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The Bridge to Nowhere: A Short Story by Author Jennifer Arnett

Updated on October 19, 2014
The real Bridge to Nowhere on the east fork of the San Gabriel River.
The real Bridge to Nowhere on the east fork of the San Gabriel River. | Source

I love writing short stories and I love writing here on Hubpages, so why not put them together?

Giving away short stories for free feels like the way things should be—where a short story comes right off of the press and into the hands of the readers. Putting up short stories here on HubPages is a wonderful opportunity to thank my readers for their readership, and gain instant and personal feedback.

I hope you enjoy The Bridge to Nowhere. Seriously, when church shopping, beware joining a cult.

The Bridge to Nowhere

The canyons walls became evermore sheer and unforgiving as the procession of hikers made their way up the east fork of the San Gabriel River. It was March and the water was icy cold as it tumbled over the raw boulders of the canyon floor. Although it was hardly ten feet at its deepest, watermarking on the canyon walls told a never ending story of how it would rise again.

Anna and her new friends were several miles from the parking lot before they stopped for lunch. “I am so glad that I have a new church home,” she said. Anna wriggled her day pack off her shoulder and began searching for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she had packed for the hike. “I’m just so happy that you guys want to get out and explore,” she said.

“We are glad that we found you in the student union,” said Abigail, her dark eyes searching Anna in a way that made her uncomfortable.

“Shall we thank the Lord for this meal?” Tido knelt down into the dirt and began praying aloud, “Lord, we thank you for this continual reminder of your baptism into the one true church, as we kneel to break bread beside this river. Bless this food. Amen.”

Anna sat quietly, staring at her sandwich for a few minutes. “The one true church?” she asked.

“Sister, this church. You are a part of it. You do believe that we are saved by God don’t you?” Abigail directed at her in a tone that caused Anna’s stomach to turn slightly.

“Is something wrong?” Tido asked, breaking the awkward silence.

“I’m just a little thirsty and it’s giving me a headache,” Anna said.

“Here drink some water.” Abigail handed her a water bottle and then began eating her sandwich.

Anna drank down half of the bottle and propped herself against a boulder. “So, have any of you been to the bridge?” she asked between chews.

“Everyone except Simon—he wasn't ready last time,” said Tido.

“It’s a long hike,” Anna said, as Simon rose to his feet and began walking to the water’s edge.

“Where are you going?” Tido asked.

“I’m going to cross the river—get up ahead of you guys. I need some time to pray.” He stared at Tido, the two exchanging glances for several seconds. “Alone,” was the last word he mumbled before fording the river.

“Why didn’t he come last time?” Anna asked.

“Doubt,” Tido answered, before she had time to ask any more questions.

“We should be on our way.” Abigail sprang to her feet and slugged her pack over her right shoulder. “I don’t want to get to the bridge too late.”

“What is this bridge you guys keep talking about?” Anna threw on her pack and began walking between Tido and Abigail.

“It’s called the Bridge to Nowhere. The army built it in the 30’s, but a flood washed the road out soon after. There are no roads leading in or out—hiking up the river is the only way. It spans one hundred and fifty feet above the river, so when the river rose one hundred feet, it was saved, but the road leading to it was obliterated.”

“It’s a sacred place in our church. We take everybody new there. Have you ever been baptized, Anna?” Abigail asked.

“No. It’s not something that is done very often at my church back in Oregon. I really want to. They just haven’t offered it in awhile.”

“Would you like to today?”

“I’m not sure. I want to do it in a church—in front of my family.”

“We are your family. You can be baptized by your brother Tido.” Abigail put her arm around her shoulder and the three of them continued to the end of the pathway. They had to climb a small rock wall because the river was forcefully raging where the trail had continued at one time. The water was only a few feet deep, so Anna wasn’t too worried. She leapt from rock to rock avoiding the mud and small pools of water that gathered along the banks.

“All you have to do is go over a few verses with us. Jesus was baptized in a river—so will you be. You will not receive salvation until you are cleansed with water. It is then that you receive the Holy Spirit.”

“I’ve never read it that way.” Anna said in a high pitch. She was becoming uneasy with this new church. They were very loving and communal, but something seemed to put a red flag in her mind.

“Look, the bridge.” Tido said as they rounded a bend in the canyon.

Above them was one of the most beautiful bridges Anna had ever seen.

“Are you sure that you’re going to heaven, Anna? Abigail’s voice distracted her from the monstrous work of art that lay in front of her. Anna was now becoming nervous. These people were prying into her life too much. There was something weird about them and she wasn’t sure what it was.

“I’m fairly sure. I believe in God,” she said with tension in her voice. “I though that’s all it took.”

“We can make you sure,” Abigail answered. “You must tell us your sins so that Christ will forgive you.”

“I’ve already asked for forgiveness.”

“You think just telling God that you’re sorry for every general thing you’ve done is enough? How do you know that you didn’t forget something? We can all keep you accountable.”

“Common Anna. The Lord was not in favor of the apostle Peter when he doubted. What is the worst sin that you have every committed?” Tido asked.

“I hit my sister once.”

“Anna, God does not like liars. There must be something else you’ve done,” Abigail accused.

“I’m not lying. I’ve been a good person.”

“Good people don’t go to heaven Anna. What is the worst thing that you have done?” He said in a louder voice while glaring at her. This time his black eyes ceased to even blink.

For the first time Anna was actually scared of Tido and Abigail. She tried not to show it, thinking that the hike would be over soon and she would never have to see these people again. “I stole a necklace from a department store,” she said, just to get them off her back.

“That’s better. The Lord has forgiven you of that transgression. I need to talk to Abigail alone.” Tido set down the rope he had been carrying and grabbed Abigail by the forearm, pulling her around the corner of a large boulder.

“What happed to Simon? Wasn’t he supposed to meet us here?” Abigail whispered to Tido as she pulled him aside.

“I thought we would have seen him. He got a good head start. He was supposed to meet us at the bridge. We agreed on it yesterday. Just keep an eye out for him.” Tido let up his grip on Abigail’s arm and nudged her around the corner. “Onward we go,” he said. He picked back up the rope that he had set on the ground, and started off towards the bridge.

Anna knew little about rock climbing, but she did know that you should never let the rope touch the ground. She wondered what exactly they were planning to use it for.

“Is everything alright?” Anna asked.

“Everything is fine.” Abigail assured her, searching the surrounding canyon walls for any movement. Satisfied, she continued on towards the bridge.

Within a few minutes the three hikers were all standing under its massive span and watching the river wind its way through the canyon.

“Come, we shall baptize you now.” Abigail turned to Anna. “I don’t want you to feel ill of us. We have all done the act you are about to participate in. We promise that you will come back. Everyone must sacrifice.”

As Abigail finished her speech, Tido grabbed Anna and forced her arms behind her back, holding her wrists like he would a fugitive. Abigail stuffed a piece of cloth into her mouth and tied it around her head. She then emptied Anna’s day pack and filled it full of rocks she found on the river bank. Anna tried to scream but her voice was muffled by the cloth digging into the corners of her lips. With Tido holding her down, Abigail forced the pack onto her shoulders. Tido began binding her wrists together behind her back. He grabbed the other end of the rope and scrambled up the embankment, that once led to the road, and threw the rope over one of the bridge’s lower rafters. He waved an okay sign at Abigail and pulled the rope taunt.

“Have you ever read the sixth verse in the sixth chapter of Romans, Anna?” Anna shook her head no. “Good, I shall read it to you:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin

The devil’s number, but used for the glory of the Lord. Your sinful body must be done away with. Be free, Anna. Confess your sins.” Abigail started pushing her into the water. “Just as this bridge was saved from the flood waters,” She shoved her again, “and Noah’s family was saved in the days of the great Flood, so shall your soul be saved by these waters. Any last confessions?” She pulled the cloth down so that Anna could speak, but all she did was scream, causing Abigail to quickly push it back up. “You look worried, Anna. Don’t be afraid. Everyone in our church has been drowned and been brought back to life. We all must die to our sin.”

Anna started kicking wildly trying to climb her way back up the river bank, but she was already in waist deep and the weight of the rocks was weighing her down. Abigail looked up to Tido and made a half circle, with her arm, above her head. Tido let the rope go limp as Abigail started pushing Anna deeper into the river. Soon only her head was above the surface.

“You only have to suffer for a few minutes. Just breathe, let the water enter your lungs. If you fight it, it will only take longer. Anna, do you know what it’s like to hang on a cross? Every breath is excruciatingly painful. The criminals have to push themselves up with their legs to gasp for every breath. Usually they break their shin bones to speed up the suffocation, but our Lord suffered through the night, with his legs unbroken to fulfill the scriptures. Think of our Lord and don’t let selfishness hinder your salvation.” With that she dunked Anna’s head under the surface, and began walking up the embankment to where Tido was holding the rope.

“How long do you think it’s going to take?” Abagil asked Tido.

“A couple of minutes, but it depends on how stubborn she is. I have a feeling this one will take a little longer—she seemed to be fighting it. A few years ago I pulled up this guy Kevin and he was still conscious so I had to let back down for a few minutes longer. That guy was a fighter.”

“I really hate watching,” Abagail said.

“You’ll get used to it. You do so many of these and after awhile it becomes instinctive. You know when to pull them up. You just don’t want them to stay down there too long. Five or six minutes in and they’ll have irreversible brain damage—if you can even bring them back at that point.

“Do you think it’s time?” She asked nervously.

“A few more minutes. If you watch carefully, you’ll see them give up and let all of the air out of their lungs. Give it another thirty seconds and they’ll be unconscious, guaranteed.”

“I don’t see her thrashing.” Abigail observed.

“That’s ‘cause she’s trying to hold it all in. That’s the worst—you know—staying still and thinking about it.”

“I trusted that you’d save me so I drank up the river as fast as I could to get it over with. Within thirty seconds everything went black. I came to on the shoreline with you standing above me. In a strange way it felt refreshing.”

“I was a coward. I held it up for a good three minutes.” Tido confessed, checking his watch and leaned over the side of the bridge. He stared intently at the calm surface of the water. “She just gave in. See all of the bubbles. Get ready to pull her up.” He braced his feet. “Not yet,” he yelled back to Abigail who was already clutching the rope behind him. His eyes kept focus on his watch for another thirty seconds. You’re going to help me pull her up and then run down there and give her rescue breaths and find a pulse.”

“Tido, just pull her up. I’m getting worried,” Abagail said.

“Have faith in the Lord, sister. I’ll tie off the rope and run down there to help with the compressions if we need them. I like getting them before their heart stops it’s a little harder to get them back, and not as successful. Pull!” He yelled at the top of his lungs. Come on Abigail pull.” The rope didn’t budge.

“I am pulling,” she screamed.

“How many rocks did you put in her backpack? You’ve got to pull harder.”

“I can’t,” Abigail sobbed.

Tido glanced at his watch between heaves. “She’s been down there for three minutes. We’ve got to bring her up.”

With all of the yelling, Simon came out of hiding. Without them noticing, he crept towards the banks of the river.

“I thought Simon would be here—I’m not strong enough.” He said, more defeated than concerned.

Abigail began crying profusely, “You have to do something. You can’t let her die. You promised.”

Simon saw them trying to pull her out and realized that she was too heavy. He dove into the river and swam to where the rope disappeared into the murky depths.

Watching from above, Tido was furious, “Simon’s been watching us the whole time. That coward, that’s twice he’s avoided his drowning.”

Simon followed the rope down ten feet until he found Anna’s limp body resting on the bottom, her head cast upward, her lifeless eyes glaring at him. He rolled her over and tried to swim her to the surface, but realized that her pack was keeping her down. He hurried to the surface, managed to fill his gasping lungs and darted back down to the bottom. It took him thirty seconds to untie the massive knot around her wrists. With her arms free, he pushed them through the shoulder straps of her day pack and carried her to the surface. He pulled her across the slight current and up onto the shoreline. He leaned over her pale blue face, gave her two small breaths, and checked her pulse. Not finding anything, he started giving her chest compressions.

Seeing that Anna was brought off the rope, Tido ran down from the bridge, with Abigail trailing behind him.

“It’s been five minutes,” he said.

“If we killed her, the Lord will never forgive us,” Abagail said, as she tried wiping away her screaming tears.

“Us? No—you. You put too much weight in her bag. You must have been a good seventy pounds. I wanted her to be heavy enough to not be able to kick to the surface—not sink like a steal beam.”

“I’m sorry.” Abigail began wailing again.

“Tido, you give compressions.” Simon said as he forced her chest down rythmatically. “Eleven, and twelve, and thirteen,” he continued to thirty and shifted his body next to her head, and gave her two breaths. Tido slipped in next to him and started compressing her chest.

“Oh God, breathe Anna!” Abigail wailed between sobs. She could no longer control her hysteria.

“Stay away Abigail,” Simon sternly yelled at her, afraid that she would get in the way. He ducked down, gave her two more breaths, and searched for a pulse on her neck. It had been six minutes and he knew how important every second was. Tido began thrusting her chest even harder, only millimeters away from breaking her ribs.

“Lord save her,” Simon prayed aloud. “Come on Anna, come back to us,” he whispered in her ear and gave her two more breaths.

Anna’s body heaved as she threw up river water all over herself and gasped for air. Simon rolled her on her side and let her cough her lungs dry. “Anna, You’re safe, just rest.” He held her hand and comforted her. “Tido, take Abigail with you and run back to the ranger’s station we saw three miles up the river. She’s going to need to be airlifted.” He turned back to Anna, “Don’t worry, I’m going to stay with you.

Once Abigail and Tido were a few hundred yards up the trail, he leaned in close to her ear and whispered, “I caught the whole thing on my video camera.” He pointed to a bush he had stowed his pack in. “Everything.”

Short Fiction by Author Jennifer Arnett

Do You Want to Know Something Creepy?

I really did hike to the Bridge to Nowhere with a cult. I didn't figure it out until the hike was almost over.

There were some major red flags, due to the way they were acting and what they were saying. One of the things that disturbed me is that they beat around the bush when I asked them the name of their church. When I found out that they had been meeting in a revolving door of run down hotels, I got really freaked out. When I returned home from the hike, I looked them up online and saw that they had been kicked off of several college campuses for—get this— harassment. They were manipulative, trained stalkers, and preyed on, specifically, lonely looking, poor, non-white students. The group was known for brainwashing and abusive control—but thankfully, not drowning.

......but, if you are ever in the Los Angeles area, the 10 mile hike to the Bridge to Nowhere is an amazing experience. It's 10 miles of scrambling, climbing, hiking, and river crossing a pristine river, to get to an abandoned bridge. A flood took out the road, shortly after it was built, leaving behind a 150 foot tall span bridge in the middle of the Angeles National Forest.

© 2014 Jennifer Arnett

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    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks Mary, I'm happy to know that you felt the tension and cared about the character.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 2 years ago from Florida

      I was on the edge of my chair reading your story! I was so afraid this poor girl was going to die!

      Excellent work. Voted UP, etc.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks Nancy, i'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Jodah, thanks for the feedback. It's great to know that I kept you on the edge of your seat. I'm currently working on a full length thriller, so I'm honing my skills in the art of the thrill.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      A remarkable story, drew me in immediately. Cults are very dangerous and they do proliferate in schools and campuses. Your story really made a great point, and when you told the true story of your visit to the bridge, it made it all the better. Excellent work!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Fantastic short story Jennifer. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. You are a great short fiction writer, and the fact that this was partially based on fact made it even more realistic....pretty freaky that you actually went to the bridge to nowhere with a cult. Voted up.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks GClark, that's wonderful feedback. I really appreciate it.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Ghaelach, Thank you for reading and sharing. Oh boy, my intent was not to turn off anyone to the church. My intent was to expose a cult and the power of manipulation. Cults take a religion and skew it to their own purposes. Before you know it, there are dead bodies everywhere from drinking the poisoned cool-aid. I also wanted to show what happens when legalism is taken too far. There are plenty of good churches that follow the Bible and don't go to the extremes in this story. I wrote it because I do not want any innocent people to be deceived. Hmm, maybe I should write a Hub on how to spot a cult.

    • GClark profile image

      GClark 2 years ago from United States

      Intriguing and scary story that pulled you immediately into the events.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Interesting story. I liked the pacing and the fact that it's based on an experience you had makes it even richer. I love to hike, scramble and climb. Next time I'm in LA I will definitely go to the bridge. Your story will make the journey even more dynamic.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks Bill. It's always a joy when you encourage my work.

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 2 years ago

      This was a creepy story. It's enough to put anyone off going to or joining a church.

      I'm glad I'm not into hiking these days.

      Ghaelach

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      The introduction grabbed me....the dialogue fueled the story..and the fact that it was based on truth cemented the deal....wonderful story, Jen!