By the sixth day of the emergency, several areas outside the capital in the north had reported incidents and the emergence of local outbreaks. All over the country, highways turned into immobile processions of vehicles, pregnant with terrified locals and whatever personal effects they could cram in, as families fled south to seek refuge with relatives and add distance between themselves and the plague of flesh-eating demons.
For the foreign tourists in Taiwan, the several thousand who were unable to leave the country before it shut itself to the rest of the world, there were few options. A few hundred in Taipei and Kaohsiung were allowed into semi-official diplomatic offices or the headquarters of foreign corporations. Many others, however, had nowhere to go and were forced to stay in near-vacant hotels with few staff remaining to look after their needs.
Such was the fate of the Yamada family. Toshi Yamada, a 27-year-old engineer for a large electronics maker in Osaka, was on his first visit to Taiwan, hoping during his well-earned two-week vacation to retrace the steps taken by much older members of the Yamada family, who for a few years had made Taiwan their home during the Japanese occupation.
Before his eyes, the lake lay placid, reflecting a perfect blue sky and the layers of mountains that surrounded the popular tourist destination. From the vantage point of his balcony at the Fleur de Chine hotel, Yamada understood why, after he and his troops had fled to Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek had made Sun Moon Lake one of his refuges. Several pleasure boats, which on an ordinary day would have been plowing the lake, the guide’s voice and visitors’ merriment echoing off the mountains, lay dormant near the pier. Not a soul walked about on the paths round the lake. All the restaurants were boarded up. Sachiko, his wife, joined him on the balcony. How she had aged since their world had been turned around, he though as her trembling hand grasped his, her dark eyes reflecting the rich blueness of the water.
“The phones have died,” she said softly, her voice struggling to remain steady as the full impact of their isolation became clearer.
The hotel, just a few days ago so filled with life that Yamada had been forced to complain to management about the noise from the next room, which had kept their two-year-old baby girl awake at night, was not practically empty. In all, he estimated that one hundred people remained in all the hotels around the lake. The nearby town, which along with a few other men he’d raided the previous day for food, was also emptying fast. Rumors had begun circulating on the fifth day that the undead were making rapid progress southwards and were at the door of Nantou County. Would the ghouls track their scent in this terrible isolation, and if so, how much time did they have left, he wondered.
The answer came as the sun was hovering above the darkening mountains, turning the sky into a fiery mélange of orange and purple. From deep inside the hotel, crashed were heard, then screams, and more crashes. Rushing to the balcony, Yamada saw dark figures in the dusk. People were pouring outside the hotels. Some gathered in small groups while others ran away toward the village, pursued by grotesquely bent shapes that moved about like puppets in the theaters of his youth. A small detachment of shadows, which so far seemed to have escaped the attention of the creatures, was heading for the boats.
Running back into the room, he grabbed his wailing girl under his arm and followed by his wife, the three escaped into the corridor, avoiding the elevators, running down the seven floors in near-complete darkness. In their scramble, he remembered he’d not locked the door. No need, he thought, his heart pounding in his chest, deafening him. We’ll never go back in there. As they reached the lobby, Sachiko screamed upon seeing two dark figures, bent over an immobile shape on the floor, pulling long black threads from between their jaws. Like lions devouring their prey in the wild, strips of skin and muscle and flesh ripping from the carcass.
They burst outside the hotel, Sachiko struggling to contain her hysteria. For a split second, he considered making a run for the village. But her soon revised his plan when, as his eyes adjusted to the falling darkness he saw a mass of figures, too slow to be human, advancing toward them. Behind him, the small group of humans was frantically untying the boats. That was they way out, he thought. Perhaps they could cross the lake and … well, they’d figure out what to do when they reached the other side.
They reached the boats just in time, pursued by the legions of the dead. Sixteen boats in all made it, while several others, overrun by the undead masses, turned into scenes of slaughter. To the relief of the terrified occupants on the slowly drifting boats, the zombies were not pursuing them but instead fell upon each other as they fought for warm flesh.
The motors were turned on, and the boats, with perhaps eighty people on board, headed for the other side, which by now had fallen invisible into the darkness, untouched by the nascent moon. As they approached the land, the thick curtains of the night opened up to reveal a sketch of grayness. A few wooden benches, a gravel road, and behind those, tall, silent trees gently swaying to the wind. Something moved between the trees, subtle at first. Then they came out, crawling, limping and moaning, dozens upon dozens of them, until the bank was overrun by them, the putrescent stench carried by the breeze making them gag, several meters away.
Hope dying in their bosoms, they turned the boats around and headed for the middle of the lake. They had no food, no blankets, and no means of reaching the outside world. Eighty-six souls, on a dead lake, an unconcerned moon staring at them from above. All round them, like priests at a ritual, the masses of the undead stood impatiently, hissing at the beating hearts beyond their reach, waiting for them to return. They never gave up, the scent of fresh victims too close to abandon. For several days and nights, the living were imprisoned on the lake. Never did the undead leave. Out of desperation, some jumped into the water amid shouts of alarm and made a break for the shore, but none managed to break through, neither by day or night. For the seventy-six who remained, death came in two forms: starvation, and towards the end, that mad, desperate end, cannibalism.
After all had died, the army of the dead gave up and turned around, searching for new preys.