Stories, comedy, comics, essays, and stuff

10

For the first few seconds, as it built up, some people were noticing, but most people were too distracted to care. There was a large crack sound, and then suddenly the shaking became intense. Once the real shaking began, it was too much for anyone to ignore. An earthquake has to be particularly strong for people in Tokyo to even acknowledge it. This was strong enough to strike genuine fear in everyone.

地震だ!"Earthquake!" someone shouted, and many others just screamed or shouted in surprise. People in the seating area scrambled to get under the chairs, which didn't provide much room because of the metal frames that fixed them to the floor. Other people stood as if they might run somewhere.

動くな!動くな!"Don't move! Don't move!" Soldiers yelled out while waving their guns in the direction of anyone who looked like they might try anyway.

Everything in the room rattled, creating a noise hard to hear people over. Dust fell from the ceiling, windows shook, and the floor vibrated so hard some people fell over as they tried to stumble to safety. Mari went down to the ground in front of her chair. The metal frames that held the chairs to the floor didn't leave much space for her to get under them, but if the earthquake got worse, it would be her only option. She curled up as much as she could, bringing her arms up to protect her head, and making her body as small as possible. The vibrations from the floor went up through her hands and knees and made it hard to hold still.

The lights went out, and the moment everything went dark, the hospital exploded in panic. People started running regardless of the warnings of the soldiers and the police. The soldiers had lights attached to their guns that they turned on, and police, some doctors, and some nurses had small flashlights they turned on. Beams of light criss crossed around the room, but the seemingly random movements created an effect of flickering chaos, almost like being in a nightclub. All Mari could see were shadows passing in front of jittery smudges of white beams of light. People were running in every direction. There was the clatter and crash of glass and metal hitting the floor, wheelchairs and gurneys being knocked over, and the rumbling of dozens, if not hundreds of people's shoes running across the tiled floor. Whatever sense of order the authorities were trying to enforce was completely lost. Police and soldiers were yelling commands that no one could make out let alone obey.

The shaking subsided, but the panic remained. Beeping from people's phones could now be heard, earthquake warnings that were always too late. Mari opened her arms and her eyes enough to peer around, to see if any amount of safety had returned now that the earthquake had passed. The room was still dark, but some emergency lights had come on, so it was no longer pitch black. There were still beams of light from flashlights moving erratically, making the shadows of everyone running still harder to see.

鯰!大鯰が…!"Namazu! The Onamazu...!" the man in the grey sweater jacket that Mari had noticed before was screaming hysterically as he ran by. He was mostly shadow, but he was holding his hands out in front of them, like they had been burned, or maybe cut. Even with all the chaos and danger around her, she let out a small quick breath from her nose, a subdued laugh. Was he seriously talking about mythical catfish?

As she followed him just a couple more steps, running off to become one of the indistinct shapes moving everywhere, Mari caught a glance of Morioka Sensei in the gaps between people. He was standing on something so that he was a little above the crowd, his back against a wall and near one of the small emergency lights so that he was a beacon of stability in an otherwise swirling mass of dark shapes. He was scanning the room, looking for something. He didn't have a flashlight of his own, but he had some soldiers surrounding him, each with a machine gun with a light attached, and he was directing them to illuminate anywhere he needed to look at. Mari followed the light, and saw that the nurse who had accompanied Mari into the hospital was on the floor on her hands and knees, trying to gather up all the papers from her clipboard and all the contents that had been in her tray which were both now scattered on the floor and being stepped on by people as they ran by her. Mari saw at least one soldier push his way through to the nurse, and then too many people got in the way for Mari to see any more.

Then there was a howl. It echoed from down a hallway, though which one was hard to tell because it echoed throughout the hospital. It was a human, a man, howling, starting out as if in pain, and ended with threat, all the while hoarse and growling. With each second that the howl continued, people went quiet, to take in its implications, and to determine where it might be coming from. The howl stopped, and with it, all the motion and sound that had started because of the earthquake. For a brief moment, not even a second, there was a quiet. But it was different than when people braced for the possibility of an earthquake. This time there was a pressure in the air, everyone knowing that everyone else was going to let loose their mortal desperation.

The pressure burst into absolute fear and chaos when someone close to the source of the howl screamed, high, shrill, and echoing off every wall. Someone was being attacked. They were here. Inside the hospital.

The panic of trying to find shelter from the earthquake was nothing like the absolute life or death terror of being trapped inside with the threat of murder by the infected. People started shouting and pushing and running at top speed for any corridor that seemed like it might be an exit. The ground shook again, an aftershock, and with it the emergency lights went out. There was no higher level of panic to go to anymore. Shots were fired, at first a few controlled rounds, but then long streams of automated gunfire loudly reverberated off the walls like being trapped in a small room with heavy construction machinery.

マリ!マリさん!"Mari! Mari!!" Morioka Sensei's voice cut through the crowd and caught Mari's attention, her name somehow able to reach her in spite of all the noise. She turned and found herself facing bright lights, flashlights, aimed at her. Blocking some of the light with her hand and squinting to see into the darkness between them, she could see the guns of soldiers, and some of them moving toward her. She couldn't make out Morioka Sensei, but remembering the formation she saw him in before, she imagined he was behind them. They were moving toward her, pushing through the people running back and forth between them, occasionally knocking someone out of the way, sometimes shooting. Mari couldn't imagine why it was that Morioka Sensei wanted to get to her, but it hardly mattered why at this moment. It was better to be in the protection of the people with guns.

Mari took one tentative step forward, to try and close the gap between her and the soldiers approaching her, but as if on cue, a figure running by pushed her aside in order to keep going. She was knocked off balance and fell to a crouched position in front of the row of chairs she had been sitting on.

止まれ!動かないほうがいい!"Stay still! It's better that you don't move!" Morioka Sensei shouted, closer to Mari, but still on the other side of the lights, and guns, soldiers, and the river of people. She could barely make out that they were in at least a semi circle with Morioka Sensei in the middle of them, moving forward cautiously so that no one running by would pierce through their group. Mari tried to stay focused on them, but with every shot fired in the room, she winced, as if it indicated a bullet coming her way. And the sounds of people, from children to the elderly, screaming, and worse, when their screaming stopped, created a feeling around Mari like the air was thicker because of the noise.

Suddenly there was a surge of people, a wave crashing from Mari's left, a high pressure stream of people who had been forced down a hallway and were now flowing into the open area near front entrance, not far from the alcove where Mari was, like white water rapids emptying into a lake. The people smashed into the group of soldiers surrounding Morioka Sensei, and into everyone else running in the darkness. Mari could hear in the crowd the growling, the infected, but it wasn't everyone. As much as the infected were charging into the room, there were the people just ahead and amongst them, trying to get away. The soldiers at first swung their rifles to knock people away, but people kept coming, and the soldiers were also aware that the infected were nearby. There was no way to distinguish infected from panicked in the dark. After a few moments, the soldiers began firing into the crowd without regard for whether or not they had turned. Short, crisp bursts of automatic gunfire. As they did so, their flashlights turned away from Mari and she was in near total darkness except for the amber flickers of gun shots illuminating the area like flashes from cameras.

Mari curled up, hoping that in the darkness she could disappear. If the infected were no better at finding victims than any human, maybe she could escape detection. Hopefully the soldiers would gain enough control to come get her. Then the flashes of gunfire were blocked from Mari's view. There had been people running back and forth between her and the soldiers, blocking her view as they passed, but they were only in the way for moments. Now, someone had stepped in front of Mari, and was standing there. Growling. Mari knew it was one of the infected, but it had halted, not attacking. Mari was fairly certain that it couldn't see her, and could only hope that it didn't hear, or smell, her. It was a man, silhouetted against flashes of light behind him. Not moving. It was only moments, but every moment was an eternity when the next moment might bring death. She could just make out his shaggy hair, a thin build, and a polo shirt collar.

He was suddenly lit from behind, a flashlight aimed at his head. Mari looked up, and for an instant, with only the faintest wisps of light outlining him, she thought he was looking down at her. Mari couldn't discern anything else before his head exploded, shot from behind with a powerful gun. Blood, bone, and flesh shot forward from the space where his head used to be and rained in droplets on Mari. He crumpled downward and almost onto her, but she pushed him aside as he fell, and as his limp body fell to the side, she found that Morioka Sensei's team was now just in front of her. A bright light shone in her eyes, and a hand, in a thick glove like the one on the first soldier she met in Shibuya, grabbed her by the upper arm and pulled her upright. Like a mannequin being thrown into the back of a truck, the soldier swung her past him, and she was grabbed by someone else who had thin rubber gloves on.

Mari found herself in the centre of the team of soldiers, where the darkness had a strange calm to it, like the eye of a typhoon. The solders had their guns and flashlights all pointed outward, but even still, Mari could make out the outline of Morioka Sensei's face and the round glasses she remembered him wearing. He held her with one hand on her upper arm just as the soldier did, but his grasp wasn't controlling, it was comforting. He led instead of pulled. When he spoke to Mari, his voice was steady and only as stern as it needed to be to convey control.

ここから出よう"Let's get out of here."

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