When Alice opened her eyes, she was looking at a different world. Looking around, the room they were in seemed less significant. The walls were less substantial, and she could see the shadows of the trees outside through them, their gnarled branches reaching skyward toward the coming storm.
She took a step back. Esther stood before her, glowing a dark and eerie color that Alice could not describe. The look on her face hard to make out; she was surrounded by a haze that Alice couldn’t quite see through. She shivered. The room felt colder than it had a moment ago, like the heat was leaching from her, her coat no longer doing anything to insulate her from it. “What did you do to me?” Alice asked.
Esther shook her head and said, “I will explain after. We can’t do this for long or it will kill us.” Her mouth and the words didn’t seem to be syncing up, and Alice felt the cold settling into her bones.
Alice was about to say something, but a flutter of motion drew her attention to the window. A black bird had landed on the sill and was looking through at them. It pecked at the glass, making a clacking sound echo through the room. Alice began to point toward it and Esther pushed her hand down, cutting her off. “Ignore it. Don’t look at it.”
The bird quorked as if in protest. Alice rubbed her arms for warmth. It wasn’t working. She began to look slowly around the room.
She could see, through the translucent walls of the building, past the trees, the outline of a vehicle, and two humanoid shapes sitting inside, glowing with an interior luminosity. Focusing on the one on the left, she felt a boredom that began to gnaw at her, making her antsy to get out of here and do something, anything, to get away from this monotony.
Clack. Clack. Clack. The bird at the window rapped its beak against the glass over and over. Alice shook her head and tried to ignore it. She decided not to look too long at the officer on the right and turned her attention back to the interior of the room. In the center, there was the makeshift alter, a desk that had been pushed to the center of the room.
She was struck by the realization that the room was still dark, had to be, since there weren’t any lights on. But everything was visible. Not like it was well lit or anything, but it wasn’t cast in darkness either. In fact, there were no shadows at all. There was no source of light. Everything just was.
The desk in the center of the room seemed to hum with a dark energy, and a miasmatic haze hung in the air above it. Stepping toward it, the cold that was creeping through her began to be replaced with a hunger, ravenous, that drew her closer. She felt strong, powerful in it, like the need could make her more than she was. She could tell that it was no weakness, this need, that the strength the hunger would give her would make her more than capable of sating it. She stepped toward the desk again.
Alice felt a hand on her back and she turned on Esther, furious at the interruption of her reverie. The moment she broke her attention from the desk, the feelings of rage and hunger faded, and she felt more herself again. The small woman before her said, “Let me handle this.” And she gestured to the rest of the room.
Alice closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The cold had come back, and she could feel it icing over her heart, her lungs starting to feel crystalline. She began to scan the rest of the room. Her eyes passed over the bird at the window, and before she could be drawn into any bizarre emotional communion with it, she turned away.
She was staring at a rack of kayaks, and she could see underneath them was a small something. It was hard to make out what it was exactly, other than that it was small, and it held something of the dark glow that she had seen coming from Esther, and from the air above the desk.
She should probably investigate it, but she was getting tired. Alice sat down on the floor. She realized dimly that she couldn’t feel her feet, but she was getting sleepy, so it was probably alright. She closed her eyes.
The bird at the window quorked again, and Alice looked over at it. It rapped on the glass once. Clack. And then it turned its head to make eye contact. Alice could feel that it had some message for her, that she only needed to let it in, and it would give her the message. She started to numbly push herself to her feet, but before she could stand, Esther was there between her and the bird.
Esther Lucas bent down and whispered something in Alice’s ear, something that sounded like a word, but it couldn’t have been in English, and after, Alice wouldn’t even be able to remember what it sounded like, other than being short. But as Esther stood back up, the world came back to her. The darkness rushed in, comfortable in the absence of light. And Alice began to feel the sensation of being bundled in her coat in the dead of winter in an unheated room. It felt warm.
Esther spoke. “We should go. I’ve seen all I needed to.”
Alice looked over to the window. There was nothing there. “What was that?”
“That is what most people only see once they are dead. And that side doesn’t take kindly to the living. Are you ready?”
“Alice nodded numbly. “Okay. I just… one more thing.” She stood and walked over to the kayaks, then got down on her stomach and shimmied underneath to reach far back to the thing she had seen underneath. It was where she remembered it. She felt like nothing in the world could make her forget where it was.
Alice’s hand closed around a small plastic cylinder, the kind that people used to use to hold photographic film, before cell phones became ubiquitous. Inside was an exposed roll. She held it up so Esther could see. “Know anyone who can develop this?”