Welcome, welcome, welcome! Here is the last posting of Left of Midnight for the year! I hope you’ve been enjoying the story so far! The second section of the book will be posted started at the beginning of the new year. Right now, however, we have reached the end of section one and I’m happy you’ve been with me this entire time!
So, I won’t hold you up any longer. Let’s get into these last two micro-chapters of Left of Midnight Section One….
MORNING CAME ALL too quickly. Avery felt well rested and eager to go. Despite the strange dream gaining ground on whatever destination he was supposed to be making. Still, the words of Shōtō hung in his mind. The words of a warning. That all might not be as it seemed in that geological formation. A hidden world, just like the one Neti was descending into. Full of spirits and eager demons. There was a thought lingering in his mind, though. One to do with his dream. He leaned forward on his mat and stared out of the alcove and at the volcano looming large over the end of the island.
What was it? It wasn’t just Neti. There was something else. A dream he had, wasn’t it? But it wasn’t coming into focus. It was fading along with the rest of the dream. He frowned and rubbed his face. It didn’t really matter, he supposed. The more important thing to concern himself right that moment was preparing to hit the base of that mountainous feature and see what there was to see if anything at all. If anything at all, Ave? Christ. Just look at it! It should be a Wonder of the World itself…
He stood up and saw that Shōtō was already awake and fixing breakfast at a freshly built firepit just outside of the alcove. He stood staring at the volcano at the edge of the overlook with a line of sight over the canopy of forest leading towards their destination. If they were cautious, they would be able to hack their way through the dense forest and forge a path towards the volcano perhaps by the end of the day. That was the hope anyhow.
Avery walked towards the firepit and took a seat across from Shōtō. “So, what are you fixing?”
Shōtō shrugged and barely looked up from what he was doing. “Just some eggs I found. Kelp and berries. Some of those, what do you call them? Geekos?”
Avery smiled. He’d started calling this type of lizard he’d found ‘geekos’ because they looked like geckos. And had a real penchant for shrieking when caught by the tail. It’d startled him at first causing him to lose the first half dozen. However, upon realizing they didn’t bite and were fairly harmless, he’d discovered they had fairly tasty meat. And now Shōtō was frying up slender strips of the nearly half a foot lizard up into what he could only think of as a type of bacon.
“Yeah. Sounds about right. Creepy little bastards.”
“True,” Shōtō nodded, not returning his smile. “Even so, they’re not bad. Strangely easy to catch. Though, I’m more keen on fish myself.”
“So why didn’t you catch some fish?”
“Too much effort. Particularly if you’re wanting to trudge all the way up there,” he pointed half heartedly up to the volcano and then went to work scooping out half of the portions onto a wooden plate to hand to Avery.
He took it eagerly and started digging into the delectable meal that smelled as amazing as it tasted. Shōtō set his own portion to a dish and leaned against the edge of the alcove entrance. His gaze was firmly affixed on the volcano to the north as he slowly ate what he had prepared.
“Seems like you put a lot of effort into this meal anyway,” Avery said with a nod. “Thank you. I appreciate it. Plus, we’re going to need it moving forward. We’ll take enough rations to get us through the trip, I think.”
“Are you sure you want to go up there, Averysan?”
Shōtō turned his gaze unto Avery and he felt a shiver trying to run up his spine. He focused on just eating for a long moment and attempted not to let any doubt creep into his own subconsciousness. However, between the dreams and Shōtō, he was starting to feel a certain uncertainty. Still, the need to investigate was more powerful and any doubt he might have had he pushed deep down.
“If we don’t go check out what’s there, I think we shall never seen anything other than this island again.”
“And? What would be so horrible about that?”
“Come on, man. Do you really want to wake up every morning to glare at this mug? You have to want to get home to your family, right?”
Shōtō stared out across the tops of the forest and towards the sea to the east not saying anything for a long while. Then he dropped his gaze to the ground. “I don’t have any family. Not anymore. My mother died. My father died. What’s left wants nothing to do with me. And my homeland… is hellbent on waging war with your people. What do I have to return home to?”
Avery was silent himself for a long moment watching the man stare at the ground tracing a shallow circle in the dirt with his foot. Then he cleared his throat and leaned back against a rock they’d propped up near the drop off from the alcove down into the forest below.
“That’s rough, Shōtō. I’m sorry to hear that.” He glanced out towards the ocean on the horizon himself. “Well, I don’t have much family left myself. My mother, of course. Though, my brother is gone. Lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
There was a silence between them for several long moments and Shōtō glared even harder at the ground, a sullen look deep in his eyes. Avery watched him for a moment longer and then scooted himself around the firepit until he was within arm reach of the pilot. He reached a tentative hand out to the man and placed it gently on his shoulder. Shōtō glanced up at him, his eyes moist and his visage one of deep regret.
“It’s not your fault, man. Yeah, Janus has been a driving force in my quest for revenge. When I had you in my sights,” Avery took in a deep breath and sighed. “When I had you dead to rights, I couldn’t let go. I blamed you. I blamed your emperor. I blamed everybody. Even myself. I thought you were just some… evil prick come to destroy everything we held dear. Because you were some soulless beings. Not even human. But that’s not true, is it?”
Avery let his hand drop and he stared out at the ocean once more, his eyes taking on a distant look he hadn’t had since first learning of Janus’ death. “No. The truth is simpler than all of that. We’re peons. You and me. All of us soldiers and civilians. Peons to the masters of power who wage their little war games. Pitting us against one another so that these men of power can continue to hold on to that power. Place themselves on a pedestal and believe themselves superior to anyone who isn’t them. Self-righteous hypocrites who are more than willing to sacrifice us and more than unwilling to do the dirty work themselves. We’re not fighting to save our nations. Or our people. Or our freedoms. We’re fighting for them. So that they can keep what they fear to lose.”
Shōtō shook his head. “My nation attacked yours. Because they feared you would intervene with the great expansion into the Pacific. Perhaps my own government was power hungry. But yours… they were just seeking to protect their people.”
“There might be something to that,” Avery said and frowned. “However, how many years did we have diplomatic engagements with Japan? Hmm? How many years did we force our beliefs down your people’s throats? No, this conflict was building for decades because of poor decisions by the powerful. Did you want this war?”
Avery looked to Shōtō and he returned the look. Then shook his head. “No. Of course not.”
“No. And neither did I. I was content staring at naked girls through their windows and planning for a future in agriculture. Then, all of this. It didn’t have to be this way. But they chose to put us here. All of them could have reached an accord. Yet, it was easier to simply wage war. Send us nobodies out and fight on their behalf. You know what I think? I think we should, us pleebs of nothing to our names, force these men of power to face one another in a great pit built within a cage. If they have grievances against one another, they can fight it out to the death. Let the victor make the decisions for the next five years. If it doesn’t bear fruit towards the end, then let the next batch of rulers fight it out. Let us live our lives while they battle it out for their sick fantasies. Let us take care of our families. Let us be free from their hates and contemptable attitudes. Right now, we’re all just poor bastards stuck in the same beartrap fighting one another for false ideologies. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. I wanted to kill you when I got here. I wanted to destroy you for being so hateful to my kind. Yet… you aren’t that person. You’re just like me. Looking for some sense of sanity in a world increasingly lacking for it. In the end, we’re just destroying ourselves so that those assholes can run away and hide until the next generation of the clueless masses comes along to fulfill their sick desires.”
Shōtō stood up and looked down to Avery. “Finish your breakfast. We will set out for your volcano soon. I… I will always regret your brother’s death. We have lost much, it would seem. Maybe we’ll find some answers up there.”
Shōtō pointed towards the volcano and then let his arm drop to his side. He seemed distant as he continued to speak. “You who are being driven towards it… me, who is being warned against it. Either way, there are answers there. I’m more sure of it now than ever.”
Before Avery could even answer, Shōtō walked into the alcove to gather some belongings. He watched the man for a few minutes and then went back to finishing his breakfast.
WITHIN TWO HOURS, the two of them were on their way towards the volcano to the north. Shōtō followed behind Avery in no real hurry to reach the great mountainous region. Yet, he ached. There was a tension within himself. He wanted to keep Avery as far away as possible and still the man’s words had awakened in him a grievous sorrow. The American was still hurting over his own losses. He could see that now. Just as he himself had lost. In fact, now that he thought about it, his entire life had been part of one war or another that his country was fighting. Whether it was against the Russians or now against the Americans. Whether it was against the Chinese or the rest of the Pacific basin. The emperor had it in his head to expand the great empire across the seas. They had hoped to keep the American fleets at bay long enough to fulfill this quest.
They had failed.
And now he was stuck on an island running away from all of the chaos as a result. Shōtō couldn’t say if he blamed himself or his country, but he knew listening to Avery that he could not blame him. He was a prisoner of all the hate and uncertainty as well. They were in the mix together. who was he to tell him he couldn’t go check out a volcano for himself?
Besides, those were just dreams. I don’t even remember them very well, Shōtō thought frowning as they walked through a trail Avery had just finished hacking and reached the plateau of a rough patch of earth free of any vegetation but still surrounded by the massive tropical forest. So why does it feel like we’re walking into our own deathtraps?
Avery stopped and looked around. He placed his hands to the midsection of his lower back and stretched. The satchel around his waist bounced as a crack echoed out making Shōtō wince. He never knew how the man could do that to himself and not get paralyzed in the act. The pilot looked up into the clear blue sky.
“Looks like it might rain.”
Shōtō looked up and around himself. All he saw was the clear blue and the sun shining down upon their little meadow of dirt in the middle of the forest.
“What are you talking about? There isn’t a cloud in sight?”
“No. Not yet. But do you feel that?” Avery looked back at him and then ran his hand, palm up, through the air indicating the air all around them. “There’s moisture on the wind. And it’s cool. I’ll wager by nightfall we’re going to have ourselves a nice little storm blowing through.”
“Well, that’s fantastic, now isn’t it?” Shōtō grumbled readjusting his own satchel over his shoulder. “Perhaps we should be looking to find some shelter then? We have the tent. But… will it stand up in the woods?”
Avery waved a dismissive hand. “Ah. We’ll be at the volcanic base way before then. Probably a cave along there somewhere.”
“You’re betting a lot of your assumptions.”
“Hey, when have I guided you wrong?” He looked to Shōtō with a smile, saw his face that was dead serious, and let the smile fade. “You know what, don’t answer that. Let’s just get a move on. I have faith we’ll make it in time.”
Avery moved on and Shōtō followed. There was a nagging sensation at the edge of his thoughts. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination or not, but he got the sense that Avery was now sounding far more coherent and easier to understand. As if his Japanese were growing to an extant that one could take him for a native of Nihon. That was preposterous, of course. Avery’s Nihongo was atrocious. Yet, the tone was there and it didn’t sound exactly American to him either.
The volcano grew larger and dominated the skyline overhead and beyond the forest canopy as the day grew later. Dark clouds were beginning to cover the horizon far to the east and Shōtō could feel the air growing cooler in the process. Though they could see the volcano, he wasn’t sure when they’d hit the base of the great structure.
Structure? It’s a volcano. Why would you think that? Shōtō wondered as the forest thinned and they finally came out around the base of the great mound of stone and earth. He stared up its sloping side that was incredibly steep yet angled up towards the now impossible to see caldera at its summit. A great city of the gods…
Shōtō felt a sudden chill run up his spine and he was more frightened than he’d ever been. Even more so that when he faux kamikazed the American aircraft carrier. The formation was a black brown, the stone looking scarred from some sort of cataclysm however eons before. Sure, he thought that maybe it was due to some long ago eruption. But there was more to it than that. It look war torn. Like a bombed out city and all that was left was the skeletal remains of the base materials mounded up into a heap of debris. That was the impression that he got staring up the side of the mammoth thing.
The darkness is thickest here… He thought as Avery began pushing up along the sides of the structure trying to avoid the remaining reaches of the forest snaking up the base edge and stopping suddenly as if it had touched molten lava and refused to grow any further. Avery navigated several very large boulders as he walked between them and along a dirty, dusty pebble strewn path with soil that could no longer bear any sort of fruit.
“Averysan, maybe we should turn back. Maybe even make camp deeper in the forest. Away from this… awful thing.”
Avery looked back but didn’t slow down. The smile on his face said he was energized and not willing to retreat now. “Are you kidding? After spending all day getting here? And look up. The storm is almost upon us.”
It was true, Shōtō saw. He could even feel the droplets of prestorm pelting his bare flesh. He was not keen on this at all. His heart raced. His skin broke out in goosebumps and sweat. He was all of a sudden hotter than he could tolerate. Yet, Avery would not be assuaged until he discovered what he’d come for. Whatever that happened to be. So, he did the only thing that he could, followed along the path despite the screaming in his head to turn back. The dark insistence was stronger now. And growing stronger the further they walked along the edge of the volcano looking for a way in.
Shōtō could see out over the top of the forest from where they were. Almost a dozen feet up from where they started and moving along the flattish scarp at the foot of the mountain and navigating along looking for anything that could prove as shelter. The storm grew closer. The sky blackened. Rain came harder and bright light flashed heralding the boom following swiftly on its heels.
“Avery!” Shōtō shouted as they started downward along a decline of rocky soil and coming around a vein of stony drift rising up to block their view of what awaited beyond the bend.
“I know! I know! Just a little farther!”
He was certain now that Avery’s dialect was even more stronger aligned with his now. The aching fear was deeper into Shōtō’s bones. The sense that they didn’t belong there almost a screeching urge to escape.
Yet Avery still was not assuaged.
So, he continued to follow and then the rain came down in sheets and the two men were forced to move faster, arms up against the downpour pelting at them against the side of the volcano. They kept moving and it felt like an eternity before Avery shouted drawing Shōtō’s attention to him once more and away from the looming blanket of black nearly right on top of them. He hadn’t seen the likes since that first day when Avery had given chase and they had crash landed on the island.
“There! There! Come on! Hurry up, slowpoke!”
Shōtō wasted no words. Only turned to follow Avery up and over another rise and down into a flat plain of rocky terrain leading up the side of the volcano and towards what looked like a black cavity a dozen feet or so away from them. Avery hurried towards it, Shōtō staying close at his feet. Soon enough, they were inside a narrow tunnel leading deep into the volcano side. Avery said nothing as he pushed further in. Neither could see a thing as the black depths grew blacker and then Shōtō ran into Avery’s back. He had stopped, apparently.
“Hold your horses, Shōtō old buddy,” Avery said calmly enough.
He heard stone on stone and then a hissing strike as a sudden bright light came into existence. Shōtō braced his right forearm over his eyes for a moment and then let his vision slowly come back into focus. When he was able to look, he saw Avery smiling brightly.
“Look, the flint didn’t get wet at all!” Water dripped off Avery’s face and onto the cave floor. “Told you we’d get here alright.”
The two of them were nearly hunched over. Avery more so than himself since he was significantly taller. Yet, there was enough room to walk at least. Shōtō looked back behind him hearing the thunder roil angrily across the island. It was almost a howl of disdain that had drawn his attention. As if it had just missed its quarry.
“I think we might be in some deep shit here,” Shōtō muttered.
Avery clapped him on the back. “Paranoid as ever, see. Come on.”
He led the way deeper into the tunnel and Shōtō followed. Before long, they came to an opening that was wide enough for them to stand up fully. There were three branching tunnels from there leading even deeper into the depths of the volcano. Avery held up his torch and looked around the interior. They were in a round room. The ceiling domed. It was like being inside of one of those snow globes he’d once heard about. And they were the fish trapped within its confines. The tunnels ran off in different directions but still across from the entrance they’d used.
“Well, looky here. We’ve got so many options at our disposal!”
Anger grew in Shōtō’s chest. Here they were, trapped inside of the volcano itself, staying out of a massive storm so that they could continue to survive. And he was concerned about investigating farther into the volcano? Shōtō felt his face flushing.
“Are you insane?” his fists clenched into balls as he tossed his satchel to the floor.
“Huhn?” Avery let his own bag drop to the floor and he quirked a brow. “What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean!” Shōtō spat, spittle flying from his mouth. “We were perfectly fine where we were! Safe in our own enclosure, that, might I add, you went out of your way to build!”
“Wooa!” Avery held up his hands defensively but Shōtō thought he saw a scowl brewing on the man’s face. The nerve of him to be angry when it was all his fault! “What the hell are you going on about? I told you we came here to investigate! It might be stormin’ outside, but we still have several hours before we have to worry about making camp!”
“Fuck your camp!” the howl came from Shōtō’s chest in a wail. “We were fine before you decided to come here! We could have turned back, but, oh no! You had to let your curiosity drive you!”
“Well, we wouldn’t be here if you and yours didn’t fucking murder my brother, you cock sucking mother fucker! I hate you! I hate you and all of you Jap fucks!” the hate in Avery’s eyes grew deeper and he balled his own fists. “You should’ve drowned in the ocean! You should’ve died in that crash! You can’t take back what you did to my family! So why don’t you go slit your own throat!?”
“Stop blaming me and my people for your insult to this world! You think you’re so superior to everyone else!” the world around him turned red, his brows feverish as he leaned forward. “The truth is, I’m glad the emperor had you people bombed! You’re a disease that needs to be eliminated from this world!”
Avery howled in rage and he rushed forward. The torch lay on the ground flickering in uncertainty casting the cavern into changing auras of yellow and orange, red and black. Avery hit Shōtō in his face which only enraged him further. He dropped down into a crouch and grappled for Avery’s waist throwing the man to the floor. Then pummeled the American in his face. Avery tried to stop him for several long moments before managing to knee him off his chest and coming fast to grab him in a bear hug. Shōtō struggled to get free and hit the man on his shoulders in downward swings. Each blow he heard Avery give off a pained grunt and rage filled howl.
Then they were apart. They made to reach for one another but stopped, realizing that the cavern had gone pitch black but somehow they were still able to see one another. Then there was a light. It was bluish and tinged their bodies under the supernatural glow. They stopped focusing on one another and slowly circled around until they were back to back.
There were dark shadows surrounding them on all sides. All of them shimmering in the darkness, the blackness of their flesh a stark contrast to the dim blackness surrounding the edges of their vision.
Neither could say anything more than utter a grunt as the creatures surrounded them, their eyes all a piercing cobalt blue sheen casting the cavern under their glow. Then they both noted they were no longer in their own cavern, but in some sunken cavity ringed by the entryways to tunnels leading to innumerable locations far out of sight. Atop these cavernous tunnels, was a flat ring of stone like a balcony. None of the creatures stood atop that ring.
“There!” Shōtō shouted and they both made to fight the things but feigned at the last moment to jump up on two of their heads and leap onto that flat ring of floor.
“Here!” Avery shouted and Shōtō followed him down a tunnel to the back wall.
The raced down the tunnel that allowed them to stand nearly full height. It was pitch black, yet, somehow, they were still able to see. It was as if every sense in their mind and body had heighten to a preternatural degree. Soon, they were flying out into the air over the edge of the volcano base. They could see the drop below them as they flung out into open air and screamed. They didn’t stop screaming until their bodies hit the soft, grassy ground of a meadow they hadn’t seen first entering the cavern. They rolled several dozen feet in grunts and painful releases of tortured wails. When they came to a stop, they laid there for several long moments. Rain saturated their bodies and their pants as the storm raged and continued to released its pent up storage of hard liquid.
“This… is… your fault!” Shōtō panted coming to his hands and knees.
“Fuck you, you little cunt!” Avery spat back coming to his own hands and knees and leaning back onto his thighs. “You’re the one so full of rage and hate that you can’t let it go!”
Shōtō got to his feet and started towards Avery. “Oh no, we’re not finished with—”
Avery got to his own feet, his breath coming in heaving gasps. “Oh yeah? We ain’t finished? Fine, let’s finish it!”
“Don’t Avery me, you fucking little bas—”
They both stopped and twisted in tight circles looking around them. Through the barrage of rain and the thunderous booms of thunder, they saw something approaching them. Only when the lightening flashed was that something clearer. Half a dozen creatures that looked like heavily armed lizards with glowing bo staffs pointed towards them. And they were standing fully erect like human beings.
“Am I hallucinating this? Or are there… lizard men looking to kill us?” Avery managed to grumble out as he swayed on his feet.
Shōtō felt the fear grow to an impossible degree. “Run!”
Avery didn’t question him as they both turned towards the forest beyond and made to escape the creatures. They gave chase and they could hear them screaming something in a language they didn’t quite understand. Beams of light flashed beyond them and around. Shōtō ducked and lost track of Avery who darted into the depths of the woods to his right. Shōtō continued forward hoping to reach the forest edge just beyond. As he managed to reach its confines, one of the creatures darted out from behind a tree, raised its weapon, and swiped it across his skull. Shōtō fell to his back and stared up into the black sky and the cascaded sheets of rain pummeling his face. Then the creature was above him screeching out its profane words. It raised the stick in its hands and then a light encased Shōtō’s world.
Then all went black.
And there we go! Thanks for reading so far and come back for the next few Fridays for some Story Time With Tim! The beginning of the year, Left of Midnight will be back so that you can continue along with the adventures of Avery and Shōtō! Thanks for sticking around to read my posts and I hope you have a great Christmas season! So, until 2021, I’ll see you folks later!
~Timothy S Purvis
While I have you here, why not check out one of the novels I published this year? See my author site here https://www.amazon.com/Timothy-Purvis/e/B085Q62XRP?ref=sxts_sxwds-bia-wc-drs1_0&qid=1603127596&sr=1-1-f6b8d51f-2c55-4dc3-89ad-0c3639671b2d and then check out the book below!