The Shadow in Hallasan

Summary: During World War II, Imperial Japanese forces enter a strange cave on Jeju Island. Two Korean brothers pursue them.

Park Hwa-chin and Park Seong-su might have had a peaceful life, had their father not been executed in the wake of the March First Movement in 1919. They grew up in a quiet village on beneath Hallasan, but the great mountain was not the only shadow cast on their lives. Their uncle died in the abortive Jeju uprising just prior to the March protests, when he led monks and farmers, armed with only matchlock muskets and bamboo spears, against the Japanese occupiers. The Japanese secret police, the Kenpeitai, and their chinilpa Korean collaborators, paid their family special attention.

Early in the war, the brothers vanished into the wilderness to avoid conscription and enslavement. From the Korean men used as slave laborers to the Korean girls forced to become 'comfort women,' they grew up ever eager to avoid serving the Imperial government. As their uncle regaled them with stories of the Korean victory at Cheongsanri, they took to living off the land as the Pacific War dragged on. From their cabin on Mount Halla, Jeju's highest peak, they saw things change before their eyes.

The Japanese troops dug in along the southern beaches near Seogwipo. Their Alddreu army airfield now trained kamikaze pilots for suicide attacks. The brothers saw an increasing withdraw of troops for other theaters. They saw suicide midget submarines launch from the southern caves, training to strike Allied transport ships. The brothers sometimes headed into Jeju City in disguise, selling fresh meat to butchers and shopkeepers. They'd heard the Americans were closing in, and the Russians were weighing entrance into the Pacific War. In spite of this, they tracked a Japanese platoon marching up the side of Hallasan.

Early on, the Park brothers knew it was no routine patrol. A platoon of Imperial Japanese soldiers, armed with new Type 99 rifles and Type 96 light machineguns, ascended the peak beneath the overflight of surveillance aircraft. Ever curious about the strange deployment, they followed the platoon up the mountainside. The air grew thinner with their ascent, as did their curiosity.

Each brother carried their weapon of choice. Hwa-chin carried his trusty double-barrel shotgun. Seong-su carried his Type 38 bolt-action rifle, acquired from a Japanese soldier who'd "accidentally" fallen into a gorge. His hand-loaded shells extended the range and power of the weapon, beyond the standard 6.5mm Arisaka cartridges. They rested beneath a camouflaged canvas tarp, like those hunters used. Should they be captured, they'd pretend to be errant hunters, despite the low likelihood of survival.

The brothers shadowed the Japanese, avoiding the airplanes as they'd make regular passes. The Japanese troops moved slowly and deliberately along the side of the dormant volcano, occasionally fanning out to search. Their commanding officer directed them from some strange, ancient parchment, barking out descriptions of landmarks and features. It made little sense to the brothers, until they came to the cave entrance.

The cave entrance was easily missed from beneath, as it was partially obscured by massive boulders. Worn carvings resembled ancient Chinese characters with some imagination. The cave entrance was a stone arch, almost artificial in appearance. The platoon vanished inside, with their commanding officer waiting until a scouting party returned from within. Outside, they left three men, a sniper above the entrance, and a machinegun team beneath them. Exchanging only devious grins, they attacked.

Hwa-chin moved along the crest of the mountain as Seong-su lined up a shot. Hwa-chin waited behind a rocky outcropping, beholding the three Japanese soldiers through his binoculars. When the sniper's body fell limp, he launched his own attack on the machine gun team. He darted between rocks, knowing he had only seconds to act. He sprinted along the mountain path, where one misplaced foot would send him plummeting to his doom. He saw the gunner pivot his weapon, and his assistant shouting and pointing in his direction.

Hwa-chin expected to be cut in half by machinegun fire, but the gunner instead clutched his side. He thanked his brother's lucky second shot. The gunner's assistant pushed the wounded man aside like the dead meat he'd become, and he swung the weapon around.

Hwa-chin and the machinegunner were within two meters of each other when they unloaded everything they had. Machinegun fire blasted divots out of the stone around him. He retorted two barrels of buckshot. The belt-fed weapon fell silent, and he immediately saw why. The head of the soldier operating it was re-arranged by a hundred unseen projectiles, painting the ground and stone of the cave entrance a nauseating pink and purple. The putrid arabesque of bodily fluids seemed to run for hours from the mangled cranium that once contained it.

"Just as Seobul came here seeking immortality, Lt. Sakamoto and his men have found its opposite," said an unseen voice in Korean. "Flee, Hwa-chin, and you may yet live."

Hwa-chin looked around for another voice, another speaker. He saw none. He reloaded with fresh shells and cautiously approached the downed man. The hair on the back of his neck stood up as he saw the dead Japanese soldiers. He grabbed the Nambu pistol from one, and he drew a grenade from the other. He hurled it into the cave, where he heard shouting and screaming. A second later, all within went silent.

Hwa-chin never found out if the grenade he threw as a dud or not, for he'd already sprinted away. His brother Seong-su, watching the cave the whole time, so no one emerge to give chase. He stood vigil for an hour, yet no Japanese soldiers re-emerged. The two brothers met at their rendezvous point in a forest along the edge of the crater, fearful they'd been tracked. However, no soldiers pursued. The overcast sky thundered, and the brothers vanished with the rain.

Hwa-chin told Seong-su about the strange voice, and the eerie silence issuing from the cave. His brother was dismissive at first, and Hwa-chin began to second guess himself. He believed it was some product of stress, of the adrenaline rush, and he put it behind him. Though the brothers survived the later Jeju Uprising, they never found that peculiar cave again.