Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Three
It took Saya a minute to figure out where the music was coming from. When she did, she almost face palmed.

“Miss Shizuka, why are your boobs singing?” she asked politely. Two of the first year boys behind her instantly grabbed their noses.

“Oh! My phone!” Shizuka started. Reaching into her cleavage, she removed a small change purse, then a compact, and finally a phone, all while still juggling the wheel.

“Oi,” Khota sighed, shaking his head, only to receive a smack to the back of his head from Saeko.

“Ey!” she told him.

“What?” he looked at her innocently.

“Here, Takagi-san,” Shizuka handed the other items to here, Saya taking them with great reluctance, then answered the phone.

“Hello!” she called.

“Shizuka! Thank God!” Rika Minami’s voice came through the speaker. “Where are you?”

“Wait Rika, and let us put you on speaker,” Shizuka said, then did just that. “Go ahead. And we’re headed into the city on a school bus.”

“We? Who’s with you?”

“There are several people here, including Takashi and Saya,” Shizuka replied.

“Is Hirano with you?” Rika asked.

“Yes.”

“Thank God,” Rika sounded relieved. “Look, where are you trying to go?” Rika asked.

“We’re trying to get to my house, Rika-san,” Saya replied, taking the phone so Shizuka could use both hands on the wheel, handing the other contents of the nurse’s ‘boob purse’ to Takashi.

“Pinky?” Rika came back. “Look, I don’t think you can get across the river on the bus. Who’s driving?”

“Uh, Miss Shizuka,” Saya replied.

“Oh boy,” Rika sighed. “Well, anyway. You can’t get across Onbetsu for sure, it’s locked down solid. The only bridge I know for sure is still open is Tayatoma, but it was partially closed already for construction work.”

“That’s way north of us,” Saya noted, looking at Khota’s map again. It was dotted with different colored dots, she had noted before. She would have to ask about that, later.

“It’s still your best bet, unless it’s closed too,” Rika told her. “If it is, you’ll have to find an alternate way across. I can’t help you there,” she admitted.

“We’ll work it out,” Saya told her simply.

“Well, if you can’t get across the water today, tell Shizuka to take you to my place. She knows where it is and has a key. Now, listen carefully, Pinky, and take the phone off speaker.” Saya did so, and put the phone to her ear.

“Tell Khota where only he can hear, and Takashi too I guess, twelve right, forty-two left, seven right. Got that? Twelve right, forty-two left, seven right. If he needs it, he’ll understand when he does, okay?”

“Okay,” Saya agreed. It sounded like a combination to something. “What else.”

“I’m at the airport,” Rika told her. “And I can’t get off the island, at least right now. We’re looking for a way out, just as a back up, but right now they’re trying to stage evacuations through here, and SAT is providing security.”

“To where?” Saya asked. “The television-”

“I know,” Rika sighed. “There’s nowhere to go, really, although I’ve heard that they are trying to carry the government to Okinawa for now. The Americans apparently have the island secure, at least for the moment. But nowhere is really safe, Saya. Don’t forget that for a minute. Nowhere is totally safe.”

“Look, I don’t know when Tajima and me can get back into the city, and Shizuka. . .well,” she trailed off.

“We’ve got her,” Saya assured the police woman. “Don’t worry.”

“Thanks Saya,” you could hear the relief in her voice. “Is Hirano where I can talk to him? Just for a sec?”

Saya looked to where Khota was sitting with Saeko leaning against him.

“Hold on,” she said. “I’ll check.” She moved the few steps between them and looked down.

“Minami-san wants a word, Khota,” she said, holding the phone to her chest. He sighed and held his hand out. Saya gave him the unit and he put it to his ear.

“Yes?” he said neutrally.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry, kid,” Rika said at once. “I’d have said it sooner if you’d answer your phone.”

“I’ve been busy,” he said simply. “Was that all?”

“Please help Takashi and Saya take care of Shizuka,” she asked.

“I was going to do that anyway,” he told her. “For her sake, not yours.”

“Whatever the reason, I’ll owe you,” she promised.

“You have nothing I want,” Khota replied calmly. “Anything else?”

“No,” she sounded sad. “Thank you.” He handed the phone back to Saya, who was frowning.

“What was that about?” Saeko asked.

“Apologizing,” Khota shrugged. “Asking me to help take care of Marikawa.”

“I see,” Saeko said evenly.

“You think I should have acted differently?” he asked, though not in a challenge. He respected her opinion above all others.

“No,” she sighed. “Under the circumstances, I didn’t expect you to talk to her at all. That you did shows your maturity. Did I mention how much I love maturity in a man?” she smiled.

“I am all about maturity,” Khota smiled back.

“Pinky, I have to go,” Rika was saying. “Things are moving too fast and there’s no organization anywhere. I’m texting Shizuka a sat phone number. If you can reach your parents, I’d be shocked if they didn’t have one. If the lines go down, you should still be able to reach me. And I’ll eventually be able to find you. Take care.”

“You too, Minami-sama,” Saya said as the phone went dead. She memorized the number and then returned the phone to Shizuka.

“She cares about you very much,” she told the nurse quietly. “She wants you to stay with us until she can come to you. If we can’t get across the river, you’re supposed to take us to her place,” she added.

“Okay,” the nurse nodded. “Oh, what’s that?” she slowed. Ahead of them were several police cars, lights flashing as they sat on the side of the road.

“I don’t know,” Saya peered through the windshield. Suddenly she blanched.

“Shizuka, move to the left and keep going,” she ordered.

“What? Why-oh,” her eyes widened as a figure dressed in police blue stumbled into the road toward them. She swerved, missing the former police man by several feet even as others came out of the jumble of cars following the sound of the bus.

“This is bad,” Saya said softly. She turned to Takashi.

“Rika-san says Onbetsu is closed,” she told him, lifting the map. “Tayatoma is the only bridge that might still be open, and it was being worked on so traffic will be constricted. If we can’t cross there, we have to find a boat.”

“I guess we head to Tayatoma, then,” Takashi sighed, and turned to the others. “We’re heading to the bridge at Tayatoma to try and cross the river,” he told them. “We all need to get to the other side to find our families. If you don’t want to go with us, we’ll try and drop you where you want to be if we can get there, or somewhere safe if we can’t. Assuming there is such a place. How many of you want to cross the river?” Two hands went up.

“The rest of you want to stay over here, then, correct?” he wanted to make sure.

“I want you to take me home!” one boy yelled. “You have to take me home!”

“Where is home?” Takashi asked and the boy rattled off an address. Saya finally found it and shook her head.

“Wrong direction and it’s an hour’s drive when the world hasn’t gone to hell,” she told him flatly. “We can’t do it. You have an alternative?”

“You have to take me home!” the boy cried again.

“No, we don’t,” Takashi took over. “I’m sorry, but we don’t. We helped you get away from school, but we aren’t your keepers. Any of you. Now, does anyone have somewhere, somewhere reasonable, we can drop you if you aren’t wanting to cross the river?”

“Why do you get to keep the bus?” yet a third student challenged.

“Because we took it,” Takashi said evenly. “We went to find the keys, we fought our way to it, and we’re using it. One of us died to get it. You came to us. Not the other way around.”

Some of the students began to grumble and Takashi just ignored them. He turned to Saya.

“We need a place we can drop them off without feeling guilty, or like we’re feeding them to the lions,” he said quietly.

“Hospital?” she asked, but he shook his head.

“First place the people first bitten and sick would have gone,” he pointed out. “They’ll be overrun by now, or a madhouse if not. Same for police stations, now that I think about it.”

“I need to go to the East Station House,” Rei spoke for the first time since they had left Fujimi. “I need to find my father.” She never lifted her eyes from the floor, her gaze still empty.

“We’ll try,” Takashi nodded, shaking his head at Saya. She nodded and returned to the map.

“We can drop them at a church,” Khota said finally, when no one offered anything. “There are several churches around the area. Some are well built and also double as disaster shelters. One of them should be able to take them.”

“Good idea,” Saya nodded. “There’s one not far from here, actually,” she indicated a small chapel icon on the map. “Why is it red, Khota?” she asked.

“Means it’s a disaster shelter,” he said simply. “Should at least be worth looking into.”

“Miss Shizuka, we need to go right two lights up,” Saya turned to the nurse.

“We’ll try,” she nodded. “A lot of streets are blocked,” she noted.

“Take whichever one you can and we’ll move around the blocks until we can get close,” Takashi told her. “I want them as close as possible.”

“There’s a policeman!” someone called. Everyone looked out the window and saw a uniformed officer standing by a patrol car, lights flashing.

“Stop and let us out here!” the boy who wanted to go home cried. “He’ll make you take us home!” he added, sulking.

“Keep going,” Saya told Marikawa after she got a closer look.

“I said stop!” the boy yelled, standing.

“You’ve said about enough,” Khota said quietly. “Look again before you decide you want to die so badly.”

“He. . .he’s sick!” someone said just then. The ‘officer’ stumbled toward the van, mouth open.

“They’re all sick,” one girl was crying now, slinking down in her seat. “We’re all going to die.”

“Shut up!” another shouted. “Stop saying that!”

“You shut up!” she yelled back.

“Both of you be quiet!” still a third one shouted and suddenly the bus slammed to a halt. Shizuka turned on the arguing students, face marred with anger.

“ALL OF YOU BE QUIET!” she yelled, and suddenly there was silence.

“I’ve never done this before and I can’t concentrate with all of you yelling like that,” she said, her voice calmer. “Now sit quietly while I try to drive.” With that she turned and resumed moving them down the street.

“Damn,” Khota murmured to Saeko. “Didn’t know she had it in her,” he admitted.

“She’s formidable when necessary,” Saeko agreed.

A minute later Shizuka turned on a side street, dodging a stumbling walker who tried to intercept them. Two more turns and they were in front of a large, western style rock building, the sign declaring it was the Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

“Here we are,” Shizuka said, putting the bus in park but leaving it running.

“All right!” Takashi said to the students. “If you aren’t going across the river, this is where you get off! You can tell your parents where you are by phone or text and they can come get you.” He opened the door, looking back at Khota.

“I’m going to see the priest, or whatever, and tell him what they need.”

“I got it,” his friend nodded, standing.

“I’ll go with him,” Saeko told Khota. “Just in case.”

“Be. Careful.” He told her pointedly.

“I promise,” she nodded and stepped down behind Takashi. Saya looked at them but said nothing. Her worry was evident.

“Let’s go,” Takashi called into the bus. Reluctantly the students who didn’t want to cross the river followed, several still angry. Tsunoda was the last to get off, glaring at Khota as he did so.

“I’ll find you eventually,” he threatened.

“Looking forward to it,” Khota said truthfully. “But no reason to wait. Do it now,” he shrugged.

“And have you shoot me?” the older boy snorted.

Without a word, Khota passed his pistol to Saya.

“Whatever happens, let it happen,” he told her. “Now, asshole, just you and me. Be sure you want some, though, because today, we play for keeps.”

Tsunoda clearly wanted to jump, but apparently there were a few brain cells in his head. He took in Khota’s stance, and his apparent confidence, and then stepped off the bus. He followed the others without looking back. Khota shook his head and took his pistol back.

“Pussy,” Saya heard him mutter, and nodded in agreement.

HSOTD

“Keep an eye on Tsunoda especially,” Takashi murmured to Saeko, and she nodded, already doing just that. She had seen, but not heard, the final confrontation with Khota, and couldn’t resist smirking at the bully as he stormed off the bus and followed the others. His face reddened as he realized what she was smirking about, but he didn’t have the guts to speak.

Takashi rang a bell on the front door and waited. Soon the door creaked open and a man wearing priest’s robes looked out at him.

“Sir, these children need a place to say,” Takashi told him. “We’re going across the river, and they don’t want to go with us, and we can’t just let them out on the side of the road, but. . .we all escaped from Fujimi High a bit ago.

“And killed a teacher!” Tsunoda just had to blurt out.

“And ran over several of these. . .things that were trying to eat us,” Takashi pretended no one had interrupted. “We’re just students ourselves, sir,” he admitted. “We can’t take care of them, and we can’t get them home, either. Is there any way you can provide them sanctuary here?”

“Of course,” the man nodded at once. “Sister Agnes?” the man called into the church and soon a woman wearing a matron’s dress appeared behind him.

“Sister, these children have no where to go at the moment,” he told her. “Can you see them to the sanctuary until we can hear from their parents, or the authorities?” he asked.

“Of course,” she nodded and took led them inside. Several glared openly at Takashi as they passed and Tsunoda did his best to bump into him as he went by but Takashi merely dodged it.

“Watch that one, sir,” he warned the priest. “I wouldn’t let him stay, but. . .we can’t do anything else with him. He’s a bully and a punk. He’ll probably be trouble.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” the priest smiled. “There are more here than just me. What about the rest of you?” the priest asked. “There’s room here for you as well.”

“We’ve got to try to get home,” Takashi shook his head. “Thank you, though. Good luck, sir. And thanks for giving them a safe place.”

“I don’t know how safe we are from earthly dangers, my son, but we’ll do the best we can,” the priest promised. “Several have already taken refuge here. A few more won’t be any trouble. Go safely and with God.”

“Thank you,” Takashi bowed and then he and Saeko were running back to the bus.

“Do you think we did the right thing?” she asked.

“It’s all we could do, other than put Tsunoda down,” Takashi shrugged. “We can’t take care of them. We’re doing good to take care of ourselves.”

“True,” she agreed. “I wasn’t criticizing.”

“Never thought you were,” he smiled as the two got back on.

“Let’s go.”

HSOTD

“Well, shit,” Takashi muttered. “Ain’t this a bitch?”

‘This’ was a traffic jam of epic proportions. Horns were honking all up and down the street, for all the good it did, but nothing was moving.

“Can we at least get to a side street?” Saya asked, looking.

“I don’t think so,” Shizuka shook her head. “The others are crammed too tight.”

“We’re still over five miles from Tayatoma,” Saya noted. “And no telling what we’ll find when we get there, either.”

“It’s after three already,” Khota mentioned. “Gets dark around five thirty right now. Six at the latest. If we walk, we’ll be crossing in the dark. I’d have to advise against that,” he added.

“Yeah,” Takashi looked grim. “We can’t see, and They don’t need to.”

“How far is it to Rika-san’s place from here, Miss Shizuka?” Saya asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, from here,” the nurse thought for a minute. “I know the address, though!” she beamed.

“And that would be?” Saya prompted when Shizuka didn’t say.

“Oh!” she started and rattled off the address. Saya consulted the map again.

“Three miles,” she sighed. “Give or take. In the opposite direction. Call it two-and-a-half hours of light left. We’d have to make it there in time to see how to. . .what kind of place is this, Miss Marikawa?”

“Might as well just call me Shizuka, now,” she smiled. “And it’s a third floor split level. Along the river. The complex has a convenience store, too.”

“Big enough we can all crash there tonight?” Saya asked.

“Oh, yes,” she nodded. “It’s very roomy.”

“Well, there you have it,” Saya said, speaking to the group. “We can try for the bridge and hope it’s still open. If it’s not, we’ll be caught out in the open after dark. Or we can head for Rika’s place and hold up there for the evening. Rest, clean up, eat, and try again tomorrow.”

“Rika’s,” Khota said at once. “Tactically, it’s the best choice. And we need information if we can get it.”

“Agreed,” Saeko nodded.

“We’re with you,” Morita shrugged after looking at Hitomi. “Neither of us can make it on our own,” he added, red faced.

“Don’t worry about it, man,” Khota winked. “We got you.” Morita smiled and Hitomi blushed but also smiled shyly.

“I’m for Rika’s as well,” Saya voted. “It really is our best bet. We can’t stay here because all this noise will draw Them like flies,” she added.

“I have to go to the East Station House,” Rei said again, lifting her eyes to them. It was the first time she’d looked up from the floor. “I have to find my father.”

“We can’t possibly get there today, Rei,” Takashi told her, trying to be gentle. “We can try tomorrow, if we can find a way.”

“I need to find my father,” Rei said again. Saya was tempted to snap at her but. . .she could tell Miyamoto wasn’t really home at the moment. Lights were on, but. . . .

“She doesn’t need to be carrying a weapon,” she told Takashi softly. “She’s skipping right now.” He nodded, looking at the two students who wanted to cross the river with them.

“Who are you guys?” he asked.

“I’m Nanomi Taguchi,” the first one, a dark haired second year said. “1E.”

“Kagari Yamata, 1D,” the boy behind her said.

“Well, Nanomi, Kagari, the plan for tonight is to try and get to a friend’s house. She’s not there at the moment, but said we can crash there if we need to. We’ll stay there through the night and head out in the morning again, looking for a way across. You don’t have to come with us, of course, but that will mean you’re here, on your own.”

“You said we could get across the river with you!” Nanomi stammered.

“You can come with us if you want,” Takashi nodded. “But we can’t make you. I’m just telling you what we’re doing so you can decide.”

“We’re safe on the bus!” Kagari declared. “We can’t go out there!”

“We’re not safe on the bus,” Takashi shook his head. “We’re moderately safer for the moment, but that’s not the same thing. We can’t stay here all night. Well, we aren’t going to, anyway,” he indicated the group of friends. “This is what we can do, and so that’s what we’re doing. We don’t know if the bridge is open, and we can’t take the chance that it isn’t and be caught outside after dark with all of Them running around.”

“So, what’s it going to be?” he asked.

“I’ll come with you,” Nanomi said, getting to her feet.

“I’m staying on this bus!” Kagari crossed his arms. “If you go out there you’ll die!” he shouted.

“Could be,” Takashi nodded. “We’ll leave you the keys. Know how to drive?” he asked. The boy shook his head.

“Well, we’ll leave them anyway,” Takashi shrugged. “We won’t need them. Let’s get ready, gang,” he ordered.

Khota handed Takashi his light pack, then took one of the packs he had grabbed from storage and passed it to Morita.

“Don’t open that, just put it on and carry it,” he told the boy. “I’ll re-pack it tonight so you don’t have to mess with it tomorrow.”

“I don’t mind,” Morita assured him, pulling the pack on. Khota took the last pack, the heaviest, and set it in the seat before propping the rifle case up on another and opening it.

“Holy shit!” Morita exclaimed when he saw the contents. Khota ignored him and pulled an American style M-4 from the case. He slipped the attached sling around his shoulder after clearing the action, then pulled a small shoulder bag from the pack and started stuffing magazines in it. When it was full, he put the rest of the contents into the pack, then slid the now empty case back under the seat.

“Served it’s purpose,” he shrugged when Takashi looked at him. “Can’t use it where we’re going.” He slammed a magazine into the well of his rifle but left the action open for now.

“Where, in, the, hell?” Saya looked stunned.

“He is very resourceful,” Saeko only smirked a little.

“So I see,” Saya nodded. “Khota, have I ever told you how glad I am that you’re my friend?” she teased.

“Now that you’ve mentioned it, Saya, I don’t think you have,” Khota grinned at her.

“Khota, I am so very glad you’re my friend,” Saya batted her eyes at him.

“Hey!” Takashi put a hand over his chest. “That hurts,” he teased.

“Not nearly like my bokken will,” Saeko mock threatened.

“Jeez, all right,” Saya threw her hands up. “Everyone is so touchy!”

They all needed a good laugh and that gave them one. After that it was time to turn more serious.

“Make sure we aren’t leaving anything,” Takashi instructed. “We can’t come back.” He turned to Kagari once more.

“Sure you aren’t coming with us?” he asked. “We really aren’t coming back.”

“No,” the boy remained stubborn. “I’m staying here.”

“Well, you may want to lock the door when we’re gone,” Takashi told him. “Your call I guess. You’ll be in charge now.”

The group made one last check and found nothing. Shizuka gathered up her own bag of supplies while Saya gave the map back to Khota.

“I’ll need both hands,” she shrugged. “We shouldn’t need it again tonight, anyway,” she added.

“Okay,” he nodded, slipping it into a pocket of his vest.

“We keep formation,” Takashi said. “Saeko and I will lead and keep things quiet if we can. Shizuka, Morita and Hitomi, take Rei and Nanomi in the center. Khota will cover us if he has too, and Saya will watch our backs as we move. We can’t ignore our flanks and rear. And for goodness sake, if you see something, don’t yell it out. Stay quiet. It’s the only way for us to stay alive.”

Everyone nodded. Morita was carrying both Rei’s home made spear and the one Hisashi had left on the bus. At the last minute he left that one behind for Kagari. They didn’t need it and. . .well.

“Saya, which way?” Takashi asked.

“Straight up that street,” she pointed to a street across the road.

“We have to stay together,” Takashi warned. “People that aren’t sick may even try to attack us, so stay alert. Let’s head out.”

With that, the group of survivors left their hard earned bus behind, walking toward a hopefully safe place to spend the night and regroup.

HSOTD

The trip was easier than Takashi had feared. It worried him how quickly things had broken down. This group had three very attractive women in it that he felt honor and duty bound to protect, and two others he felt responsible for. Nanomi wasn’t unattractive herself, but he didn’t know her. While he’d help her, and protect her as part of the group, it was unrealistic to expect him to feel for her what he did for the others.

And none of them were as important to him as Saya, though Saeko did rate a close second. But Saeko could look after herself, and even if she couldn’t. . . .

He shook his head as he considered Khota. The man was his friend, there was no doubt about that, but. . .he felt like he was seeing Khota for the first time yet again! The first time had definitely been the diner. No question about it.

The second time had been at the firing range. He had to admit he’d been more impressed with that than he had the diner. He didn’t know if he could have walked away from someone trying to embarrass him in front of Saya the way Khota had. Khota just knew he didn’t have a thing he needed to prove.

He wondered if that was what had attracted Saeko to Khota in the first place? He and Saya had discussed that more than once, never settling on an answer either liked. Khota was reserved in a way, just as Saeko was, so that could be part of it. And, after his summer in America Khota had returned looking pretty good. He had attracted a lot of female attention when they had returned to school, but until Saeko he had ignored it.

Of course, Saeko Busujima was difficult to ignore. Had he not been head-over-heels in love with Saya Takagi, Takashi himself would have been attracted to her, he was man enough to admit at least to himself. But. . .Saya was it for him, no question. He knew in his heart he would never feel for anyone else what he did for his pink haired little genius and that was that. His heart was hers til the day he died.

Today, Khota had scared him a little perhaps, but. . .thank God he’d been there. And been who he was. First, he’d surprised the shit out of Takashi with that pistol in school. The cold way he’d put Shido down had sent a shiver up his spine, though Takashi admitted he would gladly have done the same himself. Then came that storage building. Khota just kept surprising him. Not that any of that was a bad thing. . .

“Wool gathering, Takashi,” Saeko said softly from his side.

“Thinking about your boyfriend,” he smiled.

“Should I be jealous?” she teased. From anyone else that would have started a fight, but from her, Takashi had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing.

“Just thinking about how he keeps surprising me,” he told her, once he had it under control.

“Yes, he does have that talent,” she murmured, her face heating slightly. “Look,” she pointed. In front of them were three walkers, so far just ambling around, showing no sign of having noticed them.

Takashi held up a hand and the group stopped, instinctively closing in. Takashi pointed ahead, showing them the problem, then indicated himself and Saeko and pointed to the walkers again. He pointed to Saya and then to the group, then to Khota and behind them, then up. Khota nodded and stepped slightly away, while Saya did the same and moved just opposite him.

“Where are you going?” Nanomi hissed, only to have Saya grab her and whisper roughly in her ear;

“Stay quiet and don’t talk. Attract Them and I will leave you here. Don’t open your mouth again.” Nanomi flushed red, but nodded when Saya kept glaring at her until she did.

Takashi and Saeko walked toward the three, careful not to trip or make noise. They were also careful to keep an eye on their flanks. The last thing they needed was to be surprised by unseen shamblers.

Saeko pointed to two on the right that were close together, and then to herself. He nodded, knowing the one on the left she meant for him. The two moved together, and Takashi was very thankful for the long hours he and Saya had spent in the dojo with Saeko. It was almost as if they had been preparing for this day.

A thought hit him suddenly; is that why Khota seemed to have all the answers? Had he known something like this might happen?

But then he shoved it away as Saeko struck, and he swung his own bokken, wincing at the crack he heard when the wood hit the skull of the walker in front of him. By the time he looked at her, Saeko had already put hers down and was checking around them.
Down the street, several more were heading that way, not yet attracted to the little noise they had made. She pointed at them for Takashi’s benefit and he nodded, turning back to the group. He waved them forward, and received a return wave from Saya.

“Let’s go,” she whispered. “No noise,” she warned, looking at Nanomi when she said it. The group started forward, Saya leading and Khota bringing up the rear.

They had almost reached Takashi and Saeko when Rei spun to face Khota, who was looking away from her checking behind them.

“YOU KILLED HISASHI!”