A hand slapped the window next to Frankie and she jumped. A woman was running alongside the bus, her eyes wide and wild. Sweat dripped down her face, hanging in beads off her chin. Her mouth flapped open in a cough.
Beth gasped and clutched Frankie's arm.
Outside the bus the woman gasped, her chest heaving. Something yellow dribbled out of her mouth. Frankie turned away, sickened.
Something hit the bus on the other side and someone screamed. Frankie leaned across the aisle to look out of the opposite window. Someone else ran alongside the bus - she couldn't tell if it was male or female beneath the thick woollen cap it wore. The figure gasped, throwing its head back. Frankie got a quick impression of glazed eyes before blood and bile rushed out of the gaping mouth.
"What the hell . . .?" The driver's voice was a panicked shout.
A man stood in the road ahead. His chin and shirt were stained red, sweat plastering his hair to his forehead. The driver honked the horn but the man didn't move, didn't give any indication he was aware a bus was bearing down on him. The driver swore and spun the wheel, swerving the bus to one side to avoid turning the staring man into a messy splatter across the road. A screech of brakes came from the other lane.
"What's going on?" Beth cried. Fear made her look about eight years old, trembling because the monster under the bed was showing its face.
More figures ran at the bus. Bloody hands slapped the windows, leaving red smears on the glass. People had giggled at Lesley Philips because they didn't know what else to do.
No one was giggling now.
Frankie pulled Beth away from the windows, frightened that the people on the other side were going to smash through and pull them out onto the street.
Tyres screeched as the bus swerved to avoid another person standing in the road, and Melly fell out of her seat. She scrambled to her hands and knees, her face blanched with fear. Frankie grabbed her hand and pulled her up.
The driver muttered under his breath. Frankie couldn't hear what he was saying but there was no mistaking the fear in his voice. That chilled her almost as much as the bloody-mouthed figures chasing the bus. At fifteen she was well on her way to adulthood, but that didn't mean she'd surpassed the age where grown-ups were who you turned to when everything went wrong. They didn't get scared or confused, they always had the answers, and they always sorted out whatever was going wrong. Knowing the bus driver - the only adult on the bus - was as scared as the rest of them, felt like a smack in the face.
The bus picked up speed as it went over a bridge, and the figures started to fall back, unable to keep up.
"It's not flu," Beth whispered. Frightened tears shone in her eyes. "They've got whatever Lesley and that guy at lunch had."
A chill ran through Frankie. Beth was right. The people launching themselves at the bus had the same signs; the clammy skin and glazed eyes, the coughing. But their sickness seemed so much worse than what had happened at school. She looked at the bloody smears on the windows and her stomach roiled. Lesley had hacked up bile. These people were throwing up blood.
"Everyone okay back there?" the bus driver asked. His voice was shaky.
No one got a chance to answer. A woman ran into the road ahead, waving her arms over her head. "Stop," she screamed. "Please, stop."
The driver hit the brakes and the bus screamed to a halt. The impact threw Frankie back in her seat. Melly fell to the floor again.
The woman ran to the door and banged on it. "Let me in, please," she cried. Her voice was hoarse, breathless.
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When a deadly disease ravages the town of Holmsley, Frankie and her friends find themselves trapped inside a military-blockaded quarantine zone. ***** A story that was first publi...