Book Excerpt: Unit 731… Chapter 22

August 9, 2011

 It’s been awhile since I posted an excerpt from my next novel but being that today is August 9th, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (which is what the book is about!), I figured a chapter that takes place the day before that event would be appropriate. This is a very rough, first draft. It hadn’t even been spell-checked until I copied it into this blog. But I’m really happy with how it came out.

Chapter 22

Japanese Airspace

August 8th, 1945 10:11 am

“I thought I had done nothing wrong. I thought my actions were honorable, meant to serve the Emperor, for the good of Japan. How can such noble work be beyond redemption?”

Masaru only scowled, his eyes fixed at some point over my shoulder. I could have slapped him across the head with a stick and his gaze wouldn’t have moved.

I pulled at my handcuffs to test their bond, the metal rings dug into my wrists. I rested my back against the wall of the fuselage, closed my eyes and thought of Kimiko and my son, alone in Nagasaki with no knowledge of my situation. Kimiko expected me to return home in a matter of days, to gather the family and leave Japan for good. As I headed to Tokyo, I wished I could get a message to them and advise them to go now. That I would catch up with them, probably in the afterlife.

I thought of the cyanide capsule in my pocket.

The plane lurched and my body seemed weightless for a moment, held in place by the safety belt buckled across my chest. Then I caught up to my seat and felt the weight of the plane pushing me up from below. I looked across the plane to Masaru, who seemed suddenly frightened, his eyes now pointed towards the cockpit.

I imagined a young, inexperienced pilot flying this broken cargo plane, which was probably low on fuel and behind on its maintenance. Such was the case with all Japanese aircraft at this point in the war – rundown leftovers and castaways flown by inexperienced pilots and hardly any fuel.

The ground began to bounce under my feet and soon the metal tube where we sat violently vibrated back and forth. I was weightless again, the straps of my harness dug into my shoulders and kept me in place but we were no longer on a flat trajectory, we were going down.

One of the soldiers beside me shouted towards the cockpit but I could not understand what he said as the plane became a noisy mess of vibrating metal, grinding engines and rocky, violent flight. I thought of a go-cart I once built with my father and my first bumpy, out-of-control ride down a rocky hill.

Suddenly the bottom fell from below our feet and an alarm siren started to buzz. We were losing altitude quickly and with my hands still cuffed, I could do nothing but grasp the straps of my harness and squeeze until the material cut into my burned and blistered palms.

It was during this freefall that I noticed the cargo alongside our seats had not been secured and was flying freely across the fuselage. A small metal crate was thrown my direction from the front of the plane and I ducked my head slightly to avoid being hit. Pens and screwdrivers, tiny tools and boxes of matches seemed to be circling through the air as if caught in a tornado. I could not avoid being agitated by the free-flying debris.

The metallic banging continued, the heinous alarm kept screeching and our bumpy fall from the sky made me close my eyes and recite a short prayer, my fingers still choking my harness. Then a terrible thud and the soldier to my left fell across my body, his hat knocked off and his head pouring blood from where he had been struck by some flying canister.

I glanced to the soldier beside me, his face pale, his eyes closed and his lips quivering from his own private prayer. The banging and violent back and forth of the plane made it hard to focus on Masaru but I could see him clutching his safety harness, gritting his teeth and looking towards the cockpit half expecting a dead pilot to fall from the seat and land lifeless on the floor.

I looked through the window over Masaru’s shoulder and became terrified by what I saw outside. Land appeared and rose upward at a startling pace. We were near the water, and descending quickly towards a sandy beach. I wondered how much control the pilot had over the plane and if he would attempt a crash landing or simply brace the controls and close his eyes hoping death would greet him swiftly and without pain.

We hit the ground with a blow so hard that it knocked me unconscious. I blacked out completely and cannot recall the impact or anything that happened immediately after.

When I came to I was still strapped to my harness, the wounded soldier on my left lay dead across my legs, his head hemorrhaging blood onto my lap. The soldier to my right was upright but his eyes were closed and his mouth open. A line of blood ran from his temple, down his cheek and hung like tiny red icicles from his jaw.

Both were dead.

Masaru was across from me, hunched over with his face hovering above the ground and his hands still locked on his harness. It looked like he was about to be sick but he soon lifted his head groggily and opened his eyes, took a moment to focus and still hunched over, looked up to see me staring back.

His face was just a foot from my boots and invited me to take swift action. I lifted my knees to my chest and thrust my feet towards Masaru’s face, connecting squarely with a double face-kick that snapped Masaru’s head back and sent him crashing against the wall behind him.

His nose was broken, blood poured from his nostrils.

The solder beside him was barely awake and when he saw me kick Masaru, he was instantly alert. I reached to my chest and unbuckled my harness then lunged across the plane towards the soldier, surprising him with an elbow to the jaw. He slumped to the side and I was immediately on top of him, the chain of my handcuffs wrapped around his neck, squeezing all life from his stunned and wounded body.

Masaru groaned beside me, the sting from my boot-kick starting to fade as Masaru realized he had survived the crash and now had an escaping prisoner to subdue. He would not have a chance to do more than become aware of his situation as I released the soldier from my handcuffs and turned them on Masaru.

“No!” his muffled voice shouted as I attacked him head-on, driving the chain of my handcuffs into his mouth like a gag and using my fingers to claw at his cheeks. I used the weight of my body to push him to the ground and then rolled on top to suffocate him.

I noticed a sharp pain in my left arm and realized I had broken at least one bone during the crash and now sensing my pain, realized that my wounds were extensive. Blood flowed into my eyes, my ears echoed with a quiet, distant buzz and my head hurt so badly it forced my eyes closed. For a moment I thought I would pass out.

But I had Masaru trapped below me, the three soldiers had been killed and only the pilot – if he had survived – could stop me. I clasped my hands together to form one giant fist and then drove it down towards Masaru’s bloody face with all my strength. He groaned and coughed blood as I rolled off his body and found myself staring at the utility belt of one of the dead soldiers.


I reached out and took them from his belt, fumbled for the small one that would unlock my handcuffs and slipped it into the hole. Seconds later I threw my handcuffs across Masaru’s body. Ready to take my path to freedom, I stopped myself and looked down to Masaru’s bloody face, his broken body writhing on the floor, and considered handcuffing him to some railing inside the plane, confining him to the wreck until a rescue party arrived.

Instead I knelt beside him and whispered, “No matter his sins, no man is ever beyond redemption. Not even you, my friend.”

I rose and turned toward the cockpit. The door was still closed and I wondered if the pilot had been killed. Not taking the time to find out, I kicked the plane’s door open and fell onto a sunny and sandy beach.

The wings of the plane had broken off miles away and the body of the plane had slid across the sand, carving a trench in the dunes as it ground itself to a stop. Black smoke rose from the wreckage and I could see columns of smoke rising from the dunes up range.

I paused to survey my surroundings, to calculate my location. We had been headed for Tokyo, northeast from Kokura and had been in the air for at least thirty minutes before we started to fall. No telling how far we had veered off course, or if we had ever been on course in the first place but I figured we were closer to Hiroshima than Tokyo, and probably father from Nagasaki than I had been two days ago.

It would be a long journey home.

I turned inland, to the west, away from the beach and the rising sun that reminded me of our flag, our Japanese glory. Then I noticed something I never expected to see this far from Nagasaki. I shook my head and wondered if the wreck was causing me to hallucinate, or my mind to play games with my eyes.

It was the Mount Otake, an active volcano I had visited as a child, nowhere near Tokyo and was in fact on the same island where I had grown up.

Masaru had lied to me. We had not been headed for Tokyo at all. He had no intentions of bringing me to the capital to stand trial. Instead he had taken me the opposite direction, towards the city of my family. To my initial destination, the one place in the world where I wanted to be.

Masaru had brought me home.

Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker. His work has appeared in Cigar City Magazine, Maybourne Magazine, La Gaceta. Contact him at