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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 moon rise 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. 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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 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.

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. It had a green oval door and white smoke rose from its chimney. Sided with bark-covered 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.

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 person‌and 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 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.

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 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, 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.

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 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 selfexplanatory. 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 un-stoppered. 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 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.

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.

Entries from the lost journal #8