A serial killer awakens from a coma to a harsh reality he is not prepared for...
Summary: Monster by Naoki Urasawa is by far the greatest thriller you'll ever read in manga/graphic novel form. So much so that it is going to be developed into a motion picture. Following the tale of a young Japanese doctor, Kenzo Tenma, who does the ethical thing by rescuing a young boy who has suffered a bullet wound, over power and politics, the story follows a series of mysterious deaths all across Eastern Europe for a period of ten years. The reader is taken into the mind of a young man who is the product of a program - Kinderheim 511 - where children were forced/brainwashed to become perfect soldiers for a new Germany. Johan and Anna Leibert were raised to become the new faces of Germany - the new Adolf Hitler one might say - but Johan turns the tables on those who created him, taking Dr. Tenma along for the ride.
The story you are about to read takes place at the end of the series. I have tried to write things from Johan's angle as he awakens from his coma.
And I saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads, the names of blasphemy. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, "Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?"
- The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Chapter 13: Verses 1 & 4
He could hear the hollow echoes of their footsteps – two…no three of them – finally coming to take care of him. In his prison, for almost a week, his eyes remained wide open as they were now accustomed to the pitch blackness that had surrounded him all this time. They had thrown him in here – a small space with barely enough leg room, a narrow slit in the doorway for air and not much else - as a prelude to his punishment for something he hadn’t really done.
He had only initiated the game with the other boys. He really didn’t think they’d be foolish enough to fight with each other to the point of murder.
But then again, he thought with a cold smile, human beings were always fickle creatures.
He could hear the jangling of keys, and their low voices as they spoke in hurried German. He could hear the fear in their voices, and it pleased him greatly. They wouldn’t really punish him too badly. He knew he was needed for something, but wasn’t quite sure of what it was…yet. Whatever the case may be, he was determined to escape from this prison and find his sister again.
We’ll be together again, Anna. Don’t worry, I’ll find and rescue you.
The heavy metal door opened slowly and the boy blinked at the flood of light which filled the room. For a moment he felt dizzy and could barely make out the faces of the men looming over him. However, it couldn’t explain the sudden rush of fear to creep up his spine. He was sure he knew who these men were and was sure he had a handle on the situation, but as their features became clearer, the boy knew with cold certainty that he was never going to see his sister again. They were going to take him even further away and he didn’t want that. No, he didn’t want that at all.
“Johan,” one of them finally said as he leaned closer and held out a hand. “Come. We have something to show you.”
The boy felt a terror unlike anything before and shrinking back slowly into the safety of the darkness behind him; he opened his mouth and let out a terrifying scream.
The doctors behind the thick pane of glass watched the young man’s reaction with great interest. They scribbled hastily on notepads as the monitoring machines hooked up to their patient suddenly came to life.
“His brain waves are erratic and slightly unstable,” Dr. Rehnquist, the top neurosurgeon at the hospital stated flatly, even though his eyes were alight with pleasure. “It’s to be expected after going through so many traumas.”
“And how long has he been in this state of unconsciousness?” the visiting doctor, Penn, asked from behind the group of about ten others like him.
“Four weeks,” Rehnquist reassured them with a wave of his hand. And a very long month it had been. Johan had given them no sign or reaction since the spectacular operation by Dr. Tenma. It was a miracle the young man had survived the gunshot wound to the head and although the hospital was constantly surrounded by and officials, it still hadn’t stopped the Press from wanting to get their hands on the story of the decade. The dashing, young serial killer, responsible for so many deaths across Europe had finally been apprehended.
Doctors and psychiatrists from all over the country and even overseas wanted to be a part of this historic event. Everyone wanted to have an interview with the young man – to talk about his experiences at Kinderheim 511 - of how he had escaped with his sister, and most importantly, why he had killed so many people. What was his motive? Revenge? Or just sheer lunacy?
“How soon do you think he’ll be able to speak again, doctor?” another one asked, and even Rehnquist was stumped for an answer with that one.
He rubbed his chin and nodded slowly. “It will all depend on the young man, I suppose. There are no problems to him physically but mentally.” He tapped his temple gently. “He will have to make the conscious effort to will himself back to ‘life’.”
The other doctors nodded to themselves as if that was to be expected, but Rehnquist remained somber and lost in thought. He wondered just how long Johan intended to remain in this deep sleep or if he planned to wake up at all. For he knew once Johan showed signs of activity again, the police would take him away and probably lock him up for the rest of his life.
He made a mental note to contact Dr. Tenma as quickly as possible.
Three months later:
Dr. Reichwein’s Residence, Munich:
“Mmmmm, delicious, doctor!” came the enthusiastic cry from the beautiful blonde woman. “Your meat and potatoes are always the best!”
The portly doctor laughed heartily at the compliment. “Nonsense, Nina! It’s only because you helped me with it. Ah, Deiter, stop shoving the food so quickly! You’re going to choke on it.”
His only response from the young boy was a thumbs up and a wide grin. This made the doctor flabbergasted and yet he couldn’t help laughing again as Nina’s cheerful laughter filled the air. He was glad to see the girl this happy again. After the nightmare she must have gone through several months ago, it was really good to see that things were finally settling down for her.
“So how’s school, Nina?” he asked kindly, shoveling another spoonful of the meal into his mouth. “Are you almost done for the semester?”
“Yes,” the blonde replied with a firm nod and a pleased grin. “Professor Kronecker wants me to help him with several volunteer teaching sessions for the summer. I’ll get a chance to teach some freshmen in the upcoming school year. Isn’t that exciting? Oh, I just can’t wait!”
“What’s so fun about teaching a bunch of people?” Deiter asked with a pout. “It’s going to be boring like in my school!”
Nina ruffled his hair gently. “No, it’s not. It’s going to be fun and I’ll also get a chance to watch several trials in the next few months. It should be a learning experience for me…”
Her voice trailed off and for a moment, a melancholy look filled her features causing her companions to watch her carefully.
“Nina?” Deiter called out softly. “Are you okay?”
“Huh?” She lifted her gaze slowly and for a moment, Dr. Reichwein felt something cold creep up his spine at the expression. It was just the same! It was the same blank and empty gaze he'd once seen in Johan’s eyes. He found himself gripping his fork tightly and had to remind himself that this wasn’t the psychotic killer before him but his sister. However, it was these few and rather random actions from the girl that reminded him so painfully of them being twins and prone to having a few similar behavior patterns.
She blinked and the empty look was quickly replaced with one of mild confusion. “Ah…sorry…I was just thinking about…” What had she been thinking of?
The gentle grip on her hand had her meeting the doctor’s kind gaze. “It’s okay, Nina,” he said quietly. “I know you haven’t fully recovered from the shock of it all and there will be moments when you ‘lose’ yourself, so to speak.”
“But…” She flushed and lowered her gaze, trying not to tremble too much. Even though she had moved on with her life and things were looking much better and brighter for her, there were still days and nights when she felt like she was being thrown into the past all over again. The nightmares would return and the same scenes would be played over and over in her mind. She looked into the smiling faces of the men beside her and felt ridiculously close to tears.
“Than…thank you,” she whispered softly in sincere gratitude. She was glad she had friends and a new family to call her own and as soon as Tenma returned from his trip, she knew she would be complete again.
She was chopping the vegetables rather quickly – so quickly in fact that he wondered if she was going to cut her fingers off. He remained crouching in the corner, watching her beautiful but stern features as she began to mumble to herself.
“Teach them a lesson…punish them…make them suffer…damn it!”
His eyes widened at the sight of blood. She had cut herself after all. She stuck the injured finger in her mouth and sucked on it, but not before he noticed that she had made no effort to clean off the droplets on the carrots. He watched as she tossed them into the pot and began to boil them. It seemed like he was going to have boiled carrots mixed with mother’s blood for dinner tonight.
Bayern Police Station
Rehnquist wasn’t very pleased as he walked after the two inspectors with a thunderous scowl on his visage. “How many times do I have to tell you that he should have at least been left in the hospital to completely recover?! You don’t just take a patient and interrogate him the moment he opens his eyes, Inspector Scherbe! Dr. Tenma specifically said…”
“I don’t really care what Tenma has to say at this time, Dr. Rehnquist,” Scherbe replied impatiently as they made their way towards the interrogation room. “Mr. Liebert has been in your care for the past six months now, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s our turn to deal with him.”
“This is preposterous!” the doctor cried out with indignation. “Just because he’s a murderer doesn’t mean he hasn’t got his rights as well! Give him some time to fully recuperate -”
“That will be all, Dr. Rehnquist,” Inspector Nieman, who had been silent all this time, said firmly as he spun around to face the older man. “Please allow us to do our jobs. You’ve done fine work this far. Leave the rest to us.”
“You’re making a big mistake…!”
But the door to the room was shut in his face and the doctor could only bang his fist against the wall in frustration. He glared at the two policemen that walked up to him and cursing softly, he straightened up.
“Don’t worry,” he grated coldly. “I can make my way out on my own.”
As soon as Scherbe entered the room, he sensed the tension and faint uneasiness in the air. There were two armed officers positioned by the door, Inspector Haas and Dr. Gillen, the criminal psychologist, were also in the room. Scherbe was also sure that behind the one-way mirror on the wall, several more agents and inspectors were watching the events in the room with great interest.
There was only a table and two chairs as expected and while Gillen had made himself comfortable in one, the young man who had once reigned over Germany by instilling terror in the hearts of its people over the years, sat quietly at the other end. He looked a bit gaunt, no surprise since he had been bed-ridden for the past few months. His hair was a bit longer, but he was still relatively clean-shaven. His hands were in handcuffs and placed upon his lap and the simple white dress shirt and khaki pants he wore fitted him rather nicely.
“Has he said anything?” Scherbe whispered to Haas as they eyed the silent prisoner.
Haas shook his head with a barely audible sigh of exasperation. “Nothing so far. The doctor’s been trying his best to get him to say something…anything, but all he does is look at the floor like a zombie.”
“Hmm…maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t look up,” Scherbe said enigmatically.
“Nothing…just thinking out loud.” He couldn’t explain it, but he was sure that if he or anyone else were to look into Johan’s eyes, they would see something extremely terrifying. There was an aura around the young man that was slightly disturbing. Scherbe had been around murderers and robbers before and he had developed an immune system towards their characters. They were almost always the same – men who had passionate temperaments and came in with loud mouths and insults or the blubbering idiots who wanted to beg for mercy.
But this man…this man was something else. He didn’t even look like a murderer which was the worst part of it all. There was an air of quiet intelligence that was even more frightening than any sight of a criminal brandishing a weapon. This was a man who could destroy one’s soul by toying with him or her mentally and emotionally and to Scherbe, that was indeed the worst way to kill another human being. Psychological warfare.
“Johan,” Gillen’s soothing voice interrupted the tense silence. “I know you can hear me, Johan. Is there anything you wish to talk about? Anything at all?”
The blond remained immobile, like a carved marble statue, stubbornly refusing to say anything.
“Goddamnit,” Haas whispered harshly. “How long do we have to do this? Someone should knock some sense into him!”
“You might end up killing him this time,” Scherbe replied absently. “Can’t help thinking of what that damn doctor was saying. Maybe we shouldn’t have brought him in so early. Perhaps he’s not fully awake, doctor,” he said a bit louder, causing Gillen to spare him a look. “Maybe we should give him some time to fully recover and then we question him.”
Gillen’s lips pursed tightly at the suggestion before turning his gaze towards his silent patient. “Perhaps…but we need to at least get a few things out of him now. If he slips into another coma, who knows when he’ll wake up again?”
“Damn doctors,” Scherbe muttered. He needed a cigarette.
Gillen leaned closer again, hating to admit that ever since Johan had been brought into the room, he had felt an uneasiness and reluctant fear settle in the pit of his stomach. Of course dealing with criminals on a daily basis always had the tendency to leave one concerned for his safety, but with Johan…it was definitely different. Gillen knew he wasn’t just dealing with any ordinary criminal, but was dealing with a man who could very well turn the tables on him and drive him insane.
“Johan…do you remember anything about the past? Your childhood? Your…mother…”
He watched carefully for a reaction and was rewarded with a slight jerk of the younger man’s shoulder. At least they were getting somewhere.
“How did she make you feel, Johan? Did you…love her very much? Or did you…hate her?”
Johan remained silent.
Gillen sighed and leaned back to pick up a few pages of the papers before him. “Do you remember any of these people, Johan? Micheal Liebert? Adolf Junkers? Christianne and Erich Fortner? Ivan Kuerten? Margot Langer? Peter Chapek? Franz…Bonarparta…”
There was another jerk of the blond’s shoulders and Gillen stopped reading the names. He leaned close again in earnest, staring at the shock of yellow hair before him. “You knew these people, didn’t you, Johan? Franz Bonarparta was the one responsible for doing this to you, wasn’t he? Or rather to Nina, your sister, whom you loved more than anything in the world.”
It seemed as if everyone in the room was holding their breath now for some extreme reaction from the young man. It was as if Gillen was becoming relentless in his questioning and seemed determined to get an answer anyway possible.
“You love Nina, don’t you? Or perhaps I should say Anna, since that’s what you’d prefer. Why did you become 'Anna', Johan? Why did you want to hurt all those people? Why did you become a monster?”
A firm hand on his shoulder had him turning his head quickly to stare into the stern features of Scherbe.
“Calm down, doctor. You’re the one sweating bullets here.”
Gillen nodded softly, a bit embarrassed at losing his cool so easily. He wiped his brow with his handkerchief and turned to face Johan again, only to stiffen in his chair as he noticed the small smirk on the blond’s visage. Although, Johan hadn’t lifted his head, there was no mistaking the motion of those lips. Gillen gripped his pen tightly and struggled to control himself. Tenma was right. Johan really did enjoy toying with his victims and he was determined not to give in to this demon before him.
“I apologize for raising my voice,” he finally said quietly. “Now, let us try again, shall we?”
The sound of Johan’s voice actually sent everyone starting in surprise. They had definitely not expected to hear him say anything for some time and hearing that soft and yet harsh voice (thanks to months of unused vocal cords) sent their heartbeats pounding with reluctant excitement and anticipation.
“Did you say Tenma?” Gillen asked, pushing the ‘rec’ button on his recorder with a finger that trembled lightly. “Do you wish to speak to Dr. Tenma?”
For some time, the young man said nothing and Gillen had to prod him again. “Tenma is not around at the moment, Johan. He works in different parts of Europe now as a member of the . Would you like to speak to him?”
The smirk became a small smile, and Johan lowered his head even more.
“We could send for Tenma, Johan,” Gillen said softly. “If it would make it easier for you -”
“Where is Anna?”
“Your sister? She’s a student now at Heidelberg University Law School. She hopes to become a lawyer someday, Johan. You too were studying to become a lawyer, weren’t you?”
A small sound escaped the blond’s lips, and his shoulders began to shake gently. The officers exchanged wary looks with one another and had to suck in a harsh breath as the young man suddenly threw back his head and laughed heartily. It wasn’t the maniacal laugh they were used to hearing from criminals that had lost their minds, rather it sounded genuine, as if someone had cracked the greatest joke of the century at a dinner party.
Johan lowered his head again, his laughter becoming softer until it became a harsh sob of pure suffering. Gillen, who had felt his blood run cold at the laugh, could only stare helplessly at the man who seemed to be crying now. He coughed lightly and tried to gather his scattered wits about him.
“Johan…” he began but was interrupted as the blond lifted his head to pin an intense gaze at him. To Gillen’s surprise, there were no tears in those piercing blue eyes, but there was no denying the anguish on those handsome features. It was a mixture of sadness, confusion, and yet an underlying tone of frustration.
“Anna…let me see Anna again…or Tenma…let me see…any of them…both of them!”
The officers exchanged looks with each other and Scherbe spoke up for them. “Tenma will be a lot more difficult to get a hold of. We don’t know his exact location at the moment…”
“Anna…” Johan pleaded, holding out his cuffed hands as if begging for mercy. “Let me see Anna.”
Gillen lowered his head and wondered how he was going to put this. It was Tenma and Reichwein that suggested the twins do not meet for at least a few more months. Reichwein had reported that Nina was still prone to mild bouts of panic or shock and it would be best if they steered clear from each other for a while.
“I…we will try to get her to see you…” Gillen finally replied with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “But until then you should…”
With no warning whatsoever, Johan slumped off his chair and to the floor with a rather sickening thud, causing the uniformed officers to run towards him in panic.
“He’s out cold, sir,” one of them reported. “Still breathing though.”
Gillen nodded softly, trying to still his racing heart. He wiped his brow again and motioned for the officers to take Johan out of the room. He hated to think that he had somehow sent Johan back into deep mental anguish. The remaining men watched as he was hoisted up between the officers and all but carried out of their presence. As soon as the door was shut behind them, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief and Scherbe could finally pull out his cigarette to have a much needed smoke.
“Scary,” Haas finished. He too was trembling and wanted to leave the room as quickly as possible. “Wonder how that guy can stand dealing with stuff like that.” He nodded towards Gillen who was now packing away his documents.
“So what’s the verdict, doctor?” Scherbe asked. “Do you still want to keep interrogating him?”
Gillen remained quiet for some time and looked lost in thought. Finally, he replied softly. “If and when he does wake up, I’d like to continue, of course. But until then, let’s do our best to find Tenma. If that’s the only man that can make Johan talk, then so be it. Find him and send him back here as quickly as you can.”
“And that’s the story, doctor,” Scherbe finished with a sigh as he crushed out the cigarette in the ash tray. The outdoor café was a nice spot to have this conversation in his opinion
He eyed the man before him with reluctant admiration. Tenma had really changed from the scraggly looking guy that had been arrested almost a year ago in Prague. He was now clean-shaven; his hair much shorter and he even looked a bit happier. Well, the man’s eyes would always have a perpetual look of long-suffering but there was no denying that Tenma was different this time around. He was dressed in a simple dress-shirt with its sleeves rolled up to his forearms and a pair of dark pants which fit his slender frame.
It had taken them quite some time to find the doctor, but after a month of scouring the Czech countryside, they had finally found him in this city.
“Will you come, doctor?” Scherbe asked again, watching the lowered head with interest. “He has gone back into his coma, and I have the feeling that he’ll wake up again only when you return.”
Tenma seemed lost in his thoughts for some time and his features gave nothing away. Finally, after Scherbe had assumed he wasn’t going to get an answer, the doctor replied quietly. “You should let him be, Inspector.”
“What do you mean let him be?” Scherbe asked in bemusement. “He’s an important witness in this case and needs to be -”
“What?” Tenma asked with a small but sad smile. “What would he do when he wakes up from his coma? Question him and then send him away to prison for the rest of his life? What good would that do? Perhaps it’s much better this way. Let him remain locked in his dreams for now and away from the harshness of his reality.”
“It is best for everyone this way.” He rose to his feet and bowed politely to the officer. “Thank you for the coffee, sir. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have several patients waiting.”
Scherbe watched the man walk away until he became nothing more than a speck in the distance. He sighed and downed the rest of his coffee before leaning back on his chair to stare at the azure skies above him.
“Leave him to his dreams, huh?” he whispered to himself. “Although I can’t help wondering, Dr. Tenma of just what kind of dreams they are…”
He watched her laughing in her pretty new dress – running across the lawn with her golden hair flying in the wind behind her.
“Come, come, Johan!” she cried out happily. “I’ve caught a butterfly, Johan! Come see!”
He dusted his knees and rose to his feet, his heart filling with joy that she had called out to him. He had been hiding in the shadows, hoping she’d notice him and she finally did! He would play with her for as long as she wanted because he wanted to make her happy – very, very happy – like he had promised when they were much younger. He would protect her with everything he had and would never let anyone take her away from him again.
Everything belongs to you, Anna, he thought as he caught up and laughed happily with her. Everything and anything will be yours. I will never leave your side, Anna because I love you…always…
BKA - The Bundeskriminalamt, a federal police agency in both Germany and Austria
SKB - The StB, the secret police in Communist Czechoslovakia
MSF - Médecins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders, a non-profit medical and humanitarian organisation)