Notes: I began this project in October of 2017 and lost the thread after the first chapter. Recently I completed chapter five. The project is back on the back burner for now; but I am more entranced by it than ever, as difficult as it has been to tease out. It's a metaphysical adventure-fantasy.
Please ignore any and all grammar issues and the like. I'm sure they are there. There are probably inconsistencies in the story itself; please forgive those as well. The final project almost certainly won't be named Port Story, of course: it's just what I have called it these past two years. I'm sure the actual title will reveal itself to me over time. I'm in no hurry.
Synopsis: The night has come and gone, and Port Hawktried has as well. Sèbastienne, waking, rushes outside to look around, to see what this new reality, which now includes her and everyone in Port Hawktried, looks like. Read on!
“Quickly, Sèbastienne! Let’s dress and head down to the village!”
This they did, meeting at the front door at almost the same time (Dr. Faust just beat her there) ten minutes later. They hurried to the path and began making their way to Port Hawktried.
Neither owned a horse. In fact, since the first Shift, few owned horses. Port Hawktried’s main pastures and farms were almost all outside the Shifts’ ever-unchanging borders; as a result only four horses had been left behind for the village’s citizens. That number had risen to seven in the time since.
Or, more accurately, the times since.
The majority of the horses that existed belonged to Ivar Strohkirch. He rarely let others ride them. The few times he had, he charged an exorbitant fee. By pure chance he owned the single corral that fell inside the borders. By vote of the township it was declared that should the mayor or sheriff need a horse, both should get one, and no charge would be levied. Strohkirch had acceded to the wishes of the people, but not without blowing up and stalking out at the final meeting.
For Sèbastienne, having a horse didn’t matter. Even before the first Shift, she loved walking. A mile’s trek was nothing for her. Dr. Faust was, in her own words, “of very much the same mind.”
Ahead was a small bridge. The creek beneath had eroded a ditch-like course through this area and beyond, flowing north towards the lighthouse, where it emptied into the sea. If the bridge weren’t there one wouldn’t know about the creek until one was almost on top of it. After the first Shift, it had gone dry. Subsequent Shifts had left it so. Weeds and tall grasses and, a few hundred yards to the left (south), a small tree had since grown in the bed.
They got to the bridge and stopped. The creek ... had water in it again! Lots of water!
“Well, I’ll be ...” breathed Dr. Faust.
Sèbastienne stared down into it. “I don’t get it. We’re not home. How can this creek be flowing?”
Dr. Faust looked her up and down, appraising her. “I suppose you’re dressed well enough. I want you to go upstream and find out.”
“But I want to come with you! I want to see Montague Eckbert’s dinghy!”
“There’s plenty of time for that,” returned Dr. Faust. “Now it’s back, it isn’t going anywhere. Besides, the entire village is probably down there right now gawking at it. This is potentially more important. Now get going. And do not wander too far from the border!”
Sèbastienne sighed angrily and began marching upstream.
“You’re a scientist! Be observant! Look for details!”
Sèbastienne threw a frustrated hand up to acknowledge she had heard her and continued on.
She didn’t turn around until she was sure the bridge was lost to sight. To this point the going was mostly low, dead weeds and the occasional boulder or small bushes; she stopped at a quiet pool beneath a myrtle tree and dipped her hand into the water. It was very cold, the water murky-brown.
She had never visited this pool before. In fact, she didn’t even know of its existence until now. When the water settled, she thought, and if Port Hawktried didn’t Shift too soon, she’d like to return. It was quiet, very peaceful.
What were the odds that a random Shift would “connect” this creek to a water source? They seemed quite long, almost impossible.
She dipped her hand in and brought it to her mouth. The water was very silty, but fresh. Not saltwater; not brackish, either. She stood and scrambled up the bank and continued her trek.
The land rose slowly. It wasn’t long before she could see the village in its entirety. She knew she was near the border. To the south (a half-turn of her head to the right) was a new river. It widened in a pleasing, departing arc as it met the ocean. It ran past sand-bordered ponds that crowded up against the very rise she was on now, one that became rocky just a hundred yards or so farther on.
She had never been out this far, this way, before. She was fairly certain that she was at or very near the border. She knelt looking for evidence that such was so, and came away with a question instead: If she was at the border, then why did everything close to it match up so well on both sides of it? In fact, why did it seem that always happened? Had it always happened? Now that she thought of it, she wasn’t sure. Definitely something to bring up with Dr. Faust, as well as her amazement that Dr. Faust hadn’t talked about it!
The road just east of Dr. Faust’s house was an obvious exception. It simply started out of the land—and then just stopped a short distance beyond. But as far as she could tell, that was the only exception, the only mismatch.
She continued on, becoming aware of a roar the back of her brain had signaled some time ago but failed to inform the front, and finally did. She topped the rise, climbed over some boulders, and stopped.
The new river cascaded down boulders through a U-shaped cut, where it pooled before continuing on towards the sea. Turbulent white water foamed where it met the pool. Up here on the rise, and before the river began cascading, a tributary split away—the same one that filled the long-dry creek.
“Well, I’ll be,” Sèbastienne whispered, echoing one of Dr. Faust’s favorite exclamations. She marched on towards where the tributary and the river intersected.
The river’s main artery was full of clear water, no silt of any kind. As she watched, salmon leapt up the falls. She caught motion out of the side of her vision, and glanced right and down, towards the pool. Nothing revealed itself, so she decided to continue on. The field bordering the river was relatively uncluttered with brush or high weeds, or impassable thickets of trees, though a few of all three were here and there.
Maybe half a mile on, she topped another rise, just where the river tumbled over more boulders.
She stopped. What was before her didn’t register for a moment, so unlikely was it.
A ... bridge!
It spanned just over the water, and was made of blonde wooden planks and red metal of some kind, and was wide enough for a large carriage to use. Did that mean there was a road beyond it?
She hurried towards it, arriving in another minute. With cautious curiosity wrestling with eye-popping disbelief, she knelt and reached for the wood and touched it.
In all the Shifts, they had never encountered a man-made object all by itself in the new world they were visiting. When they rescued Chiumbo Tamboli from the islands just off the coast in the second Shift, the rescuers reported seeing what they believed might have been the wreckage of a canoe, but they never found out because the group wanted to get back to Port Hawktried as quickly as possible.
This wasn’t the supposed wreckage of a bridge; in fact, it was quite real and looked brand new!
A brand-new bridge ... built over a river ... out here ... in the middle of nowhere.
She ran her hand over the smooth wood a moment more, then stood and gazed across. There was no road beyond it, no trail, nothing!
With caution, she took a step onto it. To her way of thinking, anything could have been responsible for the Shifts—including this bridge. Would stepping on it send her to a different time and space, effectively abandoning her to her own fate in a strange and potentially (but almost certainly) hostile universe?
She wheeled about when she took the second step, making sure she could still see her familiar surroundings. She could. She turned back and slowly made her way over the bridge to the other side, stopping for a moment to watch salmon fight their way upstream and swimming beneath it. On the other side, she bent and pulled up the dead weeds and grasses, looking for road beneath.
But there clearly wasn’t one—not, at least, as far as she could tell. After a time, she recrossed the bridge and stopped at its middle and sat, facing the nearby falls and the ocean.
Now THIS is big news, she thought. VERY big news! Dr. Faust will want to come back to see this for herself! I’m actually glad that she sent me!
She wondered what Dr. Faust would find once she began examining Montague Eckbert’s dinghy.
She giggled at the sentence, because it sounded profane.
More salmon caught her attention, so she swung around and lay down on her tummy and reached down for the water, which was still a good four of five feet below her fingertips. The occasional splash wet her hand; and one particularly large salmon leapt, missing her by inches. She jerked back with a short scream, then stood and faced home. That’s when the thought struck her.
She walked back to the familiar side and stopped, coming to her tippy-toes and scanning about. No good. Boulders and scrub brush wouldn’t let her see any farther. She turned back to line herself up with the center of the bridge, getting a fix on how it was oriented—almost due north, she guessed—and walked in line with its orientation until she got to the first boulder. She went around it, then climbed over the next one, making sure she was still properly oriented. She was. She climbed down and proceeded.
Getting through the scrub was difficult and messy. She came out the other side wiping ants, beetles, and dead vegetation off herself. Her hem was wet, along with her shoes and socks, after stepping into a small, hidden bog.
The bridge was well out of sight, maybe a hundred and fifty yards behind her. But she was fairly certain that if she wasn’t still aligned with it, she was pretty close. She gazed ahead.
She could just see the roof of Dr. Faust’s home. Maybe a half mile away yet. She set off, climbing the small hill and the boulders that waited in her path. At the top, she stopped.
Port Hawktried stood a mile, probably a bit more, to her hard left and downslope. Dr. Faust’s house was a three-quarter turn of her head from hard left to straight forward.
Yes! she thought excitedly, hurrying down the hill. She could see the road from here. It was clear that it was directly in line with her sight, which meant ...
... that it was also, more or less, in line with the bridge!
She ran down to it, stopping just where it started.
The implications of this were mind-boggling.
“Okay,” she said, pacing back and forth, “this road came from our ‘normal’ place and time,” she hooked her fingers in the air for emphasis. “It used to join the Coast Trail not far out of town. It was from our time and place—where we came from originally. All right. Got it. It’s right on the border. But then we started Shifting.”
She continued pacing. Eventually she climbed down the sharp embankment to the road and began walking back and forth again.
“Okay ... okay ... okay ... Our borders somehow magically ‘match up’ with the surrounding new areas we Shift to—all except this road, which comes ‘with us’ every time we shift. Every time, without exception.”
Why hadn’t Dr. Faust noticed this? Or had she? If so, why had she never brought it up in conversation before?
“So we’ve got magical match-ups everywhere else along the border except here at this road. This little stretch of road ...”
She decided to walk it to estimate its length. She had done more than enough walking in the past to have a pretty good idea how far she went. She got to the other end, where another sharp embankment waited, and glanced back, squinting.
“Maybe ... a quarter mile? A shade more? A quarter plus a tenth more? Seems reasonable ...”
She walked back, same pace, and took another guesstimate at the end.
“A quarter plus another tenth. Yes. I’ll go with that. So back to the quandary ...”
She decided that she would start a new project immediately: to study the border much more thoroughly than she had in the past. She’d start mapping it tomorrow!
With that, she climbed up the south embankment and began making her way back toward the bridge, doing her best to retrace her steps. Going back seemed a bit more difficult than coming, as the boulders and the bog and the thickets were less passable as she went upslope. Eventually she got through, spying the bridge a moment later. She’d gotten off course by maybe twenty yards, and had to adjust herself.
Her shoes and dress were a mess. Dr. Faust would be aghast at her appearance.
“But not for long!” she said, trying to think of the best way to explain everything.
At the bridge, she stopped and froze in place.
At the base of the waterfall, filling a pan, was none other than Raleigh Myles—the man who had murdered Montague Eckbert!