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Chapter Five

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Vanessa's mouth fell open but all that came out was a squeak.

Frankie stared at Becky. She looked like a broken doll, lying in her own blood. Tentatively, Frankie took a step forward. She didn't want to get too close to Becky but what if she was drowning in her own blood? Frankie couldn't stand by and watch something that awful happen to someone - even if she didn't much like Becky.

"Don't," Vanessa hissed.

Frankie ignored her. Holding her breath, scared of the germs that might be swarming in the air around the fallen girl, she stooped and touched Becky's shoulder. The other girl didn't move. Frankie hesitated. What was she supposed to do, give Becky CPR? There was no way she could do that, not with Becky's mouth covered with blood. If Frankie hadn't already contracted the sickness from being around it, giving mouth-to-mouth to someone that had it was a sure-fire way to spell disaster.  

She rolled Becky onto her back. Becky stared sightlessly up at the ceiling. Her face was sticky with blood and mucus, her mouth hanging open to show off teeth and tongue coloured red.

Frankie stumbled back. This wasn't the first dead body she'd seen but it was the first time she'd seen someone she know die. She hadn't liked Becky but she'd seen her five days a week for the last four years. Watching her life fade away in a violent spray of red was more horrifying than seeing strangers die outside.

The glass counter hit Frankie's back and she grabbed onto it for support.

"Is she dead?" Vanessa asked.

Frankie couldn't speak, she just nodded.

Beth let out a sad little cry. Frankie couldn't find the words to comfort her. She turned away from Becky's body, bracing her hands on the countertop. There was a display case beneath it and she stared at the jewellery inside, stared until the gold and diamonds blurred together. Having something to focus on kept her from screaming.

Vanessa took a step forward then stopped. Her mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. "What about our families?" she said at last. She sounded younger than usual, all her scorn and bravado stripped away.

"You think this is happening to them?" Allison said. Her frizzy hair had fallen across her face again; her frightened eyes peeped out from behind a tangle of red.  

"You heard Mrs Sanford. She said it was happening everywhere," Vanessa said.

"But not to everyone," Frankie said. She braced her arms against the counter, pushing herself upright.

Vanessa and Allison both looked at her. "What do you mean?" Vanessa said.

Frankie gestured around them. "We're not sick. Mrs Sanford wasn't sick."

"You don't know that."

"Do you feel sick?"

"I do," Beth quietly piped up. "But not that kind of sick."

Frankie looked at her. Beth was holding her stomach as if she was about to toss her cookies but she wasn't sick like the people outside. She wasn't sick like Becky had been.

Still . . . Vanessa had a point. They had no idea what this thing was which meant they had no idea whether any of them had it or not. They wouldn't know until it was too late.

Frankie clamped down on that thought. They weren't sick. They were going to be fine.

Vanessa edged out from behind the counter. "I have to find my parents."

"You can't go out there," Beth whimpered.

"You want to stay in here? With that?" Vanessa gestured to Becky's body. Her words were callous but her voice trembled.

Frankie hesitated. The thought of staying in the jeweller's with Becky's bloody corpse lying a foot or so away was more than daunting but so was the thought of going outside. But Vanessa was right. Everyone apart from her had families out there. Frankie hadn't wanted the bus driver to take them out of Holmsley until she knew all those people were safe. There was no point her being determined not to leave everyone behind only to hide out here when she could be helping people. 

Someone slammed against the window and they all jumped. Frankie swallowed. Having honourable intentions was one thing but it was harder to follow them through when chaos raged outside.

"If you go out there you'll get sick," Melly said. She didn't look at anyone but kept her eyes on the floor.

"You think you're so much safer in here?" Vanessa snapped.

Frankie's eyes slid to Becky again. Vanessa was right. They had no idea what kind of germs Becky had brought in with her, what might now be circulating in the air they were breathing. And they had no idea how long it would be before help arrived.

Vanessa shook her head. "You stay here if you want but I'm going home."

"Wait!" Frankie sprang between Vanessa and the door.

The other girl warily eyed her, shoulders tensing into hard lines. Her hand curled into a fist. Vanessa was a bully but, as far as Frankie knew, she'd never actually hit anyone. Her tongue was her weapon, not her fists. That might change considering the circumstances.

"Get out of my way," Vanessa warned.

"We shouldn't split up," Frankie said.

Vanessa just sneered and tried to sidestep her. Frankie moved to block her path again. "I'm serious," she said. "We have no idea what's going on out there and I really think we need to stick together."

Vanessa thrust her face close to Frankie's. Her smudged eyeliner looked like a bruise. "I am going to find my parents and you can't stop me."

Frankie held up both hands. "I'm not trying to stop you. I'm saying we should go with you."

Suspicion slid across Vanessa's face.  

Melly and Beth climbed to their feet, clutching each other. Allison chewed on her lip, her eyes darting from Vanessa to Frankie.

"Since when do you care about me?" Vanessa said.

I don't, Frankie almost replied but bit it back. Whatever issues she had with Vanessa needed to take a backseat to the real problem at hand.

"There's safety in numbers. Everyone wants to go home and make sure their families are okay but we're not going to get far if we split up and run off like headless chickens." Frankie tried to make her voice as authoritative as Mrs Sanford's. Thinking of her teacher brought a pang of concern to her chest - Mrs Sanford had disappeared in the chaos. 

"So what do you suggest?" Vanessa's voice was less confrontational, as if she was actually listening to what Frankie was saying.

Frankie looked around at her friends. They all looked back to her, as if waiting for her to give them the answers. "We go to each of our houses one at a time. Get everyone together and find somewhere we can hide out until this blows over or until help comes."

Since Frankie's family were out of town, she didn't need to worry about their safety. But she couldn't bear the thought of her friends wandering alone through whatever it was that had assaulted their little town. This thing didn't just make people sick, it made them violent. There was something going on here that she didn't understand and no one deserved to face it alone. Even Vanessa.

Vanessa's face softened for a moment, something like gratitude passing through her eyes. Just as quickly it was gone and her usual sneer slammed back into place. "Fine, but we're checking my house first."

Privately, Frankie hoped that Vanessa's house was where they could hide out once they'd gathered everyone. As far as Frankie knew, Vanessa had the biggest house out of all of them; they'd all be able to fit comfortably inside. Whether or not Vanessa would agree to that was another matter, but they could cross that bridge when they came to it.

Vanessa reached past Frankie and pulled open the door. "What are we waiting for?" she snapped. "Let's go."

Trepidation weighing heavily in her chest, Frankie followed Vanessa out of the jeweller's and back into hell.

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