The initial hike to the first checkpoint came easily. The road ascended slightly, offering little resistance to Kirk’s calves. The ease did more to lighten Kirk’s spirit than it did to lighten his body.
The rain, meanwhile, continued to fall, but the travelers were equipped with umbrellas and ponchos. One traveler offered to share his umbrella with Kirk. For the first time since he began the journey, Kirk saw that he had a fighting chance to reach the end.
When they reached the first checkpoint, a slender man with racing shoes stood by the sign.
“Greetings,” he said. “I’m the Guide you’ve been told about. I’m here to lead you the rest of the way. If any of you should stray from the path for any reason, listen for my call and head back toward my voice. I will not leave any of you behind. We’re a team now. Does anyone have questions?”
Kirk looked around, but none raised his hand.
“Good, then let us make our journey.”
The hike up the mountain took more than a day to complete. On several occasions, as the road grew steeper and the Storm fiercer, each member of the party wanted to stop, but the Guide spurred each one to continue. When they finally reached the summit and caught their breaths, they marveled at the view below. A great green shelf stretched for miles halfway down the mountainside, with groups of travelers setting up various camps along the edge. Sheep grazed in the wet grasses near the rocky precipice, while goats chased each other among fields of outcrops. Many campers took shelter beneath the trees, while others stood openly in the Storm. It appeared that the road ended at the ledge where a great dark chasm separated this land from the next. As Kirk absorbed all the sights, the Guide extended his hand toward the field below.
“Each of you have come far to reach the treasure,” he said, “but your journey will mean nothing if you do not make one more important decision. That decision awaits you at the precipice below.”
Across the wide chasm in the land beyond was another cliff bordering the sands and sea of a great tropical paradise. Lush vegetation grew thick around the great beach, which in turn bordered on an ocean that poured a vast waterfall into the great ravine. Past the jungles, golden towers stretched high into the sky, emitting natural light to cover the island. Beyond that, mammoth glaciers sparkled like glitter, scraping the clear blue sky above. The sky, in stark contrast to that plagued by the Storm, had a series of flashing lights racing across the horizon, chasing each other like children. In the middle of the great island, an intensely bright light beamed out like a laser, engulfing the land from one edge to the other. Inside the dome of light, everything glowed without scar or blemish. Kirk thought he was looking at a living fairy tale land.
A clear path stretched across from the edge of the ocean into the depths of the jungle, directly opposite the road below on Kirk’s side of the rift. It was the only path leading into the heart of the golden city from the waterfall over the chasm.
Before Kirk could rub his eyes, the Guide led the group down to the grassy field below.
When they reached the shelf, many of the group members separated from the whole to see what the place had to offer. Kirk, meanwhile, clung to the road as much as possible, looking from one end of the field to the other, gathering what he could from where he stood.
The grassy field stretched for miles in both directions. Each half was remarkably flat, hauntingly familiar to the fields prior to the forest, but with the distinction that both dropped into the endlessly deep ravine. Travelers of all races and nations scattered about the field from the most distant rock to the nearest tree, each celebrating their vision of the land ahead, with most running to the edge and back with a shout. Many bodies also danced in the rain as it fell on their faces.
Perhaps the most startling revelation, however, was not about the simplicity of the field, but the absence of treasure. He thought for sure that he would find some hint of reward when reaching the road’s end, as dedicated adventurers might think. But he found the rift instead. While scanning the faces of the surrounding travelers, he noticed that most did not have the same understanding that he had. They continued to run around, dance about, laugh, party, and stare into the distance as if they’ve already been paid their rewards.
Kirk reasoned, therefore, that the treasure was perhaps somewhere on the shelf, and that these people had already found it. But his theory had challenges: even the vast majority of people he traveled with were partaking in the festivities without having claimed a single jewel. He was confused.
He examined his map to double-check the location of the treasure, and he found—to greater surprise—that he still hadn’t traveled far enough. The marked spot was not near the cliff, contrary to his presupposition, but rather beyond the great chasm.
His heart sank when he discovered there was no way to reach the floating island on his own.
The Guide approached Kirk and placed his hand on his shoulder.
“I see you discovered where your goal truly lies,” he said. “But you are perplexed over how to reach it, are you not?”
“Well, yes I am,” Kirk said. “I came all this way just to hit a dead end, and the treasure . . . how am I supposed to reach it when the road ends here?”
The Guide smiled as he directed his hand toward the island.
“Do not be deceived, Kirk, for the road does not end here. Take another look at your map and tell me what you see.”
Kirk looked at the map and noticed a bridge icon spanning the chasm from the cliff to the island.
“A bridge,” he replied.
“Look at the path again and tell me if you still see a dead end.”
Kirk followed the path with his eyes. To his surprise, he noticed in his second glance a wooden beam hanging over the chasm, stretching evenly from the road at the edge of the precipice to the farther road leading to the golden city. A vertical beam secured the bridge in the middle and stretched high enough to produce a rectangular mast. On the mast was a red cloth, perhaps there to detect the weather. It was undisturbed by the wind. His mouth dropped as he wondered how he had missed that on his first glance.
“Travelers on this journey have taken few steps along the narrow path, just to allow distraction to get the best of them. The result of their actions has led them to choose the winding roads as their treasure. For those who fought the first temptation, many were lost to the forest when they strayed. Of the few who emerged unburned, most have set up camps in the valley just to get washed away in the flood. Even those who came this far have tried to reach the island by their own methods. Many have come to seek treasure, Kirk, but most have sought it through their own wisdom. Look again at those who have wandered the shelf thinking they know how to traverse the chasm.”
Kirk watched the traveling multitudes dash from various spots around the long and narrow field, seeking materials to build their preferred contraptions.
“They think they can get there on their own strength, but the Land of God, the place of your treasure, can be accessed only by taking this bridge. Most refuse to acknowledge its validity, because most believe they don’t need it. Look again.”
To his utter surprise and horror, Kirk watched as a young athlete leapt to his doom. At first, the man’s actions didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, for he stretched his legs and shook his arms as if to prepare for a race. Things changed, however, when he sprinted across the field toward the edge of the cliff. Kirk imagined the young man had participated in a dare from his friends, testing how close he could get to the edge before stopping in his tracks. But the young man didn’t stop. Within moments he leapt from the cliff, reaching forth like a frozen mannequin toward the island, and fell headfirst into the deep pit.
Kirk dropped to his knees as the image of the fall burnt into his mind, and he covered his eyes to avoid the sight of further atrocity.
“What was that guy thinking?” he said.
“Excellent question,” the Guide said. “He was a respected and talented man, celebrated by his peers for his power and athleticism, but also a proud man who thought he could get to the treasure on his own strength and merit. Uncover your eyes and look again.”
Kirk raised his eyes to the crowd, just in time to see a horse and rider gallop toward a different place along the cliff. The man whipped his steed fiercely as the stallion blazed the grasslands, knocking other people out of the way. As it drew closer and closer to the edge, however, the horse whinnied in terror and skidded to a stop, hurling the man off its back and into the ravine.
Kirk wanted to cover his eyes again, but the Guide told him to keep looking.
Next, he watched a young woman in short dress gently lay rose petal after rose petal to the ground. She winked at the group of drooling men that followed close behind her, while leading them toward the cliff’s edge. Kirk looked at the Guide and moaned.
“Make them stop,” he said.
“I can’t,” said the Guide. “They choose to do what they will.”
He looked at the young woman with her seduced men-sheep, then cringed as she performed a double backflip into the ravine. The panting guys jumped in after her. Kirk was beside himself.
“She expected them to catch her and carry her across. They weren’t paying attention to anything but her.”
Kirk shook his head. “Now what?”
The Guide pointed to another girl who carried some books and a basket of pastries. She casually handed the tasty looking sweets to a group of emaciated travelers and read poetry to them as she walked them all over the cliff and fell in herself. Next came a man who emerged from a cave in the mountain, strapped to a set of wings that he must have personally designed. He dove off the cliff in an attempt to fly across the ravine, but fell short about a quarter of the way and plummeted into the abyss.
“The girl thought she could somehow get over there if she did good deeds, as if goodwill could help her defy gravity, and the inventor, well . . . he didn’t realize there is very little air in the void.”
“Why do I have to watch this?” Kirk asked.
“So that in your understanding you can show the rest of them why they need to take the bridge. You’ve seen where they failed. Show them where they can succeed.”
Kirk looked at the field again. He noticed that some people sat in the grass facing the mountain. Others continued to devote their attention to their stuff.
“What about those people?” he asked. “Some of them aren’t diving off the cliff. Why?”
“The people with their backs to the chasm and the island don’t want to acknowledge that either exist. They got this far already, thinking this was their goal. Even if they can see with their own eyes that the land ahead is real, as is the ravine, in their arrogance they wish to revel in their own knowledge, make their own reality, choose to see what they want, ignore what they don’t, and keep to what they have so that they don’t have to surrender their own will to something they don’t understand, a will, which is to sit comfortably where they are and waste away.
“The ones preoccupied with their toys do acknowledge the chasm and the land beyond, but they have made their toys their treasure. Just like the travelers who were distracted in the winding paths, these travelers are content with keeping their focus on what they have here. And just like the members of the ignorant group, those in the distracted group have no immediate desire to move out of their comfort zones. For those who know the bridge is there, they have come to realize that it is too narrow for them to carry their stuff across. Many believe that makes the bridge a burden.”
“When ironically, it’s their stuff that makes the burden?”
Kirk scanned the multitudes who kept to the field, pondering the reality that faced him. None of this made any sense.
“Will they ever take the bridge?” he asked.
“Some might. You can always remind them why they came this far. God wants to take everyone from this stormy flatland and invite him to His City to partake in the treasure, so there’s no reason for you to keep quiet. The people will never make it if they don’t take the bridge, so be sure to show them the way. And take heart. You may also figure out that many, including yourself, are ready and willing to take the bridge, but they just don’t see it. Not without someone else pointing it out to them. It’s understandable, given how narrow it is, and a casual glance isn’t enough, even though the heart knows something must be there. Showing them the bridge is certainly the best course for ensuring them the chance to even make a choice. But don’t lose heart. Beware that many will not trust its ability to hold them. Those who do not trust the bridge will not come to it.”
“But they’ll jump off the cliff?”
“They believe in themselves more.”
Kirk scanned the region again. More travelers geared up to take the dive. Others planted their feet deeper into the ground.
Meanwhile, the Storm began drenching the field in increasingly heavier doses of rain. Some people left their umbrellas closed, while some danced in the intensifying raindrops. A deep fog drifted down from the mountain. Kirk feared that another gale would soon follow, sweeping everyone off the land, if it didn’t cause a landslide and bury them first.
“Will they listen to me?” Kirk asked.
“They may, but again that’s for them to choose. Your job is to point out the path to them. The rest is between them and God.”
Before Kirk could process the Guide’s words, a small group of travelers came down the road from the mountain and reached the cross-shaped bridge. Like the people in the field, this group consisted of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, from a sweet little old lady to a bald, beefy, pirate-looking titan. Each gave Kirk a friendly smile as one by one they set foot onto the wooden beam. At that point, Kirk noticed a bearded man traveling back and forth from one side to the other leading the people over.
“Wait a minute,” said Kirk. “Who’s that?”
“That’s the Carpenter,” said the Guide. “He made the bridge.”
“He looks familiar. Where have I seen him before?”
“He gave you some food and shelter yesterday when you emerged from the flood. Remember?”
“The guy who owned the cottage? But what’s he doing here?”
“Take a look.”
The Carpenter gently led each new arrival across his bridge to the other side. Each step they took seemed risky, given the narrow nature of the beam, but each one kept his eyes planted in the Carpenter’s direction, and not one slipped. When they reached the other side, the Carpenter walked them through a shower stall that dispersed some kind of red liquid over them.
“What’s he doing to them?” Kirk asked.
“Every traveler who ventures to the sacred land must go through a decontamination process before he is sterile enough to handle the environment. No germs are allowed in that land, so the red liquid, which the Carpenter designed and created himself, eliminates the presence of such undesirable things.”
Kirk wanted to respond, but his last vestige of inquiry escaped him. It appeared that the Carpenter had everything worked out.
When the Carpenter approached the cliff from having taken the last member of the group to the other side, the Guide placed his hand on Kirk’s shoulder.
“Your treasure is on the other side of the bridge, Kirk. You know how to get there. Gather as many people as you can from this field and start walking across. There’s no reason for you not to trust the Carpenter, so make sure you stay focused on him when he leads you through the remainder of the journey. If for any reason you should lose your step, which is possible if you look anywhere other than to the Carpenter, make sure to reach out your hand so he can catch you. It’s as simple as that, so do not delay. For as long as you’re on this side, the wind can sweep you into the ravine at any time. Once you’re on the other side, you’ll no longer be in danger of the ravine, or the Storm.”
At that moment, the Carpenter stood at the edge of the bridge and extended his hand to Kirk. As Kirk prepared to reach back, he noticed a hole in the man’s wrist. He flinched from the sight.
“What happened to you?” he said.
“Nail scar,” said the Carpenter. “It happened while I was preparing the bridge.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes it does. But people are coming over to my sacred land, so it’s worth it.”
Kirk was speechless. All he could think to do was to apologize for the guy.
“Sorry it hurts.”
“I accept your apology. Now how about rounding up some of those confused people in the field and start leading them over here? I’d like to have a party at the Great Castle tonight. All are invited. Spread the word.”
Kirk hesitated as he saw the people in the field carrying on with their own affairs. But once he gathered the nerve to approach them—these strangers preoccupied with futile things—he reminded them why they had traveled the road to begin with. As he pointed out the existence and purpose of the bridge, many of them snapped to attention and headed for it. Even though some continued to focus on their games and such, while others continued to dive off the cliff to satisfy their ignorance or pride, some still reached the foot of the bridge and walked across with the Carpenter without hesitation. Once Kirk traveled from one end of the field to the other and back again, he stood at the foot of the bridge himself and took the Carpenter’s hand.
“You trust me, right?” said the Carpenter.
Kirk nodded as he took his first step onto the wooden plank. He didn’t know why he shouldn’t have trusted the Carpenter, or the bridge. How else was he supposed to get across?
“Excellent. Now let’s go receive your prize, my son.”
And with that, they walked across the bridge to enter the Land of God, where the Storm had no dominion, where the great chasm posed no threat, and where everyone could fellowship with neither distraction nor obstacle. Kirk felt fresh air permeating over him when he stepped onto the other side. He realized that for the first time he could now truly breathe.