CHAPTER FIVE - LEAVING
"Tristan, you need to pack a bag for yourself and Caleb." Richard drew them into the house. He froze in the threshold. "Wait -- the ghost is gone, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it's gone. I -- I killed it or -- something," Tristan said.
"I guess I should have asked that before I ran in there myself earlier." Richard let out a hysterical laugh that he bit off.
"You'd be able to see it. The ghost that is," Tristan said.
Richard's forehead furrowed. "Only Survivors can actually see the ghosts. No one else."
"I saw it before I was attacked," Tristan said.
"Well, maybe then some of the urban legends aren't true." He glanced into the darkened interior of the house. "Are you sure it's gone, Tris?"
"It's gone," Tristan said. He spoke with such certainty. "I'm not sure how I know, but I do. There's no ghost in there anymore."
"Good, good. Now let's get our things and we have to leave." Tristan began to numbly carry a softly crying Caleb upstairs when his uncle grabbed his arm once more. "You mustn't tell anyone where we're going. No texts, vids, pictures, calls. Nothing. Understood?"
Tristan nodded. The only person he'd have been tempted to call was Jace, but now his ex-boyfriend was the last person he wanted to speak to ever again. As he walked up the stairs, he wondered what Jace would think when he stopped showing up at school. Would Jace try to contact him? Would Tristan ever tell his ex-boyfriend that he was in Neo-Tokyo when they got there? And would Jace figure out that he was a survivor?
God, this is so stupid! Thinking of Jace when -- when Mom and Dad are ... dead.
He tucked Caleb tighter against him. His legs felt wobbly once he stepped up on the landing where the ghost had disappeared. It was gone. He knew it was. But still, he didn't want to stay in this house a moment longer. Even though every place he looked there was a memory of his mother and father. Richard was suddenly on the stairs behind him.
"Hurry, Tristan. We have to go as fast as we can," Richard said and urged him into Caleb's room.
"Right, yeah." Tristan carried Caleb inside and set his brother down on the bed.
I'm a survivor. I'm one of those people that they talk about. I can't believe it.
Caleb clung to him as he tried to go to the closet to grab Caleb's duffle. "Tris, don't leave me! Don't let go!"
"I'm just going to the closet. Caleb, you've got to get out of your pajamas and into street clothes," Tristan said.
"Why? I don't want to go anywhere!" Caleb wailed. "I want to stay here!
Caleb's voice carried and Tristan shushed him. He got down on his knees in front of his brother. "I don't either, but we have to. Because if we don't ... if we don't then I ... I'll be in trouble."
"They'll take you away," Caleb whispered.
Who "they" were was unclear to Tristan. The government? Scientists? Corporations that wanted to find a "cure"?
But there is no cure. No cure for ghosts unless exorcisms work.
"That's right, Cal. You need to be -- be strong and try not to cry. We have to do what Uncle Richard says, okay?" Tristan said. "Can you do that?"
Caleb nodded. His brown eyes were huge in his head and one of his thumbs was threatening to go into his cherubic mouth like it had when he was a child. "O--okay, Tris."
Tristan gave him a tremulous smile. "Good. I knew I could count on you. Now get dressed and start picking out your favorite things. I don't think we're supposed to take much with us."
His stomach clenched as he said that. They really were going to leave home. Abandon his things. All they could take would be their clothes and only a few of those. He grabbed the duffle from Caleb's closet. It looked awfully small when he realized that Caleb's whole life would have to fit inside. He put it on the bed. Caleb had already stripped out of his pajamas and was struggling getting on a pair of jeans. Tristan kneeled down and helped him absently.
"Thanks, Tris. Do you want to go to your room now? I can take out my own things if you want," Caleb offered.
Tristan gave him a thankful smile but shook his head negatively. "Knowing you, you'd put in just some shirts and forget all the rest. I think I know your favorite things." He turned back to the chest of drawers and started pulling out seven pairs of socks, underwear (his brother's favorites had starships on them), t-shirts, pants and shorts.
"What's the weather like in Neo-Tokyo?" Caleb asked his comm.
"The temperature is currently 72 degrees Fahrenheit," the sexless voice of the comm answered.
"So we don't need to pack any sweaters then," Tristan said. "Good move in asking, Caleb."
"But we're going to be there for a long time, aren't we? It'll be cold there some time, won't it?" Caleb asked.
Long time. Forever. At least for me. Unless they stop imprisoning survivors. But Caleb wouldn't have to stay. Caleb doesn't even have to leave. He doesn't have blue eyes. His are still brown. But maybe they won't believe that. Maybe they'll imprison him anyways. Just to be sure. So we're all stuck.
"Yeah, but I'm sure we'll buy new things in Neo-Tokyo. There's supposed to be some incredible fashions there. We'll want to fit in," Tristan said.
"I don't care about clothes. Only you care about clothes," Caleb grumped.
Tristan smiled. "You'll care about clothes when you're older. And you'll wonder how the girls and boys look at you in them."
"No, I won't." Caleb's arms crossed his chest.
"We'll see." Tristan could barely hide his amusement at his brother's insistence. He tucked all the clothes in the bag and zipped it up. "I'll grab a few things for us out of the bathroom. Are you all right to stay alone and get dressed while I go get those and pack my own bag?"
Caleb nodded. He looked slightly uncertain, but then firmed his expression. "I'll be okay."
"Brave boy. Meet me in my room. Call me ... if you need anything. Understand?" Tristan asked.
The ghost is gone. We're all right. For now.
"I will, Tris," Caleb solemnly promised.
Tristan grabbed the duffel's handles and hurried out of the room. He went into the bathroom and tossed in hairbrushes, tooth brushes, and tooth paste. He wasn't sure if they would need shower gel and shampoo, but he grabbed a bottle of each just in case. As he was finishing up, he glanced at himself in the bathroom mirror and froze. His eyes were blue. From brown to blue. A cobalt blue. There were swirls of what looked like dark clouds in them that flowed across the surface. He retreated from his own image.
That's me? That's really me?
At that moment, he heard his uncle passed by the bathroom and headed towards his parents' bedroom. Richard was talking through his implanted comm.
"I'm telling you that this is big. Really big. You'll be thanking me when we're done," Richard said. He let out a chuckle. "Biggest deal ever. Trust me."
What is Uncle Richard on about? How can he be doing business at a time like this?
Curious and anxious to avoid looking at himself any more, Tristan dropped the duffel quietly and stole after his uncle. Richard paused for a half a second in the door to Tristan's parents' bedroom. His uncle's mouth flattened and he gritted his teeth before he seemed to launch himself into the room. Tristan crept down the hall. His heart hammered as he neared the doorway. His parents' bodies were still in their bed. Dead.
What could Uncle Richard want in there?
"Just be there. The airport. In thirty minutes," Richard's voice floated out of the doorway. "Just be there."
Tristan leaned around the threshold. His uncle was sitting on the bed beside his father's corpse. He was working to get something out of his father's hand. Richard turned and the moonlight shone on a penknife he was holding. He pressed the sharp point against the center of his father's palm. He started digging into his father's flesh with the penknife. Tristan let out an involuntary cry and Richard spun around to face him. His face was a white smear in the darkness. His shoulders slumped when he saw it was Tristan.
"Tris! Jesus, were you trying to give me a heart attack? I thought that it was a -- a ghost!" Richard exploded.
"No, no ghosts here," Tristan laughed hollowly. "But -- but what are you doing to Dad's hand?"
Richard looked down. "I'm sorry you had to see this, but there's nothing else I can do."
"What do you mean?" Tristan took a few steps into the room, but then stopped. He couldn't go any nearer his dead parents.
"We need money. Lots of money actually in order to get to Neo-Tokyo. It's far beyond my own straightened finances," he said.
"You're taking out Dad's chip?" Tristan was referring to his father's ID chip, which had access to all his father's bank accounts and investments.
"Yes," Richard admitted.
"But they'll know you're not him! When they check your biometrics!" Tristan objected.
Richard shook his head. "The people I'll give your parent's chips to will know how to get around that."
"The people? What people?" Tristan asked.
Is it the people he was on the phone with? The ones that he promised the biggest deal ever to?
"Your -- uhm, circumstances, Tristan, make it imperative we get to Neo-Tokyo on the next possible flight. But if we were to try to get you through security, we'd be caught. I know some people that can get us on the plane without going through the official channels," Richard explained.
Tristan touched the skin beneath his eyes. "I could wear colored contacts--"
"They'd know, Tris. They watch for that sort of thing and I've heard ... well, I've heard the blue shines through," Richard said. "But we can't take the chance. You understand that, don't you?"
"I -- I do. Who exactly are these people you know, Uncle Richard?" Tristan asked, not quite sure he wanted to know.
"Yakuza," Richard mumbled.
"Wait, Yakuza, as in ... real, live Yakuza?" Tristan had only seen them in movies and read about them in books. They had taken on an even more exotic flavor since Japan had been destroyed.
"They rule Neo-Tokyo, you know," Richard explained. "Seven families. Yakuza run things like a well-oiled machine over there. Plenty of ways for a man like me to be useful and with you ... well, I'll get automatic citizenship, too, so I -- uh, can take care of you and Caleb."
"Why would we get automatic citizenship? We don't have Japanese ancestry," Tristan asked.
"Any Survivor of a ghost attack and their family are allowed citizenship in Neo-Tokyo automatically. Survivors are revered there," Richard said.
"I don't understand, why?" Tristan asked.
"They believe that the Survivors keep the ghosts out. Repel them. The more Survivors there are in Neo-Tokyo, the safer everyone else in the city is," Richard said.
"They don't believe that Ghost is a disease then? They know the truth?" Tristan asked.
"Evidently," Richard said. He glanced down at his brother's hand that was still splayed across his lap.
"Wait, you said that Survivors repel ghosts?" Tristan asked. A terrible thought ran through his mind. He remembered how the ghost had retreated from him on the stairs.
But it still attacked me in Mom and Dad's room. Maybe because I attacked it.
"They have more Survivors there than anywhere on Earth and they have the least ghost attacks of any location," Richard said.
"So if I had been here tonight ... could the ghost have been repelled? Would the ghost have stayed away?"
When I was with Jace. When I left my family for him.
Richard quickly shook his head. "Don't think like that, Tris. That way leads to madness and to nothing positive."
"But what if it's true?" Tristan pushed.
Richard got up, putting Tristan's father hand to the side. He grasped Tristan's shoulders and looked into the boy's eyes. "It's not true."
"No buts. It's not true." He squeezed Tristan's shoulders. "I've learned one thing in my life."
"Only one?" Tristan asked with a pained smile.
"Brat." Richard stroked his arms. "Actually, maybe only one. One overarching thing."
"What is it?" Tristan asked, swiping away tears with his hands.
"That the past cannot be changed," Richard said. "And any energy you use thinking about the would haves, could haves, should haves takes from what you could be doing in the future not to make the same mistake again."
Tristan slowly nodded. "It makes sense, but--"
"What did I say about buts?" Richard asked with a fond smile. "You aren't the cause of this, Tristan. You aren't responsible for what happened here."
"But if I had been here--"
"Then the ghost would have come a night you weren't. And you can't seriously think that you would have been with your family every single night for the rest of time, do you?" Richard asked.
"No, I guess not." Tristan frowned. His eyes were drawn to the bed beyond his uncle's shoulder. "But why did the ghost attack us?"
Richard paused for half a moment, but it was long enough that Tristan looked at him. "I don't know."
"You ... you don't?"
"Of course not! No one knows why the ghosts attack some people and not others," Richard said with a false smile crossing his face.
"You don't have any ideas?" Tristan pressed. His uncle's expression was one he wore when he was holding something back.
But what could he know about the ghosts? Nothing.
"I haven't a clue." Richard sighed. "I thought it really was a disease and not actual spirits killing people." He shook his head with a soft laugh. "This world is really far more mysterious than I ever thought. Now you need to get your things together and I ..." Richard pointedly did not look at Tristan's parents as he let the sentence drop.
"Yeah, of course. I'll let you ..." Tristan looked one last time at his parent's. His throat got tight. "I'll let you get on with it then."
Richard nodded and watched Tristan go. Tristan tried not to think of what his uncle turned to do as soon as he was safely out of sight. He hurried into his own room. He ripped his closet doors open and grabbed his own duffle. He hardly knew what clothes he shoved inside. Tears blurred his vision and his face felt hot like he had a fever. All he wanted to do was lay down, curl into a ball and close his eyes. Maybe when he woke up this would all be a dream. Even the horrible night with Jace. But he knew that wasn't to be.
"Tris? You left my bag in the bathroom, but I got it." Caleb was struggling to lift the duffel bag that was half his size.
"Yeah, sorry about that. Here let me get take the bag. Are you all dressed? Looks like it. You've got your jacket? Tied your shoes?" Tristan asked.
"Tris, I'm eight! Not two!" Caleb protested, but suddenly his expression crumpled. "We won't be having my party tomorrow, will we?"
Tristan swallowed his own grief over that. If he'd stayed home that night, he could have celebrated with his parents and Caleb. But he stopped the thought remembering Richard's rule. Forward. Got to go forward. Don't use the energy for what ifs. "Yes, we will, Cal. We'll just be celebrating in Neo-Tokyo. It'll be, ah, great. You'll see."
"But Mom and Dad won't be there," Caleb said softly.
Tristan wrapped his arms around Caleb and held him tight. "They're always with us, Cal. Inside your heart and head." He wished he believed that, but it was the only thing he could offer Caleb in order to stop the grief from overwhelming them both.
At that moment, Richard appeared in the doorway of his bedroom with his own bag in one hand. He looked grim. Tristan's gaze dropped to Richard's hands. His uncle was rubbing the free one against his pants. There was no blood on them, but Tristan guessed that Richard still felt there was.
"All ready, boys?" Richard asked. Both of them nodded. "Then its time to get to the airport."
Tristan grabbed both his and Caleb's bags and followed him out of the bedroom into the hall then down the stairs. As Tristan walked out the front door, he glanced back one last time.
I'll never be back here. Never see my home again. Never see Mom and Dad again. I'm leaving it all behind.
Tears threatened to fall again and he blinked rapidly to stop them. He gave Caleb a forced smile and walked down to their uncle's car. He tossed their bags into the trunk then made sure Caleb got into the back seat. The car automatically buckled the boy in. Then Tristan settled into the front passenger seat beside his uncle. Richard gave him the same forced smile that he had given Caleb.
"So we're off," Richard said. He clasped Tristan's shoulder. "It'll be all right. I've had plenty of trouble and tight places in my life, and ... and I know it will be all right."
Tristan nodded, unsure what to really say in response. How could any of Richard's trouble compare to the deaths of two people and the loss of an entire life? But he knew that his uncle meant well and he decided to take his words at face value. As his uncle pulled out of the driveway and began accelerating down the street, Tristan tried to think of something positive.
Try to pretend this is an adventure. Neo-Tokyo is supposed to be incredible. The highest of the hi-tech. Yakuza with guns and katanas. Neon drenched architecture. Clubs where people dance all night and all day. A place where one can forget oneself and one's troubles. A place to start over.
Whether one wants to or not.