第 ２ 話
Mari looked down at her arms and hands and confirmed what she already knew somewhere in the back of her mind. Her purse was gone. She hadn't noticed when it might have fallen from her shoulder, but retracing the steps didn't matter. Her purse was long gone, behind the wall of psychotic people murdering everyone and passing on their homicidal infection to everyone else. What mattered was that her phone was in her purse, meaning now she had no way to contact anyone. Not her friends, waiting at some restaurant without a clue about the danger they were in. She couldn't send any messages to any other friends who might worry about her when this reached the news. She couldn't call anyone who might be able to come help in any way. Her connection to the world was gone and she was completely alone in facing the approaching horror.
People on Mari's corner of the intersection started to run, delayed only by the time it took to for each individual to process what was happening. A few people seemed to have the immediate instinct to bolt, regardless of what might be happening. Others felt a need to look a little longer, to be really sure of what was going on. And yet others seemed to remain deliberately oblivious, talking to their friends or looking at their phones, not yet understanding that there was something above and beyond the usual noise and commotion of Shibuya to be aware of. The space in between normal life and impending doom was only a matter of moments. Instinctive first reactions, or lack of them, was the dividing line between life and death.
Looking around to consider which direction might be the best route to run, Mari saw the man with the neck tattoo who had just spoken to her backing away from the intersection, his eyes widening with the dawning realization of the danger coming his way. He suddenly turned to Mari, noticing her noticing him, as people do, and he quickly deduced that she had come from the direction of the madness.
なんだ、あれ？暴動か? "What's going on? Some kind of riot?" he asked. His voice was slightly hollow now, very different from the feigned confidence he had when he first spoke to Mari.
暴動じゃない…何かの病気...? "Not a riot... some kind of disease...?" Mari said. Her response sounded non-committal not because she wasn't sure enough to answer, but because a part of her was considering that maybe she should be running already and not evaluating the situation with some stranger.
The man with the tattoo seemed to grasp the implications quickly, as he took a half step back, turning, ready to run.
行こう! "Let's go!" he blurted out, reaching out with one hand to touch Mari's arm, as a gentle encouragement. In the next moment, the two of them were running together, down the main road that everyone knew as 「センター街」, "Central Street", but had been officially named by some uninspired bureaucrat as "Basketball Street". A vague allusion to some basketball courts in a nearby park in hopes of creating a new reputation to replace the slightly seedy ambiance that everyone liked. Mari kept pace, running beside him, assuming, hoping, he meant her to run with him, though he might have just been telling her to run for her own sake.
The crowd on this street was thick enough with people that it was impossible to get up to an all out sprint. Mari and her new companion were not the only ones running, but the vast majority of people were ambling along as if nothing was happening, at least half of them still headed toward the station. One or two people were shouting for others to run as they went by, but most people just regarded them with amused detachment, as if the shouting and running was just some prank or inside joke.
Other people had a dawning sense the impending danger. As Mari, her companion, and more and more people ran by, people walking along the road started to look in the direction that people had run from, scanning through the crowd to see if they could discern what was happening. As Mari passed a convenience store on her right, she saw a man step out through the automatic doors with a deliberation in his manner, looking back and forth between his phone and looking up and down the street, trying to correlate something he had read with what was happening nearby. Already, messages were being passed around on the internet, in a wave separate from the immediate experience of people on the scene. Information that would be more confused and start a little slower, but within minutes expand rapidly beyond the people running and inform the entire world.
Mari and her companion made it to a second small intersection, only a little over a hundred and fifty yards away from where they started, and it seemed like they had just enough distance to stop for a moment and consider options. Running continuously in one direction might not be the best plan, as there was no indication that the wave of death and insanity would ever relent. Not to mention they needed to catch their breath a little from having had to spontaneously sprint as hard as they could without any warning. A few people ran straight through the intersection, and were observed by yet more people looking at their phones and then watching the runners and wondering how the messages they were getting and the runners related. There was an energy in the air that Mari could feel, the anticipation not in her, but among everyone in the area, of something happening, but no one yet knowing exactly what. It was still just calm enough that no one in the intersection, this far from the station, were compelled to take action. But moment by moment each individual was becoming aware, as Mari already was, that this small sliver of time teetered on an edge between two very different realities.
Mari and her companion heard a distant scream from where they had come and both looked in that direction, but it felt like there was still enough time to formulate a plan. They looked to each other for a hurried conversation.
交番は…?警察に助けを求めようよ… "Should we go to the koban ?" He pointed in the direction of the police box that was around another corner along in the direction they were already running. "Maybe they can do something...?"
無駄だよ。レストランに友達が待ってるの… "No one is going to be able to come in time," Mari said, crouching a little with her hands on her thighs to catch her breath. She didn't bother to mention that she had already seen the police box at Shibuya station shutting people out. That detail didn't matter. Although the man with the neck tattoo had seen some of the danger, it was not like Mari had. She knew that what was happening was beyond what the regular police could handle. "I have friends waiting at a restaurant..." Mari said.
どっち…？ "Which way?" neck tattoo asked. Mari pointed in a direction that was at an angle from the way they came, so that if they went that way, they would be passing in front of the direction the danger was coming from. His expression made it clear he did not like their chances of trying to cross over streets that may or may not get over run before they could reach their destination.
"Hey hey hey," said a voice from outside Mari and neck tattoo's conversation. A very dark skinned man, speaking in English with a heavy Nigerian accent, approached. His basketball jersey and jeans were greatly oversized for even his large frame, making him look a little like he was a caricature of someone from a rap video. "You need to take better care of your woman!" He was smiling and with a casual wave indicated that he was referring to the fact that she wasn't wearing any shoes. He laughed a little, conveying that he was kidding around.
"You should run!" Mari said back, in English, and the Nigerian man was baffled, because it was completely outside of the kind of response he expected. He straightened up, raised an eyebrow, and looked as if to say something, but before another word could leave his lips, an older man with greying hair in a pale blue workman's jumpsuit tackled him. The speed and force of the old man's motion knocked the completely unsuspecting Nigerian to the ground, and before the Nigerian could throw the old man off, the old man had bitten into the Nigerian's forearm hard. With a strong swing of his arm, the Nigerian threw the old man to the side, and then clutched at his arm. He looked like he might speak, yell something out of pure frustration, but sooner than he could form any conscious reaction, his head began to shake back and forth convulsively, and his eyes rolled upwards. He was changing.
ちくしょ! "Damn it!" Mari's companion yelled, and he grabbed Mari's arm and pulled her hard, away from the direction the old man had come from. The two of them stumbled backward and smacked into the large curved window of a karaoke building. They both quickly assessed that they had misjudged the situation. They had assumed the danger was coming fastest from right behind them. But, the density of people varied among all the roads, and the chaos was spreading faster along a larger road parallel to the one they were on. The old man had come up the small street that connected between that large road and the one Mari and her companion had just run up. There were more infected behind him. Glancing in the other direction, in the opposite direction from where the old man had come from, which led a short distance to another shopping street, Mari and her companion could see that the chaos was pouring into that intersection as well. Like a tsunami pouring in between buildings, the chaos was finding different channels at different speeds, and the two of them were finding themselves caught as the flows on either side of them were about to converge.
Running the same direction they had been going in was no longer an option. Screams, shouting, and chaos seemed to come from all sides now. Some of it echoed through the streets making it hard to pinpoint where any one source was. Across from the corner they were close to, in front of a McDonald's, a young woman was clawing at a man in a baseball cap as he tried to get inside the McDonald's for safety. They both fell, blocking the automatic doors from closing, and everyone inside erupted in panic. More infected jumped over the two in the door and attacked the first people they could reach.
Out in the intersection, people who had been seeing notifications on their phones from various social networks now saw reality confirmed in front of them, so they quickly overcame the confusion of insufficient descriptions and went straight to fight or flight. A Japanese man with corn rows standing in front of the store the Nigerian man came from tried to fight off a few of the infected as they rushed into the store, but he was quickly overwhelmed. It wasn't like a street fight, it was more like trying to fight off rabid dogs. Running shoes poured out into the intersection as a large display was knocked outward from a shoe store on the corner to the left of Mari. Behind it, three students in Nehru collared student jackets piled on top of a store clerk.
While the insane were pouring into the intersection from the two side streets perpendicular to the street Mari had just come from, a larger, slower swell of chaos was now coming from behind them, directly from the station. There was now a decidedly unconfused mass of people running away from the danger, and mere steps behind them was the sound of screams, breaking glass, and destruction. Some of the initial wave of people fleeing ran straight into the infected already in the intersection, and were pulled down immediately, but the pressure of people poured forward like a flood, creating a distinct direction to the chaos, coming from the station and heading straight down the road. In some ways, it was like the mass of people had a strength to it, knocking the infected out of the way, but Mari had no desire to run with that group. Individuals would get jostled and inadvertently sacrificed in favour of the push of the crowd, so it was a false safety. And where would they eventually get to anyway? The insane seemed to just keep coming.
Mari pushed her companion away from the rush, which moved them up the side street. He didn't resist her at all, the two of them in these recent moments of their lives having saved each other enough to earn a trust. They turned and took no more than a step forward together when they were confronted by a woman with coloured dreadlocks and a brightly coloured paisley skirt running straight at them, her face unmistakably contorted from diseased insanity. Mari and her companion braced, knowing they'd have to push her to one side or the other, depending on who she hit first. Within steps of reaching them, though, without any particular indication as to why, the dreadlocked woman turned sharply to her left, taking her inside the karaoke box Mari and her companion were beside. Through the large glass windows, Mari could see the woman jump straight over the counter to reach the two screaming women at the front desk.
There was no time to consider themselves lucky as they could see other infected up the street attacking other people, and any one of them, or their soon to turn victims, could reach Mari and her companion in seconds. They ran forward, out into the centre of the street, just to get away from the mass of people rushing by them and not be trapped up against a window, but their way forward was stopped by one of the insane running across their path, tackling someone just ahead and to the side. Mari and her companion found themselves in the centre of what felt like a spinning vortex that was closing in on them. Everyone was running in all directions, and coming from all directions, and there was screaming everywhere. There was a loud crash as a table flew out from the second story of the McDonald's at the intersection. The madness was moving into the buildings and filling out every crevice.
Mari brought both her arms up in front of her, her hands tightly clenched into fists, as if making herself smaller might make her less of a target. Her companion grabbed her from behind, holding both of her shoulders, half as a protective comfort, and half as his own way of holding onto something for safety. For a moment, the city around them seemed to swirl and distort like a fevered dream where the sense of dread was infused even into the inanimate streets, buildings, and streetlights. A large screen on the second story of the building with the shoe store blared a pop song by teenage girls, singing from a happy fantasy world completely incongruous with the reality in the intersection below.
Mari gave up on escape and started to think about how she was going to handle being attacked. Tears welled up in Mari's eyes, making the indistinct chaos all around her blur. She didn't want to see it anymore anyway. What does it feel like to have teeth pierce into you, what is it like to feel flesh tear, and could you hope that the infection might make you too delirious to know you were dying?