I know, I’ve got to start posting this earlier in the day. For most of you, it’s at *least* Saturday when you read this. 😉
I wrote this for a Creative Writing class in college, so although it is a direct sequel to “The Masque of the Baron” and thus technically also a Doctor Who/Highlander crossover, I scrubbed out all of the identifying material from the two franchises and it is fully capable of standing on its own. It’s set around Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis, the centerpiece of which is the very photogenic waterfall on Minnehaha Creek. If you are ever in the Twin Cities on a nice day, and you have a bit of time, do check it out. There are some lovely walking trails down along the creek to the Mississippi River, and it’s part of the excellent Minneapolis Park System, which encompasses not only the creek but also some magnificent lakes, with contiguous biking trails between them. I have many fond memories of summer days there.
Continuity note: this would take place immediately before the 1996 Dr Who TV movie, and sometime between the Highlander episodes “Revelations 6:8” and “Indiscretions”.
The broken sunlight of July glittered off the babbling waters of Minnehaha Creek, seeming to move with the stream as it wound its lazy way through the Minneapolis park system. It burbled happily to itself as it rushed around the bronze feet of Hiawatha, unawares of the sixty-foot precipice which it was rapidly approaching. Upstream, a young woman laughed as she splashed the cool water at her boyfriend.
Terri Johnson, a not-so-young woman, grimaced as she stared into the creek, oblivious to the lovers above. It reminded her of time. Mainly her own.
Reaching down to the pebbled surface of the footpath, she picked up a twig. Terri regarded the twig for a moment, then flicked it into the water. It landed within a few feet of the statue of the two, long-dead lovers Hiawatha and Minnehaha, frozen in a moment a few seconds before they leapt over the Falls and into legend.
Terri watched the twig float away to the first bridge in the footpath. She could hear the Falls roaring just beyond. Thinking of the Falls brought a smile to her face. She was waiting to show them to a good friend of hers, an Englishman whom she had not seen in three years. But she was early yet.
Crouching down by the creek, Terri stuck her hand in the water. The cool felt good. It was, after all, the middle of July.
She jumped. “What!” she blurted, spinning around, her heart racing.
There, beaming happily at her, was her friend. His blue eyes glittered mischievously. He seemed inordinately pleased at having startled her.
“Adam!” she said, smiling. Coughing, she attempted to look severe and failed completely. “Don’t do that!” she said, waggling a finger at him.
“Sorry,” he said, grinning impishly and looking not a bit sorry.
Terri got her heart rate back under control. “Well, long time no see,” she said.
“Yes,” he replied. There was a catch in his voice. Terri wondered at it, but she knew better than to ask.
“Come on,” she said, jerking her head in the direction of the paved path. “Let’s walk.” And she turned to lead the way towards the first bridge.
The sun broke through the broad gap in the tree canopy as they stepped out onto the bridge. Suddenly, the roar of the falls became much louder. Looking upstream, the two bronze lovers were still visible, frozen out of time, the water lapping their ankles. Downstream, the creek flowed calmly for about ten feet and then disappeared. A cloud of fine mist hung about the dropoff, sparkling in the clean sunlight.
“So how was your flight?” asked Terri.
“Oh, can’t complain,” replied Adam. “I wish airlines would stock better food.”
Terri grinned. “Ah, but if the food were good, it just wouldn’t be right!”
Adam chuckled briefly, then lapsed into silence. He bent down and picked up a stray twig. Leaning over the downstream side of the bridge, he dropped the twig and watched it ride the current, accelerating as it neared the edge and then disappeared. Terri wondered what was on his mind. He didn’t seem as light-hearted as before.
“The view’s much better from below,” she commented. “And it’s cooler down there.”
“All right,” he replied. “Lead on!” His tone was cheerful, but there was still a tightness to his words.
Terri smiled, pretending to ignore it. “This way,” she said, setting off down the path.
The hardwood trees closed up again above them, blocking out the worst of the sun’s heat. The roar of the Falls, while still present, was muted by the underbrush.
Terri hopped down the first flight of concrete stairs. “There’s an overlook just ahead. It’s quite breathtaking,” she said.
“Oh, good,” replied Adam, and lapsed back into silence.
By the time they reached the overlook, the silence had grown until it rivaled the sound of the waterfall. Although it was a hot day, Terri shivered.
–I’d forgotten what he’s like, she thought. With a sweeping gesture, she presented Minnehaha Falls to Adam in all their glory. He stepped right up to the railing, closer than Terri dared, and leaned out over the precipice. –All that time in Paris, he was just like this. How could I have forgotten?
But a quiet little voice in the back of her mind reminded her that she had never known him very well. Only for one very strange week, when they’d met a very strange man. Adam had not liked the stranger at first. –Perhaps they were too much alike, mused Terri.
Terri shrugged, examining Adam’s back. There was a weariness about his shoulders, she felt. Or perhaps it was just the way he was leaning against the railing. All of a sudden she wasn’t sure of her friend.
“So, Adam,” she said, hoping that it sounded casual, “what’ve you been up to for the last three years?”
He turned away from the railing. “Oh, this and that,” he replied. “Shall we?” he asked, indicating the pathway. Without waiting for an answer, he started down the next flight of stairs.
Terri started. –Is he still angry, after all this time? she asked herself. Biting her lip, she hopped down the stairs after her friend.
She caught up to him at the next overlook. This one sported a much less impressive drop, but a better view of the Falls. Adam stood at the railing already, leaning over to get a better view of the rushing water.
Unwilling to stand so near the brink, Terri examined the flora instead. The much-filtered sunlight played off the dark greens of the underbrush, hiding much of the more interesting plant life. Terri drew a low-hanging maple branch out of the way.
“Aha!” she cried triumphantly, spotting a cluster of just-ripe raspberries that had miraculously escaped the attention of park visitors.
“What is it?” asked Adam, turning away from the Falls.
“Wild raspberries!” she said proudly, snatching two of the berries from the plant. “Want one?”
“Oh, yes please,” he replied.
Terri deposited the larger of the berries in his hand. “Don’t tell anyone. We’re not supposed to pick things in the park.” He grinned impishly at her for an answer and popped the berry in his mouth. Terri followed suit.
They chewed and swallowed the berries in silence. After a few seconds, Adam spoke.
“Terri,” he began, then bit his lip and stopped. A moment later he began again. “I’ve been meaning to ask you . . . .”
She swallowed hard.
“Three years ago . . . ,” he said. “Where were you?”
She swallowed again. “It’s difficult,” she replied.
Terri opened her mouth to answer, but found she did not know what to say. They had been through a lot together. And then Terri had run off with the stranger, leaving Adam to pick up the pieces. After a moment, she closed her mouth again. She closed her eyes also, for fear of seeing a smug look on Adam’s face. –It’d be just like him, she thought bitterly.
“Let’s head down to the bridge,” she said finally. “The best view is there.”
With that, she turned down the last flight of steps. She could hear Adam starting down behind her. Above, a lone robin sang. To her left and growing ever louder as she approached the bottom of the deep ravine was the roar of the Falls.
For a moment, Terri felt she’d been there forever, that the robin was always singing, the Falls were always roaring at precisely that clarity and volume, and she was always descending the concrete stairway.
Then the moment passed, and they were on the footpath at the bottom of the ravine. Terri did not pause until they were in the middle of the bridge over the creek.
She turned to Adam. “Now that’s somethin’, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Adam, his eyes wide with wonder at the beauty of the Falls.
Terri turned back to face the waterfall. –At last I’ve found something that he hasn’t seen, she thought with satisfaction. The Falls truly were a magnificent sight. A huge bow-shaped cliff towered over their heads, the striations in the rock worn out by eons of water flowing over them. Lush, green moss hung from every ledge and precipice. Behind the falls, green algae bloomed from the sodden rock face, helping to wear away the cliff face, bringing the Falls ever further from the Mississippi River. And at the center, like the jewel at the center of a particularly gaudy setting, was Minnehaha herself.
Hundreds of gallons of water poured over the verge every second, cascading down to the lower creek in a rush so powerful it scarcely resembled water. Terri felt her eyes inexorably drawn to that white column, following it from the top to the bottom, over and over again, hypnotically.
She smiled, feeling the cool spray of the water against her face.
“Longfellow,” said Adam.
“What?” asked Terri, startled.
“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,” he replied, as though stating the obvious. “He wrote The Song of Hiawatha.”
“I knew that,” replied Terri sourly. “I had to read that in junior high. This is Minnesota, after all. He’s famous here.”
“Well, him too, but I meant Hiawatha,” replied Terri, grinning. Adam stuck his tongue out at her. “I just wondered why you mentioned it.”
“Well,” began Adam, “isn’t this where he died?”
“Well, yeah,” replied Terri, still curious why Adam mentioned it. He’d already seen the statue on the upper creek.
“The Ojibwa held this land to be sacred because of it.”
“Oh really?” replied Terri, disinterestedly. She kicked a pebble off the bridge and watched it sink into the frothing creek. For a moment, she was disappointed that it didn’t float.
“You knew that, didn’t you?”
Terri turned. Adam was looking right at her. There was a curious look in his eyes. She met his gaze but did not answer. After a moment, he broke the stare and turned back to the Falls.
He sighed. “Why didn’t you come back?” he asked, barely loud enough to be heard over the Falls.
Terri bit her lip. She watched a group of preteens clamber past the warning signs on the bank. They scrambled along a well-worn footpath leading right up behind the Falls, laughing, oblivious to their danger. “It’s complicated,” she said at last.
“Can you at least try?” he asked. Terri sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She looked at her friend, hoping he might not press the issue. “After what I did for you, it’s the least you can do.”
Terri started. But then she knew that he was right. He had trusted her with his life. And then when she left . . . . –Oh my, she thought. –I’d forgotten about that.
What had Adam told everybody at work the next day when he reported in and she didn’t? And what about the day after that? Or the day after that? Or the week after that?
The guilt she’d been feeling for the past week returned in full force. She’d promised to return right away. But she didn’t return at all.
Sighing, Terri stared into the hypnotic column of the Falls. The roar of the water sounded in her ears and the feeling of changelessness returned. She had been staring into the stream for a thousand years and nothing had changed in that time, and would not change for another thousand. The teenagers scrabbling towards the waterfall had always been laughing, stumbling, oblivious to the fact that in all these thousand years they had never moved a single inch.
The moment passed.
“I was going to come back to Paris. Really. Once we were done adventuring.” She bit her lip for a moment to ease the pressure under her breastbone. “But then he was called away. Something he had to take care of personally.”
–Something too dangerous to bring me, she thought.
The pang of guilt changed, became a different pain. “He dropped me off here late last November. Said I couldn’t go with. Said he’d be back as soon as it was done.”
“Oh,” said Adam.
Terri stared down into the roiling water of the creek. She swallowed hard. The feelings of loss faded, much quicker than the last time she’d seriously thought about it. She leaned hard against the railing of the bridge. A drop of water struck her eye, causing her to blink furiously.
Terri remembered the last time the three of them had stood together. The bridge was the Pont Neuf. The river was the Seine. Adam stood to her left and the stranger stood to the right. That was before she decided to go adventuring with him.
“Well, Terri,” he had said when they had left Adam and Paris well behind. “Time for a quick adventure, then back for tea.”
Suddenly Terri realized that in all their adventuring, she’d never found out what his real name was. He’d called himself John Smith whenever he needed to produce ID, but she doubted that that was his real name either.
“I’m sorry,” said Adam.
Terri shrugged in response. “It’s okay,” she said. “I just hope he isn’t . . . .”
Terri did not complete the sentence. They both knew it was a vain hope. They stood in silent reverence for some time.
“Well,” said Adam.
“Yes, well,” said Terri, staring fixedly into the creek beneath them. “And you?” she asked.
“How have the past three years been treating you?” she asked.
Adam smiled. “Oh, they’ve been interesting. Much more than the last lot, really.”
Terri raised an eyebrow at him.
He chuckled, but not before Terri saw a glimmer of something sad in his eyes. –Not unusual, she reflected of her friend. But still she wondered at it.
As gently as possible, she asked, “What happened?”
“Oh, well, erm, quite a lot actually,” he said. He flicked his eyes around at the other park goers standing on the bridge.
“You don’t have to go into detail,” said Terri.
“Well,” he said, “I met a lot of people.”
“Yes?” she said, prompting.
“Oh, and I don’t think you have to worry about your job anymore,” he said.
“Why?” she asked, a little bit angry. She picked restlessly at her watchband. “What’s happened?”
“It’s a long story,” replied Adam, with a very heavy look in his eyes. “But things aren’t the same anymore. A lot happened two years after you left. The upshot is that you’ll be more than welcome to return. They’re desperate for experienced staff.”
“Oh,” said Terri. She felt the anger go out of her. She dropped her hands to her sides and stood, feeling a bit foolish.
Adam picked up a twig and tossed it into the creek. Like a child, he dashed across the bridge to watch the twig come out on the other side.
Terri smiled. She remembered her other friend, standing on the deck of an ocean liner, playing hopscotch while all the passengers around them scoffed at his childishness. Even in Paris, he’d shown a childish joy at the world. She smiled fondly, remembering him stopping suddenly, almost causing Terri to trip over him as he stooped to pick up a single franc.
“Keep it,” he had said, pressing the coin into her hand. “It’s for luck.”
Terri smiled, watching Adam bending over the rail, looking for his twig.
“You remind me of him,” said Terri.
“Who?” said Adam, straightening. “Oh. Yes. Him.”
“Sorry,” Terri said clumsily. “I . . . I shouldn’t have brought it up again.”
“That’s all right,” replied Adam.
They stood in uncomfortable silence again. The roar of the falls washed over them for several minutes before Terri broke the silence.
“Well,” she said. “I know something’s troubling you.”
“Oh, so you know me that well?” he said sharply.
Terri started. “Sorry, I . . . .”
“No, no, no,” he interrupted. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . . How can you know me? I hardly know myself!” he said suddenly, then turned away.
“Come on,” said Terri. “Let’s move on. This path goes all the way to the river.”
Adam nodded. “Lead on.”
Terri lead the way, although it was not really difficult to find. Once off the bridge, there were only two choices: back up the wall of the gorge, or on down the side of the creek. As they walked, the waters of Minnehaha quickly calmed down, until it was once again the same quiet brook that meandered through the parkland from Lake Nokomis.
“So,” said Terri. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Adam shrugged. “Not much to tell. I fell in love. It lasted for a year. Then it ended.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Terri. –But I don’t buy it, she thought.
“Me too,” said Adam. Terri stole a glance at him. He was staring resolutely forward.
“We’re almost there,” said Terri.
“You can see the locks from just up ahead,” said Terri. “If we’re lucky, a boat will go through while we’re looking.”
Adam chuckled. “Locks are tedious,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the other waterfall.”
Terri smiled. “Well, it’s not as pretty as Minnehaha, but St. Anthony Falls is impressive anyway.”
Adam smiled in response, but said nothing. He picked up his pace. Terri made no effort to keep up, but dropped back. She regarded her friend steadily for some time.
–I wonder what happened to his girlfriend, she thought. She shivered for a moment. Adam had never seemed the type to fall shatteringly in love with someone.
She remembered him in a little café in Paris, pushing the remains of a crepe about with a fork. “Love is overrated,” he’d told her. “It always ends in tears, sooner or later. It’s never worth it.”
Terri had disagreed. Although her experiences with love had all been short-lived disasters, she still felt there was someone out there who was worth all the questing.
“The end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time,” she muttered.
“T. S. Eliot,” said Adam.
Terri started. They had reached the end of the trail. The waters of the Mississippi lapped at the ground only inches from their feet.
“Sorry,” she said. “I let my mind wander off.”
“Beautiful,” said Adam. “Now this is a river.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It has life in it. It’s like the Thames or the Seine or the Nile.” Terri looked curiously at him. He was staring upriver at St. Anthony Falls and the open locks with a gleam in his eyes.
Terri looked back at the mouth of Minnehaha Creek. There was no muddiness around the confluence of the two waters. “Cleaner, though,” she commented.
Adam burst out laughing. “Yes!” he said, trying desperately to get himself under control. “Yes. It is strange to see a river with so much life in it; but without so much garbage in it.”
“Even so, I wouldn’t swim in it,” said Terri.
“No,” said Adam, sobering. His eyes drifted downriver, away from the wide spillway of St. Anthony Falls. Terri followed his gaze. There was a squat tugboat pushing a raft of grain barges downstream to St. Paul.
Terri glanced back at the creek again. For a moment, she imagined herself as a water molecule, starting in posh Lake Minnetonka and eventually entering Minnehaha Creek. She ran down the stream for a few hours, met water from Lake Nokomis and Lake Hiawatha, then tumbled madly over the waterfall, shrieking for joy. Then another fifteen minutes of quiet and she joined the proud Father of Rivers. She traveled down the Mississippi for days, wetting the underside of riverboats and running across the gills of river trout. She passed the muddy confluence of the Minnesota, passed through St. Paul, and then was joined by the St. Croix. Many more rivers joined further downstream, including the Missouri. The water became murkier with every city. After a week of travel, the river was half a mile wide. Soon she would be in the Gulf of Mexico, basking in the briny estuary of the Mississippi.
“Terri,” said Adam.
“What!” she blurted, startled out of her daydream. “Sorry . . . I was thinking.”
“I won’t dignify that with the standard response,” said Adam.
“What response . . . no, don’t answer that,” she said. “What do you think of the other waterfall?”
He smiled. “You were right; it’s not as pretty. But it is impressive. Looks like we just missed the locks,” he said, indicating the tugboat steadily chugging its way downriver.
“I thought you said locks are tedious,” said Terri, grinning.
“Yes,” he said, lapsing into silence. They stared at St. Anthony Falls for some time. A large bird, probably an egret, suddenly soared out over the river. Terri watched it as it circled once above the falls, then flapped its great wings twice and disappeared over the forested riverbank.
“You’d never think we were in a big city,” commented Terri.
“No,” replied Adam. He stared at the waterfall a bit longer, then half-turned towards Terri. He opened his mouth as though he were going to say something, then stopped. He bent down and picked up a flat pebble from the riverbank. Straightening, he flicked the pebble out over the river. It skipped five times before sinking.
“She was beautiful,” he said, “but that wasn’t why I loved her.” Terri listened in silence. “She was young, but she wasn’t happy. She was dying.”
Terri started involuntarily. Adam continued. “She had decided that she was going to die, alone and unloved, of a terrible sickness.”
“What was it?” she asked.
“Hm? Oh, heart trouble. Incurable. Fatal. It took a year to kill her. I convinced her to spend the time living. We traveled all over the globe.” Terri shuddered at the symmetry with her own friend. “By the time she died, she was finally beginning to live.” Adam was no longer gazing at the waterfall. He had stuck his hands in his pockets and was staring into the water at his feet as though it were a scrying glass. He was not crying, which did not surprise Terri. As she watched, he closed his eyes tightly.
“Oh, Adam,” she breathed. She said nothing more, but stepped up to her friend and wrapped her arms around him. She hugged him fiercely for several seconds before he hugged her back. They stood there, supporting one another, for some time.
“Hey!” snapped a voice.
Terri stepped back from Adam.
“You wanna move? Other people wanna look at the locks.” A rather grouchy looking 14-year-old stood there, his hands on his hips.
“Okay,” said Terri, turning to Adam for a moment. “Let’s head back.”
She carefully stepped around the boy, Adam following. “Some people,” grumbled the boy as they left.
Once they were out of earshot, Terri started giggling. She paused for Adam to catch up. He was grinning. “Oh, man,” said Terri. “May I never go through junior high again!”
Adam chuckled. “Horrible,” he agreed, shaking his head. “Do they all go through that?”
“Don’t you remember?” asked Terri.
“No. I am happy to say that I have forgotten that age,” Adam replied with great dignity.
“Well,” said Terri, setting off down the path again, “where would you like to eat lunch?”
“I’m new here, Terri,” he replied.
“Do you like Mexican?”
“Oh, as long as they have good beer, I like anything.”
Terri stuck her tongue out at him. “Oh, you’re no fun anymore,” she said, grinning. “Okay, I’ll pick.”
Smiling, the two friends strolled away along the banks of Minnehaha Creek. The July sunlight filtered down through the trees, glittered on the water, and illuminated the dust in the air. Before long, Terri and Adam were far out of sight, and a stillness came over the Creek. In the distance, the birds were singing.
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