As if startled awake from a dream, I realised that I was as sopping as if I had been submerged in a river. The cold rain had made me start to shiver uncontrollably. I turned and ran - or squelched - back into the house, trailing water after me as I passed Evelyn and hurried upstairs. In my room, I peeled my wet uniform off as if I was shucking a second skin and screwed it up into the washing basket.

Evelyn would have to be okay for the next half hour.

The hot water of the shower relaxed my tensed muscles, washing away the dirt of rain and blood and sweat. It stung my hand, which was still bleeding slowly, through the bandage I had wrapped tightly around it from the first aid box under the kitchen sink. Even after I had scrubbed myself clean and washed my hair meticulously I stood under the spray for a long time, almost in a daze.

When I shut the water off it felt immediately cold in the small tiled bathroom, so I hurriedly dried and put my jeans and a t-shirt on, covering up with a thick cotton jacket and pulling on my Converse high-tops. I felt more inclined to put on my comfiest pyjamas and go to bed, as if I could sleep this whole thing off and it would all be over when I woke up. But that wouldn’t be wise. If what Mr Morgen said was true, “it’s only going to get worse”, then it was better to be ready to move in an emergency. If I needed to leave the house I had to be ready, or if I had to run for help.

I padded down the stairs and Evelyn was curled up in one of the squashy armchairs - the one I had been sitting in last night. She had folded up the blood-spotted blanket and rested her head on it on the arm like a pillow. She was asleep, breathing slowly but evenly now that her nose and mouth were free of clogging blood. Her bouts of consciousness must be becoming more frequent.

I used yet another towel to clean up the mess of rainwater I had dripped everywhere and bundled everything into the washing machine. It was better to keep everything as sterile as possible.

Now I had done everything I could think of, I was at a loss. I fetched my duvet from my bed and curled up on the sofa in it, inhaling the familiar smell of the washing powder.

I snatched the phone up again and tried to dial. Every number I called had nothing but another dial tone. I picked up the remote instead, lying on the arm of the sofa, and switched on the TV. I was almost surprised that it still worked. The house had been silent except for the rain hammering the glass in the windows, and the sudden burst of sound made me jump. I turned the volume down quickly, checking anxiously to make sure Evelyn hadn’t been woken up.

The programme that had come on was the news; of course. I watched the harried-looking newsreader carefully as she mouthed the words of her broadcast frantically. The banner scrolling across the bottom of the screen read: Unexplained virus outbreak hits Britain once again… scientists have so far been unable to identify this strain…

I turned the sound up again a little bit so I could hear what the news presenter was saying. She had violet bags under her eyes that her make up couldn’t hide. Sympathetically, I thought that she had contracted this virus too.

“… must stress that this is not any form of super bug. No strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been released. This is a virus, which although so far unrecognised cannot be treated. We advise everyone to stay in their houses until the illness has passed - hospitals cannot treat any person with this illness and so you would be wasting valuable time and medical resources for the people who may need them. Also this encourages spread of the virus. Schools, businesses and recreational or leisure facilities have all been closed. Only 24-hour supermarkets remain open and these will be forced to shut within the next 24 hours as staff have been infected…”

Her strained face was replaced by footage of barely-staffed supermarket tills, where crowds of people were hoarding tins of food and bottles of water or milk. A close-up of a pale, tired woman showed her wiping her nose on the sleeve of her white parka as she took out her card to pay. There was a crimson streak on the sleeve.

I switched the TV off, not able to watch any more. The only thing it had confirmed was that it was indeed an epidemic. However there was no information about the disease. Apart from what I had already seen there was no way to know what was going to happen to people who had the virus. Tiredness, fever, bleeding, and then what?

The End

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