by C. L. Werner
Martin Shaw gazed over the broken skyline, tongues of flame licking at a crimson sky. The air reeked of smoke and death and was filled with a babel of sirens and alarms … and screams of pain and horror. From afar came the sound of muffled thunder, tanks adding their efforts to the chaos.
Martin Shaw had been a correspondent for the World News Network for seven years. For five of those he had been their 'man in Tokyo'. He had been a modern-day flaneur, observing the busy life of the Japanese yet never deigning to do more than observe, never really entering that life. He had observed with detached indifference the ever-expanding sprawl of the city, the constant efforts to increase its efficiency, to make everything from power to transportation mesh into a single well-oiled machine. But now, as he looked at the smoking wreck of the toppled JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line, the steel train cars lying in the rubble of Minato-ku like some titanic serpent, he could not be indifferent.
Groans of agony assailed his ears. The Haneda Monorail, its track sundered, had nose-dived into the asphalt, spilling its human cargo under the tremendous impact. So near to Tokyo Bay, there had been no warning for the monorail. Those whose torn and mangled bodies created the lake of gore which slowly spread bloody tendrils from beneath the twisted monorail cars never knew what had happened to them. The poor pathetic creatures who moaned pitiably and waved limbs skewered by splintered glass were not so lucky. They cried for help but it would be days, perhaps weeks, before there would be any to give. Martin Shaw put his hands over his ears and fled, desperately begging himself to believe that there was nothing he could do.
The Great Kanto Earthquake leveled Tokyo on September 1st, 1923; causing fires that burned unchecked for two days. The earthquake claimed 120,000 lives. It would be lost beside today's tragedy. Shaw laughed. The biggest story of his career and he was running away from it! The biggest story? Shaw laughed again, giggling like a schoolgirl. He looked at the blazing ruin of a kimono shop as he fumbled a cigarette from his coat pocket.
The Beast. Perhaps it was the same horror called upon in Revelation. Surely it had been loosened from some darkest pit of Hell. The world could never be sane again. Where had The Beast lain all these centuries? How had It survived? And why had It risen out of the waters of Tokyo Bay to lay waste to the teeming capital of Japan like the descending fist of an angry God?
Shaw shouted in alarm. A movement to his left had revealed itself in the corner of his eye. Shaw cursed himself. Did he think it was The Beast? All it was was a tiny dog struggling with something beside the collapsed wall of a bicycle shop. The American walked toward the dog and vomited his cigarette into the street.
One of the dog's legs was held above the ground, suspended at such a hideous angle as to be obviously broken. One side of the dog was covered in dirty yellow fur; the other side was a swath of blackened flesh, leprous round sores oozing puss. One of the dog's eyes was milky white, as though the color had burst under the intense heat. The dog hobbled beside a mass of fallen masonry, its yellowed teeth fastened on a piece of blue cloth, the leg of a child's knickers. The child's leg jutted out from beneath the rubble and the ravaged dog put its whole body into the effort of freeing its master, tugging furiously at the pant leg, pausing only to lick its burned hide in an attempt to ease the pain. From his vantage point, Shaw could see that there was no one on the other side of the rubble, nor was there enough debris to conceal even a small body in its entirety.
Shaw left the dog behind him, trembling at the lingering vision of the pathetic scene. He walked down the dead streets and tried desperately to make sense of it all. Only this morning, as he had stumbled into his room at the New Otani in Akasaka after a less intoxicating than usual visit to the discos and bars of Roppongi everything had been normal, natural. How could only a few hours bring such a change?
Ahead of him, rising above the dancing shadows of unchecked fires, Shaw could see the gargantuan television screen which rose above the square like some fascist's balcony. Images flitted across the giant screen and words fought their way down to him through the roar and crack of nearby infernos and the far-off thunder. The reporter watched the screen like a mesmerist's victim, his subconscious struggling to translate the emotional NKTV reporter's Japanese into intelligible words.
What he saw was the auto-packed Expressway Number Two leading out of Tokyo. Three tanks from the JSDF blocked the road, soldiers at the machine guns mounted on their M-60 turrets. Scattered bodies told that it was not an idle threat. A few frightened Japanese walked forward to a fat Japanese soldier who wore an emotionless face. They held out their hands to him, placing money and rings in the soldier's pudgy hands. The mercenary slowly counted the money, sneered at the couple and jerked his head to indicate that they could pass. The next man who broke through the terrified mob which punched and kicked at itself to see who would be next was young and wore executive dress. He placed a mass of yen notes in the soldier's hand and prepared to pass the blockade. The soldier had other ideas, however, and seized the executive's leather valise. The office worker struggled against the robbery and the soldier drew his pistol, shooting the man in the eye. As the executive fell to the street, the soldier smashed open the briefcase, rummaging through the mass of papers inside. The killer rose, disgust evident on his face and kicked the valise off the elevated bridge, the papers scattering in the fiery wind.
Suddenly, The Beast's hideous shriek roared out of the television screen, though to Shaw it was but the echo of a much nearer sound. The crowd of terrified people looked back at Tokyo with horror. Fear crawled across them and like crazed cattle, they stampeded the blockade. The machine guns on the tanks cut them down like wheat until the crowd surged back beyond the deathline, leaving behind them piles of bleeding dead and screaming wounded. The soldier with the pistol barked out for the next seeking escape to come forward.
Shaw broke from the mesmerizing images upon the screen when a stray shell exploded within his line of sight. Again The Beast's demonic cry raked across the smoke-filled heavens, filling Shaw with a primordial fear. Just as the first rats had done in the dim days of the dinosaurs, the reporter fled from the sounds of a titan's approach.
The broken, deserted streets scattered before Shaw's flying feet, reassembling themselves behind him in a maddening labyrinth. Like the masses of Tokyo, traveling above the streets was a novelty to the reporter but the steel worms that raced beneath them were still now and would be until The Beast's assault had been checked. Shaw knew of at least one train which had been trapped beneath a cave-in deep within the Tozai line's territory leaving the entombed commuters to a slow death by suffocation.
Gradually, the sounds of conflict fell away from Shaw's hearing and he allowed his steps to slow, his hot, panting lungs to inhale great gasps of burning air. The American looked around him and felt despair. He did not recognize his surroundings. Navigating the chaotic sprawl of Tokyo was difficult enough under normal circumstances, street addresses being worse than useless, most businesses printing maps along with their ads. Now, after running from horror to horror, Shaw could not be sure of any of his surroundings, ruined or whole. Suddenly a thought came to him. Turning in every direction, Shaw gave a cry of delight when he sighted the 3330 meter red steel frame of Tokyo Tower. The smoke made navigating by the sun impossible, but so long as Tokyo Tower remained visible, Shaw would know which direction was east. Emboldened by his cleverness, the reporter began jogging north.
Some minutes later, Shaw heard a sound that caused him to freeze in his steps. He had heard it for only a moment but that moment had been enough. It had been a peal of course, brutal laughter, the sound of barbarian merriment in the midst of chaos and destruction. Shaw wondered what manner of brute could revel in such tragedy as he stole from the middle of the street and set his back against a nearby wall. Creeping slowly from storefront to storefront, Shaw moved closer to the sound, finding it to come from around the corner of the thoroughfare.
He found a group of seven or eight soldiers, their uniforms disheveled with all manner of garish improvisations, one man wearing a silk shirt with his fatigues, another sporting a blue felt hat. Several were sharing a bottle of wine, expensive European wine, while two more loaded a case of liquor into the open hatch of an idling M-60 tank. The tank itself was as garishly decorated as its crew and the rogues who had joined them. Enormous televisions were lashed to its hull with stout bunjie cords while a heap of crates and boxes of unrevealed plunder were chained to the tank's rear beside the engine.
The looters continued to laugh and began to sing drunkenly when their actions were arrested by a sharp whistle from beyond the shattered glass front of a tea house. A fat sergeant strutted his way over to the broken glass and greeted the man who had whistled, a pantherish-looking soldier brandishing an assault rifle in one hand, his other enclosing the wrists of a young woman. The drunken looters whooped and hooted as they saw the woman's plain features and delicate body. One of them rose and walked in front of her as the panther-like soldier released her wrists.
The girl did not look at the drunken man who smiled wickedly at her. She kept her eyes on the ground, her round shoulders trembling in fear, her rounded chest shuddering with each terrified breath. The soldier forced her face upwards with a claw-like grasp upon her chin, his swollen tongue groping its way into her pursed mouth. The girl did not struggle as he withdrew a step, but screamed when the looter's hand groped clumsily for the front of her blouse, ripping the cloth away with his dirty hand. The man's companions' eyes grew wide and they laughed wickedly before the girl's arms crossed over the exposed cream-colored breasts. The looter made to rip away the rest of the woman's clothing but a sharp bark from the sergeant arrested him.
The sergeant drew his automatic and growled a command at the girl. When she did not move, he fired a round into the asphalt near her feet. Slowly, hesitantly, the girl began to pull down her black skirt, redness rising in her face. Twice she stopped to whimper in shame and terror. The sergeant growled again and this time put the bullet in her left foot. The girl fell and grasped the bleeding extremity. The sergeant cursed drunkenly and waved his men forward. Soon black skirt and panties were torn and thrown carelessly into the gutter. Looters gripped each of the girl's arms and legs. After the second fell upon her, she ceased to scream, after the fourth she ceased to struggle. The seventh cursed as he rose from a bruised, battered thing which did not move. He drew his own pistol and placed a round in the spent woman's head before restoring his own pants.
It was as the last looter walked away from the dead girl's body that fear gripped the human jackals who drank and staggered about the idling tank. The roar of The Beats sounded from only a few blocks away. Suddenly sober, the looters clambered aboard the tanks as the armored dreadnought roared into life and retreated in reverse away from The Beast's shriek. One of the soldiers, the one who had been last in raping the girl, was too slow to catch the tank. He called for his fellows to stop and wait for him. Still the tank rolled on. The looter pointed his rifle at the tank and ordered it to stop. A burst of automatic fire tore through the abandoned man and he pitched headlong into the street, a tattoo of bullet wounds perforating his torso.
Shaw ran once again, running in the only direction that was left to him. There was the way he had come, the direction in which The Beast was, the way the looters had retreated, and the way in which he now fled.
It was several minutes before Shaw realized that he knew where he was. His unchecked flight had carried him into Roppongi, the entertainment district of Tokyo, his home away from home. It was here, in this maze of restaurants and discos, that Shaw had discovered a little bar modeled after Rick's Café from Casablanca nestled beside an especially lively disco, one of the many sources of the futsukayoi which afflicted him in the mornings. The Japanese had a cure for the hangovers - a mixture of salted plums in green tea called sencha. Many mornings had Shaw taken this concoction to liven his wits before his daily walk in the 400-year old garden of a Tokugawa regent which was attached to the New Otani hotel.
Roppongi. Now Shaw could make out the Square Building with its eight-story disco and farther on was a little yakitori bar where the staff spoke English, another of the American's favorite haunts. Shaw tried not to look at the nearby wreck of a tempura restaurant where the stench of cooking flesh rose.
No sight in Tokyo had disturbed Shaw as much as the deserted avenues of Roppongi, the empty sushi restaurants and the British pub that had always been packed with university students. Shaw finally realized that he was in a dead city, a necropolis of the atomic age.
Ahead was Roppongi Crossing. He would use that as his guide, follow it west. When he found the Aoyama Cemetery, he would know that he was going in the right direction. Of course, as long as he kept Tokyo Tower at his back, he would not get lost. Shaw turned around to be sure of the landmark and watched in numb horror as the red steel trembled then seemed to fold in upon itself, sinking beneath the skyline like a retreating jack-in-the-box. At least he knew where The Beast was, Shaw concluded grimly.
An abandoned bicycle made his journey to the intersection of Roppongi Crossing easier. Shaw was certain that the man whose head had been pulped by a falling piece of masonry would have no further need for the vehicle.
The street ahead was a pool of foul black water, the spilled remains of a ruptured sewer pipe, the foul sewage bubbling and hissing as it flowed over the sidewalk and met the blazing inferno of a yakitori bar. Block after fiery block rose to Shaw's right, lending speed to his pumping legs, causing them to rise and fall with diabolic swiftness. Hot breezes struck at Shaw as he passed, blasting his face like an acetylene torch, blistering his skin as he rode past the spreading fires. Shaw could not go back, only forward and pray that he did not find even greater destruction ahead.
Martin Shaw breathed a sigh of relief when he found the fires behind him. But his relief soon became something very different for a worse terror became visible to him. A skyscraper, uncomfortably close, was swaying drunkenly over the rooftops. As Shaw watched, the tower toppled from view and The Beast's monstrous shriek tore the red, burning sky. Ahead of him, something else screamed.
Shaw saw a man, his pin-stripe suit torn, a savage cut in his scalp smearing one side of his face in blood. But it was not the appearance of the man that arrested Shaw's attention but the fact that he was tied to a lightpost. Shaw shuddered as he realized why and the hair on the back of his neck crawled with a life of its own.
The Flowers of Edo, one of many doomsday cults in Tokyo. They took their name from the great fires which had burned so often in the wooden city which had existed before Tokyo - the shogun Tokugawa's Edo. They had been formed by survivors of the first Beast's rampage in 1954, a crazed cult of men sick in mind and body gathering to them the wreck and refuse of modern Tokyo, uniting them in a perverse worship of The Beast. To the Flowers of Edo, The Beast's return was nothing less than the Second Coming. The man tied to the pole had been left as a sacrifice to The Beast!
Shaw dismounted his bicycle and moved toward the tied man, but stopped when he heard the sounds coming from the shadows of a nearby alley. Out of the darkness came the boom of a kettle drum, the hollow thump of leather tambourines, the insect-like drone of a reed noisemaker, and the guttural chanting of madmen.
They did not so much move forward as they surged, a crazy-eyed mob of lunacy. Shaw had the perception of youthful foreheads and wrinkled brows disfigured with the brand of a radiation symbol - the emblem of the Flowers. Held upon the mob's back, born aloft upon a palanquin was the withered husk of a man dressed in yellow robes imprinted with radiation helixes. Half the man's face was desiccated, his skin stretched tight so as to both cover and reveal his teeth, a skull wrapped in wet crepe paper.
Shaw abandoned the tied man, left his appropriated bicycle and fled before the screaming, howling, rabid host which pursued him. Shaw's heart hammered against his ribs, demanding liberty from his exhausted body even as he pushed it on. Twice, groping hands tore at the back of Shaw's shirt while stones whizzed past his head and bounced against his heels. Shaw's broken Japanese was sufficient to translate the feral shouts behind him and the knowledge forced him to greater effort.
For half of an hour the rabid men yapped at his heels like starved wolves. But at last, having gained some ground, Shaw ducked into the lobby of an office building and held his breath. Around the corner they came, never pausing but rushing onward, disappearing down a subway entrance, no doubt believing it to have been Shaw's objective. Shaw waited a full hour before slinking from the office building to be certain that he had escaped the Flowers. Looking at the broken and still-burning skyline, Shaw realized that he was again lost. Fearing that the Flowers would return, he hit out in a hastily chosen direction, praying that it would lead him north.
Shaw walked for several ruinous blocks before he found a great charred section of street in which the asphalt had literally melted, the target of a discharge of The Beast's atomic breath. Near to him, at the very edge of the great charred swath, was the burned hulk of a log. Shaw stared at the burned log, disturbed by its strange yet familiar shape. Shaw tried to tell himself that it was not the body of a person, begged himself that it was not a woman, begged himself that it was not the remains of a fleshly tabernacle. Then he realized why the torso was so strangely shaped and what the woman had tried to do when she had seen death appear before her.
She had tried to shield her baby with her own body, the heat grafting her child to her, transforming both into charcoal-like debris. The woman was dead and Shaw ran screaming when the charcoal thing grafted to her chest moved the stump of an arm.
Shaw was still screaming when ultimate, mortal terror claimed him. Ahead was a toppled giant, crushed and smashed and twisted like the tinker toy of an angry child. The carcass of Tokyo Tower lay before Martin Shaw's eyes, one more of the great city's unburied dead.
The shriek was enough to rupture Shaw's eardrums. The sound knocked him to the ground and it was like a belly-crawling insect that Shaw looked upon The Beast.
It was a colossus, a horror of mankind's progress, a living caprice of the Natural World. A mountain of black, scaly flesh, silver plates gleaming in the flickering firelight of a burning city. Eyes the color of Hell's flames gazed coldly at Shaw as he sought to crawl away. Reptilian lips curled back to reveal rank upon rank of giant fangs set in titan jaws. The musk and stink of the primordial wafted from The Beast like a reeking fog while the beating of its heart caused the ground to vibrate.
The silver plates glowed with an eerie luminance as a brilliant light grew in the back of The Beast's throat. Shaw screamed once before his world was obliterated in a flash of nuclear light, before his atoms were blasted into vapor.
Martin Shaw was gone, not a trace of him remaining. Consumed by the fire of the gods.