by Joanna Michal Hoyt
Steady, now. Walk this way. Straight toward me.
No, of course you can’t see me in this dark, but there’s nothing the matter with your hearing. Come on now….
Don’t lurch sideways like that! Your bedside light’s not there. Your flashlight’s not there. There’s nothing to the side of you but empty space. The bridge is under your feet, but it’s narrow, only a step across. Believe me, you don’t want to fall. There’s nothing and no one to catch you.
That’s right, no one. I’m only a voice. You’ll be rid of me soon enough.
Dreaming? You could call it that. Yes, you’ll wake up in time. But what will you wake to? That depends on what you do now.
Drop that. It won’t help you here. You all come here clutching something–some weapon, some talisman, some precious thing to pay your passage. It doesn’t serve. Keep your hands open to feel the air, to test your balance.
Talking won’t help. There’s no one but me to hear you now. Be quiet. Keep looking into the dark. Soon you’ll be able to see the shapes of things.
Yes, the bridge is getting narrower, but you can still walk it. No, you can’t see the far end. Go on. Don’t stare over the sides. You won’t see bottom. There is none.
Steady now. Watch your step. Never mind the lights out there. You can’t go to them, and they can’t come to you. All they can do is blind your eyes so that you miss your footing.
Steady! Look at your feet! You can’t go to her. The bridge doesn’t run that way. She can’t help you. She’s not there. It’s only your wanting that called her image out of the air. It’s not even a true image. Her shoulders were never really that broad. She couldn’t keep you from the worst things, even back where you came from. Here you’re on your own.
You see? She’s fading now, she’s changing….
Steady. Don’t flinch so or you’ll fall. Keep your eyes open. She can’t hurt you here. Her face looks like an evil reflection of yours, I know; looks more that way than it ever did in life. It’s your fear that makes it so, and your fear that makes her seem so tall, so menacing. And the things she’s saying about you–they’re almost true, but they’re a little worse than truth.
UNCOVER YOUR EARS!
That’s better. You’ll need to be able to hear me. And see, as soon as you stop cringing, her voice fades away….
Watch your step. The bridge is still narrowing–your feet are wider than it is. Sore? I don’t wonder. Keep going.
Steady. You can’t reach her. You can’t help her. She’s not here. Even if she were she’d have to choose her own way. She always did. You were right to tell her that, even if she did cry and ask you why you couldn’t just be comforting. There were things you could do for her back there, and you did them, and they weren’t enough. There’s nothing you can do for her now. See, she’s gone. All right, cry if you must, but pay attention to where you’re going. If you can make it to the end you might meet real people to help again.
Keep going. Don’t stare at her. You can’t stand still on this thin edge without falling. Yes, I see that disappointed look she has. I know why she looked that way at you before. You can’t make amends now. You might have, back then, but you were too busy envying her strength and wanting her to like you, you didn’t notice how lonely she was until too late. You didn’t do her much harm. She came here with empty hands. She passed. She’s not here now.
Steady! If you’d fallen just then–
The lights are gone. That’s better. No, I don’t suppose you do like the plain dark, but at least it won’t distract you. Keep going.
That’s right, the bridge stops here. No, you didn’t miss a turning. There aren’t any.
No, of course you can’t walk all the way across. You can’t stand still here much longer, either. The wind’s already starting to tug at you, and it’ll get stronger as you wait. Strong enough to knock you off the bridge–it wouldn’t take that much, you know. Strong enough, also, to carry you where you need to go.
No, not where you want to go. Why would you expect that?
Yes, you can turn back around, or try to; walk all the way back, if your feet will hold you; wake up as you fell asleep, only a little wearier, a little less real. I can’t stop you. But if you want to finish the journey you’ll have to let the wind take you.
Where? How should I know? You don’t have time to fret over that. You can’t teeter here on the edge much longer. You’ll have to turn back now if at all, or raise your arms now and let the wind take you, or stand there like an idiot until you fall.
That’s the way. I told you it would hold you up.
Yes, they’re all there; the child you sang to, the guest you welcomed, the old man who told you stories, the girl who asked you hard questions, the white quartz in the black brook, the walnut tree shedding its leaves, all the things that gave you strength to keep going back there in the dark. You can’t hold them, no, but you can see them now, for just a moment, before….
It’s good to see you laughing. Go well. You’re going beyond my ken. Wherever you wake up it will be morning.
Joanna Michal Hoyt lives with her family on a Catholic Worker farm in upstate NY where she spends her days tending gardens, goats and guests and her evenings reading and writing odd fiction. Her stories have appeared in publications including Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, and the Mysterion anthology of Christian speculative fiction.