A piece of historical fiction set in the Second World War in China featuring a daring young man persevere through the hardships presented along his path.
Every family has their story, all with features that bring them together or drive them apart. My mother and father were attacked and killed by the Japanese during the First World War. At the sight of Japanese soldiers storming into the house through the window, my mother hid my brother in the basement while my father went to distract the enemies. I came home from school, traumatized by the sight of the corpses of my parents, laying on the floor, pulseless. As we had no relatives, I raised my brother up like any mother would, imbued with the kindness to teach the sciences, infused with the determination to decompose complex reading passages, and excited by the smallest portent of apprehension. I left the house after my brother’s college graduation, never to go back since. It served as a painful reminder of my background and the energy to continue going forward even when confronted with difficult situations.
Enriched by poverty, developed by sorrow, and thus endowed with heroism, I joined the military towards the end of the First World War. In addition, I also joined communist party to take revenge on the Japanese for my parents during the Second World War as well. I intercepted the Officer of the Interrogation department. I am the passion that is rarely seen, the walking story of struggle.
. . .
The year was 1945. The trees of the surrounding forest had been stripped of their white cloaks of frost and curled into bushes to escape the wind. The land itself had a vast silence which was only perturbed by a whooshing. The whooshing possessed a hint of laughter, a laughter more terrible than any sadness, a laughter cold as ice with the mirthlessness as the meanest villain that ever lived. It was the wind, laughing at its dominance over the region and its triumph over the light and warmth. But beyond the snow white hills and emerald green trees lay a building in the middle of desolation, both hidden and protected by its surrounding environment. There lay a single structure, made of glass strung together by steel and reflected every shard of light that dared to touch upon it. It was the Japanese Government base in Shanghai. Here, there is an ever-lasting masquerade. Employees and workers of every kind in this place put on phony laughs and smiles to disguise their true feelings. One little mistake in language can have the punishment of the loss of life. Currently, spies are constantly being caught and sent to interrogation in the dungeons.
“Yang, we need you for the interrogation of a communist that was just caught yesterday.”
Day after day, I am constantly in danger of being caught and have to put on a sinister laugh at the death of comrades when in reality, an aching feeling roams my heart at their decease.
“So, what’s the story?” I asked, setting down my papers onto the desk.
“Li thinks that we may have caught the ‘Phoenix’ at last.”
“What’s that? How come no one has ever told me until now?” My pretended confusion serves as a disguise for my true identity and a mask for my intentions.
“Ask our boss, Li. I thought you two were close friends and knew everything going on around here. Didn’t you save his life during the first World War by taking a bullet for him? It’s amazing how you both came over to our side and rose the ranks.”
I put on a false laugh as I spoke.
“Ha. Well, at this point,” I said, getting up and making preparations to depart the room. “ We all know that China is going to lose this war. Might as well save ourselves while we can. Those who fought for China will be executed if Japan triumphs. However, folks like me can be forgiven by serving their government in Shanghai. ”
We strode through the dark and hallowed halls with vaulted ceilings. Men dressed in Armani suits walking speedily through, muttering inaudible phrases under their breath and holding bags possessing top secret documents. Being a part of the communists has been a dream for so long that it seems surreal to actually be living it. As time passes, the more I realize how much of a privilege it is to be here, instead of on the battlefield, fighting for our country’s success, only to pass away, going down in history as part of the nameless heroes.
We arrived at our destination. Blood was splattered on the walls for those who refused to admit their identity. Here, many people have been wronged while others have showed their true colors. Most suffer the punishment of death for their betrayal while some suffer from the mistakes of others. Few are caught as a consequence of their own deeds. The taps of our shoes aroused many prisoners, still clinging to the hope that they will one day, see the sky once more. Perhaps to them, the sunlight is still trying to shiver out of those thick clouds, peeking out behind beaded veils weighed heavy with water.
We entered the dungeon and I lazily sat on the street, skimming the profile of the prisoner, until I caught a familiar name, Cathy. What! After searching for her for two years, I find her here? I slowly lifted my head as the woman smiled back. Her appearance has differed so vastly that it seemed almost impossible that they are the same person. Her raven locks of hair were no longer curled and shining, her hands no longer wore the rings and bracelets that made them so eye-catching, and her face no longer held that beautiful smile. We were alone.
“Where have you been all these years?” I whispered.
She merely sat there as we stared at each other in silence.
“Where’s my brother? ”
“In another world,” she finally replied.
“H-How did he pass?, ” I finally said. How? How? The person that I work so hard to raise had the privilege of life taken away before he even showed his true potential and purpose to society. There was an identifiable yet indescribable absence in my heart.
“Killed by your boss, Li. ”
“T-Then, how were you caught? My brother must have gone for a while now. No wonder I haven’t received any message of him for two years. ”
“I tried to use his telegram to contact you and deliver an important mission.”
“It takes you two years to remember to contact me?” I replied, “Do you know how worried I was about you two all these years?”
“I understand. I was tempted to contact you but didn’t in order to help you better disguise yourself among your coworkers.”
Still unable to digest what has occurred, I took a pause before finally carrying on.
“What is this mission?” I finally uttered.
“Our superiors have received a report that the Japanese have devised a plan to obliterate all of China even if they lose the war. It is called ‘Absolute Zero’. It is told that it is hidden in this building but I have a theory that it is hidden in the office of your boss, Li. Your success is crucial to the fate of our country and you have to choose to either kill your boss and best friend, or rather see this land crumble under the hands of our enemy. If you choose to undertake this mission, your nickname with us will be the ‘Phoenix’. Initially it was my job to be the ‘Phoenix’ but our superiors thought that it would be better suited for you. Choose wisely.”
I took a pause. Awed by the complexity of the mission, I realized my dream was much more intricate than I imagined. However, my youthful passion in communism did not dwindle. Instead, it strengthened and matured into a strategy. I intend to keep pushing the boundaries of my knowledge, and nothing would give me more fulfillment than continuing the fight in the war on the invaders. Cathy has shown me, that even in the darkest of times, help and guidance can be found, if only one remembers to turn on the light. By pure luck, she found me in one of the darkest places. Had I been out of my office that day, I might not have been called for her interrogation. Had I been allotted a different role or position, I may not have met her here. Now, I am finally presented with the chance to avenge my relatives and kin. Should I choose to refuse it, I may be tormented with guilt for the rest of my life. Should I choose to accept it, I may have to bring up arms once more and direct them towards my closest companion and friend. Torn between the choice of friends or family, the latter finally won over. I was struck with an epiphany : Should I choose to refuse it, all my previous efforts of camouflage to the environment will have been wasted. If Li himself knew my true identity, he might not have let me live so long, knowing his personality. Besides, what could be worse than death to most? To me, it meant a reunion with my long lost family members. With that, I took on the challenge.
I left her jail cell to report the “interrogation results” to Li while pondering how I shall take action on the assassination of him. Years of being together and the bonds that we strengthened after the war have made us inseparable. Time and time again I am tempted to propose to him to join the communists but it is already too late. At the time, I hesitated because I feared that he would betray me to the Japanese. A turbulent disunity stormed under that surface of peaceful coexistence as I watched him again and again walk on the path of no return.
“How was the interrogation?” asked Li as I handed him the papers.
“Good. The woman confessed to her actions almost immediately.”
“Did you find out her motives for using the telegraph?”
“No,” I lied.
“Really?,” he said, finally looking up from the papers, his eyes trying to pierce through my stone mask. “Oh well,” he uttered, “Then we will have to find out the hard way.”
His nonchalant expression soon morphed into the sinister smile of a criminal on the verge of getting away with a crime. My body shook at the thought of her torture as sweat started accumulating on my forehead and slowly migrating down my face.
“The Japanese have been starting to suspect you and your loyalty to them. I will do my best to try to prove them wrong. Keep your guard with what you say and don’t do anything suspicious, as it will doom both of us if there is a misunderstanding. Understand?”
“Then on with your work.”
. . .
Over the course of a few weeks, I heard nothing about Cathy until one morning, I was asked to interrogate her once more, to see if she has any last words before she will be sent to her death.
Li led me to her cell. The taps of our shoes on the floor aroused many other prisoners, staring at us in hopes of being released to roam the earth again.
Her cell door creaked open, revealing a battered woman, crouching over the floor, dressed in rags stained with her very own blood. I stared with horror at the woman who I once knew.
Li started to chuckle softly. He looked with fascination at the state in which he has reduced his victim to. His chuckle was that of a masterful villain laughing at the futility and effort of life.
“It’s such a pity that a beautiful woman be reduced to such a state. She will forever bear the scars of her decision to keep her mouth shut and will be a nameless hero for a soon-to-be diminished country.”
Li left the room, shutting the door behind him as he returned to his office. I pressed my ear against the door, waiting until the taps of his shoes diminished.
As I finally got the chance to examine her, I found that she slept on intervals of darkness and light. Her face and arms sat in the warm sunlight from the cracks on the wall while the rest of her body was shivering and scattered with pieces of ice.
“What did they do to you?” I asked with a trembling voice.
Cathy merely sat there, staring at the scars from her punishment and left me in silence. She then scooted over and in a low whisper, said:
“ I wish you the best in your mission and unfortunately I may not be able to live to see its success.”
The fate that I had predicted for her weeks ago had finally became reality. Cathy had started to make repeated taps on my hand with her finger. I was puzzled at what she was doing for a second until I realized that it was morse code.
Your superiors have set the deadline for obtaining ‘Absolute Zero’ for 10 days. After that, the documents for the plan will be transported elsewhere, making it harder to get hold of. Now leave, or else the guards will be suspicious of why you are here for so long.
The worst can happen to even the best and the strength of an individual lies in his ability to maintain his values when faced with such difficult situations. To lose heart in these values because of Cathy’s decease would be a harsh disservice to her legacy. From that day, I began to take careful notice of Li’s office with each meeting I had with him. At times, I would often stall conversations or purposely leave items behind in his office to obtain more time for investigation. However, I had to stop these actions for Li’s suspicions were aroused from what I can tell based on his unusual glances towards me.
. . .
Time is running out. I have been searching for a week and has done fruitless effort. Alas! Thankfully I was given another opportunity to search Li’s office. I was told to deliver a mysterious box to his desk. It was about the size of a laptop but was thicker than what my palm could hold. It appeared to be a small treasure chest and was so light that it almost seemed to be empty. When I entered the office however, Li was not there. Apparently, he had business with his superiors to settle and I attempted to open the box but could not find the key. I took a paperclip and tried to mold it into the size of the key hole. Out of desperation and the overuse of force, I dropped the paperclip onto the floor. As I rushed to retrieve it, my sleeve caught on the door of the cabinet and with an accidental pull, revealed a hidden door in it. Surprisingly, it was unlocked. Perhaps Li thought no one would be clever enough to find it. I slowly turned the metallic knob of the door, with my ear pressed against it, making sure that no one was in it.
“Ding!” The clock rang one. I had to leave before someone notices my absence. For the rest of the day, I had matters that were inescapable, making me unable to go back to Li’s office.
The documents must be in that hidden room. But why was it unlocked? Perhaps it was a trap. Perhaps, Li thought that it’s not being locked would drive its suspicion away. Nevertheless, I must at least try or else I might never get the chance to avenge my lost relatives again. That night, I broke into the Li’s office at eleven o’clock. I stealthily jumped in through the window, careful to close it right after and diminish my footprints. I pulled the cabinet door, revealing the door of the hidden room. Still, it was unlocked and I meticulously pushed it open, making sure to not make a single creak.
The door revealed an empty room with a mahogany table with the documents of “Absolute Zero” on it. Surely, it wasn’t this easy? This must be a trap. Regardless, I took the documents and fled as the clock struck twelve.
I left the room and descended the steps but was suddenly halted by the sound of a sinister laugh accompanied with a tap on the back of my neck.
“I don’t know if I should call you Yang or “Phoenix”…Have you gotten what you came for?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
”Answer me honestly: After knowing each other for so many years, have I ever wronged you? What could have made you go against me? I thought we were brothers.”
“True, you have never wronged me before, but how many wrongs have you done to our country, to our country’s people?”
Li had no objection but kept his gun still.
“You have been against me from the start have you? You have been using me as your shield for all this time.”
“No,” I said. “I was only against you because you were on the side of the enemy.”
Suddenly, an explosion was heard. Using this opportunity to my advantage, I snatched the gun of Li’s hand and pointed it towards him.
Li bravely walked toward me and redirected the point of my weapon at his skull.
“Come on…Shoot. Shoot. Do you even dare to pull the trigger? Ever since you accidentally killed a soldier you have never touched a gun again. I’m sure your superiors will be very pleased with you for murdering their enemy. Come on. ”
I opened fire but not towards the target, but instead, towards the ceiling. Click.What?. Click….I looked towards Li and he stared back. Wide-eyed.
“You have been lying to me again have you? You told me that you thought not touching weapons would prevent you from causing such incidents again.” His hand slowly climbed toward his lower back and extracted yet another gun. “Shanghai’s military training course instructor can’t even feel whether a gun has bullets based on weight.”
Bang! Li fired a shot on my shoulder and I collapsed onto the floor. Although he fired a shot at me, I knew that he didn’t want me dead. If he did, I would not still be alive now. I mustered up all the remaining energy I had to stand up, straight-backed and tall, in front of my opponent.
“If you think you are still a Chinese citizen, that you still have some loyalty to this country, if you are still the person you used to be, “ I paused, gasping for breath, ” you will let me leave. ”
Li said nothing but only stood still, his gun still pointed towards me.
I slowly turned around, still preparing to leave this world at any moment. I slowly limped toward the door and finally, I heard the sound that I was expecting. Bang! What! The gunshot was fired but I was not harmed. Again, I cautiously turned around, only to find that the person lying on the floor this time was not me, but Li. A sniper had been stationed outside of the building where he could see us. The Japanese knew that we would have a quarrel today and wanted to make sure none of us will make it alive to the next day. I took the gun out of Li’s hand and shot randomly at the bushes outside until I heard a resounding yelp. I had taken revenge for my dear friend who now lay on the floor, grasping for his last breath. I knelt down to him and decided to unravel all the mysteries for him.
“You told me that there were many things that you don’t know,” I said while searching for a sign of life in his eyes. “Today, I will tell you the answers to those mysteries.”
Li nodded and took my hand into his.
“Cathy, the communist that you caught, was my sister in law. My brother died two years ago by you. ”
Li stared back, wide-eyed, as I continued.
“I lost my family to the Japanese which is why I am here. I fought during the First World War for revenge and thankfully, I survived. There, I also met you. At the time, you were also very passionate for our country but have inched to the other side of the spectrum since. What happened to your original spirit? Your original passion for the country? I genuinely thought at first that you joined the Japanese Government to work as a spy at first as well. What happened to you between the First and Second World War?”
Li stared back, with his eyelids growing heavy and his energy exponentially decreasing.
“My final words are to you. In your next life, if you are not an ordinary person, not a traitor, and not so evil, we may still be brothers.”
He shook my hand and he closed his eyes, never to be opened again.
. . .
I handed the precious documents and fruits of my mission to my superiors at our meeting place and confirmed the death of Li. From then on, I was rewarded with the showers of gold and praise that Cathy should have shared. To accept these would be a harsh disgrace to her legacy so I donated the money to the local hospital to help patients in need. I may forever live with their grief but I will forever be loyal to the country that raised me. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
When you find a reason for being in life, the rest will fall into place. In my case, it was the contribution to my country and the avenging of my kin. Without a reason for being, we would be throwing everything into the dark, hoping to land among the stars. I was born into a situation that I did not choose, but through passion and hard work, I altered the course of my life. The lack of passion in life disables a person from reaching their true potential. In my case, as I mature, I find new havens that foster my passions and helps me to obtain them. When difficult situations dominate, I am given the energy to persevere when thought of my lost family members and their unfortunate death. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I grow from my experiences and soar to my next challenge.