Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 30 –

An Epic Novel“Whoa, what a craft!” Byron gave a thumbs up, awed by Keiko’s capability. A sense of resolution filled the sub as the carcasses disintegrated into the void. This is it; things can’t get any worse.

“Don’t praise it yet,” Kiichi replied, dropping the mike. “The radio’s not working.”

Steering carefully, he zigzagged Keiko through the middle of the cavern, where the Pacific Plate dove into the earth’s core.

Byron peered outside; all the beasts had disappeared. Though the g-r-u-k still rang in his ears, he knew they must have been frightened away by the explosion, and retreated beyond a steep rocky wall. He sighed with relief, pulled Nobuko closer and hugged her tightly.

As shadows played beyond the light, the dive continued, and time ticked away monotonously.

Byron turned to Wulfstein. “Why is this Ma-no Umi so dangerous?”

“We’ll know soon enough.”

A vague outline of a seamount appeared as the sub surged through the foggy water. Deep gorges offered vast darkness below. Ghostly lights periodically reflected onto the submersible, then nothing.

“It’s so eerie.” Eileen squirmed into the dark. “We can’t see the seascapes anymore.”

“Everything is shrouded,” Byron said. “This is the spookiest place I’ve ever seen.”

“We should get back to the surface.” Nobuko stepped back. “What else can we find here?”

“We’ll see,” Wulfstein said. “Something is lurking around.”

Gliding further into the Challenger Deep, Kiichi probed for landmarks. After another thousand feet, he slanted the sub left, and then right before descending again.

Byron swallowed bile with every twist and turn, frustrated they could find neither Kaiiko nor any of the seven Super Hornets.

The sub slipped through an archway and the sonar alarm sounded. A faded light appeared on the far side of a column of rocky wall. A bubbling sound, like someone gargling, echoed in the sub. The calm face of the pilot turned pale; his hands trembled as though he had seen his own ghost.

Blo-o-op. Blo-o-op. Blo-o-op.

Byron’s ears perked up. The same sound; he recognized the intermittent jerking crescendo of rumbling waters. If it were not bubbles escaping from compressed air, what could they be?

PETRIFIED, NOBUKO SHUDDERED. Her breath came in gulps. Clinging to Byron, she closed her eyes to steady her breathing. But every odd noise made her shiver. Something there, its movement resonated with the sound. She opened her eyes and looked out the porthole, but there was nothing.

Nobuko maintained a firm grip on Byron’s arm. She waited and listened to the intensity of the approaching sound. Beyond the arch, layered shadows hung like black crepe. But nothing!

She stood. Her teeth chattered. Gripping Byron’s hand, she looked as though trying to whisper something, but nothing came out.

EILEEN BIT HER LIP. Her sight seemed to blur for a moment. She shook her head, struggling to realign her thoughts to accept a new reality.

Blo-o-op . . . Blo-o-op . . .

That same distressful sound. Had a predator smelled blood? Eileen checked her recorder, stupefied. Her head throbbed while staring out the porthole. Two rays of light beamed back like street lamps. Nothing made sense. Her mind raced; her thoughts more confused as the sound grew louder until it became thunderous.

Keiko vibrated. The background sound had become more percussive.

Suspended some thirty yards away, an outline emerged. Wriggling and squirming, the snake-like creature stretched across the cavern. Keiko jerked as if hit by a boulder. Eileen couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Her eardrums felt like bursting. Her adrenaline, already running hot through her veins, began to scorch.

Kiichi cringed when Keiko’s twin engines labored to a halt. He magnified the light—and there, a monstrous serpent that defied imagination. It swam with snakelike flexibility toward the sub as more bloops sounded. When it stopped, its eye glowed, filling out the porthole. It retreated, drifting away slowly, gracefully, then its tail curled up, like a scorpion ready to strike.

Eileen screamed, her pulse quickened as the creature shot out a red beam and the bloop sound repeated. The beast stunned her, far different from the mythical dragons of folklore. What did she see? Something flaring out from its mouth. How could that be possible? She looked at Wulfstein, who appeared unfazed.

Blo-o-op . . . Blo-o-op . . . It stiffened and appeared ready to spring.

Eileen stared again. Colossal! Its eyes brightened and its eyes soon looked like the flames from a furnace.

Its stony skin glowed; its tail moved. A smoky flare thundered from its nostrils, sending more rustling bloop sounds ripping through the water. Nothing seemed real.

“Stay calm!” Kiichi yelled out all of a sudden.

Stunned, Eileen could only watch, prolonging a sense of impending doom. How could such a creature live in this depth? Looking ready to strike, the beast’s head and tail swam with rhythm and grace. Every movement caused an unexpected upheaval, popping Keiko up and down. Everyone ducked and dropped to the floor. When the sub righted itself, Eileen grabbed the handrails and scrambled up for a glimpse, marveling at the formidable beast. The rest of the crews jostled back to the portholes.

“It’s a Watatsumi,” Yoshino said, his eyes riveted on the creature.

Eileen turned to the Sensei. “A Watatsumi?”

“Wata is an archaic word for sea,” Yoshino said. “Mi is a title that also means snake.”

A sea snake! Eileen thought. Could it be the real Kraken? But logic resisted this conclusion; it didn’t fit. A hint of nausea passed within a moment and left a foul taste in her mouth.

“It may sound ridiculous,” the Sensei said, “but the Nihongi has written that Izanami and Izanagi gave birth to the ‘gods of the sea’.”

As the sonar alarm sounded, they exchanged anxious looks.

Kiichi remained taut, his face peppered with beads of sweat. “Don’t panic. I trust my sub.”

Eileen searched Wulfstein’s face for a reaction. He appeared absorbed, but his eyes glowed.

Kiichi blasted the sub’s headlights in a clockwise circular motion around the monster’s eyes, as if trying to distract the beast’s attention. The ploy appeared to work as the creature looked like stunned, and didn’t come nearer. His action reminded Eileen that in Oriental legends, sailors threw jewels into the sea to pacify the Sea Lord during violent storms.

Keeping its circular motion, Keiko’s headlights remained at full strength. Curious yet unruffled, the creature looked immobilized.

Wulfstein strode to the porthole. His eyes sparkled, and he murmured something to himself. Finally, he turned to Eileen. “Do you see?” he asked. “Have you figured it out?”

“How could I?”

“Look at the head!” Wulfstein pointed. “Can you see?”

Eileen turned. The head was mainly black, but bits of its scales looked green. “I do. How could I miss that?” She raised her brow. Its scales looked hard, its body sturdy, but the creature hovered gracefully.

“Its claws are like eagle’s talons,” Wulfstein said. “It’s a dragon.”

Suspended between fantasy and reality, Eileen struggled to assimilate what she’d seen. She had heard numerous tales of the sea and legends of vanished fleets—whirlpools and tidal waves that swallowed ships and islands. She shook her head, still confused by this creature. “I’m still in doubt.” Kiichi’s head snapped up after he’d checked his instruments.

“A man like you,” Wulfstein said, “should fully understand now.”

“I know, I know,” Kiichi replied. “I’m putting this on record so we can study it later.”

“Remember the Greek legend?” Wulfstein continued. “This sea-monster, from whose eyes lightning flashes, will one day send hail and floods to Sicilian farms.”

That would be like taking an apocalyptic scene from the Book of Revelation, Eileen thought. It was a link to a futuristic time, a catastrophic era of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; killer waves and flooding; deaths and destructions. “I can’t imagine these creatures having anything to do with the sinking and rising of islands.”

Wulfstein hesitated, then said. “Only time will tell if we have enough imagination to decipher these puzzles.”

Eileen turned. “And we haven’t found either Kaiiko or any of the Super Hornets.”

“We may not have the full answer,” Wulfstein said. “But this ancient text could provide a clue. ‘Even when no wind blew, the waves were so high no vessel dared approach the area. At night, a red light could be seen from afar, bright like the sun. It extended over more than a hundred square miles and reached the sky. The creatures could only be seen on nights of lightning storms.’”

Her face hot, Eileen fought to think logically. Didn’t the transcript describe a blazing blitz? “Oh, what was it? Can you remember the Hornets’ transcripts?”

“The blazing flare?” Wulfstein said. “This is too much of a coincidence.”

Drained of energy, Eileen just stood. With dawning clarity, a mythological beast hovered before her. Easy to believe that, millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth. But more questions plagued her. Might this latest outrage be an expression of the creature’s uneasiness? Animals could sense crucial circumstances that a human couldn’t. And they were territorial. Was it a mere coincidence the dragon arrived after they had spilled blood in the vicinity? She wanted to speak, but her voice died in a gasp.

As she studied the beast, Keiko remained stationary, but its headlight reflected off the creature’s scales. The sub bobbed while gliding closer. In the distance came faint echoes of a hum as though the creature was calling for its mate.

“Brace yourself,” Kiichi yelled. “We’re getting out of here.” A red blinking diamond flashed on the main monitor while he took aim. His vision remained glued to a small screen in his console, waiting to lock onto the target.

But Wulfstein lunged forward. “Have you gone mad? Kiichi!” He pulled the skipper’s hand back. “No! You can’t do this!”

But it was too late; the pilot had already pushed the red button.

The torpedo launched.

It struck the target in a display of flash, then lines of fireworks. Bubbles exploded and collapsed amidst and clouds of debris. A subsonic bo-o-om rocked the sub. Through the rolling silt, the dragon reappeared. Unfazed. Unmoved!

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Wulfstein shouted, his eyes shimmering. “This beast is different—”

Kiichi stood in consternation. “I had to, otherwise we’ll all be dead.”

“It’s a beast of beauty.”

“I’m under instructions to kill,” the skipper shot back.

Eileen’s eyes riveted on the beast. It must have an impenetrable hide. A single breath that resembled flame spewed from the creature’s mouth toward the underbelly of the sub, blasting off the remaining torpedoes.

When the sub bobbed, Eileen squirmed in horror. An inexplicable phenomenon. The image of the creature blurred. In its fiery rage, it must be the most terrifying of all beasts.

“You’ll only increase its fury,” Wulfstein said.

In an instant, the cabin fell into semidarkness.

“Our headlights are off,” Yoshino said.

“Don’t fret.” Kiichi turned. “Please stay calm.”

The sound drew nearer. Fainter, then louder. Her stomach queasy, Eileen felt the temperature had risen. She searched left and right, near and far, but didn’t see any creature. She gasped as a silhouette glided toward Keiko. How could a blast of that magnitude fail? She sensed its presence by an ethereal glow.

“What’s happening?” Eileen said. “Our sub is smoldering.”

“So are our bodies.” Yoshino pointed to his clothes.

“We’re dealing with a formidable creature,” Wulfstein said. “This elasmosaur is preternatural.”

Preternatural? Feeling her body burning, Eileen shook her head. Beyond what is natural? An aquatic cryptozoology. A dragon! For a few seconds everything glowed.

She covered her eyes with her hands. “No! Oh, no! Are we . . . ?” The sub lit up. What’s happening?

A sudden jerk. Wulfstein held Eileen’s hand as she stumbled to the floor. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay.” She pulled onto his arm to get up. “Oh man! What was that?”

The temperature cooled; the glow dimmed. The astounding phenomenon appeared to have passed. It took Eileen a moment to adjust to the fading light as she looked out the porthole. Shapes and figures became slowly visible, gliding stealthily beside the sub. Then a familiar set of fangs appeared, probing at Keiko’s stern, turning her icy.

Gr-u-k. Gr-u-k.

©) Joel Huan, author of Over Mount Fuji (available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

~ by Joel Huan on December 13, 2009.

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