Dan Hayata sat in his favorite chair. It was an old seat from one of the jets he had a habit of crashing in the performance of his duties with the Star Patrol. He had scavenged the seat when the fight was over and took it home. Various items also littered his apartment from his years in the Patrol, and everything had some memory attached to it. One day, Dan hoped to get rid of it all. So far he had only gotten rid of one thing. Rei had needed the healing crystal more than he had.
He picked up the picture frame with the original drawing of the Dream Worm on it, which he had confiscated from the original battle in ’59. The Patrol officers had just thought it was a drawing of the monster. None of them had realized the Worm had attacked out of this very piece of paper, not even Captain Shimata, who had been there when it happened.
Dan had begun thinking about the old case after the spontaneous eruption of the thing at the school while he had been talking to one of the classes. The styles were close, but Dan conceded that two different hands had drawn the separate pictures.
Izama Kana would be an easy one to blame this new episode on, but the man was dead. Dan had been there and helped load the corpse in a bag to take to the morgue. Apparently, the roof had caved in to pin him to the spot where his body had been found. He had been given a choice of deaths by that accident.
That case in 1959 had begun simply, like most of the cases the Star Patrol handled. Animals had begun to die in a state park outside of Osaka, the first thing a monkey. The deaths progressed steadily until finally a boy had been killed yards away from the park’s entrance. Park rangers and police then began investigating. The strange bite on the boy’s neck had them stumped. The Patrol had been called in, having had some success with strange cases before.
Dan Hayata and Dr. Hu drove down from headquarters in a Patrol car. The doctor had packed equipment, as well as confiscating a laboratory for use from the local prefecture. Together they went over numerous reports, the scene of the crime, and the body.
Then a woman was killed three miles away from where the boy had been found. The body had been found by a family on an outing deep in the park. The father had herded his kin away from the corpse after covering it. He ran to the nearest park ranger tower to report the find. Hours later, Dan and Hu stood over the body, trying to figure out the cause of death. The round wound on her torso was practically a larger version of the one on the boy that had been found earlier.
“This is bad, Dan,” said Dr. Hu quietly, probing the wound with a tweezers. “No animal on Earth leaves a wound like this except for a leech. But a leech the size indicated by this would would have to be enormous.”
“Enormous enough to make this track?” said Dan, pointing at a place in the ground that had been indented by something dragging across the soft loam.
“Giant leech?” said Dr. Hu. “Not likely. Let’s see where this goes.”
“Right behind you, Doctor,” said Dan, one hand on his service pistol.
“You’re the agent here,” said Dr. Hu, gesturing with one hand. “You first.”
Dan grimaced at the comment. He started walking along the trail indented in the ground. The shallow grove ended beside one of the park’s many trees. A sheet of paper, pinned to the tree with a nail, fluttered in the wind. The paper looked blank to the Star Patrolman. That in itself was a clue, even if they didn’t know what the clue meant.
Searching the ground around the tree, Dan couldn’t find anything else useful. He waited for the doctor to load the paper into an envelope to take back to the lab. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary about the paper, but then he was a pilot and not a forensics specialist. Hopefully, Dr. Hu could come with a good lead on the culprit.
Back at the lab, Dan waited in a small break room. Dr. Hu had taken the paper and had begun testing it to narrow down what it meant to the crime scene. The body had been brought in and autopsied while they watched.
Most of the woman’s organs and blood had been sucked out of the round wound in her torso. That had been the cause of death. No surprises there.
What had been a surprise was the ring of chalk around the wound where the creature would have planted its lips. The mark had been caused before the woman had died, according to Hu’s expert opinion. He took a sample with a swab.
Dr. Hu came into the break room, stripping off his gloves. He was smiling slightly as the light reflected dazzlingly off his round glasses. “The chalk on the body matches the traces of chalk on the paper in every way that I can find,” he said.
“What do you think is going on, Doctor?” Dan asked. “Some kind of weird monster?”
“Obviously,” said Hu, getting a soda out of the nearby machine. “I don’t think I have ever seen a creature that left chalk behind in a wound.”
“What about the paper?” asked Dan, getting a cup of coffee.
“Ordinary drawing paper that can be found anywhere,” said Hu, sipping his drink. “Any store within five miles could have supplied that type of paper.”
“So unless we get some more clues at the next crime scene,” said Dan, “we’re stumped.”
“Practically,” said Hu. “We do know one thing, if it helps.”
“The paper is drawing paper,” said Hu. “Not regular paper that would be lying around just waiting to be used. That might be a clue in itself.”
“Don’t let the reporters hear that,” said Dan, finishing his coffee. “The headline would be Starving Artist Feeds Monster with Critics.”
“An artist would have the paper, thought,” said Hu, not quite smiling. “I’m glad to give you some work to do while I finish going over the corpse’s personal effects.”
The Star Patrolman grimaced at the thought of having to check all of the nearby artists. The park was an especially popular place for landscape painters. He grabbed his dark orange jacket and pulled it on. “Let me get started, then,” he said, throwing the empty cup away and walking out of the break room.
Dan spent the morning wandering the area around the park, talking to numerous artists. It was a frustrating few hours. None of the artists he saw used chalk or knew anyone who did. The common material was pen and ink or water-color paint.
He looked around, trying to think of some other avenue of investigation. Maybe he needed to expand his search pattern. Somewhere he would find someone that used chalk on paper — someone knew, or had seen, someone who had used chalk. Patience, he told himself.
“I agree,” said M-78 from the back of his mind.
Dan walked over to his car to use the radio. It was time to get some more men out here to help out. This thing was leading up to something and needed to be stopped before anything worse happened.
A few hours later, Dan Hayata stood at the front of the room. He looked at his notes before speaking to the members of the Star Patrol and the local prefecture. They quietly waited for the briefing to begin.
“The first victim was a boy,” Dan said. “There were no traces on the body as far we could tell. Then the second victim was found by a family on holiday. Chalk was found on the body around the wound. A piece of paper was found nearby with the same chalk found on it. These are our options: The animal rubbed its muzzle against the paper before it attacked the woman, or someone rubbed the muzzle of the thing with the paper and left it. Either way, we are looking for anyone who regularly uses chalk as a drawing tool. That’s our only clue. Let’s find this guy and see if he knows anything.”
Dan and Lieutenant Takeo Shimata paired off, with the pilot driving. The search group spread out over the area, with Star Patrolmen and regular police going house to house. The one question they asked was whether the resident knew of any chalk artist. The answer was always in the negative.
Dan drove toward nearby Osaka. Their search would take place among those who watched the Japanese art world. Some critic had to have seen the style and point to likely sources if a professional was involved in some way.
He and Shimata split up and started searching galleries. They knew they were checking an outside chance with no hope of success. They would have to be the luckiest men on Earth to find someone who drew monsters in chalk for a living. How likely was that?