"See the Turtle of enormous girth!
On his shell he holds the earth.
His thought is slow but always kind;
He holds us all within his mind.
On his back all vows are made;
He sees the truth but mayn't aid.
He loves the land and loves the sea,
And even loves a child like me."
~ children's rhyme
(Stephen King, "The Dark Tower")
To little Helen, it looked at first like the tip of a mountain, the peak of a newborn island breaking the ocean's surface. Her Papa showed her a film reel a few months before about the formation of islands, and Helen was most excited to learn that there were volcanoes under the sea. "Some even bigger than Mount Fuji," he claimed. Helen doubted it. She wasn't yet 7 years old and had trouble imagining anything on land or sea bigger than her adopted homeland's iconic landmark. But, Papa explained, these underwater volcanoes exploded sometimes just like they did on land—and when they exploded the sea's floor buckled and new islands formed. The segment of the film was animated and the narrator said that islands only took shape over many, many years.
This one, however, was surfacing right before her eyes, halfway between Papa's motorboat and the horizon, with nothing but the shimmering, calm ocean between them. When Helen squinted, she had to admit it didn't look like a mountain, really, not anymore. The saline waters of Tokyo Bay had cascaded off of it and what she saw now resembled a great, steel-gray wedge, oriented in their direction. It was like the armored dorsal fin of an animal from one of her picture books on ancient, extinct life. Her Papa was a marine biologist and gave her stuff like that to read, hoping Helen would share his love for the sea and all the wonders it ever contained.
But all Helen felt for the wondrous, limitless sea at that moment was fear. The towering fin had turned and began to slice its way through the waves toward them. Papa and his colleague, Dr. Yosuke Ishikawa, were not moving, and neither was their boat. Kenichi, Dr. Ishikawa's son, was struggling with the belt. Ken was only a bit older than she was and Helen wasn't certain he was strong enough to get the motor running.
Don't be afraid, Helen, whispered The Voice. Her invisible new companion was barely comforting. My mate will give Ken the strength he needs. She believed The Voice, but only just understood the concept of "mate." The Voice, and presumably, another Voice that only Ken could hear, had just helped the children escape a submerged UFO and a spacewoman who put their fathers into a trance.
It started out as a nice, normal day. Helen just wanted to spend time with Papa, who was so often busy with his research and his job as curator of Kamogawa Sea World. She should never have followed that mischievous Kenichi, whose father likewise worked at the park, but the boy convinced her they wouldn't be punished. Not too badly, anyway.
The last hour was a surreal blur to her. Helen and Ken had stowed away on their fathers' boat and ate all their sandwiches. The water was calm, the sun shone, and she was just happy to be this close to Papa on one of his adventures. They were discovered around the adults' lunchtime, but Papa was too preoccupied to be angry with her. The biologists had seen something strange crash into the ocean.
Helen saw something in the sky, too. Something that thrilled Ken but something she couldn't really understand. She didn't want to understand it. It was monstrous and ugly. It spun and trailed fire, a cyclone of flame and smoke and it frightened her. Papa and Dr. Ishikawa paid it no mind, as if this hideous, bizarre thing were as much a part of the scenery as the waves and the clouds. It was not the "something strange" they were looking for, anyway. Helen couldn't imagine anything stranger and wasn't listening to Kenichi's breathless exposition at all. She closed her eyes shut the scary thing from her mind.
When she opened them again Helen was still in the boat, but they were no longer on the sea. Somehow, she had been transported inside a bright, circular room. The concave walls were covered with vibrantly colored machines, screens, levers, buttons, and lights arranged on tall circular panels. Ken was beside her, as were their fathers. They climbed out of the boat and before them stood the spacewoman. Helen remembered her mean face and shiny, metallic clothes. The spacewoman said she was from another planet but she looked like a young Japanese woman, pretty enough to be an actress, maybe, thought Helen. The spacewoman threatened them, and threatened the Earth. She said her name, or was it their name? She said they were... it sounded like Zigra.
The spacewoman bragged that her species' technology was so advanced it could make earthquakes. She said they could easily level a city as big as Tokyo, and as their fathers pleaded, the spacewoman fiddled with some levers and buttons. A circular panel irised open and the view screen behind it revealed Japan's capital in ruins. Helen did not believe it was real. The adults and the spacewoman argued about whether or not humanity would happily surrender to Zigra. She made her eyes glow red and put Papa and Dr. Ishikawa into a trance.
But then a voice from nowhere whispered to Helen, its tone pleasant and comforting. Helen didn't think anyone else heard it as it told her to stand strong and resist the spacewoman's "telepathy." The Voice said it would protect her and its mate would protect Ken. The children bolted in two directions as the flustered spacewoman failed to grab them. The Voice guided them to an array of controls on the wall of the alien room. Ken moved his hands over a touch-sensitive pad. The lights went dim red and the spacewoman froze, locked in a trance of her own. The children led their catatonic fathers to the boat and Ken returned to the strange levers and buttons. My mate will give Ken the teleportation sequence, confided The Voice. While Helen didn't really understand what The Voice was talking about, she knew it meant her and Ken no harm. We must escape the Usurper and inform your people, it stated before they were awash in a yellow-green light. Transported back to the ocean's surface, Helen mustered the wherewithal to ask The Voice who it was. We are all Zigra, it confided, and Helen could almost hear it sigh.
Kenichi had given up on the motor, deciding instead to assemble the sail. The metallic fin still made a zigzagging path toward them, and the children noticed that it was jagged, with three tapering points. The boy didn't angle the boat to shore right away in the hopes of evading the monster. For a moment, Helen thought they were saved when she spotted an old freighter in the bay. It won't help us, declared The Voice with a hint of regret. Ken must have realized it, too, or maybe his own Voice realized it for him, because he gave the vessel a wide birth. Unfortunately, the ship got between the giant fin and its prey.
Helen was too young to really understand catastrophe. Her 7 year old mind couldn't comprehend the instant death of dozens or hundreds any more than it could unravel the bizarre events of the past hour. The saw-toothed fin sliced through the freighter like a knife, severing it into two flaming pieces. Helen looked away impassively as The Voice addressed her again. We are sorry, it said dejectedly, to have brought this to your people.
When the fin drew so close she could see her own reflection upon its metallic plates, Helen finally fathomed tragedy and mortality—her own, Ken's, Papa's, Dr. Ishikawa's, and the poor men within that inferno of what was once the freighter, perishing from the flames or drawn forever under the crashing waves.
We are sorry we couldn't save you, confessed The Voice, the Usurper closes. Ken screamed. Helen closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears. We are sorry, repeated The Voice.
Helen prayed. She thought about her mother and her older sister on the shore. She thought about the wonderful animals at the park where Papa worked. She wanted to work there too, one day, to play with the seals and brush the orcas' teeth. She prayed for all of them, family, friends, and animals, prayed they would be safe from the incomprehensible, alien thing bearing down on her, the monster that toppled cities and put fathers into trances and cut through ships. She prayed for those sharing her imminent fate, Papa, and Dr. Ishikawa, and that troublemaker Kenichi. She couldn't find it in her to blame Ken for the whole awful mess even though she really wished she hadn't gone along with him on his mischief today. She should have stayed ashore with Sis and Mama. She even prayed for The Voice, whoever or whatever it was, as she felt its resignation and sorrow. Only then did Helen pray for herself, and hoped beyond hope that the ocean wasn't too cold.
Eyes still tightly shut, the girl heard a bloodcurdling scream. For a moment, she thought it was Ken's, or her own, or both of them. But Helen knew she wasn't screaming, and the noise she heard was no human scream—though it was faintly human-like. Nor was it coming from the boat. The scream seemed to emerge from everywhere and resounded all around her, making Helen's knees knock and teeth rattle. It was like a chorus of elephants bellowing in unanimous pain or rapture. It was filled with torment and rage, suggesting emotions beyond that of simple beasts. It made the air shimmer. The scream rose impossibly shrill in pitch before trailing off to a rumbling growl. It was the wail of a thousand millennia, the battle cry of angels, the voice of an avenging god.
Helen's eyes would not open. Where moments before she had felt on her skin the spray of the frigid sea, Helen was now battered by hot, dry winds and the acrid smell of burning gasses. She suddenly felt the heavy wrench of gravity, like she was in an elevator rising way too fast. Helen finally opened her eyes against the wind and smoke, barely, but kept them low. She was still in the boat, with Ken and their unconscious fathers. Ken was in tears as the smoke was finally cleared away by rushing winds. He was pointing up, past her, over her right shoulder. "Gah…" Ken stammered. "Gam…" Helen turned to look toward where the boy was pointing.
It was the eye she took in first, a great, wary, human-like eye, its pupil moving back and forth. The bearer of that eye scrutinized Helen and gazed beyond her at the same time, assessing the sky it soared through. Even from a distance she judged to be several meters, Helen knew the eye was many times bigger than her, and it seemed to possess an intelligence unlike any animal's. She beheld the creature's colossal reptilian head in profile—its discerning eye was positioned above a maw crowded with thick, crocodilian fangs. It had terrible upward pointing tusks, each as big as a truck and probably capable of piercing one, situated where the corners of its mouth met its scaly cheeks. Helen could barely make out the rest of the monster's armored vastness. It was not unlike a kame, as the Japanese called similar creatures, pronounced very like "gahm-eh." A giant turtle, clearly intelligent, a turtle with teeth, and a turtle that flew, propelled by great jets of flame trailing from the posterior of its shell. Not a turtle, then.
Kenichi had called it Gamera.
Gamera shrieked again. The unforgettable, primordial sound popped both Helen's ears and echoed in her skull, drowning out the terrified, alien chatter of The Voice. She was no longer afraid, though, or even concerned. Less than an hour before, Kenichi had tried to explain that this awesome being was a friend to children—and to all humanity. Helen did not want to hear it, she could not believe it of such a frightening monster. While she would spend the rest of her life wondering what Gamera was and where it came from, Helen would always regret her initial reaction—her hope to never see it again.
She was glad Gamera answered her prayers, anyway. She believed now in its benevolence, and would always believe. Looking back over twenty-five years, Dr. Helen Wallace never felt as safe as she did at that pivotal moment—she a little girl, taken aloft and away from peril in the palm of Gamera's mighty hand.