So, here is the next selection from my new book Left of Midnight! The next three micro-chapters with one of them being fairly short (which is why once again I have three micro selections being put up. Never anticipated that). I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading! Share your comments below, please!
FLAMES LICKED THE night air as the fire blazed across its enclosure seeming desperate to escape its enclosure. Shōtō Ryūgawa stared into those flames trying not to think about where he was, or how he came to be there. The depths of the fire flickered fast and high taking on shapes and forms that his mind struggled to ignore. How long has it been? He wondered fighting the tears in his eyes. He was desperate too. Desperate to escape his own enclosure. The fire danced and weaved, kissed the edges of the stone pit Shōtō had erected around it.
The small campsite sat at the edge of a cliff not far from where he’d crashed the night before. It’d been a long day. Most of it spent trying to put out the fire of his Zero. The last thing he’d wanted was for the island to burn down because he’d gotten into a firefight with one of the Americans. It wouldn’t have happened, if they’d just let me crash onto one of their reaches. They would’ve had me. Then… that would’ve been that, wouldn’t it? But, no. Here we are…
The surf crashed into the scattered stone at the base of the cliff near the shoreline of the tall formation. From here he could see a good portion of the Pacific Ocean. He was pretty sure he was on the western coast. After the American had shot his plane up, he’d had no choice but to pull up and hope for the best. He hadn’t wanted to die. He just wanted to surrender. But even at that task he’d been a miserable failure. Still, he’d somehow managed to find a gully that crossed that forest filled ravine and by all the miracles of his forefather’s allowed him to fly out and over the island interior. Only, he wouldn’t be flying for long as the Zero whined in torture and the engines gave out. Then there had only been the matter of finding the clearest spot to put down. Put down… there’s a joke. I wrecked hard. Not as hard as possible, no doubt. But the plane will never fly again. Course, maybe I don’t want to fly again. I accomplished what I came to do… Oh, okasan… they keep coming for me! What can I do? How can I live? Have I made a horrible mistake? Oh, okasan! Please, guide me! Please, please, please… I don’t know what to do.
A flame leapt up. It seemed to be a woman, he thought. His eyes flickered under the warm, red yellow light as he stared into its depths. He heard her voice. Heard her gentle ruminations as she lay on her deathbed. Lay there, waiting for cruel fate to judge them all. Judge their family. Judge their homeland. Judge the arrogance that had made all of Nihon a slave to the whims of madmen.
‘Oh my peaceful, loving son. Why they have done this… I cannot say. Why they sully your loving, compassionate soul… I dare not say.’
Okasan… what do I do? How can I survive? Okasan, tell me.
“WHO DO YOU think you are? To think you can defy the emperor!? Do you find yourself one of the ancient gods!? Are you so special that even your father did not share in the uniqueness of yourself!?”
Shōtō stared at his lap where he sat across from Furimi Yakiyama who glared at him with the utmost of contempt. Furimi was an old friend of Shōtō’s. A man he’d practically grown up with. Now Furimi was a superior, an agent for the War Ministry looking for those who would evade service in the imperial military and their battle against the ‘Great Satan’ (young Shōtō had once heard, anyhow) and their allies in Europe and the American West—that bastion of salvation known only as the Outlands by some. And now Furimi wanted to know why Shōtō would dare refuse to serve. And Shōtō had little more than excuses for his old friend. He just wasn’t a warrior. But he knew that was something his friend would never accept.
Shōtō bowed his head, “Forgive me, Furimisan. It is not that I will not serve, not that I view myself greater than the emperor. I am no god. Far from it. Just some worm struggling for air after a rainstorm. It is my mother, Furimisan. I cannot leave her in the state she is in. She is ill and I fear not long for this world. What sort of son would I be if I go to fight for the glory of Nihon only to allow her to die alone and forgotten? I cannot bear such a thought, Furimisan.”
Furimi made a clicking sound with his tongue and leaned back, his hands still braced upon his thighs, his eyes flicking quickly between Shōtō and the bar ceiling above the table in which they sat. “Ah so so so so.”
Shōtō spared a brief glance at his old friend but dared not look too long and shifted his view back to his lap where his hands waited clasped. He hoped for some leniency from his friend. From the War Ministry as well. A welling pit of despair was his constant companion ever since receiving notice that he was to have the ‘honor’ of joining the emperor’s service to fight against the godless forces of the Americans. Furimi remained motionless for too long a time for Shōtō’s comfort. After a few minutes, Furimi sighed.
“I did not know that Arukasan was ill, my old friend. This news is very sad. So, here is what I will do for you. In recognition of our long friendship, of course. I will go back to the Ministry, tell them I have seen the frail condition of your mother. That I could not bear to take you away from her in such an hour of need.” Furimi leaned forward, his features taking on a more ominous look. “But know this, Shōtōsan, this is a one time only deal. Once your family duties have… met their end, you will report to the nearest recruitment center and volunteer to join tennō heika’s other sons as they face down those cowards seeking to conquer the Pacific for their own means. Nihon will shine brightly in this invasion of our homeland. We will be victorious.”
“Hai,” Shōtō bowed forward and cast his glance to the tabletop. “It will be my honor to join in this crusade against the Great Satan. I am forever in your debt, Furimisan.”
Furimi nodded quickly and grunted. Then stood and exited the bar leaving Shōtō alone in the booth. He waited for several minutes then paid for their drinks and left as well. It was a warm night as he made his way through several alleyways and along empty streets made even more sullen by domiciles and businesses stacked atop one another to preserve space in the city. This having the effect of a dark gully running through sparsely lit buildings staring down upon him in judgement. Like giants sent by Fujisan in an attempt to remind Shōtō who he was and the responsibility he owed to the land of the rising sun. Though he secretly feared the sun was soon to be setting across Nihon, never to rise again.
Shōtō quickened his pace and walked for another half hour before reaching his home at the base of an apartment complex. The exterior was dark, nary a light to be found in any of the apartments above and around them. Windows likely tightly close against the city as the denizens fought to ignore the crisis they found themselves living through. It’s just so easy for everyone, isn’t it? Just duck inside and pretend no war is happening and that everyday is the same as the last with no real problems to be concerned with. Delusional fools!
He shook his head and walked up the short walk that was nearly a shallow alleyway in and of its self as it led to the front door of the home he shared with his mother. He entered the domicile, took his shoes off and placed them on a rack by the door, and found a candle on the hall shelf to light. It cast a slight glow down the remainder of the hall leading into the common room and he stared into the flickering shadows deeper within his home.
“Is that you, Shōtōsan?”
“Hai, okasan!” he said and made his way through the common room and towards a sliding door that divided her small room from the rest of the apartment. There was a slight light inside her room and he knew she had one of the small candles lit. He wished that they could afford the electrical systems some of the other people had managed to acquire. Seeing by candlelight always strained his eyes. He slid the door open, saw his mother where she lay in her bed on the floor. “They… came for me again.”
Her voice was soft and cracking. Strained as she coughed. He entered and knelt beside her as he lowered his head, not certain what he could say to take away her anxiety and be more comfortable.
“Hai. But, worry not about him. He says I can have all the time that I need to care for you.” Shōtō reached over to a water jug and poured her a glass of water. She took it gladly and sipped slowly. When she was done, he removed the glass and set it to the side. “There is much certainty that Nihon will rise victorious over our American oppressors.”
“Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure,” she sighed and looked at him. Her greying hair flowed around her forehead and heaped onto the thin pillow beneath her neck. Her nightgown was a grey cotton and stained with attempts at snacking on what foods she still had an appetite for. It saddened him as he grasped her right hand and held it snugly in both of his. She smiled with effort. “Oh my peaceful, loving son. Why they have done this… I cannot say. Why they sully your loving, compassionate soul… I dare not say. That they insist on tearing down this nation of ours…” she mmm’d and coughed. “I cannot… lose you. As I did your father in the name of preserving ‘peace’ for our homeland.”
“Otōsan did his duty. Now, he is in a much better place,” Shōtō forced his own smile and lightly tapped the top of her hand. “We are fortunate to be so lucky for the lives that we lead here. All will be resolved peacefully, you will see. For now… just rest, okasan. Rest and worry not over these silly concerns. The Americans will never set foot upon this land.”
His mother shook her head and closed her eyes. “It’s not the Americans that I’m worried about. There is a darkness falling across us all. A darkness that I have seen but I dare not speak its name.” Her eyes flicked open and she affixed him with her deepest, most penetrating gaze. “Promise me, Shōtō. Promise me when the time comes, you will not let them take you. Their eyes… their eyes the color of sapphire… burning for lost souls to build their empire…”
“I promise, okasan. I will not let them take me,” Shōtō pat her hand once more and tried not to frown as his mother’s eyes closed once more and she slipped into a deep fitful sleep. He wanted to cry but knew that he would not. How could he dishonor his family so?
AN UNKNOWN CLIFF,
AN UNKNOWN ISLAND
THE FLAMES SPUTTERED tearing Shōtō’s mind away from the past. He leaned forward from where he sat against a heavy stone at the edge of his makeshift campsite. He grabbed some wood and tossed it into the fire. It diminished at first and then grew larger, hissed loudly as it lapped at the air above and around it hungry for the oxygen that fed it. Shōtō sighed. He could understand that desperate need for oxygen. He’d been seeking it ever since that last night with his mother. She hadn’t lasted much longer than that. A few weeks? Maybe a month, he considered. And after she passed, he knew he could not keep his promise to her. There was just no way to evade the War Ministry let alone his ‘friend’. The one man who knew every spot he could have possibly hidden himself away within. They’d grown up together. Used to play games together. Including hiding from their father’s when they knew behinds were going to be swatted for pulling a girl’s hair or burning a neighbor’s garden. They had never been the most behaved of children.
Shōtō stood up and walked to the edge of the campsite. It overlooked the Pacific Ocean along the edge of a cliffside. Walking up towards it hadn’t been very difficult. The slope from his crash site crossed a wide field of tall grasses and gently rose up to the edge of this portion of the island. He stared down at the crashing waves and leaned against a wall of stone rising only a few feet higher than himself off the island cliffside. The sea was growing restless, he saw. The ocean tides growing higher and angrier.
Yet another storm roiling in, it would seem. I wonder, will it be as violent as that which grounded me here? Shōtō took in a deep breath and looked up at the darkening sky. In a way, he just wanted to leap off the cliff and into the churning foamy tideline below. Let Susanowo do with him as he pleased. He was already a failure in the eyes of his family, his nation, himself. Can’t even get myself captured right… Pathetic…
A growling roar came from somewhere inland and Shōtō twisted around so fast he thought he might fall over. He took three steps towards the inner camp and stopped. His gaze fell on the island interior, on the forest surrounding all that he could see. Only this portion of the island seemed free of any trees and dense foliage. His eyes fell on the massive volcano far to the north. It dominated the horizon line there and there was a sense that that roar of anger, suffering, hatred had come from there. From somewhere far below that mountainous terror.
Even the island hates who I’ve become… That wasn’t exactly right, he came to figure rapidly. No. There was this thought that he was exactly what the island was looking for. He wanted to stay lost. Avoid the rest of the world. Avoid his homeland. Avoid the Americans. Though there was a warring thought in his head over just would find him first. The emperor’s warriors. Or the aggressive American fleet roaming the Pacific rim. Either way, he didn’t figure he’d have long left to live in this world. Both likely wanted him dead and it was probably better he stayed lost on the island and away from them all. Don’t be foolish… Something isn’t right here. Why do I feel… satisfied? No. No. It’s just the storm rolling in, foolish little piggy. Just the storm and your own fearful resolve to accomplish nothing.
Shōtō moved back towards the campfire feeling the first few drops of what was sure to be a nightmarish storm. And there was nowhere else for him to hide, to seek shelter. His plane was a complete wreck and he’d found no other caves or thick foliage to cover his hide. Not that he wanted to be anywhere near the forest to begin with. Uncertainty wracked his brain as he headed over to his knapsack and pulled out his parachute. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. He pulled out his survival knife and sliced the ropes connecting the chute to the bag and then went about wrapping the whole thing around his body. He only hoped it didn’t blow off during the night.
A trembling fear overtook his body and he shivered unlike he’d ever shivered before. A cold chill ran up his spine and he drew the parachute closer around him, his face poking out just barely a narrow opening as he eyes fixated on the forest far beyond.
Okasan! Please! They won’t leave me alone! I’m sorry I didn’t keep my promise! I’m sorry I let them take me! Please don’t let me be punished like this!
He continued staring, his eyes seeming to bulge out of his head as he breathed rapidly and heavily. The surf at the shoreline below grew fiercer, pounding the stone of the cliffside angrily. Shōtō had the impression it would love nothing more than to splash over the sides and swallow him up. The air grew colder and lightning lit the skies. Followed in quick succession by a loud, booming thunder strike. He pulled the parachute ever closer around his body and did everything in his power not to let the sobbing wrack his body.
Okasan! Stay with me!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post coming up within the week!
~Timothy S Purvis