Like waking from a nap or snapping out of a daydream Alex found himself in a brilliant white room: about the same size as the one he had been in during his introduction into the test facility but it was much cleaner and brighter. Momentarily he lay there dazed.
Pulling himself up slowly from the floor he glanced around like a newborn calf, looking at the emptiness of the place; trying to fathom where he was, what had happened. His vision flickered unexpectedly – or perhaps it was the lights in the room. Searching the ceiling for faulty bulbs he discovered there was no visible source. It was as if the room were made of matte glass through which solid white light filtered. Again his vision altered, as if his eyes were lenses of an old slide-show box having a different frame put in – everything becoming somewhat clearer as each new one was inserted. He looked down at himself: he still had everything he was wearing when he was put into the machine, even the Colt .45 he had snatched from the henchman was still snug in his fist. He felt some relief that it was a weapon he was familiar with. The hat too – he picked this up and stuck it over a normally well-kept head of hair, now disheveled. Mostly he was relieved that all the pain of his ordeal was over. All the wounds he had suffered were entirely gone without a trace. Though this pleased him it struck him more as a form of amusement than gratitude or happiness – the fact that he was still alive was still trying to register properly and subconsciously he feared acknowledging it lest it be wrenched away as some point of vindictive irony by the world. He continued looking down and around finding absolutely nothing within the room to focus on but himself, then looking back up from his shoes was bemused to see a large glass table in an opposite corner of the room where previously there had been nothing.
He moved to it and examined it in every which way like a superstitious child, but nothing peculiar was to be found about it. Just a table.
Pacing the room’s length he set himself to finding a way out, but there was nothing to work with. No doors, windows, or vents. He tried calling out, knocking on the walls, banging on the walls, breaking through the walls, but all to no avail. No one came and nothing gave in. Before his ruminations and attempts at applying them became too severe however he was made aware of another presence.
A hollow noise echoed around the room, barely audible. Alex cocked his head slightly and became tense. It turned into a voice and soon came in clearer. Like the echo of conversation in a large gym. He turned around expecting to see someone behind him but there was no one to greet. His first thought was that it was a psychological trap. Some experiment on the human mind maybe? But the conspiracy was cut short.
“Hello?” It echoed now as a singular speaker from nowhere in particular: definitely a voice – a slightly gravelly male voice.
“Who’s there?” Alex demanded and kept his posture alert. Not knowing what else to do, he made for the table and kept the gun clenched near his right leg. A reply reached out as he came within touching distance of the table – “Keep looking” – as if a phantom had spoken from directly in front of him. He repulsed like one does when walking into a spider’s web, waving his hand in front of himself and expecting to strike something, but nothing was there.
Alex frowned. “Where are you?“ He was mortified asking aloud, but he made his voice a bit more calm and less aggressive. The response came back in an almost indifferent friendliness, as if who or whatever it was found it quite a casual situation. “Just keep it up – it should be getting close.”
Regardless of the tone, this made Alex feel even more insecure, as ‘it’ seemed to acknowledge the fact that it could certainly see him, though it at least seemed to be trying to work with him. Scanning the room once more he still couldn’t find any sign of life. His vision flickered again in the process of looking however, and as he turned back to the table, there on top of it a crow-sized bird stood with its chest puffed out and head tilted upward at him. Alex jolted from the creature like someone awakened from deep sleep with a cattle-prod. Taking two steps back he blurted out a cursive exclamation that suited the analogy.
The thing’s feathers were all pitch black with a slightly blue fluorescent tinge where the white light reflected off of them. Its eyes were the purest, most sinister void of polished jetstone – somehow darker to the feathers than the feathers were to the glowing white room. Not really a dark color mind you, but a void of color altogether – a vacuum yet a tangible part of the creature.
“There we are,” it said with a full, intellectual, but slightly gravelly voice, noting that Alex had fixed both eyes on him. “I judge you can perceive me appropriately now?” Alex stood staring at it, suspicious and incredulous for a short moment before the bird took his dumbfound expression as a ‘yes’.
“Good!” the bird said. ”We have much to discuss, especially concerning your leave, and most especially concerning your arrival… You‘ll probably want that arm looked after too I suppose.” It hopped down onto the floor and walked towards a wall opposite the table. Alex still stood dumbfounded, watching as if he knew he was in a dream or a trance but could not get out of it. He was further puzzled by what it said about his arm – nothing was wrong with it.
“How on earth are you talking? Birds don’t talk.”
“Well no, they don’t really have lips for doing so – they do have tongues but they don’t flail around like humans’. That was a terrible sound you made just now, by the way.” It stopped halfway across the room and turned towards him.
“This way,” it said, earnestly gesturing to the wall nearby with its head.
“Wait, what? Where?”
“Through here. Unless you want to continue waltzing around trying to break things, this is the only way out.”
The wall opened up in front of it like automatic double-doors and it began walking out of sight through the exit. Alex followed, knowing not what else he could do. Beyond the hidden entrance they both strode down a long hall – everything the same pristine white color and void of any real sort of decoration except for the floor. The floor seemed to have an odd fluorescent pattern imbued into its depths; Alex found it incomprehensible however, being unable to follow the complex shapes and with such little contrast between the white background and the extra-white styling. While Alex was busy with this the bird began to caw shiftily back and forth to itself as it scurried down the hall. It took on the same unearthly effervescent tone that it had used earlier, as if there were no immediate source to it.
“Have you no sense?… Yes, but there’s no reason to change that around. What would be to gain? How can it even be done?… … … Well I would know, I work this confounded place!… Of course, but… Yes, but I was of the misgiving that wasn’t a tangible priority.”
Shortly thereafter the bird turned its head broadside, latching an eye on him while they walked, and it stroke up as amicable a conversation as an apparently otherworldly talking bird could. Alex made sure he stayed a good distance from the thing, keeping up the pace from a few yards behind. This seemingly put the bird to a mode of pleasantries in an attempt to ease the tension. Whilst they conversed other odd noises could occasionally be ever so slightly heard, as if they were walking through the conversations of ghosts harbored in cells throughout the hallway.
“So, where are you from?” It had originally asked. It sounded more like casual dialogue fodder than an actual question, and he wasn’t sure he could trust it, ‘but sounds harmless enough’ Alex decided.
“I’m… originally from Germany; though I was raised in America during my later childhood.” He explained, without the aid of his Germanic accent. “Been going back and forth between the two for some time now. I don’t suppose you know of any of those places?”
“Jer-ma-nee…” The bird rolled the word around in his mind and beak somewhat whimsically, repeating his interpretation aloud several times with different odd influctuations. He took on a darker, forlorn tone with the last repetition as a look of recognition dawned on his gait. A combination of grimness and sorrow panged into his steps where they could not be shown by his simple face. “I know the land. It hasn‘t been well for a very long time.”
“You’re telling me… World War – round two mean anything to a… creature such as yourself?”
“Oh, I’ve seen my share of that slaughter.” His reply came back with a blank tone.
Finding this a bit too cryptic for the immediate sating of his curiosity, Alex didn’t venture to ask what exactly was meant by this. He decided to ask at a later time if such a time did exist. In fact he made a particularly large mental note to remember this – not that he was likely to forget a talking bird with apparent post-war trauma.
Alex decided after a moment’s pause to pose a question of his own whilst eyeing the seams of a door they had passed by. “Might I ask where you are from?”
“Where I come from would be a bit difficult to explain. I can’t quite reveal that to you at this time, but you will have the opportunity to find out, I assure you.”
Alex cleared his throat. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“We will find out why you’re here and then we will find out how to remove you once we are done finding that out.”
“Any ideas as to what might entail in that process?”
“I have some plausibilities, but I’ll need more time with you to understand that.”
Alex slowed his pace and the bird matched him. Both of them stopped.
“So I’m legitimately stuck here, hmm? How long do you wager?”
“Only momentarily, my good sir.” The bird said reassuringly. “The question isn’t if you can get out, just how.”
“So what’s one possible way of getting me out then?”
“I realize your anxiety over the situation, but that’s well beyond even the ability to tell you where I’m from in a moment’s notice. it wouldn’t be wise to overload you with information for awhile, given the psychological disorientation you’ll be experiencing due to your coming here.”
“I feel quite fine at the moment actually, so I don’t see why not.” Alex tried to pry.
“As I’ve already said, I really can’t. Not right now.”
“It’s a matter of confidentiality then.” He had to establish whether or not this was a friend or foe. The bird’s answers were the only things that would offer a good clue, and it was intentionally being vague.
“Well, no actually. It’s simply not possible – not here and in your present condition anyway. You’re incapable of understanding and it’s really not that relevant. It will come with experience.”
“You sound as if you’re patronizing me, you cheeky little carrion. Come on then – tell me.”
The bird turned fully towards him with what might have been a smirk or a look of derision if it had lips to move. “Oh, you really must know? Make sure your feet are firmly planted then.”
Alex blew between his closed lips. “What, are you going to blow me away?”
“It’s more like imploding, but you be the judge.”
“Alright, I’m listening.” Alex only felt a small fringe of fear at the challenge he had evoked from this thing. It certainly had no intention of doing harm to him, but what exactly did it find so controversial about an explanation?
As Tobit began speaking it was as if the walls at Mueller’s sides became effervescent and whisked together to crush him, but only flowed and bent past his body, like it were made of plastic wrap, only to dissolve and disappear as another set of layers came to do the same in altering sequences. Whatever he was saying, it was not just “saying”. This was some quasi drug-overdosing mental case kind of speech totally foreign to him, if it could even be called speech. For although it was incredibly disorienting, some sort of encrypted message was being sent to him through its qualities. It only lasted about three seconds, and it was a moment more before he could see and hear without the communication tainting his consciousness. He had out of reflex brought his hands halfway up to his head during whatever the crow did: from there he used them to balance himself as he gave a gasp and began hacking.
“Gahhhg, what was that!?”
Another wave of pseudological sensations slammed and kneaded into him, much more powerful than the last session, which caused him to stagger. Hunching over his knees he shook his head like one ridding water from his ears, dropping his hat in the process.
“You asked me to tell you what it was.”
“I meant in a way I can understand and that won’t pull my head inside out – or smell like the color blue and sound like lemons, whatever the hell that means!” He joculated randomly with his hands while speaking.
“It’s impossible for you to interpret without having lived it beforehand – it’s a form of communication that embodies more than just your traditional sense of hearing. You’re effectively as illiterate as offspring when it comes to ethereal speech, so there is much for you to learn while you’re here.”
“There was nothing ethereal about that.” He spit off to the side. “I hope you’ve got some water around here or something – I don’t know what that taste is, but it doesn’t belong where it currently is…”