Authors: Tim Pratt
“Definitely,” Bridget said.
Darrin reached into his pocket and withdrew a folded piece of paper. “Here you go, Orville. It’s a map. Three steps back to the wider world. It should work for your current emotional state—I assume you guys are pretty happy at the moment, anyway. You’ll come out near the duck pond in Montclair, near Highway 13. It’s the closest I could get you in the shortest distance.”
Orville looked over the map, nodding. “Thanks, Darrin. It was . . . real weird meeting you.”
“Yeah,” he said, and, after a moment’s pause, “Be good to her, would you?”
Orville blushed, and Bridget smiled. Orville embraced Arturo, Bridget said her goodbyes, and then the dead woman and her boyfriend set off together into the mist.
“So,” Arturo said. “What’s the deal with tryin’ to hijack my ride?”
“The note said I was supposed to drive you here, and then tell you to look in the trunk.” Darrin shrugged. “I’m just doing what the Wendigo wills.”
Arturo grunted and went around to the trunk. Darrin didn’t go with him—he wasn’t sure he was supposed to. Maybe it was private. The trunk creaked open. Silence.
Then Arturo started laughing. “Come here, Darrin.”
Darrin went over and looked. The trunk was full of climbing gear. Ropes, carabiners, an illustrated book on climbing, a harness, and weird discs with handles and buttons on them. Darrin picked one up, pushed the button, and the disc nearly jumped out of his hand, adhering to the lid of the trunk. He let the button go, and the disc released. “Electromagnets,” he said. “For climbing on metal, I guess.”
“So that’s the bridge to the land of the dead, huh?” Arturo said. “So there’s a chance, you think, that my Marjorie is over there?”
“It could be,” Darrin said. “But . . . hell, Arturo. Are you really going to do this? Try to cross the bridge by climbing on the struts?”
He shrugged. “I’m middle-aged, overweight, and I never climbed anythin’ but a
. What do you think my chances are of making it across?”
“Probably not that good,” Darrin said. The equipment looked high-quality, but Arturo didn’t know what he was doing.
“Nothin’ ventured,” Arturo said. “The Wendigo brought me this far. And, hell, worst case scenario, I die. And if I’m lucky, then I wind up crossing this bridge anyway, right?”
“Good luck, Arturo. I hope you find her.”
“Even if I don’t, I had a pretty interestin’ time lookin’. But me and her sure would have a lot to talk about. The stories I could tell. The stories she could tell
.” He took the climbing equipment out of the trunk and closed the lid. He held out his hand, and Darrin shook it.
“Thanks for taking me out for that drink,” Darrin said.
“Thanks for being a great drinkin’ buddy. Wish we could’ve lifted a few more brews together.”
“Me too. Kind of funny how the Wendigo went through all this to get you here. I mean, it could have just
you to this bridge in the first place.”
Arturo shrugged. “Mysterious ways. The Wendigo has her reasons. Anyway. I’d rather not have you around when I start this. I’d get nervous at you watching and miss my first foothold, you know?”
“Yeah. Okay. Be safe.”
“Same to you. If you wind up riding around with the Wendigo, be good to her.”
Darrin got into the car, turned the key, and drove away. Though, really, the car drove itself. The note had also said that, after Arturo was gone, Darrin should drive the Wendigo away, park it, and look in the trunk again.
He did, stopping in a wooded area with mushrooms the size of palm trees. He went to the trunk, and it popped open as he approached.
Inside, there was a compass, some surveying equipment, and loads of graph paper. Mapmaking tools. Darrin took everything out. He went to the back door, opened it, took out his pack, and put the new supplies in with his others.
The back door shut itself. Darrin frowned, reached out, and jiggled the handle. It didn’t open.
“Ah,” Darrin said. “Got it. A person needs a purpose, and I guess I’ve got mine.” Having a car would be useful, but you saw the world more clearly when you were walking in it, instead of looking out from behind glass. If he was going to map the briarpatch, he’d do it one pace at a time.
The Wendigo purred to life and rolled away, down some road Darrin couldn’t see.
Darrin looked at the compass in his hand. The needle spun crazily, unable to find any semblance of true north. Darrin laughed, shook his head, and set off again into the briarpatch.
Tim Pratt's fiction has won a Hugo Award, and he's been a finalist for Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards. His other books include two short story collections; a volume of poems; a contemporary fantasy novel called
The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl
; and, as T. A. Pratt, six books (and counting) about sorcerer Marla Mason. He works as a senior editor for
, and lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife, Heather Shaw, and their son, River. Find him online at timpratt.org.
I’d like to thank the participants of the 2006 Blue Heaven novel writing workshop for their insight and advice: Tobias S. Buckell, Brenda Cooper, Charles Coleman Finlay, Sandra McDonald, Paul Melko, Catherine M. Morrison, Sarah Prineas, William Shunn, Mary Turzillo, and Greg van Eekhout. Their critiques were invaluable. Thanks also to Jenn Reese; my agent Ginger Clark; ChiZine publishers Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi for giving this novel a home; my editor Chris Edwards for making me make it better; my wife Heather Shaw, who ensures this is the best of all worlds; and my son River, who gave me a whole new set of reasons to live.