New York City, the city that never sleeps. A masquerade of lights forcing its denizens into a maddening yet never-ending dance. Many outsiders describe this city as a beautiful place, a metropolis of second chances and new beginnings. They have clearly been blinded by false promises. Promises of an American Dream turned into a nightmare.
One such victim was a Japanese immigrant named Hamato Yoshi. He came to this mystical place with his wife and daughter, searching for a new life away from the hardships of their former home. They were hopeful, yet naïve. His wife, Tang Shen, would watch over their three year old daughter, Miwa, as they tried to find their place in this unforgiving place.
Unfortunately for the Hamato family, they stuck out like a round peg in a square hole. Still, Yoshi tried to make the worse situation better by teaching karate in Chinatown on weekends. It was meager work, but it kept his family happy and well fed, and for Yoshi, that was enough.
But happiness is a fragile gift, and it doesn’t take much to destroy it.
Yoshi sat up with a start, looking around in a frantic motion. A cry had roused him from sleep, a cry from his daughter’s bedroom. He pulled the chain on his bedside lamp, scanning the room as his wife began to stir. He turned to her and placed his hand gently against her neck, kissing her cheek. It was a deed that always comforted her, and thus one he performed on a nearly daily basis.
He gently pulled the sheets off of him and stood up, reaching into the end table drawer for the flashlight. As a father, he feared the worse, but expected it to be simply one of Miwa’s nightmares. He frowned at the thought. It had been hard for Miwa to adjust to New York. New sights and smells were always waking her.
He opened the door, closing it behind him so gently that not a sound was heard and turned down the hall. He passed by the broom closet and turned into his daughter’s room. She was curled up under her blankets, peeking out hesitantly upon seeing the light.
“Miwa,” Yoshi softly spoke.
“Daddy.” She called, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
Yoshi approached her, gently pulling the covers off her head. Her face was red, and her eyes cracked from the tears.
“What happened, my child?” he asked.
“I had the dreams again…” She whimpered.
Yoshi sighed before snuggling next to her, pulling her blankets over the two of them. Another long night of comforting his daughter was in store, yet he was never unhappy to do so.
“Tell me about it.” he said.
She scooted over and hugged his arm. He in turn picked her up, cradling her in his arms as she told him.
“My turtles...” She began.
As she spoke, she stared at a small fish tank that sat on her dresser just across the room. Though void of water, there was gravel and tiny green plants that brushed to the movement of four small reptiles slowly stomping about. Miwa’s pet turtles, won by Yoshi in a street fair last New Years.
“They were monsters…” She explained “Bigger than you…. they hurt people.”
She hugged onto his arm. She never liked the move, and he feared this was a symptom of it.
“Shush, Miwa.” He said, hugging her close to him. “They are not monsters. Turtles cannot hurt anyone.”
But still, she seemed adamant. She looked up at her daddy, her eyes like diamonds
“Can you take them outside?” She begged. “Just for tonight?”
She was precious, and he was weak. He smiled, as he stood, scooping up the small glass tank.
“Very well, Miwa.” He relented. “I’ll put them in the shed until morning.”
Yoshi left his daughter’s room, holding the turtles in the crook of his arm. They seemed to look up at him with curious eyes, as if asking him where he was taking them. He walked through his house’s kitchenette towards the back screen door. He opened it, and walked onto the back patio.
“Do not worry, little ones.” He began, “I will not let anything bad happen to you.”
He began to approach the small shed, which sat at the far back of the lawn. It was quite old and a bit worn down, but Yoshi had hopes that by winter he would have enough money saved to repair it. He opened the door, jumping slightly as about five different black rats came scurrying out. After a moment, he just stood there, smiling at the clutter of tools that littered the shelves. He’d have to clear a space but he would find a place to put them.
A loud crash shook the entire shed, knocking tools and jars off of the shelves and nearly jarring Yoshi off his feet. His instincts told him that something had happened, and when he turned around, his eyes widened in absolute horror.
A large semi-truck had ripped through the house, a large beast of metal and fear. The walls of his small home crumbled around it, the horn wailing loudly into the night. The roof was slowly tearing away from its mounts, threatening to fall onto the truck. The tankard the truck had been towing was leaking a strange, blue-green glowing ooze that was spreading all across the floor of his home, as well as his back porch.
“TANG SHEN!” Yoshi screamed, “MI-”
A spark from some exposed electrical wire lit the ooze on fire, causing a large explosion that utterly obliterated the house. The resulting shockwave sent Yoshi crashing to the ground, the turtle tank shattering against the stone floor of the shed. As Yoshi pulled himself to his feet, slapping away several more black rats who were attempting to escape the blaze, it began to rain down bits of burning debris, as well as large globs of that same glowing ooze.
Screaming in despair, his eyes filled with tears, Yoshi watched as his home burned, his wife and daughter so obviously dead. He felt as if he himself was burning in the blaze. However, after a moment, he began to realize that he really was burning, but not from the fire. His skin was scorching hot to the touch, bubbling as it glowed a bright red. Everything hurt as he fell to his knees, crying out in physical and mental anguish. However, a single word pushed its way through the cloud of pain, forcing Yoshi to focus
“Turtles...” He thought, and turned to look for them. “Miwa’s…. turtles…”
With every move he made, his skin tore like burnt paper. He found the turtles crawling around the floor of the shed, each of them covered in the same ooze that was eating away at his skin. He grabbed one, brushing off the burning ooze, despite his enflamed fingers, then did the same to another another. The other two scurried away from him.
He crawled forward, slowly reaching for the third turtle before going in search of the fourth. It was currently trying to makes its way across a small, boarded up well that the shed had been built over. The shed had once been a water pump that had later been turned into a shed after the water supply and sewer systems were established.
“Oh no you don’t!” Yoshi cried, reaching across the well as he took hold of the fourth and final turtle.
Unfortunately, in his quest to save the tiny reptile, he had crawled onto the well, and the boards could not withstand his weight. They splintered beneath him and he fell, still holding the turtles for dear life.
When Yoshi awoke, he knew something had changed. He felt different, and everything looked different. Everything was sharper, his eyesight, his hearing, and especially his sense of smell. As he went to rub sleep from his eyes, he did a double take when he saw his hands. His arms, where new skin should have been forming, were now growing bristle-like black hairs. He sat up carefully and looked around, wondering faintly if he was still unconscious. However, when he saw the barren, moss ridden tunnels of the Chinatown storm drain, he knew it was no dream.
He still had the flashlight from earlier and quickly turned it on. The light flickered slightly, but provided Yoshi with enough light to look at his reflection in a stagnant puddle of water. It was here he saw the full horror of his transformation.
His face now elongated, covered in that same black hair that now covered his arms. His pupils had enlarged, covering his entire eye. His ears sat high atop his head, twitching with every emotion that tore through Yoshi’s deformed body. He hadn’t any idea what was going on. Scared and senseless, he crumbled to the ground, breaking down into racks of sobs.
“My entire life…. My family… my home… and now my humanity…. Splintering to pieces before my eyes.”
A voice, like a baby boy’s voice, broke through the cloud of sorrow blanketing Yoshi. Confused, he turned to see his daughter’s turtles. They were much larger than before, almost the size of small toddlers. Save for the shells still attached to their backs, they almost seemed human in shape with fuzzy black hair on their heads. Not only that, but some were attempting to stand on two legs
“Miwas’s turtles….” Yoshi gasped
Suddenly, Yoshi began to understand. That strange ooze that had burned him so, it must have combined his DNA with that of the rats that plagued his shed. And as for the turtles, their DNA must have mixed with his, making them humanoid turtles. They crawled over to Yoshi looking up at him with large eyes that seemed to sparkle with curiosity and innocence.
“Splin…ter…” one of them said.
Yoshi was completely shocked. The turtles were talking to him. As he watched the turtles crawl towards him, he couldn’t help but think back to his daughter’s nightmare.
"My turtles grew…. They turned into monsters…." She had said.
He chuckled slightly, gathering the humanoid turtles into his arms.
“Miwa’s monsters…. Aren’t monsters at all…”
He slowly got to his feet, looking upwards at the open hole above him. He could still see the smoke from his old home burning, destroying the only family he had ever known. Yoshi sighed in resignation, then turned away from the hole, walking deeper and deeper into the city’s storm drain.
Hamato Yoshi was no more. He would adopt a new name, and a new life. As he looked down at the four turtles, who beamed up at him, Yoshi knew that there was something else he was adopting.
A new family.