Kiyohira Arita was the only one in the lifeboat when he regained consciousness. What had happened? The eleven-year-old student had been on a ferry, the Shiun Maru. Yes, that was it. He was with his class on a school field trip crossing the Seto Inland Sea. The fog was so terrible. He and some of the other boys were on desk. He was trying to be brave, but he’d been freezing. Then he heard something, a horn of some kind. Then the world tore itself apart.
Now it was sunny and warm. Kiyohira had to take off his jacket because it was hot, like a summer day in the tropics though he knew it was only the beginning of May. Where was everybody? There must have been a crash, a collision. He looked in the water. No debris or wreckage. He looked further. Kiyohira knew she should be able to see land. They’d been in the middle of their transit so he shouldn’t be more than fifteen or twenty kilometers at most from the shore and even closer to one of the islands. They’d be impossible to miss on a day like this. Not a cloud in the sky.
But it was like he was in the middle of the ocean. He’d never been on the ocean before but he’d read books. Somehow he was put on a lifeboat after the collision and floated out to sea.
No, that was insane but how else could he have gotten here?
Kiyohira put his face in his hands and cried. He missed his parents, his little brother Susumu and even his annoying baby sister Nanami.
At first he thought he was sobbing so hard that he was rocking his small craft but then the rocking got worse. The ocean had been completely still just a few seconds ago.
There was something in the water. He had read about how sharks sometimes devour people lost at sea. His heart raced in his chest and for a moment, he thought it might leap into his throat.
He could see it circling the lifeboat, making the craft turn slow circles in the same direction.
The young student breathed a sigh of relief as the shark or whatever it was disappeared back into the azure depths. Then moments later several meters ahead and to his right, the water began to churn. The sea monster was back. It was coming to the surface as if taunting him. Kiyohira was trembling so hard, he had to grip the sides of the boat to steady himself, then fearing the shark would bite his hands, he jerked them back inside and onto his lap.
There it was!
What was it?
“I know I’m a bit frightful, but I mean you no harm. Quite the opposite in fact.”
It was a dragon!
It was a dragon?
First he had mysteriously gotten on board a lifeboat and he didn’t remember seeing any such boats on the ferry. Then he found himself on the open sea when he should be on the water but surrounded by land. Now he was beset not by a shark or other ocean predator, but by a dragon speaking in very elegant Japanese, reminding the boy of his esteemed grandfather.
Though the words and voice seemed gentle, his appearence was anything but. The creature was covered with black and golden scales while it’s underbelly and multiple flukes and fins streaming away from its serpent-like body were flaming crimson. When it opened its mouth, Kiyohira saw hundreds of jagged fangs, and it seemed to have white and golden hair growing over its eyes, lips, and below its chin.
Realizing he was staring, his mouth agape, he tried to calm himself.
“Really, I’m perfectly harmless. Well, not precisely true of course, but I’m perfectly harmless to you. Obviously you’ve gotten a bit lost and I’m here to help.”
Steeling himself, Kiyohira decided to test the dragon’s word. In all likelihood, he was either dead or asleep and dreaming, so it probably couldn’t hurt.
“Excuse me, Sir. Can you return me to my home? I don’t know where I am or how I got here.”
“Returning you home is beyond my current abilities, however I can take you to land and there will be people there to assist you further.”
Having no other options, Kiyohira decided he had little to lose. He was hungry and thirsty and terribly forlorn, or had been before the dragon arrived.
“If you would help me, I would be very grateful.”
“I would be happy to do so, lad. Say, what is your name?”
“Kiyohira Arita, kind dragon. What may I call you, Sir?” He realized he should have bowed but it would have been difficult to stand in his boat without falling over.
“I am known as Pyndazz, young Mr. Arita. I am pleased to make your acquaintence.”
“Likewise, Mr. Pyndazz. How shall we proceed.”
He was now convinced he was dreaming for clearly everything that was happening to him was impossible. He must have dozed off in a chair below decks. No worry, then. His teacher would undoubtedly awaken him when they reached the harbor.
“There is a coil of rope inside your craft. The other end is tied to the front of the lifeboat. If you toss your end into the water, I shall grasp it and pull you along.”
He spied the rope where Mr. Pyndazz said it would be and tried to pick it up. The thick hemp was heavier than he thought it would be, especially for a dream, but he managed to push the coils one by one into the sea and they sank.
Mr. Pyndazz once again submerged and moments later, Kiyohira saw the rope extend itself head as if of its own accord, and then the dragon surface and was swimming away. The boat lurched, and he had to grab the sides again to keep from being thrown backward.
They moved fairly slowly at first but in a few minutes time, his tiny craft was traveling faster than a speedboat. He felt scared and thrilled at the same time. Then he remembered this must all be a dream, though an exceptionally vivid one, and he tried to relax and enjoy the experience.
It wasn’t long before he could see a line along the horizon. Yes, it had to be land. He couldn’t wait to see what his dream conjured up for him. More dragon? It would be funny to see a Basan and magnificient to look upon Raijin.
As the shore became closer, Mr. Pyndazz slowed down and then let go of the rope and disappeared under the waves. The lifeboat’s momentum continued to carry it forward, and by the time he arrived at the sandy beach, he found his craft gently resting at the edge of the water. Then he heard the dragon’s voice from behind.
“Step onto the land, Kiyohira. Hurry before the waves take the boat back out to sea. Don’t worry about getting your shoes wet.”
He admitted to himself that he had been concerned. His parents had just bought him a new pair last month.
“It’s only a dream. You cannot ruin your new shoes.” He stepped into the shallow sea water and then ran forward onto dry land.
He was right about the tropics. Maybe he was on a mysterious island. All he could see was sand and a few palm trees. It was unseasonably hot and he had to loosen his collar. Kiyohira remembered he’d left his jacket in the boat but when he turned, both it and Mr. Pyndazz were gone.
“Oh don’t worry, Kiyohira. You’ll be traveling the rest of the way with me.”
He spun around again and saw another dragon, but the voice was a woman’s this time and she was golden all over, though looking no less fierce. She wasn’t alone. There were three others with her and they were people, students by the look of them, though they appeared very peculiar.
The two boys couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old but the girl could have been his age or a little older. She and one of the boys were Philipino but the other boy looked to be from some place in Africa.
He bowed. “I am Kiyoshia Arita.” Normally he would have been embarrassed because he was smiling like an idiot, but then again, if this were actually a dragon in front of him instead of just a dream, he’d have never stopped being terrified.
“And I am Shay, a dragon as you no doubt have guessed.” Her Japanese was as flawless as Mr. Pyndazz but when the three children spoke, they were incomprehensible.
“As you can see, my companions do not speak your language and you will have to learn their’s to understand them. This is Kofi,” she indicated the African child. “This is Danilo,” she said nodding to the other boy, “and this is Tala.”
They each seemed to be introducing themselves but Kiyohira had no idea what language they were speaking.
The dragon called Shay laid her massive head in front of all four of them but was looking at Kiyohira. “I have something very important to tell you and I’m afraid you won’t want to hear it.”
“What is that, Shay?” Perhaps she was going to use a magic spell to summon a demon. Why was he still so hot, thirsty, and hungry? If this was a dream, he shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at all.
“I know you believe you are dreaming. You are not. Your ferry collided with another in a thick fog. I am so sorry Kiyohira, but everyone was killed, and you only survived because you were brought to us.”
The pit of his stomach felt strange but this had to be a dream. There was no way it couldn’t be. Then the dragon pursed her lips and gently blew. A warm and not unpleasant smelling breeze caressed his face and ruffled his hair. He had to close his eyes for a moment and when he opened them, nothing had changed. He was still on the beach with the three strange children and a dragon.
“But this has to be a dream. It has to be. If it’s not…”
The dragon lifted her head up and sadly moved it side-to-side.
“But it has to be.” He was crying again. Tala walked forward and tried to hug him. She was crying to as if she too had experienced the same thing.
Kiyohira pushed her away and walked backward until he felt his feet getting wet. He turned back. The ocean was endless…and it was real. So was the sand, the trees, the children…and the dragon.
It was all real. The ferry he had been on with his class, all of his friends, the Shiun Maru had crashed into the other ferry in the thick fog. They were all dead. He was…He would never see his parents, his family, his home ever again.
Kiyohira fell to his knees in the sand and water and this time when Tala tried to hug him, he wrapped his arms around her and held on tight. He had lost everything.
“I promise, Kiyohira. I promise we will take care of you. Your pain will begin to fade with the passing of days and there will be glorious days ahead. But first you will grieve.
On 11 May 1955, the Shiun Maru collided in dense fog with her sister ship Uko Maru in the Seto Inland Sea during a school field trip, and sank with the loss of 166 passengers and two crew members. The victims included 100 students from elementary and junior high schools in Shimane, Hiroshima, Ehime and Kochi prefectures. You can read more about it on this list and on the Wikipedia page for the Shiun Maru disaster.
In this universe, certain children who are facing hopeless and certainly fatal situations sometimes find themselves in a different world, a world with hundreds, perhaps thousands or more children like them from all over the Earth and throughout human history. They also find they are among dragons.
I wrote this as part of a continuing experiment to explore that world.