Prologue to As Though Before A Vengeful God

I have been writing a novel entitled As Though Before A Vengeful God. It was intended to be a nanowrimo project but I failed at that because November 2016 is the month that will be spoken of in hushed tones as “the point of no return” by our children as they paddle styrofoam junkrafts through the watery ruins of Manhattan. Anyway I will persevere and publish it directly to kindle unless somebody finds the following prologue so compelling that they have the sudden urge to give me a lucrative book deal.

What follows is almost entirely historical fact.

PROLOGUE

The island was officially populated by ten men and a dog named Explosion. That was not enough to have any effect. The men were assigned to the island by drawing slips from a hat. The dog was assigned to the island by the man who the hat belonged to. All the ships on the ocean had gone silent since the war started. The weather moved from west to east, and the men were stationed thousands of miles west of their homeland. On their small island the ten men did what would have been suicide on a warship, and they reported the weather.

The first man on the island when they arrived was a refrigerator repairman, who took the old goods from the freezer and loaded it up with a fresh six-month supply. Then the repairman left with the old supply and flew away to leave the men alone. The men operated the weather station and called their reports in on the radio and endured the cold and isolation. The waters around the island stole the heat from the air. Fog covered the lowlands. Some days when the air around the cabins was clear and the small lakes to the north drew the fog, the volcano in the north appeared to rise from the mist and grow nearly a mile into the heavens. Some mornings when the fog line was below the cabins, they awoke to the sight of an endless ocean of mist, with the northern volcano’s lower extremity as a wide band of black against the horizon, tapering into a snowcapped white summit that faded into the pale blue of the sky.

Explosion seemed happy enough. She was a german shepherd. She had ten friends, food, and plenty of room to run and play. The men loved Explosion. This was the whole of their world for long weeks. They observed the weather, reported it, played with their dog, performed the basic daily rituals to sustain their bodies, and waited for something to happen.

The first thing happened in late May. The men spotted an enemy plane flying west to east far above and called it in. They were unable to make contact, as the receiving base was used to them calling at three-hour intervals. When they got through they heard that their sighting indicated an attack on the western mainland within ten days. The men grew fearful and began to sleep with their boots on and their rifles beside them. They dug trenches and hid caches of food and ammunition away from the main camp.

The second thing happened in June. Five hundred men from the Imperial Navy came in the dead of night. They fired on the cabins to announce their presence. Two of the ten men were struck and wounded. One man took their communication ciphers and fed them into the stove as bullets shattered the windows around him. He still carried the thin grey blanket he’d woken up under as he ran away. The unwounded eight fled into the night, along with Explosion. Gunners fired upon the men as they ran, tracer rounds casting beams of light through the darkness, until the men reached the cover of fog and were gone from sight. The man with the grey blanket lost sight of the others in the fog and found himself alone. The Imperial Navy captured the two wounded men in the cabin and treated their wounds to ensure they would survive the journey west to become prisoners of war. As they grew hungry, Explosion and seven of the men made their way to the food caches one or two at a time. All were captured in turn. At the end of eleven days nine men had been taken. This left one man still free, somewhere on the island. It was assumed that he was dead.

The island was twenty-two miles long and six miles across at the north and south, though the middle of it narrowed to only a mile across. The coastline rose in sheer cliffs of black rock with vibrant green growth atop them and fell down to gentle hills that sloped to beaches. The island was utterly indifferent to the struggle of the single scared man running alone across it. The island held secrets to warm him. He would never find them.

Water was the easy part. There were fresh streams to keep him from dehydration, but he began to starve. He feasted on tundra grass and earthworms. There was almost no cover on the barren landscape but the fog, so he hid among grey rocks with the grey blanket. He made his way north and saw his country’s planes dropping bombs in the south. He made his way to the volcano. He found a cave on the northern coast to starve in. He survived in this way for over a month. On the forty-seventh day he collapsed as he was venturing to a stream for water and realized he was starving to death. He decided to surrender, and set off from his cave. As he made his way south he saw a small metal structure on the base of the volcano he hadn’t noticed before, and assumed the Empire had made it. When he surrendered he saw that his enemies had completed another twenty-four buildings around his old headquarters, and any curiosity about the structure faded from his mind as the imperial soldiers took him in. They stared at his ribs and his strange skin and they gave him hot tea and a light meal.

Soon, two thousand more men came from the Empire to the island. This was still not enough to have any effect. They built and reinforced and prepared through the winter as bombs fell all through the winter and spring. The island was under siege. It was a barren rock at the end of the world, but it had been stolen, and this could not be tolerated.

Three thousand more men came in July. This crossed the threshold and was enough to have an effect.

The official story then is that in August, fourteen months after the occupation of the island began, the armies came. The Canucks took one side of the island and the Yankees took the other. Seven thousand men charged onto the island. There were hundreds of casualties, including eighty-seven men who died when a destroyer went down in the harbor. Yet when the smoke cleared they realized there was nobody home. The Japanese had apparently abandoned the place, but not without covering it in mines and booby traps. One hundred ninety-one men were reported as missing in action. Some soldiers seemed to vanish into the fog and never reappear. The other dead were chalked up to friendly fire, and the unfamiliar silhouettes in the fog were written off as misperceptions from stress and fear. The armies gathered up their dead and went back the way they came. As they took the fresh bodies to the harbor, they were joined by a pack of abandoned dogs. The leader of the pack was Explosion, who had been there the longest, and knew the terrain the best. The officer who had put her there met her on the beach. When it had all wound down he took her home, taking solace in the survival of the dog after the operation had taken so many lives for no apparent reason.

They all came and went without ever really knowing why.

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