As the woman walked, she thought to herself about the possible lives she could encounter along the way. She didn’t know how long she would be exploring, but she would know when she wished to finish. She thought of the lowly fisherman, attempting to catch something for his family to eat that night, and wondered what could have happened in his life. Did he ever wander outside his village? What did he worry about on a daily basis? Perhaps he was tired of the normal busy lifestyle, and settled in a small town in order to live out the rest of his days, not having to answer to anyone. She smiled, thinking of the fisherman, hoping he would be alright.
Eventually, the woman noticed an odd sight in the distance, that she couldn’t quite discern. Moving closer, she discovered it was a large gate, towering over her, with bars as thick as her thighs. She tried to open the gate, but to no avail; a large lock and chain prevented the gate from moving. She attempted to search for a way around the gate, but it was connected to walls that stretched as far as she could see. Looking through the gate, she saw the river that she followed extend under the gate and behind the walls. Suddenly, she heard a voice that made her jump.
“Who attempts to enter through this gate? I am sad to inform you that this gate must be sealed at all times. Take this as an omen, traveller, and find a different path. You will not pass here.”
“Please,” the woman said, looking for the source of the voice, “I must get through this barrier. I am a simple woman, attempting to find truth and understanding in my life. I know that the way to this truth is through this gate, I simply must enter.”
The voice did not reply, and the woman briefly worried if she would need to give up her journey before it began. Then, just as suddenly as before, it spoke: “You seem different to the others who attempted to come this way before. What do you believe is on the other side of this gate?”
“I believe there are people. People with lives well lived, people who have had experiences far different than I. I believe that if I am to find truth, and inner peace, I must speak to them, and discover what their lives held.”
“Interesting. You wish to gain, but not to take. Hear my story and my warning, traveller, and you shall be able to pass.”
The woman breathed a sigh of relief, and slowly sat down on the shore, her feet in the water. Small glimpses of sunlight bounced and reflected in every way off the surface, as the riverbed became disturbed by her presence, before resting. The voice began to speak.
“I am the Keeper of The Gate,” it said. “I began hundreds of years before you can imagine, and I will end hundreds of years after everything you see. I was once physically incarnate, much like yourself, but I lost the need for my body before this world was created. I have protected unwitting souls from entering this realm, and from seeing things they cannot understand.
“There have been times when I have forced entire kingdoms to turn back and cease expanding, for fear of what lies beyond. They have since been forgotten and become dust, but that was a far kinder fate than entering here. I would ensure that a horde of invaders, entirely set on discovering the secrets and stealing them for themselves, never managed to set a foot over the threshold. I have seen tricksters and devils attempt to sneak past, only to be horrified at what lies within. They were never prepared.
“I have given you my story, and you have seen what I protect the invaders against. But you are something else. You are a kinder, gentler soul, not intent on stealing, ravaging, or pillaging these lands. I can see in your heart that you simply wish to know the truth that lies in humanity. I must give you my warning, however.
“There are creatures inside this realm that wish to trick you, and deceive you into believing some evil falsehoods. Know this: they are clever. Take nothing in this realm for granted. Some of them will look much like a normal human, but they cannot be trusted. You may have a sinking feeling around them; if that is the case, run. They must be avoided at all costs.
“Do you still wish to enter these gates?”
The voice ceased its speech, and the woman pondered intently. She hadn’t considered the possibility that there could be beings designed to attack her plan, and foil her attempt to understand herself. However, she was brave, and realised that she would be able to defend herself if necessary. It was her turn to enter the gate.
“Yes, I do,” the woman said, confidently.
“Then enter, and heed my warning, traveller,” the voice said, before the gates began to shimmer; and as the woman watched, she saw the bars in the gates disappear entirely, leaving a path into the unknown. The lock that had forced her to stop came tumbling down from on high, and fell into the river that now flowed unencumbered into the distance.
The woman took the lock and chain, and as she examined it the voice spoke one last time: “Keep this lock with you. The tricksters may attempt to enter your mind and soul, and this will keep them out. Wear it around your neck and above the heart, and you will never be harmed, traveller.”
Slowly, the woman lifted the chain over her head, and rested it on her shoulders. Looking forward, she drew a deep breath in, before making her first steps into discovering the truth she so desperately wished to seek.