Once in a while, on-line writing instructor Ann Linquist sets before us a buffet of words. We fill our plate with three choices and retire to our computers to work those choices into a story.Her words this time:
Aunt Alice’s necklace. The tree’s shadow. Road construction. Hand to the forehead. Index. Leather recliner. Holes in the page. Root beer spilled on the carpet.
My choices were The tree's shadow, road construction, and index.
If there were any trees on this barren, wind-scoured, uninhabited island, trust me, I’d be hiding in their shadows instead of where I am now. Yeah, there’s a “tree” the GIs planted back in ’43, down by the derelict Officer’s Club, but it’s not much more than a half-dead shrub and couldn’t hide even one of the zillions of rats running around here.
I never should have come out here. I never would have if I’d known about him. No one said a word. Maybe no one else has seen him.
This part of the island isn’t off limits, not like the south end of the island where they say there’s unexploded ordnance. I walked all over out there and didn’t find anything but baby sea gulls.
A little ways from here, over beyond the road by the construction site, I found a belt of .50 cal machine gun cartridges. The fabric was rotted away but the metal clips that held the ammo was still there. Dangerous, unstable after four decades exposed to the unrelenting rains and winds, it just lies there, waiting for some idiot to pick it up. Like me.
And they supposedly searched that area. No wonder they never saw him. He can hide; ammo can’t.
That’s what I was doing when I saw him. I was down in the foxhole, examining the belt of ammo that was no longer a belt, just a bunch of lethal, weathered cartridges longer that my index finger with metal clips lying on the rotted fabric..
My truck was parked down in a swale, so I guess he didn’t see it. Anyway, I saw him first. I thought he was a bear but there aren’t any bears here on Amchitka Island in Alaska’s Aleutian Chain, just rats. Lots of rats.
I got my binoculars and looked again. All I could make out were two round brown things with a thin strip of white separating them. The light wasn’t good with the rain and all, so I kept staring, trying to get some perspective. Then he stood up and I still didn’t believe what I was looking at.
I’d been looking at his butt as he knelt on the tundra. He was naked but for a loin cloth. His skin was a deep brown color and his shaggy black hair hung down to his shoulders. The strip of white was the thong that cleaves a man’s butt cheeks, part of the Japanese fundoshi men’s underwear. God, those went out after World War II and the Japanese men started wearing briefs. He was carrying something in his hand, something like a sword, long and slightly curved. I couldn’t see if he was wearing shoes.
Naked in this weather? How on earth was he not hypothermic?
He turned towards me.
I ducked down into the foxhole. Had he sensed me watching him? From 200 yards away? I raised up, carefully separating the long grass on the edge of the foxhole so I could see him without raising my head high enough for him to see me.
There was something about him that didn’t look quite right, something abnormal for a human. If he was what I think he was, he’d be almost 70 years old. So how come his hair is still black?
But that wasn’t what was wrong with this picture. There was something wrong with his eyes. They looked like they were on fire.
I crawled out of the foxhole through a muddy trench and slipped over the cliff by the ocean, then made my way to a small drainage where I’d be below the horizon and could get inland without being seen. I was hoping to get to the construction site. Some place safe.
I made as far as the lake. That’s when I glanced back and saw him coming over the rise about a quarter mile away—in between me and the dirt gang and safety. That’s why I’m hid out under this muddy bank along the lake shore, water dripping down my neck, mud smeared all over me, disguising the color of my skin.
There he is. Across the lake. Over on the concrete plug. What the heck is he doing? He looks like he’s doing yoga on top of that plug. Like he owns it. My eyes slip to his right, to a dark hole under the far bank. I watch as he walks in that direction and enters the hole.
Now it makes sense. That’s why no one’s ever seen him before. He lives here—here at Cannikin lake, a lake formed when this area subsided after the world’s largest underground nuclear blast. Cannikin. Three megatons. 1971.
And that strange man across the lake? A Japanese warrior from WWII, hid out all these years after the Imperial Forces invaded and occupied US soil during the war.
I heard about those warriors who hid down in the South Pacific. They never gave up. They continued fighting, fanatical in their devotion to Emperor Hirohito, long after the war ended. He’s been trapped here since the US Army took back the islands the Japanese occupied.
He's armed with a sword; I'm armed with binoculars.
Now I’m trapped, too.
Now I’m trapped, too.
(Next: Some photos and facts about Amchitka, and the islands really occupied by the Imperial Forces.)