Stephen Williams holds a BA in creative writing from the University of California Riverside where he won the Chancellor's Performance Award for excellence in fiction. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Menacing Hedge, Underneath the Juniper Tree, Black Heart, and BLACK&WHITE. Currently, he serves as an editor for Rind Literary Magazine. He lives in a small desert town where the only thing to do for fun is catch rattlesnakes.
Bridge of Air, Bridge of Silk
I come from a village of basket weavers. Wicker to wool, bamboo to bark—if it was meant to hold something, we could craft it. From the time you develop crawling calluses on your palms, your apprenticeship begins, and soon you have calluses on your fingers as well. This is the life we were born into. This is the life most of us wanted.
For a while, the village flourished. Kings would travel over jagged mountaintops to claim one of our prized baskets. The gold was great, but soon a plague cast a shadow through our homes. We were devastated; none of us had healing experience. After all, we were experts on mending bowls and basins—not bodies.
I was tired of watching people die, so I concocted a plan. When I came of age, I’d go to school, learn to be a doctor, then return to save my friends and family. The village elders gave me their blessing and I set off.
Other than being content in our simple lives, the reason why not many people leave our community is the Bridge of Air. The village sits perched at the top of a stony needle rising hundreds of feet above the valley floor. The only thing that connects us to the mainland is a flimsy rope bridge that twists like dandelion petals on a breezy day. No one knows for sure how many have plummeted over its frayed railings.
Seeing birds pass under my feet made me want to run home and hide under my bed—but that wasn’t an option. If I didn’t go through with this, I’d be returning to a graveyard. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and put one foot in front of the other until I was across. Soon, I was on the steps of Amethyst University.
For two long years I studied in dusty, dark classrooms. I learned everything from mixing medicines to pickling parts. With my diploma tucked into a case made from a hollowed-out bone, I began the journey home. It was time to save some lives.
The trip back took no time at all. I’d grown a full eight inches while at the academy; now my lanky strides could cover some serious ground. Also, meeting new people and devouring hundreds of books had made me more courageous. Within a week, I spied the silhouette of my hometown against the horizon.
The last obstacle between me and my destiny wasn’t the one I’d expected. The nightmarish bridge we used to whisper about around campfires was missing. In its place was a bundle of long, gossamer strands. It vibrated like guitar strings and cast faint rainbows in the sunlight. The Bridge of Air had been replaced with a bridge of silk.
I stood there for an hour, doubt swimming back into my brain like leeches flooding a pond at nightfall. Even my toes were shaking in the tips of my boots. Simply moving a millimeter out onto this expanse would be a leap of faith.
I flipped around, prepared to enroll in the university’s flying machine program, when a soothing voice sang to me on the wind.
“Don’t give up hope,” it said. “Trust the threads, ride them to your fate.”
My eyes darted from rock to rock, shrub to shrub, trying to find the speaker. Every syllable rolled over my muscles like warm honey. No matter how much I searched, I was alone on the cliff. It must have been an angel.
“What happened to the old bridge?” I replied.
“That deathtrap?” the voice said. “The village elders burned it and crafted this masterpiece instead. It is the finest work ever weaved by the hands of your people.”
There was no denying it; the silk was more beautiful than anything I’d ever learned to spin.
“Will it support me?” I said. “I didn’t trust the old one and it was made of oak. There are whole sections of this one I can see straight through. It would be like tiptoeing across a frozen lake.”
“It will hold, trust me,” the voice continued. “Each fiber is as strong as steel.”
I was almost convinced, but one issue still nipped at the back of my mind.
“How is it I’m having a conversation with the air?” I asked. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re good company—but you don’t have a mouth. It feels awfully funny to be talking to something without a face.”
“Your people obtained such a mastery of their skills they were able to sew words into the very wind to comfort weary travelers,” the voice said. I could hear a smile in its depths.
Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. So just like my adventure began, I closed my eyes and placed one foot on the bridge. I realized my mistake immediately. It was sticky, and before I could pull back, I fell face first into the tangled mess. I struggled, but the gluey cords had paralyzed me.
Lying on my stomach, I had a better view of the valley below. What had once been golden fields of sweet grass was now a rotting swamp filled with thousands of bones. A chorus of skulls stared up at me with their jaws spread wide in silent screams.
Eight black legs emerged from a fissure in the cliff. I’d been speaking to a spider the size of a barn. Around its abdomen it wore a thread decorated with human hands. I recognized some of the wedding rings.
“Such a brave girl,” said the spider. “Your heart will be more nourishing than all of the reclusive cowards of your village combined. Don’t be ashamed.”
The compliments felt like a lullaby. I had accomplished some great things, seen more than any of my ancestors. The reward for my courage? Not an itchy, wicker casket—but a coffin of silk dangling in the heavens.