Authors: Michael Robertson
Fire burned through his knuckles as he pulled himself up. Regardless of how bad it felt, he had to get to the top. He had to keep going.
Lola had already made it halfway.
When Lola reached up to the metal railing and pulled herself over, Michael lost even more strength. He looked down at the dark river again, which didn’t help.
He had to snap out of it. It didn’t matter what Lola was doing. It only mattered that he needed to be at the top of the rope.
Every muscle in his body strained and ached as if tearing. When he glanced down again, he saw the corpse swinging and flapping around from his struggle.
“Come on, Nearly Eleven, you’re almost there. Grab my hand.” Lola reached over and held a hand out to him.
The gap was too great for him to reach.
Pausing, he took deep breaths to regroup. With a loud grunt, he resumed his climb.
Then he slipped.
When he caught himself again, he looked up at Lola. She’d visibly feared the worst too.
“Come on, Nearly Eleven,” she said. “You can do it.”
When he tried to push up with his feet, the rope slipped through them again. “I can’t, Lola. I can’t do it. The rope’s too slippery.”
Leaning farther down, Lola stretched out to him. “Come on, keep climbing.”
What little strength he had drained from his limbs as he tried to push on, and he couldn’t get a grip on the icy rope.
After another small slip, Lola shouted, “Grip tighter.”
“What do you think I’m trying to do?”
The rope slipped through his grip again and he fell another few inches. “I can’t do it.” When he shouted up, his voice cracked. “Help me, Lola. Help me.”
Michael watched Lola flap an arm in his direction. “I can’t reach that far.”
The dark river below looked like blood. The corpse shook violently on the end of the rope like the last of its life was thrashing from it. He had nothing left to give. “Help me, Lola.”
Then he slipped again.
Panic battered Michael’s insides as if it were a beast trying to escape. It worsened with every inch he slipped. The cold air had turned the rope into a greasy pole. A scream threatened to burst from his lungs, but he kept it in. The men may be out of sight, but in the near silent night, his cries would carry like a church’s bell.
He slipped again and the rope between his legs pulled his trousers up. It burned his shins as well as his palms.
“Michael,” Lola called down to him.
Unable to look up, Michael slipped again. His feet now rested on the head of the corpse. A groan shuddered through the rope only seconds before a crack rang out as it snapped. Michael’s stomach lurched as both he and the corpse fell.
Michael caught the thick knot at the end of the rope, a jolt snapping fire through his shoulder blades and down his back at the sudden halt. With his legs hanging, he watched the corpse hurtle toward the river. It dropped with everything pointing south. It fell like it had hung from the bridge… dangling toes, limp arms; even its face watched the water as it plummeted.
The loud splash disappeared almost instantly. The river consumed both the corpse and the disturbance. Another casualty meant nothing for the powerful body of water.
As well as the searing pain in his back, the sudden halt felt like it had broken his hands, but Michael held on to the thick knot.
As Michael swung with the other corpses in the wind he saw where the rope had snapped.
The break happened at the point that would have been level with the corpse’s Adam’s apple. Two separate strands, both frayed where it broke, hung loose. Even in the darkness, he could see the stain where it had snapped. It must have been where the body had started to rot around it and the juice of fleshy decay had weakened the fibers.
The sour tang of rot filled his senses. It may have been from the freshly snapped rope or the bodies surrounding him. It didn’t matter; it stank and he needed to get away from it. A few weeks ago, Michael had never smelled the reek of death; now it seemed like he couldn’t avoid it.
Still gasping from the fall, Michael’s lungs burned as he breathed in the freezing air. The rope above creaked.
Please don’t let that snap too.
The corpses next to him hung limp and lifeless; their downcast faces emphasizing his fate.
A particularly strong breeze barreled down the river, catching Michael and all of those around him and pushing them in the same direction. As he flew back in toward the bridge, spinning above the water, he crashed into the body next to him. The surprisingly firm corpse released a strong stench like he’d opened a jar of rotting offal and Michael gagged; if only he could cover his nostrils.
He did the next best thing; he closed his eyes. If he couldn’t see the corpses, then they didn’t exist.
When Michael opened his eyes, he jumped and kicked his legs. Hanging from the end of the rope, he twisted like a fish on a line. The woman next to him had maggots crawling from her eyes. The sight seemed to heighten the fetid smell of the dead.
After the initial panic, Michael fell limp again but kept his grip firm. The movement drained his energy. Energy he needed to get back up to the bridge.
Another strong breeze sent him crashing into the woman again. He could cope with that, the maggots on the other hand... a wave of repulsion snapped through him.
Although he didn’t want to look at it, Michael kept staring at the decaying face. Tilly and his mum would have no doubt ended up looking the same if the house hadn’t burned down. Puffy, gray, and crawling with maggots, the corpse stared at him through the fleshy pits that used to be her eyes.
Michael looked up at Lola.
“You did great, kiddo, now find some strength and climb back up. You’ve done the hard bit. You’ve held on.”
The action of tilting his head back to see Lola sent him swinging, and he crashed into the maggot-ridden corpse yet again. The dead woman continued to stare at him.
Michael stared back at the hideous creature and said, “Fuck you.”
“Fuck me?” Lola said. “What have I done?”
He didn’t bother explaining; she’d work it out. Michael yelled from the effort of swinging his feet forward and clamped them onto the woman’s hips in front of him. If he hadn’t crashed into her so many times, he may have feared the rotten corpse would also crumble and fall from the rope. He’d felt her hard body against his too many times to believe that now.
Sharp aches streaked up the inside of Michael’s thighs as he tightened his grip with his legs. It took enough of his weight off for him to pull himself up the rope with his sore hands.
He made slow progress, but it was progress. Centimeter by centimeter, he moved higher up the woman, clamping his feet around her middle, and then her shoulders, and then finally her head.
When he was high enough to move back onto his rope, he took a second to recover his breath and watched the corpse—more specifically, the rope around her neck. What if it snapped when he pushed off?
If he didn’t risk it, he’d be there all day.
Three, two, one.
He pushed from the woman and jumped back to his rope.
He made it.
As he stood on the knot he swung more than ever, but he’d made it.
Michael climbed again, and when he got near the top of the rope, he felt Lola’s strong grip on the back of his jacket as she pulled him higher. He nearly gave over to it and trusted in her completely—his tired muscles desperate for the rest—but that would be stupid; she couldn’t lift him from there.
Shaking, his arms weak, Michael grunted one final effort as he pulled to the top.
Tears stung his eyes when he managed to wrap his weak grip around the cold metal railing running along the top of the wall. What little strength he had left in him all but vanished and he let Lola drag him over.
It may have been a short fall to the ground, but that didn’t stop the jarring pain that ran through him when he hit it.
Michael blinked for a few seconds to try to clear his blurred vision. It didn’t work and the clouds closed in.
No Rest for the Rich Kid
When Michael opened his eyes, the stress lines left Lola’s face, and she smiled at him. “Well done, Nearly Eleven. I don’t know how you managed to get back up after that, but well done.”
“What’s wrong?” Michael said.
Pulling her head back, Lola frowned at him. “Huh?”
“Something’s up. You’re being nice.”
“I can be nice, you know.”
Michael gave her a dead stare.
“Okay, fine. You’ve been lying there for about ten minutes now. We have to go. We have to get off this bridge.”
A throbbing ache sat deep in his muscles. “I need more time.”
After an anxious look in both directions, Lola returned her attention to him. “We don’t have any more time. Ten minutes is too
much as it is. We’re trapped on here. If someone else comes, we’re fucked.”
After releasing a deep sigh, Michael sat up.
When he got to his feet, everything trembled. He rested on the side of the bridge, and the cold metal of the handrail stung the rope burns on his palms. The wind tossed his fine hair. For a moment, his world spun as he squinted to see the end of the bridge. He needed longer to rest. When Lola looked at him, he patted the handrail. “I’ll try and walk. It’ll help if I rest on this.”
He didn’t need to look any weaker in front of her than he already did.
“Whatever it takes, as long as we’re walking.”
Lola walked next to Michael as he dragged his feet in a slow trudge. His aching body loosened up with each step. It became easier to lift his legs, and his lungs took in more air. He turned to Lola and offered her a weak smile. “Thank you.”
Lola looked at him but didn’t reply.
“I would have let go if you weren’t there. You really helped me get back up here.”
Lola’s laugh carried across the night. “All I did was shout at you,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I can do that more often, if you like.”
“And you called me Michael while you were doing it.”
A half smile lifted Lola’s lips. “Don’t get used to it, Nearly Eleven.”
“I won’t, but I won’t forget it either.”
Michael didn’t hear what Lola said when she replied—suddenly, nothing else mattered. With his stomach clamping tight and his breath quickening again, he pointed at the horizon. It took him a few seconds to find his words. “The… th… th… they’re coming back, Lola.”
As he watched the two sets of headlights appear from the corner they’d disappeared around earlier, Michael heard Lola’s reply.
Run, Lola, Run
Michael froze as he watched the approaching vehicles. “Please stop. Please turn around.”
Lola scoffed. “You don’t live in a fucking Disney movie, Nearly Eleven. They ain’t stopping for shit.”
“We need to run then.”
When Lola didn’t reply, Michael looked across to see her staring at the side of the bridge again. The ache in his palms throbbed, and the trucks were getting closer. “No way; I’m not going over the top again… I can’t. We need to run.”
With a shaking hand, Michael pointed in front of them. “We need to run that way.”
“Are you insane? That’s toward them.”
“It’s the shorter distance. We won’t make it if we run the other way.” The horns of the two vehicles sounded out in the still night. Had they seen them already?
When Lola didn’t reply, Michael grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “We need to run.”
But she still didn’t move. “Come on, Lola.”
Michael ran, the aches of a few minutes ago vanishing with his adrenalin rush.
The sound of Lola’s heavy feet chased him, so Michael pushed harder. Despite the adrenalin surge, his legs buckled and stumbled. Each step could be the next to throw him to the ground.
The trucks got closer.
With Lola a few steps behind, Michael called, “Come on; speed up.”
Less than fifty feet from the end of the bridge, Michael looked across at the trucks. They were too close. A glance over at the river below and Michael saw the pavement that ran beneath the bridge—about a nine-foot drop onto steps. Not ideal. “Come on, Lola.”
Michael crossed over to the side of the bridge farthest away from the men and vaulted over the barrier.
As he fell toward the steps, it took everything not to scream, and his stomach lurched into his throat.
The second he hit the hard ground, he crumpled and rolled down the stairs, whacking his head on every step until he landed at the bottom on his back. When he looked up at the dark sky, his head spun, and his ankle throbbed.
Lola vaulted over a second later and he watched her land with the grace of a cat.
The pain that radiated from Michael’s ankle turned his entire body weak.
Whether broken or not, he didn’t have time for it. Michael looked up at the approaching lights. They didn’t have much time.
As if hearing his thoughts, Lola ran down the short flight of stairs. She lifted his arm around her shoulders and stood up with him.
The slightest pressure ran an electric buzz through his ankle as he climbed the steps, so he put as much of his weight on the girl and his good foot as he could.
Once they’d climbed the four or five stairs that led them under the bridge, Lola guided him over to an upright wall. After she’d lowered him down, Michael looked up at the underside of the bridge that formed a roof over their heads.
The cold ground would have been a problem on any other day, but with the sharp pain tearing through Michael’s damaged ankle, it didn’t matter. “I think it’s broken, Lola.”