Thu, 12 February 2009 - 3:04 pm

Bridge over troubled waters

The bridge is broken – we’re going to have to find another way to cross the river. We tried today, and we nearly lost Thorpe, Sax and the kids to the water.

We were all sickened by the sight of the river. It was tanned shit the last time I saw it, weeks ago. Now it’s infected with rainwater, oily green ribbons winding through the channel. I don’t even want to know what might be in there; I saw a few bumps submerged and drifting downriver, but they weren’t identifiable. It’s an intestine of piss and puss, pumping out to poison the ocean. There was a sucking noise down by the banks and the bridge’s feet, as if it was trying to slurp the scenery into its maw and swallow.

 

We had our two cars, all started and ready, and everything seemed good. There were a few abandoned cars on the bridge, but not enough to stop us getting to the other side. So we piled in and headed off, with Thorpe leading the weave through the debris.

No-one had thought to check the bridge. It looked fine from the riverbank – we could see all the way across it. We’re still learning about how cautious we need to be, and clearly we aren’t anywhere near paranoid enough.

The first indication that something was wrong was a rumbling underneath us. At first I thought it was just the road surface, but then a creak sheared through the sensation and we all knew it was something more. The bright red warning of brake lights flared on the car in front.

We weren’t yet halfway across and the noise was coming from ahead of us. I couldn’t see what prompted it, but suddenly Thorpe’s reverse lights came on and then both cars were careening backwards towards solid ground.

There was a moment when all four wheels were off the ground. My stomach was left in midair as the bridge fell at least a foot, leaving our tyres to catch up. We kept going, as fast as we could, swerving recklessly towards the bank.

I knew that shearing sound, I knew the scream of concrete and steel giving way. I had heard it often enough when the city was falling down on top of us. Here, it was accompanied by small, thick splashes – a tiny part of my brain realised that chunks were coming off the bridge. It was dismantling under our feet, falling victim to the river below.

The almighty crack was deafening and right under us. Our car bounced up as it scraped past the split, but the one in front of us wasn’t so lucky. I remember shouting at Ben to stop, stop, they’re stuck, they can’t get past the crack. I could smell hot rubber as we slithered to a halt, but I was too busy staring at the bridge.

It moaned like a dying thing when it gave way. It sounded like it had been trying to hold itself up long enough for us to get free, but it couldn’t hold out any longer. The whole middle section had snapped off and the far end dropped down into the river. It made the sick water pulse up and swirl out in surprise, only to flow in hungrily again.

Thorpe’s car hadn’t made it. They were suspended over the break, front wheels spinning, engine roaring in frustration. I could see the kids in the back seat, turned back to look at us; Dillon’s mouth was moving but I couldn’t hear him from there.

I jumped out and Sally was right behind me – Masterson needed a glare to get moving. He came, though, when I sprinted over to other car. It was balanced on its middle, both sets of wheels turning in the air.

We grabbed the bumper and pulled it down, trying to pull the weight back to safety. In front of the car, the fallen section of road was a steep slide into the belly of the river. It was heavy, and the three of us wouldn’t be able to hold it for long – the engine was too heavy.

The kids were scrabbling at the doors but I could hear Thorpe telling them to stay where they were. At first I was furious – the kids should be saved first! But then I realised that the heavy people were all at the front of the car – him and Sax. Without the kids as counterbalance, we wouldn’t be able to hold the car back. We’d lose them.

I called to Thorpe, asking him what we should do. He had the sense to wind down the window so he could shout back to me. Then Ben was at my elbow, putting his weight to the task, and he took over the coordination. They might not have a truck any more, no flashing lights or fluorescent jackets, but they’re still firemen. Thank god. It was still a fight, but without them, we wouldn’t have had a chance of saving anyone.

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