Thee Tsunami Short Story. Action ascene from my screenplay, The Giant’s Playground

 

 

Captain Issi Haku peered through the haze, his eyes on the Icebreaker slashing its way through the ice mass as he circled the exposed Siberian seaport of Petropavlovsk.

He was a small man, middle-aged – and an experienced Japanese pilot.  His co-pilot, navigator and life long friend was his uncle, Matsu Takashi.

“The ice breakers are early this year. This’ll definitely be our last trip till next springs thaw,” his companion remarked.

Issi turned his head. “Don’t worry we will be out of here in two hours tops.”

Matsu smiled. “I hope Comrade Nikita’s got that extra fuel this time.”

The twin-engine World War 2 (or 40? year old) Catalina seaplane skidded to a slushy halt as near to the dockside as was safe on the ice-capped greywater.

“So far, so good but I’ll be glad to stretch my legs.  I always forget until I’m sitting in these seats how cramped these seaplanes get after a six-hour flight.”

Matsu nodded.  “A hot coffee won’t go amiss either.  It’s sure icy up here even with all this,” he said, pulling at his fur-lined jacket.

Neither Issi or Matsu spoke Russian, but their familiar faces at Petropavlovsk guaranteed hot coffee and some food.

The chief Russian seaport official, Comrade Nikita greeted the pair with broad smiles and warm handshakes. “We must hurry, or you will freeze in for eight months.”

Matsu pointed to the pile of crates against the wall toward the back of the rusty storeroom.  “That’s a whole lot more than last time. You had a good seasonhuh?

Nikita beckoned Issi and Matsu to follow him as he walked toward the crates.  The two pilots knew the routine by now – examine the boxes of caviar in several of the crates, break one open for a taste test and wait for Nikita to tap pointedly on his right wrist and raise it to one ear. At that point, the pilots would open their jackets to reveal their cache of Japanese watches, calculators and small radios.

Nikita chuckled and rubbed his hands together, as Matsu counted the crates.

“We can’t take this lot, we’ll be way overweight,” Matsu shouted above the noise of the wind and cracking ice.  “We’d never take off in the ice.”  He pointed outside toward the battered icebreaker.

“He’s right Nikita, it’s madness,” Issi added.

“I have a problem, my friends.” Comrade Nikita frowned. “The inspectors come next week. If they see that lot I’ll be tossed in jail for life. You have to take it; a dozen watches is all I ask. Pay me next time.”

“What do you think, Issi?  Too risky?”

“I say no. We haven’t checked where that storms heading yet. And that starboard engine’s losing oil pressure.”

Nikita interrupted. “Okay, guys, the extra crates for six watches.”

He waited.  Then, fearing the Japanese pilots were about to repeat their ‘no’, he blurted out, “and I’ll get the breaker captain to open a channel for you.”

The deal was settled, the breaker captain happy with a Japanese watch.

Nikita was relieved.  He made more money selling these goods than two years’ pay.

Issi took a deep breath.  It’s a risk, he thought, but it’s one I have to take.  For years now he had sold the caviar for a small fortune on the black market to Tokyo restaurants for cash and given ten percent to Matsu.

With the extra six crates of caviar loaded, Matsu checked the weather forecast and plotted a course southeast out into the Pacific to avoid blizzard battering the Kuril Islands.

After twenty minutes of bumpy flying, Issi flew through a jagged aperture in the dome of an inky cloud. The sky broke into an unfamiliar blue with patchy cloud formations.

‘Off to starboard down there.’ Matsu shouted above the engine noise as he signaled, pointing diagonally down to his right side.

Issi could see nothing from his current position.  He banked the overloaded plane 25 degrees to starboard and peered out of the smeary window. He shook his head. “I can’t see anything.”

“Try taking her down to 500 feet,” Matsu suggested.

Issi pulled the giant’s joystick back, then tilted it forward and the plane nosed over. The engines died momentarily then screamed as the aircraft went into a steep dive. He leveled out at 500 feet and again peered out of the window. “I still don’t see anything. What is it anyway?”

Matsu pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “It’s back there. We overshot it.”

Having taken a detour to miss the blizzard, Issi reluctantly commenced the turn.  But as the seaplane came out of the turn, Issi sat bolt upright. About four kilometers ahead of them was a wall of water.  Issu quickly glanced to his right and left. The wall stretched as far as he could see in either direction. From this distance, it appeared abnormally high.

He’d heard of giant waves and the Japanese word “tsunami at school. In thirty years of flying seaplanes, he’d never seen one.

“We’ll fly along with it and see if we can find the end,”’ he called to Matsu.

Issi banked to port, revved the two engines to full bore and began to fly parallel with the wall of water. After ten minutes, the wave tapered off and merged with the calm of the ocean.

Issi turned the Catalina through one-eighty degrees bringing his craft around.  He was now flying in the opposite direction behind the wall of water. As he passed over the end of the tsunami he tripped the tacho-o-meter, revved the engines again before settling back his seat and chewing into what was left of his a tasteless Russian sandwich.

Now and then he glanced back at the mountain of water as it humped like a huge dragon through the gentle ripples of the sea.

“O, ye gods!  It’s a tsunami heading for Japan. What’s our nearest radio contact?”

‘Hokkaido.’ Matsu replied.

Forty minutes passed.  With a glance to note the aircraft’s readings, Issi pulled up and leveled out at the other end of the ever-expanding ghost-like wave.  He knew he must calculate the speed and height of the wave.  He banked a full 180 degrees and then dropped down to twenty feet above the smooth sea.

Opening up the engines again, Issi slammed the throttle through what is called ‘the gate’ to give the engine a short burst of extra speed – an action taken only in emergencies. Kept there too long and the engine could blow up.

The plane roared in behind the wall of water that towered above them.

With less than 400 meters between the plane and the wave, and using both hands on the controls, Issi pulled back hard on the stick.

Both Issi and Matsu froze in their seats. He had mistimed his climb. If he banked even a few degrees, either way, one wing would slice through the wave top.

Both pairs of hands sweated as fingers locked around the stick. Then a huge shadow following the wave darkened the cockpit.

Issi had anticipated some turbulence in front of the wave but he had not expected any behind it.  Now the overloaded plane dropped a rock.

The two long floats, two-thirds along with the wings, clipped the top meter of the crest. The Catalina juddered violently under the impact.  Her port float ripped off and tumbled down into the steep wavefront.

The starboard float bent backward and hung like a broken dinosaur’s limb.

The cockpit was in darkness.  Somehow, the plane screeched up and over the top of the wave and for a moment Issi and Matsu dared to believe the danger had passed. But blinded by the sun, they were totally unprepared as the turbulence of the rushing wall in front, hit and the Catalina was sucked down into an airless trough.

The remaining float skimmed the sea until it too ripped from the body of the craft.  The fully loaded giant seaplane neither dropped nor rose up. It was as though time held its breath.

A gushing sound erupted and the Catalina slowly came to life as it began to gain height and air pressure. Absorbed by relief the two pilots failed to notice the thin trail of light blue smoke corkscrewing from one wing-mounted engine.

The plane shot up sharply; almost standing on its tail with the engines spluttering from lack of fuel, leaving the dazed men incapable of correcting the screeching climbing giant aircraft.

The sound of the engines beginning to stall shook Issi into action.  But his counter move overcompensated and tilted the plane too far in the opposite direction. Too late, he realized his mistake. The cargo shifted around the cavernous holds in the belly of the plane and broke loose.

 

With his body tensed and his eyes almost popping from their sockets, Issi looked across at Matsu, sitting next to him in frozen shock.

A wave of sudden anger exploded from somewhere inside him.

“If you ever ask me to turn back into a tsunami again I swear by the Emperor, I’II throttle you with my bare hands.”

The sharp sound of Issi’s voice snapped the co-pilot out of his daze.  Matsu blinked and answered slowly “You didn’t have to go back and look at it. It was only a suggestion.”

Ticking in the instrument panel pulsed the silence that hung between the two men.

Matsu spoke carefully. “I don’t suppose you got the measurement height of the waves?”

“I’m responsible for flying this monster.  Measurements were yours. What the hell were you playing at? I thought you were taking care of that stuff.”

“Turn this thing around then,” Matsu retorted. “And I’II be sure to do the measuring.”

Issi bit his lip.  This was no time to pick a fight.  He turned his whole attention to controlling the aircraft.  If he was to save the engines from blowing up he had to all but shut the engines down while at the same time remain airborne while he compensated for the tons of shifted cargo.

He eased the stick forward.  Beads of perspiration formed on his brow as he stared at the control panel willing the needles to steady.  After a few frightening jolts, the engine nudged to cruise speed and the craft leveled out at 1000 feet. Issi gave a deep sigh and, sliding open the cockpit windows, began to suck in the cold air.

Alongside him, he could hear his companion also filling his lungs.

“Phew!” he breathed.  “I think we can make it.”

Handing the controls to Matsu, Issu jotted down the instrument readings – Length 500 kilometers.   Height 250 plus meters.   Speed 250 kilometers an hour-increasing   Course Japan. Then he contacted Hokkaido.

In a great act of daring and against all odds, Issi miraculously landed the crippled one-engined Catalina and swung her around to face the tsunami. If he could keep the plane facing the wave, and providing its front slope was not too great there was a chance. But a 150-foot high wall of water traveling at 500 miles an hour and without the stability of two floats it was not a position any sea-plane pilot goes out of his way to be in.

The seaplane squatted on the swollen waves like a huge mauled and battered prehistoric monster.  Jagged metal flapped and squeaked were two floats had been.

*   *   *

The wave struck Japan on January 15, 1993, Kushiro, Hokkaido,

 

 

 

 

 

He waited.  Then, fearing the Japanese pilots were about to repeat their ‘no’, he blurted out, “and I’ll get the breaker captain to open a channel for you.”

The deal was settled, the breaker captain happy with a Japanese watch.

Nikita was relieved.  He made more money selling these goods than two years’ pay.

Issi took a deep breath.  It’s a risk, he thought, but it’s one I have to take.  For years now he had sold the caviar for a small fortune on the black market to Tokyo restaurants for cash and given ten percent to Matsu.

With the extra six crates of caviar loaded, Matsu checked the weather forecast and plotted a course southeast out into the Pacific to avoid blizzard battering the Kuril Islands.

After twenty minutes of bumpy flying, Issi flew through a jagged aperture in the dome of an inky cloud. The sky broke into an unfamiliar blue with patchy cloud formations.

‘Off to starboard down there.’ Matsu shouted above the engine noise as he signaled, pointing diagonally down to his right side.

Issi could see nothing from his current position.  He banked the overloaded plane 25 degrees to starboard and peered out of the smeary window. He shook his head. “I can’t see anything.”

“Try taking her down to 500 feet,” Matsu suggested.

Issi pulled the giant’s joystick back, then tilted it forward and the plane nosed over. The engines died momentarily then screamed as the aircraft went into a steep dive. He leveled out at 500 feet and again peered out of the window. “I still don’t see anything. What is it anyway?”

Matsu pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “It’s back there. We overshot it.”

Having taken a detour to miss the blizzard, Issi reluctantly commenced the turn.  But as the seaplane came out of the turn, Issi sat bolt upright. About four kilometers ahead of them was a wall of water.  Issu quickly glanced to his right and left. The wall stretched as far as he could see in either direction. From this distance, it appeared abnormally high.

He’d heard of giant waves and the Japanese word “tsunami at school. In thirty years of flying seaplanes, he’d never seen one.

“We’ll fly along with it and see if we can find the end,”’ he called to Matsu.

Issi banked to port, revved the two engines to full bore and began to fly parallel with the wall of water. After ten minutes, the wave tapered off and merged with the calm of the ocean.

Issi turned the Catalina through one-eighty degrees bringing his craft around.  He was now flying in the opposite direction behind the wall of water. As he passed over the end of the tsunami he tripped the tacho-o-meter, revved the engines again before settling back his seat and chewing into what was left of his a tasteless Russian sandwich.

 

 

Now and then he glanced back at the mountain of water as it humped like a huge dragon through the gentle ripples of the sea.

“O, ye gods!  It’s a tsunami heading for Japan. What’s our nearest radio contact?”

‘Hokkaido.’ Matsu replied.

Forty minutes passed.  With a glance to note the aircraft’s readings, Issi pulled up and leveled out at the other end of the ever-expanding ghost-like wave.  He knew he must calculate the speed and height of the wave.  He banked a full 180 degrees and then dropped down to twenty feet above the smooth sea.

Opening up the engines again, Issi slammed the throttle through what is called ‘the gate’ to give the engine a short burst of extra speed – an action taken only in emergencies. Kept there too long and the engine could blow up.

The plane roared in behind the wall of water that towered above them.

With less than 400 meters between the plane and the wave, and using both hands on the controls, Issi pulled back hard on the stick.

Both Issi and Matsu froze in their seats. He had mistimed his climb. If he banked even a few degrees, either way, one wing would slice through the wave top.

Both pairs of hands sweated as fingers locked around the stick. Then a huge shadow following the wave darkened the cockpit.

Issi had anticipated some turbulence in front of the wave but he had not expected any behind it.  Now the overloaded plane dropped a rock.

The two long floats, two-thirds along the wings, clipped the top meter of the crest. The Catalina juddered violently under the impact.  Her port float ripped off and tumbled down into the steep wavefront.

The starboard float bent backward and hung like a broken dinosaur’s limb.

The cockpit was in darkness.  Somehow, the plane screeched up and over the top of the wave and for a moment Issi and Matsu dared to believe the danger had passed. But blinded by the sun, they were totally unprepared as the turbulence of the rushing wall in front, hit and the Catalina was sucked down into an airless trough.

The remaining float skimmed the sea until it too ripped from the body of the craft.  The fully loaded giant seaplane neither dropped nor rose up. It was as though time held its breath.

A gushing sound erupted and the Catalina slowly came to life as it began to gain height and air pressure. Absorbed by relief the two pilots failed to notice the thin trail of light blue smoke corkscrewing from one wing-mounted engine.

The plane shot up sharply; almost standing on its tail with the engines spluttering from lack of fuel, leaving the dazed men incapable of correcting the screeching climbing giant aircraft.

The sound of the engines beginning to stall shook Issi into action.  But his counter move overcompensated and tilted the plane too far in the opposite direction. Too late, he realized his mistake. The cargo shifted around the cavernous holds in the belly of the plane and broke loose.

 

With his body tensed and his eyes almost popping from their sockets, Issi looked across at Matsu, sitting next to him in frozen shock.

Sudden anger exploded from somewhere inside him.

“If you ever ask me to turn back into a tsunami again I swear by the Emperor, I’II throttle you with my bare hands.”

The sharp sound of Issi’s voice snapped the co-pilot out of his daze.  Matsu blinked and answered slowly “You didn’t have to go back and look at it. It was only a suggestion.”

Ticking in the instrument panel pulsed the silence that hung between the two men.

Matsu spoke carefully. “I don’t suppose you got the measurement height of the waves?”

“I’m responsible for flying this monster.  Measurements were yours. What the hell were you playing at? I thought you were taking care of that stuff.”

“Turn this thing around then,” Matsu retorted. “And I’II be sure to do the measuring.”

Issi bit his lip.  This was no time to pick a fight.  He turned his whole attention to controlling the aircraft.  If he was to save the engines from blowing up he had to all-but shut the engines down while at the same time remain airborne while he compensated for the tons of shifted cargo.

He eased the stick forward.  Beads of perspiration formed on his brow as he stared at the control panel willing the needles to steady.  After a few frightening jolts, the engine nudged to cruise speed and the craft leveled out at 1000 feet. Issi gave a deep sigh and, sliding open the cockpit windows, began to suck in the cold air.

Alongside him, he could hear his companion also filling his lungs.

“Phew!” he breathed.  “I think we can make it.”

Handing the controls to Matsu, Issu jotted down the instrument readings – Length 500 kilometers.   Height 250 plus meters.   Speed 250 kilometers an hour-increasing   Course Japan. Then he contacted Hokkaido.

 

In a great act of daring and against all odds, Issi miraculously landed the crippled one-engined Catalina and swung her around to face the tsunami. If he could keep the plane facing the wave, and providing its front slope was not too great there was a chance. But a 150-foot high wall of water traveling at 500 miles an hour and without the stability of two floats it was not a position any sea-plane pilot goes out of his way to be in.

 

The seaplane squatted on the swollen waves like a huge mauled and battered prehistoric monster.  Jagged metal flapped and squeaked were two floats had been.

*   *   *

The wave struck Japan on January 15, 1993, Kushiro, Hokkaido,

 

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