CHAPTER 1: YUKI

June 1945,

It was late at night when the air raid sirens sounded. Although everyone had grown accustomed to hearing it time and again I still hated the fact that I would lose sleep. Nishinomiya had not had any serious bombings, not like the nearby Kobe or the distant Tokyo. But this night was to be different.

My little sisters Hisako and Kayoko woke up as I did and hurried as they put on their shirts and pants while Mother helped to fasten their protective hoods. After putting my own hood on I grabbed a photograph of my family as I always did when the siren sounded. It was the last picture taken of us all together, my Mother, Father and my two sisters and I. This way I would have a reminder of our happy lives before the war, even if our house burned to ashes.

"Yuki!" My mother called. "Stay close to your sisters and keep your eyes on them."

"Yes, Mother." I replied. As I was the oldest, it was my duty to protect my sisters and look out for them. Hisako was six, Kayoko was ten, and I had just turned fourteen.

"Air raid! Take shelter! Take shelter!" were the cries I heard. "Several waves of enemy bombers are approaching! Quickly! Take shelter!"

I was running with the rest of my family and neighbours when I suddenly heard a roaring sound that grew louder by the second, making me wonder if my ears could stand it. Eventually, it became the only thing audible. I looked up into the night sky and saw the B-29s. Sure, I had seen a few bombers before, but back then, I would only see one or two flying over. Now, there were hundreds of them, covering the whole sky.

I stared up in shock, not hearing my mother's cries to keep moving. The images of all those planes still haunt me even now, in these peaceful times. So is the sight of the raining fire that came afterward. In a matter of seconds, the rows of wooden houses were bursting into flame. The crackling of the fire was soon added to the other sounds of chaos; the screaming, the shouting, and the roaring of the planes above.

Once I had come to my senses (or as much as was possible), I began to run again, trying to keep up with my family. I could see them a ways ahead of me.

"Yuki! Get over here now! Hurry!"

I tried to run as fast as I could, but suddenly my foot caught on a piece of wood and the next second I was on the ground. I continued to hear my family's cries. As I looked up, I saw that all the houses were coming apart, the flaming debris falling all around me. By the time I got up, I couldn't see or hear any other person. Nothing but the crackling flames. Nothing but Hell.

The way my mother and siblings had gone was completely blocked, so I couldn't go that way. Frantically looking for a way to escape, I saw a pathway where there wasn't as much fire and hurried down that way. I then began searching for a shortcut to where I could find my family.

The fires spread quickly, quicker than I ever thought. Most of the paths were blocked. I knew I wouldn't be able to find my mother and sisters for a while yet. I hoped they had made it to the shelter. I hoped they weren't somewhere burning to crisps like many of the bodies I passed by.

With those hopes and fears in my mind I finally made it from the neighbourhood to the woodsy area with a large pond. I knew that there was an old bomb shelter there that was a safe distance from the inferno, therefore there was little risk of suffocating.

I darted inside the tiny shelter and gave a startled jump when I saw someone was already there. I took a closer look and saw that a little girl was laying near the back of the shelter. Beside her was a boy about my age. When I saw that they were both asleep and in their underclothing I wondered if they were actually living here. Looking around the cave I saw a small stove, some clothing, a few buckets and other stuff that made me come to the conclusion that they were, in fact, living here.

Although I wanted so badly to get away from the sight of the bombings, I slowly backed out of the shelter, not wanting to disturb the sleeping children. I sat down nearby and began wiping the ashes off my protective hood. I wondered if Mother was alright. Were Kayoko and Hisako safely with her? Were they worrying about me?

I made up my mind that I would find them in the morning. For now, I would sit out here and rest. Despite the sounds of chaos coming from the burning town, I quickly fell asleep.