No-one crossed the bridge. No-one.
This was well-known. You did not leave our town. Its small, perfect streets and gardens prescribed your life. And you were happy with that, content. Any wish to see more, to understand more, was schooled out of you early. For there was nothing behind the town but an impassable wall, and the only way out was the bridge.
And no-one crossed the bridge.
I was told that once, long ago, someone did try. They got about half way across and then they met her. The guardian of the bridge. She arose with glory, with smoke and fire and rage. They did not have the token or the magic word or whatever it would take to cross the bridge.
And so they did not cross, and nor did they return. And while no-one dared to follow close enough to see what had happened, the absence of them forevermore spoke eloquently and simply of the gravity of the admonition: do not cross the bridge.
I was a curious child. My mother said it would be the end of me. She would chuckle and ruffle my hair when I asked why, why why?
One day I asked how anyone knew there was a woman on the bridge if no-one saw the person trying to leave. She had not answer for me and simply said some things should not be asked, and others should not be done, and there’s an end to it.
But for me it wasn’t an end, it was a beginning. I burned to see if it was true or just some cautionary tale told to us to keep us chained to this little town. And most of all I burned to see her.
So one day, I got up very, very early and snuck out of our house and headed, resolute, to the bridge. I did not care about whether I could cross, I only wanted to see her.
But to do that I would have to try. So step, by step, I began the journey across the bridge.
I got about half way across when I saw the smoke. I was three-quarters across when a dark figure emerged from the haze. A woman. A beautiful woman, with ageless eyes and a smile both wide and frightening.
“Hello little one,” she said.
“Hello” I replied.
“Do you seek to cross?” she asked.
“I do, but only to see you.”
“And now that you have seen me will you still cross, or will you return?”
“I don’t mind,” I replied, then turned to return. “I guess I will go home.”
The woman laughed.
“Well chosen” she said, and I heard the air shuffle around me, like dry leaves in the autumn air.
When I turned back to look again the smoke cleared for just a second and a strange light glowed, showing me something at the end of the path. A skeleton of a man, limbs and ribcage cleaning in an unnatural sun. Then the image was gone.
So it was true, what they said. Even if they hadn’t really understood what they were saying. The bridge was death, and you couldn’t pass till you were ready for that. But he chose to cross, I thought, whereas I chose to stay.
“Good choice,” I congratulated myself quietly, for I was far too young to die yet. Then I headed for home.
(c. ) Helen M Valentina 2018