It was the more intrusive sounds that he became aware of first. A gentle beep, beep, beep of some sort, and in the background a mechanical whir and some sort of strange, intermittent hiss. And then, in the distance, a bing, bing, bing, followed by a more urgent bing-bong, bing-bong, bing-bong. An alarm of some sort, maybe?
Then came the more familiar sounds. The voices, strangely muffled, sometimes speaking in grave and whispered tones, sometimes more light-hearted, as if enjoying a quiet joke. He tried to catch one or two of the words but they were lost in the air. And as he listened he became aware of new sounds, coming from behind him, perhaps drifting in through an open window. The rustle of a gentle breeze through leaves on a tree. An occasional twitter of birdsong. Even the call of a cuckoo.
“Cou-cou to you too”, thought Monsieur Propriétaire.
Just then the bing, bing, bing kicked off again. Definitely an alarm.
“Is it time to get up?”
Monsieur Propriétaire’s mouth felt bone dry, and could he feel something unexpected there? Something plastic? He tried to swallow, but couldn’t, so he went to speak, but found he had been rendered speechless. This was strange. He tried to move, simply to open his eyes, but he was unable too. It was as if they were taped shut. This was getting weird now. He raised a hand to check, or at least he tried to, but his arms seemed curiously reluctant to obey his bidding.
At this point a sense of panic began to creep into his mind. What were these noises? Where was his voice? Why was it all so dark? Why would his arms not do as they were told? The fact his chest seemed to be going up and down at a strangely regular rate, curiously in time with that occasional hiss, without any apparent effort on his part, only served to amplify his already rising anxiety level. He felt his heart begin to pound, harder and faster than he had ever felt it before – apart from that time last year when The Wine Prosecutor had given his wine 94 points of course. That had been a good day. What a party they had had. Vaquero had been there. His mind began to wander…
“He seems a little light”, spoke a disembodied voice.
“I’ll go up on the midazolam”, came an equally incorporeal reply.
Darkness closed in on Monsieur Propriétaire, and he slipped once more into the vacuum of the abyss.