Now As It Is Forever, Mark F.
Originally published in New Horizons, a now-defunct print project produced by the British Science Fiction Association (2009ish)
Joe stared out at the old swing-bridge in the middle of the river. Diving from that bridge was the only thing he’d ever accomplished in his life, and if he could do it once, he could do it again. Then things would be different.
But the bridge looked vaguely sinister now, even obscene, a rusting steel skeleton balanced on a concrete finger thrusting out of the dark water. And it looked higher than he remembered too. And there were all those little details to worry about, like balling up your fists so the impact wouldn’t break your fingers, clamping your teeth together so they wouldn’t shatter, the jarring hammer-blow as your head slammed into water.
And then there was the boy-in-the-cow.
Joe’s mom had told him about the boy, about how he’d jumped off the bridge and landed on a dead cow floating just beneath the river’s surface, about how the force drove him right through the cow’s rotting carcass, leaving him stuck there, dead, floating downriver like a human skewer in a bloated bovine shish kabob.
Joe’d been skeptical, of course, but the river’d always been polluted with all sorts of crap – gasping fish, yesterday’s newspapers, last month’s computers – why not putrefying livestock too? And if it happened once, then it could happen to him. If only she hadn’t told him about it, then maybe he wouldn’t have been so scared of everything.
Joe sighed, ripped up yet another losing lottery ticket, and let the wind sweep the worthless paper from his hand. He used to have hopes, used to look forward to a future with flying cars and Martian colonies and world peace and all that good stuff. But he still didn’t have any of that; things were pretty much the same as they’d been back when he was ten, and it looked like they’d probably be the same when he was fifty too. His future wasn’t any brighter than his past. If only he’d been born twenty years later, then at least he could’ve had a genetically-engineered birth to clear up all the faults he’d inherited from his parents.
Joe jumped into the water and swam toward the bridge. Back when he was young the swing-bridge actually swung, rotating to connect the railways on each side of the river. Back then you could just walk out there. But now the bridge was locked into position parallel to the flow of water – a petrified island of rusting metal and crumbling stone. Now you actually had to swim out to it.
When he finally reached the bridge he grabbed the ladder and let the current sweep his body out like a flag in the wind. He wondered if a flag ever thought about just letting go. But the water was cold so he climbed, the wind goose-bumping his wet skin. At the top he slipped through the metal framework onto the deck of tar-crusted railroad ties and crept to the end of the bridge, where the rails emptied out into darkness and nothing.
He turned and looked up the end-beam, eighteen inches wide and sloped at a sixty degree angle. After rising thirty feet it joined a second beam set at a forty-five degree angle, the two forming an elbowed-arc leading to a horizontal third beam.
Sweat tingled his skin despite the chill. He grasped the edges of the beam, placed his toe on a rust-worn rivet, and began to climb. Water dripped from his sneakers and shorts, making the footing treacherous. As he struggled upward, he continuously slid off the rivets and banged his knees on the girder.
At the elbow of the first two beams, he paused to rest. A mile upriver, the Pandora’s Hope Bridge arched across the river at a height nearly twice that of the old swing-bridge. As a kid he used to dream about gaining fame by jumping from the PHB, but he’d never tried it. Things might’ve been different if he had.
Turning away, he resumed his climb. A few more steps and he’d be at the top. Then he had to work up the nerve to actually jump. He had to. There was no going back to his old life.
Suddenly, he slipped and slid backwards down the beam, fingers and knees scraping and burning along the rusted metal. When his feet hit the deck of railroad ties, his legs buckled and he tipped backwards, teetering on the bridge’s edge, circling his arms in an attempt to recover his balance.
But then what was the point? He’d waited patiently, hoping the future would be brighter, but his brighter future never came. Accepting failure as inevitable, he fell backward into the water.
A shroud of wet darkness enveloped him. He welcomed it. It felt more like home than anything he’d ever experienced. When his body started floating toward the surface, he let air out of his lungs until he was sinking again.
But as consciousness faded, he realized that dying wasn’t all that easy. Sure, it didn’t take much effort on his part, but did he have to feel the sting of his sliced-up knees and hands, the growing headache, the crushing lung-ache as his final breath staled?
He felt drunk now, and not in a good way; dizzy, on the verge of nausea. As his body drifted to the bottom of the river, his mind drifted to a place and time where things actually had turned out different.
Here, he had jumped from the top of the Pandora’s Hope Bridge, a once-in-a-lifetime perfect swan dive that produced hardly a ripple as he plunged through the river’s pristine surface. But then most of the credit for that had to go to the genetic engineers who’d managed his birth.
He pulled himself up onto the dock, where a lottery ticket waited atop his towel. The lottery ticket was a winner, the largest prize ever, but the towel was all dry and scratchy and gave him a burning rash.
With part of his winnings he bought a condo in the newly-built Hesiod development on Mars, where the temperature was always a perfectly-controlled seventy-two, though the artificially-modulated sunlight was too bright and gave him migraines.
But at least he wasn’t alone anymore, having married the hottest New-Hollywood starlet, Elka Sihn. But it turned out that Elka got her start as an underage porn queen, and he was pretty sure she was screwing his best friend too. His other friends were no better, wanting nothing more than a piece of his lottery winnings, not that much was left after the taxman got to it.
But at least he finally had his flying car, a sleek Pegasus 3000 with blistering acceleration. But the driving was absolutely horrible on Mars, what with traffic not only to the left-and-right, but up-and-down as well. And what about the annoying red dust!
Here, he’d finally made it to his long-awaited land of milk-and-honey only to find the milk curdled and the honey swarming with bees. If not for the genetic engineering, he’d probably be lactose intolerant and allergic to bees as well.
A gasping mouthful of water brought him back. He opened his eyes. Through a murky haze he saw a dim light above the water – perhaps the light of hope, but maybe just a tragic explosion. But the source of the light didn’t matter anymore; he swam after it, unconcerned that he might never catch it. Things were different now, even though nothing had changed.
Mark started the first and only twitterary magazine in existence that actually pays people to tweet (as far as he knows anyway). If you want to get paid to tweet, check @MythicPicnic on twitter.
Mythic Picnic co-published Derelict Vol. 1 with Malarkey Books and sponsored a book giveaway, worth $26, to help us buy the domain for this website.