Rufus Waterford and the Bridge Beyond the Stars

Rufus Waterford had stumbled over a sewer grate when he was small. He could never quite remember how it had happened. He had been walking along next to his mother, tired and hungry after a day of following her through all her shopping. The next moment he was on his back over the sewer grate, looking up at the sky. He had thought of the water rushing below him, of the sky arching above him, and he had put the two together. Just like that.

That night at home he attempted to recreate the experience. He ran around and around in circles in the backyard, but he never managed to fall down. In exasperation, he finally just lay down on his back in the grass. He looked up at the silver dots of the stars, at the shining gray face of the moon, and he knew that one day he would get there. He would build a bridge, a bridge from the sea to the sky. It would be golden and glittering and glorious, and he would simply walk up it, and then he would be up there, among the stars.

He climbed into bed, after a mug of hot chocolate and the usual ritual of a bath and putting on his pajamas and brushing his teeth, and he delighted in imagining his bridge to the universe. It would start in the water, anchored in a great ocean. It would go up and up and up, into the clouds and beyond.

That night, in his dreams, the voice came.

Secrets, so many secrets, beyond the stars. If only one could see.

In his dream he floated above the ruins of an ancient city. Spires reached up from the dark depths.

If one could see.

He drifted down towards stone stairs so big and wide that he was sure giants must have once walked upon them.

Beyond the stars.

The stairs were green with algae. The water had worn away whole sections of the stone, leaving stairs that ascended into nothingness, that swayed gently in the water, that seemed to speak, to say that they had led somewhere once, that they had been attached to fellows, that they had been useful. But those days were long gone, and now the stone chattered to itself while the water passed over it, muting its voice.

Secrets.

He climbed the stairs, lightly springing from one to the next. The water held him, supported him, carried him up. It swirled around him, and he heard the whispers.

Secrets in the sea, secrets beyond the stars, if one can see. See.

He saw the statue at the top of the stairs, the statue that must have been carved by a giant’s hands. He saw the tentacles, the claws, the giant wings, the gaping mouths full of sharp long teeth. He saw the eyes. All of them.

See.

Through the years, two other dreams had come. His favorite was the one with the bridge, the great giant golden thing rising up out of the ocean, glinting in the sun. The water was dark and green, and beneath it he saw the shapes from the other dream, the stairs and the spires and the statue. The bridge sprung from the sunken city, and it went up and up to the sky and through the atmosphere. That dream was always silent, blank. There was the golden bridge and the sun and the water and beneath it the ruins, and he was there, infinite, and all was silent.

The third dream, the one that completed the triad, was his least favorite. In this dream, he walked on a black blasted alien landscape. He walked and walked on hot black sand, a blood red sky above. He walked forever, with a voice whispering around him, filling the hot sticky air.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

The voice grew louder and louder as he walked, and the air grew heavier and hotter, and then he would reach the ring of fire. Tall towers, black against the dark red sky, burned with green fire. White robed figures danced and leaped in front of the fires. He could make out bodies hanging from the upper reaches of the towers, just above the leaping green flames.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

The figures in the white robes took up the whisper, chanted it, screamed it, made the air vibrate to their cries.

When he woke up from that dream, it took a long time to come back to reality, to see the green and blue and brown of this world, to hear the human voices speaking in a tongue he knew.

He never told anyone about the dreams. He watched, and dreamed, and waited.

Rufus took advanced physics and calculus in high school. He did not have friends. He never dated. He wandered around town, studying the bridges. Railway bridges, highway bridges, pedestrian bridges over small creeks. He made his parents buy a draft table for him. He sat for hours at the draft table, drawing the bridges.

Sometimes he would go to sleep at the draft table. Once, slumped over a drawing of an old railway bridge, he had the water dream. When he woke up, he found that a small picture had taken shape under his hand. It was the statue from the dream, the being with the tentacles, the claws, the great wings, the dozens of mouths, and the eyes. All the eyes.

See.

In college, Rufus majored in civil engineering, with a specialization in structural engineering. His freshman year roommate said he was weird. He said that Rufus made strange sounds during the night, low guttural vocalizations that did not sound like any human language. He said that Rufus did not talk or socialize, that he only studied and drew bridges. He said that the way Rufus looked at him really freaked him out, like Rufus was looking straight through him, like he wasn’t there.

Rufus lived alone his sophomore year.

One night a new dream came. In this dream he hung in a vast black silence. Strange silver shapes swung in great circles above his head. He felt an immense sense of time, of eons passing. The silver shapes changed and moved in new patterns. And still he hung in the infinite silence.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

The alien syllables came from his own lips. Immediately, as if answering his call, the golden bridge became visible. It stretched down beneath him, shining and perfect. He wanted it, as he had never wanted anything. It hung in the blackness, supported by nothing but his desire.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

He woke that morning with a sore throat.

Rufus graduated at the top of his class. He went on to graduate school, receiving his master’s degree in civil engineering. Doors opened for him, despite his gaunt look and the rings under his eyes and his wild stare. Or perhaps it was because of those things.

He kept a drawing of the statue from the water dream with him at all times.

Secrets, so many secrets, beyond the stars. If only one could see.

He took a job with a prestigious engineering firm.

The dreams came every night then, crowding upon each other, spilling over their boundaries. He floated in black space above a ruined city burning with green flames. He lay on his back in the hot black sand, looking up at a sky full of algae-covered stairs to nowhere. He wore a white robe and danced around the statue of the being with the tentacles and the wings and the claws and the mouths and the eyes.

All the eyes.

See.

He took the drawing of the statue with him, and people stared through him, their eyes vacant, their faces slack, and they said yes to his questions. To his demands.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

The Observant plowed through the dark green waves. Rufus had planned, researched, and dreamed for decades, and now he was here. He was so close that he could taste the algae.

He tried to not sleep. He walked up and down the deck. He studied the maps of the sea floor, the ones that showed the odd formations that had whispered to him of green crumbling stairs and tall spires. He played Solitaire. He drank through the ship’s supply of instant coffee. He drew pictures of bridges. But still, his body betrayed him, and he slept.

Rufus dreamed.

He dreamed of water dripping. Drop after drop, dripping down on stone.

Then he was on his back on the old sewer grate, staring upwards. The pulsing blood red vault of the sky arched above him, and below him, in the sewer, the water dripped.

If one could see.

Then he was deep in the water, drifting down past the spires towards the stairs.

Beyond the stars.

Metal sprung up from the wide platform at the top of the stairs. It pushed itself up through the water, up and up and up. He watched as it broke the surface, glittering gold in the sunlight.

Secrets.

The spires around the platform lit up with green fire. White figures danced in the dark water.

The statue, the many-eyed thing in the center of the platform, began to move.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

Rufus woke up screaming.

—-

The divers came back to the Observant with strange tales of a giant undersea city. If not for their photographs, only Rufus would have believed them.

He spread the photographs out on his drafting table. Here was the landscape that had haunted him for decades.

Secrets, so many secrets, beyond the stars. If only one could see.

He looked at the picture of the statue. He studied the tentacles, the claws, the wings, the mouths. He stared into the eyes.

See.

He began to sketch.

The workers complained of bad dreams. Some, on seeing the ruined city and the statue, refused to work on the bridge and left. Rumors began to spread, of the wild-eyed man in charge of the operation, of a cult on the island nearest the bridge. There were whispers of disappearances, of workers who went on shore leave and were never seen again.

Rufus raised their pay.

He had taken to drugs to stay awake. He sometimes found himself sitting at his draft table, a drawing of the many-eyed thing crawling up his beautiful bridge before him, with no memory of how it got there. The voices of the workers came to him through a fog, and they had to repeat themselves many times before he understood what they were saying. White figures danced and leapt at the edges of his vision. He felt weak and feverish, and then the cough came.

He was forced to take to the bed in his cabin. He lay there, staring up at the ceiling, feeling the ship move beneath him. He fell asleep, despite himself, and dreamed.

He dreamed of crawling across the hot black sand beneath the blood red sky. He saw the black towers, burning with green fire. Bodies swung above the flames. He could see runes carved into their skin. The white robed things danced around him, and he saw their faces. He saw all the mouths and all the eyes. The eyes stared into him. The mouths all writhed.

Th’och nguh rhila Tenyachogll lalihr hugn hoc’ht

Then he was floating in the vast blackness, the infinity of nothingness. The silver shapes, so far off in the distance, so far that he would never reach them, swung above and around and below him. The shapes sung, their song on the very edge of hearing.

Secrets, so many secrets, beyond the stars. If only one could see.

Eons passed, and then he was in the dark green depths. The water shut out the song of the stars. The stone spires and stairs whispered of the feel of the water on their surface as it swirled around them, as they crumbled and gave way to it. Algae grew and covered his skin. More whispers came, on the very edge of his hearing. Whispers of men.

Then he was above the water, floating in infinite silence. His bridge appeared, hanging in the sunlight. A terrible joy overtook him, and he screamed.

Tenyachogll! Tenyachogll! Tenyachogll!

He woke when one of his men poured water on his head. When he opened his eyes, they drew back from him. A few crossed themselves.

He told them to work harder and faster, that the bridge must be completed soon, that he would triple their pay. They did as he said, but he heard the whispers. The whispers that he had gone mad, that it was the devil’s work, that no good would come of man reaching for the stars.

Rufus stayed in his cabin, and drew bridges.

They called him to the deck when it was done, when they had breached the atmosphere, so that he could see the last bolt put into place. He saw how they watched him, how they kept their nets and ropes at the ready.

He walked to the ship’s railing. Let them stare. All those eyes.

See.

He coughed, a great hacking cough that forced him to hold on to the railing as it shook him. He would not be climbing the bridge. Like Moses, he had led his people to the promised land, but he could not enter it.

He looked up, far up into the sky, but of course he could not see the end of his bridge. The sun glinted off the golden span. He shielded his eyes against the glare, and remembered the sewer grate and the great blue sky above him.

Secrets.

Word came on the radio that it was done, that the last piece had been put into place. The workers cheered. He knew they wanted to go home, to forget the people who disappeared, the strange sights from the nearby island. He knew they would be drunk tonight.

Here was his bridge, and it was done, and he did not know what he would be doing.

Beyond the stars.

He looked down at the green city under the water, at the spires and the stairs and the statue.

The statue began to move.

Only One can see.

He saw the platform at the top of the stairs slide apart. He saw the tentacles waving, feeling their way out of the stone tomb. He saw the huge claws scrabbling for purchase. He saw the wings as they began to spread. He saw the mouths, full of razor sharp teeth, opening and closing. He saw the eyes. All of them.

See.

Rufus jumped.

——————————————————————-

Author’s Note: This week was another partner week in the writing contest. My partner’s part of this story can be found on her blog here.

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