It was about an hour after Mortimer had awoken and eaten his breakfast that the crowds began to swarm. It started as a dull sound. It was an obnoxious hum. A buzzing insect that piqued Mortimer’s interest, but also irritated him. At first, he didn’t understand what that noise implied.
Through the layers of concrete and glass, it felt more like a vibration than noise, a subtle feeling of unease that hung in the air like dried wheat. However, the noise continued to increase. The louder the noise became, the more concerned Mortimer felt. Eventually, he was able to make out the distinct sounds of voices. They were muffled and unintelligible, but there were hundreds of them all chattering at once in that strange, clipped off way that the aliens had spoken.
Fear and anxiety began to shoot through Mortimer. While monotonous, the cage had become familiar to Mortimer. He did not like the idea of change. The last time he had interacted with these aliens, they had shot him. He had become ill and had spent days before he recovered. What would these new aliens do? How would they hurt him?
The sound continued to grow; the voices came from down the hallway outside of the line of sight allowed by Mortimer’s confined. There was a loud clank and the sound of creaking as a heavy door opened. The muffled noises sharpened instantly, hundreds of voices flooding into the hallway at once.
The voices were as mixed and as varied as Mortimer had ever heard. Some spoke deeply, some spoke slowly, others had high voices. There were loud ones and quiet ones. Some voices sounded angry to Mortimer, while others sounded excited. Then other noises flared up. These new voices did not come from the aliens. They were the sounds of animals. Exotic noises screaming from every side.
There was an audible thumping noise coming from the cage to Mortimer’s right. At least, Mortimer thought it was the cage to his right. It was difficult to pinpoint noises properly in these confines. He had honestly not considered that there were other animals next to him. In retrospect, he supposed that the hallway was lined with cages just like his own.
He knew that there were three cages across from his own, similarly glass covered. The one directly across from him that he dared not look into, and two from either side that he could not see into thanks to the overhead lights reflecting against the glass.
At this point, every cage in the hallway seemed to come alive. Shrieks and screams, frantic movements and excitement. In a way, this excitement seemed to exhilarate Mortimer too. His heart was certainly beating at top speed. He could almost jump up and down, although, for the life of him, he could not figure out why.
Was Mortimer so bored that the simple aspect of seeing these aliens and hearing other life enough to thrill him? Mortimer could not say. All he knew was what he was feeling, and right now, it was excitement. It was almost enough excitement to overwhelm the fear. Almost. But Mortimer had no clue what was going on, and that made Mortimer afraid. What were these creatures doing? Why were there so many of them?
The only thing that seemed more varied than the alien’s voices were their appearances. Mortimer did not think that he could pick one alien out from another on appearance alone unless he really tried, but their lack of unique facial features seemed to be overcome by their random assortment of clothing. Each individual seemed to wear something a little different. They wore strange colors molded into strange shapes with strange pictures. Pants varied in length and color just as often as the shirts. Some wore skirts, or shorts, or any number of other articles of clothing that Mortimer had never seen before. No two individuals seemed to be wearing the same exact clothing.
Mortimer had his face pressed against the glass, watching each of the strange creatures in turn. A short one broke from the crowd and raced right up to the glass. Mortimer’s cage was slightly above the floor of the hallway, and thus the relative short person only came up to about Mortimer’s knees. As soon as the alien reached the cage, he slapped his hands against the glass making a resounded clap.
Mortimer fell back in shock, landing on his butt. The alien seemed to have come out of nowhere, and Mortimer just had not expected such a forward action. It was the most aggressive act Mortimer had ever seen from any of the aliens thus far. The alien watched Mortimer fall and then began to emit a strange and obnoxious noise. It had a cackling quality to it, muffled through the glass as it was. Mortimer realized that the alien must be laughing at him.
He stood up and moved forward, repeating the action the short alien had made. This time it was the alien that had been caught off guard, flinching at Mortimer’s sudden movement. A taller alien came rushing out of the crowd. It grabbed the surprised alien’s arm. It shot Mortimer a look. Mortimer realized that this alien looked matronly, which suggested that the short alien might very well be a child.
Mortimer suddenly felt like an idiot standing there. He had resorted to scaring children. He turned away from the glass and walked back up the rock a bit and found himself a good sitting spot. Thankfully, the female alien had already moved on, dragging the alien child behind her.
The spot Mortimer had found was his favorite sitting spot if one could say that a small cage had an ideal spot. It was an outcropping of rock that hovered over the bend in the flowing part of Mortimer’s water basin. He liked to listen to the continuous trickle of water. It soothed him. But right now, that trickle was deafened by the noise of talking. So much talking.
The crowds of aliens seemed to never end. Occasionally, the noises dropped down to a mild hum. Other times, the sound would explode into a crescendo as a bigger group came through. Mortimer could not tell age from the faces, but he quickly found that the shorter aliens were, the more obnoxious. When a large group of shorties stormed through, screaming and shouting was frequent. First, a short alien would make a screaming sound, then animals unseen somewhere down the hall would be set off. This would trigger more screaming until everyone was yelling.
When this happened, Mortimer felt compelled on more than one occasion to join them, to tell them to shut it if nothing else. Of course, it would not have helped. Mortimer also tried to shrink back. The cage seemed to offer no place for him to hide, so Mortimer decided inactivity might be his best choice. For an hour, he sat motionlessly. In the end, how active Mortimer was did not seem to matter. They continued to come.
Sure, more seemed to stand directly in front of his cage any time he tried to move. He would walk up to the front to peer through the glass. Aliens looking at other exhibits would notice, tapping each other on the shoulder, and come racing to Mortimer’s cage. If Mortimer remained in the front, they would continue to watch. Eventually, every alien got bored and left, but Mortimer quickly found that the speed that they got bored depended on Mortimer.
He felt a thrill from that. It felt like a modicum of control. He could influence the people who watched him. He could do something that would change them. None of them seemed to speak his language. He had tried to talk to them on more than one occasion. Every time he exploded with a barrage of words, more and more spectators would flock to look at him, but none would show recognition at his words.
Past noonday, he found himself needing to go to the bathroom. It had been hard enough going when it was just a dark hallway and a glass cage. With all these creatures, no matter how alien they appeared, it felt even worse. Mortimer waited for a lull period. It took some time, but as soon as Mortimer found a point in which no one was looking in his cage, he raced to the corner.
Mortimer wasn’t fast enough, and a group of aliens seemed to appear from nowhere. The shorter aliens pointed and made similar heckling noises. The taller aliens grabbed them and pointed on. Mortimer began to felt entirely too conscious of his body. He realized that he had to look like a mess. On top of that, he had no privacy. He was watched, constantly.
That first day, Mortimer watched the aliens in return. He had hope that he could learn something by observing them. Eventually, things began to die down. Mortimer got his two meals. The people all disappeared, and Mortimer was finally able to relax. However, the next day the crowds returned.
He was less interested in the crowds this time. He was even a tad angry. They were breaking his routine. They were making things difficult for him. Worst of all, they were always there, always watching. Mortimer found his anxiety matched the number of eyes on him. The more that watched, the more anxious he felt.
When the doors opened, and the crowds came, Mortimer paced back and forth. His hands shook, his nerves shot. A large group of the young ones came. Mortimer finally decided to consider the short ones were the young ones. The cacophony of noises rose, and Mortimer shouted back at them. It was surprisingly relieving.
The problem was that the more Mortimer screamed and paced, the more eyes tended to follow him. Those damned aliens with those damned smug looks on their faces. He decided the looks were smugness. They all looked like pompous jackasses. He had more and more trouble keeping his heartbeat low. Each time he ran his hands through his hair, he was shocked to find that it wasn’t falling out. He was a nervous wreck, and these aliens did not seem to give a crap.
He eventually did figure out one solution. If he piled the straw on top of himself, he could cover up the majority of his body. He was sure that the creatures still saw him. They were always looking. However, he could not seem them, and he was sure the straw obscured him enough that he’d at least get a modicum of privacy.
It was hot and a tad itchy under there, but as soon as the doors began to open, Mortimer would crawl back under and remain there for the majority of the day. He’d come out for food. He’d long since change his bathroom schedule to avoid any awkward mishaps.
When the voices started to die down, and the lights started to dim, Mortimer would crawl out of his itchy abode. He would rinse his body off, put his bed back together, and walk around stretching his legs. Mortimer did not think that the temperature changed all that much in the room, but it always felt colder once the lights dimmed. Mortimer would go from the uncomfortably hot day under a haystack to a shivering night without any covers.
The days continued to drone on. There was one day every once in a while where the crowds would not come. Mortimer treated those days as a celebration. Though those days were few and far between, when there was a long stretch of days with the crowds, Mortimer’s nerves would stretch to the breaking point. Once, he threw his platter at the glass to the surprise of several spectators. The food splattered and smeared.
With the tray out of reach, the following morning there was no pickup. Mortimer thought that this was hysterical. He began to keep the old food, piling the trays in a corner, one after another. He had managed to pile a dozen trays high. It was starting to smell, and some of the spectators were giving the pile of good more looks than Mortimer. Then one day, Mortimer woke up, and all the trays were gone. The place had been cleaned while Mortimer slept. He wasn’t sure how they had managed that. He thought they might have drugged his food, although he didn’t have the nausea he had the time they had shot him. Mortimer decided it was not worth keeping the trays after that.
The weeks continued onward, the crowds coming and going. They were always coming and going. It started to feel like commonplace. Then, after another day of crowds, the bald alien in the jumpsuit came back. He watched Mortimer for a while, jotting notes down on his board. When Mortimer glanced him up and down, he gave Mortimer a smile. It didn’t seem like a pleasant smile. In fact, it seemed quite the opposite. The alien turned and left without giving any other indication.
Mortimer would have to wait long to learn the significance of that smile. The next day, he awoke to find that his cage had several differences. First off, there were several large tires and a few random ropes strewn across the ground. However, this wasn’t the thing that caught his attention. What made Mortimer gasp in surprise was a person. They lay against one of the tires. They were large, male, and looking fast asleep; perhaps they were drugged like Mortimer had been. He wasn’t an alien, though. He was just like Mortimer. Mortimer grinned; he was no longer alone.