TG Universes & Series:
Hi. My name is Ronald Bailey, but everyone calls me Roni. I live in Smoky Corners, Montana. It's a nice, typical small western town, founded by the Sioux, I believe. Nothing unusual ever happens here... at least on the surface. But, if you happen to find yourself on Mulberry Street, 239, standing in front of a quaint little curio shop, ran by an old, bearded Asian man named Kato Chigiri, you may find more than you bargained for. And EXACTLY what you need...
It's been about three months since I first met Mr. Kato, but a lot has changed since that day. For one, my sister Ginny and I have once again re-kindled that closeness that only twins can share. I still don't know everything that happened to me, and am still debating in my mind if it actually happened, or if it was all just some kind of very lucid dream.Anywho, on with my story...
It was a crisp February day as I walked up DeLaney Avenue to school. The snow was beginning to melt- finally!- and there was a certain warmth to the air. I knew in my heart of hearts that Spring was just around the corner.
I was about a block away from Cass Elliott Junior High when I heard the commotion. It seems Slade and his boys were at it again, picking on another undeserving student. For what, however, I didn't have a clue.
"Look at the sissy fag!" I heard Billy say. "Decked out in pink and blue. Did mommy's little sissy dress herself today? Aww, how cute. She's starting to cry."
"Yeah," Johnny exclaimed. "Only sissies wear pink. What's your name, shrimp? Bet it's something really girly. I mean, just look at the face and hair..."
"K-K-K-Kim..." I heard the terrified youngster stutter. "Kim Cheung."
"Hey Johnny! You were right. The little sissy really DOES have a girl's name!" laughed Slade, the unofficial 'leader' of this gang of miscreants. "Kimberly..."
"Knock it off, guys!" I yelled. "And leave him alone. You KNOW what will happen to you if you don't." (Hey, when your Mom's the principal, and your father's the Chief of Police, no one- or in this case three- can intimidate you for long.
"Jeez, Roni. We were just having a little fun. Then you had to butt in. C'mon, guys. We're leaving- for now. See ya around, Kimmie..." And with that, Slade released his hold of the terror-struck youth and led his 'gang' inside for homeroom.
As they left, I saw Kim slump, defeated, to the ground. Large, wet tears were beginning to form in his eyes.
"Hey! You OK?" I said awkwardly. Seeing someone break down in front of you- especially another guy- was quite unnerving.
"N-n-n-no!" he stammered, as the tears fell.
I didn't know what to do, so I just put my arms around him and held him, letting him cry himself out.
After a few, very awkward (for me, at least) moments, his sobs began to subside.
"Th-th-th-thanks," he stammered, still choking from the occasional sob. "My name's Kim Jook Cheung. I just moved here. You're very kind."
"No sweat," I shrugged. "So, where were you from? I mean before you moved here? And what's with the t-shirt? Hello Kitty IS a little girly, after all..."
"You must forgive me," he said, in near perfect English. "I came from Cambodia. The shirt was my sister's. She..."
With this, the tears began to well up again in his eyes.
"Excuse me, please. It's hard..." he whispered, getting eerily quiet.
And for the second time, I found myself caressing this complete stranger, as sobs wracked his petite frame. "Easy there," I cooed, soothingly. "It's going to be alright."
It seemed like hours as I sat, awkwardly holding Kim, waiting for his sobs to subside, even though it was probably just a few minutes.
"I had no choice. I had to leave her THERE. They would have killed us BOTH if I had resisted. Mei, unfortunately, didn't make it out of our camp. This shirt, and the locket that went with it, were all I had left to remind me of her. But I lost the locket this morning, as I was crossing Mulberry Street..."
"Wow!" I exclaimed. "I'm so sorry. Here. Let me help you up. My Mom's the principal here. We'll go get you cleaned up, and then I'll see what else I can do to help."
With that, I gingerly helped Kim to his feet, and we began walking, albeit slowly, to my mom's office.
"Hmm...," Mom said, as we walked into her enormous office. Mom motioned for us to have a seat in the wing-backed chairs at the side of her desk. "And who's your friend, Roni?"
"Oh, this is Kim," I said with a start. "Just another victim of Slade's Screwballs. Man, would I like to put him and his cronies in their places one day!"
Mom jumped as my fist came slamming down on the oaken desk- maybe a little TOO hard.
"Let me handle that, honey," Mom said. "After all, I AM the principal. You know where the first aid kit is, and the keys to the medicine cabinet. When you're through with that, take your friend to the 'Castoff Closet'. Maybe something there will fit him, and be a little more... appropriate... for a boy his age to wear. And talk with Cicelia when you're done. The two of you will need passes to get to class, as second period is about halfway over. I assume you'll both be going STRAIGHT to Mr. Oswell's gym class when you're done?"
I mumbled my thanks to Mom as I headed out the door and down the hall to the nurse's station. You know, since Mom got her new job here in August, I spend WAY TOO MUCH of my time here...
Fortunately, when we arrived at the nurse's office, Janice was out. I took the keys from her safety spot under the desk and unlocked the cabinet.
"Let's see... Adhesive strips, gauze, astringent, ibuprofen... Yep, everything I need."
I went around the corner of the office and opened what Mom and I call the 'Castoff Closet'. From the looks of him, I took Kim to be roughly the same size as I was- a 12-13 small. "Hmm... I whispered to myself silently. I think these should fit." I pulled out an Aerosmith t-shirt and what appeared to be a very faded pair of jeans,
"First, let me look at those cuts and bruises," I said. "Go sit on the bed over there. You'll have to remove your shirt, I'm afraid. I'm sure Mom can get the stains out tonight. But you'll have to wear these in the mean time."
I smiled weakly as I handed him the outfit. Meekly, and with his head bowed low, Kim trudged to the bed. I watched him carefully peel his beloved shirt off and fold it neatly beside him. As he turned his back to me, I began to notice all the scars on his back.
"Oh my Gawd!!!" I nearly shouted, as my mind could scarcely contain the horrors I was seeing. "What in the Nine Hells happened???"
Kim quickly donned the shirt, and turned to face me, slipping with a PLOP! onto the bed as he did so.
"The General and his men..." Kim started. "Sometimes, when I resisted... They beat and whipped me. I learned quickly to behave. But sometimes, when they drank, I forgot my place..."
"How horrible!" I exclaim, rushing to him. "And your sister? Did they beat her, too?"
"Much worse. She had never before known a man. The General claimed her for his own. When she refused, he took her away. I never saw her again... alive."
I felt anger well up inside me, as hot as a nuclear blast. "He, too, shall pay. One day..." And it couldn't happen too soon for my liking.
I dressed the scrapes and bruises as best I could, given my level of first aid training (The Boy Scouts ARE useful for some things, after all...), but inside, I fumed silently. "Would man's cruelty and injustice to his fellow man EVER cease?" I wondered to myself silently. Funny, before I donned those moccasins, I could have cared less about man's inhumanity to man. I wonder if it's a side effect of the constant exposure to Mr. K's magicks???
Fortunately, I now had my anger firmly in check, as bandaging Kim had calmed my rage somewhat. "Well, that's as good as it's going to get, for now," I exhaled. "But I think we should see Mom again before we attempt to go to class. I need to... discuss... a few things with her in private. Come along."
With that, I helped Kim off the bed and to his feet, and gently took his hand. He, surprisingly, offered little resistance.
"Thank you," he said quite meekly. "I'll follow."
We slowly began our trek to the main office. The bell ending second period was just sounding.
As we entered the office, I saw Mom talking on the phone in hushed tones. I motioned to her that I needed to talk, and she ushered the two of us in, again. I held up a finger, shook my head, and then pointed to myself. She nodded in approval. I then motioned for Kim to have a seat at Cicelia's desk, just outside. "I just need a few moments," I explained. "Please wait out here for me."
Kim grudgingly let go of my hand, and took a seat outside, dejectedly. I saw his head lower, as in defeat. I threw him a quick, reassuring smile, then ducked behind the oaken door, closing it slowly behind me. I felt Kim didn't need the added embarrassment, and what I had to convey to Mom seemed VERY personal and private.
As I sat, she slowly returned the phone to its cradle. "That was your father, dear. I informed him of Slade's shenanigans. Now, just what, EXACTLY, is going on???"
I didn't really know where to begin. What I had just seen, and the things I had heard from Kim, were just to horrific to put into coherent and complete sentences.
"Mom," I said hurriedly, "I don't think Kim should go to gym today. Or for a while, in fact. I can't really explain. Just trust me on this, OK? I think, maybe, I should just take him home- for now. He needs...time... to adjust and acclimate himself to his new surroundings."
"Hmm," Mom said, quizzically. "Your request is... I must say... unusual. But since you USUALLY don't cut classes, I'll assume it's something important. OK, I'll inform the staff. But what will you do AFTER you've taken him home?" Mom asked.
"I don't know," I said, truthfully. "But I DO need to see Mr. Kato today anyway. Maybe he has some advice I could use."
"Just call me when you're done," Mom said. "And try to be home in time for supper, dear. Your sister and I miss you, and with your father on assignment, we..." She drifted off after that. I decided to let it go, and politely excused myself. Mom has enough on her plate right now to worry about. I DON'T want to add my problems to her ever-growing list.
Kim was just sitting there in silence, staring down at the cracked linoleum tiles. I had to admit, a small piece of my heart went out to him.
"Come on," I said to him, as I lifted his chin to my face. "Let's get you home."
"We're home," was all he said as he fished for the keys. "You can go now. I'll be OK. We can talk later."
"Are you SURE you'll be OK? I COULD stay, you know..."
Kim waved me off dismissively. "I said you can go. Everything's OK."
With that, he opened the door, quickly went inside, and closed and locked the door behind him. I was left alone in the driveway, wondering just what had happened.
I stood there for a few minutes, pondering the recent turn of events, then slowly shrugged. I mean, what could I do, really? He said he was OK, so I guess I had to leave it at that. "Just one more thing to ask Mr. Kato about," I thought silently to myself.
I turned, and began my trek back up Delaney, headed to Mulberry Street, 239. "Maybe soon." I thought to myself, "I'll have the answers I need to a few questions."
In the distance, the sky was beginning to darken, and I shuddered as a cool breeze began to blow. To the west, I distinctly heard a peal of thunder, as lightning flashed in the sky just over the horizon. I thought it would benefit me greatly if I picked up my pace.
I quickly made it to Mulberry Street, and I ducked inside Mr Kato's shop, just as the storm unleashed its full fury on the unsuspecting town.
"Ah, Grasshopper," Mr. Kato exclaimed. "Come. Sit. Have some tea, and tell me what troubles you so."
I bowed to him, and slowly removed my Nike's, placing them carefully in the corner, as always. I slipped on my moccasins (yes, the same ones as before), and shuffled quickly over to the tea cozy in the corner, where Mr. Kato already sat, legs folded, on his cushion.
As we casually sipped our tea, I began to relay the day's events to Mr. K. He said nothing, as usual, but I'm sure he was listening quite intently as the developments unfolded.
As I finished, he rose- slowly- and began stroking his goatee, as if deep in thought. "Come!" he said. "It's time you sweetened the dung heap."
I looked at him, thoroughly and completely confused.
"My speech troubles you, young Grasshopper? I merely meant that to catch the fly, one cannot use vinegar, as you've been doing up until now. You need to, as you Americans are so fond of saying, 'sweeten the pot' with a little honey. Here we are..."
He turned to the jewelry case. Opening it, he proceeded to withdraw three heavy, herringbone gold chains that I could have sworn WEREN'T THERE when I entered the shop. Each had a giant, emerald and ruby encrusted medallion on it, in the shape of a huge triangle. The jewels set upon it clearly spelled out the letters A S.
"This Slade and his friends- they like the rock & roll music, yes?" Mr. K said, questioningly.
"Of course, Mr. K. Who my age doesn't?" I chuckled at such an obvious question.
"And they're fond of the... how do you say it?... BLING, no?"
"I guess so. Why?" I asked.
"Perfect!" Mr. Kato exclaimed, clapping his hands. "Then these are JUST what you need. Take them, and give one to each of them tomorrow. I assure you, there will be NO further trouble..."
I carefully took the proffered items from him. Having experienced his 'solutions' first hand (That really did happen with the moccasins, didn't it?), I was a little gun-shy of handling any more of his 'curios' unprotected.
Mr. K saw my apprehension, and laughed heartily. "I assure you, young Roni. You ARE NOT the target- this time..."
And with that, I found myself back in my bedroom. Funny how I never feel his teleportation magick at work...
I awoke the next morning, feeling oddly refreshed and invigorated. (Funny how magick's residual effects always make me feel that way. You'd think I'd be used to it by now...)
I quickly donned my school gear, chased down my books, and gathered the necklaces. Two pieces of jelly toast and a tall glass of O. J. later, and I was out the door, headed towards good ol' CEJH.
When I arrived, Slade and company were holding up the north wall, as usual, looking for yet another unsuspecting student to victimize. I was NOT about to let that happen today.
"Morning, Slade," I called out, perhaps a bit too cheerily. "Torture any stray animals lately?"
Slade just glared at me menacingly. "What do you want, Roni?" he growled.
"Oh, nothing much. I just come bearing gifts for you and your gang... And a tiny request."
"So, give already," Slade said.
I handed out the necklaces, as Mr. K. had instructed me.
"Damn, man, these are HEAVY. Is that REAL GOLD?" Billy shrieked.
"Only the BEST for my... friends," I lied. I hope I sounded convincing, even though the words felt like battery acid on my tongue.
"What's the catch?" asked Slade.
"Nothing!" I said smoothly. "They're all yours, free. Just lay off Kim for a while, OK?"
"You mean the prissy fag in the Hello Kitty shirt? Sure. That was getting old, anyway," Johnny exclaimed,as he fastened the chain around his beefy maul.
And with that, I went to homeroom, leaving all three of them, for once, dumbstruck.
"We really gonna lay off the little fag-boy, Slade?" I heard Billy and Johnny ask in unison. I, unfortunately, didn't wait around to hear what Slade muttered in return.
The day passed pretty uneventfully after that. When the last bell sounded at 3:30, I grabbed up my things and headed to Mom's office.
"I think I'll check up on Kim before going home," I told Mom. "I may be a little late tonight."
"OK, dear," Mom said. "Just call if you need me or anything."
I hurried to Kim's clapboard, anxiety beginning to set in. "God," I prayed silently, "Please let him be OK."
As it turned out, Kim was MORE than OK. I found him in his backyard, practicing what appeared to be some form of martial arts. He didn't notice me in the shadows, as his back was towards me, and he was oddly focused on his drilling. I watched him, in dead silence, for about half an hour, and just couldn't comprehend how fluid and focused he appeared. "Was this the same terrified kid I befriended just two short days ago?" I wondered...
As he finished, he reached for a towel nearby to wipe the sweat from his brow. I must have startled him, for he jumped back in surprise when he saw me.
"Sorry, Kim," I laughed. "Didn't mean to startle you. Wow! You're pretty good. Just what was that I was watching just now?"
"Jeet kuun do," Kim explained. "Bruce Lee's dragon form, to be precise. Why do you ask? And what are you doing here, anyway?"
"Just curious," I said. "And you said we'd talk later. I figure 48 hours constitutes a 'later' to me... And where did you learn those moves?"
"My father was yakuza for the Japanese embassy in Phnom Penh. We were... required... to know CERTAIN THINGS. For our own safety... But that was BEFORE the General seized control of the country."
"Come inside," Kim said. "I'll tell you everything I remember."
I was amazed by the cleanliness of the house, as well as its overall layout. For such a small and confined space, everything appeared immaculate and well-ordered. "You live here, alone?" I asked. "How can you afford it? Or food, utilities, and everything else you need?"
"As I said," Kim began, "My father was yakuza. It's an organization similar to your American mafia. My... connections... help out, some. And I learned a long time ago how to live within my means... regardless of how meager they may be. Now sit," he said, motioning me to a partially flattened bean bag chair.
"You'll have to forgive me, my friend. I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of PROPER furnishings. I only buy what I need, and more than one chair or bed was, in my opinion, a luxury I didn't need."
"No prob," I said. "It's actually quite comfy."
"As always, you're too kind. Tea?" Kim offered, but I politely refused. To put it frankly, I was more interested- and concerned- with Kim and his current situation than I was about being social.
Putting the carafe aside, he began. "I was raised, along with my sister, in the embassy, where I lived with my father and my mother. The four of us led pretty sheltered lives. Dad, as I said, did 'security' for the prime minister and his staff, and Mom pretty much just helped school us in the varied disciplines required of a yakuza's offspring. I was reading and writing Khmer at three, and Japanese by the time I was five. Mom hired an English tutor when I was seven, who lived with us until the coup three years later. THAT'S when my life, as I knew it, officially ended."
Kim spat as he said these last few words, the utter hatred in his voice quite obvious, even to a blind person...
"When Norodom Sihanouk ascended to the throne in 1993, Father officially became an exile. Mother, Mei, and I were to be sent to a labor camp in Kompong Som. When Mother refused to leave the embassy, she was beheaded right before our eyes. Fearing for our lives as well, Mei and I quickly acquiesced. Once we reached Kompong Som, our nightmare truly began."
"Mei, because of her beauty, was taken to be a consort to Shanouk and his court, but she somehow escaped during transport back to Phnom Penh. I wasn't so lucky. I was forced to work the rice paddies, and was beaten quite frequently, often for no reason at all. When I passed out in the fields one day, probably from hunger and my excessive beatings, I was allowed to rest on a cot in the Buddhist shrine. It was then I decided to plot my escape from that tortured gulag..."
At this point, Kim stopped,to take a drink of his tea and collect his thoughts. After a few minutes of dead silence, I gingerly urged him to continue his narrative.
"Sorry," Kim said. "now where was I? Oh, right. The temple..."
"While I was lying on the cot, pretending to be asleep, I overheard the guards talking about an envoy that was coming to transport rice to the castle. I knew this might be my only chance to escape, and possibly reconnect with my sister, so I HAD to be ready. I waited until almost midnight, then silently snuck outside. Fortunately, no one was awake, and I was able to see the transport vehicle by the light of the moon. I lifted the tarp and hid among the many bags of rice, where I remained until dawn."
"Just as the roosters were beginning to crow, I felt the vehicle lurch forward. I could begin to feel the sun's rays warming us, and knew it must be early morning. After being jostled around for what seemed like hours, I felt the vehicle stop. I could hear the driver talking to someone nearby. Apparently, we had stopped so he could grab a bite at a local eatery. We were about 100 miles from the capital. I figured it was now or never, and quickly left my covered spot, hiding in a nearby water cistern until I heard the vehicle leave."
"I slowly and cautiously crawled from my hiding spot, but luckily, no one took any notice of me. I borrowed a bicycle I found nearby, and began pedaling northward. I had heard that Mei was in Samrong, so I sent word to one of my Father's associates that I would meet Mei there Unfortunately, I was to find that he was a traitor to my cause, and deep in the royal pockets."
" I arrived in Samrong just as the sun was beginning to set, and quickly made my way to our selected rendezvous point, the Well of Shadows. I cannot tell you how my heart leaped when I saw Mei! I started to run towards her, but then I caught the look of terror in her eyes. She moved to the right, and I saw the General behind her, with his service revolver drawn. Gozanai, my 'contact', was by his side, an evil grin plastered on his face. It was then that I blacked out."
"When I awoke. I was in a detention camp, my wrists and ankles bound. Mei lay on a tamani mat beside me. When I nudged her, she awoke with a start. About five minutes later, a guard came to untie me, and led us both before the General. He agreed to let me go, if Mei became his concubine. The rest of her sad story, you already know."
"When he brought her decapitated body to me, I could not bring myself to weep for her. I buried her under that accursed tamani mat in the compound. When the guards fell asleep that night, I stole a motorbike and headed towards the shore. I saw a ship headed for Osaka and .hid in a life boat. Eventually, I made my way to the United States, and with the help of the INS, was transferred here."
I blinked in disbelief as he finished his tale, fighting back tears that, if I allowed them, would drown me in his sorrow.
"One thing I don't understand, though.," I said. "If you know Bruce Lee's moves, then why didn't you defend yourself against Slade You could have EASILY put him- and the others- in their places, PERMANENTLY."
"My friend," he began, "Don't you think I have fought enough? Besides,when one is constantly subjected to torture, one quickly learns just to silently bear it inside and not to break. The torture, after all, eventually ends. Or you do. Either way, you win in the end."
I was beginning to understand what drove Kim to do the things he did- sheer willingness to survive. I didn't know, yet, what Mr. K. had up his sleeves with the necklaces, but I hoped secretly that Slade and the boys got their just desserts.
I thanked Kim for trusting me enough to reveal his story to me. Then, after ensuring that he would, indeed, be OK, I left. I had a lot to think about as I slowly walked home...
I was putting on my PJ's that night when I thought I heard, distinctly, Slade and his boys screaming for mercy A smile crossed my lips as I thought of how the magick must be working its charms. I then fell asleep, to a most lucid dream...
I dream that I'm in a Cambodian rice paddy. It's the early 1990s, and I'm wearing a general's uniform and brandishing a Luger semi-automatic.. At my feet sleep three very beautiful women. Women who bear striking similarities to three miscreants I know- and detest. Slade, Billy, and Johnny. I point my pistol in their general direction, and begin shouting, in perfect Khmer:
Phnheak pi krng khchel k'doi! (Wake up, you lazy cunts!)
Vea chea pelvelea daembi choi! (It's time to fuck!)
Choi ryy slab gurta! (Fuck or die, bitches!)
Funny, though. Before I fell asleep, I didn't know ANY foreign languages, let alone was I able to speak one with this much authority...
They slowly wake up, as I continue to shout my demands to them. As they begin to understand what I'm asking, they turn pale, and fear (or is it sheer terror?) overwhelms them.
I hear the woman who resembles Slade say "But we're NOT women. We don't belong here!" But her voice chokes in her throat as she realizes the soft femininity in her own voice.
"But how?" says 'Billy".
"And why?" questions 'Johnny'.
I fire off a shot at their feet. I don't like answering questions posed by stupid women, and I DAMN SURE hate repeating my demands to them. I fire another shot, and it just grazes 'Slade's" forehead. My next shot will not miss, I indicate.
All three women begin weeping uncontrollably. Slowly, they begin to undress. I've finally made my point to them.
Suddenly, Kim walks in, arm in arm with a strikingly beautiful raven-haired vixen.
"All is ready for transport, General," he says, bowing. "And Mei wishes to accompany you to Phnom Pehn this morning."
I lower my weapon and hand it to Kim, as I lean over to embrace my beloved Mei. "But of course, my love. Are you planning to visit the market today with Ginny? How long has it been since the two of you last had an outing together?"
The women stop crying as my lieutenant, Bei Fong slaps 'Slade", hard. "Be silent before your master, dog!" He kicks 'Billy' in the chest and pushes 'Johnny' roughly aside. "New whores!" he spits. "Never know their PROPER place. You should just shoot them all and be done with them, General."
Kim aims the pistol and gives me an inquisitive look, his eyes just BEGGING me to allow him to fire...
I awake with a start, in a cold sweat. My body shivers uncontrollably as I come back to reality. It all seemed so real...
The next morning, I'm turning the corner on DeLaney, about to cross the gate leading to CEJH. Funny, I don't recall it ever being THIS quiet before.
As I reach the north wall, it slowly dawns on me what's amiss. Slade and his gang are nowhere to be found, "Strange!" I think to myself, as I see Ginny coming towards me.
"You'll never guess what just happened!" she gushes breathlessly. I notice she's wearing a pink and blue locket around her neck, with a charm that, oddly enough, resembles Hello Kitty. In her hand are three triangular pendants that resemble the ones I gave the 'Screwballs'.
"Mr. K. gave me the locket," she said. "He said you'd know what to do with these pendants, when the time comes."
Placing the lockets in my cupped hands, she turns, and skips away, running right into Kim as she does so.
"Excuse me!" she blushes.
"That's quite alright," Kim says. "Say, that's a beautiful locket you have on. My sister Mei used to have one just like it."
"I know," Ginny says, matter-of-fact, as she winks seductively at him. Suddenly, her hair darkens to jet black, and her face becomes paler in complexion, as her eyes take on a very Asiatic slant and she begins to shrink. "I love you, dear brother," she whispers. "Never forget me." With that, the locket falls from her neck and disintegrates into dust...
Where once Ginny, in the guise of Mei Tihk Cheung, stood, there are now four very well endowed young ladies. Ginny, of course, I already knew. but who were these other three?
"Allow me to introduce my new friends," Ginny starts. "Meet Sasha, Barbara, and Joan..."
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