In a desert goes father than any living human has ever travelled, fractured societies gather around one of the few sources of water for miles. They struggle, and fight amongst themselves because if they wander to far in search of another source, there are far worse things in the sand than a few bloodthirsty marauders and one crazy old lady.
“Giant monster” is a nice and flexible term, our Kaiju has a lot of room for interpretation. The originals ranged from giant lizard, giant ape, giant moth and giant mechanical iterations of all of the above. So long as it’s a giant and can live comfortably in the desert, my options are – in theory – fairly broad. However, there are some key factors that are going to be limited.
How does the creature attack? From above? From below? As a distant threat the monster could add a level of claustrophobia to our watering hole, intensifying the conflict between warring factions. If it frequently attacks it could mount the need for defensive measures, big weapons, big walls, not easy to build from salvage. Kaiju usually have a well stocked military to deal with, our monster will have to be toned down so that it doesn’t instantly wipe out civilization.
Choose a monster…
Cloverfield‘s infamous shakey-cam style obscured the shape of its mighty monstrosity until the last few minutes of the film. Whether you enjoyed the film or not, there’s no denying that they nailed the idea of the slow reveal. We fear nothing more than the unknown, and what better place to hide a monster in a desert than in the midst of a swirling mass of flying sand?
“Sandstorm” could remain a mystery throughout the novel, raising questions about its very existence. Or the occasional glimpse of a shape or the descent of a claw could slowly build a picture of the leviathan, creating mounting tension. At some point in the narrative our Nomad would wander into the storm, and wander out seemingly unphased, likely with new trinkets and survival essentials, she may even be required to pull a protagonist or two out of harms way.
Every time the horizon vanishes, people die, dragged screaming upwards. There are conflicting ideas as to what the beast looks like, from the fleeting glimpses of eyes, claws, a shifting shadow against the swirling sky. Some people worship it as a god, others disappear beneath the surface, hoping not to be sniffed out or trodden flat.
A Dark Sun classic, Megapedes are monstrously large and many legged insects that swim through sand like water. Being Omnivores makes them not only a threat to the life of people caught in their path, but to the meagre crops that they maintain, and their ability to burrow allows them to menace the subterranean water supplies as well. The approach of the Megapedes usually means it’s time to leave.
These Tremors-style beasts not only have size, strength and speed on their side, but also numbers. A survivor successfully flees from one only to have their path blocked by a wall of slavering mandibles. The fact that they burrow also means that even safety may not be safe, underground chambers without metal walls are vulnerable, buildings above ground must fear threat from below, but what of the tunnels left behind? Could they lead to water? Some nesting ground that could be burnt down, staying the threat for a few years or more? Or perhaps a strange old woman could wander out of them, seemingly oblivious to the impossibility of what she has just done.
The ground rumbles, and erupts in a whirling mass of razor sharp pincers, and though the driver of the salvaged truck swerves, the creature is on top of them, behind them, around them! A screaming band of lunatics try for the hundredth time to saddle and ride the monsters, and once again they lose their strongest fighters. Surely only a lunatic would believe the tales of the witch who rides the Megapedes.
The ruins of the old world may be shrouded in dust, but the sagging metropolises are still a safe shelter and a source of water for the opportunistic. But some nights the ground shudders just a little, and the survivors of the end of the world must duck and cover as a shadow passes over the window frames on the 20th floor. An eye peers in, then another, and another, and another. Each time it comes another building crumbles, as another family becomes food for the hulking beast.
This is a more classic take on the Kaiju genre, an almost carbon copy of the Godzilla/Pacific Rim style skyscraping monster, but instead of the bustling metropolis where the scale of the destruction is what makes our Titan terrifying, it is the importance of every death that is emphasised. Each building would contain a fraction of a closely knit community, and even amongst those people shunned by the others every face would be known to one another across such a small space. The arrival of a stranger is likely to cause a stir, and suspicion if the monster is not far behind her.
Using a city of our backdrop also opens the opportunity to bring in a little history to the world, perhaps tell the story of the monster’s rise to dominance in the dying world, rather than keeping it shrouded in mystery, or having its existence a symptom of a far larger problem.
The sun beats relentlessly down on the endless sands, and while its torturous presence is a constant grim reminder of the impossible task of staying alive, at least while the sun shines, death is not an immediate issue. Because when the beast comes, it blots out the sun!
The only guaranteed way to make a giant man-eating monster more terrible is to make it fly. It makes sense in a desert for a creature able to ride the intense heat into the sky, it might even drink the very clouds, thriving off the vapour so far outside of the reach of the survivors, but to bring the creature down would not only turn a hero into a legend, it would also yield enough water and food for generations.
Darkness suddenly becomes a terrifying prospect, not just the sudden darkness of “Eclipse”, but night removes any chance of early warning. The wise dive underground before it can sneak up and make a quiet kill, and yet our Nomad moves at night, walking through the cold and dark seemingly without care.
Filling the sky with terror reduces humanity to burrowing rodents, fearful of the dark and the predator that descends from on high. It also turns our Nomad into an incredible anomaly, someone seemingly unafraid of death who has nonetheless evaded it for years. Those who rail against subterranean life might see her as a saviour, or an example to follow into the open air.
With that, I am nearly, so very nearly ready to begin. Only one of these monsters will be dominating centre stage of my NaNoWriMo entry, vote to seal my fate now:
Thank you all for helping me build towards this years’ NaNoWriMo, I have a track history with failing to complete projects, but I figure putting this claim so brazenly on the internet I have no choice but to finally follow through with completing a book based on your suggestions. Wish me luck.