The voice first spoke while Albert was walking home from work one evening.
Like thunder unsuspectingly close by, it had boomed from no one place, sounding as though it were everywhere at once.
“Albert couldn't help but wonder why it was that tomatoes were red,” it said.
It had been a woman’s voice. A melodic and soft-spoken one that articulated each word it spoke just so.
A moment earlier, he had in fact been wondering why it was that tomatoes were red. Though that didn't bother him so much as the reality that he’d been completely alone. He’d looked this way and that, but save a breeze that pushed dead and dry leaves around so that they scraped along the pavement, the only thing capable of making noise was his heart as it beat in his ears.
He was not used to surprises.
It took some doing, but later that night he was eventually able to convince himself the wind had simply carried a coincidental conversation unusually far. A once in a lifetime occurrence that was surely never to be repeated.
So when the voice spoke a second time, he found it slightly harder to apply the same logic.
That second time though, he was not on his way from work, but to work. It was early, and the sun had only just begun to climb to where it would sit for the day. Again, like a whisper carried in the wind, it had reverberated all around him like the pores of his skin were a speaker of sorts.
“With every passing day, Albert grew more and more frustrated with his work, believing that what he did had little value beyond the four stained walls of his office.”
He hadn't been able to stifle a yell that second time. Not unlike a boxer recovering from a punch, it had taken a moment for him to collect himself, and think about what the voice had said, and where it was coming from. He’d checked his ears, not really sure what he was looking for. He’d looked behind him, to an empty street. And he double checked the street that lay ahead, equally as empty as the road behind.
It was then the thought first crossed his mind that the voice had come from inside his head.
But still, he had the strength to reject the notion. He couldn't begin to understand how that could be, and therefore it just wasn't possible.
That was until the voice spoke for a third time, not an hour later as he sat among many of the same faces that trained to the city day after day.
“And yet Albert continued to go to work, despite that belief that withered just a little more of his soul each time the conductor announced his stop.”
In the distance, a voice yelled the same name Albert had followed outside for years.
Only just able to hide his panic, he’d hugged his briefcase close to his chest and shouldered through the crowded car to the marginally less crowded outside. Even with the fresh air and some time to think, he was no longer able to tell himself it was coincidence.
When the voice return for the forth and fifth time, he'd been at work. Again, it had told him things he already knew. And in those moments, he’d watched his colleagues closely for hints that any one of them heard what he did, but the only expression common among them was one of boredom.
It had been a hard conclusion for Albert to come to, but there was no mistaking it then.
There was a voice in his head.
One that for some reason, talked about him like he wasn't there.
Over the course of time, Albert slowly grew used to the voice. It took a while before his heart no longer leapt to his throat when it erupted from that place of nowhere, but the day did come when he no longer feared it. That original unease gave way to a curiosity until that’s all he felt towards it. Ostensibly, it was harmless.
Sometimes it would talk about what he felt. Other times, just about what he was doing. Almost like it was taking notes, or cataloguing.
On some particularly grey days, he even welcomed the one sided company of it. He came to think of it as a companion. A friend that no one else could see, and that only he could hear. On some days it would speak ten times, and on other days not once. But always it talked about things that happened, or things that were happening.
It never addressed the future.
Or that was until the day it told him he was going to die.
“Completely unbeknownst to him, Albert’s death would arrive fashionably late, something Albert himself had never been in life.”
He’d been at the library that day, reading a book about new automobiles from the west. It had taken a minute for the words to sink in, as he was a man quite fond of cars, but when it did, his heart had iced over like that very first day.
In all the months he’d been listening, Albert had never tried talking back to it. The way it spoke made it seem like it had no interest in that. It was purely descriptive, and he’d come to terms with that fact.
The future was ahead and unknown, and there was no harm in simply hearing about things that were.
But that changed the moment the voice hinted at things to come.
“What?!” he’d yelled, looking up to the ceiling as if that’s where the voice hid. “What do mean my death?”
Receiving more than a few odd stares, and a call to be quiet from the librarian, Albert dropped the book in his hands and raced outside.
“Hey! That’s not fair! If you— look I don’t know how this works, but if this goes two ways… answer me!”
Looking to a cloudless sky, he’d waited.
But no response came.
That evening his heart had beat fast enough to shave years off his life. He went over the words again and again in his head, looking for some way they were not what they seemed to be. But there was nothing to reason with, no metaphor in it he could hide behind.
They were as clear in meaning as they’d been in sound.
The voice thought he was going to die.
Unbeknownst to him, it had said.
Well, clearly not.
And that’s were Albert found himself now.
Sitting at home, mulling over a single sentence in a state of worry that bordered on anger. It wasn't fair of the voice to talk about things yet to happen. That wasn't how Albert had come to understand it. He felt betrayed, like the voice had broken a contract. An unspoken one he had to admit, painfully aware of the irony there, but an agreement he had believed existed all the same.
“Albert’s life would end in a way not so different from how it had begun.”
Albert shot up straight, tilting his head to listen as if that would make a difference, when of course it would not. The voice had never spoken so soon after last saying something. He began shaking his head, a feeling of unease settling over him.
“What? Why would you say that?”
“Fifty three years ago in a hospital room not twenty miles away, Albert had entered the world with a loudness neither the doctors nor nurses had been prepared for. He would part with a similar thunder.”
All at once worry gave way to real fear, the kind that tended to gallop alongside the darker inklings of one’s mind. It was such a vague thing to hear, an empty warning that could have meant any one of a hundred things. And yet all those at the forefront of his mind were far from pleasant.
“Stop that!” he cried. “Go back to narrating!”
“Had he been able to understand it, Albert may have even seen the necessity in his death. He may have been able to accept it.”
Albert’s mouth fell open.
“Accept it? Are you mad?!”
He got up from where he sat alone at his dinner table and ran to the front door, throwing it open so that he faced the road he'd lived on almost all his life.
Rain fell softly, and the light from his home spilled out into the street to make a bubble-like aura where the closer drops were easier to see. They glinted like little shards of glass.
“You can stop this!”
“Albert wouldn't quite know what exactly killed him, though a small part of him would understand all the same. He’d heard the stories like anyone else. Steel behemoths that moved on tracks so powerful, there were no limits to where the monstrous things could go. He wouldn't remember it, but not all that long ago in a war intended to prevent the one marching towards him, he’d seen one of the monster’s oldest ancestors. Clunky beasts that broke quickly and moved like drunken cattle. This new breed though bore no such resemblance or weaknesses. Twenty one years had seen to perfecting the sinister machines until they were honed weapons of the sharpest kind.”
A numbness overcame Albert, only just stronger than the panic that beat from the inside of his chest. While he did not understand the specifics, the connotation was clear.
Something was coming.
Back in his home and just out of ear range, the first reports of the invasion were coming across the radio. Not far from where he was, a telegram would arrive to those charged with keeping the citizens of his town safe. But it would come too late.
In the distance, a scream ripped through the night.
“The last thing Albert would see was the green tint of an armour so thick no bullet could pierce it. In the split second before that armour would shutter, and rock to and fro as it spat out its missile, Albert would wonder why it was that things in this world did not change.”
Albert tried to breath but found each breath catching in his throat. The voice was making less sense by the minute, but there was no mistaking the familiar little pops sounding off in the faraway.
Albert was seconds away from rushing back inside when he noticed movement at the end of his street. It was dark, and the rain made it so that his eyes couldn't focus well, but he didn't need his vision to know that the vehicle that turned the corner was not one meant to be there.
It made clanky noises no normal truck would make.
“Mr. Kowalewicz, what is that?”
Albert turned his head to see who had spoken.
It was Adam, his neighbour’s son. A boy no older than ten who often sold kabanos at the weekend markets. He stood in the middle of the road, facing whatever it was that had come to confront them.
It was then that Albert understood.
With a motion no less than instinct, Albert moved faster than he had in decades, picking up Tom and using his momentum to throw the boy from the road to the canal that ran alongside it.
There was only a single second for Albert to turn and gaze down the street at the monster that stared back. One last thought crossed his mind as the beast’s long snout came to a halt, aimed directly at him.
He wondered why things didn't change.
With a thunder that cracked out and shattered a silence not to return to Albert’s town for six long years, the tank fired.
Albert heard the voice speak two final words.
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