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3. The Scenario

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There was an old bridge not too far from where we’d grown up. It was made of old rickety wood that was slowly rotting away. The town should have torn it down ages ago. Why didn’t they? Because it cost money, time, patience, effort, workers, all things that they claimed they didn’t have. Fools! But how could they know how truly dangerous the bridge was? They said it was a landmark anyway, but they couldn’t afford to buy some sort of stone to proclaim it as such a monument. So it became our bridge, our central office where we conducted business.

Wasn’t it dangerous for us to hang out on a bridge that might collapse from under us? Of course, but that was half the fun. The risk was part of everything. If there was no risk, there was no point, no purpose. It’s not a challenge if you can’t lose. Did anyone ever fall? Not from our clan, if anyone ever went off that bridge, they meant to. Did people jump? Of course they did, what else are you going to use an old, abandoned bridge for? Did we see them do it? From time to time we saw from afar the usual scene, policemen and all. Sometimes their battle was won; sometimes they lost. Hey, that’s life, what else could be done? It all was in the hands of good fortune. Course they blocked off the bridge for a while, but eventually they gave up, went home, and we had it back.

It was our bridge and everyone knew it, young and old, everybody in town. Even tourists were alerted to it. Why in the hell a tourist would come through is beyond me, but hey, whatever. We didn’t worry ourselves with it. There were dangers of course, that the bridge would collapse, that we’d carelessly light it on fire, who knows what else? Course, we were lucky. It was our meeting point to sit and do…whatever. We planned everything from there; it was our central headquarters. What happened if someone else just so happened to wander onto it? We kindly “escorted” the person off the property with the advice to never return. Did they always listen? Sometimes, if they didn’t, we reminded them of our good advice.

Our beloved bridge had no name obvious to us. It was simply ours and that was all that mattered. Did any of our own get tempted by the bridge and its vast…height? Course, but we took care of it amongst our ranks and nobody ever got hurt. We were self sufficient in most cases, which I was very proud of. What’s so important about this bridge? Everything of importance happened at or around it. A river ran under the bridge, hence why it was built. It connected our part of the country to a forest; there was nothing out there anymore. So it was never used, somewhat abandoned by the world. We fixed it up from time to time with our own funds, paint and such. It was, for the most part, beyond repair and we were only kids.

We agreed that we’d use the bridge until the weather stopped us from safely perching ourselves upon its ancient rafting. Though the October winds were bitter we still met there. After school, sometimes during, we’d meet and discuss anything. Sometimes we’d just reminisce, laugh, cry, whatever. Today was different. Today there were people there when we arrived. We saw them from afar and ducked out of sight to plan. There was a guy and two girls wandering around on our bridge – we didn’t recognize them. We agreed to go in calmly, try and talk them out and if they refused, we’d show them the way.

Melissa and I walked out side by side with Eileen and Seth behind us. The rest of the group watched from afar. The distance wasn’t much. The guy was staring out at the water; one of the girls was beside him, looking behind him. The other had vanished.

“Are you aware that there’s a fight going on down there?” His words were calm and even, he hadn’t moved at all, his glance frozen in space. We had walked as quietly as possible; he’d heard us coming. A fight, what did he mean? We quickened our pace and stood on the bridge with him, staring down. A young girl was running from an older man. He was stumbling and babbling.

Melissa stumbled backwards, searching for words, as we looked closer. It was her father, drunk as death. He didn’t know what he was doing. She started to talk, but I didn’t stay to hear. Seth shouted some sort of warning about going alone, but I didn’t stand around to listen. I ran down the hill to get to the river and tripped halfway down. Falling, rolling and cursing I hit rock bottom like a ton of bricks. My whole body ached, the rocks weren’t helping, but I stood myself up. Glancing up I saw the whole gang standing on the bridge, frozen in time. Seth and Eileen were on the side trying to talk sense to Melissa; the three strangers still stood amongst the crowd. I hurried to the river’s bank and caught sight of the two.

He looked a frightful mess, but I didn’t give a damn about his reasoning. All I knew was he was threatening to hurt a small child and not just any child. This was Melissa’s sister. The man’s voice was drowning on and continued to when I lunged at him. On the river’s bank our fight began. He was mad as hell and drunk as anything I’d ever seen. We exchanged blows equally but I had the advantage. I was smaller, younger, faster. He was old, fat, slow and stupid. I was winning, until he pulled out a knife. I stepped back and watched the blade’s gleam in the sunlight carefully. Its blade was red and covered with fresh blood that dripped down the edges. I stared at the child who had taken refuge behind a large rock. She was holding her arm close.

I understood then. For the most part Melissa was victim to her father’s anger fits. Being unable to find her, he’d used the younger child to vent on. We circled each other, sizing up. Now he was armed, and more dangerous because he couldn’t aim properly. We ducked and dodged advances from the other. There was a point where he must have made contact with me; I remember a sudden searing pain. Looking up at the bridge I saw the gang had taken to one side. The strangers had turned their backs; I was too busy to worry about them. Melissa was being held back by Seth and Eileen; I needed someone down here. Christine was trying to calm Melissa and Shawn was missing…

Mr. Radley dropped to his knees; the knife hit the ground. Time stood still, I froze. As his body lowered and dirt flew up, Shawn’s figure emerged. A needle that still was clenched in his hand told me what had happened. Beyond him I saw Christine had rushed down to take care of the kid.

“He’s not dead. We’ll get him back to the house; we probably won’t remember anything. The kid can stay with us. Help me carry him, okay?”

Together Shawn and I took the same route up the hill that I had taken going down. Pushing, shoving, tripping and cursing we made it to the top. Christine went up ahead of us. At the bridge Shawn and I collapsed, exhausted from hauling the body uphill. Instructions were given, and Locke and Gus led in carrying him off. The three strangers still stared out in various directions, ignorant to what happened. Melissa and her sister were reunited, as were Shawn and Christine. The two pairs stood a bit back from the rest of the group. I stood and leaned my back against the wall. Enough was enough. First these three fools appear on our bridge, stand there and watch, and don’t do a damn thing?

“Who the hell are you and what do you think you’re doing?” I was so angry I couldn’t feel anything, my mind blanked out and I couldn’t remember anything beyond the past ten minutes. The one guy continued to stare into space, he hadn’t moved at all. One girl had been beside him the entire time; the other was more restless. I was fed up with being patient. I grabbed him by his back and threw him down; instead he flew into the other side of the bridge. It trembled with the power of the blow; I was surprised it stayed together. That old pile of wood was stubborn as hell.

The stranger’s face remained neutral as he straightened up. None of them were from around here, that was a given. I grabbed him and pulled him fully upright, his expression never changed.

“I’m not going to say it again. Who the hell are you?” I let go and stood in front of him, blocking any path of escape. He cleared his throat and I turned my head for a moment. “And don’t either of you dare to try anything.” The quiet footsteps ceased and I returned to the frozen expression.

“My name is Justin, that there is Angela and over there is Jo. We’re new around here, heard a bit about the area and decided to check things out.” He didn’t flinch, blink or stutter. He was perfectly calm, and it was driving me crazy.

“Why the hell didn’t you go down there and do something?”

He put his head down and seemed to think about it. Before replying he looked out at the river and firmly said, “Because it didn’t concern us and we weren’t going to risk our lives for strangers.”

The whole experience, all the hate felt between that man, Melissa, the fear of the child, the varying emotions held within were packed into one hit. I pulled back as far as my arm could reach and let it go flat into his stomach. He coughed loudly and dropped to the ground. “Angela” and “Jo” ran to his side to see if he was all right. It was at that moment I realized my arm was bleeding.

“You arrogant bastard, rot in hell, and on the way, stay the hell off of our bridge.” He was sitting up when I turned on my heel and walked off. The Majors were waiting for me, Shawn and Christine had gone…well, we didn’t know where they went. The four of us headed for the school, caught Locke on the way, and burst into the nurse’s office. We took care of the cuts as best we could and stopped the bleeding. We wanted to get the kid to the hospital, but Melissa was uneasy about it. Instead of fighting the point, we let it rest there.

None of us particularly liked our homes, so we agreed to stay at the bridge that night. We’d done it on several occasions; our families were accustomed to it. They learned not to care or worry. It was growing dark when we started to head back. Christine and Shawn met up with us along the way. Locke had gone his own separate way. He liked the river more than the bridge. Seldom did anybody go against our advice, and when I personally handed it out it was serious. Seth had a longer fuse than I did, for the most part he convinced people to leave.

Returning to the bridge we saw three red lights burning in the distance. We immediately recognized the familiar flame as cigarettes. Adapting a quicker pace we returned to our bridge to see the three strangers still standing there. Melissa pulled me back to try and tell me to calm down. I told her I would calmly ask that they leave, I wouldn’t instigate. She seemed satisfied yet somewhat uneasy. I took point with the six of them behind me. Seth and Eileen were directly behind, Shawn and Christine after and finally Melissa with her sister behind them.

“Still here? I believe I told you earlier to get the hell off this bridge. The first time was a warning; this is the last time I remind you. Get out before we throw you out.”

He stared at me with a sleepy glare, puffing away without a care. The two stood behind him, similarly careless. As I edged closer, the two edged back, he stood his ground. He took his cigarette and threw it into the water, careful of the bridge’s frail frame.

“Why do you hate me so? We’ve done no wrong, committed no crime against you…“ he never finished his statement.

“Did nothing? That’s correct, with that child in danger, you stood by and did nothing. She might’ve died before we’d arrived and you have done nothing. To hell with the three of you! Again, off of our bridge before we assist you. Your answer?”

He went back to thoughtful silence. “I told you, we weren’t going to get involved. The child wouldn’t have been killed, I assure you, we would’ve stepped in had it gotten that serious.” I shoved him back into the wall to cut him off.

“It only takes a split second to take a life, from here you wouldn’t have known the difference between life and death. Idiot! You could have prevented her from getting injured, me falling down a damn hill, Shawn having to tempt fate, but no…only worried about yourselves! GO!”

Seth ran up behind me and pulled me back before I snapped again. He took Justin aside and they started to talk awhile. Melissa ran up and led me away so I could cool off. Shawn, Eileen and Christine talked to the two lost girls. Melissa’s sister was beside her, so I smiled and let everything roll off my shoulder. I couldn’t vent with her there, and I sure as hell couldn’t curse. I went down to the river to wash my face. One thing we loved about the river was it was clean. I dipped my hands into the cool water to wash my hands and face. Looking up I saw a full moon high in the crisp autumn sky. Its shine glistened in the waters’ waves.

I didn’t want to, but I had to. I turned and looked up at the bridge. Bathed in moonlight, the faces were easy to make out. I saw our group form up against theirs and a fight break out. Running as fast as the terrain would allow, I reached the bridge in time to see a scuffle. Melissa was on one side with her sister; everyone else had lunged in headlong. I tripped and fell a few times, finally reaching Melissa to ask what happened. She said something about a challenge made by Justin about who was tougher, his trio or our group. We were too proud to turn down such a challenge. This day had been hectic enough; I waded in and tossed out whomever I grabbed.

I couldn’t break them all up so I joined in when I could. We fought with everything we had. Seth made it a rule to never hit a girl, so he seemed to be teaming up with Shawn against Justin. Christine and Eileen were taking care of the other two. I wasn’t really necessary, but I was mad as hell, it had to end. Time froze in my mind, I couldn’t tell the difference between a minute and an hour. There was a point where Angela and Jo had stopped fighting; Eileen and Christine wouldn’t let them up. They stood like British guards, their faces cold, expressionless, staring down with an eye of contempt. Justin was still fighting like a bear, but he was tiring fast. Three against one aren’t the best odds in the world.

I was about to finish him off, when my arm was pulled back. I turned and saw Melissa standing there. She pointed over in the distance. Her sister had gone to the other two and was helping them up.

We understood then. It had gotten personal early in the fight and things went too far. Shawn dropped the fool and we joined together. What was there to do now? We’d wait for them to leave and stay the night. Do you care? Probably not, do I? Nope. We waited patiently in the ceaseless night in a mutual silence. A chill blew through the air, running down our backs. The moon shone brightly down on the scene. The child returned and stood with us at her sister’s side.

Looking over we saw the two helping Justin up. He leaned on the wall of the bridge, supported by Angela. Jo was doubled over. I was about to go over to finish this, when Melissa stepped forward. She walked over quietly in the night and approached the trio. We saw them talking, but we couldn’t hear the words. Looking over my group I realized that there were little cuts obvious from the fight. I returned my glance to Melissa, who was motioning toward me. Through the chilled evening air I walked over.

“They want in.” Her words echoed in my head, in the vastness of night. My mind failed, judgment ceased. Knowledge was forgotten, a deep darkness settled in. Who did they think they were? Could I refuse them, after all, they had challenged us and shown strength. Justin’s stance was crooked; he was leaning on Angela. The other girl was still hunched over, clutching her abdomen. Words failed me. Staring up at the sky, I felt betrayed. I wanted to denounce this outrage. Melissa returned me to the world with a tap.

“Excuse me while I…discuss this with my associates.” I walked back to the group; who were anxiously awaiting an answer. In as few words as I could find, an explanation was formed. Christine and Shawn moved off to a corner. Their opinion mattered of course, but they didn’t feel that way. We conferred about it. We didn’t know who the hell these people were, but it was hard breaking into our tight knit circle. They had spirit and strength, and somewhere they must have had intelligence amongst them. Would it hurt to try them out? But what about what happened here tonight? They only cared about themselves, that attitude didn’t fly with us. What to do?

We returned to them together, showing unity, peace and pride. Our decision had been made, now, to carry it out. Melissa stood beside me as I stepped forward. Fear was well hidden, an excellent quality. If you have to live in fear, stay the hell away from us. I stood right in his face. I could’ve spit on him and told them all to go home. Melissa knew all too well how I was; she kept her hand on my shoulder. I was a random person. He was standing straight and tall as we stood eye to eye. I narrowed my eyes to show contempt.

He never saw it coming. Grabbing him by the front of his shirt, I put his back against the rail. Leaning back, he thought I’d send him off the bridge – head first. I pushed as far back as I could without losing him. I heard everybody behind me freak out for a moment. Melissa was whispering my name, trying to get me to listen.

“Now listen here scumbag. Not every day this kind of thing occurs, just so happens we don’t have a procedure for this one. You all pulled a swift one tonight, and I’ll never forget the lot of you. Remember this night, this pain, this fear, and then think of how to deal with it. From now on, you protect the clan and its members, you care for them, they are your life, understood? If you can’t do that, then be on your way. I don’t particularly like what happened here tonight, but it did and we all lived. You think you can do that? If not, you’ll go off this bridge for real.”

He stopped freaking out about the threat, smiled a wry smile and agreed. I let him up, dusted him off a bit and took a step back. Turning around I prepared to walk off, with the concluding phrase, “Good, you’re in.”

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