My phone alarm rang at half nine. I swore as I looked at the small illuminated screen and realised I had overslept for more than two hours. That was the last time I had an early night.

I pulled my school uniform on hurriedly, thinking acidly that someone could have woken me up. Maybe not the Rash. The house was empty, so everybody had already cleared off to their various occupations. I skipped breakfast - I was late enough already - and locked the front door behind me as I went to get the bus. It was quite blustery and cold for April. Damp wind battered my face relentlessly, whipping my hair about like tendrils grappling across my eyes, and always threatening rain.

I stepped onto the bus with welcome relief. It was empty aside from the driver, who looked like he should be at home with a cup of soup. He coughed and sneezed simultaneously, groaning in groggy pain, and I could just see the virus droplets settling on the coins he was holding out to me.

“Keep the change,” I said hastily, hurrying to a seat. I wondered if he was safe to drive. I got to school just in time to slip inconspicuously into second lesson, where Caitlin and Summer waited for me at our favoured back-of-the-room desk.

A kid near the front who I never paid attention to was sniffling into a sopping tissue. I thought his name was Danny.

Is there a flu going around or something?” I commented as I slid my bag off my shoulder and sat down, indicating Danny with an inclination of the head as I did so. “That’s the second person I’ve seen today.”

“Second?” Caitlin said, eyebrows pulling together over her green eyes, a darker shade than mine. “Haven’t you seen anyone else? There’s been about fifteen kids almost fainting so far, and that‘s in an hour.”

“Really?” I said doubtfully, eyeing the red-nosed unfortunate Danny with distaste. “I didn’t think a cold could get that bad. I hope I don’t catch it, you know it takes me days to recover.”

Summer flipped her brunette bunches over her shoulders so she could lean her face onto her hand. “It’ll go soon, don’t worry. There was a bout of some stomach bug last October, remember, you never caught that.”

“Mmmm,” I said absently, watching the teacher scrawl the lesson’s objectives onto the whiteboard without really paying attention. It had

been much more serious than a ’’bout’’ of stomach flu. I hated illness, and counted myself lucky that I was one of the few who seemed immune to these circles of disease. My best friends didn’t get ill much, either, though all of our families had caught that stomach bug. It was awful seeing them, pale, sweaty and retching, and fearing that I would be like that. I shuddered to myself and tuned back in to what Summer was saying.

“… this Thursday?” she asked, her translucent-blue eyes earnest. Caitlin saved me from the inevitable, “Um…wha?” by replying.

“Sure, the cinema sounds fun,” she said enthusiastically, and I caught on to what was being discussed. They wanted to go and watch a new horror movie that was out this week. Well, anything to get away from the Rash. I nodded my agreement.

“I would have asked you last night, but my mum was e-mailing her boss,” she continued with a roll of her eyes. “She’s off sick today.”

Caitlin and I frowned in sympathy.

“My dad has this flu thing as well,” she muttered. “Everybody’s getting it.”

I shuddered again. Looking at the teacher, Mr Morgen, I could see the heavy dark circles under his eyes and his raw nose. Not another one of these mini-epidemics. Most of the country had gone mental the last time, implications of leaked virus strains from medical science facilities and even panic over bio-terrorism. When the antibiotics had finally been issued and the mass panic subsided everything had gone back to normal. Antibiotics would be ineffectual against a virus. We would have to wait for it to run its course - and a minimum of 24 hours was enough for hysteria to be induced. But I was just freaking out. I forced myself to relax. This was just an outbreak of the common cold in our immediate area. Nothing worse. It couldn’t be.

The bell rang for the start of break and I jumped in my seat. How had the whole lesson gone by without anyone making us work? I looked up and saw that Mr Morgen was asleep, slumped forwards in his chair with the top half of his body splayed across his desk. I looked around the rest of the class and realised that nobody else had come in - there was just us and Danny, who looked barely conscious. His slitted eyes watched us, the rest of his face covered by the disintegrating tissue clamped in one bloodless hand.

The End

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