Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 7 –

Over Mount Fuji - a novelApril 6 —

Eileen awoke. Hair matted with sweat, she switched on the bedside lamp and shuffled to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. She stared at her husband’s golden pen, which lay beside a notepad on the dining table. She ran her fingers along its scratches. How long since she last spoke with Jerry? Three years?

She closed her eyes, recalling the blissful days with him, sunning together in tropical lagoons under the aqua skies. When they first met, he introduced her to camping, and they enjoyed the same passion for fishing, water skiing and scuba diving. After developing an affection for the sea, they often spent their vacations in the Bahamas. But she remembered with sadness the last sequel to an adventure film they watched together, Pirates of the Caribbean, with its quest for lost treasures amidst romance.

Could he be alive? No, he couldn’t possibly have left her without a word. But his body was never found, leaving her a scintilla of uneasiness she couldn’t bury. She tried to blank out her memory, but an image of his face along with the horror of his death remained frozen in her mind.

Now, though his smile still flashed across her mind, it had faded—unlike her sorrows and memories, which had become more vivid with the years. All his gear had been stored, his clothes and shoes packed in cardboard boxes, his favorite coffee mug wrapped and out of sight. Except for this pen, with its chewed-up tip. Strange, how the smallest article could evoke such a powerful memory.

Pushing her feelings aside, she tried to fill her mind with her next assignment. Before she left for Tokyo, John Connolly, her boss at the Raging Planet, had laid out the direction to write: “what is going on; what the Japanese see in all this; how nature affects us all.”

Eileen drove her maroon Honda Civic to the foreign press office, concentrating on her mission for the day. When she arrived, she glanced at the headlines and waded through the never-ending stream of news reports. Across the country, citizens had been complaining of a sinking feeling. Social discord, depression and suicides increased, compounded by a surge in the demand for novels, comics and films about the sinking of Japan, and soon the phenomenon was dubbed the Sinking Syndrome.

Reports of the two earthquakes that struck hundreds of miles southeast and northeast of Tokyo were sketchy. The Japanese government remained silent amidst accusations from the public and the media of not doing enough to reduce the effect of global warming. But NOAA reported: “The island of Honshu had sunk by two meters at the western shore and three meters on its eastern side, while the northern tip of Hokkaido plummeted by four meters, which was one and a half meters more than the southern tip of Kyushu.”

“What’s the latest?” Eileen asked the man tending the press corps.

“Storms and volcanic eruptions have created new islets.” The man pointed to a map on the wall. “It’s a freak of nature.”

After he showed her the sea east of Honshu and Kyushu, she left the press corps and headed to investigate the intriguing phenomenon. Her nerves tingled—the islands of mystery! She wondered how they burst forth as fragments from crushing plates. Her heart jumped while she drove her Civic through more rugged terrain.

Passing by the tiny-flooded plots of rice fields, she wondered how these farmers survived. Yet, knowing that they had managed with heavy toll for what their landlords once extracted from them in backbreaking labor, she had an inkling they would persevere.

Before long, a strange pressure churned around her, interrupting her thoughts. Eileen shook her head, but the sensation grew, a feeling her ears were about to pop. She switched off the radio and rolled down the window to breathe some fresh air. The pressure eased for a moment, then returned with an even greater force.

A few moments later, it faded away, being replaced by a subtle hum in the wind, like machines operating in a factory. Apprehensive, she gripped the wheel tighter, and braked, slowing down to listen. Not hearing anything significant, she continued onward.

As the road snaked through hairpin twists and turns, her Honda swayed from wind gusts near cliffs that grew precipitous. Clouds cluttered the sky. Shadows passing overhead drew her attention to a pair of hawks gliding above.

Eileen stopped the car to catch a better view. A source of romantic inspiration, the hawks’ random flight conveyed a sense of togetherness and tranquility, reminding her of her missing husband. She looked at the horizon and squinted at the sky. Fujisan had stopped erupting six weeks ago. Looming in the distance, the volcano blistered from its snow-covered peak: majestic and breathtaking. She sighed, the pain of a missing companion kept coming back.

“I miss you, Jerry,” she whispered to the wind. “I wish I could feel you again.”

Eileen drove on. The road narrowed, becoming steeper and bumpier. But she persisted, bypassing a score of Japanese youngsters trailing up a hill, all dressed in white. Smiling to her, they waved, shouting out some slogans. Eileen smiled back and waved.

Rolling mists drifted past the steep hillsides, but the same whirring sound still troubled her. Where did it come from? New Scientist had reported that the sound originated from the Pacific Ocean, shifting back and forth between the north and south. It seemed tied to winter in each hemisphere, when storms were at their worst. Now it grew louder and she could hear it even inland. She wondered if it signaled a new storm.

After another hour, sections of the road turned into dirt, and she had to skirt parts that had been washed away. As she continued northward, the intermittent chirping of crickets subdued the creepiness of the hum. Soon the hum and the chirps receded. Thank God, some peace and serenity.

Late in the afternoon, she reached a lake near Ichinoseki and spotted a cluster of somber-faced journalists. A sulfurous odor made her nauseous. Eileen stopped her car on a grassy patch at the side of the road. When she opened the door, she gagged at the stench of gangrene and rotting flesh. She tied a handkerchief over her nose, and climbed up the crest of a hill where the journalists gathered.

Nearby, a murder of crows exploded into the air and vanished over the horizon, only to be replaced by others as if blown in by a fresh gust. Among the dark patches down the valley, a black shroud of birds emitted a relentless buzz like the chanting of sutras for the abandoned spirits of the dead.

Eileen could hardly distinguish the human corpses mingling with animal carcasses, reminding her of the Great Tribulation. Maggots! Her breathing grew heavy as her stomach rolled. As bile rose to her mouth, she staggered down a path, braced herself against a tree and vomited. Once the retching stopped, she wiped her mouth and struggled back to sit on a nearby rock, barely able to breathe. A breeze blowing from the southwest refreshed her. She dragged her feet back to see a black man wearing a BBC badge.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“The world’s turned upside town,” he replied. “I fear we’re witnessing what some in this hellish world call the Four Horsemen.”

“That sounds like something out of the Book of Revelation.”

“Religion is occupying everyone’s mind now. When they believe in the Last Days, they accede to the idea that some islands will sink under the waves.”

As Eileen reflected upon what she’d heard during her early church days, a growing despondency muddled her—diseases everywhere, the sun scorching the earth, the earth revolting against itself.

“Which are these islands?” she asked. “And where in Revelation are they?”

“Nobody can give specifics except the Moonies, the Mormons, or the Scientologists. It’s an ideal time for anyone who preaches from their watchtowers to the 130 million souls that they have the answers.”

With conditions that made the locals susceptible, many evangelical ministers of apocalyptic sects had moved to Japan. Still, Eileen felt odd that a BBC broadcaster should give space and time for the spiritual. It must be a time ripe for any demagogue who seemed to have an answer.

“Oh, we’ve just finished interviewing some converted souls,” the BBC journalist said before gesturing for a few Japanese to come forward.

They came, some looking uneasy at being interviewed, others looking serious.

“I often have a feeling of seasickness,” one said in halting English, “even while I am standing on firm ground. Now, I praise the Lord.”

“I suffer from nausea every morning,” one young woman said. “Now I’m well. Christ is my savior.”

More came forward. Each related how they’d succumbed to hysteria, dizziness, depression and nausea, but overcame them when they accepted the Lord Jesus.

Eileen returned to her car and drove east, navigating innumerable potholes and crumbled roads toward the coast. At Rikuzentakata, she headed south.

When evening fell, she meandered along low-lying roads circling a bay. Marshes marked the road’s edge, and wavelets lapped it. At Sendai, street signs had disappeared, some sticking out of floodwaters. After another ten minutes, she parked and trudged to see about hiring a cruiser to examine the new islets. When she stumbled toward the jetty, the odors of salty seaweed mingled with the reek of sulfur. Scattered clouds raced across the sky, and the full moon shone over the sea.

A sapphire-like glitter reflected from the bay, but the pier lay submerged. The Japanese Navy had placed the coastline and nearby sea off limits. Many fishing boats had been hauled further inland.

Eileen strode back to her Honda and drove on. Once she rounded a corner, a temple bell tolled in the distance as though to guide lost souls home. On a residential street lined with garden walls, a ryokan came into view. Partially surrounded by bamboo trees and hills, the inn, with its manicured garden—streamlets, lily pond, waterfalls and cherry trees in abundance—looked welcoming and luxurious.

The host at the front desk introduced herself as Mrs. Yoriko. Her hair was gray and thin on top. “Would you like tea? Or sake?”

“I want to have a bath first.”

Yoriko nodded with a broad smile. “We have already prepared that for you.” She handed Eileen a pair of slippers, together with a wadded yellow-cotton robe and a white towel, and showed her to an outside onsen bath fed by natural springs from the hills. Tall bamboo screened the moon. The gentle splash of a miniature waterfall tumbling into the carp pool echoed the soothing charm of the inn itself.

“Enjoy your bath,” Yoriko said, “and I’ll be your company for dinner later.”

Eileen would have preferred to meditate on the day’s events, but touched by such hospitality, she nodded. Near the onsen bath, the air was steamy and humid. At first, Eileen couldn’t see the interior by the glow of lanterns. She stopped every few steps, then followed the light. She touched the sliding screens and delicate wooden embellishments. The prospect of a bath was delightful after the day’s trip.

After she crouched in the cedar tub, the water rose to her chin, its temperature almost scalding, but to her it was pure bliss. Easing herself in the cloud of steam, she inhaled the mist, allowing the comforting warmth to relax her muscles. Renowned for its healing power, the hot mineral water tantalized her, washing away the effects of a long and arduous day. For a long moment, she enjoyed the scent of the perfume while reflecting on her mission. Only the splashing of the miniature waterfall in the darkened garden disturbed the stillness of the night.

A flock of birds took flight suddenly, startling her.

The earth shook. Another tremor! The bath water quivered again and again. Eileen tried to stand, but couldn’t. A catastrophic roar came from the ground and the sky. Her eardrums felt ready to burst as lanterns fell and more water sloshed out of the bath. In the next instant, the frenzy stopped, although smaller tremors continued. She shouted for help in the darkness, but no one came.

Eileen fought for breath; her mind froze. Visions of collapsing walls made her panic. She sat up and breathed deeply.

When the tremors finally stopped, she hurried to her room and dressed. Swirling with anxiety, she looked out her window—an avalanche of rocks had fallen from a hilltop down into the valley below, but the earth had stilled.

Eileen took a few minutes to collect herself. Lying on a white futon, she closed her eyes.

An anxious-looking maid knocked on the door and invited her for dinner. Eileen was escorted and shown to an honored seat at a low table furthest from the entrance. Another maid poured out a cup of sake. She returned with a seafood platter.

“Didn’t you feel it? That tremor?” Eileen asked, still stunned when Mrs. Yoriko joined her.

“It’s nothing unusual here,” the hostess said. “A Land of Tears, life is a cherry blossom exposed to vagrant winds that know no master. No point in trying to forecast times and weather when Death is our heritage.”

“What do you mean?” Eileen asked, the sight of corpses still fresh in her mind. “Just leave our destiny to fate?”

“You’re already late in your investigation,” Yoriko said, pointing to the ruins. “We live in a land of constant quakes and tsunamis. The West says we can control our destiny. That’s the greatest lie. By the sheer number of novels published and films watched, we are not just indulging in senseless entertainment. We’re preparing our senses of going under the waves. Why wouldn’t this be our karma?”

As Eileen sipped her sake, her mind struggled against the strange statements from the hostess. Is this how they justified their belief? Finally, she asked, “You mean we can’t do anything to control our fate?”

“Aren’t we all predestined?” Yoriko said with a tinge of bitterness. “Don’t you know we have impulses like animals, and that the mass media are preparing our minds for this ultimate outcome?”

“You mean we humans have an instinct about Japan sinking?” she asked.

“We have this intuition or foresight, and it is uniquely Japanese. As for me, I’ve made my peace with the gods long ago. Forty days after my death, I’ll be reborn. How could I avoid death if the time is up?” After pausing for a moment, Yoriko continued, “But why are you so naïve about the significance of our national hysteria?”

Astounded by Yoriko’s statements, Eileen thought of Jerry. Had fate decreed he die in a lava flow? Is that really going to happen to Japan? Still fumbling with such provocative ideas, she gathered her courage and said, “I suppose when we decide to pursue a profession passionately, then the fear of death may even disappear.”

Yoriko remained calm. “A moment ago, we might have all been dead. Only the fearless are free, only the ignorant resent their fate. Life and death are part of a whole. You can’t separate a breeze from the wind.”

Prepare for the best but do not fear the worst, Eileen thought, her shoulders slumped at the ominous perception. It couldn’t be true that life and death were the same. And how was the public coping with this national phobia? There must be a more rational explanation. Who knows what might happen? A trilling sound that started low and ended high interrupted her thought.

“The crickets are making extraordinary noises,” Yoriko said. “I think a major storm is coming.”

“I heard them during my trip,” Eileen said, knowing crickets normally chirped during autumn, not spring. “What does it mean?”

“Something is stirring,” Yoriko said before finishing her last mouthful of dinner. “I do not know what or why.”

Sobering thoughts, but Eileen remained dissatisfied. Her research had yielded more complications and corpses than she’d hoped.

“Providence has prepared a path for everyone to follow,” the hostess said in parting. “All you need to do is be ready for the destination you’re designed for.”

That night, the movements of nocturnal birds made numerous disturbances against the rustling waterfall. Eileen couldn’t sleep as images of the Four Horsemen kept rushing back. She shook her head, but her mind failed to dislodge the earlier grisly sight of sinking landscape with dead bodies.

She tried again, but an image of one of the Seven Seals opened. Mountains started to move but sunk into the ocean. Groups of islands took off and fled away like flock of birds. Haunted by such turbulent scenes, she threw off her blankets and jumped out of bed. Forcing herself, she took out her note pad and started writing her article, “The Doomed Archipelago.”

Halfway through, shutters banged and rain beat against the window. A roof tile broke loose when the wind seeped under an eave and made the whole building shudder.

Sorrow and loneliness, mixed with apprehension, kept her eyes open. As with so many things, more turbulence might come.

Restless, she leaped out of the ryokan to investigate. She stumbled when she dashed further out the compound, the wind tugging at her Winchester parka. Dogs howled in the distance and night birds foraged in the undergrowth. Gusts made the waves froth. The tide crashed in, the moon lay low on the horizon and the dank air stifled her.

Nothing.

She strode back to the inn.

Nothing.

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

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~ by Joel on January 5, 2010.

2 Responses to “Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 7 –”

  1. Joel, you seem to have a fine understanding of various cultures, as well as different places in time. The story so far reads like a very deliberate, beautifully evolving dream. . .I do find the many characters a little distracting, as I try to find the lead or the thread. . .this is just my opinion. I am sure they will all be wonderfully connected. But I live in a different culture, Hollywood. . .there is little time for taking one’s time at least in the writing. In my life, I take that time. What has been the response from American agents/publishers? This is obviously a love of labour. And I hand it to anyone who completes their dream. Cheers for now /ashley

    • I agree it’s a bit slow in the first couple of chapters. This is my first novel so I tend to be a bit long winded.
      Some stuff, like dialogue or descriptions, could be trimmed from this edition of 85,000 words, which if trimmed by some 10 to 15%, would be down to around 72000.
      Thanks again for your comments.

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