About 10 years ago, my family moved to the border between Rayong and Chonburi so that I could be closer to university. The preparations went quickly, and my mom decided to open a street food vendor in the market of the area. There was a grocery store nearby, and my mom grew acquainted with the owner. She learned that he had a son around my age, maybe a year or two younger. They had just moved from Padriew, and he was having a tough time getting adjusted. She suggested that we spend some time together.
I’d rather not give out his name here. For the sake of discretion, I’m going to call him ‘Andrew’. Andrew was a handsome guy. His features were soft in some places, but defined in others. It gave him a genial, yet mature look. His skin was light, a surprise, considering where he had just come from. As it turned out, his family had moved around a lot. I took that to be the reason for his shy attitude and awkward demeanor. He wasn’t very good with people.
I travel between Rayong and Chonburi a lot, for class and work and what not. Each time I returned home, my mom told me to pay Andrew a visit. I took him out around town, and we talked about where he’s been, his interests, his goals; that sort of thing. He always answered me with quiet responses and short replies, but he was kind and funny, and entirely earnest. He studied locally, but he told me he really didn’t have any good friends. Having moved here only recently, I could see why. He actually asked me to help setup his internet so he could be in contact with his old friends. It was kind of funny, but I helped him gladly.
During this time, I was an avid fanatic of the paranormal. I had a group of friends who were into that sort of thing as well, and every once in a while we would go out to find a place to search for spirits. Most of these places were nearby, only a couple miles away. Other times, we would end up half way across the country. It was all in good fun, but more than a few times we wound up arguing about gas money.
After one of these longer trips, I was more than happy to be back home. I stepped inside, and kicked off my shoes; mom greeted me at the door. But she told me something that unsettled me.
“You shouldn’t be around Andrew anymore.”
I was confused and worried. After all, it was my mom who insisted that we meet in the first place. What could have possibly happened that would change her mind?
It turned out, Andrew got mixed-up with a less than reputable crowd. No doubt they preyed on him because of how docile he was. He was alone here, and probably just tried to make friends. She told me what happened, though. Apparently, he was arrested as a participant in a bar brawl that wound up hospitalizing some underage drinker. I asked if he was okay, and mom told me that he had made bail, but I should just stay away from him.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to believe that it was real. I ignored my mother and went to see for myself. When I arrived, he looked completely different. He was disheveled, and his clothes were wrinkled with small tears in the fabric. I already knew that what my mom said was true, but I asked him anyway. He didn’t try to hide it. He treated it like it was something to be proud of. I could hardly hold back how angry I was with him. As calmly as I could I pleaded with him to stop hanging around those people. My request fell on deaf ears over and over, until I couldn’t take it and had to leave.
We didn’t talk again for a few months. The next time I saw him, he was as nice to me as ever, but he was still involved with those people. He showed me a scar on his stomach, telling me it was a knife wound, all the while, a smile on his face. I tried plead with him again.
“If this keeps up, you’ll end up in jail, if not, dead. You need to stop this, before it’s too late.”
But he didn’t care. He went on and on about a man’s dignity, probably some lie fed to him by his new ‘friends’. I told him to think of his dad, and how this would make him feel.
“Oh, he knows all about it. How do you think I got out the first time? He doesn’t care. He’s so busy with work that he can’t stop me.” The boastful tone in his voice was almost enough to conceal the rage in his eyes. He stormed off, and again, there was a long period of silence between us.
A few weeks later, I went out to the movies with a couple friends. We were walking, and we passed by an alleyway. This place was infamous, known throughout town as Ghost Alley. Apparently, somewhere toward the far end, there is an unfinished house, just off the coastline. Normally, I wouldn’t give the alley a second thought. There were a few homeless people and a group of vagrants milling about.
But I saw Andrew’s face among the crowd. Bottle in hand, he was chatting with the the others in the group. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I wanted to know what he was up to, how he was doing. I broke away from my friends, telling them to go ahead of me, and that I’d forgotten something at home. They warned me that I’d be late for the movie, but I assured them I’d be back before it started. They went on ahead, and I cut back, turning into the alley.
The smell hit me the hardest. It was awful, a mixture of beer and urine that clung to everything. I walked slowly, lightly nudging bottles aside with my foot. Approaching the gang, I could tell that Andrew wasn’t the only one that had been drinking, and that he was going to be very intoxicated. A thick ring of glass bottles surrounded them, all empty. Andrew took notice of me.
“Hey! Mhee! What the hell are you doin’ here?” He was loud, and the words came out in a slurred jumble of sound.
“Hey, Andrew. I thought I’d see how you’ve been.” I tried to ignore the blood seeping from the wound on his head.
“Aw, never better. I’m celebratin’. We all are. Just kicked the s**t outta those guys downtown who been treadin’ on our turf.”
“So, these are the ‘friends’ you made?”
“Aw yeah. These’re the guys. Here, come sit with us. Have a drink.”
I took a seat on the wooden railing that separated the beach from the road. He handed me a bottle. I had no interest in getting drunk with them; just in making sure Andrew was alright. Most of the blood around his head had dried, which was a good sign. However, looking around, I realized that he got off lucky. One of the others had a broken nose and swollen eye, and another was still bleeding from several puncture wounds and cuts around his shoulder.
I thought of telling him, again, to get out while he still could. With all these gang members around, though, I decided it wasn’t a good place or time to try. Instead, I stuck around for a while, beer unopened, while they talked and chatted like I wasn’t even there. Eventually, I excused myself, setting the bottle in the sand, and left back through the alley to the theater. My friends were none the wiser.
A few days after, Andrew came to our market stall. He was looking a bit better; his head wound had mostly healed, though the scar was evident. My mother was clearly upset. She kept her voice low, but made it clear that his type of trouble wasn’t welcome there. He looked to me, like I could do anything about it. I wasn’t sure what I should do. Clearly, my mom was right to be afraid of him; he was a ruffian, a thug. But part of me still cared what happened to him, and wanted to be nice.
I told my mom to let him get what he wants. She tried to argue with me, but I convinced her to just let him do what he needs to so he can leave. She begrudgingly allowed it. He picked out several trays of fried meatballs. As he set them down, I asked him why he needed so many.
“I haven’t eaten all day,” was the best he could give me.
Of course, I didn’t believe him, but he concluded his business and left. My mom gave me a stern lecture later that day about overriding her in front of customers. But my concern was placed elsewhere, with Andrew.
I didn’t talk to him again for a long time. No one did, actually. He disappeared, without a trace. A couple months passed with no word from him. My mom told me that his dad had called the police. She thought it was just a way to get his delinquent son off the street, but we found out later that his dad was actually concerned about his safety. He hoped the police would be able to find him, before anything drastic happened.
About a month and a half later, I found him. Or, at least, I think I did. I was out with my friends, going to see a new drama movie that had just released. On our way to the theater, as we passed that old, musty alley, I think I caught a glimpse of him. He was toward the far end of the alley from me, so I couldn’t really tell. Beyond that, there were a lot of homeless people taking residence there, and I didn’t really feel safe enough to get much closer. I forced myself to let it go, but made a note to tell someone later.
Once the movie was over, it was my job to get everyone back home. After dropping the last pair off, I turned back to return to my own house. The street took me along the beach, right up against the sand. I was going pretty fast, around 10 over the speed limit. I almost missed the person trying to flag down my car. But my heart skipped when I realized that it was Andrew. My foot dropped to the brake, pressing it to the floor. In seconds, my car was stopped and the squealing of the tires subsided. I got out to double-back to him. When I looked, though, he was already gone.
I had more than a few questions. Why did he flag me down, only to run off? Was he playing a joke on me? Was it even him in the first place? If it wasn’t, why did they want me to stop? What would Andrew be doing here alone? Where was the rest of his gang?
Was stopping the right thing to do?
All I could do was get back in my car and go home. I told my mom what happened, but she brushed it off, saying that he wasn’t worth all the effort I was putting into him. I browbeat her until she agreed to tell Andrew’s dad about it. It was late, and I knew she would see him before I would. As I got up to leave for bed, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of resentment at the sour look she gave me.
The next time I came across him was during the Asanha Bucha day festivities. My mother got up early to observe the holiday, but asked that I prepare the stall for the coming day. I was to drive into town and gather up the various ingredients we would need. My route took me down that same beach-side road, and there he was again. I stopped much sooner this time, keeping my eyes on him. I noticed that he hadn’t changed his clothes since I last talked to him.
“Hey,” he responded quietly. It was odd, like catching a glimpse to the shy, uncomfortable guy he had been before all this.
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh, you know. Just, hangin’ out.” He shifted away from me, turning to face in a different direction.
“Where’s everyone else?” I asked, more concerned for my safety than his company.
“Oh, they’ve all gone home.”
“Oh. So, why are you still here? Don’t you want to go home?”
“What do you mean? Why not?”
I could tell something was seriously wrong. He looked more downcast than I’d ever seen him. Had his father disowned him? Barred him from the house? I felt bad for him.
“Well, would you like to come over to my place?”
“Would your mom even let me?” he asked, turning to look me in the eyes.
“I’m sure I can convince her, if you really need a place to stay.”
“If… If you’re sure it’s alright?”
“Yeah. Come on, we can go right now.”
“A-actually, can it wait a while? There are some things I’ve got to do.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Are you really sure about that?”
“Y-yeah, I think so.”
“Well, alright. But you’ll be by later, right?”
“Yeah. I will.”
I got back in my car, and slowly pulled away. I watched him turn and walk back into the alleyway, out of sight. I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t even fathom what could be so important that he wouldn’t want a night off the street at the first opportunity. I wasn’t too keen on finding out.
Andrew never showed up that night. I got extremely worried for him. Maybe he got into a fight, or maybe he was jumped. Maybe he was on drugs or something, and he just didn’t want me to know. My mind whirled with the possibilities. I needed to know the answer. So, I went and talked with his dad, and demanded to know why he wasn’t allowed back to his home. But his father seemed just as confused as me. He said that he hadn’t done anything like that, that he was still worried sick about Andrew and wanted him home. None of it made any sense, but I couldn’t think of a good reason for him to lie like that.
More days passed with no word from Andrew. I was distraught about him, to the point where it was interfering with my studies. I lost more than a couple hours sleep over it. So, when I finally did see him again, I had to make sure I wasn’t just dreaming.
I was woken up from my sleep by a sound I don’t remember. I rolled over in my bed, and almost didn’t notice the faint shadow crossing the stream of light entering through the sliding glass door. But once I caught a whiff of the horrid stench in my room, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I begrudgingly pulled myself up on my elbows, determined to find the source of the smell, still half asleep. I groggily opened my eyes and turned to get out of bed, and found myself face to face with Andrew.
His sudden appearance in my room jolted me awake. “What the hell are you doing here?” I asked, disgruntled at being woken up. “It’s like three in the morning!”
“I wanna go home.” His voice was quiet, even, and somber. It sent a chill down my spine. He hardly moved as he spoke.
“Then why did you come here? Why not go back to your house?” My own voice was uncertain, and timid. I paused momentarily between questions, almost afraid to ask.
“I don’t know, Mhee. I just don’t know.” He faced out toward the cityscape, moonlight illuminating his face. I could see the glimmer of tears streaming down his face. His father said that he was welcome home, so why was he here? What was keeping him from going home?
“Why don’t you stay here tonight. You can go back home tomorrow,” I said, trying to reassure him. But it was like he couldn’t even hear me. He stood stationary, just gazing outside while the tears fell. Soon, I was too tired to stay awake with him, and turned to go back to sleep. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe he would stick around and let me help him. But that wasn’t the case, as he was gone by the time I woke up.
I thought about telling my mom about it, but decided it was better not to. I had no problem with giving him shelter if he needed it, but my mother would probably get all the locks swapped just to spite him. Instead, I went to talk to his father. I asked him, again, if Andrew would be allowed back home, and again, he said yes. I told him what happened the previous night, but it only made him sad. I guess I can understand. It must’ve been so painful to hear that your kid didn’t feel welcomed at your house.
He asked me something strange after that. He wanted to know if Andrew had left anything behind, or maybe given me something to hold on to. I didn’t know what he meant, and he wouldn’t elaborate further, saying that it was obvious he hadn’t. The man was heartbroken, and seemed on the verge of giving-up. I didn’t know what to do, or how to help. I excused myself, and left.
Nearly three years passed, and the search was eventually called off. Andrew was lost to the city, though the memory of him never truly left. I finally decided on a career path of sorts. The festivals and holy rites inspired me to try to join up with the monastery. I wanted to learn more about the actual goings on of a real monastic order, instead of just seeing them moderating the holiday traditions. It took a lot of work, and a great deal of dedication to convince them to let me join. But they took me in, allowing me to learn and grow as a person under their tutelage.
Most of my early tasks involved ensuring the monastery was well stocked with whatever we needed. I would go into town a few times a week to buy food and supplies for the order. It was a quiet and peaceful time for self reflection, much like the time spent with the monks. However, there was a certain freedom that went with the trips, a mild contrast to the air around the monastery.
During one food run, though, I found him again. I could still recognize him, easier than I would have expected after so long. But that was just it. Though I had grown a great deal in those three years, he was completely unchanged. He looked just as he had when he snuck into my room that night; same clothes, same face, same everything. It was like he hadn’t aged a day.
I pulled to the side of the road, dumbfounded. I slowly crept out of the car, approaching cautiously.
“Hey, Mhee. How’ve you been?”
“Andrew? Is… that really you?”
“What’s with the outfit? Are you some kinda priest now?”
“H-how are you… W-what happened to you?”
I saw his expression turn to one of grief. “I… I don’t really know. But it’s not really important. There’s something I need you to do for me.”
“Tell my dad to go to the pawn shop. He’ll know what to look for. Can you do that?”
I nodded absently in response. My brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
“Thanks. I’ll see ya around.”
But it was too late. Andrew turned the corner, and was gone. I couldn’t figure out what had just happened. Where had he been all this time? Why did he still look the same? What was he asking me to do? Head spinning with a thousand questions, I got back on the road to return to the monastery. I decided to make a short stop first, to deliver the message Andrew left with me.
I wasn’t told about what happened after that until a few days later. Apparently, Andrew’s dad did find what he was looking for. It was a small, gold ring that Andrew had taken with him when he left. It originally belonged to his wife, Andrew’s mother, before being passed down to him. It was inscribed with a personal message along the inner edge of the band.
This led to Andrew’s dad calling the police. By his reasoning, Andrew would never pawn such a precious family heirloom. The police thought it was just the wishful thinking of a sad parent, but when they checked it, they were surprised to find a fingerprint still on the ring. The print traced back to a garbage collector, who claimed they had found the ring near Ghost Alley, just outside the abandoned house. A brief investigation corroborated that claim.
But that didn’t satisfy Andrew’s dad, and he brought the ring to our temple, hoping the elder priest would be able to give him some sort of answer. I didn’t think it would be possible, since it isn’t exactly founded in realistic thinking. But the elder agreed to help, and took the ring into the monastery. He returned soon after, a look of dismay upon his face. He returned the ring, apologizing, and said that Andrew would not be coming home.
He died years before, his body buried behind the old abandoned house.
I felt my heart split in two, and realization spread throughout my brain. “No, that can’t be right. I spoke to him a few days ago. He was…” but I knew he spoke the truth. Andrew hadn’t changed even the slightest bit in the three years that he had been missing. Even before that, there was a definite change that occurred with him after his fight with the rival gang.
I allowed this horrible reality to sink in, and offered to accompany Andrew’s father to the house. I knew the way, and didn’t want him to be alone for that. He could hardly speak through the tears and shock as we descended the stairs. We drove in near silence. My directions were the only sound that broke through the quiet. Within minutes, we arrived.
Stepping out, there was something certainly off. I had been around here dozens of times before, but this was different. There was a stagnation in the air, and an ineffable weight that pressed on everything. I led him around to the back of the house, a barren yard of dead grass. But there was a patch that was empty, devoid of life of any kind. Stepping over to it, it was clear that this place had been disturbed at some point, the soil disrupted. We both knew what was the cause.
Andrew’s bones were excavated that day, and taken into evidence to be processed. His father was left to make funerary preparations. The investigation was short-lived, as it didn’t take long for the gangsters to rat on their own. One of Andrew’s ‘friends’ had tried to steal from him, and in his attempt to reclaim what was taken, Andrew was beaten to death with a crowbar. The man was a drug addict, and prone to violent outbursts. The damage was evident, even now, as Andrew’s skull still bore the fragmentation of the blows, his bones still dropping chips and pieces.
The guy was caught soon after, imprisoned for a life sentence. I felt a bit better, knowing that a murderer and dangerous drug addict was off the streets and behind bars. He deserved far worse for what he did to Andrew, but this was the best that could be done now. He didn’t try to hide what he did. He wasn’t ashamed. He wasn’t sorry.
Even today, I’m not sure what to think. I don’t know how to feel, knowing that Andrew was still with us, after death. I thought that spirits were different, that they spoke in echoes and that you could see straight through them. But that’s not what happened here. He was no different than when he was alive. And that, I think, is what unsettles me most, and will stay with me until I join him.