The Nagasaki Incident
By Jesse Workman
2014 Samurai Fiction Contest Winner
It was late fall in the port of Nagasaki, and the Dutch ships were in port. Inspector Yamanaka Keisuke had been called out into the night by a messenger, and was brought to the broken door of a small inn not far from the harbor. The messenger bid him enter, and waited outside with a pair of guards who had been posted. The messenger had seemed uneasy on the twenty-minute walk from Yamanaka’s mansion on the hill above the port city, but when asked directly why he was being summoned at such an hour, declined to answer.
Inside the inn, Yamanaka Keisuke surveyed the carnage before him with a mixture of professional detachment and annoyance. He absently rubbed his chin and sighed.
“Hirayama.” He said sternly. A young, thin man of obvious well-breeding who had been leaning over one of the many broken corpses strewn about the room stood up and turned to face Yamanaka. Hirayama, despite his attempts at maintaining his composure, was obviously shaken. Hirayama was a junior inspector, and his father had also been an inspector, and colleague of Yamanaka’s. His father had retired a few years before, and died the previous winter of illness.
Yamanaka gestured at one of the bodies in the corner. “I haven’t seen such brutal swordplay in a long time. Was there someone of note here? This doesn’t look like a simple bar room fight. An assassination, perhaps?” Hirayama looked nervously at his feet before answering, “As far as I can tell, none of the bodies have sword wounds, although as you can see, there are plenty of swords laying around. The bodies are broken and torn… they appear eaten. Like a deer that has been overtaken by wolves.”
Yamanaka dismissed what he was hearing without a thought, and knelt down to examine the body nearest to him, a female, most likely a servant of the inn, wearing a colorful but torn and blood-soaked kimono.
Dark winds blow in with the Dutch ships, He thought to himself, as he surveyed the body of the woman.
The wounds may not have been caused by swords, but whatever weapon had caused them was particularly brutal, and bloody. Numerous trails of bloody footprints told Yamanaka that some of inn patrons had tried to run. The placement of the bodies was a chaotic, unimaginably grotesque pile, looking for all the world more like the remnants of a typhoon rather than anything caused by human hands. The woman's throat had been torn open by a weapon, Yamanaka judged, possibly with a serrated edge. The wound was difficult for him to make out clearly in the dim light and the still wet pool of blood. He turned the body partially over to see the rest of the damage. The attacker had not been satisfied in merely killing her; he must have continued chopping at her after death, the meat of her arms and legs hung in ribbons.
"You're right, Hirayama, whatever the weapon the attacker used, it was not a straight blade. Not an axe either. Perhaps..."
Yamanaka fell silent as he continued to survey the room. A slight man's corpse lay near the half-broken door of the inn. His arms were flung over his head in a desperate last-ditch effort of defense. The door... Turning away from the bodies, Yamanaka focused his attention on the door. It was smashed, and seemed to have burst inward, as though a gigantic mass had hurled itself through it. Broken wood was strewn about the room.
He turned to one of his men. “Would you do something about those onlookers I see outside? Take that screen there, place it in front of the entryway.” He gestured for another man. “You,” He said. “Make sure no one else gets close to us here, and make sure no one comes in. Guard the door.”
The man bowed crisply and turned to do as he was told. Yamanaka looked back at Hirayama. His father had been fearless and untiring, never showing surprise, or exhaustion. Slightly older than Yamanaka, he had taught the younger man nearly everything he knew of investigation of crimes, the motivations of criminals, the defiant yet craven nature of their minds. The rest had come from many years of experience and the Sutras.
"Sir?" Yamanaka looked into the eyes of the younger man. He was young, but strong and determined, like his father. But now, his face was pale, his expression shocked in a manner that looked out of place on such a noble face.
"Have you... Ever seen anything like this before, sir?"
Yamanaka considered for a moment taking a second look. Could one attacker have caused all of this carnage? The patrons had obviously not been fighting each other. A few of the swords looked... Bent. A few lay next to the fallen bodies, but many of them had apparently been scattered about. None had blood on them.
"I do not believe so." He spoke with what he hoped was a calm, Zen like detachment, but the truth was that he had never seen such a scene of senseless brutality before in all his long career. That arm here appears to have been torn cleanly from the shoulder… Over there, a raggedly severed leg... What kind of madness must have taken these poor benighted souls?
Shouting from outside the
door followed by a terrible scream diverted his attention. He turned towards
the entrance, when the remains of the door and the screen that had been placed
in front of it burst inward. The screen narrowly missed him as it flew past
and crashed into a glowing brazier behind him, throwing coals into the air.
He only saw the shadowy form looming at the entrance for a moment. The light
danced in a reddening haze of blood, smoke, and death. Bandits, he thought,
and his sword was in his hand in an instant, slashing out in a vicious upward
stroke at the great shadowy figure rushing at him. He felt his sword bite into
his attacker a mere moment before he was struck by something and lifted off
his feet and hurled into a table. He rolled onto his side dizzily, blinking
to clear his vision, and could see flames licking at the walls… When had
that started? he asked himself, pushing aside a dead body as he quickly
and painfully climbed to his feet. His head was ringing, and the smoke was getting
worse. Panic began to take him. Now on his feet, he staggered towards what
he hoped was an exit. He was dimly aware of the rest who were still living,
hurling themselves out windows, among the clamor of struggle and death. The
hulking figure, unclear in the hazy dimness of the inn hurtled past him and
leapt through a window before him, it’s bulk breaking open the thick wooden
frame and taking part of the wall with it. With smoke and fire behind him, he
had no choice but to push through the same broken and gaping portal, and landed
heavily on the ground outside. What about the bodies, the evidence? Who were
these attackers who dared to attack the representatives of the law?
He felt the increasingly chill night air on his face, smelled the smoke of the fire, and the horrific stench of burning corpses. He stumbled on the damp earth; a mist had come in, chilled, condensing, and hanging low. He leaned forward to catch his balance. As an officer of the Shogun for many years, he was no stranger to battle, having lead men against both armed insurrection and armed bandits, and clarity was returning. In the mud, beneath his feet, was a track, an impression - he could just make out in the light of the burning inn. The track looked… Wrong. It could have been human, but it was much larger than a man’s foot – coupled with long, clawed toes. Could this be the imprint of the man who broke the window in front of him? No; he dismissed that thought immediately. That wouldn’t make sense, and anyway he did not see any big animals. The assailants had come on foot. Who were they? He stood up straight, almost surprised to feel his sword still in his hand. Alarmingly, he felt a wave of dizziness sweep over him. He choked on the smoke and stumbled away from the ever-intensifying inferno.
Had he been wounded? “Hirayama!” he yelled, still coughing. There was no reply. “Any of you still on your bloody feet, call the watch! Call the garrison! Hunt these bastards down!” But, if any heard his orders he could not have said. Other than the roar of the flames behind him, the night was almost silent. Another wave of dizziness swept over him, this time blackened spots danced in front of his eyes. He thought he remembered something… Hitting him in the head? And, then he had it. He had been struck, and in turn hit his head on the table that broke his fall. One of the attackers - bandits, surely they were ban- His thoughts were cut off in midstream as he stumbled over something and fell. He staggered back to his feet and looked at what had tripped him – it was the torn body of one of his men from the inn.
His attention was diverted again, by the sound of the fire brigade bells in the distance, and as he turned towards the sound, he saw fire reflecting off the waters of Nagasaki harbor. Surely, not the inn. The light from that burning blaze was obstructed by a line of trees, and on a rise far above the harbor below. No, that bloody red-mirrored hellfire was not from the blaze behind him, but it had to be coming from ahead down by the shore, from the buildings bordering the harbor, or from… “The ships. The ships! The ships are burning!” The Dutch ships. Yes, it had to be. They would be out there, bathed in wet soft mist, but burning in the brine, listing to one side as the flames took them, cannon shells rolling down the deck towards the flaming rail. He braced himself, tensing for the explosion he knew would have to come. Unless, he thought idly, unless the fishing boats were on fire… Who would want to do this? “Hirayama!” he shouted again, this time his voice held more authority, a voice you would expect to hear in battle, he thought. A voice that demanded respect, that demanded a reply, but again, none came. Hirayama was very definitely not of his father’s caliber, he thought seeing the young man’s flaws pile up in front of his mind’s eye like a mountain. He was lazy. Certainly, he was a very undisciplined young man, and lacking entirely, it seemed in- his manic thoughts were broken by a sudden and prolonged blood-chilling roar. It thundered sonorously in the misty air, echoing in his ears, the howling roar of a great beast, the likes of which he could not imagine. The terrible howl rose over the town, reverberating through all of the corners and intersections, back streets and alleyways, fracturing all other sounds like mallet – the sound of waves hitting the shore, the fire behind him, the screaming women somewhere in the distance, the bells of the fire brigade, through the shrieking horses in their stalls – and cracking his very soul. On the far side of that break was the world the way it used to be, along with all the memories of the way that world used to be - should be. In that world, bandits didn’t attack inns, kill and eat people, and come back to do it a second time against officials of the Shogun himself. In that world, ships weren’t set afire in the harbor. In that world, one didn’t ever hear such a horrible howl, a horrific bestial wailing, that seemed in equal parts fearsome and mournful, as if the creature were so enraged, so very grieved, that for the moment it had no more humans to kill and eat.
“Hirayama! Hirayama!” he
hollered again as loud as he could. Had all this only happened in the last
few seconds? He knew there wouldn’t be an answer. But… there was. A low,
menacing growl came from a few feet away. Yamanaka looked up to see a tremendous
shaggy beast looming over him, standing on two legs like a man, but easily twice
the size of a man, with long, thickly muscled arms tapering to long, thick fingers
tipped with black hooked claws. In his panicked mind, all that he could think
in that moments was that he had been too hard on the young Hirayama, and that
made him feel sorry. He had been so unfair to him. After all, he was dead and
couldn’t answer. No doubt if he were still alive, he would have, but death tends
to end one’s capacity for speech.
He regretted being so hard on his old friend’s eldest noble son and frantically wished he could rub off the warm raindrops rolling down his cheek. He stared numbly ahead of him, at the giant lumbering form stalking towards him… Such a warm rain for autumn… Not rain: blood. His blood. Blood from the head wound he had sustained in the mayhem in the inn… There was a flash, and pain. He was on the ground, his face in the cold mud. The great shaggy beast seemed to have disappeared. Had it missed? Had it seen something else and preferred to go kill and eat that instead of him? He coughed at the taste of blood and mud in his mouth, and thought he saw movement, and tried to drag himself to his knees. Pain exploded behind his eyes. The world spun. He thought he heard the distant sound of something striking wood, and lost all sense of his surroundings for a moment.
Yamanaka tried to move, but his body didn’t seem to respond. It was then that he noticed that his entire back seemed to burn. He felt the foggy wind on his back, and realized he had no robe, no coat, no cloth of any kind on his back, just the pain of fire. He gasped in pain, unable to form words. I must have caught fire at the inn! How long has it been, a few seconds? A minute? He tried desperately to roll onto his back, but his body still wasn’t responding.
An explosion rocked the hillside. He knew the Dutch had much gunpowder on their vessels. A merchant he had been interrogating had told him of the weapons the Dutch had, and he knew that it would explode killing anybody nearby, maybe even sinking the ship for good. That would bring war with the foreigners, he thought. No doubt that samurai could defeat them, but peace had been so tenuous of late, it would be a pity for it to end. He tried to move, to get up from the mud. He had to. Where are my men? If he could only get up hill, away from the chaos and carnage, if he could do that, then he could get a better view of what was going on. His senses slowly began to return. He could hear pandemonium - he definitely heard steel against steel, a battle cry, a screaming horse. The watch? The fire is spreading, he noticed. The nearby bakery had flames licking around the back and left corner. Where is the fire brigade? He heard a distant gurgling scream. A battle was very definitely going on around him, and he didn’t know who they were or who was winning.
With great effort, he painfully rose to his feet, and coughed some more on the smoke. His lungs burned with each breath he took, his legs hurt with every step, and the pain in his back was nearly unbearable. He stumbled up the hill, back past the burning inn. In the light of the fire he could make out sprawled bodies, and walked haltingly toward them. He leaned over each one in turn. They were his men. A few of them were presumably the attackers, possibly bystanders - but more of the dead were his men. Shameful, he thought. We have lost the battle then. Disgrace. Why, that miserable, despicable Hirayama, what a traitor to his family’s name, to his father’s honor. He ought to have had him exposed when he was born. That was what you did with throwaways. You left them on hillsides to be eaten by the birds and the worms. That’s what you do to unfaithful degenerate offspring. You didn’t allow them to live and cause the deaths of his whole department. How could his old friend have been so immensely stupid? Really, why didn’t he expose the little monster at birth, and rid the world of an abomination? Why didn’t he… His thoughts were once more interrupted, this time by the sound of the inn collapsing, and the rush of heat that blew past him.
He turned to face the inn,
and was struck in the side by a powerful mass, and thrown into the air. He
struck the wall of a nearby building, and fell to the dirt, barely aware. Images
of fire and motion moved before his eyes, and he thought could see a figure
walking towards him. A man. So hard to see… The figure knelt beside
him, looking down on him. Suddenly the man came into focus. It was Hirayama!
“Hirayama…” his voice came in a ragged whisper. He tried to extend his arm to
Hirayama, but failed. He felt guilty, guilty for thinking so horribly of the
young man, felt guilty that he had thought his father’s fine noble son had betrayed
both his station and himself.
Hirayama put a hand on Yamanaka’s shoulder. Hirayama’s uniform was immaculate; it showed no indication of the nights violent events. Yamanaka was having trouble thinking clearly. He looked questioningly at Hirayama, when from out of the smoky haze behind the young man the great shaggy beast appeared. It’s evil yellow eyes glared in the light of the inn fire, and it opened its great wolfish maw to reveal terrifyingly long fangs. Yamanaka gasped, and feebly gestured behind Hirayama, unable to form words. Hirayama looked over his shoulder, and then turned to face the beast from his kneeling position. The beast lumbered forward.
“No, father. I’ll take care of him. Go now, our work is not yet done.” Hirayama turned back to Yamanaka as the great beast let out another horrifying roar, and took off into the night. Hirayama smirked at him. The last thing that Yamanaka saw was Hirayama’s long, gnarled fingers ending in cruel, hooked nails reaching for his throat.