"The Story is just the beginning" ~~J.C. Rudolph

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Shadows and Despair

August 8th, 1956

I’m so hungry.

It’s difficult to concentrate on the words, which is unfortunate, for what I have seen over the past day has filled me with wonder and amazement. True, too, it’s also terrified me beyond anything I’ve ever before experienced.

I arrived here in the early morning, or what may have been early morning, yesterday. With no timepiece as my guide, I’ve had only the rotation of the sun to know for sure. Regardless, my last meal at the Orphanage–mid-day two days ago now–has long since left me. I found a stream, from which I drank for an hour, but thus far no food. The water refreshed me, cooled my skin against the blazing sun, but the hunger persists. The levels to which I would go to at this moment for a proper meal! Semi-proper, even. It’s a troubling concern, and I do all that I can to distract the mind from its attempts to recount the taste and consistency of Cook’s mashed potatoes.

I must find food. But the evening is upon me. For now, I wait. Tomorrow morning, I hope. If indeed this is the Elysium of my creation, then I know where I am.

I found the cottage this afternoon, nestled between two towering oaks, atop a hill of the greenest grass I have ever seen. I recognized it from afar. It’s one of the many homes I’ve drawn, the most recent, in fact. I drew the cottage after the third of my dreams, inspired by the rolling hills and distant mountains. Seeing it there, the mountains looming beyond, drew upon energy I believed gone for good, propelling me into a state of excitement better reserved for another time. I had but arrived upon the doorstep when I passed out from exhaustion. I don’t know how long I lay upon the steps before waking, but I rose to my feet with a great deal of difficulty, and proceeded to knock on the door. Perhaps, if my mind had fully been with me, rather than dwelling upon the potential for food in this lovely home, I might have considered what it represented: the first notable sign that I had indeed stepped into Elysium.

I believe the full realization is only now reaching me. Still, I’m in awe of the possibility. Amazed by the question haunting me most. Did I create Elysium, or has it always been? Did I invent the cottage, or did its image come to me from beyond? Through the mirror, even?

The one truth I could rely upon, many minutes after beginning my barrage on the door, was that nobody was home. The occupants, for that matter, might well have not existed at all. I may have drawn the cottage, but never did the idea of inhabitants enter the fray. I drew an empty cottage, and that’s what I’ve found. I don’t know what to make of it, fully. Perhaps it lends to the possibility, mind-numbing though it is, that this is a world of my creation. Time will tell. I do know, however, that I spent the remainder of the afternoon contemplating who would live in such a place, removed from the living world as it is. I imagine a family. Mother and Father, children rolling playfully down the hill. Meals together at a rickety, wobbly, table in the center of the small interior. Fire in the hearth. The warmth of that image is nearly enough to drown out the rising cry for food.

Nearly.

Realizing the link between what I had drawn and the structure before me offered me the peace of mind to cease knocking and simply enter. If nobody lived there, then there would be nobody to decry my improper entry. I thought, initially,  that I saw the Sister on the opposite side of the door, ruler bouncing in a hand, but the cottage sat empty. It wasn’t the first time I’ve believed her nearby. At times, I feel certain she’s still chasing me. That she, too, found her way through the mirror. Times in which I’m positive I’ve seen someone out of the corner of my eye, only to find no one when I turn. It sounds silly as I write it, and perhaps it’s nothing more than the product of my hunger.

I am awfully hungry.

When I drew the cottage, I placed it on the map of Elysium, not too distant from a large grove. I’m hoping to find that grove tomorrow. More so, the grove leads to a pass between the rise of two mountains, which I stare upon through the window of the cottage as I write, the light of day fading to a wisp. Beyond the pass, I should find–according to the map–a valley. In that valley should be the city I have most dreamed of seeing. The city I would have most longed to grow up within. The city of Demos, and its grand array of beautiful buildings, lush greenery, and notable charm. I hope to find it there. I hope to walk the streets. I hope to see that the Elysium I have written about for so many years, is truly this world. Whether by my hand or another, that it lives, and that I may live within it.

Sleep calls. Perhaps tomorrow I will eat.

I hope. I cannot stand the hunger much longer.

A Reflection of Imagination

August 7th, 1956

Oh, have I a tale to tell!

Something magical has happened. Something so wondrous and divine that I wonder if I will have the words to describe it.

I found the mirror. To a degree, I feel I must say that finding it was simple and precisely as James Rudolph described it. However, reaching it was another matter altogether.

You see, the Sister did indeed read my journal. I wondered, there in her office, with the journal in her hands, whether or not she had. As I hid in the attic, awaiting the cover and secrecy of night in order to seek the passage to the cellar, it seemed unlikely she had read through entirely, otherwise she would have surely hunted me through the passages I described. But time ticked away, and though I can say with no level of certainty how long I waited, I know morning was closer than midnight when finally I began the slow, quiet, crawl to the panel above the Sister’s closet. The portion of the attic I sought sits atop her chamber, which made an unforgiving journey for my elbows and knees, but I wanted to ensure that no sound reached her. My notebooks, maps, writings and James Rudolph’s Bible were stowed away in a sack I had draped across my back. When the sun rose, Cook would find no pleasure in the pile of potatoes strewn about the pantry floor, but there was no other way. I wouldn’t leave the Home without what was mine.

The panel opens directly above the small, squared off closet, with no more than three inches of planking separating the floor of the attic from the roof beneath. I recalled, from my previous visit to the Sister’s closet, that shelves lined the interior, stacked to the ceiling, loaded nearly to capacity with items once belonging to my fellow orphans. At that time, afternoon light sliced through the loose boards of the Home, illuminating much of the space for me to review. At night, however, the closet door closed, a dim glow, granted by the Sister’s bedside light, was all afforded me. James Rudolph’s note claimed I would find the door to the cellar in the closet, but finding it would be no easy task, even in such a small space.

Delaying the descent no further, my heart hammering so hard in my chest I felt certain the entire Home vibrated with it, I strapped the sack to my foot, and lowered myself gingerly, feet first, through the panel. Beforehand, I had but reached for the top shelf, where the convenience of my belongings left me with little need to go further. This time, I attempted to brace myself on a shelf, in order to lessen the weight of my dangling body. My grip on the opening to the attic was slight, and when I found footing on a shelf, I relaxed. Unfortunately, what I took to be shelving must have been an item, something lengthy and solid, protruding from the shelf. With my weight shifted, the item gave, sending me crashing to the floor in a thunderous clap. Several shelves emptied their contents atop me, leaving throbbing pains in my shoulder, arms, and forehead. I felt a warm trickle across my nose and knew as I wiped it free and reached for a shelf to pull myself up that I had left more than a trail of debris. I didn’t have time to consider how injured I was, nor had I a concern. Surely, the Sister heard my arrival and would be upon me in a flash.

Only then did it occur to me that further reconnaissance would have aided me considerably. The note mentioned a door, true, but there, in the confined space, with a mound of shadowy belongings around me, I saw nothing of the sort. All caution lost, I dug through shelves, touching every portion of the covered walls with a rising sense of panic all but closing off my throat. I saw nothing resembling a door! Neither, however, had the door to the closet opened. After a frantic minute of desperate searching, my curiosity bested me. Surely, the Sister heard the commotion. Surely she would haul the door open any second and call upon the Hand of God to smite me.

Nothing.

Breathing heavier than I could carry, I took a moment to compose myself. My mind whirred, my heart raced, blood continued to trail the length of my nose. Still, the Sister didn’t show. Carefully, with more caution than I had thus far demonstrated, I turned the knob to the door, and opened it the tiniest crack in order to peer into her chamber. The simple light beside her bed illuminated a sight as baffling as anything thus far. The Sister was not only not in her chamber, her bed was pristine, sheets tucked tightly to the corners in the same manner she decreed our beds to be made. I would like to say this calmed my edgy nerves. The opposite would be true. Dread, pure absolute dread, filled me. Where was she?

I decided that spending any further time in reflection over the Sister’s absence only enhanced the dangers–after all, wherever she was, she could return at any moment–so, I took advantage of the greater lay of light in the closet to begin a more methodical search. Small does not truly describe the closet. If I much more than turned a circle, I clipped a shelf. I waded through the items on the floor–shoes, board games, and books amassed the majority of what I saw–and made my way to the lower shelves.

I can’t say what triggered the thought, but it occurred to me then I might be thinking of Rudolph’s message in a flawed light. He referred to a door in the cellar, which I took literally. But hadn’t he also mentioned a passage leading below? Inspired by the revelation, I scoured the floor, my nails gripping at any possible seam in the boards. I found it toward the rear of the closet. A panel, covered by a lower shelf! I hastily emptied the contents, making more noise than prudently called for, pulled away the shelf to reveal the full panel beneath. Had the Sister known of it? Had she covered it intentionally?

I pushed aside the questions, opened the passageway, sought out my sack of affects and lowered myself without care or concern below. This time the drop was significant. Adding to my aching knees, elbows, arms, shoulder and forehead, I twisted my ankle as I landed badly on the concrete surface.

The pain was enough to make me cry out, but what I saw beyond my misty vision, tucked it away into a nice ball of fear.

The cellar spanned the entire base of the Home. Most of it, I couldn’t see for the enveloping darkness. What it held, beyond the sight just before me, I have no clue. Much was covered in dusty, moldy, sheets. The sandy floor offered a gritty welcome as I drew myself to an upright position. A fireplace flared as charred logs shifted above red-hot embers, casting an orange glow across the immediate area. The Sister smiled sickly at me, her forehead bandaged from her earlier fall, a paddle in one hand patting an open palm. Behind her, the light reflected off a glass surface, making the intricate wooden carvings of the oval frame dance in shadow. The mirror!

“I knew you would come. Very impolite to leave your elder waiting so long,” she said, far too pleasantly for my liking. I didn’t respond. Despite her presence, the mirror stole my attention. From my vantage, the reflection captured only the Sister’s backside. It stood as tall as she, her closeness to it all but blocking my view.

“I can’t allow you to come any closer, child. Nor can I allow you to leave, either, not that you have much say in the matter.” The Sister glanced up at the opening above me. “This time, you will pay for your sins. This time, Salvation is not within reach.”

I moved a step to the side, making no secret of my desire to gain a better view of the mirror. The faintest touch of blue and green appeared alongside the Sister’s reflection. “You knew about this?”

“Of course I knew! This mirror has been here since long before you were born, locked away in the cellar, where it belongs! However, I didn’t know until yesterday that you were aware of it.”

“You did read my journal then?”

The Sister laughed. “A portion. Enough to know that you were, as suspected, up to no good, roaming about the Orphanage through the walls. Oh yes, I know about those. How could I not? James wrote all about them. Filthy little urchin that he was. Your little statement about imagination told me you knew of the mirror. James said that as well, before he left.”

“James Rudolph?”

Her grip on the paddle tightened and she surprised me with a sharp slap of her leg. Amazingly, she didn’t flinch. For a moment, she seemed primed to strike me next, but the muscles of her jaw relaxed. She forced a smile. “If I had known that you were aware of him, I would have put an end to your escapades earlier. But, as you were nearing sixteen and a likely candidate to be released, I let it be, despite your fiendish thievery and continued need to dwell in worlds of fantasy that bear no mark of Divine Law. After all, what good would that be to you when you were on the streets, fending for yourself, relying not upon imagination, but upon the mercy of God?”

I inched further to the side. The Sister still filled most of the reflection, but the green and blue I had glimpsed was more pronounced. I wanted to believe what it meant, but it seemed so improbable. I needed to see the entire view. I needed to know. The Sister, however, wouldn’t allow it. I had to make her move.

“And still, you all but ignore what I say in order to meet your own selfish desire. I cannot comprehend what goes through your mind, child. This is why it must end now. This is why I will not attempt to punish you myself. This time the punishment comes from God. When the sun rises, I will send for the authorities. They will know what to do with a young man who prides himself upon striking his elders.”

“Striking? What are you talking about? I haven’t struck you. Sure, I accidentally knocked you into the bureau, but you were going to burn my journal!”

Without a word, the Sister raised the paddle to deftly bring it down upon her arm. I still cannot say whether the crack was from wood to skin, or if the impact shattered bone. Her strained wail against a heavy bite of lip that brought blood, however, left me to believe the latter.

What I knew, more than anything at that moment, was I would never know the answer. In the aftermath of her swat, her reaction that caused her to drop the paddle and lower ever so slightly, I saw the mirror. It wasn’t a reflection, exactly. Instead I saw rolling green hills, a magnificent blue sky, mountains rising in the distance, and my reflection, standing mere feet away–precisely my distance from the mirror!

The Sister noticed my stare, and backed into the glass, arm braced in a soft grip. “Stay away! Whatever it is you see is the Devil’s work!”

My foot touched the sack on the floor as I shifted once again. I knew what I had to do. “You can’t see anything in it, can you?”

“I see all that I need to. It is the essence of evil, tempting children with lies.”

I somehow managed a laugh, albeit brief. “Lies. You keep this mirror hidden in the cellar, and preach to me about lies.” I rummaged through the sack until I found what I needed. I flipped through the Bible of James Christopher Rudolph, emptying the pages of his notes.  “This, ironically, is the reason I found this mirror. It belonged to James. He left a note in it and hid it in the attic. So, much though I hate to say it, you were right. All this time, you were right. The Bible has shown me the truth. Now it will show me the way.” I tossed the Bible into the fire. The lightweight pages immediately caught aflame as the binding spread over the logs.

The Sister leaned toward the fireplace, the horror on her face replaced with rage. She didn’t attempt to fish the book from the fire as I had hoped. However, she moved enough for me to see the mirror in its entirety. I didn’t need to question the grand landscape the mirror showed me. It was the same as in my dream. It was Elysium! In that moment, all matter of doubt or uncertainty melted away. I approached the mirror, my reflection matching my steps. We stared at one another, only a few feet apart, separated by the mystical glass of the mirror, when the Sister attempted to block my way, the paddle once more in her grip, poised to strike.

Then a strange and unexpected thing happened. The paddle, over her shoulder and inches from the mirror, disappeared from her grip. She wheeled to face the mirror and gasped.

My reflection held the paddle, patting it the same as she had when I first arrived. He–or I suppose I should say I?–winked at me, said, “Now I’ve struck you,” and leveled the flat edge against the Sister’s cheek in a quick swipe. The force sent her into a spin and she collapsed to the floor with a hollow thump.

I stared at her limp form, beyond bewildered, unable to suppress a smile. When I found my reflection, it smiled back.

“You knocked her out!”

My reflection peered around the mirror’s frame. “Did I? You sure about that?”

I realized, at that moment, the paddle lay in my hand. I dropped it as quick.

“Grand. Now that’s out of the way, what say you grab that sack of yours and join me?”

“You mean, there will be two of me?”

The reflected me laughed. “Well, yeah, I guess so, but, no, I mean really, join me.”

He beckoned me with a finger. I could have thought about it. I could have stared at the wonder of what I saw. I could have even tested what the mirror would offer me in resistance. Instead, I jumped to action as if there were no other option. My affects in hand, I nosed the mirror, staring into my reflection as if it were no more than any I had ever seen. I took one final look at the Sister, stepped forward, passing through the mirror as if it were no more than the morning mist.

I stood on the plush grass of a perfectly sculpted hill, alone. The mirror was gone.

I’m here now. Writing my first entry in a new world on the slope of a hill, beneath a vast blue sky. I don’t know if the mirror is gone forever, or if I would even return had I the choice. I have no idea where I will go, or what I will find here, but I know, for the first time in my life, I am home.

The Last Day

August 7th, 1956

I believe it may be my birthday. By now, it must be.

I’m sure that seems an odd thing to say–I do know my birth date after all–but I can’t be certain that it’s past midnight. For that matter, I can’t be certain that it’s not well past midnight. The Home is quiet, and has been for some time, so I presume that everyone is asleep. If so, then it’s nearing the time for me to leave the attic, and, hopefully, the Home forever.

Strange. I always imagined sixteen as the age in which I would be forced to leave, yet I never dreamed it to be this way. Fortunately, I’ll not be departing into the streets, a bag over my shoulder and nowhere to go. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure where I’ll be going, or if it’s even possible for me to leave as I wish. If the mirror truly is in the cellar, as James Christopher Rudolph suggested, then I can only hope that it is precisely what he claims it to be: a passage into another world. The world that I have created. Elysium. If it isn’t, then I’m uncertain as to what will become of me. As it is, the Sister won’t be offering me a day in the Closet, should she find me. No, this time, she’ll cast me out herself, perhaps even have me detained.

It wasn’t my intent to hurt her. Certainly not. But she left me no choice, no alternative but action and escape.

I had no idea as I stepped into her study, carefully avoiding the teetering bookcase beside the door, that the Sister had already decided my fate. No idea that my own words, secret though I had kept them, would be used as a weapon, as a means to grant her a victory I could not overcome. I thought it would be another lecture, another attempt to right my wrongful ways, another lesson in God’s grace. However, I knew the moment I faced her beaming grin, her stubby fingers gripping the edges of my journal, that grace was not on her mind.

Toby found my journal, apparently. My best guess is he, out of a desperate need to make my life more unbearable, made a mess of my bed, or moved the mattress aside to do who knows what. Regardless, I kept my journal between the mattress and springs, so it must have been an easy find. I’m not sure how much of it he read. I’m guessing little, if any, given his poor reading skills, as well as his general lack of disregard for the written word. Still, he felt the need to hand it over to the Sister, and she must have read enough to find the material worth my exile from the Home. I can only guess that she breezed through the pages, rather than reading them in depth, or she would have known of the passages. Would have sought me out until finding me hidden away in the attic as I have been for these many hours.

Instead I am still here. Waiting for the silence to offer me a path to my final escape.

The Sister wasted little time and offered me little comfort. Her study has always been home to a heavy air. Almost as if the weight of her presence alters the atmosphere of her study. I always envisioned swimming my way toward her desk, rather than walking. Today, however, the air was not only heavy, but warm. For reasons, initially, I could not fathom, her fireplace burned with a bright, searing, heat. I’ve often seen the fireplace as her personal portal to the Underworld, no more so than today. Her devilish smile unsettled me.

“You have a problem,” she said to me, tapping a finger on the cover of the journal.

I wanted to respond, but the words eluded me. I couldn’t remove my gaze from her desk. Panic overtook my senses.

“Your silence is admission enough. I want to know where you have hidden the belongings you stole from me.”

“They were mine!” I admit, my tone was unhelpful, but I found no reason to be accused of stealing items that had been, in fact, taken from me first.

“This,” she indicated the journal, standing it on end before me, “is an admission of your sinful ways. You have continued to decree yourself a God–using an imagination surely granted you by the Devil–despite my warnings, despite my punishments. You are no God, child. There is only one God, and through me, He has decided that simple punishments are not sufficient. He has decided that greater means are necessary. He has decided that you are not suited for the sanctity of this Home. I have tried, for far too long, to give you faith, to grant you peace, in the hopes that you would overcome the grip of sin on your soul, but no more. Other boys have come into our nest, and they have found homes with loving parents. You, on the other hand, have not. You are unwanted. There is nothing more we can offer you.”

“You’re kicking me out?” I can’t say for certain precisely what I felt at that moment. Part elation, part wonder, part terror. My mind wrapped itself around the image of my notebooks and maps, my stories and character biographies, my drawings and journal. They all had to come with me. I knew, however, that the Sister would not allow it.

“Kicking you out? My word, child. Such horrific phrasing. Makes me seem positively dreadful. No, of course not. I’m not kicking you out. You will simply leave. Now. By the weight of your own actions, of course. I cannot be blamed for your insolence, nor can I for your desire to waste your time with this garbage. God has absolved me of you.”

There were many things I would have like to have said to the Sister, none of them likely to paint me in a better light. I decided, against the thunderous beat of my heart and the chilling fear tingling its way along my spine, that the best course of action would be to do exactly as she wished. I didn’t know where I would go, but I knew I was ready to leave. Ready to face the world. “I’ll just get my things.”

The Sister laughed. I don’t recall ever hearing her make such a sound. It was unpleasant, cold. “Oh, you have no things. You have nothing, child. There will be no dallying about. You will turn from me, walk the the hall, head for the door and leave. Now.”

I couldn’t leave without my writings. Elysium was unfinished. But striking a bargain with the Sister was unlikely. I needed time. I needed a plan to retrieve them later. “Can I have my journal?”

Your journal? Oh, child, this journal belongs to the Home, as does everything within its walls. The fact that you have written in it does not make it yours. All that means is that your tales, your lies, have made it unusable, and so it is worthless to me. Perhaps it will be a reminder to you. Imagination is a dangerous tool. Make believe is an abomination. And abominations must be destroyed.”

The Sister stepped around her desk, journal in her hand, extended toward the fireplace. I might have screamed, or I might simply have shouted within. I know only that my mind burned with a greater heat than the fire, and without a moment’s thought, I launched myself upon her, knocking the journal free and sending her crashing into a bureau.

I retrieved the journal, inching away from the Sister as she sat upright, a trickle of blood trailing her temple, her face a mix of horror and anger. I knew I couldn’t leave my belongings. If she had read about the passages, she would find my notebooks and maps and destroy them all. I thought of James Rudolph then, and wondered what he must have endured. I wondered where he ultimately went. I wondered if the mirror truly would lead me to Elysium.

I had to collect my things, get to the mirror, and see for myself. The Sister wasn’t going to grant me that opportunity. I needed time. I made my decision. I would have to hide away until the night, when the Home was silent enough to make my way to the cellar. However, the Sister had to believe that I had left for good. She couldn’t be given a reason to believe I was still there.

The journal felt light in my hand. I smiled, thinking of Rudolph, the boy who might very well have set me free.

“I’m leaving, so don’t worry. But a friend of mine wanted me to tell you something. He wanted you to know that there is always life in the reflection of a child’s mind.” The Sister’s face paled and she muttered beneath her breath, but I had no desire to find out what she said. Before she could right herself, I darted from the room, closed the door to her study, pulled on the wobbly bookcase and sent it spilling into the doorway. The bookcase bit into the wall, angling across the door. It wouldn’t block the Sister for long, but it would block her long enough. I sprinted the length of the hall, opened the front door, sped past the stairs ahead of a thunderous barrage of footfall, tucked into the Closet, the chattering boys running past without notice toward the commotion. I made my way through the panel, quietly collected my writings from their respective hiding places and continued into the attic.

I heard the Sister, several times over the next hour, shouting my name, my fellow orphans–led undoubtedly by Toby–stomping about, on the hunt. Before suppertime, the clamor softened, and the Sister’s voice faded. I hope she is content that I have left the Home. That she will never again have to look upon my face.

If all goes well, she will get her wish. As will I.

If all goes well, in the coming hours, I will be in Elysium.

If all goes well, I will be free.

The Forgotten Orphan

August 5th, 1956

James Christopher Rudolph.

That’s the name written on the inside flap of the Bible.  I found the Bible in the attic crawl space, beneath another loose panel.  The discovery was purely accidental.  I had retreated to the attic after another trip to the Closet.  Much though I enjoy these breaks from the Sister’s watchful eye, it appears her patience is wearing thin. I’ve spent five of the last seven days in the Closet for one transgression or another, and I’m certain that the Sister realizes it does little good in thwarting my behavior.  I need to find a better schedule to return to my hideaway, one that doesn’t necessitate use of the Closet.

But I’ve wandered.  The attic.  It tends to be warmer in the upper reaches of the Home and so, to break the morning chill above the Closet, I crawled gingerly to the attic.  In an attempt to find the most cozy of places to relax while drafting out characters and continuing to build the city of Demos, I leaned into the corner.  The comfort wasn’t there, so I shifted.  Much to my surprise, the flooring underneath me shifted as well.  To this point, I had discovered only the removable paneling above the Sister’s closet, so it set my heart racing to discover there was yet another.  Unlike the others, however, this set of paneling did not lead me to a crawl space or room beneath.  Rather, it led to a compartment, not much larger than a shoebox, in which I discovered the Bible.  Needless to say, I found the use of the hiding space clever, but the item within baffling.  After all, there are Bibles all over the Home.  The Sister assigns one to each child and keeps a reserve plentiful enough for a battalion of boys.  We are all required to print our names inside the front flap, and so I immediately checked to see who it belonged to.

I wasn’t familiar with the boy, nor had I any idea when he placed the Bible there, or for that matter, why, so I flipped further.  Surely, there had to be some reason why he felt the need to hide it.  I found that reason in the center of the book.  Folded neatly into a square, on the backside of an essay on lessons learned from time with God in the Closet (I am quite familiar with this essay, having written several myself) was a crudely drawn map.  The lines meandered, never straight and not always joined, but I recognized it immediately.  It was a map of the hidden crawlspaces, with arrows pointing to the entrances!  He was the one that created the means of escape that I have come to rely upon!  The only of them that I did not recognize (but would soon come to know) was an arrow within the Sister’s closet, beneath the paneling I used to retrieve my journals and maps before.  I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to James.  Without his work, without his need to find peace and tranquility, I would never have found solitude, never have found a refuge in which to further evolve the world of Elysium.  When the day comes that I write the first of what I hope to be many stories of my world, I will honor his name in some fashion.  Perhaps a dedication.

I hope that day comes soon.  Odd though it feels to say, I do not sleep well anymore.  I hear the voices, see the places, and feel the presence of an entire world awaiting my hand.  Waiting for another piece of its history to fall into place.  Now that I know why James kept the Bible hidden, I hope that I don’t have to wait long.

Now I am ahead of myself.  I find it difficult to contain my excitement.  It was there, in my hands.  I almost missed it.

I knew the Bible had to stay where it was.  I couldn’t risk the Sister finding it in my possession, lest all of my secrets spill in one moment of ill-measured curiosity.  So, I made to fold the map, return it to the Bible and place it in the compartment, but my eye fixed on the essay.  I wondered what James Christopher Rudolph made of the Closet.  The introduction seemed wholly familiar: a generic exposition of wrongdoing versus the weight of God’s knowing eye.  I’ve written similar thoughts myself.  However, part way down the essay, he departed the assigned task, leaving two paragraphs that I could not stop reading until I had them memorized.  Even now, I recite the words without benefit of them before me.

“If you have found this note, then, like me,you have sought escape from the daily unpleasantness of the Home,as well the Sister and her crude methods.  You probably found your way here from the Closet.  If not, then from one of the many other points of entry I created over the past few years.  As I’m sure you’ve discovered, there are hidden passageways all over the Home.

What you may not have discovered, however, is the most important secret the Home has to offer.  The one that can give you the freedom you desire.  The one that I longed to have, and will now be granted.  This orphanage has a cellar, one that was boarded up and sealed years before I arrived.  I only discovered it recently.  In that cellar is a mirror.  It’s not anything you would take a second look at, but look more closely and you will see, through your reflection, another world.  Another place.  The one you have likely been dreaming of.  Perhaps even writing about.  I don’t know how it works, or where it came from, but I believe that it is the reason the cellar was sealed.  I believe this Home has given life to the imagination of the children who have lived here.  It’s the reason you’ve been led to this spot, to this note.  It’s calling you.  Step through the mirror and you will leave this place.  Step through and you will be free.  There’s only one way to the cellar.  It’s through a door in the Sister’s closet.  The narrow passage leads below, and the mirror is to the rear of the cellar.  If you seek it, may you be free.  If not, then for me, tell the Sister that there will always be life in the reflection of a child’s mind.

J.C.R

I must find this mirror.  I must see if it’s true.

The Call of Home

August 3rd, 1956

They are more than words. They are real. I know that sounds mad, but I can think of no other way to say it.

My attempts to steal away whatever time I can manage to return to my work have been quite successful. Though the opportunity is ripe in the evening, as the house lies sleeping, the overwhelming silence forces me to crawl through the passages. The floorboards are soft and unforgiving, rendering the creaks all the more thunderous. My concern is less for the outburst of the floor, however, than it is for Toby and his goons. I fear he is watching, waiting for the opportunity to out my escapades to the Sister. Despite the risk, I have continued. I can’t stop, nor do I wish to. They call to me. Like friends in wait, they beg more of my time. I make no effort, here, or in the shadow of night, to pretend that I wish their pleas to end. The feeling of being, of knowing where I belong is too strong to deny. I belong with them. This much I know.

I’ve taken to being an irritant to the Sister, in hopes of attaining more time in the Closet. It remains an unfriendly place, walls home to countless protruding nail heads, layers of dust making breathing a trial, and the numerous vermin who squeak their way through. But the stay is less traumatizing than before, now less a punishment than a reward. I am in the Closet no more than a few minutes before I make off through the paneling–as I have on this occasion–to my hideaway. In order to properly time the Sister’s return, I now keep an assortment of notebooks above the Closet. She always announces her return, accompanied with a prayer for absolution from my delinquency. It’s more than ample time to stow away my writings, lower myself through the opening, and await my release.

I need more time.

In the days following my discovery of the hideaway, I have mapped out the entire scope of Elysium. It is replete with mountains, deserts, lakes and rivers. There are towns spread far and wide, the center-most of which I have called Demos. It’s sister city, Kratia, is its nearest equal, but lacks in the grandness of Demos. I discovered, in one of the books in our small library–The Sister is very particular about the titles–that the word ‘democracy’ is derived from the Greek word ‘demokratia’. Apparently, ‘demos’ means ‘common people’, while ‘kratos’ means ‘strength’. In that sense, I decided Demos would be a peaceful place, ruled by a kind yet firm King, and Kratia would be a place of strength, home to a vast army. There is peace between the cities, but they have a history of horrific battles.

I do not yet know what the future holds for Kratia, but Demos is another matter. It intrigues me, as do the people who reside there. From the Royal Family to the smallest of children, there is a sense of hope and promise. There are no children without homes. There is no poverty. Food is plentiful. Magic is a source of great affection. They are a people with respect for one another, and a love for family. It is this place that calls to me. A people who favor my return, and welcome me with smiles and happiness. I’ve known no other home save for the Orphanage, but Demos has swiftly filled that void. I cannot imagine my life without Demos to escape to. It is the greatest blessing I have ever known. And yet, it too is the greatest curse.

I must build it further, expand the populace, further draft its way of life, and I do so with great enthusiasm. When I must leave, return to my grind in this Home, I am overwhelmed with sadness. Both because of what awaits me, and for what I must leave behind.

I don’t know what lies beyond my sixteenth birthday.  In a few short days I will find out. Stories persist that boys are shuttled off to the military, or even forced to the streets. There was a time, mere weeks ago, in which either offered greater reward than being here. Now, I have a world to attend to. People who fill me with joy. A home I long to keep. How can I possess all that I have written, all that I have drawn, if I have no true place in which to live? What would become of Elysium?

I can’t let that happen. I have to protect my home. I have to protect my family.

The Sister is here. My time in Elysium is once more at an end.

I have known no greater sadness than that.

Passages

July 31st, 1956

I keep reminding myself that they were mine to begin with. I didn’t steal them. The Sister took them from me. They were mine.

She’s not happy about it. Convinced of my part in the disappearance of my stories and drawings–those she kept under safe guard in a locked closet in her room–the Sister has taken to wild rants about the evil that possesses me and dolled out even harsher penalties than she’s ever handed down before. The day following their disappearance, now four days ago, I spent the entirety of a full day in the Closet. I’ve been there countless times before, but for never more than a handful of hours. I believe that the Sister was convinced a day without food, or the appropriate means by which to address the pressing matter of my personal needs, would instill within me the need to tell the truth. She was wrong.

I won’t tell. I’ll never tell. And she will never take them from me again.

Much to her disappointment, I emerged from the Closet with a grin pressed from ear to ear, my hunger satisfied, my bladder empty. It was my sincere hope that she would send me once more into isolation. That she would grant me again the greatest opportunity to work in silence that I have ever before been granted in the Home. You see, I found what lies between the walls. I found a passage that leads wherever in the Home I wish to go.

A few weeks shy of sixteen years here and I had no idea that a passageway travels the length of the walls. Like a maze, it bends and winds throughout the Home, a narrow gap sized perfectly for a young boy with a need for escape. What’s more, there is a ladder, rickety and uncertain to be sure, that scales from the bottom floor to the top, then beyond into the attic! Both floors have the passages, and in the attic there are several loose boards that expose the rooms beneath!

I found the entrance by pure chance. Toby and his baboons–Ricky and Harold–had decided that my recent outbursts at night, those inspired by the dreams I still cannot shake, deserved retaliation. I don’t know why, specifically. They were a bit lax in explaining the root of their motives, only that my screams were like those of a whimpering girl. And for this, I suppose, they found it necessary to beat me into tomorrow. I took several blows before managing my escape with a deft kick to Ricky’s knee, which sent the bulbous ogre tumbling backward over Toby. I don’t believe that Harold has any wit whatsoever, so without his prevailing brains afoot to guide him, he merely stared at me. Taking no hesitation in Harold’s reluctance to continue the beating, I scampered away.

The Sister does not abide disruptive noise of any kind. This may very well have spared me further blood and bruises, but I was in no mind to hold out hope. After all, it would be within character for the Sister to turn a blind eye to any person’s desire to beat the Devil out of me. I made my way downstairs, slinking like a spider along the wall until I reached the kitchen. Cook is actually a very nice lady, and many of my days of escape from Toby are found in her company. However, she was nowhere to found. Not wanting to backtrack, but finding a security in the kitchen that I found nowhere else, I made for the pantry, closed the door and waited.

I must have been there an hour before I heard Toby’s voice closing in. By the sound of it, he had recruited a few others into his band of miscreants. With Cook still nowhere in sight, it was only a matter of time before they found me and the beating resumed. With a larger group of fists participating, I would not have been the better for it. I began a mad, and desperate, search for a deeper hiding spot within the pantry, but it’s no more than my length lying down, and only half as wide. The shelves, full of produce and heavy cans, were too short and likely too weak to accommodate my size. It appeared that I was doomed.

I’m not much on prayer, yet another matter of which the Sister and I are at odds, but on occasion, I do seek a higher guidance. I’m not sure who hears it, if anyone is there to hear it at all, or for that matter where they would be, but as a matter of habit I will look skyward. No matter the answer to the question of God, the bit of prayer that instructs the skyward glance became a bit of a lifesaver. Above a row of shelves, in the corner of the pantry ceiling, I spied a break in the wood panels. Beyond, darkness. I could hear Toby yelling about heading to the kitchen. Frankly, I was surprised that it took him so long. He knows as well as any that I retreat there. Have I mentioned that he’s not the sharpest stone?

I didn’t have much time, and I had no idea if the loose panel would offer me refuge of any kind, so I carefully scaled the shelving, pausing once when the creaking wood threatened to split underneath my weight. The panel lifted easily. I shot a hand through the opening, patted around quickly and came to the conclusion that there might be enough space to allow me to climb to safety. However, the one panel opening barely allowed for my arm to squeeze through. I needed a bigger opening. I latched onto a can of beans, struggled to maintain my grip on both the shelving and the can, and let loose a solid whack onto the neighboring plank. This produced a few consequences that I might have been better off considering before acting. Firstly, the sound of can to wood shattered the silence and Toby’s gang came clamoring down the hall toward the kitchen. Secondly, it not only shifted the panel but sent it flying into the opening beyond. Apparently, as I discovered by simply lifting the third board in line, none of them were nailed down. For whatever reason, they simply rest across the beams. Just those three, however. Fortunately, removal of the three offered just enough of a gap for me to pull myself through. I suffered a few scratches in the process, but the cost was worth it. I had only just replaced the panels when Toby flung open the pantry door and launched himself upon a sack of potatoes, which he somehow mistook for me. The added advantage of this commotion, in concert with my previous clap of wood, was that it brought the Sister into play, waving wildly about never witnessing such insolence. She dragged Toby off to the Closet, incensed by his obvious attempt to steal food, where he very quietly cried the entire time of his imprisonment. He would deny this, but I know the truth. I watched him. The passage leads directly over the Closet, which I found to be quite handy during my recent stay there.

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of design, if someone before me made it so, or it is mere serendipity, but there are several areas about the House in which loose boards line the ceiling. I’ve now found five, each offering quick access into the passages. Even more astounding, one of those five lines the ceiling of the Sister’s closet. It took some mapping, but I found the panels fairly easily while in the attic. Climbing into her vault of acquisition became entirely unnecessary, as well, owing to the fact that she had placed my personal affects in two shoe boxes at the topmost corner, my name blared in large print, directly underneath the loose panels. I have discovered much more than my writings and drawings. There are documents regarding my placement here, as well as newspaper clippings detailing the bombings that leveled the city and took the life of my parents. I find it more difficult to weed through those, and so, for now, have kept them aside. Someday I’ll look at them.

I left the boxes in a portion of the passage that sits above the kitchen. It feels safe there. I return to them at night, or as mentioned, when I am in the Closet. It’s the only time I can ensure that I’m not being watched. I’ve spent hours building out further details of Elysium, the world of my creation. I don’t yet know the meaning of my dreams, but I am possessed with the need to enrich the story around that world. To give birth to the people who will walk it. To tell the story of how they came to be, of where they are to go, and of the magic that binds them all. It no longer matters why I feel this. I simply know that I must do it.

And so I will.

With a secure place, a private area to continue to build Elysium, and a desire to see it living before me, I hold every certainty that I will answer the question of my dreams in time.

Much to my surprise, I owe Toby and the Sister a great deal of gratitude. Perhaps I will make characters of them.

Perhaps that’s too much evil for one world.

Unleashed

July 25th, 1956

I now believe that these dreams–as I have been prone to call them–are not dreams at all. Or, at the least, they are images from another place, reaching out through my dreams. I have given reflection to their purpose for the past two days, following the third such dream over a four-day span. It’s an absurd thought and there is little chance I will ever mention it beyond these pages. Oh, what the Sister would say if I were to propose the idea that my dreams are connected to a world of fantasy. A world that had only ever existed on pages, in stories and drawings of my design. She would insist, I’m sure, that my mind has been poisoned by the presence of a demon. She would insist an exorcism to cure my delusion. I’ve seen it here before. The only evil I know that is present during the events resides beneath the habit of that vile woman. I long to be free of her.

It is of another evil, however, that I wish to speak. An evil that I fear I have unleashed upon an entire world. Even now the words seem too unbelievable to sustain. Yet I know them to be truth. I have seen the world. I have seen the very essence of that creation hover before my eyes, speaking words that will haunt me forever.

The sequence lacked a preamble of any sort. I found myself atop a breathtaking hill, the lush grass thick against my bare feet, the rolling vista of foothills bearing no mark of trees or shrub. Into the distant blue sky they rose and fell, an endless view that warmed my soul. I circled, looking for some sense of place or location, and the euphoria drained. Directly behind me, close enough that I could hear the labored breath, I discovered a hooded figure kneeling to the ground. The brown robes fell upon a small frame, one that busily sliced at the turf with a long blade. I stepped closer, mesmerized by the quick hands that worked a perfect incision into the grassy hill. The figure took no note of me, but continued still, cutting a rectangular pattern through the lattice of roots. It finished, drove the blade into the ground nearby, placed its small fingers into the divide and pulled from the smaller side of the rectangle. Without much resistance, as if the ground merely relented to a command, the grass lifted in a clean break, evenly folding over at the center to lay atop the remainder of the rectangular cut.

The figure stood, peering from beneath its hood into the open square of soil. Before I could so much as interpret its intent, however, the ground shifted, the soil first rolling like a wave, then bubbling forth as if parting for the birth of a tree. Oh, how I wished it had been so, but what emerged frightened me enough to encourage the briefest of yips. Initially, I thought I could discern a physical form, but as the fingers curled through, then beyond the soil, I realized that this shape, this body that slowly clawed its way to freedom shared nothing in common with the human form. The high sun cast into, and through, the shape, leaving but an afterimage, something like a shadow behind a fogged mirror. I could see something closely resembling a body, in outline only, but the way it moved seemed more like a blurry figure with no sense of time. It pulled completely free of the soil and moved in a staggered motion, occupying a space then suddenly shifting inches to one side, then back again.

The hooded figure reached out to it, fingers curling through the misty shape. As if in response, the shape surged forward, funneling into the hood of the figure, driving it back hard enough to almost lift it from its feet. I wanted to move, to assist, but my feet refused to budge. I stood in horror as the figure turned to me, red eyes burning beneath the hood, face draped in shadow, and spoke in a voice that emerged as a hiss, deep and unsettling.

“Complete me.”

My heart hammered in my chest, my head spinning madly in an attempt to understand not only what I saw before me but what it meant.

As if interpreting the fear and confusion in my expression, it said again, this time with more urgency, “Complete me.”

I wanted to understand. Likewise, I also wanted to run, but to where? I could not begin to comprehend what manner of creature had been drawn from beneath the ground, and the hilly landscape offered nothing in the way of protection. “I don’t understand.”

The figure seemed to consider me for a moment, its head titled to one side. “You are the Storyteller. You must complete me.”

“The Storyteller?” My thoughts whirred. I wanted to protest, but a sense of the familiar washed over me. I cannot express entirely in words what I mean to say by that. It simply felt right and the trailing understanding of what it meant settled nicely in my mind, in my heart. “Elysium? Is that where we are?”

The hooded figure nodded.

“I created Elysium,” I said, more to myself. “I’ve written stories about it. I’ve drawn pictures.” I gazed upon the foothills and recalled something similar from my collection. “I’ve drawn this. Where we stand. But who are you?”

Looking back now, I wonder how it is that my mind casually stepped over the gaping hole of how that world could have been real at all. I’m still not certain it is. I only know that at that time, in that moment, it felt indisputably real.

“I am that which must be completed. I am that which resides within.”

Once more, the riddled reply befuddled me. “Within what?”

The red eyes blinked, fingers lifting to grip the hood and pull it free. The face it revealed paralyzed me.

“You.”

Indeed it was. With the notable exception of the eyes, every facet of the face resembled mine. I stared at myself, incredulous, shaking at the knees, terrified beyond any fear I have ever known.

Had I even the ability to respond–short of the mere squeak I offered–I’m not certain as to what I would said. Words eluded me. Comprehension drained from me, pooling perhaps in my shoes, perhaps elsewhere altogether.

It–I, that is to say–stepped forward, a breath away, my nose almost pressed into its duplicate, those red eyes so close that I could see myself reflected within. “You must complete me. I must live. I must grow. I must be.”

At this point, all concerns shy of escape evaporated. I had to leave. I had to leave quickly. Whatever this thing before me was, it was nothing to be trifled with. I concentrated with all that I could muster, visualizing another place, any place, that would free me of this thing. This figure that looked like me, but felt like everything I never wanted to see in my reflection.

My feet lifted. The ground trembled beneath my toes as they rose. But my red-eyed duplicate landed two clammy hands upon either cheek, holding me in place, pressing harder.

“I must live!”

“Who are you?” I shouted.

The smile unsettled me to my core, the merest glint of anger building in the core of its eyes. “I am the heart of everything. I am the words, the hills, the sky. I am that which speaks.”

It released me then, and though I awoke, the smile lingered. I can see it still.

I don’t know what it was. I have no idea what it meant to tell me. I think, perhaps, that it meant no malice, but every fiber within speaks to the contrary.

And I fear that I have unleashed it upon Elysium.

I must continue to review these dreams. I believe them to include the answers to this mystery.

It called me the Storyteller. It said that it was the heart of everything. I created Elysium. I can only surmise that I, in turn, created it.

How, then, do I make it go away?

I pray I find the answer.

A Dream of Creation

July 22nd, 1956

I have never seen a forest. For almost sixteen years, living within the walls of this orphanage, in the middle of a city that seems not to favor trees of any kind, I have but gazed from the front steps upon the two that line a corner several blocks away. If there are any more within reach of this unpleasant place, I am not likely to know. The Sister does not allow us to leave the steps. One foot on the pavement and, well, the Closet will be the least of our concern.

I so badly want to walk through a forest. To smell the ground beneath my feet. To hear the animals scurry. To be away from everything.

Perhaps that desire is what spawned the introduction to my dream last night. Its conclusion, however, I believe continued the story of my previous dream. If not in story, then at least in the return of the heart handed to me by the shadowy form. There is something to these dreams, a message within perhaps, and I am left to wonder if they are, indeed, dreams at all. They seem so real. Like stories unfolding in my sleep.

It began with a forest, only I did not wander through it. I flew above it.

The wind whipped through my hair as trees whistled by. Lush and green, tall and crowded close together–as if they were an audience to my journey–they absorbed the landscape, which rose and fell in a series of rounded hills, leading to mountains well in the distance. I had no thought of direction, drawn forward as if guided by another force; and I recall no worry or fear over where it might lead me. My ears were numb from the cool air, the sounds of the forest below blocked by the steady rush of the night as I flew at ever-increasing speed. The forest split below, splintered by a vast river. Moonlight twinkled off the surface and I longed to be near it, to feel the water against my skin. As if in response to my wishes, my body tilted downward, hurtling me toward the river like a missile on the final leg of its flight. I should have been terrified, but I felt only elation, freedom. The river welcomed me, casting gentle splashes of mist across my face as I leveled out and flew just above the rippled flow. I brushed my fingers along the water, leaving trails behind me.

I could have continued that path forever, skating atop that river, but I felt compelled to return to the skies. I followed without reflecting upon the odd knowledge–no, the understanding–that a destination called. I rose once more into the night sky, turning away from the river and back over the forest. Ahead, the foothills gave way to the base of a mountain, its peak touching deep into the clouds, almost entirely masking the moonlight. The trees thinned, leaving thick patches of open field. The mountain approached swiftly, but I did not ascend. Rather, I drifted lower, slowing, dropping toward an oval-shaped opening in a wooded area just a short distance up the slope of the mountain. A single white shape rest in the center of the field, illuminated under the only line of moonlight able to reach between the passing clouds. My feet touched the soft slippery ground, and I struggled to find a grip as the rapid speed of flight left me in an unbalanced run. When I righted myself, I stood but a few feet from a white crypt, its massive stone walls pristine and unblemished, marked only in trailing lines of ivy. Light escaped the open doorway, a sandy floor visible beyond. I entered the crypt, taking no thought of what I might find, feeling as if I needed to be there. As if I had been there a thousand times before.

The interior of the crypt, squared off and almost barren, left my eyes drawn immediately to the tomb resting in the center. Its lid rest slightly askew, the opening wide enough to see that whoever had been laid to rest resided there no more. Despite the open doorway, the sand bore no sign of footprints, no indication that anyone had come or gone, recently or otherwise. Beyond the tomb, covering the length of the back wall, a mirror–cloudy in spots and dotted with chips in the surface–almost nearly reflected the room in perfect detail.

The solitary image that rendered the mirror’s reflection imperfect? Me.

I was not there.

Rather, in my place, a shadowed form matched my movement. It stood at my height and in every way like any shadow I might cast upon a wall, only the torches on the side wall had drawn my shadow on the opposing wall. It could not have been in the mirror. And even if it had been, wouldn’t too my visible face be as well? I stepped toward the mirror. My shadow matched my steps. For every waive of the hand, or shake of the foot, the shadow matched me perfectly. I extended my hand toward the mirror, felt the cool touch against my skin as it formed to the glass, and watched as the shadow, once again, did the same. Any sense of calm I might have gained in finding the mirror to indeed be real, however, left me as the shadow reached beyond the plane of glass and gripped me by the wrist. I attempted to break loose, but the shadowy hand locked on me, dug into my skin, and refused to let go. I pulled, set my weight heavily into the sand in defense, but my feet slipped, my balance gave and before I could regain my footing, I was drawn into the glass and, to my surprise, beyond.

I dropped to a stone floor in a heap, my shoulder biting painfully into the hard surface. Had this been a moment of reality, rather than dream, I might very well have curled into a ball and awaited certain doom. However, I merely stood, dusted myself off and took stock of my surroundings, as if this sort of thing happened every day. I was elated to note that the mirror had not vanished and now covered the wall to my rear, reflecting the entirety of the small chamber I now found myself within. What it reflected I now recall with a mix of terror and fascination. Darkness overwhelmed the space. I have no clear idea the dimensions of the walls, but I sensed they were just beyond reach of the dim light. In the center of the chamber, two tall and slender bookcases stood apart from one another, housing perhaps two dozen books, bound in a pristine leather, as if they had never before been touched. A circular platform rose beyond the bookcases, much like a stage, illuminated by a light source from above that I could not wholly determine, displaying but a single raised stone tablet. Atop the tablet I could see a book, its black leather binding as rich and deep as the night.

The chamber was silent, save for a distant thump, like the rattle of thunder. Several more followed as I moved on, drawing through the still air in a rhythmic beat.

It took me longer than expected to reach the platform. Despite my initial assessment, the room carried on much further than expected. I paused at the bookcases, taken by the pristine quality of the volumes that lined their shelves. Each bore a single-word title along the spine, etched in gold, the script far too difficult to make out in the odd lighting. The beat intensified, and the thought arrived that I might have misjudged its origins. It wasn’t thunder at all. Hesitantly, I moved onto the platform, circling the tablet and the black book a time or two. The thumping beat continued, louder and more rapid than before, closer. I placed a hand on the cover of the book, and felt the smooth, unadorned, surface vibrate beneath. Again, were this a moment of reality, I would have reacted with far more concern. Instead, without much consideration as to why a book might produce such a sound, I dropped my hand to the pages, a fingernail tracing the rough edges of the paper and split the book open before me. The pages bore no sign of print. But the book was not empty. The pages flipped wildly, moving well beyond where I had opened it and coming to a stop in what appeared to be the middle of the book. The center of where a story should have been, but instead revealed the steady pulse of a beating heart.

The heart was most decidedly not real, and had a cartoon-like quality to it, but I felt a sense of fear that ran the length of my spine. Oddly, it wasn’t fear over the discovery of the heart, but for what it represented. I felt a sense of elation, excitement and hope. I can’t say why, however. I just felt it and knew that it was what I had come for. I gently slid my fingers underneath the heart, finding it soft and warm. The steady beat calmed me. I brought the heart closer, eyed it carefully. The driving beat it now issued drown the room in its call. Then, acting almost out a sense of destiny, I drew the heart toward my chest and watched as it first pierced my body, then slowly faded from sight as my hand pressed into my shirt.

I could feel the beat within me, the warmth as it filled me. I felt whole.

Then, from the pages of the book, the chamber exploded in light.

I awoke to a piercing scream, rising from within until the entirety of my mind rattled.

When my awareness found me, I was surrounded by faces. They told me I been screaming for a full minute, my body almost arched entirely off the mattress. I don’t know if that’s true. Given that the others don’t care much for me, they might have been lying. They were most certainly grumpy about being woken. I’m sure they’ll have their vengeance in one way or another. They always do.

I didn’t return to sleep after that. I couldn’t. Every time I closed my eyes, I heard the beat, could see the heart in my hands. Despite what I felt in the dream, I can’t fight the feeling that what I did was wrong. That the heart was never meant to leave the book.

Fortunately, it was but a dream.

Just a dream.

A Dream of Shadows

*This is the first of three consecutive journal entries in which 15-year-old J.C. Rudolph details his dreams. Though he does not write of the dreams after recording them, a cryptic note in an entry years later sheds further light on the impact they had: “It is apparent to me now there is less between imagination and reality than I dared dream. I wonder at times if closing my eyes will be the end of me, or if I can never truly begin until the world fades to black. Therein lies the deceit of lightness and dark: They serve your need, or leave you mired in blindness, unable to distinguish truth from lie.”

July 20th, 1956

I had a dream last night. Of what, or where, I’m not entirely certain.

The place seemed familiar, to a degree, yet unfamiliar all the same–like a memory from my infancy. The night air, thick with mist, left only shadowy images of buildings, of people surrounding me, of the echo of my steps as I walked across the cobblestone street. Much as I tried, I could see nothing more. For every moment I felt an image coming into focus, it quickly receded into shadow. I could hear voices, muffled sounds, too difficult to determine. It sounded like the Orphanage when we gather in the dining hall, before the Sister arrives to silence us for prayer. As if every conversation is happening at once, producing nothing more than a buzz of chatter. I attempted to reach for them, to perhaps gain a single touch to better define their form, or distance, but to no avail. They did not so much move out of my reach as simply were not there to be touched. Had they not held such visible shapes in the mist, I would have mistaken them for apparitions. Perhaps they were. I cannot say for certain.

I walked for some time, listening to the sound of their voices fold over one another, unsure where I was going, if anywhere at all. Unlike previous dreams, however, I remained aware of my journey. I did not suffer from the state of delusion generally accompanying me in my dreams–the one in which understanding is a forgotten friend. I undertook the journey through the mist, conscious of my decisions. Quite aware of the bizarre nature of what I witnessed. Ultimately, however, frustrated by the lack of understanding, I chose to simply stand in place. The moment the sound of my footfall faded into the shadows, the voices stopped, leaving me in a hollow of silence. The mist swirled and shifted, the outline of the town vanishing behind the curtain of dense whiteness growing around me. Then I heard the voice.

“See,” it whispered, slithering about as if arriving from every direction at once.

Despite myself, and the rising sense of fear leaving my entire body to shiver, I shouted a response. “See what? I can’t see anything!”

I would have rather faced the Sister’s wrath than the silence that followed. Perhaps due to the simultaneous arrival of anticipation and fear, my teeth chattered as if I were freezing, filling my ears between thunderous beats of my heart.

Only when the voice returned did I come to realize the heartbeat was not my own. Mine, at that point, all but stopped.

“See me.” The silky voice came mere steps ahead, from within the mist. The heartbeat grew louder. I could feel it beneath my feet, rattling the stones, shaking the windows of the buildings I could no longer see. I tried to back away, but I found I could not move. My breath quickened, my arms tingled with a prickly sensation, numbing my fingers. Something moved in the mist. Steps. Slow, careful, like bare feet through puddles. The white mist gave to a red glow. At first, it appeared to envelop the whole of the area just before me, but as the steps closed, as the hammering beat of the heart increased, the glow reduced to a focal point, the shadowy figure of a person guiding it forward coming into view. It reached out, hands cupped, the red glow beating a steady rhythm from the palms of its hands. I could make nothing of the figure, but truth be told, I made no real effort. I could not remove my gaze from the pulsing light. I could not draw away from the belief that it, and not the figure, had been that which had spoken to me.

“See me,” the voice hissed once more.

The figure stepped toward me, beating red light light forced inches from my face. I screamed. I don’t recall any sound to it. I had only the awareness I desired to scream, my mouth hung wide open, my throat clenched as if pressing forth the greatest scream any boy could have ever produced. The only sound I could hear, however–which jolted me awake with such force I fell out of bed–was that heartbeat, filling my entire body with its vibration to the point I thought I would come undone.

I don’t believe I screamed. At least not here. If I had, the entire floor would have awoken, the Sister charging into the room prepared to exorcise a Demon. Instead, I woke only the boy in the neighboring bed, who came completely unglued with laughter at my expense. I imagine I will hear about it all day. Not that it will matter much. I will likely be thinking about the dream. Absorbed by the sound of the heartbeat. Wondering who it was that I was supposed to see.

It fills me with fear.

And yet, I hope to return to it.

I hope to find out more.

In the Beginning

*Note: It goes without saying that very little is known about the Storyteller. Amongst the collection of journals and notebooks that arrived at my doorstep, I discovered personal entries spanning about forty years of his life. They’re very selective entries, the pages in near pristine condition–almost as if they were handpicked from his collections and rewritten, simply for the sake of this project. His regard for the craft of writing is apparent, his skill of language impressive for a teenage boy. They are informative entries, speaking to great detail about the world of Elysium and his role as its Creator, however shy of revelation they may be. I can say only for certain he was born on August 7th, 1940. I presume his birthplace to be in, or around, London, as he makes a single reference to bombings that took his parents, leaving him as an orphan. Given the German bombing assault on London in 1940 from August until October, it seems a reasonable assumption. He spent the next sixteen years of his life in an orphanage. To no great surprise, his entries exclude any reference to his name or to the orphanage. The origin of his pseudonym arrives to us early in the journal, though his true name is excluded throughout. Most of the entries seem to regard his dreams, his fears, an unpleasant nun he refers to only as ‘the Sister’, and of his stories about Elysium. What follows is from an entry dated July 17, 1956, the first in the journal I was given, less than one month before he would walk through a doorway into the world of his creation, never to return.
The Sister locked me in the Closet again.
I would have learned my lesson by now, but for the fact I’ve yet to understand what it is I’m supposed to have learned. Instead, I sit in the cramped space of the Closet, positioned well on the center of the floor, away from the protruding rusty nails lining the walls, allowing my mind to wander into Elysium. It’s a place of refuge, you see; a warm, welcoming home where I am greeted with smiles and pleasantries. A place where I have friends. A place where I might even have a family. I find it easier, as days go by, to fall into the bliss of that world, to find escape from everything I see here. At times, I can feel the breeze against my skin, or the blades of grass on the tips of my fingers. In many ways, it seems more real to me than the world I live in.
The Sister doesn’t like it. She calls it “the daydreams of the Devil.” She’s taken most of my drawings and stories, boxed them up and hidden them. Or perhaps ‘hidden’ isn’t entirely proper. She may not realize it, but I know where they are. Someday I’ll have them back. Someday when I finally leave here. Wherever I go. I’m guessing that ‘someday’ will not be too terribly far away, as few children see the Home after their sixteenth birthday, and I am less than a month to that day. The few I’ve known over the years have simply disappeared into the streets. I don’t know where to, or whether they have found a place to live. I don’t really even know if they are still alive.
I don’t want to live on the streets.
I want to live where there is hope for my future, where I know I can make a difference in the world.
I want to live in Elysium.
If only it were that simple a choice. If only I could.
I suppose it will be the only home I ever know, regardless. The only place I can go where everything makes sense. So what if I can’t truly go there? I can’t stop writing about it. I have to keep writing about it. The Sister speaks often of Salvation. Elysium is mine. I knew it the moment I wrote my first story six years ago. I’ve known it every day since. She can take what I write, but she can’t take away the story. The Heart of Elysium. That, I will keep with me always. That, I know too well to ever let go of.
Sometimes, it seems like it’s speaking to me.
Sometimes, I can actually hear it. Like the wind against my window. Faint. Soft. A whisper.
It tells me to continue. To keep writing.
I think it needs me. Like it wants to survive.
I want it to survive.
I want it to live, forever.
The Sister is making her rounds. I’m supposed to be asleep. She doesn’t know about my journal. I can’t let her have it. I have to hide it. I have to protect it.
I have to keep writing.
For Elysium.