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Courage In a World Full of Darkness

He had drenched himself in the blood of evil men, for her.

The darkness had come for her with determination
and
he had destroyed it without mercy and without question.
He had drenched himself in the blood of evil men, for her.


………

We could make a good life here, Hezekiah thought as he sipped his morning tea on the veranda of the Old Dutch Mission. An early morning rain was smashing against the tin roof, and the sound brought a deep peace from a source Hez could not pinpoint, but he basked in the moment nonetheless. From the veranda, Hez could see the lagoon clearly, and it was grey with sheets of rain falling in patterns above the surface.

A loud crash of thunder came rolling in from the sea. Hez watched as some of the younger kids danced around in the rain wearing nothing but their underwear and having a fantastic time in the mud and water. After a few minutes of contented musings, Hez went back inside the house. And as he walked down the hall, he peered inside Saori’s room.

The door was slightly open, and he could see her sleeping quietly in her bed. Her jet-black hair lay all over the pillow, and he could make out the outline of her young brown body through the white flannel sheets. Hez pushed open the door and walked quietly over to the bed.

The two glass doors leading onto the veranda rattled behind the curtains as the wind pushed up against them.

Hez sat down softly on the bed, and lightly stroked the hair from Saori’s face, and he smiled to himself as he marveled at the delicate beauty of the woman in front of him. Saori slowly opened her eyes, but seeing Hez through the haze startled her, and she let out a slight gasp as she sat up quickly, covering herself with the sheet as she did. 

“Chill out girlie! It’s just me!” Hez said putting his hand gently on her arm. 

“I’m sorry… I thought you were someone else…” Saori said softly as she rubbed her eyes and looked around the room. 

Who? Hez wondered. 

“What time is it?” she asked 

“Around eight…” 

Saori collapsed back down onto the bed. “It’s early,” she said drowsily. 

“Well I am heading down the road to help some of the locals cut tons of bananas literally out of their trees, and I was wondering if you wanted to come? Oh and there is hot tea in the kitchen.” 

“Bananas? I don’t think I want to watch you cut down bananas at eight in the morning… but you have fun.” Saori said as she buried her head back in her pillow. 

“Ok… Well, I guess I’ll see your lazy ass later.” He said giving Saori a loud slap on her thigh as he stood up and swallowed the last gulp of his tea. 

“I’m not lazy… I’m sleepy…” Saori reiterated softly as Hez walked towards the door. 

“Whatever you say girlie,” Hez said entering the hallway, “I’ll see you in a couple hours priest!” He yelled as he walked past the office at the end of the hallway. 

“ Alright, my son. I know we have some gloves and tools lying around here somewhere. Have one of the children show you where you can find them.” Father Lewis replied loudly. 

………

Father Lewis ran the mission. He was an ex-English journalist turned priest. He had ended up in Malaysia decades earlier after Vietnam. H e spent several years drinking heavily and wandering in and out of the brothels of Kuala Lumpur.

His predecessor would minister to women in the red light district, and found him one night in a drunken rage. Lewis had been determined to kill one of the girls he was trying to buy for the night because she had whispered something to one of her friends, and it had sent his intoxicated mind into a frenzy.

When the pimps intervened and started to beat Lewis to a pulp, his predecessor broke up the fight and talked them into letting him take Lewis back to the mission where he would not bother anybody else.

Lewis was not too keen to go with the gracious priest but did so anyway because it certainly beat dying. It was a long road, but the priest finally got through to Lewis. Ever since his decision to become a priest himself, Father Lewis has been helping whoever he could from the locals around the mission, to the women in the red light district that he had once used and abused. He finally took over the mission on his predecessor’s deathbed. 

After the tsunami, he turned the mission into an orphanage caring for almost twenty children. The mission was an Old Dutch Estate with several old houses. It was self-sustainable in the sense that they grew their own food. They brought in money by selling what they could of the small crop of natural rubber that they produced and the fish that the older kids caught in their canoes.

He did what he could to try to educate the orphans, but mostly he tried to teach them basic trade skills. It was a hard life, but it was a fulfilling one, and when Hezekiah and Saori sailed into his lagoon, he welcomed them the same way he welcomed all strangers in need on his doorstep. 

………

Two nights earlier, a handsome and wealthy Chinese man had arrived on his Private Jet in Kuala Lumpur. To anyone who did not know better, he looked like your typical wealthy businessman. To the men waiting around the limos on the tarmac, he was a dark hero, a man who demanded their respect and commanded their fear.

His name was Tao Sun, and his family owned brothels all over the region, including Hong Kong, Phnom Penh and Tokyo. His family was extensively involved in the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and people, but Tao had been appointed to manage their red light district accounts. He had arrived in Malaysia to find fresh girls for their brothels in Hong Kong.

In order to do so, he would travel to the outlying towns of the cities he was staying in. He would seduce the girls and their families with promises of education, jobs and a monthly income that they could send home to their families.

He was eloquent and charming, and it did not take much to get these families to trust him. Every trip he would find dozens of girls from their early teens to their early twenties, and load them into SUVs and fly them out of the country. It wasn’t until they reached Hong Kong and were relieved of all their travel documents that they suspected anything was wrong.

By that point, it was too late. The monthly money made the families assume all was ok, and within weeks, the girls had completely disappeared in the maze of Asia’s criminal underground. Tao Sun would keep whichever girls he chose and sold the rest to the highest bidder, whether it be wealthy businessmen or other brothel owners. After a couple of months , the money would cease being sent to the families and they never saw their children again.

Most of the girls never lived past three years because of the constant drug use and incessant raping. The Sun family made millions annually off human trafficking alone. There was an endless supply of trusting families and an endless demand for girls.

………

The rain had stopped and Hez had been gone for about four hours. Saori walked over to the hammocks by the beach and climbed into one with her poetry book. She opened up the book having already made up her mind that this day was going to be one of relaxation. All the chores that needed to be done could be done tomorrow she reasoned.

The clouds gave the mission a much-needed break from the heat, and a cool breeze blew off the water and flowed between the palm trees. Father Lewis came out of the house when he saw her lying in the hammock through his office window. He had been writing all morning and decided to rest awhile. He had not spent much time with Saori during their stay at the mission, and he wondered if it had anything to do with the story of his past.

Hez, however, had taken a strong liking to the priest, and they would often stay up late at night to talk about philosophy and the war. Hez felt he could relate to Father Lewis because the priest had been in Vietnam and seen war as he had. Saori would sit in the kitchen and listen for a while, but often would head to her bed early to read. Her new freedom instilled a strong hunger for knowledge within her.

She would read Hez’s father’s poetry book and had read it all the way through several times since her emancipation. Hez had given it to her after he had seen how much she enjoyed reading it. She would read herself to sleep as the men continued talking in the kitchen well into the early hours of the morning.

She turned to a small poem that she had come to love because it reminded her of Hez. It read:

What chance does beauty have
In
a world full of darkness and fire?
Beauty, fragile like a
flower,
Stands
defenseless and alone,
And
this darkness ravenously pursues her.
Waiting to tear away her
innocence,
Waiting
to crush her spirit,
Who
might stand up to the inferno?
Who might pluck her from this night?
Will he overcome
it,
Planting
her down
In a fortress of peace and love?


“Who might pluck her from this night?” She repeated to herself quietly. 

“How are you doing my dear?” Father Lewis called out as he approached the hammocks breaking her train of thought. 

“I am doing fine!” Saori responded, closing the book as she twisted her head slightly to look in his direction, “It’s such a beautiful day!” she said smiling. 

“That it is! I don’t blame you for staying behind by the way. I remember when I was younger, harvesting bananas was hard and painful work though I suppose Hezekiah would not have actually made you do any of that.” 

“Yes, today is a day to relax. Hez loves working with his hands and getting all dirty. I just can’t do that every single day. Now and then I have to take some time just to lay here by the water.” 

“I understand.” Father Lewis said smiling as he leaned up against one of palm trees. “I think that boy fancies you quite strongly…” Father Lewis said looking out on the water, “He is always talking about you when you are off with the kids somewhere.” 

“Really?” Saori asked surprised. 

“Oh yes! He told me the story about you two. I did not realize the extent of what you both had been through.” 

“He told you?” Saori said looking away with a slight hint of shame. 

“Yes. I have to say, I admire your courage. Many women who have been through such trauma never recover. I have seen it time and again in my visits to Kuala Lumpur. I understand there will always be pain , but I admire your willingness to love despite the injustices done to you in the past. The ability to love despite the darkness of this world is a precious and rare gift.” The priest stopped himself before he got carried away and began a sermon. 

“But anyway ,” Father Lewis continued, “I see how you two are with each other. I can tell that he loves you very much.” He paused, “Life is too short to keep your feelings hidden from one another. You should make your heart known to him because you never know what tomorrow may bring. He’s described the night you both met several times now. Every time he brings it up, he keeps coming back to you, standing in your black dress in the doorway of your friend’s hotel room. It is as though it is an image that his mind can’t let go. It seems that God brought you two together for a reason, and I am very glad that He brought the both of you here. It has truly been a blessing.” 

Just then, one of the older kids came up to Father Lewis and told him that a well-dressed businessman was at the front gate and wished to speak to him. 

“ Well, my dear. Think about what I have said. The world is always going to try and harden your heart and crush your spirit. You have to fight it and you have to search for the beauty despite the darkness. Hezekiah is a good man, and one that would fight for you.” Father Lewis paused, then sighing he said, “Well, I suppose I have to go and attend to these unexpected visitors.” 

Saori lay there swinging quietly. Hez loves me? She thought. She had known for weeks, subconsciously that Hez loved her, but it never really surfaced in her mind or became real to her as it had at this moment. It was probably because it was still difficult for her to comprehend how any man could love a woman like her. Yet, she felt great joy at the thought, and she locked her joy away, deep within her heart. She smiled and gazed out at the lagoon and the boat, which had been the vessel of her escape. Life can be beautiful Saori thought, surprised by her epiphany. 

Saori heard cars pull into the mission, and she sat up to see who was pulling in. When she saw the black Suburban, a shiver immediately shot down her spine. Three men got out of the Suburban, but Saori could not see their faces. Father Lewis welcomed the men inside, and the younger kids who had not gone down the road to harvest bananas all gathered around the windows peering inside to see the well-dressed men. 

I wonder what they want . Saori pondered as she got up and walked toward the kitchen window with a quiet anxiety. Something inside her made her uneasy, but she had to know who these unexpected visitors were. 

………

“We can offer your children the opportunity to have a great future. Our schools are the best in all the region, and when they are done with their schooling, my organization has connections throughout Hong Kong and Tokyo which will make sure they find good jobs.” 

“I would love to be able to give my kids a great education, but I could never afford to send them to your schools.” Father Lewis replied. 

“Well it wouldn’t be entirely free, but it would cost you no money. The kids would learn trade skills by working between studies, and in effect, they would earn the right to be at our school. Our system of education was developed by the best philanthropists in all of South East Asia, and I guarantee you that our organization cares first and foremost about the well-being of all the children in our care.” 

Father Lewis liked what he heard, but something inside him urged him to be cautious. Father Lewis could sense a sinister presence in the room , but he could not put his finger on its source. The man was well spoken and seemed to know what he was talking about, but the priest felt slightly troubled. 

“Give me some time to think about it.” Father Lewis said, “How long will you be in Malaysia?” 

“We will be leaving by the end of the week.” Tao Sun replied. 

“Ok, well I will discuss it with my children and get back to you. I am doing some work in the capital on Thursday, so maybe we can speak again then?” 

“I look forward to it.” Tao Sun replied with a smile that bordered on menacing. As Tao Sun shook the priest's hand, he looked out the window and spotted Saori in the courtyard. 

It can’t be Tao Sun thought, struggling to keep his composure. 

“Is everything alright?” Father Lewis asked when he saw the strange look on the man’s face. 

“Who is that girl? She is beautiful.” Tao Sun asked trying to sound casual. 

“She is a guest here at the mission. She is a very sweet girl, but gentlemen, if you don’t mind, I have to get back to my writing.” Father Lewis motioned towards the door. 

………

Saori was gripped with terror. She had not heard anything that the men were talking about, but she knew Tao Sun’s face as it had been seared into her memory. 

How did he find me? She thought frantically as she walked hastily around the corner of the house. 

Tao Sun exited the house and looked around the courtyard for Saori. 

“Mind if I have a quick look around the mission?” Tao Sun asked. 

“I think it would be better if you go.” Father Lewis said calmly, as the sense of urgency grew stronger within him. 

“Watch him.” Tao Sun commanded his men in Mandarin and began walking. 

“Where are you going?” Father Lewis asked loudly as he began to follow Tao. The priest had not moved two feet before both of Tao’s men stepped in front of him and pulled out their handguns. 

“Back in the kitchen!” one of the men exclaimed, pushing Father Lewis roughly, sending him tumbling into the door.

As Saori rounded the corner, her whole face turned white and her entire body was overcome with fear. Tao Sun stood confidently in her path, and that all too familiar smile came to his face as he saw the terror in her eyes. 

“No!” She said breathlessly with a hint of devastation, and she quickly turned around to walk away. She did not even know where she was going to go. All she knew was she could not bear to fall back into Tao Sun’s hands. 

“STOP!” Tao Sun shrieked in Mandarin as he pointed his gun at her. Tao lifted a cell phone to his ear. 

Saori froze, and her eyes widened when she heard Tao say, 

“Tell my father, I found Saori.” 

Tao hung up and walked angrily up to her, grabbing her roughly by the wrist and yanking her around. “I can’t believe my luck…” Tao said as he pulled her in close. “You still look like my number one slut, ” He said cruelly, “I never thought you would stoop as low as an old priest… but you always were an unpredictable girl.” Tao snickered. “I guess I will have to teach you a lesson!” he yelled as he pulled her violently towards the house. 

“ Please, Tao! Don’t!” Saori struggled and pleaded as He opened the door to the hallway, which ran through the center of the house dragging her behind him. Tao flung open her bedroom door and threw her inside. Saori let out a scream as she stumbled, reaching out for the bed in an attempt to break her fall. 

When Father Lewis heard Saori’s scream, he stood up quickly from the kitchen table. 

“Sit back down!” one of Tao’s men said angrily, pushing him violently back into his seat. 

By this time, Hez was approaching the mission with a big bushel of bananas balancing on his right shoulder and a machete was held loosely in his left hand. 

………

“I’ve thought about you every night since you ran away, ” Tao said, struggling to hide his lust. Saori sat on the bed and cringed at every word he said. She looked at the floor because she could not bear to make eye contact with his lustful gaze. “I always thought you would reappear in some brothel somewhere, but I would never have guessed I’d find you here. And yet, here you are.” Tao said with hunger in his voice, still pointing the gun at her, “The things I’m going to do to you...” he finished in Mandarin. 

Saori was now shaking. She looked desperately at the door, hoping there would be an opportunity for escape. All the hope drained from her heart, and she thought painfully of Hez. She hoped he would never find out what happened to her, and that it would not be too hard for him if he did.

The thought of what was about to happen to her overwhelmed her, and she could no longer hold back the tears. She knew now, confronted with evil and all it was about to take from her, that she loved Hez, and she wished she could see him one last time. All the talk the priest had done about God and purpose seemed overshadowed by the injustice that was about to befall her and the world now seemed more than ever to be ruled by cruel chance.

She suddenly felt anger begin to burn inside her heart and she felt a deep hatred washing over her. Adrenalin coursed through her as she suddenly felt the urge to fight. What gave this man the right to come in and out of her life destroying it as he saw fit? 

“Tears? What is this shit? I haven’t even begun to do anything to you yet. You’ve never bothered shedding tears before. You used to be so defiant. That is what made you my favorite. What’s happened to you? You’ve become so pathetic.” Tao locked the door and began to unzip his pants, “Now I will give you something to cry about.” He mocked. Saori watched as his hand made its way down to his pant’s zipper. It’s now or never Saori thought. 

Tao had not even gotten his pant’s button undone when all of a sudden a man came crashing through the glass doors to his right. Tao let out an agonizing scream as a machete came down like a hammer on the arm that he was holding the gun with . The machete was slightly dulled and it got lodged in Tao’s arm. 

“FUCK!” he screamed, dropping to one knee while looking at the blade stuck in his arm. He looked back up in horror at the man standing over him. 

“Hezekiah!” Saori screamed. 

Hez unflinchingly dislodged the machete raising it back into the air violently and bringing it swiftly down a second time upon Tao, who tried to block the blow with the same arm. This time, the machete cut all the way through, spraying blood all over the floor, and sending Tao’s arm to the ground with a thud. Tao was now screaming incessantly, and Hez did not hesitate, the man’s screaming drove him to continue for fear that the noise would alert somebody outside the house.

Hezekiah mercilessly brought the machete back down on Tao’s head splattering blood all over Hez’s clothes and face. Tao continued to scream as his eyes began to roll back into his head. Hez landed several more blows to Tao’s head, and by the second one, Tao was silent, by the third and fourth his body collapsed lifelessly to the floor. Hez quickly picked up Tao’s gun as he heard the pounding footsteps of men running on the hardwood floor in the hallway. 

“Get on the floor!” Hez yelled at Saori, with blood dripping from his nose and chin. Hez kneeled down by the wall on the left side of the room and focused all of his attention on the door. After a moment of silence, the door crashed open violently as someone kicked it in, breaking the door jam in the process. Hez did not see anyone, but squeezed off two rounds blindly, aiming for the center of the door. The bullets passed right through the door and hit one of the men; sending him crashing to the floor.

When Hez saw he had not killed the man, he let off another round, hitting the man square in the head. Silence came over the room. Hez motioned for Saori to crawl under the bed, not once taking his eyes from the doorway. The door creaked as it swung slowly on its hinges, tapping against the wall and then swinging back until it encountered the man he had shot, and it came to rest there. The silence and tension were immense. Hez waited for the first sign of movement, but none came. He then heard the sound of the Suburban’s engine starting up. 

“Shit!” Hez yelled as he scrambled to his feet and ran out of the room. Hez sprinted down the hall and crashed through the door at the end, rolling on the ground outside the house. When he got his bearings, he spotted the Suburban reversing towards the gate. Hez stood up and took aim at the driver’s side. He let off two rounds, which hit the glass to no avail the windshield was bulletproof.

Hez knew he was going to have to move quickly. He bolted towards the Suburban sending the driver into a panic. The driver hit the accelerator but was not looking where he was going and he slammed into the outer wall of the mission. Hez got to the driver’s side door and noticed that it was unlocked. He opened the door quickly, and the man inside shot frantically, hitting the bulletproof window that Hez was taking cover behind. The man quickly put the SUV into drive , but Hez aimed his gun from behind the door and unloaded the entire clip into the driver.

The driver’s body, out of reflex, pushed down on the accelerator and the SUV took off rapidly. Hez was thrown to the ground by the impact of the door, and he watched as the SUV sped up and crashed into a large palm tree, bringing all of the violence to an end. Hez sat in the dirt in a daze as the dust coagulated in the blood, which covered his arms and legs. He heard a rustle in the bushes next to him, and he saw one of the small children hiding there. Hez motioned for the child to stay where he was since he did not know if there was anyone else still lurking around the mission. 

Saori! Hez suddenly thought getting up and running toward the house. God Damn Bastards ! He thought as he approached her room. When he got there, even he was shocked by its appearance. Glass from the doors littered the floor and there was blood covering the walls, the floor and was even dripping down from the ceiling. Saori sat on her bed in a state of shock. She looked up at the bloody image of Hez with glazed over eyes. Hez stood over Tao, and then glanced up at Saori, who had a mixed expression of relief and fear on her face. Hez turned to peer into the mirror on the dresser by the wall and was stunned by what he saw. His whole face was red with blood, and his hair was matted with it as well. Who was this man who looked back at him? He had just killed three men, and not even stopped to think. 

“Hez…” Saori said quietly, breaking the silence, “Where is Father Lewis?” 

“I don’t know, ” He replied calmly, still looking in the mirror. 

“Maybe we should find him?” She suggested, as she wiped the tears from her face and stood up shakily. Hez nodded as he picked up Tao’s bodyguard’s gun and pulled back the slide. 

“Are there any others?” Hez asked Saori 

“I only saw three, ” She replied, walking up to him slowly. 

They found the priest on the floor of the kitchen in a daze. The men had hit him over the head with their guns before running to check on Tao. 

“Wha?” the priest let out in exasperation as Saori kneeled down next to him. Father Lewis smiled when he saw Saori’s face, and he brought his hand up and patted her gently on the cheek … “How did you?” Saori motioned towards the doorway with her head, and Father Lewis slowly looked over, his head propped up on the cabinets next to where he fell. “Hezekiah?” Father Lewis asked, not recognizing the blood-soaked man standing in the kitchen. Hez knelt down next to Father Lewis, grabbing a napkin from the counter and ironically wiping the blood from the priest’s forehead. 

“It’s ok, ” Hez said gently, “They are all dead.” 

Saori watched Hez gently wiping the blood and sweat from Father Lewis’s brow, and she had trouble comprehending what had just happened. How could someone so gentle, do something so frighteningly violent? She thought back to the merciless way Hez had ended Tao’s life, and yet she felt no fear, she felt no disgust. He had become to her, justice incarnate. The darkness had come for her with determination, and he had destroyed it without mercy and without question. He had drenched himself in the blood of evil men, for her  . Hez looked up at her and put his hand under her cheek, rubbing her face lightly with his thumb, and smiling a smile of relief. 

“I don’t know what I would have done if I had of lost you, ” Hez said softly, his white teeth contrasting strongly with the now dried blood on his face. 

“I didn’t think I’d see you again…” She said putting her hand to her mouth as she again tried to hold back her tears. 

Hezekiah nodded lightly and continued to look into her eyes. 

“Are you going to be ok?” Hez asked. 

“I am now, ” She said softly then pausing for a second, “We have to leave this place…” she continued sadly. 

“I know.”

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