“So the monster that attacked you was smaller than the one that sunk the tanker, is that correct?”
The reporter had been sitting at the professor’s bedside for at least half an hour, grilling the man about his unusual encounter with the Suruga Bay creature. But the professor didn’t mind in the least. It was undeniably true that he was in pain, that his body felt stiff as a board, that his blood felt as though it had transformed into an ever-burning acid under his skin. But these questions had to be asked, and answers – to the best of his current ability – had to be given.
The truth had to be told.
Professor Yano had been lucky to escape the bay with his life – and most of his body – intact. Still, the scientist’s brief meeting with the monster had taken its toll. He now lay on his cot, back in the safety of his room, resting under what felt like at least five blankets. Toshie had fussed over him all afternoon following the doctor’s departure. There was very little that could be immediately done to fix the damage inflicted upon the professor’s skin, so his wife had taken it upon herself to act as his nursemaid. She had washed his burned flesh, brought him food and drink, and made sure that he was as comfortable as possible. He’d never felt more thankful, or fortunate, to have her by his side.
It was at his side that Toshie now sat, her gaze fixed upon the disfigured half of her husband’s face. Most of the right side of the professor’s head was now horrifically burned, the charred skin a grotesque mix of blues and greys broken up only by the odd, white pustule that had sprouted from his cracked epidermis. The burns covered his entire right cheek, surrounded his now-useless right eye, and even extended across a portion of the left side of his forehead.
Despite this, the professor knew that he had truly been lucky. The creature had come so close. Why it had not simply killed him was a mystery, but one that would have to wait to be solved. There were more important things to focus on at the moment.
The biggest of these concerns – at least in Yano’s mind – was one inescapable fact: the creature that attacked him had certainly not been the one seen sinking the oil tankers earlier that day. His encounter had been with a far smaller example of the species. This meant that there were more monsters out there. Monsters that were capable of sinking even more ships, or smaller ones that might injure more swimmers.
This was why the injured man – still in great pain and fighting the urge to lapse once again into unconsciousness – had granted an interview to the town’s local paper. As far as he was concerned, his pain was secondary to letting the world know about the situation at hand, and the danger that was lurking mere miles away off the coast of his country. Sleep and healing could wait.
“That’s right,” the professor said quietly, finally answering the reporter’s question.
“There isn’t just one Hedorah. They come in different sizes. Right, Papa?”
Ken was sitting next to his mother on the professor’s right. The little boy hadn’t strayed far from his father’s side since they had returned from the bay, leaving him only for a brief minute to change his wet clothing. Ken had spent nearly 20 minutes in a state of terror, convinced that his Papa had died at the monster’s hand. When the professor had finally returned, and it became clear that the monster had indeed found him, Ken had been the one to help his father out of the water and go for help upon realizing that he was injured. When help did come, Ken had been there to help his father into a car, and to escort him back to their house where a doctor was already waiting.
He now sat alongside his Papa, his own burn from the monster carefully wrapped in bandages, and apparently intent on filling in the professor’s scientific shoes.
The reporter was understandably confused. The strange word hadn’t come up in his conversation with the professor at all. His eyes darted over to Toshie, who briefly smiled and gestured towards Ken. “That’s what my son has been calling them,” she said with a slightly dismissive tone. However, Ken would not be deterred. “They come from the polluted “hedoro” sludge in the bay. So, I named them Hedorah!”
The reporter smiled. “Sludge, eh?” He then turned his focus back to Yano. “Professor, is it possible that’s the reason? The reason for the monster’s existence?”
Yano stared upwards, his eyes unfocused. “Well, perhaps. It’s too early to know for sure.” Despite his pain and exhaustion, the professor still spoke clearly, as if he were having a perfectly normal conversation on a perfectly normal scientific topic. His perseverance had not gone unnoticed by the reporter, who paused briefly to let his eyes wander across the titles of the many books on the shelf behind the professor’s cot.
The short silence was suddenly broken by the abrupt appearance of two new visitors in the Yano bedroom. Two young men, one bearing a large camera and the other a flashbulb, had entered and were now approaching the cot, apparently intent on taking pictures of the crippled scientist. “Excuse us,” the closer of the two men said as he began to lift his camera.
“Oh, no!” Toshie had spoken up, a look of pleading on her face. “No, no pictures of his face, please.”
“No, let them.”
The speaker this time was the professor, who had turned his head to look at his wife. He spoke gently, but firmly. “I want pictures taken. I want people to see this on the television. Everyone needs to realize how serious the threat is.” Toshie’s look of concern did not dissipate, but as she turned to look at her husband, she subtly nodded her head in acceptance. Yano turned his scarred face towards the cameramen. “Go ahead,” he said.
As the cameramen prepared to photograph the professor, Ken again piped up, lifting his bandaged hand into the air. “Hedorah got me too!”
The camera began to whir, and the light behind it burst into life.
As night began to fall, Professor Yano sat alone on his cot, his restless mind making sleep a futile hope. Several days had passed since his injury, and while his pain had subsided, his ability to find sleep had yet to return. Whenever the scientist closed his eyes, the blackness that met him was soon invaded by a flood of red. A red that seemed to grow closer and closer with every passing moment until, inevitably, his eyes shot open once more. This horrific pattern had repeated itself again and again, for hour upon hour, for day after restless day. It was now nearly dark outside, and Yano saw little chance of sleep in his future, despite the fact that his drained mind and body ached for it. Every instinct told him to shut his eyes once again, to let the sleep wash over and refresh him. But his mind would not permit the release. He was trapped.
However, as Yano lifted his weak arm to see the time on his watch roll over to the top of the hour, he realized that, in this moment, it was just as well that sleep had remained elusive. In a few minutes, the news would air its latest report on the monster attacks, which had continued in the days following the professor’s own encounter with the “Hedorah”.
Hedorah. It was now the name being used on the news and in the papers. Leave it to his son to coin such a catchy, memorable name. And leave it to reporters to take a free idea – sure to produce sensational headlines – and run with it. The name was appropriate, though. It seemed to fit the repulsive visage that Yano had seen so clearly in the waters of the bay. The face that had come so close to his own that…
Yano quickly switched mental gears, instead focusing on pulling himself out of bed and finding the strength to right his aching body. While the pain from his burns – now wrapped under a layer of white bandages that covered much of the left side of his face, the top of his head and the bottom of his chin – no longer bothered him, his body remained stiff from stress and lack of movement. But discomfort would not stand in the professor’s way. He had to know if the situation had changed, if it had gotten worse. If any other lives had been lost…
Less than a minute later, and Yano had reached the television. Switching it on, he quickly made sure that the volume was low before he found a place to sit. Toshie had finally gone to bed an hour or so earlier after making sure that her husband had been comfortable, and Ken had gone off to sleep a few hours before her. As he sat down in front of the TV, he hoped that they wouldn’t awaken. They deserved their rest after doing so much for him over the previous few days.
The TV was already set to the news channel when the screen flickered to life. The newest Hedorah report had only just started, and Yano’s focus was now entirely on the set as the camera centered on a reporter in front of a microphone.
“Since the first tragedy at Suruga Bay, other tankers have been involved in similar accidents,” the reporter began. The image on the screen suddenly changed to a black-and-white photograph showing one of the recently sunken tankers, this one with its bow rising out the water at a roughly 70-degree angle. The image changed again, showing a second tanker disappearing under the waves as its flaming stern reached into the sky. Then another tanker image, this one showing a crippled ship with its stern raised straight up towards the midday sun, a trail of fire – no doubt caused by its leaking fuel – showing its path through the ocean prior to its encounter with the force that had destroyed it.
Yano felt his heart thumping in his chest. Three more ships. Three more lost crews. Three more tankers whose cargo of fuel now suffocates the waters of the bay…
The voice of the narrator snapped Yano’s attention back to the TV. “The survivors tell us that in each instance, they saw a long, dark-colored monster in the sea. This could be the work of the creature now known as Hedorah.” The image then cut to yet another black-and-white photograph, showing a vague shape hidden by sea foam, but undoubtedly rising out of the water in a most unnatural way. Then another image appeared, with the creature’s form slightly more visible. And then a third, which showed the beast in such clarity that Yano’s breath caught in his throat. The photo showed what was nearly the monster’s entire body, its tadpole-like form risen out of the water about 50 degrees. Very little of the monster remained under the waves, matching the description Ken had given of the creature when it had jumped out of the bay towards him.
Images continued to flash across the screen, each one seemingly showing the beast in greater detail. The image Yano now looked at was the clearest yet, and showed the face of the Hedorah in close-up. Its bulbous head was out of the water, its eyes staring blankly down at the surface. Even in black-and-white, Yano could almost see the brilliant red breaking through the gray, trying desperately to pierce through the image and stare him down once again…
The professor turned his head away from the screen. He couldn’t bear to look upon the creature again. Minutes passed as the scientist sat with his head down, his uncovered eye shutting out the world as he tried to calm himself. For a time the darkness brought him a peace, but all too soon the form of the creature appeared once more in the corner of his mind. It swam closer, and closer, its eyes shining red once again…
Light flooded Yano’s eye as it shot open. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting in the living room, attempting to block out the image of the creature from his mind’s eye, but it had been long enough for the light of the television to briefly burn his retina and blur his surroundings. But the scientist could not bring himself to close his eye again, not even for the briefest of moments. Instead, he looked down at his crossed legs, waiting for his eye to adjust to the light.
When it did, he glanced up to once again look upon the TV.
The sight that met him was altogether unexpected and bizarre.
The news report had apparently concluded, and had been replaced with a colored, comic-like image resembling a political cartoon. The image showed what appeared to be a gigantic Hedorah standing like a human in the waters outside a large city. Its hands held two oil tankers, each oozing pink liquid into the water beneath them. The water appeared to be filled with the floating bodies of fish and sharks. On the right side of the image was the sun, gray and obscured behind black smog streaming from factory smokestacks that rose over a dark cityscape.
Before Yano’s confused mind could grasp what he was seeing, another surprise suddenly came when the image began to move like an anime. The words “Cheerful Hedorah” suddenly appeared within the black factory smog, under the shrouded sun. Moments later, the animated Hedorah began to lift his left hand towards his face, gradually bringing the oil tanker up to his lips to drink. As Yano watched, the monster guzzled the oil as the words in the sky suddenly disintegrated into smoke, rising to join the thick cloud floating over the city as the image suddenly zoomed in on the shadowy sun.
The screen suddenly cut to black as Yano switched the television off. He had finally reached his wit’s end, and has risen to put an end to the odd cartoon before it robbed him of his sanity. While he had no idea from where it had originated or what business it had airing on television instead of appearing in print in the morning newspaper, he believed he had understood its meaning. Regardless, he also believed that he had seen enough of the Hedorah for one evening.
The professor ambled slowly but surely back into his room, and lowered himself carefully down onto his cot. In that moment, exhaustion had overtaken him to a degree that nearly prevented him from placing his own head upon his pillow. He had never been so tired in all his life. He had never felt so helpless, so emptied of all his energy. His mind had never felt so burdened, his body never in greater need of sleep.
And despite this, Yano still knew that no sleep would come.