Over Mount Fuji (20)
As the moon lit their path and the climb continued, Eileen sympathized with Byron, but didn’t know how she could change Wulfstein’s mind.
What explanation could be found on top of Mount Fuji? Was Wulfstein seeking answers from a sacred volcano? Indignation fueled her steps. Now her moment of acquiescence must come to its end.
“What does this expedition have to do with the missing planes?” Eileen asked. “We’ll all end up dead.”
Wulfstein turned to her. “Bear in mind your question at the lab had prompted me to study why electromagnetic signals were released before Unzen’s eruption. And didn’t you plead for a spot in my expeditions?”
Stunned for a moment, Eileen stood still, her heart pulsating in odd beats as an image of the pyroclastic flows from the volcano, which killed Jerry, rose in her mind. Continuing meant risking her life, but leaving would betray her husband and his last words.
An eerie stillness descended in the moonlight, accentuating the Professor’s stern expression. “And didn’t I warn you that our trips would be risky?”
The rumbling stopped. It seemed nature had come to her rescue. Scattered ash covered the slope like gray snow, and the mountainside transformed into a weird tapestry with no wind, no turbulence and no sound.
“Come on, Eileen.” Wulfstein led the way, sounding upbeat as if a storm had passed. “Let’s complete the last leg of our journey.”
Buoyed by Wulfstein’s sense of mission and imbued with Jerry’s spirit, she pledged solemnly to herself—I’ve begun this journey, I will finish it. Expectation and confidence coursed through her. Was the expedition on the trail of a breakthrough?
Yoshino and Yamaichi strode ahead with unspoken dedication. They must have understood what had happened from their teammates’ expressions and gestures, but Eileen knew Japanese loyalty to a mission was unquestionable.
She plodded on, relishing the refreshing air despite the thinness that made breathing difficult. It would take a hell of a lot to reconcile all these phenomena—sinking land, sprouting islands, abnormal disappearances, and now a rumbling sacred mountain. Japan is, indeed, a strange land.
Caked with dirt, her legs throbbed. Her initial fear somewhat eased. She became more eager than at the outset of the trip. Gasping for air, and just before she reached the summit, she turned to check on Byron, who trekked behind, still limping along.
Across the Great Kantō horizon, the dawning sky looked hazy, but still glowed with a fading moon crescent as the sun took its time to rise.
Elated, Eileen inhaled deeply. She focused on the scenery and drew strength from the broad sparkling expanse of waters.
“This is the Tokyo Bay and the coastlines,” Yamaichi said as he pointed at the brightening seas. “Beyond that, it’s the Pacific Ocean.”
Eileen took snapshots. The clouds kept on moving; the sky kept on brightening. Eventually, the sun poked through, creating rays over the horizon.
The scene gave the impression of a vast, silent serenity. From paintings to films, they reminded her the peak had been a popular backdrop for fantasies.
“Ahh—” She stretched her arms. “It’s incredible.” Sunlight decorated the morning in bluish-green colors and transformed the sea beyond into something of a glittering beauty that moved her spirit.
“We’re the first to witness today’s rising sun,” Yoshino said, smiling.
Floating with the clouds, it was like being transported to another world. Her giddiness swirled in the rippling mist, roiling around. She had never imagined a mountain could pique her interest like this, as if Mother Nature had a life of its own.
“I can see why Japan has that as its symbol,” Eileen said. “It’s symmetrically awesome.”
“Yes, it’s awe-inspiring symmetrical,” Yamaichi said. “This volcano was said to be blasted off by a fire-breathing monster living from a lake in a furious rampage in 286 BC.”
“Incredible!” she said. “From a lake?”
“Yes, from a lake.”
“If you can look beyond these lakes,” Wulfstein said, “most are calderas.”
“That’s why they are monsters,” Yamaichi said. “Another one lived around Lake Biwa; it didn’t blow up because our hero Hidesato killed it by shooting an arrow into its brain.” He pointed down the western side of the terrain. “Look! Its massive black bulk can still be seen.”
Eileen stepped forward, but the edge just ahead fell away with dizzying sight of churning clouds. Gasping, she stretched to see over what seemed to be a virtual precipice, trying to penetrate the gray-white cloud that swirled about and shrouded her in dense vapor. Small, ragged gaps appeared through which fleeting glimpses of the lower slopes became visible.
Sunlight dipped over the northwestern rim, revealing the massive black bulk below. Light flooded the ragged contours, and peaks of a mountain range appeared, thrusting up like fingers of smoke through the clouds.
Yamaichi gestured toward the ragged terrain. “See! It looks like a pair of copulating dragonflies.”
Eileen laughed. “It’s your wild imagination.”
“Is it?” Yamaichi laughed.
Eileen squinted. Some mountain forests remained deep in shadow, while others glowed under the blazing sun, magnifying the golden veins of shimmering light around dark lava patches that had become visible far below. Further away, forests mingled with a necklace of rivers and lakes over a vast plain, resembling the tracks left by a crawling dragon in a love scene. “In everything, there’s some truth.”
“The Emperor invented the term Akitsushima,” Yamaichi said. “It means the Land of the Dragonflies.”
When rays of light slowly infiltrated through, Eileen edged over blackened gravel to observe the crater. A smell of sulfur filled the air, and a thread of steam drifted from the earth’s core. She knelt down and pressed her ear to the ground. A low rumbling sounded like a big heart pounding below.
Mists flew over the mountain slopes and she stayed close to assist Wulfstein as he worked tirelessly, laying down one instrument, picking up another and verifying the data collected. “Carbon dioxide emissions have increased,” he said. “I think we’re on dangerous ground.”
“This giant is awakening,” Byron said when he caught up with the group.
Miles beneath lurked an invisible menace and it could certainly trigger Japan’s next Big One, swallowing up all the surrounding area. Now, heat from the crater rim melted some of the snow to vapor. Eileen wiped her brow. “It’s whistling like a kettle.”
Byron frowned as the sun cast its light over the landscape. “It’ll break the teapot.”
Eileen’s eyes crinkled. Mount St. Helens broke its one-hundred and twenty-three year-old silence when it exploded. Mushroom images of the Soufriere Hills in the Montserrat erupted after four centuries of inactivity blurred her mind. Further back, ‘in a single day and night of misfortune . . . the island of Atlantis . . . disappeared in the depths of the sea.’
“A volcanic eruption here could bring about an end-time cataclysm,” Eileen said finally.
Wulfstein nodded. “It might happen like Santorini. And what about the lost continent of Lemuria?”
“You mean this Japanese archipelago is going under completely?”
“In the extreme, Eileen,” Wulfstein said. “Only in the extreme.”
For a moment, Eileen squinted across the horizon, imagining what it would be like after an explosion. The mountain might disappear, the great valley and plain would be filled with lava and ashes. But for the whole archipelago to collapse under the sea would be unthinkable.
She assumed Wulfstein must have some hypotheses in mind, that the archipelago was, indeed, a long and irregular range of supervolcanoes. “You have a point here,” she said. “Calderas! The implications are unimaginable.”
“The earth cycle has its own beauty,” Yoshino said, staring at Eileen. “Why worry about death? Life cycle promises new life.”
That’s an apt inspiration of Shintoism. For a brief moment, Eileen could imagine the earth shaking and Mount Fuji blasting. In trepidation, she gazed into the awful crater. As magma oozed throughout under pressure like toothpaste, it seemed the planet is a vital living organism with its own lifeblood.
“The earth is constantly renewing itself,” Wulfstein said, clicking a few keys on his laptop.
Eileen sensed a feeling of heaviness and disorientation. Landmass sloshed back and forth as planet Earth went through a billion-year cycle.
“There’s this single continent, Pangaea,” Wulfstein added. “Then it breaks. Interior oceans develop inside the continent and push the landmass apart until they spread out.”
She studied the circles on the screen as the Australian continent’s connection to the Antarctic pulled away, then the Pangaea landmass broke up.
Wulfstein flicked more keys. “Subduction appears here,” he resumed. “As the ocean floor becomes denser and descends into the asthenosphere, the dispersed continents are dragged back to join into a single mass and the whole cycle repeats itself.
“Because planet Earth is alive,” Yoshino added, “it has a soul, and we’re part of that soul.”
Having heard of these ideas before, and now up on top of Mount Fuji, Eileen thought it could be a good theme for her article. Still, the danger to earth’s living organisms when its geological life changed in quick succession horrified her. Like crocodiles in a swamp, they lay stationary for a while, then attacked with voracious intensity. “And what will happen to our lives?”
“We either adapt or perish.” Wulfstein clicked a few more strokes. “Mid-ocean ridges widen the ocean, then they rise and dry up.”
“And what are these?” Eileen pointed to streaks of fires hitting Earth?”
“These were the asteroids that caused a series of extinctions on impacts of immense heat, including our dinosaurs.”
“They all died?”
“No, not really,” Wulfstein said. “Only those on land. But those monsters in the sea were insulated from the immense heat.”
EQ-Lun beeped and flickered in red and yellow lights, the earth shook, rattling the instruments. Eileen lost her footing. Seized with foreboding, she hung back, her nerves flustered.
Sailing across the horizon, chubby clouds gathered speed and obscured the sun.
Blo-o-op . . . Blo-o-op . . . “Something is pulsing in the Pacific,” Wulfstein said.
Scattering birds flew past, followed by a flock of albatross in a M-formation. Both faded into the mist and disappeared, but the sound continued.
Overwhelmed, Eileen arched her eyebrows. “Why are these pelicans not flying in their usual inverted V-formation?”
“They’re confused, they must have sensed something.” Wulfstein’s eyes darted around. “Yes, a sound like bubbles releasing from the deep, and this is coming from the Mariana Trench.”
“How can you be sure? Your sensors or equipment may be fallible.”
“My equipment is far from being perfect, Eileen, but it’s getting there.” Wulfstein tapped a few keys. “And yes, only God is infallible.”
A petrified moving mass appeared on the laptop. It looked like a swirl of cream in a cup of black coffee.
“What is stirring there?” Eileen asked.
As perspiration beaded his brow, Wulfstein tapped more commands. “High electromagnetic fields everywhere.”
Eileen’s muscles tightened as another tremor shook the ground. “There must be more than a typhoon circling over the Pacific?”
“If you see a vulture hovering somewhere, death is imminent.”
She grimaced at Wulfstein. What vulture? What death?
His ears pricked as the sound resonated; an innate power seemed to be driving him. The laptop had links to all the underwater parabolic eavesdroppers, and other hypersensitive listening devices around the archipelago, tracking sounds and movements.
“Look! Something is stirring,” Wulfstein said as the sound hissed out louder. “We just had a 9.1 seaquake somewhere in the Marianas Islands.”