The Yōsei - Chapter 1


The day started off fairly normal for a Tuesday. I was on a family vacation with my mom, my dad, and my younger sister, Julie. We were driving across the country in a rented RV and had made it all the way from our hometown of Mount Juliet, Tennessee to San Francisco, California.

My dad is a tall man with broad shoulders and thin blond hair. He kind of reminds me of a superhero. He is naturally muscular and always seems to be the biggest man in the room. The vacation was all his idea. He claimed it was on his bucket list of things he wanted to do and it would help us all grow closer as a family. After all, this was our last summer together.

Personally, I thought this was a little melodramatic of him. After all, the college I was about to attend was only one town east of us. I was literally going to be about twenty minutes away, but being the loving patriarch that he is, he insisted. So we packed up our things and prepared to spend three long painful weeks driving across the United States on our way to see the Pacific Ocean.

My mom thought this was a great idea. She is a short thin Japanese woman with a delicate frame and a heavy accent. Her face has high cheekbones, and I know she is beautiful because several of my friends have told me so, which is weird in and of itself. She could probably pass for a teenager still, like her body has decided that aging is for other, less fortunate souls and she is going to look young and beautiful till the day she dies.

When my parents stand side by side, they couldn’t look any more different. She has the looks of a lovely young actress, and he looks like her bodyguard.

Julie takes after my mom. She stands maybe five feet tall, with hair that barely reaches her shoulders. Most people would say she is fairly pretty. After only one year of high school, she already has boys competing for her attention, which she wisely ignores. She may only be a sophomore, but she has a good head on her shoulders. Of course, she doesn’t really have anything to be afraid of when it comes to boys who want to take her out. Once they get a good look at my dad, they usually turn tail and run. He can be pretty intimidating.

Then there’s me. My name is Luke Skylander. No joke, that is really my full name, and no, I am not a Jedi. I don’t know what my parents were thinking when they named me, but obviously they didn’t consider the endless roasting I would have to endure.

Unfortunately, I am a true mix of my parents. I’m tall like my dad but thin like my mom. I feel like a toothpick standing next to my father. He tells me he was the same way when he was young, but I don’t believe it. I can’t imagine him ever being called skinny, whereas I’ve had people crack jokes about my size all my life.

“Hey, dude, do you have to run around in the shower to get wet?”

“Better carry some rocks in your pockets, Luke. It’s gonna be a windy day.”

Sigh.

I have thick, dark brown hair and my complexion is slightly darker than the rest of the kids at my school, even in January. I’d say it was pretty obvious I come from a mixed race family, but no one believes I’m half Japanese. After all, I am close to six feet tall.

We started off the day parking the RV in a Walmart car park outside of town and taking the BART—that’s the Bay Area Rapid Transit—to Montgomery St. Station in downtown San Francisco.

“So, what should we do first?” asked Julie as she craned her neck to look up at the buildings that surrounded us.

“What about Chinatown?” asked my mom. “It is not far from here and we could look for some good souvenirs.”

Great. You won’t look like a freak in Chinatown. There are lots of six-foot-tall Asians in California. I ignored the type two voice and tried to smile. I’d learned to ignore these snide little comments that my brain picked up. They were much easier to dismiss than the other, more audible ones.

“Sounds good,” I managed to say with some enthusiasm.

“It’ll be fun, Luke. Come on. Let’s see if we can figure out how to get there from here.” My dad is one of those glass-half-full types. He could be bleeding to death in the kitchen and say at least we won’t have to worry about carpet stains.

It turned out that we weren’t far from Chinatown, so we began climbing the steep hills toward Bush Street and Grant Avenue. The sidewalks were filled with people, but still it didn’t take long before we were standing before the famous Dragon’s Gate that marked the entrance to Chinatown.

‘Dragon’s Gate’ sounded way cooler from our earlier online searches than it really was. We stood looking at the three green metal roofs and the not-so-impressive small dragons that faced each other over the center of the street.

“That’s Dragon’s Gate?” I asked.

“Come on,” Mom said enthusiastically. “Let’s go see what we can find.”

We walked under the not-so-impressive gate and up a steep road lined with small shops. Red lanterns were strung above the crowds, creating a feeling that we had somehow left San Francisco and were entering a different city. I noticed one store that was filled with large statues of animals. A huge stone lion stood at the entrance, frozen in the act of roaring out a challenge to any tourists.

“What about this place?” Julie was pointing to a small hole in the wall with a narrow doorway and a little glass window filled with cheap souvenirs and T-shirts. Across the entrance was a red awning with the words “Chinatown Bargains” printed in large white letters.

“Perfect,” Mom said. “I would love to find a set of ornamental chopsticks or a new kimono.”

Dad and I looked at each other and shared a moment of unspoken understanding before following them inside the small store. Neither of us like shopping, but we keep up a good smile while the girls do their thing. We’ve learned that it’s less painful to put a smile on our faces for an hour than to suffer the wrath of my mom for the rest of the day.

The inside of the store was packed with trinkets and touristy junk. Nothing looked like it was made to last longer than a few months. The narrow aisles were lined with shelves crammed with things like wooden chopsticks, little statues of Buddha, and plastic folded fans. It looked like it was all manufactured specifically for the American tourist.

The store was surprisingly big, stretching back farther and farther. Most of the kimonos were near the front of the store, so I left my family and wandered deeper into the store, looking to see if anything caught my eye.

As I poked around in the deserted back of the store, I heard one of those voices that shouldn’t be there, but was.

Now that is one tall Oriental.

I almost jumped out of my skin and involuntarily spun around toward it. Finding myself totally alone, I couldn’t help but think, Crap. Another type three. It was too late to ignore it, but maybe I could play it off.

I glanced at a shelf and saw what looked like a row of small snow globes with pictures of San Francisco in the background.

“These will be perfect!” I whispered out loud, hoping to create the illusion that the reason I had reacted to the voice was actually just me spotting these coveted snow globes.

Snow globes? Who gets excited when they finally find snow globes?

I ignored the rumbling voice and began a careful inspection of the various city scene options. I picked up one with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background and shook it up, causing the fake snow to twirl around in a frenzied dance.

Kid, you’re in Chinatown! Are you really going to buy that? At least get yourself some chopsticks or something. Good grief, the people in this country are clueless.

The voice was loud and clear. I glanced around to check if anyone, anyone real, could be talking to me. Nope. No such luck. I looked back toward the front of the store. I could act like I hadn’t found what I was looking for and head back like nothing was wrong and it would all be fine.

By this time, my sister had wandered back in my direction, and spotting me, she came walking with a purpose to the aisle I was standing in.

“See anything interesting?” she asked me nonchalantly.

“Oh yeah, these snow globes are great.” I tried to sound authentic.

You bet, man. They are priceless, one of a kinds! There may only be about two billion of them in existence.

“Well, Mom is trying on kimonos so we may be stuck here for a while. I’ll be in front with Dad. Maybe we can slip out and grab a bite to eat.”

“Ok, I’m with you.” We turned and I began to follow her.

Too bad that girl has a death mark on her. That’s gonna suck for you, big guy. Enjoy your last moments with her!

 The words struck me like a hammer to my chest and I froze. Julie kept walking, but I wheeled around to face the voice. It was coming from a darkened back corner filled with all kinds of stuff.

“What did you say?” I whispered.

Are you talking to me?

“Yeah, you. I heard what you said. What did you mean my sister has a death mark on her?”

Holy freak! Really? You heard me all along? Well, I’ll be. I wondered what could be so great about a row of cheap snow globes.

I glanced around to see if I could locate the voice. It seemed to be coming from a large metal ring that held a collection of paper umbrellas.

“Seriously, what is a death mark and what does it have to do with Julie?”

What’s your name? Wait, give me a second.

I took a few steps toward the umbrella stand.

Luke Skylander, the voice said triumphantly. Your name is Luke Skylander and you are a susurruser! Holy Japanese Giants!

Crap, crap, and treble crap. A type four voice and I was already speaking to it. It was calling me by my full name. Well, it was too late to ignore it, and I wanted to know what he meant about my sister.

“Whatever you are, tell me what a death mark is. I’m serious.”

You know, the voice continued, ignoring my demands, you are the first susurruser I’ve met in a long time, maybe even centuries! Do you have any idea how rare your gift is?

“Look, I don’t have a lot of time, ok? Just tell me what you meant about my sister and I’ll be on my way.”

There was a moment of silence. I began hurriedly taking the umbrellas out one at a time to examine them. Was it possible the voice was coming from one of them? As I took out a frilly pink paper one with lace along the edges, the voice spoke again.

Easy, kid. You tear me, you buy me.

I almost dropped the princess umbrella in shock. The contrast between this deep masculine voice and the pink girly paper souvenir that could only be described as “perfect for a five-year-old girl” was totally surprising.

“Pink?” I laughed. “Really?”

Don’t knock it, kid. This disguise has kept me safe back here for years. No one buys a pink paper umbrella that looks like it was a Mary Poppins prop reject.

“No one until today,” I corrected him. “Now, tell me what you meant by that comment about my sister and I’ll put you back. Otherwise, you’re coming with me.”

And why should I allow that to happen, Luke Skylander?


The deep voice sounded way too sure of itself for my liking. As I held the umbrella, it almost seemed to quiver with power. I stood there staring at it. What was this thing, and why did it say Julie had a death mark on her?

“What are you?”

Who.

“What?”

Not ‘what,’ ‘who.’ Who am I? Not, ‘what am I?’

“Ok, who are you?”

There was a pause as if the umbrella was thinking.

My name is Jaki-chan, but you can call me Chan for short.

I laughed out loud. “Jackie Chan? Like the movie star?”

Hey, his parents named him after me, ok? I had the name first. I helped his father Charles get out of a Japanese prison for smugglers, and so he named his son after me. In gratitude.

I shook my head and stared at the umbrella. This was the strangest type four voice I had ever spoken to.

“Luke!” My dad called from the front of the store. “Come on. Time to get going.”

Wait, I still didn’t know what this crazy umbrella meant by a death mark on my sister. I couldn’t leave yet. Unless . . .

Taking the umbrella with me, I turned and began walking back to the front of the store.

Hey, hey kid. Where are you taking me?

“What did you find?” my dad asked as I approached him.

“Oh, I found this great paper umbrella. I think I’m going to buy it.”

My dad looked at me with disbelief.

“Really? You want that?”

Come on, kid. Put me back. You don’t want me.

“Oh, I do want you—this.” I stuttered as I tried to answer both of them at the same time. “It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”

“That. That is what you’ve been looking for?” My dad pointed at what looked like a leftover from a Chinese Barbie convention. “Are you sure you want to spend your money on that thing?”

Kid, what is wrong with you? You look ridiculous. Put me back and go back to your snow globes.

I gripped the umbrella slightly tighter as I walked to the counter to pay.

“Of everything I’ve seen so far on this trip, trust me. This is the most interesting thing.”

Oh, you ain’t seen nothing yet, kid, the voice said quietly to me. Last chance. Put me back.

“That will be twenty-five, forty-eight,” the store clerk said with a happy gleam in his eye. That umbrella had probably sat in the back of his store for years. It had probably been there so long, he didn’t even remember ever ordering it.

I pulled out my wallet and handed a few bills to the store clerk.

“Congratulations.” The old shopkeeper said as he took the pink umbrella and dropped it into a white plastic bag. “You now owner of finest umbrella in all San Francisco.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you, kid.


“Thanks. I won’t let it out of my sight,” I said as I grabbed the bag and chased after my family. 


Chapter 2