"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.

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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.