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 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.


Home to Nagasaki – Chapter 2

May 17, 2012

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 movie star good-looks 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 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. He was a better advocate of the device we 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 highway 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 devise would collect the purified water as it dripped from the pipes above.

Now 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, capably 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.

Now he zipped his pants and carried the piss-filled cup to the device, pouring the urine into the funnel atop of 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.

He poured the contents into a glass and carried the seemingly clear and clean water into the audience. I wasn’t surprised when he stopped before Chichibu Hirohito and offered the water to the Emperor’s brother. Stern 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 devise 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 from 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. Women flocked around him like bees to a jar of honey. 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 bar 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 for 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, 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.

 

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.


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.

Keys.

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 mmcginty_32@yahoo.com.