It was timeless, its origin unknown, and a source of myriad questions. Its single certainty was that anyone who had ever crossed it never returned.
It had many names throughout the millennia, Satan’s Steps, the Widows’ Walkway, Gateway to the Gods. The Romans called it pontis mactabilus, the deadly bridge. Now, in this year of our Lord 1,000, it was simply known as The Bridge. The first known crossing, the story now an enduring legend, had been retold countless times over the generations.
A group of shepherds had stumbled upon a stone arched bridge, nestled in the lower mountains crossing a tranquil rivulet, while looking for an easier passage to the neighboring villages. Approaching it, all but one crossed immediately. Winded by the uphill journey, he sat at its edge while the others proceeded, yelling to them that he would follow shortly. A fine mist appeared as his friends neared the bridge’s opposite end and quickly darkened into a foul smelling, menacing fog as the last of the group disappeared into the threatening abyss.
Fear gripping his voice, the lone straggler called out to his friends, but there was no reply. The fog, now black as night, crept across the stone archway and now completely terrified, he turned and ran back to his village. His friends were never seen again.
Since that time, innumerable others have crossed. Whether unaware of the danger or motivated by the lure of possible riches, a quest to see God, or just to discover the unknown, all had suffered a similar fate. Stories of these one-way journeys, embellished over the years, became the fertile basis of the campfire yarns of old men and the cautionary tales of shamans, wizards, and priests. The bridge had become embedded into the folklore of the region.
Although no one had attempted a crossing in recent memory, at least none that were known, the common folk had always considered it an evil place, unholy ground never to be trodden upon. But now as the second millennium approached, the unnerving apprehension about the bridge took on an even more foreboding presence, increased by the addition of doomsday prophecies and the hopeful return of the Christ. So these simple peasants looked to the growing Christian Church for answers. But even the local priests and bishops, themselves fearing what they did not understand and could not explain, could only echo what the people already knew, warning that “no true child of God” dare tread close to that evil, forbidden place.
Ianu, a shepherd boy of 16, had always been the curious and adventurous sort. Fascinated by the stories of the bridge, told by his grandfather Zora, he could not help but wonder what lie beyond the stone expanse. What wild beasts, what God (Christian or other), what demons, possibly what wonders awaited those willing to test fate and hopefully return to tell? But was it folly or bravery to attempt such a feat? Surely it was bravery to explore a mystery that baffled so many for so, so long.
Heeding neither the terrifying tales of history nor the current threats of eternal damnation, Ianu decided that he alone would be the one to unlock the secret of the bridge and live to tell about it, for he was indeed brave. He would become the hero of a new legend that would be retold for centuries to come.
Early one morning, Ianu quietly left the village and began his journey. A winding path began in the meadow at the edge of the village. As the earth gently sloped upward, he pushed through the overgrown brush of the foothills, then through the towering evergreens, continuing until the ground turned rocky. Several hours later, he finally arrived at the bridge. A cool mist encircled it, covering it like a gray shroud. He stood silent, gazing outward, now undecided whether to turn back or proceed into history. Am I really brave or just being a fool, like all the others he wondered. Slowly, the mist moved closer to the opposite side, growing darker and thicker, covering more of the ground across the river as Ianu’s heart beat faster. Then it became obvious to him that his heart’s quickening beat was not due to fear, but to his excitement, and his insatiable desire to know what awaited him. What was at the end of this bridge he asked himself.
His resolve restored, he took his first step onto the bridge, then another, and found himself moving across, more confident with each step. As he reached the middle, the darkness came closer, as if inviting him to enter its unknown depths. A warm breeze began to blow and a most unpleasant odor attacked Ianu’s nostrils. Though it came from the black cloud before him, he continued towards his final destination. A few more steps and he reached the other side, stepping off of the stone walkway and onto a floor of soft, green grass. Closing his eyes, he held his breath as he awaited his terrible fate… a lightning bolt, an attack by a ravenous animal, or just falling over dead. After what seemed like hours, but were only a few short moments, he opened his eyes and to his relief, nothing had happened; however the darkness remained. Steadying himself, he took a deep breath and cautiously walked forward. The darkness, now like a heavy, draping curtain, covered everything within sight. Taking a few more steps, he was blinded by a sudden white flash. Rubbing his eyes to focus, he stood in terror as the curtain slowly began to part. Startled, stunned, afraid, but yet still amazed, Ianu stood in front of the opening curtain of darkness and saw……