- For my little one who never got the chance to grow up and explore the world.

1995

Snow fell steadily covering the mountains and towns along the Sanriku coastline as two people climbed the one with no name. The snow made walking slightly more challenging in some areas. Sticks hidden under the snow snapped under their feet. Their steps were slow and thought out. It was slick in some spots and they had to grab hold of trees or each other to prevent themselves from tumbling down the mountain. The teenaged girl's boot caught a covered tree branch and she fell forward into the snow. Her right hand shot out to catch herself. The leaves and long grass under the snow cushioned her fall. The older man turned and helped her to her feet while he stabilized himself with his walking stick.

"It doesn't feel like March," the girl said.

"That's life in Tohoku. Sakura will be blooming back home soon and it'll still snowing up here. I lived through some harsh winters while I was growing up. Moving to Hiroshima was a big change and much more pleasant," the man said.

The man looked around to get his bearings before continuing. The girl slammed her foot into the snow with each step hoping not to have a repeat of her fall.

Snow still fell in Miyagi Prefecture at this time of year unlike their home in Chiba Prefecture. In fact, it didn't snow much back home. If it had, it was long gone by the time school let out for the year in March. The girl always had the luxury of being greeted by blooming sakura trees when school started back up a few weeks later in April. Areas in the Tohoku region and in Hokkaido had to wait until about May to see the sakura trees bloom.

They came across a clearing that faced the small town of Onagawa. They stopped to admire the view. A small town sat in between the mountains and was pressed up against the bay. It looked like a lot of small coastal towns all over Japan.

"For a small town, Onagawa has a lot of history," the man said. "So many samurai clans battled to claim this area. Date Masamune took control of it under the Tokugawa shogunate. Around the end of the war, the town was hit by an air raid. It's also the only area to have a memorial dedicated to a foreign soldier on Japanese soil."

"Who?"

"Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray. He was a fighter pilot for the Canadians."

"If he was fighting the Japanese then why is there a memorial for him?"

"That is a good question. All I know is that his body or plane was never found. I suppose it could be considered a symbol of friendship between former enemies."

"Still seems strange," the girl said.

The pair continued on the side of the hill for several more minutes before stopping in front of a line of pine trees so close together that they acted almost like a barrier. The man grabbed the girl by the hand and led her through the branches. She lowered her face and shut her eyes tight protecting herself from the branches. She expected passing through the trees would last only a moment but it seemed never ending. Finally the assault stopped and they were through. She raised her head to see they were in a small canopied clearing. It was entirely untouched by the snow. The only thing on the ground was pine needles. It was also slightly warmer in the clearing. She wished she was a kid again as she could have used it as a secret base. She could have escaped to this place with some snacks from the konbini and read her manga in peace. She had no problem doing that very thing in her room but it wasn't the same. She entertained the idea of doing it now as a high school student, if there was such a place back home.

The man let go of her hand and moved closer to the center of the clearing. He looked around pointing to different trees then to the ground and then back to the trees. He did this maneuver for a few moments before making a mark in the ground with his foot. He motioned for the girl to come closer. Once she was at his side he held her hand firmly before slamming his foot into the ground where he made the mark. The ground opened up revealing a hole large enough for them to slide through one at a time. The girl couldn't see the end as the tunnel curved to the left.

"I'll go in first. I'll call for you when it's time for you to come down." The man sat on the ground with his legs hanging over the tunnel's event horizon. He slowly inched forward waiting for the momentum to take hold as if he was a kid on a playground slide for the first time. Even though he was bracing himself, the suddenness of it still caught him and the girl by surprise. In an instant he was gone.

The girl peered into the darkness inspecting the surface of the tunnel. It was unnaturally smooth, making it impossible to get any type of traction. If they were to come of this place then it wouldn't be through the way they came. She got into position waiting to be called. Time dragged on to the point she didn't know how long she was waiting.

"Mako-chan," the man said. That was her cue. She also braced herself possibly more so than the man. Gravity took hold and down she flew into the darkness. There was a thigh high drop off at the end which caused her to land on her feet but the inertia kept her going all the way to the rock wall on the opposite side of the cavern. She was able to stop herself with her hands without slamming into the wall.

There were no stalagmites to speak of and aside from the dirt on the ground, the cave floor was relatively clean. There were no broken rocks or any type of trash or debris on the ground. She wondered if there someone that cleaned the cave?

"It's hot in here," she said taking off her jacket.

"There's a special hot spring over there. Come here, I'll show you." Next to him was a waist high pool of water. She peered into the water it looked cold but she could feel the heat emanating from it.

"Now what?"

"Get in."

"Really?"

The man nodded. "Yes. This is why we came here."

"To sit in a hot spring? There are plenty of hot springs back home. Even Nikko is closer."

"You won't have to go back to the hospital after this." The girl looked up at her father curiously. His reassuring look wiped away all of her fear. He stepped a way as she undressed.

After placing her neatly folded clothes on top of her jacket, she stood in front of the pool of water. She tested the water with her fingers. It was comfortably hot. She thought about what her father said about not going back to the hospital. She looked at her now deformed left arm that was perpetually bent to her torso at an odd angle just below her breasts. It wasn't always like that. Up until a week ago her body was perfectly normal. Up until that morning on the train.

She didn't understand her father's meaning but it seemed sincere. She leaned closer to the water giving it another inspection before following through with her father's wishes. The bottom of the well was as clean as the cave floor and it looked like there was a small seat to use while relaxing in it.

Suddenly she felt a hand slam into the back of her neck thrusting her forward into the water. Another hand grabbed her thigh as she went head first into the water. Her whole body went under. She tried to push against the hand that still held her down but the insides of the well were almost as smooth as the tunnel that brought them here. Her eyes widened when she saw the distorted image of her father on the other side of the water's surface.

"Forgive me, Mako-chan. This is the only way to make things right."