To avoid the morning rush of traffic, Scarlett left as soon as the sun peaked above the Ghost Sea. She had mapped out the towns and cities from Elektra’s list the night before and discovered that if she wanted to reach all the specified sites in time to make the publication date, there would be no coming back to Quinvillu until the very end of the trip. Sleepless nights developing film were a given, but she wanted to impress Elektra Penzier and the rest of Hub Publishing by captioning the entire list. If images of bridges were important to them, they were important to her too.
Knowing Kat would vehemently discourage such a long adventure, Scarlett chose not to divulge her plans. She wanted her sister to know that she would be gone for two weeks in case anything should happen, but rather than explaining face to face, she quickly scribbled a note and left it on the guest bed. Kat would find it soon enough, though not soon enough to stop the road trip.
Which was exactly what Scarlett intended.
There was an unexpected snag in her plan, however. The previous owner of the cruiser failed to mention just how bothersome long rides on a vibrating vehicle were. After an hour of travel, Scarlett’s thighs had gone numb, and her bottom, back, and arms ached from being stuck at the oddly curled position the cruiser demanded of its rider. The wind had tangled her hair more than it already was, and her eyes, though protected by glasses, strained as they darted back and forth. There was a high probability that when she next stopped she would be unable to walk a straight line.
Hub Publishing had given her ten plates of film for her assignment, each of which contained twenty sheets of film. They hadn’t said much on what style they wanted for the publication but Scarlett had seen the first submitted captions. No creativity had gone into them. The contrast was all wrong, the lighting was harsh, and the angle at which the bridges were taken at came from the center of the road. It was as if the previous contributor had lost all passion.
Scarlett whizzed past a sign with a name she recognized. Sassini was her destination, and after a quick calculation, Scarlett figured the town was another two-and-a-quarter hour ride away. The cruiser was less comfortable than a roamer, but it was her weapon against time and she needed to start using it as such if she was going to succeed.
Her hand rolled over the bar. The cruiser revved and shot forward.
Sassini was bucolic. Country towns held an allure no metropolitan city could hope to have and Scarlett knew that well from growing up in the third largest city in Naiaca. There was serenity amidst nature and a sense of agelessness. People moved more leisurely, spoke more affectionately, and had such an engaging nature for strangers that when Scarlett asked a passerby where she could find the bridge, they had immediately launched into the history of the town.
That was how she ended up sitting in a stranger’s living room drinking mulberry tea and nibbling at a scone as her host–a man named Mr. Faunus, who was past his prime and well into retirement–rattled off history as if it were an oral tradition.
“And then the Phaedrians arrived and burned the bridge again,” said Mr. Faunus. Sacks of wrinkled skin had begun to form under his eyes, drooping the skin there to make even the liveliest of men appear saddened.
The elderly man’s story enraptured Scarlett. “How awful.”
“They were the worst of the worst, those Phaedrians.” Mr. Faunus shivered. “Not one of them was good. They fled as one colony, those vile sorcerers, across the Ghost Sea. A shame their ships did not sink.”
“For shame,” Scarlett agreed. She had learned the broad bulk of the history of the Phaedrians in school, but pockets of stories – like the one of Sassini – were new.
Mr. Faunus set his cup down on the small table between them. “Twice now someone has come around asking about Sassini. Why is there such an interest in our town?”
“I must be honest, Mr. Faunus.” Scarlett set both her half-eaten scone and tea onto the table. “I’m not here to learn about the town. I’m only here to caption the bridge for Hub Publishing.”
“But surely you must know how the bridge came to be?” persisted Mr. Faunus. “How can a story be represented without knowing the story?”
Her host was right. Scarlett did not know if the reporter who wrote the piece on this particular bridge would include any of the gritty histories, but she hoped they did. “Flashers are a relatively new invention, Mr. Faunus. My job is to capture the truth of the bridge and convey its rich history through a single image. Captions can say more than words if done right.”
“But why would you want to take captions of bridges?”
Scarlett bit her lip. She had yet to learn just why people were so interested in such a boring landmark and yet an answer for Mr. Faunus came surprisingly easy. “Bridges connect us to places and people and link us to the past and future. They don’t disintegrate as fast as we do.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Faunus. “You wish to preserve the bridge before time steals it from us.”
Scarlett smiled, but she knew it didn’t meet her eyes. “I enjoy a good battle.”
Scarlett left Mr. Faunus her contact card–something Hub Publishing forced her to have before she began her first day–and then she followed the path to the outskirts of town to where the bridge was concealed in a forest. Low to the ground, it arched minimally over a dry bed of river rocks. Mr. Faunus had told her that after the invention of roamers, the government widened all the roads. For Sassini, that meant moving the main road to a different location altogether. It wasn’t long before the once often-tread town bridge became a simple footpath through the woods, and a rarely used one at that.
Nature had reclaimed the area. Brown trunks with light greenish-yellow leaves blocked the view in all directions. Birds chirped from branches high above. The bridge itself was not unique or captivating in any way, with it being made of planks of what was now rotted wood, and Scarlett saw for herself just why the initial round of captions submitted to Hub Publishing lacked ingenuity.
If Hub Publishing didn’t like the previously submitted captions, then it would be career suicide to take captions from the same position. There had to be a way to make the bridge more appealing. It was too intrinsic to the town not to be.
Scarlett needed to see the bridge from a new angle. It was the only way to ensure a difference between her and the other captioner. She parted the grass and reeds and stood on the rocks in the middle of the dried river. Timon said the truth of someone was often revealed from a simple change of perspective, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to apply the same theory to some inanimate thing.
The old wooden bridge seemed larger and statelier from below. The forest had also altered with the change in view, becoming a picturesque version to the initial woodland observed on arrival. Sun filtered through the branches. Gnats swarmed together above the ground in a whirlwind formation. Between each railing glistened spider webs, which were invisible to those who walked across the bridge rather than alongside it.
Scarlett reached into her bag and pulled out her flasher. After adjusting the settings to capture daylight, she balanced the lens evenly with the line the bridge provided. She breathed out and held still. She had learned long ago that the best way to take a caption was to expel all the breath from her lungs. A slow heart rate produced blur-less captions. When everything aligned and her camera became immobile, her finger pressed down on the small, rounded button. There was a soft click and then Scarlett was climbing back up the side of the bridge.
She had no time to dawdle and no reason to waste more film than necessary. The next bridge was an hour’s ride away. If she left immediately, she could make it there before noon. Two locations off the list in one morning would allow more time for developing in the red room. A break for lunch would have to be her reward.
Nine days and fourteen bridges later found Scarlett travel-worn but satisfied. The cruiser turned out to be a welcomed companion and faster than the roamers which crawled over the streets of the more populated locales. Weaving through traffic became second nature. The ability to park the cruiser almost anywhere allowed her to get as close to her subjects as possible, saving valuable time and energy. Above all that, she had seen more of Naiaca in the past two weeks than she had in eighteen years.
Try as she might, bridges and the architecture behind their creation did not become any more interesting along the way. It was the stories from the people who knew each bridge’s history that fueled her work. Accents changed from one town to the next, giving each place an atmosphere uniquely its own.
Her boots slid on the bank of the creek. She leaped to a raised rock that looked sturdy enough to hold her weight. Though the water was not much more than a shallow pond, she did not want to have any sort of accident. This bridge was the last on the list.
Scarlett hopped three more stones over, the last of which wobbled and splashed water onto her toes, and stopped. Already a picturesque pathway with ivy and moss growing over the stone rails, the final bridge reminded her of her sister’s house back in Quinvillu. When Kat appeared the next second, stomping into the open out of thin air, Scarlett wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her.
Kat’s eyes were a dark blue with green speckles in them, and though a monsoon fulminated within, they looked dry even from afar. Errant coils of dark hair framed her face. She flung an arm out to point at a place Scarlett could not see. “Why is your cruiser abandoned at the side of the road?”
Hearing Kat speak was like a slap across the face. “It’s not abandoned,” Scarlett said. “It’s parked. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
Kat gripped the rail tightly. Her voice was near hysterical. “What am I doing here? What are you doing standing there in the middle of a raging river?”
Glancing at the serene and docile water and the little mud turtles that swam past in camouflaged shells, Scarlett allowed a moment of pointed silence to pass. Verbally debating over the clear difference between a creek and a river would only fuel Kat’s wild anxiety.
Kat’s hand slammed down onto the moss. “This is not a job!”
“Yes, it is.”
Tension saturated Kat so fully that it rolled from her body like ripples of heat over the road. She closed her eyes and folded over the railing to regain control of her breathing.
Scarlett didn’t know why, but she felt something inside her change as she watched her sister. Her finger pressed down on the trigger of her flasher to caption the strange moment. “You went to Hub Publishing, didn’t you?”
Kat pursed her lips. “Ms. Penzier gave me a copy of your list.”
“And how many locations did you search before this one?”
The storm in Kat tapered. “A few.”
Scarlett packed up her flasher and made sure the strap on her bag was secured tightly. She was finished with this bridge. Kat’s arrival had made the place less magical. When she made it up the bank of the creek, she saw the familiar, expensive roamer that belonged to her sister idling beside her beat-up cruiser. Resolved not to get angry, she asked, “Did you tell Elektra?” with a matured patience.
“Yes,” came Kat’s clipped response. “You’re sick. You’re….You’re dying, Scarlett.”
Scarlett nibbled her bottom lip, leaned her back against the soft rails, and dipped her chin. “I wish you hadn’t done that. It was my story to tell, Kat. My story to tell or not tell.”
Category: Adventure, Fantasy, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, WritingTags: Adventure, archaeology, Fantasy, femaleprotagonist, motorcycle, New Author, peopleofcolor, photography, Scarlett Burn, secondworld, Self-Publishing, Writing
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