Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 39 –

An Epic NovelThe sound of temple bells alternated between loud and soft in the distance. Outside Sakura, Nobuko battled along with Byron and Wulfstein to higher ground, joining another crowd. The rain had stopped, but Mount Fuji was spewing fountains of burning rocks and brightening the sky like fireworks. The heated lava and rocks slammed into the mountainsides and tore its slopes.

“Where can we go?” Nobuko asked, her eyes shone with unshed tears. “When will this end?”

“I wish I knew. I wish I’d timed this earlier,” Wulfstein said. His face exuded weary lines. “The hill to the south might give us a slim chance, but we’re no more than a speck in this scheme of nature.”

The blood-red sky blinded Nobuko for a moment. With a seismic shift, another eruption exploded from the mountain range and resonated in a thunderous roar. The rumble pierced her eardrums, numbing her hearing.

“Come this way,” Wulfstein urged, leading up the hill. “Let’s run!”

Terrified, Nobuko kept pace. Fiery meteors were darting and crisscrossing the gloomy sky; red flares mingled with rolls of thunder. Wailing and screaming, people ran amok. Houses fell, debris and fixtures swayed on the streets. Everything had been lost except the liferaft on Byron’s back.

She struggled, ignoring her heaving chest and resisting an urge to turn back. Ash fell like powdery snow. Rocks and lava peppered the landscape under a darkened sky. A mixture of noxious fumes and ashes scalded the road ahead. She froze and cocked her head toward a gurgling noise as the water and steam spiraled out from the ground a few feet away.

“Hot spring.” Nobuko pointed to an eruption twenty feet to the left. A geyser had taken shape and turned much of the ground into slippery mud.

Bo-o-om! Magma blasted into the air in the form of steaming boulders of pumice and rocks, then plummeted back to earth. One huge boulder hit the hilltop; it fragmented and a piece rolled down the slope toward them. Dropping his haversack, Byron shoved Nobuko out of its path, but he tripped over and a smaller rock hit his right leg onto the soft ground.

“Help! Help me!” Byron clutched at the muddy soil with his hands, but he started sinking into the quagmire.

Wulfstein dashed over but water from a hot spring nearby spouted out, splashing him. He screamed as he lost his footing. He dropped to his knees; his laptop slipped from his arm.

Nobuko lunged for the computer. Wulfstein rushed to hold the haversack that Byron had left behind. He pulled out a rope. When it was long enough, he threw the loose end to Byron, where mud had risen to his chest.

“Nobuko,” Wulfstein yelled. “Come on, leave the laptop.”

Byron caught the rope and wrapped it around his body. Wulfstein tugged, and Nobuko jumped in and grabbed the rope from behind, using all her strength. Within a few minutes, Byron crawled back on solid ground, but barefooted.

Nobuko crouched for a moment to regain her strength, then hobbled to Byron’s aid. “Are you all right?”

“Are you hurt?” Wulfstein added.

“I’m okay,” Byron said, grimacing. “Thank you.”

Nobuko held his hand. “Can you walk?”

“It’s probably my bad leg, but the earth seems to be wobbling.”

“The ground is moving, too,—” Nobuko said, but the wind swallowed her words. Washed with dizziness and nausea, she could taste metal on her tongue—slick at the back of her throat. “It’s like the earth is—” she choked when she tried to say more.

A thundercloud, laced with sizzling lightning, lit over the eastern horizon. The sea roared behind them and the heaven met water.

“Let’s get out of here,” Wulfstein said as Byron buckled up the haversack on his back.
     
STRUGGLING ON, BYRON held Nobuko’s arm firmly as they raced for higher ground. But suddenly the sky darkened, and he became aware of a new threat—something that spun and twisted across the horizon as if it had a life of its own. Drawing nearer, it turned into a rotating transparent cloud under a heavy mass that extended from the corner of a thunderstorm. A moment later, the tail of a twister poked through, then retreated into the cloud formation like a child playing peek-a-boo.

He nudged Nobuko southward and together they ran up the hill. A huge contorted column, loaded with ash, mud, and debris, circled around what looked like a dark patch of swirling mist over the horizon.

A powerful jet of air formed in the open sea, joined the spinning wind and merged into a darkened mass. It began its forward march from the ocean bluff. Scattering in horror, people ran amok as the twister approached.

A hundred yards away, the relentless whirlwind snapped the Yoshino and Kwansan trees into pieces and moved on. As if shaken by an unseen hand, the palatial Sakura rattled and then the funnel sucked up the whole villa and it became airborne. Tiles, wooden planks and boards, along with its treasured possessions, flew across the valley. Smaller bits and pieces flew beyond sight, large fragments sailing over their heads. Byron ducked, sheltering Nobuko’s head with his arm.

The gust continued. The whistling wind picked up speed and approached from different sides. Within seconds, a whirlwind sucked Wulfstein from behind him. Byron could see only Wulfstein’s hands outstretched, as though in a futile attempt to save himself. In one split second, he was gone. “Professor! Professor!” Byron and Nobuko screamed.

“No! No!” Byron fell to his knees, clenched his fists, and looked around, but saw nothing.

Byron and Nobuko chased, hoping to catch up, but the gale grew stronger, throwing them over and over again, scattering them like dice on a game board. His friend, his teacher, his mentor, Gone! “Damn it—it’s too late.” He beat his chest. A world had crashed. A man lost forever. Wulfstein had gambled everything and paid with his life.

Bo-o-om! The very heart of the old earth had broken. In front of him, another hole opened up and water gushed out. Soil loosened and mud flowed. As land separated under the water’s current, more outflows resulted.

Nobuko cried, Byron sobbed. More demoniac winds stirred over his head, picking up debris and sending them flying. The sound of drumming rain numbed his hearing. So loud was the outpour that it concealed the noise of an approaching typhoon.

A piece of debris slammed onto Byron’s shoulder and knocked him to the ground. He gasped from the blow, then clambered back to his feet, but found that Nobuko had also stumbled.

She struggled to get up, but the rising water bubbled and broiled around her. For one horrendous moment, Byron thought the rushing waters would sweep her away.

Byron ran over and helped her up. “Can you manage?”

When she didn’t answer, he grabbed and carried her, stumbling up the hill. Exhausted, he opened the haversack. After spreading the liferaft on the ground, he pressed the ‘Open’ button and it inflated automatically. He rushed over and carried her to the raft.

Once inside, Byron zipped the aperture. Enclosed tightly, they tossed around as Tokodo rose and bounced with the rolling waves. Although made of strong material, the raft seemed on the point of bursting, flinging Byron and Nobuko back and forth.

Thunder broke incessantly in roaring fanfares. Seas covered the valleys, about to swallow the interior. Only a few structures poked their heads above water. As the coast slid into the deep, it seemed the seabed rose for a moment, like the upper end of a capsized vessel, then plunged back again.

The screaming winds and heaving seas joined in a cymbal of spectacle that buffeted the ocean’s surface. The storm grew in intensity; sprays of water displaying its glory. The line between water and air disappeared as the sea opened its jaws, as though the environments were melding themselves into a greater being.

The din caused by the storm had passed the decibel level that their ears could bear. Utterly worn out, Byron felt only numbness and a heavy sensation on his back.

Whenever Tokodo was tossed into the air, he held Nobuko tightly. A succession of shivers wracked his body. He embraced her, giving her warmth. “Are you all right?”

Nobuko responded with swollen arms around his back as the storm burst forth in all its fury. “I’m feeling nauseous,” she said. Her words were no sooner out of her lips before forks of lightning flashed like a brood of serpents let loose in the sky.

Doomed—the mood kept reverberating in his head.

The waves broiled and surged in furious leaps; the shrieking ocean prevailed against a helpless humanity. For a terrified moment, he thought a wave would hurl them over to bury them in the deep gray sea.

“Oh, damn,” he whispered. A new awareness pricked his conscience. Stabbing at him, the emotion was guilt—uncontrollable, relentless guilt. It had never occurred to him that the Professor could die. “He’d saved me twice, but I failed to save him even once.”

Byron nestled closer to Nobuko. Above, the storm continued in intensity. Smaller waves formed in the hollow of big ones. Deafened by the din of thunder, Nobuko tried to say something but no words came.

The sky darkened. Soon Byron couldn’t see anything in front of his outstretched hands. His mind froze as the winds howled. Losing all sense of time and, with grief, a premonition struck him: a personal epitaph — ‘Lost at Sea.’

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

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~ by Joel on December 4, 2009.

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