Dear Readers, I know it's been a long time since I last updated a P&S thread. Well, I had a stroke of inspiration yesterday evening and decided to start in on this little one-off. It's set in and around the locale that I've been living in here in China for the last two years. The events portrayed here regarding the Second Sino-Japanese war are fictionalized and did not occur here in Feixi, although they did occur elsewhere during China's eight year fight against the Japanese Empire. I neither condone nor endorse such actions nor do I take pleasure in writing about them. However, they do shine an important light on the interconnected nature of life and death in the Protect and Survive world. If any offense is taken, please accept my deepest apologies in advance. With that being said, I invite you to take a short trip through the populous and still as yet scarred and unhealed world of China circa 1984. As the bombs fall, one woman's thoughts drift back not to her family, but to the war that came before. This is Hefei, this is Anhui, this is China. This is Protect and Survive. © Paul Goodfellow and After the Scifi Apocalypse, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Goodfellow and After the Scifi Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. When people are no longer afraid of death, there is no use threatening them with it - Chinese Proverb Zipengshan Mountain, Hefei, Anhui Province, People’s Republic of China ~12:30AM Beijing Standard Time February 21, 1984 It was early that morning that the “old” woman had taken to the roads. She called herself old even though she was not quite sixty and still had many decades of life left in her. But she felt old after spending so much of her life seeing death. The panic in the streets was palpable. CCTV and local Hefei radio had been broadcasting up to the minute updates on the crisis in Central Europe. When the first bomb went off in West Germany, her daughter Wang Xue asked her to leave her small apartment in the center of the city and come with her and her teenaged children to her husband’s family farm outside of Lu’an. When she refused and told her that she was going to Zipengshan Mountain instead, Xue wept and begged her mother to reconsider. Hefei was a provincial capital and a likely target for Soviet missiles, Xue told her. She had seen enough of war in her lifetime, she told her daughter, and if it came to that she did not want to live to see what came after. She wanted to spend the last few hours of her life at the last remains of the temple she attended as a child. It was where father died, she thought to herself, and if I am to die I would rather die alongside his bones. So it was that on the day of the missiles and fire, the old woman took the last few remaining busses out to the edge of the city. Where the bus lines stopped, she hitched a ride with a farmer on his tractor and made her way to the base of Zipengshan Mountain. They spoke of many things: Her childhood in Feixi, his farm at the base of the mountain, and their lives up to that point. The farmer was older, though not as old as the old woman, but old enough to remember the war. “The Japanese came pouring out of the city. Baba and I watched the columns of soldiers and tanks rolling down the road in the direction of Lu’an. When they passed by and sneered at us, I hid behind him like he told me to,” the older farmer said. “Did he live?” The old woman asked. “Yes. He was friends with one of the local Communist militia officers and was able to get me and my mother to safety. He spent the rest of the war helping to feed and house wounded soldiers who fought the Japanese imperialists. After ’49 he ended up as a village party chief’s assistant. He just died a year ago,” the older farmer explained. “That’s good,” she replied. “And you? What of your family?” The farmer asked. “My mother died of typhus when I was very young and my father never remarried. We lived with my grandmother in Feixi until the Japanese came. On that day, the day you hid behind your father, my father, grandmother, and I fled to the Buddhist temple at the summit of the mountain. The other villagers were also there when the soldiers arrived,” the old woman responded. The farmer nodded his head. He lived in Feixi all his life. He knew the stories and said no more. In the early afternoon they arrived at the foot of Zipengshan Mountain. She stepped off the tractor and smiled and waved to the old farmer. “Are you sure you want to be out here comrade? If things go south and Cao Cao arrives I don’t know if I can return to find you,” the farmer said to her in a pleading tone.  “War is Death’s feast. If I am to be on the menu, then so be it,” the old woman responded.  The farmer nodded and waved to her one last time as he started his tractor up and turned it around, the engine making a desperate chugging noise as it rolled towards Feixi and the old farmer’s home. She turned her back on him and made her way towards the ruins of the temple steps and the path towards the mountain’s summit. As she approached the ruins of the temple entrance her mind drifted back to that day in 1938. It was June, she thought to herself, the weather was sweltering and hot, not like the biting cold of today. The radio in the village had told us that the imperialist armies were advancing out of Anqing, Hefei, and Wuhu. Baba had gone to Mama’s grave that morning to sweep it one last time before we left. He dropped to his knees and begged forgiveness for leaving her body to be marched upon by unworthy feet. Nainai [grandmother] packed our clothing and what food we had. I watched father cry for what he had lost. She slowly approached the shattered remnants of the temple entrance. She remembered when the temple was torn down. The imperialists had not had the fortitude to do so, although they had damaged it greatly during the war. Instead, it had been the Red Guards on the orders of a college student in 1968, who finished what the invaders had started. She looked at the broken and shattered stone steps and could see where sledgehammers had been taken to them. Broken wooden pillars lay on either side of the steps; faded red paint was chipped unevenly across their splintered forms. One of the pillars still had a knotted rope wrapped around its center, its weathered materials covered in moss. The old woman made her way up the mountain slowly, taking in the sights and smells of late winter. The ground still had a light covering of snow, although it was lighter than usual. When I was a child this mountain would be blanketed in snow at this time of the year. The forest always took on a calming atmosphere as snow fell on the trees in absolute silence. I could hear the snow falling to the ground off the bare tree branches. Pity that isn’t the case today, she thought. She trudged through heavier snowfall as she walked higher. She could see footsteps in the snow, a few here and there. The clouds up above had not decided to grace her and the other visitors today with snow, so she could follow their steps all the way to the top. She stopped to look at an old tree, its large trunk misshapen. It looked as if a large chunk had been taken out of it. They started firing their tank cannons mid-way up the mountain, she thought. We could hear them yelling in Japanese and their accented Mandarin to surrender and come down the mountain. We would be treated fairly they said, the old woman remembered. Just then, as she pondered the lopsided tree trunk, the loud whistling and rumbling of jet engines roared overhead. A pair of fighters raced by overhead and was followed by a loud sonic boom as they broke the sound barrier. “Damn them for interrupting my thoughts,” she muttered under her breath. The old woman continued her slow march up the mountain. She paused every so often to look over her shoulder at the settling dusk and the illuminated form of Hefei in the distance. She took her time, walking slowly even though the winter chill was almost too much for her. Her daughter would have never let her come out here alone on any other day, she thought. But on this day, at this hour, there was little that mattered to anyone except self-preservation. Even in China where family was valued above all else, with extinction hovering just beyond every breath of air taken the old rules no longer applied. She finally reached the summit of the mountain as dusk turned to night. The monk’s quarters, prayer halls, and small shrines were all just as she remembered them to be. Broken and burned, just as I left them, she thought. She could see off in the distance the last old building left on the summit. It was a small prayer shrine for the Buddha. Surrounding it was a crowd of at least fifty. They were mostly old women; a scant few middle aged women were up there as well. Although there was little chance that they had children. No Chinese mother would come to a temple like this without her children in tow, she thought sarcastically. The old woman sat down next to the burned out ruin of a large prayer hall. She could see the scorched remains of a Buddha’s cross-legged feet. Baba and Nainai and I backed away from the crowd of villagers as the Japanese crested the summit and began to march towards us. We were near the back of the throng. The shouts were almost inaudible as the screams and pitiful wails echoed off the aged wooden structures. The demands for the Communist rebels to surrender were met with continued pleading from us. My father stayed silent. He was not a sympathizer to the Communists or the Guomindang. He was a simple farmer, a man who had lost too much to the world to care which leader of which government sat in judgement over him. The only person who he cared to give the power of judgement over his life to had died long before the Japanese, or the Communists or the Guomindang came. In the distance, the muted sounds of prayer began to intensify. One old woman who appeared to be in her late nineties had fallen to her knees, she prostrated herself before the small prayer shrine. “Lord Buddha have mercy, Lord God have mercy. Save my family from the fires and grant us forgiveness!” The old woman shook her head at the sight of the aged woman bowing. There is no prayer that can invoke God or the Buddha to save us from what is to come, she thought. She stood up from where she sat and walked around to what once was the back of the prayer hall. A single wooden pillar stood above the ruins of the hall, broken two thirds of the way up in a diagonal split. Bullet holes adorned the shattered pillar. The Japanese soldiers advanced, a few of them made their way into the crowd and began to pull the men and the young boys to the front of the crowd. The teenagers and younger men under thirty-five were made to kneel before the Japanese officers. “Who among you sympathizes with the Red Bandits?” One officer asked. “Tell us who fights for them and we will let you live. Refuse to speak and face the consequences,” another officer yelled. Her father was in his late forties so he was passed over by the Japanese soldiers. He looked too frail to be a soldier anyways. His gnarled hands were too weathered to hold a rifle and his eyes too filled with sorrow to show a spark of resistance. He was harmless. The crowd of women and children began to wail, begging for mercy from them for their husbands and sons. The old woman heard another wave of sonic booms overhead. The sound of fighters and bombers overhead filled her ears and disrupted her recollections. In the far distance, she could hear what sounded like an air raid siren beginning to wail, its sharp tones echoing off the mountainside. The frantic sounds of the crowd’s prayers became strained, cries of mercy were shouted louder at the statue, and some women turned their faces upwards and yelled to the heavens. “If none of you will speak then you will suffer the consequences of your silence,” the commanding officer said. A boy of no more than fifteen years was grabbed by his shirt collar by the officer and tossed to the ground. The commander pulled his pistol out and shot him. Her father pulled her close as the crowd began to scream louder. “Tell me who sympathizes with the Communists right now or I will kill another,” the commander yelled at the men. She unshielded her teenage eyes from her father’s sweat drenched cotton shirt to peer out. She could see the men on the ground pressing their faces into the ground, begging mercy, repeating over and over again that they were not Communists. The officer grew agitated and grabbed another man, a young local farmer nicknamed XiaoPengYou, little friend, for his diminutive figure and his friendly attitude towards everyone in Feixi. He had never thought a political thought in his life, she thought, as he too was shot. A loud booming noise shook her from her remembrance. She turned her head in the direction of the city and saw in the evening darkness explosions over the city. Anti-air guns began to throw increasing amounts of ammunition towards the sky. Search lights reached out in every direction. How did the Soviets manage to get this far south, the old woman thought to herself. She looked back to the crowd and saw a middle aged woman, around forty years old, drop to her knees. “Lord God please save us!” The younger woman bellowed in a deeper tone of voice than the old woman thought her possible of. Hypocrite, she thought to herself. Fifteen years ago you would have been calling for the reeducation of these women for traditionalist, anti-Mao Zedong thought. Now you pray with them and beg forgiveness. Death makes hypocrites and believers out of all of us. The old woman walked slowly towards the crowd of women. Rather than joining them, she made her way through them and walked to a stone ledge where the mountain dropped off into the valley below. From here she had a view of the entire valley and Hefei in the distance. She watched as the search lights and anti-air cannons stretched out from the center of the city towards the heavens. The cloud cover was illuminated by the flood lamps and cannon fire. It almost looks like Chinese New Year celebrations, she thought. The irony was that New Year had just ended two days before on February 19. Not two days ago there had been fireworks displays in the sky. Even though the government had ordered all of the major cities not to light off fireworks for fear that it would frighten the already tense anti-air gunners and make them discharge their weapons. The Year of the Rat, fitting form for the end of the world, she thought to herself. The Japanese officer continued to execute the men. One by one they were pulled from their kneeling, prostrated position on the ground and shot. Eventually the officer got sick of shooting them himself. He motioned for one of his soldiers to shoot them. Within minutes all of them were dead. The crowd screamed and begged and began to move backwards. Like liquid flowing over rock, the crowd spread out and tried to get distance from one another. A single shot was fired into the mass of flesh. A bloodcurdling scream came out as a woman dropped to the ground. In that instance, the old woman saw a fireball falling from the clouds. A bomber or fighter, she was not sure if it was Chinese or Soviet fell to Earth trailing wreckage and smoke as it plummeted towards the city below. The shrill droning of the air raid sirens grew louder in her ears as the sirens in Feixi started up. The fighting must be getting closer, she thought to herself. The booms of anti-air cannons grew in intensity as she looked down the cliff. It was as far a fall as she remembered it to be. Her father had always warned her when she was a little girl to stay away from the ledges. Liu Yue, you must be careful near the ledges. If you fall and die, I do not know what I would do, she remembered her father telling her in his lecturing tone. Another fireball fell from the sky. As it fell she could see the fuselage engulfed in flames clearly. It’s getting much closer. The time must be drawing nearer Baba, she thought. The firing began. The rhythmic chattering of machine gun fire was mixed in with screams and yelling. They fell in groups of three and four. She and her father dropped to the ground, hiding their faces in the dirt. Nainai had crouched down as well and shuffled behind the wall of a small shrine. She saw two Japanese soldiers making their way around the crowd towards the shrine. The last she saw of her grandmother was a look of shock and horror as the imperialists saw her. Yue could not watch. Her father tried desperately to keep her from standing up as the crowd thinned. The dead outnumbered the living. The smell of gunpowder and blood hung thick in the air, mixed in with screams and pleas for mercy and the sounds of the dying and the dead. Her father whispered to her to play dead as the Japanese made their way through the dead, finishing off all those who were still clinging to life. When they reached Yue and her father, they were poking the bodies with their rifles. One of the soldiers stepped on her fathers’ gnarled left hand that had been shattered in a farming accident when she was a very small child. He let out an involuntary groan of pain. They lifted him to his feet. “Looks like we’ve got a live one,” the soldier said in Mandarin. Her father could only look down at his feet. “Where are the Communists now, eh? Where are your peasant rebels? No one’s here to save you. Tell us where the Red Bandits are hiding and we’ll let you live,” the soldier demanded. The officer walked over and grabbed my father. He roughly shoved him against the wall of a small prayer shrine. A statue of the Buddha looked out at the world around it, the painted eyes showing no emotion. The officer moved him in front of the statue and thrust his pistol in my father’s face. “You peasants are all the same. You know the truth and yet you refuse to tell us. Why would you lay your life down for those bandits? They don’t care about you,” the officer said as he tightened his grip on my father’s collar. “I don’t know where they are. I’m a farmer. My wife is dead. My mother is dead. Now my daughter is dead too. If I knew I would have already told you. I have nothing left to live for. Do what you want,” my father replied. “Then that’s what we’ll do I suppose,” the officer replied. My eyes were closed when I heard the pistol go off one last time and a loud thud echoed in my ears. It was a sound that I would hear for as I lived. The thumping of his lifeless body against the foot of that prayer shrine would wake me up year after year, long after the war and long after I was safe. He sacrificed himself for me to live. In that moment there was nothing more that I could do but silently lay there, holding my breath, and praying that they would not notice me. Afterwards, I heard the commanding officer barking orders in Japanese that I could not understand. Within moments I saw them lighting torches and beginning to burn the temple structures. The heat from the fires danced across my face. I waited until I heard them leave to stand up. I went to my father and sat down next to his body and wept. The smell of blood mixed with smoke as I watched the temple structures burned to cinders. Another thunderous boom went off in the distance, it was distant but seemed close. A sickly yellow-orange-red glow filled the night sky. She looked in the direction of Hefei as the lights of the city seemed to flick off in an instant, as if God himself threw all the light switches at once. The old woman looked back to the crowd of women at in front of the shrine as they all seemed to realize at once that there was no salvation. Their wails became more frantic, plaintive. They no longer called to the heavens to save their families. They called to the heavens to save them from what was coming. They had not yet realized what the old woman had come to understand so long ago: When the time is near, God will not save you. I sat in front of the statue weeping, my father’s bloody corpse lay lifeless at my knees, for what must have been hours, or at least it seemed hours to my traumatized mind. The temple buildings burned to cinders and ash around me, the smell of centuries of incense smoke collected in the rafters and wood of the structures gave the funeral pyre an almost spiritual element. The monks had not been there to watch their temple burn to ash. In that instance, I became holy, the anointed survivor who would watch as my family died and my world burned to ash. I would carry their desperate pleas and cries for mercy in my mind for the rest of my life, along with the smell of burning wood, old incense, and the coppery odor of spilled blood. It was a funeral pyre for a village that had earned no such honor. The old woman made her way to the crowd of women who stood, mouths agape at the sight of their city turning dark. They knew what was to come next, but none of them dared to say what. She pushed her way to the front of the crowd, past the middle aged hypocrite, past the kowtowing ancient woman, and stood in front of the Buddha statue. Its lifeless eyes still looked out at them. She could see faintly where her father’s blood had stained its face. She reached out and touched the old blood stain. She felt connected to her Baba. In that instance, all of the cares and worries of the world seemed to evaporate. She had come back to die with them, as she should have all those years ago. Their spirits still lingered in this place. The old woman looked out at the crowd and saw the faces of her village, the men and women who had died here. XiaoPengYou, her father, the baker, her grandmother, they had all waited for her to come back and die with them at her designated time. The crowd of women seemed to evaporate into nothingness and she was again with them. In the distance a white flash filled the sky. The women screamed out in horror, some of them in agony as their sight was taken from them by the thermonuclear blast that leveled the center of Hefei within a second. The old woman’s eyes were rolled back into her head as she felt the presence of her father’s spirit touching her. Come now Liu Yue, it’s time to go, she heard him whisper to her. XiaoPengYou has invited us over, he wants to ask me for permission to marry you. It was everything she had longed to hear since they had left her. Her years of loneliness and pain were about to end. A single bright white streak rushed to Earth, one of a number of warheads that the Soviet Union launched at China that day. It was an unfortunate fluke that the targeting computer onboard the missile had misread its destination coordinates. The warhead fell on the small village of Feixi with the explosive power of three hundred kilotons. The older farmer was vaporized instantly; his last thoughts were of his father who he knew had abandoned the people of the village to their deaths at the hands of the Japanese all those years ago. His guilt over that had caused him much pain in his later life. As the warhead detonated and the world around them turned white, the women let out one final scream, a plea for mercy, for salvation, for life. But for Liu Yue, the old woman who had come to Zipengshan to die, she let out no such scream. She smiled as the white flash filled her eyes and she saw the inside of her skull. “I’m home Baba,” she said aloud as she rested her hand on the Buddha’s face. In that instance, Liu Yue ceased to exist as her body was blown apart by the blast wave of the nuclear warhead along with all others on top of Zipengshan mountain. The statue of the Buddha went up in smoke alongside the last remaining bits and pieces of the old temple. What man had started, man finished. All of life is a dream walking, all of death is a going home - Chinese Proverb  In Chinese, the saying for "Speak of the Devil" is, "Shuo Cao Cao, Cao Cao dao," a reference to the Chinese general Cao Cao who fought during the Three Kingdoms era, dramatized by the Chinese novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." The literal translation for the Chinese is, "Speak of Cao Cao, and Cao Cao will come/appear." So I took a little creative liberty with the saying and used it as such.  A reference to an old Chinese saying from the Three Kingdoms period, I believe.