The Narrow Bridge

Part 1

The Storm

Shell Out

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Kirk forgot what peaceful weather looked like, the Storm had raged for so long. The sky swelled with clouds of darkness, and the rain whipped about from east to west, blinding him from the road ahead. Streaks of lightning engulfed his path, offering flashes of light in which to see his drenched map, but each strike was filled with enough madness to nullify his comfort. Thanks to all the natural chaos surrounding him, he thought, the sooner he ended his journey, the better.

The map showed a canyon sunk into the road ahead, presenting him with the possibility of floodwaters blocking his way. The familiar road behind, therefore, seemed like the safer place to retreat. Of course, the trees in that old place had been stripped by the elements, and their branches lay scattered in heaps along the road. They would not provide adequate shelter from this rain. Not anymore.

The forward road was very much an unknown, and turning back was tempting, but he couldn’t betray his urge to continue. The journey had been arduous, with hill after hill after hill to climb, and at times scary with the various beasts that stood in his way, and he assumed that the road ahead would continue to escalate this trend. But turning back now after so many miles would have rendered his progress futile, and the last thing he wanted was to waste the experience. He had to push on.

He huddled over his soggy map, mindful of its dripping on the muddy pathway and its difficulty in reading. There were so many crisscrossing lines covering the sheet, each slowly warping in the rain, that anything less than devoted study might’ve confused a navigator. Fortunately, his chosen path, the only path to reach the mark denoting his destination, was defined boldly in red. Unfortunately, it drove right through the heart of the canyon and over the peak of the mountain summit, both of which looked impossible to pass.

He scoured the chart for a way around the obstacles, perhaps one that didn’t even stay on the page. Lines traveled in spiraling motions, winding from one printed landmark to another, none of which presented him with a sound alternative.

With the map failing to show him what he wanted to see, he assumed he needed to find an uncharted path on his own.

However, the last time he had searched for his own safest path, taking dead end after dead end, he discovered the hard way that the map was resolute. After staring down the blinding road, looking into only a curtain of water, he decided he had to trust what others had outlined before him, as they were the pathfinders, and he was their student. If they were wrong, then the map never would have reached him in the first place. It only made sense.

So, if he understood the map correctly, the road pushed forth in a northeasterly direction. It looked dangerous from this standpoint, certainly, with lightning striking the bordering forest in heavy doses—each bolt sending a new tree bursting into flames. Logic told him not to continue in that direction, but logic had no connection with his goal. Treasure awaited him at the end of the path; nothing—not lightning, nor floods, nor mountains—would stop him. He hoped.

Additional paths branched off from the small and muddy artery. Each was a wider though barren road passing over denuded fields, each leading to places that appeared unhampered by the Storm. The paths were flat and easy, with safe spots for veering around deep puddles. Most of them lacked deadly debris, with not one flying branch or piece of bark whipping by. It was the most comfortable this journey would ever get, if he were to choose any of them as his road.

One seemingly inviting road even had a storm shelter erected along its shoulder. It would take him a long trek to get there, but the shelter looked as though it were made from decent wood, which would give him a break from the frightful weather. He also thought he saw the outline of a neon sign deep in the distance—perhaps a diner or a venue for entertainment. But he couldn’t tell for certain, for the place was far away, and, according to his map, the road tangled in many, many directions, and he couldn’t predict how long he would need to arrive, regardless of which twist in the road he might take.

Nevertheless, as the Storm wailed louder than ever, Kirk found the prospect of making the distant trip to the neon lights attractive. It would’ve delayed his journey—that much was clear—but he was tired of the leaves, the berries, and the pebbles pelting him, and he believed a reprieve from the pain was desirable.

As he stepped near the branching side road, Kirk halted and meditated. There was no telling whether he could find his way back to this trail or not. According to his chart, each branching road led to more branching roads, which led to more branching roads, which led to more branching roads. Any of them could’ve had storm shelters, diners, or entertainment venues in place, but this one—this unwavering one—was the only one that would lead him past the canyons, past the mountains, and past all the other landscapes within the Storm. At least, that’s what the map claimed.

Perhaps, through no failure of possibility, an incompetent mapmaker had created the map with a drunken navigator at his side. Perhaps it was one of many fakes designed to set would-be treasure hunters on the wrong path. Stories told of such things happening before; civilizations have preserved anonymity over such ruses. If such a decoy existed in his hand, then he would be foolish to continue along this dangerous course, and only a fool would keep traveling within this Storm into the burning forest and beyond, just to reach a place he had never seen, that may not even exist. It only made sense, therefore, to go to the storm shelter, or the neon sign, or any place he could see with his own two eyes. There were enough discernable footprints left in the mud to suggest others before him had made that same decision, and nothing to suggest the decision they made was a bad one, even if it were ultimately the final one.

But, so far, the map had been accurate. Up to this point, everything it outlined had in fact appeared in the place where it was recorded. Each crossroad cut across the trail exactly where the map had shown. Even the major landmarks along the red line emerged from the rainy horizon at the points it revealed. Doubting the accuracy of the map seemed more foolish than continuing along this wild road. He decided it was best to keep going, even if the songs inevitably sung under those neon signs were attractive and if flying twigs did blast him in the face.

And so he continued toward the fiery forest, hoping with all hope that the map and the mapmaker were telling him the truth.