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Building a Bridge Too Vast to Cross

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov's, and Lightspeed, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press in August 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

My family's bridge is four generations old. The outer surfaces are bleached white from the suns, but our nesting caverns are still the same warm gold I remember from my youth. It takes half a day to crawl from end to end, and the apex boasts a view of the southern sea. My ancestors built this bridge with mineral-laden spit that dries as hard as bone. It will last for many generations, but the pond beneath the bridge is shrinking, leaving white rings of salt as the water level drops. When the water is gone, we'll be exposed to predators, and already there is not as much algae as there once was.
The time has come to migrate.
I whistle a high trill, and my descendants mimic the notes, passing my message up and down the bridge--a call to come together. Members of my family emerge from nooks and crannies. Their eyes are wide with uncertainty, and their delicate legs tremble. It's springtime, so the mothers have little ones clinging to the fur of their backs. They won't want to leave the safety of our bridge.
"I was born on this bridge, but my mother wasn't," I tell them. "She told me stories of her migration, from a pond up north. A pond that, like this one, was going dry."
"There's still water in the pond, Matriarch," one of the mothers says. "Enough to last until the summer rains."
"Perhaps." My descendants are young, they know the cycle of the seasons but not the larger pattern that stretches across the years. The rains have been decreasing, and the ponds are drying up. "But what about next year, or the year after that?"
One of my daughters crawls up beside me. "I'll help you find another pond, and together we can all build the next bridge."
It's a tempting solution. Simpler than what I have in mind. There are ponds that haven't gone dry. Not many, but a few. Enough to sustain a few more generations, if the weather patterns hold. If we stay, everyone here could live out their lives in comfort. Some might choose that path, the easier path. Not me.
"We can't cling to the old ways. There's no future in these ponds." I point south with my foreleg. "We must go across the sea."
"Matriarch, no. It will take more than a lifetime to build a bridge that long," my daughter says. Others murmur their agreement. "More than a lifetime to even crawl across it."
"Some goals can't be accomplished in a single lifetime." I've earned the respect of my descendants, but they are terrified by my suggestion. I crawl to a young mother and hum a few soft notes to soothe her agitated little ones. "Besides, we can't stay here. The pond is drying up."
I crawl down the south side of the bridge. My family follows, but at a distance. They're not coming with me--they're watching me leave. I can't build even an ordinary bridge alone, and even if I could that isn't what I want. I need to save my family, not abandon them.
When I reach the end of our bridge, I stop. "If we want something better for our children--for all our descendants--we must start them on the right path. Come with me. It takes a family to build a bridge."
No one answers. I wait. I force myself to be still, to project a calm I do not feel.
"I will go with you." One of my daughters crawls to me with trembling legs but determination in her eyes. Her daughters join us, and then a crowd of others.
I lead them off the bridge. Not everyone follows, but most of them do. We travel to the southern sea, and up close it's so large that even I am frightened, but I refuse to show my fear. I crouch near the water's edge and deposit the first mouthful of minerals for our new bridge, a shining patch of gold that bonds with the rocky shore as it hardens.
My descendants swarm around me, adding to what I've started. Someday this patch of gold will stretch across the water, and over the years the sun will bleach it white. Generations from now our descendants will find new ponds on the southern shore, or perhaps they will choose to live their lives on a bridge that spans the sea itself. I won't live see the end of this endeavor, but I'm proud to have started it, this bridge too vast to cross.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Author Comments

I often use writing prompts to write stories, and the prompt for this story was the title, "Building a Bridge Too Vast to Cross," which was given to me by Vylar Kaftan. It's a great title because it got me wondering--why might you build a bridge that was so vast you could not cross it? This story is one possible answer I came up with for that question.

- Caroline M. Yoachim
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