This is the first part of a serialized giant monster story published in weekly installments on this site.
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1. The Meteor Shower
~ July, 1966 ~
Akiko Natsuke had never walked out on a posh party before—or on a photo assignment for that matter—but she supposed there had to be a first time for everything. To her right, just out her driver’s-side door, the Seto Sea whispered seductively, offering quick, cold release from her heartbreak.
She rubbed the back of her fist across her eyes, smearing away her tears, and continued driving down the seaside highway. She knew she’d just ruined her makeup, but she didn’t care. She only wished that she could wipe away the memories of tonight as easily.
Despite her desire to forget, the terrible image still burned in her brain: Shinobu, her boyfriend of two years, in the bathroom of the Tadaka beach house, his half-naked body entwined by the pale limbs of Rika Tadaka, starlet on the rise.
I wish I’d never opened that bathroom door! Akiko thought. Why didn’t I knock first?
She choked back a sob, pulled over to the shoulder of the road, and stopped, yanking the parking brake so hard that her hand hurt. It would have been so easy not to stop, to run her sporty convertible through the flimsy guardrail and then over the side of the cliff into the surf below…
But no. Akiko was stronger than that. She wouldn’t give Shinobu—or that tramp—the satisfaction.
The newspapers, even the Tribune, where Akiko worked, painted Miss Tadaka as pure and innocent; that was part of her appeal.
Some “innocent”! Making love to another girl’s fiancé in the bathroom of her own father’s beach house—and in the middle of a publicity tour party, no less.
Well, Akiko would see that Rika got plenty of press coverage—just not the kind that little witch wanted. Aki only wished she’d had the presence of mind to snap a picture of the two of them in the act before storming off. After all, that’s why she’d been assigned to the party in the first place: to take pictures.
But when she accidentally stumbled across a big scoop, what did she do? She went crying off, like some middle-school girl. Sure, Shinobu’s betrayal was heart rending, but…
“Some photojournalist you are,” Akiko chided herself, resting her forehead against the steering wheel of her Fairlady 1500. The red plastic felt cool, almost soothing, against her skin.
Her mother had warned her that Shinobu would never work out. “Never date a reporter,” Mama had said, “and never anyone you work with.” It looked like Mama Natsuke had been right on both counts. Akiko could almost hear the “I told you so” already.
She took her head off the steering wheel, her tear-blurred eyes lighting briefly on the ring on the middle finger of her left hand: a golden circle set with a beautiful white pearl.
“Just a token,” Shinobu had promised her. “I’ll get you a proper engagement ring when my raise comes through.”
Well, he’d gotten a raise tonight, all right…
Angrily, Akiko stomped out of the car and pulled the ring from her finger.
With all her might, she threw the golden circlet as far as she could past the roadside cliff face and out over the sea.
For a moment, the ring caught the light of the setting sun and shimmered like a star as it fell. It looked almost… beautiful. Then it vanished into the deepening twilight—just like her relationship.
Memories of two wasted years—memories that had seemed happy just yesterday—welled up inside Akiko, and tears budded in her eyes once more. What a fool she’d been.
She should have seen the signs, should have noticed the way Shinobu had paid extra attention to the ladies when the two of them were out on assignment together.
But, wasn’t that his job, to flatter the starlets so he could get a good story and Akiko could get good pictures?
Aki looked at the camera outfit lying on the passenger seat, thinking of the pictures she’d taken of that hussy earlier in the evening, half tempted to throw whole case into the surf after the ring.
No. Even if she and Shinobu were through, she still needed her job at the Kobe Tribune. How else could she keep her apartment? If she quit—or got fired for throwing the paper’s expensive camera into the ocean—she’d have to move back to Shirahama to live with her mother, and that was the last thing she wanted right now.
She blinked back her tears, and the droplets sparkled on the edge of her lashes—looking like more falling stars in the darkness.
No … Wait … it wasn’t only her tears…
Those were stars, just winking to life in the cerulean sky … Falling stars!
Akiko smeared away her tears with the back of her hand again.
This was amazing!
Bright streaks of orange, white, and red, like fireworks on New Year’s Eve, lit up the entire sky.
Quickly regaining her wits, Akiko fetched the Tribune’s camera—a Pentax Spotmatic SP—from the passenger seat of the Fairlady and began taking pictures. Here was a series of images that would push that no-good would-be starlet off the front pages.
Akiko found herself smiling as the Pentax SLR’s shutter clicked as fast as she could wind it.
I’ll have to put in a new roll of film soon, she told herself.
She flipped the camera up to check the shot counter; she’d lost track in all the excitement.
Just three shots left.
As she looked heavenward once more, gazing across the Inland Sea, her eyes went wide.
A huge fireball was streaking across the sky!
Quickly, she raised the camera and shot again: once…
The fireball grew larger, brighter. The pictures would be amazing!
Still larger and … Wait!
It’s headed straight for me!
“Duck!” Akiko cried, as if saying the word might force her to action.
At the last moment, she threw herself down on the shoulder of the road behind the Fairlady.
Heat seared her skin and a roar like a freight train blasted her ears as the meteor zoomed overhead.
Akiko looked up as it shot by, the wind from its passing tugging at her short-cropped hair.
She swung the camera back up to her eye as the meteor sizzled over the mountainous hills beyond the seaside highway.
The fireball struck just behind the ridgeline, shaking the earth with its impact and sending flames blazing into the cool evening air.
The thunderous sound entirely drowned out the soft click of Akiko’s Pentax.
Third time lucky, the photographer thought. This would be front page worthy!
Smoke and steam from the blast rushed into the sky, forming a billowing mushroom-shaped cloud.
Akiko wound the reel and hit the shutter button once more, praying for that extra shot or two a lucky photographer can sometimes squeeze onto the end of the roll.
The button only depressed halfway; the shutter didn’t click.
Damn! Not lucky enough!
Tonight had been a real mix of good and bad timing.
Akiko looked at the billowing smoke, knowing that by the time she loaded another roll of film, the cloud would have dissipated into the twilight air.
But she would have plenty of time to reload before she climbed the mountain.
Thanks to Christine, David, Edward, and Kiff for beta-reading!
All contents, copyright 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.
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