Darren and Jimmy never climbed Diamond Head during the week, as there was simply too much else to do, what with school, homework and real work, but weekends were special.
A small Army facility was located deep down in the bowl of Diamond Head crater accessible by a tunnel located behind the PX in Fort Ruger itself. But, the iron grating leading to its entry was either chained or gated at all times. The boys scouted the tunnel entrance many times, because the climb up the outside wall of the mountain, even on the low side, was arduous and painstaking. And terrifying for Darren. He was never sure whether he was more afraid for himself, in crossing the iron anvil, or for Dorrenbacher who seemed to have been born without a fear of heights.
The Tuesday climb was extraordinary, not only because it was during the week, but because it had to be made after getting home from school and before the target time Darren provided to his friend for getting home. The reason for their climb remained a mystery, as Darren wanted to surprise Jimmy with something his voraciously curious mind had never encountered before, nor would likely ever encounter in the future.
They normally began their climb from the Cannon Club, located halfway up the low side of the crater wall in order to take in the breathtaking views of Waikiki at dusk while they climbed. The swimming pool, adjoining the club, and dug deep into the crater wall, allowed them to take a quick dip to cool off before dressing, and getting ready for the exertions of the adventure.
The Sunday before, when they’d taken their customary break before climbing, they’d run into an unexpected problem. The problem was named Star Black. She’d been at the pool, acting all cool in her sleek beauty, knowing that both boys were attracted to her, but that Jimmy was hopelessly in love. All he could do was stare at the sinuous college-bound girl, as she performed perfect dive after perfect dive from the one-meter board. Darren knew she was aware of Jimmy’s attention because she smiled right back at his stare as if daring him to approach her. Jimmy was so frozen by her stunning presence that he could not be motivated to leave right away.
Star Black was a service brat like both of them. Her father was Army and specially housed down at the lowest edge of the base. He was part of something called the Special Forces, rumored to by either a hyper-secret commando squad or a unit in training to run commissaries and recreational facilities, one or the other, but nobody knew for certain. Nobody could figure out which it was, but the tough-looking men who trained there all gave the appearance of being anything but lifeguards or retail clerks. Star’s father was enlisted. The kids of the enlisted men didn’t hang around with the officer’s kids, and Jimmy’s and Darren’s dads were officers. Jimmy and Darren both had determined that her cold but beautiful presence had to have something to do with the distance she kept from them.
Star was different. She came and went at will, using the “officer’s only” facilities, which extended down to the children of officers. She was never stopped or questioned, possibly because she looked for all the world like a full-blown movie star. It might also have been because she was tough as nails, and could outswim, outrun and out throw any of the kids who played sports on the base, male or female. She was also number one in her graduating class at Punahou, the classiest private school on the island. Both boys knew that to be the absolute truth because she’d beat Jimmy out to be valedictorian of the class.
Star waited until both boys were both in the deep end of the pool before she dived into the shallows and traveled underwater three full lengths of the pool. She came up like a rising porpoise not two feet from them. Both boys almost sunk under the surface, as their limbs froze before they recovered. Star smiled her paralyzing smile.
“You two are up to something. Every Sunday you come here, go for a swim and then hike off into the brush with your radio. What are you doing in there? What’s going on? I want to go with you the next time.” She smiled again when she finished, waiting like a beautiful praying mantis about to consume them with one gulp. They’d never heard Star say more than a few words before. She didn’t run in their circle in school, socially or even when she visited the club.
Darren watched Jimmy’s mouth begin to open and knew he was going to blab everything. He punched him in the side under the water.
“Nothing,” Darren answered, ignoring her request to join them. “We just go off into the bushes and listen to the radio. There’s a great classical program broadcast every Sunday morning.”
He smiled back at the beautiful female apparition, knowing that she knew he was lying. It was in her doubting eyes.
“I’ll keep a lookout for you then…until next time.”
She dived and was gone, appearing seconds later to rise from the pool as if by some hidden elevator. There was no stop, grab the side of the pool and hoist up, not with her. She simply slid upward out of the water to a standing position at the pool’s edge. Both boys could only stare as she toweled off, and then walked away as if they weren’t even there or she hadn’t made the request that she had.
“What’re we going to do?” Jimmy asked, his eyes still staring toward the last position Star had occupied before she departed.
“Nothing,” Darren replied. “She’s a girl. A different girl, but a girl, nevertheless. Ask her to a dance, or a movie or even to go for a drive, but she has no place on our special outings.”
On Tuesday she became an unavoidable problem. After their swim, they changed and started into the brush, just as before, knowing they were on a deadline to reach the summit and get ready for the event Darren had promised that Jimmy would observe. For this climb, they carried no radio to slow or weigh them down. Not fifty feet up the winding path to the rim Star stood out from the near-desert bracken of the mountainside. She wore a complete brush outfit, consisting of a long sleeve shirt and trousers, as opposed to the boy’s “T” shirts and shorts.
“I’m coming,” she stated, placing her hands on her hips.
Both boys stopped in front of her. Neither said anything. There was nothing to be said. They either had to call the adventure off or let her trail along. But they could not call off the adventure, Darren knew, because there would never be a display like the one they were set upon viewing
“Okay,” he agreed.
The boys then walked around Star and proceeded up toward the rim.
“Where are we going?” She asked, their pace no challenge to her capabilities. Both boys moved up the path faster than they’d ever gone before. Star stayed right with them, seeming to expend no extra effort to do so.
Darren stopped and crouched down just before reaching the rim.
“We’re headed to the very tip,” Darren finally answered. “There’s a pillbox there. It’s Tuesday so the Army’s on duty down inside the bottom of the crater. If they see us, they’ll chase us off. If we go along the rim, like we do on weekends, they might not spot us. So, we need to figure out how to get to the tip without being spotted.”
“If we go over the rim to the inside the brush starts about twenty feet down. It’ll be hard going but we can break a trail through the brush. We avoid the rim and they can’t see us from below unless we expose ourselves. When we get below the point, we’ll find a place to climb up,” Star said, squatting to join Darren on the path.
Darren considered, wondering about how Star knew what was inside the crater, but then realizing it didn’t make any difference. Her plan was the only plan they had that might work. The Army was never there on the weekends, so the problem had never arisen before.
The hike and climb took more than an hour. The last part of the climb was made up over the bare rock. There was no way to tell if they’d been spotted from the Army command post down in the caldera, but so far there’d been no activity from down there at all.
“Time check,” Dorrenbacher said, looking down at his watch.
“Five fifty-five,” Darren answered.
The three of them sat atop the pillbox, knees pulled up and staring off to the right of Waikiki, in the direction Darren instructed.
“Seven minutes to go, exactly,” he added, taking a folded-up piece of paper from his pocket. He kept it clutched in one hand.
“What are we waiting for?” Star asked. “It’s truly wonderful up here. Thanks for bringing me along.” She smiled her dazzling smile.
Darren watched Jimmy meltdown completely. He frowned to himself. How were they going to get rid of Star in future returns to their special spot? She was beautiful, but remote and intrusive. He knew Jimmy wouldn’t understand at all if he approached him about the subject.
“He won’t say,” Dorrenbacker said. “He’s got some special information from his Dad, who’s in the Coast Guard. That’s it. But I trust that whatever it is will be worth our efforts to see,”
Jimmy went on, as Darren remained silent, surprised that Dorrenbacher had so much confidence in him.
“Dad didn’t tell me anything,” Darren offered. “I found some papers in the special drawer where he keeps his orders. I check it all the time to see if we are going to move back to the mainland anytime soon.” He was about to share the data from the piece of paper when Jimmy held out his watch and started to count down from sixty. The three stared at the horizon Darren indicated they watch but nothing happened at the appointed time. Jimmy looked over at Darren with a skeptical expression. The event took place at that instant.
A white light flashed from the horizon and passed over them, taking the island from evening to mid-day. The effect lasted about five seconds. It was followed by a blue light of the same intensity and length, and then green, yellow and then deep red. The eerie effect seemed to take much longer than it did until the red faded away. On the horizon a yellow orb slowly rose up, starting at the size of a rising ping-pong ball but slowly growing into the size of a blazing white basketball.
As one, the three climbed to their feet. The effects were so stunning and foreign that fear registered on all their faces, including Darren’s.
“What is it?” Jimmy asked, his voice low and trembling.
Very slowly the intense yellow sun on the horizon began to fade before Darren unfolded the piece of paper and began to read.
“Project Housatonic. Johnston Atoll, located eight hundred and sixty miles due south of the Hawaiian chain. Nuclear test number thirty-three of the Dominic series. Eight point three megatons, airdropped from an altitude of thirty thousand feet. Project purpose to gauge damage to a flotilla of ships gathered across sixteen square miles of the sea below.”
“Almost a thousand miles away. Wow!” Star remarked.
“Is your Dad out there on one of those ships in the flotilla?” Jimmy asked, both he and Star turning to look at Darren directly.
The light from the nuclear explosion faded to a soft glow, little more than a brilliant bump on the horizon, although still brighter than Oahu’s late day sun.
“Yea, I suppose so,” Darren replied, wondering why he hadn’t thought about that until Jimmy mentioned it, a thin shiver of raw fear passing through his center for the first time. He stared out over the city of Honolulu, realizing that there were no lights, although full darkness was not far off.
<<<<<< The Beginning | Next Chapter >>>>>>
Hey Jim – you have a great Novella going, and love following along, per usual.
Back in 1957, we were living in the Philippines. Dad was a Naval officer, and had something to do for SEATO – I got to visit most of SE Asia with him, as he often had me tag along if space was available.
I do not recall the date, but in that year (57), he had me tag along in a Martin P5-M. big flying boat. I had often hitched along on some photo ops, as I was a pretty good cook at 12 years of age.
We made a long flight to I think some island that started with a “T”, then a short flight to Bikini Atoll. The pilot sat the airplane down in a big lagoon, some water samples were taken, then we left. Long-ass flight!
Bikini was largely just sand! Dad told me later about the A-bomb tests there, and his friend Homer was the pilot. Was told to not tell my classmates about the trip.
Thanks for adding your own life experience here Craig. Landing in the lagoon to take
water samples following nuclear blasts….like that would be done today at all!
Glad you seem to be healthy to this day, however.
Thanks for the great comment.
Another great chapter in a great coming of age story. Much enjoyed. Glad you are on the mend.
Thanks Tom, much appreciate the caring comment and the compliment…
As I would except,great read, I am waiting very patiently for the next installment of 30 days, it must be hard to bring that back to yourself, take your time LT we will wait, my Dad was USMC WWII, took him 60+ years to talk about it, Semper Fidelis
Writing this minute Bob. I had open heart surgery and the recovery was more difficult than
I expected but am almost fully back now.
HMM-364 went to Johnston Is to find and pick up instrument pods that looked like early space capsules. There were 3 that were attached to the outside of each Thor Missile around the bottom. The one that lite Honolulu up like daylight was up 200 miles and one of the largest. The colors you describe were very dramatic being directly under it and the 4th of July has never been quite the same. The capsule had a radio antenna on the section floating just above the surface and we centered on the signal with an oscilloscope in the cabin. We found all the Thor pods, but none of the smaller rocket fired from Johnston Is by numerous scientific institutions. They all sank before we could find them as they had no signal to track. We snagged the capsule with a grappling hook, flew it 50′ under the UH-34D, and lowered it into a lead lined storage area. The last Thor, while we were on the Iwo Jima, blew up on the launching pad scattering radioactive debris over the area. We had to land right next to the mess to rescue the team in the block house launch center. We came back on the Princeton after they rebuilt the launch pad for more blasts. When tracking lost a missile, they destroyed it dropping the atomic warhead into the shallow waters around Johntson Is. It was then a race to see who could get to it first, Navy UDT or Russian subs or trawlers.
Wow, Warren! Dad never talked about his stay at the Island during the test except to say that aboard his ship everyone thought they were going to die.
Dad lived to 96 so I guess exposure was not a factor.
Thanks for the in depth personal portrayal of your own experience.
Glad that you are on the mend
& able to resume your stories
I have been to the rim bunker
The view is fantastic
I’ve read articles about our testing in the Pacific
There were other high altitude detonation tests that knocked out the power in Hawaii
Yes, I read about some of the other tests too but only ever experienced the one.
I was off to college not long after the story takes place and only returned when my Mom and Dad
retired there in 1977. Then I taught college out there from 94 to 96. Thanks for the compliment
and the care…
Well LT, I guess we now know where Star Black was before she she became the heroine of Island in the Sand.
There much more to the “rest of the story”
Remember The DUKE was written many years ago. ~~smile
Thanks for your input, Rob
Wow !!! Is this first hand or all fiction ?
If first hand I envy you my friend, had to be a spectacular show !!!
Remember almost all you read here is posted as “Fiction”
Obvious reasons for much of the content.
Thanks for the comment,
Glad your writing again. Your writing style is very distinctive. Your use of the word “bracken” always seems to intrigue myself. Don’t know why. this is the first story I’ve read of yours that’s not “30 days”. Keep it up I might buy more than just those books.
I learned the word bracken back in Hawaii when I was a kid.
I had the Maryknoll nuns as my elementary school teachers and one of them, Sister Michael Marie,
demanded one day that I come out from the ‘bracken’ of bushes I was playing in.
I looked up the word, afraid to let her know that I didn’t know what it meant. Never forgot the term.
Dictionary says: “a cluster or thicket of such ferns; an area overgrown with ferns and shrubs.”
Actually, the old-fashioned root of the word
goes back to Scandinavians in the fifteen hundreds when it was used to describe a certain bush that was poisonous to the touch.
Thanks for the comment and the compliment.
Don’t guess I’ll live long enough to see the end of “30 Days”…. I believe we’ve surpassed the 3 and a half year mark……. Semper Fidelis…
Sorry to hear about your impatience…
I am getting better every day.
Even though Thirty Days was a short stint for most people, it has gnawed at me for over 50 years