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Now As It Is Forever by Mark Finnemore

Joe gazed across at the crippled 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, a rusting steel skeleton balanced on a

concrete finger thrusting perversely out of the murky water. It looked higher too. And

there were all those details to worry about: balling up your fists so the impact wouldn’t

snap your fingers, clamping your teeth so they wouldn’t shatter, the hammer-blow as your

head slammed 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, how the force drove him

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, it

could happen to him.

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 all that bullshit. But things were pretty much

the same as they’d been when he was ten, and it looked like they’d be the same when he

was fifty. 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. When he reached it, he

grabbed the rusting 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 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.

He turned and looked up the end-beam, eighteen inches wide and steeply sloped at a

sixty degree angle. After rising thirty feet it joined a horizontal second beam. Sweat

tingled his skin despite the chill. He grasped the edges of the beam, placed his toe on a

rust-worn rivet, and climbed. Halfway up he paused. A mile upriver, the Pandora’s Hope

Bridge arched across the river at twice the height of the old swing-bridge. As a kid he’d

dreamt about gaining fame by jumping from the PHB, but he’d never tried it because of

the boy in the cow. If he had, things might’ve been different.

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 jump. He had to. He couldn’t go back to his old life.

Suddenly, he slipped and slid backwards down the beam, desperately-clawing fingers

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 to recover his balance.

But then why bother? He’d waited for his brighter future, but it never came. Accepting

failure as inevitable, he fell into the water.

A shroud of damp darkness enveloped him. He welcomed it. When his body floated

toward the surface, he released air from his lungs until he was sinking. As consciousness

faded, he realized dying wasn’t 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?

As his body drifted to the river's bottom, his mind drifted to a time where things had

turned out differently. Here, he'd jumped from the top of the PHB, 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 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 perfect seventy-two, though the artificially-

modulated sunlight was too bright and gave him migraines. But he wasn’t alone anymore,

having married the hottest New-Hollywood starlet, Elka Sihn. But it turned out Elka was

screwing his best friend. 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 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.

A gasping mouthful of water brought him back. Through a murky haze he saw a dim

light–perhaps the light of hope, but maybe just a tragic explosion. But the source of the

light didn’t matter; he swam toward it, unconcerned that he might never reach it. 

END

Originally Published By New Horizons, 2010

Mark Finnemore is a used-to-(and sometimes still)-wannabe writer who got addicted to twitter 7+ years ago and hasn’t written much but tweets since then. He is EIC of the first and only paying twitterary magazine (as far as he knows) over at @MythicPicnic


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