TESTIMONY PART 4
Sekeda-San was the first to speak upon our group finally reaching the derelict ship. “More than a year has passed since she wrecked,” he had said. As we grew nearer to the hull, more details began to emerge, each more unsettling than the last. The vessel had clearly encountered a powerful storm, one strong enough to ground the ship a distance of nearly twice its length into the beach. The port side of its hull, which we faced as we continued our approach, had been embedded so deeply into the sand that its deck was only a few meters away from being parallel to the ground. A gangplank extended at roughly forty-five degrees from the deck to reach a large pile of compacted earth that had been shaped – presumably by the hands of the craft’s occupants – into a crude set of stairs.
Upon finally reaching the ship, Yoshida elected to remain behind with the girls as Sekeda-San, Kasai-San, Koyama-San and myself ascended the gangplank to explore the wreck. We didn’t know exactly what we expected to find, but we were certain the ship would offer something of use to us.
Our first discovery was a crude water-catching setup on the deck near the gangplank, proof that someone had, at one time, been living on the ship. As we continued, I could feel that sense of unease returning, growing stronger as it attempted to replace curiosity as my brain’s primary focus. I shunned it, forced it into the farthest recesses of my mind. I would not let my fear keep me back. I had to know the secrets the vessel held. Not only for my own sake, but for the others, as well. For our survival. For Akiko’s survival…
Sekeda-San was the first to spot the door leading to the ship’s interior, and the first to open it. Upon entering the hallway within, a most unpleasant smell greeted my nostrils. It was a dank, musty odor, not unlike the smell of a house with significant water damage. The entire ship seemed to skink of closed, moist, moldy places. And indeed, it didn’t take long to notice that the very walls of the craft seemed caked over with a slimy, unsettling substance that appeared to be a mixture of mold and moss. Even the stairs were slick with growth, so much so that Sekeda-San suffered a minor slip down to the lower deck. We followed, treading carefully so as not to follow in his stead.
The next room we discovered appeared to be a meeting or dining area, with a large table flanked by long benches on either side. The mold seemed especially thick in that room, with dense layers caked over even the portholes. Curiosity compelled me to wipe a full handful of the substance from the nearest of these windows, and the other men and I marveled at the amount removed from such a small area.
Our investigation was interrupted by a series of crashing sounds from a nearby room. Rushing to find its source, we discovered Koyama angrily flipping pots and pans over in a desperate search for anything edible. We left him to his hopeless task, moving on down a new hallway that ended in what appeared to be a laboratory. Once inside, we quickly spotted both a salt water pump and a radiation meter, leading Sekeda to declare the ship an oceanography vessel. It was only the first discovery the room would yield.
Next came Kasai-San’s observation that the mold appeared to be differently colored than elsewhere on the ship. And then came a cabinet filled with most unusual specimens: a turtle with no eyes, jars containing mutated fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, and a collection of bottles filled with sea water and chemicals. But the most unusual part of the cabinet was its complete lack of mold growth. We puzzled over this for a moment, but the next discovery solved the mystery.
To the left of the cabinet sat several large containers, each containing multiple gallons of carbolic acid. We reasoned that the mold was vulnerable to such chemicals, and took comfort in the fact that we could now clean the ship and, perhaps, make it a temporary home.
But there was…
But there was one more secret in that lab. A secret locked in a rotting wooden chest that sat next to the jugs of acid.
I remember Sekeda- San, Kasai-San, and myself reaching out to grab the chest’s moldy lid. I remember forcing the rusty nails free, and sliding the lid away to see…
… to see the mushroom.
(NOTE: Murai-San’s pause following this sentence was roughly 20 seconds long, and was accompanied by an increased breathing rate and slight shaking of his hands and shoulders. As with his previous lengthy silence, no attempt at communication or consolation was given by me, my fellow doctors, or the police in attendance. His testimony resumed upon his anxiety subsiding.)
It’s strange to think now that I…
(Another long pause.)
I was more shocked than scared in that moment. I had no reason to be fearful. Instead, my curiosity took over. It was, after all, a fascinating discovery…
The mushroom stood nearly a meter tall, but aside from its monstrous proportions, it looked no different from a normal mushroom. But it wasn’t normal. That much was certain.
I closed the lid, and read aloud the strange word printed on the chest’s mold-covered label…
A second label offered several more details, citing the mushroom as a new species discovered on the island. But that was all it said. We saw nothing further on its history, its reason for being on the ship, or, most importantly for us, if it was edible or not.
Our investigation of the lab came to a sudden end a few seconds later, when a horrific scream came from the deck above us. The three of us rushed to the source of the scream to find Mami-San and Akiko-San huddled together, their faces frozen in fear. Turning, we immediately saw what had frightened them so…
The door to a new room – specifically the Captain’s cabin – lay open before us. Inside… a hellish nightmare of thick, dusty mold bathed in a red light cast from two portholes above a long desk. At first glance, the placement of the windows and desk reminded one of a human skull… a red skull entombed in mold.
The sight frightened even me. But I knew that inside this nightmarish room, there might be a captain’s log, something that could give us the answers to the many mysteries contained within the ghostly ship.
With my hand held over my nose, I entered the cabin. But no amount of air filtering could stop a nearly overwhelming stench of must and decay from entering my lungs. The very air seemed thick with mold spores, and I did my best to hold my breath as I searched for anything useful beneath the layers of thick growth. When at last I located a book beneath the mold, I couldn’t help but breathe the slightest sigh of relief.
Perhaps I had found the answers we were looking for, after all.
To be continued.