Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 9

March 16, 2013

Hiroshima, Japan

August 6th, 1945

2:18pm

The Murakami Tea House was burning to the ground. Neither Turner Denton nor my family were anywhere in sight. I feared their bodies were lost among the wreckage, their blackened corpses buried underneath a pile of flaming coals that used to be the Tea House.

I resisted the urge to climb into the fire and start digging for their bodies. Instead I walked along the restaurant hoping that perhaps a portion hadn’t caught fire and inside that portion, my wife and son would be waiting, untouched and smiling. But as I circled I saw that flames danced across all four corners of the restaurant.

A twisted ankle and injured knee prevented me from walking faster than an awkward limp so I found a piece of lumber to use as a cane. If Masaru or any of his men happened to catch up to me, they could take me down quickly.

Which is why I needed to find my family and leave Hiroshima as soon as possible.

But how? Most transportation had been destroyed and whatever was left would be part of a massive rescue effort that would likely be supervised by the military.

Was this how I was to repay my debt? Wandering throughout a burning city, on the run from my deranged captain, desperately searching for a family whose fate was unknown?

I had circled back to the front entrance of the Tea House. To the exact spot where Denton was to be waiting with Kimiko and San. Yet all around me were black embers and what looked like twisted car wrecks.

If my family had been in the restaurant they were surely dead, which meant I was free to leave. But if Denton had never brought them to the restaurant they were likely alive, possibly even nearby.

Who was Turner Denton? Why was I trusting him? Why did I believe he would show up with my family? Surely Kimiko had received my letter instructing her to join the mysterious American in Nagasaki but what made me think his motives were true, that he was a man I could trust. He could have taken my secrets to the Americans, and taken my wife with him.

I began to lose all faith in Turner, in his plan, that I would ever see my family again…then I saw the writing. On a brick wall that still stood across the alley from the Tea House, its walls were pristine and unblemished, protected from the blast by the shield of the Tea House, I saw words scratched in black soot.

As if someone had taken a charred piece of lumber, the graffiti read, “Doc K. Meet at the port. Tom A.M. -T.D.”

Doctor K. Doctor Kiyoshi. Meet at the port. Tomorrow A.M. T.D. Turner Denton. With my forearms I rubbed my eyes and looked again. It was written clearly in large black letters so that anyone who stood at the entrance to the Tea House could see them. “Meet at the port. Tomorrow. T.D.”

A change in plans from Turner. Everyone was still alive but how could they meet at the restaurant? It had burned down! So of course Turner returned to the port, to the place we would be headed anyway. To catch a boat. To leave Japan. To never return. I smiled, knowing all would be well.

“Kiyoshi!” A voice called from a distance, like a nighttime echo calling me into a dream. My hearing had not been correct since the bombing and though the voices sounded distant, when I turned I was startled to see Masaru standing just a few meters behind me.

This was impossible. When I last saw him he could barely lift his head. Now he stood mere paces away and only I stood between Masaru and Turner’s message on the wall.

“Kiyoshi! Come back here, you coward!”

My walking stick would make a useful club. I saw myself swinging from the hip like Kaoru Betto to deliver a devastating blow to the side of Masaru’s head.

I held my club before me in a defensive stance; upright blocking my face, two hands gripping one end, elbows out ready to swing.

“Put your weapon down,” Masaru said as he walked towards me.

I took a step back. To break for the port would mean going into the city center, through the heart of the fires. And if I moved, Masaru would see Turner’s message on the wall. If he understood the writing, he would know I was going to the port…and so what?

In his injured state he would never catch me.

So I ran. As best as I could with a tender knee and a twisted ankle. Limping on my stick, I ran. And Masaru followed. His arm was maimed and his face was burned but his legs were healthier than mine. I cut into an alley and between two brick buildings but Masaru was right behind me. I turned corner after corner, trying to lose him but he was catching up fast, and my ankle felt like it could give way and break apart at any moment.

I had one hope: to lose Masaru in the mass of fire and smoke. To disappear into the chaos of rubbish and bodies.

To fade into a spirit and float away from this earth.

To stand alone on the hilltop of time and undo all the wrongs of my life.

I picked up a rock and turned to throw it at my commanding officer but my aim was bad and the rock sailed high. “Coward!” Masaru shouted as he ducked out of the way, his good hand clutching his injured arm.

I threw another rock and then turned towards the burning city. And kept running, directly into the fire.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 1

March 5, 2013

Hiroshima, Japan

August 6th, 1945 8:11am

 

I was given a cyanide capsule and instructed to take the secret to my grave. The pill, that pharmaceutical breakthrough, was so toxic that once swallowed it would instantly stop all cellular respiration. This little miracle would then block aerobic energy production and hopefully, according to its design, send me into an instant coma. I’d break into a violent seizure and if all went according to plan, fall into cardiac arrest and be dead in a matter of minutes.

I’ve read reports about cyanide capsules like this, and their effects on experimental subjects. I’ve studied the drug’s effect on rodents, reptiles and humans, and the poisonous black and yellow tube I carried in my pocket does exactly what it’s designed to do. A triumph of chemistry, and one that works quickly. Sitting inside a small metal vial with a screw-top lid, this pill waited in the inside pocket of my jacket, ready for its call to action.

The idea is that if I’m captured the cyanide will kill me so fast that our project, all of our work, will remain protected. No one will ever know what we did. Years of research wiped away instantly with a violent seizure followed by cardiac arrest.

When the boat reached the island and I stepped into Hiroshima I saw a city untarnished by the fires of war. A place our research was meant to protect. But a town crippled with anticipation of an inevitable attack.

The signs of impending war were everywhere. A column of soldiers trotting up the road wearing clean, pressed uniforms. The cement tops of pristine bomb shelters buried at foot level by the roadside waiting to protect however many people could cram into one of those dark caves of stone. Citizens sharpening spears from bamboo, ready to defend their homeland.

I hurried through from the port. A road ran east towards Minami but turned abruptly north just outside the port and headed for Hiroshima’s city center, just two miles away.

“Meet at Murakami Tea House in the city center,” Turner had said. “August 6th at nine o’clock.” I checked my watch. Plenty of time to walk the two miles.

The rumor was that the Americans were saving Hiroshima for a special attack, but I would not be there to see it. I was merely passing through town and planned to be gone by the end of the day. My memory custodian of the secrets I had sworn to protect, and in my pocket, the eternal honor of Japan was stored in an easy-to-swallow pill.

“Kiyoshi.”

An unmistakably deep and pompous voice. Masaru’s. He found me. He had chased me, caught up to me and would try to kill me.

“You had no clearance to leave.”

I turned to face my superior officer. “My research has ended, Colonel. The facility has been dismantled.”

“There is still work to be done, Major.” His hand went to his pocket, possibly for a knife or a gun. I wasn’t sure.

I stepped away from him, ready to dash for the city center to meet my contact. “You mean there is work to be erased. Nothing is to remain but our memories.”

I looked around for the Soldiers of Black, Masaru’s loyal security force who were likely hidden in the crowd, dispersed in all directions to prevent my escape.

I took another step towards the road leading to the city center. Another road ran east up a hill. Or I could double back and try to disappear into the port.

Masaru stepped towards me; we were five feet apart. He was nearly a head taller and his dark eyes peered down reproachfully. “My memories no longer exist. They have already been purged. I expect you can say the same for yourself.”

As we inspected each other a trio of planes flew overhead. American B-29s on a scouting mission to a nearby city, or possibly observing the weather over Hiroshima. Not an air raid. Air raids always came in swarms. Air raids caused panic: a loud siren followed by a swarm of people running for those flat gray bomb shelters.

These planes were merely passing over our territory, a daily reminder that our American enemy owned our skies. But I had recently dreamed of seeing American skies. I had Turner to thank for those wishes.

Beads of sweat crept from Masaru’s sharp black hairs and dotted his forehead. He was slightly panting for air and I could tell he had been running after me. Yet his uniform was impeccably clean and his brass insignia shined, never in need of a polish.

Again his hand went to his pocket. I told myself it was time to run, yet I remained in place, unable to remove myself from my commanding officer.

He nodded towards the city. “Where do you think you are going?”

Masaru knew enough but I could not tell him I was going to meet the Australian businessman Turner Denton at the Murakami Tea House. I could not say that Turner had promised to deliver me to safety and that if I missed the meeting, I would be on my own. Turner was to have my wife and child with him. We would eat one last meal in Japan and then travel with Turner by boat to leave our country for good.

The sound of airplanes faded. It was 8:15 in the morning. I looked over the quiet city and saw a town doomed to the chaos I had seen during this war. Men shot, bodies dismembered. Their eyeballs melted, their hair in flames or reduced to stubbles of black ash as the men lay dying, screaming for their mothers. Legs bleeding, fingers and limbs severed.

Would we, the human race, always fight to make ourselves better fighters?

I tried to believe that we wouldn’t. That we were satisfied with the weapons we had invented. That we decided we had gone far enough. Up until 8:15 that morning, I tried to believe we were satisfied with our progress.

Then a flash. A brilliant yellow light.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 28

December 31, 2012

Ōkunoshima, off the coast of Hiroshima

August 6, 1945

 

Moments before the bomb detonated over Hiroshima I was escaping in a boat from the island of Ōkunoshima, home to a small poison gas factory under the control of Unit 731. The island was inhabited only by our engineers, who were busily dismantling and destroying all evidence of the program. The factory itself had been gutted, the equipment and instruments destroyed or dismantled, the useful pieces being sent off the island to local ports. All documents were burned, the ashes buried there on the island. The power plant still operated but would be shut down once the purging had been completed.

Masaru and I had flown in from China to supervise the final destruction of the facility and all the while I had been waiting for my chance to disappear from Masaru’s sight. To steal away on a boat or plane, to return to Nagasaki and gather my family. But ever since we took off in Masaru’s private plane he had kept me close and seemingly under constant watch. Even when he had rose from his seat on the plane to walk to the bar and refill his empty drink, six Soldiers of Black remained surrounding me in their seats, their solemn stares fixed on nothing, yet on me at the same time.

When we landed, Masaru rushed us both to a waiting truck that whisked us away to the factory. And throughout that entire day Masaru was at my side and I at his as we directed the disassembly of one of Unit 731’s last remaining facilities. Once we were finished in Ōkunoshima the plan was to return to Tokyo to debrief our superiors on our progress. I had been dreading this trip since Masaru first informed me we’d be going. On the flight from China Masaru told me, “In Tokyo we can expect accolades from the Imperial Army and the assignment of our choice. You will be writing your own future, Major.”

Indeed I will, but my future does not include a trip to Tokyo. I knew that if I was to desert Masaru and my duties in Japan, I needed to do it then, that day. From Ōkunoshima I could catch a boat to Hiroshima and then take a cargo ship or plane to Nagasaki or Kokura. Once I had collected Kimiko and San, I would need to find my way out of Japan but I would worry about that later. For now I needed to escape Ōkunoshima.

During a dinner break I made my way to the logistics and receiving office near the port. A small depot still operated and supervised the boats came and went from the island. Most were delivering our spare parts to nearby cities. I met the sailor on duty and asked to see the schedule.

Small cargo boats were departing throughout the night but one in particular caught my eye. “What’s this boat that leaves at 4:18 in the morning?”

The sailor pointed towards the water. “Bound for Hiroshima with personnel and technical parts.”

I checked my watch. Ten minutes after seven. I had plenty of time to prepare.

I spent the rest of the night supervising the dismantling of a vacant barracks. Once the pieces had been sorted and removed from the site, it was near midnight.

I considered taking a short rest in my quarters. If I were to fall asleep as soon as I arrived at my bed, I could grab three hours before I needed to be awake for the boat. There was nothing to pack – I would be traveling with no possessions. Except for that cyanide capsule in my jacket. I could not convince myself to remove it from my pocket. It might prove to be useful someday.

Masaru found me before I could reach my quarters. “Kiyoshi, join me for a drink in my apartment.”

I dreaded the suggestion. “Please, sir. It is time to rest.”

Masaru seemed to eye me suspiciously. “And there is much to discuss before tomorrow’s work.”

“We can discuss it tomorrow.” I excused myself and shut myself in my room. Nothing to pack, nothing to prepare. Just to rest lightly and awaken in time.

Sleep never came. My mind was cluttered with the noise of my own voice. Chastising myself for defecting, praising my own bravery, reminding myself to be careful. I saw across the yard where Masaru’s apartment was. The light was still on. I watch for nearly two hours before it finally went out. My watch showed it was almost 2:30. I went to the bathroom, drank some water, ate a small biscuit and piece of fruit that I had saved and set off.

I reported to the dock where just a single sailor was minding the depot. Different from the one I saw earlier, this one’s name was Matsui. There was no need to introduce myself, he knew who I was. He confirmed that a supply ship was to depart at 4:18 that morning, just a little more than an hour.

I waited outside and smoked cigarettes until after 4 o’clock, my eyes fixed in the direction on Masaru’s apartment. The ground remained dark and quiet. I walked to the docks to find my ship but saw only a couple of empty rowing boats and a half-sunken trawler that had been stripped and looted.

“The 4:18 has been delayed, Major.” Matsui came out of the depot to inform me.

“For how long?”

She shrugged his shoulders and walked back inside.

I tried not to panic. It could be delayed thirty minutes, even an hour and I’d still be able to escape before the sun rose. But if the delay was longer, several hours, I would have to return to work. Word that Major Kiyoshi, the second in command at Unit 731, had been scheduled to leave might spread to Masaru, who knew nothing of any 4:18 boat.

I thought of aborting my plan and going back. I thought of a story to tell Masaru. I thought of my family, stuck in Nagasaki while I ran all over east Asia tying up Masaru’s loose ends. I thought of what I might have to explain to Masaru but knew it was useless. If I were to disappear Masaru would know right away that I had defected. The Soldiers of Black would be after me in an instant.

Which was why I needed to get away now. No more of those irritating secret policemen that Masaru relied on for intimidation, for his dirty deeds. No more of his orders and ambitions.

I went to the depot and found Matsui. “I will need an update on this delay.”

“Yes, sir,” he went into action and picked up a telephone. He spoke to someone on the other end for a few moments and then hung up and looked at me. “Five o’clock.”

I checked my watch – it was already four. Masaru might be up by five. I smoked another cigarette and considered my options.

A few minutes later a pair of flatbed trucks pulled up to the port, both piled high with lumber and metal drums, wooden crates, metal boxes. The cargo that was to be shipped to Hiroshima. Each truck had a crew of two men but they were more concerned with unloading their rigs than the lone man standing outside the depot smoking a cigarette.

I thought again of bailing out and going back.

If this boat wasn’t to leave soon, I would need to wait and catch another. Or pick a different time to disappear. The sun began to rise in the east and as the base began to awaken with activity I looked towards Masaru’s apartment. Still no sign of the commanding officer, so I continued to wait.

I looked to the port: still no sign of a cargo ship and soon Masaru would be awake. He would order breakfast and if I did not join him, would dispatch two of the Soldiers to my quarters to retrieve me. They would find an empty bed and report back to Masaru that I was gone. The manhunt would begin.

It was too late. The boat was not going to leave. I was on the cusp of being caught so I abandoned my waiting place at the depot and hurried back towards my room. There was still time to make it back without my absence being known.

I could catch a different boat on a different day.

“Kiyoshi! Major!”

I halted, for half a moment, and then continued my stride as if I hadn’t heard Masaru’s voice calling to me from outside his apartment. I continued on as if I was meant to be hurrying back to my room.

“Kiyoshi!” His voice called louder and I turned to see him approaching with a pair of black uniformed soldiers flanking him. He held a clipboard over his head and motioned for me to join him.

It was after six o’clock and the rising sun broke the horizon behind Masaru.

I thought of all the times Masaru had summoned me with some kind of clipboard or blueprint or document in hand. In the past it had usually been some plan for a new experiment or a new facility that Masaru had drawn up and wanted to explain. Some plan that required my immediate cooperation.

And what did he have in store for me this time? What new assignment had he concocted?

“I’ll be right over!” I called to him.

“Meet us at the power plant!” He called back and then walked to a jeep with his two escorts, one of which climbed into the driver’s seat and whisked them all away.

I was alone with just one more chance to run.

I took it.

I was back at the port in minutes and checked with Matsui inside the office. He smiled when he saw me and pointed to the bay. I looked through the window and saw a small boat no larger than an average fishing boat pull into the port. Dark smoke puffed from its engine and a pair of sailors jumped to the dock and guided the boat in place.

“It that the 4:18?” I asked Matsui.

“Just two hours late,” he said. “But there should be room for one extra passenger.” He motioned toward me and smiled, satisfied that he had helped me find a ride, unaware of the significance of my motive.

“Thank you, sailor,” I said to him and walked outside to smoke another cigarette. Ten minutes later I was on board as the boat pulled away from the dock and began a slow, choppy journey to Hiroshima.

It was a twenty minute boat ride to Hiroshima. I sat at the stern with my back to my destination and my eyes on the island of Ōkunoshima. The smokestack of the power plant and a lone radio tower topped the landscape of the island but those quickly became smaller and smaller until they disappeared completely.

My boat was just minutes from Hiroshima when I observed a small plane taking off from Ōkunoshima. Masaru’s plane. By now he would have figured out I had left the island, with a certain tip from the dutiful Matsui.

It was just climbing into the sky but quickly heading my direction. As I reached Hiroshima and stepped onto the dock I knew I had precious minutes before Masaru and his men would land and likely canvass the city’s transportation centers. I was not free yet.

Before running into the city I turned for one last look at Masaru’s plane. It was now halfway across the bay and approaching quickly. Above that I spotted the dark shadow of a larger plane, inbound and high above.

 

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 12

November 12, 2012

Masaru once told me that as a boy, his father had taken him to Mount Iimori, which overlooked Tsuruga Castle, scene of a famous battle in the Boshin War. “Your uncle Itō died here,” Masaru’s father explained. “Itō was a young Aizu samurai, as was our father before us. Itō was a member of the Byakkotai, the White Tiger Corps, a reserve army of teenagers. Young samurai, but samurai nonetheless.”

Masaru’s father Keisuke stood atop the hill and gazed down to the tiered castle, a pagoda that rose like a pyramid with six roofs. Like his son, he was tall for a Japanese man. “Your uncle’s squad was cutoff during battle, separated from the rest of their unit. When they reached this hill, they looked down to the see castle aflame, the surrounding town burning. Fearing their families and lord defeated and dead, these honorable men committed seppuku. Suicide by disembowelment, Masaru-san. They died right here on this spot.”

Masaru followed his father as the Japanese Army general took a step back to observe a stone monument that had been constructed in honor of the Byakkotai. “But they were wrong in their assessment. The castle had not been breached. Though a battle was underway, the town had not fallen and the war continued. But for their loyalty to their people and to their lord, these men were honored with this memorial.” Keisuke pointed to the stone edifice. “Read the inscription, my son.”

Masaru leaned in and read the words, “‘No matter how many people wash the stones with their tears, these names will never vanish from the world.’” Etched into the monument were the names of all nineteen Byakkotai who had died that day.

“Only one of them survived, his attempt at seppuku failed, and the story became legend.” Keisuke looked to his son. “Your Uncle Itō died the most glorious, the most honorable death imaginable. Remember what you see here today, my son. Do not forget the story of these great, young men. The story of your blood. Remember this lesson.”

Masaru told me the story proudly the first time I met him. We were young military doctors at that time, taking a break from our training by lunching in a cold cafeteria in a forgotten army barracks somewhere, years before Unit 731 had even been devised.

“My father had no close relatives who died so wondrously,” I replied to the man who would soon become my superior officer. “My family line does not flow with the blood of samurai. I am the son of a doctor, and the son of a soldier.”

We ate. We discussed our training. The year was 1928, or 1929. I don’t remember. But I do remember pouring myself a glass of milk.

While reading a folded newspaper with one hand I poured milk with the other. Sun today, rain tomorrow, a local shop robbed by two youths on bicycles, a dead body found near the river. Before I could flip to read the opposite side of the paper, my glass of milk overflowed and spilled to the floor. The bottle was still tilted in my hand as the milk poured forth into a volcanic overflow of cold, white liquid. Rushing to stop the catastrophe, I pulled the jar away, yet too quickly as I managed to brush the top of the overflowing milk glass and sent it to the floor with a spectacular explosion of glass, bubbles and liquid.

Masaru laughed loudly, a deep, bellowing cackle. He pointed at me and then to the spill on the ground, shaking his head as his laughter faded and his attention returned to his lunch. He threw a napkin into the spill, more to prevent the milk from polluting his lunch than to help me contain the accident.

“Damn it,” I cursed as I threw my paper aside and grabbed a handful of napkins. Dropping to my knees to clean the spill, I was disappointed to see the milk was filling the cracks between the tiles like glue. If it dried it would smell and the rest of the officers would begin to wonder why the cafeteria hadn’t been cleaned. Alas, it was only a glass of milk. Or so I thought so at the time.

As I used to towel to mop at the puddle of milk and collect the broken glass into a small pile I realized I would not be able to clean every drop, or gather every razor-sharp, microscopic slice of glass. My accident had polluted the cafeteria floor. Always there would be chunks of glass caught in the cracks of the tile along with flakes of dried milk and fibers from the towel I was using to clean my mess.

I imagined an accident like this spread across the entire building, amplified with enough milk and glass to poison an entire village. I sat on my bottom and held a milky piece of curved glass before my eyes, gazing into the past, into the construction of the object. Wondering who had created this handy piece of kitchenware.

I gazed across the milky waste of the tile floor. “I wonder if it’s possible to create a weapon that did this.”

I suddenly had Masaru’s attention. “What are you talking about?”

“A bomb that once detonated would pollute its surroundings with poison.”

“Like a gas bomb? Mustard gas or something? I believe such tactics were banned by Geneva Protocol a few years ago.”

As I pondered the components of such a device a small black ant wandered into view and approached the smeared milk spill, his feelers twisting and poking every direction as he assessed the mysterious white nectar.

“What if instead of spreading poison, the bomb spread parasites? Or a virus? Or some other kind of contagious agent?”

Masaru sat back and listened.

“What if instead of a bomb that explodes with ordinance and shrapnel, it explodes with disease?”

“A bomb that spreads poison, parasites and disease?”

Masaru stared blankly at me for a moment, his mind processing the scope and complexity of my proposal. Then he smiled, slowly at first, as if he were unsure such an idea warranted a smile. Then he reached out and patted my shoulder. “An idea fit for the Emperor himself!”

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 8

August 22, 2012

 

Halha River, Mongolia

1940

 

I often traveled with Masaru into the war zone. Along the border of Mongolia and the Soviet Union, where thousands of our troops had been slaughtered along the bank of the Halha River, Masaru and I sat in an army jeep, a case of chocolate bars rested at the Colonel’s feet.

He had convinced the Army command to stage a counter attack at Halha and we were leading a contingent of 100 men who would install water filters in the war zone so that our troops could enjoy a clean water supply.

“It is crucial to provide clean water to our troops in the theater of war,” Masaru argued and our superiors authorized the expedition into Mongolia. What Masaru didn’t say was that our water filters were necessary to inoculate our troops from something Masaru had planned for our enemy.

“My suicide squad.” Masaru described his secret contingent of Japanese troops like they were something out of a spy novel. The more I learned about his squad the more I realized that’s exactly what they were – a group of spies ready to engage in biological sabotage. A covert operation so dangerous they may never return, that could likely kill them with infection if they ever did.

This was the business I had chosen.

I looked to the shoebox-sized case of chocolates at Masaru’s feet. “Are you sure you need those?”

He followed my glance and smiled when his eyes found the chocolate. “Pathogens are good. They don’t kill good people.”

Are you going mad? Pathogens are good? They don’t kill good people? What kind of logic is this? I remembered the piles of dead bodies sent to the incinerator and wondered where Masaru would place them on the scale of good and bad.

As we waited in our jeep near the river, waiting for the sun to set, I thought of my wife Kimiko in Nagasaki. What would happen if I were to abandon my duties at the facility and take her away to another place? To retire and forget about the epidemic prevention bureau of Imperial Japan.

“We’ve gathered a wealth of scientific information,” Masaru said as he opened his arms towards the Soviet land, which faced us just across the river. “We’ve discovered and developed methods to protect humans from contagious diseases.” He peered my direction. “This idea of yours has led to some very prestigious work, Major.”

He wants me to thank him but why does his compliment feel more like a curse? Sure, we were providing drinkable water to our Japanese soldiers but only because we were about to conduct biological warfare against our Soviet enemies.

The sun set, darkness fell and the river became quiet. We waited in the darkness until a young captain of the army approached our jeep. “The squad is ready to deploy, Colonel.”

Masaru had been napping quietly and now he sat up straight, adjusting his uniform and touching his hair. “Of course, Captain. Thank you, and proceed.”

The captain nodded and disappeared into the darkness.

Masaru lit a cigarette and handed another to me. “Come on,” he said as he hopped out of the jeep and walked towards the river. “Bring the chocolate.”

I complied and followed the colonel.

“Just imagine, Major, soon the land on the other side of that river will be in Japanese hands!”

And it will be polluted by anthrax and the plague.

We approached the river where a small fleet of rowboats was being tended by Japanese soldiers clad in black. I counted twelve boats in total, though in the darkness it was difficult to see across the black water. Soldiers on shore quietly handed wooden boxes to their counterparts on the boats. Some of these boxes were packed with metal tubes each the size of a thermos, which the soldiers handled carefully. The rest of the boxes were animal cages; inside were dozens of living rats.

The men were methodical as they loaded their cargo, only speaking when necessary and pointing or using hand signals whenever they could. I made it a point to remain as quiet as possible.

Once the cargo was packed, silently and stealthily the soldiers boarded the boats and set off rowing upstream.

“Captain!” Masaru called with a graveled whisper. “You forgot the chocolate!” Masaru pointed to the case of candy in my hands and the captain jumped from his boat and ran to take the package from me.

“Good luck, Captain,” Masaru said as the captain tossed the chocolates to a soldier on his boat, boarded the dingy and started rowing upstream. Five minutes later the boats had disappeared into the darkness leaving only a thin ripple of water in their wake.

Masaru watched contemplatively, ignoring the cigarette that dangled between his fingers as its orange glow dimmed and darkened. He flicked the butt into the river.

“Come,” he turned and walked back to the jeep. I sat beside him, said nothing and waited for Masaru to talk. Instead he opened the glove compartment and removed a sizable flask of brown liquid. “Have a drink, Major,” Masaru said as he unscrewed the cap and took a hearty swig before handing the bourbon to me.

I did as I was instructed and then sat quietly and watched the darkness. Half an hour passed without a word. I strained my ears for any sound of the boats, the paddle of an oar in the water, the voices of our men, the report of rifles being fired. But there was nothing. Only silence and blackness.

Finally Masaru spoke. “We are building another facility off an island in the Hiroshima Prefecture.”

I know this island: Ōkunoshima.

“Our mission will be to manage a poison production factory that will create mustard gas for the Imperial Army. Ōkunoshima was chosen for its secrecy, its isolation, and its distance from Tokyo. The island has already been removed from maps,” Masaru took another swig.

Most scientists would see any expansion of their work as a success, a great honor. Instead I took the flask from Masaru and swallowed a pair of mouthfuls. The sweet bourbon coated and burned my throat on the way down. I lit a cigarette.

Earlier that month I had conducted a vivisection on a young Chinese soldier, Log 897. I had removed his stomach while the subject was still alive. I had connected his esophagus directly to his intestines to observe how such a modification would affect the behavior of a man’s digestive track, and to time how long he could survive. Not long, it turned out. Within minutes Log 897 had expired.

Your work is a great honor for Japan. I imagined Masaru telling me in order to reassure me, to keep me invested in the business of Unit 731.

We remained quiet for another hour, finishing the flask and with it an entire pack of cigarettes. Eventually we heard a soft trickle of water from upstream and alerted ourselves for a possible attack, relaxing only when we saw our boats returning.

Masaru slid quietly from his seat in the jeep and approached the shore. The captain stood at the bow of the lead boat and with a long stride, he stepped onto the shore. “Mission accomplished, Colonel.”

Masaru grinned. “Good, good work! Join us in the jeep. We will debrief you on the ride back.”

The captain was straightforward and precise in his reporting. The metal canisters had been filled with a powder heavily laced with cholera, which had been dropped into wells and water mains around the Russian base. The rats had been released as planned and the captain described how they scurried into the base, a nearby village, into tents and alleys and buildings. These rats carried fleas infested with a potent form of the plague.

“And the chocolate. Tell me about the chocolate!” An excited Masaru could not contain his joy. The case of anthrax-laced chocolate bars had been his idea.

“We left it on a Russian railcar that was loaded with cargo. It will find its way into the supply line, Colonel. And hopefully into the mouths of hundreds of Russian soldiers.”

Masaru threw his head back and cackled. His bourbon-flavored breath infected the evening air. I had never seen Masaru so delighted.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 4

August 2, 2012

Ping Fan, China

1939

We turned Manchuria into a gigantic chemical and biological warfare laboratory. Nearly eighty buildings were constructed on the compound including an administrative building to house laboratories, dormitories for the civilian workers, barracks for the military, and a collection of barns and stables to house test animals.

Masaru was proud of the special prison that would house our human subjects and I was tasked with overseeing construction of a facility that could conduct frostbite experiments year round.

There was a power plant, a group of furnaces used to discard human and animal carcasses and a recreational facility that Masaru himself oversaw. I wasn’t surprised when I learned it would be staffed with what Masaru described as “a healthy collection of comfort women.”

A railroad connected the facility to the city of Harbin and a private airfield was constructed where newly developed  chemical and biological weapons could be tested.

I would later learn that the facility’s perimeter rivaled that of our German ally’s Auschwitz.

“Japan needs to expand in order to survive as a great nation,” Masaru told me as we stood in a corner watchtower and surveyed the completed facility. “The Home Islands are simply too limited in resources.”

Total war with China was underway and our government believed Manchuria to be the most obvious place to fill our needs.

“This is the most advanced weapons research facility in the world,” Masaru proclaimed, his arms opened wide and his face frozen into a grin like a father admiring his beautiful children. “It is time we started to experiment.”

Our prisoners were mostly Chinese, yet we didn’t call them prisoners. We never referred to any of them by name. “Logs,” Masaru decided they would be called. Nothing more than a word used by the military to dehumanize each of our test subjects. As far as we knew, these prisoners never even had names. Only numbers.

Log 741. Log 622. Log 881.

We fed them biscuits laced with anthrax and measured how long it took them to die. We tied them to poles on the bombing range and detonated cluster bombs filled with plague-infected fleas, observing the ability of the fleas to survive and infect our human subjects.

When a log reached the end of its use, it was terminated, then either burned or dissected.

I trembled during my first dissection. I could hear Masaru whispering into my ear. “Remember, it is an honor to be serving the Emperor,”

I wanted to discuss the honor in testing poison gas and contagious diseases on human subjects. Or was their sacrifice also an act of honor?

“Remember,” Masaru said. “We would not have this facility if not for your research.”

I thought back to the demonstration in Tokyo, when Masaru had purified and downed his own piss in front of Prince Hirohito. Afterwards I was swarmed with handshakes and accolades.

“Remarkable work, Captain,” one general had said to me.

Another patted my shoulder. “Your work on this water filter will halt the spread of encephalitis which has already claimed too many lives.”

I bowed politely. Honorably.

Masaru named me his second-in-command and I was promoted to Major, given a raise and a generous bonus. I moved my wife and child into a newer, roomier home in Nagasaki.

I kept my mouth shut and did my work.

Log 321 was brought into the operating room by a pair of Japanese guards. A middle aged Chinese man, shirtless, with gaunt, pale skin textured with a boney ribcage. Log 321 did not fight. He had already tried fruitlessly to escape form captivity weeks ago. He was weak, malnourished, his eyes were blank and seemed to accept that his life would end here. But when he saw the flat, aluminum operating table, the overhead lights, Masaru and I wearing smocks and latex gloves, his eyes came to life and flickered with fear. Honorable fear.

Log 321 used no words. He made no sound as he thrashed pathetically, unable to break the grasp of the guards. He was laid on the table on his back, his hands and ankles fastened in leather straps – the ultimate symbol of honor.

I studied Log 321, his bony torso, the scrawny arms and legs. His face was a skull wrapped in skin already dead. I would later learn to never look them in the eye. There was nothing to see. These were not humans, they were numbers.

Masaru would lead the dissection. He said to me, “We must time the first incision just right to control the amount of blood loss.”

I felt sick to my stomach. There would be no anesthetic for this man; we wouldn’t even put him out before we cut him open. His heart still beat, his lungs still breathed.

I reminded myself: my research had made this possible. I reminded myself: do not look him in the eye. Focus on the dissection itself. This is a test subject. This is a science experiment. This is for the good of your country.

I swallowed hard and handed the scalpel to Masaru.

 

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 3

July 10, 2012

Hiroshima, Japan

August 6th, 1945 8:16am

White skies.

Then a bright and clear morning was suddenly dark.

My military instincts told me to dive for cover but before I hit the ground, a force like a giant’s hand lifted me into the air and threw me towards the river. I hit the paved road, landing on my knees as my wrists slammed into the gravel. Ignoring sandy cuts and scrapes, I clawed my way behind a stone wall as I was showered by a bomb of splinters and dirt.

Black spots, white spots. Ringing bells.

I rolled one direction, then another. Was I asleep? Did I awake? I tasted dirt in my mouth and was stung by burning soot up my nose. Hot, acid snot oozed down the back of my throat like lava.

For a moment I remembered the bomb shelter just fifty feet away but an intense wind blew dust into my face. So I kept my eyes closed and my head down. I was curled into a ball, covering my face with my scraped wrists and stinging hands as the wind pelted me with sands and sticks. There had been no explosions. No familiar pop-pop-pop of bombs detonating in the distance, no BOOM! when one landed nearby. There was no mass of airplanes buzzing above, no whistle as their bombs fell from the sky, no return fire from our anti-aircraft batteries.

Just a flash of light and a burst of wind followed by an avalanche of dirt and junk.

My briefcase was beneath me but I kicked it away. The vial with my capsule dug into my ribs. Minutes later as the wind began to die, I lifted my head to see all of Hiroshima shrouded in a brown haze. Through the dust, a cloud of fire grew a mile into the sky.

I was suddenly disappointed that the city had not survived. What did it mean for my plan? I wanted to ask someone. I wanted to know.

My eyes burned as grit filled my pores. I began to lose focus. My head hurt and I could feel wetness dripping from both ears. I used a hand to wipe the moisture from my temple and looked down to see red fingers.

Did I hear no explosion because I’d lost my hearing?

But I could hear the wind, the shattered pieces of lumber slapping and splintering against nearby houses. The fire. Like a rush of thunder, the fire! But there were no screams, no voices, no aguish. No cries of panic. Absent was the despair that had been so common during war I had known.

I checked my hands and saw the backs were scalded and burned, as if they had been dipped into a pot of boiling water.

Still halfway in shock, I tried to stand but my knees wobbled and I toppled to the ground. A small child walked by in a daze. A black dog passed the child from the other direction, limping and silent. A group of soldiers crawled from the bomb shelter, their bodies covered in soot, their ears bleeding, their faces dazed.

I heard a child ask his mother, “Why is it so dark in the morning?”

I saw myself walking up to the mother as she held her child close, towering above them as the wind and the dirt blew overhead. As she brushed dust off her child’s face, I saw myself looking into her blurry eyes, her mouth caked with dirt. I saw myself ask her, “What does this mean for me?”

The air raid was over in an instant. Had there been only one bomb?

“Impossible.” I muttered.

I imagined myself standing before a classroom of schoolchildren, looking upon the kids who raised their hands and wanted to know if Hiroshima had been hit – if it had been utterly destroyed – by a single American bomb?

I shook my head. “There is no way one bomb can damage so much.” Yet I saw burning buildings all around me. Bodies lining the street as if an army had marched through and executed thousands of people at will. Survivors rose from the wreckage, their faces blank, their eyes lost.

“No way one bomb can do this,” I convinced myself.

Then a hand wrapped around my ankle. I looked down to see Masaru, my commanding officer and saw half his face burned red, his eye sockets blistered. His hair singed and smoking, his good looks destroyed. But when I saw the alertness in his eyes I knew his mind remained unblemished. There was a flicker that I’m sure my eyes lacked.

As his fist squeezed my ankle, I thought of Masaru’s intense patriotism. His sense of nationalism that refused to let me escape with our secrets. I was reminded of his exuberant need to guard the tales of the facility.

Masaru had my ankle but I had forgotten him already.

I thought of the facility.

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.


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