This is the way the world ends,

Not with a bang but a whimper.

— T. S. Eliot

The night before all the madness started, I had stayed up late. Hisashi, my roommate and best friend, had fallen asleep on our couch a couple hours into our anime marathon, but I couldn't sleep. Even after the four-hour rerun of Dragon Ball had ended, I couldn't get my mind to shut down, so I spent most of the night listening to music. It never occurred to me that the very next day, my life would change entirely.

–xxx–

Hallway on the Second Floor, Fujimi High School

Z-Day 11:33 pm

–xxx–

With a long yawn, I stretch out my arms, trying to wake up. When I go to lean against the ledge, I catch a glimpse of myself in the window, reflection looking pretty rough. The bags under my light eyes are dark, bringing out the green more than I want, and my white hair is a mess of frizz. I groan inwardly and throw it up into a ponytail in hopes of taming it, being sure to ignore the glass as I lean back against the window paneling. The breeze is warm, mid-spring air ruffling my bangs, and I take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of cherry blossoms.

"'Ey, Yuki," someone says, surprising me, "Skippin' again?"

I look over at Morita, a second year. All of his blond hair is smoothed back, except for the spiked front. His green eyes are wide and bright, full of too much enthusiasm for only eleven in the morning. His black uniform jacket is opened, showing a green-checkered shirt.

"You too, Morita?" I ask half-heartedly. Even before I transferred here, Morita and I would skip class together, hanging out on the rooftop with Takashi and Imamura, so it's not surprising that he's wandering the halls during fifth period.

He grins, rubbing his head. "Ah, ya know me. Classrooms ain't my thing when it's this close to the end of the week. What 'bout you?"

I smile a little, turning back to the warm air outside. "I didn't get much sleep last night."

He chuckles. "Hisashi keep ya up all night?"

"You know he's dating Rei," I say, making a face, "Besides, I don't like Hisashi like that. It would be like kissing my brother."

"'Course it would." He smirks. "Besides, he can't compare to Takashi, can he?"

My face burns, eyes narrowing. "What are you trying to say?"

"Just been thinkin' lately that you're a little close with Takashi," he teases, the smile on his face amused. "Do ya happen to like him?"

"As if!" I scoff, cursing the red staining my pale face. Even in the reflection, I can tell it's giving me away. "He's like a brother to me too."

"Uh-huh." He doesn't make an effort to sound like he believes me. "Is that why you're as red as a tomato?"

"Shut up," I hiss, "If you say anything to anyone, I swear I'll kill you."

It's not a chuckle this time. Instead, he doubles over in laughter, eyes watering as he tries to compose himself. "This is great. I mean, Takashi of all people."

"God, I hate you so much," I grumble, resting my arm on the paneling.

"Don't be like that, Yuk," he says, laughter still fresh in his voice even as he tries to coax me using the nickname Hisashi came up with. "If it makes ya feel any better, I was comin' to show ya Master Morita's Top Secret List of Fujimi Academy's Triple-A Grade Hot Girls!"

I glance at him, pursing my lips as I mull over the offer.

Master Morita's Top Secret List is a book that he keeps with the top five hottest girls (in his and his friends' opinion) that go to our school. It's not that important though, and could probably pass as totally worthless more than anything, but I like hearing what crazy scenarios they come with, even if most of them are perverted and impossible.

"Some things were changed," he says, knowing that'd do the trick. "You'll never guess what~"

"Fine," I grumble, defeated.

He pulls out a small, brown notebook and flips it open to the middle. Below the old list of five girls is a dark line, probably from a Sharpie, with a new list in red pen.

Saeko Busujima—nothing but an apron and thong

Yuki Hatsune—only in an oversized t-shirt

Saya Takagi—tank top and underwear

Rei Miyamoto—maid costume

Shizuka Marikawa—nothing

"What're the comments supposed to mean? Is that what you want to see them dressed in?" I wonder, reading the chicken scratch under each name. "Doctor Marikawa? In nothing?"

"Have ya seen her? I'd give anythin' to see her stripped down."

I roll my eyes. "Careful, Morita, you're perversion is showing."

He smirks. "Always, babe, always."

I chuckle. "Nice list. I notice that there're a lot of new people, although Takagi's still on it."

"Just waitin' for her to yes," he says, eyes bright with determination. "Maybe when I get my band together, she'll see how much I'm worth."

"You can do so much better than her, though," I reprimand. "And why are Rei and I on it? You shouldn't fantasize about other people's girlfriends."

"You're both hot," he replies easily, but the blush creeping on his face gives him away. "Ishii's the one who wanted Rei, and Okada's the one who nominated ya for number two, FYI. Pretty sure he has a thing for ya."

I raise an eyebrow, but decide to laugh it off instead. "I think you guys are losing your eyesight, but thanks nonetheless, I guess."

"Any time, Yuki." He grins, holding that adorable, boyish look. "Don't let your hopes down, 'kay? I'm sure Takashi'll get over Rei in no time and realize you're there with him."

I smile a little as I glance out the window, watching the sakura petals fall. "Yeah, of course."

"I'm goin' to hide in the dorms for a while," he says, patting my shoulder. "Go to the roof and get some sleep; I'm sure you'll feel better after a nap."

"Actually, I think I will," I say. "See you later."

"See ya~"

I wander the hall, not bothering to shut the window. The school's feeling stuffy anyway—someone will thank me for it later. I can still smell the cherry blossoms in the hallway and it makes me smile, lifting my spirits.

My flats click against the tiled floors as I step out a glass door and on the stairwell outside, the air warming my skin and giving me light goose bumps.

"Ugh, that's so stupid!" a familiar voice sneers.

Saya Takagi.

I look up and see Takashi and Takagi at the top of the flight of stairs. Takashi, who has a tired, solemn look on his face, is leaning against the wall behind him, one hand on the railing. His dark brown hair is blowing in the light wind, ruffling it, but he pays it no mind, face blank as he stares at Takagi. He may not have any expression on his face, but I can see the flash of hurt in his brown eyes.

He and Rei must have gotten into it.

Takagi is standing in front of him with her hands on her hips. Her pink hair is pulled into the usual pigtails, and her eyes are permanently narrowed with irritation, face scrunched and everything.

"What do you want?" Takashi asks, bored. Neither of them has noticed me yet.

"Every time you have to face something you don't like, you always come to this stupid staircase. It's like your own little pity corner. Look at you!" She scoffs in disgust, ignoring his question and bending down as if she has to get on his level. "Good God! The first semester has just started; how are you ever going to make it through the year?"

Takashi glances at her chest before avoiding her all together, looking out to the courtyard over the railing. "I could say the same to you. The fifth period isn't even over yet."

She straightens up. "It's okay because I'm a genius," she says, flipping her hair behind her. "Unlike you, who got into this school by dumb luck."

"Those are pretty harsh words," I say casually, strolling beside Takashi. "Maybe you'd like to rephrase them?"

They both look at me with surprise, but I see fear flash in Takagi's eyes before she has time to cover it up.

"Hatsune," she greets curtly.

We have a staring contest. Her eyes narrow more, if that's possible, probably weighing the chances of me doing something while dead tired, before she scans my body. I try not to show her how uncomfortable I am under her scrutinizing gaze, face remaining cold and blank, but it's hard to ignore the irrational fear that she can somehow see through the fabric of my uniform, to the dark scars scattered along my arms and legs.

Something sparks in her eyes, and it's like my lungs have dropped to my stomach as I follow her gaze. My legging is ripped just below my skirt, the thin gap revealing a thick, long scar running down my thigh.

Why didn't Morita tell me that my leggings were cut? It obviously happened during my disagreement with Tsunoda (I use the word "disagreement" very lightly), so it would've been like that when we ran into each other, but I mentally smack my head, because, no matter how big of a pervert he makes himself out to be, he has respect for girls in his own way and never looks past the belt.

"Get into another fight, Yuki?" she sneers, thinking she'd won. "By the looks of your leg, you can't afford any more."

Takashi furrows his brows, confused, and scans my leg, eyes landing on my exposed thigh. "What the hell is that?" he gapes.

"You have no right to say anything about that," I growl, stepping towards her.

Panic flashes in her eyes and she takes a step back, trying to straighten herself up in an attempt to seem stronger than she is. "Whatever," she says, acting bored, "You're even more stupid than him."

I glare at her retreating form, aggravated. Half of my mind tells me to run after her, throw a kick or two for pointing out the scars in front of Takashi, but the other half is telling me to let it go and pass out on the stairs—this is the third day in a row that I haven't slept, and after the altercation with Tsunoda, I'm drained.

"Hey, Yuki, your leg…" Takashi trails off, not sure how to ask.

I take a silent breath and turn to him with the best smile I can muster, hoping he doesn't notice my hands shaking. "I tripped and fell into my dad's knife collection when I was younger, so don't worry about it," I lie, hopelessly trying to fix the fabric. "You know me, always running into things and falling down."

He smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "You never change."

I laugh uneasily, rubbing the back of my head.

Suddenly, I hear something bump into metal. My head snaps up, looking across the courtyard to the gate surrounding the school. A man is banging his entire body against the gate doors, arms stretched out in front of him, like he's blind and trying to find an access point inside.

"Who's that?" Takashi asks softly, mostly to himself. "A trespasser?"

I shrug and lean over the railing, trying to get a better look.

Mr. Teshima, the school's main Phys. Ed teacher, along with Ms. Hayashi, the Ping-Pong advisor, old man Shuu, the Home Economics instructor, and the principal walk over to the strange man. They start talking to him, but it doesn't look as if he's saying much because Mr. Teshima, being the hard-ass he is, grabs hold of the guy's suit, pulling him roughly against the gate. There's a short pause before the man grabs Mr. Teshima's wrist and digs his teeth into his arm.

"Oh my God," I breathe, gravitating towards Takashi unconsciously as Mr. Teshima falls backwards with a painful scream.

Takashi is perpetually still, watching the madness with wide, disbelieving eyes.

Teshima rolls back and forth, screams of agony echoing all around us. It doesn't take long for the painful cries to turn into groans before he's silent all together.

The other teachers stare at the body, no one moving.

Then, Ms. Hayashi kneels over him, what seems like relief on her face.

It's quickly gone as what used to be Teshima grips her shirt, popping the top buttons on her blouse to reveal her bra, and takes a chunk out of her neck like it's a taco from Taco Bell.

"What the hell?" Takashi murmurs.

My eyes are just as wide as his as I back away from the railing, trying to process what happened. The only thing that's running through my mind, though, is an intense urge to get as far away from those teachers as fast as possible.

Before I can say or do anything, Takashi grabs my hand. "Come on, Yuki. We need to get the hell outta here."

I nod, agreeing wholeheartedly, and try to keep up as he bolts up the stairs and into the hallway on the third floor.

We run all the way to a door on the other side of the hallway, two doors away from the other staircase, and Takashi slams the sliding door open, causing the class to look in our direction.

Rei, who had checked to see who it was, glares at our hands, looking as if she's been betrayed.

"Komuro, you couldn't be happy with just skipping my class?" the teacher scolds, but Takashi isn't listening as he releases my hand and walks towards Rei.

"Come with me," he orders, grabbing her wrist and yanking her out of her desk. "We're getting out of here."

She stares at him in disbelief, face red, and I feel familiar jealousy prick at me. "Wha—?"

Takagi shoves herself out of her seat, pissed, as everyone turns to listen to what Takashi has to say.

Calm, as he always is, Hisashi walks over to Takashi, face serious. "What are you doing?"

"People just got killed by the front gate," he explains, annoyed.

Hisashi eyes widen. "Are you serious?"

"You don't actually thing we decided it'd be fun to make all that up, do you?" I ask incredulously.

Hisashi looks at me, seeing the seriousness on my face, and I watch as the doubt wipes away from his features. "Alright."

"Jesus!" Rei yells, ripping her arm from Takashi's distracted grip. "What's going on!? I can never understand—!"

Smack

I flinch at the sound, cringing away from Takashi and Rei.

"Yuki?" Hisashi says quietly, keeping the others from hearing. "Yuki, it's okay. No one's going to hurt you anymore."

I take a deep breath, clearing the image of angry, grey eyes from my mind, and nod. "I'm okay."

He returns the nod with one of his own, but his eyes trail to the rip in my leggings. "Damn," he mutters, assessing the damage. "When did this happen?"

"This morning, sometime after lunch," I answer, deciding it's best to leave out the whole Tsunoda involvement.

"Has anyone seen it?"

"Takashi did, but I told him they were from running a knife case. He bought it for now, at least."

He chuckles, ruffling my hair. "Of course he did—you're worse than a dog trying to walk on two legs."

I cross my arms, puffing out my cheek in a pout.

"Come on," Takashi barks at Rei again, interrupting Hisashi and I as he turns on his heel and runs out the door.

We follow after him, Rei trailing behind hesitantly—probably only following because Hisashi is. Thankfully, the teacher doesn't chase after us, and the ones that are usually patrolling the hallways are nowhere to be found.

"Just tell me what's going on," Rei pleas.

"There was someone at the front gate," I explain, trying to keep up with the fast walk Hisashi and Takashi have come up with. "A few teachers went to see what he wanted when all of a sudden the man bit the PE teacher's arm. Now, he's attacking the others."

"That's insane!" she argues. "Why would they kill each other!?"

"Well, why don't you go down there and ask them?" I shoot back, annoyed.

She falls into an angry silence, and no one says anything else.

We head back down the flight of stairs Takashi and I came up, and Hisashi starts leading the way through the second floor hallway. His eyes hunt the walls quickly, scanning every sliding door we pass until we reach a janitors' closet tucked in the corner.

"What? You forgot something?" Takashi asks incredulously.

"If what you and Yuki are saying is true, then we'll need weapons, right?" He breaks off the handle of a push broom, leaving a metal, spiral point on the end, and hands it to Rei. "Here Rei."

Takashi starts rummaging through a duffle bag next to the closet, pulling out a metal bat. He weighs it in his hands, taking a few practice swings, before his eyes fall on me. "What about Yuki?"

"She can fight pretty well," Hisashi muses, but I can tell by the look in his eyes that he's not comfortable with the idea of leaving me weaponless, so he shuffles through the closet again, hunting for something else. Things topple over, different brooms and mops falling on the ground, before there's a crack. He pulls out the aluminum pole that had been keeping one side of the shelves propped against the wall. "Take this, Yuki. I'm sure you can find some use for it."

I smirk. "You know me so well."

He smiles back, much to the chagrin of Rei.

"What about you, Hisashi?" Takashi wonders, inserting himself between Hisashi and I.

"I've got a black belt in Karate," he answers simply. "Now come on. We've got to get out of the school."

"Let's call the police first," Rei suggests. "We can talk to my father."

"School rules are meant to be broken, right?" Takashi says, handing her his cellphone.

My smile is small as I shake my head. It's just like him to be carrying something like a cellphone to irritate the teachers.

We wait as the phone rings a few times. When it stops, Rei's eyes widen. "No way," she breathes. "110 is busy."

"What?" Hisashi asks, worried.

"But that's impossible," Rei mumbles.

As if cued, the P.A. system comes on, the vice principle's voice vibrating through every classroom and hallway. "This announcement is for all the students: an emergency situation is taking place inside the school right now. All students must follow your teacher's instructions and evacuate. I repeat—"

"So they finally realized it, huh?" Takashi mutters, distracting me.

"Oh god…" Rei stammers, as if she only now believes what we were saying.

There's a pause as the mike screeches, an eerie silence following. I gulp, the sudden rush of blood from Ms. Hayashi's neck flashing in my mind. On instinct, I back into Hisashi. He wraps an arm around my shoulders in response, keeping an arm opened for Rei if she needs him, and glances at me, surprised.

Not many people know that I'm living in Hisashi's house, just the two of us, mostly because I want to keep it a secret (the last thing I need is people questioning why we lived together, the rumors people would spread, the things Rei and Takashi would find out…), but now, as I listen for the VP's voice to come back, the only thing I care about is getting this nightmare over with.

"Wha—get away from me!" There's what sounds like groaning in the background and I bury my face in Hisashi's chest, trying to block out the screams. "Get away! Ahh! Ahhh! Help! HELGH—"

As his last cries gurgle out and the intercom goes dead, silence filling the air. It's so quiet, a needle could be heard hitting the tiles. Seconds tick by, feeling like hours. Then, as if everyone snaps back, the sound of screams and frantic footsteps reverberates all around us, sending a chill down my spine.

The students are panicking.

"This way!" Hisashi yells, pulling away from me to head further down the hallway.

"Where are you going?" Takashi demands, rooted in his spot. "We've got to get out of here!"

He stops, turning to face him. "The building with classrooms is too crowded," he explains, voice and face calm. "We need to go through the Management Building."

"Hisashi is right," Rei hisses, more venom in her voice than usual. "Shut up and do what he says."

"Alright, fine," Takashi quips, eyes narrowing.

We run to the end of the hallway and Hisashi yanks open the side door, ushering us on the opened, bridge-like path that leads to the Management Building.

A few feet ahead of us, however, looking as if he's having a hard time standing up, is Mr. Wakisaka, the grammar teacher. His brown hair is smoothed over with grease like always, but his skin is a dark ash color, inhumanly grey. His eyes are solid white, only a small, disoriented grey dot in the middle, and his mouth and nose are dripping with blood. Just above his knee, there's blood seeping through his khakis, in what looks like teeth imprints, dripping all the way to his sandals.

"What's wrong with him?" Rei asks, eyes wide. "You don't think he'll try to stop us, do you?"

He shocks us by opening his mouth wider than humanly possible and letting out an airy roar, blood staining his teeth. He leans back at first, and I wonder idly if he's going to fall on his ass, but then he leans forward, advancing towards Rei more quickly than I think's possible.

She swats at him with her makeshift spear as if he's a fly. "Get away from me!"

Hisashi slashes the air with his hand like an example. "Stab him, Rei! Don't hold back!"

She stares at the weapon in her shaky hands like she doesn't know what to do. Mr. Wakisaka doesn't give her time to think and grabs hold of it, forcing her down to the ground. Something sparks in her, though, and her eyes sharpen to a glare as she shoves him off of her. "Don't screw with me," she growls. "I'm the VP of the Martial Arts Club!" Her weapon strikes his shoulder, causing him to stumble, but she doesn't give him enough time to recover as she pierces his heart.

He goes limp, body hanging above the ground.

"Yes!" Takashi cheers next to me.

But he spoke too soon.

At first, I think it's the wind ruffling his shirtsleeve, but after a few moments, I'm sure it's not the wind—the guy's actually moving again! Lazily, his arm grabs hold of the spear, using whatever body weight he has to lower his feet to the ground. The moment he's balanced, he overpowers Rei and smashes her into the metal lining the hallway walls.

"But I stabbed him in the chest!" Rei panics. "Why is he still moving!?"

It's a question none of us can answer as Mr. Wakisaka attempts to get to Rei again, the pole still lodged in his heart.

I run over to help her, landing a blow to his shoulder with the heel of my foot. With the pole wedged in his chest—and my own weapon back with Takashi and Hisashi—I watch as he stumbles sideways, far enough to give me time to help Rei up. But his recovery rate is flawless and within seconds, it's as if I hadn't kicked him at all.

"Damn," I mutter. I had expected (and kind of hoped) that the kick would at least stun him more, like it had Tsunoda earlier, but instead, it seems like I just made him angrier.

"Jesus Christ," Rei mumbles next to me. "Why won't he just dies already!?"

I don't have time to answer because Mr. Wakisaka is after us again, this time with a vengeance.

Trying to keep the spear stuck in his chest from stabbing me, I grab hold of the end. He's a lot stronger than I originally thought, though, and I have a hard time keeping him from impaling me on the stupid thing.

Hisashi, in an attempt to help me, runs over to the deranged teacher, wrapping his arm firmly around his throat. Struggling, he pulls Mr. Wakisaka away from me. "Yuki, pull it out now!"

I do as he says and yank it out, the sound of meat being ripped apart making my stomach churn. Blood is on the broomstick, dried and dark, but none of it is pouring from his wound.

"Hisashi, get away from him!" Takashi commands, swatting at the air with his hands.

Hisashi simply smirks, brows drawn together in concentration as he man-handles Mr. Wakisaka. "Don't worry," he grunts confidently, "I can take him."

Suddenly, his struggling stops and he stands still, letting his limbs lop to his side. Then, as if he was an owl from Hell, he turns his head completely around. The skin on his neck ripples, and I'm certain part of it is starting to chip away, like old paint.

"What the fuck!?" Hisashi shouts, hand on the top of his head in an attempt to keep it from turning.

The teacher's mouth opens wide, revealing yellow liquid dripping in his mouth, and sinks his teeth into Hisashi's upper arm. Hisashi lets out a cry as he loses hold on him, and the teacher turns entirely, taking hold of Hisashi as he buries his teeth in further.

"Get off him!" Takashi yells, running to Hisashi's aid and hitting Mr. Wakisaka.

Rei snatches the broomstick from my hands and screams as she charges at him from the other side, piercing his stomach. "Just die already, damn it!"

Something hits Takashi. With wide eyes, he backs away from the guy. "Oh no…" he says. "I knew it. He is dead. He's dead but still moving!"

"What!?" Rei shrieks.

They don't have time to argue about it. Whatever Mr. Wakisaka is, he's hungry for sure. With enough force to shatter the bone, he bites down harder, blood now dripping down Hisashi's arm. He throws his head back with a painful cry, teeth clenched.

Rei, at a lost for what to do and desperate to do something—anything—to help Hisashi, drops her weapon and grabs the man's—thing's—arm, tugging helplessly at it.

"Takashi, Yuki, someone, do something!" she demands, glaring at us like it's our fault. "Help him! Don't just stand there; do something! DO SOMETHING WILL YA!?"

Something snaps in me, and I can move again. Quickly, I run past Takashi and grab Rei's spear, heading for the trio. Clamping my eyes shut, I bring the wooden pole down on his head. Blood is splattered all over us and the walkway, slowly dripping down my cheek. When I get enough strength to open my eyes, I see Mr. Wakisaka looking at me with blank, lifeless eyes. He slumps forward, Hisashi's blood staining his teeth, and falls to his knees, landing on his face only a few centimeters from my feet.

My hands are trembling and I can't breathe. With wide eyes, I stare at the blood everywhere, even my white leggings are now splashed with red. Hisashi tells Rei something—something about him being okay—but I don't catch any of it. I can see red, but suddenly, there's a glass case full of knives against the wall. I can hear the glass breaking just as a sharp pain runs along my spine. People are fighting, but my head hurts too much to move.

"Yuki." Takashi's voice snaps me out of it, causing me to jump.

Slowly, I drag my eyes away from the mess and look at him.

There's no broken glass case, no collections of knives. My back doesn't hurt.

"Are you okay?" he asks, putting his hand on my shoulder.

I cringe away from his touch and he retracts his hand, confused and a little hurt.

"Yuki?" Hisashi is now in front of me. "Yuki?"

I take a deep breath and try to regain myself, practically forcing my hands to stop shaking.

"I'm fine," I say, ignoring the way my voice cracks over the words.

Before they can pry, a glass window shatters, the sound resonating everywhere. We all rush over to the edge of the bridged hallway and look down. A freshman girl lets out a shrill scream, trying to get another student to stop from taking a bite out of her. I watch with horror as the student digs his teeth into her chest, the girl letting out another helpless shriek that makes my ears ring.

"We can handle one of them, but there's no way we…" His voice trails off, watching the devastation below as more and more students are eaten alive.

"The roof," Hisashi says, covering his wound with his other hand.

"The roof?" Rei repeats with a questioning gaze.

"We should barricade ourselves until help arrives," he explains, "Besides, on the roof we can see what's going on."

I bite my lip, hesitating.

"What is it, Yuki?" Takashi asks, tilting his head at my expression.

"It's just…" I stop, unsure of how to put it.

Hisashi looks down at me. "Go ahead and say it, Yuk."

Rei hisses under her breath at the sound of my nickname coming from Hisashi, but I ignore her. "It's just that there aren't any sirens," I say. "Things are terrible, but there's not even a fire truck here yet. Rei said that 110 was bust, so people must be calling in, right? At the time, I thought it was because people in this school were calling, like all of the teachers or something, but what if it's not just the students and teachers? What if… what if…"

"What if this is happening in town as well," Hisashi finishes for me, contemplating.

"That's crazy!" Rei argues, flailing her arms in frustration. "We would've heard about it much sooner!"

He looks at her and then back at me, letting out a sigh. "Rei has a point."

I nod, understanding what they're saying, but my stomach still aches with a dread I can't explain.

The conversation is over after he sides with Rei, though. As more moans and groans fill the building behind us, we continue running along the hallway. It takes three flights of spiraling stairs before we reach a grey door, No Students Permitted Beyond This Point in bolded red letters above it. Takashi, who had taken the lead, shoves the door open with his shoulder, and we sprint to the black metal railing lining the roof's edge.

Everyone's eyes grow wide, and Rei sucks in a sharp breath, shocked.

Even in the distance, we can see the dark smoke lifting into the sky, red sparks jumping everywhere. The road is drenched in blood—from both the dead and undead—and sirens from both ambulances and firefighters finally blare, adding to the chaos.

"Holy shit." Takashi's the first to speak, staring at the turmoil with disbelieving eyes. "It is happening everywhere."

Rei's equally surprised as she backs away from the railing, unwilling to believe it. "But everything was normal this morning!" she argues desperately, "Everything was fine only minutes ago!"

I just stare, not answering. I understand where Rei is coming from—when Hisashi forced me up this morning and dragged me to school, everything was normal. And now, only five hours later, practically the entire city was in flames, like it had gone straight to Hell.

Out of nowhere, a strong wind attacks the roof, causing Rei to stumble forward. Hisashi quickly grabs a hold on her, helping her stand up straight. Takashi and I grab onto the railing, both of us looking around the sky. We come face to face with several camouflage helicopters flying overhead.

"Black Hawks," I breathe, remembering the book Hisashi showed me from his English class.

Takashi sends me a questioning look. "Like the American Military or the Self-Defense Force?"

I nod absently, mesmerized.

"Where did they come from?" Takashi wonders. "They don't have any bases near here."

"Over here!" Rei shouts, ignoring the rest of us as she starts waving her arms above her head. "Help us! We're over here!"

"It's useless," Hisashi says, stopping her.

She looks at him. "How come?"

"Because of what Takashi said," he tells her. "He's right to question where they came from, don't you think? They didn't come all this way for nothing, so they're definitely here to carry out an order." He coughs a little, and Rei pats his shoulder soothingly. "There's not enough space for them to land here to pick us up anyway. Besides, look over there." He point through the railing, down to the school yard.

Students in gym uniforms are running around the courts, trying to avoid the hungry-looking monsters limping after them. Some are attacked before they even know what's going on, succumbing to wounds that'll bleed out slowly—if they aren't eating alive first.

"They won't even notice us with that going on," he wheezes, "and that's what's happening outside the school where you can still escape; imagine what's happing inside the school."

I shudder at the thought.

"This is like a disease caused by Them," Hisashi says after a moment.

"Them?"

He stares at the madness below us, nodding. "They might look like something from a video game or movie, but we can't call them 'zombies' because this is real life, so it's Them. They feed on people, then after the people who were bitten come back to life, they come back as one of Them." He pauses to cough. "I don't know why, but for whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be anyway to stop them aside from crushing their heads—"

Groans pour through the ear, following by some roars like the one Mr. Wakisaka let out. I cover my ears, trying to block out the sounds, but it doesn't work.

Takashi runs over to the door and tries to flip the lock. "Shit, it's broken!" He looks over at us. "They'll be able to get in."

"What should we do!?" Rei cries, clinging to Hisashi.

He scans the roof, eyes landing on a staircase. "We'll go up to the observatory and block the stairs."

I follow his gaze to a grey building protruding from the roof. Instead of the flat surface like the one we're standing on, this one is dome-shaped. Next to it is a staircase leading up to the observatory, a place used for both the astronomy club and teachers to monitor students during gym class—you can see the entire courtyard and a bit of the side entrance.

We bolt across the roof, running as fast as we can. Hisashi and Takashi take the lead together, Takashi slamming in a few heads that get in our way. The door we had entered earlier starts bulging as They try to get in. With a loud bang, it finally gives, twenty of Them rushing in.

"Hurry!" Takashi yells, making a sharp turn to get to the stairs.

One of the undead try to tackle him to the ground, but he flips her over his back, her head cracking against the wall pretty hard.

We get halfway up the stairs when Rei turns to me suddenly, taking her spear and jabbing it into the chest of a zombie behind me.

"Thank you," I say, relieved. "I didn't even sense it behind me."

"Are you nuts!?" Takashi scolds.

"What!?" she demands, angry.

It's then that I remember what Hisashi said: the only way to kill them is to smash in their heads.

"Rei—!" I start, but it's too late.

The guy grabs hold of her makeshift spear with bloody hands, taking it out of her distracted grip, and slams it into our bodies, causing us to hit the wall with a painful thud. I rub my head, groaning, as he makes his way towards us, outstretching his arms.

"No!" Rei screams, desperate. "Get away!"

I snatch the spear from her lap and whack his legs, ignoring the headache. Unfortunately, all it does is knock him to his knees, dulls eyes and hungry groans still pointed for us. With unseen persistence, he continues crawling to us, teeth gnawing on air.

"Rei! Yuki!" Hisashi yells, grabbing Takashi's metal bat as he pushes past him. He rushes down the stairs, slamming the bat into the guy's head. Blood and puss is splattered all over the wall, and it takes all of my self-control not to puke.

"Did you see that, Rei?" he says, looking at the brunette. "You have to smash their heads in, remember?"

She nods, wiping away the tears.

Another one tries to grab me, but Hisashi shoves his shoe into her stomach, causing the female zombie to tumble down the stairs, hitting her head on the metal poles covering important wires. He stumbles back himself, though, having lost his balance, and Rei and I each grab an arm, wrapping it around our necks to help him up the stairs.

As soon as we're at the top, Hisashi forces us to let him help Takashi find things to block the stairwell. While they do that, Rei and I shove the zombies down the steps as they reach the top of the stairs to give them time to move really big stuff.

"Okay… now!" Takashi orders.

Rei and I get out of the way quickly as Takashi and Hisashi put two tables against the stars vertically, and Takashi holds them down.

"It won't hold like this!" he says, struggling to keep the mob from getting in.

Rei tosses Hisashi cellophane tape and he happily catches it after placing another table right up against the other two. "I'll give it more support."

"Cellophane tape?" Takashi asks in disbelief. "Will that really be enough to hold it?"

Hisashi does his best to smirk, but it's twinged with pain. "Wound cellophane tape is incredibly strong. Don't you pay attention in class?"

"Bite me," he grumbles as he continues solidifying our defense.

After stacking another table on their sides against the other two, and adding a few four-by-four wooden beams, we take a break, sucking in air. Hisashi is across from me, leaning his head against the railing. He's starting to look awful, like he's coming down with pneumonia, and its worrying me. Rei is next to him (of course), trying to process everything that just happened. Takashi and I, on the other hand, are standing. I'm leaning against the wall, trying to think of what to do next, and Takashi is standing diagonal to me, a little ways away from the wall, bat gripped strongly in his hand.

"Why… why is this happening?" Rei asks, shivering.

"There has to be a reason," Hisashi says, offering her the best answer he can give when we don't know anything. "Maybe if we can find out the reason, we can stop it. Or, at least, protect ourselves." His breathing is shallow as he tries to continue. Sweat beads are starting to form on his forehead, making his face look dry and ashy.

I walk over to the railing, glancing down at Them as they attack more people, and try to believe what Hisashi said.

A reason for all this terrible chaos? I… I want to believe it, but something in my gut tells me that maybe this is bigger than us. It could be the nasty flips my stomach is doing or the fact that I can hear my heart pounding in my ears, but whatever it is, my instincts tell me that the best thing to focus on now is survival.

Suddenly, a particular undead catches my eyes, the green, checkered shirt hard to miss even from the roof—Morita. Only, he isn't Morita anymore. His blond hair is stained red with blood, probably from a wound on the back of his head, and his normally playful green eyes look dull, filled with a deep hunger and outlined in a black shadow. Blood is dripping from his right eyes down to his cheek, like it is from the corners of his mouth as well. In his rubbery hand is the leg of a dead girl whose face is down against the cement.

I cover my mouth, trying to blink away the fresh tears.

Hisashi is always right, but maybe logic isn't the best thing to go on anymore.

"We need to look around," he says in a rush, causing me to pull my gaze away from the horrifying sight in the courtyard. "Maybe we can find a match or a lighter or something. If we don't make a fire now, we're going to be screwed when it gets dark." He punctuates the sentence with a cough, only this time, it's worse: throaty and wet. He slouches over and coughs up blood.

"Hisashi!?" Rei and I say simultaneously. She grasps his arm in support—whether it's for herself or him, I'm not sure. I stay where I'm at, ignoring the urge to go to him as well, and tighten my grip on the railing.

He continues coughing, the blood starting to soak the sleeve of his uniform jacket.

As he leans back against the railing, my eyes widen. He looks worse than a few seconds ago. Blood is dripping down his mouth, falling loudly to the pavement. His normally light skin is now a dark ash, dark grey outlining his brown eyes. His eyes are focusing in and out, glazing over. He's not breathing anymore—it's more like wheezing. The wound where Mr. Wakisaka is worse as well: instead of just teeth marks with blood oozing out of them, it looks like a gaping hole in his arm—the teeth marks somehow expanded and are now showing bone. The blood seeping into the pathetically made wrap is mixed with yellowish puss, tainting the white with swirls of yellow and red.

His smirk is dark, brows drawn together in aggravation. "Just like in the movies," he states, voice breaking. "One bite is fatal."

My eyes are burning, but Rei is already in tears. "Things that happen in the movies don't come true!" she reasons hopelessly.

"But it did happen," he rasps, "to everyone else."

I bite back tears.

Hisashi can't die… he's Hisashi for God's sake! If anyone has a chance of surviving, it's him! He's the one who's made all the decisions up to this point, the reason we weren't trampled by panicking students. How can he be killed by something as harmless as a… as a bite!? It isn't possible, damn it! None of this is possible!

"Takashi…" Hisashi tries, interrupting my mental rampage, "Could you do me a favor?"

I can't see Takashi's eyes; they're hidden by his bangs. "…What is it?"

Weakly, he lifts a blood-splattered hand and points towards the railing on the opposite side. "Help me… over the rail. It's straight to the ground from here… so the impact from the fall should smash my head."

Takashi's eyes go wide as he looks at Hisashi, unsure if he can carry out such a heart-wrenching request.

Rei's eyes are wide as well. "What are you saying!?"

"I don't want to be one of them!" he barks, but the effort causes him to hunch over and puke up more blood. Now, instead of just a few splatters, the blood is covering the entire platform beneath him.

Rei grabs a hold of his chest, trying to keep him together, but it doesn't do anything to help.

Hisashi throws his head back and blood erupts from his mouth, drenching both Rei and I.

Takashi simply stands there, not daring to move.

"Come on, Takashi… do it for me." He looks at him like he's already given up, his smile sympathetic. "I want to stay myself… until the end."

Takashi doesn't have time to answer. Hisashi coughs again, more blood spewing onto the concrete, and falls to the ground, rolling in agony. He screams, arms wrapped around himself, and Rei is trying everything she can think of to stop him from hurting, but I think she realizes it's pointless.

"No, Hisashi!" she wails helplessly, "You can't die!"

With a final cry, Hisashi falls silent. I can feel my feet give out, and tumble to my knees, feeling the sharp pain shooting up my legs, but I ignore it. The tears finally fall over and hit the ground loudly.

"Rei…" I whisper, unsure of what to do or say to make her feel better.

She looks up, her own tears soaking her shirt, and clings to me, crushing me with a hug that's full of so much agony, I feel like it's breaking my bones. I hug her back, burying my face in her neck and continue crying.

Something twitches against the fabric of my shirt, though, and I pull away a little as I look at him, breath hitching.

"Get away from him you two," Takashi says emotionlessly, the grip on his bat tight.

Hisashi's torso lifts limply, like a ragdoll, and I freeze, eyes wide. Rei follows my gaze, eyes lightening obliviously as she watches the now-dead Hisashi stand on his feet. His wounds aren't bleeding anymore, but there's still blood dripping from the side of his mouth.

"Look, Takashi!" she cheers pathetically, "He's getting up! He's going to be okay!"

I watch as he towers over me, the gentle and caring eyes completely gone: cold, empty hunger is the only thing there, burning in him.

He isn't Hisashi. He isn't human.

I stand up as Takashi and Rei argue, zoning out what they're saying, and touch the end of the bat. "I'll do it," I mumble.

Takashi's are wide as he looks at me, surprised. "But—"

I shake my head, stopping his protest, and take the bat from his hands. The metal is warm where his hand had been, but it's heavier than it looks. Without looking at him, I pull the hair tie out of my hair, letting it fall to the end of my back, bangs covering my watery eyes. The hair tie falls to the ground, but I don't pay attention.

"This… this isn't happening," Rei whimpers. "This can't be…"

I try to ignore her, try to ignore the pain in my chest, and grip the bat with both hands, steadying the shaking.

Hisashi limps after me with a hungry groan, slowly outstretching his arms as he comes closer.

He isn't Hisashi.

Takashi is studying me with calm eyes; I can feel them burning into the side of my face.

He isn't human.

As it steps into my range, I lift the bat and bring it down on the creatures head with a force that causes me to recoil from the hit. Blood spurts all over me, covering my uniform and leggings with more red—I can actually feel the blood dripping down my leg where the leggings are ripped.

Rei lets out a deafening scream, falling to her knees next to the bloody creature. "Why?" she questions, hand in its hair, "Why?"

"It would've killed us if I didn't," I answer simply, but it's not simple: my arms ache, my chest aches, my hands won't stop shaking.

"I didn't ask you to save me!" she growls, "I wanted all of us to be okay! And how do you k-know that anyway? What are you? Some kind of expert?"

I try to ignore her, block her out. There's blood dripping down my cheek and I scrub it away with the sleeve of my shirt.

Stop shaking.

Takashi lays a small towel over his bantered head silently, taking extra effort to avoid my eyes as he does.

Stop shaking.

"If Hisashi's going to leave me, then I want to become one of Them too!"

"Hisashi wouldn't want that," I say quietly. My voice cracks.

Stop. Shaking.

"And how would you know that, Yuki?" Her voice is so dark, I have to look up. She's glaring at me, gaze almost deranged. "Oh, I get it now. You must have hated Hisashi, huh? I saw you, you know. All that time you spent talking to him, laughing like he was your boyfriend and not mine. You must have hated that, huh? I bet it drove you insane to think that he ignored your advances because he cared more about me and barely gave you a thou—"

"Shut up!" I scream, covering my ears and falling to my knees. "Just shut up!"

She's gaping, but who cares?

"It doesn't matter!" I cry, trying to shake off the tremors. "I don't care who was more important, don't care who he loved more; Hisashi was kind and caring and he's the only one that knows who I am! He doesn't deserve this!" The sobs escape uncontrollably, and I cover my face as Takashi and Rei stare at me with wide eyes. "Hisashi let me live with him, took me in without a reason or complaint, and even agreed to keep everything a secret without any explanation! I have nowhere to go with him gone! I have no home, no family; I have no one!"

I lean over Hisashi's remains, crying into his shirt, as they digest everything.

Someone places a hand on my back, and I look up to see Takashi kneeling next to me. Rei is behind him, looking guilty and ashamed.

"You have us," he says, a deep sadness in his eyes. "You have me."

My eyes widen as he pulls me into a tight hug, wrapping his arms around my waist. His words make me feel better, too much better in fact. I return the hug, wrapping my arms around his neck, and cry into his shoulder…

–xxx–

On the day all the madness started, I killed the person I considered my brother, and the guy I cared too much about let me cry on his shoulder until I couldn't anymore.