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|Chapter One (ABIT)|
April 12, 2013
From the Start...
I remember oh so faintly the sounds of screeching rubber and shattering glass, the rush of icy cold water pounding in through every corner of the world and the hot fog that had meshed together from the drastic change in temperature. It was fourteen years ago that my family's car crashed over the side of the DuSable Bridge---or as it was formally called, the Michigan Avenue Bridge. That cold winter's day in Chicago, Illinois, three people disappeared...my father, my mother, and a sleepy truck driver who had just finished working three shifts to make a nice Christmas for his family. Three people died that cruel afternoon, but for some strange reason I didn't. They don't know how it happened and I know even less. Someone once told me that they found my body washed up on the coastline of Esplanade Park, nothing more wrong with me than a bump on the head and a few scratches here and there. I don't remember much else about that day other than the facts that it was cold and it was fast. I often find myself having nightmares about it. It was always just that sole part stuck in my head on a continuous replay as fate repeated itself over and over again---night, after night, after night.
I was adopted just a few short weeks after my accident by an elderly couple, Sensei and Lilly Hong. They were a nice old pair; they were always so sweet, calm, and quiet. Although, Mr. Hong was normally strict and stiff as a board, but he meant well. He owned a dojo just a few blocks from the apartment where he had claimed to teach a few kids about the "lost and ancient arts of Kung Fu". To me, it always just looked like your average everyday karate class though. Lilly was always much more gentle, very caring, and super kind to everyone. She owned a flower shop right next to Mr. Hong's dojo and the two claim to have worked as neighbors for over thirty years before they met each other, then they continued working for the other fifty as a married couple.
Living under the same roof as those two for fourteen years was about as exciting as watching paint dry. Mr. Hong was so serious and Lilly so calm...they sat there most hours of the day and he would read the paper or meditate as she would knit relatives (I've never even heard about) sweaters and mittens for the winter seasons. They didn't own a television and computers were out of the question, but thanks to some old school friends of mine, I caught up on the times of modern society and managed to convince the Hong's to buy a landline---a decent cellphone if nothing else, but they eventually did purchase an ancient cord phone. Thankfully I got a laptop for my college courses, but Sensei and Lilly were dead set convinced that I didn't need it. Logically, if ink and paper was good enough to tech them, then why not me too, right?
I was enrolled in a small community college nearby for about three whole semesters before the accident---the second accident I should say. A random convenient store robbery occurred one afternoon when my foster parents just so happened to be there buying groceries. Lilly was lost that day along five other hostages---no one is quite sure what the motifs of the robbers were, or why they had started killing off hostages, but all I know is that my newest mother was murdered, and Mr. Hong was severely wounded. He is still in the hospital to this day, and he's been in a coma for about three months now. The doctors say he most likely will not recover due to the location of the shot wound to his head.
I dropped out of college to keep the dojo and the flower shop running, the revenue is all used to pay off my father's medical bills, but in these harsh winter months business is pretty slow. Only a few local kids come to the dojo anymore, and of course there is the occasional husband who forgets his anniversary and comes in for a flower or two a couple times a month. I could probably name every single anniversary for each and every couple living in central Chicago, The Johnsons' are May 4th, Thompsons' July 9th, Gonzales' is April 23rd, and of course those Smiths' are December 11th----
"Uh, Miss Rinry?" a tiny voice interrupted.
I opened my eyes to see the horde of my "pupils" in Lotus formation, just quietly watching me ramble around in my thoughts---I sort of do that thing a lot when we meditate in class.
"I'm sorry Wallace, is it time to go already?" I blushed.
About ten little heads bobbed up and down impatiently and I clapped to a stand and gave them all my most official oriental "bow of respect" as I said, "By all means then, class is dismissed; I'll see you all next Thursday."
They all soared out of the dojo post-haste as I stretched and walked over to start shutting down the power. I was about to flip the circuit breaker when I saw a little dark dot in the reflection of the mirror on the wall, and turned to see one of the kids huddled on the porch out in the snow.
"Wally?" I finally recognized.
That boy was outside sitting in snow that came up to his elbows waiting on his dad to come pick him up. Wallace was a sweet boy, my star pupil in fact, he's been coming to this dojo since he could crawl and still that workaholic father of his forgets to pick him up.
"Wallace Jones, get inside this dojo this instant!" I ordered in my grown-up voice. I was eighteen years old and no one took me seriously, so I tried my best to sound demanding on occasion with my students. This never worked on Wallace because he thought of me like an older sister, rather a sensei like he saw my foster father. Sifu Sensei, the kids used to call him that all the time and he would laugh and laugh about his odd name with the mixed cultures of leadership.
"No...No...My dad will be here any minute to pick me up..." he shivered at me, "His work is running late again---that's all."
"Well, the least you can do is help me finish off this tea," I smiled, adding in my most tempting of tones, "It's Vanilla Jasmine, your favorite... Come on, pupil, that's an order!"
He chuckled and bowed, "If you insist, Sifu Rin."
One of my many nicknames. Working with children does that to you. I tried to think up all the nicknames I've had over the years---most of them having something to do with either rings or rims or even ren---I actually think no one in high school actually knew what my name was supposed to sound like. They never really teased me about it, but most of the time people either called me Rin or they just stood at a distance and shouted, "Hey you!"
The sad story of my life...
"Rin," Wallace interrupted, "You were day dreaming again."
"Was I?" I chuckled, scoffing, "Hadn't noticed."
He shoved his thick glasses back up his nose and mocked, "Everytime you get a second to think about something, you space out---it's a common psychological disorder, I'm sure there's medication for it?"
"You're what, like nine years old?" I rolled my eyes, "And you're giving me medical advice. What did you say you wanted to be when you grew up, a shrink?"
"A scholar!" he snorted smugly.
"What kind of kid wants to go to school just to keep going to school for the rest of his life?"
"A smart one!" he pointed out.
"Ah," I laughed, "You got me there, Wally, you got me---at least you don't have to worry about bullies with these awesome karate lessons? You're a fighter and a know-it-all, aren't you?"
"You're teaching us Kung Fu, not karate, there's a difference you know," he shoved his glasses back up his nose with a defiant grin.
"Oh really? Well----you are going to have to tell me all about how I'm teaching you all wrong things some other time," I chuckled, "Your ride's here, brainiac."
Wallace looked out the ice covered window and rushed to fetch his coat as quickly as he could. His father was the richest fellow I knew, but when it came to patience, he flat out had none at all. Mr. Jones was a neglectful father, but at least he still managed to swing by to pick up Wally every now and again. If they had a butler or a chauffeur or something then I'm sure I would never catch glance of Wally's dad ever again.
"Hey Wallace!" I called as he was half way out the door. I waved, "See you bright and early---after school lets out on Thursday!"
"That never gets old," he rolled his big brown eyes at me, waving as he rushed out into the thick snow. The ice was falling so hard now that it turned his entire head of black completely white with frost in the three steps it took him to get to his car. I watched until Mr. Jones's headlights disappeared and by then the place gotten quiet and lonely again. The chill from outside made me shiver so I grabbed my street clothes and my coat as I closed the shop down and began my journey home.
I had a tiny apartment about a block away---had to sell the Hong's place to help with the bills, but I'm sure when my foster dad recovers, I can work my way into forgiveness. Pajamas and Ramen noodles ready, I sat on the couch and flipped on the television in vain. I only had like ten channels without having to purchase an expensive cable plan, and two of the channels were strictly weather reports, plus nothing was ever on in these late hours anyway, so I wound up turning it right back off most days.
The silence reminded me of growing up without a television; Mr. Hong said there was no need for such mindless distractions such as TV. I forgot that he grew up in the age of the prehistoric---not to mention somewhere in Asia---somewhere with a name that I could not pronounce to save my life. I forget a lot of what he told me about his life growing up over there actually.
The raging traffic below bellowed and I groaned to myself wondering, "Don't these people ever sleep?" Then I yawned and asked myself the same question. As I headed off to bed for a night of sleep before work tomorrow, fate had other plans; Mr. Hong used to say that "fate" had a way of changing our destinies---so needless to say that I didn't get that sleep after all. The phone rang and I recognized it as the hospital my foster father was staying at. I bolted to a stand for no apparent reason and answered it as quickly as my fingers could push the little green button.
"This is Doctor Gerald, is this Rinry Hong?" some low voiced medical person asked.
"Yeah---yeah this is she?" I held tighter onto the phone, "Is there something wrong with Mr. Hong?"
"I am afraid your grandfather has passed on Miss Hong, I'm sorry."
"What!?" I spat noodles across the room, "When did his condition worsen!? What kind of a hospital are you!? He isn't even my grandfather---Mr. Hong is my father! Foster---father---whatever! You must have made some mistake! He is the old Asian man in room 208! Go check on him again!"
"The medical field is often varied..." this doctor's toneless voice nearly groaned at me, "On behalf of the hospital and everyone here, I am very sorry for your loss."
"Yadda Yadda..." I yelled back, "Buddy, wait till I get up there---I'll show you that you're wrong! You are so fired!"
"You may come by to retrieve his things as soon as it's convenient."
"Oh----well I can be there in ten minutes, but you better hope you aren't there when I get----there---" I realized my overuse of the word "there" and slowed for a few second before continuing on with my rant, "Whatever! I'm coming right now to prove that you're lying!"
"See you then..."
The line went dead and I chunked the cellphone across the room in frustration. It shattered into three pieces, but I was too weak to actually break my cellphone permanently. I took a few angry breaths and remembered how Mr. Hong told me not to hold back my emotions while also not allowing anger to get the best of me. I suddenly remembered a lot of things that my foster father had taught me over the years---every good memory, the memories of frustration and egocentric adolescence boiling between him and me. I remembered him teaching me some of his Kung Fu and taking me to see the Karate Kid at the dollar theatre because he claimed it was a classic piece of cinema---as long as I used it as a training opportunity.
He couldn't be gone, I thought. He just couldn't be! I shook the painful memories around in my head before finally sinking into a good cry for the ten minutes that I was supposed to be driving to the hospital to kick some medical butt! Reluctantly, I put the three pieces of my phone back together and tripped over the rug trying to put a pair of jeans on. I practically hobbled out the door and down to the alley where I kept my car in a little garage attached to the side of the building. The engine turned over a few times before I finally shouted... "Come on!" and the old, unused car decided to sputter back to life.
I was a woman of my word, getting to the hospital just in ten minutes time before pounding my way up to my foster father's floor. People noticed my haste and practically shoved out of my way upon seeing the fire coming out of my glare. That man on the phone was going to get the mother of all chewing outs as soon as I found him, and as soon as I figure out what had been going on in here without them telling me. This unprofessionalism was sickening!
"Miss Hong," the nurse greeted. Betty was her name and she was the only person in this hospital that had a lick of sense about anything, "He's in there, try not to startle him."
"Wh-what?" I squeaked.
"You know the drill, honey," she waved me on my way, "Go on now, visiting hours were over three hours ago, but I'll let you sneak in. Just don't tell my boss."
"N-never do?" I said with so much uncertainty that I thought perhaps I was dreaming up the whole conversation. Maybe no one gave Betty the update, I thought. Or maybe I was right after all and that stupid caller was an idiot doctor who had no idea what he was doing? Perhaps he was the dream and Betty's startled expression looked real enough to tell that she was genuinely curious as to why I was paying a visit to my foster father at such a late hour and such a cold and wintery evening.
At the knob on that door which read "208" my hand had gone completely numb. Ever so slowly I grabbed the handld and twisted it open to peer inside the stoic and silent room. I looked around but the scene was just as I'd left it last weekend---dark, lonely, and it still smelled of death and sterile hospital soap. Mr. Hong still lay motionless in his stiff white sheets on the uncomfortable looking medical bed, not a single wrinkle knocked out of place to signify he had ever once moved a muscle. The beeping sounds coming from his many monitors were still pounding through the chilling silence, and his heart monitor still showed me the digital zigzag lines of life pounding through his pulse. My father was still alive!
I cursed under my breath and let out a sigh of sheer relief. "This Doctor Gerald guy is so fired---" I snarled to Mr. Hong, "Gave me a heart attack!" I turned on the heel of my foot to march to Betty's desk and demand the location of this "Doctor Gerald" when a raspy whisper caught me off guard, and I stopped.
I turned back towards Mr. Hong. His eyes tired and closed, mouth and nose hooked up to numerous machines that breathed life saving air through to his lungs; he still had bandages wrapped around his graying black hair where the bullet had struck just inches from total annihilation. He hadn't moved.
"I must be losing my mind," I grumbled. Once more I turned and placed my hand on the doorknob, still persistent, but with a less angrily mind set to talk with Betty about the doctor who had called me twenty minutes ago and lied to my face.
"Rinry..." The frail voice mumbled. I heard it again and the sound of the familiar voice made a cold chill run down my spine. I turned hastily around and started to breathe heavily as I stared around the room for a ghost or a clone---someone who could have possibly whispered out my name because it sure as heck wouldn't have been my comatose foster father. Even if Mr. Hong was conscious and even if he still had minor brain activity, no one would have imagined he'd still be able to talk---ever!
"Sensei?" I mumbled, just low enough to where no person could hear me talking. "Are you---are you trying to talk to me?"
Silence echoed through my ears as did the faint beeping of his life support. I rolled my eyes and just knew that I was crazy at this point. I stood and looked down at my father, sad I had actually started to get my hopes up. One second someone tells me he's dead, the next I think he's coming back to life---I was ridiculous!
It took all my restraint to not touch him in fear I would damage one of his bandages or tubes. He appeared to be so uncomfortable with all of those medical tools and paper-like sheets wrapped around him. When I was growing up with them in the country for a few summers as a chilf, Mr. Hong loved falling asleep with a night breeze washing over him. He claimed that he could feel the universe and all that was happening coming to him through the air, so he always kept windows open all throughout the house. Burglars never came, so I guess in hindsight it was a safe gesture that he used to perform while I was growing up. I walked over to the widow hiding away through the sterile white curtains of the hospital, and I pulled them back to let in the frosty glaze of ice that stuck to the glass. I twisted the little lock at the bottom and strained to lift the panel just a few inches, but the darn thing wouldn't budge.
"Come on, you stupid!" I scolded at the window, shoving my hardest until finally, the ice shattered and it was as though the window wanted to be open because it slid upward so quickly I smacked my face on the glass. I probably said a few pain filled cuss words before adjusting the window to a tiny crack, just enough to make the room unstuffy and not cryogenically freeze Mr. Hong in the process. I sighed happily and wiped the dust off of my hands, "There you go old man," I smiled back at him, "Just like living at home now."
He was motionless. I was just happy that Mr. Hong wasn't dead and I started back across the room towards the door. Just as I did so, a massive, whistling gust of cold air shoved into the room, sending the window panel crashing open and knocking over a small cardboard box that Mr. Hong had set next to his bed. I looked around with wide eyes to make sure that no other nurses heard the gust and quickly ran back over to permanently close the window.
"Just stop trying to help, idiot!" I told myself. I was too clumsy for my own good and no wonder a good intention had gone wrong at my hands. What I need to do is go home and sleep off this whole crazy mess, that's what I need to do!
Wait!? I pondered suddenly remembering the toppled box. I knelt over to pick everything back into it, when I noticed there was nothing in the old scrap of cardboard except for a few yellow letters, aged from years and years of being stored away. "Where did these even come from?" I said to myself, getting more and more confused as I placed each letter neatly back inside the box. Mr. Hong's handwriting was all over the cover of the envelopes, some ink more faded than others, and I started looking closer at each piece of paper when I realized that one of these letters was addressed in my name. It was hard to make out at first because he had written it all out in Chinese, but after remembering what the letters stood for, I clearly made it out as my name. I grabbed another letter and saw that it too was for me, as were the five I had already gathered, and the ones I had yet to pick up. "What in the world?" I gasped.
Finally I found a letter, the envelope was a worn out sanguineous color of earthy red that really stood out amongst all the others. The black calligraphic ink addressed more boldly than any other letter and spelled out my full name in large foreign print. I prayed that the contents inside of it were written in English because to be honest, my Chinese was pretty rusty to say the least. Without another thought, I flipped to the back of the envelope and slit it open with my finger, only to pull out the contents of the letter.
It was Sensei's handwriting alright, but he was being sneaky and wrote it in his native language to ensure not just any pair of eyes could read it. He did that with secret things in the past, even started speaking in one of his fluent Asian languages whenever he didn't want other people to know what he was saying. Of course, growing up with him and Lilly, I learned to speak pretty decent Mandarin, but even then, I think Mr. Hong spoke other languages too, like Korean, Japanese, and Thai.
I put the letters back in the box and closed the whole thing up so no snow would get into it. I could take these letters home and translate them better if I had my laptop, I thought. I sat up with the box and hurried out of the room without any further disturbances and managed to weasel past Betty and down to my car with the mysterious box before driving home to decipher my hidden messages. Along the way I started to wonder just exactly how long had these letters been sitting beside Mr. Hong's bed? I wondered about that all the way home, thinking that surely I would have seen them sitting there before tonight, but I shook the thought away and pulled into the parking garage.
Who needs sleep? I thought with a laugh, pouring out the letters across my floor so I could type their characters into the translator on the Internet. I grabbed the red letter and instantly started matching characters, writing out the whole entire thing as quickly as I could without even reading to make sure that it made any sense. Eventually I finished and held up my letter to read, noticing how pro I had gotten at translating Simplified Chinese!
"Pats on the back later, Rinry," I told myself, "And Mr. Hong's mysterious letter reads---"
In my faster father's voice I could hear him talking me through the letter, word for word:
My dearest Rinry, if you are reading this letter then I fear my time has finally come.
The spirits have allowed you and I to cross paths and I fear that Lilly and I have been keeping a very grave secret from you. One that you have never been fully aware of yourself. With one or both of us gone now, it is far past time I reveal to you the truth, my daughter, in order to protect you from the evils of this world.
They will be coming for you one day. I tried to hide you from them, but I fear in this task I have failed. Lilly did not want you to grow up away from other children your own age, and we allowed you as much of a normal life as we could bear. It is possible that they already know who you are and where we live. The hunters will come for you and you must be somewhere safe when they do.
Child, I have a nephew living in Tibet, his name is, Anil, and he is a monk, one who can help you on your new journey.
"J-Journey?" I repeated, "Where am I going? Who are these hunters?"
You are to leave your old life behind for now, and I fear I cannot tell you for how long.
Your mother and I saw greatness in you, greatness that the world has not seen many, many years. It is up to you now to save the world from the great evil that is coming to destroy us all.
"Say what?" I frowned.
You must promise me that you will go seek out my nephew! Swear it to the air as soon as you read this sentence.
"I---I promise?" I spoke uncertainly, "I swear it okay, I don't---I don't understand?"
Anil will help you learn all of the things that I have not been able to teach you myself.
You are the Avatar my child and it is up to you now to bring balance to this world. Anil can explain everything to you, but for now, I must leave you with only my words of pride. You will be a great Avatar my dearest Rinry, and I am so proud to have been your foster father.
The letter ended.
I was overcome in bittersweet sadness and confusion. The feelings mulled for a few minutes before I started to wonder about that last part of the letter. "What's an Avatar?" I wondered.
I sat there in a confused panic for what seemed like an eternity before my phone rang and it made me jump. I answered the unknown number slowly, my voice timid as I asked, "H-hello?"
"Rinry Hong? Honey, this is Nurse Betty from the Hospital..." Betty's sympathetic and familiar voice came across my speaker and she let out a gruff sigh as she eased into her follow up statement, which by her tone I could already tell was grim news. "Honey," she said, "I'm afraid your Foster Daddy is---"
"He's dead..." I interrupted tonelessly.
She sighed sadly and expressed her apologies, explaining what exactly she thought had happened to him before ending her sentence with, "---but baby, he was in a coma for so long... At least now his suffering is gone and done with. He is in a better place now." My silence worried her and she added, "Will you be alright honey?"
"It's alright...no...I'm okay," I took a breath, "I've been an orphan before---so being a foster-orphan isn't really that much different." I wiped a tear away and continued to lie to Betty over the line.
"Would you like help taking care of his service?" she offered.
"Yeah," I sniffed, "Make it a nice one, if you can..."
"A-aren't you going to be there?" Betty's confused tone asked.
I shook my head, "No, I can't...I have a plane to catch."
That next day I found myself on a flight to Lhasa. The last thing my father told me, he made me swear it to his spirit that I would go. In all of the other letters in Mr. Hong's box, I found not parchment, but money---bills both American and foreign alike. He was paying for me to get to Tibet, even though I wasn't exactly sure why. He told me that I was supposed to find this monk nephew of his and save the world. He said that I was the "Avatar" whatever that meant. Either way, Anil was the only relative I'd ever heard Mr. Hong talk about---and if he knew anything about whatever crazy thing Sensei was saying in that letter---I had to figure it out for myself.
The memory of that hospital trip haunted me all night long on the flight. The doctor called me and told me that Mr. Hong was dead and I should collect his things; I go visit him all the time in the hospital and now that I think of it, I've never heard of any "Doctor Gerald" in my life. I gruffed and turned over in my seat to try and get comfortable. Anil had better know something or I just wasted a good three months' worth of gasoline on a crappy plane ticket halfway across the world. But, what was Sensei trying to tell me? I thought hastily. Why was the world in danger? Why was I in danger? And more importantly, what was an "Avatar" and why am I suddenly one of them? Why was all of this happening now, I wondered. And what exactly happened at the hospital yesterday? These strange letters, hushed whispers, and lying doctors couldn't all be a coincidence.
Sensei told me that everything happened for a reason, and I only wish he were still here to tell me exactly what that reason was. He always told me that death was some sort of an illusion, and if he ever caught me being sad about his death, he would come back to this world and haunt me until I stopped. The memory of that actually brought a smile to my face, but I still missed him---and Lilly. Now both they and my biological parents are gone forever and never in my life have I felt this lost, confused, and utterly alone.
- The picture of Mr. Hong's letter shows both the name "Rinry" and also a wax monogram of "閎" (which according to Google Translate) means "Hong".
- The main character, Rinry, is eighteen years old. Her birth surname has not yet been revealed.
- Mr. Hong's real first name is actually "Sensei". He has a past that will be revealed later on in the fanon.
- Anil is a name for boys that in Tibetan means "Air" or "Wind".
- Things may seem a little sketchy now, but in time everything should become a little more clear.
- This story is one that I actually started on last December, but I never uploaded it before because I was worried about running two separate fanons. Then I thought---what the heck!? Let's do it!
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|A Break in Time|
|Intro - Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three -|