Koren awoke slowly, vaguely wondering who was playing the drums in his head. Opening his eyes, the beating intensified. Koren looked up to see strange metal grates in the ceiling. Behind the grates, Koren could see the sun, trapped. He glanced down as quickly as the pounding in his head would allow, and saw a distinctly human body where his should be. He closed his eyes and groaned.
"Name identification, please," a disembodied voice boomed. Koren ignored it, examining his surroundings.
Four solid walls surrounded him, with a floor and ceiling. He snorted in amusement, immediately regretting it when his head exploded in pain. He was in a box. Yet the box was broken, incomplete. A hole covered by what seemed to be the same material as the wall stood in the wall opposite him. He assumed it was how he had entered the box, though why he would do that was beyond his foggy recollection of the previous night. He ran his hands along the metal frame that suspended him above the floor, with soft fabric pulled over his body. Quiet, beeping objects flickered with strange lights around the box, soft enough that the dissonant sounds were only mildly distracting. The voice spoke again.
"Name identification, please."
Koren glanced around, trying to find the source of the voice, a voice unlike anything he'd ever heard before. It was curiously hard to place, being neither male nor female, yet it spoke with the language of humans. Perplexed, Koren slowly rotated his head back and forth, searching for the culprit. He eased himself to the floor, bracing himself against a wall as the box tilted dangerously in front of his eyes. He approached one of the strange, beeping objects, trying to find the location of the repetitive voice. As he suspiciously examined one of the objects, the hole in the wall uncovered itself with a small hissing noise. Koren backed up against the wall and eyed the hole carefully, waiting for its next move. Three humans, much like those he'd seen at home, stepped through the hole. It hissed closed again, trapping the new humans in the box with him.
"Name identification, please."
They were dressed in white cloaks that ended at their calves, and white pants. Though their clothing was identical, the humans were drastically different. The tallest of the three had short, black hair and black eyes that seemed like endless pits when Koren stared into them. His skin was darker than the others, and he held a strange box that, when placed near one of the beeping objects, beeped as well. The second human was the only one smiling. The man's bright red hair and brilliant green eyes seemed to cast an internal light around him. Koren felt a little less disoriented when he looked at this happy man.
"Name identification, please."
The third human was female. Her long, brown hair fell in a braid down her back, a style that was popular in Koren's home among the humans. She had only glanced at him for a moment when they'd come in, but Koren felt intrigued by her eyes. They reminded him of the amber statues in his hometown. The statues sparkled in the sunlight and glowed during the night, points of refuge, safety. Her eyes, though the same molten color, held none of the warmth that the statues did. It was strange, Koren reflected, that the lifeless objects in the town square were more alive and comforting than this living human. He smiled to himself. Humans were so odd.
"Name identification, please."
The redheaded man smiled widely. He stepped forward and held out his hand to Koren. The taller man caught the man by the back of his cloak and pulled him back. Koren didn't move.
"Name identification, please."
The woman looked up at the trapped sun and sighed impatiently. "Hilda Gates. Stephen Rhodes. Cain Paine." She flicked her eyes at Koren and grimaced. "New patient. Unidentified."
"You have authorization," the voice said.
Koren watched them. He wondered if all humans identified themselves with objects that represented them. If so, he wondered why Cain had chosen Pain.
The tallest one stepped forward. He glanced down at the little box in his hand and exhaled slowly. When his breath was spent, he lifted his head and locked gazes with Koren.
"I am Dr. Rhodes. What's your name?"
"You are Stephen."
Dr. Rhodes seemed surprised. He regained his composure and nodded. "That's what my friends call me. Would you like to be my friend?"
"No," Koren said bluntly. The redhead chuckled.
Dr. Rhodes frowned. "Well, in any case, I want to be your friend. But I can't be your friend unless you tell me your name."
"Then he's never gonna tell you that, Steve-o," the redhead said. Dr. Rhodes glared at him, but the shorter man kept smiling. He turned to Koren. "I'm Dr. Paine. Isn't that great? I'm an anesthesiologist and my name destroys my credibility to patients. It's a wonder that I'm making the big bucks at all."
Koren stared at the man. Dr. Paine used words he'd never heard of.
"Cain," Dr. Rhodes said, his voice tight.
"Right, doctor. No speaking to the patient until we've diagnosed 'em."
Dr. Rhodes let out a long-suffering sigh. "That's right, Cain."
The woman, Dr. Gates, Koren assumed, rolled her eyes and approached Koren. "What's your name? Who are you? Where do you come from?"
Koren, bombarded by the questions, grabbed one at random and answered it. "Einara."
"What is that?"
"That's my home. Where I was last night. Where am I now?"
"What's your name?" Dr. Gates pressed, ignoring Koren's question.
"What is your last name?"
Koren licked his lips in thought. These humans must have a different religion than those in Einara. Clearly they believed that the dead came back in new forms. He shook his head. "I don't believe in that."
The woman laughed. Koren liked the sound of it. "Whether you do or not, you must have one, Koren. Stephen's last name is Rhodes, and mine is Gates."
"My last name is Paine!" Dr. Paine volunteered.
Dr. Gates smiled at Koren, trying hard to ignore Dr. Paine. "What is your last name?"
Koren pondered. They must want an object to associate him with. "Flight."
Dr. Paine laughed this time. "Oh, that's rich!" The other two doctors looked at him questioningly. He grinned at them. "Don't you get it? He's making fun of us. Pain, gate, road? Flight." He smiled at Koren. "That's the best joke I've heard in a while."
Dr. Rhodes clearly did not think it was funny. He spoke to Dr. Gates, pointing vaguely at the box in his hand. "Einara doesn't exist. Diagnosis?"
She shook her head slowly, as if sorry to say anything. "Mild schizophrenia, possible amnesia. Give him a sedative. We'll need to put him in therapy."
Dr. Paine looked shocked. "But-"
"My diagnosis is final. Give him the sedative," she said. The hole in the wall opened again. She stepped out with Dr. Rhodes.
Dr. Paine shrugged as the hole hissed shut again. He pulled out a short tube with a needle in the end. He poured liquid into the tube and looked at Koren apologetically.
"Welcome to the Asylum, Koren."
The liquid was icy cold, and brought the darkness upon Koren very quickly.
This time, Koren struggled awake quicker. The pounding drums were gone, as were the beeping objects. But he had not been removed from the box. A sound by his arm startled him. He sat up quickly. There was no pain in his head any longer.
The sound came from Dr. Paine, who was asleep, sitting in a chair beside Koren. He snored quietly, his chin resting on his chest. Koren's movements roused him from his sleep, and he smiled at Koren.
"Good morning. You're late, you know." Koren tilted his head in question. "I tried to wake you up, but you wouldn't move. It's time for group treatment." He stood, straightening a hopelessly wrinkled cloak, identical to the one he wore yesterday. Perhaps it was the same one. He held out a hand to Koren, who took it. The man pulled Koren to his feet and gestured for him to follow. The hole in the wall opened as Dr. Paine approached it.
"You should get this hole fixed. Things will fall out of the hole if you try to fill the box," Koren said, watching as the hole closed.
Dr. Paine turned, puzzled. His eyes lit up as he followed Koren's gaze. "It's not a hole, Koren. Or not really. It's called a door. Surely you have those where you come from. And that box is called a room. And I know you have those." But when Koren looked at Dr. Paine, the man didn't seem so sure. He cleared his throat. "Come this way, Koren."
They walked down a long corridor, full of many doors, as Dr. Paine had called them. None of them hissed open when they walked by, but Dr. Paine didn't seem to mind. They reached the end of the corridor and entered a larger room.
"This is the central hub of the Asylum," Dr. Paine explained as they walked across the large room to another corridor. "The heart of the place, if you will. If you ever get lost, and can't find anyone to help you find your way, just come here. It's clearly marked by those glowing signs," here he pointed directly above them, to a glowing arrow leading back the way they'd come, "and someone will be there to help you. Not that you'd be alone, but just in case." He smiled winningly. Koren felt himself smiling back, though he wasn't sure why.
"Where are we? My people will be looking for me, and I need to know how far from home I have strayed," Koren said.
"Your people? Well, you're in a pretty remote part of the country, I doubt you've ever heard of it."
"What country?" Koren asked.
"The U. S. of A, of course." Dr. Paine said it like it was common knowledge.
Koren looked around the corridor. "And do all your people live in these giant boxes?"
"They're called buildings, and yes. What do you live in, a cave?"
"Of course," Koren responded. It was his turn to state the obvious. Dr. Paine shook his head.
"Stranger and stranger. Sometimes I ask myself why I work at a crazy house and expect normal things." He stopped in front of a door and pushed on it. The door swung open.
"Here's your stop, man. I'll be back to pick you up after lunch." He turned to leave. Then, as if on second thought, he looked back at Koren. "And don't, don't talk funny. The docs don't like that." He walked off.
Koren took a deep breath and stepped through the door. Seven pairs of eyes swiveled to look at him. He looked back at them, unsure of what to do. One of the people rose. It was Dr. Gates. Koren caught a look at her eyes. The liquid amber held him captivated again. She looked away, gesturing for him to sit among the others. He obliged, never taking his eyes off her, in case she should look up at him again.
"This is Koren. He is new to the Asylum, so be nice to him," she said to the group. They nodded obediently.
"Where have you been, Koren? Class started quite a while ago."
"Dr. Paine said he couldn't wake me. So when I did rise, he brought me here. Where are we?"
"We are in class, Koren."
"I mean, where? Dr. Paine said -"
"He talked to you?" Dr. Gates' voice was sharp. Koren nodded. "Idiot," she muttered. She shook her head. Koren began wondering if this was a common gesture. It seemed most of the people here shook their heads.
"Gloria, how are you feeling today?"
A small girl, less than fifteen years of age, looked up fearfully at Dr. Gates. "I'm - I woke up feeling cold today."
"And why was that?"
"I think, it's because my brain thinks that I'm an ice demon, but I know that I'm not." Dr. Gates smiled. Koren watched the girl. She did not have the aura of an ice demon, but then again, Koren did not retain his true form either.
"Very good. Michael? Do you want to say something?"
A tall man, probably taller than Dr. Rhodes, slouched in his chair beside Koren. "No. And I wouldn't want to tell you if I did."
"Because you're a witch. I don't belong here. I belong with my family."
Koren turned sharply to face the man. "They took you from your family too?" he asked. Dr. Gates told him to shut up, but Koren ignored her. He grabbed the man's arm and pulled him closer.
"Yeah, but what do you care? You're just one of them crazies that won't remember me in a few hours."
"They took me from my family. From my home. They tell me that I'm crazy, that I suffer from-" Koren tried to bring up one of the medical terms, but couldn't. "But I know I'm not. And my family will find me, I know they will." Michael looked interested, even against his will. He started to say something, but Dr. Gates cleared her throat and he left the comment unspoken.
Shaking Koren's hand off, he muttered, "You're a crazy, that's all. Just trying to make me like all the rest."
Koren stood, but Dr. Gates sharply told him to sit. He glared at her, but obeyed.
Dr. Gates spoke to him without looking at him. "How are you feeling today, Koren?"
"Fine. My head stopped hurting. I think Dr. Paine's liquid cured me."
Dr. Gates nodded distractedly. "And who are you?"
"Let me clarify. You're a human, are you not?"
"I am not."
Dr. Gates sighed. "Then what are you?"
"I am a dragon." Everyone in the room stiffened visibly. Koren swiveled his head back and forth, trying to find the cause of the reaction.
Michael stirred beside him. "Dragons. You're all crazies," he muttered. The others in the room laughed nervously.
Dr. Gates stood and glared at him. "You don't know what you're saying, Koren."
But for the first time since he'd gotten there, Koren felt sure of what he was doing. "No, I know exactly what I'm saying."
"Good God, Koren," Michael whispered beside him, "what are you trying to do? Get yourself killed?"
"What god are you referring to?" Koren asked, momentarily distracted. Surely he would call Kala by name, the Mother of All Things.
Michael stared at him. "You are crazy. The only god there is."
"Then why not call her by name?"
"Her? What drugs are you taking, man?"
"Kala, the Great Artist, the One Who Is, the Ruler over all. Surely you know her."
"Or you could just be crazy." Michael stood and left the room. Dr. Gates watched him leave, but made no move to stop him. She whirled on Koren.
"You." Her captivating eyes took on a fiery glaze that almost amounted to the statues back home. Koren stared, enthralled. "Why are you so resistant to the drugs? They were given to make you sane again." She turned her head, breaking Koren's trance. "It was Cain. That imbecile. He probably gave you the wrong dose, or something. Why Stephen took him in the first place is beyond me." Koren shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The motion shook Dr. Gates out of her reverie. She shook her head.
The group stood as one, and filed out the swinging door. Koren was reminded of the cattle in his homeland, herded through the pastures toward certain death. Even though the cattle knew they were to die, they accepted the fate, too stupid to do otherwise. Like these humans.
Koren followed after them, unwilling to be caught in this box alone with Dr. Gates. When he stepped through the door, the others had dispersed, following more people in white cloaks. Only one remained. Michael leaned against the wall beside Koren and shook his head ruefully. It must be a contagious habit, Koren noted. Michael slowly looked up and down the corridor. Then, confirming that none were coming his way, he grabbed Koren's arm and pulled him down another hallway that he'd missed before.
Michael stood in front of a door that hissed open like Koren's own, and he pushed Koren inside, following him in. The box was much like every other box, except this one had soft walls and floor. Koren bounced slightly on his toes, testing the durability of the unstable floor. It didn't collapse, but Koren felt unsafe. He perched on the bed, pulling his legs off the floor. Michael watched.
"I can't decide. You act crazy, but if you are, you're not any kind of crazy I've seen before."
"Why is everything soft?"
Michael crossed the room, smirking. "See, crazy." But the rebuke was softer. He sat next to Koren, uncomfortably close. "They think I'm suicidal. So they gave me a safe room." He rolled his eyes and smiled. Koren felt a small tug at his heart. Michael looked so familiar. Just like his soulmate. Only, she was a dragon, so that wasn't right.
"What is Swiss Cider?" Koren asked, stumbling over the unfamiliar word.
"Suicidal? You are crazy, aren't you? It means I want to kill myself."
Koren stared at Michael in shock. Who would ever want to thwart the will of Kala? She wouldn't ever call on one to destroy oneself. This land was strange, uncivilized. These humans were no more than barbarians. Koren found himself almost wishing for the company of the humans back on Einara.
"So," Michael said, "you're a dragon." Koren nodded. "Right there," Michael said, pointing to a spot on the wall opposite the door.
Koren stared at the wall. "I don't see anything, Michael."
"You're not supposed to see anything. If you're a dragon, you can breathe fire or something, right? If you can, then blow a hole in the wall, and we'll get out of here."
"But I can't use fire in this form. A human body is not built to breathe anything other than air."
"Then, change back or whatever. Let's blow this joint."
"What does that mean, Michael?"
"My name is Kip."
"Then why did Dr. Gates call you Michael? Is she mistaken?"
"No, it's my real name, but my friends called me Kip. It just kinda stuck. And I hate the name Michael."
"But if it was given to you by Kala, then your name has a purpose in the Great Plan."
Kip stood, angry. "I don't know what you're talking about, but that ka-la-la crap is getting really annoying." A siren sounded, lighting the room up with red.
Koren widened his eyes. "I do not mean to anger you, Mi-Kip! Please turn off that noise!"
"It's not me. They're looking for you!" he shouted over the high-pitched scream. Koren jumped off the bed, hands clasped over his ears, and stumbled across the soft floor to the door. It didn't move. He reluctantly pulled his hands away from his ears to pound on the door.
"I'm in here! Stop the noise, please!" Kip watched, his arms crossed over his chest.
After what Koren thought was an eternity, the door hissed open. Dr. Gates stood there, eyes wide and face pale. Koren clasped his hands over his own ears and shouted, "I'm here! Turn off the noise!" Dr. Gates shook her head and grabbed Koren's elbow, dragging Koren after her. The door hissed closed. As Koren looked over his shoulder, he glimpsed the bemused face of Kip before the door sealed itself. He stumbled after Dr. Gates.
"They're here. You have to do something, Koren. They've destroyed a whole section of the Asylum and killed a lot of people," Dr. Gates said frantically.
"Who's here?" Koren asked.
Dr. Gates stopped at the end of a corridor and pointed at the ceiling. Koren recognized the room in front of him as the Heart of the Asylum, as Dr. Paine had put it. He looked up. Sunlight filtered through the holes in the ceiling, which hadn't been there when he'd passed through earlier. Large objects occasionally flew over, blocking the light until they passed. Koren squinted his eyes. At that moment, one of the large objects landed on the roof and poked its head through a hole. The massive, roving eyes focused first on Dr. Gates, then on Koren. Recognition flooded the eyes. The head disappeared, and a mighty bugle filled the air, overpowering even the wailing siren. Relief filled Koren. He broke free of Dr. Gates and stood directly under one of the holes. Surrounded by sunlight, he felt as close to his true form as he had since he'd first found himself in the Asylum. Dragons flew above him, each trumpeting in acknowledgment as they saw him. Koren looked back at Dr. Gates, grinning widely at the doctor.
"They've come for me! Thank Kala, the Greatest Miracle of All!" Dr. Gates fled in terror.
Koren closed his eyes and knelt in the ring of sunlight. He blocked out the sounds of the siren and of the ecstatic dragons. When all had fallen silent in his head, he began to pray.
"Kala, Great Protector, Whose Plan is Supreme, hear the prayer of a humble servant. I am unaware of the purpose You have for me in this form, but if it pleases You, I beseech You to return me to the skies. My heart longs to soar with the winds You've created." He sat, head bowed, waiting for Kala's response. The sounds of the dragons' flight made the wait seem twice as long. But suddenly, Koren felt a tingling in his spine. He cracked open his eyes, seeing the ground fall away. He felt his bones shifting, growing, changing. The room became tiny, just large enough to contain his massive size. Koren's flesh hardened to stone-hard scales. A spiky mane sprouted, replacing the soft hair on his head. His nose elongated, and a tail emerged. He felt his organs change, to fulfill the purposes his body intended. When the change was complete, he lifted his head to the sky and bugled in a way that human vocal chords could never manage. Then he launched into the air, crashing through the ceiling. The plaster fell around him, but he spread his wings and beat the air to lift himself above the wreckage. The dragons dropped down and circled around him, respectfully keeping their distance. Koren searched the skies for a particular face. She approached him, tilting her wings so she wouldn't crash into him. Now that he saw her face again, he noted how her face did resemble Mich-Kip's face. Smiling to himself, he said a silent goodbye to Kip and the humans in the Asylum. He extended his neck, touching her face with his. She smiled.
He nodded, pulling his face away from hers. Let's go home.
The sky flashed brilliantly for a moment as the dragons faced the setting sun and disappeared.
|11 Jul 2006|| Musty Zein|
Awesome story, well written and very descriptive Laura A. Wellington
replies: "yay, glad you liked it."
|11 Jul 2006|| Ryan Stringer|
Whoa, whoa, whoa.. I'm missing something here, but that was a great story! What I want to know is this - are they on earth or are they in some alternate fantasyish world that has progressed to our level of civilization, complete with asylums, etc?
The whole idea of a Dragon being in human form and stuck in an asylum is kinda fun, if perhaps not entirely original, but you wrote it well and definately got into the character's head a little bit. You seem to have a real talent for writing fast-paced short stories, which is something that eludes me. Even when I write a short story it always becomes a long story.. I guess its good that my primary focus is on novel-writing
I think I would still have preferred a little more clarity as to how Koren got into that situation and where exactly he comes from in relation to the asylum. The end was good - nothing terribly shocking or mesmerizing, but it was a happy ending, which isn't a bad thing. I thought perhaps it came a little too quickly - perhaps you might have spent a little more time instilling in the reader the idea that there are some pissed off dragon's out there who want their buddy back. That may be the novelist in me talking though Laura A. Wellington
replies: "This story was written in response to a challenge, to write something about dragons. I started this piece, intending it to be longer (which shows in the ending: i.e. the rushed part) and ran out of time. So I had to cap it off quickly, and didn't quite pull it off. Oh well.And Koren comes from a different world, but it's set on Earth. I tried to make it vague though, so that it really could be anywhere. I guess that wasn't good enough for you."
|11 Jul 2006|| Kristin Lewis|
Beautiful story. I love the part when he changes back into a dragon. Great job on the details. Laura A. Wellington
replies: "Thank you."
|16 Dec 2006|| Hannah Ashley|
Wow, he held out better than I would have. I would have freaked out and tried to kill somebody right off the bat. The details are great, and I love the part when the docs are trying t figure out who he is. Nice job. Laura A. Wellington
replies: "Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure how well I would've held up either, but luckily it was neither you nor I in the situation."