Toshiro "Tosh" Matthews' heart pounded in his skull as he gripped the curious package with the unfamiliar return address. Could this postal parcel have something to do with the disappearance of his older brother Ken?
Tosh fought furiously with the string bound tightly around the package. Declaring it a losing battle, he strode to his apartment kitchen, yanked open a drawer, and grabbed a pair of scissors. They efficiently snipped through the constraining ribbons in record time. Next, Tosh savagely tore the brown paper covering a nondescript cardboard box.
Inside the box was an unlabeled 3 ˝ inch computer disk. That, and a cryptic type-written note that read, "He wanted you to have this."
Hands behind his back, Tosh rose and slowly paced about his living room, careful to detour around the tastefully upholstered couch and the impeccably uncluttered coffee table. He had to know what was on that disk - could the "he" on the note refer to Ken? - but he cursed himself for getting his hopes up.
Tosh's older brother Ken (full name: Kenji) Matthews had been the fabulously successful anchor/reporter of Probe 77, one of America's hottest TV newsmagazine programs. But, three months ago, Ken had mysteriously vanished without a trace. Before his disappearance, he had shared the news of his malignant brain tumor diagnosis with a few close friends and family, the latter consisting only of Tosh; their parents had died years ago in a fatal car wreck.
Ken hadn't wanted the public to know about his brain tumor, which the doctors had deemed inoperable, even by the newest surgical methods. Of course, once Ken had seemingly vanished from the soil of the globe, the tabloid bloodhounds sniffed hot on his trail and, regrettably, found out about the terminal brain tumor - though not about Ken's current whereabouts.
Of course, some of the wilder tabloids suggested aliens had abducted Ken, others that political enemies in high places had ordered him assassinated, and still others that the heads of an international "secret society" had kidnapped him. A bold investigative reporter, Ken had ruffled plenty of big-wig feathers in his time, hence the reason for the outlandish speculations about his fate. But Tosh didn't buy any of it.
In fact, Tosh had allowed only AP articles about Ken to appear in his newspaper The Glendale Globe News. As the paper's youngest-ever editor (Tosh had only recently turned thirty), he didn't countenance sensationalism or irresponsible innuendo of any kind. That was one reason he was so well-respected in this town.
His friends and fellow employees humored him, but Tosh could tell by their eyes that they figured Ken's corpse was decaying in an obscure road-side ditch somewhere; nevertheless, even though there was no evidence to back his belief, Tosh privately and publicly maintained that Ken was still alive.
Which brought Tosh back to the mysteriously delivered computer disk. Holding the disk, he gazed out the window at Glendale, the mid-sized Oklahoma town he called his own; the late afternoon sun shone down on the humble metropolis like a sleepy searchlight.
Tosh liked this town, the pleasant neighborhoods with manicured lawns and the downtown park rife with trees and tennis courts and picnic tables and the generally friendly residents. Despite being half-Asian, he'd rarely encountered racism here, and the town was growing bigger every day. Now, as the hour grew nearer to supper time, Tosh wondered how many of his fellow Glendalers were likewise tormented by doubts and fears of missing loved ones.
Suddenly resolute, Tosh carried the mysterious, unlabeled computer disk to his work room and slipped the disk into his CPU. After booting up the computer, he was surprised to find the disk requested no password and was written in Microsoft Word. It contained only one file: "Diary of a G-Man."
Tosh frowned. Was this somebody's idea of a joke? He reached into a box of Ritz Crackers and popped an orange morsel into his mouth, savoring the rich flavor, one of his only anchors in a world that seemed to wobble in eternal flux.
Tosh opened the disk's lone file and found that it indeed appeared to be a diary of some sort. But whose? Tosh didn't have to read long to find out as he slowly scrolled down the computer screen:
"Ken Matthews here. Can't help being a little self-conscious writing something no one may ever read. But because I have a hunch somebody may eventually see this (probably Tosh - you there, little brother?), and because I need to write or go nuts, I intend, in this diary, to document the following tale of the strange and bizarre. (Theremin cue please: Ooo-eee-ooo-ooo!)
"I'm young (at thirty-four I'm only a babe), handsome (just ask the ladies), talented (blush, blush), rich (filthily I might add), and humble (as your average $20-mil-a-pop movie star), so having been diagnosed with a malignant and inoperable brain tumor three months ago was not the highlight of my life. Sure, I put on a brave front for the press. But being a media Machiavelli myself, I knew better than to share my true thoughts on the matter with anyone - even Tosh. (Sorry, bro.)
"The real scoop on Ken Matthews' reaction to 'The Brain That Wouldn't Live'? I was royally ticked. I thought God had given me a raw deal, and I wanted to kick death in the teeth and drag him kicking and screaming along with me into the darkness of the abyss. Given my hate affair with death, what else could I do but use my vast array of contacts and sources to see if anything coming down the pike could KO my terminal tumor?
"I'll skip to the chase - yes, I did find out about several experimental treatments. But the most fascinating tidbits I uncovered were rumors about secret experiments with G-cells in Japan, rumors that Godzilla's instantaneous recuperative abilities could perhaps be used inside human beings to cure a whole host of terminal and debilitating diseases."
Tosh nodded as he tapped his chin. Yes, he knew about the experiments with Regenerator G-1 cells officially being conducted by both the Japanese government and the U.N., but those experiments were hardly secret.
Tosh read on:
"Sure, you've heard of the 'official' G-cell tinkering going on. But not the unofficial variety (shades of The X-Files). Speaking of the latter, growing up in Japan for the first ten years of my life paid off big time. I was able to contact some of Mom's fellow Japanese monsterologists and some of Dad's big government friends. They helped me to ferret out this secret G-cell project.
"No, none of the Japanese officials in charge held it against me that Dad was a Caucasian American, or that I myself am only half Japanese, or that I've lived in the U.S. since I was ten. I laid out my case to the big boys, and after oodles of checking and clandestine interviews (of me, not them), they agreed to take me on."
Tosh gulped. Take him on? What was Ken getting at?
"Hey, world, I'm back! Just been having a few preliminary G-cell treatments, and I'm still a little sore. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"This secret Japanese operation is code-named 'Regicide.' Why? Probably to throw any snoopers off the track. Yet in a way, they are killing the king - the king of monsters, that is. Namely, Godzilla.
"They've rounded up several terminal patients, myself included, and bundled us off to an unknown but presumably uninhabited Pacific island (we were blindfolded and knocked out with drugs before the trip). All of us are volunteers. So no, there's nothing sinister about that aspect of Regicide.
"They've got quite a set-up here. Called Regicide Prime, this elaborate, multi-leveled underground base reminds me of the top secret bio-warfare complex in the movie The Andromeda Strain. Antiseptic white walls honeycomb the place, leading to dozens of claustrophobic living chambers as well as laboratories and testing rooms crammed with every imaginable kind of medical apparatus and whizbang doo-dad. Elevators (and security clearance retina checks) allow one to travel from floor to floor. Significantly, none of us (the "civilians") are allowed to visit the lowest levels, and rumor has it that few scientists are allowed down there either.
"The catch to all this? Call me a wide-eyed heart-bleeder, but I don't think there is one. If these experiments prove successful, and Regicide's polite and kindly Japanese scientists assure me that they will be, the results will be announced to the public. Then, all of us 'G-Men' will be free to go back to the real world. And guess who has exclusive rights to pen a first-hand book account about Regicide? You guessed it - your ever humble correspondent!
"As the Canadians might say, 'Quite a coup, eh?' Especially considering that I'm the only half-Asian test subject. Everyone else here is full Japanese. And here's a tidbit that would infuriate NOW no end - not one of the test subjects is female. Naturally, this inconvenient and even inexplicable fact puts a real damper on my love life. Why no women? The ever resourceful Ken Matthews comes up clueless on that one. Maybe Regicide is secretly run by misogynistic patriarchs in high places -- or chivalrous gentlemen still living in the early twentieth century.
"Why do I trust that the Regicide reps really will go public with the project? Call it intuition - or maybe just blind stupidity. After all, nothing ventured, nothing snared.
"Now please excuse me while I catch a million and one winks. These G-cell treatments have the unfortunate side effect of making one drowsy eighteen out of every twenty-four hours. I wonder if Godzilla sleeps this much? If so, it doesn't exactly work wonders for his complexion."
"Sure, I know it's been four weeks since I wrote my last entry. But I'm busy, folks - I'm writing the first draft of the Regicide book on another file. Plus, I've got a biiiiiiiig surprise.
"How can I say this without sounding corny? I mean, how can I express my joy without waxing (or even buffing) maudlin? I don't know, and frankly, my dear, I don't give an expletive deleted!
"I underwent my last G treatment this week. And just two days ago, the doctors ran every kind of scan you can think of, from PET to fMRI, and - yeah, I know you're way ahead of me - like a bad dream dissolving into wakefulness, my brain tumor has ceased to exist! It's unbelievable, but augmenting my immune system with Regenerator G-1 seems to have done the proverbial trick. My fellow patients are also starting to experience miraculous recoveries from cancer, MLS, and a host of other formerly fatal diseases.
"This could really mean the end of all human disease, genetic and otherwise. It sounds too good to be true, I know. But hey, I'm not looking for a dark cloud to eclipse this silver lining. If you're reading this, Tosh, I'll leave that up to you."
Tosh shook his head and chuckled. Yes, Ken always had been the perennial optimist, always leaping before he looked - he boasted several whirlwind engagements (and subsequent cancelled weddings) to prove it.
Tosh was almost feeling giddy. Did this diary entry mean Ken was okay? But if he was, why hadn't the Regicide results been made public?
Tosh shuffled his feet beneath his computer desk, tried unsuccessfully to enjoy another Ritz cracker, and continued to scroll down the file:
"And now for the evening blues. Just when you thought it was safe to get gene therapy, the G treatments are having some unforeseen side effects. The buzz among my fellow patients - or inmates, as we now call ourselves - has become subdued. Some of our G brethren have disappeared from our bull sessions in the rec room. The doctors tell us our missing compatriots are requiring more potent treatments, and have thus been moved to a lower level where all the personnel don protective clothing.
"I smell a kennel of rats - or should that be one big kaiju? Godzilla's revenge, perhaps?
"After all, what is Godzilla anyway? Scientists say he's a mutated dinosaur, earth-worshippers say he's Gaia's vengeance, and Odo Islanders believe he's nothing less than a god. Maybe they're right, the lot of them. Or maybe they're wrong to the last drop.
"We know high doses of radiation kill most living organisms. But radiation only makes Godzilla stronger. Why? Sure, a lot of high-domed braniacs have submitted exalted theories, but nobody really knows.
"Maybe no one can know. It's been said before, many times, many ways, but Godzilla really is like an elemental force of nature, something stranger than we do or even can imagine. Maybe he haunts our world like a ghost condemned to trouble the house in which he died.
"Whatever Godzilla is, I'm starting to wish he'd never existed, and that GPN head honcho Yuji Shinoda had never discovered Regenerator G-1. I'm in my sterile-enough-to-swab-your-throat living quarters as a I write this (this cheerless place is too colorless to be called an 'apartment'), and I know tomorrow the doctors are going to notice I'm experiencing some unrequested G-cell side effects of my own.
"The skin on my chest is hardening, tightening, growing thick with warty scales. And as if they weren't bad enough to look at, they sting my muscles ever five seconds as though I'm being jabbed by a squadron of kamikaze mosquitoes. Deodorant? Forget it. I'm smelling up the place big time - I stink like a tubful of fish guts. Using a hand mirror, on my back I've noted that small, stegosaurus-like plates are starting to push up from my backbone, and it feels as though my spine is splitting.
"We've all heard of werewolves (paging Lon Chaney, Jr. and Oliver Reed). But weregodzillas? Can you imagine Warren Zevon belting out 'Were-G's of Tokyo'? If I wasn't the star of this mess, it'd be hilarious.
"They've exiled me to the lowest level now. All the doctors and nurses here wear white bio-suits with transparent face plates. They assure me that my symptoms are minor. And compared to what I've heard from Eiji, one of my fellow captive G brothers, I believe it.
"Eiji lives (or should I say, is imprisoned) in the cell next door; we communicate via video transmissions. Eiji's symptoms are about the same as mine - scaly, warty tissue on the torso and arms, plates the size of tea saucers poking up from the spine, an intense burning sensation in the chest. But the stories Eiji's told me about some of our other captive G brothers - Lord have mercy times seven. To put it mildly, let's just say H. P. Lovecraft has nothing on Eiji.
"He tells me two G-Men have gone insane, ranting about the 'bright white lights' exploding in their heads. They also agonize over the morbid visions of burned and mutilated men and women they see whenever their eyes are open, visions so disturbing one of them ripped his eyes out before the orderlies could stop him. The rumor going round is that the two men experienced a portion of Godzilla's mind, and it proved too much.
"Another G-man, covered with flaky scales, has gone catatonic. One has a brain that's shrunk to the size of a tennis ball, and his skin has shriveled to a translucent gray, as though he's been salt-cured under a sun lamp for a couple of hundred years. Still another G brother sprouted Godzilla's stegosaurus-like spines, only they didn't grow on the outside -- they grew on the inside, rupturing the poor guy's internal organs; he died yesterday from internal bleeding. But bad as those instances are, there are some cases so weird they might make even Fox Muldar do a double-take.
"Eiji swears one G-Man became a living ghost. This unfortunate G brother turned a semi-transparent, bluish white, and he subsequently flashed on and off like a TV image with bad reception. When the spectral G-man tried to talk, his mouth moved, but no sound emerged. Then he walked through the wall of his cell. That's right, he walked through the wall, and he didn't reappear on the other side. Where did he go? Eiji speculates that maybe it's best we don't know.
"Eiji further claims one G-Man had cancer all throughout his system, lethal virulence supposedly healed by the G treatments. But the cancer returned with a vengeance and mutated the man's body, turning him into a legless, armless blob of cancer tissue, a six-foot tumor with a quivering, toothless mouth and only one eye. Eiji says the thing may still be alive, and that it has repeatedly asked to be killed."
Despite the apartment's warm climate, a chill spread across Tosh's shoulders. He slowly crunched another Ritz cracker as he continued to read:
"Though not as spooky, just as scary to me is Eiji's contention that one G-Man literally incinerated himself. We both speculate that maybe the ray-firing organ apparently present in Godzilla's body must have grown inside the man and become uncontrollable. The G brother burst into flames, and soon bright, white-hot rays shot out from his chest in all directions, searing the walls of his room. Then the light went out, and not even the G-Man's bones remained - he had been reduced to ashes.
"Is that what's going to happen to me? To Eiji? I don't know, but I don't plan to take my fate like an obedient lackey. And yes, our Regicide doctors know I have this laptop. One of them, Dr. Akira Honda, okayed it. Most of the doctors and nurses sympathize with our plight, and they really are trying to help. But I've got the feeling that whoever is at the top of this operation just wants the whole thing quietly written off. In the immortal words of Ernest P. Worrell, 'Know what I mean?'"
Tosh sighed and shifted in his computer chair. Yes, I know what you mean, big brother. He feared the worst had already transpired. But there was more to read before drawing any final conclusions:
"Another week has come and gone. I don't appear to be getting any worse, but I don't seem to be getting any better either. Same with Eiji. Dr. Honda, my assigned doctor, has said he and his fellow scientists will keep working until they find a way to undo our G treatment side effects. I believe Dr. Honda is sincere; he's one of the good guys. But I have my doubts he can do anything. I'm starting to wonder if the heads of this little clandestine operation might just deep-six it, sinking Regicide with all passengers and crew below decks. What better way to cover their anonymous tracks?
"They could nuke this island. But that would be too messy, too hard to explain. They could gas us all instead. Sure, just pump nerve gas through the air circulation system, and we're history. No muss, no fuss, no inconvenient fallout blowing about. Or maybe Godzilla will come along to wreck the place. That'd sure be poetic justice, wouldn't it?
"Tosh, if you're reading this somewhere, are you wondering what's become of my world-famous optimism? Me too.
"Another seven days have eaten dust. So where's Godzilla when you really need him? Maybe he's me. No, I'm not kidding.
"Eiji, my next door cellmate, died fifteen minutes ago. How? So kind of you to ask. We were talking over the TV monitor when he started to complain that the burning in his chest was getting worse. He crawled atop his white-sheeted bed and insisted he would wait it out. Upon my equally stubborn urging, he finally rang for help. A petite, wafer-thin nurse, garbed in a protective white bio-suit, rushed into his room, and by then, Eiji's head was thrashing back and forth on his pillow, saliva spewing in all directions. The reticent nurse approached Eiji, then jumped back when he showered her with spit and curses.
"Next, the spectacle became surreal: Eiji threw his head back as his scaly chest started to shine like a ruby Christmas light; with each expansion of his heart, the chest pulsed bright red, with each contraction, dull burgundy. Even more alarming, the exposed flesh of his arms, torso, feet, and face turned an angry crimson, as though he were being scalded alive.
"A second bio-suited nurse, taller and bigger-boned than the first, ran into the room. And a third. Two of them tried to hold Eiji down as another readied a syringe presumably filled with a sedative.
"Eiji kicked and screamed, refusing to let them near him. The pulsating glow in his chest turned from crimson to reddish white. And the Geiger counter in his cell was clicking like a fleet of cicadas. The petite nurse fled; her fellow sisters in white remained.
"And then, Eiji's room was flooded with a bright light. It was so brilliant, I was temporarily blinded, even though I was watching it over the TV monitor. After my vision cleared, I saw that the cell wall next to Eiji's room had started to glow with a white-hot intensity. Not wishing to be blinded a second time, I shielded my eyes.
"A few seconds later, I opened them. The TV monitor had gone blank; apparently, the heat in Eiji's cell had destroyed his transmission equipment. (On the far side of the room, my laptop had fortunately survived, which is why you're still reading this.) I had been protected from the heat, but not from the radiation.
"And then it hit: Sharp pains pierced my joints. My belly cramped, as though a large hand had shoved itself down my throat and clutched a fistful of intestines. A fire raged in my chest, my head pounded, and the bitter taste of bile filled my mouth.
"That was fifteen minutes ago, and I'm still not feeling much better.
"The heat from Eiji's cell melted my mirror, but I can tell my body is becoming more and more like Godzilla with each passing second. My legs have bulked out; my feet have mutated into four clawed toes; and my arms and legs have adhered to the hard, warty scales that seem to be enclosing my skin like scalding armor. In addition, a serpentine tail has erupted from my lower backbone. I can even see a slight but distinctly Godzillian snout growing beneath my eyes as I write this, and my nostrils recoil at the reek of ozone and sea spray - the King of the Monsters' signature smell.
"My theory? I have one of course. The radiation from Eiji's death has super-charged my G-infected cells, causing them to transform me into the world's first bona fide weregodzilla. Guess Warren Zevon better start changing his lyrics to 'Werewolves of London' after all, 'cause it looks like, it looks like, it looks like . . . what?
"My thoughts. Can't control my thoughts. Logic breaking down rage all over can't think straight cant right strait
"alarm hear alarm doctors nurses run down the hall
"walls gone my ray melted it my ray everyone run away burning inside hot weird powerful deep angry knives piercing brain is this what Godzilla's thoughts are like is this Godzilla thinking right now
"heat power anger fire pain
"stop please sto Tosh help h ga zwon gggggggggggggggggggggg"
Tosh rubbed his eyes and swallowed hard; this had to be somebody's idea of a sick joke, it just had to be. Briefly considering his mundane surroundings -- the computer desk on which his mouse hand rested, the Star Trek calendar thumb-tacked to the wall, the shag carpet that needed another vacuuming - Tosh composed himself, took a deep breath, and forced himself to read on:
"This supplemental entry is being entered by Doctor Akira Honda, Ken's personal G-treatment physician. I write in English because I suspect that if anyone ever reads this diary, it will probably be someone from America.
"After absorbing large amounts of radiation, Ken metamorphosed into a Godzilla-human hybrid three hours ago. He now stands over seven feet tall, but he's still somewhat human. He has a deep, gravelly, and almost unintelligible voice of sorts, but he can only talk in broken, child-like sentences. Most of the time he bellows and roars.
"Tail thrashing, he fought his way out of the lower level like a kaiju gone berserk. Ken flung nurses and doctors aside as though they were weightless dolls during his march down the hall to the elevator. He obviously still possesses human intelligence, because to make the elevator open for him, he grabbed a guard and let the retinal security check scan the man's registered retina.
"Ken did cause a few injuries - his tail swiped one of the guards in the man's side, breaking several ribs and causing internal bleeding. He threw another guard against a corridor wall, thereby giving the man a nasty concussion. Thankfully, Ken hasn't killed anyone yet.
"Down here, the guards' sidearms did not penetrate Ken's new Godzillian skin, which is now a thick, scaly armor. Word has reached me that Ken made it to the surface. There, the sentries reportedly pummeled him with automatic weapons fire, but Ken escaped into the jungle, apparently unscathed.
"Dr. Yano, the resident figurehead of Regicide, has suggested dropping gas over the island to subdue Ken, for Dr. Yano doesn't want Ken harmed. But the military has other ideas. They believe bazookas or high-powered artillery should put an end to Ken's brief reign of terror.
"Such indiscretion makes me wonder is Ken is right that the true powers behind Regicide might dispose of the entire project, and all of us along with it.
"Today, Dr. Yano assured me that the work at Regicide will continue as planned. We medical personnel will remain here to care for the unfortunate victims of the G-cell treatments. Within a year or so, we will return to Japan, replaced by other doctors and nurses likewise sworn to secrecy. I myself know the consequences would be grave indeed was I ever to tell anyone, even my wife.
"I only pray we are able to bring healing and hope to the Godzilla People in our charge. Yet we can never tell their relatives about their whereabouts as long as they remain uncured. Still, I think it's only right that the families should know, but I have been sworn to secrecy. It would be a tragic thing indeed to bring dishonor on oneself and one's family.
"As for Ken Matthews, I fear the worst.
"There are many caves on the island in which Ken could hide. So far, Regicide troops have been unable to capture him. I assume he is still hiding out somewhere in the jungle. Possibly, he might have taken to the sea, though today, Regicide's tight security net would surely prevent such a move.
"It's also possible the soldiers may have already killed him, and the authorities simply refuse to let us doctors know. If Ken is dead, I blame myself. But I hope that somehow, Ken's brother finds out about his missing sibling, whether Ken is dead or alive. I fear he is likely the former."
Tosh kept scrolling down the page, but there was no other text to read. A shudder racked his body as he stared at the now-blank computer screen. Ken really was probably dead.
Stumbling into the kitchen like an accident victim in shock, Tosh absent-mindedly poured a glass of cold chocolate milk and downed it in one mighty gulp. There was only one right thing to do, and he knew what it was.
But where to begin? How could he find out if Ken still lived, if Ken had somehow escaped Regicide Island - if there even was a Regicide Island? After all, this could still be someone's idea of a queasy joke.
Maybe Tosh could book a flight to Japan, look up some of his Japanese friends, snoop around; he and Yuki Shimura still called each other a few times each year -- despite the fact that Ken had stood her up at the altar -- and they were still good friends. She had said that any time Tosh wanted to come to Japan, he was welcome to stay in her apartment.
Well, maybe he needed to take her up on that.
Or maybe not.
After all, how could a nobody like Tosh Matthews hope to learn his brother's fate? Ken was almost certainly dead by now; shouldn't Tosh let the dead bury their own dead? Why should be abandon his predictable, well-ordered life in Glendale, only to smash his heart against a fortress of dead ends?
Because your duty to your brother demands it.
Trying to ignore his conscience, Tosh pulled a dog-eared paperback copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus from the living room book shelf. He settled on the couch, hoping to lose himself in the Romantic prose of one of his favorite novels. He fell asleep shortly before eleven.
When the phone rang an hour later, Tosh jerked up from the couch as though an ice pick had pricked his heart.
"H-hello?" he said, running a hand through his hair as he stifled a yawn.
"Tosh?" a slightly guttural but all-too-recognizable voice on the other end of the line said. "Tosh?"
"Ken!" Tosh exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "Ken! Where are you?"
"Help . . . me . . ."
"Help -- "
The line went dead.
Tosh cursed and slammed down the phone. He wasn't dreaming - he was sure of that - he had heard Ken's voice. That meant his big brother was alive.
But where was he? And what was Tosh going to do about it? No longer able to fend off his conscience, Tosh picked up the phone to call Yuki; he was going to Japan to find his brother, come hell or high water.
© Todd Tennant 2004