March 10, 1945. A B 29 napalm bombing raid destroyed Tokyo. A vampire was there.
The Beautiful Maiden & Child
Mari’s wooden clogs click clacked in quick rhythm as she took toy-like steps. At the corner, she turned left off the main street onto a narrow dirt road. One naked bulb, hanging from a thin pole, cast long shadows in front of the few surviving shops preparing to close for the day. The last time she’d been here, two weeks ago, there had been one with wonderful, homemade candies. She rounded the next corner and stopped at the second shop. The owner, an old woman, recognized her customer. Standing, she said, “O-jyo-sama, have you been well?”
O-jyo-sama: beautiful maiden. Even now, those words brought a smile of vanity and amusement to her lips, for she was much older than the proprietress. Bowing, Mari said, “Yes, thanks to my shadow.”
The old lady smiled at the traditional reply and answered, “Well, well, that’s to be thankful for above all else. But aren’t you a little cold wearing that spring kimono?”
Mari forced a small laugh. “A little, but I couldn’t resist when I felt the first winds of spring this morning.”
“Ah, I wish I were young again.”
From the dark sleeve, criss-crossed with triangle frames, a smooth white hand pointed at the nearly empty candy jar and extended one finger. “I’d like one of these. The red striped one, please.”
As the old woman extracted the red and white sphere with a pair of chopsticks, she quoted the price, “Ten sen, please.”
Mari opened her purse and pinched the coin between two slim fingers. A dozen could have been bought for that price four years ago, but everything was cheaper before the war. She paid and took the small, brown paper bag with the bulging treasure inside. Later, it would erase the taste of blood. She was a vampire. Never picking out her victims from the crowds, she preferred that they blunder into her, for that way she could help rid the city of the undesirables.
Undesirable. A weak word, she thought, to use for glancing at something you wish to forget or better yet to ignore. Perhaps, this was why she had survived so long, for surely she was an undesirable.
She continued along the narrow road and noticed the slender stalker had reappeared behind her. The road led to a stretch of cleared land which used to be a lively neighborhood. Now only mounds of black beams and broken roof tiles marked where people had worked and lived. From behind one of them a stout man stepped into the middle of the road, planted his feet wide, and crossed his arms over his dark blue work jacket. The leer on his face sickened her, and made her remember a time long ago: the last hour she was human.
Memories, she thought, best not to have them. They were like a needle stuck on a gash of a record, playing the same notes over and over, except they were scenes forming behind her eyes: scenes of murder, of innocent lives taken to satisfy simple hunger and thirst. She had tried animals, but always she returned to men and women. The contrast was overwhelming and she was too weak to resist. Sometimes, Mari imagined her heart throbbed only to pound the hard lump of regret in her breast.
The sound of rubber soles running on packed dirt behind her warned her of the impending attack. Mari turned and saw the fist coming. She let it land on her jaw. The powerful blow spun her around and knocked her to the ground. Knees dug into her arms and her face was pushed into the dirt of the road.
“Turn her over. I want to see her face while we do it.”
Mari didn’t resist as she was flipped over. An air raid siren shocked the men’s adrenaline hyped senses. Reflexes jerked their heads skyward. They strained their eyes searching for danger. Mari thrust her hand into the naked crotch above her, squeezed, twisted, and ripped it off. She opened her mouth as blood drenched her face. The slender one, mouth agape, fell backward. His partner, on the road, rocking side to side with hands covering his lost manhood, screeched to the skies; a clash to the wail of the distant siren. Grabbing a rock, Mari flung it down on his face smashing his skull. Thus she ended the noisy challenge of man over machine. She turned her attention to the other. He was backing away on the ground, his legs kicking the dirt. Disgusted, she watched. Finally, strength returned to his limbs. He twisted to a sprinter’s pose and took off. Mari flew, her hair unravelling and trailing in the wind. With one hand on the back of his neck, she stopped him. With two blows, she broke his arms. Then, she turned him around, bit into a dangling arm, and drank. After all, he’d said he wanted to see her face while they did it.
She released him. He was dead and she was sated.
Noise intruded: the drone of engines, the clatter of wooden doors sliding open, and fearful voices directed upward to the B-29’s approaching. Mari lifted her head; beams of searching light and orange explosions of flak, too few and inaccurate to have any effect, illuminated the sky. The planes were much lower than usual and in greater numbers. She heard sounds of admiration from the onlookers, for the sight of silver wings flying through search beams and flak was awesome.
Then, the rain of bombs fell. They were different this time: like sticks and they almost seemed to drift down. There were millions of them, and as they hit the ground they burst, spraying jets of flaming napalm gel a hundred feet and more. Roofs, walls, and bodies ignited. From the barrels placed beside each home, residents scooped and splashed water in a frenzy. It was useless. The flames merged and rose higher. Screams and shouted names were barely heard above the crackle of burning wood and the roar of air rushing in to feed the inferno.
Mari saw a child screaming words into the entrance of a flaming home, and as the child stepped forward, she sprinted. She counted the steps pushing the child closer to the blazing house, one, two, three, four. And, then, she had him in her arms, cooing to him as he sobbed and struggled to call his mother, the single syllable repeated with a gulp of air, again and again. No further time could be wasted calming him down; they had to get out of there, but which way was safe? She decided to try her luck on an old man in a fireman’s coat directing the crowd. Shifting the boy on her back and yelling, “Hold on tight,” she started running.
Debris, raining down in wavy slivers and squares of orange and red, sparked fires in hair and clothing. Mari stopped at a barrel of water and dunked the boy, then she plunged her head into the water. A shock zipped down her body for the water was as warm as a bath. Hefting the crying boy onto her back, she passed the brave fireman, slowly spinning his arms as if he could push the fleeing mass to safety. There was a park straight ahead. She guessed people were hoping to escape the holocaust there. Another batch of bombs pelted the neighborhood and upon impact, spit jellied flames. Homes exploded from the expanding air within, heated to hellish temperatures. A vortex of air roared past her toward the park. Feeling the boy rise off her back, she jerked her arms up. Her hands grabbed a leg and pulled him in. The boy was unconscious. He would soon die from the heat unless she found somewhere cooler than this furnace.
From the corner of her eye she saw a blinding flash of light from the park. She pressed the boy to her bosom as a mass of heat charged over her, burning her skin and leaving her kimono and hair completely dry and smoking. She ran away from the conflagration toward the Sumida River. Surely, that mass of water wouldn’t be boiling hot.
Mari had never run so fast or so far. She had outrun the flames and they weren’t coming this way. They were in a clearing from a previous bombing next to the river. The Sumida here was walled like a canal. Seeing a fire bucket attached to a rope tied around a fence post, she fetched some water from the river. The water was warm for March, but cool enough to bring down the boy’s fever. She tore off a sleeve, moistened it, and dabbed the boy’s singed face. Gradually, he regained his strength and began to talk.
Drowsily, he rubbed his eyes. He asked, “Where’s Mommy?”
Mari paused, for she hadn’t spoken to such a young child for more than a hundred years. “She’s somewhere. We can look for her. What’s your name?”
He gazed into her eyes. “Kenji. Are you Mommy’s friend?”
She couldn’t lie with those eyes looking into her. “No, but I think we would have been. My name is Mari. Will you be my friend, Kenji?”
He smiled. “Yes. Mari, when will Mommy come back?”
Looking down, she said, “Soon.” She raised her face and forced a smile. “Kenji, how about some nice cool water?”
He nodded. “After I drink the water, can we look for Mommy?”
Mari watched him drink and ran her hand through his hair. “Of course. You’re a brave boy. Your mommy will be so proud that you didn’t cry."
Kenji beamed and said, “I’m too big to cry.”
Mari smiled at the boast, and remembered she had a candy. “You deserve a reward, Kenji. I’ve got a candy.” Digging into her sleeve, she extracted a hard flat thing covered in brown paper; the candy ball had broken into several pieces and they had melted in the heat. She tore a piece off and ripped off some of the paper. Kneeling on the ground, she said, “Here’s your reward, brave knight.”
Kenji rose on his toes, placed his hand on her shoulder, and kissed her cheek. He took the candy from the stunned woman and popped it into his mouth.
Mari stood, offered her hand, and smiled as it was taken. “Do you want to ride my shoulders? You’ll be able to look for your mommy from there.”
Kenji nodded and she lifted him up. She stepped gingerly as survivors entered and collapsed on the ground. There was no rest; the wail of the air raid siren heralding a second wave raised a chorus of groans. Mari looked skyward. The second wave was larger. This time the silver wings glinted blood red from the flaming city below them.
The planes methodically rained their deadly cargo in neat rows through the working-class heart of the city. Soon, exhausted and burnt people crowded into the area. Mari realized the fire was moving their way. More and more people came. Terror and panic came with them and they pushed and shoved to get away from the burning heat. Lowering Kenji to her chest, she tried to move through to the exit, but hampered by her responsibility for the boy, she was pushed back. People behind her tried to push her forward. Force and momentum were with those entering the park, and she staggered back on her heels. Hearing screams, Mari looked over her shoulder and saw people flipping backwards over the bars and plunging into the river. She fought, yet the wall of flesh was an irresistible force. The boy was torn screaming from her, and, in the next instant, she was underwater with dozens of others. In frantic haste she spun looking for the boy. All she saw were chaotic black shapes of tumbling people amid murky brown water. The river moved her toward Tokyo Bay. She rose and broke the surface. An arm wrapped around her neck, another gripped her shoulder; it was impossible to swim.
There was another wave. Mari watched from the shore of the bay. Before the last plane dropped its load, she started moving inland. Everywhere was the stench of death and destruction.
The eastern sky paled as the tortured land spun toward the sun, as a child would turn to its mother for solace from injury. Smoking pillars of charcoal stabbed the smouldering ground in a riot of angles. Mounds of black blocked the crossroads: roasted torsos, heads, limbs, hands, and fingers. Gusts of wind eroded them. Something within her was released and borne with the ashes upward into the gray. Without fear, Mari faced east to watch the sunrise, for she no longer believed the tales handed down of vampires turning to dust under its rays. The belief that any godly power would judge her kind over humanity to more justly deserve eternal hell was surely mocking that power. No longer would guilt hang on her shoulders and darken her mood. From today she would accept her nature as a predator to hunt and kill for life and pleasure. And, if the tales were true she would look The Creator boldly in the eye.