The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 35: On Purpose
Aiko Tinomori, the twelve-year-old daughter of Taka and Rio Tinomori, stared at the stars overhead. She said nothing, did nothing, gave no indication that the sight before her stirred the slightest emotion.
To anyone else, such a sight might arouse concern or even fear, for to be in this child's presence was to feel an unnatural cold, as if the very life had left her body. In fact, there were few in the reclaimed city of Boulder, Colorado who felt comfortable around her. Children refused to play with her, and even the most hardened soldier of the small metropolis' security force felt unease when she was around.
But to the three watching her-Sara Kern, Jake Marlow and Officer Steve Rankin-she was just Aiko being Aiko. Professional zombie killer, and Grade-A Creepshow.
Aiko had been one of the handful of survivors of Martha's Vineyard, a so-called safe haven where uninfected humans lived free of the undead. Along with her parents, she had fled the United States, now known as The Graveyard, in the hopes that the rumors about the small island tourist trap were true.
And so they were. For about a week and a half.
The undead had followed the humans, walking across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, heedless of the cold, water pressure or the noticeable lack of oxygen. They had swarmed the beaches, and within a matter of hours, slaughtered the island's population. Among the victims were Aiko's parents, torn to red rags while their only daughter watched helplessly, transfixed with horror. Rankin had saved her, but it remained to be seen if he had done her any real favor.
Since then, young Aiko had been an emotional black hole. She didn't laugh, didn't cry, didn't get angry or sad. She liked nothing, and hated nothing. She did whatever the adults in the group asked of her, but they suspected it was because she lacked the will or desire to do anything herself. In fact, the only time she gave any hint she was aware of her surroundings was when she was killing zombies. So for her, being safe was a fate worse than death. In might almost be better to throw her outside and lose the key.
Rankin had become the girl's de facto guardian. Since it was he who saved her, he felt responsible for her well-being, though the truth was Aiko was far better at taking care of herself than the cowardly police officer ever could be. She didn't really need anyone, but even so, the adults tended to watch out for her, just in case the time ever came that her humanity might return.
Rankin walked over to where Aiko was sitting. He craned his neck to see if there was anything special in the sky tonight-a shooting star, perhaps.
"I used to go stargazing all the time with my dad," Rankin said. "We'd build a small campfire, roast marshmallows, and spend hours looking through his telescope, trying to find a new constellation, maybe a comet."
"Sounds like fun," said Aiko, her tone devoid of inflection or emotion.
"It was, it really was. I remember this time when I…"
Aiko looked back at the officer. "I was being sarcastic," she said. "I am not listening to you, but I thought it would be rude to not answer."
Steve looked down at his shoes, embarrassed for babbling to someone who had displayed absolutely no interest in human contact.
Sara smiled and shook her head. No one could question that Steve Rankin had a good heart, and throughout the time they had been together, he had done his best to keep up with the group, a group of killers, psychopaths and cold-hearted bastards. While he clearly didn't belong, he nonetheless tried to pull his weight, and took his role as Aiko's guardian seriously.
Trouble was, the child had no need for a guardian, and no interest in humoring the officer's devotion to duty.
She walked over to the girl and watcher her while she in turn watched the stars. "You've been here every night since we arrived. Why?
Aiko said nothing, didn't even acknowledge the older woman's presence for a few minutes. When Sara turned to leave, the child said, "Why do you care?"
Sara shrugged. "I suppose I don't. You don't need someone to take care of you," she said, ignoring Steve's pained sigh. "And it's clear you don't really want to talk to anyone, either."
"Then why do you ask, if you already know the answer?"
"Simple curiosity I suppose. I am a reporter after all. Nosiness is just part of who I am?"
Aiko glanced at Sara for a moment, probably the most attention she paid to anyone at a time. "Tell me, are there any newspapers here?"
"Not that I've seen," Sara replied.
"Do the dead care what the headlines say?" the girl asked.
"Maybe if they were written in cattle blood," said Sara with a chuckle.
"Then why do you cling to a title that no longer has any meaning?"
Sara stopped, caught by the question. It was true, her days as a reporter ended when the dead started feeling so frisky. These days, the title of Zombie Killer was far more applicable than Assistant Editor. But even here in The Graveyard, she found herself as ravenous for news as the dead were for her flesh. Whenever they stopped in a town or city, she would seek out old newspapers or magazines to see what had been going on before the Great Exhumation. When Stradd's broadcast began, she had written down every word, and re-read it constantly. Even now, she kept her ears open to learn what was happening in Boulder, hearing about the newest refugee arrivals, how fewer and fewer people were coming in, and how Stradd had been speaking about the need for further expansion.
Like she said, being nosy was just who she was. It wasn't something she could just turn off like a kitchen light switch. She was a reporter as much as she was a mother, a wife, or a Zombie Skull Imploder.
To Aiko, she said, "Because it's my role, my purpose. It's who I am and no matter what happens, it's always going to be a part of me."
At this, the young girl turned to her. "What about me? I'm an orphan who watched her parents get turned into Lunchables by the dead. What's my purpose?"
Sara shrugged again. "No clue, kitten. I found my purpose all on my own. I figure that's everyone's job in life-to find out for themselves what their purpose is."
Young Aiko looked back to the stars, her miniscule interest in the adults already evaporated. After a short while, they bid the child goodnight, leaving her alone to stare at the dark.
It was a few hours later when Aiko snuck out of the city, through a small gap in the fence the guards, already complacent and lazy, had never noticed. The girl slipped through quickly, never making a sound, so quiet that the insects and animals ceased movement as she passed, as if afraid to disturb the wraith that moved among them.
Into the night she went, the telltale chunk of cinder tied with a jump rope by her side. The makeshift weapon was never far from her, and when they first arrived at the reclaimed city, a guard had tried to take it away.
Word was he still couldn't handle solid food.
Aiko wandered around, no particular direction in sight, though a purpose was clear in her mind. She needed answers, and she would get them from whomever she had to.
Even if those people would prefer to make a human Happy Meal out of her.
Within moments the dead surrounded her, more than a dozen, slowly approaching, as if they were aware of the threat she represented, yet unable to resist a meal. Aiko showed no reaction to the creatures, no fear, no nothing. She simply stared ahead, into the night, as the zombies closed in.
Aiko turned back to look at the city, where the living slept and dreamed their dreams of a safer, more pleasant world, a world she could never be a part of. "I have a purpose," she said over the snarls and moans of the undead. "But I don't know what it is. They have no answers for me. Do you?"
The only response from the ghouls was a chorus of moans and wails as they reached for Aiko. She sighed in a disappointed tone. "I suppose not," she said. "How boring."
Five seconds later, the zombies were down, every one of their skulls split open, Aiko's toy twirling through the air. She let the weapon fall and gazed once more into the darkness. Looking back at the city, she sighed again, this time one of resignation.
"I knew it would come to this," she said to nothing and no one. "I never belonged here, and pretending I was like the rest of you was nothing but a cheap lie. I'm nothing like you. You have hope. You have fear. You have love and hate. I have none of those things."
She looked back into the night. "I'm empty, like you. Maybe you can tell me my purpose."
With that, Aiko Tinomori began walking into the empty vastness of The Graveyard. Her first steps were faltering, unsure, but became strong and steady as she continued on. Before long, the tiny size four shoeprints were all that remained as she was swallowed up by the night.
Without meaning to, the young girl began to sing, a soft, happy tune her mother sang to her when she was a child. Aiko felt a lightness in her chest, and realized with a start that she was happy, for she was finally on her way to discovering what her purpose was, just like Sara said.
And if that purpose was death?
Well, at least she'd be in good company.