Monday, March 7, 2011

Branded - Chapter 1

Leaving town, having no idea where I was headed, I simply picked a direction and drove. After 20 some odd hours behind the wheel, I ended up in a backwater town called Twisted Falls.

I decided this was as good a place as any to discard what was left of Paul Westphal. The car I purchase from my former neighbor, for much more than it was worth, I sold to a local for a fraction of that. This poor misshapen fellow was on cloud nine, having made the deal of his life. I couldn’t help but smile as he reveled in his good fortune.

After asking directions, I made my way to the local diner for a bite to eat. I made inquiries of the hostess as to the nearest travel agency. She pointed out that their small community was not only in backwater country, but the demise of the chemical plant explosions a few years back left the populace with visible scars they would much rather keep hidden. The physical deformities were on the extreme side, I must admit. I can’t blame them for wanting to keep to themselves. As a matter of fact, I could identify completely. That is exactly where my life was heading at the moment; to disappear; to hide away.

The hostess; she introduced herself as Flo; made sure to bring attention to the fact that I wore my gloves throughout the meal; not with words, but rather with her eye movements. It was as if the locals had an unwritten language that each and every one understood. It was a bit unnerving, but I did not let it dissuade me from finishing my meal. Using the phone at the cashier’s counter, I called a cab to spirit me away from this carnival of sideshow freaks; the residents of Twisted Falls. I have to give them credit though; they sure know how to make a fortune from their misfortune.

The cab driver remained silent for the twenty-five mile trip to the Valley Travel Bureau in Green Valley. He dropped me at the door of the agency in the lush farming community. It was hard to believe that this vibrant, flourishing community remained in such close proximity to the hazardous waste site I had just left.

I stepped inside and was met with a large smile and a heavy accent, beckoning me to have a seat in a chair at the service counter.

“Hey, Shoogah! Mah nayme is Margot,” she stated, with emphasis on the first syllable. “Thayt’s with a tay, but it’s sahlent, you say,” she went on. “What cain ah due for yoo, tuhday?”

Margot spoke with a very heavy accent, dragging each word out as if it were difficult and caused pain. It sure was painful to my ears. The way she said sugar, it felt like she was drawing my head in closer, ever so slowly, on the first syllable, and snapping it back abruptly on the second. One could get whiplash from a conversation with this woman. I had to concentrate to understand what she was saying.

“I’d like a ticket to Seres,” I offered, telling her the country I was destined toward.

“Thayer’s lots a ayerports there, sweetie,” she snapped back. “Cayer tuh narrow it dowan for may a bit?”

“Oh, I‘m sorry, I have some business to conduct in Fengjin.

“Dew yoo have all yer papahs, huhnay?”

“Yes, everything’s in order,” I averred, passing the documents to her.

“Hah soon wood yoo be wantin’ tuh leave, Shoogah?”

“I’d like to leave as soon as possible.”

“Wayell, consid-ran the nearast ayerport too heeyah is a ways away, tomorruh wood be the soonest yood get fly outah thayer.”

“That would be fine, Margot.”

She proceeded to bang away on the keyboard in front of her computer monitor, paying extra attention to her fingernails; fearing she may break one, I would presume. I was thankful that all of her attention was on her nails; it kept her from talking. I think one more word from her at that moment, and I might feel compelled to strangle her. I mustered my resolve and somehow made it through the ordeal. I am positive I lost several points of my IQ from the exchange.

Soon she printed out a ticket and handed it to me. “Thayer yoo go, Mistah Morgan.”

“Thank you for everything, Margot.”

Jesse Morgan. Huh; another identity that will soon disappear. Thanks to previous business dealings for my father, I was able to provide the fake identification to the travel agent. To my knowledge, he and I are the only ones aware of this alter ego of mine. But who (or what) am I; really?

I was able to make it to the “ayerpowt,” as Margot says it; caught my flight on time; and made it through customs; all without incident. My documents were in order and the baggage check went rather quickly, having only two small bags with me. Now on the ground in Seres, I hailed a cab and made my way to Fengjin. I knew if anyone could help me get a new start on life, that person was here.

I checked in to a local inn and took some time to freshen up and relax after the long ride before setting out on my business. I now felt like I have no purpose. I had nowhere to be; nowhere to go. I shook off my melancholy mood and headed out.

I made my way to the market place where I used to conduct business for my father’s company. I stopped by the Relics shop, just to say hello to the proprietor, Wu Xio. She had become a good friend over the years. Most of my business was done through her.

I wanted to tell her myself that I would no longer be doing business for my dad’s company and that Kenan would be taking my place. She had met him on several occasions when I had brought him along, so the transition should go smoothly. She was sorry to hear that I would no longer be conducting business with her. I assured her that I would still make it a point to come back and visit my friends.

I made my way around to the other shops and said my helloes. I had become acquainted with many of the shop owners here in the village. I left word with the book shop merchant that I was looking for Shen Su.

Shen Su was an underground merchant, dealing in black market goods among other illegal activities. I knew he could tell me who could give me a new identity that would start me on a clean slate with no way to tie me to Paul.

The next day, I received word that Shen Su would meet me in the garden of the Wan-Yong Martial Arts Academy in a nearby village. I obtained directions to the academy and left shortly before lunchtime. I arrived in time to wander about the academy. It was relatively new and the garden was so peaceful. I was told many came here to meditate.

“My old friend; what brings you to Seres?” a familiar voice behind me inquired.

“Friend! Thank you for meeting with me! I am hoping you can provide me with some information.”

“Ahh, information does not come cheap, my old friend.”

“It never does,” I acknowledged. “I need to start my life anew; with a new identity; in a new place.”

“Oh, that is an easy and costly one,” he said, lifting one eyebrow and informing me of his price.

“That’s not a problem. Whatever it takes,” I assured him. He knew I was good for the money.

“There is a man in the Paradisae Archipelago who can fulfill your needs. He is a pawn broker on Palma Island.”

“I’ve heard of the Archipelago, a large group of equatorial islands, but have not traveled there.”

“The islands are home to many indigenous cultures and tribes. You may even find a place to call home there.

“Perhaps I will.”

“You should know I am aware of your plight; and I do hope you find what it is you are looking for.”

“I don’t even know what it is that I am looking for. I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me, old friend,” I said, as I opened my wallet and paid his fee.

“Ah, but your wallet has just thanked me. It is always a pleasure to see you. I do hope I will see you again before too long.” I bowed to Shen Su and left the garden.

I made my way to the regional airport and booked passage to the Paradisae Archipelago. The capital city wasn’t very large, but it had a little of everything. I found a motorcycle dealer and ended up purchasing a nice ride; in cash; for an absurd price. I rode to the village on the other end of the island. I rode around for a bit, taking in the sights until I found the Pawn Broker Shop. I ventured in and looked around, perusing the goods on the shelves.

There weren’t any other customers in the shop, so it wasn’t long before the clerk came to offer assistance. He informed me that he had my request was waiting, recognizing me from the description he received along with the request. I had assumed I would have to bring the request to this man myself; then wait several days for it to be fulfilled. I made a mental note to thank Shen Su for all of his assistance.

The man opened a folder upon the counter and proceeded to “give” me a new identity. Everything I needed was there; passport, identification card, driver’s license, everything. It was overwhelming and exciting becoming someone else.

He placed a shredder upon the counter and instructed me to finally retire the old me. He walked away to leave me to my task. After I finished destroying Paul and Jesse, he walked back over, emptied the contents of the shredder into a bag and handed it to me, with instructions to dispose of it; perhaps a bonfire at the beach.

“How much do I owe you?”

“It’s already taken care of. Someone must really think highly of you to have taken care of this for you.”

“I suppose so. I’m sure it couldn’t have been a small fee, either. Who knows of this new identity?”

“No one does, sir. Not even me. The name is randomly generated by several computers, so your full identity cannot be traced to one source. Each computer is used to complete its portion of the documents and then passed on to the next. The completed documents are then placed in a sealed container and delivered to the client. This protects [i]the operation[/i] as well as the client.”

“Thank you,” was all I could muster. I was quite overwhelmed by the whole process. I gathered up the documents and turned to leave.

“Have a good [i]new[/i] life, sir. Make sure you become very familiar with the new you,” he said as I was leaving the shop.

I simply turned and waved, continuing outside. Although nothing had physically changed, it felt strange just to know I was someone else.

I wandered around the village for a short while. A notice on the board outside of the grocery store caught my eye. A beach home on nearby Vanusa Island was being sold by the owner. The hand written information below the picture said their partner had just passed away and they didn’t want to live out there alone. “Out there” also peaked my interest. It was worth checking out.

The house was perfect. It was still available and on a secluded stretch of beach. The owner had already removed their contents, as there was a previous party interested. The deal fell through at the last minute for some reason. It wasn’t any of my business and, quite frankly, didn’t care to know.

I walked toward the front door of my new house. I know I just have a new name; a new identity; but I felt as if I was looking at the world with a whole new perspective; a new outlook; excited at the prospect of being Jadon’s life living on this remote beach.

The first couple months I kept busy; decorating the house; and planting a garden. As the house became furnished and the garden established, there was less to do. I was finding more free time. I found a sculptors wheel and workbenches in the garage.

Looking out upon the sea, I took a few minutes to decide what I wanted to do with myself now that I had no job to go to; no family to call my own anymore. Instead, all I could dwell upon was that night I found out about myself; how it all came to light. If HE hadn’t visited, I might still not know the truth.

I remember that night as if it were yesterday…

I was taking an evening stroll along the beach. I heard something behind me. I turned around to find him standing there. I was not startled at all; it was as if I [i]knew[/i] he was there before I turned around.

“May I help you?” I inquired.

“I believe it is I who may help you,” he said smugly.

“I doubt that; I don’t even know you.”

“Ah, but you do. Look deep within your soul. You’ll find the truth.”

“And what, pray tell, would that truth be?”

I couldn’t help but notice the marking on the back of his wrist while he talked. It was the same kind of marking I have on my wrist. What does this marking mean?

“In time you will come to realize the truth…” he said as he turned and began to walk away.

He turned his head back to look at me as he walked and continued, “The truth of who you are; [i]what[/i] you are. You will not be able to deny yourself for much longer…”

And with that, he vanished. I have not seen nor heard from him since.

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