Chapter 1 of the book Demons, Heroes and Fortune Cookies
The other side of the shadows begins here
Background Eu El, a young boy with a hidden gift, experiences out-of-the ordinary dreams and interactions with his world and a world less understood. A world known as:
The Other Side of the Shadows.
In the summer of 1987, U2's number one song, "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," was bumped down by Madonna's "Who's That Girl," on the pop charts.
Coincidentally, these two songs complemented one boy's confusing and unique journey through life as if fate selected a soundtrack to a movie that was about him, but he wasn't aware of. Fate already took hold of him and was leading him to a path less chosen.
Quite possibly, the Universe conspired to communicate with him through one specific event: a haunting, which only the unique mind of Eu El not only accepted, but also understood in a way that "normal" people would have difficulty holding their lunch in if they knew what was waiting for them in the afterlife.
Throughout centuries the mystery of life and death have left many unanswered questions. Yet, unknowingly, the truth subtly reveals itself in some form or another. Sometimes, these "signs," as some would identify them to be, appear clearer when, as the saying goes, "we stop to smell the flowers."
Eu El loved the smell of flowers.
Many forgettable and unforgettable childhood memories constantly ran through Eu El's thoughts. However, no memory would be as defining as one particular event he would later encounter. In fact, even then, if anyone understood what the Universe was trying to tell him, no living soul with a conscience would see this "opportunity" as a blessing for any child.
If, however, there were to be a young adolescent capable of competing with the supernatural, then fate could not have chosen a more suitable contender than Eu El, a boy with a name his father unintentionally gave him, and nobody could pronounce correctly the first time.
Coincidently, the second syllable is similar to a fictional super hero, whose "El" stood for hope in a faraway planet destroyed by a solar explosion.
Evoked by a simple question that had yet to be asked, this boy's life would soon be faced with an uncontrollable, frightful anomaly that would haunt him behind almost every dark corner for the remainder of his life, lingering from a faraway place few ever visited. More so, both the believers and non-believers alike would not be very willing to accept what they discovered in those dark corners that stood out in clear sight. Even when whatever was discovered there stared back with glowing eyes, the truth of their existence was hidden well by denial.
Their presence would never be as convincing as this story; true to every aspect written from a mind conditioned by nature, rather than imagination.
In one such dark corner, Eu El patiently stays out of his father's sight. Quietly, he waits for that moment he could get his dad's attention without interrupting his evening watching the latest release on HBO.
Too young to understand the life of a laborer, a life his father has known since the fifties working in a bakery somewhere in Manila, Philippines, Eu El longs for the time his father could play catch with him.
He had no idea the hours of his dad's overtime working at the Post Office was funding the dreams of his immigrant relatives rather than his aspirations of one day becoming an athlete, or running a comic book business.
"Dad, can I play baseball? My friends are all on a team," El recalls asking his father in the fifth grade.
His Dad's response usually went something like this...
"No! You're going to fail! Don't waste my time!"
El's respect to his father was as relevant as his existence: both went unnoticed.
At the finale of each T.V. show, his dad committed to one of two things:
He either took a bathroom break, or he took a drink from the poorly lighted, out-of-date refrigerator before returning to dabble with the channel changer for the remainder of the evening, before falling asleep on the new Lazy Boy chair.
The good news was satellite t.v. had yet to be available to the public for another five years. Any sooner, the distraction of advancing technology may had convinced his dad he never had a middle child.
The thought of freshman year approaching made El's last summer as a kid feel as if it was doomed to end like some kind of disastrous movie without resolution, a struggling disappointment in his relationship with his father since he was old enough to remember. He prepared a list of questions for his dad that sounded more like a bucket list written in question form.
Can you take me fishing, Dad? (And, I don't mean to literally take me to the lake in the morning, and dump me alone there until you come back to pick me up the evening).
Mom said you played catcher in high school. Can you teach me how to throw?
Dad, the last movie we watched together was "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I was in the second grade. Will we ever watch a movie together again?
But, there seemed to be more pressing questions. These questions, harbored from worry, distracted him from all his other listed questions. If no effort was made to seek answers for himself, then these questions would linger like an invisible phantom weighing down his soul until his sanity snapped.
Like a candle that was moments away from burning the last length of its wick, the exhaustion of his quest of his father's acknowledgement simmered down to whatever radiance of innocence Eu El had remaining in his thirteen year old spirit.
"Dad, why'd you give the Christmas present mom bought me in the first grade to my cousin?"
"Dad, why don't you ever celebrate my birthday?"
"Why did you break all of mom's plants the other week?"
His mom's voice coincidently interrupts, "It's late! Go to bed!"
His swell of anxiousness conjures up a mutter of a word drowned in neglect, indicating the incomplete distillation of doubt that remained within his voice.
He waits as he did many nights before for a reply. However, much like every night, the re-runs dominated El's attempt to connect with his dad.
Repositioning himself between his father and the television, El discovers his dad sound asleep. The consistency of his father's habits lead him to hypothesize the possibility of television having a direct impact in the flat lining of brain activity.
"Dad?" El attempts again.
"Wha...What?" his father finally responds as if the sound of his son's voice resuscitated him from death.
"Eu El! Go to sleep!" his mother, again on cue, interrupts from her room.
"I'm just asking Dad something!"
Perhaps, it was the annoyance of being hurried by his mother. Or, maybe, it was the innate nature of a son's eagerness to connect with his father that was to blame for having El speak before thinking. Instead of asking any of his prepared questions, he decides on a different topic: the relatives.
El knew this topic would energize his father with the enthusiasm needed to talk until dawn; but he also knew the slightest mention of the relatives would be like opening Pandora's box.
To El, however, after all the trouble his father put him through, releasing unimaginable evil into the world seemed like a fair trade.
As innocent as his question began, El unknowingly opened the door to a familiar, but unspoken, dark reality hidden in the midst of the world's denial with just six words:
"Dad, did Grandpa and I ever meet?"
"Huh...?" his dad replies, half awake. "Grandpa? Your grandpa was a gambler; he was never home. Always playing *mahjong."
"Did I ever meet him?"
"What do you mean 'sorta,' Dad?'"
"What?" his father responds, bewildered that a conversation between him and his second born was transpiring. "You were two years old when he sorta visited us in Novato."
Confused, but content with where the direction of their conversation was heading, El continues, slightly bolder and not overthinking.
"I don't get it, Dad. I thought you said Grandpa never came to America."
His deduction was enough for his father to take a confused glance at El's curious eyes before reconnecting back to the television. "You just weren't old enough to remember when he visited."
"I don't get it."
Never looking down at his channel changer's buttons, his father turns the television off as effortlessly as a blind man reading a braille sheet. Straightening his posture on his recliner, he tells the story his son already lived, but was too young to remember. Even with much effort, his father could not get comfortable.
"Well," he repeats, straightening his back, "you were still wearing diapers, playing with your brother in the room when you met him. Your brother ran outside yelling somebody had walked into the room. You were too young to talk, but I found you babbling to someone who wasn't there."
Eu El's gaze turns into the lost look of a child figuring out calculus for the first time.
A frightening sound of his father's voice saying, "someone who wasn't there" was enough to burrow deeply into El's mind, and coldly seep out from his pores through the goosebumps that freshly formed.
"Soon, I saw you pushing your trucks as if you were playing with someone in front of you."
"Then what?" El asks, clearly spooked. "Was it grandpa?"
"I didn't know at the time. I mean, I didn't know until after you rolled your toy trucks in front of you."
"I," his father clears his throat. "I saw how every time you rolled your trucks, the trucks kept rolling; they kept rolling back to you."
"On their own?" El asks.
"Yeah," his father unsettlingly validates. "They rolled back to you by themselves. One...by...one."
"You wouldn't remember any of this," his dad reminds him, noticing the denial in his son's eyes. "But, I know what I saw."
El struggles to ask, "What happened afterwards?"
"The telephone rang. And, that's when I understood."
"It was your relatives from overseas. And, they only call for a couple of reasons. First, if they need money. Or, if someone died. It wasn't coincidence how, on the night they called, something strange happened."
His father pauses, noticing the light of acceptance beginning to shine inside El's eyes.
Whatever was inside Pandora's box seemed to had found El's soul with just a few words from his father.
"Before our relatives said anything, I told them, 'Don't say it. I already know. My dad is dead, isn't he?'"
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