Beyond The Holders
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The Seeker (Chapter 3)
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There was no noise whatsoever. The only sound in the room was the monotonous chant of the Holder; its words made no sense to Dave, and he actually couldn't tell when a word finished and when a new one began. He knew he wasn't supposed to understand the words; he knew it was supposed to be an incomprehensible language; he knew. His heartbeat was getting faster and faster; yet he could not hear it. The chant seemed to defy physics; despite being much lighter in the staircase, it wasn't getting louder as they walked down the place. It was almost like those rooms with loudspeakers at every corners, only here there were no amplificators nor loudspeakers. The voice was genuine, though it definitely had little humanity in it.
The scarce lighting was not enough for Dave to make out the details of the room. He could feel he was in a large room, a square room, whose side was a few metres long. Ten, at most, but probably less than that. He noticed a couple of small light bulbs in the opposite corners, a few centimetres below the ceiling. He didn't recall the director turn any light on, though. The bulbs shred just enough light to see the exit door on the left side of the room; but, as the director was heading towards it, Dave's attention was caught by the wall in front of the door.
The wall was completely covered by tiny holes. At a first glance, Dave thought of the bullets of firing squads', but those holes were smaller. He got closer and looked at them; they were very small, with a diameter of about one or two millimetres. There were a lot of them: tenths and tenths, maybe a few hundred. They were in no particular order, they didn't form a grid, there was no pattern whatsoever. He was leaving the wall when he noticed that in the upper-right part there was a nail. That's when he understood what those holes were for; yet he couldn't understand why there were so many holes and just one nail. The nail was bent near the tip; the feeble light projected by the light bulbs cast a wrinkled shadow on the wall.
Dave turned to the director, who was waiting for him next to the door. As much as he wanted to ask him about the holes and the nail, he knew he couldn't say a word in that place. The director gave him a sympathetic look; Dave thought that his escort was expecting him to take some time, as to delay the meeting. It was clear, by now, that the meeting couldn't be avoided.
The chant had continued, uninterrupted. It had always been monochord, flat, without any variations, devoid of any emotions or any signs that showed the Holder was aware of Dave's presence. It was as if they were still in a different place, where the Holder had no effect on them. Yet it was nothing like that: Dave's head was getting numb, his reasoning skills were dimmed, but his instinct was somehow unaffected.
The director opened the door, and Dave stepped through it. This time the chant didn't get any louder, as though the door had no sound-deadening power. He found himself in another room, much larger than the previous one. This one was scarcely lit, too, but he could distinguish a triangular shape of sort, with the base behind his back and the tip pointing forward. As he stepped further to let the director in, though, he looked back at the door, and noticed the wall formed an angle, with the door on the vertex. Dave was sure that there had been no corridor between the square room and this new one. It was physically impossible that the two rooms were on the opposite sides of the same, thin wall.
As he thought about this, he felt he had to sit down. He was starting to lean to sit on the ground, but as soon as he did the director held his hand and pulled him. Dave was confused; his head was starting to feel empty, because of the tension, and the chant. The director gave him a look that showed his comprehension for Dave's feelings. To him, it looked like the director had a fair degree of experience in dealing with the Seeker and his second thoughts. But Dave was not having any second thought: more than anything else, he was confused, tired, as if he had been suffering for hours, days, months, even. He felt no pain, at least not as he would usually think of pain. The chant was starting to crumple his soul, slowly, in a non noticeable way. His head was getting heavy, as if the only thing that caused him pain was thinking. Dave chose not to try and rationalize any more; he looked into the director's eyes and expressed silently his decision to go on.
As the two men walked across the triangular room, Dave felt the pain grow stronger. He tried to free his head, to get rid of all those questions and doubts, but the horrible anxiety he was feeling gave him no relief. As he reached the door, the director glanced at him for a last confirmation. It was incredible that the director was apparently so calm... it was like the Holder's chant was not there for him. Dave nodded and the director opened the door.
In front of them, the Holder was kneeling, turning his back to the two visitors, hiding himself in a corner.
Dave suddendly reviewed the story. He got there, in the windowless room, and the Holder of the End was in fact cuddling something. It was the first time he recalled that the chant hadn't stopped, which he took as a good omen. He tried to convince himself that the only thing that could go wrong was not a problem any more; but in that same moment the feeling of crumpling got more intense, almost forcing him to emit a desperate moan. Without realizing, he held it back; only much later he would remember how dangerous it might have been, considering the director's warning not to make any sound other than the words specified in the story.
A doubt went through his mind. The story said the Holder would react as expected only to that precise question, and the director confirmed that. But he suddendly wondered whether the story was correct. What if the question in the story was wrong? How could he be sure that the Holder would not kill him at those words? As it was usual for him when put in front of a choice, he went through his decision making routine; but, as soon as he tried to analyse, the pain in his soul pierced his spine. He stopped for a second, closed his eyes, took a breath, and then decided to focus on the Holder, on the question, and nothing else.
The chant was still filling the air. That room was definitely in an alternate reality, Dave thought: it was like the laws of physics didn't belong in there. A place dominated by immaterial forces, by untouchable mysteries, where the soulless syllables of the Holder's chant replaced the rules of time and space, now reduced to a meaningless void. Dave looked back for a second, hoping the director's presence could help him get a glimpse of reality; but there was nobody behind him. The door had remained open, but the director had stayed out of the room.
Just as he turned his head away, the chant stopped.
-- I'm just passing through! -- He paused. -- I wish to talk!
His words echoed in the room, but Dave couldn't hear them. He stopped breathing. He was looking straight at the Holder, who was still facing away from him. Dave only noticed the Holder had stopped rocking his arms. The little man was like freezed in his corner. Dave waited. For just a small fraction of time.
He knew what he had to do. If the chant hadn't returned. In a few moments.
The Holder relaxed his stance and started rocking his arms again. In a moment he took on his chant again. It took a while for Dave to breath again. As his blood pressure and his adrenaline levels were getting back to normal, he felt a few words from the Holder. He didn't hear them. They went directly into his mind. The Holder's voice, devoid of any feeling, was telling him that only the Seeker stands in front of the Holder. Only the Seeker asks the question.
Only the Seeker gets the answer.
"The answer," Dave thought. That was the only thing that could get him out of there. That was the only thing worth focusing on. As he realized that, he noticed the painful embrace of the chant had conceded a little relief. For a moment he felt calm, relaxed, as he had never been since he crossed the white door on top of the staircase. He focused on the Holder's head, still turned away from him. He knew he had not to look at the Holder's hands.
Dave gulped for a last time. He spoke the words without repeating them mentally once again. He knew that would screw it all up.
-- What happens when they all come together?
Dave was going to add "Holder" at the end of the phrase. His education and his business experience made him speak to people by addressing them with their name or their title, out of respect. He remembered, and he stopped talking. As he thought about that, he felt the grasp in his soul once again.
But that was just for a second. Immediately the Holder started turning to Dave, slowly, without stopping the chant. Dave fixed his eyes on the Holder's hair, that was at such a height that allowed him to ignore the Holder's hands. A few moments later the little man had turned completely, facing him.
Dave didn't even see what his interlocutor looked like. He kept focusing strictly on his eyes. The only things he saw were a gray skin, as that of a very old man; a thin nose, who barely divided his black eyes; and a thin line of almost white hair running through his forehead. The Holder had no eyebrows, but his eyes were so deep that it almost wasn't noticeable.
As he looked into those eyes, Dave noticed they were so black there was no distinction between the pupil and the iris. But the chant was slowly getting louder, and the pupils gave some mysterious reflexes, as if they were shining from the inside. Dave focused his stare into the Holder's pupils, as his adrenaline and the tension in his muscles made his body as stiff as a wooden statue.
After a while he had to blink. And when he opened his eyes again, he wasn't looking at the windowless room any more. He was having a vision. He was having the answer.
Just like a few moments before, he realized he wasn't listening to the answer, and neither he was seeing it. He was feeling it. It was like the Holder of the End, this little man that Dave's mortal eyes were staring at so obstinately, it was like he was pouring the answer directly into the Seeker's mind. Dave's senses were vanquished, and yet they were excited at their maximum. He was in a trance, yet completely aware, yet unable to react, yet so firmly in control. His vision was clear, full of elusive images, and incredibly detailed. It was like nothing he had experienced before. His intellect was refusing it, it was fighting what was in front of it; but it was like behind an unbreakable glass, a helpless observer. His heart was torn by the horrid forecast he was having, and yet it was calm, uncomplaining in front of the unavoidable end.
That was it. The Holder stopped chanting, and Dave came round again. In an instinctive reaction, he blinked and tilted his head down; he realized and looked up again, before opening his eyes for good. The Holder stopped looking at him and started to stare in the empty air in front of him, as he started chanting again.
It was a quiet chant, much similar to the one Dave had heard through the first rooms. It was not the mysterious voice that communicated with him during the vision. Everything was over.
Dave understood it was time for him to leave. The Holder was still gazing blankly, still rocking the object in his arms. Dave knew it was the last risk he should not take that day; he turned his back and stood still for a moment. Hearing that the chant was continuing quietly, he headed for the door, calmly walking out of the room. As he crossed the threshold, he heard the Holder was turning away, back to his corner. Dave closed the door and met the director outside.
As they walked back across the two rooms, Dave didn't say a word. He didn't even look at the director; he kept his head low, as if he was focusing on his steps. The director took the key he had left in the first door, and invited Dave to follow him up the stairs. In a minute they reached the white hall of the asylum.
The director led Dave into his office. As soon as he got there, Dave's look got a bit less empty. When they entered the office, the young woman who was at the reception stood up. Her hand was clearly hiding a sort of gun. Dave noticed that.
-- Please, miss Roberts, would you leave us alone for a second? Mister O'Connor here would like to take some final notes with me.
-- Do you still need anything from me? -- Her voice was a bit wound-up.
-- No thanks, miss Roberts. I think I won't need any service from you today. Your shift ended ten minutes ago, you're free to go if you wish.
The young woman thanked the doctor and left the office. The director showed Dave an armchair, and invited him to seat. Once again, they sat in front of each other. After a few moments, Dave took his head between his hands, and started crying.
The director comforted him quietly. When Dave stopped crying, he got closer and talked to him:
-- Mister Sebring, if you allow me. Take some time to calm down, if you need it. Then there's something I'd like to show you.
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