Don't Be Afraid
Much, much later…
I’d never seen Dad as distressed as he was those days. He spent more time cooped up in his room than ever. He got angry at me for the smallest things. Not that I cared quite so much about how angry he got at little things. I was twenty-six. I wasn’t young enough to be bothered by that anymore.
My father was fifty-three now, an old man to my young mind. He was my age, twenty-six, when I was born, and now he had seen his own lifetime double as mine grew up. He had seen me grow into a young woman, but he had barely seen me at all. Instead, whenever he could, he sat in his bedroom, alone. I never knew what he did there. It seemed like he tried to hide something from me.
But all of a sudden, he was out in the open more. He made himself a cup of coffee now and then, but normally tea (I’m assuming because he’s a Brit). He sat on the couch, or at his desk, and either crunched numbers or did something else on his projector. He always put the projector in Private Mode, so I could never see the holograms that were being projected. His eyes sometimes seemed to tear up as he was looking at something—what, I didn’t know. Sometimes I tried to start a conversation—ask him what he was looking at—but instead he erupted in an outburst of rage. “I don’t have time to talk, Cecilia!”
Dad never let me into his bedroom. I supposed he had some sort of secret in there—probably sex toys or **** or something. I may have been a grown woman, but he still thought of me as his baby girl. He’d never let me see if he had anything like that. But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised. The crazy people who go and change the world really are crazy. They tend to do things you don’t want to know about.
Dad—Mortas Wayworde—was undoubtedly the software guru behind the New Internet. Most people hailed him as “The Father of the New Internet.” After all, he was the guy behind the AI-driven search engine-social media combo, Cosmoscape, that was widely considered the beginning of the New Internet. CosmoscapeDiary, the social media part of the whole thing, was the first social media site to overtake the Old Internet’s wildly popular (and troubled) Facebook (I mean, seriously—why would you ever use a site called “Facebook”? It’s like they’re keeping a book of people’s faces. That’s serious surveillance state stuff right there.). When Dad had heard that his brainchild had overtaken Facebook, he reportedly said, “Take that, Zuckerberg!” Some kids in my high school hadn’t even known who Mark Zuckerberg was. I only knew because Dad had told me—and had lived through all those trials that he’d gone through. When people started using “New Internet” to describe the trend of more AI-reliant websites that Dad had started, that was sort of the catalyst to the creation of an entirely new “section” of the Internet—a section that sort of thrust the Old Internet into an outdated world of “.com” and “.org” instead of the new “_scape” format that all the scapespaces had in the modern world. They weren’t websites anymore—they were scapespaces. An entirely new Internet was created, hence the term “New Internet.” Dad was also a big name in the actual creation of the scapespace system.
And then, I think he got a bit nostalgic, since he started working on a secret nonprofit project that he didn’t unveil until I was eleven. It was called Backdoor, and it was a way to view the Old Internet as it was in every year that it existed, all the way back to when it was a communication system for the military and all, before commercial use. One of the only times we’d actually done something together was when he showed me the Old Internet. It was as unsophisticated as you can get. Like something a caveman hacked together. He showed me all these sites that were around before I was born, and even some from before he was born. He showed me all of those weird old outdated sites—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Amazon, even Yahoo and AOL, which were mostly before even his time. He explained to me how in the 1990s, before he was even born, most people had to connect to the Internet through their phone lines. AOL was one of the first providers of the Old Internet, he said. And then Yahoo was a search engine, kind of like CosmoscapeLibrary was now, but without the use of AI. AI, he told me, hadn’t even really taken to the mainstream yet at that time. And then Google came along and beat out Yahoo. And then it had remained the most popular search engine, until, surprisingly he told me this a little sadly, CosmoscapeLibrary had beaten everyone out of the business. I was surprised that he seemed almost upset about this—after all, he created Cosmoscape.
But while he seemed the cordial yet mysterious tech guru in the public eye, at home he was quiet, too quiet, and often extremely moody. He was a werewolf, too, had been since his birth. His long black hair, now graying a bit with age, made him look it even more. But he was almost always troubled, tortured almost. Sometimes I thought I heard him sobbing in his bedroom.
And as for Mom? Well, I didn’t have one.
Well, of course I had one. It’s just that Dad never really talked about her. Maybe he didn’t love her, maybe she was gone for whatever reason. I didn’t even know her name. The very few times I’d tried to bring the subject up, he’d angrily brushed it aside and asked about how school was, how a project was coming along, what I’d done that day. I had a sneaking suspicion that he had killed her.
Dad also went to Taiwan every year. I’m not sure why. He would fly to Taiwan, disguise himself so he wouldn’t be recognized, or just wear dark clothes, generally a hoodie, and visit, every year, near his birthday. Almost always he was there on his birthday. These sweet older folks called the Kleinmans would come and watch me. Them, or Dad’s friend, Rip Henry. And sometimes, very rarely, it would be Grandfather, Dad’s dad. Never Grandmother—like me, Dad grew up without his mother.
It just seemed very strange. Dad was eccentric. I don’t know why he flew to Taiwan every year; he wasn’t even a shred of Taiwanese. His mum, from what I knew, was originally from Mexico, and Grandfather was white, from a British farming village that nobody’s ever heard of. I don’t know. Maybe he just really loved Taiwan. But he always seemed so somber when he left. He seemed even more somber when he returned. I would learn later what he was doing when he went, but it took a tragedy to bring out the whole story.
When Dad started acting weird, I was a year out of law school and a fledgling lawyer. I knew nothing of the computing stuff that he was brilliant with. Law was my passion, and I was going to stick to it. I had a boyfriend, too—Devajee Johnson. We said that if we ever got married, he would take my name. We didn’t live together yet—he was from LA, and he was trying to find some way to come and move up here stat. He, too, was a fledgling lawyer, with big dreams of eventually becoming President.
But when Dad started leaving his room more, I began to get worried. What was going on? What was wrong? Why was he acting like this?
Until one day, I caught him on the LambdaLine, barking into the mouthpiece about one Attwell Wayworde. I also heard him grumble “Father” many times.
Finally, he hung up and noticed me in the room. He jumped.
“Cecilia! Were you listening the whole time?”
I nodded. “Yeah.” Then I started to get angry. “Hold on. What’s all this? Why are you leaving your room more? Who the heck is Attwell Wayworde? And why are you calling Grandfather?”
He sat down at the kitchen table. “Cecilia…there are a lot of things I need to tell you.”
He patted the table, inviting me to sit down. I did. It’s not like I was going to refuse sitting down to talk to my father, my father who had been such a recluse my whole life.
There were three chairs at the table. Don’t ask me why. Whenever I asked him, he quickly, nervously said that it was in case anyone decided to stop by for a random visit, perhaps Rip or the Kleinmans. But the chair at the head of the table was his, the chair in the middle was mine, and the last chair was always empty. Sometimes it was pushed aside when I came home from school when I was younger, like someone was sitting in it and forgot to push it back in.
He looked at me and began to talk.
“I’m about to tell you everything you’ve never known. I need you to keep this a secret until at least after my death, if not longer.”
“No, Dad. Don’t talk about dying. It’ll be a long time.”
“You never know that.” He responded so quickly that I wondered what he was going off of.
Then he took a deep breath.
“I was born in that small village that Grandfather talks about sometimes. I eventually learned a bit about my mum, a woman named Daisy. She was from Mexico originally, and then went to England for university. She was in that village on a Good Samaritan program, treating children who had fallen ill and had no real doctor except for one who prescribed herbal medicine. But she encountered my father instead.
“Now, I’ve never really talked to you about this, where the Wayworde line comes from. But I’ll tell you now: we’re a family of criminals. All the way back to hundreds of years ago, with crazy John Wayworde, the monster, the murderer, the thief, the rapist, basically everything you can think of that’s illegal, he did it. That legacy moved through my family, all the way down to Grandfather, who kidnapped my mother, married her by force, raped her, and then after I was born and she wanted to stay with my father to raise me, they threw her into a mental institution. I was raised by Grandfather, who was harsh on me. You know why I always wear long, dark clothes? Because of this.” And for the first time that I’d ever seen he pulled his hoodie up and exposed his back to me. I was shocked. Hundreds of lashes, indentations, scars from all the abuse he’d taken from his father. And he rolled up his sleeves, and I saw claw marks, from when his wolfish transformations had been early, uncontrollable, and dangerous.
“My father was a madman. Abusive. Alcoholic. All of that. He led a gang. I had an older half-brother, two years older, the son of my father and a village woman. That’s the Attwell Wayworde I’ve been talking about on the phone. He followed the family example. Heir to the family house, heir to the family madness. But I—I was different. I saw from very early on what this was. And it was because of this that my father beat me so much. He could see it. So I started manipulating him, leaving the house for longer. Remember when you were younger, and I taught you all of those little tricks in the car, and when I taught you all those little tricks to disguise, hide, all of that for hide and seek? Well, those are old family tricks. They’re our criminal past. I taught them to you not because I’m a criminal, or because I want you to be a criminal, but because it’s tradition, and because they can be helpful in more cases than felony. I told you then, when I taught you the driving tricks, that they could be useful in a case where someone you really love is in trouble. Well, that’s coming.
“When I was fifteen, Attwell turned eighteen. At eighteen he inherited the house, and Father and I came to the United States, him hoping to make a criminal legacy here, me hoping for escape. I attended the very same high school that you did. I had some of the same teachers that you did. I was the awkward, weird kid that a lot of people avoided in the hallways.
“And then, one day, I saw a girl in the hall getting beat up by a couple of other people. I think they were a couple. But in that girl, I saw myself, and in that couple, I saw Father. So I took out a pencil and held up that couple for a bit. I ran off before the girl could thank me. But after a while, I wondered who I had saved. And then she came looking for me. Her and Rip. They were friends.
“I learned her name. Avril Kleinman. I started talking to her. Actually, I met her when I was transformed, under the full moon. Then I happened to transform in front of her. We started talking, became friends. And then, one night, under the full moon, the two of us stayed together in a cave in the mountains. It was my hiding place, my refuge when I was a full-blown werewolf. She slept in my arms. I slept with her warm body next to me. I’ll always remember that night. It was the night I fell in love.
“After that we started to get closer. She and I talked more, and I couldn’t stand the way she looked at me. Then Father had a prostitute over in his room, and I decided to just go to her house for the night. It was raining, lightning was flashing, and I basically got in through the window. She let me in. And my clothes were soaked, so I stripped down. She told me that she loved me that night. I said I loved her, too. We started dating and all that night. She started touching me…in those sorts of places. I did, too. We didn’t have sex or anything, not that night. But we got closer, and then we went to college. Separate colleges. Well, we did have sex before that, but then we went to college.
“On the night after I graduated from college, I got a call from Avril’s mum. She said Avril was in grave danger, so I drove up here like a maniac. I was a criminal for once, making Father proud. But I didn’t care. I was in love, and I wanted to be there in case she passed. I wanted to be there as her lifeline. She almost passed. But then she got better. She was discharged. We were twenty-two then. It was one of the worst scares of my life.
“Then, when we were twenty-five, we got married. Everything went well for a while. I started Cosmoscape with the objective of creating a space-shooter game, can you believe that?” He chuckled. “Avril started her own company, an online gaming company. We did a merger soon after her company started, though. We had you a short while later. So, yes, there you go. Now you know. My high school sweetheart is your mother.
“But the reason I don’t talk about her. Well. She broke my heart one day. You were a baby; you won’t remember. But I remember, oh so vividly.
“It was my twenty-seventh birthday when it happened. She was coming home, ready to put on a feast for me. She was going to throw me a party, basically, something I’d never really had. Never a birthday party. Not like I needed one. Basically everyone hated me when I was growing up. It was going to be huge. And it was all a surprise, too.
“But then some idiot drunk driver crashed his car into her. As soon as she called with what strength she had left, I drove like a maniac again to where she was. She told me what she was doing. What was in the trunk of the car. And she…” He choked up and began to really sob. “She died in my arms. She told me that was where she wanted to go—in my arms.
“After that, I never got over her. You wonder why I’m so reclusive, that’s why. Because I can’t. I can’t let anyone see me like this. I’m a wreck, Cecilia. I’m a wreck. That’s why I go to Taiwan every year for my birthday. She’s buried there. Her grandparents decided to make an exception—they’re a pretty well-off family from Taiwan. Her mum’s side, anyways. Her dad’s a white American. Those Kleinmans? Those are your grandparents. Avril’s parents.
“Traditionally, only members of the Hsieh family who share that name or marry into that family (the women, not the men) are buried there. But Avril—her grandparents loved her enough to make an exception. They buried her there. Her ashes. And I—they told me they would make an even greater exception—they would let me go with her when I die. At first I hoped for death. I hoped to join her. But then you started to call me ‘Dada,’ and I realized that wasn’t what I needed. I needed to stay alive for you. But when I die, I’ll be with her. I’ll join her again.
“But you asked about Attwell. Well, he’s dead. The villagers burned him at the stake. He was caught murdering a girl. And—get this—eating her limbs and her *****. No. You can’t even beat that. That’s all levels of messed up. But now the Wayworde house is empty. I’ve got to go back there. I’m the next in line. Father keeps telling me that. But I don’t want to go back. Not to that town where nobody loves me, everybody hates me. Nobody’s even heard of Cosmoscape there. I’m no hero to them. I’m still a villain.”
“I’ll go,” I blurted instantly.
Dad looked at me. There was a primal fear in his deep, pondering eyes.
“No. You can’t go. You’re no match. That’s a farming man’s village. It’s no place for any lone woman, especially any Wayworde. You’re a Wayworde, and a woman. You’ll be ripped to shreds.”
The story that Dad had told me was swirling in my mind. Now the answers were here. The extra chair in the kitchen—for a mother I’d never known. The recluse father of mine—a grieving wreck of a man. The yearly trip to Taiwan—an annual pilgrimage of love. I started to wonder if this was why he’d started Backdoor—to connect with better days of life and love. No, I was sure of it. He was clearly attached to my mother, a woman who had been dead for over twenty-five years.
And now there was another reason in my mind. I was sure of it, why he didn’t want to go back.
Avril Kleinman—Mom—was an American, born and raised here in America. She attended the same high school that I had, met Dad there. America wasn’t his mother country, but it was his adoptive father—the nurturer of his ambitions, his joy, and his love. It was so deeply connected to his long-dead love that he could never leave. Not without leaving something behind. Something so precious to him that it would destroy his being, his entirety, the man he was and the man he still is. I realized that he wasn’t the strong, capable, empowered, yet eccentric father that I’d always thought of him as. No, he was weak—he was under an influence so great in his private life that he could never open up to in his public life. No, he was a coward. As strong as he was for moving along and staying alive for me, part of me wondered if committing suicide to be with Avril would’ve been stronger. He was a cowardly warrior. A troubled monster. A crooked hero. A hopeless inspiration.
And I intended to help him out.
“You can’t go,” he said, “It has to be me. You have a future here. I have nothing. I’ve already lived through it all. I’m rich, I’m famous, I’ve revolutionized my field. You’ve got everything. You’ve done nothing yet. What’s to say you can’t do what I did? You could be rich, famous, revolutionary. It’s all that I’d want for you. Don’t go back. I’ll go. Better me, the old guy, go and be stuck in a backwards town than the future be stuck in the past.”
Tears fell down his cheeks. “Stay, Cecilia. Stay. Please.”
I stood up. “Dad. I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m grown up, I’ve graduated from law school. I’m an adult. I’m dating. I’ve got a boyfriend.”
He closed his eyes, then opened them again, tears welling in them and falling and trickling like a stream down his tan, aging cheeks.
“If you’re really going to go…” He chose his words very carefully. “If you’re really going to go, take Devajee. You’re a strong woman, but you’re no match for all the things they’ll call you. Women born into the Wayworde family…well, let’s just say they’re generally treated even worse than the men. The dumber, the better. That way they go along with it. They don’t get beaten. They generally already get enough ********* sex that it’s better to just avoid everything. If I’d had a sister…I would’ve killed her. Not because I would have hated her or anything, but to save her. You’ll never live it down. You’ve been treated well here in America. You don’t know the things they’ll say to you. But if you take Devajee…they won’t mess with you as much. He’s a big guy; he’ll be rather intimidating. We Waywordes never were. We were small and underfed.” He laughed in a rather sardonic fashion. “So…fine. Go if you want, but take Devajee. Actually, I’d rather you marry him first—legally—and then go.”
His stance changed as the time got closer. He was reluctant at first, but then he was okay with it, and then he even started promoting it. “Go and tell them who’s boss, Cecilia. Go show them you’re not the monster they’ll think you are.”
So I did. I married Devajee. He took my last name, a move that Dad approved of. There was a small, intimate ceremony, at Dad’s request. Just him and Devajee’s parents. Then, soon after, we boarded a plane to London Heathrow, about a quarter of Dad’s massive net worth in digital tow. We withdrew a bit of it, enough pound bills to fill a full suitcase. Then we bought a nice car and asked for directions to the town that never loved my father.