The girls stared at each other, struggling to absorb Beth's words.
"That's impossible," Vanessa said. She wore her belligerent façade well, but the mask was cracking and real fear was seeping out.
Beth didn't say anything, just stared down at her phone.
Frankie stored this particular problem away with everything else she couldn't think about yet. There had to be a logical reason why Beth couldn't get through to anyone. Maybe the phone lines were jammed because too many people were calling. She thought of the soldiers opening fire on anyone that tried to leave Holmsley and something unpleasant occurred to her.
What if the phone lines had deliberately been blocked?
Before today she would have dismissed that as ridiculous but that was before she saw soldiers gun down an innocent man.
"Can we go and find my mum now?" Melly said.
Frankie nodded. The more they stood around thinking about things, the more frightening the whole situation got. She needed to keep moving, to stop herself from mentally going over everything that was happening. Act now, think later.
Before they left the house, Allison stopped to say goodbye to her parents. Melly tried to cuddle her again but this time Allison pushed her away. She walked into the kitchen with dry eyes and squared shoulders. Like Vanessa, she hadn't had a chance to properly process this yet. Once help came and this whole thing was cleared up, the reality of their loss was going to hit them. Hard.
Allison stooped over her mum's still form. Her mouth moved and Frankie tried not to hear what she was saying. She wished they could go into another room and give Allison some privacy but it was too dangerous for any of them to be out of each other's sight. They needed to stick together at all times.
Allison gasped and stumbled away from her mum's body. "She moved," she cried, pointing a shaking finger.
Vanessa snorted. "You're imagining things."
"No, she moved," Allison insisted. She crouched down and rolled her mum onto her back. Frankie winced at the mottled patches of skin on the woman's face. She looked like something from a cheap sci-fi film.
Her arm twitched, fingers jerking in a tiny spasm. This time everyone saw it.
Beth and Melly, who'd been edging forward, jumped and scuttled back. Vanessa's mouth dropped open and a tremor ran through her body. Frankie had no time to feel sorry for her. Vanessa's parents were dead but Allison's had survived. There had to be something they could do to help.
Beth wrung her hands together. "What do we do?"
Frankie realised the question was directed at her. "I . . . we . . ." She didn't know. She'd never seen a sickness like this before. This was what hospitals were for. She was just a fifteen-year-old girl who was in way over her head. Was she supposed to move Allison's mum? Or was it better to leave her where she was?
Allison bent over her mum. "Mum, can you hear me? It's Allie."
Her mum gasped, eyes fluttering. Allison looked up at the others, her eyes shining with tears. "We have to help her."
That much was obvious, but how? Frankie helplessly dithered.
Allison's mum coughed and something thick and yellow slid from the corners of her mouth. Vanessa made a noise of disgust and turned away.
"It's okay, Mum," Allison crooned. "It's okay, I'm here. I've got you." She slid an arm under her mum's back, trying to ease her into a sitting position. Her mum's arm swung up and grabbed hold of Allison's hair, winding her fingers into that thick frizz. Allison squeaked in pain and tried to pull away but her mum clung on.
"What are you doing?" Allison cried.
Her mum didn't answer. Her eyes were huge and glassy, devoid of recognition. She didn't even know her daughter was squeaking with pain, inches from her face. She coughed, heaved, and threw up bright red blood in Allison's face.
Allison screamed and wrenched away, falling backwards. She swiped frantically at her face.
Her mum stayed where she was on the kitchen floor, her body heaving. Frankie's eyes fixed on the thick clump of red hair clutched in her hand. She'd torn it out of Allison's scalp.
Someone whimpered behind her and she didn't know if it was Melly or Beth.
Allison's mum gave one last wrenching cough, spewed thick blood down herself, and slumped backwards. Nobody moved. Someone made a gasping noise and Frankie realised it was her. There was no mistaking it this time - Allison's mum was dead. Her unseeing eyes were fixed on the ceiling and blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth.
Beth started to cry, hiccupy sobs that were so close to coughs it made Frankie shudder. She knew it was Beth crying and not showing signs of the sickness but the similarity was horrible. She wanted to tell Beth to stop but that wasn't fair. Beth couldn't be expected to rein in her grief just because Frankie didn't like it.
Allison hauled herself to her feet. Her mum's blood had painted her face a ghastly red. "Can we get out of here, please?" She sounded so calm, almost as if nothing had happened, but Frankie could see the raw horror lurking in her eyes. Sooner or later Allison was going to break down.
Frankie reached out to her friend but Allison pulled away. "Please don't," she whispered.
Helplessness gnawed at Frankie. All she wanted was to be there for her friends, but she didn't have a clue what to say or do. The only words that rose to her mind were meaningless platitudes and they seemed more insulting than saying nothing.
She looked around at the others and found them gazing back at her, waiting for her to tell them what to do. Melly's stare was a mixture of dread and desperation. Frankie took a deep breath and pulled herself together.
"We need to go to Melly's," she said.
She marched out of the kitchen before anyone could say anything, leaving behind the devastation that had invaded Allison's home. She shoved open the front door and hurried outside, sucking in deep lungfuls of air as if that would somehow cleanse her of what had happened.
Vanessa was first out after her, though for a moment Frankie thought the soft steps were Beth's. She was so used to Vanessa clattering everywhere in high heels. She glanced over at the other girl. Until now she'd never noticed how short Vanessa was. Her heels only added a couple of inches to her height but somehow they gave her an imposing appearance as well. Without them she was just another schoolgirl, who stood more than a head shorter than Frankie.
Vanessa started to say something then paused and frowned. Frankie turned to see what she was looking at.
A gang of people stood opposite them. Their skin was uniformly pallid, sweat running down their foreheads and dripping into their glassy eyes. Patches of mottled skin peeked out from behind sleeves and collars. Blood and bile stained the corners of their mouths. Their appearance was horrible but it was the way they stared that sent shards of ice driving into Frankie's heart. It was the same glassy incoherency she'd seen on Allison's mum's face right before she attacked her daughter, the same look in the eyes of the people who attacked the school-bus.
"Guys," she whispered. "I think we need to get out of here."
Behind her, Beth made a frightened, squeaky noise.
"Go slowly," Frankie said. "Don't make any sudden moves."
She didn't know why she thought that would help but, staring down at the sick people, she felt like a mouse in the crosshairs of a hungry cat. Any sudden movements might prompt an attack.
The sick people across the road stared at them then, without warning, they charged.
YOU ARE READING
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...