It was midday on the shores of Lake Victoria, and a group of chickens on a nearby farm were lazily browsing in the dirt and lounging in the shade of the brush. Suddenly, and with an alertness that would be alarming to anyone watching, one chicken perked up and stared at the northwestern horizon. She stood for a long moment, as if straining to hear a distant voice before letting out a soft ‘cluck’.
“That is certainly odd,” she thought to herself.
Another moment went by as the chicken stared into the distance, deep in thought.
“Definitely out of place.” A subtle nod accompanied her confirmation. She cast a fowl eye about the farmyard, and seeing no sign of the elderly man who tended the small group of birds, stepped sideways. A chicken stepping sideways is a sight unto itself, but to make this instance even stranger, the bird seemed to vanish from sight as she did so, as if stepping between layers of the air itself.
A few thousand miles away, the sounds of early morning birds filled the still, warm air in the Nebraskan suburb of Wood Run. With the sun just barely peeking over the horizon, it might have escaped the casual observer when the air above the sidewalk outside number 33 Wood Grove Lane seemed to shiver ever so slightly. A moment later, however, it’s very possible that this observer might have perceived a chicken, stepping out from nowhere, to stand on the sidewalk. Furthermore, only the dullest, most braindead of lookers-on would not have noticed that the space that should have been occupied by the house at number 33 Wood Grove Lane, was actually a rather wide and shallow crater, as if an enormous stump had been wrenched free of the earth.
With a flutter, the chicken hopped from the sidewalk into the hole where Vincent’s house used to be.
“Most interesting,” she thought to herself as she looked around the neatly conical hole. She bent down as if to examine the ground. “This degree of localization is unprecedented. Somewhat instantaneous too, more likely than not.”
She strutted slowly about the perimeter of the crater, pausing occasionally to stretch her feathered head to the ground, as if listening to the dirt. She made a few laps before bobbing her way further into the depression and coming to a halt at the lowest point. She paced out a small circle before roosting down and closing her eyes. For several minutes, she was still to the point of resembling a particularly realistic garden sculpture. Suddenly, her eyes opened and quickly narrowed again, in a universal expression of consternation.
“Oh no.” she thought, silently.
Vincent awoke to a cool breeze and a blistering headache. He kept his eyes shut as he took stock of his body – he was laying supine on a warm, flat surface and everything seemed to be present and intact (minus the fresh hole in his ear). Slowly, he opened his eyes and through the throbbing behind his optic nerve he was able to see an enormous expanse of sky, streaked in the brilliant and vivid hues of a desert sunset, and not much else. He lay still, taking in the view as he waited for the pain in his head to subside, mentally scrolling through the last moments he remembered: his house spinning and buckling, the surprise ear piercing, the… wait.
Vincent sat bolt upright and scrambled to get his knees under him. His house was nowhere to be seen. In fact, it appeared that Vincent himself was sitting on a large natural rock platform, suspended high above the desert. He dropped to all fours and inched sideways towards the edge to peek over.
His heart leapt to his throat as he absorbed the situation. The large, stone platform was, in fact, the top of a very tall and skinny butte, rising more than a hundred meters above the desert floor. A large, sweeping crescent on the ground caught Vincent’s eye and he squinted to bring it into focus in the now rapidly diminishing daylight.
“Is that..?” he muttered to no one in particular as he recognized the remnants of his house and the path it had scraped out in the sand as it careened across the ground.
“Please be careful.”
Vincent whipped his head around at the gentle voice’s caution and froze in place upon seeing what was, undoubtedly, a chicken staring directly at him.
“Please be careful.” The voice repeated as the chicken cocked its head. “The rocks near the edge can be tremendously unstable.”
The uncomprehending Vincent’s mouth hung open as his still-throbbing brain tried to process this new development in what was, to be fair, a series of pretty difficult-to-process developments.
“Are you… talking to me?” Vincent directed his question at the bird.
“I am. I apologize that my appearance is somewhat startling; unfortunately, it is what I am stuck with at the moment.” The chicken spread her wings slightly and glanced downward, as if to indicate her own body. The gesture was alarmingly sapient.
“What… how…” Vincent struggled to shape a question as he pointed dumbly back and forth between the chicken and the wreckage of his house below. While he did this, the chicken appeared to look straight up into the sky and turned ninety degrees before turning back to face Vincent, who had settled on “How… why are we so high up?”
The chicken picked her way closer to the edge and to Vincent.
“Limnic eruption of sorts.” She said, as if that answered everything. Vincent’s face made it clear that this was an insufficient contribution, and upon seeing his expression, the chicken continued. “Some unstable geology under here released a big cloud of carbon dioxide, which bubbled up and displaced all the oxygen in and around your house. You might remember a burning sensation right before you passed out? Luckily for you, I arrived after only a couple seconds and brought you up here where the air is still good. Now, we have a problem, you-“
“Okay, hang on.” Vincent interrupted. As he spoke, he clambered away from the edge and sat down heavily. He eyed the chicken and the distant ground. “How did you get me up here, and for how long was I unconscious?”
The chicken blinked.
“That is not important. What is important is that you are not supposed to be here”, she continued.
“Uh, yeah, I would say so. And my house is definitely not supposed to be down there.” he pointed at the ruined structure. Vincent’s response was formed largely on autopilot and had passed his lips before he’d even considered his words. As such, his tone belied a more collected state of mind than that of which he was currently in possession. In retrospect, Vincent considered that was not necessarily a bad thing. “So what the hell happened?”
The chicken let out a very human sigh and said,
“I am afraid that there is a lot about the answer to that question that you will not understand. A very concise summary is that it appears that your house and you were mistakenly moved during a spatial processing event. It is still not clear to me why this has happened, however it is needless to articulate that it should not have been so. Therein lies the danger.”
Vincent felt dazed as he tried to process the words that swam past him when her final word stuck him like a pin in a pair of homemade underpants. His mind rapidly coalesced.
“Wait. What danger?”
“As I said, what has occurred to your house should not have been so. It is likely the persons in charge have been made aware and are taking steps. Come with me please.”
The chicken walked to the more-or-less center of the butte’s top and gestured impatiently at a still visibly confused Vincent. He was slowly getting to his feet when, for some reason, the tone with which the chicken next spoke shot a bolt of cold fear into him:
“Hurry please, it will not be good to be here when The Rectifier arrives.”