The days are growing shorter, the air colder; the leaves hang heavy and muted before the change.
The autumnal equinox is advent.
And I’m another year older.
The damask drapes are drawn against the imminent gloaming, the chamber dark save for the dancing shadows caused by the flickers of candlelight and the flames on the hearth. The warm, ligneous scent of pipe tobacco mingles with the bittersweetness of opium fumes and stings the nostrils. There’s a high note of burnished black leather, a base note of old potpourri, dusty and floral.
On the polished mahogany desktop, a wood whose colour is as deep, as gleaming as spilt blood, lays my notebook, open to the last page of my inventory. I pick up my pen, dip the nib into a fathomless pool of atramental ink and begin my scratchings:
One Side Will Make You Grow Taller and the Other Side… (inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) – Handmade miniature hookah (antique glass beads, brass fixtures, floral wire, gold fabric, brown thread, floral tape) genuine mushrooms; dried moss; dried leaves, twigs, cones, and pods; rocks
What I show here is my final offering—the last of its kind.
I tarried too long in Wonderland…what was left of Wonderland. The fantasy has come to an end; the rabbit hole has collapsed, the Cheshire Cat’s grin has evaporated, and the last cup of tea has been drunk, while somewhere in the background the Mock Turtle’s miserable sobs echo before falling silent, leaving the ear orphaned. In the twilight I was facing a large blue caterpillar, sitting atop a mushroom with its arms folded, quietly smoking a hookah. We looked at each other in silence until, at last, the creature took the pipe from its mouth, exhaled in misty rings that dissolved into nothingness, and addressed me in a languid, sleepy voice.
“Who are you?”
And like Alice, I was left perplexed, answering,
“I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
The caterpillar gazed back at me sternly. “What do you mean by that? Explain yourself!”
I shook my head. “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir, because I’m not myself.”
I’m not myself.
Then who am I?
Who was the me that started all this?
And who am I now?
I sit perpetually in a dreamworld between the real and the imagined, between what is and isn’t, lost in the past, contemplating the present, and in wonder of the future.
Was it all real? This six year odyssey of finding that which should not exist. But I have the proof—numerous proofs—right before my eyes.
And right before my eyes sits at present a tiny hookah, once smoked by a three-inch blue-tinged caterpillar with a fondness for asking psychologically-probing questions.
“Who are you?”
And now I have the answer—and it is paradoxically the same I would have given at the start of our journey—
I consider myself an archaeologist of the arcane, a preservationist of the bizarre, a taxidermist of dreams. Humbly, I lay before you all that I have discovered travelling darker and curious byways. The relics I have returned with are evidence—faint echoes of desecrated realms and passions long interred. May they prove the existence of what was wrongly believed the stuff of but fevered imagination only.
Thank you for coming along with me.
I lift my pen and blot my words.
I close the book.
Let Lewis Carroll have the last word—
Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out—
And now the tale is done…