Ken knelt down, gently setting his yellow bucket onto the wet rock beside him. All around his bare feet, the ocean lapped and flowed between rocks both big and small, and the water from larger remnants of distant waves splashed on his ankles as he stood up again to face his father. The professor stood clad in a rubber wetsuit, a set of goggles on his forehead and a single, large oxygen tank on his back.
The Yano family’s lunch had ended up being a rushed and tense affair. The family had eaten little, their attention drawn away from their meal and toward the revelation that something unnatural – and terrifying – was apparently swimming in the waters near their home. It hadn’t taken long for Professor Yano to abandon the table altogether, intent on taking his study of the strange creature to the next level. Simply putting the small, dead specimen in his lab under a microscope was no longer satisfactory for the scientist, and when he announced his intent to search for the larger, still-living creature in Suruga Bay, Ken had insisted on coming along to help.
The two now found themselves standing on the rocky shores of the bay, hoping to find whatever clues they could as to the identity of the strange being that, only a few hours earlier, had sunk two ships just miles from where they stood. The professor looked down at his son, glad that the same sense of curiosity that drove him forward was also at work in the little boy that stared back up at him. He had always been proud of the fact that Ken seemed to have been born with science in his blood, and that, even at such a young age, there was very little that could deter him from answering a question for which he had no answer. As a smile crept over Yano’s face, he found himself hoping that he hadn’t led his son into a situation that was over both of their heads.
“I’ll be back in half an hour,” he told Ken as he lifted his right arm to the child’s eye level. Ken looked down at his wrist, checking the time on his digital watch. “That’ll be 2:00!” Ken lifted his own arm up towards his Papa. “Right,” the professor said, still smiling. “Now, set your watch.” He and Ken each pushed the “set” button on their watches, synching them to 1:30 PM exactly. Ken smiled back at his father, who lifted his hand to the boy’s head and tousled his thick, black hair. “Goodbye,” he said quietly as he moved his hand away and began to head towards the ocean. “Keep the shore safe for me!”
Moments later, and the professor had left both Ken and the surface behind. The murky, green waters of the bay stretched out before him, the rocky bottom – covered in algae and clams – slowly sloping downwards and away from the surface. Yano tilted his body lower to become level with the slope, and began to follow it down, the flippers on his feet propelling him ever deeper and further from shore. He knew that very soon, the rocks would give way to a sandy bottom, and beyond that the bay would grow even deeper. It was there that he believed he would find more evidence of the creature. Maybe the creature itself would be there, waiting for him…
As Yano continued onwards, he began to notice something strange: only a few, isolated fish were swimming between the rocks. Those that did appeared unusually skittish, keeping a clear distance from Yano as he swam on. The professor saw no sign of life anywhere else; no other fish, no crabs, no shrimp. Gohei truly had been justified in his worries. Aside from the algae coating the rocks, the bay was dead.
Finally, Yano reached the end of the rocky area and saw before him a sea of sand.
But that wasn’t all the scientist saw.
If the rocks behind him had been a graveyard, than the sandy region he now swam into was surely a junkyard. The bottom was littered with countless discarded items, junk tossed carelessly into the sea by humanity. Spread out before him was an appalling array of objects that ranged from garbage and clothing to the rotting bodies of animals who made the mistake of visiting the polluted waters. Yano counted over a dozen beer bottles alone as he glided through the collection of refuse. To his right, he spotted several food cans and a large toy car. To his left, the decaying corpse of a swan, green algae slowly encroaching upon its once-beautiful white feathers. The sight left Yano more angered than disgusted. This was surely the reason that the waters had ceased bearing fruit for the surface world, and the reason why his lab was filled with the malformed bodies of abnormal fish. Nothing could live in an environment such as this, once which humanity itself had created. This bay had become toxic, yet another dumping ground for the things mankind no longer had a use for. If the sea life that once called this bay home hadn’t died or fled from the pollution, Yano mused, than they surely would have abandoned it in light of the disrespect shown them – and their bay – by man.
Yano was now more confused than ever. His rational mind knew that the environment around him would surely kill – or drive away – any living thing that happened upon it. His research into pollution’s effects on sea life had already cemented that fact. However, now seeing the devastation with his own eyes, he realized that the situation was far worse than he had feared. How could a creature of the size he saw on the television that afternoon exist in this place?
As he swam past the corpse of another dead bird, his resolve grew. There was one hell of a mystery going on in the bay, and a glance at his watch revealed that he still had 15 minutes to find out what it was…
Ken’s knife had come down hard on a small cluster of clams that grew on the rock below him, separating one of the shelled creatures from its companions. Boredom had compelled Ken to begin exploring his surroundings, and with 12 minutes still remaining until his Papa returned, he hoped to find a clue about the monster on his own in the shallow waters that flowed between the rocks of the bay.
So far, the little boy had found nothing monster-related, but the clam he now held in his hand was an interesting discovery. In the nearly 20 minutes since Ken had arrived at the bay, he hadn’t seen any animals at all. There were no fish in the water, no birds in the sky. The clams were the only living things Ken had seen, and that, he’d thought, was worth investigating.
As Ken continued to turn the clam over in his hand, he noticed that it was unusually light. Clams never weighed that much to begin with, but this one felt as though it had no weight at all. Almost as if it were hollow…
Curiosity compelled Ken to bend down and place the clam on a nearby rock. Intent on finding out why it felt so strange, the little boy raised his knife into the air and brought it crashing down onto the middle of the clam, fracturing the shell and sending tiny shards flying off the rock and into the sea.
The boy was shocked. The clam had been nothing but an empty shell. Maybe there really wasn’t anything alive in Suruga Bay after all…
A sudden feeling of nervousness began to wash over Ken. However, the little boy pushed his fear away, and stood up to continue his search for life. As he hopped to another rock, a slight movement in the water below him caught his eye. Kneeling down again, Ken saw a crab floating in the shallow pool beneath him. And then another. Ken counted three crabs, each bobbing only a few inches from the sandy bottom between the rocks. Each on its back.
Before the sight could fully sink in, the lifeless crabs were suddenly washed out of Ken’s view. A large wave had crashed against the rocks, sweeping the bodies away and splashing Ken’s body. Ken wiped the water from his eyes, slowly pulling himself up. Where had that come from?
A moment later, Ken would have his answer.
Turning his face to the sea, Ken saw something moving toward him. Something big and black. Something with fiery red eyes…
Ken had no time to react. In stunned silence he watched as the monster closed the distance between them, suddenly flinging its huge body out of the water and toward the rocky shore. The creature’s torpedo-shaped body was now airborne, silhouetted against the afternoon sun as its leap carried it closer to Ken. Unable to stand and run in time, the only thought in Ken’s mind was to defend himself and hope that the monster passed him by. Extending his arm into the air, Ken held his knife firmly as the dark form of the monster passed over his head. The knife made contact with the beast’s body, slicing through its slimy skin with almost no resistance. As the monster flew overhead, the knife continued to glide effortlessly through its underbelly. Ken clamped his eyes shut tightly, praying that the creature’s seemingly endless body wouldn’t crush him.
Seconds passed. Ken, still frozen with his knife in the air, finally heard a splash in front of him. The little boy opened his eyes, letting the knife fall from his hand and clatter off the rock below it and into the shallow water. Blinking a few times, Ken finally perceived the shape of the monster in the distance, its huge head breaking the surface as it sailed away from him. Back out to sea.
Towards his Papa.
Ken jumped up as the monster’s head dipped below the surface. The panic that he had suppressed before had come back, any lingering fear from his encounter with the monster now replaced with worry over his father.
“Papa! The tadpole! Papa!”
Only the sound of the stilled water lapping over the nearby rocks greeted Ken in response.
Only seven minutes left. Still nothing.
Professor Yano was growing frustrated as he continued deeper into the bay. He had long since passed the garbage-filled sandy region, and now found himself once again surrounded by rocks. He had traveled deeper into the bay than he had intended, and with his time running out, he was likely going to have to turn around in the next minute in order to keep his promise and return by 2:00 PM.
As he chose one final rock formation to investigate, he admitted to himself that the decision to take his investigation into the bay had been a hasty one, and perhaps premature. He wasn’t even sure what he had expected to find. Another corpse perhaps? A colony of the strange creatures? The large one that had destroyed the ships? What would he have even done had he encountered a creature of that size?
As the professor rounded the large formation, his eye was caught by the brilliant shimmer of the afternoon sun shining down through the water above him.
And then, by something else.
Like a storm cloud passing in front of the sun, the light was suddenly extinguished, perfectly silhouetting the outline of something moving quickly through the water. Something alive.
For a moment, the silhouette disappeared, returning the sun to the sky. A few seconds later, it reappeared, swimming to Yano’s right. Swimming deeper.
It was getting closer.
Yano quickly turned and began to swim further down into the bay, hoping to find cover between the rocks. He prayed that the monster hadn’t seen him. Perhaps, if he could get a safe vantage point, he could observe the beast for a short while. Perhaps he could learn the secrets of how it was able to live in the polluted bay, of how it was able to grow so large…
Yano finally found a small space between two rocks near the bottom of the bay, wedging himself into the tight space that separated them. Before him he could see nothing but dark, open water.
Suddenly, something moved in the distance.
Through the murky waters, Yano began to perceive the form of the creature once again. It appeared to be sailing to his left, passing the scientist by. But moments later, a sudden flash of red caught Yano’s eye. The monster’s head was turning.
Turning towards him.
In mere seconds, the beast had moved to face the professor head on. He now stared directly into the same red eyes he had seen hours earlier on the television. The eyes grew closer, and closer. Yano could feel his own eyes widening. There was nowhere for him to go, nowhere for him to hide. The monster had backed him into a corner. There was no escape.
Moments later, and all Yano could see were the burning red eyes of the creature as the distance between them ceased to exist…
Above the sea, all was silent, save for the occasional sniff of the little boy who stood on the shore, waiting for his father to return.
Ken had been staring at the sea for what felt like hours, the panic within him freezing his gaze upon the still waters through which he hoped that his Papa would suddenly emerge. But the longer he waited, the farther away the water seemed to grow.
The little boy spoke the words quietly. He did not call out, as he knew his father could never hear him beneath the surface. If anything, the words were a prayer.
“Papa. Please come back, Papa.”
Again, the boy lifted his hand to wipe his tears. He had avoided looking at his watch, fearful of seeing how much time had passed since his father’s departure. Now, Ken could no longer keep himself from looking. He lifted his left wrist and and dared to read the watch’s hands.
Ken lifted his right hand to wipe the sea water from the glass of the watch, hoping that he had read the time wrong. As he wiped, a sudden pain shot through the skin of his tiny hand, and he turned it over to see a swollen, red burn seared into his flesh.
But in that moment, neither the pain from the wound nor its origin were relevant to the boy. In that moment, all Ken cared about was that he was standing alone on a rocky beach, and that his father was late. His father, who had gone swimming in waters where a monster lived, was nowhere to be seen.
Ken turned back to the sea, his shoulders shaking as tears began to stream down his face.
He no longer cared that his voice couldn’t be heard. He wanted his father. He wanted him now. He wanted him safe.
Nothing. The sea stood silent.