James takes him in his arms, concerned for his friend as wracking sobs come from him. “Here, here, it’s alright,” he says in a soothing manner. He glances back to Perrilin.

“I found him in the Empire,” he explains. “I was playing that song of yours and he came forward. Thought there was something odd about the way he was acting so I investigated. It was hard to piece things together, he doesn’t speak the common tongue at all and only a smattering of the Empire’s. But the fact he didn’t speak any language I knew well, plus his reaction to the song all made me realize something was odd. Then it hit me that he might have come from where you did.”

Taking his friend over to one of the chairs by the table, he sets him down and then takes the seat next to him. “Are you okay?” he asks.

Dave’s face comes up, tear tracks down both cheeks as he asks, “What?”

Then it hits him, Dave was still talking in English and he had asked the question in the common tongue. Having been so immersed in the language of this world for the past month or so, he has to consciously work at getting the correct English pronunciation out. “Are you okay?” he asks again, this time in English.

Dave nods his head, “I am now.”

“What happened?” he asks. “How did you get here?”

“After you went through the door for the interview, I sat there and waited for you,” he explains. “I must have waited there for an hour before I started getting impatient. I got up and went over to the door to listen to what was going on inside but couldn’t hear anything.”

“I knocked on the door and when I didn’t receive any answer I opened it. You could believe my surprise when all that I saw on the other side was an empty office with no other way out.”

“An office?” asks James. “Didn’t you make it to this world when you went through the door?”

Shaking his head, he says, “That came later. I got worried and called your name. I knew you hadn’t come back out through the waiting room so I didn’t know what to think. Then the

stories of the missing people came to mind and I hurried down to the lobby where I called 911.”

“The police showed up quickly and cordoned off the entire area. When I told them what happened, they didn’t believe me. They searched the office and didn’t find any trace that anyone had ever been in there. They did find traces of you and me in the waiting room.”

“They took me down to the police station and questioned me extensively. What they were asking me began to make me think they thought I had something to do with your disappearance. After what must’ve been hours, my mom and dad finally were allowed to take me home.”

“Outside the police station, the reporters began their inquisition as my dad took me to the car. My mom said a brief statement about how she was just glad I was okay before getting into the car with us. When we got home, your grandparents were waiting for us in the driveway.”

James sat back at that. He knew they would’ve had a bad reaction about his disappearance and now he’s going to hear about it.

“Your grandfather asked me what happened while your grandmother cried. I sure felt sorry for them and told them all I knew, which really wasn’t very much. My parents invited them in and while I went to bed, they stayed up all night talking. The police stopped by sometime in the night and asked my parents more questions. Sometime before I woke up, your grandparents left for home.”

“I wish I could tell them I’m okay,” James says sadly.

“I know,” replies Dave. “They really care about you. Anyway, I stayed home all day Sunday, didn’t leave my room. I was hoping you would call or the police would find you since they knew where you had last been, but nothing. When the news hit about you and that I was the last one to have seen you, Seth’s dad shows up at our place, demanding that I tell him where his boy is.”

“He grew angry and almost came to blows with my dad. In a fit of rage, he finally left, but not before giving me a look saying ‘this isn’t over’. That’s when my dad turned and saw me there. He gave me a look, a look that cast doubts about whether he believed me or if I hadn’t told everything. What more could I say?”

Ceryn comes over with two cups of ale and sets them in front of the two friends then returns to his seat. Neither he nor Perrilin are able to understand what’s being said.

Taking the offered cup, Dave takes a drink then continues. “Seth’s dad was seen driving slowly past our house a couple of times that afternoon but thankfully never stopped. My dad was worried about what he might do. He suggested that I stay home from school on Monday but I didn’t want to just stay at home and dwell on things. I actually thought going to school would take my mind off things. How wrong I was.”

“I no sooner got to school the next day when other students, kids I’ve grown up with come to me and begin accusing me of being the killer. Can you believe that? Me? A couple friends of Seth from the football team dragged me in the boy’s bathroom and beat the crap out of me, at which time I was sent home. I was suspended for fighting!”

“A group of reporters were waiting for me outside my home when I got back. They flew at me like a pack of vultures and started asking me the most outlandish questions. Like, ‘Why did I kill my best friend?’ and ‘How does it feel to know everyone thinks I’m a killer?’ stuff like that. I tried to bull my way through but they were blocking my way. Finally my dad showed up from work and shoved them aside. After we were inside and the door was shut, I went straight to my room and closed the door.”

“My life was beginning to spiral down into the gutter. Not only do I have the worry of what happened to you, but now everyone thinks I’m guilty. Even my parents were no longer as supportive as they had been. Of course in my state of mind I may have imagined that, but I knew I had to find out what happened to you. And the only place to do that was back where I last saw you.”

“So later that night I sneaked out and wearing that hat from Bakersfield that was always too big for me, I was able to sneak to the bus stop before anyone recognized me. I took the bus downtown and made it to the building on Commercial. A cop was stationed in the lobby. I waited until he was distracted by another person then hurried over to the elevator and got in. The door closed before he had a chance to see me. I got off on the twenty third floor and went down to room 2334.”

“The doorway was covered in that yellow police tape. I didn’t really expect to find anything there, after all the police had gone through with a fine tooth comb and they didn’t come up with anything. But I knew I had to do this. Removing the tape, I opened the door and stepped within.”

“That’s when I was hit from behind and fell to the floor. I turned and saw Seth’s dad standing there. ‘I thought you might come back here. The killer always returns to the scene of the crime,’ he said. I then told him, ‘I did not kill anyone!’ But he didn’t believe me.”

“He came at me and I scooted away, knocking over a table in my attempt to escape. He kept yelling at me to tell him what happened to Seth and the others all the while trying to reach me. I scrambled away, finally got back to my feet.”

“I saw the blow coming and tried to block it but it connected with my jaw and actually knocked me back off my feet. I crashed into the wall and fell onto one of those small tables that were there and knocked it over. Books and magazines went flying. I felt a static shock from something before he grabbed me and threw me across the room.”

“Hurt and praying nothing was broken, I got back up and looked into the eyes of a madman as he approached me. I had to get out of there, all thoughts about finding out what happened to you gone. I was now simply worried about my own survival. He was between me and the door to the hallway outside. I tried to make it around him but he caught me and after a quick two blows to my stomach, threw me again across the room where I crashed through a door and hit the floor.”

“Groaning, I twisted to look at him coming and the shock of what I saw, after all I’ve been through must’ve been too much and I passed out.”

“What did you see?” James asks.

“When I came to, I was lying in a clearing. Standing over me was this little creature, it had a weird hat and some kind of vest or something. It frightened me and I got up and ran away through the trees. I could hear it calling to me but I wasn’t paying any attention to what it was saying. The enormity of what I was experiencing was overwhelming.”

“At first I thought I was hallucinating, and then after awhile thought maybe this was the afterlife, though it sure wasn’t any afterlife I’d ever heard about.” He takes the cup in his hand and takes several more drinks.

James can see he’s looking to him for a response, but he’s not sure what kind to give him. That creature was

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