I’ll miss you.
Emiko gazed longingly at her house. She stood just at the gate to the property, and she tried to engrave the view into her mind. The house itself wasn’t anything special. She knew that. But it was the memories themselves that she tried to write into her soul, so that she wouldn’t forget.
It had only been the third day before electricity and plumbing had failed Emiko completely. She couldn’t turn appliances on, the taps weren’t working, and she wasn’t able to take a bath. She already missed the feeling of hot water on her skin.
Luckily, having a gas stove solved her cooking issue, but she had to cook all of her meat that day, along with eating anything that could melt without refrigeration. She quickly realized there was too much for just one person to eat, and she couldn’t even save it for later. She had sighed at that. It was a whole day spent inside a hot house, and her only consolation was the cold water still in one of the water tanks of the first floor toilet.
In the end, it only lasted her until the first week had passed since everyone had disappeared. Emiko, herself, had started calling it Kodoku, or “The Desolation,” because it was her reality. There was no one she could rely on anymore. She was alone, and that was the truth.
When she finally left the house again the next day, she was shocked to see the way nature had already reclaimed the houses around her. It was as if years had passed in the span of a few days. Vines crawled along and through the crumbling concrete architecture around her. Gates were rusted, grass had overgrown in the streets, and wood had rotted away. Strangely enough, only Emiko’s house was unaffected, and she was quietly glad for it. She couldn’t bear the thought of having to cut her lawn without a lawnmower.
As grateful as she was for the exception... she wondered if the accelerated decay of the world around her had something to do with Kodoku. There was really no other explanation. In a short amount of time, the world had changed so much, in every sense of the phrase.
Emiko liked to think she was brave, but she knew when push came to shove, she was the last person she would rely on. Even now, she wasn’t strong enough to face the memories that came with staying at her house. The place she called home. She couldn’t do it. She had pretended for five days that things could go back to normal. Even when the water failed, even when the electricity gave out, even when the internet began to die and her phone along with it; She had tried so hard.
After all was said and done, she couldn’t do it. She could live with the memories, but she couldn’t face them. Waking up that day, after a trip to the supermarket, she loaded up her newly acquired wagon with all of her worldly possessions and vacated the place. Now resting comfortably against her chest on a chain was her house key and a pendant. She held both tightly in her hand as she closed her eyes and let the moment sit. Every memory, good and bad; Every triumph, and every sorrow; Every laugh and every tear: It was all so much.
Her breath was cold and her cheeks felt wet, but Emiko didn’t care. She hated this house, so she did the one thing she knew she needed to do. Putting her necklace under her sweater, she bowed to to her home, and said, simply and quietly, “Thank you.”
One last look was all she could bear before she turned heel and pulled her wagon along. Step by step, one after the other, she moved further and further away. The invisible tether that she could feel tying her home was weakening, and all she needed to do was keep moving.
Every step hurt Emiko. She tried to focus on the clatter of her wagon’s wheels. She tried to look ahead, to hum a tune, anything, but her pace kept slowing and slowing until, finally, she reached the edge of the back road. One more step, and she would be out in the streets. Truly alone. Aimless.
She shuddered to a stop, clenching and unclenching her fists. Emiko whined and shook her head. She scrunched her face and began to cry as she dropped to a low crouch and held herself. I can’t! She thought. I can’t turn back! I can’t look! I can’t! I don’t want to!
Emiko fought the urge with every fibre of her being. She wanted to run back to her room and hide. She wanted to pretend that everything was alright. She wanted to pretend that she wasn’t alone, and that her brother would come barging into her room and hang out with her. She wanted to know why this was happening. Why her? Why me?! She wept.
Then, gritting her teeth and fighting through her body’s tingling nerves, she screamed, and took a step. Then two, then three, until she was pulling her wagon with what felt like was her full might. She kept moving, her blurry eyes not deterring her from what lay ahead of her.
Finally, she crested a hill, and fell to her knees as she watched the sun crest over the horizon, and the warmest ray of sunshine she had ever felt buzzed it’s way over her. She could feel it’s heat to the depths of her bones. It was easing a pain she didn’t even know she had. She sighed, and began to laugh softly. Her face was still wet with tears, but they weren’t because she was sad. She reached up to feel the necklace pressed against her skin and smiled.
Maybe Emiko wasn’t strong enough. That was okay. She knew she wasn’t capable of everything. but she knew she could try. She owed that much to herself. To the trust Daiki had in her. To whatever force had caused this.
She wiped her tears away and got to her feet. With a new resolve, she pumped a fist and grabbed the handle to her wagon. Emiko could do this. She had a purpose. She knew that she needed to find the reason why this happened. Why Emiko, alone, remained. But she also knew she needed to live, and to continue to live, her life to fullest.
With that thought, she walked the city. Emiko had a few spots marked on a paper map she had nicked from a convenience store, and she headed to the one spot she hoped was still intact. If it was, she wanted to do everything she could.
If her experience earlier in the week was any indication, something was going on with the world’s flora and fauna, and she wanted to know what. No bear, no predator would do that normally. This she knew. For the short amount of time she still had internet, she had searched the web and come up empty. Nothing of the sort had ever really happened to anyone else. And, knowing she couldn’t ask for help, she decided to start her journey away from home by investigating.
Ever so slowly, she began walking into the more urban area of the city. Like with everything else, the inner city had started getting overrun by nature too. The higher floors of the bigger buildings were still intact, but it was only a matter of time, and Emiko knew that by the accelerated decay she had seen, it wouldn’t be long.
Soon enough, Emiko found herself standing in front of two large sets of rusting gates. The sign above had already decayed and been covered in vines to the point where the only legible word was “Zoo.” She knew she wouldn’t be able to enter through the gates, so her gaze fell to the ticket booth at the center of the gates. Parking her wagon in front of it, she climbed through the open window, left through the back, and entered the zoo proper.
Emiko remembered the time she first came to the zoo. It was an elementary school trip, and she could still remember how her brother had basically fought tooth and nail with her parents for her to be able to go. The extravagant habitats had amazed her back then, seeing different climates represented with intricate props and special equipment. Now though, it seemed like the zoo had become nature itself.
The once-seamless cobblestone was patched all over with soft moss. The glass to each enclosure was no more, and she could already see those same habitats that had fascinated her encroaching onto the walkway, as if they had become more than just a false image of the world the animals had belonged to.
Emiko passed by the frozen sea-creature exhibit and paused as she noticed that it still seemed untouched by the decay of the world around her. Walking closer to the glass, she could see a few penguins lounging around. Another penguin surfaced, holding a fish in its beak, and she watched as it tore into it with gusto. Tearing her eyes away from the scene, she noticed that the door in the back was already open. Frowning, she put her hand on the window and leaned in for a closer look. With a hiss, however, she quickly pulled back. That’s cold! Emiko thought. Cradling her hand, she heard a loud snapping noise, and watched as a spider-web of cracks spread outward from her hand print. The next moment, the glass imploded, and she blinked at the penguins, who were now blinking at her.
Not really knowing what to do, Emiko nervously smiled and waved at the penguins. As she watched them look at each other and begin speaking in the language of animals, she widened her eyes as they all turned to her and began squawking and waving their wings at her, as if to greet her back. A wave of cold air then rolled over her, making her shiver as she hugged herself tightly. Smiling once more at the penguins, Emiko jogged away. It seemed like if they wanted to escape, they would already have done so.
They seem smart, Emiko thought pensively. Are all the animals here really alright? It seems like the penguins were surviving just fine...
Emiko continued on, peering into the different exhibits and seeing much the same thing. The apes were doing just fine eating from blossoming trees inside their enclosure, trees that seemed too exotic to normally survive Japan’s climate. The aviary had a large hole in the net that was meant to keep the birds in, but it was still alive with many birds she couldn’t identify chirping to and hunting with each other.
Knowing she reaching the edge of the zoo, she passed by a jungle exhibit with its glass shattered outward. Curious, she blinked and looked at the fading plastic. Blinking again, she re-read the text and felt a different shiver run through her body. It was a tiger exhibit, and the tiger was missing. She ran to the next few enclosures and saw the same thing with each of the jungle and savannah species, both prey and predator. They were all missing.
For the first time since that day with the bear, Emiko felt an anxious fear, and she began to run. Would she find dead gazelles and zebras? Would she find lions and tigers fighting for control? Would she be caught in the middle of a fight with claws and teeth?
If they were missing, where were they?
Slowing down to think about it, Emiko breathed heavily as she rested her hands on her knees and stared at the ground. They might have already escaped to roam the wilds, Emiko thought. Every other animal seems just fine relaxing in a safe space, but maybe creatures from the plains are too antsy to stay in place.
Sighing, she nods. That’s probably it. Nothing to worry about... Emiko freezes in place and a drop of sweat rolls down her face as she feels a presence behind her. What is that?! She screamed in her head. Slowly, she straightened out a bit so her hands were free, and she begin shifting in place with her eyes closed. Slowly, slowly, she thought, don’t startle them!
It was nerve-wracking. Emiko knew it was there. She just didn’t know what it was waiting for. Finally turning fully, and knowing she was facing it, she cracked open her eye and shrieked in terror—!?
Emiko blinked as her scream died on her lips. “H-heh?” she gasped. In a blink, her heart instantly calmed, and instead, melted, at the adorable little thing that sat before her. There, in front of her, sat what looked like a tiny striped kitten. It blinked curiously at her, and she cooed at how cute it was. Crouching and resting on her knees, she put the back of her hand out for the cat to sniff. It tilted its head (which made her do backflips in her mind) and padded its way over to Emiko. Sniffing at her hand, it began to purr as it rubbed it’s head against her hand, along with the rest of its body. She giggled as it licked her hand and crawled onto her lap. After prodding around in a circle, it sat and began to groom itself.
It claimed me! Emiko beamed happily. She waited for it to calm itself before she gently grabbed the tiny creature and inspected it. Gasping a bit, she smiled even brighter and rubbed her own cheek against the kitten’s face, relishing in its soft fur. It began to purr again, and Emiko held the kitten in front of her. It opened it’s little maw, and she giggled.
“You can be my new best girl friend!” Emiko shouted. Just then, her throat caught, and she began to gag as she quickly but gently set the beautiful kitten down. Then, she started to cough. Tears of pain began to escape as she grabbed at her throat in her coughing fit, and she shook her head as she rested it on the cool ground, each cough eliciting another shock of pain.
As quickly as it came, the pain faded, leaving her throat itchy and raw. Emiko continued to wheeze, holding her chest as she tried to give a smile to the kitten in front of her. She didn’t want to worry the little girl, even though it already stared at her with worried eyes. The kitten mewled softly, and she shakily reached a hand out to pet it.
“Th-there, there... ’m alright...” she rasped. “...haven’t talked in days...”
She felt her lips twitch as it rubbed its head against her. It then approached her face and gave it a lick. Gasping, she smiled painfully, deftly picked the kitten up, and hugged it close. It licked Emiko’s face again, and she began to shake as she hugged the kitten a little tighter. The kitten only purred, as if it could read her emotion, and Emiko cried.
After a moment, she held the kitten out and gave it a wobbly smile. “Thank you,” she whispered, “For getting me to talk, and for letting me cry. I will let you go now.” She put the kitten down and wiped her face on her sweater’s sleeves. Emiko stood up and made to move, but felt a brush of fur on her leg. She looked down and frowned sadly.
“Please… don’t do this,” Emiko chokes out. “I already lost everyone. I don’t want to worry about losing you too.”
It only meowed in response and stared at her with it’s impossibly big and intelligent eyes. She giggled softly and shook her head. “Do you really want to stay with a mess up like me?”
It meowed and rubbed against her again. “I’ll... take that as a yes.” Picking the kitten up, Emiko placed it on her shoulder and smiled. “Keep watch for me, okay?” Her response was a lick to her cheek, and she giggled. “You’re too kind, little kitten.” She rubbed the nape of it’s make and smiled. “How would you like the name ‘Atsui’?”
It meowed again and licked her finger in agreement. Emiko smiled softly. Patting the newly dubbed Atsui’s head, she nodded. Emiko knew it would be a little harder with an extra passenger and mouth to feed, but she was glad she didn’t have to feel alone anymore.
With her voice barely above a whisper, she said, “Thank you, Atsui.” Her response was a content purr, and she giggled. “Let’s get moving then, hm?”
Emiko started the day alone and away from home, but she was content knowing that memories could be made anywhere, with anyone, and anything.