some respects— fewer fleas now, less slavery. The world just never got good
Ismael opened a closet and gestured at dozens of walking sticks leaning against the walls inside. “Better take one of these.”
Bridget peered into the closet and shook her head. “For a guy who disdains worldly things, Ismael, you sure do have an awful lot of shit.”
Ismael shrugged. “People give me their possessions, sometimes, just before they take the leap. I never ask for it, but it seems rude to refuse. Even this house was a gift from one of my jumpers. I do have a lot of walking sticks but, well, most of those people took a lot of walks with me. Like we’re about to.”
Bridget grunted and took a ski pole from the closet, just to be contrary, Ismael supposed. He didn’t take a stick. He had his ASP baton if he needed to fend anything off to protect Bridget, and he didn’t worry about tripping and falling. He knew every dip and pebble on
path, though he didn’t have the emotional strength to walk it very often. The despair he felt afterward was too great, and paths in the briarpatch could be treacherous.
He led her down his back steps, through his weedy yard, to the leaning wooden shed, full of dust, dark, and spiders. Pulling open the crooked door, he gestured. “After you.”
She shifted her pack and stepped past him, pausing just inside the threshold. “I don’t see a way,” she said petulantly. Well, that wouldn’t last. Ismael considered clubbing her in the back of the head and dragging her into the briarpatch to die or find her own way out. Her disappearance would have the same affect on Darrin as her transition to the light. There was a time when he’d reacted to the insolence of these short-time mortals with that sort of extreme prejudice, but the idea of murder made him tired now. Besides, he liked Bridget, and she would probably come around, once she saw the light.
“Look harder.” He touched her on the back of the neck.
She stepped forward, muttering “I see,” and vanished into the darkness at the back of the shed, a spot where the back wall might have been, but wasn’t, just now.
Ismael followed her into the dark, and through, and out into the light again. They were on an isthmus barely wide enough for the two of them to stand side by side, a natural rock bridge dropping away to chasm on all sides, crushed-seashell soil underfoot. The old wooden shed stood behind them, or else its double did; Ismael was never sure whether liminal objects had doppelgangers here in the briarpatch, or if they inhabited both spaces simultaneously. Maybe “space” was an irrelevant term in this setting. Despite years of curiosity about science and philosophy, Ismael was neither scientist nor philosopher, and his approach to the briarpatch was mostly instinctive. His old friend and travelling companion, the talkative Harczos, had been the one with all the theories about this place, but Ismael hadn’t spoken to him in years, since their falling out in the wake of Harczos’s last great act of cruelty.
A swinging bridge stretched before them, over the chasm, to some unseen shore on the far side. The bridge was a mishmash of metal and wood, boards that resembled those from the shed, patched here and there with scrap metal (like the shed’s tin roof), bits of old lawnmowers (like the one that sat rusting in the shed), with handrails made of chain and rope (like those that hung on the shed’s walls).
Bridget put her hand on the rail, hesitated for a moment, and then started walking across.
Ismael shook his head. She was so brave and foolish, walking into the briarpatch ahead of him this way, with no idea where she was going or what waited for her ahead. When she saw the corpse, perhaps she’d let him take the lead.
The bridge barely swung as they crossed, and it didn’t produce the sorts of creaks and clanks such a structure should have made. Ismael believed it probably wasn’t a bridge at all, certainly
jpg] Skinwalkers (v1) [html