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Historical Fiction East Asian Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Shells rained upon Ramree Island.

Takuro struggled—hands trembling—to load bullets into his rifle. The ammunition slipped between his fingers, hitting the dirt, rolling in the trench. He brought his head down as bombs whistled. They landed close enough to make him jump, dirt spattering his eyes. Shrapnel cut his uniform.

Dazed, reeling, Takuro got to his feet, stumbling. He turned his head. His allies to the right affixed bayonets onto their Arisaka rifles. Banzai! Banzai! Banzai! They charged the British and Indian soldiers face-first. He turned to the left, sluggish, seeing Japanese soldiers decimated by the bombs. Limbs and helmets were scattered across the land, the dirt coated red.

Hands grabbed his shoulders.

“Death before dishonour,” Takuro mumbled. He reached for a grenade. “Long live-”

“We’ll die for the emperor another day!” The soldier’s words carried spit. Bombs shook the earth. “We retreat for now, through the jungle—there are fortifications that need our numbers! General’s orders!”

The shock passed. Takuro nodded and climbed out. His remaining company followed the soldier through the battlefield. Bullets zipped through the air, striking mud. The groaning noise of tank treads sounded further off.

Along with several hundred others, Takuro retreated into the jungles of Ramree. The dense foliage surrounded them. Snakes wrapped themselves around branches, while spiders watched from monstrous webs. 

The Japanese forces would march ten miles to the opposite side of the island.

Takuro plunged his boots into water.


- - -


To discover how cruel nature can be, you need only shake the wrong branch.

The swamp water reached his knees. He swatted at one mosquito, and a dozen more swarmed him. Takuro kept his rifle high, the hot fog setting in, heavy enough that he could hardly see the soldier in front of him. It wouldn’t be long until the British ambushed them from the sides.

He doubted he could pull the trigger if it happened.

He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at them before. The fog would help. It’d make the difference in not seeing their faces. He followed behind, legs dragging through the swamp, the water reaching waist height. Soldiers ahead mumbled of hunger—handfuls of rice not enough to sustain them.

A man behind him panted and wheezed. Takuro turned to see a purple blister on the soldier’s arm. It’d swollen, the skin surrounding it a dark red. 

The man caught him staring.

“I bumped into a tree a while back,” he whispered. “Didn’t see the snake on it. Eyes forward. I’ll be fine.”

“You need a medic,” Takuro said. “I’ll rush ahead and find-”

“We couldn’t treat our own back there. They won’t help me now.” He reached into his uniform and brought out a sealed letter, the imperial emblem of the rising sun stamped on the corner. He handed it to Takuro. 

“Hold this for me, please.”

He nodded.

Less than a half-hour later, the man collapsed into the swamp. Takuro rushed over, reached into the water, but couldn’t see in the murk. Seaweed tangled around his arms. Another soldier pushed at his chest with the stock of their rifle and forced him forward.

“We can’t leave him-”

“Quiet! It’ll be your head if you disobey orders.”

He marched. Mosquitoes picked at his arms, drawing blood from his hands. He’d stopped trying to swat at them. Gunfire boomed ahead. Takuro pointed his rifle to the left, squinting through the fog. This time, he would fire. The first British he saw, with their khaki uniforms, he’d blow their head right off-

“Iriewani!” soldiers called.

Takuro snapped his aim to the water. Saltwater crocodiles. Gunfire rang out, screams, vicious splashing. Silence. The water stilled. The march came to a halt. Takuro wiped the sweat from his brow, keeping his rifle trained low, the sun setting overhead.

“We move!” an officer commanded. He brandished his side sword. “We’ll get nowhere if we stop for the weak!”

It began again. Soldiers at the back of the group—the sick and wounded—cried for help. A soldier pushed Takuro forward, and he tripped into the water. He kept his rifle above his head. His hands trembled. He got to his feet and marched with the rest of the group.

The crocodiles grew restless. Men were crushed in the jaws of the reptiles and torn to shreds. Panicked shots hit friendlies, leaving bleeding corpses in the water. Darkness shrouded the beasts. Takuro gagged as he passed a floating arm in a pool of red.

When it came time to camp, he exhaled in relief. A momentary abatement from the march. They stepped onto solid ground, setting campfires, hunting for anything to eat—whether it be the jungle’s snakes, scorpions, or spiders.

Takuro sat at a campfire with a dozen other soldiers. They shivered in the sudden cold, their boots soaked inside and out. Drinking water ran low. Stomachs growled. Men whispered to each other to distract themselves.

“Where are you from?” a soldier asked.

Takuro turned. “Hiroshima. There’s a small town named Kaita. That’s where I’m from…” the soldier prompted him to continue. “I ran a shoe store with my older sister. Our father lost his memory, and the responsibility fell to us. It was…” Takuro stared at the fire and smiled. “It was alright. I liked it.”

“Sounds nice.”

“I miss it,” Takuro said. He ran a hand through his hair. “Recruiters came to our door. I got sent off here. My sister is out making the boots that we wear.”

“You’ll have to thank her for me,” the man said. “These boots are not breaking apart anytime soon, and we’ve been marching through hell.”

They exchanged names. The man—Shohei, spoke of his time in Nagoya. He’d been a fighter pilot, moved to an infantry division after the bombings on his city left their aircraft limited.

“Believe it or not,” he said, hushing his voice to a whisper, “I used to play the same sport as the Americans. I’ve been to New York.” He smiled. “I played against the Yankees at their own stadiums. They were kind to me, and they hit the ball as hard as the rumours said.”

The fire crackled. Soldiers shook in their sleep.

“Because of it,” Shohei continued, “I can’t bring myself to hate them.”

“It’s our country’s duty,” Takuro said. “We don't have a choice.”

The conversation died out. Shohei turned and laid down, head against the mud. Takuro inched closer to the fire. He reached into his uniform for the letter the soldier had given him earlier in the day—water blotted the imperial emblem in the corner, red ink a blur.

He ran his thumb under the seal.

My dear Itsumi, the letter read.

We spend our mornings and nights digging. My back hurts from shovelling dirt, but these trenches will be our only cover on this island. I spend my time thinking of home. Your letters are a beautiful, yet cruel reminder of all the months and years I’m missing, where I could be with you. Every day I’m out here, I hope, is another day you will be safe.

Remember that I will always love you, Itsumi.

Yuzo Shimizu

Takuro folded the letter and tucked it into his uniform. He couldn’t wear the mask of imperialism any longer. He pressed his head into his arm, and cried.


- - -


At dawn, the Japanese forces continued the march.

Soldiers walked with their heads down. Morale had dropped low. If retreating from the battle was not enough, the remaining officers argued over their maps, splitting into groups and taking separate paths in the swamp.

The crocodiles did not relent.

They picked off the sick, wounded, and slow—dragged beneath water, drowned, limbs torn off in a frenzy. Days passed. Fatigue took its toll. Any soldiers that fell behind fell prey. Numbers dropped from hundreds to dozens. Takuro awoke again and again to exhausted men being dragged from camp, stuck in the jaws of the saltwater crocodiles, crying for mercy.

The ones they killed tasted like rubber.

Within a week, lost in the jungle, Takuro came down with a fever—some disease transmitted by the mosquitoes.

He balanced himself on his rifle as he walked, boots digging deep into the mud, every step of the jungle looking the same. Thick mangrove trees. Clouded water. The hissing of snakes and croaks of frogs.

Struggling to keep up, Takuro tripped over a tree root. The alert, green eyes of a crocodile opened in the shadows. It rushed out from the foliage. Takuro shouted, stumbled to his feet, and hurried away—but couldn’t find any of his comrades.

He’d been too slow. Abandoned.

The crocodile’s legs patted against the mud, its tail smashing against the ground as it crawled faster and faster. Takuro aimed his rifle and faced the beast. An amber and black hide, scaled from one end to the other, twice the size of him. A jaw of massive, ivory-coloured teeth. Bumps like spikes ran down its back.

Takuro shot. His ears rang. The bullet dug into the crocodile’s scales and failed to slow it down. Takuro cried out, swinging his bayonet from side to side. He jabbed as the crocodile lunged.

It bit at his rifle and broke it in two. The bayonet shattered in its jaws.

Losing his weapon, he staggered, falling. 

Gunshots stopped the crocodile in its tracks. A group of British soldiers stepped out of the foliage and trained their firearms on the lone Japanese soldier, encircling him.

“Give the word and I’ll put him down.”

Takuro couldn’t understand the language. He raised his arms above his head.

“Lower your weapons,” another said. “He’s harmless. Give him some water.” One knelt beside him and handed him a canteen. “Do any of you speak Japanese?” They shook their heads. “Alright, standard procedure. Get him out of here.”

They brought him to a boat and sailed off.

A medic took his temperature. Another placed a lukewarm cloth over his forehead. He closed his eyes, shivering, and was thankful for his captors—thankful to be away from the front lines of the war.

December 08, 2021 11:52

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37 comments

Jon Casper
23:30 Dec 08, 2021

Fantastic story, Alex! The immersion you managed to achieve here is outstanding. I was right there with Takuro, feeling the oppression of the jungle, feeling his despair. The comrade's letter was a touching detail. "To discover how cruel nature can be, you need only shake the wrong branch." -- This is a great line. This visual is so visceral: "Mosquitoes picked at his arms..." The word picked there makes my skin crawl, which is perfect. Great action sequence with the final crocodile battle. The description of the beast was amazing. I...

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Alex Sultan
01:10 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks, Jon. I appreciate the feedback here. I agree with what you pointed out and will make changes on it. I'm glad you liked the story - I was very immersed while writing this one and didn't notice the hours going by. Best of luck in the contest! I think what you wrote this week is one of your best.

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Alex Sultan
12:00 Dec 08, 2021

Not too sure what to think of this story. I tried something new with it. I was originally going to write about Germany but fell short of a scenario. All feedback would be appreciated - thanks for reading.

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Rachel Smith
09:34 Apr 17, 2022

Wow, the sensory description here was great. I could feel the jungle, the smells, the sense of growing despair. Your use of worldbuilding detail was effective. Good pacing too. I noticed how well you manage to mix actual dialogue with a summary of what was said, which I find challenging.

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Alex Sultan
23:02 Apr 18, 2022

Thank you for reading! This was my first WW2 story, and while I wouldn't say it was perfect by any means, it did get me interested in writing a lot more war fiction. I appreciate the kind words 🙂

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Patrick Samuel
12:39 Dec 18, 2021

They say some words leap off the page (or screen). These explode in your face. This is one powerful story. I don't know if you are familiar with the Kate Bush song "Pull Out The Pin" (from her 1981 album "The Dreaming".) Granted it is not about a Japanese soldier but a Vietnamese, crawling in a rice field for days to escape the enemy - till they come face to face. It's a haunting track, and played in my head like a fitting soundtrack as I was reading this.

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Alex Sultan
10:34 Jan 04, 2022

Oh, I must have missed this comment. Merci beaucoup! Cette histoire était difficile a ecrire. Écrire sur les Japonais impérial dans 2eme guerre mondiale est un défi parce qu'ils étaient cruels, mais je voulais dépeindre l'innocent sous un lumière positif. J'apprécie les mots gentils, et je suis désolé pour la réponse tardive. I'll have to check out the song mentioned. I'm late on it, but Happy new Year! Thanks again for the read & comment.

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Patrick Samuel
03:37 Jan 05, 2022

Merci Alex, et bonne année à toi! Merci d'avoir fait l'effort d'écrire en français, j'apprécie le geste :) I can imagine what a challenge it must be to write a war story, with all the documentation needed to get it right - coupled with the even more interesting challenge to bring out sympathy for characters others would be tempted to depict as 'villains' - as if the world was as easily divided as some would have us believe. Only by seeing humanity in others can we begin to understand and preserve our own.

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Alyissa Austin
05:09 Dec 16, 2021

“We’ll die for the emperor another day!” The soldier’s words carried spit This line gave me chills. And the details about the man who died from the snake bite, seaweed wrapping around his arms, I could see it so heartbreakingly. You did an amazing job

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Alex Sultan
04:42 Dec 17, 2021

Thanks, Alyissa. This comment is very kind of you - I'm glad you liked the story, and I could convey the emotions effectively. I appreciate the kind words :)

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Georgina Rowley
01:04 Dec 14, 2021

The description was incredibly vivid whilst reflecting the harsh reality of war. Amazing, can’t wait to read more from you :) thanks for writing!

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Alex Sultan
16:41 Dec 15, 2021

Thank you, Georgina. I was very immersed while writing this one and I'm glad I got it right. Thanks for the kind words - it is very well appreciated :)

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Swan Anderson
22:41 Dec 12, 2021

Hi Alex I loved this line: "He couldn’t wear the mask of imperialism any longer. He pressed his head into his arm, and cried." Brilliant metaphor for "mask," and beautiful words to humanize the "enemy." In every war they are little more than cannon fodder--frightened young men suffering and dying at the hands of corrupt, ruthless leaders. Well done, as always!

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Alex Sultan
16:37 Dec 15, 2021

Thank you, Swan. I'm glad I got the humanizing the 'enemy' point was clear and I got it across. I appreciate the kind words - thanks again for reading.

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Nick Collard
02:18 Dec 13, 2021

Hello, how are you?

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Annalisa D.
03:59 Dec 11, 2021

This was an interesting story. I liked the crocodiles and that they were included in this. It's a unique element to see so much of the nature included in a story like this and I really appreciated it. There were a lot of nice descriptions.

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Alex Sultan
16:38 Dec 15, 2021

Thanks, Anna. The crocodiles were interesting to research and write about. I'm glad you enjoyed the story :)

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Keya Jadav
14:58 Dec 10, 2021

I mean wow, this is probably my new favourite of yours! I liked how beautifully you've captured each moment and travelled through common adversities 'real heroes' at the borders face. I've watched numerous documentaries 'bout such things and think you pulled it off amazingly! The efforts put are clearly visible. My fav line: To discover how cruel nature can be, you need only shake the wrong branch. --- hm, insightful. I am just satisfied with the way it ended :) Perfect as always, friend.

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Alex Sultan
01:20 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks, Keya. I'm glad this is a favourite. My original idea was to write about the bombings in London and do the prompt from a German POV, but I couldn't get the words across. I switched Axis powers, and while I'm still on the fence about this story, I'm glad you like it. Thanks for reading.

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Suma Jayachandar
07:46 Dec 09, 2021

Alex, always impressed with the research you put in for historicals. Great read!

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Alex Sultan
01:13 Dec 11, 2021

Thank you, Suma! I always enjoy reading your comments. I put so much research into this one and learned a lot while doing so.

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Michael Regan
00:31 Dec 09, 2021

An interesting take on the 'crocodile massacre'. I had a little problem with the idea of someone trying to load the rifle clip in a dugout during a battle. But, it didn't distract from the story which I really enjoyed.

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Alex Sultan
01:06 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks, Michael. It's really cool to hear you know my source material for this! I was originally going to write about the Blitz of London, but couldn't find the right angle for it. I figured switching to another Axis power could also serve the prompt. I agree with your point on the dugout. I'll look for a way to change it. Thank you again for reading, and for the feedback.

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Michael Regan
17:32 Dec 11, 2021

Looking forward to your story on the Blitz. I have an idea on the Battle of Britain, but in a previous story I left a party of Chindits facing a Japanese patrol near the Irrawaddy River. I have to figure out how to get them back safely first. ;)

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Bruce Friedman
23:54 Dec 08, 2021

Perfect story. Up to our high standards. Frightening sense of the time and place. Keep up the good work.

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Alex Sultan
01:12 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks, Bruce. I'm glad the setting came across well. I did a ton of research on it to get it all right. Thanks again for reading.

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Kevin Marlow
22:13 Dec 08, 2021

You might try to fit in the chrysanthemum which was the flower symbol on the rifles and some swords and integral in their culture or the term arisaka which was the family of rifles they used, since you are going for historical fiction.

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Alex Sultan
22:24 Dec 08, 2021

Thank you, Kevin. Great suggestions. When I edit on Friday, I'll add more on the rifles. I know the officers carried swords, so I'll see if I can get that across too. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

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Kevin Marlow
22:29 Dec 08, 2021

Your welcome. History buffs love those kinds of details.

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Dorsa S.
17:57 Dec 08, 2021

this story is so well executed! one of my favorites from your profile. this was a great take to the prompt. solemn, and very much saddening throughout but it had a definite plot surrounding it. the action complimented those tones nicely and it was a good piece. i don't have any specific evaluations on the piece. well done! :)

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Alex Sultan
21:52 Dec 08, 2021

Thank you! I put a lot of hours into writing this one - more than I thought. I got lost in the flow of it, but didn't know if it turned out well. Your kind words are reassuring. Thanks again :)

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Tommie Michele
13:20 Dec 08, 2021

I really like this story, Alex! I liked the ending—me being the darker writer I am (and having also just read two war novels that ended badly), I was expecting Takuro to get eaten by a crocodile, but I’m glad your ending is different. This would be a cool story to write a sequel to—I would love to hear what ends up happening to Takuro. No mistakes or things that need fixing stuck out to me on my first readthrough, and unfortunately I won’t be able to do line-by-line this week, but I think you have a pretty polished story already. Awesome...

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Alex Sultan
16:32 Dec 08, 2021

Thanks, Tommie. I did a ton of research for this. I appreciate you reading through, and the kind words. What are the two war novels you've read? I've read one so far with a sort of dark ending, but not too bad. I'm looking to read more of them but have yet to get around to it.

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Tommie Michele
21:50 Dec 09, 2021

One was “All Quiet on the Western Front”—I love the narrative style of it, and there are a lot of good themes to dig into, but the ending made me so sad (especially if you pay attention to the date—you’ll understand if you read it). The other (I wouldn’t strictly classify it as a war novel, but it was in a list of war novels to choose from in English a while back) is called “Sarah’s Key”—it switches from the present to the past, through two viewpoints, and it’s about a roundup in France during the Holocaust. I’m not a huge historical fiction...

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Tommie Michele
21:54 Dec 09, 2021

Out of curiosity, what genres do you typically read in? I took you for a historical fiction type, after seeing the incredible quality of your historical short stories, but you have a lot of fantasy stories, too.

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Alex Sultan
23:15 Dec 10, 2021

I read every genre, to be honest. I'd like to write them all since it opens up so many ideas. Fantasy, however, has been my favourite for a while, and I feel it definitely reflects in my stories. Also, I checked out 'All Quiet on the Western Front', and it seems like something I'd read. I'm for sure buying a copy 😁

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Tommie Michele
03:40 Dec 11, 2021

Oh, definitely do! I think it’ll fit well with your kind of historical fiction interest :).

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