This is the twelfth part of a serialized giant monster story published in weekly installments on this site.
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12. The Man of Stone
~ Fukuyama Hospital – July, 1966 – Noon ~
The guard at the hospital room door was speaking loudly enough so that everyone inside the ward—including the patients—could hear. “I’m sorry, sir,” the soldier barked. “You can’t go in th—Oh!” He stopped in mid-sentence, and when he resumed, his tone was much more deferential. “Dr. Shimura, I didn’t realize it was you. Are they expecting you?”
“I would be surprised if they were not,” replied a gentle, elderly voice.
Akiko almost had to strain to make out the scientist’s quiet words; right next to her, Burr and Shindo listened intently as well. The three newspaper workers were standing in the foyer of the west wing of Fukuyama Hospital, where survivors of the X-Base disaster had been taken. Military guards stood posted just outside the ward’s doorway.
“Go right in,” the guard said. The big double doors swung open, and in stepped The Great Man.
Aki had seen pictures of Shimura before, but she’d somehow expected him to be larger. His stature should match his towering reputation, shouldn’t it? Yet, Japan’s Einstein looked to be an ordinary little old man, like somebody’s grandfather, though he carried himself with great poise and dignity.
Behind him came a college-age woman that Aki assumed must be his assistant. The girl was slender and pretty and moved with confidence … until Captain Koizume came out of an adjoining ward room. Then, for a moment Shimura’s associate looked as though she might drop her notebooks. She recovered quickly, but kept a wary eye on the captain.
Akiko wondered about the girl’s nervousness. Perhaps she wasn’t used to working in this kind of high-pressure situation, or maybe she didn’t like the military for some reason.
Aki and Shindo bowed to Shimura, and so did Burr, which surprised Aki a bit; the American seldom indulged in Japanese customs. Captain Koizume offered the scientist a crisp salute.
Shimura bowed back politely, as did the girl.
“Dr. Shimura,” Shindo said, seizing the momentary silence, “what brings you here?”
“Should I perhaps have gone to X-Base instead?” Shimura asked, eyes twinkling mischievously.
“What’s left of X-Base, you mean,” Burr put in.
“That’s enough of that, Mr. Burr,” Captain Koizume said sternly. “This room may not be part of X-Base, but as of this morning, this hospital—and this ward especially—are under military jurisdiction.”
“And that,” Shimura said, “is why I have come. This is my assistant, Miss Emiko Murakami. Forgive me for not introducing her earlier.”
“Hello,” Miss Murakami said, a trace of nervousness in her voice.
Definitely still in college, Akiko thought.
Everyone bowed again.
“Please excuse my rudeness, Doctor,” Shindo told the scientist. “I’m Shin Shindo, of the Kobe Tribune. These are my colleagues, Mr. Burr and Miss Natsuke.”
“Akiko,” Aki added, smiling and trying to appear genial. Because of their recent breakup, she found it annoying to be thought of as merely an accessory to Shindo. At least by offering her given name, she established a bit of her own identity.
“Pleased to meet you, Akiko,” Miss Murakami replied. “And the rest of you.” Her eyes lingered on Captain Koizume.
Had the girl and the officer met before?
Shimura gave Aki a polite nod before addressing Koizume again. “I assume, Captain,” he continued, “that your commandeering this hospital has something to do with the catastrophe at X-Base last night.”
“I…” Koizume hesitated. “I really couldn’t say, Doctor.” He took a hopeful breath. “Unless … You’re here to help?”
Shimura dipped his head politely. “Of course. Why else would I have come all the way from Okayama on this fine morning?”
Koizume let out a relieved sigh. “Good. Very glad to have you aboard, Doctor.”
“I assume also,” Shimura said, “that these reporters are here—while others are being kept at bay outside—because they have witnessed what transpired at the base, and thus are under your … supervision until the incident can be resolved, or at least properly investigated.”
“You assume correctly, sir,” Burr replied. “They’re keeping a tight lid on us until they can figure out what’s going on.”
“They took my camera and film,” Aki put in, feeling foolish and petty the moment she’d said it.
“Which will be returned to you as soon as we’ve analyzed it, Miss Natsuke,” Captain Koizume reminded her, though Aki didn’t find his reassurance very comforting.
Shimura’s eyes lit up. “Film, eh? There are pictures? Good! Good. That may help explain things.”
“The film is being developed, and a military courier will bring me enlargements within the hour,” the captain explained.
“Excellent,” Shimura said. “Until then, may I suggest that we go over accounts and review what evidence you have at hand.”
“Akiko thinks she saw a giant monster—a daikaiju,” Shindo interjected, back in full-reporter mode. “What do you think, Doctor? Could such a thing exist?”
“Did any of the rest of you see this monster?” Miss Murakami asked.
Shindo and Burr shook their heads. “It was hard to see anything through all that smoke and falling rubble,” Shindo admitted.
“A lot of people on the base thought they saw something,” Burr said, “but our little Aki here was the only one crazy enough to run up close and take pictures.”
Aki gave a little smile, caught between being proud and embarrassed.
Shindo scowled. “She’s lucky she didn’t get radiation poisoning.”
“We all are,” Burr added.
Shimura ignored the reporters. “And are those other witnesses here?”
“Most are back at the base,” Captain Koizume told him. “There’s a lot of work to be done. You can interview them later, if you want, Doctor.”
“Perhaps I shall. I take it this monster is not still at the base.”
“It just destroyed the reactor and then vanished beneath the earth,” Aki said.
“And you saw this?” Shimura asked.
“No, I…” Akiko admitted, “I lost sight of it amid the devastation.” The whole thing seemed unreal now. Could she somehow have imagined it all?
“When the smoke cleared, nothing remained except a huge hole in the ground where the reactor used to be,” Burr said.
Shimura stroked his chin, thinking.
“What about it, Doctor?” Shindo pressed. “Could Akiko be right? Could some monster have destroyed X-Base?”
The scientist smiled beneficently. “It is hard to say without seeing some concrete proof.”
“They’ve got rock-solid evidence of something strange going on,” Burr said, “in the first bed on your left.”
Shimura arched one graying eyebrow. “Indeed?”
“Mr. Burr is alluding to a very puzzling phenomenon,” Captain Koizume explained. “Come this way, please, Doctor.” He indicated that the group should follow him through the reception area, where they’d been talking, into the ward itself.
“Any change?” he asked the nurse in the first hospital room they came to.
The woman shook her head, bowed slightly, and left to make enough space for the group to enter.
Aki had seen this patient—if that was the right word—before, but the sight of him still made her stomach clench. Could this really have been a human being just a few hours earlier?
Shimura frowned. “Why are you giving medical attention to a statue?” he asked Koizume.
On the bed lay the stone figure of a man in military uniform, a shocked expression frozen on his face.
Captain Koizume looked grim. “Believe it or not, Doctor, yesterday this man was a private in the JSDF, assigned to X-Base.”
“But that’s impossible!” Miss Murakami blurted.
“Impossible or not,” Burr said, “there are four just like him in the rooms next door.”
“And there could be others buried in the rubble of the base,” Aki put in. “I saw more of them just before”—she hesitated, not wanting to look foolish, then screwed up her courage and forged ahead—“just before I saw the monster.”
Shimura approached and examined the man. The soldier was hooked up to hospital equipment, but none of the indicators showed any sign of life. “Most puzzling,” the scientist said. “There is no chance, I suppose, that this is some kind of a hoax.”
“Only if nearly flattening a whole military base is somebody’s idea of a prank,” Burr said.
Shimura ran one hand over his close-cropped gray hair. “This is, as my assistant noted, impossible. Yet, the evidence is before our eyes. It is like the gorgon of ancient Greece—a man turned to stone.”
“It looked like a dragon,” Aki offered. Then, feeling self-conscious again, she verbally backpedalled. “Well, not entirely like a dragon.”
“A gorgon-dragon, eh?” Burr mused.
“It was more like some kind of two-legged dinosaur made out of lava, I suppose,” Aki said. “And it was huge. I think it might have been the thing I saw in the crater.”
“Miss Natsuke—” Shimura began.
“Akiko,” she reminded him.
“—Akiko,” the scientist continued, “you’re saying that you saw this monster before?”
“Only a glimpse really,” she explained. “Two nights ago, when the meteor crashed south of Okayama. I only saw its tail—though I didn’t realize that’s what I was seeing then. When Professor Benten and I returned to the site, though, we found no sign of it.”
“Benten?” Shimura asked. “Yujiro Benten?”
“Yes,” she replied. “That’s right. Do you know him?”
“He works at the Okayama Institute of Science,” Miss Murakami explained. “Dr. Shimura works there as well.”
“Of course,” Aki replied, miffed that she’d missed the obvious connection.
“Did Professor Benten see this monster as well?” Shimura asked.
“No. You see, I…” Aki began, fighting down another wave of embarrassment, “…I ran away when I saw it.”
“Ran smack into the professor, to hear her tell it,” Burr said.
“Yes. I was frightened, you see.”
“Entirely sensible,” Shimura put in, which made Aki feel a bit better.
“And, anyway, when we got back, the monster was gone. And the crater I’d seen it in was completely empty.”
“Oh! The crater we investigated!” Captain Koizume exclaimed. “Why didn’t you mention this before?”
“It was in the papers,” Shindo told him. Aki couldn’t figure out whether her ex was defending her or the Tribune.
“Not the part about the monster,” Koizume shot back.
“Some people thought I had imagined it,” Aki replied, staring daggers at Shindo.
“Miss… Akiko,” Shimura said, obviously attempting to cut off the squabbling, “when you saw this monster—this gorgon-dragon—”
“Hey… That’s not bad,” Shindo interrupted. “Gorgon plus dragon. We could call the monster Goragon. The Tribune’s subscribers will eat it up.”
“So will my readers back in the US,” Burr added.
“—When you saw this monster,” Shimura continued, ignoring the reporters, “did you see it turn anyone to stone?”
Aki shook her head. “No. All of the soldiers I saw were already petrified when I got there. I thought they must have been statues for some kind of monument.”
“And just seeing the monster didn’t turn you to stone,” Shindo observed.
“Obviously,” she replied. Did he wish it had? “It looked right at me, too.”
“It’s not exactly like the monster of myth, then,” Miss Murakami noted.
“Thank you, Akiko,” Shimura said politely, but then he frowned. “How unfortunate that you did not see more. An eyewitness account of what happened to these soldiers could tell us so much…”
“There’s another living witness in this hospital,” Burr put in. “One who certainly got a good look at the monster—and maybe a lot more, as well.”
“Oh?” Shimura asked.
“Yes, but Captain Koizume won’t let us interview him,” Shindo said, finishing his colleague’s pitch.
Shimura smiled the smile of a man used to getting what he wanted. “Well,” he said, “perhaps the good captain will let this person talk to me.”
Thanks to Vicki, David, Edward, and Kiff for beta-reading.
All contents, copyright 2013 Stephen D. Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.