The Elephant Gate Part 1 – Ch 26 to 30
It was decided this year that Kevin’s second anniversary party would be held on the palace grounds. The family woke up early to head out from the house. Khun Mattaya filled the back seat with goodies she had prepped for the party. Kevin and Duchess sat in the back of the pickup truck for the ride; he didn’t trust the young dog with all the food in the cab, or to be by herself in the truck bed.
When they arrived, servants helped unload everything and carry it to the kitchen. Suri found Kevin and Duchess wandering around the draped tables by the pool. When Kevin saw her, he smiled and pulled her into a hug. They linked fingers and wandered along the path until they reached the familiar gazebo. After nearly two years of constant interaction, they could almost read each other’s thoughts.
They sat on the bench, and Suri leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder. “Happy birthday, K’vin.” Even though they had learned to properly pronounce each other’s names, they still kept the childish names when they were alone.
Kevin touched the small pocket knife in his pocket, suddenly a bit nervous. “Um Sur’kya? Would it be weird if I wanted to carve our initials here, where we first met?”
Suri pulled back to look into his eyes. “You mean, like a momento?” Kevin nodded, his face suddenly feeling hot.
“Yeah. Even though we’re young, I always miss you when you aren’t by my side. And since it’s been two years since I came here, I guess I’ll stay here forever. So I want to put something here that we can come back and see every year.”
She sat up completely, warming at the thought. “Maybe we should carve it together.” Kevin pulled out the little pocket knife and looked around for a suitable spot. He focused on the arm of the bench, where his head rested when he first arrived. He pointed to the spot.
“That’s a good place,” she said, and jumped off the bench to kneel on the floorboards next to Kevin.
He took the initiative, carving an even “KH”. The little knife bit deeper into the wood each time he went over it, until he was sure it would stay there a long long time.
He handed the knife to Suri. She concentrated on her initials, her tongue between her teeth as she concentrated. When they were carved to her satisfaction, she sat back.
On his next turn, he drew half of a heart around their previous work. On hers, she completed it, until both sets were encased in a seamless grove. When she sat back on the bench, he put her hands between his.
“May we always be best friends and next to each other forever.” He intoned. She repeated it back to him. For a moment, everything was hushed. She leaned forward, kissed his cheek, and ran off giggling. He touched the spot for a moment before he pocketed the knife, and, with a whoop, ran after her.
While heading back to the palace, Duchess came trotting up from the other direction, her tail whipping back and forth.
“Did you find something fun to do?” Kevin asked when he saw that canine smile. As an answer, she trotted behind him and picked up a stick she had left there. Dropping it at his feet, she stuck her butt in the air and waggled it. Suri grabbed the stick and lobbed it as far as she could. The dog raced after it to bring it back and repeat the process all the back to the pool.
After cleaning up, and putting on a new set of clothes, Kevin headed to the kitchen, where the smells of delicious food teased the nose. However, once he got there, the staff quickly ushered him out. He guessed they had some surprise for him, so he agreeably wandered back outside.
By now it was late afternoon, and the sky was ablaze with orange and red streaks. Based on the crowd already there, it looked like the staffs from all the training centers were invited. Kevin found himself moving through the crowds, until he found his father in conversation with the kind, at the far end of the pool.
When he stepped up to Thadchai, they were virtually eye to eye. Even though he was still gangly, his upward growth had slowed down, much to the delight of Khun Mattaya and her sewing skills. It would still be years before he filled out, but the promise of handsomeness was there in his hazel eyes and wavy hair, which wouldn’t stay tamed no matter how hard he tried.
He gave his father a hug. “Hi Thadchai Dad. Good evening, King Phuna. Thank you for coming to my party, uh, at your house.” His faltering speech caused several within earshot to chuckle. He grinned. Oh well, it was his party!
On a nearby table, there was a small heap of presents. He was looking forward to opening them, but after he ate. Roaming around the grounds had given him a hearty appetite, even larger than usual.
Soon, a small fanfare was played, and everyone began drifting to the tables. When everyone was seated, Thad nudged him to stand. He had already practiced his speech with the older man, but when he stood up, his mind suddenly went blank.
He opened and shut his mouth like a fish. Unexpectedly, he felt a hand grab his own, and turned to look at Suri, who smiled. His prepared words flowed back into his head, and he took a deep breath to begin.
“Ladies and Gentleman, thank you for being here to celebrate my tenth birthday, and the second anniversary of my stay in your beautiful country. The past year has presented some challenges and milestones, and I hope I will continue to grow and learn. I want to especially thank my adoptive father, Khun Thadchai, Captain of the Royal Guards; my instructors Khun Wit, Khun Tae, and Khun Preem; and all the staff that has guided me. And thank you to the Royal Family, who has taken me under their wing.” He gave a low bow to three seated to his right.
“Now let’s everyone dig in and enjoy our meal!” Applause and cheers went up as liveried wait staff brought out platters of steaming food to the tables.
For a while there was nothing but the sounds of cutlery and clinking glasses.
Kevin was finishing a final small plate of fruits when a collective “ooohh” made him lift his head.
Khun Mattaya and the palace head chef wheeled out a large cake was brought out: several layers covered in white icing, with dark blue piped edges and a circle of ten candles along the center layer. There was a large single candle on top.
“Happy Birthday!” The crowd yelled and cheered as he stepped forward. Kevin took a deep breath and did his best on the circle, ending up with two still lit on the far side. Once those were out, he stood on his tip toes to blow the final candle out. He hugged both cooks; Khun Matt took this with equanimity but the rotund palace chef was clearly uncomfortable with the gesture.
After the cake was distributed, it was time for presents. His dad Thadchai gave him a green bicycle; Khun Preem, his combat instructor, his own belt knife and scabbard; Khun Tae, a handsome riding crop with his name embossed in the dark leather. But it was Khun Wit’s present that gave him a warm glow of happiness.
He handed the boy a black lacquered box with a war elephant cloisonné on the lid. Nestled inside the red silk lining was a small tusk. Kevin looked up with delight. “It’s Kandi’s milk tusk, right, Uncle Wit??”
The wizened man broke out in a smile and nodded. “I thought it would be appropriate. They say that a tusk has magical properties.” He clapped the younger boy on the back. “Plus I’m sure she would want you to have it.”
Kevin lifted the bit of ivory out and looked at it. He could see tiny striations running the length of it, though it felt smooth and cool to the touch. He tucked it into his pocket.
He was distracted and kept touching it, even as he was presented with a handsome teak wardrobe from the royal family. Suri grabbed his elbow and pulled him away to the edge of the crowd. “I want to see it,” she demanded. He pulled it out and held it flat in his hand. The girl reached out, paused above it as if reconsidering, then gingerly pressed her palm against the surface.
They smiled at each other, their hand wrapped together around the tusk. Two faces blushed when they realized their close proximity. Suri stepped back first, and Kevin slipped the tooth back in his pocket.
“What did you get me for my birthday?” He asked gruffly. It was the first thing that popped into his head. She gave him a small cloth bag.
“My mother helped me pick it out.” When he opened it, a gleaming necklace of silver with a small sunburst symbol poured into his hand. “I wanted to give you something to wear, and she thought this was the best idea. Do you like it?”
Kevin lifted the chain and looked at the pendant winking back and forth. It didn’t look girly as all, and he knew Thadchai dad wore one, a gift from his mother.
“I wrote something on the back,” she said in a small voice. Kevin grabbed the sunburst and flipped it over. It was a miniature of their initials and heart they carved on the wooden bench a few days ago.
He tried to put it around his neck but it slipped out of his clumsy fingers and fell into the grass. Suri picked it up and fastened it for him before giving him a backhug. The sunburst felt a little ticklish, but also right. He placed his hands on her arms wrapped around him. “Thank you, Surikitiyia. I really like it.”
When they arrived back home, Kevin was still a little too keyed up to sleep, so he decided to sit outside with a glass of warm milk. He was stretched out in a lounge, stroking the dog draped around his midsection, when the door slid open. Immediately, the dog lifted her head and her tail started thumping across Kevin’s shins.
“Hi, Dad.” Kevin welcomed, already sure who it was. Duchess scrambled off his lap and went to greet Thadchai.
“Can’t sleep, son?” He gave an absentminded pat to the dog and sat down on the lounge next to Kevin.
Kevin sat up and swung his legs over so his faced the older man. “Yeah. I had a lot of fun today at my party! I can’t believe I’ve been here two years.”
The captain smiled and ruffled his hair. He had grown to love this young man as much as if they shared blood. “I’m proud of you, Noy Kevin. You’ve become quite the responsible young man.” He paused for a moment. “Do you still miss your other home?”
“Sometimes,” Kevin admitted, “especially my mom. She would help me with my homework, and drive me to my T-ball games. We don’t have baseball here, either.” He looked sad for a moment. “But I really like it here too. I can ride horses, and be with the elephants, and learn to fight, er, protect myself.” He gave a sheepish grin that melted the captain.
Through the lump in his throat, Thadchai spoke. “I want you to know that inviting you into my home is the best decision I ever made. You are the son of my heart, and it has been an absolute joy watching you grow to a young man these last two years. I love you, Kevin.”
“I love you too, Dad.”
They shared a hard hug for a few moments, both savoring the closeness. They broke apart, and pretended not to see each other’s tears.
“I spoke with Khun Wit at the party,” Thadchai spoke gruffly, “and we have decided to start you on riding elephants his week.”
The grown-up moment was shattered when Kevin jumped back and whooped. The dog, alarmed, started barking and leaping on Kevin’s legs. Thadchai just laughed, feeling a lightness in his being.
The light came on in the housekeeper’s room, and her window opened. “Is everything okay out there? What happened?”
Kevin ran out from the overhang to the grass where she could see him. “Guess what, Khun Matt! Dad’s going to let me ride elephants!” He danced around, the dog still going berserk. Thadchai thought in all his life he had never seen a more beautiful view than his son and his dog dancing in the soft light of the moon.
“It’s close to midnight, my son, and time for bed.”
* * *
Kevin was looking up at his bedroom ceiling, the dog snoring by his feet. He was going to finally have his dream! He slid out of bed, padded over to the lacquer box on his desk, and pulled out the tusk.
Carrying it back, he pulled the covers back up and just held the piece of ivory in his hands. He tried calling out to Kandi, but just got a sleepy comment. Oh well, he would tell her tomorrow.
As his wall clock began chiming midnight, Kevin heard a strange whining. He opened his eyes to find Duchess sitting by his shoulder and pawing his chest, where the tusk lay, still tucked in one hand.
“What’s up, girl?” He reached out with his other hand, but she evaded it. Instead, she nosed the tooth, as if to push it out of his hand. Her whining got louder.
He was fully awake now, and sat up in bed. Immediately, a wave of dizziness came over him, causing his stomach to jump. Oh no, it was another one of those strange blackouts! Kevin tried to will it back as the dog began howling. The pain hit like a sledgehammer, this time accompanied by a cacophony of sounds: Duchess, elephant cries, beeping noises, someone sobbing. He curled up into a tight ball, hoping it would go away, but it got louder and louder until there was nothing at all.
Thadchai woke up abruptly with alarm when he heard the beagle howl. Throwing on a robe, he rushed down the hallway to his son’s room. The door was stuck, and he pounded on it with all his might to gain access to the boy behind it.
“Captain! What’s wrong?!” The housekeeper, also in nightgown and robe, was climbing the stairs as fast as she could. She reached the landing just as he managed to push the door inward.
The dog went into a barking frenzy as the unbelievable reached their horrified eyes.
A bright light glowed around the boy, a circle of light that grew brighter and brighter until it seared their eyes and they were forced to close them.
And then it was dark. Once the dancing sparks faded from their eyes, they looked. And he was gone.
* * *
Neither adult could fall back asleep. Even with little hope in their heart, they searched first the room, then the house, then the yard, for anything, any proof that the boy was hiding somewhere.
The dog stayed on the bed, making noises that almost sounded like crying, her paws on top of the pajamas and neck chain he had been wearing.
After hours of searching, Thadchai ended up slumped on a kitchen stool, his head in his hands. Khun Matt was making tea, her movements slow and painful.
“Is he really gone, sir? She asked in a plaintive voice as she set two cups and a steaming pot on the countertop. He couldn’t answer her, his chest hurt almost too much to even breathe. He finally found his voice.
“It appears that way, Khun Matt. Perhaps in the daylight…” his voice trailed off as his throat thickened with unshed emotion. With a sob, she excused herself and hurried away, to disappear into her bedroom.
With heavy heart, he went back to the bedroom and sat down on the bed. Patting the dog, he lifted the necklace up to look at it. He imagined it still warm from his son’s body heat, but it was all illusion. On impulse he fastened it around his own neck, this last tangible link to his now–lost son. He put his hand on the mattress where he last saw Kevin, bathed in that unearthly light.
“Where are you, my son?” he asked the empty air. The dog nosed her head under his arm as Thadchai began to cry.
What happened? Kevin felt strange, his limbs heavy and unresponsive. He tried to open his eyes, but his lids refused to cooperate. He tried to call out to Kandi and the others, but in his head there was nothing but silence. Where was Duchess? She was always with him, his faithful canine shadow. He tried calling her name.
“D- d- d-…”
“Kevin! A low shriek struck his ears almost like a thunderclap. The female voice sounded eerily familiar, as did the cadence of the words. But not similar enough to bring a face to his memories. Where was he?
He willed and arm to move, and succeeded in moving it slightly. He felt a sudden pressure on her wrist, as if someone was squeezing him.
“Oh my God, he moved. Go get the doctor! Quick.” The woman began sobbing. Slowly, from the recesses of his memories, he thought he knew who it was.
“M- mom?” The next thing he felt was her arms clumsily trying to embrace him in the bed.
“Baby. Baby. Everything’s going to be alright.” She murmured over and over again as he slipped back into the welcoming darkness.
* * *
When he became aware again, Kevin felt much more aware and his body was responding normally. He turned his head to look at the sleeping figure on the couch near his bed.
Although his memories had dimmed with time, he recognized the prone figure on the couch. Somehow, he had been transported back to his own time and place. But how?
As he rolled back on the bed, he felt a hard lump against his hip. He reached down, and grabbed it. It was Kandi’s baby tusk, cool and real in his hand. He felt a sudden burst of happiness. It really happened!
His mother stirred and opened her eyes. Immediately she ran to the bed and sat down on a nearby chair. “Kevin, honey, how are you feeling?”
Kevin felt a sudden lump in his throat. Her voice and concern brought back another rush of memories from before the surgery. “I’m okay, Momma. How long has it been since my surgery?”
His mother looked puzzled. “It’s been a day. Your dad went to get some dinner and will be back soon.”
There was a knock on the door, and Kevin’s physician walked in, along with a group of medical students, their notebooks at the ready.
“This is Kevin Hunter. Approximately a month ago, he arrived with a recurring headache with subsequent nausea. We discovered an Atypical Teratoid Rabdoid Tumor in left occipital region of his brain. This one was unusually slow growing. Surgery was performed about 36 hours ago, the ATRT was approximately 11mm in diameter, with little spread to the surrounding central nervous system. It appears to be completely removed. The patient exhibited signs of seizure activity several times post operatively, but has recently regained full consciousness, with no further seizures and no apparent lasting effects. The patient will undergo six weeks of chemotherapy using gemcitabine as the primary transport, and then undergo month testing for approximately a year to rule out any malignant cells or metastasis.”
The students murmured and wrote in their notebooks before leaving his room. Kevin’s mother touched the doctor’s elbow. “Can I talk to you for a moment?” The doctor nodded.
They sat down on the couch and spoke in low tones, but Kevin could still hear them.
“Thank you for removing the restraints. Kevin hasn’t had any seizures since he woke up. But he is talking strange. Was there any brain damage? Will my baby have problems after this?” His mother’s voice rose as she spoke, fear plainly between every word.
“We had to remove little of Kevin’s brain tissue, and we expect a full healing and repair of any brain function, given his health and his age. However, there is always the possibility that the tumor may return. His speech should not be affected, given the area of the tumor, so it would be best to have him evaluated by a speech pathologist to find any underlying causes.” He patted her arm. “I will set up a consult with our physician her. Excuse me, I need to catch up with my students. Take care, Kevin!” He gave a little wave towards the bed before walking out.
His mother put her head between her hands for a moment before she stood up and walked to his bed. She was all smiles, but Kevin could see the moistness around her eyes.
“Let’s get you to the bathroom, and maybe give you a little scrub down, how about it?” Kevin agreed, more to make her happy than anything. As she disconnected him from all the machines but his IV on its pole, he took the elephant tusk and tucked it under his pillow before they walked together to the bathtub chair.
A week later, Kevin was discharged. The strange brainwave patterns exhibited during the surgery, and the subsequent seizure activity never returned after he regained consciousness, and, with the exception of his mode of speech, he was discharged as a full recovery with schedule outpatient chemotherapy.
Kevin managed to hide the elephant tusk inside his stuffed animal through the hole where Kandula’s ear used to be. A kindly nurse sewed the hole back up for him. He was now careful to grip only in the middle of the body instead of the ear.
When his parents arrived, wheelchair in tow, he hopped off the bed and gave them a bow. They looked at each other uneasily. Kevin knew early on that almost no time has passed in his real world, even though two years had passed in Pra’dee. He knew he acted differently than before, but there was little he could do to change that now.
“Hi Mom. Hi Dad. I’m ready to go home.” He was already dressed neatly, and had the rest of his clothes neatly folded in one of the hospital’s paper bags. Mom stepped forward and hugged him, then picked up his things. Kevin reached the wheelchair and gingerly sat down. “Thanks, Dad.” His father tousled his hair in reply, and his face clouded when he remember his dad Thadchai doing that just a short time ago.
“Do you hurt anywhere, baby?” His mom hurried over; she must have seen his expression. He smoothed his face over.
“I’m okay, Mom. Thank you. Let’s go home.”
* * *
His room seemed small and cluttered compared to the one he had for the last two years, and yet both rooms were overlaid in his mind, one blending into another. He touched his baseball trophies that were lined up like soldiers across the top of his bookcase. His schoolbooks were on his desk. He picked one up; they seemed strange and alien to him after adapting to the writing of his adopted country.
He opened the lid on his laptop and booted it up. After the familiar logos flashed across and it settled into a steady hum, he stroked the keyboard. On impulse, he sat down and opened up his word processing program. Before, he had nothing but schoolwork assignments in there, but now, he started to write about his experiences.
When he was in Pra’dee, this, his real world, became a dim and hazy recollection. He was afraid it would happen again as the pressures of returning to his old life would push out those memories until he lost them. His fingers began to cramp a little, unused to the steady movements as they danced across the keys. When he stopped, he amazed at the amount that he had typed. Carefully saving the file, he started a new one specifically regarding his combat training.
His fingers faltered when he began writing of the elephants, already feeling the emptiness in his mind, that special place where he could hear the gentle animals, and they could hear him. He walked over to his hospital bag and pulled out his now-heavier stuffed elephant.
“I miss you, Kandi,” he thought as he gave his beloved toy a squeeze.
* * *
Despite the short time he was actually gone, things changed more than just him. Although his parents no longer argued out loud, there was still a coolness in the house. At first, all three would each dinner together, but gradually his father became more and more absent until Kevin rarely saw him at any time other than the mornings.
His schoolwork had suffered, perhaps more due to the language differences than anything else. Those variances were ascribed to his surgical procedure, and a tutor was hired to bring him back to the same level as his peers.
Whenever he felt overwhelming homesickness for his dad Thadchai or Suri or Kandi, he would pull out those stories and reread them. They would make him feel a little bit closer to them. Gradually he stopped dreaming of that land, and the stories were relegated to desktop storage as his current life supplanted the old. The stuffed elephant grew dusty as it crouched among the baseball memorabilia and the faded boutonniere from his middle school homecoming dance, and all the flotsam and jetsam that a normal teenage boy accumulates.
His parents divorced during his first year in college, Kevin’s presence no longer an excuse to stay together. He stayed in his childhood home with his mother, and tried to maintain a relationship with his father through once-a-week meals and the occasional baseball-watching night.
After high school, his baseball trophies and childhood things were boxed away to the attic, but for some reason Kevin always kept that stuffed animal close by. As his parent’s relationship disintegrated, he found solace in his thoughts and words. He began writing a column in the college newspaper and gradually started a series of short fictional stories in serial form that became popular.
When he graduated with a BA in English Literature, his friends joked that it could be used to make a paper airplane. But he was lucky; a small job in the Editing Department in the local newspaper gave him the contacts to spin his fiction stories into a viable career as a writer. Those long-forgotten stories he wrote down in his childhood turned into a best-selling young adult fiction series.
Now, at 23 years old, he was comfortable, living on his own in the outskirts of Washington DC, and able to do pretty much anything he wanted.
Posted on June 5, 2018, in (completed) The Elephant Gate Part 1 (NaNoWriMo 2014), My Fan-Fictions and Novels and tagged nanowrimo; fiction; elephant prince; young adult fiction; novel; asia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.