Thursday, July 26, 2012

1.3 - Facing the Future

When my cell phone started ringing, I had just gotten the girls settled down for a quick nap. Their birthday was coming up tonight, and I was really looking forward to getting the chance to put on my workout clothes and go practice my martial arts. I’ve been feeling angrier and angrier in the past few days, and sometimes I get worried that I’ll do something crazy.

So, yeah. I might’ve been a tiny bit tetchy when I answered. “What do you want?”


My heart stopped, and before I could stop myself, a smile spread across my face. “Hey, Artie! I haven’t seen you in a while! How’ve you been?” Almost as if she knew that this was an important phone call, and that I didn’t want to be interrupted, Mika quieted down.

“I heard that you had come home,” Artie replied. There was more than a hint of reproach in his voice – and I couldn’t help but notice he’d come into his ‘man voice’ while I’d been gone. “You never called me.”

“I’ve been a little occupied, Artie,” I said softly. “Things have changed. For both of us, I’m sure.”

“Where are you living now, Sapphira?” he asked. “I’d love to come see you. Catch up.”


He’d grown up and into himself in the last few years. I was out practicing with my training dummy when he arrived, trying to beat the anger out of myself: we had gotten a package earlier in the day, marked for Kaiya and Mika. I hadn’t had the heart to open it yet – the gorgeous red paneling, the gold-leaf designs... It had to be from Ho Jun Kim.

“So...” he said with a small smile. “It looks as though Shang Simla agreed with you.” He gestured to the training dummy and the chest. “Bringing back treasures and training, then?” He started to step towards the chest. “I’d love to see what you brought back – I’m working with the Antiquities department at the museum now, you know...”

“Don’t touch that!” I cried out instinctively. He stopped and came back. “I mean... That’s not my package. Well, I mean, it is my package, but whatever’s in it isn’t meant for me. It’s... it’s for my daughters. I haven’t opened it yet.”

  “Your... daughters?” Artie said slowly. His eyes were wide, staring at me in total disbelief. I don’t think I have ever felt like more of a bitch than I did right then. “You mean that when you were in Shang Simla...” His sentence trailed off, mouth opening and closing wordlessly. “You know, I waited for you. I had girls throwing themselves at me in university.” He stopped, a small smile tugging at the edges of his lips. “I guess I grew into myself. What a change, right?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I admitted quietly, relaxing now that the chest of doom was in no danger of being opened. I mean, who the hell knows what kind of weird Simnese voodoo magic might be in that chest? Ho Jun Kim is one strange guy. Birds of a feather, and all, I guess. “I am sorry, Artie,” I whispered. “This isn’t what I thought was going to happen when I left. We could’ve had everything, couldn’t we?”

“We should’ve,” Artie agreed as he pulled me into a tight hug. “But you’ve got issues in your life, Sapphira. And now, I’m not sure that I’m really prepared to deal with them. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

 “Thank you, Artie,” I murmured. “I guess it was a good enough thing that I left, wasn’t it? Now, maybe you can find someone who really deserves somebody like you.” I couldn’t help but smile. “I wish things had turned out differently. I think you’d have made a much better dad for my twins. It sounds trite, Artie, but I really do wish you all the best.”

We separated, still looking at each other with that faint disappointed expression.

“You remember the day I left?” I asked after a moment of silence. “You came with us to the airport, and you said you’d be waiting for me when I got back.”

“I remember you said, ‘Don’t leave me here alone.’”  He looked at me fondly. “I know you don’t like being alone. Suppose with twins in a place this small, you’ll never really be alone again.” And with that in mind, Artie finally broke the same old silly grin I remembered from our high school years. “Karma’s a bitch, isn’t she?”

I smiled, laughed and hugged him tightly one last time. “Yeah, I guess so.”


“Please… don’t leave me here alone…”

“You’ll never be alone, Sapphira…”

I woke up with a start, realizing belatedly that I must’ve fallen asleep after Artie left. These dreams have been getting more and more frequent – ever since I came home from Shang Simla, and especially since I’ve had the twins. Echoes of a voice so faint, I can’t even hear if it’s male or female… The feeling of being so alone in a dark, dusty place…

I shook away the shivers of fear that traveled up my spine at that thought, and turned my attention back to the girls.

The sun was just starting to set, and the girls were getting antsy for their gift. When we finally got outside (two toddlers, one mom? Not a good math equation...), I stood in front of the chest for a long while. No matter what I did in the next few seconds, it would make or break my future – and my daughters’ futures.

I could probably leave that chest unopened. I could call Artie, let him take it away to the Antiquities department. What in the world could Ho Jun Kim possibly send from Shang Simla that would be of any use to me and the girls... in Moripiko Island? Some jade dragon for protection – the guy probably doesn’t even know his own daughters’ names, let alone have enough concern for their well-being to send a protective amulet. Whatever is in that chest is probably worth a lot of money: money that I could use.

But the not-knowing would drive me mad.

Lying inside the chest were two strange-looking dolls. And I mean, I’m not talking some Raggedy Sim deal. These were just weird. They didn’t look like the dolls I’d seen little girls in the Simnese market playing with when I was over there. These were oddly-coloured, almost of a handmade quality, with spiky little noses and bright bulbs floating above their heads. I nearly didn’t give them to the girls – they did not look toddler-proof at all. But the second Kaiya caught sight of one in my hands, she started shrieking – and then Mika started.

Eventually I gave in, just to quiet them down. Two angry toddlers, one tired mom... I’ll let you do the math on that one. Pick your battles and all.

Apparently, my girls took to the dolls like white on rice. Yeah, I know – ironic sort of metaphor when they’re half-Simnese. Every time I turned around, they had those creepy dolls out. They talk to those things like they’re alive – and those light bulbs? They glow day and night. They never die or flicker. It’s just weird. No other kid in the town has dolls like these – and they’re like nothing anybody has seen before (I checked. Having a friendly ex-boyfriend who’s head of the Strange Relicts office at the museum has its perks.)

They were obsessed. If I took away the dolls to do something else with them, they would start screaming and hollering until the dolls were returned. Yeah – I’m one of those mothers.

“My doll!”

“All mine!”

“No yours!”

“Go way!”

Sigh. My life has been reduced to two-word phrases. With exclamation marks – and occasionally italics. Welcome to motherhood, Sapphira Thorpe. Enjoy it if you can.

When those dolls entered the picture, I knew that I was going to have to make another trip to Shang Simla, and sooner rather than later. How exactly I was going to get there – with fares and visas for three, no less – was not as clear. Honestly, I don’t think much past the stage of “Go to Shang Simla and beat Ho Jun Kim the deep-throat idiot senseless”. I still want my answers – I just have even more questions now.

Who is the voice I hear in my dreams, telling me not to be afraid, that I’ll never be alone?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

1.2 - Birth

I couldn’t find much of anywhere that I could move with what little money I had. So, I ended up full-circle: I found a tiny little trailer in the park around the corner from my old tenement.

 I suppose it’s sort of comforting, in a way: a little girl with no past, no family... that rundown old tenement was the first place that I can remember ever having a life and a mother. No father, though: my mother did everything on her own. The younger kids’ father was an entertainer who traveled all over Moripiko Island: Saturday never wanted kids. I still remember when Elissa and Jap were born, Saturday had come over to the apartment to watch me while Mom was in the hospital. He spent the entire day wandering around the place in his underwear and reading the paparazzi reports.

When I first found out that I was having twins, I might have cried a little. Two newborns in that tiny trailer? What was I thinking?? I mean, I remember what it was like, living in a small two-bedroom apartment with Mom and the first set of twins. In a tiny little trailer where the only door to close is the bathroom? – I’m going to go crazy, I just know it.

I don’t go out much anymore – then again, there’s not much of anything I can do, seeing as I’m flat broke and big as a house. At first, I started following the Inventor’s Invented Guide to Inventing Inventive Inventions just as a way to occupy myself during the day: having all day to do nothing is a beast of a burden.

But I discovered something: I kind of like the freedom this life gives me. I can still make some money – I have some artifacts and old relics that I brought back from Shang Simla that I can pawn off to make a little bit of extra cash. Inventing lets me keep my hands busy, and I can work on useful things around the twins’ schedules.
It’s perfect. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.

 When I went into labour, I discovered that vital, all-encompassing truth that every pregnant woman discovers… The painkiller is a lie. There is nothing that can possibly deal with the amount of pain that comes with pushing two not-so-tiny human bodies out of your you-know-what. I am still having a lot of trouble believing that my mother actually willing did this… TWICE.
Labour: the ultimate birth control. I am totally, and completely, DONE with having kids.

 I named the girls Kaiya and Mika. I figured that the best way to make sure that my little girls don’t grow up with complexes is to make sure that they’re in touch with their heritage – and what’s a bigger part of your identity than your name?
My day never ends with the twins. Whenever I manage to get one dealt with (dirty-diaper-bottle-snuggle-put-down-pick-up-wash-rinse-repeat), the other starts up. I am exhausted. I am tired. I go nowhere. I see nobody. I hate Ho Jun Kim the deep-throat idiot from Shang Simla more and more every day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

1.1 - One Day in Shang Simla

I suppose my story starts at home, just like anybody’s. It probably even starts the same way that I suppose most people in my position start out.

I was adopted at the age of 6 by my lovely, long-suffering mother Rachel. When I came to her, I had very little memory about the life I had led before that day – and even now, I can’t summon any more than the faintest recollection of cherry blossoms in the spring. They had told my mother that the only thing known about me was my name was Sapphira. Not sure what possessed whoever gave birth to me to call me that. Brunette, brown eyes… I’d have been better named “Amber”.

What else would be important to know about my past? Well, I’m the eldest of five children. I’m the only one who’s adopted, too. Check another complex off the list of “things that contribute to the deviance of adopted children”, along with “unknown past” and “single mother”.

There’s another thing for you to know: messing with an adopted kid’s family is asking for nasty karma. Or at least, messing with this adopted kid’s family.

I had a relatively normal childhood from the time I came to Moripiko Island. I loved exploring the forests around the tenement building I grew up in, I watched my mother tend to the rooftop garden, hung our laundry out on the lines in the warm island air. There really wasn’t anything that screamed “FUTURE DEVIANT CHILD”.

I suppose the first time I knew something was going wrong was right after I started high school. The second I stepped foot in that school and felt the crush of people moving around me, without a single one ever really seeing me, something woke from deep inside of me. Something dark and dangerous, and something that I never want to feel again as long as I live.

It was the first time that my mother and I have ever seriously fought. I must’ve seemed like a two-faced she-demon: swinging back and forth between the daughter who would tirelessly clean our unit, and then skipping school, causing holy hell when forced to class and staying out until all hours of the night.

It wasn’t all bad during my teenage years, though. My senior year, I met this guy named Artie McCann. He was sweet – the kind of guy that people chew up and spit back out in high school. In fact, that was how I met him in the first place: he was serving detention for swiping the Calculus tests off the teacher’s desk for one of the cheerleaders. Now there’s a deviant breed if I’ve ever seen one. After I heard that story, I guess I sort of took him under my wing and things just sort of evolved from there.

The day we graduated, Artie and I went out to one of the little gardens that the council has been putting up. It’s a nice, quiet place – it doesn’t get me riled up the way some of the community parks do. I suppose I should’ve seen this particular discussion coming: Artie had been dropping hints for the last week or so.

But again, something began to rise in my chest and threatened to choke me. Why was I so afraid to start a life with this boy that I’d been dating for years? He was safe, he was ready to begin adulthood with two feet firmly on the ground. This was supposed to be everything that I’ve ever dreamt of having. So why the desire to pull away?

It only took me a few seconds to realize what it was that I wanted to do after graduation – what I think I might’ve wanted to do for years.

“It’s okay,” I remember him telling me with that heartbreaking little smile on his face. “I get it. I’ll be waiting for you.”

And then that dark little voice in my conscience as I tried to memorize the way his skin felt against mine. “Bless your soul, you’ve got your head in the clouds.” There he went again, believing and trusting in the best in people – even when he’d seen them break promises and walk away without so much as a tear. As if he was really going to be waiting for me when I got back.

I was off to find out what lay in my hidden past, no matter the cost.

I knew from the second I stepped off that plane in Shang Simla, and caught the first whisper of cherry blossoms in the air, that I had come to the right place.

When I went to check in with the Simlandian embassy’s base camp, I heard somebody gasp as I passed them. Of course, what else would you expect me to do?

He struck me as a guard of some sort, the way he stood so tall and proud at the pathway, dressed in long silks despite the heat. I thought maybe I had stumbled upon the royal family’s courtyard or something, and that was why he was watching me so carefully.

So, like the good Simlandian that I am, I marched right up to him and demanded the truth. Well, sort of. It was a little more timid than that. Actually, I barely managed to stutter and stammer out my story. When he didn’t reply for a few seconds, I had this horrifying realization that he might not even speak Simlish. And then he answered, in a deep voice,
I can tell you what you seek. I ask only that you aid me with a task.”

Who the hell falls for that, anyway? “Aid me with a task” should be synonymous with “Let me rope you into some horrendous, life-threatening escapade in hopes that I might actually tell you something you want to know.”

Anyway, that’s how I came to find myself now hundreds of feet underground, peering around dark corners and down dimly-lit corridors, half-expecting a zombie to burst out of the stones. And let me just tell you, I also don’t deal well with the dark. It’s another one of those “psycho-Sapphira” triggers.

And then there was FIRE. Honest-to-God FIRE. This was not what I signed up for when I got on the plane in Moripiko Island. I was figuring on spending a month or so in Shang Simla, see the sights, maybe hit up some town records, find out my biological family died in some freak tourist trap accident… Instead, I’m stuck underground for days, chasing some stupid hunk of rock down pitch-black corridors with creepy sounds and fire… all for some deep-throat dude in a red silk shirt who says he “has answers”.

Did I mention the fire?

Okay, so it was a pretty nice-looking rock. I thought diamonds were more of an Al-Simharan thing, but hey – whatever gets me my answers, right?

Whatever gets me my answers. That was almost as stupid a decision as the decision to come out to Shang Simla in the first place. After all, Mr. Deep-Throat-Guard (or Ho Jun Kim) is apparently quite happily married. He is also a useless source of information.

Seriously, I went through all of this for two measly sentences: “Your parents passed through here many, many years ago in the times of my father. They were outsiders.”

UGH. I could’ve found that out without the secret midnight meetings and the underground tunnels of fire.

I was in Shang Simla for the better part of a year. I did the tourist thing. I started studying martial arts in effort to try and channel some of this anger and darkness out of me. I tried to coax more information out of Ho Jun. But I finally had to cut my losses and go back to Moripiko Island when I couldn’t even stand to look at him without feeling the need to vomit.

Initially, I thought that I might move back in with my mother. After all, Elissa and Jap have reached those horrendous teenage years, and Evan and Kalea are just at the age where they’re getting into everything. My mother’s not exactly at the top of her game anymore, and she could probably use some extra hands. But it didn’t take me long to realize that staying with my family wasn’t going to work out. Apparently, I took a little bit of Shang Simla back to Moripiko Island with me.

I still haven’t run into Artie, and part of me is hoping that I don’t for a very long while. After all, I left him hanging for close to a year, and I have nothing to show for this quest except a big belly. The trip didn’t work for quenching that need to know, either. Something tells me that another trip to Shang Simla will be in my future – this time prepared to ask the questions.

Who were my parents? Why does a tourist-laden village remember them? What exactly happened 13 years ago?