Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 37 –

An Epic NovelBo-o-om! Thrown from his chair, Byron hit the floor. Stars exploded in his peripheral vision. A warm body flopped on top of him. When he glanced at Nobuko’s shock face, he grasped her arms and hugged her tight. The Big One must have struck, he thought as the ceiling above shuddered and cracked like an egg exploding. Gusts of wind whistled through the columns in a sepulchral moan and shattered more windows. The building swayed, concrete cracked, and equipment spilled onto the floor. Fissures laced the pillars and bits of ceiling showered down like confetti. As glass and ight shards fell, Byron rolled over Nobuko, shielding her.

He pulled her up, and they ran to the window. “Mt. Fuji—it’s gone!” Clinging to the TV remote, he surfed through the channels. Nothing, but static. Turning back, he felt stunned and helpless to see Wulfstein huddled in a corner. “Get up,” Byron shouted. “We have to get out of here, quick.”

Aghast, Byron tried to reach for him, but the swaying of the building forced him back to the floor. More debris fell and shudders followed. What can we do now?

Byron switched on a radio. “A series of shockwaves first sped northeastward from its epicenter in nearby Tokyo Bay. Then aftershocks spread inland across Kanto Plain. People are asked not to – ” The announcer’s voice crackled, then the radio message dissolved into static. Byron fiddled with the dial, but nothing audible emerged from the speaker. He dialed again. Nothing.

Flashes of nature’s blitz and a thunderous roar accompanied another shockwave. A steel beam from the ceiling gave way, crashing with chunks of debris and dust flying everywhere. Hell. Still in shocked, Byron hauled Nobuko under a table, her face pale and showing horror, and he covered her head with his arms.

When the plaster dust cleared, the Sensei moaned; he appeared pinned.

“Yoshino’s trapped,” Byron said, realizing the Sensei’s legs were caught by a girder, crushing his legs. He rushed over and pushed the beam away, but blood gushed from Yoshino’s leg. “Are you all right?”

“I am . . . I’ll be all right,” Yoshino said. He struggled to sit up, but fell back. Blood trickled from his ear and down his cheek.

After scrambling through the debris, Wulfstein removed his tie, then used it as a tourniquet to strap the injured leg.

Yoshino turned. “This is it. No more prediction needed.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” Wulfstein said. “I was too cautious and got you into a fix. My prediction called for a few more days.”

Sobbing, Nobuko took off her jacket and, with the help of Byron, placed it under Yoshino’s head. “Oh, Papa.” As waves of agony crushed her, her choked tears trickled down her cheeks. She clutched at her father’s coat and kissed his hands. “Oh, Papa. Please don’t leave me.”

As waves of agony crushed them, Byron and Wulfstein moved Yoshino onto his left side to help stem the flow of blood.

“Byron,” Wulfstein said. “We’ve to take the Sensei to the hospital immediately.”

Byron picked up his cell phone, but found no dial tone. They had to get out quickly.

“Leave me here,” Yoshino whispered.

Wulfstein gripped Yoshino’s upper left arm. “Yoshino-sensei, please hang in there.”

“I will . . . I’ll be okay.”

SILENCE FOLLOWED AS Wulfstein realized the severity of Yoshino’s injuries. His impulse told him to flee, but his heart told him to stay with the Sensei. Besides, where would they go?

The Sensei grasped Wulfstein’s arm. “Professor, thank you for being so kind. No one was prepared for a quake of such magnitude.”

“You have done me a tremendous favor,” Wulfstein said. “Our work together has given me immeasurable pleasure, and I—”

“My admiration for your work has been high,”

Yoshino said, his voice a low murmur. “Now, another cycle of life awaits me. Our souls must part, but I’ll always carry a guilty feeling.”

“You have not offended me,” Wulfstein said.

“Akira and Kiichi, they’re employed by the Japanese government to research our ocean’s wealth.” Yoshino’s teeth rattled. “In twenty years, they found nothing.”

Byron hesitated. “And Nishihara?”

“He’s yakuza.” The Sensei exerted himself, his voice barely audible. “He comes and goes as he likes, and with Akira and Kiichi, imperial recognition is within reach.”

Stunned, Wulfstein remained silent, not wanting to add to the Sensei’s misery.

“Like dew . . . I was born,” Yoshino whispered. “Like dew . . . I will vanish. All deaths are births, all endings . . . beginnings.”

With waves of misery crushing her, tears flowed freely. Total despair; total agony.

“Go with the gaijin and be safe.” Yoshino held Nobuko’s hands tight. “I love you, my dear. Stay strong and don’t be afraid.”

Yoshino frowned; his head twitched. Blood oozed from his wound and dribbled between his lips. He then turned to Byron. “Look after my Nobuko . . . Look after her.” He struggled to grab Byron’s arm. “Promise me.”

“I will.”

“No! Papa! Oh, To-Chan! To-Chan!” Nobuko fell to her knees, continued speaking tête-à-tête in desperate Japanese. She clasped his father’s hands, touched his face and forehead. Her stricken tears poured down her face like pearls from a broken strand. “I love you, be strong . . . I love you.” But he lay silent.

Byron felt his neck for a pulse, then looked up at Wulfstein and shook his head. Nobuko fell onto her father’s chest and wept.

An aftershock shook the building. Byron grabbed Nobuko and hugged her, then turned to Wulfstein. “Let’s get out of here.”

Wulfstein glanced over. The enormity of relentless guilt hung over him. “I don’t know where to go,” he said. Recalling something that sounded familiar, he turned to Nobuko. “What did your father say to you?”

“To take . . . Tokodo.” Her tears flowed. “The survival gear, remember?”

Wulfstein shook his head. “Tokodo!” The name sounded familiar, and soon the realization became clearer. “The liferaft! Where is it?”

“In Sakura,” Byron said. “I tucked it under my bed.”

“Let’s go!” Wulfstein said.

Scarcely did the Professor manage to stand before another jolt knocked him down.

Byron stood and nudged Nobuko into the stairway. “Let’s keep moving.”

Wulfstein followed, grabbing his laptop. He tripped over and stumbled through broken beams and glasses. But he picked himself up they and they ran down flights of stairs, panting, and choked on the dust.

A mighty clap thundered overhead, a beam crashed down before them.

“Ouch,” Wulfstein yelled. A plank of wood struck his shoulder. He fell to the floor, dropping his laptop.

“Can you manage?” Byron said while rushing back with Nobuko.

“I’ll carry your laptop,” Nobuko offered.

“Nothing serious.” Wulfstein struggled to rise.

Byron assisted Wulfstein to his feet in the dim emergency light. “We’ll help you to the jeep.”

Wulfstein handed the laptop to Nobuko. He opened the door to the lobby and they joined a crowd scrambling down the stairs, trying to escape the Daiichi Building.
BYRON SCANNED AROUND. Fire and clouds of brown smoke blew out from tall buildings, darkening the sky. He took out his key to the jeep, then helped Wulfstein to the backseat. Nobuko climbed into the passenger seat while Byron jumped into the driver’s.

He drove, every muscle tensed, with Nobuko directing. The world had fallen apart. Buildings collapsed and streets buckled. Thick, black smoke from fires blurred his vision.

Pieces of metal siding, traffic signboards, patches of roof and fences flew around wrecked cars. With cloths and handkerchiefs against their faces, people ran through the streets in confusion. Some wore the omnipresent gauze mask; others held cellophane bags over their heads, giving them a macabre Halloween look.

Hesitating for a moment, Byron stomped on the brake. “Where are we?”

Nobuko pointed. “Keep going straight.”

Cyclonic winds blew spirals of flames, sucked people from crowds and dropped them in balls of fire. As the flames drew nearer, the remaining crowds huddled in horror.

Electrical charges flashed lightning, giving off eerie sights across the sky as if before a thunderstorm.

Explosions. Like a strident reminder that planet Earth had a life of its own, a series of fantastic fiery rockets exploded from the mountains in the west. Silicates in an ash cloud created a lightshow, refracting all shades of the spectrum.

Then the heavens opened and hailstones hammered their path. Along with roaring thunder, they drowned the noise of rushing waters.

Byron drove over shattered streets on to the freeway. The rain carried its own rhythm as the jeep sped across smoky streets. On all sides, people ran and cried. Pushing and shoving at one another, they tried to find safety in a world that had begun to writhe and twist. Horror framed every face. Some ran barefoot from burning homes to their vehicles. Every few seconds, howling fire sirens blended with the cries of people. Survivors gasped, shielding their eyes, crying out in terror. Bricks crashing into cars and smashing structures.

Over a bumpy road ahead, black heaps, scorched corpses lay everywhere. An odor of hell smoke, ash and sulfur permeated the air. Heavy downpours now rushed like a torrent, drowning fires. But the earth continued to tremble. Solid earth turned to mud, and roads, railway lines, gas and water pipes and buildings quickly collapsed. Gas storage tanks exploded in a lightning display, and a mixture of rickety old buildings magnified the inferno.

Byron swerved the jeep when volleys of bricks and wooden shingles fell on the road. Panels of debris flung high and whirled around. Facades of houses tumbled, ripped aside like ragged curtains. Little streams had become noisy torrents.

“The water’s rushing in,” Byron cried as the jeep plunged into a sinkhole. The water came up to the hood, drowning the engine. He shook his head.

“We’re short of Sakura by a mile,” Nobuko said.

“Let’s run,” Wulfstein said.

“But you’re injured,” Nobuko said.

“Nothing serious,” Wulfstein gasped. “I can manage.”

Byron waded around the jeep and assisted Wulfstein into the rain. Nobuko leaped out and the three struggled on their feet.

Their world tore apart; soft sounds seemed like explosions. Byron’s heartbeats pounded hard. His adrenaline, already running like lava through his veins, began to burn. An eerie premonition pervaded his conscience. The scene resembled the riding Four Horsemen.

He shook his head, resisting a biblical scene. He imagined the subduction fault being sucked beneath the Eurasia plate, which pushed anything in its way outward. A chunk of the earth’s surface along the Pacific plate must have entered the earth’s fiery core, pulling the edge of Eurasia along with it, burbling and belching. Bedrock ground to dust, collapsed inward, created ruptures on its surface—as if its monstrous mouth widened to gulp its own lips.

BEADS OF SWEAT peppered Nobuko’s face like dew on a peony petal. When the sight of bodies appeared scattered along the streets, the thought of living through the eruption grew more unbearable. Like zombies, some people wandered about with blank stares; others had rivulets of blood crisscrossing their faces, and she felt her minutes were numbered.

But toward Sakura, she raced.

Arrows of sparks shot into the sky and descended in a zigzag, in blood-colored clouds of smoke. More crackles of lightning gleamed from black clouds that hovered close to earth.

Her heartbeat raced—heavy, fast and irregular. She clenched her fists and fought against succumbing to the horror within. “We’ve waited too long.”

Pliant as a fern, she shivered, urging her tired legs to move on. Buried childhood terror swelled and threatened to choke her. Thoughts of death darted in and out of her mind as horrid vision swam before her eyes. “We should have gone earlier.”

Byron tightened his grip on her hands, the veins bulging in his neck. “Please. We’ll find a way.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” Wulfstein shouted over his puffing breath. “I was too cautious, and have put all of you in such danger.”

“What’s happening?” Byron said.

“The earth is wobbling,” Nobuko said, realizing a swirling swell from the ground where she stood was unsettling her.

As the earth settled to a low rumble, the two gaijin and Nobuko ran toward Sakura. Tumbled houses and ripped up streets littered the path. Byron fell over a branch and scraped his leg against a rock. He tried to push himself up, but his strength had faded. Blood oozed from his grazed leg.

“Can you okay?” Nobuko asked.

Byron cringed; he stiffened and exhaled in little gasps, stood and struggled to run, but he could only hop on one.

Deafened by the humming sound, Nobuko turned to Wulfstein. “Professor, can you manage?”

Wulfstein puffed as he trudged along; sweat glistened on his brow. He fell silent; he seemed to be pondering his options. Finally, he said, “I’ll survive.”

©) Joel Huan, author of Over Mount Fuji (available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

~ by Joel Huan on December 6, 2009.

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