The forest ended just over the dead—grassy hill. And like everything around the two travellers, it was dead silent. The only sound was the thudding of their footsteps on the long-dead earth.
“How much farther to the next town?” Sharrkan asked, glaring over the horizon of meadow he had yet to traverse, his hand held over his eyes shielding them from the sun.
“Not far, just across this field,” Yamuraiha replied, the barest glance above the big map she held, their only means of direction. Yamuraiha’s aqua-blue hair was thrown over her shoulder, a ripped and dirty witch hat resting on her head.
They’d been together at school when it happened—when the world went to hell. Everything did. Cities nothing more than dust in the wake of the things ahead. The living dead roamed the world now—but Yamuraiha called them Specters. She said zombies sounded stupid. They took everything. To find another person—or even a house that hadn't been ransacked and raided—was rare in this hell-bent world. Two years had already passed, Yamuraiha’s notebook full of ticks that marked their days.
Their trek continued over the rolling hills of dead grass. Just like how all the people died in the world, everything else had, too. Sharrkan hadn’t changed, though, even if everything around him did. That was what he thought, anyway.
“How much longer do you think?” Yamuraiha asked almost impatiently. The two had been walking around the world for the longest time, travelling here and there, so Sharrkan could understand if she were impatient. Still looking for other people, they had only happened across some. And nearly all of them were crazed to the edge of insanity. And even sometimes that he and Yamu were travelling, she broke down, too. But always the next morning, she hid it well. Too well.
“Just across this field, didn’t you say? Don’t ask me! You have the map!” He retorted, flinging his arm at the map Yamuraiha held close to her.
“Well I have the map, but I don’t know how long it’ll take!” She yelled back, though careful to keep her voice down.
The pair launched into a heated argument as usual. It was nothing new, especially with having to spend their time with each other every day for the past two years. It had been rough, escaping that hell of a school and making it out of the city. After they made their escape, the government tried to ease everyone by sending them out of the country. But the trucks they boarded bound for the airport were attacked, overrun by Specters. He had found Yamuraiha crouched down and hiding in the overturned vehicle, a hand over her mouth to keep the sobs from coming out. When Sharrkan pulled her from the ground, Yamuraiha had only fallen again, crying for what seemed like forever. They were lucky not to have been found out there on the open road.
Thinking back on that now, it was a lot worse than the present. Walking through the empty world beside her, their arguing that probably carried all the way across the field. But Sharrkan didn’t shush her, because he wanted to hear her voice. The melody that the wind carried even to the foul creatures that had taken everything.
Over the next hill they crossed, Sharrkan could have sworn he heard something. Yamuraiha let out a breath. There below them, lay a deserted ghost town—what seemed like even the ghosts had left.
“Do you think anyone is there?” Yamuraiha asked, pausing their argument, pointing a frail finger at the rubble of a town below.
Rubbing the back of his neck, he said, “probably not, but there might be food.” Sliding down the hill to the muddy waters of the swamp surrounding the town, Sharrkan looked around for anything to get to the land in front of him. Rice fields surrounded the town, assuming that was what had grown there.
“Are you coming or not?” Sharrkan said, glancing behind him at Yamuraiha who was still standing on the grass before the town.
“Y-yeah, I’m coming, you baldy.” She hissed, her light backpack bounded on her back as she dashed to him on the thin walkway between the patches of water. He didn’t understand her hesitation, really, they had entered so many villages and cities it was hard to recall now, but every time they did, Yamuraiha would always hesitate.
There wasn’t a soul on the streets, empty and barren. Toppled vendor stands and run-down cars littered the streets.
“It’s getting dark, we should find some food and a place to stay,” Sharrkan suggested to his partner. Yamuraiha’s loose and muddy robe outfit flowed around in the slight breeze in the streets. Sharrkan never knew exactly what it was that she wore, but she seemed to like it so he didn't complain.
He wore some questionable things, too, kind of like her robe but with a muscle shirt underneath. So they were both equally as weird. Fine.
“I think that’s a convenience store over there,” Sharrkan pointed to a building that looked the same as the rest, “there might be something there.”
The air was cold, just like that day everything started. It had been snowing, and Sharrkan and Yamuraiha had skirted the edges of the city in hopes of finding some other survivors. Their hopes had been dashed, however, and they found only more Specters. They chased them around the buildings, in the fields, through the forests until the pair had lost them, and tired from hunger and exhaustion, they’d slept in a tree.
Sharrkan didn’t understand why he was thinking about that day like this. Maybe it was the whole, life flashing before your eyes, thing and he was going to die soon. But at least that would be a change from this everyday boring life.
The convenience store’s doors had already been torn down, either by the foul creatures that roamed the world or other living scavengers.
Sharrkan raised his sword—the one he took from the school dojo he went to every day for his kendo practice—and Yamuraiha upholstered her Glock. They didn’t necessarily want to use the gun, otherwise, it would attract more attention then they wanted. Those Specters were blind. But they could hear everything. From the dropping of a pin to surely their footsteps that had marked the lands behind them.
Sharrkan was pulled from his train of thoughts when he heard Yamu scream. Her shriek echoed through the empty streets outside the shop, and following it the sharp sound of gunfire.
“Yamu! What are you doing?!” Sharrkan yelled, vaulting over overturned shelves over to the back room where the witch had been scavenging.
From beyond the wall, Yamuraiha screamed again—but unlike the last—it was of pain. Sharrkan rounded the last corner before he got a glimpse of Yamuraiha firing her Glock repeatedly from behind a fallen shelf, aimed at the oncoming Specters.
Sharrkan dispatched them with nothing more than a few swings of his sword. The rotten and decaying bodies crumpling to the floor, their heads rolling around on the messy ground.
“Yamu! What were you doing?!” He panicked, kneeling beside the witch he called a partner. “You could have been killed!” Sharrkan’s mind was a wild mess. He didn’t even notice as she slipped into the secluded room without him, leaving him to go on her own.
Before Sharrkan could say anything else, Yamuraiha pulled her knees to her chest and held her hat over her head. Quiet tears slid down her cheeks as Sharrkan only watched in silence. He’d never seen Yamu cry even after an attack like that. Recalling that much, Sharrkan had never seen her cry.
Neither of them said anything as Sharrkan wrapped his arms around her, engulfing her tiny figure. He could feel Yamuraiha tense but relax after a second passed. Not a minute could have escaped their grasp before Sharrkan stood up, pulling Yamuraiha with him.
“It's not safe here.” He said, pulling her by the hand out of the room.
Before they could take a step out of the room, Yamuraiha stopped. Nothing more than a little tug on Sharrkan’s arm.
“I can’t go.”
Sharrkan looked at her in confusion. If they didn’t go, they’d be caught in a wave of Specters that must have heard the gunshots. When Sharrkan tried to pull her out the door again, Yamuraiha resisted again.
“I can’t go.” She said again, her voice a monotone of pain.
“Why?” Sharrkan asked her, turning around to face her. Their hands still intertwined.
Yamuraiha didn’t say anything as she held her other arm out, the one she had been keeping behind her back that Sharrkan had failed to notice.
“What’s wrong with that?” Sharrkan asked, gesturing to the small gash on Yamuraiha’s forearm, belittling it. “It’s just a scratch.”
Yamuraiha retracted her outstretched arm, holding it closer to herself, caressing it.
“I didn’t scratch myself. The Specter did.”
Sharrkan’s mouth twitched a bit in disbelief, denying what he thought was most likely true.
“It’s just a scratch,” he said again, “it’ll heal.”
Yamuraiha stretched her arm out again, turning the gash skywards.
“No, it won’t,” she said, seething through her teeth as Sharrkan grabbed her arm. “Look.”
Yamu pointed to the hole in her skin, the fresh blood from only seconds ago was dried up, and the edges of the gash was a sickening greenish-grey. Sharrkan flinched at the sight but didn’t let go if her arm.
“It’s just a scratch,” he said for the third time, “it’ll get better later when we patch it up.” His mouth twitched again, denying his own thoughts—what he already knew.
“It won’t and you know it,” Yamuraiha lashed, ripping her arm from his grasp. “We’ve seen it happen. We’ve seen it happen to them. I’m going to end up the same.”
As Yamuraiha mentioned their friends, Sharrkan pulled her into another hug. This time, Yamu fought back, trying to get away from him.
With a heavy heart, Sharrkan rested his head on Yamuraiha’s, smoothing down her blue tresses of hair, soothing her sobs and tears.
“Let's just go. We have to find somewhere else.”
Sharrkan lead them to another abandoned building, what might have been a hospital. There were numerous rooms, all of them as empty as the pairs’ hearts. Sharrkan lead the way to the topmost floor, Yamuraiha behind him. Nearly to the top, Sharrkan heard the low—menacing steps of a Specter.
Three to my right, another on the left. On any other day, he’d have been able to lop their heads off or put a blade in their heart, but with Yamuraiha to watch? Just a minor inconvenience.
“Stay here,” he said to her, her head sagging on her shoulders. “I’ll be right back.”
He felt like something had been ripped from him as he stepped away from Yamuraiha who he’d left on the floor. His sword was strapped to his back, and as he ripped it out of its sheath, he looked back at Yamu.
Her eyes were starting to sink in. Her fair skin—already so pale lightened further. It wouldn’t be long.
The Specters that we’re coming at him were fast, but he was faster. Fueled by anger and an empty heart, he slashed and hacked away at their rotten skin.
There in the midst of the carnage, he stalked back to the wall Yamuraiha lean on. Her head lolled to her side, her waterfall hair and a blanket over her face.
“Yamu? We have to go.” He pleaded, gently nudging her cheek.
She’s so cold, he thought to himself. Her chest rose up and down faintly, and he took it as a good sign.
“Sharrkan, just go. It’s fine. It feels like I’m already gone.” Yamuraiha drawled, her head lolling to the other side, eyes rolling to the back of her head.
“No, no, no, we’re going now—” Sharrkan bundled her sagging body into his arms and began walking to the emergency stairs, “—and you’re going to be fine.” He said, trying to be optimistic.
The flight of stairs reached as far as the roof, but Sharrkan felt that Yamuraiha wouldn’t want to lay on the ground in her state. He stopped at the second-topmost floor, the hallways as blank and bleak as the rest he’d seen. He took a right into the hall, and another into a room.
Unlike all the other rooms he’s seen in the hospital, this one was slightly different. Lion stickers and large hospital beds filled with stuffed animals filled the room. Though only two beds, the room felt small. The toys scattered on the floor around him were kicked away as he made his way to one of the beds.
“Just stay there, I’ll be back.” He said, letting Yamuraiha down softly below the covers. Her hair bloomed around her like a flower, and the blood that now seeped from her eyes were her tears.
“Where are you going?” Yamu asked, snagging his sleeve as he turned away. Sharrkan looked back at her and made the bad decision of looking her in the eyes. They were bloodshot, blood running down her pale cheeks like the tears she’d shed earlier.
“To get some—” The toy car Sharrkan stepped on slid out from under him, crashing to the ground. Something clicked, looking beside him, Sharrkan could see a tape laying on the ground under the bed, it’s negatives rolling in its case.
The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried
The song was an old nursery rhyme, Sharrkan remembered it from when he was a child. Looking back at Yamuraiha on the bed, she let out a tired sigh.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away
Sharrkan almost scoffed at the words of the song, wondering why he hadn’t shut it off yet.
“You are my sunshine. . . My only sunshine. . . ”
His eyes shot up to Yamuraiha, her lips forming the barest of words. Tears slipped from his face, matching the streaks of red on hers. He sat on the bed, his weight forcing a creak from the old and worn frame.
I'll always love you and make you happy
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me and love another
You'll regret it all someday
That sounded so much like Yamu, it made Sharrkan laugh. Yamuraiha looked at him, taking her attention off of whatever she had been looking at—or not been.
“Why are you laughing?” She asked, her mouth spraying the slightest of blood. Sharrkan wiped it away with a finger, leaning down to plant a kiss on her soft lips.
“Nothing.” He said. Because they didn’t need words to understand what they both felt. What they both knew was to come.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know dear, how much I love you. . .
“Please don't take my sunshine away.” Yamuraiha’s voice cracked, and she was seized with a coughing fit of blood. The once-white sheets around her were splattered with crimson bright blood, it’s silent glow fading with the seconds passed.
“Don’t say anything.” Sharrkan pleaded, touching his forehead to hers, their hands grasping as tight as they could. But for Yamuraiha, it was little more than a light squeeze.
“Now, before it’s too late.” She said, the fire in her chest growing hotter with every second passed.
“No, wait. . .” Sharrkan said, savouring every last moment he had with her. As if there was a clock, ticking in the background, Sharrkan could see the seconds she had lest ticking away on her face. And if he didn’t do this now, he’d be gone, too. But was that really so bad? He’d be free of this hellish world, and maybe in another world with Yamuraiha.
The quiet slide of his sword against his sheath was all he could hear, it only added to the clock ticking away in the background.
Yamuraiha closed her eyes, her hand tightening all she could around his.
“Some people would call this a hell, I call it my story.”
The blade came down on her chest, a stake in her heart that had loved him so. Even if neither of them had said it before, they both knew, because they didn’t need words, didn’t need a light to guide them to each other. But he still uttered the words that would be the last she ever heard.
“I love you.”