I stayed up late on the night the day before everything came to an end.
This is a true accounting of the day our world came to a screaming halt and a new world began, one of fear and blood.
Spring of the DEAD
I leant against the rails of the airy balcony overlooking Fujimi Academy's courtyard. The day was warm as I remember, not that I was particularly paying attention to such trivial things. Instead, I was sighing, my eyes looking at nothing, my mind lost in memories.
Memories of her.
I remember her. We were only children and neither of us held any understanding of love or gender, but I knew, even then, that she was going to be the most important person in my life.
She seemed to realise it too considering the promise she gave me.
"I'm going to marry you, Takashi!"
"Really? Do you really mean it?"
"Yeah! Pinky promise!"
Our fingers joined for the first time that day.
It was only a childish promise but it meant everything to me.
Flash-forward some years and our relationship with one another had declined. I couldn't understand why. I tried my best to understand her and her problems. I really did.
"Why do you have to repeat a grade? You're a straight-A student."
"You wouldn't understand, Takashi."
What wouldn't I understand? She wouldn't let me in. She wouldn't tell me anything. It got so bad that I'd end up hearing what was going on in her life third-hand from my mother, who had heard from Rei's mom, who heard it from Rei herself.
It only got worse when she ended up in the same class as my best friend, Igō Hisashi. It seemed as though whatever she wasn't getting from me, she got from him. It didn't take long for them to start dating officially.
Suddenly, wherever Hisashi was, Rei was. It wouldn't have been a problem if I didn't still have feelings for her. It wasn't like nearly a lifetime of emotions could simply be erased. No, that would be far too simple. Far too easy.
So instead, I had to suffer in silence. Well, perhaps suffer is a harsh word, but regardless, it hurt to see them together. Holding hands. Smiling. Laughing.
It hurt a lot.
It was because of one such outward display of happiness shared between the two of them that found me leaving them behind and heading to that balcony. The place where I had enjoyed several moments of self-pity. The place where I would witness the beginning of the end of Fujimi Academy. In fact, nevermind.
It was to be the place I would witness the end of our world.
Leaning over the rails, looking towards the ground with dark eyes, I began a little mantra. "Pinky promise, huh? If you lie, I'll make you swallow a thousand needles."
I wasn't in a healthy place while I recited these lines. In fact, thinking back, there was a definite edginess to my personality at that time in my life. I was in a dark place. A place of my own creation. All because Rei no longer needed me.
The reverse was not the same.
I needed Rei.
I always will.
"That's so stupid."
A voice I recognised came from my back. Turning, I was met by bright pink hair and a bossy demeanour.
Takagi Saya, my oldest friend – barring Rei – stood on the landing with me, her face contorted by disappointment. Disappointment in me, I'd quickly learn.
"Every time you have to face something you don't like, you always come to this place. You aren't a child any more. Look at you! The first semester has just started. If you don't start being serious and studying, you're going to need supplemental classes. Maybe even repeat the grade if you aren't careful."
She leant forward to admonish me, giving me an unblocked, unchallenged view down her top, but I quickly looked away. It wouldn't have been right for me to take advantage of her concern for me like that.
Even though her words may have seemed cutting, the worry she held for me was clear to my mind. I wouldn't agree with her though. Not without a challenge.
"I could say the same thing to you. Fifth period isn't even over yet," I said, seeing her eyebrows rise in surprise before they narrowed in response.
"It's okay because I am a genius," she glowed with a beaming smile that quickly turned malicious as she considered me, "unlike you who got into this school by dumb luck, Komuro."
Ouch. She went right for the jugular with that one. She knew it too considering how wide her smile became, teeth showing from beneath the smallest gap in her lips. I knew I had to prepare a counter. Something witty and well-thought out.
"Takagi? Why does what you say always have to hurt me like that?"
I earned manliness points with that comeback. I'll freely admit at this point that when it came to Saya and me, she always got the last word.
"I don't like stupid people," she said, surprising me. I had been her friend for going on ten years and she had never told me that. My surprise must have shown on my face because she continued her chain of thought. "Especially the ones who can't admit that they're stupid. You're stupid," she said evenly, her arms crossed beneath her breasts, "but at least you realise you are. So, if I tell you that you're stupid, or that you're being stupid, perhaps that will stop you being stupid, stupid."
She had a thing for making sure she got her point across. She was exceptionally good at it, and she knew it.
Instead of acknowledging her argument, thereby signalling her victory, I turned my head away and began staring at the courtyard again. It wasn't that there was anything particularly interesting about it. It just afforded me a chance to not have to look at Saya and let her see just how deep my pain at losing Rei went. It was better if she could simply think I was being overly dramatic.
She got angry at my lack of response. I could tell because when she was angry – truly angry – her voice would become so quiet, you had to really listen. "What's your problem? Just because you got dumped by your childhood friend. That's stupid."
I heard her footsteps – getting slowly quieter – until they faded completely. It was then that I allowed myself to think of Rei again. A memory of when I had confronted her about our feelings, a short time after she and Hisashi became a couple.
"Why are you going out with him? I thought you were going to marry me? I thought you loved me?"
"There was a time when I really felt that way, but you didn't seem to notice, so..."
That was when she had walked away, leaving her sentence unfinished.
"So...what?" I wondered before I was startled out of my thoughts by a crashing sound coming from the main gates.
Looking over the courtyard, I could see the massive iron gates and a man trying to enter, his arms outstretched through the bars, clanging against them.
"Who is that? Someone suspicious?" I thought aloud.
I continued to watch as a group of faculty members walked across the courtyard to the gate; a woman and three men. I recognised the woman as Hayashi-sensei, only because of the fact that she was one of the few I had actually spoken to.
"What do you want?" She spoke loudly with authority and I was able to hear every word. The man at the gate started to hit it with his chest more insistently. "Don't do anything strange," she continued, to which his response was to smash it harder.
"It's okay, Hayashi-sensei," said one of the men, rolling his sleeves up in an attempt to look manly and assertive, probably. "Let me handle this."
He'd soon come to regret his decision.
He grabbed the man by the collar and slammed him forward into the gate, drawing blood from his mouth.
"Wait, Tejima-sensei!" exclaimed Hayashi-sensei, her hand being brought to her mouth in shock. "Excessive violence is never the answer!"
Perhaps she had never seen this side to him before.
Not that it matters particularly now.
Before any of them could react, the man at the gate turned his face down to the man called Tejima and bit into his arm deeply, drawing an insane amount of blood. Tejima screamed as he fell on his back, clutching at the wound, rolling side to side in agony.
I clutched the railing so tightly my knuckles turned white. What was I seeing? Surely this couldn't be real? It couldn't be...could it?
With a final scream, Tejima came to a stop. The three surrounded him, looking down at his still body.
This had to be a dream...
Finally, the eldest person broke the silence with the words: "He's dead."
I heard him, but I couldn't believe him. I had seen pictures of soldiers who had suffered far worse injuries who survived. He got bitten. That was all. How could that possibly kill him so fast?
Hayashi-sensei echoed my thoughts.
"No way. That can't be possible. From this kind of wound?" She bent forward to look at him more closely. She must have noticed something I couldn't because she suddenly spoke in a loud, concerned voice. "Tejima-sensei! Are you alright?"
When he started to rise, she spoke more quickly. "Tejima-sensei! Oh, thank God!"
Her words were cut short as Tejima grabbed her blouse, lifting himself to her neck before biting into her flesh as deeply as he could. She shrieked in pain and fear as his teeth ripped through her muscle and arteries.
I guess I spoke too early about going for the jugular, huh?
Sorry. Dark humour.
The other men looked aghast as they witnessed the cannibalism. They quickly scattered in terror as Tejima continued to eat her, her screams becoming weaker.
Her final pitiful scream was the last thing I heard before something clicked in my mind and I ran. I was running as fast as I could through the corridors, smashing things aside. There were two things on my mind and they were both linked.
I had to survive.
Rei had to survive.
I ran to our shared classroom, slamming the door aside. Everyone looked my direction in surprise. None more so than Rei. Her eyes reflected her confusion and surprise. It seemed as though she had expected me to stay away for a while. That had been the original plan, but things had changed drastically. Whatever problems we may have had would have to be put aside in the interest of our continued survival.
"Komuro! You weren't simply happy with skipping my class? Now you have to interrupt it for all the others?"
I wasn't even listening to his haughty words as I focused solely on Rei. Pacing to her, I ignored all the boundaries we had imposed and grabbed her arm, yanking her to her feet.
"Come with me," I demanded, my voice harsh. I guess it would be considering I had just witnessed two murders with one of them eating another. That kind of thing was bound to have an effect, no? "We're getting out of here!"
I could hear the scrapping of a chair and snickering but my eyes were on Rei's.
She was not impressed.
"What are you talking about?"
I heard pacing from behind me and a steady hand closing on my shoulder. "What is this all about, Takashi?"
My best friend.
My rival for Rei's affection.
Still, at that moment, it didn't matter in the slightest. Turning to him, I tried to put as serious an expression on my face as I could. "Some people were just killed by the main gate. This is bad."
I had a knack for being unconvincing, but in this case it came easily to me as I watched the emotions play on Hisashi's face. "Are you serious?" he finally managed.
"What do I stand to gain by telling a lie like that?" I countered, glad for all the practice against Saya. It seemed to work as well since Hisashi looked unnerved.
Right then, I felt Rei rip her arm out of my grasp and lower her head as she raised her voice. "Jesus! What is wrong with you? I can never understand what's going on in your head!"
So she thinks I'm being delusional, is that it? Another attempt for her to rekindle her feelings for me? Right then, that was the last thing on my mind. All I knew was that I needed her to be safe. That was my purpose. My reason for existing. If she was gone, there would be no reason for me to be here either. That's why I did perhaps the hardest thing I ever had in my life.
At least, up until that point in my life.
I slapped her. Hard. On her cheek. Her whole head actually turned from the force I exerted. An angry red mark appeared instantly and she cupped her damaged flesh with her hand. She glared at me, an angry scowl marring her mouth and her eyes were hard and cold.
"Just listen to me!" I shouted, gaining the attention of everyone in the room. I whirled to face Hisashi who looked as though he might hit me in retaliation, but the look I sent his way had him back-pedalling.
His expression hardened. "Explain."
So I did. I told both Rei and Hisashi exactly what happened. I told them about the blood. About the screams. About the deaths. They listened without comment. When I finished, I looked at them for some sort of belief in their eyes. I couldn't see any. Perhaps it had been a mistake.
Eventually, Hisashi stirred. "Let's go," he said suddenly, taking Rei's hand in his. He pulled her out after him. I followed soon after, my eyes darkening further by the fact that he could hold her hand yet I could not.
Moving through the corridors at a heady pace, we reached the lockers. Hisashi began fumbling through the combination of his own. "What is it? Did you forget something?" I asked.
"If what you have said is true, we will need some weapons, right?" He handed me his baseball bat – a memento of our time as children playing ball in the park – before moving to a broom leaning against the wall. Putting his foot on the brush, he yanked back with all his strength, ripping the handle from it. "Here, Rei."
"What about you?"
"I know I don't look like it, but I have a black belt in karate," he responded, tensing his arms in preparation. "Anyway, let's get out of the school. That should be our first step."
"We should call the police," piped up Rei, a small smile gracing her face. "My dad is there. He'll help us. Pass me your phone, Hisashi." She extended her hand to him.
"School rules are meant to be broken, right?" he joked as he handed it to her.
We waited in silence as she dialled. The first sign that anything was wrong was when her eyes widened and she clenched her loose hand. "No way..."
"What's wrong?" asked Hisashi, his voice filled with concern.
"110 is busy, but that's impossible." Her voice quivered.
"This announcement is for all students," came over the intercom. The voice sounded terrified, and I couldn't blame him one bit. "A violent incident is taking place inside the school right now! All students must follow your teacher's instructions and evacuate. I repeat! A violent incident is taking place inside the school right now."
"So, they finally realised what's going on?" I pondered aloud, looking at Rei and Hisashi who nodded minutely.
"All students must follow your teacher's instructions and..."
Suddenly, the voice cut off in a strangled groan and my heart jumped. "Don't tell me..?"
"Help me!" he cried, his voice rising in pitch and volume. "Stop it! Help! That hurts! It hurts! Help me! I'm going to die! He's killing me!" With a final strangled scream, the intercom went silent.
Within seconds, a furious screaming swell echoed through the building as students ran for their lives. If I had been in their shoes, I would have probably done exactly the same.
I'd have ended up the same, too.
As it stood, Hisashi turned the opposite direction to the noise. "This way!"
"Aren't we going outside?" I challenged, thinking that the open space was preferable to being trapped in claustrophobic corridors.
"The classroom building is too crowded with people. We're going to escape from the management building!"
"Hisashi is right, so do what he says!" snapped Rei, ever the loyal girlfriend.
Not for the first time, I wished she would speak in my defence like that, the way she used to, back when things were much simpler. Back when she was Rei and I was Takashi and that was all that mattered. Not school, nor parents, nor responsibilities. Instead, I swallowed my pride. "Okay. I'll follow you." That said, I chased down the corridors after them.
We met nobody on our desperate escape. The corridors were abandoned but we didn't let our guards down. Just like in the movies, the first time you allow yourself to think everything will be okay, the axe-wielding maniac comes and chops your head off. In this case, the deranged teachers would bite into us.
Bashing through the doors leading outside, we were met by a familiar sight.
"Isn't that Wakisaka-sensei, the modern Japanese teacher?" Rei wondered, holding her makeshift spear in front of her chest.
I felt Hisashi stiffen next to me and looked to him for a response. "There's blood dripping down his leg," he pointed out. "Be careful. He's..." He didn't get to finish his sentence because Wakisaka opened his mouth impossibly wide, revealing blood-stained teeth, and snarled at us.
Wakisaka stumbled forwards on shaky legs, his movements jerky and unpredictable. His arms were outstretched and he moved towards Rei who stepped back pointedly, swiping her makeshift spear left and right in front of herself. "What? Stay back!" she cried.
"Stab him, Rei!" Hisashi shouted from her back, swinging his arms in front of himself in a swiping gesture. "Don't hold back! Give it everything you've got!"
Easy for him to say. He was asking her to murder a teacher – albeit a crazy one – while he acted like her cheering section. What happened to him putting himself on the line for the woman he loved?
Either way, Wakisaka advanced again, grabbing a tight hold of her spear on either side of her hands, and began forcing it back towards her chest, where he was trying to get his mouth close enough to bite. Her expression changed to one of desperation before I couldn't take it anymore and ran to her.
"Get away!" I screeched as I smashed the bat in my hands against his arms, breaking his hold on her spear, and quite possibly the bones in his arms as well.
"Takashi," she whispered, before her expression changed again, this time to one of determination. "Dont underestimate the spear martial arts club!" she cried as she swung the spear into his side, staggering him. Following up with a running leap, she smashed it on top of his head. I could hear his skull crack under the blow. Finally, she thrusted the spear into his chest, where his heart lay hidden. She had such a purchase to the ground, she actually held him in the air, dangling on the edge of her weapon.
"You did it!" I cried, amazed by how athletic and skilled she was. She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, I'm certain, as if confused that I would say anything.
Unfortunately, the moment of peace was short-lived as Wakisaka continued to struggle, even with a spear piercing his most vital of organs. Rei found herself being swung from side to side by his powerful movements. With a crash, I watched in horror as she was slammed into the side-wall, her body crumpling upon impact. She fell to her behind, loosing her grip of her spear. With only years of practice guiding her, she realised that she had lost control of him and re-grasped her spear, holding him at spear's length. His teeth gnashed as blood pooled from a crimson mouth.
"This is insane! I stabbed him in his heart, so why is he still moving?"
Finally, Hisashi stepped up to the plate, grabbing Wakisaka from behind in a nelson arm-lock. He dragged the Japanese teacher away from Rei's seated form. "Rei, pull it out now!"
With a splurch, the weapon came free, drawing a sliver of blood that stained the ground.
I could see Hisashi struggling with Wakisaka. Even though he was the one who Rei desired, and therefore, it would be in my best interest if he were removed from the picture, he was also my best friend. Therefore, with a shout: "Hisashi, get away from him!"
"Don't worry! I can take him!" he said, full of self-confidence.
Why didn't you listen to me, Hisashi?
We all watched in grim horror as Wakisaka turned his head like an owl, a full 180 degrees. "What the? Why is he so strong?" blurted Hisashi. I think what he should have been asking is how could Wakisaka turn his neck like that without it snapping and killing him outright? Hisashi tried to hold him back, freeing a hand to push at his head, but to no avail. With a snarling growl, Wakisaka bit into Hisashi's arm on the inside of his elbow.
Hisashi cried in pain.
That cry was what both Rei and I needed, as we both moved at the same time. I swung the bat at his skull but gained a glancing blow. I couldn't hit him cleanly as Hisashi was in the line of fire. Rei ran from the other side and skewered Wakisaka again. This time striking from behind and hitting a lung. Still Wakisaka clamped on, his hold only increasing as Hisashi wailed.
"Why? Why doesn't he get off him?" cried Rei.
Looking at the grey skin, the dull vacant eyes and the way he attacked, something clicked in my mind. It was insane. It was completely impossible.
It was the only explanation that made sense, even if it was totally ridiculous.
"He's dead," I gasped. "He's dead, but he's still moving!"
Just then, the dam burst as Wakisaka managed to completely rip a chunk of flesh from Hisashi's body. Blood spurted from the wound as Hishashi gave a scream of agony. "Hisashi!" Rei screamed. Ignoring the danger, she dropped her spear and ran for him. Holding her arms around him, she desperately pulled on him, trying to free him from Wakisaka's grasp. "Takashi! Help him!" She whirled to face me, her face one of betrayal. "You're a man, aren't you? Do something!"
Her challenging my masculinity must have triggered something deep inside me for I gripped the bat tighter than before and charged. With a leap and a cry of battle, I smashed the bat against Wakisaka's skull. Combined with Rei's hit earlier, it cracked under the force and his brain was scrambled. He fell to the ground, blood pooling from the cavity.
I panted, trying to calm my racing heart. I had just killed a man. Even though he was already dead, the adrenaline still hit my bloodstream, chilling me.
"Hisashi! Are you alright?" Rei gripped him tightly, afraid to let go.
I watched without comment.
"I'm fine," he said, holding a hand to the wound. "He just ripped a small piece of my flesh off."
A small piece.
I'd hate to see what a big piece was.
"No big deal."
"No!" A scream hit our ears. Turning to look out at the school grounds, we were horrified to see a girl screaming on her back as another larger male lay on top of her. With a grunt, he lashed down, ripping into her neck. The blood sprayed up like a fountain.
Rei put a hand to her mouth to hopefully stifle the queasiness. I understood. I could feel my stomach churning as well.
"We can't afford to deal with a bunch of them like that," I said, feeling hyperaware of my surroundings. The adrenaline had kicked in again. Survival was now all that mattered.
"The rooftop," Hisashi declared suddenly.
"The rooftop?" Rei queried.
"We should barricade ourselves until help arrives," he said reasonably. "There's an observatory there. We can hold up for a while."
Having no better choices, we nodded and followed after him. We ran on light feet, trying to keep quiet. My mind was whirring as everything that had happened in the last fifteen minutes span and span until I felt dizzy.
We reached the roof. Looking over the barrier, we were instantly silenced as the smoke filtered over to us. Buildings were ablaze. Cars were smashed. Smoke was everywhere.
"What is this?" When I received no response, I tried again. "What's going on?"
"It was normal until just a minute ago!" Rei choked out before a stiff breeze nearly sent us all over the railing. We looked on as helicopters soared over our heads.
"Black Hawks?" I gasped. "American military?"
"No, that isn't it," Hisashi corrected. "That's Self-Defence Force!"
"What are they doing here? There isn't a base around here."
"Help us!" Rei cried to the skies, waving her arms.
"That isn't going to work," Hisashi said coldly. Ever since the fight with Wakisaka, he seemed to be turning pale. I didn't mention it to Rei as I didn't want her to worry. It was probably nothing anyway.
How wrong I was.
"There's no way the Self-Defence Force would fly all this way for nothing," Hisashi continued. "They must have some kind of special mission. They aren't worried about rescuing us. They're not even doing anything about that."
He pointed to the courtyard where a young girl screamed and pleaded for her life as a group of them held her up before sinking their teeth into her. Tears flooded from her eyes and I had to bite my lower lip to stifle the cry I wanted to give.
"That's what's happening outside if you try to run away. Imagine what's going on inside the school."
I didn't want to. Neither did Rei if I could trust my memories of her reactions. Her face contorted into an expression I recognised: pain.
"This is like a disease caused by Them."
Hisashi explained. "Dead corpses are attacking people left and right, but this is no movie or video game. That's why it's 'Them'. They eat people. When one who gets bitten dies, they resurrect as one of Them. I don't know why exactly, but smashing their heads is the only way to get rid of Them."
"Then, what should we do?" Rei asked.
Hisashi pointed past the smiling, shuffling corpses towards the observatory. "Let's get up there and block the stairs."
Firmly gripping the bat, I felt adrenalin hit my bloodstream anew.
Here we go again.
Racing through the crowd, Rei to my left, Hisashi on the right, we made our way to the stairs, smashing skulls along the way. As I reached the base of the stairs, a corpse shuffled into my view and I barely managed to roll her over my back. Hisashi stumbled through, Rei following after him.
"Take him, Takashi," she said, handing Hisashi off to me while she charged down the steps, her spear poised for battle. With a cry, she stabbed the nearest one. A male.
"What are you doing?" I cried.
"Saving you!" she snapped back before she was crushed against the wall, returning to a similar position that she had endured when faced by Wakisaka. This time, Hisashi showed no fear as he raced down the stairs, claiming the bat from my hands along the way, and smashing it against the wall. The corpse's head was sandwiched between the two and it came off the worst for the impact. His head was flattened, with bits of brain sticking out of the gaping hole left behind.
"Hisashi!" she smiled as he helped her to her feet.
"Hitting them in the head is the only way," he said quietly.
"Rei! Hisashi! Up here!"
Together, we spent the next ten minutes scouring the conservatory for useful items. Working between us, me and Rei taped tables together as best we could and barricaded the entrance. Hisashi stood on the edge, his skin growing paler and his breathing being laboured. I was getting worried about him. Rei was as well. I could see her subconsciously check on him often, even when she was trying to hold the table legs in alignment for me to tape.
Finally, we were barricaded as best we could manage. We each breathed a sigh of relief. We were as safe as we could get.
"Why? Why is this happening?" That was Rei, trying to get her mind around all the craziness.
"There has to be a reason." Hisashi assured her, keeping her calm. "If we can figure out what's causing this, we can figure out how to solve it." He glanced about himself, searching for something. "We'll try to see if we can find either matches or a lighter in the observatory. If we don't make a fire soon, we won't be able to see their movements at night." I nodded my agreement to his words. Perhaps things were starting to look up a little.
That was when Hisashi began to cough up blood.
"Hisashi? What's wrong with you?" Rei cried in alarm, moving to his side immediately, supporting his weight with her shoulders. He spat out a mouthful of blood, causing Rei to scream in panic. "Takashi! Hisashi is..."
He looked at her with hollow eyes.
Her voice became meek and so quiet when she next spoke. "Why? Why? It was just a small bite, so why does he look so horrible?"
He gave a wry smile. "What do you know? I guess it is just like the movies. Once you get bitten, that's it."
"That can't be true!" Rei asserted, her eyes swimming with tears. "What you see in the movies never happens!"
"It happened to everybody else!" Hisashi growled before vomiting up blood. Rei screamed to him as she held onto him for dear life. When he managed to lift his head, he wiped his mouth free of residue and smiled weakly. "Why should I be any different?"
I stood by, helpless. What was I supposed to do? I didn't have a cure to whatever this was. All I knew was that I felt so sorry for Hisashi. Whatever may have happened between the two of us in regards to Rei, he didn't deserve to die. When he coughed up blood again and started to clutch his chest, I felt my heart get stabbed by pain.
"Takashi, will you help me?"
Hisashi's voice was so quiet now.
"Help you with what?"
"Help me...over there...would you?" He pointed towards the railing behind me.
I already knew, even then, what he was going to ask.
"Help me over the railings." Rei looked up, alarmed. "Straight to the ground from up here...The impact from the fall should smash my head."
"Wait, Hisashi! What are you saying?" she cried.
"I don't want to become one of Them!" he exclaimed, tugging at his ailing heart. Rei's screams of "No!" almost drowned out his words. His eyes watered – for the last time – as he cried out: "Come on, Takashi. Do it for me. I want to stay myself...until the end."
That was the last word he would ever say to me as he began to writhe on the floor in agony, his hands clutched tightly to his chest, over his failing heart.
"Hisashi! Hang in there!" Rei was begging. Begging him to stay alive, to fight. "No! No! You can't die!" Her tears fell on his no longer moving body. I felt myself tearing as I had watched the passing of my best friend. Rei sobbed over his body, her arms flung haphazardly around him.
I saw the telltale sign of a twitch from his hand. I knew that he was turning. That he was changing into one of Them. The very thing he hadn't wanted to become. I knew that he would hurt Rei. That he would kill her. That he would change her into one of Them, just like him.
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I wiped away any evidence of my weakness, hardened my heart, clutched the bat in my hands tightly and spoke. "Get away from him, Rei." My voice was cold and hard. I slowly advanced on him, always keeping the two of them in my sight.
She saw me approaching. Saw the bat. She put two and two together and engulfed his body in her arms. "No! You can't do that! He's not turning! He isn't turning into one of Them! Hisashi is different!"
"Get away from him," I commanded.
She started and turned away from me as she saw him move a little towards her. "Hisashi?" She smiled deeply. "Look, Takashi! There's no way that Hisashi is going to die like this..." He moved to tower above her and her expression changed into one of fear. "Hisashi?" she asked meekly. "What's the matter?"
He glared at her, uncaring, unfeeling, unknowing. His ragged gasps of breath were nothing but mockeries. Mockeries of life, of living and breathing and loving. All of it meant nothing to him. Not anymore.
"Hisashi!" she cried as she charged forwards, but I had seen enough. I raced forward and put an arm out in front of her, blocking her path. Against her will, I pulled her back from the brink. "No way. This can't be true. No way!"
I moved in front of her. Between the two of them. Keeping them apart. It would fall upon my shoulders to bear his burden. Silently, I said goodbye to the best friend I had ever known and thanked him for loving Rei when I was unable to.
"It's unrealistic, I know. This is stupid."
Hisashi shambled forwards, blood dripping from his open mouth.
"Don't do it!"
"It's really happening!"
I ran forwards, my scream hoarse as I raised the baseball bat, took aim at his head and delivered the final blow to a chorus of "No!"
I watched as he slumped to the ground, his life ended for a second time in the span of a few moments. I breathed heavily, watching the blood pool around his body, before my stomach gave in and I vomited on the ground. I couldn't stop. The bile simply would not stop. I had killed my best friend. There was no turning back now.
Rei fell to her knees, her sobbing only intensifying as she looked upon his smashed face.
Eventually, I began to dry heave. My stomach was empty. There was nothing more to purge. I wiped my mouth before noticing Rei glancing at Hisashi's body periodically, only to cry anew. I felt so sorry for her, for him, for myself. Everything had literally gone to hell. What were we supposed to do now?
Looking around, I spotted a clean sheet laying about. Picking it up, I covered Hisashi's face with it. "Goodbye, old friend," I whispered.
"Why?" Rei's whispers alerted me to her looking at me. Searching for answers, perhaps. "Why?" she repeated.
"He would have eaten you if I hadn't done that," I replied evenly.
"I didn't want you to save me! I didn't want to see Hisashi like this! I was willing to get bitten by him and become one of Them, rather than surviving by doing something like this!"
"I don't think Hisashi would have wanted that for you."
"How would you know that, Takashi? You've barely spoken in months." Her voice gained an edge of hysteria as she looked at me with puffy, red, tear-filled eyes. "Oh, I understand. I get it! You must have hated Hisashi, am I right? Because he was dating me!"
I felt my eyes shift dangerously at what she said, but I would never hurt her. Not now, nor ever. Instead, I moved away from her, towards the barricade. Towards Them.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?"
"I don't want to be a bother to you," I answered, turning to face her. "I'll go downstairs and smash Them."
I walked away, startling her into a response. "What are you talking about? That isn't something you can take care of all by yourself!"
I wasn't really paying attention to her. I was unwinding the tape of the barricade, trying to get a chair to clamber over the top.
"Hey, Takashi?" She sounded so damned vulnerable, but I wasn't going to sit there and let her hurl abuse at me. I saved her life at the cost of my own innocence. I could never go back to who I used to be.
First Wakisaka, then Hisashi.
From that moment onwards, I would always be a killer.
I climbed the first layer of defence when I felt her arms wrap around my own as she cried out: "No! Stop it! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! I really didn't mean it!"
I turned to her with emotionless eyes, gauging her reaction. Her eyes were closed and she was pleading. "So please, please stay. Stay with me!" Her eyes opened and tears cascaded down her cheeks. A spatter of Hisashi's blood mingled with the tears, leaving crimson streaks.
I had heard enough. I clambered down and, surprising both myself and her, I wrapped my arms around her back and held her close. She stiffened for a moment before relaxing into the contact, wrapping her own arms around me.
As the clamour of Them rose in intensity, I pulled her as close to my own body as I could and held on for dear life.
In this new world, she would be my lifeline. My anchor to normality. Without her, I would die. I had little doubt. From that moment onwards, my life would be devoted to keeping her, Miyamoto Rei, my one true love, alive.
On the day everything came to an end, I killed my best friend, and held the girl I loved for the very first time in my life.
"Remember when you and Hisashi..."
"Protecting a man's pride is the duty of a woman."
"She wears glasses."