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It's not the dead you should be afraid of

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At first, it was simply rumours spreading around on the internet. After that people developed all kinds of conspiracy theories. The majority; however, was convinced that it was all just unreasonable scare tactics; fanatics trying to shake society by freaking people out because they did what they usually did: claiming that the end was near, and people were going to be punished for being too liberal or too promiscuous. Then radical and religious groups started to take it a step further and utilised the growing fear within society to spout their nonsense into the world. The rift caused within society got bigger and bigger with every day that passed and every new incident reported.

Matsukawa didn’t want to take the reports seriously at first, thinking that they were overreacting – or at least hoping they were overreacting. He saw the media coverage, but it consisted mostly of videos found on YouTube or similar platforms, which only proved that they were overreacting. Could have been fake for all he knew. He didn’t want to think about the world ending, so he ignored it for the most part. He ignored most things anyway.

Matsukawa Issei was 21 years old, and still trying to find his way in life. Before all that shit went down, he made a living off committing credit card fraud. People were quite reckless with their data and easily fell victim to such deception.

Since the incidents increased rapidly and exponentially, the government decided that severely affected cities and areas should be temporary locked down. The concerns got louder and louder, and people were asking questions, but those questions weren’t answered, since the government, in their naivety and apathy, kept thinking that their white lies would keep people from rioting. Well, it didn’t work for the most part because the inability of the government to act or provide an explanation or cause, as to why people suddenly acted like the Causeway Cannibal, made everyone nervous. Hospitals were crowded, potential individuals who might have contracted the disease were quarantined. They called the disease the ‘acute cerebrum deterioration syndrome’, but they couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Blood screens tested negative to everything currently known, and the toxicology screens turned out negative too. Experts were at a loss, but no one could have foreseen what was about to happen.

The first time Issei was faced with one of those groaning and hissing ‘things' was at the grocery store. He wanted to get some necessities because he was sure that it was the best thing to do right now, even though he had been having a bad feeling all morning. His bad feeling was proven right, after all. His town was meant to go into lockdown today, controlled by the police and the military. Some voices speculated that they were supposed to be evacuated, but there was no military, and the police was nowhere to be seen either. Nobody knew what was going on, and nobody knew how bad the cities were affected.

Matsukawa was in the medical aid aisle, standing in front the shelves. He had gotten toothpaste and instant food among other things. The store was down the dregs, so he took what he found. There were barely any bandages and patches left, and he sighed, feeling annoyed. He’s got a nasty cut on the underside of his foot because he stepped into a glass shard. The store was crowded, and here and there someone bumped into him with their cart, pushing their way through without caring if they had hurt someone or not. Issei scanned the aisle again, throwing some disinfectant into his cage. It had to suffice. Suddenly, he heard loud screams and a crash. People were running past the aisles, pushing each other to the ground and stepping onto those who were unlucky enough to have fallen during the panic. Matsun stood there stupefied, not knowing whether he should follow them and run or if it was best for him to let the panic pass him by for now. His heart rate increased, and he could hear how the muscle pumped blood through his system. The bounding in his hear felt deafening, and his breathing quickened; a cold shudder of dread running down his spine. Well, in hindsight, he should have run because if he had done so, he wouldn’t have found himself in the situation his was in right now.

 

Matsukawa found himself caged in between three carts; a desperate last-minute attempt to keep that ‘zombie-like' thing at bay. It was reaching for him, groaning and showing its teeth. Its eyes were empty and hollow, and one of its arms was broken, probably from a fall. The clothes were torn and covered in blood. The dark-haired man was not sure if was someone else’s blood or its own. He hoped the latter was the case. Issei looked at it completely mortified, but he had seen enough horror movies to know that he had to destroy its brain. He watched the jaw open and close; the gurgling sounds adding to the chilling and surreal encounter. Matsukawa knew what he had to do, but knowing and executing were two different things, so he hesitated, trying to think of a way around it. What if these things weren’t actually zombies, but people out of control; humans still conscious of their action, but unable to stop themselves. The thought was horrifying, and he pushed it away into the back of his mind as fast as it entered his brain. Issei scanned his surroundings; he could still hear people screaming, crying and yelling. The thing in front of him was still trying to get a hold of him, though the carts prevented it from doing so. The small distance gave Matsun time to properly look at it. The woman who had apparently fallen victim to the disease was relatively small; tiny wrists and thin fingers clasping onto the handlebar of the cart, though she was unable to push the cart away. Considering its small stature, Issei wasn’t surprised at all, although she seemed to get stronger, the more agitated she became. Grocery carts and the items, they stored, were now scattered on the floor, having been abandoned and thrown over in the panic.

The floor, itself, was dirty, and even entire shelves had been pushed over, blocking the way, but giving him a good view of what was happening around him. The groaning got louder, and Issei knew that it was only a matter of time, until more of these things flooded the small store. So, Matsun pushed one of the carts, that was holding off that creepy freak, away with a lot of force, causing the thing to tumble clumsily over its feet and hit the floor with a loud thud. Issei hissed. He had caused too much noise. First the jingling and clattering of the cart, and then the impact that thing made on the ground. Matsun manoeuvred through the store, successfully avoiding drawing further attention to himself. The entrance was right in front of him, and he pressed his shopping basket tightly towards his chest. There was no way, he would be letting go of his stuff. The thought of still having to pay crossed his mind for a moment, but he dismissed it because it was ridiculous.

He reached the exit, and the automatic door opened, revealing the chaos outside. The car park looked like a battlefield with people crying and screaming, lying there injured or dead; Some completely decapitated. Instead of helping each other, people fought their way through the chaos, hoping to get a car to leave the scene. Whether it was their own car or a stolen one didn’t matter apparently. The vehicles weren’t even completely full, which reminded Matsun too much of the ridiculous and totally unnecessary death of Jack in the movie ‘Titanic’.

Those who fled with a car recklessly ran over those trying to get into the car. People kicked each other, beat other down or attacked each other with a knife, bat or similar weapons. Everyone was only thinking of themselves and those close to them. Those who were in the way were sacrificed. The picture that Issei had witnessed was something he never wanted to ever experience again. It was cruel and nauseating. If people reacted like this right now, how would they act when the situation worsened?

 

More of these groaning, growling and man-attacking things flood the area; the noises they made disgusting and disturbing. No horror movie could have ever lived up to that.

The panic was evident and undeniable, even for the ignorant ones. Matsun got his legs to move, because these ‘things’ had spotted him. He ran past the fallen and crying people on the floor, ignoring the grieving mother crying while holding her child, only to be attacked and bitten in the neck a few seconds later. Issei corrected himself: these things were definitely zombies, and from now on, he would refer to them as such. Man-eating zombies. He shouldn’t have gotten out of bed today. He regretted it already.

Matsukawa had a hard time avoiding the zombies, but he managed his way through them, successfully getting to his apartment unharmed and without a scratch. He didn’t know how he did it, but he just did. He moved through his apartment, gathering everything that could be of use or was convenient. He pulled the shelves and cupboards open and scattered the content onto the floor. Then, he stuffed everything into his backpack: fresh clothes, toothpaste, toothbrushes (because hygiene is important, even in times like these), candy bars, packs of instant ramen, three bottles of water, bandages, and other things. Issei strapped the backpack on, taking a deep breath. He rummaged through another cupboard and smiled when he found what he had been looking for: Two large knives and a Swiss pen knife. He put them wear he could easily reach them. Before he left his apartment though, he switched the TV on, curious to know what was happening around the world. The screen lit up, but instead of showing the news, almost every news channel was down. But it was nothing new. The news had barely been getting any information from the government, which was probably why nobody knew that there were fucking zombies running around in the street, and it all started a fortnight ago He surfed through the channels, impatiently pressing on the buttons of the remote control. He stopped when he finally found a news channel that was still reporting live. A helicopter showed pictures of gruesome scenes: Men, women and children running for their lives because the quantity of the zombies had doubled within minutes. There was chaos everywhere, and a big traffic jam, showing how desperately people tried to get out of the city. Where was the military that was supposed to evacuate them?

Issei's eyes were glued to the flickering of the screen. A news reporter was reporting live at the scene, talking into the microphone, but Matsun didn’t hear anything but the screams and cries, cars crashing and glass scattering. The most horrifying thing; however, were the people jumping off houses and out of the window, trying to get away from the bloodthirsty zombies, only to become one themselves. Matsun sat down on the couch and removed his left shoe and sock. Then, he sprayed disinfectant onto the cut. It burned a little, and the cut itself wasn’t that big. He took the bandage and wrapped it around his foot; not too tightly, but not too loose either.

“Chaos has taken over the city, and the military is nowhere to be seen. Ho--...Ahhhhh!” the reporter screamed, suddenly being attacked by a zombie. He couldn’t even finish his sentence.

The studio was desperately crying out the reporter’s name, but they were disconnected, and soon after the studio was stormed by a bunch of zombies.

“Fuck me...” mumbled Matsun. He was shocked. The pure mass of the people that had already turned was horrifying. Some of the zombies were extremely swift on their decaying legs.

He stood up from the couch, mentally preparing himself to leave his apartment; head shooting up when screams and cries could be heard from behind the closed door. The doorknob rattled, and he held his breath; his expression never changing.

The rattling stopped, and Issei stretched his limbs, moving to the window and looking down at the street below. Cars were honking aggressively, and people were being attacked by new-born zombies. Matsun walked to his front door, carefully pushing down the door handle; dread filling his stomach. He peeked outside and decided to make a run for it, which proved to have been quite dangerous because one of his neighbours, Mr Arida, a middle-aged man who had been working as a sales clerk, had turned into a zombie and just tried to bite his leg off. Issei had let out a screechy scream, though he'd never admit that such a sound ever made it past his lips. He was going to deny it forever. Matsukawa speeded up, knowing full well that he had to leave the city and maybe find a group he could join eventually because being on your own all the time was hella boring.

 

He was on the street now, but he didn’t have a vehicle, even a bike would do, but he only had his feet. Matsun runs down the road, passing by a group of people who were holding signs up in the air. ‘This is the punishment for our sin!, “God’s wrath is coming upon us!”, “The Endgame has begun!!”.

“Why are you running.” A woman, about his age addressed him, and he halted in his steps. Normally he would have ignored her, but he was curious because the group wasn’t panicking at all. They even seemed happy about the whole situation. The wicked and satisfied smiles on their faces creeped him out. Self-delusion at its peak.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Issei asked.

“There is no escaping this. Accept fate. You will all die, but we faithful to Christ and God.” She said, her blonde hair getting blown into her face by the wind.

“Whatever. I’ve got that thing called self-preservation. You should try it.” Matsun laughed and turned around.

“It’s God’s will that we die because sinners such as you have brought this upon us.” The guy with dark hair and thick glasses, who was standing next to the girl, said. He had a golden ring on his finger, so Matsun assumed he was married. Maybe to the girl standing right next to him.

“You’re a creepy bunch of delusional devotees, huh.” Issei answers, ignoring their calls. It was better for him to avoid such people.

Matsun looked around, his lungs were burning, and he needed a break. The buildings and skyscrapers around him felt like they were swallowing him whole, and the screaming people and zombies made it hard to focus. He pushed himself through a narrow opening to escape the hoard that he had just seen coming right at him. Finding a vehicle, a vehicle or someone who was willing to take a stranger with them seemed to pose a bigger problem than he had initially thought. He was about to give up when he tumbled upon an abandoned bicycle. A zombie was crawling around the bike, and Matsun sighed. It didn’t have any legs, but the arms still posed a danger. He looked around, and the area was quite for the most part. Some zombies walked aimlessly in the streets, but they haven’t noticed him yet, since he was too far away, and the direction of the wind was beneficial to him. He walked towards the zombie at the bike carefully and fully aware of his surroundings. It tried to reach for him, pulling itself into his direction. Matsun stepped around it. He took his knife and immobilised the zombie. He put a jacket that he had found lying around next to the bike onto its head to take away its ability to see him. Its head was shooting up, and it flayed his remaining arm around, trying to claw at the jacket on its head. You could see how the imprint of the jaw was making itself visible through the cotton fabric of the jacket. Matsun wanted to crack its head with his boot, but he stopped right over its head. He needed several attempts until he finally smashed his foot down onto the groaning zombies head, painting the ground and the jacket red. He had thought it would be easier to destroy its brain, but the scull wasn’t as easily crushed as it always seemed in the movies. Maybe the decay hadn’t spread fast enough yet, which still made it hard to crack someone’s scull open. He felt sick to his stomach. Even though it wasn’t human anymore, the feeling of a bone giving in beneath him was still horrible.

Issei swung himself on the bicycle and took off, manoeuvring through the city like he used to when he was younger.

 

*

 

Matsun made it out of town, without any major incident. Although, he had to walk the rest of the way because there was a hole in the bike’s tire. The sun was about to set, but he had found shelter in a small local library. He had been on his feet all day, and he was exhausted. He hadn’t found any zombies inside, but he still couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes and fall asleep just like that. The growing darkness, silence and emptiness of the room he was resting in felt creepy. He sighed and rubbed his tired eyes, rummaging through his backpack. He opened the packed sandwiches and devoured them both, but he was still hungry. Matsun sighed again, looking through the room. It was the copy room of the library. It was relatively small and could be locked from the inside without a key. The copier stood at the end of the room, two computers and a scanner sat next to the machine. The had switched the light out because he didn’t want to draw attention from the outside. The dark-haired man pumped his head against the wall behind him, looking at the ceiling. The lamps at the sidewalk were still working, and the zombies that wandered outside could be seen clearly due to the dim light. Matsun stood up and decided to leave the room to go empty the vending machines. Every library had at least one vending machine.

He turned the lock around carefully, shutting his eyes tightly when the action produced a small click. He slowly pushed the door open while pressing his body to the wall; knife clutched tightly to his chest. After a few moments, he decided to peek outside. The halls were empty, but it didn’t mean that there weren’t any zombies roaming around. The good thing about the library was that there were no automatic doors, so the zombies had it harder to get inside. The danger now where the potential zombies that might walk around inside the building. Matsun had killed most of them off when he entered the building, but he hadn’t checked every room. He moved through the halls like a cat would through the night, producing as little noise as possible. He could hear himself breathing, his eyes darting around everywhere, scanning the area. He was on high alert. The vending machine was in the hall, so he had to go to the main entrance.

The building only had two floors and two pairs of stairs. There was no elevator either. Issei stood on the stairs at the left side, a huge pillar separating him form the stairs to the right side. Since there were only two ways to reach the first floor, it was easy for him too see whether someone was coming or not. The light of the moon and the lamps on the car park illuminated the main floor, giving it a soft blue glow. It looked deceivingly peaceful. Matsun gripped the railing and went downstairs, sliding his hand over the smooth surface of the railing. He pressed his body against the pillar, the same way he did in the copy room, and looked outside. Zombies were roaming around the car park, swaying around and dragging their feet over the ground. He was even able to hear them groaning because it was so dead quiet. He knew that they couldn’t get inside because the door was locked. He had locked it with the key he found on the librarian that had unfortunately turned into one. Even though the door was locked, he didn’t feel safe. He didn’t feel safe at all. There was that nagging feeling of anxiety knocking on the inside of his head. He couldn’t quite drown it out. The groaning and hissing got louder, and suddenly one of the doors rattled. Then there was a quite ‘fuck’. Issei looked around the pillar, seeing a hooded figure trying to get into the building, zombies closing in on them. He didn’t contemplate too long and ran towards the door, making breath eye contact with the person outside. The look of fear and terror in his green orbs turned into one of relief. Matsun unlocked the door, almost dropping the key in the process and pulled the person inside. He swiftly locked it again, and the zombies started to hammer on the door, trying to storm the place. They scratched and clawed at the wood, but the door, a thick wooden door, didn’t budge. Matsun looked at the hooded figure heaving heavily. He was kneeling on the floor and gripping the front of his hoodie tightly.

“Thank you.” He whispered and looked up.

“Your welcome. You don’t run into a zombie hoard every day after all.” He answered.

“What’s your name? I am Takahiro Hanamaki. My friends call me Maki, and since you saved me, I’ll promote from stranger to friend whose name I still don’t know.” He laughed and looked up. He was still clutching at the front of his shirt, though.

“That’s my first promotion!” Matsun said, covering his mouth like a schoolgirl that had just been confessed to. “I am Issei Matsukawa. You can call me Matsun or by my first name.” answered the raven-haired man. Maki smiled at him.

 

*

 

They were at the copy room again, and now that Matsun wasn’t alone anymore, he didn’t feel as tense.

“You hungry?” he asked Maki, who was sitting a few feet away from him. Maki’s stomach protested loudly.

“My stomach says ‘yes’.”

Matsun handed him a candy bar and the package of sandwiches.

“Thanks.” His said and removed his hood. Now that the hood was off, Matsun could see his face properly. He had short light brown hair, almost a faint hue of pink in them. His eyebrows were slim, and his expression seemed bored, even as he munched on the food.

Matsun leaned backwards, watching Maki. “Where were you when it happened?” he suddenly asked and Maki looked up, swallowing the food.

“At home. Like at home at home. I visited my parents for the weekend because my dad called me and told me to come back. We were supposed to be evacuated, but people panicked when a shot was fired, and everything got out of hand. I was separated from my parents and ended up here. What about you?” he asked, expectantly looking at Matsun.

“At the grocery store in the city. Suddenly, everyone around me started to freak out, and then people turned into zombies.” He explained.

“So, does destroying their brain work?” Maki asked while playing with the hem of his shirt.

“Yeah. It does. It’s not nice so.” The raven-haired man said, his gaze glued to the floor. Remembering how the bone structure of the zombie gave in still made him nauseous. He probably needed some time to get used to it.

“It’s a good thing we are in a library.” Maki said, and Matsun threw him a confused look.

“Why?”

“To get some maps. Useful books and so on. I don’t think Google Maps is going to be of much use, since my phone is dead, and we won’t have electricity for long.” He said.

“Those poor folks who have, until now, relied too much on the internet will now be suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms.” Matsun commented.

“This sucks.” Sighed Maki, cocking his head to the side.

“So, should we look for medial books? Don’t worry. I watched enough Grey’s anatomy. I know that when a bone’s poking out, then that’s probably not normal.” Issei laughed, and Maki snorted.

“We won’t need your vast knowledge of hospital tv shows because I am a nurse.” Said pink-haired man.

“Now, I am even happier that I ran into you. Having nobody to talk to is booooring.” The raven drawled out.

“At least you, we know that you won’t end up talking to a beat-down volleyball named ‘Wilis’” Maki snickered.

“Nah. You won’t have to fight a beat-down volleyball for that spot.” Matsun said, smiling.