Sarah Hartwell. Dream 12th-13th October 2017
It looked like an ordinary brick viaduct with its arches crossing a valley, albeit on a smaller scale being perhaps 10 foot overhead. At the top of each arch was a coat of arms. Yet this bridge was the subject of challenge, a deadly challenge we suspected. There was a boardwalk on top of it and metal shutters of the sort used on closed funfair amusements. The proprietor beamed as us.
“Try your luck on the bridge tonight?” he called down, “Lots of brave lads tonight!”
“Perhaps,” replied Mr Smorg.
“You’re not really planning to cross the bridge?” I asked him.
“We may have no choice, Mrs Smorg. Every few years people go missing and have to find out what’s going on.”
We climbed up the side of the shallow valley to the entrance of the boardwalk on the bridge. The ground was rough and grassy. There were several passages into the bridge’s supports.
“Would you, Mrs Smorg?” my companion asked.
“What lives under a bridge, Mr Smorg?” I asked.
“A troll maybe, Mrs Smorg.”
Peering into one of the passages I roared. All that came out was a frightened deer.
“No trolls there then,” Mr Smorg said.
After checking each of the cavities we reached the top of the embankment and the entrance to the bridge. Several young men were practising running the length of the bridge. What happened when the metal-shuttered are was opened up? Mr Smorg and I walked safely across the wooden walkway, the metal shutters to the left of us, the hip-high wall to our right. Thus far it was an ordinary brick bridge, perfectly level and perfectly flat, from one side of the shallow grassy valley to the other.
“What does this bridge cross, Mr Smorg?”
“Nothing that I can see, just a shallow valley with a very small stream running down the centre. A smaller bridge would have sufficed.”
“how long has this bridge been here?”
“That is a good question Mrs Smorg. Bridge-running happens only once in ten years. “ he unfolded a newspaper and pointed out an advertisement challenging the young men of the district to “run the bridge.”
“Why ten yearly? And what happens between those times?” he asked, more of himself than of me.
“Perhaps there are records in the local library’s newspaper archives,” I replied, “it is strange that no-one else seems curious.”
“Almost as though they don’t remember,” he said, “What is there in the bridge that causes the disappearances every ten years?”
“Perhaps the bridge itself,” I answered. “The Chinese believe the Great Wall contains a dragon, perhaps this bridge contains something that eats once in ten years.”
“We will check the passages on this side and then go into the town,” Mr Smorg said.
The passages under the supports on the other side were largely empty excepting one. In that one I noticed a lumpy plastic bag.
“What is that, Mrs Smorg?”
“I think we don’t want to know, Mr Smorg.”
“It’s our job to know.”
The bag contained six human heads, quite rotten.
“It was once customary to put the heads of criminals on poles on bridges such as this,” observed Mr Smorg, “Perhaps the custom of bridge running began only when that older custom ceased. Let’s head to the library as you suggested.”
This proved harder than anticipated because the town did not seem to have a pattern. We stopped at a cobbler’s shop, the only place that appeared open on the street we were on, and asked.
“The library?” asked the grubbiest shoe-mender I have ever seen in an accent so thick as to be nearly impenetrable.
“I think it’s on West Norfolk Street,” said his colleague, pointing us further up the same street towards a junction.
“Thank you,” I said and Mr Smorg and I continued along the same street.
The building were tall, mostly in a Regency style, but now shabby. The turning to our left purportedly led to West Norfolk Street, and straight ahead was the railway station.
“A railway station should have a ‘you are here’ street plan and show the location of civic building,” I observed, “Let’s go there to find out exactly where the library is.”
Mr Smorg concurred, but as we drew close to the railway station he became curious about other things. Ahead of us was a railway goods yard and some way beyond that was a sandy strand. Everything looked wrongly placed in relation to everything else. The railwaymen rushing about the goods yard seemed anachronistic by several decades. The strand was too unspoilt to be so close to dirty railyard. The railyard contained a pile of fish traps, but there was no sign of a harbour or of fishing boats.
“It is like a series of set pieces,” said Mr Smorg, “Someone’s idea of what things belong in a town, but nothing in its logical place.”
“Let’s head back to the junction, Mr Smorg. Though based on what you have said I begin to think the library doesn’t exist.”
“Why do you say that Mrs Smorg?”
“As we passed the railway station I could not see a local information board. In fact it seemed to be just someone’s idea of what a railway station should look like.”
“Then we go in, Mrs Smorg. Do you concur?”
I concurred and we walked through an arched doorway into the railway station. And found ourselves walking out of the door of a cricket pavilion. We turned and walked back inside, to find ourselves in a church.
“Now I understand the function of the bridge, Mrs Smorg. And the reason people disappear. This is not reality.”
“No. It is someone’s idea of a town. It has all the components, but none of the logic. Those components occupy too little space, much like a film set where there is nothing behind the frontage.”
“Only one thing in this town is real, Mrs Smorg, the bridge. People do not disappear, they escape.”
“Then we must also run the bridge, Mr Smorg.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“How else can we determine if we are real?”