Monday, June 1, 2009

On the Second Floor: Chapter III

Day One

I woke up the next morning the same as I always did; my alarm clock rang at the same leisurely ten-thirty that I was used to. But any illusion I had that the events of the preceding evening were a symphony-induced dream was quickly dispelled. As I opened my bedroom window shades, I saw the strange trees swaying amidst the artificial landscape that my little home had settled in. And there stood the pillar, that impassable bridge to the headquarters of my hosts.

That evening I had been awed, and shocked, and stunned by my fantastic journey, but in the mundane oddity of my surroundings, I began to worry. I slumped against the wall for a long time, not knowing what to do. I didn't even want to eat.

The tall man promised more visits, and the prospect did not improve my mood. When he spoke of Elysia, his ship; when his assistants performed their miraculous maintenance on my apartment; with the sight of boiling stars burning in my mind, the superstitious part of me wondered if this place could be heaven. But I had gone to sleep and woken up. I was still alive.

But I had little doubt, my life was over. Whatever those aliens wanted with me, what purpose would it serve to return me to Earth? The tall man said I might be returned in a year, but he hadn't promised it. Even if he had promised it, why not just lie to me?

Whatever the confused state of my emotions, they focused immediately into fear when I heard the whirring noise, signaling the descent of the pillar. The tall man was returning for more "study," the horrifying specifics of which I could only guess. Every horrifying notion from science fiction stories flashed across my mind - vivisection, brainwashing, God knows what else - and deep inside I felt the sudden impulse to run.

Out the door I ran, and I saw that the pillar was indeed descending. The apartment was not safe; I had to make for the trees. I ran quickly in the direction of the brook. Perhaps, I thought, the sound of flowing water would help to conceal me.

Of the many trees I saw growing along the bank, one in particular was densely covered by broad leaves, and suitable for climbing. I scrambled up the lower branches, but I had not climbed any trees since I was a little boy, and I soon lost my footing. Tumbling to the ground, I landed flat on my back. The whirring of gears and my own throbbing heart set me to climbing again, and at last I reached a sturdy limb midway up the tree trunk. No sooner had I achieved balance than the gears stopped turning. Anticipating a search, and lacking confidence in my hastily-chosen hiding spot, I hardly dared to breathe. But I could not help myself, as my shivering and squirming made even that sturdy branch sway.

I did not suffer the anticipation long. Barely five minutes passed before I heard the tall man's voice, and I nearly fell from my perch when I looked down to see him gazing intently at me.

"Human," he addressed me, "this behavior is rather intriguing. But if you are attempting to hide from me, you should be aware that the advanced detection systems located throughout this habitat cannot be evaded by any means at your disposal." His words hit me like a brick. "Will you come down now?" he asked.

Stunned, I slowly made my way down the trunk, casting occasional wary glances at the tall man, who betrayed no emotion as he watched my descent. With a short hop, my bare feet (I hadn't had a chance to put on any shoes before I fled) met the soft earth of the bank, and I leaned against the tree to catch myself from falling.

"Now," he said, "shall we return to your home?" At the sound of that final word, I lost control, and I vomited on the ground. My host observed dispassionately.

Miserably I returned to the apartment with him, feeling unbelievably foolish for greeting someone, who was surely an eminent scientist, with the contents of my stomach. Moreover, the acidic residue burned my throat, and the taste that lingered in my mouth made me feel genuinely ill. So much for heaven, I thought.

The tall man had to stoop to make it through the doorway. Feeling defeated, as he entered my home without so much as an invitation, I trudged over to the sink. I filled a cup from the tap and gargled (I had to admit, the water I was provided with was quite tasty). Finished, I turned to face my host, but his remarkable height put his face out of view, obstructed as it was by the cabinets hanging over the counter. Awkwardly, I left the kitchen area and joined him in the living room.

The tall man gestured toward the small chair between the door and the window. "Is this a chair?"

At first, the very absurdity of the question led me to consider it a trick, but his face remained as neutral as ever. "Yeah," I said, weakly, "take a seat, if you'd like."

Slowly, he descended into a chair that seemed, if not too small for his slender frame, then too short for his considerable height. Nevertheless, his erect and dignified posture, together with his considerable stature, gave him the appearance of an extraterrestrial Abraham Lincoln. Awed once more, I sat uncomfortably on the sofa.

Not wanting to appear stupid, I did so anyway, asking quickly, "don't they have chairs on your planet?"

He smiled. "Most peoples in the galaxy, and nearly all the ones capable of sitting, employ the use of chairs and couches. However, as you might imagine, they come in a wide variety of shapes."

"I suppose they must." What more could I say than that?

"Now then," he said, "would you explain your behavior this morning? Why would you attempt to hide in a tree, although you knew that you were in no danger?"

"I..." stammering, I glanced at the clock sitting on the table under the window. It was not quite noon, and the "sun" was high in the sky, but was it really mid-day back home? I knew enough physics to figure that, traveling at faster-than-light speeds (as we surely were), I must have been experiencing the passage of time differently from the people on Earth. But how differently?

The questioner awaited an answer, and I cast my eyes downward. "I was scared. I can't explain why. I was scared, and, and, I didn't trust you, so, I decided to hide somewhere you couldn't find me."

"I see," he commented, suddenly adjusting a small device I took to be a digital recorder. "And when you ejected fluid from your mouth, was that an attempt to frighten me away?"

"I, no!" I said, taken aback by the suggestion. "I was just, you know, so nervous, I felt sick." Trying to be as clear as possible, I added "when we, when humans, I mean, when we feel sick, sometimes we spit up the stuff in our stomachs. It's not like, a defense mechanism, I don't think."

"I see," he said once more. Then, casting his eyes around the room and seeing the various objects strewn about, he remarked, "you still seem to be frightened."

"Well, I've never seen anything like you before." I wondered whether that answer, though it seemed reasonable enough to me, would satisfy him. "And we haven't really been introduced."

He looked directly at me. "In my society," he said, "it is customary that names are told only to friends ad very close associates." But his face softened a little as he continued, "but if you would feel more at ease, you may call me Doctor Dayus."

"Thank you," I said, adding softly, "my name is Jonah."

"You are welcome," said the doctor. "Now, would you mind explaining the layout and purpose of your home?"

I was still incredibly nervous. However, I gathered the requisite nerve to give the doctor a brief tour of my apartment, from the kitchen to the bathroom to the bedroom, explaining each small chamber's functions.

Our visit had lasted no more than an hour, but Dr. Dayus informed me that he had other studies to attend to, so today's session would be quite brief. I wondered if others like me were aboard the ship, but I did not ask. With a decidedly business-like farewell, the doctor left my "habitat" and ascended to the skies once more.

With the sun beginning its apex to the "western" horizon, I stood at my porch for a while, gazing at the gentle forest that had been planted there for my "comfort." I was beginning to think of those trees and that meadow as my real habitat, however dehumanizing that term still seemed to be. Feeling perhaps not a little like Adam, I decided to take a walk.

Once more, I found myself by that tree near the babbling brook, but I took no pleasure from it. I noted with some disgust that my vomit remained where I had left it. I could scarcely stand to look at the shameful sight. Reaching under the water, I scooped up a handful of mud. The mud was soft sandy, and lightly colored. I tossed it onto the drying vomit, and did so again and again until no more of it could be seen. Satisfied in part, I went home, hands in my pockets. The fear subsided, leaving only persistent anxiety.

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