Before my brother stops the bicycle I jump from the back of it and roll on the cracked concrete.
“What you do think you’re doing, Kimiko!?”
KImiko“Look, it’s hurt, Kazuo.”
My brother halts and rushes to my side.
“Are you ok!? Are you hurt anywhere?”
Once my brother helps me to my feet I rush to the side of the road. There on the patchy grass lays a crow barely hanging to life.
“This is horrible.”
I can’t stop tears from coming out.
“This is what you jumped for? Just for this.”
My brother notices something strange about the crow.
“Kimiko get away from that thing!”
My brother pulls me away from the crow just as I was about to reach for it.
“Can’t you see? That’s not a normal bird.”
On closer inspection, I notice the crow has rows of sharp shark-like teeth and a fin sticking out of its back.
“I don’t care what it is, it’s suffering. It keeps gasping for air or maybe water.”
“There isn’t anything we can do. I should just put it out of its misery.”
I push my brother out of the way and take the crow.
“I’m sorry, I might be late for school.”
I hop onto my brother’s bicycle and leave him behind as he runs after me.
- I feel my heart burning. I know I’m not the greatest athlete but that doesn’t matter. It isn’t too far off now, I can almost see it.
As I pedal down the road I can feel like my lungs are about to explode.
“There it is!”
- The ocean!
I drop the bicycle as I reach the sand at the shore.
“I can save--”
I feel someone grab my shoulder.
“Please… please stop.”
“Kazuo, it's right there.”
I look at the brilliant blue ocean.
Brother points at the Crow in my arms.
It’s not moving.
“It’s dead Kimiko.”
“It just needs water.”
Once again I push my brother out of the way and head for the ocean.
“Water will fix you.”
I lower the crow into the ocean.
The crow doesn’t move.
“I refuse, I refuse. I refuse.”
My brother holds my shoulder again but this time it isn’t to stop me but instead to comfort me.
“What are you two doing here? You’re gonna be late for class.”
- That voice, Tetsuya?
I try in vain to wipe away my tears.
“Hey there, Tetsuya. What are you doing all the way out here?”
“Well, when you and Kimiko didn’t show up on my way to school I knew something was wrong so I came looking for you.”
Tetsuya, my brother, and I’s childhood friend, casually strides toward the water with his untidy high school uniform as always.
“Anyways, what’s Kimiko doing in the water, you know Kimura sensei will have her head if she gets to school in a wet uniform. And you Kazuo, I guess you aren’t wearing your uniform today again.”
“Don’t worry about it and I’ll explain it to her.”
As Tetsuya walks towards me I hold the crow closer to my chest.
“So what do we have here?”
Upon seeing the lifeless crow, Tetsuya’s expression changes from carefree to serious.
“I understand now.”
“Yeah, you know how she is when it comes to these things.”
I show Tetsuya the motionless crow.
“I thought I could save it. I really did.”
I stare into the still glittering eyes of the crow.
“You did your best.”
“But it wasn’t enough.’
“But you did your best.”
As I face Tetsuya, still with teary eyes, my brother takes the crow from my arms while I’m distracted.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s dead, I’ll be disposing of it.”
“You can’t just throw it away.”
“You have to learn that if something dies it ceases to be itself and it becomes nothing more than a collection of cells.”
Tetsuya stops my brother and smiles.
“I’ll take care of this.”
Tetsuya takes the crow from my brother.
“What will you do with it?”
“Just because someone is no longer with us doesn’t erase that fact that they once were. The experiences and lives touched by that individual don’t fade away just because they ceased to be. Wouldn’t you agree, Kimiko?”
Tetsuya reaches the corner of the beach and kneels.
“Then what will you do with that thing then?”
“What else, give it a proper burial.”
Tetsuya uses his hands to dig.
I stand up, my uniform dripping wet, and head towards Tetsuya.
“Make it quick Tetsuya or we’ll be late.”
Reaching Tetsuya I notice that he has run out of sand and is digging into the dirt. His fingernails are cracked.
“Tetsuya, I can help.”
“I said I’d take care of it so don’t worry.”
Tetsuya lowers the crow into the hole and starts covering it.
I kneel next to Tetsuya.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you.”
“How about you, Frown-face.”
“I have nothing to say.”
“Well, I guess I’ll finish up here. I may not have known you long, Crow-shark creature, but do rest in the knowledge that you will not be forgotten. And in that sense, you are just as alive as any of us.”
I stack some rocks to mark the burial site.
“Thank you Tetsuya, I know that you only did this to make me feel better but still, thank you.”
“Alright, let’s get out of here.”
My brother takes my hand and drags Tetsuya by his shirt collar with his other hand.
“Hey, let go of me!”
My brother walks with his bicycle on his side as Tetsuya and I walk beside him.
“So what was that thing anyway?”
“Really Kazuo, you aren’t even a little curious?”
My brother continues to look straight ahead.
“He’s right, Tetsuya.”
Tetsuya turns to me with a look of confusion splattered on his face. Even my brother turns to face me in disbelief.
“Has Frown-face’s brainwashing finally taken over your mind?”
“It doesn’t matter what it was, it lived just like the rest of us.”
My brother turns back away from me.
“That isn’t what I meant.”
“Don’t worry about him, Kimiko.”
- I hope Brother isn’t mad at me.
My brother holds his arm out to stop us but Tetsuya notices too late and bumps into him.
“What’s the big idea?”
In front of us are six men in what appear to be white military uniforms with the word CELL marked on their arms. The soldiers are all wearing gas masks.
“They don’t look like the Japanese military.”
Tetsuya takes my hand and pulls on me.
“It’s ok Kimiko, let's just walk around them.”
My brother slaps Tetsuya’s hand from mine.
Brother puts down his bicycle and heads toward the soldiers.
“Is there a problem here?”
The soldiers ignore my brother.
One of the soldiers turns to face my brother.
“Get out of here kid, we don’t have time to deal with you.”
The soldier tries to push my brother away but he backsteps away.
“Did something happen? Why the gas masks?”
Another older-sounding soldier steps in front of my brother.
“It’s ok, you have nothing to worry about.”
“You guys have ‘worry about’ written all over you.”
“Ha, our company is rolling out a little experiment in the area and unfortunately it causes your eyes to water uncontrollably. Kind of like chopping onions.”
“CELL is your company?”
“Exactly. So if you don’t want to ball your eyes out uncontrollably I would suggest that you head out. Actually, shouldn’t classes have already started by now and why aren’t you wearing a uniform?”
Brother rushes back to Tetsuya and me.
“How did it go?”
“Forget about that, you'll be late for class.”
Brother gets on his bicycle and pulls me up.
“Let’s go, Kimiko.”
I get on the back of the bike as Tetsuya walks up to my brother.
“Got room for one more?”
Brother goes full speed leaving Tetsuya behind.
“That was mean, Kazuo.”
“He’ll be fine.”
Tetsuya effortlessly catches up to us and keeps pace with my brother.
I smile at Tetsuya and he reciprocates with a thumbs up.
“Whatever you say, Frown-face.”
I pull at my brother’s shirt.
“I’m sorry I am slowing you down.”
“Stop that, you're the reason why I can go this fast.”
I tighten my arms around my brother.
“Let’s win this race Kazuo!”
“Hey, that’s not fair, it’s two against one.”
Tetsuya begins to slow down as we leave him behind again.
“Try to catch up, Tetsuya.”
I wave at Tetsuya and yell.
“See you at school!”
- They might have grown up but they're still just as childish as back then.
We made it, Wakawakashi High School. It’s small, with not too many students but it’s comforting. At the gate stands Kimura sensei, a woman with long flowing brown hair and the one person you don’t want to make mad.
“Who… who made it first?”
Tetsuya exclaims as he reaches the gate.
Kimura sensei walks up to Tetsuya and grabs him by the shoulders.
“I don’t care about your little race, do you have any idea how late you are?”
The normally cheerful Tetsuya’s face turns pale as a ghost.
I step in between the two even though my legs are shaking in fear.
“So.. sorry Kimura sensei but we don’t want to be any later than we already are.”
I grab Tetsuya’s hand and we run past Kimura sensei.
“Later Kimura sensei.”
Kimura sensei yells out as we enter the school.
“And why is your uniform wet?”
My brother who stayed silent through the entire exchange turns his bike to leave the scene.
“So you aren’t coming back?”
Kimura sensei turns to face Kazuo.
“I have a job to get to.”
“You're only 17, you shouldn’t be doing that job and you were so close to graduating too. I know that it’s hard with only you and Kimiko but we can help you. I can help if you just ask.”
My brother turns back to face Kimura sensei.
“So what, will you give us a place to live? Will you feed us? Will you pay for Kimiko’s education?”
“That’s what I thought. It’s just like you said, it’s only my sister and me.”
“Even if it means abandoning your future?”
“She IS my future and if that’s the price to pay, I’d say that I got a pretty good deal.”
Kazuo rides away.
“I’m sorry that I’m a useless teacher.”
After entering the school I let go of Tetsuya’s hand.
“We made it. Do you think that we’ll get in trouble?”
Tetsuya states at the hand that I was holding.
“Hello? You there?”
- He’s spacing out.
I close the gap between us but Tetsuya is still unresponsive. I spread my arms apart.
“PIERCING MAXIMUM ACCELERATION SONIC ATTACK!!!”
I go all out and slap both of Tetsuya’s cheeks. In shock, Tetsuya drops to the floor.
“What was that for?
“It’s not my fault you were somewhere in the stratosphere. Plus, we don’t want to be any later than we already are.”
I offer my hand to help Tetsuya up but Tetsuya swiftly gets up.
“No thanks, I’ve had enough of that for one day. Also, do dry yourself in the bathroom.”
Tetsuya walks onto the hallway leading to the classrooms.
“What did I do?”
Tetsuya and I stand in front of the door to our classroom.
“Come on Tetsuya, open the door.”
“No, you do it.”
“What, are you scared or something?”
“You bet I am.”
I open the door to reveal Asuma sensei, a balding man in his mid-40s wearing a black suit and tie, in the middle of a lecture. As soon as he spots us he stops and faces us.
“Do you think this is funny? You two are late and what, do you expect me to redo this lecture or help you make up the work?”
Tetsuya attempts to speak up.
“We had a good reaso--”
Asuma sensei interrupts.
“Do you think that I care about whatever sorry excuse you are going to give me?”
I bow, forcing Tetsuya to bow as well.
“We are terribly sorry this won’t happen again.”
Asuma Sensei looks madder than before.
“And now you think that a sorry excuse will--”
Asuma sensei is interrupted by Aneko, a girl with blond twintails that sits at the back of the class, as she uses her phone.
“You DO know that you’re wasting even more time with your ridiculous tantrum than them just sitting their asses down right? It seems to me like you just want to vent your anger at someone. Preferably at someone you see as beneath you.”
Asuma sensei clenches his fists and turns his back to Tetsuya and me.
“Take a seat.”
- That’s the first time that I’ve heard Aneko speak. She normally just sits in the back next to me and uses her phone. Although I do wonder why no adult ever says anything about it. It’s almost like they want to ignore her.
As Tetsuya and I sit at the back of the room I whisper to Aneko who sits to my right.
Aneko responds without reciprocating the whisper.
“Oh, don’t thank me. You own me one now and I’ll come to collect it.”
“Ha, sure anytime.”
I smile and take out my notebook. Tetsuya, who sits to my left, whispers to me.
“What a weirdo.”
“I like her, maybe we can be friends.”
“Seems like too much trouble for me.”
Asuma sensei picks up some papers.
“As juniors, you don’t have much time until graduation, so you better know what it is that you want to do with your miserable lives. This questionnaire will help you to decide how it is that you want to contribute to society, not that you’ll amount to much anyway.”
Asuma sensei hands the papers to the students in the front rows who then pass them back to us.
“I guess that I never gave much thought to what I wanted to do with my life... How about you, Kimiko?”
“Well, Kazuo always tells me that no matter what, I have to graduate from university, but I don’t really know what to major in.”
“With your grades, you could get into whatever school you wanted to. If it was me, I’d pick whichever is the farthest away from this island.”
“Come on you can’t mean that. Umarekawaru Shima is where we were raised. Think of everything that you would be leaving behind, like me and Kazuo.”
“That’s why I’d take you both with me.”
“Of course, us parentless have to stick together.”
I smile at Tetsuya.
“But Tetsuya, with your grades, I don’t think that you’ll even graduate high school.”
Tetsuya buries his head on his desk.
“You're right, I’m destined for despair.”
“Don’t worry because you’ll always have me.”
Tetsuya’s face becomes red.
“And Kazuo too.”
Tetsuya’s face goes back to normal.
“Hah… I guess.”
I turn to face Aneko who is still on her phone.
“How about you?”
Aneko remains unresponsive.
Tetsuya whispers to me.
“Slap her cheeks.”
I swat Tetsuya away.
“No way! That would be rude.”
Tetsuya makes a confused expression.
“But I do have a plan B.”
I reach my hand closer and closer to Aneko’s unsuspecting face.
- Almost there.
I stretch out my index finger to poke her cheek in order to get her attention.
As my finger is about the poke Anko’s cheek Aneko grabs onto it with her right hand while her left hand continues to use the phone. All the while never taking her eyes off the screen.
“You do know that I can use my phone and listen to your stupid conversation at the same time right.”
Aneko glaces at Tetsuya.
“Coward, just tell her.”
Aneko lets go of my finger, continuing to use her phone.
“Tell me what? Tetsuya, what did she mean?”
Tetsuya seems nervous and is bright red again.
“N… no.. nothing just fill the stupid paper.”
Tetsuya starts to fill all the questions and doesn’t face me anymore.
- What’s wrong with him? Oh well, it’s probably not important. Now, what do I want to do in the future? I do enjoy gardening, maybe I can open a shop or study flowers. Ugh, why is this so hard?
After school, Tetsuya and I walk towards the gate where my brother is waiting.
“Hurry up you slackers!”
My brother waves at us.
“Hurry Tetsuya or he’ll get mad.”
I run ahead of Tetsuya and reach my brother.
“Let’s go, Kimiko.”
Tetsuya reaches us as I get on the back of my brother’s bicycle.
“I really can’t keep up with you, Kimiko.”
I look at my brother with a disappointed face.
“Come on, he's your best friend.”
“And when did I say this airhead was my best friend.”
Tetsuya smirks at Kazuo.
“Well, I am your only friend so by default I’m your best friend.”
Brother starts to pedal away leaving Tetsuya behind but as he does the bicycle begins to tilt on its side.
Tetsuya manages to hold the bicycle, stopping our fall.
“I think you guys are better off walking.”
I help my brother get off the bicycle.
“I’m sorry I didn’t notice how tired you were.”
Brother pushes me away and starts walking.
“I can do it myself, you just worry about yourself.”
I nod at Tetsuya and he nods back.
“Well if you’re going to be stubborn about it then we will too.”
I grab onto my brother’s left arm and Tetsuya grabs his right arm as well as his bicycle. We hold my brother as we drag him forward.
“You two. Whatever.”
On our way back home, I turn to my brother.
“Kazuo what do you want to do in the future?”
Kazuo faces me with a puzzled expression.
“What do you mean? I’ll just continue doing what I am now.”
“But you can’t be happy with the job you have now. Don’t you want to have a career or fulfill some kind of dream?”
Tetsuya speaks up.
“Yeah like back when we wanted to be superheroes.”
I face Tetsuya.
“You’re not helping.”
Kazuo looks up at the setting sky and then at me.
“I’m already fulfilling my dream.”
“Really, what is it?”
“I can’t tell you, not yet. Not until it happens.”
Tetsuya speaks up again.
“But you can tell your best friend right.”
“Especially not you.”
I let go of my brother’s arm and get in front of him and Tetsuya.
“Well as long as we all stay together--”
Suddenly I feel an intense heat behind me as I’m pushed forward along with Tetsuya and my brother.
Smoke fills the road and I lose track of Tetsuya and my brother.
“Cough cough. Tetsuya... Kazuo... Are you alright?”
I hear Kazuo’s voice in the distance.
“Cough. Yes, Tetsuya is with me. But don’t move, we don’t know what damage that explosion made to the road.”
“Yes, stay there and wait for the smoke to dissipate.”
“Alright, you stay safe too.”
I faintly see something floating in front of me. It looks about the size of a large insect.
- What are these things?
I look closer at them and can see that they look like the viruses we learned about in biology class, specifically Phages. They have an icosahedron top with a stem that connects it to six legs like an insect.
- Viruses aren’t supposed to be this large. What is going on?
I suddenly feel a sting on my right arm.
“Ouch, what was that?”
I look at my arm and find that one of the viruses stung me. I quickly brush it off me and walk away from the viruses in front of me.
“Tetsuya. Kazuo. Look out, there are some strange things floating around in this smoke.”
I hear Tetsuya yell out.
“Yeah, I know these damn mosquitos keep stinging me and Kazuo.”
“They aren’t mosquitoes, idiot.”
“Well, whatever they are, I don’t like them.”
The smoke begins to disperse and I can see Tetsuya and Kazuo a fair distance away along with the decimated road we were on. The viruses disappeared along with the smoke.
“Are you alright Kimiko, did they get you?”
“Yes, Tetsuya but not that many.”
Tetsuya and Kazuo begin to walk towards me when even more explosions are heard in the distance. Kazuo looks in the direction of the sound.
“This can’t be an accident.”
Tetsuya looks as well.
“What do you mean?”
“We must be under attack. Terrorists or maybe another country. Either way, we have to hide somewhere safe.”
I walk towards Tetsuya and Kazuo but my legs feel weak. I fall to my knees, unable to move. Kazuo cries out rushing towards me along with Tetsuya.
“Kimiko, are you hurt?”
Before reaching me they both fall to their knees as well.
“Kimiko hold on.”
Tetsuya begins to crawl towards me until he has no more strength to move either.
“Guys, I feel strange.”
It feels as though my insides are fighting each other. My body heats up so much that I feel as though I’m being boiled alive.
I can hardly let out a word anymore.
I began to lose sensation in my right hand and as I glance at it, I can see something coming out of the place where that virus had stung me. It’s another one of those viruses and another and another. They keep coming out. As I look to see if the same is happening to Tetsuya and Kazuo, all I see is their horrified expressions as they witness what is happening to me. Kazuo powers through and crawls towards me.
“Kimiko, don’t panic, I'm almost there! You’ll be alright!”
Tetsuya follows after.
“We’ll take you to the doctor and everything will be fine. We have to get out of this island together, remember?”
The viruses begin to multiply inside me. They have consumed my entire right arm and are beginning to spread to my face and torso.
“Get.. get away.”
I will out words of warning.
“You..’ll get... infected.”
Kazuo continues to move closer.
“Don’t talk, it doesn’t matter what happens to me.”
I can see them inside my right eye, I can hardly see from it. I can feel them spreading.
“Why can’t I move, damn it!?”
Something is beginning to cover Tetsuya’s body but it isn’t viruses. It looks like some kind of shell. It’s growing from within his skin and making him unable to move.
Kazuo suddenly stops as well but it looks like he’s sinking into the ground.
“NO! No no no no no! I’m almost there!”
Tetsuya and Kazuo struggle but neither can move forward anymore. I don’t know how much I’ve been consumed but I know that I don’t have much left.
- Is this the end? I don’t want it to end here. I have so much to do. I want to live. I have to show my brother that I appreciate him. I have to get a good job so he doesn’t have to work so hard anymore. And Tetsuya, I have to convince him to stay on the island… with me. WHY?! WHY?! Why me? Why now? It’s not fair. Please, if there is a God. Please save me. I don’t want to die.
I can no longer see anything, hear anything, feel anything.
-This is the end. Did I accomplish anything? I. I. I. Ha. I guess I’m selfish, thinking of nothing but myself. This is the end for me but maybe they still have a chance.
“T.. t.. th..”
Tetsuya and Kazuo look up at me with tears in their eyes but are unable to speak.
- I don’t know if they can hear me or if I’m even making any sound at all but I have to say this before I’m gone.
“Th.. t… thank.. Thank you and live.”
- I can feel my consciousness fading away as if I’m being swept away to a dream. I don’t want it to end but as long as the two of them are alright then I can leave. I just hope that they argue a little less.
From inside this stupid shell, I see the last of Kimiko’s body disappearing into those damn creatures.
- I think Kimiko was trying to say something but I couldn’t hear what it was.