Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 35 –

An Epic NovelNovember 26 —

At the Worldwide Symposium on Survival held in Tokyo, Carol Macleay spoke throughout the week on survival techniques, psychological counseling and post-traumatic stress disorder. “The syndrome is an entirely normal reaction to overanxiety,” she said to the delegates. Coming fresh from a rescue mission in Oshima, she knew the importance of helping survivors to recover quickly.

“People should talk about their experiences,” Carol emphasized. “They shouldn’t feel unworthy or guilty. There’s no magic cure, but there are various ways in which those afflicted can be helped through their trauma and therefore recover more quickly and completely—just talking through their experiences allows them to release their feelings and emotions.”

The long session and the need to repeat her theme exhausted Carol. Even her Zen mediation with classical music did little to settle her frazzled nerves.

Toward the end of the symposium, Eileen asked Carol where she headed next.

“Okinawa,” Carol said, “The place is gorgeous—lush green islands and sugarcane plantations. I’m taking a vacation there to meditate. Would you like to come?”

“I’d be glad to go there to investigate,” Eileen said.

Although Carol had to calm down and collect herself, she knew there was an added curiosity. “There’s a total solar eclipse in two days’ time, and the folks believe it’s a bad omen. This coincides with a lunar perigee. Some scientists speculate that the greater gravitational pull from the moon could trigger a major quake.”

Eileen frowned. “A bad omen?”

“Yes, a bit of a stretch,” Carol said. “At last both fanatics have something in common.”

SO EILEEN BOOKED her flight and flew with Carol to Naha for the opportunity of watching a solar eclipse at its most perilous time. She had finally completed her article, ‘The Doomed Archipelago,’ and faxed it to the Raging Planet’s office for publication. With a prospect of a bad omen, it would be another timely article of how speculators and fanatics reacted.

The Ryukyu chain had been a place of intrigue. Earlier in the year, seven Hornets had disappeared northeast of the islands. Since then, fishermen had reported numerous strange sights and sounds all along the Ryukyu that fueled alien abduction speculations over numerous tabloids.

Okinawa, the largest and most famous of the islands, was the hub of the Nansei-Shoto chain. Once they landed, Eileen could feel the tension among the rowdy crowds; people moved at a brisk pace.

Carol rented a Land Cruiser and sped out the airport. “We’re about to see an ancient kingdom,” she said once they hit the highway.

“I can see that.” Eileen’s face lit up as she gazed at the relics of ancient buildings. “Just feel that sub-tropical heat now. What a wonderful place to swim, even in winter.”

Carol drove toward the heart of Naha and pointed at the curved roofs. “Look!”

“Incredible statues.” Eileen stared at the carvings of gargoyles, demons, monsters and pained human faces. Some facades had fallen; others were peppered with bullet holes. “This place still looks like a war zone.”

On the highway toward the city, a crowd chanted as it careened from one side of the street to the other, blocking the traffic. Drums and gongs sounded in a steady, unflagging rhythm.

Unappreciated and frustrated by a thankless task of maintaining global security, the US Navy had only a week before packing off for good.

Still, the locals were grieving over the exoneration of three servicemen over the rape of a schoolboy. Caught and charged, but they were acquitted by the local court as the law defined only the weaker gender being susceptible of rape.

“Bye bye, Yankee,” they shouted. “We are glad to see the tails of you.”

More rioters came close to the Cruiser. “Yankees, go back to hell. You can spend your filthy dollars at home.”

Glaring and shouting, more demonstrators drew near, but Eileen remained composed. They slowed the traffic to a crawl. Coming in waves, the demonstrators continued with their slogans. “Judgment Day is on America,” one shouted. “But why are you still making your spy trip here?” The rumble tore louder through the air as the rioters edged closer, pushing and thumping on the Cruiser.

Eileen sighed when they finally left the crowd behind. “We’ve been championing stability, yet the locals are drunk with madness.”

“Mother Nature is bashing her head in anger,” Carol said as she parked in front of Hotel Sankyo. “And they’re shoving us off like some damn shits.”

After checking into a two-room suite on the first floor of the hotel, they headed to Kokusai-dori for dinner. The polite and courteous waitresses helped to ease the day’s tensions.

The following morning, after breakfast, they drove to the beach and joined scores of scientists and journalists gazing at the sky for the anticipated eclipse. The cloudless blue sky offered an ideal view. After a long moment of waiting, the atmosphere darkened, leaving an ominous glow. Eileen and Carol wore special glasses. Other cautious spectators used a pinhole in a piece of paper to peek at the shadow of the eclipse. At noon, the moon slid over the sun until darkness reigned.

“Look!” Carol said. “Now I understand why fanatics believe the end of the world is at hand.”

Eileen kept her eyes on the eclipse. “Like other popular sayings, there is always a kernel of truth.”

Seconds ticked by before a brilliant crescent peek out from behind the moon. A spectacle! Sprays of horrifying light shot out like a ring of fire. No wonder such events mystified ancient cultures. The image of a Greek God, in grisly detail, came to her mind. A series of oohs and aahs from the spectators broke the silence. Then, bit by bit, the sun emerged in a crescent before it returned to normal, as if nothing had happened.

Back in the hotel suite that night, Eileen frowned as a heavy rainstorm rumble outside. It reminded her of the eclipse earlier that was considered an ill-omened sign by ancient folks. Too exhausted to chat with Carol, she shuffled straight to bed, and fell asleep instantly.

A quarter moon hangs as Eileen sprouts wings and soars over the Daisetsuzan National Park, casting shadows over its hot springs and geysers. Eerie silence fills the night over the exotic landscape. A crackling fire draws her attention to the north. Looking for her husband, she flies closer.

A thundercloud laced with lightning booms below. Accompanied by columns of ash and smoke from underground, the muffled roars grow in intensity. Then gigantic flares burst in the sky. Like fiery meteors that dart and crisscross each other, the flares brighten the landscape, heading toward her.

She flaps her wings faster to rise, but the flares follow. She flies higher, yet the flares inch closer, their heat searing her skin. Shattering the air, more blasts of lava, debris and cloud spew in her direction. The danger continues, but she escapes the flying projectiles.

When the blasting missiles abate, she slows to catch her breath. She looks down—the flares precipitate into a sea of bubbles, waters from the hot springs burst forth, mingling with those from nearby rivers, converging to create a huge waterspout. The process continues, rushing in, rising up, forming a lake. It widens and lengthens, until the lake becomes a sea.

Suddenly, her wings catch fire from a missile. She flaps faster, but the fire spreads to her back. Like a pilot ejecting from a jet, she detaches herself from her wings in a frantic effort to escape. Her arms flail, but her dive accelerates. She crashes into the approaching missiles head-on before plunging into the boiling lake.

“Not for a thousand years! Not for a thousand years!”

Eileen awoke with a jolt, her heart pumping. “Oh—my leg!” she screamed. Sensing sunlight filtering through the curtains, she blinked to clear her vision. A piece of the ceiling, a wooden beam, had fallen and hit her leg. A searing sensation caused her to shove off the blanket. Blood! She pushed off the beam and looked up. Above her, the ceiling had cracked.

“What the hell’s happening?”

Her bed bounced up and down like a ball. With her chest convulsing, she rolled out of bed as the sound of falling metal filled her ears.

“Let’s get out,” she said while crawling to the living room.

“Let me help you.” Carol grabbed her.

“No, I can manage.” Eileen stood and limped to the door.

OVER HEAPS OF debris, Carol stepped into the lounge, offering her hands, and Eileen accepted. Shards of glass sprinkled the lounge.

“Grab the radio,” Eileen said. “And turn to the Voice of America.”

Carol searched for her portable radio; her heart tensed. “It’s the US military station.”

Rainwater spilled into the living room. Electricity had been cut off, but crackles of lightning flashed through the morning rain. A thunder roared amidst cries from other guests.

“We’re caught in this damn shit.” Carol rushed to her bedroom for her car keys. She returned with a few belongings. “It’s a war out there.”

“It’s 9.6 on the Richter scale.” Eileen repeated from the radio reports. The airport tarmac had broken in places. “You hear that? Water already flooded parts of the island. Where should we go?”

“To our jeep.” Carol offered her shoulder to Eileen as they limped down the flight of stairs from the first floor. “And we’ll go to the American base.”

Dodging fallen debris, Carol struggled with Eileen to the car park.

“My leg really hurts,” Eileen said.

Carol glanced at Eileen’s leg. “Put more of your weight on me, but let’s keep going.”

Once on the road, Carol floored the accelerator, pushing the Cruiser so fast that it flew over bumps and potholes, skipping through the wind and tropical downpour. Chunks of concrete had shattered on the sidewalk.

Carol maneuvered around stalled cars that resembled floating vessels. She drove through the flood, spraying water on both sides. Once they hit the freeway, she stomped on the accelerator again.

“Where are we?” Carol shouted over the rain that drummed on the roof.

“Keep going north,” Eileen yelled over the roar. “Toward Okinawa City.”

Carol peered through the rain, following the headlights. Through the blur of motion, she felt dizzy, swinging back and forth as though she were on top of a high-rise.

“We’re in deep shit,” Carol said.

The windshield wipers couldn’t keep off the downpour. Carol rolled the window down to see better but her view became worse. “Where do we go from here?”

“Just keep going. Soon we’ll reach the US base.”

After rolling the window back, Carol stared at sheets of water streaming down the sides of the windows. Rain continued to pour and a swift current rushed across the freeway ahead. She slammed the pedal so hard the jeep hydroplaned. The pounding of the rain overwhelmed all other senses; its drumming carried its own beat and rhythm.

Carol slowed the jeep, her vision blurred. “Why do earthquake always come with such terror?”

“Chaos theory might offer an answer,” Eileen said. “But right now, we’re passing through a bad storm.”

The rain dissipated and slowed to a drizzle. Ducks quacked ahead, swimming through the flood. Chickens fluttered on fence posts and rooftops. Dogs ran around trees and into bushes where squirrels hopped and jumped.

Trucks and cars lay scattered everywhere. People screaming and crying. Families assembled in groups, old and young huddled together, seeking rescue.

Carol stopped the Cruiser. “Let’s take a few with us.” She jumped out and waved.

A family ran toward them. Two small girls clung to their parents. Carol looked at their shivering faces. “Get into the jeep,” she shouted. After helping them inside, she slammed the door closed.

Creeping creatures and lizards stirred in the undergrowth. Among the debris, she could see other creepy-crawlies floating along—rats, spiders, scorpions.

Stepping on the accelerator, Carol continued on the freeway, which looked more like a series of islands than a road.

A dog leapt in front and banged before the Cruiser. She stopped the vehicle and jumped out. The dog lay crushed—dead. She examined the jeep: the bumper and grill were dented. But she had to go on.

Back on the road, Carol thought she heard a hissing noise, then felt a searing pain surging in her right leg. “Something has bitten me,” she screamed. “A snake!”

WITH A QUICK HAND, Eileen leaned over, caught the snake by its neck and threw it out the window amidst screams from the children in the backseat. A series of bite marks appeared on Carol’s right leg. Eileen took the first aid kit and wrapped a bandage over the leg. “Stay calm!” she said, noticing its peculiar markings. “A habu snake. It’s poisonous, I think.”

Carol couldn’t move.

“Let me take over,” Eileen said. “I can drive.”

After Eileen helped Carol into the passenger seat, she drove through more patches of crumpled road. Staring ahead, she groaned as the rain came down heavier. Her breath turned shallow while fighting the fear of the incoming water that surrounded them. Bushy treetops loomed ahead where a pineapple plantation once stood.

Eileen stepped on the accelerator; she could see something. An arrow with a sign indicated the US Navy Base. But the Cruiser stalled. She tried to restart the jeep. “What’s wrong?”

“Keep trying.”

Eileen shivered with cold and exhaustion. “Maybe water has choked the engine.”

Carol remained silent.

“Something’s wrong. The engine is dead.” Eileen swiveled to the back of the jeep and got the children out. “Let’s run.”

They struggled as fast as they could, following their parents. Carol limped behind, and Eileen offered her arm.

In another hundred yards, a guard in foul weather gear hailed them. “Follow me.”

Feeling more of Carol’s weight resting on her, Eileen knew that her companion was unable to carry on by herself. Then Carol finally collapsed.

“Help!” Eileen yelled.

The guard rushed to them. Within a minute, he and his colleagues loaded Carol on a stretcher. While two men carried her, Eileen ran back to assist the Okinawan family. But the guards quickly whisked them onto the USS Ronald Reagan.

Once on board, the hellish roar of aircrafts in action overrode every other noise. As the guards helped the family to safety, several more helicopters operated at frantic pace on the starboard side of the carrier.

Rescuers took the survivors straight to a medical station.

As Eileen rushed back to the deck, assisting survivors when they arrived, the carrier raised anchor. The crew, their uniforms already splattered with blood, attempted to restore order to a near panic-stricken stampede. They cleared a section of the deck to make space for helicopters to take off and land in their search and rescue missions.

Despite the storms, the seamen threw liferafts into the sea and they filled quickly. Helicopters dropped ropes, and pulled the survivors up like catches of fish onto the deck. Others used scramble nets, but the rescuers’ task became hopeless in the face of violent storms, and many of the stricken disappeared from view. It could have been her, swept away, if she had arrived a little later.

She strolled to see over the horizon, searching the shore for the jeep, but the land had disappeared. A destroyer, also rescuing survivors, passing from left to right across the carrier’s bow, caught her attention. Seagulls flew in circles and hovered like airplanes waiting to land. But a succession of explosions lit the atmosphere. Big spurs of land thrust into the sky, rising high and higher and down they crashed into the sea, disappearing with a bo-o-om, creating mountainous waves, tossing the USS Ronald Reagan up and down. The waves roared over the sea, and a display of pyrotechnics made the sky glow.

Unable to comb through all the debris, the Captain called off the search and USS Ronald Reagan began her lonely journey to Honolulu.

Eileen wrapped the blanket around herself and gazed out over the empty sea, wondering how her recent article about the doomed archipelago might possibly have warned of these dangers. Could Wulfstein have known this? His terrifying prediction of a magnitude ten loomed in her mind. Nothing seemed real. Okinawa was gone. And what fate was still to come?

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

~ by Joel Huan on December 8, 2009.

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