Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Letters from Punjar

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (May 3, 2019) -- Almost forty-five years to the day a Lake Geneva city bus inexplicably exploded, killing dozens of passengers, the Wide Cosmos website has obtained what it reliably believes to be the personal journal of Albert Cardson, a China Studies professor on leave at the time from the University of Wisconsin and victim in the tragedy. At the time of his apparent death, Dr. Cardson was preparing for a trip to China to further research a book on the Qin dynasty. He left behind a wife, Carol Anne Mabry-Cardson, who died in 2015, and a daughter, Emma Cardson, an Off-Broadway actress who recently secured a role on the Netflix-original series, The Farthest Shore. Below is the first excerpt of Dr. Cardson's journal. Wide Cosmos has not revealed how they came to possess the journal, but have published three separate studies purporting to verify the work as authentic. Many have disputed these studies, but we present the currently published excerpts and will let our readers decide.

May 4, 1974, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Up early this morning and hoping for a good day. I went to the track and jogged. Made 2 miles before I wanted to die. Saw Coach Mickschl. I remember him from junior high -- he was a couple of years older than me. Still the same blowhard, bully. I wonder if the Badger track team will respond to his...badgering. They certainly looked downcast.

Carol worked late again last night. I know I'm supposed to be an enlightened fellow, but it's hard to focus on the accomplishments of women's lib when I'm burping a baby at 3am and wondering where my wife is. She is supposed to be off this weekend, so maybe we can take a trip with the baby this afternoon.

It is still strange not having classes this year, but I hope to finish my latest book on the Qin dynasty before the next year begins. I made a lot of progress last week and am hoping to push through to this week. I will have to make a trip to Lintong next month. The discovery there of the terracotta warriors and horses has finally freed up some much needed grant money. I have to remember to call Frank today to find out the details. This convergence of discovery and my specialty has breathed new life into my work. It's a very exciting time!

Gas has become so expensive, there's no way I could commute from here. I've been prepping Carol about a move back to Madison. Perhaps I can find something off campus this time. The sheer number of protests last year drove Carol a bit batty. It's probably inconceivable to bring the baby into that environment. Though there has been little violence, there's an air of chaos on campus. This Nixon business... I sometimes wish that something would cause that bastard to leave office early.

I have to wrap this up. Mary Jean is here to watch the baby while I catch a bus to the library. Hopefully she can keep Emma quiet so Carol can get some sleep.

September? 4 months after...

I cannot express in words that any sane person could understand the strangeness that has befallen me and a few of my fellows. I read back over my previous entries knowing they are the minutiae of another man. I cannot conceive that person.

Where do I start?

I was late for the bus, but Randy stopped 100 yards from the bus stop to let me in. I have wondered how happy I would have been if he'd just driven away and left me panting and irritated in the early Wisconsin summer sun. My thoughts of Qin Shi Huang and his first unification of ancient China turned to sudden horror as the bus plummeted into, what we all believed at the time, an inexplicable sinkhole. What followed was an unending scene from a nightmare that I know now will never end.

The bus lay in a great dark and hot space -- why? Because a river of lava crept up on it like a snake of fire. And from this smoky hell walked demonic creatures, humanoid, with the countenances of great lizards or dinosaurs. In the chaos that followed, several of the passengers were slain on the spiked clubs of these horrors. As we scrambled to save ourselves from demons and hellfire, there was little thought to the implications of our predicament. Theories of movie sets and a vast inexplicable prank were quickly dispelled however. Among the dead was Randy the bus driver, his head stove in. I've never before seen a man killed, though we've been barraged with images on the TV of death and war in Southeast Asia. And the lizard creatures? They proved to be quite real, and, in a scramble of chaotic cooperation, we mighty few managed to kill them before any more of our number were lost.

Fleeing from the bus, which by this time was consumed by the inexorable river of fire, we managed to find passage out of the cavern and into a stone complex of archaic design and construction. Still under the belief that we were in some strange government facility lurking under the streets of Lake Geneva, our only thoughts were to find stairs or elevator or even someone in charge and make our way back to sunlight.

And things got even stranger. By smoking torchlight, our only source of illumination, we found a shrine to some forgotten cult, imbued with electrical properties that killed another of our number. Acting on the instinct of a scholar, reaching for any clue that might explain where we were, I studied this shrine and various sigils and runes found there. Though my specialty is Chinese studies, specifically the Qin dynasty, I have read widely in the general field of history and archaeology. Not only was there no correlation between the symbols and any language I've encountered, there were unexplained phenomena at work that drove me to convince the group to keep moving. The hair on my neck stands on end just thinking about it.

Through smoky hallways and dim torchlight, we finally discovered that...we were not going to easily find our way home. One of the rooms revealed, through an open, but barred window, that we had emerged from an underground complex near the peak of a great mountain. Outside, an untouched and primordial land stretched in all directions. I saw no cities, roads, telephone poles, airplanes...nothing. The land was reminiscent of my travels in Nepal as a younger man -- mountainous, untouched...savage. When Coach Mikschl emerged from one room screaming about a dragon that had devoured the deputy mayor of Lake Geneva, I was convinced that, not only was I trapped in a vivid and inescapable nightmare, but that somehow my tortured brain had populated it with my former bus passengers, though I did not even remember seeing Coach Mikschl on the bus! I began to wonder if I had experienced a stroke or aneurysm while on the bus and lay somewhere in a hospital, Carol and the baby hovering over me, while my brain tried to find its way back to wakefulness.

Through further horrors, we as a group emerged on top of an expansive tower at the very pinnacle of a stone fortress. Creatures similar to those first encountered, but these winged, guarded a hooded man seemingly engaged in devilish rites. Again the hairs on my neck stand on end at the thought. It was as if the man controlled gouts of molten rock, which jetted forth at his gestures and guttural shouts. Though it pains me to admit, I cowered here, overcome finally by the oppressing unreality of the situation. I dimly perceived my companions taking action. A boxer, who's name I did not even know, was torn apart by one of the winged demons. Others fell, as well. There were gunshots and unearthly music from a strange bone whistle found by one of our party in the depths of the fortress.

I clearly remember, however, the exclamation mark on the scene, which cemented for me forever that this is not a fever dream. And that I am, in fact, a man cast through the winds of fate and... time? Truly on an other world. A dragon, black as hate and larger than a jumbo jet, rose from the depths of the canyon below. Fire and black smoke billowed from its nostrils and the mere grumble preceding its roar shook the very foundations of the strange fortress. At the beck of the strange bone whistle held by a man I've since come to know as Gary, an eagle...but such an eagle, easily the dragon's twin in size and ferocity...raced across the sky, collided with the hell beast, and the two, screaming and roaring as they clawed at each other, fell into the canyon below.

A doorway appeared, its aperture shimmering with an unholy light. Without another thought, we as a group rushed through it in the illogical (?) belief that perhaps the way was home.

It was not.

I sit in a drafty room, upon a lice-ridden bed in a traveler's inn within a sprawling proto-medieval city that the locals call Punjar. Our little band of misfits has drifted apart these last few months. The last I saw of Coach Mikschl was the gleam of his whistle (the only artifact he's kept from his old life) as he boarded a wagon east for parts unknown following rumors of a seer that might have information about our world. We have agreed to meet back in Punjar in six months. I am left with Chester. Oddly, he was a lifeguard in Lake Geneva. I remember him, actually. He audited one of my classes in Madison when I was a graduate student. Together he and I have unwound the secrets of the trader's tongue spoken here and within the wider world, and we have delved into the secrets found in a great leather book we acquired in the stone fortress half a world...or half a universe...away. There are formulae....certain chemistry....I hesitate to call it magic, but there is no other word in English, Chinese or the trader's tongue of Punjar. Words spoken, gestures made, a pinch of this and that, and a channeling of energy that you can feel in your very bones. The laws of what I would call reality do not necessarily apply here. Chester and I agree that it may be our only way home. So, together we have studied the book, consulted with ancient crones, a young woman of startling beauty, and a few other sordid individuals in order to understand this other, arcane language and the methods of its execution into magic.

Another rumor has reached us, and we depart before the sun breaks the horizon. An oracle said to live in a rude cave a few days travel to the north may hold the secret to our escape from this strange world. A hearty walking stick and travel bag in hand, I am away in a few hours. Sleep is impossible, before I venture again into a world that, though I now believe, I can only pray to eventually understand.

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