Paths that criss and cross
The Bridge of the Long Forgotten. That's what it said on the sign. It was such a small sign that Rielle almost didn't see it, but as she paused with indecision, she looked down to a patch of burnished wood and read the warning words. She stopped. Pud trod carefully to the edge of the brink.
'Come away, Pud!' Rielle snapped. 'Isn't it bad enough that we've lost Far these past few days?'
The dog stepped back from the ledge, his paw dislodging a pile of stones. With heavy foreboding, Rielle and Pud lost sight of them, well before they landed in the heaving waters below. The wind changed direction and tickled the distant walls of the canyon with a moan.
Rielle shifted her slight frame restlessly from leg to leg. Squinting shrewdly from large brown eyes, she scanned the bridge carefully then sighed with annoyance.
'The Bridge of the Long Forgotten,' she murmured, as she hunkered down next to the dog. 'What do you think, boy?' she whispered, as if whispering could make them even better friends, or greater accomplices, than they already were. 'What do you think, my faithful Pud? Should we cross this rickety wreck, or should we see if Far will catch up with us first?'
Far, the butterfly, often wandered away, but she'd never been gone for so long before.
Suddenly, a whip of wind channelled like a bullet, up and around the canyon walls, buffeting Rielle and Pud and shaking the bridge, as a giant would with a toy. Pud nudged Rielle with his big black body and then placed a paw onto her shoe.
Rielle looked around. They stood on a bare, stricken patch of ground where nothing grew and the trail ended. Canyon walls stretched as far up and down as they could see. There was not even a shrub to shelter them on the deserted ledge. Rielle shuddered, remembering a fateful night when she and Pud had been lost and were forced to hide inside an ancient tree. Now, evening drew near. A pale slice of hunter's moon rose, gleaming in the first elegant coatings of dusk. Rielle knew what they had to do.
'It's now or never, Pud,' she grimaced. 'We have no choice but to cross that fury below. This is the only way to go.'
She stood. Fastening her travel-sack securely around her waist, she took her hat off and pushed it deeply inside. Rielle loved her hat. It was her favourite colour and long ago, a dear friend had given it to her. One fateful day, she had almost lost her hat on another cliff edge. She grinned awkwardly at the memory, tossed her long plait over her shoulder and glanced up. Pud was already at the foot of the bridge. Timidly, he placed a paw on the first shaky plank.
'Wait Pud, let me go first!' Rielle called, grim-faced. But it was too late.
With unusual disobedience, and with the zeal of a dog, Pud charged over the bridge and was almost across when another whip of wind roared through the canyon, sweeping him off his feet.
'Pud!' Rielle bawled.
An echo bounced her cry chillingly off the canyon walls. For a fateful second she watched in horror as Pud hovered, suspended in mid-air, scrambling at empty space with quick, desperate movements and surprise raging in his eyes. Then he began to fall.
Rielle was already running. Throwing herself upon the bridge's swaying framework, she leapt for her best friend. Pud yipped, despite himself, as his mistress seized him with a grunt, and heaved him frantically back to safety.
Rielle and Pud lay stunned and trembling as the wind pounded the ancient bridge. Below them, the torrent roared and frothed, wicked, white and jagged. If a river ever had jaws, then they were looking at it.
Shakily, Pud stood. With sharp barks, he urged Rielle to keep moving.
Rielle went to get up, but her travel-sack was caught. She tugged. It was stuck! She tried to get up and kneel, but the sack held fast. With a sickening lurch, she glimp