Nicky’s Bridge: When Characters Come Calling

Bridge 1 BW

I call this Nicky’s Bridge. I don’t know the real name of it; I don’t know that it ever had one. And as you can tell, no one has driven on it for a long time.

Nicky is my fourteen year old rumrunner. He appeared to me one day while I was on a walk. Not literally, of course — but one second I was walking along minding my own business, and the next, I had this smart-ass kid in my mind. I could see him as clearly as the trees in front of me:  short, a thatch of dark blond hair, dark eyes, this huge overcoat that almost dragged the ground, white shirt and suspenders, and one of those tweed driving caps that sort of matched his coat. He cocked his head at me and said, “Lady. LADY! Yeah. You. Listen up. Here’s my story.”

It doesn’t always happen like that, believe me — but when it does, it’s amazing. Of course, it’s also VERY hard to shut them up when they come to you like that, those characters. Nicky’s been no exception, but I think I love him more than any other character I’ve ever written about.

So because Nicky grew up in a small town near where I live, I had to start exploring and figuring out what life would have been like in 1924. The landscape has changed a lot since then;  large chunks of the region were turned over to the Kaw Reservoir, and a lot more turned over to the Kaw Wildlife Refuge. I knew a lot of his driving routes would have been in that area, so I needed to go exploring. Road maps apparently weren’t common back then, so I’ve been combing through newspapers from 1924, looking for clues about the area and its topography back then. It’s not easy! If you want to do historical fiction, even something that recent (not even a hundred years ago) just remember:  you may not always find what you need.

But this bridge is still there. I’m not sure where it originally went; you can see the vestiges of the roadbed, but nothing to indicate where it would have gone after it disappears into the trees. A little further away, on the other side of the current road, there’s an old iron trestle. For a railroad? Or a real road? I have no idea. And because it’s on private land (there’s a sign out front that simply reads “NO.” Not “No Trespassing,” or “Private Property,” just “NO.”) I may never know. But this bridge, with its wooden slats and low metal railings, and the boxy frame underneath — this one, I’m sure was part of a road that no longer exists. A road that Nicky might have driven, alone at night, no headlights, just going by memory of how the road curves and straightens, of where the deer pop out and where the family of coons live (Nicky loves animals), and where the sheriff likes to sit, ready to tip his hat at Nicky when he drives past, acknowledging their little arrangement.

It’s funny, that in researching Nicky’s world, I’ve discovered more of my own.

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