He wakes up the next day at 2:00 PM. Ache reaches up and presses his fingers against the stiff muscles of his neck and stands on tired legs. He tries to remember when he fell asleep, how much time he got away from the land of the living.
He remembers dreaming. A vision of his days as an American high school student played out in his brain overnight, one he's seen time and again in his sleep. Passing out in class, his vision of a droning lecture interrupted by his dropping eyelids. He and his friends shoving each other in the halls, the feeling of cold locker doors slamming into his bare elbows. Fuyumi's dark hair, the way she tied it back with ease, her high ponytail that seemed unending.
Ache splashes cold water over his face. He notices the shadows around his eyes, their darkness contrasting with his ivory skin. How long has it been since he's seen Fuyumi, or the guys he'd grown up with? He remembers a teary goodbye, his unenlisted buddies choking back sobs as he and Carlos prepared to be shipped away, the giant boat looming behind them. He can still see the girl, his old friend, standing off to the side, remember the curl in his gut that reigned within him each time she noticed his gaze. And then suddenly something more recent, a monster screeching in the blackness of the night, lunging for him with blood spilling from its mouth.
Achaeus pushes back his thick bangs, frowns as they fall back down despite his best efforts. He ties a black tie around his neck, folds down the collar of his white work shirt to conceal it. The restaurant wouldn't care about his encounter with a walking nightmare the evening before. And besides, he was already half an hour late.
As Ache slides from his bedroom and window and descends the same fire escape he had desperately climbed the night before, he fights back memories of his brief attempt at war. He'd enlisted immediately upon graduating. Only seventeen with an August birthday, he'd always been younger than the other students in his class, more often than not viewed as the perennial younger brother. He'd needed to get away from Lake George but wanted to avoid the fate of every other kid from the New York country and not become a bum in the big city. Things were tense with his mom, a woman who'd looked at him as if he was the spitting image of a father he never knew, a man who hurt her in some unspoken way years before Ache was old enough to memorize names and faces. His buddy Carlos had already planned to enlist despite the worries of the other guys they'd known forever, and Ache decided to join him after a particularly nasty argument with his mom.
This same Carlos had his head obliterated during their first taste of combat in some German field, the fragments of his skull exploding outward and burying into Ache's face. The burst of gunfire that killed his childhood friend was followed by a stray grenade, and its blast ripped what was left of Carlos into bits and splattered Achaeus with dirt, blood, and grass, knocking him unconscious. When Ache saw the sun again he had been left among the bodies. He remembers standing, unable to bring himself to look down at the corpses around him, stripping away the coat of a soldier and leaving it on the battlefield. He walked back to the nearest German city and over the course of a year assimilated with its small town hustle, inventing a name he forgets to answer to half the time.
As Ache pushes through the front doors of the restaurant where he puts in 35 hours a week, an unusual cold air settles over the back of his neck. [i What is this?] The joint is empty save for his bald manager, a thick-shouldered man who runs his finger tips over his scalp.
"String of murders occurred last night around the block." The manager shakes his head, restrains a heavy sigh. "Had to be the work of some kind of monster. Throats all ripped to shreds."
For the first time that day, Ache notices how heavy his eyes feel.
[size11 The war had been going on for some time now, and things were not getting any easier for Fuyumi and her family. With Japan joining the war on the "wrong" side, in the eyes of many Americans and the American government, any Japanese person in the United States was viewed as the enemy, whether they were born in the United States or not. This led to fear and persecution. Many Japanese and Japanese Americans were isolated in internment camps. This is where Fuyumi and her family ended up. It was bleak and boring; there was little entertainment to be had, and Fuyumi did not get along with many of the other people living in the camp.
The young woman, in her late teens, was sitting on her cot, staring blankly at the wall. She could hear children running, a few of which were no doubt her younger siblings. The camp was an awful place to be, given the fact that there was less regulation, so things were often left in poor condition. The cots were uncomfortable, the internees were given little money for food, and the buildings were most certainly not soundly built. It was hard for her and her siblings, who were [i Nisei], but was most certainly harder for their parents who were [i Issei]. Though, Fuyumi supposed that it truly didn't matter in the eyes of the white Americans. They were all an equal threat, and whether or not they were born in America mattered not. They looked like their enemy, thus they were the enemy.
She hated every second of being in the camp, but there was nothing she could do. Her parents told her just to wait, because things had to get better eventually. Sooner or later, they’d get out of the camp. Still, she hated being there, not because of boredom or how she personally was treated, but because she wanted better for her siblings. This was a less than ideal place for her siblings, or any of the children for that matter, to grow up. Still, there was nothing to be done, due to the war continuing to rage on, and Japan’s involvement in the war made living a normal life, near impossible.
All Fuyumi could do was accept her fate, and wait for things to change. It felt like change would never come; neither good nor bad. Everything felt so static, including Fuyumi herself. If she didn’t know better, she would’ve found herself believing that time had stopped, and that the war would continue on forever.
With a sigh, Fuyumi closed her eyes, not wanting to deal with the reality that was before her. Sleep was her only escape; the only time that she wasn’t constantly thinking about where she was, and how nothing seemed to ever change. Her dreams were always unpleasant, but it beat having to deal with her parents passivity and the rather cruel guards that littered the camp.
It took around half an hour for the young woman to fall asleep, but when she finally did, it was pleasant. Even her dream was pleasant, which was a rarity. She was dreaming of an old friend that she hadn’t seen since before the war started.
The dream wasn’t eventful, which was fine by Fuyumi. Truthfully, she was nothing more than a passenger in the dream, watching old memories of her and her friend. She wondered if he even knew where she was. She knew that he couldn’t possibly. He was overseas, fighting in the war. All she could hope was that he was alive, and that once all of this was over, they’d meet again.
Fuyumi was woken up by loud noises. She was unsure of what the noise was, and grumbled, wanting to go back to sleep. “Quick, Fuyumi!”
She was jolted fully awake by the sound of someone saying her name. In the doorway was her mom, motioning for her to come. “We have to go, now!”
“Why, okaa-san? Is everything alright?”
Fuyumi’s mother shook her head, a grim look on her face. “Something is happening, we need to get out of here.”
The young woman wanted to question her mother more, but the look on her face told her now wasn’t the time. She slipped on her shoes and quickly followed her mother out of the tent. Immediately as she stepped outside, she caught the scent of acrid smoke. She could see no cause, but didn’t really care. At this point, all she wanted to know is where the rest of her family was. They ran past other people who were screaming and running themselves. “Where are the others,” Fuyumi finally asked her mom.
“I left them by the play area, we have to hurry!”
In the middle of the chaos, Fuyumi noticed something odd. There were other … humans that were running towards everyone else, instead of running with everyone else. She noticed that they were covered in blood, and had a feral look on their face. She couldn’t take the time to pay attention, as they were nearing the rest of her family.
A smile spread across her face as she saw them, safe and sound. It didn’t last long, as she was tackled to the ground and quickly felt claws on her arms. “Ah!”
The young woman screamed out, trying to get the person off of her. After a few, excruciatingly long minutes, the person was off of her. Fuyumi shot up and looked around. Her mother was hovering over the now dead person, panting heavily. In her hands was a metal pole, most likely taken from one of the nearby tents that were destroyed. “Let’s go!”
Before Fuyumi could even react to her mother’s words, another person showed up and began attacking her mom. She tried her best to get the person off her mom, but failed. After a few minutes of struggling, her mother lay there motionless. Tears streamed down the young woman’s face, but she knew she didn’t have the time to mourn. Things were still dangerous, and she still had to find the rest of her family.
She could only hope that they’re still alive.
He clambers up the fire escape, checks behind himself to make sure no one is in pursuit. He breathes out once, heavy, slides the glass of his bedroom window open, rolls into the bed whose head he keeps tucked beneath the room's single windowsill.
He stretches out in his bed, squeezes his eyes closed, ignores the hum of the ceiling fan above him. He can't remember if he cleaned off the tops of the fan's blades. Particles of dust descend from the whirling wood as if on cue, landing in soft clumps among his carpet and mattress. Ache feels a small wad of it touch his forehead.
The teenager tries to roll back the last few terrifying hours in his brain, recalls the glowing red eyes of the monster that chased him, the blood dripping from its long teeth. What had he come across? He sits up, runs the tip of an index finger over the bottom of his own canines. A little rough, but definitely not fangs. He pulls his hand away from his mouth, glances down at his quivering knuckles.
It had been one wrong turn. Coming home from one of his two part-time jobs, Ache decided to cut down an alley, one he didn't regularly embark down but that he was familiar enough with all the same. He remembered noticing how pale his own palms were in the dim moonlight, how the sky's white glow reflected from the metal garbage containers around him. It had rained all morning, and he remembered feeling something soft clump to the sole of his boot, drag across the ground with soft noises as he took each new step. Achaeus had reached down and unfurled a withered Star of David, no doubt fallen from some Jewish citizen's torso in an altercation with a German officer earlier that day. He had grimaced, feeling lucky to be born in Greece, the product of a Japanese woman and a father he'd never known. Not that being Asian was much better with the rise of the Third Reich, but at least he wasn't interned.
A sucking sound had drawn Ache from his own thoughts, caused him to glance over behind a bloated black trash bag, see the plastic ripple from the force of motion behind it. Curiosity pulled him forward and Ache peeked around the garbage only to withdraw with such a jerk that he stumbled and fell flat on his ass into a puddle, feeling the water soak through his dark pants and into his underwear.
Before him was something ungodly, all elbows and hair, pale skin stretched tight over its bones. The only color splashed over the almost translucent body were red splotches of blood, no doubt wrenched from the corpse the monster slurped at. The sound of Ache's ass hitting the asphalt drew the creature's attention back toward him, eliciting a grin from it, revealing its long fangs, scraps of skin in its teeth. Ache immediately bolted, heard the monster give chase. He ran until he was out of breath and then kept going, only stopping to leap onto the ladder hanging from his one room apartment's fire escape.
Ache stands from his bed, strips off his damp pants and replaces them with a pair of light shorts. He sits on the floor, runs a single hand through his black hair, and shivers as the sun begins to rise in the city he where he lives.