The Narrow Bridge

Part 4

The Cottage

Shell Out

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When he looked up to estimate the trials he would face ahead of here, he noticed a small cottage along the side of the road. It hugged the edge of a hill and had a pillar of smoke scattering into the rain from the chimney. Slowly, but excitedly, he crawled toward the front door and knocked. A bearded man, probably in his thirties, answered the door.

“Ah, another traveler,” he said, with his hand extended close to Kirk’s chin. “Perhaps, you are here for a rest?”

“Yes,” Kirk said, dropping to the ground. “Most certainly yes.”

The owner of the cottage lifted Kirk to his feet and helped him inside. He guided him to a small couch in the middle of the room. Kirk fell onto the closest cushion and passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow.

When he awoke, he noticed the Owner sitting at a table with a few other travelers. Each visitor had a refreshed look on his face. Plates full of food from turkey to cauliflower sat before them. There was also an empty chair waiting for a body to join, and a full plate sitting in front of it.

“Hey there,” said the Owner. “I see you are awake. Come join us for the feast.”

Kirk had no reason to argue. He was starving.

After spending the next hour talking and eating with the Owner and the travelers, Kirk despaired. The time came when everyone’s plate was emptied, and each had to prepare for the journey ahead. Kirk refilled his canteen. The others refilled theirs. The Owner put together a basket of rations for each to carry. When everyone had his gear in order, the Owner sent each on his way with one important word to remember.

He said, “Many of you have traveled this road in isolation, and the journey was made the more treacherous for it. Though you have come this far, at any point you could’ve failed. Some of you started with companions, but lost them when you faced the trial in the forest. Some of you didn’t have company to start. Some companions abandoned the journey early and sought refuge in the shelters and pleasures along the winding paths. A few may try the journey again, but most will not. Those travelers who gave up, I’m afraid, may never reach the great treasure beyond the chasm. As the world behind them begins to burn, they will find that their temporary refuges will no longer save them from the incoming Storm.

“None of you have given up, but the temptation for it has been fierce. You’ve taken a journey of solitude that has left you open for great failure. You may have lasted this long, but the Storm will not relent, and sooner or later the isolated journey will betray you. Through your isolation you will allow the tempest to knock you far off course or out of the adventure completely. But stick together, and you’ll do better to combat the elements. Holding each other accountable to the journey will guarantee that each reaches the end.

“I will also send a particular fellow adventurer to guide you along the remainder of the path. He’ll meet you at the first checkpoint before the ascent into the mountain. He knows the map intimately.

“All of you take care. Endure the rest of the hike. I’ve seen the treasure for myself and it is guaranteed to blow your mind. Peace be with you.”

With that, the Owner sent them back onto the trail.