Part I: The End of the World
The world ended in a moment.
Five minutes ago, that lanky kid had taken a seat at the bar. He’d known before the kid even slid it across the counter that the ID was a fake. He’d have to suffer a few minutes of small talk before the manager could kick him out. Something was keeping her, and the kid sat there the whole time staring numbly at the bottles of liquor behind the counter. And then, without an ounce of anger, the kid realized he wasn’t getting a drink and put his wallet back in the pocket of his worn jeans.
“Get in a fight or something?” He asked the kid, gesturing down his own cheek where the kid had a bleeding scratch.
“Oh,” the kid breathed, wiping his face with the palm of his shaking hand. “I’m bleeding.”
“Wan’a band-aid?” he asked, eyeing the dark-haired boy critically. “Are ya too old for a band-aid?” He ribbed, disappointed that the kid didn’t respond irritably. The kid murmured something, almost like a sigh of relief. And then he leaned across the bar, his hands shaking in his lap. “Wha’diya say?” he asked, narrowing his eyes in attention.
“If you don’t wanna die,” the kid whispered, “then we should run.”
He didn’t think about it at the time. It was the kid’s eyes; so genuine, so dark. He didn’t understand the choice he was making. Logically, he shouldn’t have dropped his apron and walked around the counter. He had no idea that the last thing he would ever say to his boss was, “Gotta step out.” But when that kid extended that offer, Zoro took it. And they ran.
“What’s going on?” Zoro asked, staring at the top of the kid’s head.
The kid shook his head as he shoved his trembling hands into the pockets of his hoodie. He looked up, his large, round eyes full of something sinister. “Keep quiet and keep walking.”
Zoro hesitated. He looked around the busy street. Dozens of couples dined on the patio beside them. The waiters, dressed in similar fashion to Zoro- button up shirts and black slacks, bustled to and fro, squeezing between chairs, tables, customers and one another. Across the street there was a rowdy group of college kids, catching the game and eating an obscene amount of chicken wings. Life was simply moving forward.
“Hey,” Zoro breathed out, yanking the kid to a stop, his hand wrapped around his slender arm. “Did you do something?” He looked the kid up and down intensely. “You a bomber?”
The kid shook his head, “If you don’t wanna die-”
“You said that already.” Zoro murmured, pulling the kid closer. “Why did I just walk out of my job?” Zoro instantly felt like an idiot. He rolled his shoulders forward, tightening his grip on the prankster in front of him. “I should call the cops right now…”
“Do whatever you want,” the kid whispered. “But we’re walking while you’re doing it.”
Zoro let go of the kid, fishing his cellphone out from his back pocket. He was unlocking the screen when there was a shrill scream in the distance. He turned around slowly, as if his joints were frozen. Dozens of onlookers turned, staring the same direction. But life was still moving forward.
“Look at this,” a woman nearby said, shoving her phone in her friend’s face. “What the fuck? Is this real?”
The kid shook his head, hooking his arm around Zoro’s. He dragged the much larger man along after him. His pace increased as did the screams. Zoro wanted to ask. He wanted to demand answers. But the shell-shocked look in the kid’s eye kept him matching the other’s pace. They ran down the street until they were breathless. The screams were well behind them now.
They stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, the kid doubling over to catch his breath. Car tires squealed on the street and pedestrians cursed as a car plowed through the red light. Zoro looked around in shock. It was an uneasy calm. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“We need to get inside.” The kid said, looking around.
“What’s going on?” Zoro repeated, following the kid as he continued walking.
“We need to get inside somewhere…” the kid repeated, looking around in a daze.
“Hey, hey,” Zoro breathed, grabbing hold of the kid’s narrow shoulders. He shook the kid gently, just until he looked up at him. “What did you see?”
“What did you see?” Zoro demanded firmly.
“They just started killing people.” The kid whispered, looking down at the ground.
“Who? Gunmen?” Zoro pressed. “Is it the terrorists?”
“Nah, people.” The kid said, looking Zoro square in the face.
Zoro wasn’t sure how to respond. To be honest, he didn’t understand yet. How could he understand? “We’re pretty far away now,” Zoro assured the kid, “We should be-”
“No.” the kid refused, shaking his head. “We need to keep going. We need to get inside… We need to get away… away from all these people…” the kid looked around, his eyes wide. “We need to get out of the city.”
Zoro smirked, a nervous laugh escaping his lips, “”We’?”
The kid wasn’t smiling. He nodded solemnly, pulling his hand out of his hoodie. “You’d be dead right now if I didn’t bring you with me.” He extended his hand to Zoro. “I keep you alive and you keep me alive. Got it?”
“Look, kid, I don’t even know you… I have places to be right now and…”
“My name’s Luffy.” The kid announced, forcing his thin hand into Zoro’s. They shook mechanically. The kid squeezed Zoro’s hand pointedly. “I need your help. And I know you’ll need mine…” There was a tremendous screech of metal and Luffy’s head snapped up. He looked down the street, his large eyes narrowing. “We need to keep moving.”
“Where?” Zoro questioned, his stomach twisting into nervous, anxious knots.
“I…” Luffy paused, studying his surroundings. He looked up, pointing toward the tallest building in the iconic skyline. “There.”
“The Dawn Island Tower?” Zoro asked, arching his brow.
“Yeah.” Luffy nodded.
“They don’t just let people into buildings like that.” Zoro explained. “You’ve gotta have a badge or…” Zoro groaned as Luffy dragged him along. “Come on, kid… If something’s going on, I’d rather just head home. Where do you live? We can still catch bus 221 from here and…”
Half an hour ago that lanky kid had taken a seat at the bar Zoro worked at. And now they were running through the city, just ahead of some sort of chaos. Zoro told himself that deep down he knew that he was being stupid. That he was being ridiculous. This kid, this Luffy guy, was probably high on meth or schizophrenic or something. There was no reason to leave work. There was no reason to run. Nothing was wrong.
“What is that?” a woman gasped. Zoro tried to pause in the walkway, but Luffy wouldn’t let up. He let Luffy pull him down the street, but he turned his head, looking in the direction of the commotion. Another person yelled out, “What the fuck is that?!”
Luffy was at the steps of the Dawn Island Tower when Zoro finally yanked free. “All right, kid. I’ve played along long enough…”
“My name’s Luffy, not kid.” Luffy barked.
“I have to see what’s going on.” Zoro insisted.
“You’ll see soon enough.” Luffy groaned. “Come on. We need to get inside…”
“You go then.” Zoro snapped, turning around and heading back toward the street.
“Hey!” Luffy shouted after him. “Wait!”
Zoro ignored the pleading kid and strode quickly down the street. He shoved his hands in his pockets, shaking his head. “I’m probably fucking fired,” he realized, mentally kicking himself. “Jesus Christ, Zoro. What the fuck are you doing?”
He walked toward the commotion, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. There was a large group of people, amassed in a muddled mob. He wasn’t close enough to make out the details, but teems of people were beginning to scream. People ran past him, bumping into others; pushing and shoving.
He paused two blocks away, pressing his back against the stone building behind him. It was obvious something was happening, but he needed to know. It didn’t make sense yet. He had to see for himself.
“Run!” a man shouted, jogging past Zoro, his arms flailing.
And then he saw it. The mob rushed through the streets like floodwater, dividing and conquering. The men and women were frenzied; their mouths hung open, their eyes wide and bulging. They tore at each other, or rather, the mob attacked anyone who screamed. It was only possible to tell victim and attacker apart by the fear etched into the victim’s faces. The attackers were ravenous, barely human.
Zoro stood there only a moment longer. Before he could run, before he could even turn away, he watched a man tear into another man’s throat. He leapt upon the man, ripping into his body. Blood sprayed across the attacker’s face as he consumed the victim’s flesh.
Zoro rushed forward into the commotion. He yanked a man off of a woman, punching the man square in the jaw. The man was unfazed. He crawled toward Zoro, like an insect, his bloodied mouth hanging open. The woman vomited blood, her eyes yellowing sickly. She reached forward in desperation before she suddenly changed. She launched toward Zoro her mouth nearly unhinged. He struggled against the woman’s advances.
“What the fuck! I was trying to help you! Fuck!” Zoro spat, pushing the woman away.
The man was on Zoro in an instant, knocking him to the concrete. Zoro blinked in confusion. He pushed his arms against the man’s chest, pressing him up into the air. The man seethed, foam and blood dripping from his lips. He scratched at Zoro, lunging over and over like a rabid animal.
“I told you...” Luffy snapped, kicking the man in the head roughly. He squatted down, hoisting Zoro to his feet. “We need to get the fuck inside.”
“What the…? I don’t… What just fucking happened?” Zoro sputtered, looking around in bewilderment. “That man… he… and that woman…”
“Zoro.” Luffy said quietly, yanking Zoro down to his level and knocking his forehead against Zoro’s. “Come with me or die.”
“Yeah,” Zoro said, nodding in shock. “Okay.”
“It might be too late!” Luffy called over his shoulder, his fingers interlocking with Zoro’s. He ran fast, his hold tightening around Zoro’s hand. “We might need to find somewhere else…”
Luffy charged up the steps of the Dawn Island Tower building. He didn’t even slow as he hit the revolving door. The door slammed violently into the kid, but he didn’t let go of Zoro and he didn’t slow down. He let out a cry as the door spit them out inside the lobby of the luxurious tower.
“Lock down!” Luffy shouted, dropping to the floor. He flipped the locks on the revolving door before sliding across the marbled tile to the opposite revolving door. “Lock these doors!”
Security rushed over immediately, reaching for Luffy like he was some sort of rodent. He shook his head, throwing his arms out defensively. “Gunmen! There’s gunmen…” Luffy blurted, gesturing outside. “Lock the doors!”
Zoro grabbed Luffy by the hood of his hoodie. He lifted him to his feet, nodding toward the security guards politely. “I’m going to head to work,” Zoro lied quickly, heading further into the lobby. But security didn’t hear him or mind him at all.
“Now what?” Zoro asked, letting go of Luffy.
Luffy staggered slightly before straightening up. “The doors are locked.”
Zoro rolled his eyes. He rasped his knuckles across the back of Luffy’s head. “Yeah, and the entire front of the building is glass, dipshit…”
Luffy’s eyes widened and Zoro wondered exactly how old the guy was. Luffy licked his lips and shrugged, “Aim for higher ground?”
“You need a keycard for the elevator.”
“How do you know?” Luffy questioned, walking as quickly as possible away from the entrance.
“I used to work here.” Zoro admitted, bowing his head as a manager sprinted past. “No,” Zoro groaned, yanking Luffy’s hoodie to direct him to another set of elevators on the opposite side. “Use these elevators. They’re for the staff.”
“Still got one of those cards?” Luffy asked, pressing the elevator ‘up’ button.
“They don’t exactly let disgruntled employees leave with the keys.”
“Zoro,” Luffy breathed out, stepping into the elevator once it opened. “We’re in danger.”
“I know.” Zoro groaned. The elevator doors closed, pinging pleasantly. The glass elevator was lit beautifully but it stayed locked in place, no matter what buttons Luffy pushed. “I told ya, it won’t work without the keycard.”
“Any better ideas?” Luffy asked, squatting with his back against the glass wall.
“Home.” Zoro groaned. “We should’ve gone home.”
“You live alone?” Luffy asked, pulling his hoodie over his head.
“In a house?”
“How many people live there? How many units?” Luffy pressed.
“I don’t know. A hundred units or so? I don’t know…”
“That’s too many people, Zoro.” Luffy explained, shaking his head decisively.
“There are people everywhere here. We’re downtown.” Zoro argued.
“These are rich people.” Luffy countered. “They’ll be safer.” There was a low hum outside the elevator. And then a scream. People began shouting and running in every direction. “Did the glass break?” Luffy gasped, standing up for a better look.
“Not yet.” Zoro replied. “I’m not sure what they’re screaming about.”
“Probably the people eating people outside.” Luffy muttered, dropping back into a squat.
“Hey,” Zoro began unsurely. “Can I… Can I ask somethin’?”
“Why’d you come in the bar?” Zoro questioned curiously. “You saw something, right? Why didn’t you just run for it? And you had to know that fake ID was worthless… I mean…”
“Can I ask you a question?” Luffy rounded. “You need a drink?”
“Fuck yes.” Zoro nodded.
“Yeah. Me too.” Luffy laughed, and it was a pleasant sound. “I figured I could use a drink. The ID wasn’t even a fake. It was my real state ID. Didn’t you notice the year and the picture turned sideways?”
“I just thought it was really bad.” Zoro admitted, leaning against the rail. “I’ve seen some really shitty fakes in my day.”
“Why’d you follow?” Luffy asked, watching Zoro from the corner of his eye.
“Fuck if I know…” Zoro groaned, sighing into his hands. He shrugged, rolling his shoulders backward. “Maybe, well, I guess I believed you.”
There was an unfurling cracking sound in the air. The glass façade shattered, raining shards of glass. The glass was littered throughout the lobby as an ever-increasing mob of people erupted into the tower.
Luffy smiled, letting his head fall back against the side of the elevator. “Well. I guess I should apologize.”
“For what?” Zoro asked, folding his arms over his chest.
“We’re going to die.” Luffy admitted, smiling sadly up at Zoro. “I didn’t think this out well.”
“Yeah, well, I could’ve died at work.” Zoro reasoned. “I owe you one.”
Luffy closed his eyes, but Zoro kept them open. He watched as mindless humans poured into lobby. Employees and residents were massacred in seconds.
“They see us.” Zoro said quietly, watching the people through the glass with detached interest.
“Think they have a keycard?” Luffy asked, opening his eyes.
“No.” Zoro groaned.
“Worth asking.” Luffy teased.
And then the elevator pinged charmingly. The pressed buttons went dark and the 12th floor button glowed brightly. The elevator lurched slightly before lifting into the air. “Holy shit.” Zoro muttered.
“Oh, shit.” Luffy breathed, sliding up the glass to a standing position. “What happened?”
“Someone’s using the elevator.” Zoro sighed, shaking his head.
“Pretty convenient timing.” Luffy said with a snicker.
“Don’t question good luck.” Zoro chastised.
A moment later the elevator pinged. The doors opened and Luffy and Zoro pushed past the room service cart and bewildered attendant. Luffy shook his head, grabbing the cart and pushing it against the wall. “You don’t wanna go down there.”
The attendant’s walkie-talkie screeched and he reached for it reflexively, “Who the hell are you guys?” He barked before turning his head, murmuring into his walkie-talkie, “Hospitality…”
“Don’t go downstairs,” Luffy insisted before walking away.
“Well, we’re upstairs. What now?” Zoro murmured, leaning over the railing for a peek below. “It’s kinda quiet. Creepy.”
“You don’t think they got upstairs do you?” Luffy asked, rounding the corner into the main walkway of the floor. Boutique shops lined the sides. Escalators descended and ascended on every floor past the first. If even one of those people had made it into an elevator or stairwell…
“It’s only a matter of time.”
“Then let’s get a move on.” Luffy decided, peering around at the shops. “Come on.”
“In the mood for tennis?” Zoro mused, following Luffy into sporting goods store. It was larger than most of the other boutiques, but not by much.
Luffy made a face, “Unless you wanna use lingerie to strangle some people with…” Luffy pointed at the shop across the hall. Scantily clad mannequins stood sentry in the windows.
“Nah, this’ll do,” Zoro decided, pulling a driver from a set of golf clubs. He balanced it in his hand, nodding in approval.
Luffy nudged Zoro from behind, shoving him toward the camping gear. “Nah, like this,” Luffy murmured, grabbing a hiking bag. He unzipped it, pulling out the brown paper stuffing and letting it fall to the floor.
“Can I help you?” the clerk asked, looking from the two men to the mess on the floor.
“Is there an exit in the back?” Luffy asked, handing Zoro the backpack. Zoro knocked pouches of dehydrated food into the open bag indiscriminately. Luffy turned to Zoro and whispered, “Water and those water cleanser things too…” he nodded, turning back to the clerk with a smile. “You heard about the lockdown right? Well, is there a way to close the store?”
“The lockdown only applies to the main level.” The clerk explained. “The shopping and resident levels are open for your convenience.”
“Forget your job,” Zoro said suddenly, pulling another bag off the shelf. He thrust it at the clerk. “Grab what you need and get out.”
“Excuse me?” the clerk hissed, taking a step back.
“Check your phone.” Zoro suggested, returning his attention to his bag. Zoro licked his lips as the clerk backed away. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “You should be packing your own bag too, Luffy.”
“Why?” Luffy murmured, shoving two water flasks deep into the bag.
“What if we get separated?” Zoro replied.
“We won’t.” Luffy said simply, flashing Zoro a tight smile.
“But just in case,” Zoro insisted firmly. “Pack a second bag.”
“Fine.” Luffy agreed reluctantly. “Then we’ll have double the supplies, I guess.”
They searched separately through the store in silence. A minute later Luffy shouted from across the shop. “Look! I found a bitching walking stick!”
“That’s… great…” Zoro replied, shaking his head and smiling despite himself.
Luffy moved through the store quickly. He grabbed things randomly. Most were useful like flares and matches, others were ridiculous like a grill that fit over a car exhaust pipe. Zoro groaned, “You’re wasting space. What the fuck would we do with a car exhaust grill? Wanna die?”
“They sell it for a reason.” Luffy defended, making a face as Zoro yanked the grill out of his bag.
“To make money off idiots.” Zoro replied, dropping the grill rudely to the floor. An idea finally occurred to Zoro and he rolled his eyes, “Do you even have money?”
“Like twenty bucks.” Luffy admitted.
“Hey,” Zoro spun around toward the clerk but he was gone. “Uh, hello? Do you take Discover here? Hello?”
“We need weapons.” Luffy realized.
“Behind you.” Zoro instructed, pointing to the shelves of knives.
“Ugh. Really?” Luffy complained, grabbing a plastic covered knife. He shoved several hunting knives into his pack.
“Get those open.” Zoro instructed, gesturing to the scissors at the counter. “Unless you plan on giving them plastic cuts.”
“This is for eating.” Luffy explained. “Or maybe some whittling.”
“We aren’t using hunting knives to eat dehydrated food and arts and crafts, Luffy.” Zoro argued. “Those are for defense. Or offense. Whatever.”
“Well, I certainly don’t plan on stabbing anyone.” Luffy replied, dropping an armful of plastic covered knives onto the counter. He made an exaggerated face to show his disgust at the very idea. “Gross.”
“Give ‘em to me then, I don’t mind.” Zoro offered, taking the knives as Luffy cut them out of their packages. “We need to find you something.”
“I don’t want anything too stabby…” Luffy requested, shuddering for effect.
“What about this?” Zoro asked, balancing an aluminum baseball bat in front of him.
“I don’t know if I can just hit someone with a baseball bat… I mean…” Luffy waffled.
“Bat or golf club?” Zoro offered.
“Bat.” Luffy sighed, taking the heavy, aluminum bat from Zoro.
“Alright.” Zoro said, taking a quick mental inventory of his bag. “Let’s get a move on.”
“Do we go up? Or down?” Luffy wondered aloud before exiting the store and stepping into the hall.
“Wait!” Zoro shouted, his fingers clutching at Luffy’s hoodie.
But he was a second too late. A security guard had turned the corner, blood staining his white uniform shirt. He groped at Luffy, his mouth sinking down on Luffy’s clothed arm. Luffy let out a pained hiss before Zoro managed to get around him. He thrust his elbow into the guards face.
The guard staggered backward momentarily. But it wasn’t enough. The guard was already preparing to launch at Luffy again. Zoro cursed loudly, pulling a hunting knife from his pack. He hesitated only a moment before stabbing the knife into the man’s stomach. The guard seemed unfazed.
“What the fuck?” Zoro breathed out, blood pooling beneath the guard’s feet.
“I got it.” Luffy murmured. And before Zoro even had time to absorb that Luffy had spoken, the guard was on the ground; his head caved in. Zoro and Luffy stared at each other in silence before Luffy finally spoke again, “Ready to go?”
“Hold on.” Zoro muttered. “I’m gonna grab my own bat real quick.”
“Okay.” Luffy agreed, nodding.
When Zoro returned, Luffy had rolled up his sleeve. He examined the bite on his forearm. Zoro felt uneasy. He wanted to ask. He deserved an answer. He cleared his throat, readying himself to ask, when Luffy cut him off, “Those people are contagious.”
“Oh.” Zoro said, the wind knocked out of him.
“Even one little bite and you go crazy.” Luffy explained, brushing his thumb over the weeping wound.
“I saw it earlier.” Zoro said with a nod. “It’s almost instant.”
“Yeah.” Luffy agreed.
“But you’re okay so far, right?” Zoro asked, meeting Luffy’s eyes.
“I feel okay.” Luffy confirmed, nodding slowly.
“Well, we should get moving then.” Zoro said simply. “There’ll be lots more up here in a minute.”
“Really?” Luffy questioned.
“Yeah, but roll your sleeve down.” Zoro instructed. “We don’t want any misunderstandings.”
“You should just leave me, ya know that, right?”
“You’ve been outrunning this fucking mess since before I met you.” Zoro replied. “I think I’ll stick with you and take my chances.”
“If you think I have a brilliant plan, you’re wrong.” Luffy admitted.
Zoro laughed, loud and natural, “Fuck, I figured that out in the elevator.”