Nanowrimo 2009 Entry: Surviving Manila: Risen Threat
Chapter Two: KaQoH
Chapter Two: KaQoH
The Metro Rail Transit had a total of thirteen stations. The stations were not identical, having been built to take advantage of both the terrain and nearby structures. Some, like the Ortigas and North Avenue station, were side platforms, with the tracks at the center and access between them usually achieved through an overpass or a footbridge. Others, such as the Taft and Shaw station were center platforms where a single platform lies between the north and south bound tracks.
Shaw station was one of the larger stations. It was smaller than the Taft and Araneta-Cubao stations, both being transport hubs that also connected to another railway system called the Manila Light Rail Transit. It was, however, a massive double island platform, suspended over a major intersection of roads, pedestrian walkways and an underpass. Positioned like a floating castle high above the street level, the station proved remarkably easy to defend against both human and zombie intrusion.
The station was also built to grant easy access to three major shopping centers. Elevated pedestrian walkways allowed those in the station to easily make their way towards either of the three shopping centers, making the station a highly desired location in a city swarming with the undead.
These facts were the same facts that one KaQoH came to realize within the first day of the zombie attack. KaQoH was at one point in time merely a disgruntled and overworked father of two who loved to amuse himself, during his long hours as a fare collector for the Manila Rail Transit, by imaging the face of each commuter who came to buy a token to be in the throes of a massive orgasm. Every man and woman (not children, of course, for KaQoH still was raised to have morals) who came to purchase a token or prepaid pass unknowingly became a new face for KaQoH to reimagine being in a moment of utter overwhelmingly ecstasy. It was even more fun when groups of friends would crowd the window at the same time. KaQoH would simply take that opportunity to look at them all for a brief moment before seeing the usually funny and rarely times hot vision of them entangled in the sweaty twisted dance of a perfectly timed orgy. Small joys, perhaps, but for KaQoH, it was enough to dismiss the stress and frustrations of his job enough to appreciate the eventual pay.
KaQoH was not always named KaQoH. There was a time as well when he had a much more ordinary name. Like almost everyone else in the world, KaQoH once had a first and a last name. But after the events that transpired with the coming of the zombies, the parent given legal name KaQoH once answered to no longer seemed appropriate. The ordinary name no longer seemed acceptable for someone who had accomplished great things. And the greatest among them was gaining control of the Shaw station. Among the thirteen Metro Rail Transit stations, the Shaw station was the seventh station. The very station that stood at the center of the line. KaQoH foresaw during the initial days of the zombie attacks that the Metro Rail Transit would eventually prove useful in transporting people without having to risk the obstacle course of abandoned vehicles and the deadly hordes of hungry dead. Controlling the very center of this said line meant being able to push a level of influence and demand upon those who wanted to get from one point to the other. While others slowly began to realize the importance the stations would eventually achieve, KaQoH already gained control of the Shaw station, secured all access routes to the street and nearby shopping establishments, and had begun hoarding a sizable amount of possible weaponry to defend the station. While he was not in any means a man skilled in the ways of the fist, KaQoH had a knack for swaying people’s leanings. While it seemed easy to assume this was a skill gained from years of being bullied as a child, the more practical reason most people who came to seek for shelter in Shaw station listened to KaQoH’s words was because he was the only one that day who had the full set of keys to all the locks at the station. It isn’t hard to sound convincing when the only means to secure doors was in your hands.
KaQoH had made many mistakes in his life.
One of them was the very mistake that now lead to his new name. Back when he was younger, KaQoH had once found himself in the deadly combination of alcohol and rebellion. While his schoolmates were content to show their defiance to authority by cutting classes and getting into brawls, KaQoH instead took the much more impressive and permanent way of showing his; he had gotten a massive tattoo that adorned his chest. The procedure was painful and at the onset costly, but KaQoH realized the pain was worth it and the money spent would in time pay itself back considering how this was something permanent to have on his body.
But no, that was not the mistake .
KaQoH’s mistake was coming in for the tattoo while drunk, and falling asleep despite the immense pain of having a needle work its way on your skin for hours. He awoke terribly sore, pale from the pain, and now renamed with the twenty new characters that spelled out the drunken slur which he said when the tattoo artist asked for instructions on what to place.
Twenty characters in total.
When read from left to right, however, the first character of the five columns of words spelled out KaQoH, and when the zombies struck, a missed clawed tore enough of his shirt to reveal this long concealed fact once again.
Security was tight in Shaw station. While the narrow walkways leading up to the station were easier to secure, the wider concrete bridges that connected to the nearby malls were a tad harder to safeguard. The glass doors, while sturdy enough to hold the horde back to some extent, remained still vulnerable to any human spiteful enough to choose to break it rather than pay the necessary tithe to be allowed entry. In hopes of making the place more secure, KaQoH quickly mobilized those who sought shelter in Shaw station to move the metal partitions once used for crowd control at the fare lines to stand against the glass walls as a second layer of deterrent. The first layer was composed of a few straggling zombies that were then chained to the partition and allowed to attack anyone who approached without a token. When the proper token was presented, the chains would be yanked backwards, keeping the zombie from getting too close.
Beyond the partitions, other survivors who had been armed with guns would then stand guard, keeping careful watch of anyone who would try to force or sneak their way through. The weapons were a small cache at first, gathered from the security guards who worked at the station itself, and those from the nearby malls to ran to Shaw station hoping to escape the undead. But in time, the cache grew in size and firepower as KaQoH carefully planned out and called for expeditions into the nearby malls to gather equipment, weapons and food. At one point, the crowds of terrified commuters neared critical mass at Shaw station. KaQoH knew if he did not present a strong façade of control, there was a great chance of losing the whole station to the chaos that was growing with each passing fear-laden second. In an act that secured his position not just as the person in charge at Shaw station, but that of being a ruthless and dangerous leader to be feared and respected, KaQoH had the external gates locked down even while the zombies were still some distance away. Having the security people draw their weapons, KaQoH addressed the crowd and offered them a very simple choice to make: Stay at Shaw station, follow his command and live, or start walking down the line and die on your own. With his voice clearly heard throughout the station thanks to its adequately functioning PA system, the crowd soon enough quickly made their choices. A vast majority cared more for their own lives than those still trapped outside, ignoring the cries for help that slowly and agonizingly transformed into screams of utter terror and pain. The minority that at first demanded that the gates be opened eventually found themselves being chased away down the line by the rest.
KaQoH had become the king of his own little castle.
Today, sitting on top of a large comfortable mound of pillows and cushions cobbled up together using things salvaged from nearby furniture stores, KaQoH leaned back against the warm nestling embrace of still sweet-smelling faux fur as he absent-mindedly twirled his right hand’s middle finger against his hairy navel. Having once owned a dog, KaQoH was quite aware of how much dogs loved having their bellies scratched and decided one night to do it to himself. He was surprised as how much delight he could secretly draw from it and began doing it more and more frequently. It was a new habit he was starting to grow fond of doing during idle time.
“Sir,” a nervous voice intruded.
KaQoH turned towards the source and saw Efren, one of the security guards of the station, standing just outside the open doorway into the room that had been transformed into KaQoH’s personal living space. Efren looked tired in his once blue security uniform. Having not found the time to have it washed, the uniform stank the ripe stench of sweat and rotting meat. If Efren were to close his eyes and moan, he actually could pass off as one of the undead. He definitely smelled the part.
“Sir, Northbound watch says he can see two people approaching from Ortigas.”
Not good, KaQoH founds himself thinking. Like the Shaw station, Ortigas station was fortified against the rising tide of the hungry dead. Many who head for Ortigas station head here in hopes of being able to make their way eventually to either the EDSA Shrine (or formally known as Shrine of Mary, Queen of Peace), a Roman Catholic place of worship dominated by a massive statue of the blessed virgin. KaQoH once had a group of worshippers seeking passage through Shaw station. He believed them to be harmless and commanded the guards to let them through. Once inside, the group began to spread out to different points of the station. Like a sudden infection in a living organism, the worshippers began preaching to all those within Shaw station of their selfiness and sins. The worshippers declared all those in Shaw station to be the cause of the zombie presence. They claimed it was the lack of faith, and the passive acceptance of sodomists and fornicators that have reopened the gates of hell.
Worse still, a few of those under KaQoH’s command found themselves swayed by their misplaced feelings of guilt. Two took it upon themselves to reopen the gates to the walk way leading towards Star Mall and literally invite the zombies to head upstairs.
The situation was brought under control only after two zombies were able to get close enough to the detractors, and learned to their dismay the urge to “make things right” did not spare them from the undead’s eternal hunger.
“Are they armed?” KaQoH quickly asked.
“Yes sir. The guy has a rifle. The girl is carrying a bag. Slightly bulky. Could be anything in there.”
KaQoH rubbed his temple with his other hand. He did not like this. Somewhere in the station, someone was frying some canned beans. The smell was intoxicatingly delicious. KaQoH felt a gloop of drool creep out from his lips. He caught it with the back of his hand and wiped it away.
“But they’re human,” the messenger continued, “Which I guess is a good thing?”
KaQoH gave the guy a glare that clearly said, “I’m the one who makes that call.” The messenger fell silent, waiting for their leader to come to a decision. Anyone coming from the North side of the line meant they had passed through Ortigas station, or worse successfully bartered their way through Santolan station. Unlike the other stations, Santolan station was controlled by the military. Being quite close to the Camp Crame base, the station as quickly seized and fortified by the members of the Philippine military. The combination of their superior military firepower and skill allowed them to secure the station from any other opportunistic entities. While they had not chosen to expand their influence and command, their presence in the line was a presence all other stations knew best to pay heed of.
“Do they at least have-“
“Yes sir,” the messenger replied, already knowing what KaQoH was going to ask, “They have the sampaguita wrapped around the wrist. Both of them, Sir.”
KaQoH scowled again. They had the token. KaQoH weighed the options quickly. If by any chance they were actually sent by Santolan station, then to turn them away was to risk the ire of whoever was in charge of the military installation. If they weren’t, turning them back still possibly had them turning to Santolan for assistance. And any news of Shaw station being too unfriendly could arouse interest in the military to finally extend their territory. It seemed these two visitors would have to be given some degree of leniency.
But KaHoQ knew any visible pretense of leniency would too quickly erode the loyalty and respect he held among those housed in his station. It was a delicate matter he had to approach – and how better to approach such matters than to handle it personally.
“Let them through the gates, but have them wait at the tracks. I will have to speak to them first before they pass the inner barrier.”
“Okay sir,” the messenger gave a salute and headed off to implement KaQoH’s orders. The messenger failed to see his leader quietly make the sign of the cross before grabbing a own firearm and turning to follow him.
Julie and Ricardo could see the station now.
To their far left, the massive structure known as the SM Mega Mall remained the gray hulk of a building it has always been. Though there no longer were the flashing bright lights that illuminated the many billboard displays on its façade, the tarpaulin advertisements still hung from its walls and massive windows. Ricardo found himself staring at one particular display showing a handsome man whose clothes and hair seemed to have caught fire. Large letters boldly proclaimed the slogan Immortal, which seemed oddly ironic considering the events of the last few days. Ricardo could not help but release a chuckle.
“Those were the days,” he muttered and turned to Julie, “Back when all most of us cared about was whether or not the internet connections were still running, and if our cellphone bills were too high.”
Julie, if she had heard him, did not react in any noticeable way.
Ricardo looked at her as she stared at the station ahead. He studied her expression as she intently took note of the fortifications that had been raised to protect Shaw station. One of the Metro Rail Transit trains had been derailed. While it was clear that it had befallen some accident that must have lead to a massive loss of life, the ruins of its tragedy had been salvaged to serve a better purpose. Makeshift fences were raised to block out the portions of the track that the train had not blocked. A metal gate had been welded in the ten foot space between two train sections that existed at the middle of the tracks. The rear portion of the train had torn through the side railing and fallen off the line, its last section precariously balanced upon a bus at the street below.
At the barrier, spotlights and barbed wire had been set-up, forcing any passage to either turn back, or approach the sturdy looking gate. There were marks of bullet holes on both the gate and the train’s body, documenting the existence of previous less congenial confrontations.
Julie’s focus, however, was less on the gate and more on the train hanging over the side itself. While it had become clear to most that zombies were able to navigate steps and climb some heights with much difficulty, they had far less than proficient skills when it came to climbing actual vertical surfaces. She mentally noted how on a worst case scenario, the portions of the train that were dangerously balanced on the abandoned bus below could theoretically still be navigated to maybe safely reach the street level below.
Julie turned to Ricardo and saw him offering an uneasy smile. The young man was charming, she would eventually admit, but what impressed her more was the fact that he had come to help her even if he had never met her in the past. It was a common saying that Filipinos were known for their hospitality. Ricardo, it would seem, was one of those Filipinos who would prove that saying to be true.
“Okay, let me handle the talking. Whatever I say, just ride along with it,” Julie hoped Ricardo would simply agree, but knew he’d be far too inquisitive to do so.
“What do you plan to-“
“I said, just let me handle it. Whatever I tell them, you agree with me. Whatever I say, don’t correct me.”
“Maybe we should discuss-“
“Ricky,” Julie sighed heavily and Ricardo could clearly see she was getting impatient. “You want to do this your way, then do it your way. But I’m going to go in there and get through this station with or without you. I don’t have time to babysit-“
“Now wait a minute,” Ricardo grabbed her arm a bit too roughly. If the action physically hurt Julie, she gave no sign that it did, “I’m not some kid you can just push around here.”
“I saved your ass back there,” he maintained his grip, and this time her eyes glared at the hand clutched around her arm, “The least you can do is tell me what you plan to do.”
Julie planted her own hand around his wrist. He felt her grip tighten and in response, he tightened his even more. She tugged at his arm and he maintained his grip.
“Okay,” she relented, but more out of getting through this hurdle faster than of acknowledging his words. She waited for him to let go but he still kept his hand clamped around her arm. “You’ve heard of the man in charge of Shaw station?”
“What about him?”
“Have you heard of the man in charge of the Shaw station?” Julie asked again.
Ricardo’s grip loosened. Julie pulled her arm back and massaged the sore area with her other hand. He shook his head from side to side but still remained silent.
“No then,” Julie turned her gaze back towards the station ahead of them, “Let me give you a primer then. They call him KaQoH.”
“Kako? As in, baka kako maypabibili ka?”
“No,” Julie gave Ricardo a look which made him feel like he said something stupid, “KaQoH. It sounds the same but no, not the tagalong word. The man in charge named himself after the Kako jujunyokan, the second vessel in the two-vessel Furutaka-class heavy cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which in turn was named after the Kakogawa River in Japan.”
Ricardo now knew he said something stupid.
“The Kako saw a lot of action back during the Second World War. It was sunk, however, on the tenth of August by the USSS-44, an American submarine in the sea just off Simbari island. Makes one wonder why a Filipino would name himself after a Japanese cruiser, doesn’t it?”
“I’m more shocked to be hearing all this from you,” Ricardo replied but shut up when she threw him *that look* again. He raised both hands in mock surrender and quickly followed with, “Okay, so we do it your way. You do the talking, I follow. Got it. “
“Good,” Julie checked her pistol and noted the number of bullets she had left. She ran her arm against her face in an attempt to comb her hair back with her sweat. Ricardo struggled with the Armalite’s clip, wondering aloud if there was a better way to check how much ammunition he had left. “Stop that. You might end up jamming that thing.”
Ricardo had begun to hate her. He wasn’t certain if she knew she was bossing him around, but he was certain he didn’t like it. While he definitely accepted the fact she was far more skilled with firearms that he was, he didn’t think it gave her the right to talk to her like some child. “How do we know he didn’t name herself after the Princess?”
Julie slowly turned her face towards Ricardo.
“Princess Kako. The figure skater?”
“Yeah, her. Who knows, maybe our man has a thing for her. Or maybe he named himself after her because he’s actually this frighteningly non-stereotypical gay guy with a pair of razor sharp ice skates,” Ricardo rolled his eyes in annoyance.
She rested her hands on her hips.
“You’re point being?”
“Who knows why this KaQoH guy calls himself that? And where do you go off talking about him like some Hollywood action star? You some sort of secret super agent the Philippines has never spoken about? A Charlie’s Manananggal?”
It was Julie this time who rolled her eyes.
“No, I don’t think so. You’re pretty good with a gun, and you seem to have a lot of information, but I don’t think the Philippines ever had anything that cool. You probably do a lot of shooting on your spare time. Maybe you’re one of those girls who loved playing airsoft with the guys. Or maybe you’re parents were military.”
“Keep going,” Julie muttered. She, however, began to smile.
“Oh no!” Ricardo leaned close, as if to ask her something that was a secret, “You’d last name wouldn’t happen to be… Daza would it?”
“Crazy man,” Julie muttered and began walking towards the station.
“You do realize this is a dangerous place we’re walking towards,” Julie reminded Ricardo, hoping to shut him up. Ricardo fell silent as the two continued walking towards the station. Julie could see the movement of people behind the fortifications, their clothes shifting the color of the bullet holes that marked the gate.
She raised her hands, one hand holding the pistol with the finger resting against the guard, to show she was to some degree not a threat. With the zombies down below, she believed holding on to the weapon was still acceptable. Ricardo raised his hands as well, but left the Armalite to hang behind him. Both held the hand with the sampaguita slightly higher than the other.
“Tao po!” Julie called out, “We’re just passing through!”
A voice from behind the gate called back, “Wait!”
“We just need to get through,” Ricardo explained only to be met with Julie’s scowl. Ricardo imagined punching himself for so quickly forgetting what she told him to do.
“I said wait!” the voice came again. There was a distinct sound now. Boots against metal steps. Julie and Ricardo realized the speaker was climbing up the metal gate. When a pair of hands emerged at the top of the gate, the two watched as a dirty looking man with thinning hair and dark beady eyes pulled himself into view. He eyed them carefully, then focused his attentions on the ropes of sampaguita around their wrists.
“Where did you come from?” the man asked.
“We fought our way up to the MRT,” Julie replied, “The Ortigas flyover. We fought our way up the flyover from San Juan, then leapt to get to the MRT.”
Ricardo fought the urge to stare at her. His thoughts were screaming. Why was she lying?
“San Juan?” the man scratched his nose, “I wasn’t aware there were still survivors there.”
“There aren’t,” Julie lamented, or rather, very convincingly looked like she was. Ricardo’s mind raced with thoughts. Why did he trust her so quickly? Where did she come from? What if he was wrong to have helped her? “We were the only ones left. My brother, Ricky, and I had been hiding out in one of the apartments there. The place had a high gate, fenced walls. It was a compound. There was enough food to last us a few days.”
“How sure are we you haven’t been infected?”
Ricardo noticed the man was staring at Julie’s hand. Her finger! The man probably thought Julie’s hand was bitten, and the finger was torn off.
“She lost it when we were climbing our way out,” Ricardo called out, breaking silence once more. Deep in his gut, however, he knew he had to. Julie realized what Ricardo was talking about and held her hand open, palm facing her, for the man to see it better. “We haven’t been bitten. Your checkpoint inspected us. No bites.”
The man said nothing, but it wasn’t hard to see he was nodding. Ricardo hoped he didn’t say too much. Julie remained composed. A shrill metallic groan erupted from the base of the gate. Ricardo and Julie stepped back instinctively, anticipating danger. It was a hatch, around a foot wide and half a foot high. A plastic tray was slid through.
“Leave your guns at the slot below,” the man explained, “You can go through so long as you surrender your guns.”
Ricardo took a step forward, his hands already pulling the strap of the Armalite off his shoulders. Julie, however, did not move.
“We get the guns back at the other side?” she inquired.
“Of course not,” the man replied, “Payment for passage.”
Ricardo bent down to place the rifle on the tray. Julie flicked her wrist and trained her pistol at the man. In a heartbeat, four other people rose alongside the length of the gate, their own guns trained at Ricardo and Julie. Ricardo dropped to both knees, both hands raising with the rifle still in them. If one paid attention, perhaps, one would have noticed Ricardo successfully cussed fifteen times in the next four second. Julie maintained her aim.
“Then we would like to see KaQoH,” Julie merely explained.
The man nodded and began to turn away.
“Uh uh uh… not you. Send someone else,” Julie smiled a cold smile.”
The man motioned to the nearest gun man beside him. The gun man nodded and slowly pulled back out of view. His footfalls against the metal steps most likely soldered onto the gate ended with the sound of feet crunching gravel.
“We’ll wait,” Julie said and Ricardo definitely now wondered how much faster now can things get any worse.