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Estimated reading time — 30 minutes
Demons Of Darkness
by Olivia B.
She stood on the bridge
In silence and fear
For the demons of darkness
Had driven her here
They cut her heart
Right out of her chest
Making her believe
That the demons knew best
They were always there
Sometimes just out of sight
Waiting in the background
Till the time was right
These demons were destructive
Knocking down the life she knew
Hating everything about her
She hated herself too
These demons can’t be seen
But they’re far from fairy tales
They live inside your mind
Their evilness prevails
So on the bridge she stood
About to end the fight
Then she stopped and thought
Fight them one more night
* * * * * *
Tyler is still missing. But I shouldn’t think about that… I can’t… but it still upsets me. Depressing. I have to stop thinking of that or else… I may be next. I know better. It knows who I am.
Now I think of happy things. I smile. A lot. Sometimes, it looks kinda crazy… like I’m one can shy of a 6-pack. But I don’t care. I usually carry some pictures in my pocket, just to look at to keep my mind positive. Pictures of me as a kid on vacation with my family.
One of my favorites was when I was about 8 years old. My aunt Pearl had a little house at the Jersey Shore. It was grey, weathered looking wood with big rattan chairs on the porch dotted with thick red cushions. She would sit there each morning, drinking coffee and leafing through recipes in her card box. Sometimes she sang. Aunt Pearl had a pretty decent voice. I used to love going there. Just breathing in the salty breezes and walking along the beach was so relaxing and fun. My favorite thing was to ride my bike over to the little stand where I’d get these deeee-lish pork roll sandwiches. Yep, those were happy times. Not like now… no, stop it… I NEED to focus on good things. HAPPY. SMILES. It doesn’t like happy thoughts; and I don’t want to give it any reason to visit me. No sir… not here… it’s not welcomed here. So yes… gotta get my mind back to happy….Ship Bottom, New Jersey in the summer. And that yummy smelling coconut suntan lotion… all happy, safe memories. But I sure do miss Tyler.
I figure, that maybe if I write down my thoughts that aren’t happy… get it out of my system… that will be a good thing. So if it is a good thing, then how can it be negative? I guess it can’t. So I’m safe. Yes, I have to be safe. I have no new black-and-blue spots… so I must be doing o.k. Good… so I will write down what really happened and that will be good to not keep it pent up. My Grandpop used to tell me to “let it all out; you’ll feel better.” He was pretty smart, even though he was quite old when I knew him. He’s dead now. Oops… no sadness. HAPPY!!! So if I feel better, then that is positive. So here goes:
I knew Tyler Yut for nearly seven years, having attended Sadie Jones High School together. A lot of the kids just steered clear of Tyler since he was… a bit odd. Actually, just quiet and reserved. He didn’t talk a lot. Just mostly stayed to himself. He told me the doctor said he was autistic, so that was why he preferred to be left alone. But he did talk to me. Probably because I was also pretty quiet and didn’t have many friends. He told me that he moved to Florida after living in California when he was younger. His mother, Lena, was in the Air Force and met his father, Heng, while stationed in Cambodia. I liked listening to Tyler’s stories; I find different cultures very interesting. Yeah, I guess that makes me kinda nerdy. Anyways, he said his parents met when his father sold his mother a little doll he had made by hand at a local market. Heng is actually very talented and used to be a stone mason when he was able to get work, back in Cambodia. When he wasn’t working, he’d carve native dolls out of clay and sell them. The doll was a miniature fisherman on a wooden boat. Lena talked to Heng for over an hour, and when he asked her out, she agreed. The rest, as they say, is history. I think he said they got married in California, just before Tyler was born.
Tyler was pretty skinny and shorter than me with glistening dark hair and eyes to match. He looked like the perfect mix of his American mother and Cambodian father; oriental features blended smoothly with a longer, pinched nose that came from his mother. His skin was always pale and I never saw him get sunburn, even in the razor sharp sunlight of a Florida summer. I always thought he must bathe in SPF 100 sunscreen! But this one day, we stayed in the shade of the trees where he first told me the story of the Kahtese-Kai. It was too hot to be in the sun, even if you don’t burn.
After school let out for summer, that was back in 1998, we hung out nearly every day. We’d ride our bikes to the strip mall or over to the park. Tyler would always rather ride than walk; he had some fixation on his Schwinn bicycle. I dunno exactly… something about the quality and the blue color that matched the sky. He put this goofy rearview mirror on the handlebars and a little black vinyl bag strapped to the back of the seat. He’d carry his asthma inhaler in it along with some tissue and a plastic bag with a few quarters in case he had to make a phone call. Not sure what else was in there… that’s all he ever showed me. This bike was his “ride.” Mine… was just a cheap bike on sale at Sears. But it did the job, so what the hell.
It was hot that summer; not just hot, but skin searing hot, and humid enough to make you sweat within seconds of stepping outside. Too hot to ride bikes much. So one really miserably hot day, we rode over to Tern Bay Park and locked up the bikes, then decided to walk into the cooler woods that surrounded the park. He liked to talk about old Cambodian folklore that his father would share with him. And under the trees, it was bearable and really… there was nothing else to do. West Beach was sooooo boring in the summertime. So we sat and I listened.
Tyler would bring at least two bottles of water with him everywhere he went. His family was not well off, so he’d re-fill old plastic bottles with tap water. Tyler swigged down that nasty water like it was icy spring water from the Alps or something. But with it being so damn hot, when he offered me a bottle, I’d grab it. Tasted like crap, but it was wet, so that was better than nothing. But at that moment, I was just looking forward to hearing one of the stories that Tyler would tell me. Tales of Cambodia and his grandfather and the village where his father was born. But after this one day, only one of his stories was constantly on my mind. It latched onto my brain like a hungry leech and wouldn’t let go.
We often sat under some slash pines at the park, drinking the cruddy water and he would softly spin a web of tales of faraway lands. Some were interesting, some were rather dull, but it was a good way to pass the time. Until he told me the one story… the one I’m about to tell you. That one was something that has, unfortunately, stuck with me. So much so, that I still have trouble sleeping at night. I prefer to sleep during the day. That is, when I can sleep. During the daytime, everything is more visible and I can hear the cars and people outside on the street. It makes me feel safer. Like, there are other people around, so I will be o.k. But then, during the day… especially sunny Florida days… there are also shadows. I wish Tyler hadn’t told me this story. I wish he would have kept to stories of fishing boats and herbal medicines his grandfather used to heal sick people in Cambodia and the wild panthers that roamed the mountains outside their village. But no, he had to share with me the one story that spun my life into a storm of paranoia and worry. Not that the story alone frightened me so much, but the fact that it explained something I had (and still have) experienced… well, that just freaked me out. Tyler was cool and never showed much emotion. Maybe that was due to his autism. Or maybe, he just came to realize that fear was counterproductive.
On this day, Tyler looked especially serious. He always looked serious… so maybe it was something more like stern or determined. Hard to describe. Usually, he’d look right past people… even me. It’s like he doesn’t look me in the eyes, rather, at an invisible point hovering somewhere beyond my left ear. I don’t know why. But not this time. This time, he looked, briefly, into my eyes. He was more serious… more direct… and it made me uncomfortable. After swallowing a few mouthfuls of warm city tap water, he began.
“Did you ever see something out of the corner of your eye, then when you looked, nothing was there,” he asked. Well, yeah, hasn’t everyone? It happens. No biggie, though it is odd. I shrugged and nodded, but inside, I was wondering if he had the answer for why this occurs. Sometimes he came off as having some kind of inner wisdom or knew things. Things most people didn’t know.
“Well,” he said in his rather monotone and flat voice, “there was something there. You were not imagining that.” He drank again. I could feel this would be an odd story. Maybe something I did not want to hear. Especially not sitting in the woods, under the pine trees with their skeletal branches rustling in the damp summer wind. But I couldn’t stop him. And really, my curiosity made me listen. Made me be quiet and gulp down his story like a fresh drink of cold spring water.
“My father was told by his father about why that happens. About what to do and what not to do. Now, I’m going to tell you so you will be safe because you’re my friend.”
“Tell me what?”
“About how to be safe… I just told you that.” Tyler seemed annoyed.
“O.k., I’m listening.”
“It likes negative energy.” He drank again, swallowing hard and wiping some drips from his mouth with his pale, skinny arm. The clouds were starting to build into bloated gray mounds, a sure sign that thunderstorms were forming. This is Florida, so afternoon summer storms were a daily thing. Never bothered me. But today, for some reason, the air felt different. Like it was trying to smother me with a damp blanket wrapped around my face. I drank some water too and took a deep breath. Yes, I was able to breathe, so that was good. But the dampness and rotting smell of wet leaves clung to me.
“My father was a young boy when he first saw the Khatese-Kai. Well, he did not actually see see him… more like caught a glimpse of him.”
“What is the Khatese-Kai?”
“It is that shadowy thing you see off to the side. Sometimes you see it move. Sometimes it follows you. But when you turn to look… it vanishes. Actually, it does not vanish, but it moves so fast you cannot see it hide. But it does hide. It hides in the dark. Or in shadows, because it blends in there. Like a snake can hide deep within a palm tree leaf, clinging to the dark shadows against the tree. But it is still there.” Tyler closed his eyes, like he was thinking so hard, it hurt. “You do not want to see it. Then, you become a challenge for it. You do NOT want that.” He was shaking his head slowly, purposefully, yet his face was empty of any sign of emotion. Not scared. Not angry. Nothing.
Tyler then looked into my eyes again… actually more of a penetrating gaze with his black marble eyes… and it made me look away. I hate it when someone stares and Tyler’s stares were rare, but when he did, it was like darts piercing my head. So I looked around at some palm trees and a sprinkling of pink flowers in the midst of weeds. I even glanced at the palm branches, ’cause maybe there were snakes down in there. But I didn’t see anything but trees and leaves, thankfully.
Tyler must have noticed how uncomfortable I was as he then looked up at the clouds building. Billowing layers. Turning darker shades of gray. The air was starting to smell like rain. It was raining somewhere. But I wasn’t going to move from this spot until I heard the rest. I needed to know about the shadows. About who… what… was watching. He had me prisoner and I didn’t want to escape; I had to hear the rest of the story. Part of me was thrilled; a good ghost story on a stormy afternoon. All I needed was some popcorn and a Coke!
“The Khatese-Kai has lived for many centuries. It has probably always been here. My father said it was an angel that was cast into purgatory to repent for his sins or be cast into hell.” Tyler swatted away some bugs… probably mosquitoes. “He told me the story of Christian missionaries coming to his small village to ‘carry the people into salvation by accepting Christ.’ He said they taught his great-grandfather about heaven and hell, saints and sinners, and baptized a lot of the villagers, including his grandfather. He said the water for the baptismal was a little stream that they used to fish and bring water for drinking and cooking.”
No wonder he doesn’t mind city water, I thought with a chuckle.
“The village folks took the Christian beliefs and blended it with their tribal religion,” Tyler said in a tone of voice that sounded like someone much older. “I guess it just made more sense to them that way.”
“So Tyler, what happened…. did the Khatese-Kai go to hell?” I couldn’t believe I was saying this; it sounded so lame! Was I really buying into this? Well, not really, but I wanted him to continue the story.
“No. The Khatese-Kai escaped from purgatory. He flew down to Earth where he has lived for centuries. He knew he would never be able to get into heaven since his sins were too horrible and he did not want to repent. He liked sinning. But he did not want to be cast into hell since he would never live under Satan’s rules. He was a type of rebel soul. You might say a ‘dark angel’ that is now here… with us.”
Soft murmurs of distant thunder punctuated his story and made me sit up straight for some reason. It felt like my head was tingling. I glanced around for lightning… was I hit by lightning? Nope. Nothing close and my hair wasn’t singed. Odd. Tyler didn’t acknowledge the approach of the storm. It was like he was oblivious to the weather. He wasn’t even sweating. He sipped at that lousy tap water. The moist buggy air seemed thicker under the pine trees. I hated when they buzzed near my ears. Tyler’s eyes were darkly focused on my forehead. Like he was almost looking over my head, yet still could see my eyes and expression. Like watching me out of the corner of his eyes. Odd.
“The Khatese-Kai is an evil angel. He lives on negative energy. Everything in the universe is made of energy,” he said, “there is positive energy, we call it good qi. It is like thinking good thoughts and doing good deeds. Then there is negative energy. It kills the good qi. It makes us feel sad, angry, down. The Khatese-Kai eats the negative energy and your spirit starts to turn into a mucky black. And it is always looking for food. When it gets you and drains all your qi, you are dead and can never get into heaven.”
We sat there. Quiet. Thinking. The thunder growing louder; cracking like the sound of a tree snapping in half and falling. But I couldn’t move. I just sat. A few large, splattering rain drops fell between the branches and one hit me square on the nose. Tyler didn’t budge either, but he did look up at the sky. He knew the storm was coming in fast. So did I, but neither of us moved. I’m not sure why.
“Well…,” I said awkwardly, not knowing what to say that wouldn’t sound either stupid or doubting, “what did your dad say to do to keep this thing away?”
Tyler abruptly sprung up. He said nothing. Just stood there. Sometimes, he seemed kinda creepy, especially when he didn’t answer a question… like he was in another place in his head. And then, he just turned and walked towards the bikes. I felt a bit stunned. Don’t tell me something like that and then just walk away! Now I was quite annoyed and even, I dare say, a bit angry. DON’T TELL ME SOMETHING THAT GOD-AWEFUL AND JUST GO FOR A DAMN BIKE RIDE!
Tyler walked quickly… I’ve never seen him run. The rain drops grew into a downpour, pummeling my arms and the top of my head until my hair was clinging like Saran Wrap to my face. I ran to my bike. Tyler walked a bit faster… but he still didn’t run. We got onto our bikes and pedaled hard to get out of the rain and under a pavilion that was about a few hundred yards away. Lightning flashed around us and the thunder shook the ground as we pedaled. I knew not to be out in a thunderstorm, but dammit, I really wanted to hear more about this boogeyman from hell… or purgatory… or wherever. More about what to do. MUCH more about what NOT to do. I needed some answers. Did I buy into all this nonsense? Well, not really. But it was a damn good story and I dunno… I felt like I needed Tyler tell me more.
Rain was teeming now, tapping loudly on the tin roof of the pavilion. No one else was out in this weather. No cars on the street. No one else, that I could see, in the park. The wind blustered and blew the rain into where we sat on the newly added green wood benches. I could barely hear Tyler as he continued his story. The rain and wind and thunder nearly drowned out his words. Such a low, soft voice. But I did hear. Oh yes, I heard him alright. I wish now I hadn’t. I should’ve gone home before the rains came. Maybe watch some T.V. and have a Pop Tart or listen to my new INXS album like other teens my age did in the summer. But no, here I was, trapped in a rain-whipped shelter with some creepy guy telling me ghost stories. How stupid is that?
Tyler sat on the bench, but too close to the side where the rain was blowing in. But he didn’t even budge… even with rain slapping against his arms and legs. He just sat, looking out into the distance at nothing. He didn’t speak at first, so I had to nudge him some. “Well,” I asked urging him to continue his story, “then what?”
“The Khatese-Kai is here.” The rain made his hair look even blacker.
Now it was my turn not to move. Didn’t speak. Like he sucked the air from my lungs and stole my voice. I could feel these tickling fingers of a chill rising up from my legs, into my arms, into my neck. I HATE when that happens! Like when you watch a scary movie, and peek through your fingers during the really frightening scenes. But even The Exorcist did not cause goosebumps like this… this was different. It was colder. Felt like under the skin, down to the bone. Geez…. Tyler… knock it off! But I said nothing for, what seemed like an hour. I sat and listened. I didn’t hear anything… at least nothing unnatural or spooky. Finally I asked him, “how do you know it’s here?”
Tyler remained frozen… like some mannequin in a clothing store… just looking out at nothing. Didn’t even turn to look at me. He only said in nearly a whisper, “I saw it again… here… and I HATE IT. I wish it would go straight to hell and leave me the fuck alone.” He was clenching his teeth now and I never saw him show any emotion before. Never heard him use that word before. But now… he actually looked mad. And this, I found, odd… at least for Tyler. Tyler never got angry. Never said the “F” word. Never showed much of anything.
I drank some of that funky tasting water… like trying to digest when Tyler just said. The chills returned; a deathly cold trickle under my sweating skin working its way up. Legs. Back. Neck. I looked around, searching for some boogeyman in the trees, now fighting off that paranoia that something was creeping up behind me. Maybe it wasn’t some demonic castaway that Tyler saw… maybe it was some twisted child molester, out in the park, looking for kids on bikes, to kidnap us and hold us in some run-down cabin in the woods where he would chain us up and…. I had to stop my mind. “NO,” I told myself, “there’s nothing there. It’s just Tyler’s weird imagination. It’s his autism. It’s his father’s stupid stories of hob-gobblins lurking in the shadows. Don’t fall for that, you know better!” It was then that I saw it too.
O.k., I didn’t see see it. Not like I could look over at wet Tyler and see the back of his “I’m with Stupid” t-shirt stuck to his skinny body. He had moved over to another bench, sitting close to the edge of the pavilion and was sitting, staring off in his usual Tyler stare, looking out at a patch of saw palmettos. He didn’t talk. Just sat.
He didn’t even budge when I said, “Oh my God…!” Cause, my God, I think I saw it! As I looked at the bushes and pine trees dripping raindrops from swaying branches, out of the corner of my eye, by the swings, I saw something. It looked like a dark shadowy figure. Almost like a man… but not a man. Standing by the swing set, in the rain, then darting into the bushes. And it was fast. So fast, that by the time I swung around to see if something was really there, it was gone. Only the swings, slightly moving back and forth. I opened my eyes wider; did I really see something? Or was it my imagination? I had to know… I had to see… maybe it was a branch falling off a tree and being blown by the wind?
I ran over to the swings; half afraid of what I might find, but needing to see that it was just my mind buying into Tyler’s spook story and there was no ghostie thing lurking in the shrubs. There was nothing. No footprints. No fallen tree limb. Nothing…. but the swing set and mud and rain. Maybe it was a reflection of light off the raindrops? Or maybe I got a wind-swept splash of rain in my eye and it blurred things and made it look like something was there. Nothing to be afraid of. The swings continued to move gently, as if providing a ride, one last time, for ghosts of dead children not ready to move on. A slow back and forth and the hissing of rain on the yellow plastic seats. Water ran from my hair down my face and into my eyes. My vision blurred as I ran back to the safety of the pavilion and resumed my place on the bench seat. Nope… it wasn’t rain drops in my eyes because when they did hit my eyes now, it stung. My eyes didn’t sting when I saw that… whatever it was.
I had to analyze this. I struggled to understand. I was sure I saw something… something dark… I’m not crazy… but what… who… where did he go? Something, for just a second, seemed to be standing there, then was gone. How can that be? Wow, I thought, I’m losing it. I’ve been suckered into this whole thing… geez… I felt stupid. Nope. Nothing. Nothing but swings.
Rain water was filling muddy divots from where kids sneakers dragged into the dirt to slow the swings to a stop. The rain was easing up now. There was no boogie man hiding in the trees. Just leaves and weeds and bugs. The sky was gradually, seemingly in slow motion, clearing a bit with the darkest storm clouds moving away. The clouds appeared heavy and swollen as they drifted west, holding back some of its fury for the next town. I felt better now…safer… the storm was passing. The thunder rumbled further away and the dark, angry sky was melting into a dull, pale gray. It passed. Just like that glimpse of nothing… passed. Gone. Silly. Time to get home and change out of these wet clothes, as my mother would say, “before you catch your death…” I looked over to see if Tyler was ready to leave. But Tyler was gone.
drawn shower curtains
the dark place under the bed
hidden chambers behind book shelves and bureaus
dark recesses in cupboards, basements, and attics
forget about the closet
windows and mirrors at night
overactive imagination was the diagnosis as a child
psychosis as an adult
the invisible men are real
they’re real and waiting to reach out with pointed claw-hands
or scare you to death as you see them in a reflection
it’s their voices you hear whispering on the phone
it’s their eyes you see glaring out of the darkness
and they’re coming
* * * * * *
I can remember the following moments after I noticed that Tyler had vanished, but it seems like a movie or maybe like some horrible nightmare from eating too much candy after a night of Trick-Or-Treating. I think that is what they mean when doctors say someone has a nervous breakdown from experiencing some kind of trauma. I felt panic like I never experienced before… or since. But I have to recall what happened, because it is still with me, stuffed down into the deep twisting matter of my brain, just probably festering there. I need to get it out. Be safe. Be happy again.
Anyways… when I first looked over to where Tyler was sitting, and after the initial shock of him not being there dissolved, I thought maybe he just decided to leave. Maybe I scared him? But really, he had done odd things like this before. He was quiet. Usually didn’t say good-bye or see ya. Would sometimes just get up and walk away. So, o.k., he left. I called out to him only a few times, ’cause I really was trying to convince myself that he was fine and decided to go home. I didn’t want to sound afraid or stupid. “Hey… Tyler… you there?” Nothing. And when I looked down near where he was sitting, I began to feel sick to my stomach. Tyler’s used water bottle was on the ground, just past the pavilion’s concrete floor, sitting in a mud puddle. Something wasn’t right.
The sky was a splotchy gray and the thunder was in the distance, so I stepped outside the pavilion to look around. No boogeyman. No axe murderer. But also, no Tyler. I ran back to the bicycles, hoping his would be gone. Yeah, he was probably pedaling down Westchester Street right now, almost home. Geez, I felt dumb. I ran down the pathway, past the swing set, towards the bicycle rack, and I stopped. I felt like I couldn’t move closer… my stomach was rumbling as I saw two bicycles: my red and black one and Tyler’s Blue Schwinn. That is when I knew for sure, something was definitely not right. There was no way that Tyler would’ve forsaken his Schwinn. I know that. I glanced around and called again, “Tyler… where are ya?” I ran through the muddy softball field, scanning the trees and bushes beyond the fence, and even swung open the door at the little restroom area near the entrance to the park. I looked for Tyler. I mean, really looked. Searched. There were some worn walking paths that lead to a little creek where some of the kids would fish or party or hang out and smoke. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t at the playground. He wasn’t in the parking lot. He was without his bike and his water.
* * * * * *
I grabbed my bike and left, pedaling so hard that I could barely catch my breath. The moldy stagnant air made my lungs hurt, but I rode as fast as I could to Tyler’s house. When I arrived at the small cottage style home, only about two or so miles from the park, his dad was home. Their old silver and rusty station wagon was in the driveway, but his mother’s car was gone. Did his mother drive to the park and pick him up? Yes… that must have been what happened. She was worried that her son was out in the storm and came and drove him home. But I didn’t hear him leave. Ahhhh… yes… the rain drowned out the noise. That made perfect sense. Now I felt foolish. Ooooo… the Khatese-Kai got Tyler… ha! More like Tyler’s mom snatched him from the evil jaws of a downpour. I just shook my head and felt like a dope. But man, Tyler should’ve let me know he was leaving instead of scaring me to death. And especially after telling me that spook story during a thunderstorm. I was going to let him know that he should not do that to people, especially his friend, so I knocked on the door.
Heng Yut answered the door. He looked tired, as he often did, and was holding a pair of tongs in his hand and wearing what must have been his wife’s apron that had a picture of a rooster on it. Underneath his apron he wore his beat-up, faded blue work pants he usually wore when he was fixing or repairing something around the house. He still spoke with an accent, but I could understand him just fine. I usually liked to hear him talk, but not today. Today was different.
“I was wondering where you fellas were,” Mr. Yut said in a half relieved, half irritated voice, “that was quite a storm.”
“You mean… Tyler isn’t here?” My mind started to race… Tyler wasn’t home? How could that be? My rain-soaked sneakers were freezing my toes. O.k., there has to be an explanation… maybe his mother took him shopping or they stopped for a Big Mac or something?
“No. He’s with you, isn’t he?
“Well, not now…. I mean, he was…” I could feel gremlins in my stomach, twisting my guts, making my stomach hurt; trying to squeeze out my breakfast. “Didn’t Mrs. Yut come pick him up?”
“She’s at work,” responded Mr. Yut. Now he looked worried. Very worried. Mrs. Yut worked as a nurse at the old folks’ home in Palm Dale Springs. She worked different shifts, so she might have been able to drive over to the park to take Tyler home and still get to work on time, I thought. But Mr. Yut wiped that scenario away like a cryptic note scrawled on a chalkboard when he said, “she’s been there for hours. Tyler was with YOU.”
I just stood there, my mouth open with no words or sounds coming out. Like a dead cat on the side of the road that was just run over by a semi.
Mr. Yut smiled awkwardly… forced… strained. “You left him at the park alone?”
“Then where is Tyler?”
My God, what do I tell him… what do I say? “We were at Tern Bay Park and talking and it started to rain. I thought maybe he went home.”
Mr. Yut stepped out onto the tiny concrete porch and called out to his son. Maybe he thought (hoped) he was near-by. “TYLER! TYLER!” Nothing but the sound of frogs celebrating in the water- slushed yard.
And again, more rain started to weep from the clouds. Some thunder rumbled and it appeared another storm was trying to make its way to the Yut house. Maybe it too was searching for Tyler? Mr. Yut continued to call for Tyler, but Tyler did not answer. There was no Tyler.
I stood on the Yut’s porch, my clothing clingy wet and chilled with the blustery breezed that seemed to grow out yet another approaching storm. Maybe I’ll get pneumonia, I thought, catch my death of a…? Mr. Yut gave up. He opened the door slowly and asked me to come inside and tell him what had happened. What do I say? That some shadowy, malevolent being kidnapped his son and took him into the woods? Or somewhere? That the Khatese-Kai kidnapped Tyler? Right… that sounded like I was smoking some pretty strong weed. What to say?
I walked into the Yut house and sat on their bright yellow sofa with a blinding red poppy print. The walls were dotted with oriental masks and pictures of Chinese landscapes and reliefs. Mr. Yut must’ve been cooking because the smell of a nice chicken dinner permeated the home. The television was on, blathering some kind of infomercial on a “miracle lotion to eliminate muscle pain and soreness.” Pictures of Tyler were placed prominently on top of the coffee table.
“So what were you fellas doing? When did you last see Tyler?” He smiled, trying to be calm, his voice measured, soft.
“We were at the park and Tyler was telling me some stories and it started to rain. So we rode over to the the pavilion to wait out the storm. But when I later looked over, Tyler wasn’t there.”
“What do you mean he wasn’t there,” asked Mr. Yut. Now he was obviously trying to fight off fear… not get upset… not loose his cool. But his face grew flushed. I knew he must be getting upset, and who would blame him? I’ve never seen Mr. Yut mad.
“I dunno.” My first stupid answer of the day.
Mr. Yut stared at me as I sat on the sofa. He was a heavy-set middle-aged man with short cropped hair that was streaked with gray. His eyes were dark, like Tyler’s, but more oriental looking. Though of course, Tyler was a “mix.” That’s what he always called himself… a mix.
“Did you look for him,” Mr. Yut asked.
“I dunno…. he wasn’t there.”
“So he just disappeared? Like that, right in front of you?” His anger was coloring his face red, yet, oddly, Mr. Yut tried hard to smile. His face reminded me of a circus clown with a big, red, painted on smile, but underneath, the clown was mean and bitter and hated kids.
“I guess so.” That was my second stupid answer of the day.
Mr. Yut shook his head, ran his hand through his short hair, and dialed 911 on his cordless phone. “I’m calling the police,” he stated, watching me for a reaction. I just looked down. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say when something like this happens? Hell, I was just a young kid… I don’t know what happened! But I knew the police would ask the same questions. I had to think of something better to say than, I dunno.
It seemed like only a few minutes before a squad car pulled up outside the Yut home. It parked on the street so as not to block the driveway. A young officer, looked hardly any older than Tyler or me, entered the Yut home and refused to sit. He took out a notebook and looked at me with suspicious, searching eyes. Like he was trying to detect any sign of guilt. Like you would look at a serial killer to try and get into his twisted head. And I did feel guilty. I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything to Tyler. But yet, I felt guilty of something. The officer’s radio crackled and a female voice mumbled something I couldn’t make out. Now I was sweating again and my stomach was trying to force up that horrid tap water I had drunk. Good Lord, what do I tell him?
“I’m Officer Fedders,” the police officer said in a formal, business-like manner and looked right at me. Looked me in the eyes, like trying to figure out if I was a druggie or some troubled youth. I tried to look back at him, showing him I was not guilty of anything, but I ended up looking at his forehead.
Mr. Yut introduced himself and blurted out, “My son is missing.”
I don’t remember all the questions the cop asked me. I know he had me review everything that happened that day. Where I was, who I was with, where I live, my parents’ names, my age, how I knew Tyler. I had to tell him minute by minute what happened… and I tried to do that without sounding crazy or high or lying.
“So, when did you notice Tyler was gone?” Officer Fedders spoke in a similar tone as Tyler. No emotion. Just a flat, dead-like voice. I wondered if he was autistic too?
“We were under the pavilion and I thought I saw something.”
“What did you see?”
“I dunno.” O.k., that was the third stupid answer of the day.
“Describe for me what you saw.” Mr. Yut was now standing next to the officer; both staring at me in an intimidating and accusing manner. I know Mr. Yut thought I had done something to his son. I could feel it. I would have swallowed, but all the saliva in my mouth was dried up and it made me choke a bit.
“It was like a shadow.”
“A shadow,” repeated Officer Fedders.
“Yes sir, a shadow.”
“What kind of shadow?”
“Just a shadowy thing. I saw it by the swings, but when I looked closer, it wasn’t there.”
Officer Fedders scribbled in his notebook. Mr. Yut glared at me with a penetrating stare that reminded me of Tyler. I guess that is where Tyler got that particular expression.
“Sir, honestly, I didn’t do anything to Tyler. He was my friend.” Now I really sounded guilty.
“Did you see Tyler near that ‘shadowy thing’?” Officer Fedders showed no expression again, but sounded determined to figure this whole thing out. Mr. Yut got up and began to pace in the living room. It smelled like his chicken dinner was starting to burn. But he didn’t notice.
I must’ve gotten distracted by the smell of burning chicken and potatoes, so the police officer asked me again, “Did you see Tyler near that shadowy man?”
“No, sir. And I don’t know if it was a man? When I looked over at Tyler, he was gone. I checked to see if he rode home, but his bike was still there. And I looked all over the park and he wasn’t there either.”
Now Officer Fedders radioed to dispatch to send out a squad car to Tern Bay Park. It seemed like only a few seconds until the radio crackled with the same woman’s voice I had heard before. This time, I was able to hear her say that another officer had found a blue bicycle locked onto the bike rack at the park. That was Tyler’s Schwinn. Mr. Yut stopped pacing and said in a panicky voice, “That’s my son’s bike!” Now more police were summoned to the park. I began to shake. I’m not sure if it was because I was wet and chilled, or just plain scared out of my wits. Officer Fedders asked for my home phone number and called my parents. And what in the world would I tell them? I kept thinking, this cannot be happening… I need to wake up or something. Things like this don’t happen to normal people!
Officer Fedders asked if I would go to the hospital for a blood and urine test and I agreed. I wasn’t using drugs, if that’s what they thought. But I could see how they would think that. A shadowy something took Tyler. Yep, that sounds like words from a druggie’s mouth. Maybe they thought I killed him? Oh my God… what if they did find him dead in the woods… I was the only one with him… I felt a burning, shaking bolt of panic run up my body. I had to tell them all of the story. I had no choice. No matter how ridiculous it would sound.
“Sir, I didn’t hurt Tyler… I swear!”
Mr. Yut tried to force the corners of his mouth upwards in a strained and sinister smile. But his dagger eyes dug into my own eyes in a most chilling manner. He said nothing.
“Was there anyone else in the park at that time,” questioned Officer Fedders. “Beside the shadowy thing?”
“I don’t know, sir. Not that I saw anyone else.” I was squirming. How do I say this? “But…”
Both Officer Fedders and Mr. Yut both watched me, awaiting a confession or some important information that would surely tell them where Tyler or Tyler’s body could be found. They waited patiently, pretty much, while I was trying to collect my thoughts. Trying to figure what… how… to say this. It sounded so damn nuts. I thought, they are going to think I’m crazy…. or lying. I’m going to jail. My life is toast. Now I felt mad at Tyler.
“Tyler told me something before he… wasn’t there.”
“What did he tell you,” asked Officer Fedders.
“He told me about the Khatese-Kai,” I said softly.
Mr. Yut plopped down beside me so hard, he nearly broke the sofa. He placed his face in his hands and I could see him shaking his head. I think he was crying.
by James B. Earley
Though they are with you
Frightened and longing
For surroundings they’ve known
….Send them on home
To loved ones awaiting
Of an answer to the question
…’Is my child alive’
….Send them on home
‘Cause time is still dragging
Siblings and parents
Send them on home
…..To the happiness
And laughter..once they knew
If there is any decency
….Left ever……….in you
Send them on home
* * * * * *
I didn’t tell my parents or anyone what had happened next. It was after Officer Fedders left the Yut house that Mr. Yut pulled me into the kitchen where he added water to his now ruined chicken dinner and turned off the oven. He took a deep breath, calmed himself, breathed out and made a “wooooo…” sound. Reminded me of my mother doing her yoga. Deep breath in… hold it… blow it out.
“You said the Khatese-Kai,” he said hoarsely. He didn’t look at me, but also grabbed a pair of tongs and moved around the black pieces of chicken and potatoes as they laid in a sooty black, sticky mess in the pan.
“What did Tyler tell you?”
“He told me about how the Khatese-Kai lives in the shadows and escaped purgatory.”
Mr. Yut sighed and wiped his eyes on a hand towel. I wasn’t sure if his eyes were irritated from the smell of the burnt dinner or from trying not to cry. “You said you saw a shadow? Did you really SEE something or could it have been the clouds or fog or the rain?”
“No sir, I saw something shadowy near the swings. Like out of the corner of my eye. It was moving in front of the swings, then when I looked, there was nothing there. Just like I told the police.”
“Did Tyler look as well?”
“I dunno. He was looking off towards the woods, I think.”
“Did Tyler tell you how to keep the Khatese-Kai away?”
Mr. Yut sat down on a kitchen chair after flipping on the vent fan over the oven. “You don’t think bad thoughts,” he mumbled. “You think good thoughts. You do good things. You be a good person and you don’t need to worry.” He then looked up and directed his watery eyes towards me, “you didn’t see anything else, did you?” His face was contorted with a strangled grin so odd… it looked like a Halloween mask.
“Good. Did Tyler say anything else before he was… gone?”
“Just that he hated the Khatese-Kai. He said the ‘F’ word.”
Mr. Yut began to sob.
The police and a group of people from the neighborhood searched for Tyler for days. Even weeks. They put posters up with Tyler’s picture on them: on telephone poles, gas stations, and a few mom-and-pop restaurants and diners. Even the high school had his picture on the bulletin board offering a $500 reward for information. The news stations in the area carried the story of the “boy who went missing from Tern Bay Park.” My parents were more frightened than anything, worried that some crazy killer was loose and may be looking for me next. They were kinda right.
This happened a long time ago. They never did find Tyler. The police theorized that some child molester or maniac may have grabbed him from the woods and I was in shock, so I couldn’t remember what actually happened. I don’t believe that though. After Tyler… went away, Mr. Yut spoke to me only once. He told me that the Khatese-Kai now knows me. He said that I better be careful to think only good thoughts. It feeds on negativity. Feelings or thoughts that were negative, like anger, greed, saying bad things about others, stealing, even feeling depressed or questioning God could invite the Khatese-Kai back to get me. He warned me to never say “bad things, like words that take God’s name in vane, or that you don’t want to live, or the word “hate,” about anything. Hate. Tyler said he “hated” the Khatese-Kai. Mr. Yut then pounded his fist on the table and yelled at me to NEVER EVER say that! I never have again and never will.
I asked him, how will I know if the Khatese-Kai is coming to get me? I surprised myself when I asked this question… geez, it sounded so absurd. Mr. Yut closed his eyes, as if he was conjuring up memories that anguished him. He said, “if you hear voices, like a television set is on in another room or a radio, but nothing is on… that is a warning. If you find unexplained bruises on your body, that means the Khatese-Kai was close enough to touch you. He tapped you. If you see any shadows where shadows shouldn’t be or if they move in a way like you saw at the park, you better start thinking good, happy thoughts. Go do a good deed for someone. Do something nice. Keep it away from you. Because now that you got a glimpse of it, IT KNOWS WHO YOU ARE.” The words stripped my lungs of air and still do to this day when I think of them. But I cannot be afraid… I have to think good thoughts. Fear is bad.
I have been trying, for years, to find any information about the Khatese-Kai online, but can’t find anything. The Yuts moved away about a year after Tyler went missing. I think they moved back to California. Mrs. Yut was pregnant and they told the neighbors that California schools were better, so they decided to move back.
I attended college for a few years, but I still lived at home. I didn’t want to live on campus. I didn’t like to be around people much and I still don’t. I only left the house to attend classes. I wanted to study psychology… maybe all this stuff was just mass hysteria… like when you believe something so much, you make it true. I looked up the definition recently on Wikipedia and it said:
” In sociology and psychology, mass hysteria (also known as collective hysteria, group hysteria, or collective obsessional behavior) is a phenomenon that transmits collective delusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population in society as a result of rumors and fear.”
I nearly convinced myself that this is what the Khatese-Kai is… a myth that is so frightening, it resulted in mass hysteria back in Cambodia. And maybe Tyler just ran away, like a lot of teenagers do. Sometimes autistic kids do strange things and he did like to be alone a lot. So maybe, he is living somewhere by himself and he is o.k. I thought this was a plausible solution to this mystery… until my last day of college. I was in my sophomore year.
I was cramming to get a school assignment done on agoraphobia (ironic, huh?), and thought, good Lord, I hate writing papers! I was tired. I wanted to get to bed as it was already 3:20 in the morning and my class was at 10:00. But I had to complete this lousy paper as it was a good chunk of my grade. And the professor was a hard-ass that would fail anyone turning in a paper late. So I had no choice. Miserable… tired… fed up… thinking about dropping this class… hate my life… just school, tests, papers, eat, sleep… yep… just miserable. Dammit… this sucks!
It was shortly after 3:25 a.m., and after I had just finished the bibliography, I caught a glimpse of something in my room… a shadow lurking by my closet. It then silently slid under the closet door and was gone in a split second. Maybe I was just exhausted. But maybe….. I felt that horrid chill; I hadn’t experienced that since Tyler. Memories started popping through my mind; the swings, the rain, the shadowy thing that must’ve grabbed Tyler and took him… somewhere… somewhere horrible! I couldn’t control it. I started to check my arms and legs for bruises. Nothing. Good. But.. I had that feeling… like when you know you are not alone. Like someone… is watching me. Oh, I hate feeling paranoid. Not here. Not in my parents’ home. This is safe… isn’t it? A safe place? No way…cannot feel fear… not safe to do that. So I began to sing to myself an old song I remembered singing in church when I was a little kid:
” I’m only human
I’m just a man
Help me to believe in what I could be
and all that I am
Show me the stairway
that I have to climb
Lord for my sake teach me
to take one day at a time.
One day at a time sweet Jesus
that’s all I’m asking from you
Give me the strength to do everyday
what I have to do
Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus
and tomorrow may never be mine
So for my sake teach me to take one day at a time.”
The shadow did not reappear that night. Now, I look at the pictures of my Jersey vacations, and my Springer Spaniel, Brody, and remember hiking the Appalacian Trail as a Boy Scout. All good memories. The pictures make me smile. I have mostly good memories. Mostly. Now that I’ve purged that day… that… well, Tyler. Now you understand. I try to smile… a lot. I love everyone and everything… I have to… IT KNOWS WHO I AM.
CREDIT: Twila Cheeseborough