The Bridge Across Time
A time travel tale.
Andrew Temperson was always early. Now approaching his mid-sixties he knew that time was no longer on his side, but he’d made peace with it. As Principal, for Newbury Middle School, he still led by example and arrived well before everyone else.
He found solace in the sound of his footsteps as they echoed through the empty hallways; a moment of quiet before the storm. His secretary, Janice, would be in shortly; he often suspected she waited around the corner to let him arrive first. Then, not long after her, the teaching staff would arrive, and then the kids - the storm.
He sifted through the mail that he’d collected on the way in. The usual stuff, but there was an intriguing padded envelope, addressed to himself. He switched the coffee machine on first and then set about the envelope.
At first glance he thought it was empty, but, lurking at the bottom was a plastic widget. He emptied it out onto his desk. A memory drive, or USB stick…whatever they called them. He never really got the hang of these things. Janice had taught him the basics so he knew what they did, and almost how to use it. He popped it open and plugged it in. Nothing happened. He scratched his beard and tried to recall how all this worked. What was it now? … go here, press this…PING. Success.
A middle aged man appeared in a little window. He was slightly balding, sweaty, and agitated. “Principal Temperson, I hope this message reaches you in time. If I’m correct, and if everything has worked, and that’s a big if, then you should be seeing this before, or on, February 20th, 2023, the day of the annual school trip to the Museum.”
Principal Temperson paused the video and looked at his calendar. He nodded to himself. It is, he thought. Can’t believe I forgot that. He pressed play.
“You need to divert the bus from its usual route. The old river bridge will collapse under the weight. 17 kids will drown. The driver will be killed on impact.”
Pause. Temperson, shocked, tried to correlate the information he’d just heard. Is this a sick joke? How could he possibly know that? Play.
“I know that must be sounding pretty insane to you right now. I can assure you, it’s not a joke. I was on that bus. I was one of the … lucky ones.” The man laughed at that, then looked distant, thoughtful, then caught himself. “Sorry, Principal Temperson, it’s been a hard thirty years.”
“I guess that needs an explanation. I hope you’re sitting down. My name is Albert Reid. I’m a kid at your school right now - ‘Alby’ Reid, you’ll know me as.”
Pause. He stared at the image in disbelief. He knew the boy; bit of a trouble-maker. The resemblance was uncanny. Play.
“I’m sending you this from thirty years into the future. Your future. I don’t have the time to explain it all, and the chances of you actually seeing this are astronomically low, but I had to try. For their sake, Principal Temperson, divert the bus. Divert the bus!”
The message ended. Alby Reid, thirty years older than the boy getting ready for school at this moment, sat frozen on the screen.
“There’s a coffee out here. It’s cold. Did you forget it?”
He jumped at the voice, and quickly closed the video down. Janice, his secretary, was standing in the doorway holding a cold cup of coffee. He struggled to get his mind focused on anything other than a bus full of dead children. “I got distracted. Sorry.”
She gave him a quizzical look. “Were you watching porn? It’s okay if you were. I watch porn. Not judging. Is that why you like to come in early? A little bit of ‘me’ time?”
Most mornings he enjoyed the gentle comedy chat with Janice but today was not most days. He snapped at her. “I’m not watching porn, Janice. It was…something else. Personal.”
She flinched a little at the uncharacteristic outburst. “Sorry,” she said. “Would you like a fresh cup?”
“Yes. And…sorry, for snapping at you. I didn’t hear you come in is all. Gave me a start.”
“That’s okay. Did you need anything else?”
He shook his head, but there was something, there were the kids and what to do about them. “Sorry, yes. Can you let me know when the kids are ready for the Museum trip. It’s important that I talk to them before they go.”
“You better hurry, then. They're starting to mass already. Earlier start for bus trips!"
She turned with his coffee but he was already gone.
Red-faced and out of puff, he put on his best ‘Happy Principal’ smile as he sprint/walked over to the bus. The kids had already been corralled, with the trained sheepdog precision of the middle-school teacher, into something resembling a line. They were animated, chatty, already tik-tok-ing, or tweeting, or whatever they spend their day doing that isn’t learning. “Hello, boys and girls,” he said. “Or non-binary’s, if that’s the correct term. Still getting used to that one.” He laughed and looked to one of the teachers for backup, but they just smiled sweetly. “Anyway, just wanted to say ‘Have a great day, today’ and try and stay out of trouble.”
There were a few ‘yes, sirs” but most of them ignored him. He zeroed in on Alby Reid. “How are you today, Alby?”
Alby glanced up from his phone and shrugged. “Good, good,” Temperson, said. He was laying the face from the video over the face of the boy. There was definitely a resemblance. Thirty long years, he had said. What must he have gone through in those years, surviving such a harrowing experience?
A teacher interjected. “Did you need something, Principal Temperson?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, thinking fast. He motioned the teacher out of earshot of the kids. “I’ve had an electronic mail about the old river bridge. Apparently, there’s going to be work starting on it today. They’re thinking it might be unsafe for heavy loads. I was going to divert the route to avoid it. Better safe than sorry.”
The teacher nodded. “Bit longer journey, but, like you say: better safe than sorry.”
Temperson headed over to the bus and popped his head in the door. The driver was instantly familiar: Robby Preston, another of his pupils, not long left. Like the ones gathered outside, he too was staring at a phone. When he noticed Temperson, he snapped to attention. “Woah, sorry, Principal Temperson, I didn’t see you there.”
He smiled at the reaction. Even after they leave he’s still the Principal to them. “Nice to see you again, Robby. I wonder if you could do me a favour today. I’ve heard word that the old river bridge is having work done. Might not be safe for a bus. I know it’s a longer route but could you avoid it? I’ve let the teachers know, so there won’t be any surprises.”
Robby thought about it. “Uh, I guess. I’m not really supposed to change routes without authorisation, but, you are the Principal, so I guess that’s authorisation enough?”
“Good boy, Robby. Drive safe.”
He spent the rest of the morning on a rollercoaster of moods. His mind swam with the surreality of the video message, the elation of saving all the children, and the disappointment that no one would ever know he did it.
As the afternoon wore on he became fidgety. He had to know everyone was safe; had to know he had done the right thing. He went to see Janice.
She looked up as he hovered over her shoulder. He was biting his nails.
“You okay?” she said.
“Hmm, yes. I was wondering if you could do me a favour and call Robby Preston. He was today’s driver. I just want to check they arrived safely.”
“I’m sure -“
He waved a hand towards her computer. “Can you just…do your call thing?”
She frowned. This was not like him, but she did as he asked and pulled up her file of phone numbers, found Robby, and dialled. She put her headset on and waited. And waited.
“Anything?” He said, vibrating with nervous energy next to her.
“No answer. It’s amazing, these kids spend all their time staring at their phones but when you call them they’re never there.”
“Call the museum. Check they arrived,”
“Jeez, you’re in a mood today.” She turned back to the screen, pulled up the museum, and called. “Hello, yes, this is Janice from the school. I just want to check that the scheduled trip went ahead as planned?
Never arrived! Yes, that is unexpected. They should have been there hours ago.”
She looked up at Principal Temperson. He was white as a ghost and staring past her. She followed his gaze to the door where a police officer was standing.
The officer smiled and waved. “Hello, Principal Temperson. Do you remember me? It wasn’t all that long ago I was here as a pupil. Billy Worth.”
Temperson’s hand was over his mouth. He was shaking. Police could only mean one thing. They had taken the original route. They were all dead.
“Of course, we remember you, Billy,” Janice said. “Don’t we Principal-“
“Something terrible has happened hasn’t it?” Temperson said.
“I’m afraid so, Sir. That’s why I’m here."
“Was it the bridge? Did it collapse?”
Billy looked confused. Janice joined him.
“Were you expecting the bridge to collapse?”
“I just thought…I don’t know. I had the idea in my head is all.”
“It’s fine, as far as I know. No, I’m here to ask why you diverted the bus this morning? Both, the teachers, and the driver, said you read something about roadworks and asked them to go a different route?”
Temperson wiped a line of sweat from his brow. He was now trapped between a lie and the unbelievable truth. “I read a thing about bridge repairs first thing this morning, and I guess I pictured the bridge collapsing with the kids…It was maybe an overreaction but it was only an extra twenty minutes to go the other way.”
Billy scribbled this down on a notepad. “I understand,” he said. “It’s just that the bus was stopped along the new route. An armed man entered the vehicle and … abducted one of the kids.”
“Oh, no,” Janice said. “Who was it? Can you say?”
He didn’t have to. “Alby Reid,” Temperson said.
Billy looked surprised. “Do you want to tell me how you know that?”
There was nothing else for it now, he had to tell them the truth. “I haven’t been honest with you, I'm afraid. I think I’ve done something incredibly foolish.”
Billy and Janice looked at him expectantly.
“It’s probably easier,” he said, “If you just come and see it.”
When the recording finished, Janice was the first to speak. “Well, that explains the way you were acting this morning.” She turned to Billy. “I thought he was watching porn.”
“That might have been the better option,” Billy said.
Temperson had his head in his hands. He looked up at Billy and said, “I still don’t know what it all means. How did this lead to Alby being abducted? Is it some crazy coincidence?”
“No. I’m afraid, Principal Temperson, you’ve just been played.”
Temperson shook his head in frustration. “I don’t know what that means.”
“It’s like this, Principal Temperson: the man in the recording isn't Alby Reid.” He pointed to the screen, “It’s his father.”
The coin dropped for Temperson. “That’s why there’s a resemblance.”
“Yeah. He just got out of prison two weeks ago. He’s already kicked up a stink over the boy. Mother is having none of it. We’ve been called out already over it. The moment the video started I knew who it was. It’s surprisingly clever for him, he’s never been the sharpest tool in the shed. He must have figured you would choose emotion over cold logic and just move the bus route to one that was easier for him to stop it.”
“I’m so stupid. It makes no sense now, with hindsight.”
Janice put a hand on his arm. Billy shrugged, he was non-commitall.
“He’ll be okay, the boy?” Temperson said.
“I’m sure he will," Billy said. "I don’t think the father means him any harm, just wanted to see him, but didn’t have time for the red tape. He won’t get far.”
Principal Temperson nodded. He looked at Janice. “I think I might be getting too old for this job. Might be time to think about my retirement.”
Janice gave him a cheeky smile, knowing he would take this in the right spirit, and said, “It’s about time."
About the Creator
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Overall this was an interesting and engaging read! Well thought out and written! Nice work!
Unexpected turnaround of events! Enjoyed reading it. Btw, does Janice have any serious issues with the Principal?
Interesting storyline, you definitely have your own style of writing . Very detailed.
Nicely done! Subscribed!
very Good… i really like your blog…
Very cool take on this challenge! I enjoyed this one!