by blake more (TM)

On the evening of August 5th, 1945, the sirens of Hiroshima screamed. Searchlights struck the sky, and people ran underground to escape the thunder of the approaching "B-Sans." In a community shelter, thick with summer-steeped bodies, seven-year-old Takashi clung to his fatherís wet hand. Someone lit a candle in the silence, and Takashi, reassured by the smell of burning wax, closed his eyes.

"Come Son, let me show you the way," said a deep and solemn voice, its tone receding Takashiís blood.

Takashi tightened his hold on his father, "No. I donít know you. Iím staying," he said, turning toward his protector, a man who just stared into the blackness, eyes open and trance-like, seemingly unaware of the voice that filled Takashiís awareness.

"Son, itís time to go," came the voice again and again, till finally young Takashiís hand let go. He felt himself lifted from the bomb shelter and into a dark tunnel, where it seemed that he and the voice were floating on a bridge of light. He looked down at his legs and panicked. They were gone. All he could see was a wide beam of light pushing out from his chest, connecting him to some unknown vista.

He stared ahead in shock, afraid to ask what was happening to him, until a vision of Hiroshimaís seven rivers unfolded like fingers before his eyes. He lifted his head to protest, but before the words came out, the rivers became the seven hills, some gentle, some rugged, that cup Hiroshima like an amphitheater. He could taste, feel, and hear the color stretching out in front of him. Then, his vision froze into a gray landscape. A tiny Japanese house, its low roof dripping with icicles, sat lifeless in the middle. Takashi shivered at the feeling of death. "I donít understand," said Takashi. "Why are you showing me all this?"

"Youíll understand," came the voiceís only reply.

They traveled through this winter scene for, what Takashi experienced as decades, until a curtain of light was drawn aside, revealing an open field, dominated by an ancient, weather-gnarled tree whose branches appeared to stretch across the four corners of the earth. Each branch was teaming with new life, with more buds unfurling as he watched. Thin blades strained past the thawing earth. He blinked at the pictureís brightness, and the tree changed into a forest, dancing with hues of green heíd never imagined possible. Trees of all shapes and sizes encircled him, breathing him with lifeís energy till he felt himself riding on the wind, traveling faster and faster. He heard rustling sounds and watched as autumn came and colored the leaves, causing them to tumble, one by one, into a sunset-marbled pile.

Then, ever so gently, the pictures ceased. He was suspended in air. "Where are we?" managed Takashi in a whisper. "Take me back. I want my father."

"Donít be afraid, Son. Thereís someone here I want you to meet." Takashi felt the presence guide him down towards earth, where his feet landed upon a large flat rock.

A young voice said, "Welcome Takashi. Iíve been waiting for you for a very long time. My name is Senba-Zuru, Mighty as a Thousand Cranes." Takashi gasped, realizing that the words were coming from a massive white crane. He reached inside his mind, but his guide was no longer there. He rubbed his eyes, and the ivory bird remained.

Takashi then noticed a flock of cranes playing behind his strange new friend, and one, in particular, caught his attention. He seemed isolated, all by himself, as if the other cranes didnít want him to join their games. He was about to ask Senba-Zuru why this crane was alone, but a bunch of school children diverted his attention. Again, there was one little boy left outside the group. All the other children were wearing uniforms, but this boy wasnít.

Before Takashi had time to ask, Senba-Zuru pointed to the lone crane and spoke. "That crane is me."

"How could it be you," said Takashi. "Youíre so noble and brave."

"Did you know, Takashi, that I come from an ancient family of great cranes. My parents were very respected. As a small child, I had a very happy family life..." He paused and Takashi felt a wave of emotion wash over the both of them. "Then it was all taken away from me."

"But how could that be," shouted Takashi, overcome by the tears in Senba-Zuruís eyes.

Senba-Zuru slowly revealed his story. "One day, I was out in a field with my parents when we heard voices coming from several different directions. Suddenly, we were in a rainstorm of arrows. They kept coming and coming until both of my parents lay bloody in the summer grass. Iím still not sure how I escaped with my life. But that was the easy part. Living without them was far worse than my death could ever have been." Then, his voice became stronger, "But do you know why I survived? I survived because my parents taught me the most important thing: never to forget who I am."

"But how can you know that?" blurted Takashi.

"I know who I am because I know my own heart."

"Then tell me about that boy all alone. Who is he?" asked Takashi, surprised by his own curiosity.

Senba-Zuru patted the boyís hand with his wing. "That boy is alone like I was. And one thing I do know," he paused, staring directly into Takashiís eyes, "is that boy is going to make it."

With the craneís words, the atmosphere shifted. A stillness took over, and, despite the sun high overhead, the air felt heavy and dark. Takashi heard a roaring sound approaching from the distance. Its energy rose like a massive army bearing down from the heavens, louder and louder, till no longer audible, it erupted in an incredible crash of power. A swirling inferno of black, red, and orange filled the sky with terrible beauty. The fireball caught Senba-Zuru and pulled him toward its heat. Takashi grabbed the birdís wing tip, but it was too late. Senba-Zuru dissolved into flames. Takashi covered his face and began to sob, not caring about the fires that threatened his body. His legs collapsed, and he dropped upon the ground.

When he awoke, the fire had almost burned itself out. The air swam with ashes, and glowing embers snapped along the horizon, reminding Takashi of black and orange butterflies. He sat motionless, devastation raging all around him, not even sure if he was still breathing. Then suddenly, the sky erupted again, but this time, in a rainbow of butterflies. Takashi had never seen anything more amazing. Butterflies danced everywhere, some high some low, all with incredible elegance and grace. A gleaming white one fluttered at Takashi from a distance. As it flew closer, he heard Senba-Zuruís voice, "Takashi, canít you tell. Itís me. Itís me."

Crying with excitement, Takashi leapt to his feet and stretched out his palm. Senba-Zuru, now a beautiful butterfly, landed gently on his hand. A surge of energy flooded the young boyís heart. His friend had returned.

"But I must go and join the other butterflies," said Senba-Zuru, tempering Takashiís joy. But, Takashi didnít protest, for, this time, he knew Senba-Zuru would always be with him. He threw up his hands and the butterfly soared away. "So long, my friend, so long," he shouted till Senba-Zuru faded from view.

The sound of his own shouts woke him up. Takashi lifted his head and found himself once again crowded next to his father in the bomb shelter. His father smiled and looked down into his eyes. "Come son," he said, "letís go home. The air raid is over."

At 8:15 the next morning, the atom bomb struck Hiroshima.


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