Flashback to October, 2008
Those photographs are of Poulnabrone portal tomb, on the Burren, in County Clare, Ireland. That is me, standing before the portal. What I have not mentioned before to anyone, is the truth about who it was that took this photograph of me.
I was there because Wayland sent me there. “Take your rental car and have a good look around the Burren. ” he said. “But you must be at Poule Na Brone by 2 pm on Thursday”. He showed me on a map how to find it. “To fill time until then, there are a few other portals you need to see”. You may need to find them again should you need the use of them”. He pointed at the map, and I made a mental note. “One is at Ailwee, two are nearby to Lios Dúin Bhearna (Lisdoonvarna). I looked intensly at the map, while Wayland paused to let the information sink in. “By the way”, he added, “there will be a match-making festival at Lios Dúin Bhearna that week. You may like to shop around. ” He smiled in his disarming way as he said it, but there was an odd look in his eye. He looked down, and continued quickly. “The very name Lios Dúin Bhearna means ‘the fort of the gap’ and refers, as you might guess, to a defence erected around a portal on a nearby hill now known as Liss a teeaun – fairy hill fort. People think it refers to the Norman ruins that stand there but they have nothing to do with the origin of the name. The original fort was built about four thousand years ago, when the Sidhe were still retreating. Nothing much left now, but a mound. If you would like to see what it looked like then, and you should do so while you have the opportunity, visit Caither Connaill.” again he pointed at the map. ” Very similar. It is just down the road from Poule Na Brone, so you could have lunch there before your… appointment.”
“Appointment?” I asked. “Who am I meeting?”
He looked at me steadily and the twinkle was back. ”That is a surprise. ” He gave me his disarming grin again. “You will like him to be sure. I do believe you may have met him before.” He gave me another grin and returned his attention back to the map. “The last place to visit is called Poule na gColm or Gollum’s Cave”.
Poll na gColm is pronounced ’pole na gollum’ and means rock dove cave.
“You may be interested to learn that they say Tolkien named the character in his book after it. I think he may well have heard some stories about that cave. He visited the area on occasion. Anyway that is speculation. Be warned, though, there is a maze of caverns down there. In fact local cavers actually call it ‘the maze’. The portal in Poule na gColm is the hardest to find. Don’t go in alone. I shall arrange for someone to meet you there and guide you. But that will be after you vist Poule Na Brone.”
So it was I found myself a few days later, after a tasty but rather expensive sandwich lunch at Caither Connaill, walking widdershins around Poule Na Brone. No one else was around, and all was silent. The day was cool and the sky overcast, just great for photography. No harsh shadows. As I observed that to myself with some satisfaction, I also noticed the dolmen seemed to be shimmering in the air. I rubbed my eyes and took another look. Even through the camera viewfinder I could see the outline of the stones seemed slightly distorted, wavering in my vision. I wondered what it could be, since the air was cool and still. I was most perplexed, though in another sense extremely pleased, when later – much later – when viewing the photographs on a laptop screen I could see no sign of the phenomenon. As you too can see, the pictures are in focus. At the time I just wondered what the cause might be.
On the third circuit I saw someone standing just inside the rope placed to keep tourists away from the ancient relic. I thought the rope was somewhat ironic. The ancient structure was four and a half thousand years old and had been raised by a long-gone Neolithic people probably just after the glaciers retreated across Europe, but now it needed protection.
I took a closer look at the figure standing there, looking at me with a familiar and slightly sardonic smile. Wayland had been quite correct. I was very surprised indeed to see him again. I took a photograph of this person I had been sent to meet.
That is it above.
Confused? Read The Story so Far
I really don’t know how to go about writing this next part.
The oddest feeling. To be in one’s own physical presence. I was obviously more used to the idea than I was. I gave me a cheerful grin. “That really went well.” I said to me. “A bit shaky at first, but I did it. Now go do it!”
I held my hand out towards me. “Before you go in, better give me the car keys. I have a journey to complete. I still need to visit Gollum’s Cave and go back to Aillwee before I head back to Dublin and fly back to New Zealand. Oh, and you may as well hand me that camera.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it won’t work there.” I produced the very same camera and showed it to me. ” It is fried” I said. “Look.” I tapped the camera on the top of the pole holding the ropes. It crumbled to dust as if it had been made of black sugar. “So best leave it here”.
“But you took it with you” I protested. “Won’t that cause some dreadful change in the course of events?” “No”, I answered nonchalantly. “I did the math. A tiny change like that is damped. Like tossing a pebble into the sea. It won’t cause a tsunami on the other side. There is no butterfly effect.”
One of the good things about talking to oneself, is that one understands the references, and can tell when one is telling the truth. I handed me the camera and reached into my pocket for the keys to the rental. I handed them over with just a little hesitation, feeling somewhat lost and confused, for a moment wondering how I would get back to the boarding house. Then I realised. I would drive the rental.
“It is over there”. I pointed.
“I know”, I responded with a grin. “I parked it there”.
I grinned the same grin back at myself. “How long is this going to take?” I asked me.
I did not respond immediately, just looked at me as if I was wondering what to say.
As I waited for an answer I noticed that though we were both wearing the same clothes, those on the me to whom I was speaking were looking more worn and a bit shabbier than my own.
“I don’t think I can answer that. We need to be sure we don’t have any preconceptions that may affect our judgement” The first time we used the ‘Royal We’. I hesitated a moment and then slowly, almost reluctantly, I added ” Should you come to a point at which you have to make a serious choice… a… decision, Choose left. It is the right choice that I nearly did not make at the time. I did not tell me this when I arrived”.
“I did the math on that too, I believe that it is safe to tell you, so I did. But that is all. Now go. You… I have an appointment. We have appointments.” I shook my hand, the most unusual and frightening sensation I have ever felt in my life. I stood a moment and watched me walking toward the car park without a backward glance at myself.
Idly, I wondered what might have happened had I thought to try and convince myself to turn round and go back to do once more whatever it was that I had done once already, and was now about to go and do for the first time. I could have headed off home, leaving myself to endlessly do the task at hand. Or could I? The notion made my head spin.
I watched my retreating figure, still resolutely not turning to wave. I knew I would not look back. I sighed and faced the dolmen, now quite plainly shimmering as if it were baking in hot sun.
I stepped into the portal.