Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Aearnur, Nov 11, 2009.

  1. Aearnur

    Aearnur New Member

    Nov 11, 2009
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    I never did find out who my benefactor was, he who had bequeathed me such a place and so greatly altered my life as it had been until then. But I am moving far too far into the misty distance dear reader. Now I shall return to the day when it all began…

    The carriage had given me a somewhat rough ride but I hardly noticed, my mind being so taken up in its pondering over the mystery of how this had all come about. I was distantly aware of intermittent scenes of bleak moorland and dense forests hung heavy with damp dripping mosses but other than this my journey passed in a decidedly meditative haze. So it was a shock to be woken from my reveries by my driver’s rough voice informing me I had arrived at my destination. By the time I roused myself enough to step out of the carriage door he had already brought my bags down and was ready to let fly his whip. I had hardly begun to remonstrate with him as to where the devil I was when with a loud cry he lashed the horses and sped off down the rutted track.

    I looked around me, still half in a daze. Sunlight had been weak and in short supply that day and so the panorama before me held few details for my weary eye. To right and left some slight lessening of the tree cover allowed some faltering rays of sunlight to fall on tall and somewhat oppressive rhododendron bushes before me. I saw that I stood before a gate of ornate design. And beyond lay a winding muddy path which disappeared around lowering rhododendrons in the far and dim distance. I stood in a strange silence and suddenly realised I could hear no birds sing. As I stood a light misty rain commenced to fall and I now roused myself from lethargy, swung open the curious black metal gate and took my first faltering step down the muddy path.

    To each side of me the rhododendrons encroached upon the path in a most oppressive fashion. There were no blooms in evidence as it was late in the year. They hung low to the ground, some gnarled and ancient, others burgeoning with growth, but all without exception hung glistening dark green and sopping wet around me in the most intimidating fashion.

    I am not a man particularly prone to fancies but I must say there were moments in my weary perambulation along that dark, winding path which caused my heart to beat a little faster from time to time and my head to turn to make sure no other pair of eyes followed along at my back. I stopped to rest for a while where the light from the surface of a large lake came into view relieving for a space the darkness of the trees and rhododendrons which had crowded ever closer around me. The vision of the mirror-calm lake lay spectral before me, a thin grey line, seen as somewhat translucent through the ever falling mist of rain. A shiver ran up and down my back as the rain penetrated my tunic at the neck causing my whole body to involuntarily shudder. I resolved it was time to press on and visions of standing before a warm roaring fire filled my mind.

    The silence now was almost total as night fell fully around me. Scarcely able to discern the sodden path in front of me I trudged on, having no other choice but to do so. Then, suddenly, I realised my eyes beheld an enormous shadow of deepest black before me. Then, despite my weariness I felt arise within me a chuckle of self-ridicule as I realised what stood before me were the angular walls of a great house rather than some frightful supra natural entity.

    I sighed, partly in weariness, partly in nervous trepidation. What would greet me behind these walls? What road would my life take which had arisen so unbidden and so strangely before me?

    I lay my bags upon the stone entrance and proceeded to fumble in my pocket for the great key which I had turned incessantly within my grip on my long carriage journey into this distant and god-forsaken county. I soon felt its cold steely touch and hesitantly brought it within the lock for which it had so long ago been made. It turned soundlessly until… suddenly a very loud clack sounded which gave my heart pause in its beating. Evidently the door was now no barrier to me and as I swung it open I remarked to myself on the wondrous and manufacture of the ancient thing and the carving with which it was so richly adorned.

    I know now I stood then in a great hall, a vestibule for guests. I reached down and touched the floor for I could see little. Ice cold marble met my damp fingertips. I made a few tentative steps towards a slight lessening of the gloom at my left side. As I moved the grey smudge of light grew wider and simultaneously my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness surrounding me. My ears too seemed sensitised by this space and the dull murmur of the falling rain outside reached them in mournful whispers. I became aware I had reached a wall… more marble. Evidently this had been a place of some stature in its time.

    My eyes by now were fully adjusted to these new conditions and as I looked around me I began to make out several features. I was in a hall of some size. Around it stood a number of doorways and two corridors leading off to either side of a staircase. I made my way still quite hesitantly toward the staircase and proceeded to climb upward.

    From the landing on the first floor I peered across and down over the hall. I could just make out a frieze running round all four sides and dimly made out a Greek element or two within its theme though what manner of myth or legend it portrayed I could not at that moment tell. The banister I now grasped was of wood with tiny rounded metal protuberances inlaid within it. There was no reason for me to continue to feel my way along this banister as my eyes were fully accustomed to the low light, yet I found I was loathe to loosen my grip. I turned and with my back firmly against the banister surveyed the back wall of the first floor landing. To my left hung a great window allowing some dim star light to enter, somewhat distorted by the droplets of rain still running dimly down its glass. Then came a doorway. As my eyes moved directly ahead I made out the rectangular form of a portrait upon the opposite wall. But I could make out no details of what scene or face might grace its canvas. Moving my gaze to the right I could make out yet another doorway and a blank wall where the staircase emerged from the vestibule below.

    Considering that the leftward corridor might provide a greater degree of light than the right I loosed my grip on the cosy harbour mooring of the banister and shuffled toward the leftward door. Upon gaining it I turned the large, heavily worked knob of the door handle and stepped within.

    I was in what was evidently a long corridor. To my left ran a parade of long windows such as the ones I had encountered upon the landing. Each one let in a miniscule amount of frail grey light. I supposed the thin, sickle moon I had seen hovering over the bleak moorlands I had seen from my carriage window had now been completely hidden by the thickening cloud cover. To the right hand of the corridor lay a doorway directly facing each window in turn the whole length of the hallway where I stood. Now I was faced with a decision. The hour was late and my journey by carriage had been long and the difficult walk from the road through the forest also long and difficult. I craved warmth and sleep. In which of these rooms could I find both these so desirable commodities which now dominated my thoughts so insistently?

    As I walked hesitantly down the dark corridor, in the wan starlight each door appeared uniformly grey without distinguishing characteristics as far as I could discern. As I walked on I realised that there were in fact seven doors in all and I now approached the central door. Here there was indeed a subtle difference in appearance. A tiny inlaid ivory diamond lay at eye level before me. Having no other parameters with which to make my decision I resolved this would be the first room within the great house other than the vestibule itself which I would deign to make my own.

    The door opened in total silence except for what sounded for all the world like the flutter of velvet as the door swept open and I realised a rather sumptuous carpet lay underfoot.

    A very large window lay before me, ornately decorated and consisting of a great many individual leaded frames. In spite of its great size the light entering the room was of the consistently grey quality I had noted in the windows of the corridor from which I had just come. Evidently I was in some narrow architectural structure within the house, so designed to allow most light to enter the bedrooms nested here. In any event, the grey light fell from those windows upon an enormous wooden four-poster bed whose great bulbous legs were festooned with carving of a most intricate nature. Only briefly taking in these elements due to my great weariness I dropped my bags where I stood and staggered as fast as my useless legs would take me, to the side of the bed. I lay one hand upon the heavy quilted cover to satisfy myself that this wonder was indeed real. The silky fabric was cold to my touch but seemed thick enough to provide the warmth my weary bones now sought and, who knew what other warmth-generating blankets and sheets may lie waiting beneath?

    I quickly disrobed and, grasping the topmost corner of the bedcovers I threw them back. Underneath lay sheets as white and cold as ivory and with no further delay I climbed in and pulled the bedclothes over me. In the first minutes I felt even colder so cold and crisp were the sheets. But, slowly and surely a very welcome warmth crept over me as my body generated its own inner heat and transferred it inexorably to the sheets enwrapping me in their icy embrace which now thawed deliciously. Within minutes I must have been sound asleep for I have no further recollection, save for the last fleeting glimpse of the dim grey light of the windows filtering through my half shut eyes.

    I seemed to be awake, though some sense told me I was not. A lion stood before me. Yes stood. He seemed to have a part-quizzical, part mocking expression upon his face. I noticed he wore a crown. But not of gold. Of leaves. I felt fright course through me. What was this? A dream, yes. But I felt myself awake. In the distance I thought I detected a sound, it was almost like the tinkle of far away music, a madrigal in fact. But it was not clear. Indeed nothing was quite clear as I did not seem to perceive in my normal way, my gaze appeared to extend all around me somehow. I cannot quite explain it but it seemed as if I did not exactly see with my eyes but more “feel” with my whole being and these “feelings” resulted in images which my brain then processed. Of course I did not think of these things in such a logical fashion at the time of experiencing them. Far from it. No. I was simply too scared, too bemused and amazed for that possibility to be allowed me.

    I do not know if a subjective minute or millennia passed in this state of meaning-soaked silence. The lion stood before me arms folded, mocking me, feet splayed out proudly to each side below. His eyes seemed to penetrate my soul with their inner light, sharp as a pin. Slowly and surely my initial relative calm tinged with surprise began turning toward a more disturbed course. I began to quake due to the continued eerie unnaturalness of my perception. At length I could stand it no longer and, with nerves progressively shattered, I collapsed sobbing and quaking at the feet of the strange mocking entity. And so my dream ended. If dream it be.

    The next day my explorations began in earnest. I woke quite refreshed though somewhat bemused, recalling as I did, my dream of the night before. I looked with great interest upon the room I found myself in. It was not in any way as sombre as it had appeared the night before but I cannot deny it still appeared sombre indeed. The walls were of a grey natural stone, unadorned for the most part and quite forbidding. The bed I lay in faced the far wall with the great window to my left, the entranceway to the right. Upon the far wall was hung a portrait surrounded by an impressive gilt frame. The features of the lady portrayed there were fine though the face was somewhat pale and pinched I thought. Her dress was of dark green velvet with gold braid and silver filigree, pearls and small gems adorning at the sleeve and hem. She wore a hair pin with a large black pearl at its far pole and a small terrier dog curled at her feet. Her countenance, though pinched as I have said, held a certain warmth to it and gladden my heart somewhat in its seeming welcome.

    I must admit it was then that my hunger overcame my fascination with my novel surroundings and I hurriedly searched my carpet bag for the bread and cheese which I knew lay within.

    Having eaten I made my way to the vestibule once more and opened the right corridor entrance and walked its full length until I stood before a spiral staircase in stone. I looked up as far as I could see and took a deep breath of chill musty air before making my way up. There were several levels each with its own highly patterned door. Feeling quite quixotic and energised by my night's sleep I picked one at random and entered. Within I found a room with a very tall ceiling and windows to match. From them came a flood of light. Within each ray floated a myriad dust motes dancing to the breeze generated by my opening the door. Around the walls and indeed covering every wall space excluding the door where I had entered were bookcases from floor to ceiling, every one of them crammed with books. I walked over to the nearest shelf to gain a closer look and found them all to be quite ancient in aspect and rather large. To the far end of the room was a tall wooden reading desk and so, taking the first book I lay my hands upon I strode over, hoisted myself to the equally tall chair and laid the book upon the table very gently.

    Before opening the book I first glanced before me at this marvellous room. I sensed the vast knowledge lying dormant in this room of volumes which seemed to have lain here unexplored for an age and more. The very air seemed charged with their aura of learning as well as their highly musty smell. It was indeed a place where one felt completely outside of time in a world of one's own, or rather perhaps a world created for these books and these books alone.

    I turned my attention once more to the volume in front of me. The thick leather jacket was largely plain except for the device of a rampant griffin set squarely at its centre.

    I gingerly opened the great tome at its first page. There, before me was something I shall never forget, but for the moment it was all in that room I saw.

    I was in some carriage transported through moorland at night. There were no horses. I cannot tell how the vehicle propelled itself, yet propel itself it did. Light shone ahead of me and more than that there was no light.

    Suddenly the vehicle stopped. All light had been extinguished. No moon was present and dense clouds seemed to cover the stars. Pitch blackness was all around us and it had now begun to rain. How would I get home? How could I possibly spend the night here on this frozen moor with neither sustenance or bed?

    It was then that I spotted the light, far up on the moor. Being unable to face the thought of being stranded there in the dark and rain I struck out across the moor heading up the heather covered slope toward the light.

    After around an hour I realised either my eyes had been deceiving me or the distances on the moor were distorted by the prevailing conditions as I seemed no nearer the light than when I had first started. But, I struggled forward, having lost my bearings I could do no less, I knew I would stand no chance of finding my way back.

    The heather was difficult to walk over and each step exhausted me to an ever deeper level. Yet, after what seemed an age the light was growing larger. As I was almost completely at the end of my tether I at last arrived at my goal. The light I found, was emerging from the window of a tiny cottage. I struggled the last few steps to the door and beat upon it. There was no answer from within. I knocked again. Still nothing. Losing patience I grasped the doorknob and let myself in.

    I entered into blackness. The door shut behind me. Try as I might I could find no doorknob on the inside. The door seemed to have completely disappeared. With hands outstretched in front of me I sought some table or hearth, anything. Nothing met my outstretched fingers, nothing at all. It was with fright after a minute or more that I realised I had walked a far greater distance than the cottage had appeared when I had stood outside it. I felt panic rise like sickness within me and I struggled to quell it. Though I strode farther and farther still I met no resistance from any side. I could see nothing, nothing at all and could feel only the stone floor beneath my feet.

    Suddenly, through the black I detected a shard of misty light. Then another. They seemed to emanate directly in front of me. Soon a tiny ray of colour rose and fell, and another, and another. Soon my vision was crowded with a myriad patterns of coloured light searing my eyeballs with their glowing fiery traces. More and more complex they became and, transfixed I stood and slowly but surely I succumbed to their hypnotic influence. I felt as a rag doll in some child's hand, or a poor puppet dancing to the tune of some master puppeteer.

    In a flash all was gone. The patters, the cottage, the moor, the night, all, and I gazed down upon my own face gazing up at me from the book I had chosen in what seemed like another age entirely.

    Feeling in desperate need of some air I quickly ran to the front door of the house and stepped out into a fresh blast of clean, cool, if still damp, air. Before me was a terrace bounded by a low wall and, down several stone steps, a great expanse of lawn which sloped gradually down to a fine lake, still adorned by an early morning mist which glided fitfully upon its surface.

    The splash of crisp, cold water upon my face now rendered me thoroughly awake and, with sustenance having been taken care of, I decided reluctantly and somewhat fearfully, to explore this wonderful and strange place.

    I turned from the lake to face the house and took in its full grandeur. Light glinted from its many windows in the early morning sun. There were two stories visible to me from my standpoint and the projections of what were clearly four large towers at each corner, front and back. An ornate stone crest was visible over the main door and slim pyramidical stone features rose above the arches of all the upper windows. It seemed to me a fine house indeed.

    As I walked round the right hand corner of the house I was somewhat dismayed to find the forest had encroached in close proximity to the side of the house and concluded that light must be very restricted indeed upon this side of the house. There was a plainness to the wall that met my gaze. Evidently it had been considered that only the front of the house should be given pride of place but then this was not unusual.

    At the rear were clearly the kitchens, and presumably, above them the servants’ quarters. Again here the forest greatly darkened the aspect of this place. With a shiver I moved round to the far left side of the house. Here again I was met with a plainness matching that of its opposing side and, a similar shadowy aspect due to several enormous pines and a great rhododendron bushes which crowded up to it, leaving only a small, pine-needle covered, path to squeeze through to the front of the house once more.

    I turned once more to the garden and, spying a small path leading off to the right I took its invitation, whistling softly as I went, eager for further novelty.

    The little path twisted and turned past a great cedar before sloping downward toward what was, by general appearance, a walled garden. The entrance way was blocked by high weeds and the branches of several adjacent bushes but, upon making my way through these I came upon a quite extraordinary sight. At intervals along the wall were an array of the most fantastical stone beasts I had ever seen. There was a rather malign-looking cat with forepaw bent back under its body, a very self-satisfied pig, several griffins, rampant and somewhat threatening, an assortment of odd rabbits, foxes and, looking toward a small water feature, several alligators. Between and around these were a resplendent array of exotic plants. The ever-rising weed population had still not managed to subdue these and altogether the effect was quite magical.

    Following the trace of a path through the garden I came upon a small summer house within which was a round table carved with the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year around its circumference. Behind this stood a long bench and on the wall a mosaic of distinctly Eastern pattern. I sat on the bench and pondered. What otherworldly spirit had been responsible for all this? What mind of many shades, both of lightest and darkest hue had conjured up this dream?

    Only the rustle of the breeze in the dried stalks of grass answered me on that day. I threw my arms onto the backrest of the bench at either side and crossing my legs determined to close my eyes for a few seconds early morning rest. But, as the sun crept ever higher in the sky it must have cast its sleepy rays upon me causing me to doze off in mellow slumber.

    I was in a field like no other I had seen. The ears of corn waved golden all around me and stretched to the horizon in every direction. Softly from a great distance there seemed to be a sound akin to pan pipes. I gazed upward at a sky that subtly different somehow. There was a pinkish sheen to it somehow that I found it hard to explain. Suddenly I heard a buzzing as of a large bee very close to my ear. I whirled around and saw that incredibly it was a tiny bird such as I’d never seen with wings beating faster than the eyes could register. As fast as an eyeblink it disappeared. Then, in shock, I realised it had entered my right ear. More than that I could now see with its eyes as it flew down what appeared to be my very own ear canal! Through a red pulsating mist I flew, revolving and rotating down a circuitous route that at last emerging into a grey mist that I realised in awe, was my own brain. Here explosions of light of such intensity they resembled lightening bolts seared my eyes and visions of myriad form moved in liquid patterns upon towering yet insubstantial walls. In an instant everything I could see vanished from sight and I stood in what appeared to be some kind of dungeon so dark and gloomy was it and, from the walls came words.

    The leaves from the tree above me were dappling the circular stone table in front of me as I woke and, looking down, I realised their fleeting shadows also danced over me where I lay. Another strange dream, I thought. What an odd sort of place this was in some ways, and yet, in others so perfectly normal.

    It was early evening. I stood before the first door of the right-hand corridor. Entering I found the room completely empty except for one thing, a mirror. It was one of those standalone upright mirrors used for dressing for the opera or such like. Being the only item of furniture in the room I decided to inspect it more closely. As I walked up to it I adjusted it so that my whole body could be seen within the frame. The surface of the mirror was somewhat spotted with age and misted over. I tried to clean its surface somewhat with my handkerchief but with only partially successful results. Rubbing harder something quite astonishing occurred, my hand vanished up to the wrist within the body of the mirror itself! I quickly drew my hand back and in fright ran from the room.

    This event disturbed the equilibrium of my mind greatly, but, with time passing I came to believe that only some kind of illusion, or indeed delusion had occurred and that no such thing had taken place. Yet, the furrows on my brow were beginning to grow.

    That night after a meagre repast I slept fitfully yet without dreaming. I was aware of tossing around agitatedly the whole night through, unable to find any place of comfort where I could hope to rest and recharge my energies.

    The morning came wan and sunless. I wandered the corridors of the house lethargic and in a kind of dazed semi-stupor. Wherever I wandered I always seemed to find myself before the door of the room where I had been the day before. Again and again I would turn away and seek some other target of my ambitions but some inexorable force always seemed to draw me back there. There, where the door lay ajar as I had left it in my panic the day before.

    Finally I decided I was only being fanciful in thinking that anything at all untoward had taken place in the room and decided to face my un-needful fears. The mirror stood as it had done the day before. Only the degree of sunlight having severely diminished its surface appeared even more misty than before. Tentatively I reached out and touched its tarnished surface. I poked at it brazenly enjoining myself to stop being such a feint-hearted fool. My fingertip vanished.

    Because the element of shock and surprise had gone I did not this time pull back in fear but was instead curious at this trick, this odd phenomenon. Several times I inserted a finger into the glass pulling it back out quickly again. I then immersed my whole hand before rapidly withdrawing it. After repeating this some half dozen times I became more adventurous and inserted my whole right arm. There appeared to be no harm to the skin, tissue or musculatory system whatsoever. I tried a leg. Nothing. Then I inserted both arms at once. This really was most curious! At this point I took my pen from my inside jacket pocket and placed it on the glass. It went through easily and without resistance. And back out again. I then pushed it in up to the tip of the thing. As I was holding it there, unsure what to do next I suddenly lost grip of the end of it and it fell from my grasp. I looked all around at the foot of the mirror but it was nowhere to be seen. I realised then that it had fallen inside!

    Now came a more serious decision, one which somehow I felt I had no choice but to try. Should I risk my head in the thing? With great pains and much returning fear I placed my forehead upon the cool glass. I was unaware of any change. I pushed forward a little harder. Suddenly my eyes became misted at the point of contacting the mirror surface and I reared back in utter terror.

    It must have been an hour or so before I inexorably returned to the room. I felt I must face my fear. It almost felt like voices in my very own head cajoled me to do so.

    Once again I stood before the object of my fear and curiosity. With only a few moments delay I made my move and, touching my head against the cold surface I pushed forward with determination. All I saw at first was blackness… but no, it was not black, it was brown, and there upon the loamy soil just two four feet from my bowed head, was my pen.

    I brought my gaze upward then and it was met by a scene which could well have been from my direct surroundings in the garden of the house. I was in a forest glade. Tall pines soared to the sky around me and many other forms of deciduous tree also. The forest floor appeared soft and covered in both pine needles, brown leaves and a healthy-looking brown soil.

    It was then I stepped through into another world.

    I looked round and the mirror was gone. I dashed to the spot where it had stood. But there was nothing there. I was trapped here. I had no way back!

    I cursed myself for my foolishness. Yet, deep within I allowed that there was an inevitability about what had happened that I had been powerless to resist.

    What was I to do now?

    I sat beneath a nearby pine, fearful of leaving this place in case I could not find my way back here. It was possible the mirror would appear at any moment. But, what if it never were to appear? What then?

    Night began to fall and slowly I came to accept that there was nothing else I could do here, that there was no other course but to press on.

    Hastily I arranged several fallen branches into a cross on the pine tree I had sat under as a marker should I be driven to come back to this spot either out of fear or necessity. I felt lost and hopeless. What was to become of me?

    I looked around me one last time trying to memorise each and every detail though it has to be said there were few distinguishing details about this particular glade, save the cross of branches I had built.

    Through some primitive instinct I then began trudging mournfully and dreadfully low in spirits, toward the setting sun.

    I must have fallen asleep as I walked as I had no memory of coming to the place I found myself next morning. The tinkle of the running stream was first to greet my ears. And then the soughing of the breeze high up in the pines. It was then I heard their voices. Distantly at first and then closer and closer they came. Curious, cackling voices, who’s meaning was lost, garbled yet frustratingly familiar, like a word on your tongue you cannot recall yet it sits there tantalisingly spurring your recognition.

    As I listened intently they seemed to become clearer, more intelligible and indeed louder. Then, all of a moment I heard them clearly and understood them!

    “It is awake and it is confused, poor ugly drake that it is.”

    “Awake it is. Awake it is."

    I looked round me but could see nothing which could be making sounds such as these.

    I made a short perambulation round the nearby thicket, infested as it was by brambles and bracken left decaying from summer's crop. But no sign of sentient life could I find.

    "It moves, the thing moves."

    "It does. It does."

    I was beginning to think I was losing my senses as the words continued to inveigle their way into my increasingly confused mind. No one was here. I began to shout "Who's there! Show yourself!"

    "It cries, the sorry object, the ugly drake."

    Yes. It cries."

    In my forlorn state of desperation to find the source of these critical comments so clearly directed at myself I began searching with my eyes in every possible direction. It was then I saw them, some distance away across the clearing. Two coal-black ravens pecking amongst the shell husks at the bottom of an old tree."

    "He sees us, the ugly one."

    "He does. He does."

    I am not sure now if I had perhaps become inured to the strangeness of this place or that the balance of my mind had already come askew, but I took this new turn of events as a somewhat natural consequence of my present state.

    "Are you referring to myself?", I asked.

    "It talks to us."

    "It does. Yes. It does."

    "You have no business here drake!"

    "What do you mean?"

    "As I have said, you have no business here. Depart."

    "I would like to, surely I would... if only I could."

    There ensued a silence where the two birds continued to peck as if, for all the world, they were normal birds such as I would find in my own world. For I will admit I did not consider myself now in a dream. I considered this experience to be fully and wholly real."

    After an interval of some minute and one half one of the two spoke to me again.

    "We can help you back to your world if you will follow our advice?"

    "Yes, yes... please do."

    "Very well. Listen carefully."

    "Leave this place by the path you will find at a distance of five leagues walking directly away from where we now stand. At the end of this path you shall find a dolmen of great size. Nearby you will find a great pine. At an hour exactly three of the morning on the third day from this, cut a hand-sized piece of bark from this tree. This you should dip in the nearby lake for precisely three seconds, no more. Three hours from this time a message shall appear on the surface of this bark which will relate the means of escape from this place."

    I turned from these two then and made my way through the wood in the direction indicated. It was exactly as they had said and I had no choice but to follow their instructions to the letter, easily finding the pine, the tallest of any that grew in the vicinity. I speedily found the sharpest rock available in the vicinity for cutting and lay it by the tangled roots at the base of the tree.

    I still had all that I had entered this world with, including my timepiece. It was my task now to survive three further days in this god-forsaken place. How was I to fill my belly? My spirits were so low by this point and my hunger so great that I hardly cared whether I lived or died. That night I ate whatever came to hand, whether it was worms, grubs in rotten logs or the fungi I found around me.

    All I know is, survive I did. At least my resting place was comfortable enough, snuggled up warm in the mossy bowl of a great oak.

    Golden-honeyed sunlight met my warily opened eye next morning along with the sound of shuffling and scampering nearby. As I peered round the gnarled bark of the old tree I could just make out a number of rabbits snuffling about in the dew. My heart gladdened to see them for I was sorely in need of some reminders of the wholesome innocence of nature as I knew it.

    After a short breakfast of tiny mushrooms I had kept over from last evening’s repast I began to stretch and move about more widely.

    I skirted the massive dolmen, that which the ravens had spoken of, and took the straight, direct path from there down a small incline to the tranquil lake which lay beyond. The air was sweet and enlivened by a calming birdsong which, again, gladdened my heart. I swear I almost felt at home in this strange place!

    Laying myself down on the soft grass at the lake’s banks I began to feel the sun work its balmy hypnotic spell upon me. Slowly but surely my eyes began to droop.

    A hieroglyph of arcane provenance hung in the air above the lake. It appeared as a great green cross with a bow where its topmost central pillar would normally be. Below it, and seemingly holding it airborne, was a great flickering flame which appeared to emanate from the centre of the lake. The hieroglyph constantly changed size, moving from medium size until it filled my whole vision before returning to its starting place.

    This continued for upward of a minute before all surroundings disappeared from the backdrop of the flame and cross and were replaced by blackness. At this point was a great roaring sound as of anger or frustration, or mayhap simply of some great emotionless machine. Then, a million tiny snake-like creatures enveloped the space surrounding both cross and flame. I began to feel a sickness well up within me at sight of this though I knew not why nor how. Whether in reality or in my imagination only I began to feel the very earth beneath me shudder. Then, just as quickly all was still, the vision gone and I lay as before by the tranquil lakeside.

    It was then I heard the whispering.

    “Can’t you guess it yet? Are you so VERY dimly lit? Can it possibly be? Perhaps you are NOT whom we seek after all!”

    I spun round in fright then drew back in fear, my arms before my eyes. Before me stood an enormous griffin. When I say enormous he was no bigger than myself but that in itself stunned me to the core. It was light brown in colour with great plumes of leathery skin flaring up and back from its lizard-like head. But the teeth, the teeth were the most fearsome thing, long and sharp as they were. It stood akin to the many images I had seen of Beelzebubbe or the great cloven-hoofed god, Pan. And it’s yellow-gold flashing eyes held me with their fiery grip.

    “Speak human. I would hear your answer!” it intoned in a gravely voice like no other I had heard.

    “I….. I know nothing of what you speak”, said I.

    This seemed to bemuse the creature for it was silent for several seconds.

    “Can it be? Can it truly be…?”

    It murmured seemingly unaware he could hear… “Were the glyphs so misguided? Yet this cannot be. It is sacrilege to think so. Infallible they be.”

    I seemed to have put the beast in a real quandary with my protestations for he seemed nonplussed as to how to go on.

    His head, which he had lowered somewhat he now raised and on doing so raised his left arm straight out and toward me, in a direction slightly above my head. This is the last thing I remember seeing that fateful day.

    On waking I fitfully hoped I had been transported back to my proper time and place, but this was not to be. I lay by the lake. It appeared to be mid-afternoon and damsel flies flitted in turquoise splendour in great multitudes over its surface. All was quiet and there was no sign of the griffin of recent memory anywhere in the vicinity. At my foot I spied a small green frog which for the life of me appeared to be gazing directly at me. I humoured this idea with a smile… until I heard its croak. There was no doubting it, it was repeating the word “Tonight”, over and over again. I realised a change had been made. My ceremony of the bark had been brought forward. It would take place in only a few short hours. Soon I would be free!

    It was such a still, crystal clear night that night that if circumstances had been otherwise I would have longed to stay. The stars, though vastly different in their configurations than my own home, were incredibly beautiful just the same. The moon hung lambent silver, reflected in the calm stillness of the lake before me.

    I walked to the mighty pine just before 3 a.m. by my timepiece. I then stood at its base and gazed up the long straight trunk to the feathery branches and leaves fluttering dark against the stars. Picking up the sharp stone I had put in place shortly after my arrival I nervously checked and re-checked the time.

    At last, on the stroke of three I made my first incision and, carefully, measuring against my right hand I cut a square section of bark from the tree. I hurried thence to the lakeside and again nervously watching the second hand of my timepiece dipped the piece of bark in its waters for exactly three second.

    It was done. I realised with some shock how hard my heart was beating and how wet my shirt with the sweat coursing from my brow.

    Taking the sodden piece of bark to my bower in the oak I then lay down and slept the sleep of the saints.

    On waking on the third day it took a few moments for remembrance to stir me to action then I leapt up and grasped the piece of bark and gazed intently at it.

    At first I could see nothing. Then, slowly I could make out two somewhat broken lines running down the length of the thing around two inches apart. At least this was something! My focus on this small shard could not have been more intense, looking as I did for the most minute of symbols which could possibly direct my actions and gain me my exit from this place.

    Palpitations wracked me once more and my eyes watered terribly as I willed them to see what surely must be there. What was this? Was that a natural spot on the surface or was it significant. And below it, a mark, four tiny score marks and yet a third half as big as the others. It looked for all the world like a tiny hand.

    This was all. Though I looked and looked again at the poor piece of pine over the next hour I could make out nothing more.

    Then the thought came to me all of the sudden. Could it be the dolmen?! The rough lines… did they form its outline, more or less? I rushed to the giant megalith which stood like some great upwardly pointing finger in the clearing before the lake.

    Scouring its surface with my eyes my spirits fell, I could see no clue, nothing that seemed to chime with the mysterious marks upon the inner flesh of the bark. Again and again I looked between them. Then, as if a dim sun was dawning in my mind, I saw it. A natural protuberance on the rock, discoloured slightly by the grey-green growth of lichen could just be discerned just above eye height. Did this match the spot on the bark I was holding? If it was, then holding my hand to…

    I opened my eyes to darkness, a total unbroken darkness. Reminded of the dream of several nights ago my heart leapt in fear. But, as my eyes grew accustomed to the blackness I became aware of a pale grey smudge up and to the right of my vision. Crawling at first, then striding, then running I made my way to what I realised at last was the opening of a tunnel. As I approached it I saw that it was as if a mirage blurred my sight, the opening appeared to sway and dance before my eyes. Beyond, dark shapes rose, loomed and fell in no discernable sequence. Suddenly I was upon it, and with a scream of unbidden and inhuman mixture of rage and defiance, I thrust myself through it.

    I must have struck my head upon the other side of that miasma because it was some several moments before I came to and took cognisance of my surroundings.

    I was home. At least, I was back where I had been. Not the room with the mirror, no. But the library. And there on the pedestal where I had left it was the book still lying open at the page unmistakably bearing a face uncannily like my own.