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The ongoing collection Volumes I through XXIX Last updated on 11 March 2012



By J. R. Wagner

This Journal is the Property of: the last of his kind…

The eighth of August The year is unknown As a testament to what was the greatest of civilizations, I chronicle my last days. To what end, I know not, for all capable of reading my prose have long since passed. The compulsion to keep record of the duties only I have been steadfast enough to fulfill supersedes the logic. Let this be the last document of mankind and, by default, the greatest. I long for things, as all men do –or have in the past. The sound of autumn leaves breaking beneath my feet as I walk through the forest trying to find peace for my perpetually active mind. The smell of flowers in early spring. Food. Good food painstakingly prepared to stimulate every gland in my mouth. Sound. Not of the air or water or land as it falls away but the sound of voices, laughter, song. Yet I would trade all this for one day with my family. My wife. My daughters. I remain in an unending state of sorrow to honor them. There is no higher moral cause nor fear of death that keeps me –binds me to this place. Honor –and not that which is noble but that which is pure and uniquely human. With that, my duties await. Should I survive, you may hear from me again.

                              J. R. Wagner

The ninth of August, The year is unknown To converse. Lost so long ago was this gift –this reprieve from the menial tasks that consume us all. By fate or chance, I unearthed these empty pages and have been holding this pen longer than I care to recall in hopes of finding something, anything to which I may adhere its ink. Let us sit for an imaginary moment and enjoy the aroma of a warm cup of tea beneath each of our noses. With the scent comes a heightened awareness –a sense of comfort and a feeling of excitement for not only the flavor that will soon be passing over our lips, but for the conversation that will pass between us. Long has it been since I’ve had this opportunity. The soft, overstuffed cushion so daintily tied to the cast iron chair upon which I sit dreamily comforts my posterior that has only felt the cold hard ground for longer than I care to remember. The warm fire kneads my shoulders as I lean into its warming embrace, lulled by the hiss of the damp log. I take a breath, as my eyes drink in the gray stone floor. The grout lines ebb and flow like rainwater searching for its path down a hill. Then, like a call to arms in this silent room of ours, the first words are spoken. The possibilities are limitless. Weather, cloud formations, the insect climbing the wicker brush beside the lug pole. Then, without the slightest bit of consideration, the duty that motivates me to remain alive beckons. Should I survive, you may hear from me again.

                              J. R. Wagner

The Tenth of August, The year is unknown

As is my existence, time to reflect, dream or even mourn is but a blink. Duty, duty….always calling, distracting –all good things considering the reality I would have to face otherwise. Now, I am hell-bent on continuing this conversation for my mind requires a reprieve before I go mad. So, where were we? Ah, yes. Our imaginary tearoom pondering the subject of said conversation. Let us imagine we are discussing our children as if they are simply at school rather than the reality fate has chosen for them. I have three daughters. The youngest is five, the eldest is fourteen and in the middle is my ten-year-old. My eldest, Arya, is a sight to behold. Beauty has graced this child since the day of her birth. She grew quickly in mind and body –too quickly in my opinion, yet her sharp wit enabled her to prosper simply by willpower –a gift we all wish for. My middle, Anne, has enough energy for a village. It is a rare moment to find her standing still. My baby…my god, my baby is gone. They’re all gone. Not a day passes that I don’t long to join them. But, as I’ve noted, my job here is not quite complete. I take a sip of tea. The temperature is just right. Earl Grey. A fine choice indeed. I believe I detect a hint of jasmine as well. The night before last, I had the misfortune of injuring myself. I thought little of it at the time but now I see it has begun to redden and swell. Two indications of bad things to come. As my task is not complete, I cannot welcome the infection as I would otherwise. I must go in search of medicine. A most dangerous and often fatal task (as many who’ve preceded me, including my dear wife –a story for another time, can attest). The warmth of my cup sooths my arthritic fingers as I twist the fine china, clinking the handle on my wedding band with every revolution. The fireplace cracks, waking the sleeping bloodhound from dreams of rabbits and whistlepigs. Preparations for travel must be made. Should I survive, you may hear from me again.

                              J. R. Wagner

The eleventh of August, The year is unknown

I am beginning to feel the effects of my injury. I sweat despite the cold and my focus is not as sharp as I’d like. As I passed through the darkened tunnels that lead toward my destination, I thought about what I would like the reader to take from the discovery of this journal and how they would interpret what I’ve written. What would they think of me? Brilliant? Disturbed? Insane? A leader? A coward? A hero? A murderer? What then? What should I record for…for no one and everyone? I sat back in my black iron chair, turned and gazed into the fire. That wet log still hissed defiantly as the flames ate away at it. I am close. Close to the last place I found a cure yet I dare not move without the darkness to shield my ambulation. I throb with each written word and pray the sun will fall from the sky faster this day than the last. And why not? Why wouldn’t the cosmos acquiesce my one simple request? It had turned its back on so many others. Alas, I fear I cannot will it to hear my plea and comply. Arya, if she were here in my stead, the stars would part like curtains had she asked. My love, my beauty. I must move or your honor will be lost –and that compels me more than the horrors along the road. Should I survive, you may hear from me again.

                              J. R. Wagner

The twelfth day of August, The year remains unknown

After making it to what was once a storehouse for injury remedies, I quickly discovered it had long been depleted of anything useful. Quite sure I’d been followed, I had no choice but to move on after a brief search. A full moon did not bode well for my nocturnal travels. I can feel my temperature steadily increasing as time passes I must conf…

                              J. R. Wagner

The thirteenth day of August, The year is unknown Sa d t e Lo

t Joh

                              J. R. Wagner

The fourteenth day of August, The year remains unknown

By the gods I have managed to pass beyond my fever induced stupor that should, by all rights, have taken my life. I do not recall my previous entry, writing it, that is. It makes little sense in meaning or context and the numbers have no discernable relevance. I find myself in a sanctuary of sorts, but am unsure where among the lands of the north it is situated. I woke to find myself cleaned, fed and clothed yet I cannot recall a single memory of what transpired from my last entry on the twelfth day until now. My journal, I found neatly situated on a polished wooden table beside the bed upon which I woke. Imagine, a bed! If only I could recall laying my head on the pillow and enjoying the night’s sleep –a comfort that has eluded me for over a decade. The pen with which I write appears to be full of ink where previously I was concerned that the ink would run dry. The room tickled memories long past with a hint of familiarity. Having no urge to find food or relief, I strode into the hall outside the room only to find more rooms lining the hall identical to the room I exited. I followed this seemingly endless hall with its limitless supply of identical rooms until it opened into a courtyard. Snow covered the ground and was lightly falling yet I did not feel the chill nor could I see my breath. My slightly worn boots left no tracks as I crossed the courtyard toward the stone archway on the opposite side. As I neared the archway –seeing no sign of life or even inhabitance, I felt an urge to move quickly and so proceeded. Opposite the arch was a solid stone wall. To the left of my position was a stairway (likewise hewn from stone) descending into darkness. Here is where I sit, upon a stone bench conveniently located just across from the stair as if this place knew I would pause before continuing on. I am gripped with such a fear of the darkness below. Considering all that I have seen, the extent of my horror is inexplicable. I cannot turn back for something beyond my understanding compels me to move on. Despite that compulsion, my fear will not allow me to continue. Looking back through the archway, I see that the snow has stopped falling and appears to be melting. I can nearly make out the gray stone that was just moments ago blanketed in white. I can see through the archway yet something in my mind tells me I may not pass through again. The bench, the stairs…those terrible escorts into something beyond fear or reason. Beyond the bench is an alcove –empty save a gas lantern that hangs from a chain in                               J. R. Wagner

the center. I do no fear this alcove yet see no reason to explore what is obviously a fruitless task. So, I sit nervously twitching my right leg and casting my eyes from archway to alcove to stairs. Now is a fine opportunity to visit my tearoom and begin a new conversation. If this were the last entry and I was fortunate enough to pass this along to my children, an impossibility, I am well aware –but we have delved into this fictitious discussion and I hope to be able to indulge the question. To my dear children –the loves of my life, the lights in my day, the stars in the darkest of nights. You already know how much I love you. I’ve said it as often as possible during your all too brief time together in this world. I believe the question best asked is what would I like to pass on? I believe one lesson that may be taken from my daily actions is simply persistence –never give up. Endure. Grab hold of what you believe and see it through to the end. Will it be hard? Yes. If it isn’t, then perhaps you haven’t gone as far as you need. Second, love fearlessly. Will you be hurt? Yes. But such is life when it comes to life and a loveless life is a life –but one without the greatest experience it has to offer. Loving someone requires patience, resolve, fortitude and the willingness to compromise. Let go the small battles in exchange for a more peaceful life together. Revel in your partner’s victories even if they come at your own defeat. Noise; an echo? Something at the bottom of the stairs? A terror in the depths beckoning me forth? The bloodhound stands, scratches –extending his front paws and arching its back. He then circles the hearthrug three times before laying back by the fire. Frozen by fear, I wait.

                              J. R. Wagner

The fifteenth of August, The year is unknown Time passed as I sat on the cold stone pondering the whyfor’s and the whithertoo’s of my dilemma. As I waited, watching the moonrise through the archway, I felt need for nothing. Neither food nor water nor other want associated with being human. The steps continue to beckon while my fear pushes me away. The alcove has gained interest albeit the only interesting thing in my purgatory. I believe I shall take the few steps necessary to reach my desired destination. My only concern is that I must pass the stairs in order to reach the alcove. I realize the irrationality of my fear. Un founded, unjustified, yet the fear remains. Compiling this fear is the knowledge that with each word I write, not only am I more of a coward, but also more of a disappointment to those I’ve sworn to honor by completing my task. I stand. My legs are surprisingly limber despite being seated for such an extended period. In fact, the pains throughout my body that have ailed me on a consistent basis for as long as I can remember seem to be gone. The moonlit courtyard through the archway is now snow free. I turn and look at the gas lantern hanging in the middle of the alcove. It sways slightly –or perhaps the shadows cast from the flickering light of the burning gas feigns movement. Despite avoiding direct eye contact with the stair, I can feel it burning into my periphery as I take a step closer –like stepping down a hall with a roaring fire on one side except rather than heat, it emits a sense of emptiness. I quickly retreat to my bench and take a seat. The falling of water droplets echo from some cavernous hall deep within the earth. My breathing, my heart are both rapidly concussing yet my hands remain still. After several calming breaths, my vital processes come under control. The moon brightens over the courtyard emitting an eerie red glow upon the stone. I glance back at the alcove accidentally catching a glimpse of the stair. Does it emit its own light? By gods, the horror. Have I imagined it or is it real? Do I dare glance again to confirm if my eyes are playing tricks on me? I have little choice. Slowly, I scan the alcove hoping something of interest will catch my attention. Nothing. My heart rate increases as my head slowly turns in the direction of the stair. Out of the corner of my eye, I discern a lightening of the stone surrounding the descent. My breathing increases. I closed my eyes, gripping the stone bench with my free hand. Into the tea shop I quickly went-retreated would be a more suitable word.

                              J. R. Wagner

Outside, the afternoon sun shone on the cobbled street. The flowers in the window box stretch to reach past the shadow of the building and into the late-day rays. A couple sits in the corner of the room having a severe discussion. The man, at least thirty years her senior, appears at ease compared to the woman. I smell pastries cooking in the small wood oven –some sort of berry by the smell of them. Drip, drip, drip echoed from below. My very bones shook from inside my flesh. I stood, resolute, determined to take action. Should I survive, you shall hear from me again. Mere minutes have passed. My chest pains from the beating of my heart. I sit now in the alcove, a pool of vomit splayed in front of me. The breathing has slowed along with my heart rate yet the pain in my chest remains. The acidic taste will not clear from my mouth despite repetitive attempts to spit the remnants onto the ground. I just regained sight having blacked out as I entered the alcove. I’m embarrassed to report, my pants are also out of sorts –dampened from the evacuation of my bladder. I remember sprinting toward the alcove. As I passed the stair, I felt such a surge of energy-negative energy, which pulled my life force from my body toward the darkness. The energy, along with my ability to ambulate rushed away allowing only momentum to carry me forward into the alcove where I fell to the floor in a heap. It did not take long to regain my vision and here I lay, a pathetic excuse of a man yet somehow still driven to honor those whom I love. Leaning my head out around the edge of the alcove peering down the corridor, I notice the sun begins to rise. East obviously sits opposite the archway for the golden shadowless outline spilt across the stone floor. I stand. The moisture sticks my pants to my leg. Something inside me pulls me forward. I try to fight against it but am powerless. Fear causes my body to tremble with each step. I fight against the pull but find I am no longer in control of my movements. I reached the stair and fought to close my eyes. Cowardly as it appears, I have little choice, as fear was the emotion –the only emotion I could manifest. A sound –a terrible sound echoed from the depths before all went dark.

                              J. R. Wagner

The seventeenth day of August, The year remains unknown

I woke to find myself in my childhood bedroom. Clean dressed and fed once again, all without my reckoning. Only this journal delineates this room between my actual childhood living space. I stood feeling refreshed and marveling at the recreation. Down to the last detail, the color and texture of the carpet, the toys scattered on the floor, even the drawing I created as a toddler on the closet door were there in perfect exactness. The fear that consumed me has passed leaving a foreboding sense in my gut. I moved quickly to the door and passed through into another familiar space –my tearoom. It was dawn outside the front window. The shadows of sunrise stretched from the lampposts as well as the long stems of the flowers. The bloodhound that usually adorned the hearthrug was nowhere to be found. The cups on the nearest table sat empty, each cup’s bottom lined with damp leaves. The fire had long since burned out. Every so often a wisp of smoke rose from the ashes. In reviewing my previous entry, I am perplexed. Unable to discern any meaning, I must move on in my observations. No others occupied the room save the old man seen previously in a heated discussion with a younger woman. He sat silently in the corner staring off into space. The cup held between his wrinkled hands steamed, releasing the most intoxicating smell. For reasons I cannot comprehend, I recalled the events surrounding the death of my wife. She was the second to fall at the hands of the darkness. We had recently lost our eldest daughter, Arya in a manner that parents should never have to experience –no do I have any inclination to recall at the moment. My wife, Leah, had fallen into a state of depression from which I thought she’d never recover. At the time we had sought refuge in the bowels of an ancient city. Daylight was s commodity most of us could not enjoy. We had managed to find several other families along with a handful of individuals. The young and the healthy would make trips to the surface for food and equipment. They returned only fifty percent of the time. Leah was staring listlessly into the fire as she did every evening. A concussion shook the tunnel in the not far distance. Immediately, Anne and my baby and Sophie were clinging to my legs. Smoke began to fill the far tunnel and I knew our time in                               J. R. Wagner

this place was over. I picked up our emergency bag –always packed, always ready, and moved for the exit tunnel. I screamed for Leah. She did not budge from her seat by the fire. I could hear screams. We need to go now, I said to my wife. She turned to me, not even glancing at her screaming children. Her face was expressionless, her eyes, vacant. In that moment, I knew this was the end for us. Another sound echoed in the distance followed by more screams. She turned her head back to the fire ignoring her daughter’s pleas. Other families had left or were running past. A woman fell dead just feet from where we stood, her skin bubbling like a rolling boil of water in a pot. I picked up the girls and ran for the exit while they continued to cry out to their mother. I looked back the moment before I turned the corner. Leah was still staring into the cooking fire as the smoke and flame engulfed the entire cavern. The children wailed long after we reached the safety of our next destination. The old man still sat in the corner quietly sipping his tea. Exhausted, I returned to my childhood bedroom and slept. I had a feeling the old man would be there, still sipping his tea, upon my return.

                              J. R. Wagner

The seventeenth day of August The year is unknown

Once again I woke in my childhood bedroom without want or need to linger, I moved trough the doorway and into my tearoom. As I suspected, the quiet old man was still in the corner –this time puffing on an ornate hand-carved wooden pipe. For the first time, he broke his gaze into infinity and looked in my direction. He smiled. The chair, previously occupied by the woman with whom he’d been fervently conversing sat empty. A steaming cup of tea rested just across from the old man’s own teacup on the small circular table. The chair sat slightly withdrawn from the table. The man gave the slightest of nods directing me to the seat. I sat. We looked at each other. I studied his face. It had seen at least twice the number of winters as I one minute and in the next, three times. What hair remained on his head was white along with the beard on his face. He wore strange clothes –perfect clothes. No wrinkles, stains or holes. As I studied, my mind began to fall away. My last memory of our meeting was the bloodhound making its way to our table and resting his chin on the old man’s lap. Not a word was exchanged.

                              J. R. Wagner

The eighteenth day of August The year remains unknown

I woke in my bed –my childhood bed once again and quickly made my way through the doorway intent on speaking with this man who had invaded my imaginary room. He was there, of course, feeding the dog a piece of biscuit as if we had left off exactly where I had recalled from the previous day –as if I had not woken from my bed a moment ago. He smiled and nodded, just as before. The chair was pulled away from the table, just as before. Outside it was snowing. Hard. I sat. A warm cup of tea rested in front of me. I felt obligated to sip what had been prepared and lifted the warmed mug as the steam made its way to my nostrils. My God, how intoxicating. My head spun once more and I recall nothing after.

                              J. R. Wagner

The nineteenth day of August The year is unknown

Again, I woke in my childhood bed. Rather than rushing out the door, I chronicled all that I could remember from the past few days. When I was satisfied, I slowly made my way into the tearoom. There, once more, was the old man. Today he was neither feeding the hound nor puffing on his pipe. He was reading. So engrossed in his book, the old man did not bother lifting his head as I drew near. As I sat, I realized the book the old man held to his nose was this very journal. More than a little irritated, I demanded it back. After a moment, he lowered my journal and smiled. Immediately my frustration melted away. He then lifted my journal and continued to read. I looked outside. It was sunny. People were walking hither and thither taking little notice of my quaint little tearoom. So engaged in the goings on of the folk outside, the old man had to clear his throat to redirect my attention. My journal was nowhere to be seen. The old man’s hands lay perfectly flat upon the stone tabletop. Jeweled rings adorned the first and second fingers on both metacarpi. The fire cracked sending sparks out onto the hearth. My head spun as I followed the spark closest to me. It seemed to dip and rise as if on an air current. The last thing I recall is this spark making its way up into the bowl of the old man’s pipe.

                              J. R. Wagner

The twenty-first day of August (corrected) The year is unknown

Yet again I woke to find myself somehow returned to my childhood bed. Once again I updated my journal and moved quickly through the doorway. He was there, of course, sitting in that same corner seat. This time inspecting two tea tins. He looked up briefly before returning to his analysis. I cautiously made my way to the table. When it became apparent he was not going to interrupt his study, I took it upon myself to sit in the opposite chair, which was, of course, pulled away from the table in enticing fashion. The old man lifted a tall rectangular tin, removed the lid and inhaled. A grin spread across his face. Even from where I sat, I could make out the intoxicating fragrance. He repeated the process with the other, shorter, round tin. The scent was distinctly different yet no less seductive. He replaced the lid and finally looked up at me. I find it particularly vexing to decide between the Chinese dian hong an India’s Darjeeling. Both, when harvested at the proper time of year, are absolutely fantastic. Do you have a preference? He asked casually. Of all the questions I expected him to ask, this wasn’t in the realm of candidates for an introductory inquiry. The old man held his gaze making it apparent he was not continuing the conversation until the question was answered. I have to admit, I said, I’ve never had a Chinese. You’ve never had dian hong? A tragedy to say the least. It’s decided then, we will share the Chinese. He raised his finger as if getting someone’s attention. I turned, looking behind the counter. Nobody was there. Turning back to the man, I noticed in place of the tins were two cups and a steaming pot of tea between them. Shall I? He asked already lifting the pot and filling the cups. I was about to ask him how on earth he’d managed to do that so quickly when he spoke again. I must insist that you take your tea as nature intended –without all that nonsense . So many have gotten into the habit of infesting their tea with these impurities. Milk, sugar, honey, blasphemy! He lifted his cup and waited for me to do the same. As I lifted, the aroma wound through my nostrils sending every scent gland into a state of orgasmic euphoria. The old man smiled once again and moved his cup to his lips. He drank slowly. I did the same. The taste was of soft caramel –sweet, a combination of flavors I recall from my youth. The golden buds offered very little astringency. Perfection in a cup. I lifted my eyes –The old man was studying my expression.                               J. R. Wagner

Clears away the worries of a lifetime in a single swallow, he said in his deep buttery voice. I nodded and sipped again, feeling the warmth course down my throat into my core and out my extremities. Never had I felt such a sensation. Not a word was spoken as we finished our cups. The old man refilled both, steepled his fingers and exhaled sending his moustache away from his lips with a burst of air. I am certain you have questions you’d like to ask just as I am certain that I have much to tell you. This is a process that must be handled with the utmost care. We must now proceed with measured caution and pacing. Now, a courtesy we have so rudely bypassed; allow me to introduce myself, he said. My name is Akil Karanis, the old man said with a smile. A strange name no doubt but somehow fitting for this strange man. I presume you have already reasoned that I am well aware of who you are, he said. I hadn’t time at all to think about much of anything let alone the thoughts of the old man in my imaginary tearoom but I presume it made sense that this man, being a part of my mind’s creation, would be familiar so I nodded. Very good, he said excitedly. You may call me Akil. I nodded again. He lifted his cup and slowly sipped. His eyes were a dark purple –a color I’d never seen before. They had a far away look to them as he drank. Now, he said, lowering his cup. To business. Indeed, I replied. What is it you came to see me about? He asked. I was perplexed. I certainly had not called this meeting yet I suppose if it was taking place in my tearoom that thusly must be a manifestation of my own creation, it was only logical that he was correct. Are you one of them? I asked like a fool grasping at the first question I could think of. I’m not entirely sure what you mean, he replied. Are you an Alverist? I asked. He looked at me quizzically for a moment then replied. Oh, yes Alverist. I apologize. I so seldom hear the phrase, I’d forgotten the intent. He paused looking out the window as a cluster of dry leaves blew past on a late autumn breeze. No, sir, he said, I am not an Alverist. Then what are you? I replied. A man. A guide. Nothing more, he said. My pardon, Mr. Karanis, but you are far from an ordinary man, I said. Am I? He asked. I am a clever man, I suppose. I believe I understand what you think I am, which in part is correct and similarly incorrect. I am here as your guide, Sir, and at this moment we have but one destination, he said. Where? I asked. Down the black stair, he replied as fear gripped me and drug me into blackness.

                              J. R. Wagner

The twenty-sixth day of August The year remains unknown

I woke in the same room I found myself in eleven days prior. A small parchment calendar had been tacked to the wall with this date circled…almost as if someone were trying to tell me my entry dates were off. I quickly brought my journal up to date then proceeded out the door and down the hall. There I turned into the very same courtyard I’d cross so many days prior. Rather than being snow covered, the stone was clear and dry. Beautiful assortments of flowers grew from raised stone beds around the perimeter. In the center, sat a large stone table. Rather than the drab gray of the rest of the stone, the table was black and polished to a fine, reflective finish. Upon the table sat a feast the likes of which I’d never laid eyes upon. Foods, most of them unfamiliar, were arranged in an artistic fashion that when viewed from afar, would be called a masterpiece to the eye. My stomach growled and I moved to close in on the table. I glanced at the archway in the far corner of the courtyard as I neared the table but would not allow my appetite to be unsatiated –even by that which I feared above all things in this place. Steam rose from the baked goods and caught in the light breeze sending the smells in my direction. I quickened my pace but seemed unable to close the gap. My mouth watered and again my stomach reminded me of its need. I moved even faster until I broke into a run yet despite my best efforts, could not draw closer. Exhausted, I sat, put my head in my hands hoping the dizziness from the exertion would pass, my breathing would slow and the need to cry out would move along. I’m afraid you’ll not reach that which you desire in the manner you are currently attempting, said a deep, buttery voice. The only voice I’d heard in as long as I can remember. The voice of Akil Karanis. He stood just under the archway across the courtyard yet based upon the volume of his voice, he could have been beside me. He quickly made his way in my direction stopping to cut himself a thin sliver of cake. He put the entire piece in his mouth, wiped the crumbs from his beard and continued in my direction. A fine creation, I must say, said Akil. I stood, feeling dizzy as I did so. The old man put a hand on my shoulder. Perhaps you should take a seat, you are not looking well, he said. I sat. The warm stone felt comforting against my thighs. After a moment, I looked up at the old man standing over me whose posture suggested anything but that of an old man. Is this your doing? Another attempt to wear me town? To break my will? I asked. Goodness no, he said sitting beside me. I am as in control of this environment as you. I’m afraid this gateway was constructed long                               J. R. Wagner

before y time. He gently stroked the white hair of his beard. Why, I asked, does it appear that both you and this gateway, as you call it, appear to be aligned in goal and intent? I am here as your guide, sir, and my purpose is to aide you on your journey, which happens to be along the same path as this gateway’s passage, however that is where the similarities end. What lurks in the darkness of the stair? I asked. Why must I go there and what is this overwhelming fear I feel whence I simply gaze down into the darkness? This place, this gateway was designed to find in you, that which you fear most and project it down those stairs. Not in reality, you see but in your mind, said Akil. The creator of this place was a master of mind manipulation –the master, in fact, who all others have built upon his foundational discoveries and created the very discipline. You see, when I pass through that threshold, I view something entirely different, he said. I have not even crossed the threshold yet I become paralyzed at the mere sight of it. Paralyzed by fear, I said. And what is fear? Akil asked, removing his pipe from a pocket deep within his traveling cloak, simply a state of mind. Indeed, I replied, if it were only that simple. If only, the old man said, stuffing his pipe with some kind of leaf. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together an inch or two above the bowl while muttering something I couldn’t quite hear. Smoke began to rise from the bowl and he puffed quickly, his cheeks pulling in and out like a child’s impression of a fish. Satisfied that it was well lit, Akil turned his attention back on me. He could tell by the way I looked at him I had something on my mind. Speak up, sir, he said. The only counsel we keep here, we keep together –willingly or not, I daresay. You are an Alverist, I said. I recall recently having this discussion, perhaps you’ve forgotten? He studied my face for a spell, then in a moment of revelation, he spoke again. I see, he said. I apologize for not picking up upon this sooner. You are under the impression that all who have my abilities are Alverists, which is a fair assessment from your perspective. I say without hesitation that you would not be alive if that were accurate. Fortunately there exist those with my abilities who are not Alverists –although our numbers have been dwindling of late. As Akil finished his sentence a deep rumble sounded from the stone archway. It grew to such a roar that food began to fall from the table. The old man looked at me with a smile and over the noise said, we shall speak again. The light dimmed until blackness consumed my world.

                              J. R. Wagner

The twenty-eighth day of August The year remains unknown

All was the same as my previous entry until I reached the courtyard. Rain fell hard and fast onto the gloomy stone paths. The stone table no longer sat and beckoned in the center of the yard yet my hunger persists. I moved toward the archway for no other reason than it was simply the only way to go. I saw neither hide nor hare of the man I’d conversed with previously. Rather than a sense of foreboding as I drew close, I felt only indifference. Allowing the feeling to consume my senses –because the alternative is markedly worse, I moved toward the black stair. For the first time, the lantern hanging in the alcove was lit. The flickering of the flames cast eerie shadows down the corridor. Still, I felt nothing. I stepped down into the darkness yet somehow, just enough light shone to allow me to continue without fear of falling. The stairs twisted as they changed from rectangles to pies. Down I went increasing my pace as I continued until I noticed my breathing was labored. Consciously, I slowed my pace. The minutes passed like sticky sweet sap rolling off the branch of an evergreen. Down I went. As time passed, I began to fear the descent would never end. Finally, the steps leveled and where the stone footing once was, a dirt floor took its place. The smothering walls that brushed my shoulders during my downward travel opened to infinity and I found myself in a forest. I continued on the dirt path because somehow, I knew I should. Overhead was not sky but the same blackness of the stair. Trees, intermittent at first soon created thick curtains on either side of the trail. The perfectly smooth ground became tangled with roods and littered with deadfall as the small trees transitioned into giants as if by design. After a short distance, rock and stone joined the branches and leaves forcing me to slow my pace. Overhead remained black as pitch preventing me from seeing even the tops of the trees. The elevation began to turn upward slowing progress even more. Not wanting to look behind and unable to see but a few paces ahead, I climbed on now using my hands to pull myself along due to the elevation. The path brightened as it leveled and the obstructions littering my road lessened. My feeling of despair, which had consumed me when the trail pitched up, dwindled as a sense of optimism took over. The darkness above had transitioned to gray and I found myself increasing pace until I was jogging effortlessly toward a hopeful end to my travels. Then, it was there. Blocking my path with its sense of inviting respite sat a small cabin.

                              J. R. Wagner

It had a green oval door and white smoke rose from its chimney. Sided with barkcovered timbers and wreathed in flowering bushes, the welcoming site sent relief flushing through my system. The green oval door stood slightly ajar. Was it like that when I arrived or had it opened as my attention focused elsewhere? A slight breeze bent the smoke trickling from the chimney and sent it in my direction along with the smell of cooking food. My mouth filled with saliva and unconsciously, I moved toward the door. The air stilled as I stood within arms length. I paused for just a moment as I stretched out my arm, reaching for the knob. As I did so, the door pulled open and in the threshold, stood Akil Karanis. He guided me to a cot in the corner of the cabin. With each step, I felt the energy drain from my body until finally, I was fast asleep.

                              J. R. Wagner

The nineth day of September The year is unknown

I slowly opened my eyes for fear I would see the blue painted walls of my childhood bedroom once again. I was relieved when the roughly hewn timbers of the cabin ceiling came into focus. I slowly sat and slid my feet over the side of the bed, looking around the room. On the inside, it appeared much larger than the outside suggested. The floors were neither dirt nor wood planks but marble. In fact, I struggled to find a single seam suggesting it consisted of one very large piece of marble. The room was bright despite having only two small windows both of which revealed the dreary weather outside. On the far wall was the fireplace -large enough to walk inside and constructed of polished river rock stacked floor to ceiling. Inside a fire burned over which the lug pole suspended an iron pot that was beginning to simmer. The room smelled not of cooking food but of freshly cut flowers. Opposite my cot was a very large, ornate trunk. Carved on the sides was an inscription in a language with which I was unfamiliar. The knob, still centered in the round green door, creaked as it turned, drawing my attention away from the trunk. I stiffened although I knew it could only be one person…and indeed it was. Akil Karanis stooped as he made his way through the circular doorway. He smiled as he entered, his pipe hanging from his mouth and a bunch of cut flowers in his hand. When he saw that I was awake, he mumbled something and quickly set the flowers on a shelf by the door. I see that you have finally risen, he said. Never have I known someone to sleep for such a duration. How long have I been aslumber? I asked. Nearly ten days, he replied. Impossible, I thought reaching for my chin to scratch an itch. Yet when I contacted it, I knew he told the truth simply from the growth. Akil smiled and sat in the wooden rocking chair by the fire. So, he said, hovering his hand over the bowl of his pipe and muttering something, which brought its contents aflame, I assume you’re well rested then. I nodded. Very good, he said. Your journey was a long one. Perhaps the longest of any I’ve guided to this place. I stood and stretched allowing the blood to flow to my stiff muscles. Akil extended his hand, said something that sounded like ‘freskatu’ and turned his palm upward. A pink ball of light rose from his palm and hovered there for a moment before he coaxed it in my direction. Too stunned to swat the strange orb of light away, I watched as it impacted my chest. Immediately, I felt a sense of clarity. The stiffness in my body seemed to drain out through my skin and my                               J. R. Wagner

muscles felt limber and strong. I looked at Akil with a dumbfounded expression, I’m sure. After all you’ve seen, I find it intriguing that you still find my abilities novel, he said. I’m afraid it may take some time for my sense of wonder to wane, I said. He turned and stirred the ladle inside the iron pot. Your journey, you’ll be happy to know, is at its midway point. I’d express some form of relief if I were aware of the end point, I said. Akil turned and gave me a most curious expression. Fascinating, he said. He stood, walked to me and gently put his hand on my forehead. Of that day, I remember no more.

                              J. R. Wagner

The tenth day of September The year remains unknown

I woke to a most curious sound. A metallic noise of some sort echoed through the window, which stood slightly ajar. Akil was nowhere to be seen as I surveyed the single-room cabin. The fire had long burnt out and the fresh cut flowers lay dry and shriveled on the shelf where the old man had placed them. On the trunk, neatly folded, was a set of clothes. Beside them on the floor sat a pair of worn leather boots. Assuming they were for me, I dressed –intent on investigating the sound outside. Feeling neither hunger nor need for relief, I turned the knob centered in the round, green, wood-planked door and stepped outside. Expecting to see the worn narrow path directly in front of me, I was surprised to see a meadow full of wildflowers and wreathed in rhododendron, yet no sign of the path at all. All nature of insects flew from flower to flower in the early morning sun . Despite the beauty of the scene, the metallic grinding noise compelled me onward. I moved around the cabin, brushing against the blue flowers of the bushes along the siding. The noise grew louder as I turned the first corner yet nothing came into view save the stone exterior of the chimney and a few split logs lying at its base. Around the rear of the cabin a small pond covered in green lily pads occupied the center of a small clearing. On a bench, turning a grinding wheel with his left hand and holding a dagger against the stone with his right, sat Akil Karanis. He was humming a song while looking into the forest of small paper-barked trees that surrounded the clearing as if he could see something of intense interest. Looking in the same direction, I saw only the white and brown of the curling bark. I moved closer, careful not to step on the low growing flowers that bordered the brick path. When I was within arm’s length, Akil turned with a start. His welcoming smile was infectious and soon we were grinning at each other like fools. I wasn’t expecting you so soon, he finally said. How does one expect another who is already in their presence? I queried. A fair question, my friend. He stopped turning the wheel, lifted the blade and ran his finger along the edge. What happened to me yesterday? Why did you render me unconscious? Akil’s brow furrowed at the word unconscious. It was a simple sleeping incantation, nothing more, he said. You see, a normal body such as yours is not suited to make the journey in as short a time as is required. Likewise, he said, holding up a finger, preventing me from interrupting, an untrained mind must be given rations of information simply because a deluge of truth would render one inane for days. So, for the moment, you require only the knowledge                               J. R. Wagner

I am willing to impart and must otherwise rest both mind and body. You will need both strength and fortitude of mind to complete the second half of your trek. Do you understand? He asked. Truly I did not and I suppose my expression revealed my lack of comprehension. I have swept you away from the only world you know, he said. That alone is often too much for a man to bare yet you have borne it and borne it well. Now, we must discuss what is to come. And what does come next? I asked. You must remain here, in this place, for forty days. On the forty-first day, I shall return and we will move on. What must I do in all that time? I asked having not stayed in one place for that duration in as long as I can remember. Do you see where the clearing meets the trees? I nodded. You must not cross into the forest. It is strictly forbidden. By whom? I asked. Akil slowly stood. By this place, he said, extending his arms and turning. The sun glistened off his hairless crown. I don’t understand, I replied. Nor do I expect you to, he said. I shall return every fifth day with supplies, food and information. Between my visits it is up to you to decide what to do with the time that is left to you. Porridge simmers over the fire as we speak. There is a well on the far side of the cabin among the high grasses. The trunk, you no doubt noticed, contains tools I believe you will find most useful and informative. Akil stretched, his joints popped as his muscles contracted. I must take my leave, I’m afraid. You must eat, rest and heal. Take heed of my warning. Stay out of the forest. He began walking in that very direction. I kept pace at his side. Where will you go? I asked. You don’t think you’re the only one I must tend to, do you? He asked, stopping at the edge of the clearing. I hadn’t given it much thought, I replied. I give you leave to think on whatever it is you believe you must, Akil said, stepping into the forest –immediately disappearing beneath the darkness of the canopy. I was alone. Tempted to plunge into the forest after him, yet leery of his warning, I turned and headed across the clearing toward the cabin. As I passed the sharpening wheel, I noticed Akil had set the blade on the wooden stool. I picked it up. It felt light in my hand –too light. I touched the blade, deciding a dirk this light couldn’t possibly be sharp yet the moment my finger contacted the edge, I pulled my hand away in pain. Blood ran down my finger as I inspected the wound. My print was cleaved apart revealing the bone beneath. I quickly wrapped my finger in the bottom of my tunic to stay the bleeding and continued my walk around the cabin and inside the circular green door. The instant I crossed the threshold, the throbbing ceased. I unwrapped my finger and to my amazement, upon closer inspection, saw the wound had closed and the bleeding come to a halt. I carefully placed the dirk on the shelf beside the door,

                              J. R. Wagner

not noticing the dried flowers upon which it rested and moved toward the fireplace where my meal stewed inside the black steel pot. Of this day, there is nothing more to report.

                              J. R. Wagner

The fourteenth day of September The year is unknown

I’ve managed to keep myself occupied over the past several days. Along with the menialities of each day, which consume far more time than I’d like, I’ve been able to explore the cabin and surrounding areas. I realize this may sound rather dull based upon my initial description –a single roomed dwelling, however as I shall reveal, nothing is at it first appears in this place. The trunk, which sat forgotten until my second afternoon had the most fascinating contents. To the lid are bolted sever small shelves that extend up and out when opened. Upon each shelf are numerous glass containers, each varying in shape and size and each containing something different. Liquids, powders and what look like dried leaves occupy the first row. The second appears to contain nothing but insects both living and deceased stuffed into their respective containers. The third row looks to house what can only be described as rolling fog in three dozen identical bulbous containers –each corked. I decided to remove one of these and pull the stopper. Immediately, I was overcome by the worst case of vertigo I ever recall experiencing. I wretched on the floor and was blinded by tears that instantly filled my eyes. I felt for the stopper like a blind-man until I found an object resembling the small piece of cork, hoped it wasn’t a remnant of my breakfast, and stuffed it into the top. Instantly, the spinning ceased and my eyes cleared. I carefully returned the container to its place on the shelf and went about cleaning up my mess, which was beginning to smell. Once done, I returned to the trunk. In the large bottom section a stack of neatly folded clothes sat on the right, a pile of large books on the left. I carefully removed the clothes, noticing there were three sets identical to those I was wearing. I sat them on the cot and moved back to the trunk. Several rolls of paper lay beneath where the clothes had been. Determined not to be distracted, I reached for the first book in the pile, which was a large black volume bound in leather. The cover was unmarked save for an odd symbol on the spine.

I turned the cover, which groaned with protest giving the impression that it hadn’t been opened for years. The first page was blank. The second took me aback. My                               J. R. Wagner

name –complete, properly spelled and punctuated was neatly scrolled across the center. I turned the page to find these instructions…

I see you have finally opened the trunk. Most visitors tend to it on their first day. Ware the blade of my dirk, while insignificant in weight, it will open the toughest flesh like cutting through water. The retractable shelves on the lid of my trunk contain ingredients of varying purpose and potency. Beneath this book is a guide including use and cautions for each. Best not to open any of the containers before referencing the guide. The clothes are self-explanatory. The scrolls beneath them are maps you should find useful during your stay. Beneath the guide is a book, which must remain closed until my return. Opening it may have repercussions more severe than the ampoule you unstoppered. I noticed you have discovered the grain store beside the fireplace. Don’t mind the rats, they keep out more destructive creatures. I shall be arriving soon. Best if you fill your stomach before then. I imagine you find yourself in a state of confusion as a result of my previous statement. Not to worry, all will become clear upon my arrival. Until then.

Akil Before I was able to lift my head from the message that seemed as if it were written as I read it, the tumblers on the knob rolled back and the door swung open. Ducking under the casing stepped Akil Karanis. His infectious smile betrayed his eyes, which were fixed on the damp mark on the floor from my recent cleanup efforts. He sighed before his buttery voice cleared the silence. Well then, he said. I hope you’ve managed to get something to eat prior to my arrival. Based on my vacant expression coupled with the fact that the large black book rested on my lap, he turned and began removing items from the hidden pantry beside the fireplace. He said several words I was unable to hear clearly and the fire came to life. After tossing some ingredients into the pot and swinging the lug pole over the flames, he turned to me. So, how were your first five days? He asked. By my count only four have passed, I replied. Once again, you have managed to sleep away more time than you believe. A common occurrence, as I’ve said previously. You’ve delved into the trunk, I see, he said. I stood, sliding the heavy book from my lap and onto the cot. Akil walked toward me until he was arms length away. I could smell the sweet tobacco                               J. R. Wagner

on his breath as we looked at each other. His smile, revealing pearl-white teeth, was, as always, infectious and I returned the gesture after a beat. Tell me, my friend, how have you spent your time alone? He asked. Mostly learning my way around the place. I replied. Finding the well proved challenging. I should have warned you, he interrupted, the grass grows quickly and is apt to cover anything left on the ground in a matter of days. I nearly fell to my death as I set foot on the rotten wood cover, which gave under my weight, I replied. Fortunately, my arms kept me from plunging into the dark. Yes, quick reflexes are most advantageous here. Said Akil. Otherwise the days passed without event. I am surprised it took you such a spell to delve into the trunk, he said, now pointing at it. I find it easy to become distracted in this place. Each morning I woke, save the one morning when I did not, with intentions of rifling through what lie inside yet by the time I’d finished my first meal, my mind and its intentions had moved elsewhere. Intriguing, Akil said, running his fingers along the tops of the glass containers sitting on the shelves mounted to the inside lid. He sniffed the air and quickly turned, moving to the fireplace. Lets eat, shall we? We ate in silence yet I could feel my own excitement building.

                              J. R. Wagner

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                               J. R. Wagner

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.

                              J. R. Wagner

The Nineteenth day of September My ninth day in the cabin The year is unknown

I was outside pulling water from the well in the pouring rain when I had my epiphany. I wasn’t so excited that I dropped the bucket but I certainly hastened my pace enough to lose half its contents. The deluge of water falling from the sky more than made up for my sloppiness and, by the time I stepped inside, the bucket was brimming with water. I quickly set the bucket on the floor and went about shouldering the wall perpendicular to the fireplace. After pacing the inside the cabin most of yesterday afternoon (the rain began almost the moment Akil had departed) I’d walked past this section of wall at least four dozen times and couldn’t see that which is obvious to me now. The planked walls, each plank a slightly different shade, formed a familiar shape when viewed at just the right angle in just the right light. An entry way-an archway – a tunnel –the tunnel from the map. After my shoulder began to rub raw, I stepped back to make sure I wasn’t going mad. There it was. The tunnel entry was plain as day. I turned and quickly opened the trunk, removed the map unfurling it as I stepped back to the spot just left of the window and beside where the lug pole dipped down in a U to hold the pot handle. The archway was there. Beyond the archway, the depths of the tunnel. I held up the map, the shape was identical. This could not be a coincidence, I thought. I stepped forward, placing the map against the wall. The outline on the wood planks immediately vanished. The topographical markings surrounding the tunnel drawing had disappeared when the map rolled back onto itself as Akil left. I stepped back allowing the early morning sunlight to hit the paper while enjoying its warmth on my back. In retrospect it clearly had stopped raining. As I moved back, the outline of the wall came into view. I faltered having never seen it from this position . After taking a breath, I lifted the map, holding it just off to the right of the outline on the wall. The light hit the map. The simple ink design began to glow, superimposing its outline onto the wall –matching, line-for-line, the image already on the wall. Then, as if an invisible pen were writing the letters, a word scrolled across the map just below the drawing. Ireki

                              J. R. Wagner

I whispered the word as I read it from the paper. A noise, stone-on-stone drew my attention away from the map. The wall –the formerly wood planked wall, had somehow transformed into the stone archway drawn on my map –only this archway was not rudimentary in design but absolutely magnificent. Foreign glyphs were cut deep into the emerald stone that arched above my head. Vines wrapped the pillars that faced the front of the archway. They appeared to be inlayed with gold. Perched atop the pillars sat two of the most lifelike sculptures I’d ever seen. They were birds for sure but of which species I know not. Their long necks dipped down then up again like a serpent’s body. Their faces were clearly that of a bird. The rounded beaks suggested a seedeater however the feet, (both stood identically positioned) one lifted in defensive posture, revealed long, sharp talons. The wings were tucked in and extended past the rear of the body by twice its length. Their feathers were mottled black and red and their eyes were both a deep purple. The pupils, more cat-like than bird-like were narrow vertical ellipses –black, ever watching those who pass through. Between the columns positioned just above the peak of the arch was a recessed trapezoid. Cut in to the stone was not the strange glyphs carved beneath the arch but lettering in English. The letters leastways. The words were completely unfamiliar. Zehartu ra hasi As I studied these words, I heard something in the distance. It was coming from somewhere on the other side of the archway, which was shrouded in darkness. Echo distorted the sound but as it grew louder, I knew what it was. Someone was screaming –and they were getting closer. Quickly. I stepped back as the noise grew, looking for something to defend myself. I spotted Akil’s blade perched in the corner beside the fireplace and quickly moved to pick it up. By the time I had it in my hand, the noise went silent. I turned back to the archway. Beneath it stood a man. Old, gaunt and breathless. He looked at me, inhaled deeply and said, about bloody time, then ran out the circular door and into the field. I gave chase, calling after him but he, this skinny old man, was too fast. He disappeared into the forest before I made it past the well. I turned, slowly retreating back inside the cabin where the two winged sentinels looked down on me as I reflected upon my first encounter with another person since meeting Akil Karanis. The brevity of the meeting made it all the more peculiar and raised my apprehension about crossing under the archway.

                              J. R. Wagner

The twenty-first of September My eleventh day in the cabin The year remains unknown

By my count, five days have come and gone since Akil’s previous visit with no sign of the old man. The doorway, gateway, archway, entryway, –whatever one may call it, remains open yet I have not mustered the courage to pass through. Noises both strange and unidentifiable have echoed from the archway since its opening. While not constant, they are always loud and rather irritating when they do come. Curiosity has drawn me to the shadow of the archway on several occasions however the lidless eyes of the strange sentinels perched atop the columns along with the darkness within have always given me pause. As the sun began to fall on this day another strange sound echoed from the depths of whatever lie beyond. Startling at first- as all of the sounds from within have become, this sound had an odd familiarity to it that I could not quite place. The deluge of rain had not let up forcing me to remain inside with this newest, yet all too familiar entry into darkness. Something stirred on the opposite end of the cabin directing my attention away from the archway. A rat, I thought, moving back toward the cot. Expecting to find a rodent of some sort either under the cot or behind the trunk I was disappointed find neither. A rustle again. This time to the trunk –its lid shut firmly revealing no possible means of entry for even the smallest of vermin. As I touched the lid, I heard it again –like something moving among the books or scrolls inside. Slowly, cautiously, I opened the lid. The interior was as I had left it. Books stacked neatly on the left, scrolls on the right. I paused, waiting for the intruder to give itself away. Sure enough, the middle scroll-the map, shuffled from side to side ever so slightly. I slowly reached my hands into the trunk and positioned them over each end of the scroll. It moved once again and I quickly pinched the ends together, pulled the scroll from the trunk and tossed it to the floor just in front of the circular green door. After a moment, a large insect made its way out one end of the scroll. So large was it that I found it difficult to understand how it managed to get inside the tightly rolled map. It had a look of familiarity to it as it stretched its wings and legs as if it had been trapped for weeks. Perhaps it escaped from one of the glass containers on the trunk’s lid. Before I could give it any further consideration, I was able to identify the insect as its entire hindquarters began to glow a brilliant green. It was a firefly –albeit the largest firefly I’d ever seen. There was no mistaking it. It took to the air glowing                               J. R. Wagner

intermittently as it circled the cabin. At one point I was certain it would collide with my head however it deftly evaded the collision while its wings brushed past my hair. Up it went to the top of the archway where it landed, of all places, on the beak of the rightmost stone bird. Its light immediately changed from the normal intermittent pattern to a steady glow. And then things became quite interesting. The purple cat-like eyes of the bird blinked in the light –as if it were too bright for it. The curved beak slowly opened as the oversized firefly made its way over the bird’s head and down the long strange neck still glowing steadily as it moved. The bird turned its head left, then right, blinking its eyes then stretching its neck up to its full height, then down. The long thin neck moved like a snake when not fully extended gyrating in an endless S shape pattern. So transfixed was I with this creature –this bird, that I did not realize the firefly had moved to the leftmost stone bird and was already making its way down the long neck apparently waking these creatures from a long motionless sleep. The bird on the right let out a squeal that sounded like no bird I’d ever heard (causing me to squeal a bit myself) then it opened its wings. To my surprise, they stretched nearly three feet across and the feathering beneath the wings was not the same mottled black and red of the rest of the creature but a brilliant green-much like the glow of the firefly who, by now was nearly finished walking the length of the leftmost bird. When it reached the tail, it hopped off onto the top of the marble column. Both birds watched intently. The steady glow began to flicker as it moved toward the edge. The firefly perched itself there for a moment before spreading its wings and leaping from the column. Rather than taking flight though, it fell to the ground landing on its back where it lay motionless. The two birds watched it fall then looked at each other before jumping from the columns themselves, wings spread, feet extended, both attempting to be the first to retrieve the fallen insect. The rightmost bird managed to scoop it up in its talons without contacting the floor and took to the air just before the leftmost bird, who landed roughly on the ground. It let out a shriek and took to the air after its brother who had already reached the far end of the cabin and was circling back in my direction. The two collided just above my cot where they shrieked and wrestled and fought over the insect until it was torn to pieces and devoured. Smears of faintly glowing green ooze covered my blanket as well as both creature’s talons and beaks. Both again took flight and returned to their perches while not taking their eyes off me. After a moment, both extended their wings, which were long enough to touch above the archway, and let out another shriek. I jumped back

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against the door blindly reaching for Akil’s blade while afraid to take my eyes off them. I quickly reminded myself that a change of clothes would be in order once this ordeal had ended. The bright green feathers on the underside of their wings began to glow. Both flapped their wings several times releasing what can only be described as glowing green dust or snow from the undersides of their wings. Slowly it fell toward the ground after swirling in the air currents created by their flapping. The effect was absolutely beautiful.

                              J. R. Wagner

The Twenty-eighth day of September My eighteenth day in the cabin The year is unknown.

Much has happened since my last entry yet little progress has been made with respect to the mysterious archway positioned on the perpendicular wall to my fireplace and looking completely out of place where it sits. Akil has not returned. The two birds, although I daresay they are less like birds with each passing day (they can be better described as very intelligent dogs when recounting their behavior), have become very affectionate toward me and are quite amenable to training. While visibly identical, they are easily differentiated by their behaviors. Bronchio, the more aggressive of the two –named after the coughing noise he makes when pouncing on his sister, Swat –named after her defensive technique when being accosted by her brother. In all honesty, I haven’t the slightest idea if Bronchio is indeed male and similarly his sister female but have simply based my inferences on typical male-female behavior. To my amazement, the glowing dust that fell from the under-feathers on that first day they were woken has neither lessened nor faded. Each time they spread their wings or take flight, they leave a lovely trail of glowing green dust in their wake. Despite regular attempts to coax them outside, neither has mustered the courage to follow me through the round doorway. On precisely every other day, the pair ventures into the tunnel beyond the archway (a place I have not mustered the courage to enter) lighting the way with their glowing wings. Long after they fly from view, the green dust still dances on the air currents revealing the narrow passage beyond the archway. I can only assume they’ve gone in search of food. While they are with me in the cabin, they take neither food nor water. At night, both curl up beside me providing warmth as I sleep. From their bellies comes a soft clicking that can only be compared to the purr of a cat. Distracting at first, I now find the sound calming. Determined to discover the origination of the firefly, the day after Bronchio and Swat woke; I inspected the glass jars seated on the shelving mounted to the trunk lid. To my dismay, the collection of insects included neither fireflies nor any insect similar in appearance. As a bystander, I am certain one would venture to ask why I have not dared to cross under the archway and explore the beyond. The answer, I’m embarrassed to report, is simply fear of the unknown. What if I cross through and cannot return? What                               J. R. Wagner

if Akil comes looking for me and finds the cabin empty? Strange sounds continue to echo from within the darkness causing both Bronchio and Swat to flinch with each rapport. This only emboldens my fear –if a word such as that can even be used to describe an increase in cowardice. The very idea is laughable if it were not describing my own behavior. I’ve decided to set a deadline. If, on my twentieth day, there remains no sign of Akil, I shall travel through this archway and into the beyond. To pass the time I’ve been reading the instructions left by Akil and have become quite proficient in handling many of the various contents within the phials. On the morrow, I will decide which of these will be most useful on my journey. I’ve had to ration my food –what little remains due to Akil’s Absence.

                              J. R. Wagner

The Twenty-ninth day of September My nineteenth day in the cabin The year remains unknown

Today Bronchio and Swat returned from the beyond through the archway –and they did not return alone. Between them they carried a trinket as if it were heavier than either one cold manage alone. As they drew nearer, the item dangling from bird to bird became clear. It was a pocket watch. Bronchio and Swat hovered just above the ground –their wingtips actually contacting the rough passage floor with each flap, all the while leaving a trail of glowing green dust in their wake. The watch, strung between them by its chain, was just inches above the floor –again suggesting its weight was barely manageable for the birds. The moment they crossed through the archway, they released the watch, letting it hit the floor with a crash much too loud for something so small. The birds immediately landed by my feet looking exhausted. Both nestled their heads into my legs as I stared at the watch. I took a step forward. The birds immediately shuffled behind my legs still keeping their heads buried against my calves. As I took another step, a shudder of fear ran through my body. I recognized this watch. It was the very same I’d seen in the hands of Akil Karanis so many days before. The lid was open –hanging by a broken hinge. The face, cracked glass encasing a strange yellow liquid and strange symbols inscribed behind the floating arm were all the same. The exterior, which was previously polished and clean, was now blackened –charred as if it had been cast into flames. I reached down for it. When my fingers came within inches, a barrier of some sort pushed against my fingertips sending a sense of foreboding through my arm and into my chest. I quickly retracted as if my hand were licked by flames. Had something happened to Akil? Had he sent Bronchio and Swat back with the watch to send a message? A warning? Or did they simply stumble upon it? I had my doubts they would have carried the watch all this way simply out of curiosity. Their present behavior suggested it was not a task they enjoyed. In fact, the pair appeared to be frightened of the trinket. Still, they managed to bring it here. Why? Allowing curiosity to get the best of me, I, once again, leaned forward, extended my arm and slowly moved to grasp the watch. I noticed an indentation in the marble floor surrounding it as if it had the weight of a large boulder. As my fingers drew                               J. R. Wagner

closer, again I felt the barrier but rather than a sense of fear, I felt a sense of urgency. Without warning, images flashed in my mind. I saw a cavernous room – perhaps the largest single room I’d ever laid eyes upon. From the vaulted ceilings hung at least twenty candle chandeliers. The walls were lined with fireplaces –each with wood set but no flames burned. A large wooden table sat in the center. The tabletop was empty save one item too small to see from such a distance yet the way the light reflected off the object suggested something metallic. A single chair opposite this object was pushed tight to the table. This image quickly vanished and another took its place. It was a castle –black and ominous perched just off the end of a rocky peninsula. This image was gone just as quickly, replaced by the face of a man. He appeared to be in pain. It was the face of Akil Karanis. One final image, a waterfall spilling into a pit so deep the bottom was only blackness. Then, I was back in the cabin. I backed away from the watch nearly falling over Bronchio and Swat, who were still nestled against my calves. I was hot. I couldn’t catch my breath –couldn’t think. I needed some air. I opened the green circular door and noticed for the first time in days, the sun had come out. As I stepped outside, I also noticed that Bronchio and swat were slowly creeping across the threshold. Since their awakening, neither had ventured outside the cabin…until today.

                              J. R. Wagner

The thirtieth day of September My twentieth day in the cabin The year is unknown I crouched in the dirt and let the fresh air fill my nostrils –expand my lungs. The moist ground immediately soaked through my pants but I ignored the chill along with everything else -trying to clear my head. It was only when Swat pushed her head against my elbow causing me to lose my balance and nearly fall forward onto the ground that I awoke from my stupor. I couldn’t help but smile as she looked up at me. A rustle in the high grass drew her attention. I noticed Bronchio had also heard the sound and was bent forward, wings spread, neck almost fully extended, eyes unblinking as they focused on the direction of the sound. Everything was still and quiet. Without warning, Bronchio took to the air, rising about ten feet and began making tight circles over the high grass where the sound had originated. Lower and lower he flew with each turn. Swat stood still as a statue, eyes wide, and wings open, tilted back. Her neck in an S shape as she waited. Another rustle in the grass. Whatever it was had been spooked by Bronchio, who was now just inches from the top of the dry stalks. The sound of the dry grass parting as the fleeing creature scurried through grew increasingly louder. Swat bent forward, straightening her neck and lifting her tail. Then came the perfectly timed attack. Bronchio dove, feet first while Swat hopped forward into the grass and drove her razor-sharp beak at her prey. There was no squeal from the victim – not even sound of a struggle. After several seconds it was plain to see why. Bronchio took flight with something in his claws. It was big –much larger than I had imagined. Brown fur and blood were all I could make out as he continued up. I heard another rustle and swat came lunging out of the tall grass and landed at my feet. In her mouth was the top half of a young boar. They had severed the carcass in two with one coordinated strike. My pets proved more lethal than I had imagined. The sight of the young boar begged the question regarding the location of its mother. I scanned the grass –now motivated by the promise of a decent meal, as swat tore into her kill. She must be near, probably guarding the rest of her brood. Swat looked up and appeared to notice me searching the field. She took to the air, leaving her meal, what was left of it, to bleed into the dirt. She glided over the tall grass then began making circles in the opposite direction her brother had done                               J. R. Wagner

moments ago. With each rotation she gained altitude. Wondering where Bronchio had gotten to, I finally spotted him out of the corner of my eye as he passed in front of the sun. Swatch dove, and this time, there came a squeal. The tall grass bent in the wake of the creature now headed in my direction. I could make out the top of its head above the grass and knew this was the mother boar. Two piglets shot out of the grass and into the clearing just ahead of the mother. I realized, as the tusks of the mother cleared the edge of the grass, that I had no weapon suitable for dispatching a boar and, as a result I myself may be in danger of being gored by the charging swine. Just as I was about to turn and retreat, I head Bronchio’s cough-like rapport and his claws dropped in from above digging into her eyes. The boar swung her head violently in attempt to cast off her attacker. She let out another squeal as Swat landed behind her head, sinking her claws into her shoulder. The boar ran and bucked, tossing its head wildly, both eyes now blind and bleeding. Swat reached her long neck around the front of the beast, careful to avoid her mouth and tusks, and drove her beak into its throat. Again it squealed –but this would be its last. Swat pulled her head back exposing the wound, which pulsed dark-red blood into the dirt with each beat of the boar’s heart. After a moment, the boar sat on its haunches like an obedient dog –still bleeding, a listless look in its eyes. Then, it lay on the ground as if it were taking a nap. If not for the ever-growing pool of blood, that is exactly how it would have appeared. The mother boar let out a final gurgled breath and died. To my horror, the remaining piglets quickly returned to their mother’s side and began to suckle. Bronchio and Swat, who had perched on the roof after inflicting the fatal wounds, swooped down and silently dispatched the two babes. They both then looked up at me with expressions of pride –as much as bird can express anyway. I smiled at them and watched in awe as they easily lifted the carcasses and flew to the roof where they bean tearing away pieces of flesh. I made my way to the back of the cabin where I started a blazing fire and carved a spit from a small tree. I would not begin my journey on an empty stomach after all.  

                              J. R. Wagner

The first day of October My twenty-first day in the cabin The year remains unknown

On a full stomach, I packed slabs of smoked pork into my bedroll. They lay beside Akil’s knife, the map and several glass phials whose contents may prove useful. I folded over and tied the ends closed, then tied both end fasteners to a length of rope I’d discovered behind the whetting stone outside. Bronchio and Swat appeared to enjoy the outdoors but, to my surprise, they did not travel beyond the edge of the forest -as if they, too were aware of Akil’s instructions. Once more, I stood over the broken watch whose weight appeared to continually stress the marble floor as the depression it created when let fall to the ground has continually grown in size and depth. Cracks extend like vines working their way to the cabin walls. The only direction they did not stretch was toward the archway. I reached for the watch while Bronchio and Swat looked in cautiously through the open front door. As my fingers drew near, I felt no barrier. No images appeared in my mind. For the first time since its arrival, I was able to touch it. The metal was cold. I ran my finger along the back of the open lid. The smooth silver gave way to a rough, charred, uneven surface. Whatever source of heat had contacted the watch had begun to melt it. Cautiously, I grasped the chain and attempted to lift it from the floor. It did not give nor could I slide my fingers beneath it. Frustrated, I stood, surveyed the room for anything else I may need, then nodded to Bronchio and Swat. Both entered the cabin cautiously avoiding the cracks in the floor and giving as wide a berth as the room allowed to the trinket they so feared. I pulled closed the round, green door for the last time and moved toward the archway. Bronchio and swat took to the air as I stepped beneath it, leading the way with their rain of glowing dust falling from their brilliant underwings. As I stepped onto the roughly hewn floor that was the beginning of the passage beyond, a feeling that I would never return swept over me. With my heart in my throat, we moved down the passage.

                              J. R. Wagner

Volume 26

The Twenty-second day of October The year is unknown Unlike my passage through the previous archway and the travel that followed, my journey today was brief. It was but a few steps until I reached a wooden door. Bronchio and Swat had already somehow managed to push it open and were in the room beyond by the time I passed through. As my eyes adjusted to the light blazing from the chandeliers, I realized to my horror where I was. This was the very room I had seen in my vision when I touched the watch. The fireplaces lining the walls all blazed with light, as did the twenty or more chandeliers strung from the exposed A-frame trusses. Both birds were perched on the dark roughly hewn wood just above the chandeliers. I could tell by their body posture they were searching for something –hunting. I moved further into the room –closer to the wooden table that was still nearly one hundred yards away. I could see no other door –no entry, save the one we passed through a moment ago. A flash of movement out of the corner of my eye sent Bronchio diving from the rafter. Before I could identify that it was, he had it. The small creature died silently as he tore it apart. Moving on, I felt drawn to the table. Unlike in my vision, the table was fully set – prepared for a large meal. Swat dove, swooping over my head and managed to snatch up his prey and return to the beam where he began his meal. Blood dripped to the floor as he pulled it apart. Quite effective at keeping the rats away, your birds, a woman’s voice said. The voice came from the direction of the table. I squinted in attempt to get a better view of whoever was speaking -even though I wasn’t sure they were really there at all. When I saw no one, I continued with more caution toward the table. I paused now just a few feet away. Do not be afraid, Sorin, I am right here, the woman’s voice said. I noticed movement in front of the high-backed chair that occupied the lone spot at the end of the table. I froze. The chair pushed away, its heavy legs grinding against the                               J. R. Wagner

stone floor sending a chilling echo across the hall. The woman stood. From behind she gave off a vague sense of familiarity. In fact, her voice had a familiar sound to it -one that I could not quite place. She turned and I knew I was looking at a ghost.

                              J. R. Wagner

Volume 27

The date remains the same The first thing I felt was my heart beating in my chest like a piston against my ribs. I then realized my breathing was equally out of control. My head began to spin. She took my arm and sat me in the char from which she had risen. She crouched in front of me, taking both my hands in hers. I looked down at her through my tear-blurred eyes not believing what I was seeing. I wanted to speak but when I began she put her finger to her lips. She mouthed something –It is going to be okay. Who are you? I asked in a hoarse whisper. The woman who looked just like my wife glanced over her shoulder with a concerned expression as if she was expecting my question to disturb something that should not be disturbed. She looked back at me, her expression melted into a longing, loving smile. Yes, it is I, she mouthed, Leah. I am here with you now. Both our hands squeezed so tight they were pale from lack of blood. I was about to ask another question when she shook her head sternly and looked again over her shoulder. I understood. Someone was not meant to hear our conversation.

I am so proud of you, she mouthed. You have come so far on your own. I must go now and you must continue your journey. I was about to protest when she put her fingers gently over my mouth and quickly kissed my lips. I felt a surge of energy coarse through my body as the memories of our love returned. Tears rolled freely from both our eyes as our lips embraced. She pulled away and looked into my eyes. Then, she leaned next to my ear. We will be reunited, she said. You must be strong. Everything is not as it seems. She stood, turned and walked away from the table. I tried to stand myself but my knees betrayed me and I fell to the floor. I tried to call out but my voice had similarly abandon me. She looked over her shoulder, smiled and disappeared in a flash of purple smoke and light. I had lost my wife again.

                              J. R. Wagner

Volume 28

The twenty-second day of October The year is unknown Immediately, Bronchio and Swat were at my side –as if they knew the loss I was feeling –the suffering. Both stood on either side and nuzzled my thighs with their heads. I smiled, stroking their heads but my mind was elsewhere. I was broken, black and empty. Without warning, Swat took to the air and began circling just below the A-frame rafters. Bronchio remained at my side now arched in his hunting posture. Listening. Swat dropped low, her talons just above the table surface. As she reached the end of the table, she appeared to grasp something then gain altitude. I strained my eyes trying to focus on what she gripped in her claws but was unable to make out any shape. Just then, Bronchio decided to lunge –not in the same direction as Swat, but right toward the wall. Toward the fireplace recessed in the wall I should say. He moved as if the source of his next meal lay baited behind the flames. I called out to him as he disappeared into the fire. There was no sound of an impact, no cry, nothing. I ran to the fireplace expecting to find poor Bronchio unconscious and roasting in the flames. Logs, ash and flame were its only contents. No sign of Bronchio at all. He simply vanished. In my periphery, I spotted Swat perched on a truss watching curiously while showing not the slightest bit of concern for her brother. I scanned the hall looking for something –not sure what, yet I didn’t move from my position for fear of losing track of the place where Bronchio had vanished. No doors, windows or any other means of ingress or egress could I see. An odd noise drew my attention back to the fireplace. The flames had changed from their standard yellow and orange to a deep violet. I stepped back as the flames began to snap and pop, sputtering sparks onto the stone floor. The flames grew smaller while still sputtering as if it were fighting against its own demise. Then, in a burst of black smoke and soot, the violet flames extinguished, leaving the entire hall in only the dim glow of the chandeliers. I realized that all the                               J. R. Wagner

fires nestled in the perimeter walls had extinguished. A low rumble accompanied with a vibration through the floor prompted me to step even further from the fireplace. I then heard a sound I was not at all expecting –coughing. It was coming from inside the very hearth Bronchio had vanished within moments ago. It was the cough of a man and was growing louder until a blue orb of light floated silently out of the darkness of the rear of the fireplace. It stopped just before crossing under the mantle, casting a blue glow inside. Then, I saw it –a man’s hand reaching up from a hole where floor met back wall. More coughing was followed by an elbow covered in soot. Finally a man’s head appeared. His face was similarly covered in soot rendering him unrecognizable. As he struggled to free himself, he finally noticed me standing there. Don’t just stand there you sodding fool, help me out of this bloody hole, he said. It was the voice of Akil Karanis.

                              J. R. Wagner

Volume 29 The Twenty-third day of October The year remains unknown

I helped Akil out of the cistern and into a seat at the large table. I watched as the old man leaned forward, took several deep breaths and then sat up straight as an arrow. He looked at me as if he didn’t recognize me and said something I couldn’t quite hear while moving his left hand in a circular pattern. A warm breeze circled around him. I could feel the balmy gusts blowing against my legs as it began swirling at his boots where it rippled the hem of his cloak, then made its way up until his hair began to dance (what hair was left was unusually long for this typically tidily kempt man) until the breeze stopped. He smiled wryly and I noticed the soot covering his body was gone. What the bloody hell happened? He asked. I smiled thinking that was the precise question I had intended upon asking. I saw you in the cabin just before I left, I said. Akil’s eyebrows rose with curiosity. It was a flash, really, I went on to say. I stooped to pick up your locket and it happened. I saw this very room. I saw a waterfall and I saw your face. You were in pain. I looked up at Akil, he was staring into the distance as if absorbing what I had told him. Was there anything else? He asked, looking deep into my eyes. Yes, I said, suddenly remembering. A castle perched in the sea. It was massive, dark and yet…magnificent. A loud clang caused me to jump as it echoed through the expanse of the hall. Akil did not flinch nor did he break his gaze. I looked to see what had fallen. Between our feet was an odd metal disc. It was no larger than the expanse of my hand. Scalloped steel extended from top to bottom in a line no wider than my two fingers. I looked up at Akil who hadn’t broken his stare and met his eyes. He was muttering something under his breath. Akil, I whispered –he didn’t respond. Akil! I shouted. He blinked and was back with me. What is it? I asked. Nothing, he replied, shaking whatever thought troubled him out of his head. What is it? I repeated. Nothing, my young friend. Nothing. I could tell by the far away sound of his voice that he was not being forthcoming but I let it go. So, you’ve met my Pteragons, then? He asked. Pteragons? I asked. Akil whistled an unusual tune and within seconds, Bronchio and Swat were at my side. They have an affinity for you, he said. Both birds stood at either leg rubbing their heads against                               J. R. Wagner

my hips until I scratched behind their crown feathers. And I them, I said, smiling. Most unusual, said Akil as he reached into a pocket and removed a long wooden pipe. So they made the return trip carrying my watch. Most impressive. I can only assume then that you managed to open the doorway. Aye, I said. And you took it upon yourself to come looking for me. I flushed slightly before responding. I told him my original intention had not been to seek him out but I was certainly glad that I had found him. No matter, he said. Where is the watch. I left it behind, I replied. The color immediately drained from his face. He leaned against the back of the chair in an obvious attempt to steady himself. I couldn’t lift it, I said. It was as if it were welded right to the floor. Akil quickly stood. I must go back, he said, moving toward the wall in which the only visible exit was nestled six feet from the ground. As he reached up for the ledge of the doorsill, I shouted, I saw her. He slowly lowered his arm and turned. Who? He asked. My wife, I said. Where? Akil asked. Here, I said, gesturing to the chair at the end of the table. Akil walked forward and slowly ran his fingers over the back of the chair while muttering something incomprehensible. He then hung his head as if in defeat. What is it, Akil? I asked. We must move on. The watch will have to wait. I shall not leave your side until we’ve reached our final destination. He bent quickly and picked up the curious metal disk and stashed inside his cloak as we moved toward the opposite end of the hall.

                              J. R. Wagner

The Lost Journal complete collection  

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy. A serial (ongoing) story of a man who discovers fate is not ready for him to leave the dystopian world in which...