The first point of ingress to the land beyond this one is a gap in the berry hedge to the west of Greatbury Manor. One must enter from the inner side, so not just navigating the estate’s maze of orchards and forests, but also evading the roaming wolfhounds and their flint-hearted master, Wilmett the groundskeeper. Night-time under a new moon is best for this approach, if one is wary enough of the additional hazard of nocturnal poachers.
Provided one can reach the point of ingress suffering neither detention nor attack, it is a simple matter to locate the gap, behind a dismembered statue of Nemesis commissioned by a great-great-great-Greatbury patriarch in times long past.
Squeeze into the fissure and push through. Never mind the razor-edged leaves as they brush slices into your sleeves, the jagged branches pinching skin from your cheeks like a deranged grandmother, or the thousand pinprick thorns sinking wells in search of blood.
None of that matters to one who is truly determined to reach the land beyond this one.
Brambles catch and claw at my face as I press on, squeezing through a space too small for a full-grown man. Blood wells in my eyes and ears, dulling moonlight and muting the baying dogs. I drive myself forward, not because of what an insane old man wrote in his diary, but because if I turn back, I’ll be lost.
The second point of ingress to the land beyond this one is a cave in the heart of Mount Antipathy. It is not hard to find, for it lies at the end of a sealed road, behind explanatory signs and a booth selling tickets. One asks merely to be guided to the Third Chamber. The ticket-taker will ask no questions, but supply a map, a source of light, and a small pouch of coins.
Do not lose the coins.
The woman in the booth asked questions all right. “Are you sure?” she asked, and “What did you do?” I didn’t have answers, not for her, and when I refused to reply she gave me the promised items. She couldn’t resist telling me, “It’s not too late to turn back, you know. There’s no shame in it.”
She doesn’t know what she’s taking about. It’s always been too late. There’s nothing in it other than shame.
The caves are so dark that the phosphorescent glow of the compass dial is all the light I need. In the deep pitch, I count out three coins for the hairless, tongueless thing standing guard at the threshold. The other two coins I keep for myself. The guardian steps aside, and I cross the second point.
The third point of ingress to the land beyond this one is an examination of character. One will take it in ignorance, knowing its nature only when it is too late to change course.
“Can you substantiate your whereabouts on the night in question, sir?”
“I was with friends. We ate dinner. We drank at a pub.”
“Can you be more specific?”
Of course, I could. But I say, “I’m afraid I was very drunk.”
When the policeman asks, I give the names of my well-prepared friends. They will swear to the honesty of my answers. They will loudly declare my innocence, accounting my involvement as unthinkable. By the time the holes in their stories are laid bare, it’s too late.
I pass through the third threshold. The diarist tried his best to conceal it, but the test’s purpose was always obvious. It didn’t exist to judge my character, but to expose it.
Judgment is my own responsibility.
The fourth point of ingress to the land beyond this one is a simple gate in an ordinary laneway. One succeeds to the next stage by no more complex a measure than simply opening it and walking through. One will know it when one sees it.
The laneway hasn’t been cleared up. Every surface glistens, fresh, as if it was splashed just moments ago. Perhaps it was. The silver coin of the moon glints in the corner of every droplet and smear, and even the unbloodied bricks and pavers gleam with a purifying light. All around, the windows are dark and curtains are drawn. I feel the eyes looking into the lane all the same. They see everything and do nothing.
The gate is wrought iron, black except where it’s wet. If I open it, it will creak but it won’t resist. If I let it go, a rusting spring will pull it shut.
A voice cries behind me, nothing more than a whimper shaped into a word: “Sorry.”
It waits, as if expecting me to respond. I won’t. I didn’t then and this time is no different. When the silence has gone long enough to answer for me, the voice says, “Help me th-through the gate. Please.”
I won’t. I’m not listening any more.
I tuck the diary into my coat and grip a dry spot high on the gate. I push it open and walk through.
The final point of ingress to the land beyond this one is the mouth of the titan called Argus. One must wait by the shore until called. Place a coin upon the tongue. Cast the other coin into the waters. Follow where it skips, neither hesitating nor deviating. Argus will open wide its mouth. One must only decide whether to swim on or turn back.
I leave the diary with my clothes. Someone will find it, no doubt. Someone will follow me into the land beyond this one, either in pursuit of me or else some mad dream of their own. I don’t care.
The waves part and the jaws of Argus rise until they eclipse the sun. Until my world is nothing but an endless yawing darkness ringed with teeth.
I know nothing about the land beyond this one. I know only that it’s not this one.
I swim on.