The flowers outside the Yano house swayed gently in the slight breeze that blew down from Mount Fuji. From this side of the legendary mountain, its silhouette could be seen in all its perfection as it overlooked a small, rural town not too far from Suruga Bay. Here, life was peaceful.
Here, the sky was still blue.
The Yano house was not a large one, but it did sit on a large hill that overlooked the nearby town. A metal fence separated the yard from the highway, with the house’s driveway constituting its only opening for hundreds of yards in either direction. The house was isolated, but this had never bothered its residents. For them, it was the perfect place to stay away from the hustle of city life.
And for little Ken Yano, it was the perfect place to play.
As the breeze continued, the six-year-old boy had found himself outside, jogging away from the house and heading toward a small, metal-roofed shed. The structure was open on the sides and front, revealing the treasure-trove of toys that Ken kept stored there. The little boy had turned the shed – initially built for plants, of which only a few now remained – into a toy box, and from the wooden support beam that ran the length of the shed hung models of birds, a teddy bear on a swing, and a collection of Ken’s most cherished possessions: his monster toys.
To the youngest member of the Yano family, nothing was more thrilling than the sight of a giant creature stomping around a city, fighting another monster, or using its special powers to save the world. Japan, it seemed, had gone monster crazy in the previous few years, and that meant movies, TV shows, and, best of all, toys. Ken had gathered a veritable monster army in the shed, including Kanegon and the superhero Ultraman. He even had toys based off of the real monsters that had visited Japan, like King Ghidorah – the terrifying space dragon – and the underground monster Baragon.
On this day, however, Ken was looking for only one extra monster to join him. He had come to a stop in front of the shed, his favorite monster toy already clutched in his hands. Of all the monsters, Godzilla was the one he loved the most, and his giant Godzilla action figure usually stayed in the house with him. But today, Ken had taken his Godzilla out to play. And before they could begin, Godzilla needed a friend to play with.
For Ken, the choice was easy. He reached down towards a wooden shelf that, like the beam above it, ran the length of the shed, and grabbed a smaller Godzilla figure, lifting it up to meet the larger one. What better playmate could there be for Godzilla… than another Godzilla? In real life, there was only one fully grown Godzilla, and Ken often wondered if the monster was lonely, knowing that he was the only one of his kind.
Today, the little boy had resolved that Godzilla would not be alone. With two plastic Monster Kings in hand, Ken turned away from the shed to face a small, wooden slide that sat only a few feet away. Ken walked toward the high end of the slide, his back now to the bench upon which the potted flowers still swayed in the breeze. Gently, he lifted the larger Godzilla toy to the top of the slide, and gave it a slight push. The monster slid down the smooth wood and landed with a thud in the dirt. Seconds later, it was joined by the smaller Godzilla, who had been pushed down head first. Ken smiled, and quickly ran to the end of the small slide to grab his friends. Bringing them back to the top once again, Ken sent the small Godzilla on his second trip down the slide, with the larger one not far behind.
“Is Godzilla still your favorite?”
Ken stopped as he knelt down to retrieve his toys from the base of the slide, and looked up. He had recognized the voice, of course, so it came as no surprise to see Uncle Yukio standing above him. The young man wore a bright red jacket that immediately made him stand out in the greenery of his surroundings. His already wide smile grew larger as he continued to look down at little Ken, who smiled back at his much taller friend.
He had, of course, known Yukio for his entire life. Not only was he his Mamma’s brother, but he had also been a student of his Papa’s a few years earlier. Since his graduation, Yukio had become a frequent guest at the Yano house. Sometimes he came to help his Papa with an experiment, and other times to play monsters when his parents were busy. On some days, his girlfriend would come and play, too. Ken liked her just as much as his uncle.
Ken grabbed his two Godzilla figures, still meeting Yukio’s gaze. “Yep, but Superman’s cool, too!” The little boy’s response widened Yukio’s smile even further, but before he could continue the conversation, a call came from the door of the house behind him.
“Come in, Ken. Time for lunch!”
The voice belonged to Toshie Yano, Ken’s mother. She had been preparing a large lunch for the last few hours, and the delicious smells wafting from the opened door were all Uncle Yukio needed to turn and begin heading for the house. Being invited to eat at the Yano’s always meant a great meal was in order, and it was obvious that the young man couldn’t wait to get started. Behind him, Ken had stood up and made his way back to the tall end of the slide. As he called “Okay!” to his mother, he bent his large Godzilla’s legs into a sitting position and gave him one final shove down the slide. By the time the monster had come to rest once again in the dirt of the yard, Ken was inside, and the only sound that could be heard was the mechanical chirping of a small, plastic bird that sat unmoving on the branch of a small tree in Ken’s toy shed.
Professor Toru Yano stood above the fish tank that separated his lab from the rest of the house. Below him, tropical fish of numerous shapes and colors swam amidst bubbles that rose from the tank’s bottom. Yano reached a hand over the opened lid and sprinkled a small pinch of flakes into the crystal clear water, watching as the fish slowly began to make their way to the surface to feed. The tropical species that lived in his lab would likely never know how fortunate they were. Here, they could always eat. They could breath. They could be –
Toshie was calling again. The professor knew that his time was up. The fish had received their lunch, and now it was his turn. His wife had worked hard to prepare a no-doubt delicious meal for the family, and if he knew his brother-in-law, he was likely already at the table and ready to eat. Yano stepped down the ladder and away from the tank, preparing to head into the next room to greet his wife. However, upon entering the room, he was slightly surprised to see that she was no longer there, despite the fact that he had just heard her call to him from that very spot. Yano began moving towards the house’s front door; perhaps she had run outside to fetch Ken.
As Yano prepared to round the upcoming corner to face the door, he suddenly heard a faint and gruff voice that seemed to be coming from his back yard. Peeking past the corner, he saw Toshie standing in the doorway. She extended her arm upwards in a slight wave, no doubt greeting whomever was standing in the yard. “Good afternoon, Gohei-San,” she said pleasantly. “I suppose you’ve brought another interesting fish for my husband?”
Gohei again. Yano immediately regretted the harshness of the thought. He had nothing against Gohei, of course. The old fisherman was a dear friend, and, in a strange way, an invaluable collaborator on the professor’s work. Gohei knew the sea, having worked in it, on it, and around it most of his life. He was always the first to spot something unusual, and when he did, he brought it to Professor Yano. The old man had delivered some truly bizarre things to the house over the last few years, and it was no exaggeration to say that his number of visits had increased tenfold in recent months.
“Yes,” Yano heard Gohei reply. “Some kind of strange fish that looks very weird to me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.”
Yano had heard these words before, and he knew what they meant.
Lunch was now officially on hold.
“Well, Professor,” Gohei asked. “What kind of fish is it?”
The entire Yano clan had gathered around a desk in the professor’s lab, their eyes locked onto the bizarre creature that the old fisherman had brought with him. In a glass dish rested the corpse of a most unusual fish, its white, beady eyes staring blankly back up at the family that gazed down upon it. Its body was roughly 30 centimeters long, jet black, and slimy. It had no fins, no gills, and no apparent mouth on its bulbous head. Nearly one-third of its total length was a thin, eel-like tail that tapered to a slightly rounded point.
The professor made the first move, reaching down and lifting the slippery body into the air by its tail. Gohei hadn’t been lying: this thing was truly unlike anything he had ever seen.
“It’s not a fish at all!” Ken had broken the silence, but his eyes were still locked onto the creature. “It’s a tadpole, isn’t it?”
Professor Yano shook his head slowly, his eyes shifting to maintain contact with the body he still held. “It’s much too big to be a tadpole, Ken. Besides, tadpoles don’t live in the ocean.” Ken finally looked away, lowering his head slightly. “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
The professor then broke his gaze away from the creature, turning to Gohei, who stood to his left across the desk. “Where in the bay did you catch this?”
The old man spoke up at last. “Down by the point, where I usually find my shrimp.” A look of intensity came over his eyes as he continued. “I didn’t catch a single one today…”
As Gohei trailed off, he turned his head to look upon the shelves that hung on the wall behind him. On these shelves rested dozens of glass jars, and in them floated the preserved corpses of the old man’s previous catches. The fish in the jars bore a sickening variety of mutations; some were missing fins, or tails, or eyes, while others featured distended or swollen heads, mouths, or bodies. Many had strange growths creeping across their flesh, and others were so heavily deformed that they were barely recognizable as fish.
The old man turned away from the grisly collection to face the professor. “With the fish getting worse every day, Suruga Bay is done for.”
For several seconds, Gohei stood in silence. His intensity had subsided, replaced with a palpable feeling of dejection. He slowly began to round the table, heading to Yano. “Thank you for your time, professor. I hope I’ve been a help to you.” He spoke the words quietly, almost sadly. Then, with a courteous bow, he turned and headed out of the lab and for the door.
With his abrupt departure, the professor placed the strange body back in its dish and made preparations to temporarily preserve it for further study. He could hardly blame the old man for stressing; the sea was his livelihood, and if most of his catches continued to end up in jars as specimens in a laboratory, it wouldn’t be long before he was out of the job. As Yano continued to work, Toshie, Yukio, and Ken silently made their way out of the lab to begin serving the family’s long-awaited lunch.
It had been decided upon sitting down at the table that the strange specimen in the next room should be forgotten for the time being, and that some TV would provide a much needed distraction for the family. Yukio gladly rose from his seat to switch on the set, which sat in the wall at the far end of the table. The sound of the afternoon news report began to fill the room, and Yukio returned to his seat to finally start his lunch.
However, the young man had barely chewed his first bite before he looked up to see that the rest of his family had, it seemed, lost interest in lunch entirely. Their eyes were locked to the television screen, and Yukio quickly turned to face the set as well.
Before them was an aerial view of the ocean, likely shot from a helicopter. The footage showed two large oil tankers resting nearly parallel to each other in the water.
But there was something else.
A huge, black form was moving through the water at a rapid pace, heading straight towards the two ships. The object seemed to be intentionally aiming for them, like a torpedo locked onto an enemy vessel. As it continued to cruise forward, the voice of an announcer broke the silence in the Yano living room: “What in the world is this monster that appeared at the accident site in Suruga Bay? Could it be some kind of sea monster? Or was it some kind of new military weapon?”
As the announcer had spoken, the form of the strange object had suddenly submerged, disappearing under the choppy water and leaving the two ships rocking back and forth from its wake. However, seconds later, the two ships began to rise as the water below them gave way to the rising object. The left-hand ship cracked in two and began to sink, while the second ship nearly tilted over completely. As the footage continued to run, the object disappeared once again beneath the waves, and the ships, now split and compromised beyond any hope of salvage, quickly followed in kind, leaving the surface stained black with oil.
“Whatever it was”, the announcer continued, “it had enough frightful power to destroy these two ships.” A moment later, the footage ended, and was replaced by a still photograph that sucked the air out of the Yano house.
Little Ken’s eyes widened, and he promptly dropped his food from between his chopsticks.
The image, which appeared to have been taken from the deck of one of the doomed ships, showed the terrifying face of the black object as it sliced its way through the sea. Few details could be perceived, save for two huge, glowing red eyes that seemed to stare straight through little Ken as he stared back, frozen in shock. This was no weapon or submarine. It was a monster.
And it looked somehow… familiar.
Suddenly, it hit him, and the little boy became the first to break the silence for the second time that day. “That’s a monster tadpole! Papa, it’s the same one Gohei-san brought here today!”