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Authors: Graham Salisbury

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Under the Blood-Red Sun (18 page)

BOOK: Under the Blood-Red Sun
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A convoy of army trucks rushed by. Stone-faced men peeked out from under the tarps in back. Behind the trucks, five tanks thundered by, shaking the street. I covered my ears. It was like I was in a nightmare.

The tanks rumbled on, and I crossed the street. How was I going to get over to Sand Island? I didn’t even know
if it
was
an island, or if there was a spit of land that connected it, or some kind of bridge.

Soon I came to where two army guards stood by an entry station. They had pistols on their belts, and steel helmets and dark arm bands that said
MP
on them.
They going shoot you.…

I could see their eyes watching me even though they seemed to stare straight ahead. When I came up to them, they got out of that stiff position. I pointed past the barbed wire. “Is this how you get to Sand Island?”

“This area is restricted,” one of the men said. He didn’t smile or anything.

“I’m looking for my father. He was … arrested … by mistake.”

The guard stared at me a moment, then said, “Better go home, son.”

“But he’s just a fisherman.”

“Beat it,” the other guard said.

I peeked past them. Nothing but ugly buildings and shipping boxes and a few trucks. A thick raindrop splattered down on my shoulder. The guards slipped army-green ponchos over their heads.

I headed back, and the rain let loose. Big drops bounced off the pavement. Rivers began to run in the gutters. I looked for someplace to get out of the rain and found an arched concrete bridge. I ducked under it and sat on a ledge, huddling next to the stream that ran out into the harbor.

What a stupid idea … I should have listened to Grampa.

The rain came down harder and the sound was deafening.
The river started to swell and cloud with mud. I watched it rush by. Across the harbor Sand Island looked so desolate, a ghostly spit of land and the now barely visible red-roofed building.

It was pretty hard to see that far. The rain beat down onto the water so hard, it looked like it was boiling. But I could make out the shoreline across the harbor. No barbed wire over there. I figured they had it strung out on the other side, on the ocean side where the enemy could land.

Barbed wire!

I hadn’t even noticed—there was no barbed wire. Not over there, and not here
under
the bridge. Nothing between me and Sand Island. I could swim out there.…

But what if someone saw me?

But it was raining, hard.… Maybe no one would be out there looking … even if they were, the rain was making everything blurry.

I crawled along the ledge under the bridge to the harbor side. No people on the docks and no ships moving around, not even any small boats. It was a long swim, but I was sure I could make it.

Then I remembered the tugboats, like sharks with big magnetic teeth that pulled you under. I’d seen them moving ships up to the pier, huge, sucking propellers churning the ocean white behind them, making giant, ugly whirlpools. If one of those things came by while I was out there, it would chop me into shreds.

Another stupid idea.

But …

I took my ID card out and stuck it in a crack on the
ledge, then covered it with my sweatshirt. If I lost that I’d be in more trouble than I wanted to think about.

The water was cool, but not cold. I dropped down into it and let the stream carry me out into the harbor, keeping low so I’d look like something floating, a coconut or some piece of junk in the water.

The rain thundered all around me. I turned and looked back. No one on the bridge. Still no boats, or anyone on the pier. When the force of the stream died out I started swimming … breast stroke, keeping low, making as little movement as possible. I accidentally swallowed a mouthful of oily, fuel-smelling water, and gagged. I tried to keep from coughing.

Pull. Easy, steady. Looking back. Watching for boats.

About halfway across the harbor I started to get tired, but at least I could stop worrying about being seen by anyone on shore.

Sand Island … were there guards there?

The rain started to let up. It would pass soon.

Move … stop thinking about being tired.… Keep going, keep pulling.

I didn’t realize how tired I really was until I felt the soft touch of watery sand under my feet. I crawled out and stumbled up the small beach to sprawl in some weeds. The rain still fell, but not as hard as before. I curled up into a ball and thought about going back into the water where it was warm. But I stayed hidden in the weeds.

Soon the rain slowed to a drizzle, then stopped. A breeze brought the soft rumble of surf from out on the reef on the other side of Sand Island. It must have been
about noon. I rested awhile, then crawled up to the flat land above the beach and into the waist-high weeds.

They going shoot anybody try go there.…

Grampa was right. I should just be dutiful. I should be respectful and obey everything he says.
Papa should beat you.…

But I was so close.

I crawled to a thicket of kiawe trees and studied what I could see of the white building. The whole island wasn’t that big, maybe a half mile long and a quarter wide. I inched closer, hiding behind the trees.

The weeds broke onto a sandy field riddled with puddles. And beyond that, the prisoner camp.

My chin dug into the sand as I lay flat, straining to see. The camp wasn’t much more than a barbed-wire enclosed yard of sand with a bunch of tents set up in neat rows. Beyond that was the white building, and a couple of smaller buildings.

But there was still the open field. How was I going to cross
that?
I could wait until dark and then crawl to the trees on the other side … but I had to be home before dark, before curfew. I should just get out of there.

Strange.

No guards. No prisoners. The place seemed deserted. Had I made a mistake? Had I come all this way just to find nothing?

The few trees that stood near the prison fence weren’t that far away … about as far as from a pitcher’s mound to center field. But it felt like three times that much. It was now or never … now or never.

I crouched and kept low to the ground. My feet
thumped over the sand, making huge splashing sounds when I hit the puddles. I dove to the ground and rolled into some weeds around three trees. I lay there panting.

In the camp nothing moved. Where
was
everyone?

I counted more than thirty tents sitting in muddy dirt and sand, some shaped like pyramids and some like a sheet staked down over a clothesline. If Papa was there, was his tent near the fence?

The fence, I suddenly realized, was two fences, with about ten feet between them. You’d almost have to shout to talk to someone.

I waited, shivering. Wet shorts and no shirt.

After a while, a long line of men came filing out of one of the smaller buildings. When they got to the tents they broke up and went inside, or just gathered in groups in the yard. A few wandered toward where I was, talking to each other in low voices and looking at the dark sky. They were all Japanese. Still no guards in sight.

I recognized a fisherman I’d seen before … a friend of Papa’s. He wandered into one of the pyramid tents that was near the fence. Too far away.

In a few minutes he came back out. My heart pounded with each step. Closer … closer.

“Pssst,” I whispered.

The man stopped and looked around, out into the field, then back toward the tents.

“Over here.” I stuck my head up out of the weeds, then quickly ducked back down.

When he saw me he looked around to see if anyone else had seen. “Lie flat!” he commanded, then walked casually over to stand right across from me.

I parted the weeds and peeked through. He stood with his hands in his pockets, looking up at the sky as if checking to see if it was going to rain some more. “Who you? What you doing here?” he said, without looking in my direction.

“Tomi Nakaji,” I said in a shouting whisper. “I’m looking for my father, Taro.”

He glanced in my direction, then quickly turned away. “No move, boy … the guards see you, they going shoot.” He started to walk away, then stopped and looked at the sky again. “No even breathe.”

He went into a tent and came back with Papa.

Papa looked … awful. Unshaven and grimy, far worse than after a month at sea without a bath. He walked slowly, limping. He used a stick for a cane. I wanted to call out to him, to jump up and run over to the fence. I could explain to the guards that they were all wrong, that they had an innocent man. But Grampa’s words screamed through me:
shoot you, shoot you, shoot you.…

“Tomi!” Papa whispered, not looking my way, a deep scowl on his face.

“Papa, I—”

“Shhh! No say nothing.… You listen to me.… Stay in that trees until nighttime, then
go.…
You hear me? Go!” Papa looked scared. I felt sick.

He waited there with his friend, both of them scowling at the ground. Papa leaned on his stick, and once peeked over at me. The look on his face was as sad and lonely as I’d ever seen it. His friend said something to him and put his hand on Papa’s shoulder.

Finally, Papa whispered, “Tomi …”

I lifted my head a little so he could see.

“You very brave … but also … Tomi, you tell Mama not to worry … Tomi …”

I wanted to call to him, to tell him I would get him out of there somehow … but I kept quiet, like he’d said.

A guard came out into the yard from the white building. Papa’s friend urged Papa away from the fence. They separated, and Papa limped to his tent and sat between two mud puddles on a small stool. He sat straight, like Grampa, the stick lying across his lap. He stared out into the wet weeds, away from where I was, his weary eyes sagging.

It was almost unbearable to be so close and not be able to do anything but dig down into the dirt. I had to force myself to stop thinking about it before it made me crazy. I started thinking about food. But the thought of eating made me feel sick. And so did the salty smell of the wet, mushy sand I was lying in.

An hour passed … maybe two … or three. Papa never stopped guarding my hiding place.

I fell asleep, then woke with a twitch, suddenly remembering where I was. My neck was stiff and hurt when I moved. A blotch of sand clung to one side of my face. I wiped it away and ran my fingers over the grooves it left in my cheek.

I got up on my elbows and peeked over the weeds. Papa was gone. Everyone was gone. It was getting dark. They must have gone back into the building.

Night came down and hid the open field. I crawled
back out of the trees and sprinted across the sand and puddles to the kiawe thicket, then slowed to a fast walk and picked my way through the weeds to the harbor. I must have been crazy to think I could help Papa.
Crazy!

The water was warm and black.

The city across the harbor hid in a dark silhouette of buildings. An island with no lights. I swam slowly, evenly, trying to pace myself so I wouldn’t get too tired. Except for the hum of a small-boat engine somewhere, the harbor was quiet. Off to my left a blue light moved steadily across the water. I waited until the boat passed, hanging in the water with only my hands moving back and forth.

I aimed toward where I thought the bridge was. It seemed like days since I’d hidden under it.

The cool, fresh water rushing out from the river pushed me away from the bridge. I had to swim harder. I turned and worked into it on my back, face to the sky. The clouds had cleared. There were stars by the millions. Seeing them like that, so peaceful, made me feel sad. And lonely.

A
thrumming …

Churning.

Tugboat!

I swirled around, looking for it.

Blue lights bore down on me, growing larger. Sickening gray-white wake.

Boiling wake.

I lunged toward the bridge, my arms so tired they dragged me under. I came up, gasping. The
thrum
grew louder. I could hear the swishing of water shooting out
from under the hull, and a voice crackling over the tug’s radio. A giant shadow loomed over me.

The sucking grabbed at my legs, dragged me backward.

Sucked me back toward the churning prop.

Nowhere to go but down. I went under, trying to dive to the bottom. Get out of the way.

Down.

The tug thundered above.

Down, down to where the water turned cold.

The tug passed and the sucking stopped.

I waited as long as I could, then clawed my way back up. My lungs felt like they would explode. I broke the surface, gasping for air. My legs and arms could barely hold me up. Swim. Swim to the bridge.

Swim …

The ledge was slippery with moss. For a few minutes I just hung on to it, then dragged myself up, the sharp concrete edge digging into my hands and scraping my legs. I lay panting in the dark, my mind dizzy with fear and exhaustion. I fell asleep without knowing it.

Sometime later I was awakened by a kick. A flashlight with a blue-painted lens burned into my eyes. A bayonet poked at my throat.

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BOOK: Under the Blood-Red Sun
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