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.

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Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 4

March 6, 2013

Ping Fan, China

1939

Masaru planned to turn Manchuria into a gigantic chemical and biological warfare laboratory and it was my job to execute his plan. We decided nearly eighty buildings would be 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 jail that would house Chinese prisoners of war and Masaru personally supervised the construction of a facility that could conduct frostbite studies year round.

There was a power plant, a group of furnaces used to animal carcasses and human waste and a recreational facility that Masaru designed himself. 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 Nazi 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.”

I was more concerned about my filtration system and the munitions needed to deliver our weapons. I poured over my own blueprints, constantly revising and updating the schematics. I created designs for a portable water purification system that could be carried to the field of battle. A setup big enough for an entire barracks, even an entire base. Bombs that dispersed biological agents when detonated, balloons capable of traveling great distances to deliver these poisons to their target.

Japanese army soldiers at the facility were constantly coming to me asking for decisions on administrative matters. I delegated these mundane duties to my underlings and focused on my designs.

Masaru was more concerned with the experiments. A chemical and biological weapons development facility means our concoctions were to be tested on rats and other rodents. Wild animals captured near the facilities. The Chinese POWs were a constant reminder that we were at war.   

Our prisoners were 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 our enemies. As far as we knew, these prisoners never even had names. Only numbers.

Log 741. Log 622. Log 881.

I was more concerned with spare parts needed to build my machines. Not all pieces could be manufactured on the islands and we needed to seek outside help. The army put me in contact with a firm from Australia where my chief contact, ironically, was an American named Turner Denton.

Purported to be a member of the international scientific community, I knew little of Turner at first and our relationship began as nothing more than a buyer and a supplier discreetly exchanging goods and monies. Over the years our relationship would change considerably until I saw Turner as the only man who could deliver me from the predicament I took part in creating.

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 2 & 3

March 5, 2013

Chapter 2

War Ministry Grand Conference Hall, Tokyo

1937

 

Masaru dressed immaculately in his military uniform and stood half a head taller than the Imperial officers in the auditorium. With a handsome face and a deep, bombastic voice, he took the podium and stared for a moment into the standing-room sea of Japanese military officers, scientists, and even Prince Chichibu, brother of Emperor Hirohito.

Masaru was to demonstrate the advanced water filtration system that I had invented and he had championed. “Conduct the demonstration yourself,” Masaru had urged me, but I politely declined.

“I’m a man of engineering and science, not theatrics.”

Masaru smiled knowing we both thought of him as the superior showman. I owned the scientific contributions while Masaru pulls strings and converted my designs to reality. He was a better advocate of the device I had developed, of anything we had developed. Now he stood on the auditorium stage beside a table with a prototype of the filtration device, a complicated mishmash of tubes, piping and chemistry. This was a miniature version of the system we hoped the army would fund. A funnel at the top collected the unpurified water while pair of dials measured its chemical properties. A tin canister underneath the device would collect the purified water as it dripped from the pipes above.

Masaru addressed the room, needing no microphone as his voice boomed and echoed off the back wall. “Who can deny the importance of providing drinkable water to our armed forces in the forward theater? I present the most advanced water purification system in the world, capable of cleansing the most putrid water into a clean, drinkable supply. Allow me to demonstrate.”

Masaru unzipped his pants as the military audience gasped in horror and watched him remove his penis. He produced a metal cup and urinated into it in front of everyone. This move shocked me at first but I had already learned to accept this flamboyance as part of Masaru’s personality. He cared little what others thought of him. He was known to brag loudly of his successes with little regard for decorum, and to indulge in wine and women recklessly and frequently. This brash act of peeing into a cup as a crowded room of his superiors watched every drop fall was simply Masaru seizing attention. He thrived on the discomfort he caused and used it merely as a method of engaging his audience.

Masaru zipped his pants and carried the piss-filled cup to the device, pouring the urine into the funnel atop the contraption. He narrated the filtration process as the urine made its way through the pipes and eventually came dripping out of the nozzle above the collection canister clear as air.

He poured the contents into a glass and carried the seemingly clean water into the audience. I wasn’t surprised when he stopped before Chichibu Hirohito and offered the water to the Emperor’s brother. Stiff and surprised the prince quickly refused the glass with a curt wave of his hand. Masaru, surely expecting the prince to decline the test, raised the glass as if he were toasting the room, tilted his head back and quaffed the entire portion in one gulp. The crowd gasped but Masaru wiped his lips with the back of a hand and then smiled proudly awaiting his applause.

The dutiful assistant that I was, I started it with a hearty clap that slowly spread until the entire room was on its feet. The purification device was a success and the army soon awarded Masaru with the funds he had requested, yet the money was for more than an innovative system of cleaning water. We were on our way to Ping Fan to the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, code name: Unit 731.

With the funding we’d receive for our water purification system, Masaru and I would soon turn the facility into the headquarters for Japan’s chemical and biological weapons program.

“This is an incredible honor, Captain,” Masaru said to me as we celebrated that night, a bottle of sake in both hands and a cigarette dangling from his lips. He emptied one of the bottles into my glass and tossed the spent bottle aside.

For as long as I had known Masaru he had been a heavy drinking night owl, but only after a day of hard work. The microbiologist was tall and athletic, his uniform always spotless and he often bested me in footraces or games of tennis. Our fellow officers envied his physical bravado and his seemingly constant supply of cash. In social settings, women flocked around him and postured for his attention. He advanced quickly through the ranks of Japan’s military and was eager to take me with him.

His giant hand proudly slapped my back. He grinned and showed his shiny white teeth. “Drink up, Kiyoshi. Celebrate!”

He toasted our drinks as Masaru nibbled at the pair of young women on either of his shoulders. The nightclub was loud and rowdy. Music blared from above and Masaru made sure my glass was eternally filled with liquor. “The demonstration was a resounding success!” he declared. “I am anxious to put into practice these ideas we have developed. The ideas we have developed together, Kiyoshi. I’m anxious to make Japan the leading nation in the technologies of warfare.”

Developed together, he stressed. I had been the man behind the science, to engineer the water purification devise, to birth ideas for our military technology.

Masaru was right. It was an incredible honor for us to be chosen to head Unit 731. Masaru and I had studied together at Kyoto University. We became doctors together, men of chemical engineering, and had served together in the Army ever since we engaged the Chinese in Manchuria in 1931. Masaru was always one rank ahead of me, always had one more friend than I did, and seemed to need me one step below him always looking up. So he kept me around. When he was promoted and transferred, he always brought me with him, made sure I was paid well, confided in me, and trusted my expertise.

And when Masaru had been chosen to run Japan’s premier chemical and biological weapons research facility, he named me his second-in-command.  

Masaru’s remaining sake bottle clanked against my glass. “Congratulations, Captain, and be proud! It is an honor to serve the Emperor!”

I said nothing, sipped my sake and took the last drag from my cigarette.

Chapter 3

 

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 onto the pavement. 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 along the dirt and turned by back towards the blast. Was I asleep? Did I awaken? 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 a hot wind blew dust into my face and prevented me from going very far. 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 sand 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 burning wind followed by an avalanche of dirt and junk. Silent shock. Splintering lumber, buildings crumbling. Bricks walls toppling like toy blocks, glass shattering, trees snapping like twigs.

I had crawled onto a pile of rocks so I tried to push them 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 another city had not survived. I was outraged at America for the bombing. At Japan for starting the war in the first place and not being able to defend cities like this one. At myself, for being in the middle of it all and having no power to do anything.  

I wanted to know what it meant for my plan. Where was Turner Denton? 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 face 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 the wars 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. But I felt no pain. I felt nothing. Only a dull, numbing sensation.

Still 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 told myself yet I had a suspicion that the Americans had won the race to develop a functional nuclear weapon. If they had more than this one they would likely begin dropping them on all our major cities.

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 swollen. 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 recognized.

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 carry out his orders and guard the tales of the facility.

I had survived the bomb but Masaru was alive and still wanted me dead.

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.