Fat Man

“You forgot your what?”

“My stamp,” Tsutomu said, “my jitsu-in... the one with the Mitsubishi seal on it.”

“Ah,“ his manager replied softly.

Tsutomu cleared his throat and took a deep breath.

“I was walking back to the docks to get it, passing by the potato fields... it was 8:15... I saw the plane before I even heard it. Two little parachutes were falling behind it. I thought it was more of those American pamphlets but then... there was a light...”

He tugged at the cotton bandage wrapping his left arm. It had been on for three days and it was itching him badly. A change was in order after the work day was over. He looked out the window at the bright early-afternoon sun and shook his head for a few moments before he turned back and continued.

“When I awoke... when I awoke... there was a giant mushroom of fire rising up high into the sky... It was like a tornado, but it wasn’t moving... it just rose and spread out horizontally at the top. And there was a prismatic light. It was changing in a complicated rhythm, like the patterns of a kaleidoscope...”

There was a long silence before Tsutomu began to cry.

“We are very sorry...” the manager said and placed his hand on Tsutomu’s neck. “But we are glad you’ve decided to return to –“

A popping sound from outside stopped the tearful meeting short and the office shook, just slightly. The two men spun towards the window. A bright light, a thousand times brighter the noon sun, seared their shadows onto the wall behind them before it collapsed.

It was August 9th, 1945, and Tsutomu Yamaguchi was about to survive the atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki – three days after surviving the one at Hiroshima.


status quo ante bellum

The main thrust of the attack moved steadily northward, casting aside with ease the skirmishers that met them as they approached the Rodriguez Canal. Defeated on Lake Champlain at the Battle of Plattsburg and then again at Fort McHenry near the entrance of Baltimore, the British were starved for a victory. On January 8, 1815, the 5,500 seasoned soldiers of Major-General Edward Pakenham vastly outnumbered the motley defenders of the Chalmette swamps and were poised to control the interior of the fragile American continent.

But as the invaders drew near, it seemed as though the doors to a fiery furnace were opened. The Tennessee and Kentucky volunteers found their range and let loose with antique muskets and boyhood squirrel-guns. These hillbillies and thrill-seekers stood four deep; as each one took his turn atop the muddy barricade, he slid down to reload and was immediately replaced by another. The fire was never-ending. And accurate.

1,500 canons backed them up from the rear.

The British mindlessly continued forward for twenty-five minutes amidst a fury of lead but even the few that actually made it to the canal soon realized that they had forgotten to bring in the cane bundles which were to have been used to breach the ramparts. Most died with their backs exposed. Many simply preferred to lie down rather than retreat and face that hell again.

Within two hours, the battlefield was cleared. Just seven Americans were dead. The British Navy abandoned its plans for New Orleans.

It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The battle was unnecessary.

The Treaty of Ghent had been signed two weeks earlier. Word just hadn’t reached the participants yet that the two countries were to return to conditions that existed before the war began almost three years earlier.

Little consolation to the 2,000 British casualties...


Cash Cow

On May 2, 1627, two teenage girls wound their usual way along a path in the forests of Jaktorowski to pray before a little Marian shrine. They did this once a week for as long as they could remember. Their parents did it and their parents before them. Their great-grandfather was the one who set up the shrine, as thanks for having been appointed royal gamekeeper in the primeval forest.

The pair walked slowly, barefooted together, soaking in the beautiful spring weather. Jasa began to sing as they strolled; an old song, about a magical Poland populated by fairies and elves. Elka always enjoyed listening to Jasa sing; her voice seemed to blend so nicely with the natural sounds of the forest.

Suddenly Jasa’s voice croaked and a very surprised Elka turned towards her with wide eyes, holding back a giggle. Jasa coughed and held her hand out in front of her mouth to catch a little black ball that came shooting out. Holding it up to Elka, they both inspected the fly as it tried to untangle itself. More flies appeared as they hurriedly continued on their way again.

Running quickly around a turn in the trail, the girls stopped in their tracks.

“Oh dear,” said Elka.

There was their father with his arms folded, looking over the rotting carcass of a massive cow covered in flies. He looked up at the girls and sighed.

“Well... we knew it was coming sooner or later,” he said sadly.

“The king isn’t going to be happy,” Jasa whispered.

Her father looked into her eyes and replied slowly, “We’re not losing our tax-exemption just yet, darling.”

The villagers of Jaktorowski waited three more years before informing the king’s inspector that the last Auroch, the prehistoric father of all domestic cattle, had died.


A Mixed Marriage

Miriam watched eagerly every day for sign of her baby brother; he had just gained glory as the victorious leader of a battle. She was proud of him but each day that passed brought increasing consternation. Rumors came fast as returning soldiers trickled in and at first she found it impossible to believe. But day after day passed and the report was the same. She kept her mother busy with little outings designed to prevent her from hearing the scandalous news.

At last, when she saw the royal flags approaching the encampment, she ran to get her older brother. She found him debating with some laborers by the roadside and felt guilty for disturbing him.

“Brother,” she cautiously interrupted, “he’s returned.”

He jumped up, grabbed her by the arm, and practically dragged her along as he hurried his way to the caravan. They arrived just in time to see their brother hop down from his horse and whisper a few words to a woman clad in fine silk being carried along in a gold-accented enclosure.

“Jered!” Miriam cried as she broke free from her brother’s grip, “Then it’s true! How could you soil your blood?”

He spun around, his eyes wide with surprise that quickly turned to anger.

“Don’t call me by that name today sister, my name is Mosheh!” he thundered, “And your loose words will only bring down a curse upon you! You beware too, Aaron...”

Moses, the babe who was drawn out of the reeds of the Nile three months after his birth on February 18, 1272 BC, who was adopted into the family of Pharaoh and who would later cross him to free his people from the Egyptian yoke, was according to Josephus, returning to Goshen as husband of his first wife, an “Ethiopian” named Tharbis.


Bacon Salad

On July 30, 1676, almost exactly one century prior to a similar but nobler event, a declaration was signed on the shores of the New World rejecting the rule of “parasites.” The signers of this declaration, both black and white, free and indentured, were led by a plantation owner named Nathaniel Bacon. Their unity under Bacon was based not upon the universal rights of man but upon the extermination of the American Indian.

To quell the murder-spree of these nearly 500 armed rebels, the Royal Governor of Virginia, from exile, sent for a company of British regulars.

The food aboard the troop-ship spoiled well before they arrived and the stomachs of the soldiers were growling when they finally reached the Virginia tidewaters. Finding the government ineffectual and the normal means of society in chaos, the Captain ordered his battery to fend for themselves around colonial Jamestown.

They scoured the hills looking for anything left of the fall foliage that was green enough to boil into a salad and they pleasantly discovered an abundance of one particular shrub that grew along the roadsides. Its white flowers made it easy to spot and the soft leaves released a gamey scent when broken.

With their bellies filled they went to sleep. By the end of the next day, each man who had partaken of the meal was confined to a cell: Quartermaster Higgins sat upon a stool, blowing a feather into the air for hours at a time. Chosen Men Smythe and Clarke licked their hands while staring menacingly into each other’s eyes. Sergeant-Major William rolled naked on the straw, laughing hysterically.

A dozen others exhibited like behavior.

It took eleven days for these effects of the “Jamestown Weed” to wear off, after which they remembered nothing and returned to suppressing Bacon’s Rebellion.

Ten Were Chosen

Advance soldiers of the 10th Legion broke through the charred bits of wall that remained of the rebel fortress. The scorched earth was still hot beneath their sandaled feet as they scrambled into the breach that had taken three months of siege to open.

It was the morning of April 16th in the year 73 and the sun was just breaking over the edges of the plateau that defiantly rose 1,300 feet above the western rim of the Dead Sea. The Romans expected to face fierce resistance but were surprised instead by a landscape devoid of life, dotted here and there with smoking ruins. They cast confused, disbelieving glances at each other as they passed by warehouses filled with grain, armories full of swords, and cisterns lapping with fresh water and they silently wondered where the stubborn occupiers had fled. The legionaries cautiously made their way into the heart of the fortress, still wary of ambush but encountering not a single soul of the nearly thousand-strong Sicarii along their way.

Suddenly, shields and swords were raised in unison as a shout broke the quiet, “There! Arms ready!”

In a courtyard approaching a synagogue, a mass of humanity awaited. Scores of them were there. But they were still. None of their hands held weapons. None were moving nor even standing. And none breathed. They sat or lay in little groups; men with their wives and servants; mothers with their children.

Each body bore a single wound. Some to the throat but most to the heart.

The same scene was repeated over and over throughout the day as the fort was scoured. Not until two women were found hiding in a cave with five children, was history able to record what happened that grisly day at the Jewish mountain fortress called Masada.


A Quarter Per

It was December 3rd, 1890 and a fuzzy layer of frost covered the grave markers at the Mt Lebanon Cemetery in Iselin, New Jersey. Two boys stalked slowly past a freshly-prepared grave, their heads down, looking for prints on the frozen dew of the undisturbed morning grass.

“He went in there,” Billy said as a cloud of escaping steam wafted above him like a feather falling in reverse. He tip-toed his way around a rubbish pile and pointed, “... stay around that side with the bag... on three.”

Tommy nodded and opened wide a thick canvas sack as he squatted down at the mouth of a little tunnel created by some broken lumber. He peeked in but didn’t see anything except a skinny shaft of light from the other side.

“Okay, ready,” he croaked as his heart picked up a little speed.

“THREE! YAHHH!” Billy screamed into the hole and slapped the wood hard enough to bring it tumbling down.

A spine-tingling shriek echoed off the headstones, and Tommy nearly missed the terrified cat as it bolted out of its collapsing shelter.

“Cat’s in the bag!” he shouted joyfully.

The pair ran back to Oak Tree Avenue, where a wooden crate was waiting. The lid was slid open just far enough to shove the bag in. A chorus of hisses and cries spewed forth.

“How many is that?” asked Tommy.

“Eight!” exclaimed a delighted Billy, “That’s two whole dollars! One for each of us!”

“I wonder what he does with these cats anyway,” Tommy wondered.

What Thomas Edison did with the cats and dogs collected by the neighborhood children was made well-known thirteen years later when he electrocuted an elephant, trying to sell to the world his “safe” direct current, as opposed to the “deadly” alternating current of his rival.