This is the sixteenth part of a serialized giant monster story published in weekly installments on this site.
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16. Flight for Life
~ Near Tottori – July, 1966 – One PM ~
Emiko stared out of the Chinook’s window, half mad with worry about her sister, but still glad she’d been allowed to make the trip. Waiting back at the hospital in Fukuyama would have been unbearable, though not nearly as bad as having to return home and explain the situation to their mother. Tsuruko Murakami would find out Rin’s fate soon enough—if, indeed anything had happened to Emiko’s sister.
You’ll know within the hour, Emi told herself, though the thought didn’t make her feel any better. And then you can tell mother.
Assuming, of course, that their mother didn’t somehow know already.
Had her mom really predicted the loss of the rescue boat and the destruction of X-Base?
How was that possible?
How was any of this possible? How could a state-of-the-art military base be leveled? How could a monster be attacking the Tottori Beach Festival? Emiko believed in science. Yet, there was a monster—two monsters, if Doctor Shimura’s deductions proved correct—attacking Japan.
“There is nothing in this world that cannot be studied—and eventually explained—by science,” Doctor Shimura had famously said. Yet, as the X-Base helicopter drew near to Tottori, Emiko did not feel very certain that the brilliant scientist’s maxim would prove true.
She wished Shimura was making this trip with her, but Captain Ken Koizume (the stuffed shirt!) had insisted that the flight contained room for only two civilians: one scientist and one reporter. And he’d only conceded that much after both Shimura and the Tribune reporters had badgered him relentlessly.
“You go in my stead,” Shimura had told Emiko. “I’m too old for helicopter jaunts. Besides, you’ll be able to see as much scientific data as these old eyes could.”
Emiko wasn’t sure she agreed with either of her sensei’s points. More likely, Shimura had merely given her his seat on the flight because Rin might be in danger. Whatever the case, though, Emiko felt glad for the opportunity.
“Take good notes for me,” Shimura had reminded her jovially as Emi climbed into the copter.
“Don’t worry,” Shin Shindo had assured him, helping her aboard. “We will.” Neither his American colleague nor the Tribune’s pretty photographer had seemed pleased about the handsome reporter pulling rank and taking the last open seat, but they’d gone along with it.
What else could they do? (Though it seemed to Emi that Miss Natsuke had been almost fit to burst.) Was there some kind of hidden conflict between the photographer and the paper’s lead reporter?
Emi had spent most of her time pondering similar human mysteries as the Chinook made the forty-five-minute trip over the mountains to the far side of Japan. She’d hoped that focusing on such trivialities would help her to avoid thinking about her sister.
The strategy hadn’t worked, though, and it seemed like everyone in the helicopter knew it.
“Are you sure there isn’t something I can do?” Captain Koizume asked Emi for the fifth time. He was treating her far more kindly than he had when she’d been lying in the road outside the gate of X-Base.
“Fly faster, please,” Emi replied impatiently. She knew the request was unfair. Koizume wasn’t piloting the helicopter, after all (though he was in charge of this mission), and they were certainly flying as fast as they could. Torn between sympathy for the man’s situation and her innate hostility toward the military, she crossed her arms and mumbled, “I need to find my sister.”
“We’re almost there now,” Koizume assured her, then added, almost apologetically: “I didn’t even know you had a sister.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Captain Kenji Koizume,” she snapped, feeling immediately bad that she’d done so.
“Ah!” the reporter Shindo interjected. “You two know each other.”
“No,” Emi insisted. “Yes,” Koizume replied simultaneously.
The soldier turned slightly red. “That is, we’ve met previously, but we really don’t know each other well.”
“Hardly at all,” Emi added, turning to look out the window again.
“Mmm…” The reporter’s eyes narrowed, but he seemed to accept the denial; he went back to scribbling in his notebook.
Emi knew she should probably be taking notes, too, but what was there to report so far, aside from the nervous weasel gnawing at her guts?
“Coming into range, Captain,” the pilot’s voice announced over the headsets that they all wore so they could hear one another over the noise of the rotors.
“Get ready, everyone,” Koizume commanded. “If the reports are true—and there really is a sea serpent—there’s no telling what kind of trouble may lie ahead.”
The thirty or so soldiers aboard the aircraft checked their gear, and three of the crew members went to man the Chinook’s machine guns. The copter was more for supply and transport than fighting, Koizume had explained, but it was the best X-Base could get into the air, given the circumstances. All the people in the helicopter—all except Emi and Shindo—were armed to the teeth.
Koizume moved among his troops, giving them a final once over. He paused next to Emi and Shino only long enough to issue a few orders: “You two stay in your seats. And keep your safety harnesses on. Check them now.”
“But…” Emi began.
“No buts,” he said. “I won’t have civilians getting in the way of my trained personnel.”
Shindo smiled and checked his harness, as the captain directed. Then he leaned close to Emi, covered his headset mic, and whispered: “Don’t worry. We’ll make a break for it if we need to. No military brass is going to stand in the way of the free press.”
“Or me finding my sister,” she agreed, covering her mic as well.
She and the reporter leaned close to their windows, trying to peer as far forward as they could. Shindo took out the camera he’d gotten from his colleague Miss Natsuke (who had seemed none too pleased to give it up) and adjusted the settings.
Emi wondered again what the conflict between the two newspaper people might be. Then one of the Chinook’s crew members threw open the copter’s right-side door—to unlimber his gun—and the sight beyond took Emi’s breath away.
Ahead of them loomed the normally peaceful town of Tottori and the placid Sea of Japan, and between the two, the famous dunes and party beach.
This was no festive occasion, though. The grand concert stage and pavilions lay on the beach in ruins. Cars and trucks were scattered everywhere, like abandoned toys, and clouds of black smoke billowed from numerous spots near the shoreline. Crowds of people—so far away they looked like ants—scurried everywhere, trying to flee a thing that Emi could barely comprehend.
For in the midst of the chaos towered an immense sea-green serpent. It reared up as tall as a ten-story building, with the rest of its body at least twice that long. Armored scales covered its skin, and frill of spikes surrounded its head. Its viper-like teeth, each twice as long a man is tall, glistened with blood, and its eyes glowed electric blue, as though lit from within.
It looked like something out of a nightmare, but, somehow—despite all the laws of nature—it was alive! How was this possible?
The abomination slithered across the vast Tottori dunes, diving into the fleeing mobs and … and … eating them!
“Gods help us,” Shindo whispered. The reporter’s mouth hung open, and his camera dangled uselessly in his hands.
“Shoot it!” Emi screamed at the soldiers. “Why don’t you shoot it?” In her mind, she imagined Rin among the panicking crowd, fighting for her life, trying to avoid being consumed by the ravening monster.
“We’re not in range, yet,” Koizume told her, “but look!”
He pointed out the open door, and Emi could see several large ships racing toward the beach.
“Gunboats?” she asked.
The captain shook his head. “Just local vessels, tugs and fireboats, but hopefully they can slow that thing down until the jets show up. Gunships are on the way, too, but they’ll take much longer.”
What good will that do if my sister perishes before they arrive? Emi wondered. Rin could be dead even now, swallowed by the beast’s enormous maw. Emi imagined that she, too, was down there, running with her sister, terrified. She felt her sister’s heart pounding, smelled the sweat pouring down her body.
Then she spotted two small figures, far below the copter, scampering over a wide swath of sand, fleeing from the creature.
It was almost impossible to recognize anyone from this distance, but Emi felt sure that one of those tiny girls was Rin.
The pair sprinted across the concert grounds, dodging between the overturned cars, the second girl stumbling, almost falling, the first dragging her to her feet time and again. Finally, they came to a brightly painted truck and ducked inside, out of sight of the enormous sea serpent.
She’s okay. She’ll be all right!
The monster finished eating its gruesome meal and turned, looking around for more victims.
Many concertgoers had now fled far up the beach or over the dunes. Few remained within the beast’s easy reach.
The gigantic snake sniffed the air, searching … listening.
Then it turned toward the brightly painted van.
With a sickening twist of her stomach, Emiko realized that her sister had hidden in a food truck!
The colossal serpent slithered toward the overturned vehicle, jaws wide, salivating.
Rin was going to die!
Thanks to Steve, Doris, Chris, David, Edward, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents, copyright 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.