As water gently lapped and splashed against his feet and ankles, little Rokuro Ibuki let out a joyful laugh as he commanded his steed onwards.
The small boy sat upon a most unusual mode of transportation: a cartoonish green-and-white dolphin that carried him across the surface of a large lake. The plastic creature glided through the still waters with little effort, propelled by a duo of smaller dolphins that rode on either side. It was their job to rotate again and again, pushing the water backwards and propelling little Rokuro forward. The boy smiled and laughed again as his ride continued to bring him further and further away from shore.
It truly had been the perfect day to test his big brother’s latest invention, and as the water toy sailed towards the center of the lake, Rokuro felt confident that the test had been a complete success.
Better still, he was having the time of his life.
Turning back toward the shore, Rokuro waved and shouted to his brother, who returned his wave and yelled back across the lake to the now distant water toy. Goro Ibuki would have done anything to ensure the happiness of his little brother, and as he continued to watch him navigate his new toy through the water, the handsome young man felt that he had succeeded.
What boy, after all, wouldn’t want an inventor for a big brother?
Goro had made a name for himself – at least in certain circles – as somewhat of a maverick in the field of invention. Beginning with the simple modification of cars into racing vehicles – a job he loved and still did on occasion to make ends meet – the young man had quickly risen to become one of Japan’s foremost inventors, with expertise in computer miniaturization, radio and ultrasonic control, the creation of specialized automobiles, and even robotics. He held a record number of patents for a man his age, and was lucky enough to be able to do most of his work and research in the comfort of his own home, much of which he had converted into a state-of-the-art laboratory. And whenever Goro needed a tester for a new invention, little Rokuro was usually all too willing to help out.
On this day, Goro had needed just such a test subject. He had surprised Rokuro with a trip to the lake for a picnic and a test run of the dolphin toy. The little boy had been overjoyed, and, unsurprisingly, had eaten very little of his food before rushing into the water to ride his newest plaything.
Fortunately for Goro, his brother’s quick departure hadn’t left him without company on the rocky beach. As it happened, the duo had been joined on their trip by a third party, who now stood slightly higher up the hill, camera in hand, attempting to focus on little Rokuro as the distance between the boy and the beach grew ever larger. Hiroshi Jinkawa had been glad to accompany Goro to the lake on such a fine day, and the presence of the young inventor’s longtime friend and protégé had been vital to the success of his plans for Rokuro’s afternoon of fun. Not only was the handsome racecar driver excellent company and necessary muscle for getting the cumbersome toy into the water, but more importantly, he was an extra set of protective eyes watching the little boy as he sailed across the lake.
The two men had known each other for years, having met when the daredevil Jinkawa had crippled his racing car and brought it to Goro for repairs and modifications. The two had quickly hit it off, with Jinkawa soon coming to view Goro as a mentor. Repeated visits for repairs over the years soon resulted in an inseparable friendship, and Jinkawa quickly became one of the few people in Goro’s life with whom he knew he could entrust the safety of his beloved brother.
But on this day, any danger to the child seemed a remote possibility. The water toy was functioning exactly as Goro had designed it to, and Rokuro was having a blast with it. Even so, Goro had taken precautions; as the young man sat on a blanket that covered one of the few soft, grassy patches on the rocky shoreline, his eyes infrequently darted between the distant dolphin and a small, white bag to the right of the picnic basket that sat next to him. The bag held another of Goro’s inventions: a small, handheld gun capable of firing a 200 foot-long lifeline at nearly 100 kilometers per hour. If anything malfunctioned on the toy, Rokuro knew to watch for the rope flying his way.
However, Goro’s eyes had not snuck a glance at the bag for some time. Relaxed and comfortably seated on the blanket, a smile crept over his face as he poured himself a second drink.
As the rising liquid in his cup reached closer to the rim, Goro heard a small clicking sound coming from over his right shoulder. He turned to see Jinkawa kneeling in the dirt, his camera still held against his eye. A moment later, and the camera lowered to reveal Jinkawa’s excited face as he watched his subject continue to sail away.
A laugh escaped from Goro’s mouth.
“Looks like fun, doesn’t it? Want to ride it next?”
It was Jinkawa’s turn to laugh.
“Sure, why not?”
The two continued to chuckle as Jinkawa made his way over to the blanket, sitting down next to Goro and pocketing his camera. As Goro placed his drink on the ground, it occurred to him that, if Jinkawa had been serious about trying out the dolphin toy, it certainly was well within the toy’s capabilities to support his weight on the water. Although he had designed the craft primarily for children, there was no reason that an adult couldn’t use it, as well.
Goro turned to his friend once again.
“Care for a drink?”
As Jinkawa filled his glass, Goro lifted his own drink to his lips as the image of a grown man sailing across a lake on his dolphin toy entered his mind. As ridiculous as it would likely look in practice, his design could most definitely handle it. Theoretically, he thought, it would even be possible for both an adult and a child to ride the toy at the same…
Goro was suddenly and rudely snapped out of his scientific revere.
In an instant, the silence of the afternoon had been replaced by a deep rumbling sound that seemed to emanate from the very earth itself.
And then the shaking began.
The ground beneath Goro had suddenly begun to vibrate and pulse, and it was getting more and more violent with each second. The bottles and cups that sat on the blanket next to the two men toppled over one by one, and began to slide and roll off of the blanket.
Jinkawa turned to Goro, his smile replaced with a look of shock and surprise.
A second later, and the two men had risen on shaky feet to stand upon the unstable shoreline. All around them, the loose rocks that constituted their picnic site were rolling downhill toward the lake. Amongst the rocks were the trio’s bottles and their thermos, but Goro and Jinkawa had little concern for them as they rolled into the now choppy water.
They had a much more immediate concern to address.
“Rokuro!” Goro waved his hands wildly as he called to his brother. “It’s an earthquake! Come back to shore!”
Goro’s voice carried across the water, which had begun to grow violent all around Rokuro and his dolphin steed. The little boy nodded his head, placed his slightly shaking hands upon the levers that controlled the toy, and pulled them back.
Rokuro pulled them back a second time.
He was no longer moving forward.
The boy rapidly turned his head from side to side, checking the smaller dolphins on either side of the toy. Both were operating perfectly, rotating and desperately attempting to gain forward momentum.
“I can’t get back!”
Rokuro’s words flew across the lake, hitting Goro like an electric shock. Struggling to keep his balance on the vibrating shoreline, Goro tuned to Jinkawa, who was also fighting to keep his feet planted upon the unstable ground. “Quickly! Grab the life-line gun!”
Jinkawa didn’t need to be asked twice.
Swooping down and snatching the bag containing the device, Jinkawa quickly spun around, tossing the bag into Goro’s hands. As the scientist fumbled with the coiled rope that connected to the gun’s firing mechanism, the shaking of the ground suddenly grew in its intensity. Goro felt his legs – already struggling to keep his body erect – finally give out under him. Seconds later, both he and Jinkawa found themselves landing hard on the rocky terrain.
The two men had little time to recover, or to notice the pain from their respective falls. They now found themselves combating the force that had carried the rocks around them to the waters below, and that now seemed hell bent on sending them sliding downhill to join them.
As they struggled, Rokuro’s voice was heard again.
“Goro! I can’t make it work! Help me!”
And then, a different sound.
Goro and Jinkawa looked up, both startled by what they had heard.
“Senpai!” Jinkawa was the first to speak. “Wh-what’s that?!”
Goro had seen it, too. The center of the lake had, for a brief moment, shone a bright, brilliant blue. The light had disappeared almost as immediately as it had manifested. But both men had seen it. Both men had heard it.
Then it happened again.
And then again. One after another, the blue lights appeared, each accompanied by a high-pitched sound that disappeared as each light was extinguished.
Suddenly, as Goro and Jinkawa watched dumfounded, the lights were replaced by a bubbling surge of water from the center of the lake. Steam began to rise and spread over the water, quickly obscuring the epicenter of the watery explosion.
Seconds later, and the lights returned. The blue flashes darted across the water, as if following a predetermined yet unseen line through the depths. Again, the lights ceased and gave way to erupting geysers of bubbling water. However, the largest surge remained at the lake’s center, its diameter growing with each passing second.
Less than one hundred yards from the outermost rim of the surge, little Rokuro – still peddling madly toward shore – felt his dolphin begin to drift backwards.
The boy was in a state of panic. Nothing he was doing was working. The shore was growing farther away. The roaring in his ears was getting louder…
“Hey! Here comes the line!”
Rokuro snapped his head up. On the faraway beach, he heard the sound of his brother’s lifeline gun firing. Seconds later, he saw the rope fly over his head and gradually descend toward his outstretched hands.
Mere moments after catching the line, Rokuro had wrapped it around the controls of his dolphin, and finally felt himself moving in the direction of safety.
On the shore, Goro and Jinkawa dug their feet into the ground beneath them, which had suddenly transformed from dry rock to damp dirt. Fighting the earthquake as it continued to force them down the hill, the two men pulled the line with all their might. As they pulled, their muscles straining against the opposing forces of the violent waters, Rokuro finally grew closer to shore…
It didn’t take long for the toy to finally arrive in the shallow waters of the beach. Leaving the line to Jinkawa, Goro leapt to his feet, sprinting across the muddy ground to reach his brother. His legs ached from their struggle to resist the still rumbling ground, and every footfall reminded him of the mud and rocks uncomfortably nestled in his shoes. The rope burns on his hands stung as the air passed around them.
But none of that mattered.
At last, Goro arrived at the water’s edge. In a swift sweep of his arm, the scientist had scooped his brother from the seat of the dolphin toy, pressed him against the side of his body, and turned away from the erupting lake.
Goro’s eyes fixed upon the summit of the rocky hillside. His weakened legs continued to carry him and Rokuro as they left the muddy beach behind and began to scale the incline. Out of the corner of his eye, Goro saw Jinkawa drop the safely line and begin his own ascent. As the climb continued, Goro began to feel the muscles in his right arm weaken. As if sensing his brother’s distress, Rokuro gently pushed away from Goro’s midsection, landing on his feet and continuing the climb on his own. As they moved ever upwards, Goro’s limp arm rested on Rokuro’s shoulder, using what strength it had left to keep the boy close to his side.
The summit was close now. Goro’s mind raced as he continued to push his body along. How much time had elapsed since the chaos began? Had it been a minute? Two minutes? It couldn’t have been much longer than that, although both his mind and body seemed adamant that the ordeal had thus far lasted an eternity. It felt as though the ground had been shaking for hours. That they had pulled Rokuro’s rescue line for hours. That they had been climbing for hours…
The sound of yet another explosion snapped Goro out of his daze. He stopped climbing, his right hand instinctively shielding Rokuro’s face and drawing it close to his shoulder.
Turning his head, Goro’s eyes fixed, once again, on the erupting lake.
The smaller surges of water had begun to dissipate, their power seemingly being absorbed into the phenomenon occurring at the lake’s center. Goro could perceive the form of his dolphin toy, now once again far away from shore and heading rapidly for the violent epicenter.
Then, a new sound.
A noise reminiscent of the draining of a kitchen sink suddenly filled the air around the lake, accompanied by the sudden appearance of a massive whirlpool where the largest surge had occurred. Startled by the noise, Rokuro lifted his head from the ground, turning to join his brother and Jinkawa’s observation of the lake. As the three watched, the dolphin toy began to pick up speed. Mere seconds later, and it had disappeared, drawn into the swirling vortex of the whirlpool.
As the gurgling sound continued, rock formations began to rise from the water at a rapid rate. The shoreline surrounding the lake continued to shrink, expanding the ring of mud and sediment that encircled the body of water. In moments, the rocky bottom of the lake had revealed itself, the final remnants of water disappearing into massive, valley-like channels and crevices.
And then, it was over.
A sickening quiet came over the countryside. The ground no longer shook. The sliding rocks had come to rest.
At the top of the hill, Goro, Rokuro, and Jinkawa slowly rose to their feet. The trio stood silent, their eyes locked onto the perplexing and horrifying sight that met their gaze.
Stretched out before them – obscured only by rising steam – was a wasteland of rock and mist-filled canyons. The once submerged stone of the newly birthed landscape stood bone-dry, the moss and plant life that grew upon them now shriveled and brown.
Not a single drop of water – nor any proof of the beautiful lake having existed only a few minutes before – remained.
Chapter 2 Coming Soon.