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30. Flee or Die
~ Tottori Beach – July, 1966 – 2 PM ~
“Hang on!” Ken Koizume called as he twisted the wheel of the flatbed truck, trying to avoid the onrushing sea serpent.
He didn’t need to tell Rin to hang on; any idiot could see that the pair of them were in big trouble.
They’d started their vehicle rolling even before Taishen burst through the steel net, but none of the military brass seemed to have calculated beforehand how fast an army truck could travel over sand versus how fast the sea monster could slither.
“Drive faster!” Rin pleaded through gritted teeth. “Faster!” She clung to the rear of the flatbed, her spine pressed right up against the cab, wishing that she could crawl through the rear window—anything to put more distance between her and Taishen.
The daikaiju, its muzzle bloody with the remains of its most recent kill, shot after them like a hound chasing a rabbit.
The eerie wailing sound of Taishen’s scales flowing across the sand echoed in Rin’s ears … or was it in her skull? Was she really hearing those screams, or were they part of the weird psychic bond she seemed to share with the beast?
“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” she screamed as the monster drew closer.
Taishen fixed its glaring blue eyes on her, and a wave of hatred and hunger washed over Rin. It wanted her—and it would have her!
She ripped her eyes away from the creature’s terrible gaze and noticed her guitar, lying on the truck bed, where she’d dropped it when Taishen broke free. Should she grab the instrument to defend herself? Would smashing it against the monster’s snout even do any good?
If it didn’t, at least she would die with a guitar in her hand. That would be some small comfort. Maybe she could even strike one last power chord before being torn to shreds.
What in seven hells was I thinking when I agreed to this gig?
She picked up the guitar.
“I don’t care if we’re in the way!” Ken shouted into his two-way radio. “I’m telling you to resume fire! FIRE, dammit!”
Rin glanced through the back window at the handsome captain. Had he really just called in an artillery strike on their position?
The next moment, she got her answer, as a shell from one of the beach’s gun emplacements exploded right next to Taishen, then another—closer to their truck, this time.
We are so screwed!
The sea serpent bellowed its displeasure as the next shell actually connected, striking the monster in the middle of its long, scaly back. The hit disrupted the beast’s sinuous movement, and Taishen tumbled sideways, twisting and writhing across the dunes, kicking up huge clouds of dust.
The flatbed accelerated away from it.
Rin cheered. “Yeah!”
Taishen raised its spikey head out of the sand and glared at her. Its mouth yawned wide.
Rin turned toward Ken. “Look ou—!”
A huge gout of water blasted from the daikaiju’s mouth.
Though Rin hadn’t finished her warning, Ken must have sensed their peril. He tried to zigzag at the last instance, but the blast still caught the flatbed full on its side, drenching Rin and shattering the glass on the passenger side of the cab.
The army truck lurched up onto two wheels from the force of the blow, and Rin slammed hard onto her backside, though she managed to hold onto her guitar
Ken fought to regain control of the vehicle, and for a long moment, the world seemed to move in slow motion before the truck finally tumbled onto its side and skidded to a halt.
Stars danced before Rin’s eyes, and her head rang as if she’d been struck by a thunderbolt. An overwhelming surge of malevolent glee washed over her—Taishen’s delight at the crash. She tried to stand, but her head swam, and her injured ankle buckled underneath her.
“Keep firing!” she heard Ken call from inside the cab. “Keep firing, NOW!”
The thunder of cannons filled the air once more, and the psychic wail in her head intensified.
Ken scrambled out of the passenger-side door—now on the top of the overturned truck—and climbed down into the back where Rin had fallen.
“Come on,” he said, offering her a hand up. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
Rin didn’t need any convincing. As he pulled her to her feet, a stray shell burst twenty-five yards away from the truck. The impact made Rin’s head pound.
“Tell your people to watch their aim!” she complained. “If they’re not careful, they’ll kill us before the monster does!”
Maybe it was adrenaline, but her ankle didn’t feel so bad at the moment. Together, she and Ken sprinted from the truck toward the nearest dune.
“Start Phase Two!” Ken barked into his walkie-talkie. “Start Phase Two!”
Rin didn’t know all the details of the next step of this operation, but, glancing over her shoulder, she felt pretty certain that whatever the army had planned, it wouldn’t be enough.
Taishen was ignoring the cannonfire now and slithering toward them at top speed.
Rin’s heart pounded in her chest. “We have to run faster!”
Ken looked back at her, sweat dripping down his face, fear filling his brown eyes. “Drop the guitar!”
“Drop the guitar!”
Rin’s mouth fell open. “Oh!”
She hadn’t realized she was still carrying it; musician’s instinct, she supposed: even if you’re dying on stage, never let go of your instrument.
“Sorry, babe,” she whispered to the guitar as she let it drop to the sand. She immediately regretted not strumming a final chord.
But without the instrument, she and Ken ran a lot faster.
“Where are we headed?” she asked.
“You see those trucks?” Ken replied, indicating a line of twelve tankers stretching from the shoreline to a rocky outcropping, a veritable wall of sixteen-wheelers. There was just enough room between the two middle rigs to permit a flatbed to pass between them—more than enough space to admit two frightened people who had been forced to abandon their truck.
“Got it,” she said. But another glance over her shoulder told her that they still wouldn’t make it.
Taishen was gaining ground on them with every passing second; the artillery fire wasn’t slowing the daikaiju down at all.
“Dammit!” Rin whispered. In her mind, she saw her own funeral: her mother, her sister, and her bandmates standing around her grave, crying. Her tombstone had a guitar carved on it.
But suddenly, the monster stopped. It reared back, like a striking cobra, and dived face-first into the sand.
Rin felt so surprised, she almost stopped running.
“What? Why did it…? It almost had us!”
Ken laughed. “It attacked your guitar! That monster must really hate music!”
Sure enough, Taishen scooped the abandoned instrument into its serpentine maw and crushed the guitar into a million pieces.
Rin laughed and shook her head. “I wanted to get a Stratocaster anyway.”
She and Ken darted between the middle tankers and kept running.
But where should they go next? Destroying the guitar had only delayed Taishen a few moments, and ahead lay another stretch of deserted beach with the ocean on one side and an unclimbable rock outcrop on the other.
There was no place to hide, and the monster would soon catch up.
“What now?” Rin asked.
“Now we pray this plan works,” Ken told her. He brought his walkie-talkie to his lips. “Ready…”
At his command, two tankers closed the gap in the middle of the line. Their drivers then hopped out of the trucks and ran up the beach to where Ken and Rin were standing.
Taishen barreled forward, anger and hatred written across its scaly face.
In Rin’s mind, the screaming grew louder. She clamped her hands over her ears, but the awful clamor kept building.
“Steady…” Ken said.
The monster’s blazing eyes burned into Rin. Pain stabbed through her skull. Her ears thundered with the cries of the dying and the damned. Her knees buckled, and she slumped to the sand.
Ken bellowed: “NOW!”
Just as the sea serpent reached the line of tankers, all the trucks exploded. A towering curtain of flame sprang up between the serpent and its intended prey.
Taishen shrieked and reeled back, burning gasoline clinging to its blue-green scales.
“Destroyer … FIRE!” Ken commanded. “Let’s lure this devil back to sea and finish it for good!”
One of the ships stationed offshore—the only one that wasn’t a mine-laden decoy—began firing its cannons at the monster.
Still burning, Taishen wheeled for the shoreline and slithered into the ocean.
As the water extinguished the flames, a shell struck Taishen’s scaly back. The monster’s head whipped from side to side, seeking the source of this sudden and unexpected pain.
The beast’s wicked eyes quickly found the new threat. Without even a glance back to the beach, Taishen swam for the destroyer.
Despite the pounding in her head, Rin suddenly realized… That’s Emi’s ship!
Then the world went away, and she found herself surrounded by a whirlwind of sound and flashing images.
She saw towering waves and fountains of fire, heard the roar of the sea serpent and the scream of rending metal, smelled smoke and oil and salt spray and blood…
She saw a mighty warship crushed and broken, listing on its side, torrents of water flooding into its holds… She saw the bodies of dead JSDF sailors floating on the ocean, some crushed, some burned, others torn in half…
And then she saw her sister, Emiko, trapped inside the destroyer, helpless, as brackish water rose all around her.
Her ship was sinking … and Taishen was coming!
Emi was going to die!
Thanks to Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents TM & © 2014 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.