Usually Jeff Saunders heard the sound of padded booties on the floors of the psychiatric ward, but today almost everyone was outside enjoying the sunshine and breeze, and there was no sound except for his own scuffling feet against the cold tiles that lined the hallway.
One patient remained inside though. Garwen Fleede was a strange young man only in the ward because he had been accused of killing his older brother despite the fact that he insisted Quent Johnson had committed the murder.
He was a short young man at four foot nine with a tight mass of flame-red curls atop his head and a pair of hunter green (almost black) reptilian eyes. Doctors could say he was wearing contacts, but they couldn't explain the mouth full of razor-sharp teeth or his scaly-looking red skin or the two horns curling from his head.
"He looks like a dragon," Jeff said softly, and his voice echoed incoherently down the empty hall as he stood before Garwen's door and pushed his cardkey into the lock. He heard the locks shift and slipped inside after double-checking the halls for any other life signs. Of course no one was around.
"Hello Jeffrey," the young man sitting in the chair in the corner diagonal to Jeff said without looking up from the paperback he was reading.
"Mr. Fleede," Jeff chastised gently. No one called him Jeffrey. Not even his own parents.
"Garwen, please," the young man said and closed his book. "What can I do for you, Jeffrey."
"Please call me Jeff," the other man said as he took a seat. If he even heard, Garwen chose to ignore the request as he had every time in the past. "I have brought you some new books," he said as he set a small stack upon the bedside table. "You might find them to your tastes; you might not."
"I'm sure I will. Almost everything you have brought me has been worth the read."
Jeff sighed. "Garwen, why do you insist that there are such things as dragons and magic? You know they would let you out of here if you just pretended you haven't gone to another world and haven't nearly been killed. If you would just explain what happened to Gomun Fleede they everything would be all right." Garwen's flash of teeth intimidated him.
"So you finally admit to believing me, do you Jeffrey?"
"You know I didn't say…" He stopped and thought back on his answer. Had he not said just that when he had used the word "pretended?"
Garwen saw the indecision on his face and grinned again. "You don't know, do you?"
Jeff shook his head with less authority than he should have displayed. Why was it that Garwen always made him feel like a small child who didn't know what he wanted? He did know, didn't he? "I don't know what to think, Garwen," he admitted.
"That is the true question: what should you believe? On one hand, you have your psychology degree, which tells you everything I say is a figment of the imagination, and on the other, you have your sight, which tells you that I might be telling the truth when you see what I actually look like. I can see your predicament; you don't know who or what to trust."
The young man looked at his book. "The dragons often understood things before their skyryders."
Jeff had heard enough. As much as the idea of dragons had intrigued him as a small boy, there was no way such a story was true, that such a thing had really occurred anywhere but in Garwen's mind. He leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees. "What really happened to Gomun Fleede, Garwen. Who really killed your brother?"
It was obvious Jeff wasn't ready to accept the truth – the whole story – but maybe if Garwen told him, Jeff would stop repeating all his questions every time he entered the room. The truth would just plague Garwen until he explained it to someone else anyway. Why not Jeff who already partially believed despite his hesitation?
He looked Jeff in the eyes, trapping the young doctor in his hypnotic gaze. Jeff found he couldn't look away even if he wanted to. "I didn't."
"Then who did?" Jeff asked with an exasperated sigh.
"I already told you – Quent Johnson."
"No one has seen Quent in fifteen years, Garwen. The boy would be a man now, and from what you say, the young man who killed Gomun is a teenager, which leaves you. You are a teenager, and you were found with the weapon in your hand."
Several moments passed during which neither said a word. The silence was deafening and made Jeff itch to move, to leave the room and find solace somewhere else.
"Do you want to know what happened?" Garwen asked softly.
"What happened?" Jeff repeated and blinked in confusion. He had to think hard about his answer. If he said yes, would Garwen assume he believed his tale? The other waited for his answer with a patience that astounded Jeff. He didn't fidget, and Jeff had a funny feeling he wasn't even blinking, which unsettled him, but he thought carefully nonetheless.
Finally, he nodded. "Tell me."
Garwen grinned, flashing Jeff all his sharp teeth, and settled back in his stiff-backed chair in a way that made Jeff's back ache, but the boy didn't seem the least bit disturbed. In fact, he looked more at ease than Jeff, who sat in the more comfortable chair. Excitement filled Jeff's core of being and caused the adrenaline to rush through his veins like a car along a track. He hadn't realized he had been so tense until he unknotted his shoulder with a massage.
For several moments, Garwen's eyes clouded as if remembering something. Then he spoke with a clear and precise voice. "It may well have started before the incident that took us to Geniserc. I don't know. Gomun and I were always close despite our seven-year age difference. I loved him too much to bring any harm to him. After the attack, he moved back in with us for a while to keep me company. I always appreciated him for that. Tracy, his wife, wasn't happy, but she was in school, so she didn't mind as much as she might have otherwise."
Jeff heard the love in Garwen's voice as he talked about his brother. This wasn't the voice of a man who had murdered his kin.
Garwen sighed, tangled a hand in his mass of curls around a horn and tugged it nervously. He frowned and looked away, lost in a moment that existed only in his mind. A lot had changed since he'd gone to Geniserc.
Jeff waited for him to continue speaking in silence. Where was the boy's mind that he had such a pale and grim look on his face? What had happened on this other planet, on Geniserc?
"I see no point in starting anywhere but where the incident started, which is probably the best place to start, so I will begin just before the attack, when I almost died the first time…"