November 16, 1991
Friday, 6:30 AM
The bridge bustled with activity this morning. Its old, steel supports were rusted and weary, and it was time to remove and replace them. The crew worked well together and the foreman figured that this should be an easy job.
Sera was a small town. Everybody knew everybody else. The town consisted of about eight hundred people, with the graduating high school class averaging forty students. The geography of the town was what made it unique. The Current River ran across the western city limit, while an unnamed creek ran across the eastern. The bridges that crossed these two moving bodies of water were the only ways into or out of town. The bridges spanned the river and the large creek, which made its bustling tourist trade possible. While Will, the crew’s foreman, considered this job no different than any other, the mayor had considered it a top priority.
Will, watching the crane from the safety of the bank of the creek, chuckled at the memory of the stern speech given at the town council meeting last week. “You know how important it is for you guys to have this job done before the parks open this summer, right?” he had demanded.
Will had stopped him cold by bragging that his crew could finish it in less than a month, rather than the four months that they had been allotted. It was still nice to think about how he had stolen the words of the old pencil-pusher.
A large splash in the water caught his attention and he glanced in the direction of the flowing creek. “What happened?” he called out to Paul, the driver of the crane.
The latter had been climbing into his seat and had been facing the water. “Looks like Mike fell off the bridge!” Paul yelled back.
Will exhaled, blowing mist into the air. The water was probably freezing. He swore. “Is he okay? I don’t need any of you catching pneumonia!”
Another crewman yelled from farther up the bank of the creek, “He’s not moving!” Will pulled his safety hat off and threw it to the ground, breaking into a run toward the water. He dove in. The icy liquid hit him like a fist, knocking the wind from him as he swam for his fallen worker.
Finally, he reached Mike, who floated, face-down, twenty feet off shore. “Mike?” asked Will from between breaths. “Are you okay?” He spun him over.
A four-pronged, metal star protruded from his friend’s eye. Horrified, Will pushed the body away from him with a screech.
Screams and shouts erupted from the worksite. Will looked toward the shore to see the crane swing wildly. Paul sat in the driver’s seat, his blood-soaked jacket plastered to his chest. He saw a figure, clad head-to-toe in black, leap from the vehicle. The crimson-covered blade of his short sword glistened in his hand.
Arrows rained down from other figures, who had perched in the supports under the bridge. Each one was dressed identically and each arrow hit true. Will watched, his heart pounding in his chest, as his men were slaughtered.
Panic filled the man as he swam for the other side of the creek, not caring that he had just released the contents of his bowels in the creek. He had to get away. He had to get out of sight of the grotesque scene.
He climbed out onto the bank closest to the town. He only had thirty feet to run to reach the safety of the trees.
Fear allowed him to forget the cold numbness that washed over his body from the frigid water. Fear allowed him to forget the dragging weight of his soaked and soiled clothing. He rushed for the trees.
I’m gonna make it!
Then a black-clad figure dropped from the front tree. Hanging upside down, its blade glinted in the sunlight as it slashed across Will’s neck. Will felt a sharp, agonizing pain shoot across his throat. Then a warm sensation washed down the front of his body. For an instant, his befogged mind welcomed the warmth as it fought off the cold of the air against his wet chest.
Then he realized that the warmth was from his own blood. Gasping for air, his bulging eyes focusing on the person who had just killed him, he dropped to the ground as the darkness claimed him.
* * *
As the last of the bodies were piled under a huge tarp, one of the black-clothed figures walked up to another. “He lives on the rural side of this bridge, Master?”
The other figure looked out over the creek, seeming to see something that the other could not. “He does.” He clasped his hands together, finger through finger, with the two index fingers flat against each other and pointing straight up. “But that is not all.” He looked at the younger man, one of his clan’s chunin, or lieutenants, and continued. “She and her uncle, the jonin, live in that direction, as well. If we play this correctly, we may be able to wipe out the Funakoshi’s leadership in one, great sweep.”
The chunin bowed respectfully to his master and walked away. The ninja leader continued to stare out toward the rural area to the east of the small Missouri town. “Tonight we will have our vengeance, Funakoshi.”
Copyright 2013, Jeffrey Allen Davis