A David Yang and Sei Almand Story
By Nix Winter
any feed back will be greatly appriciated
Sacramento, California is hot in the summer. Hot like you can melt a credit card on the roof of a car in the late afternoon. It's harder on green-eyed blonds just down from rainy Seattle. Sei Almand, history student at the university of Washington, Seattle, had been warned about the heat. The warning got placed on a tall pile of things that people had been warning him about for a quarter of a century. Taking a sip of the iced chai, he thought someone must have warned him about things when he was an infant. It was something his grandmother might do, and he hadn't listened to her anymore than he'd listened to his professor when she'd told him not to take on this research project in the hottest swamp of politically correct stupidity that was Sacramento.
"You too hot," the Chinese woman said, coming out of her shop to glare at him, not unlike his grandmother. They probably would have gotten on just fine. "Why you sit there, watch that building? It ain't going no where."
He took another drink of his chai, then set it down and fished out a photo copy of an old news story. "I'm doing research. After that gang fight, there hasn't been a gang in this neighborhood. There hasn't been an arrest for a significant violent crime in the boundaries of what was Silverleaf since 1959. Even though Sacramento incorporated it."
"You research that?" She took the photocopy, read through it, nodding. "I remember."
Sei started to think about asking her, but found himself reaching for his chai. After a drink, he asked, "Can I ask you about it? I'm interested in how that fight affected the people who live here. It seems very unusual."
She leaned a little, as if she were either stretching her back, or going to tell him a secret. "It's David. He's a ghost."
After another drink of his chai, which was melting too quickly, Sei smiled. Urban legends, the ground zero of an urban legend. "Tell me about David, please. May I record you?"
"Come inside. You gonna turn red like a Mexican pepper if you sit here much longer." She held the photocopy back out to him. "You need more ice."
Bossy. Of course, many people who were willing to talk about their memories with strangers weren't real shy. "I want to sit here. The Yang Youth Center. Does it always open so early?"
She sighed. "Is too hot out here for me. Come inside. Look at the photos on the wall."
"Okay," he gave in, shoving his folders back into the messenger bag hanging on the back of his chair. "More chai would be good. So you've lived here a long time? Did you know David?"
"I knew Yang David. We went to school together. I finished high school. That was rare when I was a girl then, you know?" She disappeared into the darker cool of the coffee shop, and he found himself welcoming the cool, being more aware of the heat and the affect it was having on his brain.
"Do people get heat stroke here?"
"Oh yeah," she said, nodding sagely. "I get you something cool to drink. You look at those photos."
He set his bag down on another chair and held his arms out. Red. Human skin was not supposed to be that color. Sunscreen was in order, but for the moment, he settled back into being a researcher. 1959 was a different world, black and white, button up shirts and James Dean rolled up jeans. It had been a small orchard down then, with a main street like many others. "It looks so ordinary, just like any other place. What lead to a gang fight where 14 people died?"
The blender whirred, blotting out her words. When he could hear her again, it was the sound of thick ice smoothie pouring that caught his attention. The world that drew him back out his heat exhaustion was 'lynching'. "Lynching? Who was lynched?"
"I said, Mr.-I-want-to-sit-in-the-sun, that David's lover, Simon, a Jewish boy, got lynched. They killed David too."
"David Yang was a homosexual?" Sei asked, trying to sort through the official history, news reports and death certificates, police reports that he'd read. "I don't remember reading about a David Yang in the police reports. Why did they report it as gang violence?"
"Because David Yang's father was William Longfellow and he owned the newspapers." She sat down on the stool behind the counter and poured herself the rest of the iced chai. "No one looked into this, no one comes to ask questions. Only people ask questions are journalists and journalists don't make Mr. Longfellow angry."
"That makes sense. But why did the other twelve people die? There were two women, girls really." Sei sat down as well, feeling a bit more alert now, as he sipped the fresh chai.
"There were." She pulled the white dish cloth from her neck and touched her forehead, looked at the ceiling fan. "They were found in the street, the old main street. The town moved over a couple blocks after that. The photo, the one in your news report. That's just how they were found."
"So you don't know how they died?" Sei pulled the news report out again. Sloppy research, he berated himself. Why did he come down here if he wasn't going to do a good job? "There are only 14 bodies. None of them looked hanged."
She took it back. "What year school you in? You speak Mandarin?"
"I'm in my final year, four year degree. I don't speak Mandarin, sorry, but your English is good." He fished through his bag, looking for a photo he'd found in the main newspaper office. "I found a photo from the fair, two months before the incident. Do you know these people?"
She took the photocopy of the photo. There was a cow, with a young man standing in front of it, holding a first place ribbon. He was slender, not effeminate, but not overly masculine either. Dark colored hair lay around his shoulders and his eyes were definitely Asian shaped, though the color, even in the black and white photo was lighter. He wore jeans and boots, a plaid button up shirt that seemed at odds with his hair.
On the other side of the cow, a Holstein heifer stood a strikingly beautiful Chinese woman. Her hair was put up held with long jeweled hairpins. The dark brocade of her shirt, high collar like a Mandarin Princess, was at odds with the young man's American clothes. "Yes, that was his mother, Yang Ai Ying. My grandmother came with her mother from China."
"Were they fleeing the communists?" Sei took the photo back, studying it. "She's very beautiful. She can't have been that old. How hold was she when David was born?"
"Those were different times," she said, her Chinese accent a little lighter. "People had to be what was expected of them. She was fifteen when Yang David was born. My mother said she had arranged for her son to go to England to study."
"But the town killed him and his lover because they were homosexual?" Sei couldn't stop looking at the photo. This guy had a little smile, just a smirk really. His head was tilted to the side, almost as if he were hiding from the camera. "What was he like?"
"He was a half breed," she said, then sighed, "Half Chinese, half English. He was smart. They had to order special books for him in school. He was a nice guy, treated everybody nice. He didn't know his place though, acted like he was as good as everyone else. In those days, half Chinese, pale eyes, *(Chinese word for lavender), the men in town expected him to say sir to them, to leave their girls alone."
"Well, I guess he did the last part," Sei said, finally setting the photo down. "Why do you think he's a ghost? There have been several research teams through here in the last ten years. This is the most peaceful ten square miles in the country, that's not desert or cow pasture, and yet the land value doesn't go up. Why didn't any of them mention anything about this urban legend?"
She laughed then, a light twitter of a laugh. "I suppose they didn't know because he didn't want them to. They drank coffee here. I didn't say nothing to them. They hear me talk funny, don't ask me anything."
"Is that why you had such an accent earlier?" He picked the photo up again, took another drink of chai and looked out towards the Yang Youth Center. "Did he have any brothers, sisters?"
"Why you ask," she teased, "You saw him, didn't you? My David. I saw him wave at you."
"Yours? Did you name your son David?" This was getting more confusing the longer he talked to her. Maybe it was sunstroke.
"No, I didn't have any children. I am Yang Jade. Yang David was my husband."
"I thought he was homosexual." Sei ran a hand through blond hair, leaned forward to look at some of the photos behind the counter. There was one, of this David, a young Chinese woman, and a blond white man. "May I see that one? Was that his lover?"
She took it down, handed it to him, with a look of pride that just made her glow, made her lined face seem very much like the girl in the photo. "That's Simon. He loved David so much. They were inseparable."
"Didn't that bother you? I mean, if David was your husband," Sei asked. The girl in the photo was obviously in love with the long haired boy. It looked like something out of a fairytale, the blond guy in a white suit, pretty Chinese girl in a flower print dress, and in between them a long haired boy, young man, in black pants an a long sleeved light shirt, hands in his pocket, posed like he was a gangster. "Did you love both of them? Where were you when he died?"
It was a harsh question. It made a little sense and defeated the urban legend he thought he'd found. She'd been in love with this guy. He died violently and she concocted this hallucination that he was a ghost. So much for easy solutions to why this area was so peaceful.
"Do you believe in the I-ching?" She asked, as she hung the photo of the three of them back on the wall.
"Does anyone else see or believe in Yang David's ghost?" he asked, sidestepping her question.
"Most of the older people, and most of the people at the youth center. He's seen there a lot. You saw him." Now she pulled a black velvet bag, worn along the bottom, darkest under some place where a patch had been pulled off. "William Longfellow is going to die this week. I don't know why that would affect David, but according to the I-ching, it says David will die this week too."
"But he's already dead," Sei said, reminding himself strongly that he was not a psychologist, he was an historian. "So you loved this guy, and you never married anyone else? This place is kind of a shrine to him."
He got up then, wandered around a little, looking at photos. A bit of research into Chinese myths might be in order, he thought. "Must have been some love, to last forty-five years."
"Here," she said, pushing the photo of the three of them with the bag of I-ching tiles towards his side of the counter. "You take these things. I wouldn't really need them now. I've done all I can do. I kept my promise."
"What did you promise," Sei asked, looking at, but not touching, the photo and I-ching. "Do you believe that Mr. Longfellow is going to die?"
She patted his hand. "Why don't you go over to the youth center. There is a basketball game at two today. Maybe you will find some answers about this neighborhood there. Take the photo, the i-ching. When you see him, you tell him," her next words were Chinese, said slowly so he'd get them. "You tell him that."
Sei put the photo and bag of tiles into his bag. He closed his eyes and cursed himself when his fingers brushed against the tape recorder. He hadn't got a single word on tape. It wasn't like this was his first field research either! "Would it be alright if you repeated some of that for me, on tape? At least your name, that you were David Yang's wife, and that I have your permission to remove the photo and the i-ching?"
"Sure, no problem." She continued, more somber. "When I am gone, maybe David will rest. He has helped so many people though. It would be better if he were to live again."
That wasn't possible though, and Sei politely took his exit. The woman was nice, made a great chai, but he wasn't sure that indulging her fantasies would be helpful to her. Outside, he pressed the speed dial for the historical research library, hoping Melody would answer. Silverleaf was just an overlooked suburb of Sacramento, an overlooked statistic that could make his master's thesis shine, or bury it under papers with more dependable topics. He wanted to be a professor, show people the story of humanity, infect people with a love of their own species, and maybe do some solid research in the summers. History was the key to tolerance and a better world. This he completely believed. It was the sun making the back of his neck burn like a steak on a grill that he didn't believe. It just wasn't possible for some place to be this hot!
"Hey! You! You want a ride?"
He turned to find a classic blue corvette pulled up to the sidewalk, traveling just slow enough that the girl driving didn't quite look like a postcard. She wore a low cut white sweater, of all things, cut low over breasts that had to be bathed in sunscreen habitually to be that pale and creamy. She matched the car, almost too perfectly; pink Capri pants, clean white Ked shoes and little pink bobby socks. "Come on, isn't it hot?"
The strap of his messenger bag was biting into his shoulder and the library hadn't answered yet. So he switched his phone off and took a step towards the corvette. She leaned over and opened the door.
"Is there a car show," he asked, holding the door, mind trying to register why the door was cool, not hot like everything else.
"Oh, baby," she smiled, "There's always a car show somewhere! Do you like it? It's pure 1959! The best that there ever was!" Her smile lit up the area, reminded him of his little sister. "Where do you want to go, baby?"
Maybe not his little sister, he thought, settling into the car. Maybe more like, Audrey Heburn meets Mr. Bates. He set his bag at his feet, held out his hands to her. "I'm Sei Almand. I'm down here from Seattle, don't some research on Silverleaf."
She held out one neatly manicured hand, matte pink polish. "I'm Kelly Graham. You were talking to Old Mrs. Yang about this research?"
Her hand was cold too and it made the hair on the back of his head stand up. "Yeah. She was telling me about a David Yang."
Pink had never seemed like a dangerous, or maybe a rotting color before. On her, it held a veneer together. "You shouldn't believe everything you here, Mr. Almand. You're looking really flushed. Maybe you should get out of the heat?"
"Probably. Can you drop me by my hotel?"
"Sure. She didn't give you anything, did she?"
Sei had never told a lie, not since he was ten and had lost a postage stamp from his grandfather's collection. "That's a very interesting radio station? Is a tape of an old broadcast?"
"No, just the radio." At the stop light, she reached out for the strap of his bag. "I'm very interested in the I-ching. Did she through them for you?"
"No," he said, straightening the strap, just out of her reach. Getting out of the car seemed like a good idea, but a scene, so perfectly replicated, from at least ninety-fifty had taken the place of the corner store, complete with wooden fruit boxes and a brown dog, and he hesitated just long enough for the car to start going again. "What interests you about them? What do you know about what happened here in 1959? Was it gang violence or a lynching?"
"It was justice, almost justice," she said. He looked back over his shoulder and the corner store was a neat Circle-K, just as it had been that morning. "David Yang's mother was a witch. She didn't like any body causing that half breed bastard of hers trouble. He had violet eyes, like some Chinese demon. Did you know that?"
"I heard he had unusual eyes," Sei said, wishing he could remember what the symptoms of heat stroke were, they included hallucinations. "Was your family here then, when David Yang died?"
Sharpness aged her voice, gave a chill to the open air of the convertible. "A lot of other people died then too, but he's the only one anyone remembers. He's the only one that was supposed to die."
"Really," Sei unconsciously laid his hand on the door handle. "Why did it get recorded as a gang fight then? It really was a lynching?"
"No, it was a stoning, and it got written up as a gang fight because Mr. Longfellow," she paused, her lips tight in a smile that was nothing at all like Audrey Heburn. Quickly she pulled the little blue convertible into the hotel. In the distance he could hear splashing in a pool, the laughter of children. "Mr. Longfellow had us all killed for what happened to David and Simon. If you give me the i-ching that she gave you, I can bring justice, real justice."
"I think I've had heat stroke," he said, opening the door, frowning as the car jerked forward a bit, slamming the door again. He opened it firmly and jumped out, one of those moves that one doesn't think about how to make, just does, like a hand back from a still hot pan. "I think I've had heat stroke."
"At least you're not dead," she said, batting blue eyes at him. He felt his bag tugged, and he tugged back, hard.
"Yet," she purred, but he wasn't sure, if there even had been a girl to say that.
He fell backwards, dizzy, feeling like he was floating a bit. A hand caught hold of his shirt, and he sort of hung there. "Don't fucking faint in the road!"
'Excellent idea,' he thought, struggling to get his eyes open. 'Oh fuck me.'
It was David Yang, light brown hair and violet eyes, like a child of Elizabeth Taylor and Bruce Lee. He jerked Sei back up, up away from the railing that had kept him from falling back into the highway from the over pass, back into 2003 and a bit out of the heat stroke. "Who killed you," Sei asked, one hand gripping the strap of hs messenger bag, the other holding to the railing held been about to fall over.
"Who said I'm dead," David replied, eyes twinkling even as he winked. "You're too cute to be stupid, history boy. If I told you that the private prayer book of the last three Chinese Emperors was here, in Silverleaf, would you be interested? Would you be interested if that were what's keeping the peace you wanted to know about?"
"That's ridiculous!" Sei snapped back, shaking the strong, pale fingers from his shirt. "There was no such book."
"Simon, if you keep resisting us, we will put you in restraints. Get that I.V. in, will you?" An irritated medical sounding voice complained. "Simon, listen to me. You passed out. You're dehydrated from the heat. We're trying to get some fluids into you. You're at the Silverleaf Walk-in. Do not hit my nurses, do you understand me now?"
"Nurses? Don't hit the nurses," Sei moaned. It was all a dream, all a heat induced dream? "I'm Sei, not Simon. Don't call me that."
"Alright! Sei. My name is Dave. Open your eyes for me, Sei."
Maybe research in Ethiopia was out, he thought, opening his eyes. It had seemed so real, David Yang so beautiful. "How'd I get here?"
"The Ghost of Silverleaf brought you, left you in the lobby. What are you? Canadian? It's 110 out there, don't you think you need some sunscreen?"
"Sunscreen," Sei moaned, thinking he sounded like a compete idiot. He hissed as the I.V. Slipped into the back of his hand. That seemed quite extreme to him, really. "I'm from Seattle. Did you see David Yang?"
"No, man, but I guess you did," Dave, the nurse, or doctor, whatever he was said. "We get three or four tourists in here a summer, heat stroke, dehydrated like cup of tourist, claiming to have seen David Yang. If you tell me you got picked up by some chick in a '59 corvette, I'm gonna call The Enquirer for you."
Whatever was in the IV, maybe even just saline, it was enough to coax Sei away from thoughts of The Enquier and having his master thesis rubber stamped 'laughing stock'. Instead, he slipped into dreams of violet eyes and a mellow male voice. "Sei," the voice said, sounding entirely pleased with life, "You didn't tell me it was short for Simon."