Blood of Nanking (Part 1 of 4)
Old war buddies are haunted by the past. Literally. A four-part horror short story just in time for Halloween.
By Tai Weiland
"Here he is again," said Osaki.
Hasegawa followed his gaze to the line of cherry blossom trees behind the audience. At first, all he could see were the trees, their branches heavy with white and pink flowers.
Then he saw a man, half-hidden behind a tree, staring at them. It was their former friend Suzuki and he looked despondent as members of his former company received medals from the mayor.
"Perhaps he is upset that he was excluded," said Osaki.
Hasegawa only grunted in response.
The truth was, Suzuki was a very foolish man who had turned everyone against him.
Fifteen years after their time in Nanking, Suzuki could not leave what happened in 1937 alone.
Everyone agreed that he spoke when he should have kept quiet. Hasegawa did try to tell Suzuki that nobody really wanted to know what happened during the war – especially in Nanking. But Suzuki had shaken his head and said that he had to make things right. Hasegawa wondered what changed the man who had gamely participated in the "side activities" in Nanking.
Osaki, when he visited him in Nagoya last month, told him that Suzuki really changed after he returned from the war. He was posted in Malaya right after Nanking and his time there had changed him somehow.
"I was told that when he returned, he actually spoke to a Westerner who took down his words and used him as a witness," said Osaki.
"For what?" Hasegawa exclaimed.
Osaki looked around, as if afraid that people would overhear.
"At the war crimes tribunal," he finally whispered.
Hasegawa shook his head and sighed. How silly, he thought.
It would have been easier if Suzuki had kept his involvement with the tribunal a secret, but he had gone around urging other soldiers to come forward and "confess" when all everyone wanted to do was to forget. Soon, everyone knew about his role in the conviction of and execution of some of Japan's generals.
Very quickly, word got around. Whispers became murmurs of anger. Murmurs turned to shouts of fury—one did not betray one's own like that. Especially not the men who had fought and sacrificed so much for the Emperor during the war.
Suzuki was shut out quickly. Vegetable vendors would scowl and toss his coins at his feet when he tried to buy their produce. Old ladies would sneer at him when he walked by. His peers took great pleasure in talking about him loudly when he was around them, as if he was invisible – a non-entity in their presence. Bolder ones, however, called him traitor to his face. Children, inspired by the callousness of their elders, threw stones at him.
Hasegawa, on the other hand, had taken the easier path when it came to matters of the war. When people asked him what it was like to fight in it, he would smile politely and then remark that the weather was good. If he knew their family, he would ask them how they were doing. If they persisted with their questions—and they hardly ever did—he would bow politely and bid them good day.
People usually quickly understood that he would like the past where he liked to leave it—safely behind him and unacknowledged.
"Over here, Hasegawa-san!"
And he inclined his head just so. There was a bright flash as his photo was taken. The photographer bowed to him in thanks and told him that not only was he a brave war hero, he was as photogenic as an actor.
He snorted and shook his head. There were no heroes in wars. Merely pawns to be used by generals.
By the time the photo-taking session was over, Suzuki was gone.
Osaki was next to him again.
"It's good that he's gone. He has been a nuisance, creeping around like that."
"Why does he do that?" he murmured. "Surely it is not because he missed us."
Osaki shrugged. "Apparently, he has been warning members of the old company of impending danger. That a terrifying creature is taking us out one by one," Osaki said, chuckling. It was clear what he thought about Suzuki's "warning".
"The man has obviously gone mad," he said.
"Obviously," said Osaki, nodding.
The walk to the humble home he shared with old Mrs. Miro and his son was short. He had walked this route countless of times. So much so that he could walk it in his sleep. But why did it seem different today?
Hasegawa shivered and looked behind him. He felt his skin crawling as a chill air blew around him.
Creatures stalking members of the company? Damn Suzuki and his stories.
When he walked by the shrine that was a few minutes' walk away from his landlady's home, he was almost relieved. He was a few paces from normalcy and safety and thoughts about creatures and such nonsense would soon be buried by his landlady's incessant nagging.
He was startled enough to grunt I alarm, but he managed to turn around with some composure.
A man his age bowed awkwardly to him. He returned the bow hesitantly and wondered who this man was, for he really could not recall who he was and yet the stranger knew his name.
"Can I help you?"
"Hasegawa-san, I heard that you make great kimono. My wife was wondering if you could make her one," said the stranger.
The man's Japanese was impeccable, but he still had an accent. In fact, he sounded like the Chinese interpreter his company had back in Nanking. Hasegawa frowned, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of a Chinese man near his home.
"I have stopped making kimono, Mr. ...?"
"Lee. My name is Lee."
"You are Chinese?"
"There are not many Chinese in Nagoya," he said, frowning once more.
Something about Mr Lee made him uncomfortable. Perhaps it was his too-eager grin or the way he tucked his hands into his coat pockets as if he was trying to hide something.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps right behind him. Startled, he whirled around, but he was too late. Someone grabbed him from behind and shoved a rag in his mouth. The figure in front of him—he couldn't see his face—placed something over his head and everything became dark. Then, hands grabbed his shoulders and feet, and he was hauled away like a sack of potatoes, his muffled cries barely heard in the quiet neighbourhood.
A new part will be published every day until 31 October 2022 (just in time for Halloween, of course!). Subscribe below so that you don’t miss a chapter.
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