by Roderick T. Long
[written age 12, on 6 October 1976, in Idaho Falls. I dont know why I set this story in an alternative universe.]
The sound of rushing, roaring water filled Toms ears. He stood on the edge of the bank, bag in hand, staring in horror at the thin framework of sticks that supported the narrow, hanging log that was precariously suspended over the falls.
Ever since he was born, and before, the makeshift structure formed by driftwood had been called Hells Bridge.
Tom saw it every day on the way home from school, and now he saw it even more often, because that was where he picked up his papers to deliver the Rockney City Evening Herald.
Always before, the sight of Hells Bridge had been comforting to Tom a landmark, a lodestar, a familiar sign of home. But recently, Hells Bridge had become a place of horror for Tom.
How on earth did I ever get myself into this? Tom asked himself, as his drab, gray newspaper bag with Evening Herald written on it in faded green letters hung limply from his hand. But he needed no answer.
He knew the answer.
Rockney City had replaced Boise as the capital of Idaho in 1973, and now had grown so large that Idaho Falls and Pocatello were merely suburbs of it. Tom went to Tanglewood Junior High School, the best one in Rockney City. But Tom wished he hadnt. For if he had gone to some other school, he might never have met Ryan Hartford.
Ryan was the leader of a club called the Red Bear and Company. To belong to the Red Bear club was important, because then all the bullies would be afraid to pick on you.
There was just one hitch. Before you could join, you had to be initiated. And part of the initiation required that the joiner must cross Hells Bridge. So now, Hells Bridge had become a nightmare to Tom.
Hey, Green! Ryans voice, misleadingly cheerful, cried out. Chicken or something?
Tom Green mumbled something that Ryan couldnt hear.
You gettin scared? grinned Ryan. Gonna back out?
Tom said something unprintable under his breath. Aloud, he said, No, Im not getting chicken or something, and Im not going to back out! Now just go and stick your fat head in a slicing mach
Toms words were cut off by Ryans heavy fist pounding into Toms face. You just shut up! snapped Ryan. And get yourself across that bridge before I
Okay, okay, said Tom. Just leave me alone! Then, Tom put down his bag and edged toward the beginning of Hells Bridge. He placed his foot tentatively on the framework. It held. He put his other foot on the framework. Nothing happened.
Tom started across.
As he crossed, Tom started thinking. A few months ago, he had spoken violently against the Red Bear and Company. He had told the students not to join the Red Bear Club. Youll be safe from bullies, but what price do you pay! What about all the illegal activities the Police Department discovered?
Youre a fine one to talk, someone had shouted at him. The only reason you dont join yourself is because youre afraid to cross Hells Bridge.
But now he was crossing it. Now they would have to believe him. But what about the bullies? Tom had to admit he was scared.
My original idea was to cross the bridge to prove to the kids that I wasnt scared, thought Tom, so that I could help to overthrow the Red Bear and Company. But then the bullies will pick on me more than ever! Maybe I will join the Red Bear and Company. In fact, Ill have to. Ill
Tom didnt get a chance to finish the sentence. There was a cracking sound, and the framework started to collapse underneath him. Tom was only halfway across too far to jump so he grabbed wildly onto a rock in the middle of the rushing river. From there, he jumped to a five-foot island near the bank of the stream, and from there, he leaped to shore.
Whattaya know, Green? said Ryan. You did it! Well have the initiation ceremony tonight. You coming?
For a moment, Tom wrestled with his conscience. Then, he thought of the bullies.
Yeah, Im coming, said Tom.
On the way home, Tom worried. Why did I say that? he wondered. Im a coward a coward!
Then, Tom made a decision.
That night, Ryan came. Come on, he said, its time for the meeting. Rod* picked up some neat stuff weve gotta show y
Forget it, Tom said. Ive changed my mind.
Hey, you cant do that! said Ryan.
Get out of here! snapped Tom. Out!
Are you trying to order me around? asked Ryan. If so, youre gonna be sorry.
Not half as sorry as youre going to be! Heres one I owe you! And Tom punched Ryan in the face.
Ill get even with you for that! shouted Ryan. Tom had no doubt that he would. But now, maybe he could get some other kids interested in fighting the Red Bear and Company. Until someday, no one need fear to walk the grounds of Tanglewood Junior High.
(This has been a public service announcement from Blue Funnel toothpaste.)
* No relation to Rod Long, author of this story.
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