Lychee could remember what sounds used to be like, sort of. She remembered her Dad’s rich undertones and her Mom’s staccato, flute-like laughter. She remembered the sound of fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and the sound of a roaring fire overlapped by a snowstorm. This, along with countless other memories, kept her comfortable at night in her small bedroom. Ever since Dad had, well, died in the car crash that took Lychee’s hearing, the budget had been tight, forcing the Everett’s to cut back on expenses.
Which was hard to do when your daughter was deaf, as you had to make things for her a tad bit more accessible, from the flashing lights built into the door to alert Lychee when people were coming over to the strobe light smoke detectors in every room; her mother had spent a good chunk of the insurance money on doctors’ bills for Lychee and an electrician to come out to their house to set things up. And it wasn’t like her Mom tried to lay the blame on her at all, it just so happened that she complained and forgot that Lychee could read lips.
It made things sometimes awkward, if not downright difficult, at the dinner table.
Sliding on a faded purple shirt, Lychee took a moment to pull up her jeans over her Hello Kitty panties, buttoning the acid-washed, faded denim so that she would be able to walk about the house easier. She slid her feet into her house shoes, thick padded shoes that kept her toes toasty warm during the winter. And with how the snow was beating against the house at night, Lychee could only imagine what kind of winter wonderland lay beyond her homes thin walls.
Leaving her room, she went across the hall and knocked on the door to her big sister’s room. Pu was a braggart of a sister and an even bigger bully to the other kids at school, at least when the teachers didn’t catch her. Her full name, Punyaa, meant intelligent; Lychee believed it just added to her overall character of being the devious weasel she was, always looking for a way to make a quick buck, while still staying legal.
She answered the door, her hair pulled back into a single ponytail at the top of her head, her nightclothes still hanging off of her slightly older frame, showing off her curves in a way that made Lychee a tad jealous. Pan was always the one who got everything, from boys to new clothes, leaving Lychee with hand me downs and sycophants that just wanted to know Pan and thought going through her sister was a smart way to get there. While Lychee knew very little of Wushu her sister practiced daily, she knew enough to keep an amorous teenage boy in his place.
Pan, disheveled and sleepy-eyed, signed to Lychee with one hand. “What’s up?”
Lychee responded in kind. “Breakfast downstairs, school in thirty.”
Pan made a face that looked like she was bemoaning her fate as she slammed the door in Lychee’s face earning a giggle from the girl. Turning, she walked down the dark wooden hallway, the grain of the wood rough and splintered in some places, and slowly made her way downstairs. The smell of eggs was overpowering, making Lychee’s stomach gurgle softly at the prospect of getting something good to eat.
Lychee stood in the doorway of the kitchen, having crossed the darkened living room, and watched her mother for a moment. The old Wushu mistress was busy handling a pan of scrambled eggs while looking up a number in the phone book, her long black and silver hair pulled back into twin buns on her head. She wore a sleeveless pink top and baggy martial artist pants, as well as the matching slippers, with a glistening ring on her finger. Lychee brought her hand up to the frame of the doorway and knocked, getting her mother’s attention.
Daiyu smiled at her daughter a tight smile, asking her what she wanted. Lychee signed, “Do you want me to help with breakfast? You look like you need some help.”
“Yes Lychee,” Daiyu said slowly, enunciating her words clearly so her daughter could read her lips. “That would be most appreciated.”
Lychee moved up and slid into her mother’s spot at the oven, whisking the eggs on the pan to a fine frothy mess before switching over to the spatula, sprinkling a little salt and pepper here and there as the eggs cooked into a sizable meal. Looking over her shoulder, she could see that her mother was busy flipping through the yellow pages, her ire growing by the second.
Uh-oh… we must need a new carpenter… Lychee thought dejectedly. The last two carpenters had been young men that had taken a liking to Daiyu, and had crossed the line at some point. Mom being Mom, she’d put them in their place, sending them packing before they could even apologize. She explained it away as men having dreams of “taming an exotic beast” when it came to bedding a Chinese woman, and that she didn’t need people like that around her daughters. Pan agreed whole-heartedly, but Lychee was somewhat hesitant; barring the men had made truly overt advances on her mother, they didn’t deserve to be treated like some common criminal.
But what did Lychee know? All she’d been told was that the contractors had been fired because they got a little “too friendly”, forcing Daiyu to lay down some harsh ground rules. Frankly, the men didn’t want to meet said rules and seemed content in being fired.
Turning back to the scrambled eggs, Lychee flipped the golden mass about in the pan, chopping it up to make the eggs fluffier for her sister, who preferred them this way. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to find her Mom staring at her.
“Take a seat and get ready for breakfast,” she said, staring into Lychee’s eyes. “I’ll finish from here.”
Lychee nodded and walked away from the stove, stretching her arms high above her head to work out the kinks in her back. Watching as her sister rushed into the kitchen, hair done up in a long ponytail with a green sweater and hip-hugging jeans, Lychee signed at her that breakfast was almost ready.
“Good, I’m starving,” Pan signed back, pulling out a chair and taking a seat at the short round table. “You excited about the carnival at school today?”
“You bet,” Lychee smiled, stopping to scoop some eggs onto her sister’s plate, then her own. Setting the skillet on a cozy in the center of the table, she signed back. “I’m hoping to find something for my collection.”
“Don’t you think you’re a little old to be collecting dolls?” Pan signed.
“No,” Lychee signed, “not at all. I just want a complete collection is all. Besides, I’ve been collecting these dolls for like eight years and only need one more to complete the set. What are the odds of me finding it at a school sponsored fair?”
“True,” Pan signed, turning her head to say something to their mother. Daiyu closed the phone book and heaved a sigh, running her hands through her hair as if trying to ward off a looming headache.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” Lychee signed after snapping her fingers twice to get her mother’s attention.
“Oh, just having a problem finding a carpenter is all. They all think us lonely housewives are just looking for a man.” She joked, scooping some eggs onto her plate before liberally applying pepper to them. “I may have to call one of the contractors from the city if push comes to shove, though I’d rather not.”
Bao Grove was a small town in northern California that had been infamous during pioneer days as a safe haven for Chinese immigrants. That’s why, to this day, over eighty percent of Bao Grove was of Chinese descent. This made their view on outsiders very dim, as they had fought long and hard to become a self-sufficient community. Bringing in an outside contractor was a sign of weakness, according to the town Elders.
And if there was one thing Bao Grove refused to show, it was weakness.
Their school test scores were always high, their High School football team always making it to the play-offs, their electricity and water run by a local company that kept prices low. Bao Grove was by far not the richest town in America, but it was one of the few that resembled a different country altogether.
With all this success came the downside of the town: the hauntings. Old Chinese workers who’d died in poverty as abject slaves to gold mines and railroad companies remained tethered to this world, causing mischief and even resorting to violent behavior at times. Lychee should know.
There was one in the house.