“Two mortal enemies in world war 2 discover an ancient evil that wants to darken the hearts of men”
Thunder rolled and lightning flashed from within thick and oversaturated storm clouds suffocating what little light there was over the southern Pacific Ocean. Rain fell in near sheets onto the surface of violent waves reaching heavenward as two aircraft careened through the affair without sparing so much as a care for nature’s fury. Faint flashes of light bounced off the speeding craft as blazing ammunition pierced the distance between them.
“You’re not getting away from me, you sonuvabitch!” Avery Wilkes spat, catching brief glimpses of the fleeing Japanese Zero zooming in and out of his line of fire.
A guttural growl fell forth from behind Avery’s gnashing teeth and his fingers depressed the trigger on the yolk between his knees. Red hot trails of fire shot out from the wings of his Corsair and disappeared into the cascading wash that was threatening to drown him and his foe. He saw the Zero dive down towards a dark shape against the even darker horizon and thought the enemy pilot might crash into the sea. But the pilot pulled up and passed an outreaching wave and Avery shook his head in agitation.
“No! You can’t have him! Not until I’m finished with him!”
He pushed forward on the yoke and the Corsair dived in response and Avery could feel the rising groan of the engine straining and screeching under the might of gale force winds that were driving the pouring water off his canopy allowing him, if only for a moment’s reprieve, a clearer sight of the attacker he’d been chasing for nearly an hour; an hour that seemed like ages since the sudden assault on his fleet.
“Too many, you bastard!” he gritted his jaw thinking back on the friends he’d lost, the war they were in, the offense against his homeland, and the rage that broiled within his soul every day since Pearl Harbor. “Fuck you!”
The Zero shuddered under the assault from the Corsair’s cannons but it wasn’t enough to destroy it, and Avery cursed his luck and the storm that was just as sudden as the attack had been. Now he knew he was too far from the fleet, and the chances of getting back, even if he could find his way, were slim to none. But you, you’re not getting away…I’ll make sure of it.
A bright flash bathed the nightmarish sky and tortured sea under a white light and it was then he saw the massive island the Zero was flying towards. The Zero was a manueverable craft, probably more so than his, you ain’t faster though, are you!
Avery opened up the throttle and used that moment of sight to close the distance to the enemy craft and was nearly right upon him when they screeched over the jagged cliffs of the isle. The Corsair throbbed beneath Avery seeming as if it were trying to break to pieces at the rivets but he pressed his advantage as the two of them were now between the cliffs plowing full speed narrowly above the tops of massive trees and mere feet from the high reaching rocky outcroppings at their sides. To his credit, the Japanese pilot didn’t attempt to streak upwards, and Avery had just an inkling of a thought that that seemed too odd, but was too focused on maintaining the barrage of intense molten fire he was sinking into the Zero’s fuselage, to give it much consideration.
Flames shot out of the Zero and a shriek of rapturous joy exploded from Avery’s gut.
“Take that, Asshole! Yeah!”
The Zero disappeared into the darkness and Avery’s joy was short lived as the wing of the Corsair clipped the rocky side of the cliff on his starboard.
Trees raked the underside of the Corsair as Avery lost control and found himself unable to right the tumbling plane. It ricocheted from the cliff into the forest canopy below and he felt the craft barrel into the branches. He closed his eyes and flung his arms in front of his face as the metal fuselage all around him echoed a metallic rending sound. Shrieks of tearing metal filled his ears and the heavy thud of wood against the hull was bruising his legs for the vibrations.
This is it… The thought echoed through his mind and he felt the Corsair continuing its descent into the forest, and knew any moment he’d hit the thick center of a massive tree. However, no hit came and the craft slowed to a screeching, screaming halt. Scratching continued for several moments as the craft settled. It no longer sounded as if the siding of the plane were being peeled off by some giant and malicious child at a playground.
Several moments went by and Avery uncovered his face to take a cautious look around. It was silent. No not actually silent. There was still the sound of fierce wind and pelting rain. A thunder clash caused him to look up but even with the coming lightning he could not see more than a few feet beyond the canopy’s top. He braced his right hand above his brow and looked out his cockpit trying to see where his miraculous survival had brought him. However, all Avery could see was an unending blackness broken by streaks of rain.
He sighed, unbuckled himself, and checked to ensure his survival kit was still attached to his uniform. Taking a breath, he slid the canopy back across the top of the Corsair and took a hesitant look over the cockpit side. His view stared downward and saw that the plane had gotten wedged between the branches of several massive branches.
“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding…dammit.”
Avery stood up carefully in the cockpit and was relieved to find the craft was somehow quite steady in its new roost. He looked once more down hoping to see the ground but only saw the rain pouring past him and beyond into the abyss far below. Trepidation rolled up into his gut and he looked around. The wing just to the fore of the cockpit seemed relatively even and flat. I can walk out there and…
“What? Play Tarzan and slide down a vine?” He replied to himself and grimaced seeing that the only way down was going to be by carefully branch hopping one at a time.
It wouldn’t be a pleasant journey. The branches were much further apart going down than his height allowed for. He stared upward towards the sky and scanned the darkness for signs of the cliff he’d flown between. It was all the same unholy blackness where ever he looked, and he sighed in irritation.
After a moment’s further hesitation, Avery began to edge over the cockpit rim and tried to keep the rainfall out of his eyes by pulling his goggles down past his brow and stepped cautiously out onto the slant of the wing and promptly slipped. He flung out a hand trying to stop his slide off the edge of the wing but was unable to accomplish the task and found the Corsair quickly soaring above him as he sped down into the darkness. A loud sound was piercing the veil of the storm and he dimly realized it was him. It sounded somewhat along the lines of, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…!!” and was interrupted with an oomph, an augh, and several other forced sounds from his chest and lungs as he bounced through several very thick copses of foliage that slowed his descent to the forest floor.
With a splash, Avery rolled off one particularly rough bush and landed hard into a stream of muddy water. He gurgled and tried to push upward from the ground. “Ow.”
He struggled to look up to where he fell from and couldn’t see his plane. However, the rain was considerably less in the place he found himself in and therefore promptly passed out.
The deep darkness of the forest surrounded the Japanese Zero. Flames were engulfing the craft causing dancing shadows to seek refuge in the dark, fleeing from the light as a mouse might a predator. A creak shot out over the burning wreckage and the canopy slid back revealing a dark figure that stood and stared out into the woods. The Japanese pilot stepped out and calmly left the dying plane behind him and started at a run into the woods.
His eyes glared out into the dark as a red tint rose in his irises. The flame of the plane still reflected itself into his eyes as he fled past it and towards the swirling smoke somewhere deep in the forest. He pulled his gun from his holster and sped faster and faster until his feet were a blur of motion under an unhindered gait. Not even the foliage and branching of the thick girth of trees could stop his harried mission.
It was a matter of moments before the pilot found himself at the source of his ire, the American lying prostrate on the forest floor before him. The pilot held the gun up and pointed it at the American’s forehead. The man awoke startled and stared up at the pilot, his hands raised in surrender.
Two shots flew out of the muzzle of the gun and pierced the American’s skull. The cold eyes of the Japanese killer glowed an unnatural blue while up in the treetop canopy, something was looking down upon them. Its eyes glowed the same vicious blue glow and it almost seemed to smile maliciously.
Avery awoke in a cold sweat and flipped over in a panic. His hands went for the weapon at his thigh and stopped realizing no one was there with him.
“Goddamnit. Even my dreams are trying to kill me.”
A warmth filled Avery’s senses and he pulled his goggles off to see a vibrant and alive forest towering into the heights all around him and he saw sunlight piercing portions of the forest canopy high above. He rocked onto his side in a motion to get to his feet and paused, ignoring the agitation burrowing its way into his psyche. Almost unseen against the myriad of branches and leaves in the shadowy canopy was his corsair. Bits of light glittered off its hull. Fuck I fell far.
The corsair had been part of the reason he had had some shelter from the rain. But it hadn’t been much cover. His clothing was soaked and mud surrounded him as he pushed his way to his feet and took in his environment. The warmth of the sunlight streaming into the pristine green forest cleaned his mind as he stood taking stock of his predicament. A cursory glance down the steep cliff corridor showed where he had flown into the mountainous range.
“Not going back out that way,” he frowned and looked the other direction. Thick forest hindered his view. He took a step and stopped looking down at the stream bed from the night before. It was drying up and looked to be running downhill, into the forest beyond.
Avery reached into a pocket and pulled out a compass. “West.”
He sighed and put it away. A quick check of his person produced his survival sack strapped to his back and he pulled it out as he knelt down. He had enough rations to survive about a week. But he was going to need a source of water because he didn’t figure his canteen would last nearly that long. A compartment attached to the pack showed that he was fortunate enough to have remembered his portable radio. He turned it on and got fuzz.
“Least the bastard turns on.”
He buttoned up his gear, returned it to its position fastened to the pack on his back, and decided that the best direction to head was north. However, to his north was a mountainside with no purchases that were visible from his viewpoint. In an effort to cover all bases, he traveled the dozen meters or so to the wall and walked along it for a short distance. No trails were visible so he went back to his fall point to head west towards what he hoped was the exit to the ravine.
Avery stood still and felt a warm breeze flowing through the valley and a calm peace overcame his senses as he stood there. All the thoughts in his mind seemed to vanish as the noises of the forest echoed in his ears. Insects buzzed. Plants rustled. It was as if no war were waging at all. Somehow he felt more alive than ever before, felt a surge of emotions swelling under the calming influence of the nature around him.
His thoughts turned to his nightmare. Avery still felt a panic inside, could still see the monstrous eyes in the dark staring at him. Rage started to brew within him threatening to overcome the calm that was luring him into tranquility. Some inkling of a thought was pushing against his subconsciousness telling him that he needed to survive, needed vindication.
Avery shook his head, pushing the urge to the side while recognizing that there was truly a need to get going and find shelter.
“And establish communications with the fleet.”
He turned west and began his trek through the woods.
Can’t go east. Not with those jagged breaks along the coast…Maybe I can find a beach somewhere, Avery allowed his thoughts to turn to logical concerns as he marched through the foliage. The nightmare he had had before he pushed to the back of his subconscious and devoted his focus to survival. Though if I’m lucky maybe I can find the Jap bastard’s Zero and get a souvenir.
A smile crept across his muddied and haggard face and he pushed through the copse of ferns blocking his path along the small stream bed. He continued east for several clicks until he exited the canyon onto a mesa top that seemed to circle the ravine he crashed into. Out of curiosity, Avery strolled from one side of the entryway to the next. The ravine was massive and looked like someone had taken a drill to a mountain and carved a hole through its tip with the ridge leaving several arches of stone forming bridges across the top of the forest in the middle of it all.
“That’s what I clipped. One of those damned arches. Strange formation…” he trailed off staring at what he could see of the arches connecting the ravine walls. The mesa top wrapped around the outside of the hollowed out mountaintop and he could see down into yet more forest in every direction.
Avery frowned and pulled out his compass. He would stick to the plan and climb down the mesa into the forest heading north. He couldn’t see the ocean from his perspective from any direction but he knew it was there, beating against the jagged cliff sides and beckoning him to find salvation from the confines of the island prison.
He walked along the mesa edge looking for a way down and was dismayed by how densely packed the forest was. Even if he could find a way down, he wasn’t sure that he could navigate the forest interior. Holy hell what was that noise?
Some sort of growl had sounded from deep in the forest below and he hesitated as he listened for whatever it was to sound again. He grimaced and moved on further east along the northern mesa edge of the drilled out mountain. Eventually he came to a small, rocky trail leading down towards what looked to be an overgrown pathway heading more or less north.
“Well fan-fucking-tabulous,” he muttered descending the trail cautiously. Loose rock and soil flitted under his feet and slid down the decline with Avery doing his best to maintain his balance and riding the shifting soil in slippery intervals. Once at the bottom, he continued onward through the heavy foliage impeding his progress.
After a while, he was forced to stop and start stripping off his flight jacket. This heat keeps up I might not make it a week. He looked up into a clear opening of the blue sky through a hole in the forest canopy. It was a stark contrast to the night before.
A huff left Avery’s lips as he heaved the jacket and pack back across his shoulders. Breath exited his lungs in a heavy gasp as he trudged onward.
Hours passed and Avery found his way blocked by a wide river.
“Oh for Pete’s sake!”
Avery spent several more hours looking for a way across and ended up traveling eastward. Eventually he came to the end of the river that became a subterranean waterfall with a large rock formation surrounding it. He looked into its depths and saw it flowed down into the blackest dark he’d ever seen. Avery continued on and found a way around the rocky terrain and found more forest and a way to another river. Frustrated he followed it further east.
The day was winding down before he came to the ocean. Avery dropped his sack and stared outward towards the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. He fell to his knees and pulled out the canteen. After a heavy swig he wiped his mouth and replaced the container. A few moments passed and Avery reached for his radio.
“Mayday mayday. This is flight lieutenant Avery Wilkes, in need of assistance. I’m stranded on…some island located roughly at the coordinates—“ he rattled off a series of coordinate numerals. After a few minutes he repeated the message. Static was his only reward. He repeated the message on different frequencies in addition to known military channels. No response was forthcoming. “Fuck.”
The sun was starting to set and Avery found himself getting tired. He had spent an entire day walking and he wasn’t sure how far he’d come. Though he could see the mountain in the distance where he’d crashed. A slight fog was starting to engulf the range and he sighed as it dawned on him that he still hadn’t found shelter.
“Huh…” his view fell upon a grouping of stone jettings just south of the river’s edge where it met the ocean. He gathered his belongings and trekked across the rough terrain and discovered just what he thought he’d saw, a small cave leading under the jagged rocks and into the ground. He wasn’t sure how deep it went but the ceiling to the cave wasn’t very high and he had to nearly double over to walk inside.
Avery found as comfortable a spot as he could and rolled out his parachute to form a makeshift bed. He braced the sack at the head of the bed and laid down, exhaustion eating its way through his body. As his eyes were drifting shut, his stomach started growling. Avery shook his head and silently cursed his need to eat. He pulled out some rations and took a bite. A grimace soon settled across his face.
“Not sure this shit will get me through the week either,” he mumbled and finished what he could. After he was done, and his stomach was growling under a curling sensation, he shifted onto his side and tried to drift off into slumber.
However, persistent thoughts of where the Zero crashed entangled themselves throughout his mind. His eyes stared into the dark crevices of the cave he laid within, concern etching its way across his brow. What if I didn’t take his ass out? Maybe I should try to find the wreckage?
He rolled over onto his back and stared at the dimly lit ceiling. No, survival first then I’ll check.
The sun had disappeared beyond the horizon line and he saw a field of stars more brilliant than he’d ever seen before. He was only a few feet from the cave entrance which still left him with a wide view. Hoots and screeches came from the forest edges somewhere behind the cave entrance where he couldn’t see. His face reflected a shift from contemplation to one of surprised concern. His hand dropped to his gun in its holster and he pulled it out to keep it at hand. Maybe I should move further back against the cave.
Avery drew back into the shadows and kept an eye out of the cave entrance hoping to god nothing was going to come in during the night. A strange echo came from behind him and he looked back into the darkened recesses of the cave. An unnatural darkness was pushing its way forward and Avery felt his sight drawn into its depths, mesmerized by its stillness. After a moment he reached for his flashlight and played it across the cavern. The light showed a cave that went much further back than he thought. However, it narrowed out into a small tunnel leading downward into a decline that disappeared from his view. Please God don’t let there be a bear or something else equally horrifying.
He listened for several more minutes, his light holding its place on the cavern depths. Nothing more sounded and it was a while longer before he felt comfortable enough to shut off the light and cautiously lay back down, his eyes yet fixated on the dark nothing beyond.
Night sounds continued unabated and he found himself drifting off into sleep.
Flames licked the night air desperate to escape their tiny enclosure. Shōtō Ryūgawa stared into the flickering fire at the center of the stone campfire and watched it trying to leap past the stone boundaries and into the vegetation some distance away.
“Okasan, they came for me again.”
One flame danced and faded away while another settled mournfully beside where the faded flame had been a moment before. Shōtō’s stoic expression remained as his mind continued haunting him.
Another flame arose and highlighted deepening shadows across Shōtō’s brow.
“My precious, peaceful son…” the flame almost seemed sad, like it had furrowed brows and eyes on the verge of tears, “This was has cost us dearly. And now they seek to bring your love into their depravity. Soon, all of Nihon will be at the dark’s mercy.”
Shōtō sat silently, his knees drawn to his chest staring at the tearful flame.
“Okasan…I…I don’t know what to do.”
Okasan… Shōtō clenched his eyes shut and felt a shiver crawl up his spine.
“Who do you think you are? To think that you can defy the emperor! Do you think yourself so special, so greater than all the land of the rising sun, that you can deny your responsibilities!?”
Furimi Yakiyama glared at Shōtō from across the table in the local tavern, air thick with alcohol and fear. Furimi had his hands on his knees and his deadman’s gaze affixed to Shōtō’s bowed head. Shōtō looked at his lap with his hands folded together and felt nothing but distress over everything he was being forced to endure.
“My most humble apologies. I do not mean to imply such transgressions only that my mother is extremely ill and not long for this world. Now…it is not the best time for her only son to leave her in such a way.”
Furimi leaned back and made a clicking sound with his tongue. “Ah so so so so.”
He sat looking at Shōtō nodding for a few moments, his expression softening. Shōtō spared a shallow glance and then let his view fall back to his lap and sighed inwardly.
“I did not know Arukasan was ailing. This is sad news so I will tell you what I will do. For you. I will return to the war ministry and in the name of our long friendship tell them that I saw your mother and could not bear to shame her by taking her only son away,” Furimi leaned forward. “But be aware that this is a one time only deal. You will serve the emperor as all the sons of Nihon will do. When your home duties are finished you will report to the nearest recruitment center and go forward with cheer knowing that we will defeat the enemy and spread the glory of Nihon all across the Pacific.”
Shōtō nodded a slight acquiesce and his friend got up to leave.
Flames danced in front of Shōtō’s face threatening to die out. He leaned over from where he sat against the stone wall at the edge of the clearing he crashed near. He grabbed some firewood he’d collected and tossed a few pieces into the fire. The fire shot back to life and Shōtō stood up to walk towards the treeline near a cliffside looking out over the pacific ocean.
Waves crashed against the shoreline and the heavy smell of salt water was in the air.
Shōtō leaned against the rocky edge and watched the moonlight dance across the gentle waves. He looked back past his campfire and across the pitch black meadow he’d crossed. On the other end of that clearing was his crashed zero which he’d spent the better part of the day trying to keep from bursting into flames. What equipment he had, he salvaged and brought back with him to his campsite.
Though he wondered if maybe he should have let it burn to see who would “rescue” him first: the Americans or his own people.
Shōtō felt a chill go up his spine and his senses suddenly became very alert. A near silence overtook the island with only the wind rushing through the myriad of foliage echoing in the night air. Shōtō walked past the campfire and stared off into the dark.
“Something is wrong here.”
Shōtō went back to the camp and kept the fire bright and alive and leaned back against the stone wall near the cliffside and allowed the crashing waves beyond and below to fill him with peace. Yet one eye he kept on the quiet island interior.
The hairy beast rummaged along the forest floor looking for roots and other edible materials. The fur along its back and covering its body looked much like that on a long-haired cat with paws like a lion and a snout like a boar complete with tusks. The ears had white strands of hair coming off its tips like the hairs on the ears of lynxes. It was an animal unlike anything Avery had ever seen before. Even its tail was thick and sported a man of hair like a horse’s.
Satan’s catpig had better be edible. Avery mused and plunged down out of a tree on top of it.
The knife in his hand dug deep into the beast’s hide and it howled a roar in rage. Avery was tossed off and the thing swiped a meaty clawed paw at his head which he barely dodged. He gripped his blade tighter and used its edge to block a tusk being thrust at his neck and reciprocated with a wound to its eye.
The creature lashed about wildly and lacerated Avery’s left thigh near the groin. With pain shooting up his spine, Avery gritted his teeth and tackled the beat, thrusting his blade into its guts in a upward motion.
Avery collapsed beside the creature and quickly began to tear a piece of cloth off his shirt to tie around his wound. It was bleeding but wasn’t as deep as it looked which made Avery sigh in relief.
“I can deal with a scratch.”
He slung the creature’s corpse over his shoulder after a short break and began his journey back to camp.
Static cackled intermittently as Avery fiddled with the radio giving coordinates and trying to get a response from anybody with a receiver. Nearby, the catpig roasted over a small pit dug into the floor of the cave near the entrance.
Avery grunted and stopped working on the radio and picked up a sliver of meat to chew on. He stood up and walked towards the cave entrance and looked out into the night sky. It had been several weeks since his crash and he was losing hope that he’d ever see the fleet again.
“Gotta be zeroing in on Okinawa by now…” he considered sticking more of the tender meat into his mouth.
One thing he hadn’t expected being stranded on a deserted island was the brightness of the stars. Billions twinkled under their gaseous power however many unfathomable light years away they were. And the spectacle amazed Avery to no end.
He walked out towards the beach and stared up at the brilliant canopy stretching horizon to horizon overhead, the obvious dome shape of the Earth’s shape making him feel like being inside a ball looking out.
As he stood mesmerized by the stars and the bright strip of light paving a course across the heavens, Avery noticed a peculiar ball of light zigging across the night sky. His arms fell to his sides as the orb approached the far northing portion of the island and disappeared beyond a dense area of foliage and forest. he knew there was a mountain or volcano in that direction but it was difficult to see for the forest at the edge of the beach and just across the river that poured into the sea.
He stood waiting for the light to reappear but it didn’t and he was eventually forced to return to his cave at the head of the beach. He sat down near his roasting creature and leaned against the cave entrance looking out at the calm ocean waves.
It was then he noticed a strange humming sound from the back of the cave.
“What the hell?” He stood up and pulled out his flashlight and a spare handgun from his knapsack which he was hesitant to use since he didn’t have much ammunition.
Avery crept towards the rear of the cave where he’d heard the strange noise on that first night. Since then he hadn’t had the will to wander back into the offshoot tunnel at the rear of the cave. However, he figured it probably led to a network of cavern tunnels and didn’t want to disturb whatever wild life might be inhabiting them. But the humming was different.
It’s almost mechanical. Like the sound Tibetan Monks might make chanting into a wind tunnel. He pressed on into the small tunnel where he was forced to bend over slightly elsewise he’d hit his head on the tunnel ceiling. His flashlight played all along the walled surfaces showing slick, wet stone. The beam played on the cave floor and Avery saw a small trail of water flowing the length of the tunnel. He looked behind him towards the main cave.
Must be coming out of a wall. He continued onward and followed the tunnel for several dozen meters or so until he came out into another cave. This one considerably more massive than the one he was staying in. The flashlight shot its light all around and came to rest on a body of water. Avery walked to its edge and tried to see across the water to the other side. It appeared to be a massive lake but he couldn’t see the other side.
“Jesus…” he muttered.
The faint noise of his speech echoed out ward and the humming suddenly grew louder from the other side far in the distance. He could see a slight glowing from somewhere on the far end. And then he noticed little glowing forms in the lake itself. He leaned in closer and saw what appeared to be glowing eels.
“What the fuck!?”
The humming grew more intense and Avery looked up and across the way to see that the glowing had grown larger but not brighter. It was a faint shimmering as unnerving as the pitch black surrounding it. Panicked, Avery stood up and raced back to his cave, the humming sound going silent behind him. Once back, he shined the light back but saw nothing following.
“What the fuck is back there? I…I gotta move.” He stumbled his way back to his campsite.
Several more days passed and Avery had been busy trying to find anywhere else to make camp. Unfortunately, the only other cave like enclosure was the subterranean waterfall a ways behind what he’d come to call “home.” However, there was no way that he could see to get down into the area the fall was pouring. It was probable the fall was feeding the underground lake and he wasn’t eager to go back that way. Avery had even gone so far as to make up a boarded door to the tunnel below though he knew any serious effort from whatever was in there would knock the construct down with little effort. Still, it offered a sort of peace of mind he’d recently been missing.
As it stood, he’d given up on the endeavor for the time being and concentrated on trying to fix his radio in the hopes the range could be boosted and someone would hear him.
“You sunofabitch…come on…” the makeshift tool in his hand slid off a component and scratched his thumb, “Fuck!”
He kept at it growling to himself.
I don’t know why you’re bothering…
Avery turned around and glared at his older brother. Janus stood there, a silhouette against the outside light in the garage door frame. He was always criticizing everything Avery did and making him feel inferior. “You know you don’t have the talent for it.”
Janus gave a cockeyed smile which bore under Avery’s skin.
“I can do it. Stop telling me what I can and can’t do, Janus.”
Janus stood with his fists on his hips staring down at the fourteen year old and softly chuckled as he shook his head.
“Look, you just don’t have the knack for electronics.”
“…You don’t have the…knack…for…stuff…”
Janus laughed more heartilly and Avery turned around and scowled at his radio.
“I’m going to get this damn thing working and get off this island!”
Frustrated, Avery tossed the radio to the cave floor and stood up in anger. He grabbed his survival gear and other belongings and set a determined scowl across his visage.
Where are you going?
His brother asked him and he stopped at the cave entrance looking out towards the ocean and answered the phantoms in his mind.
“I’m going hunting.”
Avery continued out the cave. It was almost blinding for the midday sun forcing Avery to lift his hand to shield his eyes.
For what it’s worth, you did everything right. Janus’s voice said to his back and Avery pressed on across the beach into the forest beyond.
I have to get away from that cave! If I can find that damn Jap wreck site…
Heated air rose up from the jungle floor making the forest steamy and causing several areas to look wavy for the heat. Avery had his shirt off and grunted as he crossed fallen trunks and branches and pushed through thick, leafy foliage that hadn’t been there weeks earlier.
After spending the better part of the day brushing aside thick leaves and wet vegetation, Avery finally arrived back to where he crashed and climbed up the mountainside.
“There are those magnificent arches…” he said and took in the spectacle of the tunnel through the mountain.
The trail towards his plane was still there but drier. Within a short time he was under his plane.
Avery slowly walked in shock as he stared up at his plane. “What the hell?”
What was left was merely the skeleton. The plane had been completely stripped of all parts and materials.
“Fuckin’ Jap’s still alive,” he grimace and encircled the massive network of trees, “but…how did he strip it?”
The skeletal remains creaked under a gust of wind pouring through the ravine. Avery walked a little further trying to figure out how it was stripped but couldn’t see any easy access points.
He decided to continue on up towards the ravine opening overlooking the ocean side. He stood at the precipice where foliage and dirt met the rocky rim that cascaded thousands of feet down into the craggy tidal pool surging into the island side. Avery looked own and breathed in the fresh island breeze and once more felt at peace seeing the foamy waves breaking against the stone teeth jetting out of the water straight below him. One leap into those would be instant death and since he had no desire to meet Davey Jones he sat down and dangled his feet off the cliff side.
Far beyond on the horizon line the sky was growing dark and had an almost ominous look about it.
I’m just going to camp under that cover fo rthe night. Try to figure out where the zero went down tomorrow. He thoguht and took a swig of water from his canteen staring over at a cropping of rock at the ravine wall that was covered in ferns and unusual flowering brush on its top forming a sort of garden roof for an excellent campsite.
Avery laid out his camping gear, his roll and supplies, and laid down as the sun went down somewhere behind him down the ravine. He laid there with his arms behind his head watching the darkness in front of him from the east wash over the island and saw the stars beyond the stony roof come into existence. As the night grew ever darker he found himself drifting off into a calm sleep.
“Dad, is there a God?”
The man stopped in mid-stride and stared down at the young boy. The boy stared up at his father with curious eyes. he couldn’t have been older than twelve but already had a worldly knowledge uncommon to his age group.
“That’s an odd question to suddenly blurt out, why are you asking it?” the father queried as the two began walking through the park once more. The air was warm with a cool breeze blowing. the sky was its typical light green and the orange sun was shining brightly. Hardly a cloud was in sight and the park shrubbery was in full bloom, some as large as the flaring trees in the surrounding forests. In the background, the city skyline rose up like sleek rods of the slickest metals scraping the skies above ready for more residents.
“Well there’s been a lot of talk lately from the councils, that the godhand movement is getting out of control. That they’re challenging the established pantheon of the old myths.” the young boy looked around and then stopped. “And still others claim no such beings exist in the multiples or the singular.”
His father folded his arms across his chest, his robes fluttering casually, “And what do you think?”
The boy thought for a moment and looked to his father, “I think that the pantheists are more correct. That singling out one being to be an ultimate god creates tensions among the peoples and destroys balance. …But I understand those who don’t recognize any gods. Yet our whole society has come from the old ways and balance is paramount. We’ve been debating it in school and that’s why I wondered what you thought.”
The father looked up at the general area of the sun, not wanting to look directly at it, “See there the infinite sky? Who at night bears our sister stars?”
“It is the endless universe who is our begettor, so I think, and that universe is full of wonders. Whether or not it is sentient is impossible to say, but so long as we strive for balance we will be one with its truths.”
The boy nodded and they continued walking, the father patting the boy’s shoulder with his hand.
A darkness engulfed reality and a menacing voice spoke through the void, “Balance is a lie! Truth lies not in multiplicity and arrogance in the face of the one! The real truth must be shown and delivered in the sacrifice of our God!”
Screams of terror and sounds of destruction echoes through the void and the voice grew more sinister and boisterous. “WE are the way, the light, the salvation of peoples! Sully yourself naught with these sadist’s lies!” Eyes on bodeis and bodies in shadows filled the void as they rushed forward as an army, vaguely lit under the passion of their souls. “Beware the treachery of the darkness!”
Avery awoke in a cold sweat and got up in a rush slamming his head on the stone ceiling above him. He cracked his skull with a dull thud and shouted in irritation.
“Mother…fuck…what the shit was that!? I need to get some real rest…fuckin’ island’s gonna kill me…” aVery sat up and crawled out from under the makeshift campsite and saw the waves breaking across the shorline edge, or what there was of a shoreline at the base of the craggy cliffs.
He stumbled around a bit trying to shake off the sleep while simultaneously trying to wrap his mind around the dream he’d just had. it was through the eyes of the child that he saw the strange landscapes and the impending darkness.
Avery stared out over at the ocean horizon. “Screw it. I don’t care.”
He shook off the nightmare leftovers and gathered his gear, all the while munching on dried roots he’d gathered over the preceeding weeks.
“Let’s see, I flew in here…” he walked along the ravine base wall and saw up past the tree tops. Avery took a calculated guess on where he was flying, the gulch was fairly long.
“I think that may be where I clipped my wing…” he mumbled looking up some ragged parts of the arches that he could see from where he was walking. He was over halfway down the gulch at this point and thought he could see where he careened through the trees.
“Only seconds seperated hittin’ the Jap and me hittin’ an arch… now where could he…” Avery puzzled a moment trying to figure out where the zero could have gone. They were in a narrow gulch with arches of stone reaching over the top and few places to fly straight out of with a speeding plane.
“Ah ha!” Avery smiled seeing a ruptured area in the gulch wall that led out to the north. “Sonuvabitch must of flown out there.”
Though his smile faded as he tried to get a better view of the hole. He climbed up the stoney wall the best he could and towards the hole. But it was too high up. However, he was high enough to see that it looked to go straight through at an angle and was probably an area of the mountain side that collapsed. But it still didn’t leave much navigating room.
“Gotta be a way to get up there.” Avery stammered back down and spent the rest of the day exiting the gulch and making his way around the mountain edge of the mountain along the mesa surround the base. It was almost dark when he found the entryway of the hole.
“Fuck.” The exitway was high up the mountain edge and he fully expected the japanese zero to be crashed somewhere in its long tunnel. “No way he could have zigged outta there. Probably part of the wall…Let’s see…”
Avery saw that there was enough purchase to climb u pthe mountainside but that it would likely still take an hour or two to scale. So he grimaced and decided to camp the night. “Jap’s waited this long I guess. Doubt he’ll be going anywhere soon. Jesus Christ! Why am I talking to myself!? Losing my fucking mind!”
he grunted in agitation and went to work laying out a good defensible site next to the massive boulders near the climb up to the hole.
Avery was up bright and early the next morning and it took him almost an hour and a half to navigate the loose rock and purchases to get up to the hole towards the mountain summit which no longer qualified as a summit as it was only a series of arched stone. Once in the hole, he saw its top was open and he could see sky above.
“So a gully…crossing a gulch?”
He walked along the rubble strewn path, the walls beside him rising up several hundred feet more to where the tip of the mountain should have been. The gorged out area was wide enough to accommodate a small fighter craft, but only just barely and no sign of the zero had manifested.
“Where the fuck is it?”
Avery furrowed his brows and followed the long path all the way to the gulch below and looked down on top of the trees of the forest in the gulch.
“The sonuvabitch flew through. Damn it.” Avery stared off across the way to the other side of the mountain rising up out of the forested ravine. A slight mist was wafting up to the treetop levels and loitering there like a whispy cotton cover. Avery shook his head and frowned. There was still plenty of day left so he decided to walk back to the gorge entryway to see if he could figure a likely location of the downed aircraft. And then he stopped as he got to the edge of the entrnace and thought something sour.
What if he managed to fly off the island? Ah but then he would’ve crashed in the sea. Would he risk that? Jap’s are crazy afterall.
He sat down and pulled a book of blank paper and a pencil out of his knapsack. He continued sketching bits of the island he’d been working on over the weeks. The gulch and gorge he filled in and looked across the massive island interior.
My god…it could take months to explore every spot on this damn island…He looked back at his paper and drawings. “Hmmm…let’s see…” I’ve already covered all this territory to the north of the cave, river, volcano base, ocean beaches, this middle forest…no wreckage here. So where would he’ve gone? Must’ve veered westward then. Lots of territory there I haven’t even looked at…
Avery sighed and looked down the cliffside, and then back to the western areas. Any smoke from the wreckeage would’ve dissipated in the first day, particularly, he figured, with the rain being as fierce as it was that first night.
“Here goes nothin’”
“You gross pathetic little piglets! Your presence here is a mockery to the emperor! The least you miserable bedwetters can do is run yourselves to death!”
Shōtō ran as hard as he could next to his fellow recruits, the instructor berating them every step of the way.
“I’ve had more ferocity out of a fart!”
Shōtō leapt over a series of obstacles and tossed himself to the ground as he ran towards barbed wire covering a mud pit. Mud splattered onto his face as he inched forward through the muck and grime and tried to ignore the planes flying overhead and the barbed wire scratching at his back. A sudden explosion erupted in front of Shōtō’s face and he flinched and cursed.
“Damn it! Come back here!” he tried to grab the tail of the creature he was chasing through the nooks and crevices of a stone formation at the edge of a marsh that was below the cliff he was camped at and spread past the myriad of thick treed forest to the ocean.
Late June 1945
The creature evading Shōtō was almost lizard like with clawed legs that had webbing connecting the feet to the body but was long like a snake and furry like a platypus. Shōtō growled and made another play for its tail but it disappeared beneath a stone as he crawled beneath a stoney overcropping. He had no room to maneuver and lost the creature as it slipped under a pool of muddy water.
He slammed his hand into the mud and then wormed his way up through a crack to get onto of the stone going into the marsh. He stood up at tried to wipe what mud he could from his clothing. He still was wearing his pilot gear though minus his flight jacket. Shōtō stopped and looked out towards the rest of the marsh. He was exasperated.
Staring at the marsh before him, he sighed and shook his head. He’d already been on the island over a month and hadn’t seen any forces nearby. Shōtō wasn’t sure, but he was afrraid the American fleet was fast approaching his homeland. Not that he was eager to fight them. A marsh was a better place to be in his opinion than smack dead in the middle of war.
He continued trekking through the marsh hoping maybe something else tasty might manifest itself. Hunger was starting to eat away at his body and he’d been having trouble over the last week getting ahold of real meat. He’d resorted to eating the roots and stalks of plants rising up out of the marsh he’d discovered that was beyond his campsite on the ciffsite several kilometers back.
Before Shōtō was even halfway across the shallow portion of the marsh, he heard a splash behind him. He had enough time to turn around when the snake like beast he’d been chasing was now chasing after him.
“Oh shit!” Shōtō turned and ran as hard as he could across the marshland and didn’t stop until he was at a rocky outcropping which he promptly scaled. his eyes were wide and his jaw clenched as he looked down to see how close the beast was. But he couldn’t see it anywhere.
Shōtō exhaled loudly and sat down to flop onto his back on a flat stone. “Wish I could just absorb sunlight for food, like a plant.”
He stared up at the clear blue sky and felt exhaustion and hunger eating away at him. He spread his arms out wide and started making propellor sounds with his mouth. “I want to fly…”
“What was that, filth dog?” the drill sergeant intoned glaring defiantly down at the stammering Shōtō.
He smiled thinking back to that autumn day with his drill sergeant when he’d made his fateful decision.
“I…I was saying I wanted to fly, master drill sergeant!” he repeated to himself quietly and smiled. His drill sergeant insisted on being referred to as master and any new recruits who didn’t comply got a sever flogging.
The drill sergeant in Shōtō’s mind walked to a window looking out at the bootcamp grounds, his back straight and his hands folded behind him. Looking out to the courtyard, the drill sergeant cleared his throat slowly, deliberately.
“And what makes you think you’re qualified to be a pilot? What do you hope to get out of it, filth?”
Shōtō stared straight ahead at the skies and smirked, “Because I was made to fly…fly away from this place! Maybe seek asylum aboard an American ship! Because word has it that the Americans take their prisoners alive.”
“What was that?”
“I said I was made to fly, master drill sergeant!” Shōtō stood stiffly and shouted. His mind shifting back to the truth of the moment though amnesty had been his intention all along. He wasn’t a warrior. But when he saw the planes and pilot recruitment posters, he knew he had an out and what better way than to surrender to the American fleet?
The drill sergeant turned to Shōtō and looked at him suspiciously. Shōtō wondered if the man heard his thoughts or knew his plans. But the drill sergeant said nothing of it.
“Ryūgawasan, you are not the warrior kind. Your spirit is one of peace and compassion.” Shōtō was shocked at the man’s sudden words of kindness and even more so when the drill sergeant’s facial features softened and he looked away. “Sometimes I wonder why they even extended this privelege of serving the emperor. But I know you were not made for this.”
The drill sergeant seemed distant and looked back out the window.
“I am ready to do this. They are accepting army recruits-“
“Do you know what they are planning?”
“Planning?” Shōtō paused and looked at his drill sergeant’s back.
“Nevermind. Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes, master drill sergeant! More than anything, sir!” Shōtō spoke eagerly, he hoped not too eagerly and his smile as he looked up at the sky diminished in hindsight considering the words his drill sergeant spoke next.
The man turned to Shōtō, “Then it will be done. I hope you succeed in your mission, whatever that may be, Shōtōsan.”
The drill sergeant bowed in respect and Shōtō hesitantly did the same.
Did he know? Did he suspect? The plan still backfired though. Shōtō sighed and placed his hands behind his head as he basked in the sun beaming down. When he’d gone to the bootcamp for pilots, he’d been welcomed warmly. He’d spent the next year perfecting his craft and finally graduating to becoming a full fledged pilot. However, his sorties were few and relegated to mostly homeland defense.
And then the damned kamikazee… Shōtō grew furious thinking about it. Never having the chance to really go up against the American forces, never having a chance to escape because they kept him on such a short leash, and then when he finally gets the go ahead to hit an American fleet, it’s literally to hit an American fleet.
He’d heard about the kamikaze but had never wanted to be one. But when the outfit was offered the honor to be one of the pilots, no one dared say ‘no’ less their families face ridicule and scorn. Not that Shōtō had much to worry about in that department since he was an only child and had no family left to speak of, but he didn’t want to embarrass his company. So he volunteered with an eager smile.
The plan became then to pretend to hit an American ship, fly in low, and hope to crash in such a way he’d be rescued.
Easier said than done.
The day of the mission came and the company launched from an naval port along the coast. There were thirty planes and all were heading to an American fleet near the philipine island chain. The skies had been just as clear that day, Shōtō mused. Within an hour and a half they had located their quarry and began their runs.
Shōtō was in one of the few single seat fighters, whereas others had a copilot to encourage them in their finest hour. Shōtō wasn’t sure why they forewent his copilot, but someone up the chain of command seemed to trust his instincts.
Baka. He set his plane on course, following a colleague on an attack run on an aircraft carrier. The g forces were incredible on Shōtō as he put the plane into a dive and gritted his teeth. Any other pilot in his company would be unable to pull up from that kind of dive, but he had practiced hard and was better than the others. He wanted to be ace level, so that should worse come to pass he could at least survive his encounter.
It turned out that preparation was for the best as he saw his cohorts slamming into the aircraft carrier deck. He pulled up at the last second, buzzing the flight deck’s control tower and was ready to turn around to try and crash on its deck when an American craft showed up and started harassing him. He could tell it was a corsair, a model he actually respected and wish he could’ve flown, but had little time for any further reflections as the pilot of the craft began strafing him relentlessly.
Damn fine pilot. Shōtō considered and sat up feeling a little sad. I wondered if he survived his wreck too?
He hadn’t bothered searching the rest of the island for the American as he didn’t actually want to discover him alive. The pilot had been fierce and hadn’t given up the chance even when that storm just blazed across the sky. He’d never seen anything like it, but made a mad dash for the storm center in hopes of shaking the corsair. It hadn’t worked, and he admired the pilot’s courage. If it hadn’t been for that offshoot path between the island gullyway, he wouldn’t been nothing more than blazing wreckage.
Should I? Shōtō grimaced and looked to the island interior. Perhaps he could surrender to the American afterall, he thought? But he did remember all those veteran soldiers in camp who would say that the Americans practiced savagely destroying their enemies by “brutally mutilating their grandmothers.” He never believed such things, however there was a first time for everything.
Shōtō stood up and looked around making sure that the creature wasn’t coming back. The sun was getting lower in the sky and he still hadn’t gotten anything to eat.
Dried roots here I come. He grimaced and worked his way back to camp.
Along a cliff edge some distance away a figure was watching from the thick brush. He had his binoculars out and was watching the Japanese man walking back through the marsh. His vantage point gave him a wide view of much of the marsh and the forest ringing its edges making a vegetation boundary with the ocean.
Yeah that’s right, you bastard. Show me where you’re camping. Avery put down his binoculars and gathered his belongings to follow the pilot to his campsite. He’d been walking westward for a week and a half or two weeks or maybe even three. Avery wasn’t even sure what day it was anymore. He’d stopped keeping track a while back and his beard growth was showing it. Rubble and grit was hanging out of his facial hair with impunity and he was a little bit jealous of the clean faced pilot he was following.
Think you’re such hot shit don’tcha? ‘Oh, ima little ole Jap pilot with perfect posture and no need to shave! I killed your plane and next will be you!’ Avery stopped and laughed out loud at the thought and then thrust his hand across his mouth. He looked through the binoculars to see if the pilot heard but he didn’t seem to give much of an indication of having done so outside of a casual glance around himself. “Keep walkin’, bitch.”
Once the pilot was almost to the marsh edge, Avery resumed pursuit. Ambush him in camp, use his radio to get the fuck off this goddamned island. No more chasing weird ass animals for food. Fuck yeah.
It only took a few hours to make the trek to the Japanese pilot’s campsite which turned out to be above the marsh along a small clearing near the cliffside overlooking the ocean. Nice view.
He’d found the zero a few days earlier but had been unable to locate the pilot. For some reason the zero was still intact so it was a puzzle to Avery as to why the pilot had bothered to track his plane down and strip it. And what did you do with the parts?
He paused along the tree line watching the pilot start a fire. The sun was just about gone now with a trace of red along the western horizon line. It looked like the pilot was preparing a meal of dried roots and marsh weed. Least I’m not the only one eating like a king.
He put down the binoculars with barely a pant and bit into a piece of hide he’d gotten off of something. Whatever the beast was, it had put up a fight forcing Avery to track it for a good two days. It hadn’t been large, and was certainly less frightening than the boar he’d wrestled. But it did resemble a four legged tiny ostrich with impossibly big eyes. As difficult as sneaky up on the flightless bird dog thing had been, it still hadn’t seen him popping out from cover until the last impending second. And a tasty little bastard too.
Avery smiled and sat down against a fallen tree trunk. Where he was across the small clearing afforded him an excellent view of the pilot but kept himself hidden from sight. It was strange, though he figured, how the zero was at the other end of the massive clearing just beyond this small meadow and a thicket of trees. The massive clearing could have been large enough for an airstrip, and it looked like it could’ve been used given the strange markings on the ground. However, it wasn’t an airstrip and Avery figured whatever the O shape in the middle surrounded by horizontal stripe patterns decreasing in size towards the forest edge meant, may have very well been tribal.
Know all about that dontcha,Ave? He grimaced and snagged a peek at the pilot again. That’s it, lean back get comfy. Nothing to see here. Go to sleep little Jap man. When you wake, you’ll be my prisoner.
Avery settled back and smiled. His clothing was tattered and his hair was unkempt. He wasn’t sure how bad he smelled since he hadn’t been able to properly bathe since his crash, despite trying to use various roots as soap in the streams he found. All the roots did was make him smell muskier. He chuckled to himself and remained silent. It would all be changing soon and then he could get a real bath.
Shōtō leaned back against a rock trying to sleep but found sleep just wouldn’t come. He sighed and leaned forward and tried to chew on some plant he’d pulled from the marsh. He grimaced and then tossed the plant down. With a sigh, Shōtō decided to try and meditate and find some peace in his mind. He’d been getting stressed as of late.
He closed his eyes and propped his hands palms up, index finger and thumb touching, on his knees. It didn’t take long for his meditative state to come. Years of practice had made it easier. When he was just a boy learning how to meditate, he’d been too impatient and anxious to be able to properly achieve its blissful embrace. It was a fact that meditation wasn’t something just anyone could do. You had to relax your body and your mind, think of nothing, and feel the world around you. Not something a child could do easily unless he was some sort of prodigy.
Over time, Shōtō had mastered the art. And he was glad for it too. If not, the last month or so would have driven him mad with rage and insanity. Now, he drifted into the meditative state he was questing for and found himself standing in a field of Shion (Aster Tataricus-remembrance), a purplish flower. He paused and smiled but the smile faded as at the end of the field was a Sakura (cherry blossum-kind/gentle) tree surrounded by yellow Tsubaki (longing) flowers, what westerners called the camellia. Perplexion overcame Shōtō as he slowly walked through the field towards the tree which now grew from the top of a hill in the middle of the wide field that went on to mount Fuji far off in the background, so far off it was almost invisible against the blue sky stretching on forever.
It filled Shōtō with a sense of peace but there was a feeling of something being out of place. A dreadful sensation was creeping up on him and he turned to look back the way he came. Far off on the other side of the field of purple flowers, there was a greying horizon. It had the semblance of a storm but was different somehow. Shōtō couldn’t put into words what that difference was only that it didn’t belong in the world.
The voice came whispy and quietly along the wind and he turned back to the swaying cherry blossom tree. He walked closer to the tree.
“My darling, peace loving child. So much torment…you must remember who you are and always remain so. Do not give in to the temptations of hate and fear. Do not let them change you.”
“I will never change, okasan.” Shōtō replied and looked up at the tree. “They can take my body, but my spirit is my own.”
The tree slowed to a slow sway as the wind started dying down. “No. No my boy. They will try to take your spirit too. Turn you into one of their warriors.”
“No! I’ll never do it!”
“I…I fear for Nihon, my son. I fear…for our world…” she trailed off and the tree stopped its motions and the purple flowers around him grew grey as Shōtō felt tension overcoming his meditative state.
“No! No! What is it?! What is happening?”
An edge of fear was creeping over Shōtō and he looked back to see the grey fast approaching and then it was attacking and it was in the form of the American fighter plane. Shōtō dodged it and the plane flew by. He stood up to find himself no longer in meditation but face to face with the American pilot. A shock came over Shōtō as he had expected to find a typical white pilot but before him, crouched in a ready to attack motion, his blade held out in front of him, was a man with reddish skin and neck length jet black hair.
“Wait!” he shouted as the pilot lunged at him.
Shōtō grabbed hold of the American’s wrist and tried to wrestle the knife away, but the pilot thrust himself at him and they both went tumbling down the embankment leading towards the cliff edge. Shōtō hit the man in the face hoping to throw him off balance but the American was swift and tackled him again. They rolled around along the ground for several minutes. The fight didn’t end until Shōtō accidentally smacked the American’s head into a rock. The man collapsed under Shōtō’s weight and went limp.
“What?” he panicked and turned the pilot face up and tried to wake him up. He felt his chest and nose and saw that he was still alive. He breathed a sigh of relief and slung the American’s body over his shoulders to carry him back to his campsite not far away.
“I don’t know where you came from, my friend, but I am glad you survived,” he said to the unconscious redman. “I hope you don’t harbor any grudges for what I do next.”
Shōtō pulled out some rope from his survival gear and went to work securing the American’s arms and legs and, once done and the ropes checked for taughtness, he leaned the man against a stone slab next to the fire. Shōtō sat down nearby and looked the man over with a sigh.
“Maybe I can find enough food for the both of us.” he said and leaned back himself and felt himself falling asleep.
Throngs of people flooded the government courtyard listening to the passionate speech of the True Word Prophet, as he had come to be known. He stood upon the high rise podium reaching out from the promenade at the top of the thousand step walkway to the government complex itself. The prophet wore a long, black robe decorated in unusual silver iconography.
“This society robs itself of compassion! Of Truth! There is but one True God and He rises high above the pantheon of false gods worshipped here among our cultural elite!”
Heckles and catcalls answered him from amidst the gathered mass of people. Some laughed while others listened intently to the prophet’s every word.
“They want you subjugated to their whim! They control you through their closed markets! They corral you with the fear of war and chaos!” the man continued, his eyes fixated on the green skies above.
The young man stood watching this scene from across the courtyard leaning against a railing overlooking the courtyard near the food market stalls. He found what the prophet said intriguing but felt a sense of dread inching its way through his stomach.
“Can you believe that guy?”
The young man turned and saw his old friend walking up with a snack. The friend shook his head and smiled.
“Marik, what brings you out here today? Doesn’t the government have something to say about this?” the young man smiled and cast his glance back to the prophet across the way.
“Eh why bother? You know the senate values balance and the opinions of their citizenry. If they censored him where would they stop?” Marik bit into his meat on a stick and watched the preacher flailing his arms dramatically. “Besides, who takes this rhetoric seriously?”
The young man inhaled and straightened to his full height, keeping his hands on the rail, “I wouldn’t shrug it off. There is a growing following of this whole singular god thing. Bielzebor I think they call him. The god of life and prosperity and all that there is.”
Marik looked at him in concern, “You’re not buying into this nonsense are you?”
The young man turned to look him in the eyes, “I don’t know. My father used to tell me that balance was the most important thing in our society. But look around you. Our economy is in tatters. Tanorim and Go’rallus are threatening succession. And the old gods just don’t answer our questions anymore. If they ever did to begin with.”
“The old gods. I don’t think many people even believe in them any more.”
“Tradition is being tossed away. Growing up, my family meant everything to me. But now…I just don’t know. Everything is changing and we can’t take it back.”
“What’s wrong with change?”
“What’s wrong with change!?” the young man gasped and frowned trying to make sense of his own emotions. “Everything. Everything is wrong with it. Where will we be as a people if we throw away all that we hold dear? Perhaps, Bielzebor is the answer afterall. Or not. We all have to forge our own paths.”
Marik placed his hands on the railing having finished his snack and tossed the remnants into a nearby recycler. He bowed his head and bit his lower lip. He then looked at the preacher beyond.
“It’s true we all have to forge our own paths,” Marik said. “But this prophet is just confusing the people’s minds and sowing dissent.”
“Can you keep a secret?” Marik asked turning to his friend.
The young man looked curiously at Marik, “Yeah?”
“Apparently, their group, the ones that follow this prophet, have discovered something in the mountains of Chthu’llum (Thulum). We’ve known about it for a few years now. Has something to do with this Bielzebor character.”
“The Chthu’llumnites seem to think it’s a game changer.”
The young man furrowed his brows and looked back at the prophet. “You don’t say.”
Avery awoke suddenly and gasped as he tried to move. The strange dreams of the young man and his family had been haunting his subconscious for weeks now and he wasn’t sure what to make of them. And now he found himself tied up and bound by around his torso. He paused and saw the Japanese pilot laying on his side nearby on the other side of the campfire which was nearly out.
Great. I’m His prisoner. How the fuck did this happen? He struggled as quietly as he could trying to worm out of the ropes around his wrists and ankles. He managed to get his feet free and slowly began to stand up and walk out of the Japanese pilot’s camp. He tripped over a rock and fell to the ground. He looked over and saw the pilot awakening and looking over at him in alarm.
Avery grunted and gritted his teeth trying to get back to his feet but was tackled by the pilot. He kicked out with his unbound legs but the pilot was too quick for him and grappled him face down in the dirt and managed to drag him back to the rock and toss him against the rest he had just fled from.
“Fuck you, Jap! Go ahead, do your worst!” he spat out and banged his head against the rock slab in the effort. “Damn it!”
The pilot stood watching him a few steps out of kicking distance and donned an expression of stoicism. His arms he kept at his sides with his fists clenched. The pilot didn’t make a move save for the naturally steady movements of a living body that were barely perceptable.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, you bastard.”
Avery panted and leaned back against the stone, his head throbbing. The pilot walked over to his knapsack, never turning his back to his new prisoner, and fished something out. It seemed to be some sort of dried meat.
The Japanese pilot rattle off some words that sounded mostly like rapid fire gibberish to Avery and held the meat outward towards Avery as if he expected the bound man to nod in acquiescence.
“Go to hell.” Avery said and looked away.
The Japanese man sighed and put the meat away. He sat down and leaned against his own rock across the now smoking remnants of the campfire and looked down at the dirt. Avery watched him from the corner of his eye trying desperately to think of a way out of his predicament.
Another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into. Gotta be a way to overtake this asshole and make a break for it. Or, better yet, kill him and take his radio. He exhaled audibly not realizing he’d been holding his breath. The Japanese pilot looked at him then and said something. Whatever it was, Avery figured it must have been well thought out because it seemed to take forever for him to finish speaking.
“Look, I don’t understand a goddamn word you’re saying so you mus’well just give it a rest.”
The pilot ignored him and kept talking. And waited again looking at him expectantly.
“What? You want my life story or something? I don’t care about you. Hey, hey guess what? When I get outta here, I’m gonna kill ya and drink your blood!” he laughed then and thrust his legs out in the motion.
He felt like he might die there in the effort. The Japanese pilot shook his head and furrowed his brows. He gargled another statement that may have been a question but Avery wasn’t sure.
“You wanna know why I hate you so much? Heh…oh I can tell ya that,” he said thinking and leaned back again staring up at the morning sky that seemed to be greying a touch. “But to tell you the truth, I probably should’ve never left home. Should’ve just listened to my brother. Probably would have, if not for you FUCKS!”
Avery pushed forward and screamed at the pilot who only stared at him without flinching. Probably because he knew that he wasn’t a threat from where he was tied up, Avery figured. He sat back the best he could and clenched his jaw.
“I don’t want you doin’ it,” Janus said, staring at his younger brother from across the campfire that seemed once more to be on fire to Avery. Avery glared at him through the invisible flames.
“I…I won’t be left here. Do you remember that time, Janus? Remember when we went over that hill where we lived when we were younger?” He swallowed speaking to his uniformed brother.
“How could I forget? It was a good night.”
“Yeah, yeah it was,” Avery gasped.
The Japanese pilot just watched him from where he was and drew his right knee up to prop his arm up. Avery laughed and continued on as if the pilot weren’t even there.
“You led us right through the woods behind our home down the hill to the otherside of the neighborhood behind Jessie’s house. Ha! Man, the woman was hot. What were we, twelve?” he looked at his brother in his dress blues.
“You were thirteen, I was seventeen. Mom would have killed me if she knew I took you there.”
“Jessie was getting’ ready for her nightly bath, right on time. Everytime. You had your binoculars, and I had never seen a smile like that before!” he laughed.
“And the smile on her face was nice too.” Janus said.
“And then there was the lights in the sky. You know, I saw something like those a few weeks back.”
“You have to snap out of it, brother.”
“And then you had to go off and join the goddamned Navy!” Avery screamed at his brother and started kicking out and trying to break free from his bonds. The pilot sat forward in concern, not sure what to do his mouth gaping open in shock and surprise.
“And you killed him you fuck! You and your bastard brethren killed him! Fuck you!” Avery glared the most vicious glare he’d ever had at the pilot who sat back in alarm.
The pilot spoke and shook his head, maybe understanding what was being yelled at him, maybe not, but Avery didn’t care anymore.
“I’m gonna kill you all!”
Avery ended up rolling around on the ground for several minutes before finally tiring himself out. He was panting and gasping for several more minutes after that before rolling over onto his back.
“Yeah, thanks for the help, buddy.” he said to the pilot who just started munching on some plants and trying to ignore him. “Sometimes, I wish our mother had never married Shaun.”
Avery looked up at the white-grey sky and let loose his frustrations with one deep breath, “But I guess a straight laced white guy beats a dead-beat alcoholic father of a reservation dog any day though.”
The pilot looked at him and didn’t say a word.
Shōtō watched the American flipping out across the campsite and start talking to thin air. He tried to calm him down by telling him it was alright. Had tried to tell him that he didn’t want to harm him and that it was just bad luck that they’d both ended up on this island. But all he got in return was a random series of clunky sounding words that were thick and cumbersome to his ears.
Guess this is what I get for trying to get away. Stranded on an island with a man who doesn’t understand me and is likely crazy. He looked over at the American who had finally settled down and was staring up at the sky suddenly looking peaceful. If not for the shaggy beard and unkempt hair, the American pilot might actually look to be a peace. As it stood, though, he just looked like a crazed maniac.
Okasan, guide me. I don’t know what to do. What do I do with him? He won’t eat what I offer him. And I don’t have the supplies to take care of him if he hurts himself thrashing about so.
“Patience, my son,” he remembered his mother’s last words. “In time…in time the will forget…this madness.”
The American mumbled something under his breath and kept staring at the sky. Shōtō continued eating his dried out seaweed, a bed of which he’d discovered fairly close to the shoreline when he’d been swimming last. Maybe he just doesn’t like seaweed.
Or it could’ve been that the American just didn’t eat seafood, he figured. He looked like the natives that he’d heard about from someone in bootcamp. It reminded him of the natives of Japan that his father had told him about once. He believed they were called the Ainu people, who originally inhabited Japan until the Wajin intruded upon their territory and over time essentially assimilated the aborigines. There had been conflicts and violence, but eventually they joined with the Wajin and became Japanese. Shōtō’s father always expressed great dismay when speaking of the people yet never openly in public.
Shōtō looked at the American and wondered if a similar thing had happened with his people and that now all were a singular American empire trying to conquer the pacific.
But can it truly be? They’re powerful enough…but… He leaned back and grimaced. Nothing is ever that simple.
The weeks crawled by and the American prisoner had tried numerous times to escape but was never successful. After a while, the pilot just seemed to give up trying and behaved. Shōtō tried talking to him some more but was having some trouble with the words the American used. His language seemed far more complex than he would’ve though.
“I do not know if you’ve ever told me your name,” Shōtō said one day as they sat eating around the fire, the American’s hands were in front of him bound but his feet were free. “My name is Shōtō.”
He motioned to himself again trying to get the man to understand. He shook his head up and down and said something that sounded close to his name but he wasn’t sure he was understanding or not. The man had motioned to himself a few times too, saying a word that sounded very nearly like ‘ah burry’ but he couldn’t say if that was his actual name or not. He got the feeling they’ve both gotten across their names but with little luck in pronunciation.
But, even so, every so often Shōtō felt that he was getting some words the American used for things. He got the gist for a tree and a rock and water and food and what he thought was the American word for fire but again wasn’t certain. At the end of the day, though, they were only words and not actual communications through dialogue. That was something he was hoping to pick up with time.
Occasionally, he caught the American snooping around his belongings when the pilot thought Shōtō was sleeping. He let him think he was figuring things out but kept an eye on him. He wasn’t sure what the American was looking for, but he seemed frustrated that he could never find whatever it was.
If you’re looking for a weapon, I only have a knife. I threw away my gun. They are not for me. He thought at the American one early morning but didn’t fully open his eyes and just went back to sleep.
Dreams for Shōtō weren’t getting any better either. He kept finding himself in the field with the purple flowers and the sakura tree surrounded by camellia’s but each time he meditated and went back there, the field was getting smaller and smaller with the mountains that were once barely visible in the far horizon now becoming closer and closer until they were enclosing the little field on all sides with mountains rising up far into the sky.
“What is this!? Okasan! Help me!”
He raised his hands in fury and screamed a guttural howl and feel to his knees in the shrinking field who’s flowers were starting to wilt and the Sakura tree was losing its blossums. The camellia’s still stood, however they seemed to be drooping and Shōtō cried.
“Hey!” Avery shouted at the Japanese pilot who opened his eyes and looked fearful.
Tears were coming out of the pilot’s eyes and Avery wasn’t sure what to make of that, but he tried to smile nonetheless.
“You lookin’ a little spooked there, buddy. You all right? Your meditations not going the way you wanted?” he stood there looking down at the pilot who had cupped his hands together and was looking around in confusion. Avery’s hands were still bound, and he was glad it wasn’t the rest of his body. He’d been playing nice for the last several weeks, or months, he didn’t know anymore. He just wanted to find a way to get around the pilot’s defenses and this seemed a good opportunity.
Avery had heard the Japanese pilot call himself shootoo or show toe or something to that effect and had just decided to start calling him ‘shoot toe’. When the Japanese pilot had tried to correct him, he’d just reply with, “Right, right, ‘shoot toe’. Gotcha. Believe me, if I had a gun, I would.”
“Shoot toe, you with me here?”
Avery sat down and tried to look the man in the eyes but he wouldn’t look back at him.
“You having bad dreams? Come on, sourpuss, talk to me. Not like there’s anyone else here. Did you want me to try and run away again? You seem to enjoy chasing me!” he crooked his neck and laughed.
Shoot toe wasn’t responding and, in fact, stood up and went to the cliffside overlooking the ocean. He stood there looking out at the crashing waves and leaned against the stone there as he was often fond of doing.
“So what, you going to ignore me now? How’s our relationship supposed to flourish if you won’t open up to me?! Shoot toe! You’re making me feel so unwanted!” Avery smiled and mock-cried, “You just don’t love me anymore!”
Shoot toe glanced at him sidelong and only shook his head.
“You know, this whole stoic thing might work in Japan, but I’m not a big fan of it.”
He quirked his eyebrow and his lip and looked away. Wish the sonuvabitch had a radio. Avery thought. He’d looked around while Shoot Toe was asleep and didn’t find anything of use. Survival gear yes, but no radio and no weapons, with the exception of the knife the pilot always made sure was on him. Bastard.
There had to be some way off the island, Avery considered watching the Japanese pilot with a wry expression. Shoot Toe certainly wasn’t making an effort to find a way off. The man was starting to seem ever more distant and unhappy. He didn’t say much which made it difficult for Avery to pick up any of his language let alone figure out what it was he wanted him to do. Those first few days had been particularly trying, especially when it came to having to relieve himself.
Some major intestinal issues had hit Avery and he’d tried everything to get the pilot to understand he needed to go but he didn’t understand english. As it turned out, he didn’t understand grunting and kicking either. So Avery did the only logical thing he could think of, he got a grip of his pants with his tied up hands behind him and yanked them down as hard as he could until they were around his knees.
Shoot Toe had stood up then and rushed towards him with panick in his eyes but by the time he reached Avery, he was already shitting all over the ground. The Japanese man jumped back in shock and made a noise and then spouted some gibberish to which Avery politely laughed his ass off.
Avery smiled at the thought. Since then, Shoot Toe had been keeping his legs unbound and his hands in front of him. The pilot still didn’t trust Avery not to do something to him in the middle of the night and had taken to tying his hands to a stake in the ground nearby and during the day just keeping his hands tied where he could see him.
Avery thought it was becoming excessive, but he was going to kill the guy before he got captured so he couldn’t really blame Shoot Toe for his caution. Regardless, something had to be done elsewise they’d never get off the island. He’d decided a while back that he actually kind of liked Shoot Toe even though he had him bound and wasn’t much of a conversationalist. There was obviously some internal conflict going on with the guy.
Nice guy but we can’t keep this up. Avery stood up and walked over to the other edge at the cliffside and looked towards the volcano at the far end of the island. Something had been bothering Avery for weeks. None of his plane parts were with Shoot Toe and he’d been watching him do his daily thing. He had discovered where the zero went down when they were out foraging near the forest edge at the far side of the massive meadow which looked like an airstrip with strange patterns carved into it. The pattern was vaguely reminiscent of pilot wings with a circle in the middle but only by flying over could one get a clear view of the entire design. And the zero wasn’t going anywhere.
Who, then, stripped my fucking plane? There had to be someone else on the island. He’d felt like they were being watched for several weeks, though he at first attributed that to nerves and agitation at always being tied up. But then he started to feel it in the air. That coupled with his wild dreams was making him want off the island ever more.
Avery looked over at Shoot Toe who was just watching him but not trying to stop him from walking around. There was some sort of connection there between them even if the language barrier was a major hindrance.
“You realize that we can’t stay here, right?” Avery asked Shoot Toe who gave a vague look. “There’s gotta be someone else on this island. You remember me talkin’ about my plane being stripped? How I thought you did it? Huh? Do you understand anything I’m tellin’ you!?”
Shoot Toe turned away and walked towards the campfire. Avery followed still trying to make his point and held his hands out towards him with his palms up.
“Come on, man! We have to get out of here!”
The Japanese pilot rummaged through his knapsack and pulled out a knife. He stood up and turned to Avery, blade pointed outward.
“Alright, hey now, let’s not do anything rash,” Avery said holding his hands in a placating motion.
Shoot Toe shook his head and approached Avery and grabbed him by his bound hands and sliced off the rope. He did put his knife away and with quick thrusting motions of his hand waved Avery off and said something quickly that he still didn’t understand.
“Wait…you’re letting me go? I tried to kill you?”
Shoot Toe sat down and just stared out at the jungle. Avery rubbed his wrists and stood there watching him. The man lowered his head and looked at the dirt.
“Is that your plan? Sit here and wait to die?” he looked away from Shoot Toe and around at the island terrain.
He wanted to look around the volcano, but now he was wondering if he should leave Shoot Toe alone given how solemn the man was starting to look. Avery sat down across from him and rested his wrists on his knees.
“Hey,” he tried to get Shoot Toe’s attention. He looked at Avery slightly but didn’t smile or look attentive or even very much alive. “Snap out of it, Shoot Toe. We should work together to get off this island.”
The man looked away and Avery frowned.
“Fine,” he stood up and went to where his belongings were stored. He pulled out some equipment he used to hunt with and walked near Shoot Toe. “I’m going hunting. Care to join?”
Shoot Toe looked down sullenly and didn’t say anything. Avery sighed and left. He was gone for a few hours and found adequate prey in what looked to be a cougar bunny but lacking any real instincts for attack or defense. He came back and threw the carcass down. Shoot Toe hadn’t moved an inch.
Avery set up a roasting pit and started preparing the bougar to cook. Bougar is what he was calling the cougar bunny creature he’d killed. He was starting to come up with names for all the weird wildlife he was seeing on the island. They were simple names, but easy to remember and better than just describing them. For instance, the cat like boar thing he hunted back when he first was stranded he called ‘loar’ as in lion boar. He just liked the sound of it. And the glowing eels he nicknamed ‘gleels.’ There were more gleels on the island than he thought as he found some more while out in a small cave under a thicket of trees that never seemed to see the light of day. Unfortunately, the cave didn’t go very deep and was more of a hole than anything else. Certainly it didn’t provide much shelter.
It was almost night by the time he was done with skinning, bleeding, and cooking the beast.
“Well that’s looking pretty tasty if I say so myself.” Avery said and smiled looking to Shoot Toe who was starting to look lethargic. “You’re not lookin’ so good, my friend. Here…”
He sliced off some meat and put it with some boiled vegetation and seaweed that he threw in just for Shoot Toe. The meal was served on a wooden slab that the pilot had made before he started acting weird.
Avery took it over to him and tried to hand it to Shoot Toe but he wouldn’t take it. So he laid it beside him. He went back to the roast and made himself up a plate and even dipped out some seaweed vegetation mesh.
“Look, Shoot Toe, I’m eating seaweed!” he said and took a bite trying not to grimace too much. “Mmmm.”
He finished off his meal and watched Shoot Toe for a bit. The man hardly moved and when he did it was to barely roll over onto his side. He didn’t touch the food.
Avery gulped down some water and got a little worried.
The next few days were passing with roughly the same result and Avery started getting angry as he was forced to make Shoot Toe drink water.
“You are not going on a hunger strike on my watch!”
Avery was now becoming a caretaker much to his utter chagrin and was making an effort to force feed Shoot Toe who was less than cooperative. He had begun by just shoving food into Shoot Toe’s mouth which he tried to spit out which made Avery even angrier as he then had to hold the man’s lips shut and start working his jaw in a chewing motion with his hands.
“Oh so you like doin’ it this way! You want me to make you chew!? Chew chew chew!”
It was an exhausting effort. Every day, twice a day, he engaged in the same rituals making slushy concoctions that were easier to force down Shoot Toe’s gullet than regular food. He moved the man under a tarp tent to keep him as much out of the random rains that occurred as possible. To top everything else off, Shoot Toe was starting to hallucinate and shout out strange things, well stranger than usual, and was physically thrusting his arms and legs in the arm and trying to run around the camp naked after stripping. At one point he even tried to jump off the cliffside in said condition. Avery fortunately was able to restrain him.
This went on for a week and a half until one day he just got feed up and chewed up some food and was just going to spit it down Shoot Toe’s throat. But before he could the man pushed him away and stumbled out of the tent in disgust.
Shoot Toe yelled something at him and lay on the ground panting outside of the tent looking up at the sky. Avery smiled and swallowed.
“Nice to see you up and running. What you don’t like my cooking?”
He helped Shoot Toe up and half carried, half drug him over to the other side of the camp where he laid the man down onto a collection of covers scavenged from the zero and his own supplies.
“You are proving to be a lot of work, you know that?” he lightly slapped his hand on Shoot Toe’s shoulder and looked away with a sigh.
Shōtō sat by the campfire under a blanket shivering. Nausea and a stomach sickness were rumbling through him and it was all he could do just to stay conscious. He looked over at the American pilot who was gnawing on a bone of meat. The American smiled and waved the meat in the air in greeting and went back to enjoying his meal. Shōtō though wasn’t feeling hungry.
He was somewhat grateful for what the American did for him. But after the visions he’d been having, he just wanted to die. It was why he let the man go, so that he’d just finish him off and be done with him. However, the American who had attacked him not even a month before was suddenly trying to nurse him back to health. After a week of his insistence, Shōtō just gave up even on that simple task.
Not even competent enough to commit seppuka. If I were stronger, I would have just gutted myself. He looked at the ground. There was one thing he was really thankful for, since he’d been starving and going into fits of delirium, he hadn’t had the disturbing visions anymore. In fact, he didn’t remember much off the last week. The last real memory he had was of the American getting ready to spit down his throat, which made him even sicker to his stomach.
At least the dreams have stopped. He wasn’t sure he even wanted to meditate again. The darkness will just be waiting for me.
A cup entered Shōtō’s field of vision and he was startled until he realized the American, Ahburry he thought it remembered sounding like, was handing him something. He hesitantly took it and looked inside. The cup held a soup of different foods that had been brewing in a thick, dark liquid. Ahburry said something and Shōtō figured he wanted him to eat it.
Uh…is this edible? He looked at Ahburry who returned to where he was and was keeping Shōtō in his field of vision. Shōtō exhaled and took a sip. He paused and then drank and ate some more. This is actually pretty good. Not sure I want to know what it is though.
He took his time with the concoction and leaned back, holding the cup in his hand. He saw that Ahburry was still watching him but seemed content that Shōtō was at least eating something on his own now. Exhaustion was overcoming Shōtō, so he leaned back against the stone he was near and set down his cup and closed his eyes to get some rest.
The summer was wearing on and Shōtō and Avery and taken to hunting together and building up a better campsite with stronger shelter. They had gathered wood and cut it down to fashion a makeshift cabin that was sturdy enough to handle the severe weather that sometimes blew over the island. It helped that they built it at the base of the stone mountain side where they traveled into the marsh from. The additional protection from the mountain and trees ensured the shelter wouldn’t be collapsing anytime soon.
They were starting to understand one another better as they explored more of their environment and Avery started salvaging what electrical equipment he could from the zero and what was left of his corsair. Though when they went to the corsair, which Avery was hoping would tell him if Shōtō was involved in its stripping or not, Shōtō seemed genuinely surprised that it was bare.
“This…you do? Why?” he asked Avery.
“Uh…let’s see…ie…uh…arimasen. I think. I didn’t do it, no.” he replied shaking his head.
Shōtō crunched up his face and said something quickly to which Avery nodded unconvincingly.
“If you’re saying that we’re not alone on this island, then I concur. If not then…well, learn a little more english.”
A smile plastered itself on Avery’s face as Shōtō just glared at him in confusion. The two continued exploring different areas of the island for several more weeks as Avery worked on trying to build up a radio. Shōtō didn’t help with the endeavor and seemed to Avery quite opposed to the idea of calling for help.
“I don’t know why you don’t want off this island, Shoot Toe. You can catch a ride with me if you want. But if you want to stay here, I suppose I just won’t tell anyone I saw you.”
Shōtō waved a hand and walked away to the shelter. Avery was unable to get the radio he had fixed though since static was all he ever got. He received a radio station at one point but lost the reception within a minute. He eventually just gave up.
It was dark. It stood a good twenty feet tall and the base of the thing, a massive obelisk thicker than any tree than he had ever seen, was plunging right into the rocky core of the mountain interior and it was the color of the darkest black imaginable.
The young man stood before it staring into the abyss of its flesh, for it didn’t really have a surface. It pulsating with an energy that couldn’t be seen, only felt, and that energy rumbled in his soul like the thrumming of a deep throated man whispering in your ear. His mouth hung open and his eyes kept probing the depths of the thing looking for an answer to a question he hadn’t realized he’d been asking.
“Jhoren,” a voice intoned beside him but he barely registered it.
“Jhoren,” it repeated and he vaguely felt himself look over to Marik who stood with an expression suddenly alien to him. “You alright? You’ve been staring at it since we got here. And quite frankly I’m beginning to think maybe you should wait back in the shuttle.”
Two guards were nearby listening and Jhoren looked over at them. He felt that they were waiting for the word to come and escort him back to the vehicle they’d come in, but he could also feel something else from them. His eyes widened almost imperceptibly and his pulse quickly. No I don’t want it…!
“Alright, I’m sending you back. Guards-“
“No, Marik, I’m fine. Just feeling…a little flushed. I think the atmosphere might be thinner than I’m used to.” Jhoren forced a smile and gave a quick half wave to the guards.
Marik had his eyes half open as he looked nearly down his nose at Jhoren as if he were sizing him up in an interrogation.
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Now, uh, what…what is it, exactly?”
Marik sighed and watched him thoughtfully for another moment or two and rub his chin with his hand. After another impossibly long moment, he began speaking again at length on what the chthu’llumnites believed the device to be and who built it so many millennia before. However, Jhoren had stopped listening and was watching the guards from the corner of his eyes. They had resumed their casual conversation stance but weren’t taking their eyes off of him. No, they’re not watching me, are they? That, that’s fear coming from them. And…hate…
The guard’s disdain and emotions were washing over him in a wave thick and penetrating as the sound waves from an amplifier. He glanced back at the obelisk of terror towering high above him and peered once more into its sullen depths. It was as if his soul was being siphoned away and he heard his father from somewhere far away.
“No! Don’t touch that, my son!”
But what is it?
“Something that will hurt you if you’re not careful.”
Why’s it all black?
“Murmurs only appear black to us as their skin absorbs all the light waves around them so that no colors reflect. Their prey doesn’t see the black and therefore don’t see them hunting them.”
He kept staring and thought, None of us should be here. But for the life of him couldn’t turn away as the thrumming grew louder in his mind and eventually he couldn’t even hear Marik anymore.
Avery opened his eyes and slowly sat up in his makeshift bed. The sun was starting to rise somewhere off in the east, though he couldn’t see it from where the entrance to the shelter was since it was pointing northwest. He put his hand to his head and grimaced. His eyes squinted and he rubbed his forehead quickly and repeatedly.
Need some goddamned aspirin. Nearby, he heard a snore and looked over at Shoot Toe who was still deeply asleep. Avery couldn’t sleep anymore and got up to go outside. He didn’t bother throwing on a shirt as heat waves were already leaping out of the dirt and into the moistening trees around them. He tightened his belt though as it had worked loose through the night and then walked out the entryway.
Something… He frowned and worked his way up the path he and Shoot Toe had walked numerous times to the summit of a hillside that came up close to the cliff. It afforded a decent view of the northern area of the island where the volcano resided. It was a place they still hadn’t explored.
Avery reached the hilly summit and stood looking towards the volcano. Early morning mists were rising up around it forming a blanketed haze all around the forest surrounding its base. The mist came up to the river several kilometers northward of their camp and seemed to just dissipate there. He narrowed his eyes and puckered his upper lip in thought.
Though the mist stopped at the river, he could feel something about the volcano. It hadn’t shown any signs of activity and likely was dormant and had been for quite some time.
We need to get over there. I need to get over there.
Avery looked down and thought back on his dream. He never dreamed in a narrative like that before. Especially not a dream that was episodic like a Flash Gordon serial. Only minus the cliffhangers.
He chuckled and heard movement down the path. He looked down the path and saw Shoot Toe slowly walking up towards him, his eyes still showing a tenacious sleep refusing to let go of the man. A tingling entered his stomach then. It was the kind of feeling you got when you just knew a lover was cheating on you, he thought, and glared at the volcano from beneath his brow as if he were trying to give it the ‘evil eye’.
Shoot Toe arrived beside him, rubbing his eyes trying to wake up.
“Why is it here?” he asked.
Avery knew he was trying to ask what was he doing there but replied, “I don’t know. But we need to find out.”
Shōtō followed close behind Ahburry as they traipsed through the ferns and brush heading towards the volcano. Ahburry had seemed insistent on heading in that direction though Shōtō was at a loss as to why. He didn’t understand most of what the man was saying even if he had picked up a few words of the American tongue.
I can figure out more of his language, but the bastard still can’t speak any Japanese without butchering it to oblivion. He shook his head to himself and groaned under his breath. They had been traveling for days and the volcano seemed always just within reach but impossibly far away. The worst part was that the volcano was just getting bigger the closer they got. Damn thing’s almost as big as Fujisan. He thought thinking about the massive mountain near Tōkyō.
“We…we should just go back, Ahburrysan. I don’t think we’ll find anything, you know? Just, uh, just more rock and stuff.”
Ahburry looked back at him and smiled. The man gave a thumbs up and kept walking. Shōtō pursed his lips and looked down at the dirt as they walked. He looked back at Ahburry’s back.
“I could tell you,” he panted. “The volcano was blowing up and lava was coming to burn your ugly ass to a crisp and you wouldn’t understand a word I just said would you?”
Ahburry looked back again and just grinned and turned back to walk forward. The man said something along the lines of ‘not much further’ and kept walking. Shōtō sighed and gave up. The knapsack felt heavier even though he wasn’t carrying much. But that wasn’t what was bothering him. A trepidation was slowing his feet down and every step felt laborious.
I don’t want to go any further. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he started breathing heavier. However, he wasn’t tired. In spite of his hesitancy, he pushed on as was expected of him. They eventually reached the base of the volcano where they camped for the night.
It was a restless night for Shōtō and he kept waking up.
“Ahburry…” he whispered and looked over at the man sleeping nearby. He slowly held his hand out and was going to shake Ahburry’s shoulder, but the man fidgeted and was grumbling something to himself. Shōtō pulled his hand back and watched the man turning slightly back and forth seeming to be trying to avoid something coming after him.
You’ve been dreaming a lot lately. More so than should be usual. I wish you would talk about it. I wish we understood one another better. Or that you would even TRY to understand me!
He growled slightly and turned his head quickly looking out into the dark forest. He rocked quietly slowly and furrowed his brows while pursing his lips. He mumbled to himself and tried to focus on the insects buzzing in the woods. No! No meditating! That just makes things worse! Bastard might not want to talk, but I don’t have to dream!
The rest of the night passed fitfully and Shōtō got very little sleep. Ahburry was up quite early and despite his tossing and turning seemed well rested. The man stood up and slapped Shōtō on the back.
“Good morning!” he said with a wide grin. “Let’s get this show on the road!”
“Whatever.” Shōtō replied and looked away from the man.
It annoyed him that Ahburry was always going bare chested in recent weeks. He didn’t know how he could do it. The insects were driving Shōtō nuts and having no shirt on would just make him more open to getting bit by the local disease carriers.
“Hey! There you go! You’re learning some english!”
Shōtō looked at Ahburry, “I know more english than you do japanese, you son of a bitch!”
Ahburry seemed taken aback, “Damn, that’s awfully grumpy of you, Shoot Toe.”
Shōtō jumped to his feet and tossed his head back with a groan of displeasure, “It’s not ‘Shoot Toe’ it’s Shōtō! Is that what you’ve been saying all this time?!”
And suddenly Shōtō stopped and his jaw dropped open. His eyes widened some and bounced around looking no where in particular. He had understood Ahburry clearly.
“Well, exxxcuuuusse meee! Show Toe!...You sonuvabitch! You could understand me all this time!?”
Shōtō looked at Ahburry and saw that he was genuinely puzzled too and could obviously understand him just as clearly.
“Ahburry, something strange is going on here.”
Ahburry paused for a second and stared at Shōtō, “If you want to talk about getting names right, then fine, it’s Avery not AH Berry!”
“My apologies, A…ver…ii.” he tried the name out on his tongue and found it rolled out of his mouth easier than before. [tower of babel]
“Well…that’s better anyhow.”
Shōtō looked at Avery and spoke urgently, “We need to leave here, Avery. It’s not right that we should understand each other this easily this quickly.”
“Who says it’s been easy?” Avery asked taken aback. “We’ve been hanging around each other so long we just, uh, started to get the finer points down.”
Avery didn’t look certain about that at all and in fact seemed to be reaching for any explanation.
Shōtō frowned, “You don’t really believe that. Come on, we should go.”
He started to walk back and stopped. Avery stood his ground and crossed his arms.
“We’ve been walkin’ for days, Shōtō. And look at that sky,” Avery pointed up at the greying sky. “You know as well as I do that there is a major storm rollin’ in again. Maybe we can find shelter in the volcano somewhere. Maybe there’s a cave or somethin’.”
Shōtō sighed and looked up. Damn it. He’s right. We’ll get deluged if we don’t find shelter soon.
“I don’t want to be here,” Shōtō said.
“Look here,” Avery said trying to tear Shōtō’s sight from the sky. “Let’s at least get to the far side of the base. The storms always tend to blow in from the west here, not sure why but they do. We’re too exposed here. Little further northeast and we should be able to set up the tents without fear of gettin’ blown away.”
Fuck. He hated acquiescing to the idea but knew there were few options so the two of them began the trek along the outlying forest edge at the base of the volcano. Several hours passed and the skies only got darker. Why hasn’t it come down yet?
“You finding it strange we haven’t got hit yet too?” Avery said to his unspoken thought.
“You read my mind.”
“Gotta admit, I’m feelin’ a bit anxious myself. Been havin’ weird dreams lately. Nightmares really. I’m thinkin’ this volcano might have somethin’ to do with it.”
Avery stumbled over a rock and Shōtō helped steady him.
“How do you figure the volcano has anything to do with your nightmares?”
“I don’t know,” Avery said and paused looking up the towering volcano that was disappearing into the swarming clouds flowing above them. “Just a feelin’, you know?”
Avery looked at Shōtō who grimaced, “I’ve been having…disturbing visions myself.”
“Noticed you haven’t been meditating lately.”
Shōtō walked onward, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Look, we’re in this together, man. Work with me here.”
Avery walked behind Shōtō trying to keep pace.
“Our dreams or nightmares or whatever have nothing to do with our being able to understand each other. Look, there’s a cave.”
They saw an opening leading into the volcano a quarter of a way up the rocky sides. They climbed up towards it and found there was enough room to bend over and walk inside. They turned on their flashlights and continued inward until the cave widened out into a cavern. It wasn’t massive and they lights reached all around the interior.
“Homey.” Avery said.
They put there knapsacks down and could feel a breeze blowing in through the cave they just exited. Moisture was already on the breeze.
“Let’s just set up camp.”
Avery walked halfway into the cavern and saw another tunnel leading off deep into the volcano.
“Hey, there’s another cave tunnel over here.”
“It’s a lava tube,” Shōtō replied.
“Whatever it is, we can use it to delve deeper and see if we can find anything.”
Shōtō had his gear out and was already working on figuring out how to set up his tent and setting about making a fire. “I just want to make camp, wait out the storm, and head back to our shelter.”
Avery flashed his light at the man. “What is your problem? You’ve acted like you don’t want to leave this island since I got here! And now you’re acting all afraid of a little volcano!”
“What the fuck ever!” the fire ignited and lit up Avery’s face. “Are you just wanting to stay in that fuckin’ shack we built!?”
“Nice enough place to live,” Shōtō replied.
“Are you fuckin’ serious!?”
“If you have to know, I would rather be on this island than out there.”
Shōtō looked at Avery and motioned out towards the cave.
“You mean the war? Well, no offense, Shōtō, but your people started it!”
Shōtō clenched his jaw and saw Avery holding his arms out as if to suggest he should start something.
“I don’t know the truth of the matter. Maybe my people did. Maybe it was because your people cut off our access to resources. We can cast blame all around all you like. But I’ll stay in the shack.”
“Fuck you! You fuckin’ Japs killed my brother at Pearl! You murdered how many thousands of my countrymen!”
Avery was scowling and approached Shōtō who stood up in fury as well. “No fuck you! Why do you care anyway!? The ones that were killed were the ones responsible for you being a nobody!”
“You fucker!” Avery hit Shōtō square in the jaw.
Shōtō reeled back and tackled the man in the mid section causing them both to hit the floor of the cave hard. They rolled around taking turns slinging their fists into each other’s torso grunting in anger and torment.
Go to hell mother fucker! Shōtō felt his blood boiling and a heat flushing his face. He kept smashing his fist into Avery’s chest and as much as he could into his face. Blood was gushing from Avery’s nose, but his furious scowl wasn’t abating.
Avery tossed Shōtō off and thrust himself forward taking a swipe at the smaller man’s face. Shōtō ducked and Avery careened into a rocky wall cutting himself along his fist, arm, and chest. Shōtō paused, breathing heavily.
What the hell am I doing?! His eyes bulged and his teeth were gritted. He looked down at the bruised and bleeding Avery who also had bulging eyes and gnashing teeth. The man looked ready to pounce again as Shōtō stared down at his ripped clothing and shook his head.
“This isn’t right!” Shōtō shouted at Avery and ran down the lava tube they had entered the cavern through.
“Oh fuck you ain’t!” Avery howled after him and propelled himself forward into a run with his outstretched hands, dirt and rock flying behind him in the motion.
Avery rushed down the tunnel right behind Shōtō who was speeding like a maniac, his arms a legs a blur of unbridled motion. They both flew out of the cave tunnel, Avery tackling him in mid-air and rolled down the volcano side. Rain was pouring from the skies soaking the terrain which served as a sort of cushioning as the two men took turns lashing their exposed backs across tearing stone and thick viscous mud that stuck to their wounds like leeches in a feeding frenzy.
They rolled into the forest vegetation, fists flying wildly at one another trying to pummel one another into submission. Avery grabbed what was left of Shōtō’s shirt and raised a fist, but the shirt tore off the man’s back as he pulled away and smashed his own fist into Avery’s face. Avery fell back into a thorny bush but didn’t feel it as he howled in rage and pushed forward into Shōtō forcing him onto his knees. Once more he raised his fist over Shōtō’s face and then stopped.
Shōtō looked up at Avery, both men panting in exhaustion, and saw that he wasn’t looking at him. Shōtō looked in the direction Avery was staring, the dark skies casting an eerie bluish glow across the island. He stopped too and gasped.
“What the fuck!?” Avery said as they saw strange beings approaching them from multiple directions.
They were human like with dark eyes and their lithe bodies were clothed in leathery uniforms that reminded Shōtō almost of Samurai only less extravagant. The clothing had a slight shimmer to them under the bluish glow and shifted from light to dark as the forms bent and sway in their stalking of the two men.
“What say we book it outta here?” Avery inquired.
The two men let each other go and rushed through two of the upright creatures that tried to grab them. They barreled through them like a pair of linebackers in a football game and charged off through the forest trying their best not to slip and fall on the slick forest floor. Some sort of energy discharges were flying past their heads and exploding in waves of light around them.
“What the fuck was that?!” Avery screamed.
“I don’t know anything! I just wanted to go back to the damned camp!” Shōtō screamed back.
The darted under leafery and over rocks and fallen trunks and came to a small clearing. They slowed down and looked back but didn’t see anything.
“What were they?” Avery gasped.
“Strange people I’ve never seen before,” Shōtō said bending over and bracing his torso with his hands on his knees. “Didn’t…get a very good look.”
“You…uh…want off the island now?” Avery asked holding his hand to his chest and trying desperately to catch his breath.
Shōtō felt a stinging sensation in his lungs. Every breath he took made the stingy worse and his muscle was aching. He hadn’t run so hard since basic training. Tears were welling in his eyes.
“Yeah…” he replied. “But we’re hitching a ride with your people.”
“Thought you Japs stuck together?” Avery coughed out.
“Fuck you, asshole,” Shōtō said and they both turned to resume running.
Everything went white and Shōtō found himself on his back looking up at the storm as streams of surging water pummeled his already sore face. He blinked trying to get the water out of his eyes and a dark shape hovered over him. His sight blurred and something reached for him before all went black.