DEAD on the Bridge
"This is truly a pain," I say with a wry smile as I level the shotgun in my hands, aim, then pull the trigger. The nearest one of Them to the Humvee falling to the ground, buckshot riddling its head and upper torso acts as a signal to the others as Rei and Saeko each leap from the vehicle. As they land in a crouch, the eerie groans of Them intensify as more dead appear and head straight for the girls. I guess the shotgun blast attracted their attention more than I would have hoped.
One of Them shuffles faster than the others, reaching Rei before she has time to ready her rifle. She holds back her scream, but I can see the fear in her eyes.
The fear which I know is reflected in my own.
The bloodied, gnashing teeth draw ever closer to her.
"Rei!" I shout, adjusting my aim to intercept the shambling corpse as fast as I can.
Saeko is faster.
Her katana cuts through the air with a shrill whistle before slicing cleanly through skin, flesh, muscle and bone. The head falls to the side while blood sprouts from the now headless body, which falls in a crumpled heap at her feet. I see her face take on that smile, the one that lets me know that she is focused on dishing out as much damage as she can.
I see Rei turn to Saeko with a grateful smile.
Saeko cuts her off before she can say anything. "Repayment for saving me at Takagi-san's home," she says, already eyeing up her next opponent.
Even if Rei wasn't able to thank Saeko properly, I silently send her my own thanks in the form of a short smile – one I'm not even certain she sees – before the groans of one of Them draws my attention and I focus my shotgun on it.
I make quick work of the dead that had tried to surround the Humvee. No way were they going to hurt anyone still inside. I wouldn't let them. With all of Them near me defeated, I turn my sight on the remainder of them. They move away from me towards the sounds of battle that Rei and Saeko make.
"Hirano! I'm going to help the girls. Cover me," I shout as I jump from the Humvee to the ground below.
"No problem," he replies as he blasts a round through another head. "They won't hurt anyone. I'll kill them."
Hirano's aim is damn near perfect.
I dash, running as fast as I can, holding the shotgun in both hands like my old bat in case I have to bash one of Them. As I get closer, Rei turns to see what is moving so quickly. When she sees me, her face lights up in a smile – one I readily return – before she turns once more and stabs one of Them in the chest. He doesn't fall, but rather, begins to struggle against her. Her balance wavers as she wobbles ever so slightly, but it is enough to put me on edge. Not breaking a stride, I readjust my hold on my weapon, place the barrel against his temple and pull the trigger. Pieces of mangled bone and slivers of skin fall within a splatter of blood, speckles of it strewn over the floor slapdash.
"Thank you, Takashi," she says to me – pushing against the dead body still impaled on her bayonet with her foot – as I quickly grab a handful of shells from my pocket and reload.
"Not a problem," I grin, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze before I race to Saeko's side, intent on helping her. It quickly becomes clear to me, however, that she doesn't need, nor want my help. She effortlessly carves her way through a swarm of Them. Blood flies in all directions. Her blade is a blur. She is amazing.
I'm concentrating on her so much, I fail to notice the dead body moving in my direction. "Takashi!" Saeko shouts, whirling her hand to point behind me. With a flourish, I twist to face my would-be attacker and find him much closer than I had anticipated. With a sinking feeling, I realise that he is far too close for me to do much of anything. I'm not going down without a fight though.
I lift the shotgun as fast as I can and watch in slow motion as a rifle round impacts the side of his head, lifts him off the floor, and deposits him at my feet. Blood oozes from the wound. I turn to face Hirano, my heart beating ten to the dozen, before I weakly give him a thumbs-up, one he responds to with a shout of, "Pay attention, Komuro!"
I humour him with a quick nod before I look around myself, paying much more attention to my surroundings. All of the dead are either defeated or on the verge of. Between Saeko's skill with the blade and Hirano's ability with firearms, the bridge is littered with no longer moving corpses, some headless, other's with holes through the forehead or temple, each with pinpoint accuracy.
Now, at last, only a handful remain. These lie in the path that divides Rei and myself. They will be destroyed. It's that simple. I look between the writhing limbs and find her. "Let's go!"
With a quick nod, we run towards one another, into their midst. The sounds of a shotgun firing, the groans of Them and our heavy breaths mingle until, eventually, our breathing is the only sound that remains. Blood pools beneath my feet making the ground slick.
The final one of Them slips from Rei's bayonet, the blade having pierced her eye. Rei calmly wipes her weapon clean of blood while I root through my pockets, checking how many shells I have left.
I find three. Unloading the gun, I am alarmed to only find two drop into my open hand.
Five shots are all I have left to protect everybody with. After that, I'll have to switch to mêlée combat unless we can find some new weapons or an ammunition cache. Either will be a small miracle at this point. I curse inwardly, wishing that we had been able to collect more ammunition. Still, beggars can't be choosers.
I look to Rei. Giving her a short smile, I beckon towards the Humvee. She nods and we walk side-by-side. As we walk, she clutches my arm. I look at her quizzically but she doesn't show any reaction to my searching glance.
Shrugging, I wave to Saeko with my free hand. She pauses in wiping her katana to nod at me before she returns to her task. I stare after her for a second, but Rei begins to tug my arm, dragging my attention back to her. I wonder for a moment what's wrong with her, but forget about it just as quickly. We've all had to give up the first bit of peace we've been able to enjoy since this nightmare began. The very least I can do is give her an arm to hold onto.
"Are you alright?" I ask as we near the Humvee. I can already see Hirano moving about, collecting supplies. I smile as he tightens the bandanna around his head.
"I'm fine," she replies, wiping the blood and sweat from her forehead. She looks at Hirano herself and has to suppress a giggle. Her grin quickly turns into a frown. "What are we going to do now?"
I know what she means. She doesn't mean short term. She wants to know what my plan is for the long term. My major goal is survival. That will always be the highest priority for our group. No-one dies. Maybe it's a naïve goal, but it's one I believe in, and I will fight to ensure it happens.
Finally, I speak. "We need shelter for the night. That's our first step. Because of the EMP, we know there will be no lights. If we can't see Them, we will have zero percent chance of survival."
She thinks through what I said before responding. "We should try to find a hardware store. Somewhere that sells torches, matches, batteries, that sort of thing. There might be things we can use as weapons as well."
I agree with what she said. "Okay. Let's tell the others the plan." She nods, so we continue to walk.
As we get closer, a bundle of energy runs up to me and wraps her arms around my back, burying her head in my stomach. "Hey Alice."
Alice looks up and smiles deeply, even if it seems a bit strained. It isn't an expression I want to see on her face. She's far too young for this mess, yet she handles it better than most of us. She's so strong. "I was worried about you," she says in a whisper.
I look down and grin at her. "No need to worry, Alice. I'm so glad you're alright." I said something similar to her back at Saya's house. Back then, it had been to cover for the fact that Saeko and I were discussing things I didn't want Alice to worry about. Now, I truly mean it. Alice is an irreplaceable part of our family. If anything happened to her...
I stop myself from completing the thought as Alice grins back at me, a true smile this time. "Uh-huh. Shizune-neesan and Saya-chan were looking out for me."
I smile back at her, unable to not do so. Her toothy grin is infectious. I wish, not for the first time, that she could have lived a normal, happy life with her mother and father. Now, it is up to us to be there for her.
I feel – rather than hear – Saeko approach, so it is no great surprise when she speaks. "What is our next action?"
Saya takes this moment to step forward. "Well, the Humvee's scrapped, although you probably already knew that. From here on, we'll be moving on foot."
"Will that be a problem?" asks Shizuka-sensei dreamily, here eyes not really focusing on anything. She looks really tired to me. She has been driving since the attack at Saya's home until the engine gave up on us.
Saya seems to sense this as well since she doesn't snap at her like she usually would. She does massage her temple though. "On foot, in as large a group as ours, it will be more difficult to get away from Them quickly. Against a couple of Them, this shouldn't pose too much of a problem. If we were to get surrounded, like we were here, without the protection of the Humvee..." She trails off, not wanting to finish the sentence.
Rei finishes it for her. "If we get surrounded, we will fight back."
She speaks so confidently of our abilities. I hate having to tell her she's wrong, but it has to be said. I put a hand on her shoulder. She looks to me as I speak. "The problem with fighting a large group of Them is that we are running low on ammunition. I only have five shells left for the Ithaca. How about you, Hirano?"
He seems thoughtful as he roots through his saddlebag. Finally, he looks up and his face is grim. "One clip plus ten rounds remaining in the attached clip. Total of thirty shots. I'd definitely feel better if I had a few more."
"I have seven for the Luger," supplies Saya, a frown on her face. She is clearly thinking about something that has her concerned. I decide to ask her in private about it. If it's something problematic, I don't want to worry Alice. The less she knows about how bad things are, the better in my opinion. "How about you, Miyamoto?"
I know that Rei hasn't fired the weapon, preferring to use the attached bayonet like the spear she is accustomed to, although I wasted the entire clip trying to stop Them. Thankfully, Saya's father was able to give us a new clip for it, and it hasn't been fired since, so it should still hold: "Ten," she reports with a grim expression.
It's worse than I had originally thought. We can forget about fighting a large group of Them. With the supplies we have, a full-scale assault will spell the end for us. It seems as though the others have realised it as well since everyone shares a similarly worried expression.
Alice glances from one of us to another frantically. "What's wrong?" she asks in a concerned voice.
Hirano glances at her and puts on a weak smile. "Everything's fine, Alice-chan. We're all just a little tired."
Her smile returns. "We should find somewhere to sleep," she says innocently. I wish it could be as simple as that. I wish it could simply be a case of wandering the streets until we found a hotel.
That would be wonderful.
"Where will we go?" asks Shikuza-sensei as she reaches inside the Humvee to retrieve Zeke, his tail wagging rapidly at being held.
Her question brings me back to the present. I feel Rei surreptiously nudge me forwards. Running a hand through my hair, I face my friends. "We're going to look for a hardware store," I say to a confused silence. Even Saya seems to be wondering about my choice of destination, so I explain both mine and Rei's thinking. When I finish, Saya gives me an appraising look. "What?" I defend, feeling uncomfortable.
"It is a good idea," says Saeko, giving me a precious ally. I look to the others. Shizuka-sensei seems unconcerned by the choice. She yawns hugely as she hugs Zeke to her chest. Zeke looks suddenly less comfortable with his predicament as he whines weakly. Saeko has voiced her support. Rei suggested the idea so she is naturally going to defend it. It all falls to Hirano and Saya to come with us willingly or grudgingly.
"I agree with the plan," says Saya finally and I breathe a quiet sigh of relief. "With our lack of supplies, we're going to need some new weapons. Things that aren't going to need bullets. Also, having some torches and matches to light a fire can't be a bad thing. What do you think, Kōta?"
"I think," begins Hirano, and I can see the change in his eyes as he looks at her, "that wherever Takagi-san goes, I'll be there to protect her."
Saya's blush of surprise lets me know I should change the subject quickly to save Hirano from her embarrassed anger. "Well, since everyone's in agreement–"
"You didn't ask me!" pouts Alice cutely.
I chuckle as I put a hand on her head. "Sorry Alice. What would you like to do?"
She bobs her tongue out as she thinks. "I'll go wherever Takashi-niisan and Kōta-chan and everybody else goes," she says with a beaming smile.
I smile in response. "I wouldn't have it any other way," I say as I ruffle her hair.
"We should consider making a move," says Saeko as she points down the road. Following her finger, I spy a large number of Them shambling towards us. Our fire-fight must have drawn them in.
"You're right. Hirano! Rei! Saeko!" I declare.
I get a startled chorus of "Yes?"
"Grab everything we can salvage from the Humvee." They move quickly to do as I asked. "Shizuka-sensei! Saya!"
"Keep a tight hold on Alice. Don't let her out of your sight." They give me a determined nod. "Zeke!" He gives me a strong bark. "You're with me, buddy. Let me know if any of Them are coming." I'm not certain if he understands what I've said word-for-word, but by the narrowing of his eyes, I'm certain that he got the gist of it. He bounds to the head of our group, tail wagging, eyes alert.
In short time, everybody is gathered. Hirano drops everything they collected on the ground.
A few items of extra clothing. A small amount of money. A knife.
"Is that everything?" I ask.
"We searched it as best we could," answers Saeko, her sword drawn and her eyes narrowed as They draw closer.
"It's fine," I reply, giving her a short smile of thanks. Turning to the group as a whole, I give them a brief grin, a short nod, then I turn away from Them.
I thought that after escaping Takagi Manor, things would be easier. I thought that we might begin to see a stroke of good fortune. Instead, all we found were more of Them. Perhaps this is the way things are always going to be. Maybe we no longer have a chance.
In one week, our world had become nothing more than a battleground. A battleground where They far outnumber us.