National Novel Writing Month – Chapter 1

November 4, 2010

It’s National Novel Writing Month! You can read all about it here. It’s a great way to hold yourself accountable for working on your novel everyday. You’re given a word count goal (1667 words per day) and if you hit your daily, by the end of the month you’ll have 50,000+ words on paper. The idea is not to finesse your story and fine tune every scene but to put words on a page. Get the plot out of your head on paper. Then go back and develop what you have.

I just crossed 5,000 words, so I’m a little bit behind, but here is an excerpt of what I’m working on. Keep in mind, this is as rough as a rough draft can be…

Unit 731

Chapter 1

Hiroshima, Japan

August 6th, 1945 8:11am


I was given a cyanide capsule and instructed to take the secret to my grave. The pill had a concentration so high that once swallowed, it would instantly stop all cellular respiration, and block aerobic energy production. A coma would follow, likely accompanied by a violent seizure, followed by cardiac arrest. I would be dead in a matter of minutes.

I know this because I’ve tested cyanide capsules just like the one I carried. I’ve observed how they work. And they work fast. Especially on humans.

The idea is that if I’m captured, the cyanide will kill me so quickly that our project will remain protected. No one will ever know what we did. The capsule sat in a small metal vial with a screw-top lid, and I stored the vial in the inside pocket of my jacket.

When the boat reached the island, I tucked my briefcase under my arm and stood before a city untarnished by the fires of war, but crippled with anticipation of an inevitable attack. A column of soldiers trotted up the road wearing clean, pressed uniforms. Pristine bomb shelters waited to be destroyed. Citizens sharpened spears from bamboo to defend their homeland.

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


An unmistakable voice. Masaru.

“Why did you leave?”

I turned to face my old friend. “My research has ended. The facility is being dismantled.”

“There is work to be done, Captain.”

“You mean there is work to be erased, purged. Nothing is to remain but our memories. Secrets we must take to our graves.”

Masaru nodded. “Certainly.”

As we inspected each other, a trio of planes flew overhead. American B-29’s 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.

Masaru’s black hair, normally a flattop, now curled forward towards his eyes. He wore his uniform, but his brass insignia were tarnished, in need of a polish.

He pointed to the briefcase under my arm. “Where are you going?”

“Home.” Some would say I was a traitor. Others would insist I acted honorably, and both would argue whether or not I had acted for the good of Japan.

For the good of the human race.

The sound of airplanes faded. It was 8:15 in the morning. Up until then I thought the facility I had worked in for the last nine years represented the worst, the most unredeemable example of human nature.

Then, a flash. A brilliant yellow light.