That night, sleep didn’t come to Shin so he sat and thought and wondered and continued to think and wonder. In time, as the clock ticked into the lonely night, he started to reflect on his life as he often did when his mind was idle. Pride was not something he would use to describe the course of his life and a reluctance to let go of things in his past always kept him from truly moving on whenever he wanted to turn a new leave.
There were no nightmares and no faces or names on his conscience. But even if the world didn’t know, he knew.
Everything had been necessary in the name of survival. Shin did not know who his parents were; he was an orphan and lived in a Buddhist orphanage until he was old enough to run away. Kyoto was not a kid-friendly city, especially at night. No matter what it took to do to get by, he would do it. As a young and inexperienced laborer, he ditched ethnical work for mob work. Like many before him, he started off with petty theft and drugs before then he was promoted to violent gang activity.
Before long, his reputation of being cold blooded and being able to carry out assignments with deadly precision began to precede him. He worked under the umbrella of a larger organization and soon the higher ups figured his abilities would be better used for the dirtiest work in the business: killing. Shin became a hitman at the tender age of sixteen and was paired with one of the most ruthless killers in the city.
But despite the money, the glory, and women, he always felt something was missing. The materialistic wants were all there and the familial wants were filled in by his underworld family. He recalled going to the temple very often, more often than he ever saw his “brothers” going. Hours of his time would be spent on meditation, self-reflection, and having conversations with the monks. Part of him knew that this activity held him back.
In the underworld, the process of becoming a good hitman was called conditioning. This is why rookies always get paired with veterans who not only taught them the jack of the trade but also to teach them to develop the right mindset. Killing was easy enough, however, being able to eliminate a VIP that was probably surrounded by security while inflicting minimal injuries to oneself was difficult. This kind of intelligence could only be conditioned through natural skill and honed with experience. Those were the practical traits.
There were mental traits too. A hitman should not be moved by a pleading victim. It might cause him to hesitate and hesitation leads to death or worse, failure. Being cold and calculating minimalizes the chances of stumbling on the job.
All these traits were actually desirable of any mobster in a crime organization regardless of their rank. There had to be a certain degree of disregard for humanity even if someone was just a lowly drug dealer. But higher positions called for lesser margin of error.
That was Shin’s only flaw. He didn’t have what it takes to disregard his opinions. Hiding emotions from others was easy but hiding it from oneself is an impossible task if the soul does not agree with the body. As he sat, reflected on certain defining moments of his dastardly career. His first major crime was smuggling over a hundred kilograms of narcotics into the city. The most memorable moment was obviously when he got caught and the subsequent beating he received for running away from the scene of the crime. He hadn’t known who to fear more, his police or his own gang. He grew older and improved.
The first time he was chased by police was when he stole his first car. He completely destroyed it along with a shop in the process. The defining moment of when he started considering the people he hurt was after that moment when he visited the scene of the crime and hearing about how the subsequently bankrupt shop owner committed suicide.
It was a downward spiral from there. He kept noticing the effects his actions had on people but rarely did he address any way to fix it. Sometimes he would nod to a relative of the victim when he saw them but they would never understand the gesture.
His worst milestone was the first time he had to kill a man as it marked the end of his blood-free hands but it was not as scarring as the first time he had to kill a woman. She was a mother and had no fault but her foolish husband had borrowed too much money from loan sharks and couldn’t pay it back. He was supposed to make an example of her but overdid it.
He was not even seventeen years of age yet.
There was a very stark difference between watching someone get killed and committing the act yourself. He had thought he was prepared to perform his duty merely because he had seen it done so many times; shootings, assassinations, executions, and many other heinous yet creative ways. But nothing prepared him for the moment he put the gun to the head of the man who was blindfolded and bound in the truck of a car and pulled the trigger. It was a shock, much more than the recoil of the firearm itself. It was a mental shock, a sort of wakeup call. The realization of how easily life is taken away hits you and you realize life can be snubbed as easily as flushing the toilet. In a way, the two acts are very similar.
He preferred guns; quick, easy, and less dirty. He detested executions by blades because it was dirty and quite a pain to perform. Thankfully, in the most twisted context possible, executions were only done when an example needed to be set.
The sound of his cell phone woke him up from his reminiscing. The flat touchscreen device laid next to his feet on the foot rest but instead of reaching for it, he merely stared at it for several minutes lazily, wondering if it was worth reaching over to get it.
“Wow, someone must really wanted to reach me,” he muttered. He grabbed the phone and opened up the messages.
It was from Miya.
The first message read: Hey, I’m just wondering if you’re okay. Text me back.
The second message read: ??? Shin???
Now what in the world does she mean by this? He wondered. Insomnia had struck but he was very much okay. He couldn’t imagine why she would randomly text him so late at night just to ask how he was doing.
“What in the-!”
Shin dropped his phone and ran upstairs as quickly as he could, turning on all the lights as he went. A swift search of the entire upstairs area of the house yielded no results although he did not check the attic. All the bedrooms were clear and the bathrooms and even the closets.
There was no doubt in his mind he had heard footsteps running away after he had heard the thumping. But with his search resulting in nothing, he turned out all the lights and went back downstairs. He was certain the thumping happened right above him, which was in a bathroom.
The wizen old landlord came to his mind, telling him stories of all the paranormal events that occurred within the house. Noises were not an extraordinary event. She told him to expect to hear crashes, thumps, creaks, and even voices without ever discovering their source.
The clock read four in the morning.
“Damn…” he muttered and contemplated going to bed.
But sleep was as elusive as ever. His mind was tired but his body felt energized. Maybe there was some chore he could work on until he got tired…
His phone rang.
Despite the sudden loud noise in the silent house, it evoked a very slow and mellow response in Shin. He picked it up and put it on speaker.
“Shin!” Miya’s voice whispered, “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
There was silence on the other line for a moment, like she was trying to figure out what she was going to say.
“I got your text messages,” he said without her having to ask, “Don’t worry.”
Slight sigh of relief from her end. It was faint but he could hear it.
“What’s the matter, Miya? Why aren’t you sleeping?”
Again, there was silence from her end, as if she were thinking about what she wanted to say. There was something she wasn’t telling him and he hoped it wasn’t something as stupid as she just wanted to talk to him.
“Can you just go to sleep?” he asked politely.
Her curt response surprised him.
“I’m sorry!” she said almost immediately, “I’m sorry! I meant, I can’t.”
Is there something you want to tell me? He wanted to say, but he stayed his tongue. He was more curious than impatient at this point. Like, maybe why you texted me right before my haunted house started acting up on me?
She cut him off. “Shin, I’m sorry I called so late. I’m going to sleep now. Goodnight.” And without waiting for a response, she hung up.
There was no sense as to what had just happened. He had a lot of questions but it seemed like she was not interested in answering them and the last thing he wanted to do was try to see her. This was probably something best left alone. Hopefully nothing weird happens anymore by the time day broke tomorrow.
Shin’s eyes slowly rolled up towards the ceiling above him where the thumping had come from and slowly peered to the left and then to the right. The thumping did not occur again but it was unmistakable this time. What were the chances of something falling over again in the same spot?
Things would be normal tomorrow, he told himself. He went to sleep hoping he would be right.
When Shin did not respond, Gina quietly rolled over and yanked his ear.
“Ow! What the-!” he yelled but stopped himself from cursing otherwise Gina was going to smack him. He rubbed the lobe of his smarting ear and demanded, “What was that for?”
“You’re like a thousand miles away,” Liang commented without turning towards him, “What’s up, kid?”
It was an unusually starry night and was strangely cloudless. Gina had suggested they simply lie down and watch the sky instead of going out that Friday. It was a new experience but everyone was embracing the new activity quite well. Instead the quick and fast pace of the club, they were discovering the serenity of simple stargazing.
Shin had not been with the group long, but he had grown to fit in as if he had known everyone his entire life. There was Liang and his girlfriend, Gina Kim. In Shin’s opinion, Gina should have been named Grace because she was the most graceful person he had ever met. She was like his mother and older sister combined, always taking care of him and making sure he had eaten and that he was courteous to women and respectful to the elderly. And she was incredibly wise for her young age.
Gina’s best friend was Asuka Ashida, a short tempered, crass, and somewhat sadistic girl. Like Liang, Asuka was an executive of the Royal Guards but unlike Liang, she didn’t hide that fact from Gina. She had a well-known street reputation of being a loose cannon which she completely embraced. But to Shin’s knowledge, she was nowhere as bad as he once was.
Their last member was Sirin Hwang Lee. He was the youngest, only seventeen, but one of the brightest. He was incredibly lazy and like Shin, Gina was consistently looking after him. However, he bore most of the flak of Asuka’s insults and verbal rampages but was not shy about giving it back. The two of them bickering was the group’s favorite pastime.
But as Liang had pointed out, Shin’s thoughts were elsewhere that night. He was still trying to make logical sense of the night before; the phone text message from Miya and the thumping in his house. At some point earlier that day, he had pieced together that the occurrences might have been coincidental. The noise happened right after she texted him. And she sounded like she knew something on the phone was but reluctant to say it.
Still, he didn’t want to inquire the matter. If she did not want talk about it the first time, it would be unlikely that she’ll talk about it the second time. But as much as he wanted to let it go, there was the intrinsically curious part of him that wanted to find the missing piece of the puzzle.
“He’s thinking about that girl he’s talking to,” Asuka said loudly. That quickly broke his train of thought.
Gina pounced on that statement at once. “Girl?” she demanded, “What girl? Shin are you seeing someone without me knowing?”
“No I’m not, big sis.”
“He’s lying,” Asuka replied with a hint of sarcastic disappointment.
“And you’re not helping!” Shin shot back.
There was no need for Gina to press him for details; she knew Shin would crack under the pressure. He was like the little brother she never had but she did play that card against him often.
“Tsk, tsk,” Liang sighed, “What’s the golden rule around here?”
“Do not lie to Gina,” Asuka and Sirin said simultaneously.
“I-! I didn’t lie!” Shin sputtered, “I just haven’t found time to tell her!” But it was to no avail, everyone jumped on him at the same time with questions.
“What’s her name?” Sirin asked.
“Why don’t you tell me things?” Gina demanded.
“Good going Shin,” Asuka said with a smirk, “Well that’s what you get for being so popular with the ladies. If you let it go to your head, you slip up. Like now.”
“Is she at least good looking?” Sirin wondered aloud.
“You’re supposed to be my little brother! I don’t want to find out from Asuka!”
“I’ve always wondered-, wait, what? Bitch! What does that mean?”
Gina’s statement directed the attention away from him and he turned his gaze back skyward while the others bickered. Stargazing was a foreign activity to him simply because he never saw any practical value in looking at stars. Firstly, he didn’t have much astronomical knowledge so he couldn’t tell which stars are which. Secondly, he never had time or the initiative to simply look upward for a few hours. Was he supposed to share what he saw? He didn’t know anything to share.
“That is Polaris,” Liang said next to him and pointed someplace which Shin didn’t bother looking, “It’s always in the same spot in the sky. That’s as far as I know about the sky.”
Of course, Shin knew all about Polaris. Throughout history, it had been the guiding star for ships in cultures all across the world. He took it as that people, no matter how different from each other, all live under the same sky.
His thoughts were lost again by the yanking of his ear and Gina saying, “Shin! Who is this girl?”
“No one!” He wasn’t in the mood to explain it and he felt like it was the wrong time to say it. “Can we just enjoy this night?”
“Shin,” Sirin chimed, “While we’re on the topic of girls, you want to give me advice on this date I’m going on tomorrow? I don’t know where to take her.”
Liang answered instead. “Don’t date, save money.”
As the next round of senseless banter began, Shin felt a sudden sensation of sleepiness drawing in on him and for a few seconds, he closed his eyes to think. Somehow, his mind went back to Miya and soon he was lost in the hazy world of thought. These moments struck him without notice with increasing regularity the more he interacted with her. At first they occurred when his mind was idle but now he found himself wondering about her even when his attention should be focused elsewhere. Undoubtedly the regular observer would assume the obvious of affections but to him they were moments of thoughts with no feelings. There was no easy way to explain it. She was even beginning to invade his dreams.
“She’s more than what you think she is.”
He opened his eyes, startled. Who had said that? It wasn’t any of his friends; they were busy talking amongst each other. The voice was male but it wasn’t Liang’s mellow, lazy tone or Sirin’s smug, child-like expression either.
With certainty, he could have sworn it was a figment of his imagination but it was unmistakable. The voice sounded deep and close to his ear, as if someone had talked right into it. But there was no one near him but his friends.
“You know who I’m talking about.”
It was the same voice again. But this time Shin’s eyes were wide open and he was certain no one was standing near him. But it was a little different somehow, it sounded further. He peered over in the direction of the voice and got up.
“What’s up, Shin?” Asuka asked curiously.
“Bathroom,” he replied absentmindedly.
There was an instance when he was being hunted down by a rival gang and one of the hitmen coming after him utilized ventriloquism to mislead him during the hunt. He was able to project his voice to sound like he was speaking from a different direction than where he was actually hiding. In the end, Shin figured out the trick but it had been an annoying waste of his time that was worth more trouble than it was worth.
“Following? Bold aren’t we?”
The second his friends were out his sight, he stopped and stood there, focusing all his senses into his surroundings. He drew a deep breath and closed his eyes. Cricket chirps slowly became loud snaps, the sound of the passing cars howled like the wind, and the rustling of leaves became an orchestra of drums. The wind ran coldly against his skin and he felt the electrical sensation of even the slightest touch on him by the breeze.
It was impossible to have a mental map no matter how focused he was but in his mind’s eye, he could feel. Everything from the texture of the ground to the sound of the silence of night was sharpened, fine-tuned.
Then he waited.
Would the voice appear again? Will it tell him something or taunt him? It just commended him for following it so surely it had some vested interest in him.
He continued to wait.
His heart was flat and his demeanor was calm. There was no need to panic, no need to assume he would have to take action. But his senses were continually heightening and his brain processing the inflow of new information his instincts were feeding it. Now he could feel, now he could hear, and when he opened his eyes…
It was dark, undoubtedly, with only the night sky to illuminate the earth but slowly the darkness became light as his visual focus caught up with his other senses. He could see all and he could see that all meant he was alone.
The first cigarette came out and was lit. Shin took his time in smoking it, concentrating more on the texture of the venomous concoction than he was on its soothing effects.
Who was the voice referring to? She’s more than what you think she is. Who is she? You know who I’m talking about. No, he didn’t but his gut instinct told him there was only one relatively logical choice.
“Aha…” he chuckled and flicked the cigarette butt into the night. It collided with the pavement, flaring sparks jumping around brilliantly before the little inferno died. “So what is she then?”
When he didn’t get answer, he took a seat against on some steps and waited. Everyone was probably going to start wondering where he had gone but more than likely they’ll just keep talking to each other. They were all a lonely bunch; few friends, few people worth trusting. He was the exact same way. That was why their friendship was so strong for being so young.
“What is she then?” Shin repeated to the night sky, expecting an answer but of course, he didn’t get one. “Should I be afraid?” he asked, “Wary? Curious? Happy?”
The world replied with silence.
There was a slight shift in the winds. The change was surprisingly bone jarring and that’s how Shin knew just when to turn around.
Miya bolted awake and almost fell out of her chair. She recollected herself, slightly embarrassed.
Her friend, Maria Velasquez, tilted her head to get a better look at her and frowned. “You haven’t been sleeping again,” she said, “What’s the matter?”
They were sitting at a booth in a bar. Even though the music was loud, Miya kept dozing off. She was hesitant to answer. It was a bad habit she had picked up from years of hiding secrets from people. But Maria was her most trusted friend for many years and she was the holder of all Miya’s secrets.
“A bad dream; very bad one,” she answered.
Maria made a noise from inhaling swiftly. Her face instantly looked troubled and she asked, “What was it?”
Miya shook her head and sighed loudly, “It couldn’t ever happen. It made no sense. It was impossible.”
“Then why are you worried?”
Why was she worried?
He heard it before he saw it, a low rumbling, almost like a growl. And where there was darkness in the darkness of the night, there were eyes that stared back at him when he looked. Crimson like blood and fiery like the blazes of hell themselves. The soulless pupils stared captivating into his own eyes and for a split second, their gazes met.
He let out a cry and turned to run. His right foot lifted and slammed on the ground, hoisting his body up into the air. His second foot rose and the moment they touched the ground, it had already closed the distance between them and slammed him into the ground.
In horror, he watched as it opened its massive jaws and let out a roar that drew away all his strength. His arms became limp, his legs stopped shaking, and his face froze in terror and although his mind willed him to run or scream, his body did not follow the command. His voice was lost into the void of the demonic eyes that glared at him.
It was a shade of a creature and it was clearly not alive and yet, still alive. Two strong legs pinned down his already petrified body. The animal was black as dusk. Its long snout split into a wide mouth full of jagged fangs. It appeared to smile even though the sympathizing eyes showed no signs of being able to feel anything. The face was the clearest thing he could see as the body seemed to be a large morphing cloud of darkness, formed generally into the shape of a four legged beast with a long bushy tail at its end.
The stench of death and decay was unbearably strong and his stomach was unable to contain itself. Rotted flesh and the savage odor of something else other than holy forced itself into his nostrils and mouth and ultimately his body.
Suddenly, claws ripped through his arms and tore his flesh from his bones, exposing them. It was then he got his senses back and he let out a high pitched scream that penetrated the night.
And his other arm was shredded just as easily. His eye began to tear from the pain and terror and just as quickly as he was able to scream, his lungs lost all sound and the beast’s fangs punctured his lungs and ripped out his entire chest. He felt no chill of the night, he felt nothing but a world of agony and pain as he watched in horror as the monster chewed on what was once his chest and ribs voraciously and swallowed it with a mighty gulp.
And at that moment, he prayed. He prayed to God; not to deliver him from harm but to deliver him from pain and angst and terror. His spirit was unable to contain the sight of its body being torn asunder. He prayed not for death, but for peace.
The powerful jaws removed his left arm entirely and he screamed and cursed the name of God as the arm was treated in a similar fashion to his chest. He cried and cursed as the monster removed the contents of his stomach.
Why was he not dead yet? Why did he have to suffer this?
The beastly mouth descended again and he found himself hoping for it to remove the head. No longer would he have to see or feel. His other arm didn’t go as easily as the first. It took a deal of effort of wrenching and ripping for it to disconnect and for the skin to stretch and slit and come apart.
He closed his eyes and continued to pray for deliverance.
Shin turned around and his phone started vibrating inside his pocket. He picked up.
“Shin!” She sounded alarmed and was breathing deeply, much like how she sounded when she called him in his house the other night when he heard the noises in his house. “I, uh…” her voice trailed off.
“It’s very late,” he said calmly as he got up to look into the bushes where he heard a noise before answering his phone, “Shouldn’t you be sleeping at this hour?”
She ignored him and asked, “Where are you right now? Are you at home?”
Well that was a curious question, he thought to himself. Instead of saying he was not, he asked, “How did you know I’m not at home?”
And oddly enough, her voice suddenly softened, as if she was rethinking their conversation. “Go home, Shin. It’s late.”
There it was again. Just like the first time, she was hiding something from him.
“I’m with friends right now.”
“No you’re not.”
What the..? How could she have possibly known that? Unease was climbing up his sides now and for a split second, a chill went up his spine. He wasn’t sure why her tone gave him the hebejebes but it had taken a turn from anxious to calm to cold. On the surface, it appeared as if she was continually getting discontent with him despite the fact he didn’t do or say anything to cause it. He opened his mouth to say something but quickly discovered he was at a loss for words. Very well then, there were times when words were not necessary.
He hung up his phone without a word and started walking back to where his friends were still waiting for him. More than what she appeared to be… What a strange past few days.
She didn’t call him back. She did not text him. She might have been shocked or perhaps angry but it didn’t matter to him. Shin rejoined his friends who were still talking about a bunch of nonsense.
“Where’d you go?” Liang asked.
“You smell like cigarettes,” Asuka complained. She was extremely opposed to smoking and the negative impacts it had on the body.
He returned home late that night after declining to go out with the rest. Normally he would go party or drinking until the morning and go home, sleep a few hours, and repeat. There was a nice amount of laundered money he was sitting on top of that wasn’t going to spend itself. It saved him the need to immediately go find a job.
Shin walked up to his dark porch and put his key into the lock. The house was quiet in the dead of night. He stole to the den and flipped the light switch but the lights didn’t turn on.
He flipped it a few more times but the lights remained dark. The kitchen, the hallways, and the closets were also dead. The main breaker was in the basement. Shin flipped on the flashlight application on his cellphone and walked downstairs. He then realized the house was not entirely without power; his dryer was still going. But he didn’t remember turning it on. The low rumbling sounded like growling the further down the steps he got.
The circuit box was behind the stairs. There was a lot of garbage stowed away in front of it as he remembered the first time he viewed the house.
But something was wrong, he realized as he entered his basement. The washing machine died when he entered and the entire house went completely silent. He shone the flashlight around the junk-ridden basement and to his surprise, discovered the door leading outside that was supposed to be bolted shut was open. He could smell the wet grass from the outdoors.
Immediately he shut the door and locked it. The landlord would have to be notified that the door she locked permanently was reopened. Somehow.
Shin froze in his tracks. The noise was right above him and sounded as if someone walking had decided to intentionally stomp in order to get his attention. He immediately killed his light and rushed back up stairs. Forgetting that the power was out, Shin flipped the switch to the lights and they turned on for only for a second before flickering and then ultimately dying again. But he saw a dark figure dashing upstairs in the tiny moment the lights were working. Without hesitation, he followed.
“Freeze or I’ll shoot!” he lied. The line worked surprisingly well in his experience. But this time, he didn’t have the same luck.
Alone in the dark, partially blind, and unwilling to quit, Shin persisted on. There were only so many places anyone could escape to on the upper floors of a building. He closed the little fence-let to the stairs that was meant for puppies or cats to keep them from going up or downstairs. The intruder wouldn’t be able to leave without him hearing them tumble down the stairs.
Where to look first?
In the corner of his eye, he saw a dark figure move across the light of a window where the moon was shining into and entered a room at the end of the hallway.
Shin entered the room, flashlight first. He took several steps into the room and the door slammed shut behind him. He twirled around. Nothing appeared in his little circle of light.
Then suddenly, a draft filled the room and in that moment, his phone flickered and died; taking his light along with it. He was left alone in the dark and cold. None of the windows were open, they were all painted shut, but the air was chilled like the inside of a refrigerator.
He went back over to the door to leave the room but a high pitch barking sound from the other side of the door stopped his hand as he reached for the doorknob. He cursed for flinching and opened the door and stepped outside.
There was nothing.
It sounded as if a large dog had been posted outside the room but he didn’t see a dog or any signs that one had been there before. Searching the rest of the upper floors was tempting but he needed the power back.
The basement was still eerily quiet and Shin fought his way through a mountain of debris in order to reach the main breaker switch and pulled it. Nothing happened at first and then his lights slowly returned to normal. They were still flickering when he went back upstairs but the electricity sustained itself.
Shin began a search of every room. He was certain someone was still in the house but his search was fruitless. There was nothing.
Sleep did not come easily that night and when it did, it felt like he suffered from a mid-sleep anxiety attack. He woke up many times, usually in a cold sweat; panting. Each time he woke up, he found it increasingly difficult to deal with it alone and he began to wish he had company or wished he wouldn’t fall back asleep. But just as sudden as he would wake up, exhaustion would overtake him and he would collapse back into sleep.
The fifth or sixth time he woke up, he kept himself awake by getting up and going downstairs. He felt drained despite having many hours of sleep passed already. Stumbling, Shin entered the den and turned on the lights.
A tiny part of him was truly appreciative of his taste in the arts and his ability to create it. The paintings he hung up truly made the room seem more peaceful and lively. The sentiment he drew from them slowly eroded the anxiety he felt.
And there was Miya’s painting. It strangely put him at a great sense of ease and he felt the rest of his worries go down the drain.
His eyes were drawn towards the bottom corner of the painting where a gleaming object was pinned against the canvas. Slowly, he reached for it and tenderly removed it to have a closer look at it as it wasn’t there before.
He felt his all their air leave his lungs and all the power in his limbs faded as he realized where he had seen it.
It was a small, circular, silver pin and right in the middle of the pin was a blue crystal insignia formed in the shape of a flower.
The sound of police sirens wailed in the distance.
Or, actually, they might have been nearby, but they sounded far away. Solid pieces of concrete from the desecrated bridge were strewn all over. The air was polluted with smoke and screams from terrified witnesses and the cries of the injured and mothers desperately searching for their children.
They said the job in Macau was going to be easy. They said no one would expect them but the moment they crossed the bridge, the world ended.
There was no way anyone was going to survive. After the ambush, there would be a sweep of the bridge. The boys from HK knew how to deal with stragglers.
But one boy was still not ready to sell himself short just yet. The explosion had blasted shards of glass into his back and the car crash had broken one of his arms. But other than, he was able to walk away from the wreckage of his vehicle in one piece. He bitterly thanked his luck as he limped away.
There were others and they were not going to be able to get themselves to safety.
He pressed on, ignoring them. He would live to see the next day no matter what. Destiny will take hold of whomever she wanted but it wasn’t his time yet. Not like this.
The sound of his beating heart was louder than any scream. He dragged his feet through the debris, weakly coughing as the dust infested his lungs. It was increasingly difficult to breath; he might have a punctured lung. Still, he pushed on.
But what if they were waiting? No matter, he at least had to try. He had never messed up this badly before. In retrospect, everything seemed too easy.
It was too late to worry about the past. If he didn’t worry about his present situation, he wouldn’t have a future to worry about.
What fate awaits the memories of those who pass on? He had no family and he had no friends. His organizations would simply consider him another expense. No one would remember him and his name would be lost in the wind. He would just be one of many who died in the line of duty. The very thought of it struck him at a horrible time and made his knees grow even weaker.
He wasn’t aware he had said it aloud but it gave him the strength to press forward.
The sirens were closing in but the debris would not allow police or medics to get to his location anytime soon. There was plenty of time for the second wave to sweep the bridge. It was a dangerously effective strategy.
But he was determined not to be lost in the wind. The chilling echo of a quiet eternity was ringing in his ears.
There was only one way out of this. The river below was the closest thing to a refuge as he will be able to find on the bridge. In the water, they’ll assume he’s dead. There was also the chance the fall will kill him, but a chance is better than a certainty.
Further down the bridge would be the safest place to jump. It was much lower to the water even though it was still a few stories up.
He pushed him, slowly at first but his pace quickened when he saw that no one was noticing him running from the wrecks. They were impinged by the smoke in the same way it impinged the authorities. His window of opportunity was right then.
He froze, then slowly turned around. Behind him was someone wearing a white mask. The last thing he saw before total blackness was the insignia of the blue flower.
Shin Aoyama hated moving. It was a hassling chore and even though he did not own a lot of things, he extremely disliked the need to take everything he owns and moving them from one place to another. But he was not blessed with the right to stay rooted in one spot for very long as his soul was as restless as the seasons.
One thing he disliked about moving is the need to reorganizing everything. Orderliness fulfilled something inside of him and it irked him to no end when his living space was messy. When storing dishes, the large plates had to be at the bottom of the pile, then the medium sized plates, then the large bowls, and the small bowls would go inside. Cups were all placed upside down with the handle pointing to the right side. His clothes were all arranged by color and hung neatly in his closet. Shin even made a habit of doing his bed every morning even though it seemed to be a lost art worldwide.
His newest home was much bigger than he was accustomed to. It was a two story Victorian that came at a mere five hundred a month with all utilities involved.
The only catch was, the infamous Golden Manor of Siren Hill was reputed to have been haunted since it was built in the late 1800’s.
Shin was not afraid of the tales he had heard; on the contrary, he was a slightly intrigued by the rumors that floated around about the legendary house although his neighbors assured him that it will not be long until he moved out in terror.
During that sunny afternoon, the house appeared to be anything but haunted. Golden sunlight showered the entire house with a warm, adoring glow. Shin hung up some artwork he bought for cheap to make the stark white walls more inviting. Most of his luggage was clothes and school supplies. He was used to living in small apartments or rooms and learned to effectively utilize his space. This vastness of his new home was a very different transition for him.
In the den, he had all his journals, books, writing utensils, and computer hardware tucked neatly into a work desk. Exactly opposite in the same room were his art supplies. Shin taught himself to draw in his free time to alleviate boredom when he was a child and it was hobby that stuck with him since. Although he was not a large advocate of the arts nor did he consider himself an expert in any subject of the arts, he believed art allowed him express himself freely. It was very useful since he had very few close friends having always been on the move.
Other than the den, the kitchen, and his room, the rest of the house remained empty. He simply did not own enough things to fill the empty space. Golden Manor was not truly a manor but it was still a reasonably large house. It had four bedrooms and one master bedroom, three bathrooms, a full kitchen, a den, a living room, a lounge with a small bar, a basement, an attic, and a sizable backyard.
The landlord had blatantly refused to show Shin the basement or the attic since she was a strong believer of the legends of the Golden Manor. During the tour of the house, she confessed that despite owning the home, she would never live in it; not even as a last resort. When he asked her if she had ever witnessed anything paranormal, she also admitted she had not but it did not weaken her belief in the haunting of the house.
Several of his neighbors were friendly enough to take the initiative in introducing themselves and explaining their personal history with the home. One had said he saw flickering lights every so often. Another claimed he saw a girl staring out the attic at midnight. A few handymen claimed their had tools disappear while working on the house.
All the stoires were similar in nature. They all involved a girl appearing every so often and strange things happening surrounding her appearance. It was actually all very cliché to him.
There was actually a lot about that house that would make someone believe it was haunted. Despite the house appearing warm in the daytime, it was extremely silent. Sound from the outside had a very hard time travel into the house. The door bell was also broken and could not be fixed for some reason. Every time the landlord tried to install a new doorbell, it would stop working in a matter of days.
The condition of the house was good enough but there were a number of questionable things about how the house was kept itself. For example, the windows were all painted shut, the door leading to the basement from the outside was bolted shut, and the fireplace was sealed off. The landlord did not give him a straight answer about those.
The floors were also old so they squeaked. At night, he could hear the creaking every so often in the empty house. He always concluded it was rats or something because it would be a better assumption than the alternative. Noises were not particularly frightening to him and unexplained noises were just that: unexplained.
The landlord was kind of a strange character and albeit, the perfect person to own the unusual home. She was an elderly woman who was widowed a number of years ago. She was retired but still rented out rooms to students who went to the nearby university. People spoke of her as a kind woman but erratic at time. There were a number of times during their tour when Shin walked in on her talking to herself or nodding to thin air.
There was actually one neighbor who warned him to look out for the landlord rather than the house. He claimed the landlord was a witch and she consorted with the spirits of the house to bring them sacrifices. He had urged Shin to get away while he still could and to break all communication with the old woman.
In Shin’s point of view, he had found a very nice home for a cheap price. There were things in life much more frightening than tall tales and horror legends. And so what if they turned out to be real? The worst that could happen is that he would lose some sleep and be extremely annoyed the following day.
Shin was organizing his drawings in the den when he heard a rapping on the front door and the sound of the old brass knob turning. The old door had a distinct squeak to it when it opened. Then footsteps.
“You must really have a pair of balls if you’re just going to waltz into Golden Manor like this and set up shop.”
Liang Wang was a friend Shin made upon his arrival in London. The story of their friendship was a lot less in the ordinary than most friends.
When Shin departed the subway, he spotted Liang jumping and beating down two drug dealers in an alleyway to steal their profits. Instead of avoiding the fight, Shin decided to walk through the alley since he thought it was too much of a hassle to walk around it. He asked for a cigarette on his way. Liang thought Shin was funny and showed “a lot more guts doing nothing than most people did trying.”
“I got a good deal for this place,” Shin replied.
“You’re crazier than I thought. Don’t you know anything about Golden Manor?”
“This place is more haunted than the offspring of a witch doctor and a gypsy. I know you don’t scare easy but this isn’t a question of bravery, it’s a matter of being smart.”
Shin laughed dryly but didn’t respond. It was too late anyways since he already signed the lease.
“I like what you did with the place,” Liang said with approval while glancing around the den, “It’s a lot less intimidating then when you first moved in.”
Shin selected the two paintings he liked best and set them out on stands on top of the drawers in the room. When he first moved in, the house was furnished with very old furniture. The strange and archaic tables and dressers and mirrors projected an eerie feeling to visitors who came through to view the house. The landlord had told Shin that she did not have the manpower to move them out and refurnish the house.
Liang was looking at a painting Shin did of a girl he had met back home. She was sitting by a pond in the city park at what appeared in the work to be half an hour before sunset. The theme of the painting was supposed to be serenity. He used warm colors and tried to paint as little of the water as he could with blue, instead drawing reflections of the landscape in it. The orange sky cast a hue over the entire pond. The girl had long black hair and was gently touching the surface of the pond with slender, delicate fingers; as if she were trying to pass over her reflection as she would on a mirror. Her eyes were half closed, as if she were in a trance but a small smile played on her lips as if she were thinking of a private joke.
“You did not paint that from your mind,” Liang said after a moment of observation.
Shin nodded, “I didn’t, I asked her to pose and she posed exactly like that. She was a great model. It was probably one of the best paintings I’ve ever done.”
“It’s a painting, dude.”
“Just saying. So do you plan on subletting?”
Liang was interested in renting out part of the house with Shin. His household included himself, his mother, and his girlfriend and their little apartment did not allow them to afford much of a living standard at all. It would be a million years before he allowed his mom to set foot in Golden Manor but he could stay at the house during the weekdays which was much closer to the location of a job offer he recently got. It would save him nearly three hours a day in commuting time if he stayed at Golden Manor for work.
“Aren’t you scared of the ghosts?” Shin joked.
“I’d chance it if I had someone else living with me.”
“So you won’t be happy unless someone gets dragged to hell with you?”
They went out to get lunch while they waited for Liang’s girlfriend to finish with classes at the nearby university. There wasn’t much to do in the city of Southampton except be a tourist. And if you were a tourist, you’d enjoy your visit but probably wouldn’t ever consider moving to.
It was very much a city that was once a peaceful town. The busiest part of the city was the shipyards where many of the most famous boats in history were built. The city had a rich history in the boating industry but other than that it was just a mild village.
In Shin’s opinion, the more serene part of the city was the parks. And to ruin the serenity were gangs of youth who littered the parks while skipping classes. It was not uncommon to see twenty or thirty boys and girls from the senior high schools amassed at any given park. They would do nothing but loiter and give the elderly a hard time. Every so often, the sheriff would break up their truancy parties but they would come flocking back like crows.
“And the worst part is,” Liang told Shin loudly as the walked past a group of said kids, “They think they’re all from the streets from Compton just because they listen to too much American rap music.”
When he said this, at least ten heads turned his way, snarling. At least five of those heads recognized him and held their friends at bay. There was no Southampton ‘gang’ that were on good terms with the Royal Guards, a real gang that Liang was an associate of.
The Royal Guards was heavily involved with the drug scene. Liang often stressed that the Royal Guards were not a gang, they were a business. The best businesses provided to a market that demanded certain products. The Royal Guard were not cartels or closet marijuana growers, they were an organization of chemists. They created synthetic drugs that had the effect of hallucinogens, stimulants, or depressants but left no chemical traces in the body and had no negative side effects. The only thing keeping their products illegal was the government.
Liang was not a huge advocate of his work but he was an amazing good administrator for the Royal Guards. His quick rise within their ranks was in part due to his ruthlessness and his business oriented thinking. Although he was very relaxed as an individual, when it came to business, he was stone cold.
Of course, his girlfriend knew nothing of his job and he didn’t have the heart to tell her.
“She’s a good girl,” he often complained to Shin, “She doesn’t deserve a hoodlum like me.”
They stopped at a bridge and Shin lit a cigarette. He didn’t smoke often, the yearning hits him every few months.
“Don’t smoke that thing near me, I’m not trying to get cancer.”
Instead of moving, Shin puts it out and flicks the stick into the pond below. He carries two cigarettes with him at all times. One in case he feels the need to smoke one and the second in case something happens to the first. When one is missing, he feels slightly lopsided.
“I used to smoke,” Liang reminisced, “But then Gigi made me stop.”
“Yes I am,” Liang agreed as he checked his cell phone’s watch, “And it’s time for me to go get her. She wanted to get ice cream later with you tonight.”
Shin didn’t sigh out loud. He was slowly becoming used to playing the role of third wheel.
“Can you get Asuka or Sirin to come as well?” Shin asked.
“I can try. It’s not like they have anything better to do.”
“See you at seven then.”
Liang ran off to take the bus, leaving Shin alone on top of the bridge. He could feel all eyes turning his way the moment Liang left. The second cigarette came out.
The issues of this country amused him greatly. Back where he was from, people had real problems. People like Liang had real problems. Joining a real gang and dealing drugs was not a life decision that was easily made. All around the world, people had to survive somehow. Shin found it laughable that kids in a wealthy first world nation would consider themselves notorious in any sense at all; especially when they did not have to do anything necessary to survive.
Then again, he might have spoken too soon.
Across the water, he saw what appeared to be a group of boys harassing a girl. They were blocking her way as she was trying to walk around them and slowly encircling her. Shin took a long drag on his cigarette and continued to watch.
There were three ways for gangs in Southampton to gain credibility among their peers. The first was through the ability to obtain drugs and alcohol and to use it heavily. The second way was through vandalism. The last way was through rape. Young sexual frustration and a misled perception of priorities were not a good mix. Sometimes a particularly bold boy would have a public display just to prove his mettle.
Now, he wasn’t one to jump to conclusions but the probability was just enough to call for his involvement. After all, he can’t simply undo what he saw.
Shin snuffed his second cigarette out, a chore that annoyed him greatly since he wasn’t able to finish that one either, and started to walk around the bridge. He didn’t take his eyes off the bullies across the water for a second. With each step, he wondered what just what he was going to say or do when he got them.
No ideas came by the time he stood in front of the first group of young men. They stopped momentarily when they noticed him standing here with his hands on his hips studying the scene.
The girl looked up, she wasn’t crying but she was visibly frightened. She was Japanese, he lived in Japan long enough to recognize one of his own anywhere. Seeing one of them in Southampton surprised him a little bit.
“What do you want, man?” one of the kids demanded abrasively.
Shin shrugged, “Just wanted to see if you guys would leave this girl alone.”
One of the larger boys, at least a head taller than Shin, went up to him and demanded, “And what are you going to do about it?”
Again, he shrugged, “I’m not sure.”
“You’re not going to do anything.”
Shin shook his head, “No, I have to do something.”
And just like that, the girl was no longer in the middle of the circle; he was. It wasn’t the most opportune spot. Around him stood the angry teens and behind him was the pond. They kept backing him up until he was standing at the water’s edge. It irked him to no end that the girl didn’t take the chance to run.
“You want to play hero, do you?”
Suddenly, Shin darted forward and having found a crack in the wall of people in front of him, slipped through and pushed his way through the group. The abrupt move startled them and few made any attempt to restrain him except the last boy who grabbed his arm only to have Shin easily shake him off.
“Let’s go!” he said hastily as he grabbed the girl’s arm and dragged her with him.
Anywhere but here, he thought to himself and rolled his eyes but he didn’t say this out loud and instead opted to encourage her to run faster. They didn’t actually need to run far; the gang was reluctant to chase them.
They stopped at the border of the park so the girl could catch her breath. Her fancy slippers were not the ideal footwear for running. They weren’t going to be in the clear until they were out of the park. The parks were gang territory. If one didn’t mess with them, another will.
“Let’s go this way.”
Shin led them down a steep hill instead of going down the gradually descending spiral path around the hill. The girl took a misstep and she stumbled but Shin caught her just in time to shield her fall with his body. He tucked her head in to protect it while they both rolled down.
Somewhere along the hill, Shin’s hand reached out and grabbed a stable piece of ground and held on long enough to slow their fall until they gradually stopped.
Shin helped the girl up to a sitting position. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, thanks.” She was still breathless and still sounded extremely dazed. Her hands were shaking. Whether it was from the fall or from her run in, Shin couldn’t tell. Now that he had a good look of her, she seemed extremely familiar.
He must have frowned or stared too long because she made a movement with her mouth like she wanted to say something but stopped herself.
“Sorry,” Shin muttered, “I thought I saw a bruise on your head.”
The girl tenderly felt her forehead and shook her head and said, “No, I’m okay. Thank you, so much. I… don’t even know where to begin…”
“Don’t say anything,” Shin said with abrupt assertiveness and got up, “Let’s get out of here before they decide to come down.”
They walked together away from the park and towards the inner part of the city in silence. Shin felt light on his feet, a sensation he might describe as edginess but that wasn’t it. He didn’t normally feel extremely alert, not even if he were in a perilous situation; after all, he was used to it. But as they two of them walked down the street, Shin felt extremely uneasy. He balled and un-balled his fist without meaning to and his eyes kept shifting around at everyone and everything around him.
So distracted he was, that he almost punched the girl in reflex when she gently grabbed his hand but fortunately made no movement indicating that he would. His senses suddenly returned to a normal state the moment she called to him.
“Yes?” he said in a mellow tone.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
They had made it safely to the busier side of the city where life was mildly going about its way. People were shopping, working, or just hanging out without the distraction of the shadowy underbelly of society bothering them. Here, those kids who were otherwise misbehaved and ill-mannered would have acted as normally as they were raised to.
Shin had expected the girl to just thank him and be on her way but she kept walking with him in silence.
“So what happened?” he asked casually.
She sighed and replied, “I was only going for a walk. I didn’t know anything like that was going to happen. It’s normally such a nice place but I guess today it was just the wrong place at the wrong time… Thank you again… I… really need to stop saying that…” she laughed a little bit.
Shin wondered to himself about he and Liang wandering the same grounds, drawing attention to themselves and creating rowdiness merely by being there and whether it made them guilty of being part of the force that defiled the otherwise peaceful area. Liang was never shy about teasing and picking on those he considered beneath him.
The girl stopped laughing when Shin didn’t laugh back.
“I’m sorry if I troubled you.”
“No you didn’t. I’m glad to help.”
His curt response discouraged her from talking and they resumed their silence. Shin’s mind was wandering when he realized he didn’t know where they were walking.
“You don’t need to keep walking with me,” he said, “You can just go do your own thing now. They didn’t come after us and you’ll be safe here. There are a lot of people around.”
“I’m not afraid of them,” she replied, “I feel bad for bothering you.”
“Please let me pay you back somehow,” she insisted, “My parents taught me it was the proper thing to do if anyone ever helped me with anything. And this is a rather large bit of assistance. You were very heroic back there, the way you just nonchalantly walked up to them and sassed them like that.”
“Please don’t toot my horn,” Shin replied dryly, “It will give me a big head.”
“Hey, you’re being very rude.” It was the first time since they met that she showed him any contemptuous emotion at all instead of gratitude. It was a refreshingly pleasant change of tone.
He stopped and turned to look at her. She looked back at him with a troubled expression on her face with her lips pouting, worried and wondering why he was giving her the cold shoulder. But the moment after he turned to face her, she quickly turned it to a glare.
Shin rolled his eyes and said, “My bad.”
“I’m just not very good with people,” he interrupted and shrugged, “Let’s just leave it at that.” He turned back around and continued walking.
Surprisingly to him, she followed Shin all the way back to his house on Siren Hill. She did very little to hide her growing frustration for him and began being more vocal about how she just wanted to show him gratitude.
On Shin’s part, he was focused on the unease he was feeling.
Maybe it’s this house, he joked to himself quietly when they approached Golden Manor, the spirits are getting to me. He walked all the way to the porch and unlocked his door and opened it when he realized that the girl was still standing on the sidewalk staring at the house.
She must have been familiar with some of the local stories.
“Not coming in?”
Slowly, but surely, she removed herself from her frozen position and walked up to the doorway. Shin noticed that her stepped was a now a lot more apprehensive.
He stopped her at the door.
“What?” she demanded with a hint of annoyance in her voice.
“You’re giving me this look like you really don’t want to come in here.”
She bit her lips and her eye brows curled downward into a frightened expression. He could see all her fears through her eyes. And then she whispered to him, as if she were afraid of someone overhearing, “But this is Golden Manor…”
Shin threw up his hands flamboyantly and said in a majestic tone, “Welcome to my home!”
She whimpered in response.
Shin rolled his eyes and went inside. He believed in spirits and ghosts and he believed that they were capable of doing harm if they wanted to. He also accepted that people were helpless to protect themselves against something they couldn’t resist. If they were malicious, they would cause mischief or pain. If they were not, then they won’t.
Shin’s eye for detail allowed him to see everything in his house that had been misplaced. Sometimes he would notice cups not being where he had originally left them or missing paintbrushes in a pack of multiple brushes.
Spirits could sense frustration and if he felt any then they would gleefully continue pestering him and feed off his negative energy. But he did not react physically or emotionally to the strange occurrences around him and the strange occurrences have largely died down altogether. He was worried about the girl, however. The massive source of fear would attract all the spirits in the house at once, starved for attention thanks in part to their neglectful human housemate.
“I’m sure you’ve heard stories,” Shin said loudly, “If you cast your mind into silence and become at peace, then fear will just release you from its grip.”
“Easy for you to say!” Her voice barely above a coarse whisper and she was white with fright, “You’re not from around here are you?”
He was actually pleased she did not mistake him for one of the natives he detested so much. There was a bit of nationalistic pride he had that would have been hurt if someone had accused him for being from the UK.
“I’m sorry that my house is a bit empty, I recently just moved in so there’s not much for you to see. And as you can see, I don’t believe in the fairy tales that seem to be afflicting you so much. The landlord told me all the spooky details and I refuse to believe it.”
She said nothing.
He, Liang, and Liang’s girlfriend had plans later on that night. He wasn’t sure what to do with his guest but he was confident she would leave the haunted house at some point. In the meantime, the dishes had to be cleaned and laundry needed to be washed.
“I need to do my laundry. If I left you here alone in this room, will you be okay or would you prefer following me all the way to the basement?”
She ignored his question altogether and instead asked him, “Is your name Shin Aoyama?”
That was a surprise. It certainly wasn’t something he’d expect her to ask straight out of the blue considering he never even introduced himself to her.
Shin turned to face her. She was staring at his painting of the girl sitting by the pond. And suddenly it hit him as well.
She was the girl in the painting.
It was far too fantastic of a coincidence but now that she was side by side with his painting, he could see the resemblance. Her gentle eyes, the silky hair, and now that her mouth cracked into a smile from her reminiscent thoughts. Everything hit him like a tidal wave.
They met in Tokyo as strangers and left as strangers. Come to think of it, he also swooped in and dragged her away from trouble that day too. This was almost a year and a half ago when he still working for the car company back in Yokohama. He was on vacation when he saw her running into trouble with gang members.
Their conversation was snail paced at best. That was, until they started talking about art and Shin found out she was a great artist who loved the craft but wasn’t delusional and retarded like many other artists were. They made the painting at a place that didn’t have much particular sentimental value to either of them; it was a fountain by a grocery store but the sunset was too perfect to pass up. He remembered how she rushed him to outline her first so he could work on the sunset before it faded away.
But as soon as they had said their hellos, they have to say their goodbyes. And even though it had been an interesting chanced meeting, he hadn’t really thought of her again even though he kept the painting as a reminder to himself that the artist must always depend on his environment to help him create his works. Whenever asked, he would say that the painting was great because he had the perfect setting and the perfect model.
“It is you!”
She ran to him and threw her arms around him, squeezing him tightly. Rarely was Shin at a loss for words but this one instance was a perfect example of that happening. He couldn’t find the right words he wanted to say to her, he couldn’t even think about saying anything.
“And this is the second time now…” She looked up at him, her eyes tearing up. “A part of me already knew… Everything felt too familiar!”
It really was her, he realized. In that moment, he had no idea how to feel or how to react.
“You still give me so much bad attitude!” she laughed. She was crying now; tears of joy. She was leaning against him so heavily without him propping himself up that he was pushed back against the wall.
Shin’s mind went back to a conversation they had that day in Tokyo, particularly a key moment in their conversation.
“I started painting after my dad passed away. It was strange but I didn’t have the passion for painting before so I didn’t know how good I was but I was able to recreate the shapes of people just from memory. I wanted to capture the perfect family portrait before his memory faded. I’m glad I did. One morning I woke up and his face faded in obscurity. I was so sad.”
He felt bad for her, yes, but her story stuck out to him because it hit close to home for him as well.
How did her father pass away? He was a victim of a bridge bombing while doing business in Macau. He was one of the innocents who were sacrificed when the other side had come hunting for Shin and his friends.
Their eyes met and it was like being forced into a time machine and sent back to a more blissful moment of his life. Her dark brown eyes, more pure than anyone’s he had ever seen, seemed to be an endless ocean of memories to him. Memories of a lifetime’s worth of feelings crammed into a single day. At one point before, she had held him in the same embrace and looked at him the same way. With her eyes wide and teary as she cried even though she smiled, her expression a contortion of happiness and grief when she had to recount her tragic past.
But now there was no grief to be mixed in with her joy. This time, was different, she was happy.
Nothing changed for him. There was nothing except guilt but maybe this time there was a little less pity.
Why was this happening again?
“You know what was weird? I was thinking that you looked really familiar earlier,” Miya said happily, “I think it’s because you cut your hair since the last time I saw you. It makes you look really different!”
Shin was still completely speechless. Whenever he tried to say something, the words would get stuck in his throat before he could spit them out. His mind was still unable to grasp the idea that she was standing in front of him and that they were embracing.
Fate was supposed to have chanced them just one meeting and they were supposed to go their separate ways. There were many times when he met people his life decisions indirectly affected. They never learned who he was or why they were so much worse off because of him nor would they understand even if he had told them. Shin’s work touched the lives of probably thousands of people in some way. His own guilt at had led him to start leading a straight life but every so often, he met someone who knew someone who was injured or deceased because of something he did.
He never meant for her to contact him in anyway. It was impossible to look at her the same way after he heard her story. They should have gone their separate ways; and they did.
“Are you not happy to see me?” she asked.
No, I’m not… And you shouldn’t be either.
She didn’t know. He couldn’t tell her. He was too scared to tell her then and he is still too scared to tell her now. He was never supposed to have another chance to tell her. But what were the odds? Fate forced the two of them back together again.
“I am,” he answered at last, “I was just… shocked.” He smiled weakly.
“It’s been almost two years now right?” she wondered aloud, “I never thought I would ever see you again. This is an amazing coincidence; even if I had gone back to Tokyo the chances would almost be zero but I can’t believe you would run into me again all the way over here!”
Yeah, it was an amazing coincidence alright. Maybe a little too amazing.
Can we revisit an issue I recently posted about?
If you can recall very quickly, I posted a piece about stepping out against domestic violence. In it, I implored you to be knowledgeable and recognize abuse when you see it. I implored you to be courageous and help out by providing an ear and a heart.
Recently, the brothers of Lambda Phi Epsilon showed that we were able to “step out,” by actveily participating in Sigma Psi Zeta’s issue awareness event. Then we took it further by continuing to “step up,” and step onto the streets of Seattle and into the heart of our nexus of judicial authority, the King County District Court, and bring the issue before the community at large by volunteering and taking place in a candle light vigil in honor of victims of domestic violence.
In 1995, a man entered the court and shot his wife and her two friends to death. She was looking to divorce him due to his abusive nature and apparently this man was unable to deal with the trials of divorce; instead decided to take things into his own hands. This murder of cold blood emulates a situation when an abusive person is willing to up the ante of their twisted game and take the life of someone they supposedly hold dear. The woman was pregnant with his child and had stuck through his abuses; so he was clearly the one in the wrong. And yet, instead of showing remorse and trying to make amends or even allowing her to go forth and live free, he chose to commit this heinous action. While the murder might be the high point and sudden in the eyes of community observance, let us not forget that this woman was being abused by him for a lengthy period of time before her untimely demise.
In honor of her memory and so many others who meet their end after a life of suffering, those who escaped suffering, and those continue to suffer in silence, the API Safety Center holds a candlelight vigil to honor those in pain or are gone but also it represents a beacon to the community at large; saying that there is light in the darkness and there are those who are aware and are willing to help.
Aside from the vigil march, participants were also able to listen to city leaders express their wishes to fight against the elusive shadow called domestic violence as well as listen to testimonials from those who have experienced domestic violence.
I even had the honor of speaking to a man I had long revered through my studies, Dan Satterberg, King County Prosecutor. As a student aspiring to enter the legal field, I was much surprised to meet him outside the court room and mingling with me. It turns out Mr. Satterberg was present during the fateful shooting and we talked about the incident and I was able to truly get an understanding through the vivid picture he painted for me.
But actually to be honest, this service event meant a lot more to me than many services I have participated in before because it hit so close to home. For those who know me, I pride myself in being honest when asked, but I am also a labyrinth of secrets that shall never see the light of day. These secrets I hold are not my own and therefore not for me to share. Growing up, I was the “go to” guy for many of my friends to invest and confide their secrets in. Sometimes they were normal things most people go through but the intensity escalated to the point where I was forced to hear the most inhumane things I can scarcely conceive of happening in a civilized society such as our own. There were times when I had to share with people I cared with most that made me feel like there will forever be a darkness of the human heart that no word of law or enlightenment of human intellect can ever pierce. The inert evil that we try to deny and hide only for it to shine through in beings that disguise themselves as human.
And at times I almost wanted to believe in a god just so I can ask him why do these things happen to such wonderful people but the truth of the matter is we are humans and we create our own human problems. If divine intervention were real, I would never have to be part of such abysmal secrets for I know people saintly enough that should have been saved from the jaws of despair at which they suffered at.
But they never were. And sometimes the closest thing they had to salvation was my listening ear and honesty.
Domestic violence is not like genocide in that is happens on individual cases. It does not happen to masses of people at the same time. I can put a name and face to ever person I have talked to and shared stories with and hence, formed a connection with them; a bond. When I listened to stories from victims or the aspirations of our city’s “white knights,” I could see faces in my head, hear names, and recount stories and emotions of how I felt. And that concern instinct in my system kicked and I wanted to call all of them just to let them know that I was still down for them.
So yeah, this hit a little close to home for me. And I was actually glad to be there, not because I actually believe that carrying some signs around would make a difference in the numerous individual cases of domestic violence happening at that very moment in time in different locations of the world, but because of the emotions invoked within me. Call me selfish, but it was a strong reminder as to why I was helping out in this cause.
And I would like to make un momento in this blog post to thank the ladies of Sigma Psi Zeta for having domestic violence as their national philanthropy. If it were not for them, this issue would not be as heavily pressed as it has been on campus. I would also like to thank the sisters of Chi Sigma Alpha and the brothers of Pi Alpha Phi for coming out and supporting the vigil.
I told Mr. Satterberg that the problem of domestic issue does not discriminate with age or race. And it does not discriminate. It can affect anyone and everyone at any level of society no matter much money they have or how influential they are or no matter how powerful their support group. I continue to staunchly believe that domestic abuse can only be taken care of case by case but it is the love we hold in our hearts for those we care about that we will gladly tackle these problems and crawl up the ladder rung by damn rung even if we grasp at air because out there, someone you know is dying inside and even if you can see it, you might not have the tools to help them cope with it. What makes this problem so difficult to deal with is because of its disparity but what makes the motivation so great is the force driving for a solution: love.