure what a moment was anymore except that he was as conscious of it passing as he was the light of the sun on his face.

            He opened his eyes and there they were, Alex and Sandy. He loved them for bringing their family to him, helping him even if they didn’t know they were. He lamented that they had to give up so much for him to escape. He knew Sandy would understand that sacrifices needed to made.

            He stood and tested his legs. He would need food soon if he wanted to remain standing. Before he went looking for sustenance, he walked over to where Alexandra Elizabeth Grayson fell to the ground. He knelt to her and kissed her and silently thanked her for the gift of her family.

            Then he stood and turned back to the thing, which hovered there behind him, pretending to flap its ridiculous wings. He opened his hand and imagined a small, black sphere in it. He gave it a name and asked it to do him a favor.

            “You can’t leave me here, Francis. You can’t leave me here again!”

“I’m not what I was.”

He tossed the sphere at the Other and watched as his device began to strip away its disguise, aligning it to something closer to its truest nature.

“You have no idea what I can do.”

He turned from the thing and the bridge and went to go find some food.
 
Natasha grew up in Southern California and currently lives in the Los Angeles area with her spouse, son, daughter and menagerie of pets, including a Basset named Moose and a very overprotective collie dog. What currently surprises her more than anything about her life is how much of it is just sitting there on Google, there for the taking. This scares her more than anything. The Internet never forgets.
 
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