I’m continuing to post snippets from my forthcoming novel (but probably a novella) called Unit 731, a World War II thriller. This is very rough – very, very rough. But it’s on paper and right now, that’s all that matters.
I swerved around one curve, then another. My spotty vision blurred the street and I leaned forward in the seat, clutching the wheel with both hands to better control the vehicle. I drove faster than I ever had and as the truck rounded a bend, it nearly toppled over. Tires squealed and the truck seesawed from one side to the other. I backed off the gas pedal to slow down and regain control as a pair of jeeps appeared in the rear view mirror, rounding the curve where I nearly rolled my truck, pursuing me as a snake of dust crawled into the air behind them.
Through a residential neighborhood we sped, now miles from the site of the bombing. The homes here were pristine, but the threat of war was apparent in the roadside bomb shelters and foot soldiers. I raced through a small crowd of pedestrians who parted before me like clouds after a storm. The jeeps followed, closing the gap.
The neighborhood thinned of houses and soon I drove through a sea of trees, then the trees grew shorter and shorter until my truck raced through a open field. The road became dirt, then rocks, and disappeared completely as I sped at top speed directly towards the flowing current of a dark, muddy river. The brakes were of no use as the truck smashed into a hard wall of water.
For months I would have a bruise across my chest from where I was thrown into the steering wheel. Water began to flood the truck from the floor, the windows, from everywhere. I was able to push the door open and slide to safety as the truck sank and became consumed by the river. But my good fortune lasted only moments as tires from the two Army jeeps soon skidded to a halt on the gravel road above me.
I plunged my head below the surface and let the current whisk my weary body downstream. I noticed right away the water tasted like algae and dirt, the way a river should taste – absent was the odor of industrial death. No dead fish floated along this surface, it smelled of wet logs instead of ash and atomic soot.
As I came up for air, a pair of projectiles splashed before me with a zing. Then a crack, a rifle’s report, as shots were fired towards me. I ducked under the water again and swam with the current. Bullets sailed over my head as their rifles popped and cracked behind me.
“Kiyoshi!” I heard Masaru’s voice call, but it was muffled by water splashing all around me. I kicked and clawed at the river, the cool, clean water soothed by burns and washed the dirt and dust from my eyes. More shouting and gunfire from the riverbank but it grew more and more distant as the rush of the water became the only sound.
I thought of my wife in Nagasaki, and my child. I wanted to get a message to them, to let them know I was coming, and to be ready to leave the islands forever. But stuck in this river, with my fellow soldiers pursuing me along the riverbank, all I could do was keep my head submerged and move with the current. Soon the river grew wider, the current eased and I moved towards the middle of the stream, then crossed it completely and reached the shore on the other side. I looked back the direction I had come – my truck, the landing where I had crashed, Masaru and the soldiers who had given chase, where nowhere to be seen.
I drew myself from the muddy water and crawled to the rocky shore, hiding in the weeds to catch my breath. Then shouldering my great burden, I set off, seeking a path that would deliver me from this island, and bring me home to Nagasaki.