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ANOTHER WAY TO DIE by MURAKAMI Haruki

Last orders of a Japanese officer in Manchuria, during the final moments of the Second
World War.
The Japanese veterinarian woke before 6 A.M. Most of the animals in the Hsin-ching zoo
were already awake. The open window let in their cries and the breeze that carried their
smells which told him the weather witho!t his having to look o!tside. This was part of
his ro!tine here in Manch!ria" he wo!ld listen then inhale the morning air and so ready
himself for each new day.
Today however sho!ld have been different from the day before. #t had to be different. $o
many voices and smells had been lost% The tigers the leopards the wolves the bears" all
had been li&!idated eliminated by a Japanese s&!ad the previo!s afternoon to avoid the
animals' escaping as the city came !nder (!ssian attack. )ow after some ho!rs of sleep
those events seemed to him like part of a sl!ggish nightmare he had had long ago. *!t he
knew they had act!ally happened. His ears still felt a d!ll ache from the roar of the
soldiers' rifles+ that co!ld not be a dream. #t was A!g!st now the year ,-./ and he was
here in the city of Hsin-ching in Japanese-held Manch!ria+ $oviet troops had b!rst across
the border and were pressing closer every ho!r. This was reality-as real as the sink and
toothbr!sh he saw in front of him.
The so!nd of the elephants' tr!mpeting gave him some sense of relief. Ah yes the
elephants had s!rvived. 0ort!nately the yo!ng lie!tenant in charge of yesterday's action
had had eno!gh normal h!man sensitivity to remove the elephants from the list the
veterinarian tho!ght as he washed his face. $ince coming to Manch!ria he had met any
n!mber of stiff-necked fanatical yo!ng officers from his homeland and the e1perience
always left him shaken. Most of them were farmers' sons who had spent their yo!thf!l
years in the depressed nineteen-thirties steeped in the tragedies of poverty while a
megalomaniac nationalism was hammered into their sk!lls. They wo!ld follow the orders
of a s!perior witho!t a second tho!ght no matter how o!tlandish. #f they were
commanded in the name of the 2mperor to dig a hole thro!gh the earth to *razil they
wo!ld grab a shovel and set to work. $ome people called this 3p!rity3 b!t the
veterinarian had other words for it. As an !rban doctor's son ed!cated in the relatively
liberal atmosphere of Japan in the twenties the veterinarian co!ld never !nderstand those
yo!ng officers. $hooting a co!ple of elephants sho!ld have been a simpler assignment
than digging thro!gh the earth to *razil b!t yesterday's lie!tenant tho!gh he spoke with
a slight co!ntry accent seemed to be a more normal h!man being than other officers
were better ed!cated and more reasonable. The veterinarian co!ld sense this from the
way the yo!ng man spoke and handled himself.
#n any case the elephants had not been killed and the veterinarian told himself that he
sho!ld probably be gratef!l. The soldiers too m!st have been glad to be spared the task.
The 4hinese workers may have regretted the omission they had missed o!t on a lot of
meat and ivory.
The veterinarian boiled water in a kettle soaked his beard in a hot towel and shaved.
Then he ate breakfast alone" tea toast and b!tter. The food rations in Manch!ria were far
from s!fficient b!t compared with those elsewhere they were still fairly genero!s. This
was good news both for him and for the animals. The animals showed resentment at their
red!ced allotments of feed b!t the sit!ation here was better than in zoos back in the
Japanese homeland where food s!pplies had already bottomed o!t. )o one co!ld predict
the f!t!re b!t for now at least both animals and h!mans were spared the pain of
e1treme h!nger.
He wondered how his wife and da!ghter were doing. They had left for Japan a few days
earlier and if all went according to plan their train sho!ld have reached the 5orean coast
by now. There they wo!ld board the transport ship that wo!ld carry them home to Japan.
The doctor missed seeing them when he woke !p in the morning. He missed hearing their
lively voices as they prepared breakfast. A hollow &!iet r!led the ho!se. This was no
longer the home he loved the place where he belonged. And yet at the same time he
co!ld not help feeling a certain strange 6oy at being left alone in this empty official
residence+ now he was able to sense the implacable power of fate in his very bones and
flesh.
0ate itself was the veterinarian s own fatal disease. 0rom his yo!ngest days he had had a
weirdly l!cid awareness that 3# as an individ!al am living !nder the control of some
o!tside force.3 Most of the rime the power of fate played on like a &!iet and monotono!s
gro!nd bass coloring only the edges of his life. (arely was he reminded of its e1istence.
*!t every once in a while the balance wo!ld shift and the force wo!ld increase pl!nging
him into a state of near-paralytic resignation. He knew from e1perience that nothing he
co!ld do or think wo!ld ever change the sit!ation. )ot that he was a passive creat!re+
indeed he was more decisive than most and he always saw his decisions thro!gh. #n his
profession too he was o!tstanding" a veterinarian of e1ceptional skill a tireless ed!cator.
He was certainly no fatalist as most people !se the word. And yet never had he
e1perienced the !nshakable certainty that he had arrived at a decision entirely on his own.
He always had the sense that fate had forced him to decide things to s!it its own
convenience. 7n occasion after the momentary satisfaction of having decided something
of his own free will he wo!ld see that things had been decided beforehand by an e1ternal
power cleverly camo!flaged as free will mere bait thrown in his path to l!re him into
behaving as he was meant to. He felt like a tit!lar head of state who did nothing more
than impress the royal seal on doc!ments at the behest of a regent who wielded all tr!e
power in the realm like the 2mperor of this p!ppet empire of Manch!k!o.
)ow left behind in his residence at the zoo the veterinarian was alone with his fate. And
it was fate above all the gigantic power of fate that held sway here-not the 5want!ng
Army not the $oviet Army not the troops of the 4hinese 4omm!nists or of the
5!omintang. Anyone co!ld see that fate was the r!ler here and that individ!al will
co!nted for nothing. #t was fate that had spared the elephants and b!ried the tigers and
leopards and wolves and bears the day before. 8hat wo!ld it b!ry now and what wo!ld
it spare9 These were &!estions that no one co!ld answer.
The veterinarian left his residence to prepare for the morning feeding. He ass!med that
no one wo!ld show !p for work anymore b!t he fo!nd two 4hinese boys waiting for him
in his office. He did not know them. They were thirteen or fo!rteen years old dark
comple1ioned and skinny with roving animal eyes. 3They told !s to help yo!3 one boy
said. The doctor nodded. He asked their names b!t they made no reply. Their faces
remained blank as if they had not heard the &!estion. These boys had obvio!sly been
sent by the 4hinese people who had worked here !ntil the day before. Those people had
probably ended all contact with the Japanese now in anticipation of a new regime b!t
ass!med that children wo!ld not be held acco!ntable. The boys had been sent as a sign of
good will the workers knew that he co!ld not care for the animals alone.
The veterinarian gave each boy two cookies then p!t them to work helping him feed the
animals. They led a m!le-drawn cart from cage to cage providing each animal with its
partic!lar feed and changing its water. 4leaning the cages was o!t of the &!estion. The
best they co!ld manage was a &!ick hose-down to wash away the droppings.
They started the work at eight o'clock and finished after ten. The boys then disappeared
witho!t a word. The veterinarian felt e1ha!sted from the hard physical labor. He went
back to the office and reported to the zoo director that the animals had been fed.
J!st before noon the yo!ng lie!tenant came back to the zoo leading the same eight
soldiers he had bro!ght the day before. 0!lly armed again they walked with a metallic
clinking that co!ld be heard far in advance of their arrival. Their shirts were blackened
with sweat. 4icadas were screaming in the trees as they had been yesterday. Today
however the soldiers had not come to kill animals. The lie!tenant sal!ted the director and
said 38e need to know the c!rrent stat!s of the zoo's !sable carts and draft animals.3 The
director informed him that the zoo had e1actly one m!le and one wagon. 38e contrib!ted
o!r only tr!ck and two horses two weeks ago3 he noted. The lie!tenant nodded and
anno!nced that he wo!ld immediately commandeer the m!le and wagon as per orders of
5want!ng Army Head&!arters.
3 8ait 6!st a min!te3 the veterinarian inter6ected. 38e need those to feed the animals
twice a day. All o!r local people have disappeared. 8itho!t that m!le and wagon o!r
animals will starve to death. 2ven with them we can barely keep !p.3
38e're all 6!st barely keeping !p sir3 said the lie!tenant whose eyes were red and whose
face was covered with st!bble. 37!r first priority is to defend the city. :o! can always let
the animals o!t of their cages if need be. 8e've taken care of the dangero!s carnivores.
The others pose no sec!rity risk. These are military orders sir. :o!'ll 6!st have to manage
as yo! see fit.3
4!tting the disc!ssion short the lie!tenant had his men take the m!le and wagon. 8hen
they were gone the veterinarian and the director looked at each other. The director sipped
his tea shook his head and said nothing.
0o!r ho!rs later the soldiers were back with the m!le and wagon a filthy canvas
tarpa!lin covering the mo!nded contents of the wagon. The m!le was panting its hide
foaming with the afternoon heat and the weight of the load. The eight soldiers marched
fo!r 4hinese men ahead of them at bayonet point yo!ng men perhaps twenty years old
wearing baseball !niforms and with their hands tied behind their backs. *lack-and-bl!e
marks on their faces made it obvio!s that they had been severely beaten. The right eye of
one man was swollen almost sh!t and the bleeding lips of another had stained his
baseball shirt bright red. The shirtfronts had nothing written on them b!t there were
small rectangles where the name patches had been torn off. The n!mbers on their backs
were , . ; and -. The veterinarian co!ld not begin to imagine why at s!ch a time of
crisis fo!r yo!ng 4hinese men wo!ld be wearing baseball !niforms or why they had
been so badly beaten and dragged here by Japanese troops. The scene looked like
something not of this world a painting by a mental patient.
The lie!tenant asked the zoo director if he had any picks and shovels he co!ld let them
!se. The yo!ng officer looked even more pale and haggard than he had before. The
veterinarian led him and his men to a toolshed behind the office. The lie!tenant chose
two picks and two shovels for his men. Then he asked the veterinarian to come with him
and leaving his men there walked into a thicket beyond the road. The veterinarian
followed. 8herever the lie!tenant walked h!ge grasshoppers scattered. The smell of
s!mmer grass h!ng in the air. Mi1ed in with the deafening screams of cicadas the sharp
tr!mpeting of elephants now and then seemed to so!nd a distant warning.
The lie!tenant went on among the trees witho!t speaking !ntil he fo!nd a kind of
opening in the woods. The area had been slated for constr!ction of a plaza for small
animals that children co!ld play with. The plan had been postponed indefinitely
however when the worsening military sit!ation made constr!ction materials scarce. The
trees had been cleared away to make a circle of bare gro!nd and the s!n ill!minated this
one part of the woods like stage lighting. The lie!tenant stood in the center of the circle
and scanned the area. Then he d!g at the gro!nd with the heel of his boot.
38e're going to bivo!ac here for a while3 he said kneeling down and scooping !p a
handf!l of dirt.
The veterinarian nodded in response. He had no idea why they had to bivo!ac in a zoo
b!t he decided not to ask. Here in Hsin-ching e1perience had ta!ght him never to
&!estion military men. <!estions did nothing b!t make them angry and they never gave
yo! a straight answer in any case.
30irst we dig a big hole here3 the lie!tenant said speaking as if to himself. He stood !p
and took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. =!tting a cigarette between his lips he
offered one to the doctor then lit both with a match. The two concentrated on their
smoking to fill the silence. Again the lie!tenant began digging at the gro!nd with his
boot. He drew a kind of diagram in the earth then r!bbed it o!t. 0inally he asked the
veterinarian 3'8here were yo! born93
3#n 5anagawa3 the doctor said. 3in a town called 7f!na near the sea an ho!r or two
from Tokyo.3
The lie!tenant nodded.
3And where were yo! born93 the veterinarian asked.
#nstead of answering the lie!tenant narrowed his eyes and watched the smoke rising
from between his fingers. )o it never pays to ask a military man &!estions the
veterinarian told himself again. They like to ask &!estions b!t they'll never give yo! an
answer. They wo!ldn't give yo! the time of day literally .
3There's a movie st!dio there3 the lie!tenant said.
#t took the veterinarian a few seconds to realize the lie!tenant was talking abo!t 7f!na.
3That's right. A big st!dio. #'ve never been inside tho!gh.3
The lie!tenant dropped what was left of his cigarette on the gro!nd and cr!shed it o!t. 3#
hope yo! make it back there3 he said. 37f co!rse there's an ocean to cross between here
and Japan. 8e'll probably all die over here.3 He kept his eyes on the gro!nd as he spoke.
3Tell me >octor are yo! afraid of death93
3# g!ess it depends on how yo! die3 the veterinarian said after a moment's tho!ght.
The lie!tenant raised his eyes and looked at the veterinarian as if his c!riosity had been
aro!sed. He had apparently been e1pecting another answer. ':o!'re right3 he said. 3#t
does depend on how yo! die.3
The two remained silent for a time. The lie!tenant looked as if he might 6!st fall asleep
there standing !p. He was obvio!sly e1ha!sted. An especially large grasshopper flew
over them like a bird and disappeared into a distant cl!mp of grass with a noisy beating
of wings. The lie!tenant glanced at his watch. 3Time to get started3 he said to no one in
partic!lar. Then he spoke to the veterinarian. 3#'d like yo! to stay aro!nd for a while. #
might have to ask yo! to do me a favor.3 The veterinarian nodded.
The soldiers led the 4hinese prisoners to the opening in the woods and !ntied their hands.
The corporal drew a large cir cl e on the gro!nd !sing a baseball bat why a soldier wo!ld
have a bat the veterinarian fo!nd another mystery-and ordered the prisoners in Japanese
to dig a deep hole the size of the circle. 8ith the picks and shovels the fo!r men in
baseball !niforms started digging in silence. Half the Japanese s&!ad stood g!ard over
them while the other half stretched o!t beneath the trees. They seemed to be in desperate
need of sleep+ no sooner had they hit the gro!nd in f! ll gear than they began snoring. The
fo!r soldiers who remained awake kept watch over the digging nearby rifles resting on
their hips bayonets fi1ed ready for immediate !se. The lie!tenant and the corporal took
t!rns overseeing the work and napping !nder the trees.
#t took less than an ho!r for the fo!r 4hinese prisoners to dig a hole some twelve feet
across and deep eno!gh to come !p to their necks. 7ne of the men asked for water
speaking in Japanese. The lie!tenant nodded and a soldier bro!ght a b!cket f!ll of water.
The fo!r 4hinese took t!rns ladling water from the b!cket and g!lping it down with
obvio!s relish. They drank almost the entire b!cketf!l. Their !niforms were smeared
black with blood m!d and sweat.
The lie!tenant had two of the soldiers p!ll the wagon over to the hole. The corporal
yanked the tarpa!lin off to reveal fo!r dead men piled in the wagon. They wore the same
baseball !niforms as the prisoners and they too were obvio!sly 4hinese. They appeared
to have been shot and their !niforms were covered with black bloodstains. ?arge flies
were beginning to swarm over the corpses. J!dging from the way the blood had dried the
doctor g!essed that they had been dead for close to twenty-fo!r ho!rs.
The lie!tenant ordered the fo!r 4hinese who had d!g the hole to throw the bodies into it.
8itho!t a word faces blank the men took the bodies o!t of the wagon and threw them
one at a time into the hole. 2ach corpse landed with a d!ll th!d. The n!mbers on the
dead men's !niforms were @ / 6 and A. The veterinarian committed them to memory.
8hen the fo!r 4hinese had finished throwing the bodies into the hole the soldiers tied
each man to a nearby tree. The lie!tenant held !p his wrist and st!died his watch with a
grim e1pression. Then he looked !p toward a spot in the sky for a while as if searching
for something there. He looked like a stationmaster standing on the platform and waiting
for a hopelessly overd!e train. *!t in fact he was looking at nothing at all. He was 6!st
allowing a certain amo!nt of time to go by. 7nce he had accomplished that he t!rned to
the corporal and gave him c!rt orders to bayonet three of the fo!r prisoners )os . , ;
and -.
Three soldiers were chosen and took !p their positions in front of the three 4hinese. The
soldiers looked paler than the men they were abo!t to kill. The 4hinese looked too tired
to hope for anything. The corporal offered each of them a smoke b!t they ref!sed. He p!t
his cigarettes back into his shirt pocket.
Taking the veterinarian with him the lie!tenant went to stand somewhat apart from the
other soldiers. 3:o!'d better watch this3 he said. 3This is another way to die.3
The veterinarian nodded. The lie!tenant is not saying this to me he tho!ght. He's saying
it to himself.
#n a gentle voice the lie!tenant e1plained 3$hooting them wo!ld be the simplest and
most efficient way to kill them b!t we have orders not to waste a single b!llet-and
certainly not to waste b!llets killing 4hinese. 8e're s!pposed to save o!r amm!nition for
the (!ssians. 8e'll 6!st bayonet them # s!ppose b!t that's not as easy as it so!nds. *y
the way >octor did they teach yo! how to !se a bayonet in the Army93
The doctor e1plained that as a cavalry veterinarian he had not been trained to !se a
bayonet.
'8ell the proper way to kill a man with a bayonet is this" 0irst yo! thr!st it in !nder the
ribs here.3 The lie!tenant pointed to his own torso 6!st above the stomach. 3Then yo!
drag the point in a big deep circle inside him to scramble the organs. Then yo! thr!st
!pward to p!nct!re the heart. :o! can't 6!st stick it in and e1pect him to die. 8e soldiers
have this dr!mmed into !s. Hand-to-hand combat !sing bayonets ranks right !p there
along with night assa!lts as the pride of the #mperial Army tho!gh mainly it's a lot
cheaper than tanks and planes and cannons 7f co!rse yo! can train all yo! want b!t
finally what yo!'re stabbing is a straw doll not a live h!man being. #t doesn't bleed or
scream or spill its g!ts on the gro!nd. These soldiers have never act!ally killed a h!man
being that way. And neither have #.3
The lie!tenant looked at the corporal and gave him a nod. The corporal barked his order
to the three soldiers who snapped to attention. Then they took a half step back and thr!st
o!t their bayonets each man aiming his blade at his prisoner. 7ne of the yo!ng men. B)o.
;C growled something in 4hinese that so!nded like a c!rse and gave a defiant spit which
never reached the gro!nd b!t dribbled down the front of his baseball !niform.
At the so!nd of the ne1t order the three soldiers thr!st their bayonets into the 4hinese
men with tremendo!s force. Then as the lie!tenant had said they twisted the blades so as
to rip the men's internal organs and thr!st the tips !pward. The cries of the 4hinese men
were not very lo!d more like deep sobs than like screams as if they were heaving o!t the
breath left in their bodies all at once thro!gh a single opening. The soldiers p!lled o!t
their bayonets and stepped back. The corporal barked his order again and the men
repeated the proced!re e1actly as before stabbing twisting thr!sting !pward
withdrawing. The veterinarian watched in n!mbed silence overtaken by the sense that he
was beginning to split in two. He became sim!ltaneo!sly the stabber and the stabbed. He
co!ld feel both the impact of the bayonet as it entered his victim's body and the pain of
having his internal organs slashed to bits.
#t took m!ch longer than he wo!ld have imagined for the 4hinese men to die. Their
sliced-!p bodies po!red prodigio!s amo!nts of blood on the gro!nd b!t even with their
organs shredded they went on twitching slightly for &!ite some time. The corporal !sed
his own bayonet to c!t the ropes that bo!nd the men to the trees and then he had the
soldiers who had not participated in the killing help drag the fallen bodies to the hole and
throw them in. These corpses also made a d!ll th!d on impact b!t the doctor co!ldn't
help feeling that the so!nd was different from that made by the earlier corpses 9 probably
beca!se these were not entirely dead yet.
)ow only the yo!ng 4hinese prisoner with the n!mber . on his shirt was left. The three
pale-faced soldiers tore broad leaves from plants at their feet and proceeded to wipe their
bloody bayonets. )ot only blood b!t strange-colored body fl!ids and ch!nks of flesh
adhered to the blades. The men had to !se many leaves to ret!rn the bayonets to their
original bare-metal shine.
The veterinarian wondered why only the one man )o. . had been left alive b!t he was
not going to ask &!estions. The lie!tenant took o!t another cigarette and lit !p. He then
offered a smoke to the veterinarian who accepted it in silence and after p!tting it
between his lips str!ck his own match. His hand did not tremble b!t it seemed to have
lost all feeling as if he were wearing thick gloves.
3These men were cadets in the Manch!k!o Army 7fficer 4andidate $chool3 the
lie!tenant said. 3They ref!sed to participate in the defense of Hsin-ching. They killed two
of their Japanese instr!ctors last night and tried to r!n away. 8e ca!ght them d!ring night
patrol killed fo!r of them on the spot and capt!red the other fo!r. Two more escaped in
the dark3 The lie!tenant r!bbed his beard with the palm of his hand. 3They were trying to
make their getaway in baseball !niforms. # g!ess they fig!red they'd be arrested as
deserters if they wore their military !niforms. 7r maybe they were afraid of what
4omm!nist troops wo!ld do to them if they were ca!ght in their Manch!k!o !niforms.
Anyway all they had in their barracks to wear besides their cadet o!tfits were !niforms
of the 7.4.$. baseball team. $o they tore off the names and tried to get away wearing
these. # don't know if yo! know b!t the school had a great team. They !sed to go to
Taiwan and 5orea for friendship games. That g!y3 and here the lie!tenant motioned
toward the man tied to the tree 3was captain of the team and batted clean!p. 8e think he
was the one who organized the getaway too. He killed the two instr!ctors with a bat. The
instr!ctors knew there was tro!ble in the barracks and weren't going to distrib!te
weapons to the cadets !ntil it was an absol!te emergency. *!t they forgot abo!t the
baseball bats. *oth of them had their sk!lls cracked open. They probably died instantly.
Two perfect home r!ns. This is the bat.3
The lie!tenant had the corporal bring the bat to him. He passed the bat to the veterinarian.
The doctor took it in both hands and held it !p in front of his face the way a player
stepping into the batter's bo1 does. #t was 6!st an ordinary bat not very well made with a
ro!gh finish and an !neven grain. #t was heavy tho!gh and well broken in. The handle
was black with sweat. #t didn't look like a bat that had been !sed recently to kill two
h!man beings. After getting a feel for its weight the veterinarian handed it back to the
lie!tenant who gave it a few easy swings handling it like an e1pert.
3>o yo! play baseball93 the lie!tenant asked the veterinarian.
3All the time when # was a kid.3
3Too grown !p now93
3)o more baseball for me3 the veterinarian said and he was on the verge of asking
3How abo!t yo! lie!tenant93 b!t he swallowed the words.
3#'ve been ordered to beat this g!y to death with the same bat he !sed3 the lie!tenant said
in a dry voice as he tapped the gro!nd with the tip of the bat. 3An eye for an eye a tooth
for a tooth. J!st between yo! and me # think the order stinks. 8hat the hell good is it
going to do to kill these g!ys9 8e don't have any planes left we don't have any warships
o!r best troops are dead. J!st the other day some kind of special new bomb wiped o!t the
whole city of Hiroshima in a split second. 2ither we're going to be swept o!t of
Manch!ria or we'll all be killed and 4hina will belong to the 4hinese again. 8e've
already killed a lot of 4hinese and adding a few bodies to the co!nt isn't going to make
any difference. *!t orders are orders. #'m a soldier and # have to follow orders. 8e killed
the tigers and leopards yesterday and today we have to kill these g!ys. $o take a good
look >octor. This is another way for people to die. :o!'re a doctor so yo!'re probably
!sed to knives and blood and g!ts b!t yo!'ve probably never seen anyone beaten to death
with a baseball bat.3
The lie!tenant ordered the corporal to bring player )o. . the clean!p batter to the edge
of the hole. 7nce again they tied his hands behind his back then blindfolded him and had
him kneel down on the gro!nd. He was a tall strongly b!ilt yo!ng man with massive
arms the size of most people's thighs. The lie!tenant called over one yo!ng soldier and
handed him the bat. 35ill him with this3 he said. The yo!ng soldier stood at attention and
sal!ted before taking the bat b!t having taken it in his hands he 6!st went on standing
there as if st!pefied. He seemed !nable to grasp the concept of beating a 4hinese man to
death with a baseball bat.
3Have yo! ever played baseball93 the lie!tenant asked the yo!ng soldier.
3)o sir never3 the soldier replied in a lo!d voice. *oth the village in Hokkaido where
he was born and the village in Manch!ria where he grew !p had been so poor that no
family in either place co!ld have afforded the l!1!ry of a baseball or a bat. He had spent
his boyhood r!nning aro!nd the fields catching dragonflies and playing at sword fighting
with sticks. He had never in his life played baseball or even seen a game. This was the
first time he had ever held a bat.
The lie!tenant showed him how to hold the bat and ta!ght him the basics of the swing
demonstrating a few times himself. 3$ee9 #t's all in the hips3 he gr!nted thro!gh
clenched teeth. 3$tarting from the backswing yo! twist from the waist down. The tip of
the bat follows thro!gh nat!rally. Dnderstand9 #f yo! concentrate too m!ch on swinging
the bat yo!r arms do all the work and yo! lose power. $wing from the hips.3
The soldier didn't seem frilly to comprehend the lie!tenant's instr!ctions b!t he took off
his heavy gear as ordered and practiced his swing for a while. 2veryone was watching
him. The lie!tenant placed his hands over the soldier's to help him ad6!st his grip. He was
a good teacher. *efore long the soldier's swing tho!gh somewhat awkward was
swishing thro!gh the air. 8hat the yo!ng soldier lacked in skill he made !p for in m!scle
power having spent his days working on the farm.
3That's good eno!gh3 the lie!tenant said !sing his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow.
37.5. now try to do it in one good clean swing. >on't let him s!ffer.3
8hat he really wanted to say was 3# don't want to do this any more than yo! do. 8ho the
hell co!ld have tho!ght of anything so st!pid9 5illing a g!y with a baseball bat . . .3 *!t
an officer co!ld never say s!ch a thing to an enlisted man.
The soldier stepped !p behind the blindfolded 4hinese man where he knelt on the
gro!nd. 8hen the soldier raised the bat the strong rays of the setting s!n cast its long
thick shadow on the earth. This is so weird the veterinarian tho!ght. The lie!tenant's
right" #'ve never seen a man killed with a baseball bat. The yo!ng soldier held the bat
aloft for a long time. The veterinarian saw its tip shaking.
The lie!tenant nodded to the soldier. 8ith a deep breath the soldier took a backswing
then smashed the bat with all his strength into the back of the 4hinese cadet's head. He
did it amazingly well. He sw!ng his hips e1actly as the lie!tenant had ta!ght him to the
brand of the bat made a direct hit behind the man s ear and the bat followed thro!gh
perfectly. There was a d!ll cr!shing so!nd as the sk!ll shattered. The man himself made
no so!nd. His body h!ng in the air for a moment in a strange pose then flopped forward.
He lay with his cheek on the gro!nd blood flowing from one ear. He did not move. The
lie!tenant looked at his watch. $till gripping the bat the yo!ng soldier stared off into
space his mo!th agape.
The lie!tenant was a person who did things with great care. He waited for a f ! ll min!te.
8hen he was certain that the 4hinese man was not moving at all he said to the
veterinarian 34o!ld yo! do me a favor and check to see that he's really dead93
The veterinarian nodded walked over to where the yo!ng 4hinese lay and knelt down
and removed his blindfold. The man's eyes were open wide the p!pils t!rned !pward
and bright - red blood was flowing from his ear. His half-opened mo!th revealed the
tong!e lying tangled inside. The impact had left his neck twisted at a strange angle. The
man's nostrils had e1pelled thick gobs of blood making black stains on the dry gro!nd.
7ne partic!larly alert and large fly had already b!rrowed its way into a nostril to lay
eggs. J!st to make s!re the veterinarian took the man's wrist and felt for a p!lse. There
was no p!lse certainly not where there was s!pposed to be one. The yo!ng soldier had
ended this b!rly man's life with a single swing of a bat-indeed his first - ever swing of a
bat. The veterinarian glanced toward the lie!tenant and nodded to signal that the man
was witho!t a do!bt dead. Having completed his assigned task he was beginning slowly
to rise to his frill height when it seemed to him that the s!n shining on his back s!ddenly
increased in intensity.
At that very moment the yo!ng 4hinese batter in !niform )o. . rose !p into a sitting
position as if he had 6!st come frilly awake. 8itho!t the slightest !ncertainty or
hesitation9or so it seemed to those watching9he grabbed the doctor's wrist. #t all
happened in a split second. The veterinarian co!ld not !nderstand+ this man was dead he
was s!re of it. *!t now thanks to one last drop of life that seemed to well !p o!t of
nowhere the man was gripping the veterinarian's wrist with the strength of a steel vise.
2yelids stretched open to the limit p!pils still glaring !pward the man fell forward into
the hole dragging the doctor in after him. The doctor fell in on top of him and heard the
man's ribs crack as his weight came down. $till the 4hinese ballplayer contin!ed to grip
his wrist. The soldiers saw all this happening b!t they were too st!nned to do anything
more than stand and watch. The lie!tenant recovered first and leaped into the hole. He
drew his pistol from his holster set the m!zzle against the 4hinese man's head and
p!lled the trigger twice. Two sharp overlapping cracks r ang o!t and a large black hole
opened in the man's temple. )ow his life was completely gone b!t still he ref!sed to
release the doctor's wrist. The lie!tenant knelt down and pistol in one hand began the
painstaking process of prying open the corpse's fingers one at a time. The veterinarian lay
there in the hole s!rro!nded by eight silent 4hinese corpses in baseball !niforms. >own
in the hole the screeching of cicadas so!nded very different from the way it so!nded
above gro!nd.
7nce the veterinarian had been freed from the dead man's grasp the soldiers p!lled him
and the lie!tenant o!t of the grave. The veterinarian s&!atted down on the grass and took
several deep breaths. Then he looked at his wrist. The man's fingers had left five bright-
red marks. 7n this hot A!g!st afternoon the veterinarian felt chilled to the core of his
body. #'ll never get rid of this coldness again he tho!ght. That man was tr!ly serio!sly
trying to take me with him wherever he was going.
The lie!tenant reset the pistol's safety and caref!lly slipped the g!n into its holster. This
was the first time he had ever fired a g!n at a h!man being. *!t he tried not to think
abo!t it. The war wo!ld contin!e for a little while at least and people wo!ld contin!e to
die . He co!ld leave the deep thinking for later. He wiped his sweaty right palm on his
pants then ordered the soldiers who had not participated in the e1ec!tion to fill in the
hole. A h!ge swarm of flies had already taken c!stody of the pile of corpses.
The yo!ng soldier went on standing where he was st!pefied gripping the bat. He
co!ldn't seem to make his hands let go. The lie!tenant and the corporal left him alone. He
had seemed to be watching the whole bizarre series of events the 3dead3 4hinese
s!ddenly grabbing the veterinarian by the wrist their falling into the grave the
lie!tenants leaping in and finishing him off and now the other soldiers' filling in the hole.
*!t in fact he had not been watching any of it. He had been listening to a bird in a tree
somewhere making a 34reeeak% 4reeeak%3 so!nd as if winding a spring. The soldier
looked !p trying to pinpoint the direction of the cries b!t he co!ld see no sign of the
wind!p bird. He felt a slight sense of na!sea at the back of his throat.
As he listened to the winding of the spring the yo!ng soldier saw one fragmentary image
after another rise !p before him and fade away. After the Japanese were disarmed by the
$oviets the lie!tenant wo!ld be handed over to the 4hinese and hanged for his
responsibility in these e1ec!tions. The corporal wo!ld die of the plag!e in a $iberian
concentration camp" he wo!ld be thrown into a &!arantine shed and left there !ntil dead
tho!gh in fact he had merely collapsed from maln!trition and had not contracted the
plag!e not at least !ntil he was thrown into the shed. The veterinarian wo!ld die in an
accident a year later" a civilian he wo!ld be taken by the $oviets for co6perating with the
military and sent to another $iberian camp to do hard labor+ he wo!ld be working in a
deep shaft of a $iberian coal mine when a flood wo!ld drown him along with many
soldiers. And # tho!ght the yo!ng soldier with the bat in his hands b!t he co!ld not see
his own f!t!re. He co!ld not even see as real the events that were happening before his
very eyes. He closed his eyes now and listened to the call of the wind!p bird.
Then all at once he tho!ght of the ocean the ocean he had seen from the deck of the
ship bringing him from Japan to Manch!ria eight years earlier. He had never seen the
ocean before nor had he seen it since. He co!ld still remember the smell of the salt air.
The ocean was one of the greatest things he had ever seen in his life bigger and deeper
than anything he had imagined. #t changed its color and shape and e1pression according
to time and place and weather. #t aro!sed a deep sadness in his heart and at the same time
it bro!ght his heart peace and comfort. 8o!ld he ever see it again9 He loosened his grip
and let the bat fall to the gro!nd. #t made a dry so!nd as it str!ck the earth. After the bat
left his hands he felt a slight increase in his na!sea.
The wind!p bird went on crying b!t no one else co!ld hear its call.
This story is translated by Jay (!bin and p!blished in the Jan!ary @E ,--; iss!e of The
)ew :orker.