Short story time!
Another one of the song-shuffle variety, if you remember my Optimist PHD story a while back.
Once again, a bit of a sidestep from the plotting and editing I should actually be doing.
But I needed to find a distraction after finishing the sequel to Masterminds and Gathering Blue.
Cliffhangers everywhere, guys…
Anyway, the story.
The child of procrastination, uncharacteristic drama for me and 100 Years by Five for Fighting.
There are a lot of ways to where Michael is.
I’ve been keeping a tally of them for a while. Mostly because I really should be with him.
None of the ways are particularly pleasant (I won’t go into detail on the thirty-four I’ve considered) but the bridge seems to have some poetic justice to it. My stupid dare was the way he went, anyway.
I blink against the memory of the day and my chest aches just thinking of it. He wasn’t the one that should have died. I should have been the one sucked under the cold water. The one that was finally found, cold and blue, far down the river.
But here I am. I look down into the same water far below. Swirling and burbling away like it hadn’t done anything wrong. Well, it was about to take something else. The Jacob that it should have taken instead of the Michael it did.
My heart drums against my ribs and I shiver in spite of myself as I begin to step up onto the railing. But I stop as I hear a noise on the other end of the bridge. Steps, it sounds like. And a slight thudding noise.
Great. I sigh and try to pretend like nothing is going on as I look over to see who it is.
An old man with a walking cane is hobbling his way towards me just about as fast as he can. He catches my eye and waves his free hand like he’s telling me to stop. I try and look clueless, but I’m pretty sure it fails because he keeps right on coming at his teetery-full-tilt.
It’s a relatively small bridge, so the old man gets to me before he has a heart attack. He’s breathing too hard to say much, but he sets his hand on my shoulder and shakes his head as he gasps for breath.
“I know what you’re doing,” he manages to get out, “and it’s not right.”
“Is there anything wrong with walking across a bridge?” I can feel my resolve starting to slip a little and hate myself for it.
The old man grips my shoulder with his cold, wrinkled hand. It shakes a little as he squeezes. “Not unless you’re planning on never reaching the other side.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I push his hand off, turn and start walking away.
This guy isn’t ever gonna leave me alone. It’s probably better to try for another day, I think.
But who knows if I’ll get up the nerve?
I stop and scowl at everything in general. The sunny day. The old man. The river that isn’t as high as I’d like. Myself.
“You don’t need to do this!”
Aaand he’s back at it. He seems to have gotten his breath back and his voice is strong. Passionate and stubborn. It doesn’t sound like he’s the kind of guy who’s easily talked down.
The cane thumps again behind me, approaching slower this time. I don’t move. It probably won’t do me much good. If I’m farther away, he’ll probably just yell his lungs out while chasing me down . . . and the last thing I need is another death caused by me.
The old man stops right next to me. I keep my expression stony and don’t look at him.
“How old are you?” he asks, leaning forward on his cane.
I look in the opposite direction. “Fifteen.”
“Aaah, fifteen . . .” he sounds like he’s remembering something far away and happy. But a hint of sadness brings the end of the word down. He gives a slight nod, “Just right before everything starts, you know.”
I look back over at him, despite myself, “What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ll get your driver’s license next year,” the old man observes. “And you’ll be able to vote a couple of years after that . . .”
Oh, the classic “you’ve got lots to look forward to” spiel. I roll my eyes internally.
“And Sophie . . .”
My heart almost stops at the name and I stare at the man despite myself.
He locks eyes with me, “You remember Sophie, right? The nice girl from your band?”
“Yes.” But excuse me, I thought my closest friends didn’t know about my kind of liking her. Much less some random old dude.
“Yes, Sophie,” he smiles wistfully and his eyes look watery for a minute. “At twenty-two, you marry her.” He blinks and one of the tears rolls out, bumping its way down his wrinkled cheek. “You have kids later . . . she always would tease that they all looked like you.”
I’m too dumbstruck to speak. I almost don’t want to as the image of this beautiful future unfolds in my mind.
The old man is staring off into the sky at nothing in particular, but his expression is one of observation. “Around thirty-three that is . . . Forty-five is a little tough, but worth it.” He sighs, “It all goes by so fast, by then. Before you know it, you’re a wise, old man (though you never really consider yourself one.) You’ve got grandkids by now. And then in another flash, sixty-seven is gone . . .” he trails off.
I blink, realizing I’ve pretty much forgotten to do so for the past few minutes. “Excuse me,” I begin. My mouth stays open as I try to find the right words to form, “But how do you know all of this?”
“ . . . and then ninety-nine.” His eyes lose their faraway look and drop down to look at his gnarled hands holding the crook of his cane. “Trust me, by then, you’ll be glad of every moment you have left. You’ll savor every moment you had. Mourn every one that you lost. And you’ll always wish you had more time.”
For the first time since he started this recounting of my whole life, he looks back at me and a smile wrinkles his face. “You have what I don’t, Jacob. You have time.” He moves up one of his hands and places it on my shoulder again, but this time it’s gentle. Kind.
“And I’m nearly positive you make it to where Michael is eventually. But he’d never want you to come this way.”
Something seems to be bothering the edges of my vision and I rub at my eyes.
The old man smiles at me, “Well, you took some talking down, but are you convinced now?”
I blink a couple of times, “All of this sounds great . . . but . . . how? How do you know?”
His smile gets a little wider, “There was one thing I didn’t tell about ninety-nine. A bit of a life-goal, really. You invent time travel because there’s someone quite important you have to go back and save.”
Okay, hopefully I didn’t lose anyone with that ending. 😛
I’d love to hear what you thought, so, as always, please comment! 🙂