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Original Child

by B. J. Thrower

Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy and governor


general of India, was assassinated by Irish nationalists (my
former countrymen), who blew up his private boat in August, 1979.
Before his death, he carefully stipulated that no representative
of Japan be allowed to attend his funeral services because of the
atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II.
What amazed me about this was that Mountbatten never seemed to
comprehend that the Japanese paid for their war crimes when
America dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He
might have felt more personal gratification had Great Britain
delivered the bombs, but I imagine it was easier to hate them
until he died than accept the truth.
I know that the Japanese answered for their sins on another
August day, thirty-four years before Mountbatten's death. I know
it to be true because I was there. I am there still.
A searing flash of white light tore across my mind and awakened
me from that most dreamless sleep. In the total darkness of the
cave I'd sought shelter in, I sensed that the world outside had
suddenly filled with the incomprehensible white image in my head.
Next came the explosion, a blast so tremendous it overwhelmed all
of my senses. Many people within the city heard the roar of it as
they were engulfed. If I'd been an ordinary person, it would have
ruptured my ear drums; I may have been deaf from that moment on.
Then the pressure wave burst into the mountain and erupted
against my body. I was thrown deeper in the cave, tumbling and
flying, and there was nothing I could do to help myself. The cave
shook violently, heaving and rumbling as if from a massive
earthquake. Loosened earth and stones rained on me. The soil and
rocks were unnaturally hot as they pummeled, covered, and
completely buried me.
I clawed my way toward what I believed was the mouth of the cave,
uncertain as to my immediate future. In the land of the rising
sun, the sun had literally risen; and She was my truest enemy.
I finally broke one arm free to feel warm, rippling air against
my skin, poked my head up and out, then dragged my torso and legs
from the heavy rubble. I stood shaking at the cave's entrance,
something I couldn't have done a few minutes ago, but the day had
now inexplicably darkened. In that respect, I was fortunate.
The cave was in the mountains above Gion, a northern suburb.
Normally, I would have had an excellent view of the seven rivers
of Hiroshima, with its principle commercial and residential
districts at the center, with more suburbs and factories on the
outskirts in a fan-like shape, but there was a strange miasma
over the delta below. I could not see the docks nor the island-
dotted Inland Sea to the east. There were some columns of black
smoke and the flickers of a few fires through the intense gloom.
I happened to glance upward and saw it: an enormous, turbulent
tower of heated dust racing up from the city, already several
miles high. Huge drops of water suddenly showered down, plopping
as thick as mud, composed of condensed moisture from the tower
itself that was whirling with fission fragments from the bomb.
There was an ionized stench in the air, an odor I've smelled
every waking moment since, not in my memory, but the actual
essence of it. Physically, it was my only injury. The bomb
imprinted itself inside me, the same as it flashed people's
shadows against concrete steps or granite walls, incinerating
their bodies leaving what the sun had created to remember them
by.
The tower frightened me badly. I knew without doubt it was the
sign of a widespread catastrophe, a technological wizardry I
wasn't familiar with, but technology surely only the Americans
could have. Airborne almost certainly, perhaps delivered by an
American B-29.
Yes, B-san had visited Hiroshima this morning, Mr. B, what the
Japanese called the American bombers, and brought the wrath of
the universe with it.
Unexpected rage swept through me, because I had grown accustomed
to what I had become. I no longer thought about my life as a man,
but this disruptive nightmare was forcing me to reconsider a past
I'd set aside as having no relevance.
Ireland was officially neutral during World War II, but many
Irishmen fought in the war. I was not one of them. I profited
from it.
In increasingly xenophobic Japan, I was a Westerner who was
welcome -- far more welcome than the scattering of Catholic
German or Italian priests who resided here. I was O-san to them,
for O'Roarke, but the few Japanese who'd seen me recently never
had time to learn that before I killed them.
My name had been Daniel O'Roarke when I was human, and O-san had
worked well for me with their women. One form of the prefix means
big or great, as in my large white, rangy body. Japanese women
were so much more compliant and accommodating than the women back
home. They were curious about my blue eyes and the foreign blonde
hair on my arms and chest. I loved to fuck Japanese women; I
wallowed in them and they in me.
It was a woman who changed me into the creature I became. I'd
been whoring on the estate of General Hataya. He was a drunken,
fat pig of a human being -- there was nokinder way to put it --
and my main business contact with the Japanese Army outside of
Tokyo. Hiroshima was second only to Tokyo in its industrial
strength and natural resources, and the military government would
have transferred here if and when Tokyo became untenable during
an Allied invasion. Well, trust Hataya-sama to have a bitch like
that in his house. Although we were alike, I planned to kill her
if I ever met her again, after she explained why she changed me,
rather than murdering me. For a long time, I wished she had
killed me. For a long time, I thought I was being punished for my
sins -- but I no longer felt any grief for my old life on August
6, 1945.
After that evening at the General's mansion, I deliberately
disappeared. Very little concerned me; not even my wealth
mattered. The only thing I liked about people was their blood. I
did not move in human society, I merely passed through it
undetected by all but my victims, and only at night. My visits
with humans were brief, but powerfully satisfying. I did not care
about anything; I had no specific problems or worries or burdens.
I could do as I pleased and not be held accountable for my
actions. I suspect I always had a bit of sadism within me, and
the creature I was explored that tendency with a hedonistic
pleasure I never could have experienced as a man.
As I stood on the mountain gazing down at Hiroshima -- a city I
had once had affection for, with its lush green groves of bamboo,
pine and phoenix trees, its gardens of bluet, Spanish bayonets,
morning glories and day lilies, its exquisite moon bridges and
lovely green and beige street cars, now transformed into a
shattered, smoking gray landscape of unbelievable destruction --
I didn't give a damn that 100,000 people had just died, that
100,000 more were injured, or staggering down the Koi Highway
vomiting, or suffering from alarming, bloody burns the handful of
surviving doctors had never seen before. I didn't care that tens
of thousands more would die that night, and in the next days and
weeks and months and years from radiation poisoning.
It was when I ventured out of the foothills that I discovered I
did have the capacity to care about them. And no one was more
surprised than I.
Hot, fierce winds blew for the rest of the day, winds that were
odd and frightening in how they suddenly switched directions, as
if they weren't natural but the breaths of demons. In spite of
the overhanging pall and clouds, I decided to stay in the cave
until sunset, where I watched large sections of Hiroshima
roasting in flames. Most of the fires resulted from debris
falling on exposed wires, not from the device itself.
It was ironic that the final day I saw was one as hideous as
this. I hadn't expected to experience day-time again; this should
have been joyful, but for obvious reasons it was not.
When night arrived, I left the cave and made my way downslope. I
had been prowling for farmers� blood, annoyed to have been caught
up in the hills at sunrise, which had driven me into the cave in
the first place.
I had several safe, if somewhat primitive refuges around the city
where I usually spent my days, never sleeping in the same one
twice in a row. My favorite was an abandoned subterranean grotto
near the Gokoku Shrine. But if I had made it to the grotto, I
would have been vaporized. Gokoku Shrine was only 385 yards from
what we later learned was ground zero, what the Japanese refer to
as "the hypocenter." The grotto was not deep enough to have
protected me. My skin was as combustible as any man's, more so in
the proper conditions.
Sometimes I wonder if it might have taken a few seconds longer
for me than it did for the humans who vanished between one breath
and the next. They had no time to realize something was wrong --
no doubt a merciful thing. I believe I would have known I was
dying, if only for a few moments; after all, evil recognizes
evil. Evils may be linked by their natures, and I am undeniably
evil, a monster striding through their company, yet a monster who
was pathetically grateful he didn't share the same fate.
As
I entered the city, there was little activity. Thousands of
wounded had streamed out of Hiroshima during the day, and
multitudes had died on the roadways. After dark, the rare persons
who had not been injured dropped in their tracks from physical
and emotional exhaustion, side by side in pitiful intimacy with
the dead.
I could move without being seen, but the more I saw in the fire-
lit night, the slower my pace became, until I walked among them
as a regular person, forgetting to hide myself even when hundreds
of them begged me for water, crying, "Mizu, mizu!"
I did not get water for anyone.
The things I saw during my endless tour are chiseled in my mind
forever: seemingly unmarked people lying dead; naked people
scorched bright red from head to toe lying dead; people whose
skin sloughed off at the slightest touch; people whose eyes had
melted; people too feeble to escape the tidal rivers, their
corpses bobbing by me; men, women, and children, and their eerily
silent, mass suffering.
Half of the city had burned to the river banks, but at first
there was a more "normal" type of destruction: homes and
businesses that had not burned were crumpled and splintered,
collapsed as if slapped by a giant hand, crushing their occupants
under tiles and timbers. I sensed that there were many dead in
the ruins. Many others were trapped, growing weaker, calling
politely, "Tasukete kure! Help, if you please."
When I reached the roughly four square mile city center, I knew
that something extraordinary had occurred here. The alien
landscape was reddish-brown and hardly anything was left
standing, including stripped trees and charred telephone poles.
It was a man-made desert of flattened city blocks, one after
another after another.
At some point I realized I was in shock. Me, in shock from the
indescribable suffering and from the lunatic vision of
destruction I was witnessing. I, who fancied himself the Death-
Bringer, had never seen so much death, could never cause so much
death no matter how long I lived. Strange how I was affected, how
I couldn't handle it, but I confess I could not. I was no
different from any of the survivors then, who found themselves
shutting down emotionally, or running away in wild panic after
stopping for short, feverish periods to aid victims.
I walked on asphalt that was soft and hot, past thousands of
humans. On the surface, it must have seemed as if I was ignoring
them as I stalked by with my grim Irish face. Some of them must
have despised me for my apparent indifference.
I did not recover until the moment I realized that dawn was once
again near.
Trying to get my bearings before the sun rose, I saw that I had
traveled around the entire city and was below the foothills where
I began my journey.
The main blast had gone to the northeast, east and southeast.
Along the road here, the northern woods were somewhat intact,
which is probably why I did not see or hear the young boy who
suddenly appeared. He was the last person who ever approached me
unnoticed.
He was perhaps six years old. His chin was
bloody, but otherwise he seemed fine.
He said, "My friends are hurt."
I stared down at him. He was wearing one of those ridiculous
bokuzuki, a cotton-padded air raid helmet.
Under it, he trembled.
I asked, "What friends are those?"
"Come with me, please," he said.
I followed him through the drooping woods. I don't know why. He
led me to a series of low stone buildings a quarter mile from the
road. They were ancient buildings, likely to be damp and dank in
ordinary circumstances. Now they were dry and tilted. When the
winds generated by the explosion reached the mountains
surrounding Hiroshima, the mountains acted as a conduit, sending
them hurtling back into the city a second time. These isolated
buildings had not escaped damage, but had fared better than most
I'd seen.
The boy was bowing to me. "My name is Kazuo."
I returned his bow. "My name is O-san."
"Domo arigato, O-san. Thank you for helping my friends."
He slipped through a doorway that had no door.
There were a half dozen other children on the floor. The stub of
a white candle was the sole source of light. I heard the boy
whispering to them that I was shiranai hito, a stranger.
As young as he was, Kazuo had done the best he could. He had
salvaged a couple of dirty blankets and bandaged the children's
worst wounds with pillowcases. He offered me water in a china
vase that was miraculously intact. The vase was a delicate
powder-blue that reminded me of the skies I could no longer
enjoy.
There was something wrong with the water. I could smell it, like
a metallic poison.
"Where did you get this?" I asked.
From the pond in our rock garden, O-san."
Such a Japanese thing, their rock gardens. Precisely arranged,
each stone, decoration and plant obsessively, even
superstitiously important. They cared too much about objects and
material things.
"The water's bad. Don't drink it, Kazuo."
"But -- pardon me; they are so thirsty, O-san."
"Giving them this water is unwise. You must trust me."
I knelt to check the children. They were all girls. A young one
about 4 years old said, "Itai, it hurts. I'm cold, I'm cold." She
already had one of the blankets, but was shivering
uncontrollably. Her bald head was smeared with yellowish pus
oozing from her burns. As I placed my cool hand on her chest, she
died. It was that quick.
I put my ear over her heart, but there was nothing to hear. I
looked at Kazuo and said stupidly, "I didn't kill her."
Tear tracks on his filthy cheeks, he said, "I know you didn't, O-
san."
I asked, "What is this place?"
"Shishido Orphanage, O-san."
"Where are your teachers?"
"Dead, or they ran away to find their families. We were hiking
when the lightning came," he said quietly. "One of our
instructors brought us home and told us to wait here, but we have
waited all day and all night. They are very sick and hurt."
"Yes, they are."
I examined the girls. They ranged from ages two to ten, and each
of them was terribly wounded: those inexplicable bloody burns,
flaps of loose flesh, twisted limbs, head traumas. And there was
something else wrong with them that I could also smell. It
disturbed me, although at the time I didn't understand what it
was. Radiation covered them like invisible sheets. The ionized
stench had sunk into their bones. They would all die; I was
certain of it.
"Please, O-san," Kazuo said tearfully.
I hugged him and smelled the odor in him as well. I held him for
several minutes, pretending to be a good man with strong arms.
"You have been brave today, Kazuo," I said. "I have great
admiration for you; do you know what that means?"
"Hai, O-san. I am hungry. Are you? I think there are some
pumpkins cooked in the ground outside."
I held him out in front of me by his thin shoulders.
"Excellent idea, but we won't need pumpkins, Kazuo."
He was cruelly disappointed, so I changed the subject.
"Does the orphanage have a cellar?"
He nodded.
"Show me where the cellar is, and wait for me there. I will bring
your friends, and then I will stay and care for them -- and for
you."
I did as I promised the boy, carrying the feather-
light, agonized bodies of the girls to a particular type of
safety only I sought.
In the dim, candle-lit cellar, where I was safe from the sun, I
saved them in the only way I could.
It has been over fifty years since the atomic bomb exploded over
Hiroshima.
Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had an urgent need for the
money I'd made during the war. I made arrangements to claim it,
which wasn't difficult. Within a week after the day of what the
Japanese call genshi bakudan, or the "original child bomb," a
major bank had re-opened in its former ruins by setting up a
table and a few chairs.
Hiroshima has thrived in the half-century since the attack. It
sprawls everywhere, with an immense, progressive population.
American naval vessels anchor in the harbor, a reminder that the
Japanese were once a conquered people. Most of these modern
citizens do not know nor have ever met a survivor of the atomic
blast.
Once a year, I pay my respects to the victims and to the event by
visiting the Peace Park and Museum. Located where the Shima
Hospital and the Honkawa Elementary School were at the
hypocenter, the skeletal Bomb Dome of what had been the Hiroshima
Prefectural Building for the Promotion of Industry has been
"preserved" at the park. It serves as a symbol of peace, but I
don't like its starkly brutal silhouette.
I don't tour the exhibits of pictures, but I do wander the paths
to the seventy shrines that have been erected in the intervening
years for victims, the Monument to the Victims of the Hiroshima
Post Office, or the Memorial Monument of the Hiroshima Municipal
and Commercial Shipping Industry. These are simpler, plaques in
tiny gardens or dignified statues, and are more to my taste.
I especially find some measure of contentment at the Peace Pond,
the rectangular, shallow reflecting pool, where I sit with my
back to the Bomb Dome and the terrible memories that exist there,
memories that alternately shriek or whisper to me. Sometimes I
wonder if I would hear them in daylight, or if the Bomb Dome
would seem better or worse washed by the sun, but these are
things I am not meant to know.
I never take blood from people who survived the bombing. They
carry the smell of the radiation within them still. Their odor
brings a taste of lead to my mouth, the same as the American
pilots who dropped the bomb had in their mouths while they flew
away. I can always identify survivors in the crowds around me.
Sadly, they have grown less in number now, but they are only
human beings.
And then while night lasts, I return by street car and boat to
our island sanctuary. I return to my own children, who are
cheerful, playful monsters, which isn't their fault, but mine.
Kazuo watches me now with the wise eyes of an adult from his
eternally child-like body.
These six children had drained me to the brink of my own death in
the orphanage cellar, greedy for the strange blood that dripped
from my wrists and neck. Perhaps Kazuo became an adult because he
was not only my own original child, but because of how he
struggled to understand what I was, to believe it was true that I
could sense the new, black death in their bodies. He had agreed
that the girls would surely perish if I did not change them. If
he regrets his decision, he has never said so.
Yes, we commit our sins, but they don't compare to the sin that
inadvertently formed these small monsters by my blood in the
aftermath of August 6, 1945.
The girls remain children in every way. I love them dearly. They
are my responsibility forever, since they are too immature to
protect themselves.
After my yearly pilgrimage, I am always eager to see my family
again, my family who loves me in return, my family who never
ages.

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