The sixteenth day of September My seventh day here at the cabin The year remains unknown Where was I? We finished our meal. With a wave of his hand and a softly spoken word, the residue in the bowls vanished leaving clean, ready to use vessels awaiting our next meal. Now, he said, to the matter at hand. And what matter is that? I asked. The bloody maps, he said with enthusiasm as he moved toward the trunk. Maps? I asked, not recalling seeing maps as I sorted through the trunk just moments prior. Surely you’ve opened the scrolls I’ve placed beneath the change of clothes, Akil said knowing full well that I had not. He studied my face for a beat then reached into the trunk and removed three rolls of old looking paper. Each was tied carefully in the center with a different color twine. The green and black twined rolls, he dropped carelessly on the cot. The paper wrapped in the white twine, Akil carefully untied and stretched out onto the floor while muttering something I couldn’t quite make out. He pulled his hands away from the edges and rather than roll back into itself as I expected, the paper lie flat revealing nothing more than a simple drawing in the center. This is a map? I asked. It looks more like a child’s rendition of a doorway or tunnel. To the untrained eye, that is all one would see, however with the proper incantation a simple drawing becomes much more. Akil moved his hand just above the surface of the paper in a left-to-right motion while again saying something under his breath. The lines of ink began to grow like vines from a plant. It crept and stretched across the paper leaving the tunnel as the central point while filling in intricate details of terrain, elevation and other geographical identifiers. In less than a minute, the paper had transformed. Akil, who was studying my expression as this transpired, looked expectantly into my eyes. Not sure what he was waiting for, I smiled awkwardly. So, he said, what do you see now? I studied the paper. The archway, while obviously central to its surroundings, gave no inkling of familiarity. The topographical images similarly offered no hint of recognition.
I was certain Akil was searching for an answer that I couldn’t produce. After studying the map a moment longer, I heard the old man let out a deep exhale of frustration. I looked up at him. His heavily furrowed brow relaxed as he took a calming breath. I apologize, my friend. The events of late have pushed my patience near its threshold and I’ve allowed that frustration to shorten my acceptance of your ignorance. He took another deep breath while moving his hand over his head as if swatting a very slow moving fly and muttering quietly to himself. He looked back at me with a younger face. This is a map of where you now sit. The archway represents our current location. You’ll notice the topography surrounding it coincides with what lies out the door. I looked again at the map. Does this mean I can travel about? Can I go past the clearing? No, you dimwitted fool, he said. Look once more and ask the obvious question. Again I looked, unsure of what he sought. Then, like a smack in the face, I saw it. The archway, I said, looking up at Akil. Where is the cabin? He smiled. Very good, he said. What does that mean? I asked. That, my friend, is for you alone to riddle. He removed an ornate pocket watch from his robes and stared at it. It was dirty, dented and missing its chain. Not noticing I was watching, he inspected it with a troubled expression. Akil pressed the release, springing the top open and revealing not a watch face but a single small twig floating in an amber liquid and encircled by strange glyphs printed behind it. The twig did not move. The encasing glass was cracked yet none of the amber liquid appeared to be leaking out. If I hadn’t known better, I’d say the man’s eyes were damp with tears as he looked at his trinket. The bray of a donkey startled us both. Akil snapped the watch closed and quickly stood. I must go, he said. Go? I asked. What of our lesson? What of the food you were to bring? There is an ass tied up out back. He is laden with supplies. Our lesson has concluded. I shall return on the fifth day. Try not to lose count and read that bloody book if you intend to experiment with the flasks, he said hurriedly stepping out the door. The
moment the door closed, the map rolled in upon itself and I was once again alone.