I will not waste time trying to argue that my internment at this sanatorium is in error. There can be no explanation for what I have witnessed and experienced other than my own madness – or so I desperately hope. No, no, what else could it be than insanity? I fear that my mind will shatter yet further by revisiting these dreaded memories, by trekking back through my recollection to where my psyche all but devolved into psychosis once before. I have nothing left now, however, and I daren't sit idle and risk letting another walk unprepared into that odious, ensnaring chaos.
Being of an introverted disposition, I often would take walks alone, both to reflect on my thoughts and for benefit of the exercise. These strolls often led me through the dense forests enshrouding the foothills of the terrific mountain range that encircled the area. Scenic as these trails were, repetition dulled their beauty, and I soon began to itch for more novel locales. My inner wanderer thus drove me out away from the outskirts of the town, down along a country road that I had observed briefly a time ago while scouting around for living arrangements.
My walk had scarcely begun before I espied against the mountainous horizon a cottage atop a small hillock. This quaint little building looked to be my ultimate destination, as the gentle meander of the cobbled road came to an end directly before it. Even at a considerable distance, the cottage's poor state of repair was plainly visible, and as such I struck out with renewed vigor to investigate the place.
It seemed that I had misjudged the space between the cottage and myself, as some large fragment of an hour of uninterrupted walking had brought me no closer to it. Evidence of my forward progression was nonetheless visible, as I’d thereabouts arrived at a patch of a rather peculiar type of flower growing alongside of the path. The flowers bore a strong resemblance to the daffodil in physiology, yet were a distinct, vibrant blue. The sight struck me as particularly odd in a way that I couldn't quite place, but I dismissed this anxiety as a product of paranoia and ignorance in botany.
For that matter, my ruminations were interrupted by the abrupt arrival of a yet stranger sight: A pair of figures rode forward on horseback from the direction of the cottage, bustling to a stop once within speaking range. One rider was a strikingly beautiful woman in a brilliant emerald dress, the other a figure wearing a full suit of plate armor devoid of any distinguishing markings.
“Hail, traveler! What brings you to these forlorn parts?” The woman called out in a warm, resonant voice. Casting aside my perplexion over the armored individual, I explained to her my propensity toward solitary walks and my fixation on the ruinous cottage which, judging by the direction of their travel, they'd recently visited themselves.
“A ruinous cottage? I do not know of it.” She and I glanced in unison to inspect the hill; the armored figure sat motionless. The terrain itself remained unchanged, but to my horrified astonishment the cottage had vanished from sight. She regarded me silently for a time as I stood rooted in place with incredulity.
“Be wary, traveler. This is a queer and dangerous land. You would do well to make haste and depart from here, unarmed as you are.” At this, she and the suit of armor rode past me toward the town. My gaze followed them, at which point a realization struck me and stretched further my already reeling mind: I’d failed entirely to notice their approach, despite the countryside being nigh-featureless for miles around! It was as though they’d materialized from the air itself. At the time, I surmised it the result of a preoccupation with the strange blue daffodils, but I dread now to contemplate the true reason for their imperceptibility! As though entranced, I resumed my passage toward the hill, observing distantly through the lens of disbelief-induced depersonalization that the cottage, almost tauntingly, had reappeared.
Mentally taxed but smoldering with curiosity, I strode with a swifter pace along the road, drawing near a wide stream that cut perpendicular to my path through the countryside – though, I grew no closer to the cottage. Only after catching my foot in a pothole and nearly tumbling forward onto the ground did I become cognizant of the trail's sudden disrepair. Thistles and shoots had forced their way up through fissures in the grayed pavement, and a sinkhole had collapsed a short distance ahead and taken much of the adjacent walkway with it.
I peered into the sinkhole as I passed by. Apart from the fragments of asphalt, the only sight of note was a remarkably circular tunnel in the earthen wall of the pit, conceivably the burrow of a large rodent of some sort. Returning my attention to the path ahead, I found myself at the bank of the stream. The water was incredibly clear, entirely free of any algae or detritus. Clean as it looked, however, I hesitated to ford it. At my reluctance, the itching question at the far edge of my thoughts forced its way forward: Where was the bridge across the water?
More precisely, my word choice in detailing the path as a road was intentional, as it had been engineered with vehicular traffic in mind. No automobile of which I knew, though, could have driven through said river, regardless of its relative shallowness. Thus, where the road met the river, a bridge should have been constructed, yet none was there. Moreover, no roadway was present opposite the endpoint at which I stood. It appeared as though the construction team had simply given up their task upon their arrival at this near side of river.
In puzzlement, I glanced along the length of the stream first to my right and then to my left – and spotted several hundred feet upstream a monumental stone bridge that spanned the water. Of particular peculiarity was that no side roads or branches led up to it; the entryway had been built to open directly on the grassy country terrain. Additionally, the previously absent continuation of the road was now visible stretching onward from the end of the bridge.
If the path was in disrepair, then the bridge was all but defunct. Sizable holes dotted it where several of the colossal stone slabs that composed it had apparently tumbled out of place, though nowhere in the stream below were these missing pieces visible. As I crossed carefully and wondered how this rather important infrastructure had been allowed to deteriorate so thoroughly, the masonry on which I stood came loose and began rapidly sliding down toward the waters below.
In a panicked frenzy, I threw myself forward and clawed up onto the next block, bruising my shins and bending several fingernails in the process. Not a second later, the collapsing stone fell into the river with a terrific splash, which was immediately drowned out by an awful hissing. A loathsome, scorched odor met my nose as I looked down through the aperture, and I discovered to my horror that the stone was rapidly dissolving in the flow of the stream. How unwittingly wise I had been not to attempt to ford the river!
I hurriedly carried myself across the remaining length of the bridge, the steady hiss ringing in my ears. After hurrying some distance along the next segment of road, I stopped to regain my wind, glancing backward almost reflexively toward the unearthly river.
There was no river. It had disappeared, as had the bridge. Indeed, at that very instant when I had directed my attention toward it, even the terrible hissing had promptly fallen silent. All that remained in its place was an unbroken length of road reaching back toward the town, with the previous discontinuity nowhere to be seen.
Unwilling to cross over where the river had once been, I proceeded forward, my viscera churning with apprehension. The cottage on the hill still seemed no closer than it had from the beginning of this ill-conceived endeavor, despite the passage of several hours' time – though I had a most dreadful intuition that the flow of time in that countryside did not obey any laws known to our science. Those quaint horseback riders had spoken of it as being a queer and dangerous land. If only I had heeded their advice to return home!
A fork in the road disrupted my reverie. No signs or markers were anywhere to be seen, but while looking along the right branch I espied the cottage. Before setting off in that direction, however, I gave the left branch a cursory inspection – only to see an identical cottage at its far end. I attempted to calm my fraying nerves by virtue of a deep breath, to no avail. I then removed a silver half-dollar from my pocket; following a coin toss, I ventured off down the rightward branch.
A moment passed, then I was without warning struck with the most piercing headache that I had ever experienced. The world in front of me began to distort and twist around a central axis, as though being pulled into a vortex. I shut my eyes in a panic, clenching at my temples and wishing with a desperate fervency that this would pass quickly – or that I were merely in the heart of some vivid dream.
Abruptly, the headache ceased. My heart racing, I ever so cautiously opened my eyes, fearful that that nauseating hallucination would resume. I was still standing on the trail in the countryside, but the cottage and hill both were nowhere in sight. In the grass next to me was the clump of blue daffodils from earlier. Somehow, I had made it back past that vanishing river! A wonderful flood of relief saturated me, and I turned back in the direction of town with a smile only to find myself immediately in front of the cottage.
It took every last shred of willpower that I could muster not to bolt away from that stark horror. And yet, I felt compelled to enter. Despite all that had occurred, the detailed examination of that cottage was nevertheless the underlying motivator for the bulk of the expedition. More directly, it was plainly evident that I could not exit this grotesque realm on foot. Scraping together what meager scraps remained of my wits, I stepped forward onto the porch.
The front door of the building hung ajar from a single rusted hinge. The interior was oppressively dark, as though the external daylight somehow couldn't penetrate through the dirty windows. Once inside, I peered through one such window. To my immense surprise, the view from the window showed the countryside – at night. I looked back through the front entrance; the sun still shone prominently in the sky. I rushed outside and scrutinized the reverse side of this incongruent window, but the shadowy view of the interior had no visible anomalies.
My blood running cold, I inspected similarly the other windows, all of which gave perspectives out onto a nighttime countryside that was otherwise spatially accurate. A mad train of thought occurred to me: Why not shatter one of the windows and jump through? I could retrieve some object from the nighttime countryside, then pass back into the cottage and see if it remained in the daytime countryside. I recalled that one of the blue daffodils had been growing in the front lawn of the cottage – it, then, would be the experimental object.
In spite of the pleading of what remained of my sensibilities, I heaved a chunk of rubble through one of the windows, then clambered into the jagged opening.
By benefit of the rather bright moonlight, I circled around to the front of the cottage. I pulled at the flower, but it resisted with surprising strength. It uprooted unexpectedly after considerable exertion, sending me toppling back on my rear and revealing a subterranean bulb the size of a grapefruit. From my seated position, the cause of the atypical nighttime luminosity became obvious: A massive comet dominated the sky, vastly outshining even the waxing Moon. I sat and admired the magnificent sight for a time, then scrambled to my feet as the recollection of my current circumstances realigned my focus.
As I went to lob the blossom through the broken window, I noticed a cellar door a short length past said window. Part of my mind insisted that I proceed along the safe route back into the cottage and avoid this new detour. Another portion countered, positing that no course of action could possibly be considered safe in this chaotic place – and furthermore I had already done something tremendously hazardous by breaking that temporally incorrect window and going through it, so acting safely was already out of potential consideration; in for a penny, in for a pound.
I warily opened the cellar door, then wavered for a moment at the sight of the yawning, inky black chasm leading beneath the cottage. I retrieved my pocket flashlight; then, with it and the flower in hand, I slowly descended into the darkness.
Scarcely a minute passed before the passage began to grow narrow. I could continue my advance at first my stooping, but was soon forced down onto all fours. My shins throbbed discontentedly at the stimulation following their earlier injury, but I pressed forward regardless until the claustrophobic passage at last opened up to the sky. As I righted myself, my foot struck some object on the ground. It was a fragment of asphalt. At this, the realization of where I was dawned upon me: I had crawled out of the tunnel that I had taken for an animal burrow in the sinkhole!
I made as to lift myself out of the pit when I noticed that the spectacular comet from earlier was now absent from the sky. In addition, the waxing gibbous Moon had become a sliver of a waning crescent. I clashed internally over whether to risk travel along the road again or to return to the cottage; with neither being demonstrably more predictable than the other, I opted for the latter, if for no other reason than the madness of this place might be negligibly more tolerable by daylight versus moonlight.
I started the cramped return trip through the tunnel. I had advanced no more than twenty feet when my flashlight flickered feebly, then cut out altogether. My buzzing anxiety now became a veritable tempest, tinged at the edges with the makings of a nervous breakdown. In a panic, I wrestled with the flashlight, delivering all manner of blows to it, until I heard that sound.
I won't detail it – I can't detail it. When this abhorrent sound reached my ears, I was utterly petrified. At that instant, the flashlight glowed weakly to life, revealing the source. How thankful I am that the illumination was weak and momentary!
It was a horrid thing, a monstrosity, a violation of all that Humanity as a whole knew to be right and true! Countless tentacles squirmed and whipped about; beaks and maws and muzzles, quivering and slathering, protruded chaotically from a bulbous, flabby central mass; a single eye opened, then trained itself on me.
I don't know how I managed to reverse my direction in that narrow passageway. I crawled with a blinding speed back through the tunnel, emerging on a cold, well-lit floor. I hauled myself out from beneath the overhanging structure and bolted for the oblong door leading out of the room, only to collide with a man dressed in US Navy fatigues. I very shortly thereafter learned that my final traversal of the tunnel concluded with my arriving inside of an active-duty nuclear submarine.
Unsurprisingly, the on-board officers did not believe my story, and I was arrested as a stow-away. Upon returning to the mainland, I was deemed unable to stand trial due to my psychological state of being; as such, the military dropped the charges, and I was institutionalized, which is where I've remained to this day.