Happiness doesn’t last, does it?
In the perfect world, we grow to be strong, learn to believe in ourselves and to have the courage of our convictions, and finally meet someone with whom we can be that person – in both strength and weakness.
When you find that person, don’t let the small, the insignificant things come between you.
Embrace your differences and each other and don’t let go. Fight hard and with everything you’ve got.
Because you never truly know when the dream will end.
Panting and laboured beneath the weight of my backpack, I struggle to keep pace. Kaga and Soma are already pulling aside our barricade at the east end of the academy, while Shinonome and Ishigami stand alert for approaching threats.
At my side – always at my side – Seiji remains in step.
His face is smeared with the horror of his narrow escape, much like the rest of us.
But one of us fell, one of us didn’t really escape at all, the others just don’t know it yet.
Seiji doesn’t know it yet.
“Get the hell in here!” Kaga barks, but his curt urgency is no exaggeration now.
The threat is real, however disbelieving we were at the beginning, the truth has well and truly sunk in.
“Christ,” he huffs as Seiji and I pass him, and he and Soma begin to reassemble the barricade protecting our fortress home. “Could you possibly find a smaller pack?”
“Screw you,” I gasp, stumbling into the foyer and sliding the bag from my aching shoulders.
It hits the floor with a heavy clunk, the cans within part of the bounty we’d retrieved from several convenience stores much further from the academy than we have ever venture since the incident. Those closest to the academy have already been stripped bear, and it was the necessity to eat, and to provide for those who also shelter with us, that prompted a much more dangerous run to distant sources.
Roaring in my ears, my pulse refuses to slow, and Seiji looks me over with worry.
“Are you all right?” he asks quietly, leaning against the wall beside me, peering at me with those gunmetal eyes haunted by deep concern.
“Mm,” I nod, giving him a weary smile.
Anything to ease his troubles.
Anything to lighten this heart I love.
Anything to protect it from breaking.
But I can’t.
“That was intense,” I add, as Ishigami joins us.
“Everyone okay?” he asks, the blandness of his expression a stark contrast to the dangle of gore hanging from the left side of his glasses.
“Yeah,” Seiji confirms, and I nod also.
But they take my word for it, this trust is what has kept us alive this long.
There are untold numbers of dead in Tokyo, some permanently, some now roaming, shambling, looking for prey – because it all happened so quickly, and people didn’t know how fast the infection spread, how virulent it was.
We still don’t know how it started. Even law enforcement was woefully unprepared, and communication came too slow, too late.
“Let’s get this stuff to storage,” Seiji prompted, shouldering his pack, before collecting mine.
“I’m not completely useless,” I argue, but I’m playful in my scorn.
Oh how many small things has Seiji done for me? When was the exact moment his selflessness won over my heart? I have no doubt, he would gladly give his life in exchange for mine – but this time, he can’t.
When twilight drifts, everyone goes to their posts. We check our defences, reinforce each barricade, look for weaknesses and plug them, and check night-watch rosters.
Glancing down the list I note who is meant to be at each guard position. It looks as if I’m just doing my job, but in reality I need to know who is where for a very different reason.
Shivering, I pull my jacket more closely around me, and eventually meet up with Seiji in our room.
It was going to be a little house, with a yard big enough for a dog and a small vegetable patch. That was our shared dream.
Now, he is all that I have left of that dream, and…
“You look tired,” he tells me, gently taking my face between broad palms. “You’re cold.”
“It’s a clear night,” I point out, leaning into his touch, trying to memorise the sensation. “It’s freezing out.”
“Well, it was a long day,” he smiles, carefully sliding his fingers into my hair and running them all the way to the tips. “Early night?”
“Gladly,” I exhale, hoping he can’t tell I’m gritting my teeth behind this smile.
He doesn’t know I organised a pack of bare essentials while he was showering, and hid it from sight. He’s treating me like he always has – the centre of his world.
Mouth dry, maybe from the gathering nervousness of what I must do, or maybe… I can’t tell if the jackhammer pounding against the inside of my skull is part of my transition, or the spread of guilt and grief and emotional pain so potent it’s a wonder I can stand, let alone smile like nothing is wrong.
And everything is wrong, because the throb in my forearm, hidden by the long sleeves of my flannel pajamas is a harbinger of my imminent death, and horrifying resurrection.
And I can’t be here when that happens.
Just the same, I snuggle under the blankets, and as Seiji is reaching over to turn off the lamp, I wrap my uninjured arm around him, and press myself mercilessly against his back.
I want to feel the imprint of his body against mine, my fingers, my hands, I want to remember every taut undulation of his chest, and the steady rhythm of his breath.
“Your hands are still freezing,” he grumbles, but hugs my forearm tightly.
And I pray he doesn’t hear my breath catch and stick in my throat, or feel the desperation to withhold a sob in the tension of my muscles.
“You always warm me up,” I whisper, hardly a breath at all, and he gives my hand a squeeze.
Nothing in the world would give me greater peace, than to remain here – but if I stay, even until morning… I might truly destroy him. Instead, I listen to the sounds of him, inhale the scent of him, until he falls asleep.
And then I have to exercise the absolute, utmost of my willpower to separate – softly so as not to wake him, when all I really want is for him to wake suddenly, grab me, pull me down and wrap himself around me.
I am my own person, but I would gladly let him consume me.
Cautiously I cover him back up, but the slight motion of Seiji’s head causes his bangs to flop over his closed eyelids.
And yet so fierce in my defence – and this is why I have to go.
He would make excuses, drag it out, maybe even beg me to stay even while knowing my fate is a foregone conclusion.
Go. GO! You have to go. For his sake.
As quietly as I can, I retrieve my backpack. There is hardly anything in it, because let’s face it, I’m not going to be needing human supplies for much longer.
Then there is the letter.
Saying goodbye, face to face, seeing him break… I can’t. And it’s not arrogance to think he will, because his heart and mine are one and mine…
… is being torn apart.
On the pillow, still fresh with the impression of my head, I leave my final missive to him, and bite down so hard on my lower lip, it bleeds. These feet won’t move but they have to.
My insides are hollowed out, a gaping, weeping wound very nearly prompting a sob when in my retreat from out room I spy Domo-kun.
It’s so stupid that Domo-kun should symbolise our love somehow, but for some reason that gift to me left a lasting impression. And even in the chaos, he stayed with us as a constant.
“Goodbye Domo-kun,” I whispered, slipping out into the hall and closing the door on all I ever wanted.
“Cold,” Goto murmured, rolling over and groping across the bed for his favourite source of warmth.
It was not so jarring an awakening, for he didn’t yet know the truth. His wife could be any number of places by far more obvious than having snuck out in the night to meet her grizzly fate.
So he clutched at the blankets and tucked them under his chin, and in doing so disturbed the piece of paper beside him.
Rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand, he plucked the missive from the pillow and unfolded it.
And dread began to form, dread that turn swiftly into a panic without description.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF THE BELOW LETTER
My dearest Seiji,
We said, till death do us part – but, I’m not sure where undeath fits into that.
I am sorry.
I made a mistake and now… the cost of it must be paid. And this is the one time you can’t save me, no matter how many times I call you name, the enemy now inside me cannot be defeated.
You will be angry that I didn’t tell you, that I didn’t… give you a chance to say goodbye, but leaving like this is the lesser of two terrible evils.
I will turn, it’s inevitable, and I don’t want your last memory of me to be as a monster.
Please remember the brush of my fingertips against your forehead.
Please remember the warmth of my body curled against yours.
Please, remember the passionate heat, and the bliss of our every union.
And let me save you this time – let me stand, even at this distance, between you and having to see me as anything other than the woman you took to be your wife.
That woman will soon be consumed, but until the very end I will fix you in my mind and heart, grip you relentlessly, because you have taught me what it means to be loved so unconditionally, so completely; I will not be afraid.
Loving you, and being loved by you, has been a privilege I’m not sure I ever really deserved, but you have been the absolute, the most precious gift I ever received.
I love you.
Your dearest wife.
The bed beside him was cold.
When in the night had she left him?
He knew she was gone but could not control his panic. It exploded inside him, could not be contained, and drove him from their room in his pinstriped pajamas. With abandon he threw himself down the corridor, blind almost but for a target in the distance he had no way of seeing.
Morning greeted him with a slap of winter, but Goto struggled through the haze of his desperate breaths lingering in the air, and staggered like a drunkard to the outer most manned position.
“Did you see her?!” he shouted.
“Lieutenant?” the young man queried, looking very confused.
“My wife!” Goto gasped. “Did you see her? Did she leave this way?”
But the pair stationed there could tell him nothing, nor could any of the other outer guards, and finally, her last words to him clutched in his bloodless fist, he sat, in the dirt, trembling.
Why couldn’t he see her face? Why could he only see the back of her, her retreating figure moving with labour steps through the undead who paid her no mind?
Losing her was… there were simply no words, but to know she had gone alone with such pain in her heart was a wound to him like no other.
And all he could do was sit, and stare off into the distance.