Got up this morning to an overcast sky and the threat of rain. It didn't take long to make good on the threat, either. About an hour after I left, the raining began, and it continued for hours. In fact, it rained until I finally got to Cornwall and crossed back into the States. Shortly after that, it stopped. I figure this was the weather's way of convincing me to get back to my home country.
Actually, I could have crossed the St. Lawrence yesterday, but there were two possible routes to my next day's destination. One took me into New York and across rolling terrain, while the other promised to be a scenic ride along the river. I went with the scenic view. However, even though I was completely out of Canadian funds by this point, I couldn't cross into the USA to take the river tour because the road there became a highway. So, I rode 60 miles along the St. Lawrence and skipped lunch (one of my last fig newton stockpiles tided me over).
Then I had to deal with the bridge. Like the last time I crossed the border, back on Day 25, the guards wouldn't let me ride across, but a helpful driver ferried me across in a van. This time, there was no one to stop me from crossing, and no one to help me out, either. The bridge just started on over with no fanfare. Like last time it was a narrow two-lane bridge, with no pedestrian accessway. The winds weren't as bad, but it was raining. However, I was lucky in that it was Sunday, and there wasn't that much traffic. So up I went. Here's a shot from the top:
You can also get an idea of how narrow this bridge is from this shot looking back at Canada. I'm sure the drivers passing by weren't too amused by my stop for photos, but I had the bike up on the little one-foot wide concrete path and felt relatively safe.
Once I finally got to the other side, I discovered that this was actually a double bridge, with the first section ending on an island. This was where the toll booth was. There was no fee for bikes, so I cruised on, but now I had to cross a really steep section of bridge, with no concrete path to fall back on if things went wrong. Worse, as I went up, I discovered there were sections of the bridge with gratings in it wide enough to annihilate my tires (sort of like those sewer grates with grooves parallel to the road, only these stretched all the way across, with no way to evade them). I was forced to stop, leaning against the guardrail, until there were no cars coming in either direction. At that point I could safely ride on, crossing both lanes at an angle so my tires didn't fall into the grooves. I had to do this twice. I'm just lucky I saw these bike-killers in time to stop, or I could have been in a serious accident.
At the bottom, I was rewarded with a questioning session from a customs agent, who was nice enough to wave me ahead of all the cars, but still no-nonsense about his job. This was the last obstacle, and I was back in the States. Here, my bike rests after our week-long sojourn across Ontario.
At this point I was two-thirds done for the day, so all that was left was to ride on to Malone. This part was a little tougher, with several hills, but otherwise uneventful. I had even somewhat dried off by the time I got to town.
“Damn, boy, you just turned white as a ghost,” the old-timer declared. “You’re not gonna faint on me, are you?”
“No...I’ll be all right,” Devon managed, leaning back against the side of the fountain. “I’m just not sure how I got here, that’s all.”
The man studied him for a moment, running long, bony fingers over his stubble-covered chin. Then he laughed aloud, slapping one knee with an open palm. “I get it!” he chortled. “You’re a rookie!”
Devon just stared at him blankly.
“You’re a newbie. Never done it before. An actual virgin. I haven’t seen one of your type in a long time.”
“Now see here, old man...”
“Taylor’s the name. Marvin Taylor. Pleased to meetcha, rookie. Imagine that, an actual rookie coming through this very day!”
“My name is Devon...Devon Richards. And what are you babbling about?”
“And you don’t even know what you did. Absolutely amazing!” The old man continued to cackle to himself as though pleased with his discovery.
“Look, I’m very thankful for the water and all,” Devon said with exasperation, “but if you know something about how I got here, I’d really appreciate you just tell me straight out.”
“Ha. Like I’m a Master, to teach an apprentice. Well, I guess you already have the skill, you just don’t know it. Lemme see. The best way’s probably to get you to tell it to yourself. What was the last thing you remember before you got here?”
Devon thought about it for a moment, but found the memory difficult to summon. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “I looked up. The sky looked gray and all the wind had stopped. I pulled on the brakes and was here.”
“What about right before that?”
“I was staring at the white line on the road, thinking about getting to St. Louis.”
“Aha!” the old man exclaimed. “There you have it. Just like I thought. You’re a White Liner.”
“White Liner. You transported yourself here, using the white line.”
“What are you saying? Transported myself?”
“Magic, boy! You teleported yourself straight across the country, right to the very point you wanted to be!”
Devon just stared at him, as though he were insane.
“Don’t believe in magic, eh? Well, better start believing, Devon Richards, because it’s out there, and you’re one of the lucky few who can use it.”
There was a long pause. Finally, Devon busted out laughing. He laughed for about twenty seconds, while Marvin just stood there, unamused. “Sorry,” Devon finally managed between breaths. “I get it now. This is some kind of joke or trick. Where are the hidden cameras?”
The old man shook his head. “Rookies,” he muttered. “Where were you an hour ago?”
“Bicycling across Ohio,” Devon answered.
“And where are you right now?”
“Now think about what you just said.”
Devon thought about it. If his friends really were playing a trick on him, how could they have pulled it off? Drugged him and driven him to St. Louis? What about the time and date? They could have kept him under for a day, so it looked like the same morning as far as he could tell. Well, there was one way he could check on that. Shakily, he got to his feet, shook off a brief dizzy spell, and made his way over to a nearby crosswalk. A man in a business suit stood there, waiting for the light to change. “Excuse me,” Devon said, “but do you have the time?”
“Sure, it’s 11:30,” the businessman replied cheerfully.
“And the date?”
“Hmm? Oh, it’s Monday, May 20th.”
“Thank you,” Devon said, trying not to show his reaction. He walked slowly back to the old man and sat down at his feet. He had picked a passerby at random, so there was no way this could be any kind of setup, unless the pranksters had the cooperation of everyone on this city block. And yet...magic? He was a scientific man, believing in physics and mathematics. There was no room in his ordered universe for magic.
“Are you ready to listen to me now?” Marvin asked, sitting down next to Devon and leaning against the side of the fountain.
“Might as well,” he sighed resignedly.
“All right, let me try to explain. Keep in mind, I’m no Master, so the best I can do is throw theories at ya. Have you ever heard of the principles of lines of power?”
“Many Indian tribes believed in ‘em. Supposedly the whole land was cris-crossed with these lines of magic. Where they crossed, that’s where the shamans did their work. ‘Course, the coming of the white man disrupted everything. The more people flowed into the country, the more the lines moved around. They’re attuned to people, y’see. Concentrations of people make ‘em shift. Build a town and nearby lines gravitate towards it. Build a city and you’ve got the hub of a wheel, with lines radiating out towards other towns and cities.”
“Sort of like the spokes in a bike wheel,” Devon offered.
“Yeah, but not so round. The lines of power can be long or short, it doesn’t matter. They can bend and twist, too. Sometimes they go over mountains, for example. But that wasn’t the end of it. Another curious thing happened as man got technology. We started building highways. When we did that, people started traveling on those roads more and more, by car and by bus. The lines of power were pulled towards the people as they moved, so now, every highway in this country has a line of power associated with it, following it.”
“So how come nobody knows about this?”
“Oh, you can’t see the lines. You can’t measure them with instruments. You can only feel them, sometimes. And some, like you, can tap into them. Use them to move yourself quickly along, from one part of the line to the other. Such people are called White Liners, because you focus on the white line to bring you into contact with the line of power.”
“So what you’re saying,” Devon said doubtfully, “is that every time one of those trucks spray-paints a new white line, he’s creating magic?”
“No, no, you don’t see. Look, the white line is just a thing to focus on. A placebo, really. Sort of like...” He struggled for an example, and found one. “Like that feather the cartoon elephant used.”
“Dumbo’s crow feather.”
“Yes, yes. Exactly so. Concentrating on the white line lets your mind drift into the state it needs to be in to access the power.”
“And that’s what I did earlier.”
“You were focused on the line, you said so yourself.”
“And thinking about St. Louis. And the road does come all the way here. It sort of makes sense, in a way. But I still don’t see why no one knows about this. With all the people out there trying to prove psychic ability and stuff, I’d think studies would have been done on this.”
“First off, not everyone can do it, just a few,” the man went on. “You can’t teach this to someone who hasn’t got the gift. Second, you have to have a completely clear mind. If you’re trying to prove something, or make a point, it won’t work. You’ll see what I mean if you try. Even if all you do is tell someone in Seattle you’ll be there this afternoon, that’ll be enough. You won’t be able to concentrate. In fact, once you tell anyone about this, other than another White Liner, it’ll be all but impossible to get it to work again. Trust me...I know what I’m talking about on this particular point.”
“You mean you...?”
“It’s a long story, son, so let’s skip it. Suffice to say I come down here from time to time to watch the Liners come and go, wishing I could still do it.” The old man sighed, as if at a memory long past.
“I see,” Devon said, and changed the subject. “I’m not supposed to be here in St. Louis for five more days. If what you say is true and I show up at my friend’s house this afternoon, I’ll ruin everything. That’s OK, because he wouldn’t believe me anyhow. So, I have to make myself scarce for the rest of the week. If everything you say is true, can you show me how to use this power I have?”
Marvin laughed. “I told you, boy, I’m no Master. It’s different for everyone, anyway. You should play around with it some. Duplicate the conditions of your first Lining. It’ll come easier as you go. You might even bump into some other Liners who’ll help you out, but don’t be put off if they don’t want to talk about it. Most are too afraid they’ll ruin their concentration by giving out the secret.”
“I nearly collapsed right after I got here,” Devon realized. “Duplicating that is going to be tough.”
“I never said it would be easy,” the old man replied. “Now, I’ve spent too much time here already. I’d better be off. Good luck to you, rookie.”
“Thanks. Maybe I’ll see you around here again.”
“If you come through St. Louis, you probably will.”