There was an earthquake in Tottori Prefecture. Several villages and town were devastated by the event. Not too long afterwards, at the epicenter, a large fault was discovered on the north slope of Mt. Daisen. This was only but a sign of the things to come...
Honda Kiku took a tired step forward before his leg wobbled and he collapsed onto one knee. Winded and breathing heavily he put a hand to his chest before deciding it was better off that he rest. A slight man with a pale complexion that betrayed his propensity for the indoors, Honda was 24, with the bored expression and conservative haircut of civil servant who hadn't been hiking in years. Perhaps even a decade. He had to be a junior high school student at most the last time he'd partaken in the activity and he hadn't even liked it then.
He'd grown up in a small town in Shimane in a house near the beach. He'd spent his summers indoors assembling Gunpla while all the other children played on the beach. Now his sedentary life style showed in his clumsy footing and the way he struggled to maintain his speed on the sloping trail way up Mount Daisen.
As Honda rested, his eyes turned upwards, observing the tops of the trees all around him as they shivered under the cool breeze. The rustling sound was soothing and soon he was able to find his strength again. Pulling himself by his feet, Honda dusted the debris from his pants and continued upwards following the trail. Soon the trees were behind him and he stepped delicately over stones.
Pausing he wiped a bit of sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his shirt and let his eyes sweep around, back at the trees and around him at the rocky terrain.
"Hmm," he said lowly to himself. "Am I still on Daisen?"
Obviously he'd seen the trail head when he started hiking but it felt like hours and yet he hadn't seen or heard anything. There was no sign of the fault. It was as if there hadn't even been an earthquake at all.
He turned to pull out the map from the pocket of his sea green hiking rucksack. He opened the map in hopes of figuring out where he was on the trail. He was searching for the fault and he was beginning to wonder if him going off on this venture alone had been a mistake. Anyone would say it were a foolish thing to go off hiking alone, especially if inexperienced. But Honda didn't have any change to think. He was drawn the mountain as if it were a beacon, and as out of character it may have seemed, was compelled to answer its call.
With a sigh, Honda lowered the map ready to continue on his path let out a tiny gasp of surprise as he spotted another hiker up ahead. He quickly folded up the map, not bothering to keep it neatly along the creases and stuffed it into the mesh pocket on the side of his bag.
"H,hey!" he called, waving up at the person. "Down here!"
His naturally shy nature was overridden by the relief of the presence of another hiker.
His feet began to carry him forward and as he got closer he could make out that the 2nd hiker was a woman. She paused and waited as he stumbled over a few more rocks on his way over. She even had the curtesy to not laugh as he fell over, catching himself against the rocks with the palms of his hands.
It was good to see someone else. Hours since he'd began his journey and he hadn't seen a single soul the entire way. It was a little eerie now that he thought of it in hindsight. Wasn't the mountain supposedly filled with wild life? At the very least there'd be birds. But there was nothing.
Just his footsteps and the wind.
Finally, he reached her. She was a friendly looking girl and regarded him with an open expression and a face flushed a bit from physical activity. Her long hair, dyed brown, was tied into a low ponytail. Her bangs were a little messy from her hiking with some long hair spilling out on the right side of her face and the other side pinned back with a small flower clip. She looked younger than him, a college student perhaps?
His burst of energy from sprinting up to greet the woman caught up to him and Honda huffed out his next greeting, allowing himself to bend a little at the knees to catch his breath for a second before straightening up.
"Are you going to be OK?" she asked in accented Japanese.
So she was an exchange student, concluded Honda. He nodded. The girl seemed content with that and she turned resuming her walk. Honda fell alongside her, the trail being wide enough to allow hikers to walk abreast of each other.
"I'm Honda Kiku," he said. "What's your name?"
"I'm Wang Mei," she replied simply.
"Where are you from?"
"Taiwan," Mei replied, looking over at him a smile.
"So far," mused Honda.
"I'm studying at the woman's college," she explained.
"In Matsue?" he asked.
She nodded, "Yeah. I'm a 2nd year."
"I'm from Shimane," he replied, a little happy to find a common ground. "I grew up near the sea my whole life. And now I'm here climbing a mountain."
Mei regarded him for a second before saying, "You don't really seem like a country boy to me."
He noted the way her eyes looked down at the fresh scrapes on his hands from bumbling along the rocks. She probably noticed as well how all of his gear was new, as if purchased just for the trip and the paleness of his complexion.
"Ah, well, I'm a clerk in Yonago," he explained, raking some of his fingers through his hair. "It's been awhile since I've experienced nature."
Mei laughed at that, "That's fine! Still, how funny I meet someone else from Shimane up here. This is my first time on Mount Daisen."
"Then did you come up here to look at the fault too?"
Mei looked alarmed by the question and emitted a tiny sound of surprise. Honda back tracked.
"I mean, no offense hiking all the way up here alone," Honda tried. "Plus never having been to Tottori... I just figured that must be why."
Mei said nothing for a few minutes to that and Honda wondered if he killed the conversation. He looked up at the sky noting how blue and empty it was without a single cloud.
"When I saw it all on TV," Mei began. "It made me feel kind of restless."
When Honda glanced back at Mei he noticed she wasn't looking at him but down at the trail. Her fingers twisted the straps of her rucksack.
"Yeah?" Honda replied. "It was the same with me. It's a thing of mystery isn't it?"
Mei nodded and looked back up, now meeting Honda in the eyes.
"It's a wonder of nature. That's what they say. And the whole country... no, the world is transfixed."
"And looks at us," Honda said, with a bit of humor in his voice that didn't match the somber tone their conversation had taken. "We came all the way up here to see it."
Suddenly Mei stopped and Honda did too as she held her hand out to signal for him to do so as well. He tried to ask why she'd stopped but was hushed instead. Her voice came out in a whisper.
"Did you hear that?"
Honda furrowed his brows and tilted his head.
"It's voices," Mei said before he could reply.
"It must be the others who have come here," agreed Honda.
"I'm sure we're near the fault. Let's go, City Boy!"
"City boy?" Honda asked, shocked by the nickname.
Mei didn't reply though having already taken off. Reenergized by the sound she scrambled up further up the rocks. Honda called out after her but she didn't hesitate and he followed behind watching her Hello Kitty knapsack bop along the trail. The path only became more rugged from there but Mei was smaller with a lower center of gravity. She slid down the sloping rocks with skill and Honda couldn't do anything but do the same although with a tad bit more trouble.
They reached the bottom of the trail and it rounded a cliffside. Both hikers were tired, panting, but the voices were louder meaning they were close. Honda could feel the anticipation beating within him.
The fault! It's what he'd come all the way there for. He crept closer to Mei though there was still ample space between their bodies. Somehow all of that excitement and energy had cooled off as they rounded the bend with Honda now in front of Mei taking the lead.
Balancing with one hand along the rock face he rounded the cliff side and froze in his tracks, eyes widening as he took in the scene. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as goose bumps populated his arms. A shiver ran through him.
"Oof," Mei's voice was barely heard as she came up behind him, nearly bumping into the bulk of his knapsack, but then she too froze, obviously taken in by the display before them.
The valley opened up, wide and expansive, revealing the rift in the mountain, the fault; the rock face was covered with thousand upon thousands of holes. Human shaped holes! Exactly as Honda had seen on TV. Except this was real life. And in real life it was so much more powerful. So much more harrowing.
-to be continued-
I ended up using his last name Honda in the narration rather than given name Kiku because I see Japan as the type to not right away become familiar enough to use his first name when making an acquaintance and it shows the reserved aspects of his personality.
Shimane and Tottori are both in the chuugoku region of Japan. Mount Daisen is the tallest mountain in the region. I climbed it once but never made it to the top lol! I chose to set the story in this region due to my own familiarity and because why not! There is a women's college in Matsue, Shimane and Yonago is in no way the "big city" but for someone like the Kiku in this story that's the biggest he's been in.