He watches one body, then another, float past in the Sumida River. Heavy, white dust blankets his skin and traditional kimono. A bowler hat, a Western cultural clash, is sealed to his scalp with soot and sweat.
His hand shakes. His fingers wrap around the little wooden cup, trying to steady themselves and prevent spilling precious sake. The tiny, alleyway tachinomiya is overcrowded by half, the dust-covered survivors standing shoulder-to-shoulder clutching their drinks in silence.
He tries to convince himself he is merely resting his elbows on the table, but in truth, they are the only things holding him upright. His knees tremble like the earth in Nihonbashi-ku when it betrayed him. What he has seen haunts him, as does what he has done. What he hasn’t done.
The screams from the building collapse minutes before pound in his head. He saw the hand stick out of the rubble and traced it to the pleading eyes of a woman trapped. The flames from upended cooking fires raged ever closer, and he knew he only had moments to offer aid.
But he ran.
Gods have mercy, he ran.
This pour of sake is not enough to drown his guilt. His gaze drifts back to the Sumida River. If he cannot drown his guilt in sake, he will find another way.
He places the empty cup on the table and steps back to let another silent survivor fill his spot. Once out from under the tachinomiya’s thatched roof, the bitter curls of smoke snake into his nostrils. The fire has followed him, attracted to his guilt, propelled by the rage of the woman he left to fuel its unceasing appetite.
A second rumble, and the earth twists beneath his feet. He leans into the tachinomiya’s outermost support beam for stability. The alleyway begins to curve inward as the thatched roof splits, raining snapped reeds on the drinkers. The building the tachinomiya leans against crumples, swallowing the patrons in splinters and stone.
He hears himself call out, his voice hoarse and unrecognizable as the encroaching smoke burns his throat. In the debris, he meets the eyes of a man who was drinking next to him only moments before.
The air sears his lungs as he stretches out his hand. This time, he will not run.
Amanda Fox is a Texas-based writer for funsies with an unrelated full-time job where she plans for, responds to, and helps her campus community recover from disaster situations. This gives her the opportunity to constantly imagine the worst case scenario and come up with creative ways to handle it, so it will likely come as no surprise that she greatly enjoys disaster fiction. Amanda has been writing since she was very young, following in the footsteps of her very talented older brother (Robert E. Harpold), and she has, at a conservative estimate, forty million story ideas rattling around in her brain. Some of Amanda's short stories have been published on Reedsy. She has not yet identified a genre to specialize in. When she is not being a hilariously introverted hermit, Amanda enjoys going on walkies with her ridiculous but adorable dog, reads obsessively, and tries her level best not to combust in the Texas heat.