The Seabottom Monster

The Seabottom Monster
Komatsu Sakyo

[This is my translation of the story 海低のおばけ, taken from the book 一宇宙人のみた太平洋戦争 (The Pacific War Seen by One Alien). As far as I know, this is the only English translation anywhere of this story. If I am wrong, or if a representative from the Komatsu Estate or the publisher finds this and is angry, I will take it down upon request. Otherwise, Two Dudes is the only place to read The Seabottom Monster until someone scrapes and plagiarizes it.]

Summer.

The children went to the sea to frolic in the sun and water. The sunlight was blindingly intense, but the black water was still cold. Nonetheless, the children were unconcerned. Unable to wait for summer vacation to come, everyone rushed to the shore when school ended. They shrieked at the cold water, whooped as the waves crashed into them, and rolled around on the red sand. The ocean and the summer are children’s best friends.
As they were playing, one of the smaller children found a strange object, sunk in the quiet waters at the bottom of a cliff. “Huh? What’s that?” Everyone gathered around and peeked over the cliff. A large, long, and slender object was tipped on its side, glowing dimly at the bottom of the black water.
“Maybe it’s a dead fish,” said one of the older children.
“But are there fish that big?” replied a girl.
“I wonder if we can grab it.”
“At that depth, I think we can,” said the oldest. “Let’s try climbing down the cliff.”
“Let it go, it’s too dangerous,” said the girl.
But the oldest children had already climbed down the cliff and jumped into the water. It wasn’t so deep.
The forms of the children gone to retrieve the object seemed to writhe like fish. At length, one child with shorter breath emerged right in front and shouted, “It’s something strange!”
“It’s not a fish?” the children on the cliff shouted back.
“No, it’s much bigger and smoother.”
Just then, the children who were still under water, just about to reach the object, kicked suddenly out of the water, startled. They rushed to the surface, struggling as though chased.
“It’s a monster!”
The children yelled in fright and hurried back up the cliff.
“There’s a monster inside!”
“You saw a monster?” the girl asked, herself frightened.
“Yes. It had windows and we could see a monster looking out. It waved at us.”
“Let’s go tell the teacher.”
No sooner had one said this then they all started running. When they reached the school, all the mouths started talking at the teacher. The teacher stretched his neck and stood up.
“I wonder what it is. Shall we go take a look?”
“We can’t, teacher,” said a child from the back. “The sea is getting rough, a storm is coming.”

The weather, quick to change in this season, soon deteriorated as the storm arrived. The storm was strong enough to blow rocks around and lasted all night. The weather finally calmed the following afternoon. The children went with the teacher to the cliff, but the mysterious object was gone.
“Hmm, the waves carried it away,” said the teacher.
“Teacher, what do you think it was?”
“Hearing the description, it sounds a little like it might some kind of transportation, like a spaceship,” said the teacher as he peered into the empty water.
“But, inside, those were definitely monsters.”
“It must have been a spaceship carrying life from another star. I’ve heard stories before about something landing here. There’s bound to be other intelligent life somewhere in this big universe.” The teacher stood as he said this. “Now, hurry straight home without stopping to play. Tests are coming soon and you need to study.”

“Hey, what kind of monsters?” the girl asked the oldest boy.
“They were really weird!”
“So what kind of weird?”
“They only had two eyes! And just two arms! And the ends of the arms were split into about five waggly things!”
Behind the oldest boy, as he waved and wriggled his hands, the twin suns of Alpha Centauri cast double shadows on the red beach sand.

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2 thoughts on “The Seabottom Monster

  1. If I grasp the story correctly, it’s a little mood piece on the fundamental sameness of all sentient creatures, even if the creatures themselves appear to have nothing in common.
    In a way the story reminds me of a “Twilight Zone” episode that I saw as a child, one that scared the daylights out of me. It was set in an unnamed hospital. The patient, whose face was wrapped in white bandages, suffered from either an illness or a defect that rendered this person hideously ugly. This was the person’s last hope: surgery that would somehow correct this physical deformity and grant the patient an acceptably non-hideous visage, whereby this person could live in civilized society and interact with others. Apparently the face was so incredibly ugly that others could not bring themselves to interact with the patient unless the face was totally covered and obscured.
    Rod Serling, as was his ability, ratcheted up the tension through the use of odd camera angles, an unsettling combination of light and shadow, and the distinct impression of impending doom.
    Finally the moment arrived: Nurses and physicians gathered to unwrap the patient’s face and determine if the surgery had succeeded. As the white cotton strips, the bandage covering the face as it healed from radical plastic surgery, were slowly unwound in shadow, the viewer had the distinct impression the procedure had not worked.
    Suddenly, a nurse screamed and dropped her scissors to the floor; another one fainted. The patient’s face was now revealed for all to see: a beautiful blonde woman, with a distinct likeness to Sandra Dee.
    Only now did the viewer see the faces of the nurses and physicians: all of them hideously deformed and ugly–pig snouts; tusks protruding from mouths that were twisted; unevenly-placed and -sized eyes; bald, scarred visages. Serling outdid himself in producing some of the most deformed and frighteningly ugly faces I have ever seen. I remember covering my face and screaming, “Turn it off! Turn it off!” I was never so scared and terrorized in all my young life–I was 10 years old when I saw this show, and the memory remains as vital as if I had just watched a rerun. To say I was traumatized is an understatement.
    In this story, we find that (probably) human beings are the monsters; the children and teacher on an unnamed planet circling Alpha Centauri are the normal ones. We don’t know what they looked like, but the humans in the interstellar space vehicle may have been so traumatized that they fled after making contact with the Alpha Centaurians. Which group is normal? Which is monstrous?
    Regardless, both groups are sentient–a Christian would probably say that both groups were created by God, because they shared a fundamental characteristic of Deity: “The Glory of God is Intelligence” is a basic tenet of my Mormon religion.
    On a more mundane level, the story reminds us that despite our racial and cultural differences, human beings (and other sentient creatures–dolphins? chimpanzees? something else?) all enjoy and share basic traits–again, a Christian would probably say they each have a soul, and that soul is worth saving. At bottom, the story may be a repudiation of racism, sexism, and every other “ism” that divides us.

  2. I suspect you spent more time pondering this than I did translating it. :p In response to some of the email comments, this was a good example of the perils of translation. The story consists of dialogue between children, as written in Japanese by a graduate of an exclusive university, then translated into English by a musician. Some fidelity has been lost. And while it is utterly cliche, it is also utterly true that maintaining the original sentence and word structure while rendering coherent English sentences is basically impossible. There’s probably some parts of this I ought to rethink.
    As for the story, I agree that he’s having a little fun with the reader, probably hoping that we’ll accept the gentle prodding to forget our prejudices. It’s fairly light-hearted though, so I hope my translation conveys some of the mischievous tone of the original.

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