by Cassie Kat
A young girl reflects on her life and what she's acomplished moments before her death
|Clouds…funny how I’ve glanced up at them so many times, and have always managed to take them for granted. I’ve dreamed of the day in which I could fly among them, gliding and soaring, one with the wind and the sky. But now I fear I’ve lost sight of that dream, lying in his arms, my blood splattered everywhere, this is all I can see; nothing but the clouds and the devastated look of horror on his face. He’s crying; which surprises me because I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him cry except maybe once before, and that was out of fright and insecurity. I guess he’s still afraid. Afraid of what will happen to me. But I know that this is meant to be; I know that all I ever hope for in my life I shall find in death.
But perhaps it would help if I told you who I am and how I got to these last few moments of my rather short life. I was born eighteen years ago to Keiko and Lu Chung in a quiet little suburban town. I was the first of their three children. My mother was an immigrant from the Philippine islands, who had come to the United States in search of a better life. She then married my father, who was more than just a Chinese immigrant. He was the descendant of a great and powerful Chinese shaman, the Chung dynasty. And when I say descendant, I’m talking like billions of years ago. The Chung family line goes way back. My father’s side of the family is special; we are a long legacy of spirit summoning shamans.
Okay, I’d better take a step back here because, chances are, if you’re reading this, then you probably have no idea what a spirit summoner is. Most people are born like my mother, with only five senses and no awareness of the spiritual world surrounding them. Some are in the middle; they have the sixth can see ghosts, but that’s it. Then there are some, like my father, my siblings, and myself, who can not only interact with and see spirits, but we also have supernatural powers that allow us to better interact with the spirit world. I hate calling them “magical” powers; that’s so tacky and anime-schoolgirl-like. Specifically, a “Spirit Summoner’s” powers are fairly self explanatory: they are used to call upon various spirits when they are needed. The Chungs have been well known for using their knowledge of the spirit world to heal the villagers; for thousands of years we were very powerful. But alas, our power has dwindled down to nothing. People are skeptical, as time went on and the world became more and more industrialized, people began to doubt the existence of spirits and started to accuse us of being crooks and con artists. Their doubts grew to hatred, and eventually that hatred grew to the point where my father could not even find work in his home of China and had to leave. Oh how I wish I could have visited China, to see its beautiful landscapes and become one with the spirits. But as I lay here dying, I see that I’ve lost my chance.
So, like I was saying, we were well known for being a family of summoners. When my father discovered that I too was a summoner, he was delighted, even though I was born a girl. He wanted nothing more than for his children to become one with the spiritual world just as his parents had taught him, but being in the States posed a challenge that the Chung Dynasty had never faced before. He tried his hardest nonetheless; I have been trained in martial arts since I was two-three years old. In addition, he also taught me how to call upon spirits for various reasons, whether for protection, for battle, or merely just for someone to talk to. I learned quickly, absorbing everything he taught me like a sponge. Although I hardly remember the days of being an only child, those were the simplest. And then my sister was born.
I have been told for years that I look just like my mother, with my bronze skin and facial features creating almost a mirror image of her. Though my unusual attributes always did manage to throw people off; ‘what sort of Asian has brown colored hair, anyway?’ and ‘why the silver eyes?’ they’d ask. I couldn’t tell them the truth—that having ghost powers can create unusual hair and eye color—so instead I’d act as though I hadn’t the faintest idea as to what they were talking about. My plan actually worked too; if you treat something as normalcy, then eventually you force others into believing it so. For just as I was very Pilipino looking; my sister Jeih looked very Chinese and greatly resembled that of my father. Though I would not realize this until much later, she and I envied each other for the other’s beauty. Her long, silky black hair and menacing yellow eyes have always kept me captivated and burning with jealousy. Looks can be deceiving. Every memory I have of her, even as a small child, she always looked so serious, so cold, and bitter. I wish I’d known then all of the things that I know now, and perhaps I could have turned that bitter, jealous child into a much better person…
I guess part of what has made her so bitter was the fact that she had failed my father in both departments: She was neither a boy nor a spirit summoner. Instead, she was born with the power of super-human strength. Short and thin, you would never know of her superior strength just by looking at her. But we Chungs knew; particularly myself, who had to put up with the most from her: many broken toys, holes and dents in my bedroom walls, and countless broken wrists. I’m sure if my mother wasn’t so afraid of her, she could have done more to discipline her, but instead, she let Jeih go down a dark and dangerous path…
Just as I had gotten used to having Jeih around, my parents told us that they were going to bring us one more sibling. Jeih was about two years old at the time (and even at such a tender age she was already a problematic toddler), and it was plain to see that she resented no longer being the baby of the household. But oh how I wish that that was the only thing we had to worry about, because poor, poor Mikey changed everybody’s life in a way he didn’t actually mean to.
Though my parents were delighted that Mikey was to be a boy, when he was finally born my parents came face to face with some very devastating news: there was something wrong with him. He was born with autism, which would have been okay if his autism hadn’t aggravated his ghost powers. See, Mikey was supposed to be a “spirit possessor”, which would allow him to share his body with multiple spirits (a power that is designed to compliment a summoner’s powers); only his autism caused him to have a lack of control over those powers. Spirits would invade his body as they pleased and when they pleased; if you didn’t know then you would have thought the poor boy had a multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia by the way he would talk to himself and shout random gibberish. His disabilities caused us all so much pain and heartache (though I think Jeih was secretly delighted), and it caused a rift in our family that never closed.
But this was only the beginning of my family’s troubles, though we would be spared a few year’s worth of harmony and happiness, even with the stress and tension that my fights with Jeih and Mikey’s troubles created. I knew it was time to get out and see the world beyond our tiny apartment; and school would allow me that opportunity.
I remember feeling both terror and excitement on that first day. After all, what small child doesn't worry about the enigma more commonly referred to as first grade? (For whatever reason, Mikey was the only one of us to attend Pre-K and kindergarten). Because I was always the “free spirited” type, I was one of those kids who didn't cry when Momma and Papa left, but rather, waved goodbye and went straight to work exploring my new environment.
I remember that first day almost like it was just a few days ago. My teacher was one of those stereotypical elementary school types; she loved kids and was very good at both guiding and instructing them. We got straight to learning on the very first day, reviewing the colors and the alphabet. I remember finding the alphabet to be confusing initially; at home I spoke Tagalog, English, and Mandarin interchangeably. Eventually I'd get the hang of it, and by lunchtime, the anxiety and awkwardness of being in a new place had worn off and I was already beginning to adjust to being in school. I had been liberated; school was a world outside of the chaos of my house. Finally I could play with kids who were neither Jeih nor Mikey, but rather, entirely new to me. At last I could become enriched and enlightened by the outside world, to see what existed beyond my tiny little universe and expand it.
There was, however, one major drawback. My father had warned me not to mention anything about ghosts and spirits to anybody at school.
“Not everybody is as understanding as your Mama,” he'd said as a sadness crept into his tone and expression, “That's why you have to be careful.” I promised to obey him, but not because I understood the gravity of the situation (I was only a small child), rather, because I could sense the pain and fear he tried to hide from me. After all, it was that same distrust that drove him out of his home country. And for a fair amount of time I kept that promise, though it wasn't until one spring day of that first year of school did I go against his warnings, but within good reason.
Quakerville was a medium sized town where people of many different social and financial backgrounds all lived together in one place. Quakerville elementary was a pre-k through fifth grade school, where the children of all of those different people were sent to learn. As I was saying, on this particular day, I was out on the blacktop playing jump rope with a second grade girl named Sandy. I have memories of playing with Sandy before, but this particular day was significant. I remember she was telling me a story about her best friend Sky, but what that story was I'll never know. I was distracted by two people standing behind her. They looked frantic, darting back and forth across the blacktop. But what really struck me was the fact that these two people were running through the other kids, and not around them, their pale, translucent forms seeming out of place on a beautiful spring day. This was the first time that I had ever seen a ghost outside of the safety and security of the apartment, and I couldn't help but stare.
“Hey, why aren't you listening to me, LaRena??” Sandy crossed her arms over her chest in annoyance. She always was a very needy person, to the point where not paying attention to her was more of a personal insult than mere rudeness.
“Uhh...” I wracked my brain for an excuse, a lie. Anything to keep my newest friend from looking at me like I was crazy, the way all those people in the supermarket looked at Mikey whenever Mama took him food shopping. But nothing came to mind.
“Eek! What is that?!” Sandy gasped. She pointed, and I knew instantly what she was gawking at: the two lost spirits.
“You can see them?” I gaped.
“Of course I can see them, I'm not blind!”
I remember being in disbelief in what I was hearing. Sandy could see the ghosts too! Suddenly I felt as though I had connected with a fellow classmate in a way I never had before. She was both a non-relative and could see spirits.
I opened her mouth to ask her more, but the recess monitor blew the whistle and began to usher us inside. As I turned to leave, I glanced back at the ghost couple, but they had vanished. But now understood that, while we Chungs may be unique, but we aren't one of a kind. Other people like us really did exist, and that was a very comforting thought in and of itself.
In the days that followed, Sandy and I would become close friends. Although her parents were extremely wealthy, they were “ordinary” in that the spirit world was invisible to them. Sandy suspected, however, that her older cousin Tico could see ghosts as well. She also hoped that Sky could see them too, but the only way to confirm this was for all four of us to meet. Eager to add her newest friend into her inner circle, Sandy arranged a play date mere days later.
I’ll never forget the day I first entered Sandy’s house. It was an enormous mansion estate, with a beautiful garden out front. The entrance room and main living room were made of white marble, with beautiful black and white furniture scattered throughout the space. I had known prior to my visit that her family was wealthy, but I had no idea just how much money they truly had. It was the first time in my life that I became aware of how poor my family truly was.
After climbing up a beautiful marble staircase and down an elegant hallway, we eventually made it to Sandy’s room and made ourselves at home; each of us took a moment to introduce ourselves. Tico was by far the oldest; he was already in the fifth grade, while Sky was the same age as Sandy. But what really surprised me (more so than discovering that Sky was actually a boy!) were their hair colors; I knew immediately that Sandy's hunch had been dead on: Tico's hair was a bright, vibrant shade of green, while Sky's was as blue as...well, the sky. Maybe that's where he'd gotten his peculiar name from after all. This meant that they most undoubtedly could see spirits as well.
After talking and playing children's board games for a few hours, we came to a consensus that all four of us present had “ghost powers.” Being the oldest, Tico “ran” the meeting, while I in turn supplied him with all of the knowledge of the spirit world he simply didn't have. Needless to say, I was the only one there who had at least one parent who knew a thing or two about the supernatural. And all four of us had powers of some sort, though I was the only one who understood what my powers were for and what to do with them. I had never even heard of Tico's powers; he could turn inanimate objects into pumpkins of all ridiculous things! Sky had the power to manipulate his body; turning himself into rubber, liquid, or even gelatin (which made us laugh pretty hard, let me tell you!). Sandy's powers were the hardest to identify and explain. She had physic powers; at night she would dream up vivid prophecies of future occurrences, though we only came to this conclusion after Sandy had told us of a dream that she'd had that said she would befriend a bronze-skinned girl with silver eyes (who was obviously me). What other explanation could there be?
But we also concluded that there were others at school just like us, and Tico suggested we search them out and befriend them. And, over the months that followed, we did, but it wasn't easy (and it didn't help that Tico was starting middle school all the way across the street, leaving us on our own). There was a boy in my class who showed signs of being a spirit possessor, like my little brother, but when I tried to talk to him, he merely shied away. He didn’t even bothering to answer me when I asked for his name. Then there was a girl in the fourth grade who would always bully Sandy whenever I wasn't around (what kind of fourth grader shied away from a second grader, anyway?), and Sandy suspected that she too, could see the same things we saw. Sky was more successful than we were; he befriended and introduced to us two fourth grade boys from the bully girl's class (Sky, I would discover, had a way with people and was very social, which may explain why he was so helpful in our search). One boy was a quiet and sickly kid by the name of Thunder, who had the power to move things with his mind. But it was the other kid that really fascinated me.
His name was Andy, though he insisted upon being called Moo. Moo had moved to Quakerville when he was in the second grade, leaving his home of Hawaii because of his dad's job. I remember he had a certain cheerfulness about him; this was a boy who, if he had suffered at all during his childhood, you’d never know it simply because of the way he smiled. In addition to his positive attitude, good genetics also made Moo pleasing to the eyes; his thick, unruly black hair and ungraceful movements were made up for in the roundness of his facial features and his soft, dark brown eyes. For reasons I still can’t quite express in words, I was drawn to him, and he in turn was curious to learn everything I knew about the supernatural realm. Moo was also non-judgmental; it didn’t bother him that he was associating himself with a second grader. Eventually we would become very close friends, and even as I breathe my last few breaths it still brings me joy to remember that big, happy smile of his...
We continued to meet once a week at Sandy’s house, only now Thunder and Moo joined us. Moo was the only one in the group who lacked powers (but he could still see spirits). Tico, being the well-rounded person that he is, had suggested that we nominate Moo to be the group “leader,” the thinking being that it would only be fair if the least powerful person have the power to unite the group. And it was a good thing, too; Moo had the best leadership skills out of all of us. Thunder, in turn, was a natural at keeping things organized; he would take notes during our meetings and would conduct outside research, collecting all of his findings in a few notebooks. Tico demoted himself to mediator; breaking up the occasional argument and helping us reach a compromise. This was very important; Thunder could sometimes be opinionated (though we did not realize this until after he became more comfortable being around us), while Sandy was very stubborn and set in her thinking. I have been told that I, too, can be argumentative; usually the disputes were between me and Sandy, as whenever I challenged Thunder he tended to back down due to the passivity of his nature. But even during the worst of fights, Sandy and I were still good friends, because we needed each others companionship. After all, we were the only girls in the whole group.
“You know what I think might be a good idea?” Moo had asked us one afternoon over a large tray of chocolate chip cookies?
“What?” I asked, watching Sandy scowl as Sky got cookie crumbs all over her bed.
“If we can get to know those other two kids.”
“Which ones?” Tico asked, scratching his head.
“No way!” Sandy said in disgust, “I refuse to befriend that bully; I don’t care if she’s even the most experienced shaman around! No chance!”
“And I tried talking to that boy,” I said, “But I think he might be deaf or something.”
“I highly doubt that,” Thunder said, without looking up from his notebook, “Because he doesn’t’ have a hearing aid.”
“As I was saying,” Moo interrupted when I tried to argue back, “If these kids do have powers like you guys, then maybe they’re struggling to deal with them. It’s possible that the boy might not know how to cope.”
I shrugged. Could be.
“But that doesn’t explain Jill’s role in all of this,” Thunder said.
“Jill?” Sky asked, finally entering the conversation, “Is that the girl’s name?”
“Yes,” Moo replied. “I feel bad for her, to be honest. Ever since she came back to school this year, she’s changed. A lot has happened to her since we were in second grade together.”
Thunder nodded. “She had a tough year.”
“Is she the one whose parents died in that fire?” Tico asked. Moo nodded. “Poor thing...”
I sighed, lacking then the wisdom that I have now.
“Well,” Sandy said, “That’s no reason to pick on somebody.”
“Then let’s tell her so!” I said.
“What?!” Sandy gaped, looking at me like I had just asked her to jump off a building, “Are you crazy??”
“No, but Moo’s right. Just think—this kid could defend us from bad spirits! And my dad told me that there are a lot of bad spirits out there. Unless,” I smiled teasingly, “You would rather be trapped all alone in a haunted house with a--”
“Okay fine!” Sandy shuddered, “But I’ll only do it if you come with me!”
“Fair enough,” I said, crossing my arms across my chest, “Tomorrow at recess, you and me will confront this girl. Sound good?”
“Sounds good...” She sounded reluctant, but I knew Sandy well enough that she wouldn't back out.
So, with the meeting adjourned, I began to ready myself with the task of facing a bully who hadn’t done anything to offend me personally, all so that I could ask her if she wanted to join our little club. But I wasn’t afraid of Jill (No, I had my martial arts skills to thank for that), but rather, afraid of what she’d say. Or worse, if she’d tell the whole school, which would both embarrass me and and get me in trouble with my parents. But it was a risk that I was willing to take.