By Carol R. Ward
When Corrine was nine years old she went looking for a magical bridge. She searched the woods behind her granny’s house, sure that if the bridge was anywhere it would be there. When she failed to find it, she went further afield. Which is how she got lost.
“The bridge of lost tomorrows don’t just appear for anybody,” her granny had told her. “It’s one of the lost magics of the world. It only appears to those with the need.”
Young Corrine figured she had the need sure enough. Her granny had gone, left this life for the next, and more importantly, she’d left Corrine behind. Corrine felt lost without her granny.
“If I had a dollar for every fool who got lost chasing down dreams in the woods...” the ranger who found her told her mother. He’d meant it kindly, like it was no big deal, but it had been a big deal to her mother.
“I just wanted to say goodbye,” Corrine had told her. Her mother said almost reluctantly that she understood - Corrine had been very close to her granny - but it didn’t stop her from confining her to the house for the rest of the summer.
But that had been a long time ago. They’d moved away from the woods at the end of the summer and as far as Corrine’s mother was concerned that was the end of it. She’d never paid much attention to Granny’s stories and soon forgot all about them, even the ones about the bridge. But Corrine never did.
Now her need was even greater, her love stronger. An accident took her Jared from her too soon, too soon. It wasn’t right, and it wasn’t fair.
She parked at the side of the road and just sat there for a moment.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked, looking at herself in the rear view mirror.
After the accident well meaning friends told her. “You won’t always feel like this, it’ll get better. Just give it time.”
Well she’d given it time, she’d given it five long years, and it hadn’t gotten better. If anything, the emptiness inside her had grown worse.
“Yes,” she decided. “I’m sure I want to do this.”
Leaving the car in the shade of a towering oak tree, Corrine stepped into the woods. It was cool and somehow soothing under the trees, the air full of the smell of green, growing things. A long time ago she knew the names of all the trees - oak, pine, maple, beech, birch, ash. Granny had taught her.
There was no trail, but then she hadn’t expected one. What was it Granny said? “It’s not a path you follow with your feet, it’s one you follow with your heart.”
A few birds twittered up in the canopy, squirrels jumped from branch to branch chasing each other, stopping occasionally to chitter angrily at her intrusion. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves overhead while the ones under her feet crunched as she walked.
Corrine plodded forward. She had no idea where she was but that didn’t matter. This time there’d be no one to come looking for her. This time she wasn’t going to fail.
Squinting up at the sun, diffused through the trees, she tried to judge the time. It was still high in the sky and she figured it was early afternoon.
“What’s the best time to see the bridge?” she’d asked.
“Best time to see it is when it appears. Might be morning, might be evening. The bridge is timeless.”
Corrine paused to take a drink from her water bottle and used the back of her hand to wipe the dampness from her brow. Everything looked the same. For all she knew she was going around in circles. She blinked back tears of frustration.
“This is never going to work,” she muttered.
She glanced around and then stepped into a patch of sunlight. Lifting her face up to the sun she closed her eyes and let the warmth fill her. Corrine cleared her mind.
“Did you ever see the bridge?”
“Yes I did,” her granny said softly. “Just once.”
“But you’re still here.”
“That’s because I was too scared to cross it. It’s the biggest regret of my life.”
Her mind pictured Jared - Jared laughing, Jared frowning, Jared happy, Jared sad - Jared in all of his moods. She remembered the warmth of his touch, how safe she felt in his arms. Corrine opened her eyes and began to move forward. This time with confidence.
The sky had begun to darken but the trees started to thin out so there was still plenty of light. Then suddenly there it was. The bridge of lost tomorrows. She knew it immediately.
It was made of wood, held together with rope, and spanned a great chasm. She couldn’t tell how deep the chasm was because of the mist that started to form. It swirled below the bridge and shrouded the far side. There seemed to be a shape on the other side, almost like a person waiting, but Corrine couldn’t be sure.
“The most important thing with the bridge,” Granny said, “Is that it’s an act of faith.”
“What do you mean?”
“No one knows for sure what’s on the other side - no one who’s crossed has ever come back.”
“Then how do they know the bridge takes them to where or when they want to be?”
“A body has to believe that it will.”
The shape in the mist grew more distinct, the form almost familiar.
Corrine stepped forward.