The shores of New Salza thronged with mourning citizens, gazing out to the sea to pay their respects to the city’s beloved monster. More than a few heads sported commemorative feelers, drooping sadly at the passing of Ragna-Roach, the giant mutated isopod that has consistently terrorized and decimated this city for nearly three decades.
“He was the city,” Maria Nadine of the New Salza tourism board says. “To run the risk of being stamped on by a giant sea monster is as much a part of being a New Salzan as anything. I don’t know what we’ll do without him.”
Already the poor creature’s floating carapace has attracted a flock of seagulls. A petition to have the body towed to shore was sadly rejected on hygienic grounds, and so they could only watch as the monster’s body began to decompose.
For some, the nostalgia is poignant. “I was standing right here when he first came up,” James Lozford, 52, said. “I owe the big guy a lot. If it weren’t for him I’d never gotten outta the fishing business.”
REST IN PEACE, ROACHY proclaims one placard. And THANKS FOR A MONSTER OF A TIME!
It seems there are few people in New Salza who cannot look on the isopod with a certain fondness, even after a bad start. Who can forget that unseasonably hot day in March, when that first abnormal swell signaled the Ragna-Roach’s arrival?
“Not even the gulls were squawking,” Lozford said. “I didn’t know what to make of it when I saw that first big wave washing over the pier. Just dropped the crate I was loading and ran for it.”
It was an image that was soon to appear on thousands of souvenir postcards: the massive black shell rising from the sea, water sloshing of its back, feelers twitching as it makes for the shore. In the beginning, however, it was less “wish you were here” and more “wish that I wasn’t.”
New Salzans are a notoriously blasé bunch but even they could not ignore the sight of a crustacean monstrosity making its way towards them. The city panicked; there was no warning, no time to prepare, and plenty of impractically large buildings to be knocked over like dominoes. Ragna-Roach’s first visit was a chaotic, terrifying ordeal. Or so it seemed.
Cab-driver Robert Bouln, 43, expressed sympathy for the monster’s debut. “Yeah, buildings got destroyed and people got hurt, but I don’t think Ragna-Roach meant anything by it. It’s like if you were in a room where there’s all these boxes stacked up close together and you had to get by. What else could he do?”
Understandable or not, the death toll of 4,234 citizens was no laughing matter, and the city breathed a collective sigh of relief as the creature slipped back beneath the waves as mysteriously as it arrived.
It would be another two years before the giant isopod returned. In that time reconstruction efforts would have barely made a dent in the damage, and sweep after sweep of the surrounding waters would find no trace of Ragna-Roach.
Dr. Harris Zeek has headed the Institute of Megafauna Studies since Ragna-Roach’s arrival. “I’ve dedicated my entire life to studying him, and we’re no closer to understanding where he came from.”
Nor, it would seem, why he kept attacking the same city without leaving. Various theories have been offered: disturbed by the noise, attracted to the pollutants in the waters, a persistent and hopeless call for a mate.
Whatever it is that brought Ragna-Roach, it worked just as well two years later. The city had nearly bankrupted itself in repairing its skyscrapers, and by that point only the smallest—Tavalier’s Tower—was completed. The U.S. Military had also seen fit to install a cordon all along the coastline, and just when it seemed that the city had seen the last of it, Ragna-Roach resurfaced.
“Nobody had the energy to run that time,” mayor Janet Pushell said. “So many homeless, so much wreckage. Where was there to turn? So everyone just stood, and watched.
“You could see how thin his legs were, like massive stilts propping up his big fat body. He looked kind of like a parade float. And that was the thing too, cause every step he took was careful! You could see him trying to keep to the streets, tiptoeing as slowly as he could to not break anything.”
And it is true that damages were greatly reduced from the initial encounter, and not a single casualty was reported. Even the patrolling military, unable to make a dent in Ragna-Roach’s armor, were flabbergasted.
After three hours of a near stately walk through the remains of New Salza, the gentle giant retreated back to the ocean. This time, a new tide began to turn in favor of the creature.
New Salzans like to boast how quick they are to adapt, and within a month the Society for Multipedal Monstrosities was formed and began to protest the occupation of armed forces. Thousands rallied with single-minded determination to protect Ragna-Roach.
Former sergeant Alex Heems recalls the ferocity of the crowds. “People were chanting ‘don’t poach our roach’ and waving pictures of death isopods. They’d lost their homes to that thing, their families. Now they were treating it like a hero.”
When the military at last agreed to retreat from city soil, New Salza government turned towards reshaping itself in the roach’s image.
The adoption of Ragna-Roach as their own had more benefits for the city than most would imagine. With a nightmare-turned-miracle living in their waters, the people of New Salza elected to make their guest as comfortable as possible should he ever decide to visit.
Revitalization was renewed in earnest with an eye towards simplicity. New Salzans were spreading out and moving down, keeping federal and commercial buildings reconstructed no higher than two stories.
In all it took three years to turn over New Salzan into a model of efficiency and monster-friendliness. The only thing that prevented absolute economic breakdown was the predicted upspike in tourism.
Many have likened the attitude of New Salza towards Ragna-Roach as that of those who live near Loch Ness, with the benefit that the monster here was perfectly real.
Merchandising began in earnest; knick-knack shops were filled to bursting with Ragna-Roach cuddly toys, wearable antennae, masks, carapace backpacks, isopod stilt-shoes, Ragna-Cruncha cereal, and much more.
The only downside to this bustling cottage industry was that the roach himself could not be relied on to put in regular appearances. Thousands of anxious Salzans began to worry that perhaps they had scared him off.
Never before had so unnatural a disaster been met with relief when Ragna-Roach finally returned after a five year hiatus. Now there was no worry of being felled by debris or losing one’s home, with single-story, partially subterranean housing. The citizens of New Salza chased after the roach, shrieking and shouting and generally having an exciting time of it.
As it happens, that constant niggle of worry at Ragna-Roach’s anomalous ability to appear and disappear would soon vanish completely. Ragna-Roach began to visit with greater regularity, sometimes as often as twice a month. His public existed in a state of perpetual readiness, and even outside fans would make pilgrimages to the city for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“When he came, you just knew it,” Mayor Pushell said. “As soon as the ground shook you run out and scream like a crazy person.”
Crowds would run, screaming, into the streets as Ragna-Roach thundered overhead, with no thought as to escape or survival. The New Salzan Scream would soon outpace the Harlem Shake on YouTube.
More adventurous businesses began to establish themselves in the city, ready to capitalize on the roach’s fame. Helicopter tours repeatedly tread the line of harassing Ragna-Roach by bringing customers up close and personal, as well as amateur boating expeditions to try and find his hiding place. Kellog’s began a short-lived Ragna-Crunch cereal, before they realized that roaches do not necessarily improve everything.
But Ragna-Roach brought more to New Salza than commercialism. The city is one of the greenest in the U.S., with a drastically reduced carbon footprint. New Salza is almost completely powered by solar panels and wind turbines, with eco-friendly public transport taking popularity over personal automobiles. So enamored with their beloved roach, the people have shown impressive dedication to making their city as safe for him as possible.
If a giant monster in your backyard is the price for unprecedented innovation and civil unity, perhaps it’s time to take one for the team.
At the time of his death, Ragna-Roach measured 1,500 feet in length and 700 in height, with an estimated weight of 4,230 tons. The question on everyone’s minds is how such a hardy creature has finally been brought down.
Members on Friends of Ragna.net are already crying ‘foul!’. Though the waters around New Salza are undoubtedly some of the purest in the country, some claim that a subtle chlorinating agent was introduced to make the bug breathe his last. No public accusations have been made to the city’s environmental board, but a full inquiry will undoubtedly be made.
“Even I would rather preserve the mystery,” Dr. Zeek said, wiping away a tear brought on by the subtle none-so-subtle reek of Ragna-Roach’s passing. “He was big, and he was beautiful. He changed our lives, even if he shortened some. That should be enough for anybody.”
Daniel Hale is an amateur storyteller living in Massillon, Ohio. An ardent bibliophile an aspiring anglophile, when not writing he spends his time acquiring books faster than he can read them and perfecting his British accent. He has been published in Beorh Quarterly, Revolt Daily, “All Hallow’s Evil” by Mystery and Horror, LLC, “What Has Two Heads, Ten Eyes, and Terrifying Table Manners,” by Mega Thump Publishing, and the upcoming “The Last Diner” by Knightwatch Press. Find him atdanielhale42.wordpress.com.