After a long walk in the deserted Castle gardens I stopped next to the fountain pond and sat on the stone ledge at water’s edge. I was uncomfortably tense despite the quiet of the grounds. Movement in the pond’s murky water caught my eye and I saw a bottle gently bobbing just below the surface. Looking more closely, I saw it was a large capped bottle with something inside. I couldn’t see well enough through the dirty pond water and the brown tint of the bottle to tell what I was looking at. Without thinking, I grabbed at the bottle and was surprised that it was much deeper than I’d thought. As I reached for it, the bottle seemed to move further out and even deeper. I flailed a bit but managed to wrap my fingers around the slippery, gooey, neck and pull the bottle onto the bench where I’d been sitting.
Semi-transparent slime slowly oozed down the sides of the bottle creating a shiny, mucous-like puddle on the bench. The bottle was thick, about 18 inches tall with a capped opening. The cap was clay or mud stuffed into the bottle’s neck and wrapped over the edges of the two inch wide opening. Inside the bottle was an object, maybe a foot long and a couple of inches wide, I couldn’t really tell what it was, maybe a stick, maybe a metal bar. Gold? Iron? Sausage? Long roll of silver dollars?
What do I do with this thing, I asked myself and looked up the long stairway to the Castle. I’d seen no one, no activity anywhere. Only “Keep Out” signs. My choices, i thought were to throw the bottle back in the water, leave the bottle sitting on the edge of the pond, take the bottle home with me, or take the bottle to the Castle. I chose the Castle.
The long stairway to the Castle was next to the abandoned stair step fountains. I’d climbed about halfway up when I was greeted by a chained, rusty gate with a “Keep Out” sign loosely attached with rotting twine to one of the gate’s iron posts. But the gate wasn’t too high and was constructed of old iron cross beams that could provide ladder like access to the other side. I paused for less than a second and began my climb. I quickly discovered that holding a slimy large bottle and gripping a crumbling rusty gate was much more difficult than I’d imagined. When I threw my leg over the top to start down, I slipped and had to quickly grab the gate’s top crosspiece in an embrace like two lover’s saying goodbye at the train station. The bottle sailed away down the staircase and I watched in horror as it bounced and bounced and bounced and then finally shattered twenty feet or so down the stairway.
I struggled to get down and when I was firmly back on terra firma I saw that my shirt was in shreds and my chest and belly were stained with bloody scrapes and crumbs of the rusty gate. I tried to remember the last time I’d gotten a tetanus shot and decided that since I couldn’t remember, I probably needed one. Feeling a mixture of anger and embarrassment, I headed for the remains of the bottle. My boots ground broken bottle bits into smaller glass bits creating an unsettling, sandpaper-like feel to my walk.
Several steps down I found the bottle’s tubular secret. I sat down and examined it more closely. It was about a foot long, maybe two inches wide and covered with something shiny and soft. I poked at it, it had no give but was cold and slick on the surface like soaking wet leather. Slowly rotating the tube I discovered a very thin, almost invisible thread loop embedded into one of the tube ends. I had to use one of my keys to pry the loop away from the soggy surface.
In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought as I pulled on the loop and the soft, gooey surface of the tube came apart as if unzipped. I was left holding a metal tube with finely detailed etching or carving and what looked like a screw cap at one end. Naturally I unscrewed the cap, looked inside and saw what looked like a tightly wrapped roll of paper. I turned the tube and the roll came out onto my hand, surprising heavy, surprisingly strong feeling. This wasn’t paper, or at least the paper I knew.
I stood up and put the roll down on the base of a nearby statue. The sun came out from the clouds and shone directly onto the tube. In clear but small block letters was, “Start at the Center.” I had a flashback to “Alice in Wonderland” and wondered what rabbit hole I’d fallen down. And then, just like Alice, I saw another small looped thread at the end of the roll, I pulled on it and the papers unrolled and flattened out in seconds. I looked closely and saw the words,
“Help me! I am a prisoner below the Castle. I will die soon unless you find me. You absolutely must read through this entire record of my adventures. Skipping to the end is what I did and now I’m trapped. My mistakes and my profits will help you. Please don’t abandon me, if you don’t start now, I will run out of time.”
To be continued...