by J. Smith Kirkland
Standing there on the bridge at daybreak, watching the water carry golden leaves out of view, past where the river turned, Dai can almost forget that everything is about to change. No matter what he does, no matter what choice he makes, everything will be different from this point on.
A week ago, he was content. His world was safe, comfortable. He floated through his life like a leaf carried by the current. His trade was the same as his father, and he has made a good living at an early age. He lived in a house much like the one where he was raised. He was engaged to Anwen, who he has known all his life. Their parents were neighbors, and encouraged a romance. She is bright and sweet. His life was well laid out, flowing like a river with no rapids, calmly, quickly. A week ago.
A week ago, a stranger came down the road into Dai's town. People often passed through. The town was a halfway mark between two large trading towns. Many people in Dai's town profited from the traffic, providing food, drink, repairs, lodging. Few travelers would stop in Dai's shop. Like his father, and his grandfather, Dai made furniture. Almost every house in the town had more than one piece made by his family. But furniture is not something those passing through needed for their journey. But a week ago, a stranger came down the road and walked into Dai's shop.
It is not that Dai did not believe in fate, or signs, or destinies. They are just things Dai never thought about. But he looked up from his work, into the eyes of the stranger, and something felt different. Something felt familiar. Something felt . . . not content.
“Helo, I am Caru.”
Dai stared for too long, forgetting to speak. Caru smiled, and Dai swallowed and found his voice.
“Welcome. I am Dai. How can I help you?”
“I am looking for a craftsman to make something for me.”
“We make well crafted furniture here. Is there something specific you need?”
Dai was not sure if the stranger's words were from another language, or something he had never heard of. There were many new fads and styles in the big towns that he might be unaware of.
“I am not familiar with that item.”
“You should not be. It is my own invention. It is made of glass and wood. I have made the glass part, but i need someone to make the wood part to enclose it.
Caru pulled three glass discs from from a pouch, and displayed them to Dai. The largest was about the size of Caru's palm. The other two decreased incrementally in size. Laying them on a table, Caru then pulled a drawing from the pouch.
“This is what I need you to make.”
Dai studied the drawing. There were two wooden cylinders that housed the glass discs. Two discs at each end of the smaller, and one at the end of the larger. The smaller cylinder slid in and out of the larger, changing the distance between the largest disc and the others.
“What does it do?”
“It lets you see into the distance.”
Dai thought it should not be difficult to make the cylinders. He would have to think about how to keep the glass in place, but that was something that would be enjoyable to figure out.
“I think I can make that.”
“I have no doubt.”
Dai looked into Caru's eyes. Kindness. Wisdom. And something else. Something unfamiliar.
Caru found lodging with a local widow, and over the next few days, would come to Dai's shop to discuss the design, select the wood, and tell Dai about far away places, and mountains, and oceans. Dai began to realize that that unfamiliar gleam in Caru's eye was adventure.
With the cylinders constructed, and the glass held firmly in place, the two took the Telesgopi to the bridge. Caru looked through it in different directions, sliding the cyliners to elongate or and shorten it.
“This is perfect, Dai! Look. Try it.”
Caru handed Dai the Telesgopi. Dai pointed it down the river. He slid the cylinders until what he saw was in focus. It was as if he had moved all the way to the river's turn. Slack jawed, he looked at Caru. Caru pointed down the bridge back towards town. Dai turned that way and put the Telesgopi to his eye, and focused the device. He could read the sign on baker's house. He lowered the device to see that without it from the bridge he could barely tell there was a sign on the house. This was the most amazing device he had ever seen.
“Now,” said Caru, “there is one more thing that needs to be done to make it really work.”
Back at the shop, Caru pulled another drawing from the pouch.
“This is what i need you to carve into the wood. The ancient rheolau that will let it look even farther into the distance.”
The drawing showed an inticate design of shapes and symbols carved on both cylinders. Dai prided himself on his carving skills. Many of his customers requested elaborate floral and nature designs on their furniture, and they were always pleased with his work. These shapes should be much easier. He assured Caru it would be done before sunset the next day.
An hour before sunset, Caru came into the shop. Dai was smiling, pleased with his work and ready to show it to Caru. Caru studied the carvings, took out the design and compared them to it, then looked at Dai and smiled back. Caru carefully aligned the carvings on the two cylinders then looked through it towards the door, then back at Dai.
“Lets' go to the bridge. I want you to see what a wonderous thing we have created.”
Standing on the bridge, Caru make sure the cylinders were aligned correctly and handed Dai the Telesgopi.
“Look back at the town.”
Dai lifted the device to his eye carefully, not wanting to change the cyliders' alignment. He was in awe of what he saw. It was not the baker's house. It was Anwen in a bridal gown. Then Dai himself there at her side. Then Anwen holding their child. Then Dai and his son building furniture. Everyone was content, and safe. His life laid out before him, and everything as is should be, as it was always expected to be. He lowered the Telesgopi and looked at Caru, thinking this must be wizardry.
“It let's you see into the distance. Were you pleased with what you saw?”
“Yes. That is my future?”
“It's one future. The future is always a choice. Look toward the other end of the bridge.”
Dai was not sure if that was a good idea. He was no longer certain if this device they had constructed was a good device or a bad one. Hesitantly he looked down the bridge away from town, and raised the Telesgopi to his eye. He saw a large city with people everywhere. Then he saw Caru and himself sitting at a table outside a cafe, laughing. Then they were climbing on top of a boulder, an gazing together from a mountain top over a green valley. He saw the expression on his own face. Joy. He could feel it. The scene changed to an ocean beach. Dai lowered the device. He did not look at Caru.
“What does it mean?”
“It means tomorrow I will be crossing this bridge to leave your town. You can go with me toward that future, or stay with the future in town.”
Dai handed Caru the Telesgopi.
“I will be leaving just after dawn”, Caru said, almost whispering.
Caru turn and went back to the town, leaving Dai alone on the bridge to try and absorb what he had just seen and the implications of what he had just helped to create.
It is daybreak, and Dai is still tanding there on the bridge. He knows that no matter what he does, no matter what choice he makes, everything will be different from this point on. He knows his life that was mapped out since he was born will be comfortable, safe, content. He knows there are other who could only dream of such a life. But now. Now he has seen into a distance that is filled with adventure, with laughter, with feelings he is not sure he knew existed just a week ago. If he stays, he will always be thinking of what could have been. If he goes? Adventure? Something more than contentment? But at what risk?
He looks back to town. I solitary figure is approaching. Caru. A week ago, there was only one future. But at this moment, both futures are at the same end of the bridge. And very soon, he will have to choose from which end of the bridge he leaves.
~ The Bridge ~
There is a point, in the distance, that your character very badly wants to reach. What is it?
What is the point from which they’ve started out, what are they willing to do to get to that point in the distance? What will they sacrifice?
The bridge is the point between those two places. The bridge is where what they must do to get there, what they’re willing to sacrifice, and the consequences of those decisions coexist.
Write their story, on the bridge.