Inside his dimly-lit bedroom, Takashi Sahara -- alias Takashi II -- lowered his Glock .45 Auto pistol.
The other Takashi Sahara, who now thought of himself as Takashi I, breathed a sigh of relief. The eager seventeen-year-old flashed a grin and leaned back against the bedroom dresser. "Hey, I'm no threat, bro."
"So it seems," Takashi II said. "And be sure to call me by my last name: Sahara. Everyone does."
"Sure thing, dude."
Sahara, Takashi's parallel earth doppelganger, smiled dourly, the dark red shade of a bed lamp tinting his teenage face a bleak crimson. "I've been watching you for months."
"Sure," Sahara replied, putting the Glock pistol back in its nightstand drawer with a dramatic flourish. "Why don't you think I wasn't more surprised when you fell through the dresser mirror?"
In an effort to hide his excitement, Takashi shrugged more elaborately than necessary. "Well, hey, I've been watching you too. Mom and Dad thought I was crazy. But I knew I was seeing into a parallel earth when I would look into my dresser mirror and see you there once in a while, a double of me, except for the . . . um . . . little differences. "
Sahara raised an eyebrow. "Little differences? Like the roll of fat around my waist? My grunge collection? My waist-length hair?"
Takashi didn't want to admit any of those things, but all of them were true. While Takashi was clean-cut, trim, and lithe, his short black hair moussed up in true American boy-group fashion, Sahara -- overweight, unshaven, unkempt -- was in every way Takashi's dark twin. In addition, Sahara's embittered eyes belonged to those of a man fifty years older. From the unwashed armpit stink infesting the bedroom, Takashi also figured Sahara wasn't overly concerned with matters of personal hygiene.
Sahara tossed his head Takashi's way and snorted. "So why'd you come here?"
"These are real, aren't they?" Takashi asked, marveling at the Godzilla photo prints tacked on the wall behind Sahara's unmade bed.
"Real enough," Sahara replied.
"Wow." Takashi couldn't control the bliss that pushed a smile across his face. All these crisp, black-and-white photos of Godzilla - wading through the Diet Building, setting a Ginza department store aflame with his atomic ray, crumbling the clock tower atop the Wako Building -- they were real, because in this world, the Big G was real. Sweet!
However, this real-life Godzilla differed from Toho's in some ways - the real G was sleeker, less anthropomorphic, more stooped. Still, Takashi was amazed at how similar this parallel earth G was to the cinematic monster back in his own world, clear down to the triple tow of jagged, stegosaurus-like plates that adored the creature's spine and the elegant, segmented, serpentine tail.
As Takashi's eyes moved from photo to photo, he came upon one that had to be recent. In it, Godzilla was photographed in the process of using his atomic ray to blast out the higher sections of the 48-story Tokyo City Hall, a.k.a. the "tax tower."
Pointing to the photo, Takashi said, "This must have been in '91, when Godzilla fought Mecha-King Ghidorah."
Sahara shook his head. "There is no King Ghidorah here, mecha or otherwise."
"Really? What about Rodan and Mothra?"
"Here, there's only Godzilla."
Only Godzilla. Takashi chewed on the concept and found it indigestible. Still, better "only Godzilla" than no kaiju at all.
As Takashi moved to another of Sahara's bedroom walls, he noted that the Big G was absent from these taped and thumb-tacked photos - but the same couldn't be said for the monster's aftermath.
One of the photos showed the scorched ruins of what had once been the city block of a small Japanese town; hollow walls, standing jagged and black, contrasted sharply against a pale gray sky. Snapped telephone poles dipped helter-skelter into the sea of concrete, steel, and brick rubble that inundated what had once been a recognizable street.
The other pictures were worse. One showed a partially standing, cream-colored concrete wall onto which the shadowy figures of two men, arms upraised, had been imprinted like photo negatives. Another depicted three charred skeletons strewn amidst a pile of bricks, dark clods of what had once been flesh still clinging to the blackened bones. The next photo showed only two burnt corpses, but far more meat adhered to their charcoaled frames than to the previous skeletons, and these two had burned to death while embracing each other. Takashi frowned. Grim. But at least it was probably quick.
"How do you like them?" Sahara asked, cocking an eyebrow. "I've also got one of Japanese school children holding their hands over their eyes after they'd been blinded by Godzilla's ray."
"You mean, the real Godzilla's ray blinds people?"
"Permanently, if you look at it for more than a second or two. Like looking directly at a solar eclipse. Or a nuclear fireball."
"Tell me, Takashi," Sahara said, pronouncing the name with disdain, "what would you say if I told you Godzilla was heading this way?"
Takashi's eyes sparkled. "You mean it?"
"I mean it."
"You're a moron."
"Hey," Takashi replied, "I'm sorry Godzilla kills people here. But we all die someday. In my earth, if war, famine, or disease don't get you, some crazy terrorist probably will. And I'd a lot rather have Godzilla stomp on me than die from nerve gas in some stupid subway."
Sahara snorted. "For several weeks, I've seen your asinine Godzilla movie videos through the dresser mirror when you've watched them on your big screen TV. I could even hear them sometimes. But what you've seen isn't Godzilla. It's fantasy. Guess my Big G photo gallery didn't convince you otherwise."
"Look," Takashi said indignantly, "somehow the filmmakers at Toho must have known there was a world where Godzilla really did exist. Otherwise, how could they have made any movies about him?"
"I grant you," Sahara said, "there must have been some warp between the G and non-G worlds that communicated the reality of Godzilla to your earth. But if you think you know about Godzilla because you've seen a handful of made-up movies about him, you're even dumber than I already thought you were."
Ignoring the insult, Takashi crossed his arms and leaned against Sahara's chest-of-drawers. "So educate me."
"I'd be glad to." Tilting his head like a cat regarding a rodent, Sahara grinned, his eyes aglow with a disturbing and decidedly unfriendly joy. "Our first 'live' exhibit is in my - our - sister's bedroom."
Takashi gulped, a terrible apprehension filling his chest. "All right."
Sahara led Takashi down a short, shadowy hallway. The rooms were separated by fusama, the traditional sliding screens made of paper-covered frames, quite a switch from Takashi's non-G world home, which sported Western style doors and walls (so American, his Mom frequently said with disdain). Of course, Takashi's Dad, like Takashi himself, was wild over almost everything Western, the more USA-ble it was, the better.
Following Sahara's lead, Takashi stepped into his - into Sahara's younger sister's bedroom. "Sis" (a.k.a. Miki) obviously wasn't in. But even after Sahara switched on a lamp, the small, sparsely-furnished enclosure seemed dismal, more like a cage than a room, and a sharp, acidic smell tainted the air.
Crossing his arms, Sahara stood over Miki's bed and gloated over what seemed to be an unspoken jest - until Takashi saw it.
"What the -- "
"Sister's skin," Sahara replied. "She sheds it periodically."
On the bed, a discarded husk of skin, the empty mold for what might have been a young adolescent girl, glistened in the pale lamp light. The color was tan, the texture brittle, the concept obscene.
"You mean," Takashi said, staring at the drying, human-shaped shell on the bed, "you mean, she sheds her skin like a snake?"
"More like a mutant, actually," Sahara replied, "because that's what she is. You can thank your precious Godzilla for that."
Takashi's thoughts splintered. "What could Godzilla possibly have to do with this?"
"Father," Sahara replied, the slightest touch of grief in his voice. "Before Miki and I were born, he once got too close to Godzilla while trying to save a young mother and her child. Godzilla's signature radiation infected Dad. Ironic, obviously." For a moment, Sahara's eyes clouded over, but the mist abruptly dried as though blotted by an abrasive sponge. "G-parents are fellow Japanese who get close enough to Godzilla to get contaminated. The offspring of some 'G-parents' turn out to be mutants - at least, the ones who don't die within days. Or come down with cancer at the age of two."
"That's awful," Takashi muttered, horrified that his parallel earth sister might be some pathetic mutant begat by Godzilla's nuclear discharge.
Sahara shrugged. "Lots of things are awful." He motioned Takashi to follow.
In the living room, Sahara's mother - almost a mirror image of Takashi's Mom back on non-G earth - carefully arranged flowers in an alcove over which hung a black and gold painted shroud. In her white kimono and pushed-up hair style, Sahara's Mom looked every bit the middle-aged traditionalist seeking to hold back the tides of Western influence. But there was a fussiness, an obsessiveness, to her intense flower-arranging, and unlike Takashi's Mom, the eyes of Sahara's mother didn't laugh.
"Mother," Sahara said, "I'd like you to meet someone."
Sahara's mother turned to face both Sahara and Takashi. If she felt any alarm at seeing a thinner twin of her own son standing before her, she didn't show it.
"Mother," Sahara said, "this is my friend Takashi."
Sahara's mother bowed, and Takashi bowed in return.
Sahara went on. "Takashi is here to see father."
"Oh?" Sahara's mother said. "Is Mr. Takashi a doctor?"
"Yes," Sahara replied, "yes, that's exactly what he is."
Takashi's belly burned; Sahara's mother, for whatever reason, was obviously mentally debilitated, and her son was playing a cruel game with her. Takashi hoped his look at Sahara shot daggers through the back of his dark twin's skull.
Oblivious, Sahara's mother smiled at Takashi and bowed again. "Will you make my husband well, Mr. Takashi?"
Takashi wished he had the guts to bury his fist in Sahara's greasy nose. "Well, I, I -- "
Sahara rescued his parallel earth twin. "Mother, how is father?"
She smiled again. "Fine. He's doing fine. Why don't you look in on him, Mr. Takashi?"
Takashi bowed. "I will, Mrs. Sahara."
"Thank you," she replied, then went back to her flower-arranging.
Sahara ushered Takashi into a gloomy room given a curious ocher caste by an amber-colored light fixture overhead. Pungent incense filled the room, and a human figure reclined on a low-lying, cotton-filled mattress in the far corner of the yellowish-brown enclosure. At first, Takashi thought he was gazing upon an unfortunate stranger; upon closer inspection, he was shocked to realize that the sad, emaciated man lying before him was the doppelganger of his own father.
"Dad has terminal cancer," Sahara said, a gratuitous statement if ever there was one.
The man's eyes were closed, which was probably just as well. So gaunt was his skeletal frame that when he took a breath, it appeared that the skin stretched over his jutting ribs might split. Emanating from the sweat-stained bed covers was a stale, close reek, and Takashi realized the incense was an attempt to blanket the stench of the near-dead. The man's skin displayed a sickly pallor, no doubt made more unwholesome by the yellow cast of the amber-colored light fixture, and his closed eyes nestled within two round, coffin-black moons.
Resting his chin on his chest as though in surrender, Sahara said, "Godzilla did this."
A shrill machine whine pierced the air.
The eyes of the man on the bed sprung open as though they'd been jolted by a live wire. Takashi's own pulse quickened. But in no particular hurry, Sahara sauntered into the living room, which was the apparent source of the raucous whine.
Takashi felt torn - should he comfort the man on the bed, the man that might have been his own father in another life - or should he follow Sahara?
His dilemma found resolution when the bed-ridden man's eyes shut almost as quickly as they'd opened. Surely he was unconscious - surely.
The whine from the next room droned on.
When Takashi stepped into the living room, Sahara's mother was holding her hands tightly over her ears. Adrenaline rushed through Takashi's limbs as Sahara calmly stepped over to a bookshelf and pushed a button atop a device that looked very much like a telephone answering machine.
The piercing wail shut off in mid-screech as an excited voice spoke.
" - has been verified that Godzilla is heading for this area. Residents are advised to take shelter immediately. Avoid the valley at all costs. Repeat, it has been verified that Godzilla is -- "
Sahara pushed another button, and the device went dead. "It's a Godzilla alarm."
Takashi turned to see if Sahara's mother was okay, and promptly wished he hadn't. The woman's face had twisted into a cheerless scowl, and her eyes seethed with unvarnished, animal loathing. "I hate Godzilla," she muttered in a disquieting whisper. "I hate Godzilla." Her voice grew louder. "I hate Godzilla." Until she became - "I hate Godzilla!" -- completely hysterical. "I HATE GODZILLA!"
Sahara grasped his mother by the shoulders; by now, her arms were flailing like windmill blades caught in a tornado. Her body contorted and writhed as though possessed by a frantic spirit whose need could never be sated, much less understood. Oblivious to knocking the vase of flowers she'd been arranging to the tatami-covered floor, she continued her mantra of hatred for Godzilla as Sahara spoke to her softly. Soothingly. Assuring her over and over that everything was all right, everything was all right, everything was all right.
In the space of half a minute, her oaths became less severe, her fervor less inflamed. The words trickled to a halt, and finally she sagged in Sahara's arms like a spent passion.
Slowly, she pushed Sahara away and sat on a low cushion next to a window. "It'll be all right," she mumbled to herself like a pacified child weary of fearing the dark. "It'll be all right." Silently, she stared into space, a geisha-like zombie seemingly unmindful of her surroundings or the warning about Godzilla's imminent approach.
"Don't you think you ought to get your parents to safety?" Takashi asked.
"Safety?" Sahara repeated, an incredulous look in his eyes. "Safety?"
The dark twin laughed. "Man, you're anal with a capital anus! They're as safe here as they'd be anywhere. No one can say with any precision which direction Godzilla will take. He might pass us within five miles, ten miles - or he might decide to come stomping directly through our living room. Nobody knows."
Conscience flaring to life, Takashi gestured at Sahara's mother, who had taken to humming a tuneless song. "But you can't just leave your parents here like this. What kind of son -- "
"Would you like to see Godzilla face-to-face?"
Takashi gasped. Turtle-like, he pulled his head back in amazement; it was as though he were a blind man being offered the gift of sight. "But you said -- "
Sahara smiled. "I said no one can predict his path for sure. But I have a good G sense. It's a hobby of mine, mentally plotting Godzilla's itinerary, and I'm good at it. Tonight, I think he'll pass through the valley."
"The valley." So, there was a valley here, just like at home - or maybe not so just like at home.
"Don't worry about mother and father," Sahara said as he ambled back to his bedroom, Takashi in tow. "They'll be as safe here as anywhere else. Safer, I'd imagine."
Takashi wasn't sold. "I don't know."
"Precisely," Sahara said as he slipped on a black windbreaker, his arrogant smile again igniting Takashi's indignation.
Nevertheless, Takashi didn't start a fight (he'd never been in a fight), or bawl Sahara out, or say anything at all. He just followed him out the front door and into the woods, praying that his dark twin's mother and father would survive the night.
Outside, Takashi was pleased to see the four cherry trees that lined the stone walkway to the front porch, just as they did back in his non-G earth. But he found it odd that, in spring, the familiar trees had not sprouted their famous pink and white blossoms. He likewise found it odd that it was cold out here; goose bumps hiked up and down his bare, T-shirted arms as he shoved his hands into his blue jeans' pockets.
"We'd best get going," Sahara said, his tone blasé.
Takashi, still in shock over the possibility of actually seeing the real Godzilla with his own two eyes, followed as Sahara made for the high hill overlooking the nearby valley. Overhead, the stars appeared dimmer than usual, as though a mist of charcoal were obscuring the night sky. Instead of glitter sprinkled across dark velvet, the stars resembled soiled pearls flung against a black tarp.
But the trees were the same. Takashi had always gloried in the wonderful thick woods that overran the hills in resplendent green glory. Tall evergreens, supplemented by occasional birch, oak, and maple, flanked the familiar foot path up which Sahara led Takashi. The crisp, clean smell of the forest was just as bracing in this world as in Takashi's.
"Don't you just love the woods?" Takashi asked, walking at Sahara's right side.
"Sure," Sahara replied, "almost as much as having a steel spike hammered through my chest."
Takashi shook his head. "What's with you, bro?"
"Oh, I don't know," Sahara said. "Could it be the fact that my father's dying from cancer? That my mother's a hopeless mental case? That my sister is . . . what she is?"
"Sorry," Takashi said, feeling abashed as his shoulder brushed against an evergreen branch. "I know it's got to be rough."
"Sure they'll be safe back there?"
For the next few seconds, Takashi's heart pounded softly in his ears, a distant tom-tom backbeat to the chorus of insects singing in the surrounding trees. He was going to get to see Godzilla, he was really going to get to see Godzilla.
"You're into American junk, aren't you?" Sahara asked.
Surprised by his host's attempt at casual conversation, Takashi nodded as he continued to meet his dark twin's brisk pace. "Sure. How'd you know?"
"You kidding? Your bedroom walls are covered with posters of American pop culture." Sahara gave Takashi a knowing wink. "I know how much you love big American action movies and rock music and hair styles and clothing. I even know your favorite rock group."
"And who might that be?"
"Creed," Sahara replied, drawling out the word with ill-concealed derision. "You're the type who'd go for a Big Mac over sushi any day."
"You're not in Toho-land any more, Toto."
Takashi's sneakers crunched over a dead branch in the road. "But some of the stuff in the Godzilla movies has to be true here. Your bedroom G photos show that your Godzilla also flattened Tokyo."
"Tokyo and anywhere else he pleases," Sahara replied, his face growing hazier as the woods thickened toward the top of the hill's foot path. "He's attacked Tokyo three times. The last time was the worst. Because of Godzilla, the Tokyo Stock Exchange was destroyed, and that caused economic chaos throughout the word. Guess there's no need to add how bad Japan's taken the hit. As for Tokyo, it's pretty much become a ghost town. What's left of it anyway."
These were aspects of a Godzilla attack Takashi had never considered before.
Sahara flinched. "But the economy's not the worst of it. We'd be considered blessed if that's all Godzilla wrecked. It's the thousands of lives he's taken, the thousands of kids he's orphaned, the thousands of nightmares he's spawned, that's the worst of it. That, and the widespread cancer that afflicts Japan. Cancer has become so common that most insurance companies will no longer cover it."
Takashi shook his head. "That reeks."
Sahara continued to verbally add more blows to Takashi's vision of a G-riddled Japan as they neared the top of the hill. "And the other diseases that Godzilla has spread throughout our land . . . you wouldn't believe it. The worst is a rare form of Ebola-like virus mutated by Godzilla's unique radiation, nicknamed G-bola. When you get it, your insides turn into mush, your eyes spill down your cheeks, you bleed out of every orifice in your body. Towards the end, you experience uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, and you actually start throwing up pieces of your lungs and excreting your intestines. Finally, your bones melt, and you die."
A mixture of disgust and pity churned in Takashi's stomach as the crest of the hill came into view.
"Then, of course, there are the mutants. Like my sister." Sahara snorted. "Needless to say, Japan's health care system is a shambles."
"How do you defend Japan against Godzilla?"
Sahara turned his head and cocked an eyebrow. "Unlike in your world's G-movies, there's no spiffy G-force here, no Mechagodzillas or Super-X whatevers. Just the dependable old JSDF." He laughed. "Recruitment's actually been up the last few years. I've even thought of joining the Kamikaze Club myself."
"That's the nickname for Japan's military. After all, Godzilla always slaughters them. A lot of young guys have developed a kind of fatalistic, suicidal philosophy, believing that joining the JSDF and getting killed by Godzilla gives them and their families great honor. That's why we call them the Kamikaze Club." Sahara chuckled. "Most of them say they'd rather be incinerated by Godzilla in a few seconds than spend months dying of cancer."
Takashi trembled as a chilled gust of mountain wind buffeted his cheeks. "Don't any other countries try to help Japan get rid of Godzilla?"
Sahara nodded. "America did try nuking Godzilla once after evacuating Odo Island. Didn't work. Godzilla just absorbed the blast and become bigger and stronger. Does that make sense? No, it's impossible. Drives all the scientists nuts.
"But then, Godzilla's impossible too. No living animal could be that big and still function. But G does it anyway."
Blundering into a spider web, Takashi brushed the sticky strands aside as he kept pace with his genetic twin. "Was there any kind of oxygen-destroyer used against Godzilla?"
"No," Sahara replied, "but there was an attempt to create a miniature black hole with a weapon nicknamed the hole-puncher. It would supposedly send Godzilla to another dimension or solar system or galaxy. But it backfired. The whole island where it was tested disappeared."
Takashi whistled. "Man."
"Some scientists think the hole-puncher set off a ripple effect, creating smaller gaps between parallel earths or other dimensions. That's probably why the dresser mirror let us see into each other's earths - and let you stumble into mine."
"I didn't stumble into it."
To Takashi's relief, the top of the hill was only a few meters away. "So does the real Godzilla attack any countries besides Japan?"
"No," Sahara said. "And nobody knows why. Lots of theories, of course. Scientists say Japan must be where a whole lot of Godzillas lived millions of years ago. But they've never found any G bones or fossils.
"China and Southeast Asia think Godzilla is a providential revenge against Japan for our World War II atrocities, like the Rape of Nanking. A few Western fundamentalist Christians say their God is punishing us for our unrepentant secularism. Some Japanese even believe Godzilla is a spirit in animal form sent to punish our land."
"What do you think?"
"Me?" Sahara shrugged. "I think it's just the roll of the die."
At that point, Takashi and Sahara reached the hill's summit.
Below, the valley spread before them in a dark green tableau that resembled a great emerald bowl lodged between the two hills that bridged it, trees saturating the broad expanse in a vast evergreen carpet. At the valley's bottom a small river flowed, and even from the top of the hill, Takashi could hear the water gurgle and splash as it rushed along.
Then he noticed something in the valley that didn't make sense - large, half-moon shaped sections of land on which nothing seemed to grow. Each half moon was about twenty meters apart and plotted in a curious zigzag pattern.
"What are those?" Takashi asked Sahara, who stood beside him with hands on hips.
"Those are Godzilla's footprints."
With a shock, Takashi realized Sahara was right. The half moons, large as baseball fields, did indeed match the outline of a gargantuan dinosaurian foot. And within those impacted craters, the meager vegetation looked yellow and stunted.
"When did Godzilla come through?" Takashi asked. "We must have missed him."
"No," Sahara said. "We didn't miss him. Those footprints are five years old."
"Five years -- "
A rustling in the bushes to his right caught Takashi's ear. Turning, he squinted as what looked like a pale blue ghost bobbed behind the underbrush. Only it wasn't a ghost; it was a figure, a human figure, the vague outline of a small man or woman - or child.
"What is it?" Takashi whispered.
Sahara said nothing. Smiling, he simply watched the blue humanoid shape half-obscured by ferns and undergrowth and nodded in its direction. Like tiny twin searchlights, two milk-white orbs the size of a child's eyes glowed through the sepulchral foliage. As Sahara stared in their direction, his pupils disappeared in the ivory fire that consumed his own gleaming white eyes, and it was as though he and the thing in the woods were engaged in soundless conversation.
Ice water replaced the warm blood that had coursed through Takashi's veins only moments earlier.
Sahara's blazing eyes gradually dulled to a normal human luster, and his pupils returned. Then, as though searching for another kindred spirit, the blue specter in the woods drifted away, the rustling of brushed evergreen limbs fading as it went.
"My sister," Sahara said. It was all he had to say.
"Then you -- "
"Yes. I'm also a mutant."
Like Takashi's disquiet, the wind at first came as a whisper. Then as a voice. Finally as a shout.
Howling at hurricane pitch, it mercilessly pummeled the helpless evergreens at the top of the hill, bending them nearly to the breaking point. Like vengeful wraiths, great black clouds writhed overhead and smothered the stars. Tongues of lightning darted across the valley in a white-hot frenzy, flashing on and off, dizzying Takashi with their strobe light pyrotechnics. Next to the river, the wind wrenched a clutch of young evergreens from the earth; two of the trees somersaulted crazily into the river's wind-whipped waters.
Takashi, at a loss, was shaking his head. Thunder boomed in his ears, the angry expletives of an ancient god unwisely awakened. "What's going on?" he shouted, barely able to hear himself over the wind as he crouched next to a large rock for protection, his cheeks stinging from the forest debris whipped across his face.
Sahara, still standing, welcomed the full brunt of the storm. "He's coming!"
"You mean . . ."
All at once, the storm snuffed out. The air became still, leaden, as though preparing the valley for a force greater than any mere meteorological upheaval. Nothing moved, nothing breathed, nothing sounded save for the low grumble of thunder far to the east.
Takashi's eyes had become gummy from wind-blown dust, and he wiped them with a Kleenex. Blinking several times, he satisfied himself that his eyes were clear. Sahara was also clear, the dark twin standing at the crest of the hill, motionless as a statue, as though awaiting something Takashi was no longer sure he wanted to see.
In a voice hushed and reverential, Sahara said, "He's here."
If Takashi's blood had turned to ice water before, it now froze in mid-flow when a familiar bellow blasted across the valley, ringing in Takashi's ears like a cannon report.
Oh my God.
The dark silhouette of a massive reptilian head reared over the hill on the opposite side of the valley. Big as a warehouse, dwarfing the trees below as though they were the miniscule shrubs of an electric train set, the monstrous head tilted first left, then right, and Takashi had the crazy thought that it had seen him and was sizing up his fate. No, no, no way. It can't be.
But it was.
Multiple streaks of lightning struck the crest of the hill over which the majestic head reigned, removing all doubt. Midst the lightning's photoflash strobing, the familiar face crystallized in sharp relief -- part dragon, part dinosaur, part mutant, all wrath.
Thick, menacing eyebrows brooded over bone-white eyes the size of small lakes; twin rows of sharp, yellowed teeth glistened as the upper lip curled, and rocky gray scales spread out over the creature's snout and neck in craggy profusion, atomic armor that appeared more uncomfortably organic than anything in the Toho movies. This creature, this thing, this monster that loomed before Takashi was neither stuntman in rubber suit nor animatronic lackey nor CGI artifice - this unholy apparition was Godzilla in the flesh.
Shivering, his bowels feeling loose, Takashi tried to speak, but only a whimper emerged.
Like a scythe rending the night, the monster before him opened its cavernous jaws and let loose once again with a blast of that terrible, deafening roar. DDS ain't got nothing on this. What the hell am I thinking??? Takashi laughed.
Godzilla bellowed again, louder; the rock beside which Takashi crouched shook from the impact.
Even from his vantage point almost a mile away, Takashi felt the smell from Godzilla's mammoth maw wash over him like a pail of soiled water. The foul stench clotted in Takashi's nostrils, and he gagged. Hacked. All but puked. The odor reeked of rotten meat, polluted seawater, oceans of blood that had once flowed in the veins of Godzilla's inferiors.
A warm drop from overhead struck Takashi's cheek. What the? Another drop landed on Takashi's lower lip, and when he squeezed his lips together, he tasted the salty tang of -
"Yes," Sahara replied as the dark drops pelted him and splattered across the grass and rocks and earth in small liquid explosions. "Showers of blood frequently presage Godzilla's coming."
Takashi gestured helplessly. "Huh?" It was all he could say.
Then, as the blood rained softly on Takashi's face and shoulders, running in a warm trickle down the back of his neck, the nightmare on the other side of the valley moved.
Godzilla climbed to the top of the hill that overlooked the valley as though he were a warlord approaching his rightful plunder; the monster's gait was deliberate, unhurried, regal. As he reached the crest and paused, lightning flashed, and even though the blood shower obscured the details, the light nevertheless illuminated the major body planes of this impossibly huge behemoth.
Standing, the atom age dragon maintained a slightly horizontal posture similar to that of his centuries deceased dinosaur brethren. The arms, tipped with wicked, raptor-like talons, were formidable but smaller than those of the movie Godzilla, the torso muscular and bulky, the legs powerful pillars supporting the weight of a walking battleship.
Another lightning flash revealed that the gaze of the leviathan's pupil-less white eyes had fallen on Takashi and Sahara with alarming precision.
Despite the warm rain of blood, a chill fanned out across Takashi's shoulders, and a shudder racked his body. Still, as long as the monster remained motionless, a towering temple of providential rage, Takashi thought he could take it.
But then it started to move.
As Godzilla walked through the forested valley with languid, destructive ease, each massive footfall flattened evergreens that rose only half-way to the monster's knees, and the ground around Takashi's feet trembled.
"Sahara," Takashi said, "let's get out of here!"
Takashi's dark twin, seemingly mesmerized by the spectacle of Godzilla in the flesh, remained standing on the crest of the hill as though he were regarding a coveted exhibit.
Taking twenty meter strides, the king of the monsters drew nearer; the earth continued to shake.
Fearing he might soil himself, Takashi panicked. "Sahara!"
Godzilla's next step was so close it almost knocked Takashi off his feet.
As though sparked to life, Sahara spun towards Takashi and grabbed him by his T-shirt, a warm, wet garment that had grown increasingly stained under the rain's constant crimson spattering.
They ran, Takashi in the lead. Half-tumbling down the slope like drunken acrobats, Takashi and Sahara descended the same forest foot path that had delivered them to this hellish confrontation. Every three seconds the hill shuddered as the concussive booms of their gargantuan pursuer grew louder.
Making matters worse, the blood shower from overhead burst into a deluge that bombarded Takashi in a torrent of red. The blood stung his eyes, slapped his cheeks, slicked his footing.
And still the concussive booms grew closer.
His lungs heating up as though roasting in a microwave oven, Takashi reached the bottom of the hill and kept running, Sahara barely a nose behind. With each boom at their backs, the trembling of the earth grew more violent.
Soaked with blood, mucus running from his nose and over his upper lip, Takashi looked over his shoulder and craned his head to the sky.
Now almost completely obscured by the hammering downpour, the monster towered over the woods like the monarch of every dragon that had ever been or ever would be, and with one final, earth-trembling footfall, the living mountain that men on this earth called Godzilla reached the bottom of the hill.
The beast's great head, almost lost in the blinding sheets of rain, looked down from its lofty perch, and though the monster's bone-white eyes were now too high up to be clearly seen, Takashi swore they bored straight into his soul.
Godzilla took a step forward, and the earth thundered.
Losing all sense of time and place as he fled through the woods, Takashi almost cheered when he saw the house of Sahara's parents not more than a hundred meters away. Sahara had actually fled ahead of Takashi, but Takashi quickly closed the gap. Panting like a prize racehorse in the final lap, Takashi booked, and soon his dark twin again raced a nose behind.
The downpour of blood from overhead escalated, morphing into a monsoon so thick that Takashi had to keep a hand over his eyes to make his way.
The thundering of the earth grew near.
Takashi sped up the stone walkway. The pounding blood had grown hot, almost scalding, and Takashi reached behind him to pull a winded Sahara beneath the shelter of the porch roof.
"Your parents!" Takashi said. "We've gotta save your parents!"
Blood running from his hair and streaking across his face in slender streams, Sahara frowned. "Yeah, right, like we can even save ourselves!"
Thunder rattled the porch.
"Look, we've got to try -- "
Something big smacked the roof, followed by another something, and another, and another, as though baseballs were being lobbed from heaven. Hail? Takashi glanced in disbelief as large, red, ovoid chunks thudded upon the blood-soaked earth, and in the horror of a suspended second, he recognized what they were: human hearts.
Thunder rattled the porch more insistently than before.
Takashi stole into the house and dragged Sahara with him. Sahara's mother stood next to the living room alcove, fussing with another vase of flowers. Exasperated, Takashi bolted into Sahara's father's bedroom and tore the bed covers off the sick, emaciated man who might have been his own father. "Mr. Sahara! Mr. Sahara!"
The man didn't budge.
Thunder shook the room; a stream of dust trickled from the ceiling and settled onto Mr. Sahara's opened, staring eyes. They didn't blink.
A quick check for a neck pulse or any sign of breathing confirmed it: Mr. Sahara was dead.
Takashi's dark twin stood in the doorway. When he looked at the bed, his eyes widened, and he gripped Takashi's shoulder. "Is he -- ?"
This time the thunder jostled the walls so hard that it was as though the house had slid onto a foundation of jack-in-the-box springs.
Takashi returned his dark twin's shoulder squeeze. "There's still time to save your mother."
The house shook again, and Takashi scrambled to keep his footing. As he ran into the living room, gouts of dust rained from several fissures in the ceiling. Sahara's mother seemed oblivious when the next house-shaking sent several delicate China cups crashing to the floor. She continued to arrange flowers that no longer mattered.
"Mrs. Sahara, please!" Takashi grabbed the suddenly puzzled woman and pulled her into Sahara's bedroom. The dark twin followed.
The next house-quake caused the ceiling in Sahara's room to buckle and bow inward; Godzilla wasn't far away.
Takashi pulled Sahara's nightstand drawer open and drew out Sahara's Glock .45 Auto pistol. Leveling it on his dark twin, Takashi glowered. "You. And your mother. Go through that mirror into my earth."
Sahara shook his head. "We can't do that."
"Yes, you can!"
"No," Sahara said. "We belong here." Gently, he took his trembling mother in his arms; her head darted around the room as though she were encountering a place she had never seen before. "I don't want my mother to go on like this."
The next shock wave hit the house with the force of a major earthquake. Walls buckled, books tumbled, windows shattered, and it sounded as though the roof had collapsed into the living room.
Heart pumping overtime, Takashi could almost feel Godzilla's mountainous presence looming above them. "Sahara, please."
Sahara smiled grimly. "You've forgotten what I am."
The next shock wave sent a crossbeam crashing onto Sahara's nightstand. As it hit, Sahara's eyes turned solid-white, glowing like snowy fire as they focused on the pistol in Takashi's hand.
Takashi swore. By reflex, he dropped the red-hot liability the pistol had become; the heat had seared his palm.
Sahara momentarily released his mother. "Now you go, bro."
With strength Takashi would have never guessed his dark twin possessed, Sahara plucked Takashi from the floor and literally shoved him feet-first through the dimensional gap in the mirror.
The next to last thing Takashi saw before his head slid from this parallel earth back to his own was Sahara embracing his mother as the poor woman buried her head in her son's shoulder.
At that second, Takashi heard the real Godzilla's cavernous roar for the last time, the sound vibrating across Takashi's skull like a sonic blast. Something dark and so huge it more than filled Takashi's vision descended upon Sahara, his mother, and the tiny room in which they clung to each other for literal dear life; in a wink, they were gone.
From the dresser mirror, Takashi tumbled into his bedroom, surprised to hear glass breaking behind him. Glancing up, he saw that his dresser mirror had shattered into shards so tiny they resembled glassy diamonds. It must have happened when Godzilla stepped on Sahara's home back in the real G world; Godzilla must have pulverized the mirror when he flattened the house, meaning that entryway into Sahara's parallel earth was gone.
If any of it had really happened. Maybe Takashi had been dreaming. Maybe he had gone crazy.
His right palm smarted, and when he examined it, a red burn in the shape of a pistol grip had started to give rise to a nasty blister.
He hadn't imagined it.
Ignoring the broken mirror glass that littered the top of his dresser, Takashi lay on his bed and mourned the deaths of Sahara and Sahara's mother and father. He said a prayer for Sahara's sister, apparently still slithering like a blue wraith somewhere out in the woods of G-earth, and he made a promise to himself to stop teasing his own sister. Then, looking at the Bandai '54 Godzilla model posed menacingly atop his big screen TV, he thanked whatever deity there might be that he and his family lived in a world in which Godzilla was confined to the movies.
© Todd Tennant 2004