Editor’s Note: This chapter is so big we had to split it up into two posts. This is the first half; a link to the second half will be posted at the end of this section.
Recommended Listening: Tuk – “Travel Implants”
Shelter: Sugimoto Residence
“K-Kamiya-san! Takahashi!” Daisuke said suddenly.
Emiko and Seiji looked at him.
“May I please have assistance in the kitchen?”
They looked at each other hesitantly.
Seiji Kamiya stood and gruffly excused himself from the area. Emiko also rose and excused herself, far more eloquently than Seiji had. Daisuke looked over Emiko’s shoulder and met Ryu’s eyes. Ryu nodded at him in a manner that Daisuke interpreted as a sad kind of gratitude.
They left Ryu, Hitomi, Junpei and Akane in the living room to have a conversation Daisuke was glad to leave. Emiko, Seiji and Daisuke regrouped at the corner of the kitchen that gave the others the most privacy.
“What is it, kid?”
“Their father…” Daisuke said softly.
Daisuke nodded back to the living room. “Takai-san, he…” The two of them looked at Daisuke expectantly for a moment. Then Daisuke shook his head. Emiko clapped her hands over her mouth a moment before they heard Hitomi scream from the living room. Emiko dropped her hands and instinctively turned to rush to her friend’s aid; Daisuke grabbed her nearest wrist and – as politely as he could – whispered to stay in the kitchen another minute. Seiji began looking through the refrigerator and cupboards.
“She needs me!” Emiko said. “She needs all of us right now, Kinoshita!”
“She has Ryu. And…there’s more. Ryu needs to tell her more.”
In the living room, Ryu comforted Hitomi as she cried. It appeared as though it would be several more minutes before he could explain Junpei’s role in their father’s death.
“It was that guy, wasn’t it?” Seiji asked without looking up.
Daisuke and Emiko looked to Seiji. “That guy out there, with the wife. He killed him.”
“How did you know?” Daisuke asked.
“You didn’t ask them to come in with us,” Seiji said.
“Why did he do it?”
“Takai-san attacked me.”
“What?” Emiko asked.
“He was a zonbi.”
Seiji stifled a laugh and looked at Daisuke incredulously for a moment before resuming his inspection of the kitchen. Emiko looked at Daisuke in disgust.
“Kinoshita, that’s not funny.”
Daisuke remembered that the conversation about the infected already being dead happened before the latest arrivals. He filled them in, opting to skip some of the gorier details. As he was finishing, he looked back towards the living room and saw that Ryu was holding Hitomi’s hands but both siblings were looking at Daisuke. Ryu was still talking and Hitomi’s face was wet and red. Then Ryu gently let Hitomi’s hands go, scooted back in his seat, and gestured to Junpei.
Here it comes, Daisuke thought.
In an eyeblink, Hitomi launched herself at Junpei and was on top of him, swinging wildly at his face, neck and chest with closed fists. Akane and Ryu were so surprised, all they could do for a minute was jump back. Instinctively, Daisuke ran to the living room. The others followed.
Everything seemed to be happening in slow-motion. Akane attempted to pull Hitomi’s arms away from Junpei. Ryu grabbed his sister around the waist from behind and began to pull her back. Hitomi had more fight in her than anyone knew; Daisuke tried pushing them apart – one with each hand – but had trouble doing so. Seiji came to his aid. When Ryu finally pulled hard enough that Hitomi’s legs came free from the couch, her feet kicked blindly in front of her, catching Seiji in the mouth. Her kick was hard enough that he reeled, spinning around and grabbing at his face with his right hand, steadying himself with his left. Akane checked on her husband, whose arms appeared pinker at random spots from the hits and scratches his attacker had unleashed. Emiko rushed to Hitomi’s side and helped Ryu pull her back, then busied herself catching her friend’s ankles firmly to push them down towards the carpeted floor and away from where they could harm anyone.
And behind it all, an increasing thunder of hands on the outside of the house rumbled ominously.
Junpei stood and angrily stomped away from the group, back towards the front door. Hitomi was forced to the ground and realized she was fully restrained by her brother and Emiko. The moment this realization came to her, at her peak of helplessness, she unable to move and her father dead, she gave up. Her entire body went slack and she closed her eyes and resumed crying. Her captors eased their grip and then they stood, catching the end of a loud rant by Junpei about his night since he got to the house.
“And now this!” he shouted. He pointed at Ryu. “You! Keep her away from me. Next time I will defend myself.”
Ryu took a step towards Junpei but Daisuke stopped him. Everything got quiet.
“Is there a toilet?” Seiji asked with a muffled voice.
Daisuke turned and saw the salaryman still holding his face, but his hand dripped blood. He nodded and led him downstairs, uncertain of the extent of his injury. He pointed to the bathroom and Seiji thanked him. As Daisuke turned to leave, Seiji stopped him.
“How many people in your friend’s family?”
“Three,” Daisuke said.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Why do you ask?”
Seiji nodded towards the kitchen. “They only shop for three.”
“There’s seven of us,” Seiji said. He went into the bathroom without another word. Daisuke looked up towards the kitchen and cursed.
In the bathroom, Seiji lowered his hand from his face and washed his hands before grabbing a hand towel and wetting it under the faucet. He wiped the blood away and looked closely at the cut, which reddened with more blood almost before he got a peek.
That’s a pair of toothmarks, he thought. That bitch kicked my lower lip into my front teeth. If the boss hears about this, I’ll be the butt of every joke.
Thinking about work reminded Seiji of something. He turned to the bathroom door and inspected it for the size of the gaps between the door and the frame. When he was satisfied with his privacy, he removed his suit jacket and unbuttoned his shirt, draping both over the edge of the sink. He reached behind himself and retrieved the handgun he had tucked into his pants and placed it quietly and carefully on his shirt. He retrieved a bottle of pills from his pocket and placed two on his tongue, leaning his face under the faucet to swallow them with cold tap water. The angle was awkward, but they went down. Knowing they were on their way to his stomach calmed him. Finally, naked from the waist up, he took a long look in the mirror.
The intricate, traditional artwork that had been tattooed onto his body covered his back in full, both arms to the wrists and much of his torso, aside from a strip down the center almost as wide as Seiji’s hand was long. If he squinted, he could see why it was called a body suit – it almost looked like he wore a graphic long-sleeve vest with nothing underneath.
If they find out, they’ll throw you out of this house, he thought. The wannabe punk kid might defend you but the man and the scrawny kid will feed you to all the zonbi. Do they already know? Did the boy and the girl notice how quickly you knew the man was the killer? Idiot. Think before you speak. If they find out, they’ll feed you to the zonbi.
That last thought stuck in Seiji’s head as he stared blankly at part of his tattoo. His eyes glazed over for a moment before he snapped back to reality. He pulled a toothbrush from its little porcelain holder atop the sink and wetted it. Then he moved his handgun, picked up his shirt and started to scrub out the spots of blood from it. Seiji figured the longer he could keep his clothes clean, the longer he’d have an excuse not to disrobe for any reason. However, assuming no help was coming, he had not yet decided what excuse to give for sleeping in his shirt.
When Seiji rejoined the group in the living room, things had calmed down. Hitomi remained crumpled on the floor, but her crying had stopped. Everyone else sat on the couches. Ryu gazed into the distance, sitting between Daisuke and Emiko; Akane held Junpei’s hand on the neighboring couch. Daisuke was filling the silence with stories about the family who lived there. Nobody cared, but they were more afraid of what else they’d talk about if he stopped so nobody spoke up.
Seiji dabbed his mouth with the hand towel, which he had wetted again, and when Daisuke saw him, he stopped talking. Everyone turned to look at him.
“We were going to turn on the news for more information,” Daisuke said.
“So?” Seiji asked.
“We were waiting for you, Kamiya-san,” Emiko said.
“Ah,” Seiji said. “T-Thank you.”
Seiji sat down in the vacant spot next to Junpei.
“Is your mouth okay?” Daisuke asked.
Seiji cast a sideways glance at Hitomi, who didn’t see it, then he turned back to Daisuke and nodded curtly.
Daisuke took a deep breath, pointed the remote towards the television and turned it on. Whichever channel had last been turned on was currently showing the station’s out-of-service message. It was a grim omen.
Out of habit, Seiji checked his watch to see if it was the top of the hour. If so, NHK Newsline would be coming on.
“I’m sure this is important enough for an emergency broadcast,” Junpei said to him without peeling his eyes from the screen.
“R-right,” Seiji said. He looked down, embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” Junpei said, lightly slapping his hand on Seiji’s shoulder. “I did the same thing five minutes ago.” They both laughed a bit despite the circumstances.
Daisuke quickly punched in the NHK General TV station number, which he memorized as a child. His heart skipped a beat as the television clicked over to the station. Yoshi Ogasawara’s usual pleasant demeanor had darkened to one of grave unpleasantness. His facial expression told them all they needed to know.
“—fewest reports from Aomori, likely due to Lake Towada and the mountainous nature of the area. Meanwhile, on Hokkaido, NHK’s local reporters in Sapporo are facing technical difficulties after an explosion near the station damaged their broadcasting equipment. However, their reporters have taken to social media to update our viewers as this story unfolds. For more developing information on Hokkaido, please consult our reporters’ Twitter accounts as shown below on your screen.”
“It’s happening all over Japan,” Daisuke said. Seiji urged him to be quiet.
Akane’s parents lived on Hokkaido. She asked Junpei for his phone and he handed it to her without a second thought, his attention focused on the NHK broadcast. She inputted his pin number and opened his Twitter app, navigating to the search page with the intent of looking for the accounts of Hokkaido’s NHK reporters, but before she could tap in any characters, the trending hashtags caught her eye.
South Korea? Plague? Akane couldn’t read anymore. The implications were too great. She placed one hand over her belly. Nobody saw except Daisuke.
Is she…? Is that why Junpei is so concerned about protecting her?
Akane resumed her search for information about her parents as the rest of the group watched the news. She could feel Junpei’s impatience growing as Yoshi discussed Tokyo and Osaka. He tapped both his feet on the floor as the news anchor summarized the situation in Fukushima, which was no better than anywhere else, and spoke about the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, though he was quick to add that there appeared to be no link between the two incidents.
“Everyone knows about that already!” Junpei said loudly. “Why is he talking about the nuclear accident?”
“This guy’s stalling,” Seiji said. “Don’t be too upset at him. Didn’t you hear him say ‘sick people’ earlier? They can’t even say the attackers are already dead yet. The news is like that. They have to confirm everything three times before they say it on the air. If you see him glance away from the camera for a moment – ah, like that! – there must be 10 people running around behind the camera on phones, holding stacks of reports, yelling at one another.”
Emiko spoke up. “S-sometimes…a big event happens suddenly. Nobody knows what’s going on. In any case, news stations want familiar faces on the air. That way, people know they’re not alone.”
Junpei wasn’t satisfied with their answers, even though he knew they were right. Yoshi moved on to Kyoto.
“Kyoto?” Junpei asked. He spoke more and more loudly. “He already talked about Osaka. Have they forgotten about us? What about Nagoya and its surrounding areas? Don’t we have enough NHK subscriptions to get mentioned?”
So he’s that kind of person, Seiji thought.
Daisuke noted it too. He’s the type to yell at the television when his favorite team is losing a baseball game, he thought. Their notions were reinforced by how calmly Akane seemed next to him. Seiji thought, correctly, that she must be accustomed to it.
“In Nagoya tonight—”
“Be quiet, everyone!” Junpei shouted.
“—the city and its surrounding areas seem to be the first affected by the mysterious illness. Police responded to calls in Aichi, Shiga and Gifu prefectures as early as 20 minutes prior to reports in other areas, which seemed to happen simultaneously across Japan. Earlier reports of riots breaking out in Gujō have been corrected as sources have confirmed that they were, in fact, the first incidents of the sickness reported. Gujō, the small Gifu Prefecture town best known for its elaborate Obon festival and food replica factories, is likely to remain in the spotlight for some time in light of the press conference given by the White House press secretary shortly after the outbreak occurred. In the press conference, the press secretary revealed that the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Pearson, had been visiting family friends in Gujō tonight after concluding a meeting with executive members of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Tokyo. The Americans have been unable to contact Director Pearson, though they have enlisted the help of the American embassy in retrieving her safely from Gujō.
“We will continue to update you on this story, but in the meantime, Prime Minister Shinozaki has issued a statement entreating all citizens to remain calm and seek shelter. Stay indoors and off the roads and take great care to avoid contact with the infected people. It’s not yet clear how the disease is spreading, but amateur footage has confirmed that the sick are violently attacking strangers who are walking the streets and driving in cars. Some infected are even trying to break into buildings that uninfected people are using for shelter.”
Yoshi hesitated for just a second. “Everyone…please work together and be safe. We’ll be right back.”
Yoshi cast one more sideways glance at the booth in front of him and the news broadcast quickly faded out, replaced by a commercial for laundry detergent. Nobody knew what to say.
Ryu, who had been silent and motionless since subduing his sister, stood and retrieved his pack of cigarettes from his pocket, put one to his lips and replaced the pack. Then he patted his pockets for his lighter and, upon finding it, fished it from its pocket and held it in the palm of his hand. His eyes were still glazed and half-opened, as they had been much of the time since seeing his father’s death.
“I’m going out,” he said. Then he turned to Hitomi. “Hitomi, do you want—”
Everyone looked at Ryu, then where he was looking. Hitomi Takai was gone.
“Where’d she go?” Seiji asked. His voice was almost too calm. The pills were beginning to affect him. He liked it.
“I didn’t see her leave,” Emiko said, standing up.
“Neither did I,” Daisuke said. “Do you think she’s alright?”
Junpei rolled his eyes but didn’t get up from his seat like everyone else. Instead, he stayed glued to the television. Still, a pang of guilt struck his stomach. She probably just went to the bathroom, he thought. But if she didn’t…
After a quick look in the kitchen, Daisuke suggested that Akane and Emiko stay in the living room with Junpei. Ryu and Daisuke would look upstairs and on the balcony for her and Seiji would check downstairs. They split up and called her name one by one as they searched.
Seiji walked past the same bathroom he’d used earlier. He had become uniquely conscious of the sounds he made – his footsteps on the carpet, the sounds his dry mouth made when he moved it around, his breath – and he tried to minimize them. He saw under the frame of the door that the bathroom light was on.
Hey kid, are you in there? he thought. He believed that he had said it out loud. She didn’t answer. He was about to call again when he heard a faint sound come from within. It was a stifled cry of pain, barely audible. He forgot about her attacking Junpei and even the still-throbbing pain in his lip. He reached for the door and turned the knob.
Seiji found Hitomi sitting on the toilet. He looked down and began to apologize and back out of the bathroom when the strangeness of her struck him. The image of what he’d seen came to him in sections, like pieces of a puzzle.
When he had accidentally seen her, she was frozen in terror, staring at him with wide eyes. Her right hand held a shard of glass from one of the broken windows in the living room. She held it up like it was a guitar pick and she was about to play the first chord of a concert. Her left hand rested on her right thigh – no, he realized, she was using that hand to stretch the skin of that thigh taut. Also, when he had looked at the floor, he saw her feet and ankles and – he was embarrassed to have noticed it, now that he realized it – her underwear wasn’t down. Seiji was no pervert, but something stuck in his mind about it. He knew women needed to remove their underwear to use the bathroom, so she must not have been relieving herself. She was simply sitting on the toilet as though it were a chair. He dared to look at her again and confirmed his suspicions: the lid was down. Out of sheer curiosity, he looked to her right leg again.
He was halfway to her before he realized what he was doing. She had cut three lines across her leg and all three were bleeding. The beginnings of a fourth line were under them. He had to get the glass from her. He didn’t know why and he didn’t know what would happen when he tried, but he had to get the glass from her. She resisted and they both cut their fingers wrestling for the glass shard. He finally wrested it from her grasp. Knowing she wouldn’t get it back, she seized his hand with both of hers and squeezed it as tightly as she could. Their eyes met. He stared at her coldly as she forced the glass shard into his palm. Neither of them made a sound. Blood appeared at the butt of his hand and dripped down his forearm to his elbow.
Hitomi broke eye contact when she saw the blood. With surprising strength, she raised his closed hand above their heads and she licked his arm from the elbow up, a crazed look of rabid pleasure in her eyes.
That did it. He broke free of her grip and reeled back towards the door, looking down and away from her. His grip loosened involuntarily and the glass stuck in his palm. “You’re still a child,” he said. “Stay away from me.”
“I’m almost 18,” she said.
“I don’t care!”
“Are you sure you didn’t like what you saw?” she asked, sitting back and putting a flirtatious expression on her face. He knew she was mocking him.
“I’m sure,” he said. He was uncomfortable in this situation. “I’ll tell the others about this.”
“I don’t think you will, Mr. Yakuza,” she said.
He looked at her sharply. “How did you…?”
“When you came up the ladder behind me, I saw down your shirt,” she said. “Your tattoos are sexy.”
“Be quiet!” he said, finally removing the glass shard from his palm. “Do the others know?”
“So it’s blackmail.”
“Call it trust.”
He scoffed. This brat is causing me more trouble than she’s worth, he thought. But I can’t get rid of her.
“Fine.” He lifted the glass shard and showed it to her. “Don’t do this anymore and don’t tell anyone about me.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said flatly. Then she parted her legs just a bit. “If you bandage me up.”
Seiji cursed to himself and retrieved the First Aid Kit.
Please click here to continue to Chapter 04, Part Two.