A child discovers strength in the land of dreams
|The Hunted’s Bridge
Kitch runs. Baggy trousers flapping, shoes rattling loosely on pale feet. Too small. That’s one of Kitch’s problems. Many problems.
“Kitchy. Where you going Kitchy?” The boys behind him. Chasing him. They have his scent. Tears sting his eyes; sweat staples his hair to his forehead.
Clop-Clop-Clop. Feet pound on broken tarmac. Don’t slip, wills Kitch. Wishing he could scream. Raw animal screams of broken terror. His lungs hurt too much - red hot burning pain, like a lungful of napalm.
“Keep running ‘tard. Gonna tear you apart.” Nightmare snarls from behind. Rattle of booted feet crashing down in unison rips apart the air. Kitch runs. Through a street of houses, windows boarded, rotting facades. Some doors hang open, empty houses gaping toothlessly at the tortured boy who flies past. Kitch hits his stride. Thin legs slam onto gum pocked pavement. He’s losing them. Can’t feel them anymore. Fetid breath gone from back of his neck.
Kitch wheels. Right turn and round the corner. Wind pulls at sweat heavy shirt. Coat is gone, torn from his grip. Minutes or hours ago. Keep running ‘tard, Kitch echoes in his head. Not free yet. Still the fox to their hounds. Downhill now. Slow up just a little. Don’t try to breathe. Keep running. Never stop. Each step a syllable. Running on a mantra.
The huloo sounds behind him. Kitch is staring straight ahead. Kitch knows what that sound means. The hunters have him sighted. Once he would have turned. Once he would have fallen. Now he just speeds up. Faster fox, his mind whispers. Don’t let them catch you. Run.
Kitch runs. Head throbbing, breath catching in chalked mouth. Kitch’s fear lends him wings, but they’re on fire, just like the rest of him. Two more corners and he’s safe. Home.
The first stone flies. Clips his right shoulder. Kitch jerks, almost loses balance. Focus, he screams inside. Don’t think of home. Think of now. More stones let fly. Kitch dances through them as he runs. Jinks this way and that. The safest streets are closed to him, pinned by suppressive fire.
Kitch takes a risk. Down an alley, ducking stones. Dark. The smell of week old, hot rubbish reaches out to engulf him. Fills him. Kitch chokes, legs failing.
Kitch falls. Tastes blood. Smells iron. Feels pain. Then nothing.
* * *
The boy, Kitch, lies face down on the engraved sand coloured slabs of Mainbridge. He stirs slowly, even surrounded by the bustling of a thousand souls all buying, selling, shouting. Hands come up to face, aching with the memory of pain.
“What?” Kitch whispers, lungs still stabbing painfully. His hands run wonderingly over the strangely carved surface that holds his frail form. Strange music lilts into his ears, melodious discord borne on a fragranced wind.
“Where, you are meant to ask, am I.” The voice is low, cultured and possessed of a strange resonance. It spins Kitch round. “Most travellers who wake here do not need telling of their own curiosity.” Kitch’s eyes widen as he takes in the scene. People are everywhere. Above, below, beside, all passing through and around on a multitude of bridges. Strange ones made of glass and metal lace, some of stone. Some are crude and rough, others, like Mainbridge are elaborately ornamented. But pulling at Kitch’s eyes is the man before him. Kitch’s jaw drops. Enclosed in brightly coloured robes and carrying a great book, he is easily four times Kitch’s size. His eyes are kind, smiling. But what takes Kitch’s breath away is his face. For below the aquiline nose lie not one, but two mouths.
“So journeyman. Can you walk?” The twin mouths move in sync, a mellow harmony of tone. “Think of me as a guide. Welcome to the city of bridges.” Kitch nods, overwhelmed by the strangeness of the scene. Introduces himself. The guide motions. They walk.
Through the strange city. It falls away on every side, upwards and outwards. Kitch is dizzy before he can blink. He stumbles many times, but the guide is there to catch him, direct him. To the next bridge, the next ladder. Each intersection stretches out to a dizzying complexity of three dimensional navigation.
Once, Kitch asks the guide “Why am I here?” The guide simply pivots him onto the next bridge and, smiling, says “To find a bridge.” He says nothing more but that.
Kitch’s eye is caught. A boy sits on a wooden bridge. One of the larger bridges, it is unfettered by the usual ladders and ropes. The boy, eyes shining with a strange brightness, glares at Kitch. “Who is that?” Kitch asks the guide.
“No one.” Kitch cannot help but look again. The boy is standing now. He points. “Take me to him.” Kitch says. The guide steps back and shakes his head. “Should you step onto that bridge child, you would die.”
Kitch is burning. This city full of beauty, he thinks, should not contain such hate as he sees in the bright eyed child. Kitch straightens his back. “No.” He shakes his head. “Take me to him. I won’t die.” Twin mouths twitch into smile. The guide nods.
“Walk alone and that bridge will find you. Perhaps we will meet again, in this city.”
Kitch walks alone. Through tangled mazes of rope and wood, over steel and glass. He ducks through holes in dilapidated stonework, pulls himself over parapets and climbs ropes. Finally, Kitch arrives.
This bridge is different. It seems new somehow, as if the ancient design had been freshly hewn from a single gargantuan piece of wood. The grain flows through the wood, a giant’s fingerprint giving form to the smooth timber. The boy, tanned skin gleaming in the evening sun, waits for Kitch. He looks at him, pale, thin and far too small and asks: Why do you always run, Kitch.
“They would hurt me.” Says Kitch. So, says the boy, folding muscular arms, hurt them back. “How?” says Kitch, “they’re bigger than me.” The boy shakes his head: not here they aren’t, he says. He says: Here, you are king of your bridge. But if you can’t keep it safe, I will.
Kitch looks at his bridge. He knows it. Loves it. Can feel the still living sap move through it. Can’t lose it. “My bridge.” he whispers, lost in awe. His eyes open.
The hunters, three of them, faces distorted with bestial glee, speed after their quarry. Into the alleyway. Dark. The smell of hot rubbish twists and turns around them, catching its fingers in their hair, tugging tears into eyes. Kitch is waiting, face a mask of blood, a grin plastered to his face.
“Ready for your beats, eh ‘tard?”
Kitch whispers something, a guttural sound from low down, spat out with blood.
“Got something to say Kitchy?”
The hunters look between themselves. They scent something wrong.
Kitch walks forward, pale thin legs scratched and bruised, sweat saturated hair pointed up into horns. The hunters take a step back.
Kitch tenses. Leaps forwards. Teeth are clenched in vicious snarl. And in his eyes, a child laughs, sings, and dances on his bridge.