This is the second part of a serialized giant monster story published in weekly installments on this site. Click here to read the first part.
2. The Meteorite
~ July, 1966 – Sunset ~
Drenched in sweat, Akiko plopped down on top of the wide, flat boulder to catch her breath. She felt grateful that she kept her spare hiking boots in the trunk of her Datsun Fairlady; she’d never have been able to trek up the mountainside without them. She was also glad she’d brought a flashlight. The sun had dipped below the horizon as she climbed, and beneath the tall trees, darkness was closing in fast. Of course, it was no coincidence she’d had the right equipment for this job. A good photographer needed to be prepared for any eventuality, and Akiko prided herself on being ready to handle whatever came her way.
So why had Shinobu’s betrayal caught her so flat-footed?
She cursed quietly and spat a bug from her mouth. Mosquitoes were starting to swarm in the twilight. She needed to get going, or she’d be eaten alive.
Akiko hoisted her camera bag, hung her reloaded Pentax around her neck, and started trudging up the steep, forested slope once more.
Ahead, she could still see a faint trail of smoke from the fallen meteor—A meteorite, now, she reminded herself—curling into the early evening sky. In the distance, she heard the wail of sirens. Firetrucks… But were they racing toward this crash site, or had other meteors landed in a settled area? Certainly the meteor swarm had been big enough for multiple impacts. Could one of the nearby towns be ablaze even now? Akiko hadn’t seen light from any fires, but…
She sniffed the air, but didn’t smell much of anything burning, only faint wisps of smoke and a lingering earthy odor from the blast, both of which she’d noticed before starting her trek. No indication of fire there. Plus, the blackish cloud over the meteor’s landing site had been growing steadily thinner, not more dense.
Akiko still felt nervous.
She had almost been caught in a wildfire once, while on assignment near Kure; being surrounded by flames wasn’t an experience she cared to repeat.
Nothing’s burning, she told herself, pressing on. There’s no fire.
She had almost reached the top of the ridge now, and she felt certain that she’d find the crater—and perhaps an actual meteorite—on the other side. Her body tingled with anticipation. She was an explorer on the verge of a great breakthrough. Beyond the next rise lay something no one had ever seen before … undiscovered country.
She smiled. Once her editor saw pictures of what she’d found, he’d forget all about Rika Tadaka—the aspiring actress (and fiancé stealer!) that Akiko had been sent down this deserted stretch of coastline to cover.
Perhaps with photos of the crashed meteor in the bag, Akiko could even “accidentally” lose the snaps she’d taken of the little tramp. She could almost hear herself explaining the problem to her boss now: “I’m sorry, Goro-san, but in all the excitement, the rolls of film with Rika must have slipped out of my bag. It was a long, hard hike to the crash site, you know.”
Goro Arota, her editor, would be mad of course, but he’d soon get over it. And hadn’t Nick Burr, that American assigned to their bureau, taken pictures of the long-haired hussy at a shopping center opening just a few weeks back? The Tribune could run those pictures again, if they really need to put Rika’s piglike face in the paper.
Yes. That plan would work—just so long as Akiko got some decent pictures of the meteor’s landing site.
The idea gave her so much pleasure, that, for a few moments, she almost forgot about Shinobu’s betrayal. Almost.
Caught between gleeful revenge and lurking depression, Akiko topped the rise and stared down the other side.
Below, a wide, bowl-like valley stretched between the mountain ridges, and in the middle of it lay a huge crater. The pit looked as wide as a baseball stadium, and all the trees around the edges of it had been knocked flat by the meteor’s impact. Small fires burned around the blackened hole’s perimeter, but happily none of the blazes seemed to be spreading into the forest beyond.
In the center of the crater rested a huge, glowing, orange-and-black mass.
Akiko had seen a lava dome once, during a work trip to Hawaii a few years back, and this appeared similar to that. Had the meteor liquefied the bedrock of the mountains as it hit, or was she seeing the meteorite itself?
She couldn’t be sure, but this certainly was a newsworthy shot.
Quickly setting up her tripod, Akiko mounted the Pentax and squeezed off a couple of preliminary snaps. The light was rapidly failing, but she hoped that by varying the shutter speed and F-stop, she could capture a clear image of what she was seeing.
Front-page material, she thought, grinning.
She adjusted the settings and looked through the viewfinder again. Why was the meteorite out of focus now? Had her tripod shifted?
She peered through the viewfinder and readjusted the focus, trying to get everything as clear as possible. The first stars of evening were blazing brightly now, and she didn’t have much more time before her light failed entirely; the meteorite was far too large to cover with the Pentax’s flash.
Wait… Was something moving?
Akiko gasped and stepped back. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. Had she imagined it?
No! She hadn’t. The meteor seemed to be … pulsing, almost like a beating heart.
And a piece of it was breaking from the surface, thrusting up like a huge tentacle and…
It was coming toward her!
A hissing sound, like steam escaping from a huge kettle, filled her ears, and suddenly the air around her became much hotter.
Akiko shrieked and ran, dashing back the way she’d come, leaving her camera equipment behind.
She didn’t dare look back.
It was coming for her! If she stopped running, it would catch her for sure!
She imagined the huge, snakelike thing hot on her heels, crashing through trees as though they were matchsticks.
She lost her footing amid the leaves and rocks, and nearly fell, but she righted herself at the last moment and dashed headlong into something solid.
Akiko screamed again, and balled up her fists to pummel the monster assaulting her. If she was doomed to die, she wouldn’t go down without a fight!
Thanks to Christine, David, Edward, Steve, and Kiff for beta-reading!
All contents, copyright 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.