Chapter 1

In Which There Are Words

Every stroke of pen on paper is a mark that, once it's left the pen, can never be recalled. You may crush it in your hands if you please, toss it out and burn it, but it cannot be retracted. Inkstains may wash from skin but they cannot be erased from time.

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself, for we no longer base our works on that of the physical realm but in that of the ethereal. Words are fluid there, easy to rework and redo with very little evidence that they've ever really existed.

It makes us forget their gravity.

I, however, will not. I write to you a learned man, a man who has come very far and yet not so. Indeed, my journey begins and ends here, at my study, with my fingers on the keys of an old and overused keyboard. It alone is my friend.

And, with your consent, I hope to draw you in with me, into a world of words and wizardry-though not, I must confess, in the traditional sense. Perhaps together we can create rationality where once there was none, order where previously only chaos existed. Together, we can retrace the steps I once took on the road to Wonderland.

Rose rubs her thumb over a chink her desk absently, her mind a finely tuned machine of metaphorical cogs and gears, all spinning in perfect unison. In these few moments of peace she can put her feelings on paper-or rather, the fascimilie of paper that is her computer screen. The words invite her from her distraction, welcoming her back to the world of her mind. And oh, does she want to accept. It's the mythological Call of the Siren come back to haunt her in a more modern form, drawing her in with the beckoning blue flicker, the promise of release.

It's been a full week since she's allowed herself time for this, though she's often drawn to wishful glances when off doing other things. It is the secret anchor in the stormy sea of what has become her life; it is work free of work, stress free of stress. This is her therapy.

There is no more hesitation. Her hands are drawn to the keys once more and, as if in dream, her fingers dance across the letters in a fevered frenzy.

You may ask me why I'm here. To tell you the truth, that is a query that even I, in all my recently acquired knowledge, cannot begin to recount to you. Every time I open my mouth to speak-or, in turn, lower my hands to the faded keys-I find myself at an impasse. The events which have befallen me are so bewildering, so utterly strange, that I can scarcely come to terms with them myself.

I am speaking, of course, of my encounter with the stately man they call Charon. This is not his real name, of course, though I do suspect he goes by many. It is in this way that he eludes detection from even his most influencial of enemies, of which there are quite a great deal. He came to me one day in his most regal form, complete with hat and coat and cane. It would soon come to light that these were no ordinary articles, though at the time they seemed as such.

He came to me at a time in my life in which, I must admit, there was much darkness. I had recently succumbed to the succubus of the drink, in which I could nestle in the addictive bosom of dependency, freed from both my woes and my suffering. Suffering! I thought I knew suffering then.

I did not.

But at the time, I thought I knew pain, the stain of crimson splashed across an otherwise unmarked canvas, and we must work under the impression that it was real. Why else would I be at my wits end, night after night, ruled by the harrowed dreams of angered employees and unsatiable debt-collectors? It was the life of a normal man, I think, but I was no ordinary man, nor have I become one in the period since. If anything, I have evolved past even the notions of what is "normal", past even what I once knew by name and called my own: humanity. Regardless, it ruined me.

How thoroughly I digress. We must start at the beginning, because that is where all tales first sew the seeds of story. Let us begin.

My name is Cetus.