I first thought and then thought I ought to ask, "Those lanterns, Grandfather. Are they always there on the bridges?"
"No, young one. They were placed there for us ... by the Old Man."
"Is the Old Man waiting for us there on the bridge?"
"In a certain way, a way you will soon see."
The path had broadened along the way and now turned a wide sweep to the left, readying itself for the bridge. We were closing the distance, two hundred yards, not much more. And with each stride, the light of the lanterns was transforming the empty black entrance to the bridge into an amber glow. The interior of the bridge, the weave of the timber frame, the worn, wide planks for the roadbed, even the antique dust that floating in the air, we could see clearer and clearer with each final stride, although it all had the appearance of one of the sepia tone photographs you sometimes come upon in artsy places.
I was struck by how bright the light can be in the midst of deep darkness.
My grandfather pulled us to a stop, maybe ten steps from the bridge. He guided my eyes up to the sign hiding in the shadows over the entrance. i couldn't make out the words. I inched closer, but it did no good, the sahdows were too much and the light too little.
My grandfather read them for me, probably from his memory. "LOST CAUSE CREEK, 1888" .
"Strange thing to name a creek," I thought.
Into the amber we then entered. I looked for the Old Man who I had first met in the oak, but I saw no one, even mist was gone, only the eternal dust one finds in the covered bridges.
I gazed up into the trusses of the bridge, thinking that many years ago, skilled workers of wood had fitted all these timbers together and had fitted them so perfectly that they had grown into one substance through the enduring of time. In the flickering light I could catch sight of a century of cobwebs left behind by a thousand generations of long gone spiders. And up in the peak of the bridge, at the far end, shadows moved. Then, the level of the light rose, my grandfather having taken the first lantern from the railing to lift light into my view. The shadows seemed then to turn. Owls. Two grey owls, staring down with golden eyes.
The lantern had ended up close to my face, so close that I could hear the hissing of the kerosene flame. So close I could feel the white-gold heat warming my cheek, hotter and hotter.
I then I heard the raspy, breathy whisper, it came from fire of the lantern, ringing the glass ever so slightly, "I told you, the monks have returned from the other world to watch over you, young pilgrim. Carry me with you for there will be much more night, many more mles of night, before we finish this journey that we all must make."
I did not mention what I heard to my grandfather, for he was right there beside me and appeared to hear nothing at all.
"Granddad, can I carry the lantern?"
"You take this one, I will gather another."