Reedsy once again selected this story for their blog. It is also the open chapter of my book Emperor's Last Warrior when Akihiro Takada waits forty five years on a deserted island for his Emperor to call him to one last battle to save Japan. The only problem is the island has been bought by a wealthy businessman to build a casino. None of the work crew had ever counted on being attacked by a pilot from a war so long ago. This story got a lot of reaction, so I want to share it with you.
The Rising Sun
Emerging from his sleeping quarters, Akihiro heard the low rumbling of a large diesel engine. He had lived on this small unnamed island ten miles due east of the Isabell on an atoll in the Marshall Islands for many years. He had no way of knowing exactly how long he had been here, the sun would rise and set marking another undistinguished day. Listening to the engine, Akihiro wondered if today was the day he would meet his enemy in a final showdown.
His officer’s uniform hung on the hook near his bunk. He spent time each day inspecting it to make sure it would be battle ready. He was Chu sa Akihiro Takada of the Japanese Imperial Navy waiting for orders from the Emperor for the final attack that would bring victory to Japan.
Things had gone badly in the summer of 1944. The American dogs took island after island after the disaster of Guadalcanal. Hot shot Corsair pilots wreaked havoc on his 77th Fighter Santae consisting of forty A6M5 Mitsubishi Model 52 Zeroes manned by the finest air crews of Japan. How could these unsophisticated, undisciplined American dog faces over time gradually wipe out his great Santae until he alone was left to defend the Empire. Left alone on this swampy, mosquito infested, disease ridden island that stank constantly from the mildew covering everything from the unending rainfall from the monsoons. A lesser man would have surrendered, but he was disciplined in the Bushido where he vowed to fight to the end to bring honor to his Emperor Hirohito.
He would perform his purification ritual to Kami by pouring water over his hands. And then he would put some water in his mouth, swish it around and spit it out into the bowl on the table. His table also had a shrine that included a decoration he got as a fighter pilot, an award given to him by Admiral Yamamoto in a very solemn ceremony in Tokyo.
Once purified, he ceremoniously dressed in his flight suit, knife in his leg sheath and his prized samurai sword in his sash. He would then put his helmet on his head, place the goggles over his eyes and slowly bow and recite,”Kannagara lead me today if the Emperor should call me today and I will be sent to you with my comrades, I will rejoice. I humbly offer myself to you, the Emperor and the state.”
Walking outside, Akihiro was greeted with late morning sunshine across the bluest of horizons. How many years had it been when he ditched his plane in the atoll after being chased by a squadron of Grumman Hellcats. The damage to his plane was minor and he was able to repair it without any assistance. He then put a tarp over his plane where it had been ever since. Once a week he would start the plane and let it run for a few minutes, but fuel was precious and so he did not waste a single drop unless he was called to action.
He was ready. He would face the American tank armed with a sword, knife and pistol. He could feel the earth tremble beneath his boots as the beast rumbled toward him. He could see trees upended by the mighty machine. His eyes narrowed as he pulled his sword from his sash.
Benny Iotah could not believe his eyes as he put his earthmover into gear to level out a patch of ground near the shore where a contractor was planning to build a multi million dollar casino. As a native to the islands he was a hefty Polynesian man whose skin was the delicious deep color of mocha.
He was also a very experienced big machine operator who had a sterling reputation with the ladies. But when he came over the ridge, what he saw almost made his heart stop. From the thick jungle foliage a man stood like an unmoving statue with a sword and pistol in his hands.
His father had told him stories from the war when the Japanese controlled the islands. Many of Benny’s relatives told stories about his father leading a resistance movement among the islanders. According to the elders, the Japanese overlords were cruel and not afraid to dispatch someone who did not do the bidding of the island commander. According to his father, it was a time of countless sorrows for the peaceful people who inhabited the islands of paradise.
The old man was dressed in full uniform with a flying helmet with a Rising Sun scarf beneath the leather helmet
He was neither tall nor short, but he did appear svelte when compared to Benny's generous girth. While the uniform he was wearing appeared worn, Benny could tell that the wearer had taken very meticulous care of his uniform that would be tatters and rags for most. He did not hesitate picking up the radio. Benny pressed the button and spoke, “Reeter this is me, Benny, can you read me over?”
The man stood still a hundred yards from Benny and it appeared he would not yield to the push of progress.
“Yeah Bennysan, what’s up? You got that patch leveled?” The static voice asked just as the man raised his pistol. Benny’s eyes became saucers.
“Shhhiiiiiittttttt!” Benny screamed turning a simple one syllable utterance into a multi syllable scream, dropping the radio as he ducked for cover as the man fire two shots. Neither bullet would threaten Benny’s life, but the ricochet nearly made Benny nearly wet himself.
“Bennysan, are you alright?” Reeter’s voice could be heard through the speaker.
“Reeter, I'm under attack!” Benny was nearly sobbing as the man yelled something at him as he waved his sword over his head. “Man, please don't shoot. I've got a wife and kids at home.”
Benny peered cautiously over the dashboard. The man stopped waving the deadly looking sword and glared at Benny cowering near the steering wheel, his eyes filled with terror.
The sound of another approaching vehicle made the man raise his pistol again, pointing it in the direction of the vehicle. Reeter was in the passenger seat of the Jeep with Benny’s Cousin Ronaldo driving. The man stood before them as they approached and fired two more rounds, sending both men scrambling for cover under the vehicle they had been riding in.
Reeter rose to his feet with his hands in the air. Rising to his feet, Reeter saw the man was still pointing the pistol at him and spoke, “Hey there, whoever you are, we are unarmed. We are not soldiers.”
The man looked confused and grimaced as he reholstered his pistol and shook his head. Putting his sword back in his sash, he sighed and removed his helmet. Silver streaked black hair fell around his pointed ears. Walking up to Reeter, he said, “Colonel Takada, where are your soldiers? Do you not know there is a war on?”
There was a slight accent to his words, but otherwise he seemed extremely fluent. Many Japanese tourists had come to the islands with varying degrees of English mastery, but this man, Colonel Takada, seemed to have total mastery and that made Reeter’s chin fall shamelessly to his chest, repeating the word as a question this time, “War?”
“Yes, war.” He bowed his head slightly on the word war.
“What war?” Ronaldo managed to get to his feet, brushing the sand from his clothing.
“The noble war against the unjust American aggression.” Colonel Takada spoke as if it was an obvious fact.
“Who exactly are you?” Reeter was more shaken by the colonel’s superior attitude than his deadly weapons.
“Sir, I have already told you, I am Colonel Takada-”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I already got that, but we are in the process of building a casino here and then you come wandering out of the woods and try to kill us. My question to you is; why?” Reeter was quite animated as he spoke, his facial expressions were nearly comical and Benny and his cousin hid their grins behind their hands. Colonel Takada straightened his posture to Reeter’s question, and looked dead into the foreman’s eyes to answer.
“Colonel Takada is the Emperor’s last warrior.” He bowed his head, but this time he bent from his torso. “I am commander of the 77th Fighter Santae or squadron if you prefer. We were stationed here.”
“We?” Reeter tried to keep his jaw in place.
“Yes, we started with thirty good men, but in time and struggle, I am the only surviving member. In keeping with my duty, I am waiting for the Emperor to command me into combat once again.” His face was emotionless as he spoke, but Ronaldo looked at Benny and then at Reeter who was speechless. Finally finding his voice, he shook his head.
“Do you know what year this is?” Reeter struggled a bit.
“Time is not a consideration for a warrior.” He sounded quite sincere. Reeter looked at Benny with an expression of total disbelief; Benny his his smirk behind the back of his hand.
“Hey there chief, you are pulling my leg.” Reeter shook his head.
“Lemme get this straight, you are telling me you've been hiding out on this island since 1944?” Reeter assumed “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me posture.
“Yes that is correct.” He said calmly.
“Whaa?” Reeter did a quick double take.
“My Santae arrived on Bougainville February 8, 1944. We were to engage the enemy in the air to protect our naval convoys.” while he appeared as an aging man, his mind was still very sharp as he reported. Then he paused and his eyes fell to the ground, appearing as if he had suddenly frozen, his mouth moved, but no words came out. “In my years here, I regret that I've lost track of time. But my last officer was shot down and I did not know the date. I came around to avenge his death and I killed that American dog, but during the fight I sustained damage and I put my plane down here.”
“Do you have any concept how long you have been here, colonel?” Reeter let some air whistle through his teeth.
“I have no idea of this day's date. I do look in the mirror and see my aged face. I suspect much time has gone by.” Once again he let his head drop.
“Colonel today is April 10, 1990.” Reeter said the date slowly to let it sink in. “Are you trying to tell me you have been hiding out on this unnamed sand and rock island for over forty five years.”
“I am a warrior. I give my life for my Emperor.” His face became stern again and he reached for his pistol, but Benny grabbed for it before he could pull the pistol from the holster. Despite his age, the Colonel gave Benny a quick karate chop that sent the large man face first into the sand with a groan. Looking up, spitting sand out of his mouth, Benny’s eyes went wide as he pulled the trigger and instead of a loud report and a final white flash, there was a harmless click.
“Misfire again.” He followed that with a few indistinguishable utterances that Benny figured were Japanese curse words judging by his gruff tone.
“Yassir gotta quit trying to kill us.” Reeter’s face was pale, “Colonel, the war is over.”
“Really and who was victorious?” He puffed his chest and thrust his chin out expecting good news.
“Japan surrendered in 1945, my dad was in the marines.” Reeter knew his dad never spent a day in real combat as he was part of the desk jockeys at Pearl, but on poker night with the boys, his dad could tell the best war stories.
Akihiro stumbled a few steps back and sat on a fallen tree that Benny had just bulldozed.
At first Reeter was afraid the old man was going to have a heart attack like his dad did at one poker night with the boys while smoking one of his pungent stogies. One of his buddies said he was dead before he hit the floor. As he sat there, he put his hands on his knees and stared off toward the blue horizon where the sea met the sky.
When Akihiro looked up, three vehicles were driving toward him in the clearing. He wanted to raise his pistol, but he sensed he was not in any real danger if what these men were saying was true. He still wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his sword just in case.
Reeter ran up to the fat man in the passenger seat of the lead vehicle. Akihiro saw Reeter point toward him, but none of them appeared to have a weapon, and he would refuse to be taken prisoner. He was taught at the academy there was no honor in surrender. The fat man was wearing big shorts when he followed Reeter toward him, his grip tightened on the sword’s hilt.
“I am Mr. Novack.” The fat man extended his hand, but Akihiro just stared at Novack’s hand without any expression. “Reeter here tells me you've been holed up here waiting for the war to end. Sir, I want to tell you the war ended over forty five years ago. Shoot I was still in diapers back then if you can believe it.” Mr. Novack let out a sharp laugh, but got absolutely no reaction from the stoic man dressed in the uniform.
Suddenly feeling awkward talking to a man who refused to acknowledge him, Mr. Novack looked at Reeter before coughing into his hand, “Listen here Colonel, I bought this small island in a legitimate transaction with the government of these Marshall Islands. I intend to build a casino right where you are standing and if you don't move I'm gonna have my man here,”
He pointed at Benny who was kicking at the dirt with his heavy work boots as the sun rose to the top of the sky cooking anything down below, “Plow you under, capice?”
Still no reaction, Akihiro continued to stare at hole in the center of Novack’s head making the fat man’s face turn red with fury, “Colonel, we have a situation. I have already notified the military boys on that station on Bougainville. There will be a helicopter here by morning.”
“It will be an act of war.” Akihiro said slowly and with considerable deliberation.
“No war!” Novack stamped his foot into the sand. “The war ended forty five years ago! Japan lost.”
“I do not believe you. You would trick me to take me prisoner of war!” Akihiro raised his voice as his anger showed Novack that he was not a statue.
“The goddamn war is over!” Novack was at his wit's end and Reeter could barely conceal his smile as his boss was having a meltdown.
“You say, but I see no proof. I will talk to these military men. Will there be a colonel?” Akihiro appeared to be softening his stern position in the matter.
“A whaa?” Novack stood there completely befuddled.
“A colonel.” Reeter could barely say the word without busting his gut laughing.
“Yeah, yeah, I heard the man.” Novack snapped at Reeter and then Novack turned back to the Colonel, “What difference does it make?”
“Military protocol dictates that in peace negotiations, I must address an officer of equal or greater rank.” Once again Akihiro spoke in an even monotone as if reading words out of a book, leaving Novack standing there as if struck dumb. “So will they send a colonel? I will not discuss terms with a man of lesser rank.”
The determined expression on his face along with his words made Novack roll his eyes and let out a deep loud sigh, “I will radio them and make sure.”
“Very well.” Akihiro bowed slightly at the waist and turned to walk away.
“Where do you think you are going?” Novack stopped him.
“I shall return to my post and await the conference with your colonel.” He answered as if it was the only logical answer.
“No, no, naw.” Novack shook his head violently, “You cannot.”
“For all this time, my post has been my home. Not to return would be...be...what is the word?” His head was bent in reflective contemplation. “Not acceptable.”
“You will meet with us tomorrow at dawn?” Novack shook his cigar at Akihiro.
“You have my honor as an officer.” He bowed.
They crew huddled up with Mr. Novack, “Of all the things to delay the construction of the casino, I never thought I’d be dealing with this.”
“I kinda feel sorry for him.” Reeter sighed.
“You would.” Novack rolled his eyes, but when he tossed Akihiro a glance he could not help himself for feeling a bit sorry for a man who waited so long for a message that never came from his Emperor and now the war was over for him. In the morning the army would send a detachment to remove Chu sa Akihiro Takada from the island. An island, he vigilantly waited for his call to duty for over forty five years.
“Look at this.” Benny called out.
“No leave it be.” Akihiro tried to stop Benny from rolling the tarp off of his plane, but it was too late.