Letting the Phantom Fade

Note: This post deals with abuse and contains some strong language.

He was a singer; he was an artist; he was studying to be a minister. He was unstable; he was a sadist; he was a pedophile. He was my father.

His name was Joseph Edwin Wilkinson, the same as mine and my grandfather’s. On May 17, 2010, I discovered he had died from cancer.

The first feeling I could name was relief. Immediately following it was shame for feeling that way. Even so, I knew for certain that he would never be able to harm a child again. Any pain caused by him would come from old scars, not new wounds. I told myself that it was appropriate, that it was justified. This did nothing to assuage my guilt.


My first memory is of me as a chubby toddler crawling past a bookcase in the living room of our home in Vero Beach, Florida. I crossed over into the small room at the front of the house, where I found my mother and sisters huddled and weeping on the ugly, floral couch. My mother lifted me onto her lap when I crawled over. As I looked at my family’s scrunched-up, tear-soaked, reddened faces, I began to cry, as well. I didn’t know why.

It was May 9, 1988, the day my father was arrested.

No one knows for certain whether my father abused me. I believe he did, though I was blessedly spared from any memory of it. From my earliest memories, I felt wrong, dirty, used and discarded. It went beyond what would be expected from being a pariah. The shame cut deeper; the confusion lingered longer. It sounds melodramatic, but the first time someone explained innocence to me, I couldn’t grasp the concept. To this day, I don’t know that I’ve ever understood it beyond rote memorization of its definition and connotation. How can I describe what’s missing, even to myself, when I can’t remember it being there?

But something was missing. Or there when it shouldn’t be. I was different from the other kids, whatever the reason. Asking them just earned me furrowed brows and sideways glances. I began to watch them, to try to discover what it was that made me different. My hope was that they would tell me with their actions what they couldn’t or wouldn’t with their words. It didn’t take long: I saw a father lift his son into the air, tickling him and kissing him and laughing. I dwelled on that image, and others that were similar, and it made me feel like I had a gaping hole in my chest that was going to collapse in and kill me any second.

That must be the difference; that’s what will make me whole. I need a dad.

My father had accepted a plea deal, leading to his release after serving just three years in prison. Between his felonies and the divorce, he had no custodial rights, but he was still able to petition the courts for a supervised visit. At five years old, I was going to meet my dad.

What would he look like? What would he sound like? Would he pick me up and hug me? I was a little disappointed that we were meeting at a park instead of my house; playing Mario or Ninja Turtles seemed like it would be a lot more fun. But there was always next time.

He wanted to play catch. I was not good at catch, and I wanted to show him what a good son I was. I wanted him to be proud of me, to be glad he gave me his name. I couldn’t let him know I’m no good. I couldn’t let him know how stupid and useless I was. I was just going to have to play catch better than I ever had before.

I missed the ball, letting it roll away until it hit a tree. My dad smiled and told me to throw the ball back. Even though I tried my hardest, the ball landed less than halfway between us and way off to the left. We went back and forth, but I never caught the ball, and I never threw it far or straight enough.

My dad’s smile was gone. His eyebrows and forehead were scrunched up. My eyes were getting watery, but I couldn’t cry, not in front of my dad. Girls could cry. Boys couldn’t. I walked over and handed him the ball, saying, “I’m sorry. I’m just really not good at this stuff.”

My dad knelt down and whispered into my ear, “Then go sit on the fucking bench.”

I’d never heard of that kind of bench before, but the look on my father’s face and the anger in his voice told me that it wasn’t good. I had failed. My father didn’t want to be my dad. From that point on, he was just Joe.


I was never really afraid of what might be in my closet or under my bed. The tentacled, oozing, creeping creatures from fantasies were always more interesting than terrifying to me. You could see them for what they were: disgusting, dangerous, demonic. Nothing obviously harmful really scared me, not when the monsters that could hurt you the most were the ones wearing the faces of humans.

If my own father could hurt me so deeply, reject me so definitively, how could I expect anything different from anyone else? He haunted me both in my waking and sleeping. Any time I failed (or didn’t quite succeed as completely as I had hoped), it was his face of disapproval, his voice whispering in my ear, “You should have stayed on the fucking bench.” When I felt alone and afraid, it was his presence that I felt, never letting me forget that he could come at any moment and remove his unworthy son from the world. In my nightmares, I watched him kill me in all the ways my young mind could imagine. As I grew older, these methods expanded.

For a few years, I did my best to appease this phantom father. Even with all of the fear and emotional pain, or perhaps because of it, I desperately wanted to earn his approval, to prove that I had a right to exist. Nothing I did was ever good enough, though. It’s simply impossible to please the personification of your own insecurities and rejection.

The sins of the father shall come back as a curse upon his children to the third and fourth generation. — Paraphrased from Exodus 20:5

The incorrect quote of this verse was burned into my mind at ten years old. I was being raised in church and had some basic idea about how God was supposed to be my heavenly father and love me unconditionally. After hearing this verse and the flippant answer I received when trying to get clarification, I came to the belief that I was cursed to grow up to be just like Joe. Suicidal thoughts were not new to me, but that night was the first time I seriously considered it. The only thing that I could think of that was worse than dying was turning into a monster like him.

My mother had been looking into changing her last name to make it harder for Joe to turn up on our doorstep. During this process, she asked my sisters and me whether we would like to change our names, provided she could do so without Joe being notified. I had never really given it much thought, but I knew in an instant what my answer had to be.

“I want my name to be Michael.”

“So, Michael Joseph Garrett?”

“No, I don’t want his name to be any part of mine. Michael Caleb Garrett.”

Some time later, I was looking up the meaning of names and found Liam: “determined guardian, resolute protector, defender.” The meaning resonated with me: beyond being able to defend myself, I wanted to be able to protect those I cared about, namely my mother and sisters. I decided that I wanted that as my middle name and that Caleb would just have to be part of my first name. So, at ten, I began going by Michael Caleb Liam Garrett, although we discovered that I would have to wait until adulthood to legally change it.

I was not satisfied to just abandon my father’s name, however. That did not put nearly enough distance between us. I wouldn’t be anything like him; I would be everything he wasn’t. I knew that he was an artist, so I stopped drawing my little comics. I knew that he was a gifted singer, so I stopped trying out and accepting roles for my school’s musicals. If someone called me Joey, Joseph or, God forbid, Joe, I would disregard them completely and permanently. I despised my red hair and desperately wished that it would all fall out.

One of the many inherent problems with becoming obsessed with not being like a certain person is that you are still inexorably tying your identity to theirs. It’s simply a different kind of slavery. I abandoned things that I loved because of my fear and hatred, which only served to feed my fear and hatred and rage.

Different people tried to tell me that hating him did not hurt him, only me. What they didn’t know, though, was that I was going to make it hurt him. In trying to be his exact opposite, I was well on my way to being the violent monster that haunted my nightmares, that I was terrified of becoming. In my nightmares, our positions began to reverse: sometimes, I would be torturing him. At thirteen, I knew that I had discovered my life’s purpose: I would change my name; I would track him down; I would make him beg for his life; I would make him beg for his death; I would take my own life, finally free from his control, finally free from his name. My destiny was to put an end to the curse, to end his family line and to end myself before I became a monster like him.


At sixteen, I forgave him. I didn’t want to. In fact, the very thought of it made my stomach wrench, but something had to change or my festering hatred would continue to bubble over and hurt the people around me. I didn’t want to immediately lose my temper when someone called me Joe to antagonize me; I didn’t want to hurl verbal abuse at someone when they thought it was funny to use the archaic meaning of “molest.” I didn’t want anyone to look at me with fear.

At first, I didn’t know how I was supposed to forgive Joe. My understanding of forgiveness was that it relied on feelings, and I most certainly did not feel any better about what he had done. It was one of those situations where you don’t even know what you don’t know, so you don’t know to find out. One night, I happened to come across something that said, “Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.” A few months later, I was sitting with my head bowed and eyes closed at the end of a youth service and simply prayed, “God, I choose to forgive Joe. Help me to see him how you see him. Help me to be the person you want me to be.”

That prayer basically became a mantra, as I had to make the decision to forgive him again nearly every time I thought about him. Then I began to pray for him. No matter your individual belief on prayer, there is certainly power in hoping and wishing for good to come to those who have wronged you. Eventually, I even began to mean the things I said. The poison in my heart had been transmuted to into an elixir; some people found it hard to believe that I used to have anger problems, thinking — and sometimes telling me — that I had to be exaggerating.

By the time my eighteenth birthday came, it seemed more appropriate than ever that my identity would be changed: the person I had become was completely different from who I had been. I really didn’t even have much in common with the ten-year-old that had chosen the name. That did not squelch the twinge of guilt that had been growing, though. Wasn’t my name change originally fueled by fear and hate? Wouldn’t following through with it be proof that I my forgiveness was nothing more than lip service, that I was still harboring a grudge against Joe? I suppressed these questions, went to court and followed through with the process.

My name legally became Michael Caleb Liam Garrett on May 17, 2004, the day after my eighteenth birthday. My name turned ten years old today.


The next term, I had an assignment for a “College Success Skills” course that required us to write a letter to someone with whom we had unfinished business. The only person I could think of was Joe. The rough draft was vague: after all, it was only my professor that would read the letter. I set out to make the second draft just a bit more specific, but ended up pouring my heart into it.

I realized that the final version wasn’t something that I could turn in, but I took it to class in case I couldn’t convince the professor to give me more time. Before I got a chance to ask her, though, she took out a pile of stamp books and envelopes.

“If you want to turn in your letter for me to grade, hand it in now. I’ll see you on Monday. If you want an automatic A, we’ll be looking up addresses and mailing the letters out. Some business should not be left unfinished.”

Joe’s address would be simple to find: it was listed on sex offender registries. I hadn’t given any contact information in the letter; it wouldn’t be sent from my home. I could send it and he would have no way to find my family. What if he had changed? What if my prayers for him had borne fruit? As quickly and cleanly as I could manage, I scribbled my cell phone number on the letter before sealing the envelope.


I was playing Astro Boy for the PS2 when my phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Joey?”

“Who is this?”

“This is… I guess you call me ‘Joe.'”

We talked on the phone regularly for the next few months. There was a sort of implicit agreement to not discuss our past together. He had remarried, which I already knew. What I was more interested in was whether or not I had any half-siblings; it was fairly disappointing at the time to find out that I didn’t. I told him about dropping out at sixteen and that I had already earned my associate degree at eighteen. We simply shared stories.

After our first few conversations, though, I became frustrated at my inability to confront him with some issues that I felt needed to be addressed. I told him that I would be sending him a difficult email, but to remember that the last line was the most important part.

In the email, I outlined the hatred I had harbored for him and how it had led me down a path that very nearly ended with my suicide. It harsh at times, but I didn’t really see any way to avoid that. At the end of the email, I typed: “I needed to be able to voice these things, although I have moved past them. Please remember that I love you, and it is more important to me to have a relationship with you than to hold a grudge for the awful things you did. I simply want to understand.”

That night, my phone rang at work.

“I don’t understand!” Joe was nearly screaming. “What does it mean?”

“What does what mean?”

“You said that the last line is the most important, but it doesn’t make sense. What does it mean?”

“It means that I’ve forgiven you and love you, in spite of everything else in the email.”

“Do you Yahoo?”

“What?”

“Do you Yahoo? Do you Yahoo?”

“Joe, calm down. What’re you…”

I could hear him continue to scream, “Do you Yahoo?” in the background as the phone was taken from him.

“Hi, Joey.” It was Cheryl, Joe’s wife. “Your father saw the little ad for Yahoo on the bottom of the email. Honey, I don’t know what you know about his history. He’s bipolar. He’s been a little off for a while and is now having a full manic episode. I’m going to get him help, but he probably won’t be able to talk for a little while.” *click*


I don’t quite remember how my family found out I was in communication with Joe, but the fallout was not pleasant, to say the least. They were angry; they had every right to be. It was wrong of me to contact Joe without consulting my family, especially when we had been in hiding from him for so long. It was wrong of me to hide my mistake and continue to talk to him behind their backs. There was a right way and many wrong ways to handle the situation; I chose wrong, and it hurt my mother, my sisters deeply. In the midst of their anger, they forgave me and chose to try to understand why I had done it. In time, my sisters began to speak with Joe, as well. It was understandably an uneasy situation: we all desired a relationship with our biological father, but there was no way to ignore the abuse and the effects it had on us.

A little more than a year after I began speaking to Joe, he offered to fly me up to visit him in Michigan. I accepted his offer, but with great trepidation. He wouldn’t try anything, not now that I was, at least nominally, an adult. There was no way of truly knowing what he was thinking, though. My sisters begged me to be on my guard; my mother assured me that we had more than enough money to modify the return ticket in case I needed to leave early. As uneasy as I was, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see my father for the first time in fourteen years.

Joe and Cheryl met me at the airport. We went to church together. I met my uncles Rick and Ted, my aunt Sandy and my cousin Seth. We watched movies together, played video games together, spoke about life together. It was an incredibly, surprisingly normal trip to see family.

Towards the end of the trip, Joe and I spoke through the night. I needed answers; I demanded answers. His father was physically abusive, his mother neglectful. When he was eight, the neighborhood teenaged girls pulled him aside and began grooming him. Within a week, they had taken his dignity and virginity. Even still, they paid attention to him and their touch wasn’t painful. After a few years, they got bored of him.

He craved his father’s approval but realized that it would only come if he joined the military. When he was old enough, he did just that. He ended up training dogs on a U.S. base in Japan. Most nights, they would throw parties on the roof because there was nothing better to do. When his service ended, he exchanged war stories with Joe the First. The more he embellished or outright fabricated stories, the more he realized that his own father was doing the exact same thing.

Neither trusted the other with the truth. Neither wanted to be outed as a fraud. They pretended to believe each other’s personal mythology in order to carry on with their own.

As fascinating as it was to get answers to questions I never knew to ask, the questions I did ask were still unanswered. “Why did you molest us?” His answer was two-fold:

  1. He did not know why he had abused my oldest sister.
  2. He did not abuse my other sister or me.

I did not call him out on this answer. It was probably some combination of not having specific memories of my abuse and the desire to not damage the already unstable relationship I was trying to build with my father. Similarly, I asked him if he remembered supervised visit when I was five. He spoke of a toy store, of me hanging on him at every opportunity. No mention of the park, of catch, of the bench.

I wanted him to admit what happened without me confronting him with it. “Why didn’t you ever ask for a visitation after that one?”

“I wanted to, but I thought you all would be better off without me forcing myself into your lives.” It wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but it was acceptable. His eyes were filled with tears, and I did not see deception in them. He knew what I was getting at, but he just couldn’t bring himself to say it. Instead, he answered the heart of the question.

“I did a lot of things that are inexcusable, Joey. All that I can say is that God has changed my heart, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to convince all of you that that’s true.”

I left Michigan with hope for the relationship. It would take work, and there were certain things he would never be trusted with — my future children, for instance. Even still, I had hope.


“I’m sorry, Michael. He’s not safe.” My sister was in tears.

“What happened?” To this day, my family still won’t tell me exactly what happened. What I was able to patch together in the next half hour was that one of my sisters had been talking to Joe on the phone when he began to say extremely inappropriate things to her. Stunned, she asked him to stop. He didn’t.

I called his house. No answer. The machine would have to face my wrath.

“If you ever contact me or anyone I love again, we will have very serious problems. If you come near anyone I love, I will defend them to my death or yours, whichever comes first. If I’m not there to do so, I will find you and make you pay. Stay away or you will be sorry.” I was shaking. I was crying. I brought Joe back into their lives, and he had hurt them. It was my fault, and I had to make it right. But nothing would, nothing could. Least of all an angry voicemail.

My cousin Seth was the one that called me. He was angry. According to him, I was being insensitive to my father’s psychological disorder. I told him that being bipolar didn’t magically turn people into incestuous, pedophilic monsters. Joe was like a father to Seth. I don’t blame him for his anger; I don’t blame him for calling me out on my threats. I wish I would have handled this situation better instead of destroying my newly established relationship with my cousin.

All contact ceased with that side of the family. Complete silence, just like before. Except now, I knew the loss. I wanted to talk about the Twilight Zone with Uncle Rick, to have the friendship of my cousin. My anger destroyed the opportunity, and I wish with everything in me that I could take it back.

Like so many other things, I buried the emotions stemming from this new betrayal because it was easier than truly dealing with them. The phantom had never left me, but now he had refreshed strength. I was afraid of initiating conversations with the kids in my small group, in the classes that I taught. The phantom whispered, “People will know whose son you are. They’ll be suspicious of your intentions. Stay on the fucking bench.”

The nightmares returned. It wasn’t me being tortured and killed, though. Instead, my father would be horribly mutilating one of the kids from my ministry. In the midst of their cries, he would look to me and say, “I found him because of you.” I lived in fear that Joe would ignore my threats. I knew that he was going to turn up one day and prove my nightmares prophetic.

On May 17, 2010, four years ago today, I learned that Joe had been dead for five months. He would never be able to turn up; he would never be able to hurt any of the kids because of me. As I said, I was relieved, but ashamed of my relief.

I buried these emotions, too. How was I supposed to mourn my father? Yes, I had again chosen to forgive him, but he had caused so much pain, abused the trust and hope we had given him that maybe, just maybe he had truly changed. He had claimed that God had completely changed him: what else had he lied about?

This, I know, is true: the man I saw in Michigan was not a monster. He was a tired man that was older than his age because of the burden of his sins. He was ashamed and would have done anything to change the choices that he had made. At one point, that man had been a little boy. That little boy wanted to be a policeman, a fireman or some other childhood idol. I don’t know what he wanted to be, but I can assure you that he did not have dreams of being a wife-beater, a rapist or a child molester. He wanted to be great; he wanted to make his father proud. Somewhere along the line, that got sidetracked.

How do I mourn a man that caused so much pain? I don’t. Being wholly logical, the world is better off without him in it. No, I mourn for little Joey Junior’s dreams that never came to pass. I mourn the loss of the man that he was meant to be. I mourn that he became the man that he did.

I will never have the childhood memories that I wished, hoped and prayed for. I will always have the memories that I have. My father is dead. There is finality, but not closure. I cannot take back the last, angry — perhaps justified — words that I left him. I will always question the truth of the things he told me.


Before I went to Michigan, I had been experimenting with the 3D art program Cinema 4D. My creations were pretty terrible, but Joe still wanted to see them. After warning him excessively about their quality, or lack thereof, I sent him an email with the best images attached. The first night of my visit, he presented me with a gift. He had one of the images printed in high quality and placed it in a wooden frame he made with his own hands.

The picture hangs on the wall of my den. It’s a testament to my lack of artistic ability. Even so, my father framed it. He was proud.

Desires of the Heart

So, I spoke in front of the adult congregation of Awaken City Church, Knoxville on February 2, 2014. The positive feedback has been a blessing. As you will hear if you listen to the recording below, many people told me that I was worthless growing up: thankfully, God loves to use the broken, the thrown away, the seemingly defective. I may be an imperfect vessel, but it is in my imperfections that His work is most evident.

This is only my section of the service. For the full recording, please visit Awaken City Church’s website.

Breadcrumbs and Bowing

Yodobashi Akiba

By Rs1421 (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Jess and I had exchanged some American money for yen with our bank in preparation for our trip to Japan, but this was mostly to cover our lodgings. Some of the hotels explicitly said they accepted credit cards, some that they did not: this left us in the dark for those that didn’t make a clear proclamation and wary that those that did might have stopped without updating their English-language materials. We had enough yen set aside to make sure we would have a roof over our heads but little more.

That is how we ended up offending, or at least bewildering, the front-desk clerk at our hotel. I could not, for the life of me, remember the necessary words and grammar to ask where we could exchange money. Everything I was coming up with was going to make me sound like a mugger. Instead of fumbling through with broken Japanese mixed with pantomime, which would have been much quicker if not as dignified, I became obsessed with asking properly. (Keep in mind that this was mere hours after I failed to grasp what ended up being extremely simple directions to our hotel and got us lost for hours. Things went much better for us once I finally began operating from a position of assumed ignorance.)

As it turns out, hotel lobbies are one of the few places I found that might have Wifi, so I turned to Google Translate. (Good decision.) Instead of looking up the entire sentence, I just looked up words that I was missing. (Bad decision.) Once I had the question arranged in my head, I ran it through Google Translate. (Good decision.) Google came back with a nonsensical sentence, but I had seen translations get jumbled when I knew that the grammar was correct, so I asked the clerk using that construction, anyways. (Very bad decision.)

He stared at me, “Ano… [Um…]”

I pointed to where I had my question typed out in Japanese on my phone. “Sumimasen. Nihongo o ikute hanashimasen. [Sorry. I don’t speak Japanese well.]”

The clerk leaned in to read the sentence. “Chotto… [That’s a little…]” He was blushing.

I quickly switched Google Translate to English > Japanese and looked up my question. I held up my phone with one hand, held up a few American and Japanese bills in the other and put on a big I’m stupid grin for good measure.

The clerk let out an audible sigh of relief. “Hai, [Yes,]” he said, smiling, slightly, for the first time in our conversation. He reached under the counter and gave me a small map that marked our hotel and a store called Yodobashi Akiba a few blocks away. In broken English, the paper explained that we could exchange money at the Travelex inside.

I said, “Arigatou gozaimasu, [Thank you,]” and tried to not show how little I was looking forward to following another map.

For his part, the clerk wouldn’t make eye contact with either of us for the rest of our stay.


Before embarking on our journey to buy gold1, we went to the main road and made note of the corners: the blue sign with “Sawayaka” and then kanji I didn’t recognize to our right2, Fashion Purse to our left, and Café Venus across the street. The fourth corner had a restaurant that I couldn’t make out due to the stylized writing.

—naka

Most of you will just have to take my word that it’s hard to read.

Google Maps says it should take about sixteen minutes to walk from APA Hotel Kodenmacho-ekimae to Yodobashi Akiba; it took us a bit longer. There was another river between us and our destination, and we could not tell from the map whether or not we would be able to cross on foot at the nearest bridge. Apparently, my mind sees bodies of water as some unknowable dark art when they appear on a map.

Once we were convinced that we could at least recognize the immediate area around our hotel, we set out looking for Yodobashi Akiba using an extremely roundabout route. Each time we turned on a road, we located as many landmarks as possible: at least we would be able to find our way back, even if we failed to actually exchange our money. There were definite pluses to taking the long way around. I would have completely missed out on the most terrifying mannequins to ever grace God’s green earth.

Don't blink.

Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.

Even the other mannequins seemed to be freaked out by them.

She's seen things, man.

About halfway to our destination, rush hour hit. The streets and sidewalks had already been considerably busy, but out of nowhere, we were surrounded by a steady current of human bodies spewing from the subway stations, with Jess and me serving as the large rocks that they had to flow around. Salarymen rushed along at a steady pace. Sailor girls walked along with their friends or had their attention firmly attached to their phones while still, somehow, skillfully navigating the crowd. Tiny, tiny kids darted in and out of the crowd with precision that really has to be seen to be believed.

Tokyo had come to life, and it was a bit scary, at first.

Once we were on the same block as Yodobashi Akiba, we found something that I just couldn’t pass up. The entire front of the “store” was plate glass, revealing a tiny hallway running parallel to the street. Inside, there were no employees, no cash registers, just an entire wall covered in capsule toy vending machines.

Capsule Toy Vending Machines

Unlike American capsule toys, which typically run between 25¢ and 50¢, Japanese capsule toys range from at ¥100 to ¥500, which was about $1.20 to $7.50.3 Also unlike American capsule toys, these are actually worth it. Any given machine will normally have a theme, such as having characters from a specific game or anime series, and it is fairly common for discontinued capsule toys to become collectors’ items and sell for much more than their original prices on the secondhand market.

I bought a few to give to some of the kids back in America and a few for myself.

Pen Ninja

This guy has been keeping me company at work since I got back.

Just around the corner from the capsule toy room of wonder, we found Yodobashi Akiba. The actual building was eight stories tall, so we were hoping that the money exchange would be on the bottom floor, or at least have directions posted.

We had no idea what we were walking into.

Without realizing it, we had wondered from Kodenmacho to Akihabara, also known as Electric Town, a mecca for those interested in anime, manga, video games and tech. (I still don’t understand how I hadn’t heard of it before.) Yodobashi Camera is a nationwide electronics chain store, and this was their megastore, in the heart of a tech destination.

Upon entering the store, we turned to the right and found ourselves with a line of men trying to sell cell phones on either side of us. They greeted us with, “Konbanwa, [Good evening,]” and a bow as we passed. We continued down the bowing corridor until we were almost to the other side of the building.

“I don’t think this is the right place,” Jess said.

“The arrow on the map pointed into this building, though. Let’s get out of the way and check it again.”

“Yay! We get to leave the scary building.”

To our surprise, the same men bowed and said, “Konbanwa,” as we were leaving, even though we had literally just passed them. For a moment, I thought that it would be fun to just pace back and forth in front of a bunch of them to see how long it would take for one to get fed up, but past me made the wise and kind decision to not do that.

Outside, we checked the map, and sure enough, there was section that showed Yodobashi Akiba zoomed in and had an arrow pointing into the building at a little kiosk marked Travelex. Thinking that it might just not be to scale, we decided to walk around the entire block. Other than a Japanese McDonald’s, though, we didn’t really find anything noteworthy. That is, until we had nearly completed the circuit.

Just a little off from the entrance to Yodobashi Akiba, there was a small area with benches and tables set up, all of them occupied by men, boys and a few girls on 3DS and PS Vita systems. Along the outside wall were posters for different games that were recently released or up for preorder. I now wanted to further explore the store, but knew that our quest was not yet complete.

Thankfully, this pause also caused us to look back the way we came. The building had a recessed, outside walkway that we had completely missed. There, just inside of this semi-hidden walkway, was the Travelex. Not wanting to repeat my mistake at the hotel, I took out some yen along with the American money we wanted to exchange and braced myself.

The woman behind the counter looked at me holding up both currencies and asked, “To which currency would you like to exchange?”

“Oh! Yen, please,” I said.

She counted out the bills I gave her, counted out the yen I would get back and gave it to me. “There you go. Have a good evening.”

I said, “Konbanwa,” even though I meant to respond again in English. Sometimes, my brain just seems to hate me.

Jess asked, “What now?”

“Back into the scary building?” I gave Jess my best attempt at puppy dog eyes. I’m not sure how well I do them, though, because I’ve never seen myself make the attempt. I suppose I could watch myself in a mirror, but that seems like something a crazy person would do. In any case, it worked.

The bottom floor of Yodobashi Akiba didn’t really have anything that interested me, so we found the escalators at the center of the store and rode them up. For each floor, we got off the escalator, looked around to see if there was anything particularly noteworthy, then turned right around and continued our climb if there wasn’t. There was plenty that I wanted to investigate, but it had already been a long day, and being surrounded by so many people was beginning to wear on both of us. We eventually found the video game area of the store. I was simply overjoyed looking around at the different box art for games that I knew and seeing the selection of games that had never been exported.

When I was on the cusp of geek overload, we headed back to the bottom floor, walked down the bowing corridor and followed our trail of landmarks back to the hotel without incident.

We were learning.


  1. “Okane” is Japanese for money but uses the Chinese character for gold.
  2. I’ve since discovered that “Shinkin” was the part I was missing. Shinkin are similar to credit unions.
  3. For ease, and to limit spending, we were estimating American currency costs by considering ¥1 equal to 1.5¢. In reality, our exchange rate fluctuated between 1.2¢ and 1.3¢ per yen. At the time of this writing, ¥1 is exchanging at 0.97¢, making the capsule toys just under 97¢ to $4.85.

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Home Alone 19: Lost in Tokyo

Park Exit

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We were feeling good getting off the bus in Tokyo: we had directions from our stop to the hotel and, once we checked in and dropped off our suitcases and backpacks, the real meat of our trip could begin. When we consulted our directions, though, we found that they made absolutely no sense. We calmly, then frantically, looked around for any of the landmarks mentioned in any of the first few steps before we realized that we got off at the wrong stop.

Still, not too bad. Japan is a tech mecca. All that I have to do is find an open Wifi hotspot and look up directions on Google Maps. We can’t be that far off.

Only there wasn’t a Wifi connection to be found. I don’t mean that I couldn’t find an open hotspot; I mean that I couldn’t find a single connection, at all. (In fact, they were so sparse that I eventually stopped checking even out of curiosity by the second day.)

All is not lost. Maybe not everyone speaks English, but most have to take it at some point here. Between my broken Japanese and someone else’s broken English, we can hobble together some new directions.

The businesses around us were mostly restaurants and cafés, so I decided to try the bank. English is the language of business, so this was my best chance, especially if they had international clients. Jess stayed outside with our baggage, as she rightfully brought up that it would be best not to walk into a bank with a bunch of bags filled with God-knows-what.

I walked up to the teller and said, “Juu yon ni juu Nihonbashiodenmacho wa doko desu ka?” [Where is 14-20 Nihonbashiodenmacho?] The thought was that asking about the address of our hotel would be more effective than asking where our hotel was. That thought was wrong.

“Sore wa nan desu ka?” [What is that?]

“Sumimasen. Watashi no hoteru desu. APA Hoteru Kodenmacho-ekimae,” [Sorry. It’s my hotel. APA Hotel Kodenmacho Station,] I said as I unfolded my sheet of paper and pointed at the original directions.

She then began giving what I’m sure were quite detailed directions. Unfortunately, I had to interrupt her. “Sumimasen. Wakarimasen. Nihongo o ikute hanashimasen.” [I’m sorry. I don’t understand. I don’t speak Japanese well.]

She stared at me for a moment that seemed like an eternity, smiling widely. She began to speak again, this time slowly and using noticeably simpler grammar. I could understand bits and pieces, but not enough to mentally paste into a coherent thought. “Wakarimasen. Sumimasen.” [I don’t understand. I’m sorry.]

“Chotto matte kudasai.” [Please wait a moment.]

The teller walked out of sight for few minutes, then a security guard came walking out. Expecting to be escorted out of the bank, I was relieved when he simply said, in English, “Lost?”

“Hai. Um, yes.” [Yes. Ano hai.]

“Where going?”

I showed him the address on the paper I had been nervously folding and crumpling.

He walked me outside of the bank, then pointed left, then made a motion for me to turn left at the corner. He then pulled out and unfolded a rather large map, then refolded it so only the pertinent sections were visible.

Tokyo Map

This. This was the map.

He repeatedly pointed to a specific spot, circled it with his fingers, then pointed at the ground saying, “Koko desu. Here.”

I nodded that I understood. “Hai.”

Then he pointed at another spot and said, “Hotel.” He then traced the path we needed to walk.

I nodded again, pulled out my iPhone and took a picture. “Doumo arigatou gozaimasu!” [Thank you very much!]

I triumphantly returned to my wife, explained that I knew exactly where we were going, then led her to the corner of the bank and explained the general path. We didn’t go two blocks before something was wrong.

Jess said, “Oh, look there’s a bridge. Where’s that on the map?”

“Not on our path.”

“That’s not good.”

No bridge between triangular starting area and the general area of the hotel.

Not Pictured: Us going over a bridge.

We walked back to the starting corner and tried to figure out where we had messed up. We explored the surrounding streets a little, dragging our luggage along the way. No matter how we looked at it, the directions and our surroundings just simply did not mesh with the map.

It was like there was an incredible void in my stomach that felt like it would never be filled again. Complete, hopeless vacuity. Standing on the corner in Tokyo, I realized that I had no idea how to get to where we needed to be, even with directions and a map. I wasn’t even sure if we knew where we were starting from.

I had never been this lost.

Except, I probably had. My family traveled a fair bit when I was growing up, and there were probably times that we had taken some wrong turns on a road trip or found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, separated from our group in a foreign country. (That’s not even to mention mission trips to Central and South American.) I had probably been lost like this before, but I never felt it. Others were in charge; others were making the plans; and others were responsible for getting us to where we were going.

We only had each other to rely on here. It was up to us to figure it out.

“We know this corner. Let’s keep walking past the bridge for a few blocks and see if anything starts to make sense. If we don’t turn off this road, we can always come back to this corner and try again.”

Jess agreed, so we began to walk. After about five minutes, the map still didn’t make sense. Just as I was about to revisit the idea that maybe the guard had pulled out the wrong map, something clicked. I finally understood: we were starting from the wrong triangular area.

Bridge between triangular starting area and the general area of the hotel.

Pictured: Us going over a bridge.

After about three hours of dragging our luggage around Tokyo, looking more out of place than…well, a ginger dragging luggage around Tokyo, we found our hotel. However, our room would not be ready for another few hours, and we understood well enough to know they didn’t want us to wait in their small lobby. Thankfully, they didn’t seem to mind checking our bags for us so we could continue to “explore” Tokyo while we waited.

After locating some easily spotted landmarks, we headed back to a park that Jess had spied on our way. Nothing noteworthy happened there or at the small Buddhist temple across from it, but we did take some pictures.

Buddha Statue

Temple Entrance

Random Stones

Obelisk in the Park

It had taken some effort to find, but Kodenmacho quickly became our home in Tokyo.

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First Stay in Narita

View from our hotel in Narita ratio-1x2

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We didn’t have long in Narita because we were taking a bus to Tokyo the next morning. As much as we wanted to start exploring, though, we wanted check in to our hotel and pass out even more.

Thankfully, the airport had free buses to take travelers to their hotels. We were the sole passengers of our bus, save an older gentleman that made eye contact with me, smiled and went back to reading his novel. The seatbelt buckles looked strange: they all had a little red lever that I assumed released the passenger. (You know what they say about assuming.)

Jess and I passed the time by pointing out buildings and people that we found particularly noteworthy, an activity that almost certainly isn’t. We did spot a business called “Hotel Chapel Christmas,” which Google results tell me is not a church-themed family hotel for the holidays.

Hotel Chapel Christmas

Although a number of families have presumably started there. Source

Our hotel’s stop came after what seemed like an eternity but was probably closer to fifteen minutes. I tried to get out of the seat and found that I couldn’t: my little red lever was not releasing the belt.

“What’s wrong?” Jess said.

“The seatbelt’s broken.”

The older gentleman looked up from his book, saw me struggling with the red lever, reached over and pressed the very obvious release button on the face of the buckle that I should have readily seen. When I realized what just happened and looked up at him, he was smiling at me in a way that seemed very genuine, with not a hint of, “this moron doesn’t even know how to operate a seatbelt.”

I had to fill that in, myself.


Jess and I had heard jokes about how small Japanese hotel rooms are, but we were still quite surprised when we opened our door and saw this.

Our very small hotel room in Narita.

Another angle on our very small hotel room in Narita.

Cozy, to say the least, but it had enough space to move around, and that’s all we really needed for our night there. They did have some nice little gifts for us, like these slippers and robe.

Slippers and Robe

Which I promptly tried on.

Me in the robe

Not my most attractive look.


The next morning, we decided to explore the area around our hotel before the bus came. The first thing I wanted a closer look at was the more traditional building visible from our hotel room.

Tradition!

We found that there was a train station fairly close to our hotel. Either it was very common for people to ride their bikes there, or a lot of people had misplaced their bikes in the same place.

A lot of bikes in a bike lot

I suspect the former.

We also stumbed across a sign that comforted us with the knowledge that, even though we had traveled a long time to get there, we weren’t really that far from home.

'Murica!

We returned to our hotel to check out and wait for our bus. We boarded thinking that this would be the real start of our adventure.

We had no idea how right we were.

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22 Hours

Airport

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The most pressing of our worries concerning the trip to Japan was the idea of losing valuable time due to jet lag. Working a night-shift job taught me how to manipulate my sleep shedule rather quickly, although my method relies heavily on masochistic sleep deprivation. This is why I had the bright idea to not go to sleep at all the night of our wedding, opting instead to force myself to sleep in transit with as close to a normal Japanese schedule as possible. Keep in mind that I had only slept three hours the night before my wedding…

Jess made the wise decision to get at least a little sleep before our 3AM departure; I, instead, finally packed for the trip. At around 2:30, I came to stunning conlusion:

I've made a huge mistake.

Had I seriously thought that going into twenty-two hours of travel with absolutely no sleep was not only viable but a good idea? By the time Jaime, one of my new sisters-in-law, came to take us to the airport, I was alternating between mumbling zombie and manic, airheaded philosopher, excitedly pointing out stunning observations that were completely obvious to everyone else.

Going through airport security is never particularly pleasant. Doing so while barely able to form coherent, if not cogent, sentences is a real treat. It turns out that the TSA expects you to have an immediate and definite answer to the question, “What is your final destination?” and they don’t take kindly to you turning around to ask the woman that you claim to be your wife.

Apparently, they decided that I was too inept to be a danger to anyone but myself, because they let me through.

As the plane was about to depart on the first leg of our trip, the pilot declared: “If you are going to Dulles International Airport, we will be arriving in a little over an hour. If you were not planning to go to Dulles, I have some bad news for you.”

Before I passed out, I remember hoping that we were on the right plane.


The second leg of our trip was a bit more interesting. Jess had the window seat, leaving me to serve as the buffer between her and a very inebriated man who claimed that he held an important position in the office of a congressman. He was heading to California on very sensitive business that he insisted he could not discuss. After that, he proceeded to spend the next half-hour telling me all about it. (Note to any government types that might be reading this: it was all very boring, and I only listened enough to nod my head at the appropriate intervals. No need for any covert ops or internments of indeterminate length.)

By the time he was done answering questions about his job that no one had asked, I was desperately looking for a way out of this conversation and any other that might crop up later in the flight. That’s when he asked me if I had seen Hope Solo get on the plane. I had been able to sleep a little by this point, but was still rather groggy; that being said, being asked if I had seen Hope Solo board the plane immediately conjured something akin to this image:

The daughter of Han Solo

Pictured: One of the first Google Images results for “Han Solo’s Daughter.” Source

The drunk man must have gathered from my blank expression that I had no idea whom he meant. Turns out that Hope Solo is a soccer player.

Actual picture of Hope Solo

Pictured: Someone with significantly fewer magical powers. Source

The conversation mercifully trailed off shortly after, which allowed me to stop passing in and out of consciousness while politely listening to him and instead pass in and out of consciousness while watching the in-flight movie: Battleship. I was asleep for most of the movie, but I’m fairly confident that it was about a man that was willing to fight aliens because Liam Neeson promised him a chicken burrito. (If I’m wrong, I’d rather not be corrected.)


Our layover in LAX was stressful, to say the least. At some point in the trip so far, we realized that the airline had put us at opposite ends of the plane for our third and final flight. We hurried to our gate, hoping that there would be enough time to straighten out the mistake. I not-so-secretly expected the airline to hassle us about it before finally not doing a single thing. Still, I tried to remain as polite as possible as we approached the Japanese man attending the gate and explained the situation.

His response? “Seat selections are just requests. The seats are filled in a way that is most beneficial to all of our guests, as a whole.”

“It’s our honeymoon. This is a thirteen-hour flight.”

The man kept a stern look, but his message changed, “I cannot promise anything, but let me see what I can do.”

Jess and I mentally prepared for the worst, telling each other and ourselves that it would only be thirteen hours of our nearly two-week honeymoon and that we would probably be sleeping most of the time, anyways. The first two boarding zones were called, then the man called for us over the speakers. This time, he was smiling widely.

“I found two seats next to each other. Will an exit row be alright?”

We couldn’t say, “Yes,” fast and emphatically enough.


I had seen exit row seats before, but had never been lucky enough to be assigned one, so I was quite excited that my first time would be for the longest flight I had ever been on. This was also my first time on a jumbo jet, so I didn’t realize that “exit row seat” actually meant “seat with fifteen feet open in front of it.”

Sure, we were right by the bathrooms, but I had been stuck by the bathrooms plenty of times on flights. Having more leg room than I could ever possibly need was more than a fair trade off. Sure, sometimes the line would back up and someone would end up (accidentally?) standing a bit too close, but they would notice soon enough and back off.

About four hours into the flight, though, a woman came up to the open area and seemed to be waiting for a bathroom. I found it a bit odd, because none of them were occupied. She eventually turned and began to push against the wall like she was trying to knock it down. “Oh,” I thought, “she’s stretching. Nothing odd about that.”

Then she started doing jumping jacks. For a good five minutes.

Jess and I looked at each other, then tried our hardest not to look directly at her, as if we would be the strange ones for looking at the hopping person directly in front of our seats.

She was the first, but definitely not the last. Throughout the rest of the flight, people would come up and spontaneously start exercising in front of us. It began to seem like this was, indeed, normal for excessively long flights, but it was still a bit awkward for it to be happening right in our faces. Eventually, we made a little game of guessing whether someone was walking our way for the bathroom or exercise. Apparently, I can’t tell the difference between being jittery and doing a wee-wee walk.


The sun had risen shortly after we landed at Dulles that morning. As we continued on our journey to Japan, we were also racing the sun across the sky. By the end of our last flight, most of our fellow passengers had closed their windows, casting the majority of the cabin into darkness. Every once in a while, we would hear someone wake up and curse the fact that the sun existed before their words trailed off into grumbling and they fell back to sleep.

It was the longest day of my life, both literally and figuratively. But none of that mattered when we got off the plane, the sun still high in the sky. We were fulfilling one of our dreams.

We had finally arrived in the land of the rising sun.

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A Long Hiatus

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It has been more than a year since I wrote An Adventure, which was to serve as an introduction to the rest of the stories amassed during our honeymoon in Japan. Just like the plans mentioned in that piece, this one fell to the wayside. Upon returning to real life, where we needed to adjust to married life and our positions in the newly launched church plant, I lost sight of recounting our adventures and of recreational writing, in general.

The last few days, I have been reading through little notes I took in Japan and have been lamenting that I have neglected to make the attached stories and miscellany known. With that in mind, I have concocted a challenge that I am calling:

Japan Thursday

Or, in English, “Japan Thursday.” I am challenging myself to have a new story from our time in Japan typed up and posted every Thursday until I run out. Until then, I leave you with this:

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An Adventure

An Adventure ratio-2x1

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After much planning, preparation and perspiration from thinking that we didn’t do enough of the first two, Jess’s and my wedding finally arrived on October 13, 2012. It was such a blessing to see people from both of our lives come out to bear witness to our union and a number of firsts: our first communion as a married couple; our first kiss; my first time dancing at all, much less with Jess; my first time lighting a candle with another candle; my first time dripping hot wax on my wife’s hand; my first time trying to apologize profusely without anyone noticing while we were the center of attention, etc.

A lot can go wrong with a wedding, just as it can with the resulting marriage. There were plenty of opportunities to let variances from our own mental pictures of how things should be either upset us or roll off of our backs.

My niece, Mikayla, was so looking forward to being our flower girl. I’m not sure if it was nerves or just a basic misunderstanding of what this role entailed, but she did not drop a single petal when she came walking down the aisle. Every few steps, she would give a troubled glance to the contents of her basket or let her hand stir its contents ever-so-gently, but not one was removed from its home. Once she reached the end of the aisle, though, she began happily tossing the basket’s contents in every direction. Once it was empty, she looked intensely at the bottom and, seeming to not trust her own eyes, turned the basket upside-down for good measure.

Needless to say, this is not how a flower girl typically goes about her duties. The plan was for Mikayla to walk down the aisle, gently and gracefully dropping petals as a harbinger for her soon-to-be aunt. If she had done it this way, I would have been so incredibly proud of her, but her role would have been fulfilled and blurred into being just another part of the ceremony. Instead, I have this story to tell, this memory that will forever be ingrained in my mind of my precious four-year-old niece being herself while in the role of flower girl. I not only get to be proud, but I also get a sequence of moments that I will always treasure. I get this because things did not go according to plan.

Fairly early on in our relationship, Jess and I were going to a fundraiser in Maryville to which we had been invited by one of her coworkers. Neither of us was quite sure how to get to the location of the event, so we followed the directions and, at a certain point, simply had to continue to drive and look. The farther out we went, the more convinced we were that we might not even make it in time for the event, should we stumble upon it, at all. The conclusion we came to, however, was that it didn’t really matter: we may not find it, we may not make it in time, we may not enjoy it, we may come across a man named Cleetus that doesn’t “take kindly” to us. What mattered was that we were together and, regardless of how the story would end, “it’ll be an adventure.”

The wedding, the reception, the flights to Japan, our actual time in Japan and now the flights back: all of it has kind of blurred together and occluded the very stunning realization that we have been married for nearly two weeks. As you will see if you decide to read the chronicles of our trip to Japan, very little went according to plan, but that’s exactly why I have so much to write about. That’s why we’ll be recounting details of this trip for years to come.

It’s been an adventure.

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The Abandoning

A man shambled through the dust his own feet kicked up, grasping a small metal container hidden within the rags that were left of his clothes, with a desperation that was anything but inconspicuous. His gaze zigged and zagged across the prefab structures that only rote memorization could help distinguish. The front door led to the small entryway where you could take off your top layer of clothes, caked with the grime of the mines, and perhaps track a little bit less of the unforgiving planet through your cookie-cutter house. The living room after that: the door to the left leading to the master bedroom, the one in the back-right corner leading to your child’s or, if you didn’t have one, a spare room for “guests” – what a joke. No need for a kitchen: no fresh ingredients, no dehydrated rubbish, no point in even heating anything up. Just little, metal tins with an indeterminate paste that lacked appetizing flavor and texture; it probably didn’t even have the claimed nutritional value. Just something to fill your stomach, and it did that well.

Oh, how he would enjoy it when he got home. His treasure, his prize, his secret from the prying eyes that were surely watching from the corners of their sockets as he passed by. He’d lift the ring – oh, it had lost it. Fine, he would bash the top with a rock until the white ooze started to seep out. Then he would shovel the slop greedily into his face, careful to pick every glob from his scraggly facial hair so as to leave no evidence of his feast.

“What do you have there?” A younger man, born less than a decade before the abandoning, was standing in his way.

“Have?” His other arm covered the place where his treasure was buried, his body instinctively turning it away from the threat.

“No games. You stole that.”

“No, found. I found it. Recovered it.”

“Recovered it from my house.”

Others began to look up, to take notice of the argument. Neither was likely to back down, no one ever did, and it was bound to be more entertaining that drawing circles in the dust.

“How would you know? You’re coming from the direction of my house.”

“Rations’ve been disappearing for days, now. Thought I saw you carrying one away yesterday. Thought I would wait for you today.”

“No proof.” The man with the ration turned to the gathering crowd of spectators, as if to appeal to a system of justice that had long been abandoned. No one there cared about who was right, only who would put on the better show. “The man has no proof.”

“So, I’m right? You’re hiding a ration?”

“Proves nothing. What else would I be hiding? I was afraid just this would happen. Or worse.”

As the arguing continued, the crowd grew restless, began murmuring discontent with the slow development, chided the men to just get on with it. A rock flew through the air and hit the accuser. Seeing his opportunity to escape, the accused tried to break through the crowd but was simply thrown to the ground, instead. The accuser went to kick his opponent. The accused caught his leg and pulled him to the ground. Then, as the men rolled on the ground with a flurry of punches and bites, the crowd erupted into a cheer.


Wallace gave a wide berth to the crowd as he passed. He had seen all too often how easily and quickly spectators could become participants in these idiotic squabbles. In some ways, it was better not to know who was actually involved. Gone were the days when a man’s corpse was abandoned in a ditch, the pickaxe used to render it lifeless still protruding from its forehead. The body would be gone, shredded and turned into strips of meat for the community to enjoy long before he came back through. And, as long as he didn’t ask, he would never have to know the name of the man that would be making his gut a temporary residence.

Wallace was born a few months after the Abandoning, when there was still some hope that it wouldn’t be permanent. If he tried hard, he could remember when the light switches still worked and propaganda still looped all day on the screens lining the street. The screens were destroyed long before the colony ran out of power, though. There was only so much of that crap someone could take and, now that the government had seemed content to let them rot on a planet that had never been able to sustain life, being told to put in their time working in the mines for an assured retirement in the capitol system had just reminded them of their collective naivete.

But it wasn’t the convenience of lights at night or the goofiness of old cartoons playing on the screen over his bed that caused Wallace to lament the loss of electricity. He thought of the wealth of knowledge he would be able to garner from watching Mr. McCreedy’s old videos, even the ones that were just trying to lure tourists to a tropical planet. It wasn’t even necessary, really: there had been enough materials and information available to keep the grid going for another twenty years, at least. Everyone had simply given up, accepted that they were going to die on that hostile planet and there was no point in continuing to work. Now, all of the infrastructure was damaged beyond repair, even if he could convince enough of them to care.

With the fading sound of bloodshed behind him, Wallace knocked on the door of his favorite of the identical, prefab houses. When there was no answer, he knocked again. No answer. Wallace began a barrage of constant knocking until the door opened and he saw the wrinkled, ridged face of Mr. McCreedy.

“Please reconsider,” Wallace said.

Mr. McCreedy exhaled sharply and said, “I’ve taught you all I can.”

“But you know so much more,” Wallace said, his voice cracking part of the way through. He swallowed the lump that was trying to climb up his esophagus, tried to blink away the excess moisture gathering in his eyes.

“I have other limits.” Mr. McCreedy started to close the door but stopped and said, “What’s that racket?”

Wallace looked to the ground, said nothing.

“Crap like this going on every day and you want to bury your face in textbooks. Novels, comic – hell, I’d take literary classics. Some form of escapism.”

“We’ll never escape, Mr. McCreedy.” Wallace’s voice was steady, this time. He knew for certain he would die on that rock, so he had accepted it.

“Well, you’re right about that.” Mr. McCreedy took a step back, swung the door hard.

Before it slammed shut, though, Wallace put as much of his body as he could manage in its way. “At least let me read them on my own,” he said, grimacing from the line of pain running down his body. “If you didn’t want me to, why’d you teach me how?”

Mr. McCreedy opened the door, grabbed the front of Wallace’s shirt, tossed him out onto the dirt. “There’s nothing for you here, boy.” As he closed the door, he continued, “God help me if those savages ever realize you can eat paper.”

Wallace brushed the newest, unsettled layer of dirt from his clothes and walked back, a little slower, from where he came. Where the mob had been, there now lay the body of the young aggressor. As Wallace drew closer, the corpse grew ever the more recognizable. At first, he had thought it odd that a perfectly edible body would have been left to rot in the sun, but now it made sense: the body was his brother’s and, now that the only male left in the family was him, they would be…

The blood drained from Wallace’s face as he raced toward his own interchangeable home. He was right; there they were, so many more than before. Many had given up on trying to squeeze through the front door and were climbing, bloodied, through the newly-broken windows. Inside, they would be finding the rations his family had apparently not-so-secretly hoarding for years. But that’s not what they were there for. They had come for the only thing other than food that could comfort them. Just like food, they were planning on taking her by force.

There was nothing he could do that would make any difference. When they were done with her, they would come for him, and death would be the least of his worries.

Regardless of the inevitable, Wallace remained transfixed on the house he never wanted to enter again. He remembered seeing an old documentary about insects that would home in on a morsel and swarm around it, only dispersing once there was nothing recognizable left. These men, so desperate in their search that they were beating those that got in their way and trampling those that came underfoot, were just like those bugs: a swarming cluster of vermin that needed to be exterminated.

Time would take care of that for him, even though he would not live another day. He knew, somewhere in his mind, that it was the Abandoning that had changed these men, made them raving and mad, so he was ashamed when he realized that he was smiling at the thought of them dead.

But that didn’t stop him from smiling.

Blood-Stained Flyleaf

Blood-Stained Flyleaf

Nigel and Godwin by noblerab via Fiverr

Church bells told me that my family would be returning from chapel. How long had it been since I stepped foot into that place? The time is lost to me, but I remember the circumstance. A cross, something that had always given me hope, had burned into my mind as I stared at it during Mass. I felt it searching my soul, rooting out the deepest secrets I was not willing to relent. I ran home, right during the homily, and cowered in my room. At times, I would believe that it was providence that saved me from the other patrons realizing it was the cross that tormented me, but those were only fleeting thoughts. There’s no providence for what I have begun to become.

I didn’t go out to greet them as they returned, for I wasn’t yet sure how the sun would affect me. It caused pain but I lived in fear of the soon-approaching day when a waft of smoke would rise from my skin at the touch of the light. No, I mustn’t touch the light, and I mustn’t see a cross. Two things I used to love so much could now be my undoing. As far as I was concerned, God had abandoned me.

The door swung open and Fenmore charged in before father and mother. He was quite big for his age, leading some to suppose he was older, but his glaring immaturity soon told them otherwise. He was only a child and I loved him, perhaps even more, for all his faults. His arms wrapped around my waist as he said, “Good morning, ‘Dwin.” Godwin. Fate’s sarcasm.

Father glared at me, speechlessly scolding me for not coming with them to Mass. He had long since abandoned using words. The fear of being found out far outweighed the pain of his disapproval. Mother frowned as his back disappeared around the corner. “I wish you would come, if only once more,” was what her silent sadness said. She suspected, I believe. Perhaps that is why she never spoke her concerns: she didn’t want to put me in a situation where my only choice was to lie.

Fenmore spoke between pauses, unsure of himself, “Some of my friends are swimming down at the creek. I thought maybe today—”

“You should go. Don’t stay for my sake,” I said, knowing that wouldn’t be the end of it.

“I want to stay with you.”

For a moment I thought to take the chance, if only so he could spend time with his friends for once instead of being held in darkness with me. It wasn’t his burden to bear.

“Go with your friends. I’ll be here when you come back.” Begrudgingly, he left.

The day passed similarly to all the rest: darkness, other than the spherical glow of candlelight, with the act of committing my thoughts to paper being the only escape from boredom. Volumes had already been written by my hand, only to be burned away by the candle flames. I found every attempt to confess lacking. Rather symbolic really. All of my thoughts, hopes and dreams falling to ash like the insubstantial trash they were. Even so, my scribblings did serve a purpose: a kind of time travel. As the last bits of writing lifted up in smoke, Fenmore stepped through the doorway of our shared room, his skin a peculiar shade of pink.

“You should’ve come,” he said through grinning mouth.

“If I had come, you wouldn’t be able to tell me about it.”

“You wouldn’t need anyone to tell you.”

“That’s no fun.”

“You can only say that because you weren’t there,” he said, biting the tip of his tongue at me.

Mother yelled, “Dinner,” from the dining room. I obliged the call, although my hunger had long since turned to something more sinister than the flesh of cattle. They didn’t bother setting a place for me, anymore. Perhaps they thought I ate in my own time, late at night. Whatever the reason for their seeming apathy, I was just pleased to be left alone.

The conversation around the table was the same monotony as always, with the exception of Fenmore energetically recounting splashing around all day. I left the table without bothering to excuse myself; the conversation suffered nothing for it.

I sat at the old desk again and practiced my scribal time-travel until my brother’s arms reached around my neck. Caught off-guard, I fumbled to cover what I had been writing.

“Goodnight,” he said, lying down on his bed. “Don’t forget that I get to read your writing, someday.” Soon he was gone, his rhythmic breathing giving him away. As my most recent thoughts blazed brightly, I watched my brother’s chest rise up and down, up and down in his peaceful rest. He looked so innocent, so pure. Especially his neck, his clean and smooth neck. That must have been how I looked the night I was bitten. My thoughts drifted back to the nightmarish vacation so many years ago.

The snowless winter wind whipped at my face as I emerged from the carriage. The cold transcended the physical realm and permeated the spiritual, freezing up all good thoughts and feelings; I shivered.

“Here we are,” Father said, an uneasy smile painted on his face. “Your great-uncle Nigel’s manor.”

“Awfully dreary,” I said under my breath.

Thorn bushes covered the lawn with no inhibition save a narrow pathway up to a door of rotted wood. Shingles fell from the roof as a not-too-particularly strong gust of wind howled through the night, shattering against the ground in a crash that startled us both.

“It won’t be all that bad,” father said, ushering me closer and ever-closer to the door. “Only until I return in two weeks. Fen will keep your mother’s hands full enough.”

“I could help her.”

Raising an eyebrow, father said, “Come now. We both know that to not be true.”

For the extent of the journey I had been attempting to persuade my father to allow me to stay at home so, when this final attempt failed, I relented. “How is he related to us, anyway?”

“Marriage,” father said, then continued lower, “to Lucetta.”

Upon hearing that, my objections were resurrected. Father foresaw my complaints.

“I know, I know. No one likes your great-aunt, but it is just for a short time. Now, no more about it.”

I mumbled, “You still could’ve told me sooner.”

The front door opened, squeaking on its rusty hinges. My feet, lead in my shoes, remained planted on the gravel before the moldy, wooden porch steps. Father passed, somehow not paralyzed by the evil erupting from the gaping mouth of the house. The deep crevasses running all about leathery skin, the slight, dark orbs of perverted sight resting in their sockets and the slightly lighter mounds of lips from which the hateful poison of a black heart spilled were all unmistakably Lucetta’s features.

“You are late,” she said.

“We’re here now,” father said, not allowing himself to be baited into an argument. And, his delivery complete, he left with only a whisper to me: “It won’t be so bad. Maybe you’ll even enjoy it.”

My mind was not focused on him, but on the figure of pale evil standing in the doorway.

“It is not polite to stare, boy.”

My eyes immediately focused on the porch, tracing the grain of the wood, and I couldn’t seem to force them to anything else.

“Come inside now.”

Against my will, my feet lifted one after another, carrying the rest of my dreading body over each step and stopping in front of my great-aunt. I wished to flee, to fly away to the carriage that carried my father to his destination, but my feet were no longer mine to command. The front door closed behind me; the house swallowed me whole.

Within was no more comforting than without, although better kept. Ornate tiles lined the floors and parts of the walls, beautiful paintings of exotic landscapes hung intermittently about, all of them night scenes, and great chandeliers swung from their long, golden chains. It seemed impossible for such a large space to exist in what had appeared to be an over-sized cottage.

“You’ll sleep here.”

Those words appeared to dispel whatever control she had over me; my body once again obeyed my own will. The room I was in fit perfectly well with my original imagining of how the inside would look: a layer of dust covered everything, saturating the dingy sheets of the bed I had been assigned. The window was the only I had yet to see in that house not covered by some great drapery or other such material. For a fleeting moment I had thoughts of escaping through it; it was locked, however, which was disappointing. As I wiped away the grime with my shirt-sleeve, filthying it in the process, I was looking out from a third story window. I hadn’t climbed any stairs other than those of the front porch.

My newly freed feet flew in a flurry back the way I thought I had been led but, yet again escalating my unease, there was no decrepit front door in a vast, tiled hall. What stood before me were well-kept oaken double-doors that reached to the ceiling. A great tree, with a snake coiled around its entirety, was carved in them and beneath the tree was an inscription that read, “The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.” Pushing the doors apart, splitting the tree in half, I gazed into the grandiose room before me. Rows of twenty foot tall shelves stretched so far that I could not see where they ended. Each aisle was lined with black carpets that interconnected with the circular rug in the middle of the room. On the rug was a small table made of smooth stone with a matching chair on each side.

“And just what are you doing, boy?”

Any other voice would have caused me to jump, but hers once again froze me; I was like a short, chiseled statue of flesh, blood and bone. No, a marionette only able to move at the puppet-master’s whim. She had yet to make her whims known, so I remained hanging by my invisible cords.

“You may read in my library, but you are not to be anywhere other than your room and here.”

I wondered where I would dine, but that particular question was to be answered all too soon. Other than that, I had no complaints with her orders: at the first chance, I would burst through the front door and run as far as my legs would take me.

“And you must not leave until your father returns.”

I knew that something, my will failing or even the house changing shape, would always keep me within the bounds of her orders. I had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, only this corner of the house I had been given to cower in. But from what? I’m being silly. There’s nothing sinister about this house or Lucetta. The thought intruded my mind that it was all simply paranoia that was superimposing upon every smallest detail and action a hidden evil.

This grandest act of manipulation my great-aunt accomplished with no words at all.

The doors closed behind me, my strings put for a while into my own hands, and I found that I was not quite alone in that library. Sitting at the stone table was the huddled form of a man, concentrating on a rather tiny, leather-bound book.

“Hello, Godwin,” he said, looking up almost in perfect time with the doors closing. “Don’t worry about her. She’ll warm up to you soon enough. How terribly rude of me: I am Nigel, your step-great-uncle or whatever such title is appropriate.”

I approached and sat across from him. How different he was from Lucetta: not a wrinkle upon his face, a kindness in his eyes to match the sinister stare of hate in hers, a smile that it was easy to believe had never once been absent and dark black hair without the slightest sign of grey. He drank red wine from a glass. My cracked lips reminded me of thirst.

“I’m afraid this kind of drink isn’t appropriate for you yet but, if you go and find a book you’d like to read, I’ll have something for you when you return.”

“What’re you reading?” I said.

“Writing, actually. Just scanning the latest bit. I hope to have more inspiration soon. Now, go choose yourself a book.”

Nodding, I turned a corner around the first shelf and peeked between the books to spy on him. To my dismay, he took the book with him. My curiosity wouldn’t yet be satiated. The books on the shelves were strange, many in foreign languages: “Modern Folklore,” “The Lot of Jerusalem,” “The Call of…” and then a word that I couldn’t begin to pronounce. Out of the ones I could at least vaguely understand, none interested me in the least. The same problem found me no matter which aisle I looked down. Not wanting to keep my great-uncle waiting — as he was the one I was sure to get along with on this “vacation” — I grabbed blindly at a book and returned with it to the stone table.

As Nigel sipped from a full glass, I asked, “You really like red wine, don’t you?”

He smiled wider and said, “One could say that. Though I much prefer to drink directly from the young, yet unripened grapes.”

His eyes remained fixed on me and the cup that now sat before me. Smiling back, I lifted the cup to my lips and drank. The first surge of poison that flowed down my throat rent my body with fire and acid. I collapsed to the floor, covered quickly with darkness.

I ran through the darkness, past demons and devils, sylphs and sirens, succubi and incubi, and all other nightmarish villains that haunt from the shadows. I ran not from them, but from the giant hand reaching out to rapture me. My lungs tried to scream, but the poison in my throat captured the cry. As the hand closed around me, my hands reached between its fat fingers, desperately groping for help, but drew back nothing but empty air each time. Then I was totally in its grasp, pressed against the palm as the phantasmal hand pulled back into the darkness.

A momentary flash of light erupted and faded; I was back in the darkness, surrounded by the creatures that only seemed less vicious by comparison. The same scenario played out over and over again. Sometimes I would elude the hand for a while longer but it always proved futile. The hand would grab hold of and pull me back until the darkness claimed me completely. Then a flash of light, then the darkness again. I began to think that nothing could be worse than this recurring hell.

Waking was worse. The light only day can provide burned my eyes like fire pokers. Yes, I remember the horrible, white blindness. Plucking my eyes to simply stop the pain seemed like a genuinely good idea at the time, but I clenched them shut instead; the image of light still danced like a phantom performer, refusing to fade. I began to wonder why I was so blasted hot but, with my eyes now safe, realized that the rest of my body was being assaulted by the oppressive sun. Rolling onto the floor, I blindly felt my way to the chamber door. It was locked.

I beat the door so long that my hands bled. I tried the handle again, then again, then violently again. The thought of escaping the light was all that my mind had the strength to keep. Balling up my hands, I struck the handle until I felt it finally give way. Then I was out of the room, the door swiftly slamming behind me.

Even the light streaming through the hole in the door where the handle used to be was too much, and my sore, strained limbs soon carried me down the hall, away from that horrible hell. Leaning against the double-doors of the library, I tried to piece together what had happened, but all that would return to me was the acrid taste of whatever it was that my great-uncle had given me. The doors creaked open, dumping me onto the floor; the rug cushioned my fall.

“I was wondering what all that racket was. Look, you have bloodied my expensive carpet, stupid child.” The heel of Lucetta’s shoe viciously stabbed my arm as she passed over me. “Now what are you crying about? You would do well to keep track of your own limbs.”

Painfully, I rose to my feet and stumbled in the direction of the stone table; Nigel was again huddled over his leathery book but, this time, was scribbling within. “What did you do?” I demanded.

“Ah, my dear, sweet boy. I’ve been anxiously awaiting you.”

For reasons I did not yet understand, I was infuriated that he wouldn’t turn to face me, but just continued his scrawling. My hand raised to strike him but was caught in the air; my strings were once more attached. My body sat itself in the chair I had fallen from earlier.

“You have given me another conquest to write about.”

“How so?”

“By giving me your innocence, of course.”

Not quite sure what he meant, I said, “I did no such thing.”

“The marks on your shoulder say otherwise.”

At his words, I felt two pinpricks high on my arm. Two spots of blood appeared on my shirt, growing every moment. I looked up, horrified, as he smiled even wider than before, revealing two sharp fangs. He licked his lips.

“Directly from the grape.”

“What are you?”

“Surely, you’ve heard stories. Humans love to tell them. Most of the books in this library speak of my kind, although some are more sensationalized than others. Sometimes fiends, sometimes lovers. I particularly liked the times when we were hailed as gods. You wouldn’t believe how many considered it an honor to be chosen as a sacrifice. These days, it’s more likely to be said that we’ve sold our souls to the devil or some such nonsense. If there is a devil, I’ve never met him.”

“I’ll tell th-”

“You’ll tell what, precisely?” Nigel laughed. “That you were bitten by a vampire? Who would believe you? They’d call you a liar, throw you in an asylum.” Before I could even see that he had risen from the table, Nigel was standing behind me, his hand resting on my shoulder. He brought his mouth down to my ear and softly said, “Or maybe they would believe you. Imagine how disappointed, how disgusted your parents will be. They might even feel guilty once they’ve killed you.”

“They would never-”

His fingers dug into the holes on my shoulder. “Do you really have so much faith in that pathetic race from which you’ll soon depart? Biter or bitten: they have trouble differentiating the two. They’d kill me if given the chance, but you they’ll already have. Not many have faith enough in the strength of men to think that anyone can overcome the vampire’s bite. Your life will be taken before you can prey on anyone else.”

I realized the most horrific truth in that moment: he was right.

“Soon, the thirst will take you. See how well you hold against it. Until then, I’d hide these marks and tell no one of what has happened here. Take your chances, if you’d like, when your father arrives shortly.” Nigel released my shoulder from his grip.

“My father isn’t coming for two weeks,” I said, wiping the tears from my eyes. Some part of me still wished to triumph in some way, no matter how small; I knew I was right in this respect. What I knew, however, was wrong.

“You have not yet realized? I’ve kept you at the brink of death for your entire visit. Your agonized bleeding was the most delicious nectar to ever grace my tongue. Don’t look so horrified, my pet. One day you will understand the joys of satiating this awesome thirst.”

All of this ran through my mind as I sat staring at Fenmore’s exposed neck, his voice murmuring to some unseen being in his peaceful dream. My tongue flicked and found that two fangs now protruded from my gums; fangs which had not been there when I began my awful reminiscing. The time was at hand. I wrote a goodbye note to my brother; he would be able to read something I had written. No one heard me close the front door; no one saw me stalk the streets toward the outskirts of town; no one would ever feel the sting of my fangs.

“I am well and truly impressed.”

I knew without looking that Nigel now kept pace behind me.

“You’ve fought the thirst for four years. That’s unprecedented.”

I ignored his words and continued out of the town, up the sloping hills.

His voice followed behind. “Where are you going, brother?”

The word momentarily halted my steps, but I did not turn. I said, “I only have one brother,” and continued my ascent. It took a half hour to find the great summit where I used to test my fear of heights. The entirety of the town lay before me. I sat waiting in the dark, longing for the dawn to come and rend me from my unholy shell.

“You are going to die.”

“Perhaps,” I said.

“Don’t you think that I had similar thoughts when I was turning? We all do, but it is sheer foolishness.”

“I don’t believe you’re one to speak for all of your kind.”

“Our kind, now, dear brother.”

“I will never be one of you.”

“Those fangs say otherwise.”

“That’s why I’m here.” I looked at Nigel for the first time during this exchange. “I would rather die as a human than live as a blasphemy.”

“I thought you’d be more sensible.”

“And I thought I was just one in a long line of conquests. Why do you care what becomes of me?”

“Think of your family. Without you around, who will look out for poor Fenmore? I just might need to comfort him while he grieves.”

I felt heat in my blood for the first time in years as I lunged at Nigel. Before I could understand how, his hand was gripping my neck tightly. His wicked smile still played across his face, but his eyes were fierce.

“There is no outcome that does not involve your brother being bitten. I do not particularly care by whose fangs. By cooperating, you can at least assure that he is not drained dry. Would it really be so bad to have him eternally at your side?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I finally saw it: the tinge of brilliant light upon the horizon. “Do you know why I chose this cliff, Nigel? Because there would be no way for me to run to safety if I changed my mind. Even with your speed, I believe the same is true for you.”

Then Nigel was gone. I turned to face the daylight slowly making its way to my decaying body perched upon the cliff. My feet began to burn, but I made no effort to move them, then my legs, but no effort to run. Soon my whole body was ablaze with an agonizing, flameless fire that caused me to fall to the ground in white, blind agony. Rising back to my feet, I tried to see in the brilliant light. Burning layers of skin broke apart into dust and blew in the wind, revealing clean and living flesh that had been subverted. Then the pain was gone. For the first time in a long time, I saw the town wrapped completely in the light. The church bells rang, and my sight drifted to the cross that I could finally look at without cowering, the sun glittering beautifully behind it.

I was less ecstatic as I made my descent. No pile of dust, no flaming skeleton, no pile of clothes left inexplicably on the ground. There was no evidence that Nigel was unable to escape.

A scream erupted from the town. My legs carried me as quick as they could to find the source. As hard as I tried to push the image away, I couldn’t help but think that I would soon be standing over Fenmore’s corpse. Instead, I found Nigel. The sun had similarly burned him, but he had not withstood the torment as well as I had. His skin was ashen and cracked; fragments fell with every miniscule movement. His right hand was devastated, only a sliver of a finger distinguishing it from a stump. His lips were completely gone, leaving his fangs exposed for all of the townspeople that were quickly gathering to see. I don’t know who made the first strike, but many others soon followed. Every pitchfork and shovel that came crashing down brought up a plume of dust that reeked of death. Soon, only the glint of metal could truly be seen in the swirling cloud.

Outside of the skirmish sat the rest of Nigel’s right hand, still gripping the leather-bound journal I had been so curious about. Using the confusion as cover, I snatched the book from the ground and made my way to the other side of town, back to my own house. As I walked I flipped through the pages of Nigel’s journal. Each had a small sketch of a young boy’s face, a short written description of what drew Nigel to the boy, how he had gained the child’s trust and where he bit them. Below these sickening details sat two drops of blood, a name below each one. I flipped through these pages until I found my own entry; it was the same as all of the others, save that there was only one drop of blood with my own name written below it. The second drop with the second name: his conquest’s first victim?

Page by page, victim by victim, my candle burned that book and my suicide note. Then I sat down with my pen and began to write this account, my final confession. Fenmore woke just moments ago, and I asked him to give me a tour of the town I have hidden from for so long. When he asked me where I would like to begin, I told him that I’d rather like to see the church.