The Bridge
By: Susanne Thomas

The hard iron bridge spans a good half a mile across the river. On one side of the gray and orange metal edifice lies a city. Its skyline stretches across the horizon. The steel and concrete are dirty and unpleasant, a hive of activity with no joy. The other side sprouts green trees and grass almost immediately, promising a softer, sweeter life. Dark clouds cover the sky, raining a miserable mist on the evening traffic. The weekend has arrived, and the road is cluttered. Motorcycles dot the lines with bikers hunched over from the drizzle. Cars, trucks, and buses fight each other for spaces. Vehicles switch lanes back and forth as one looks more promising than the next.

A wreck at one end has stopped traffic on one side as they wait for the lanes to clear. Rubber-necking drivers have already caused two much more minor wrecks. Beneath the bridge even the water seems gray and brown, a river of sad, tired, defeated water.

A small red mustang sits in the middle of the stopped line of cars. It inches up as other drivers jockey for open spaces in neighboring lanes. The clouds and the traffic do nothing to dampen the driver of the red car's mood. Sam runs her hand along the steering wheel, admiring the feel of the smooth leather. Her husband had gotten her the car for a forty-fifth birthday present. The full luxury package was a special treat.

Music blares a happy rock anthem from the radio. Sam bops her head along. Her dark brown hair is long and shot through with some gray. Her eyes are a gray-blue, matching the falling rain. They are large and framed by long dark lashes and striking eyebrows. Her face is expressive and engaging. Weekend prospects make her smile.

She looks down the line of cars, trying to see past the black sport truck in front of her. Tall trees and verdant grass call to her. She is going away from the damn city; her responsibilities are over for the week. She thinks about the beautiful blue-eyed man waiting for her in the smaller town on the other side of the bridge. She longs to rest on his soft, pale cream couch with her feet up, laughing freely. The daily beating of needs and wants and have to do stuff wears at her. It pulls her to the man on the other side of the bridge.

She sees his light blue eyes, clear and calm, and his thick dark hair, falling forward into his face. Sam hears his soft, deep voice inside her head, whispering in the middle of the night. They fill the night hours telling jokes, sharing the week's trials, holding onto what moments they get.

Sam looks again past the black sports truck in front of her, looking for signs of movement, trying to see the suburban wonderland across the way. The time seems to stand still when all she wants is to reach the other side of the bridge.

Commercials start with a crackle, and she fiddles with the radio, hoping for a favorite song. She hears speaking on one station and switches to another, a man speaking comes from that one as well. Sam almost decides to turn a CD on but instead clicks to her favorite channel to wait out whatever amber alert or weather warning is going on.

A somber, familiar voice is speaking, "For those unable to escape the blast radius know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, may God have mercy on us all."

Her attention is riveted as the long beep of the emergency broadcast system emits from the radio. The voice speaking was the President's, though Sam has never heard him this somber. The announcement restarts.

"Citizens, I come to you today to share with you the gravest news of our time. For those who have noticed a light in the sky, be aware. That is not a star, and it is not a plane. Coming toward the greater metropolitan area is a nuclear missile. The enemy has attacked one of our greatest cities. We have deployed our forces, but our missile defense system has been hacked and rendered useless. We do not know if we will be able to destroy it before impact.

Intelligence reports show that the missile is enough to destroy a five-mile radius on impact. The fall-out radius is much more. We are hopeful that we can stop it, but we are recommending immediate exodus in an orderly manner. Please work together to flee the area. The epicenter should be the center of the city according trajectory.

If we should fail, the impact will occur in approximately fifteen minutes.

I cannot share how deeply sorry we are at the failure of our missile defense system. We are still hoping for a miracle from our soldiers in the sky.

For the rest of America, we have tough decisions coming, but for now, pray for your fellow citizens and let the emergency workers do their jobs.

Those who can escape the onslaught, know that there will be help for you in this hour of need. For those unable to escape the blast radius our thoughts and prayers are with you, may God have mercy on us all."

Sam clicks the radio off as the announcement repeats itself. She looks up into the sky and is shaken to see a growing point of light approaching the city. She stares at it in terror for a few moments between honks from neighboring cars pull her back. All around her are the sounds of fear. People leave their vehicles and run towards the other side of the bridge, screaming. Some fall, and even with her windows up she can hear wailing. Car alarms go off. A few motorcycles are trying to make their way through the cars for a faster getaway. More than a few people throw themselves off of the bridge to the waters below.

Sam squeezes her eyes shut and takes a deep breath. From the dash compartment, she pulls a picture. Her husband and child look back at her. She stares at the picture for a while. Tears fall onto it. She memorizes lines that she will never see again. The eyes, the noses, the mouths of her family. She hears giggling and smells breakfast on Sundays. She wishes for one more moment.

She wishes she could hold them through the attack, to lie to them and be lied to with promises that things will be okay, that everything will somehow be alright. It's a physical pain she feels, separated, and alone. She pulls the picture to herself for a while, making a decision. Part of her screams to run, to try to escape the terror that is seeking them from the sky.

She listens to the other voice. Sam sets the picture down and exits the car and starts walking back towards the city, step after step. Screams surround her, filling the air and vibrating her body.

She is walking toward home still when the bomb falls. It wound its way through the brave pilots trying to save the millions of people below. The steel and concrete city collapses in an instant. Buildings crumble, and streets become rubble. Sam falls in the blast; eyes fixed still towards the city, her hand stretched out before her. Everything burns.

The shiny, new mustang burns too, the picture of Sam's family withers with the fire. An older man with kind brown eyes and soft lines around his mouth and on his forehead looks at a camera. Thinning hair with graying temples shows his age. The boy, almost a teen, comes up to his shoulders and has hair like his mother's and his father's brown eyes. They smile in sunlight in front of a concrete apartment building. The picture burns slowly at first, and then all at once till all that's left is dust.


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