I took the house key with me, locking the door behind me. The path was still wet and slippery from last night’s unceasing rain. The drunk who had tried to break in was gone from the road, but a quick check down the grate reassured me that his knife had been left behind.

On the walk to Caitlin’s house we hardly spoke except to comment on the tendrils of mist enveloping everything . The weather shifts were making me on edge almost as much as this strange epidemic.

The backpacks, as well as the messenger bag bumping against my hip, made us look bulky as if we were hard-wearing travellers. However there was nobody around to see us as we struggled on through the chill mist that seemed to be trying to find its way through our layers of coats.

We had still seen no sign of life when we reached Caitlin’s street. Even through the fog we could see that her family’s ice blue Lexus was missing.

I knocked on the door while Summer hovered nervously at the end of the drive, looking this way and that like an owl‘s head swivelling to take in every direction. The sound echoed as if we were in a large underground cavern rather than an ordinary suburban street. There was no reply. The whole house was dark.

“The spare key!” I exclaimed, and knelt to the frozen concrete to tilt upwards the left of the two flowerpots that flanked the door, bearing the skeletal remains of some kind of flowering bush that still hadn’t recovered from winter. I slid my fingers across the cold ground and was rewarded when metal met my touch. I curled my fingers around the key and stood up, brandishing it with a triumphant flourish to Summer.

She hurried with quick little steps to the door as I unlocked it and walked through the small square porch that led straight into the living room.

Nothing was immediately wrong. The room was normal, exactly as it always was, but the door leading to the dining room stood ajar. I hurried through it and stopped short at the kitchen doorway, and Summer almost crashed into me, she had been following that closely behind. She peered over my shoulder and gasped.

The kitchen had been raided, that much was obvious. The cupboards and refrigerator doors were all swinging open, their contents gone or lying in their smashed containers on the tiled floor. Brittle strands of dry pasta cracked under my feet as I took a step further in and the glass shards of a jam jar crunched , sticking into the rubber soles of my Converse. I stopped to pick them out before they pierced through, giving Summer time to squeeze past and stare, dumbfounded, at the wreckage.

“Why weren’t the technological things taken, too?” she asked. “The TV and everything are all there still.”

“The house wasn’t raided,” I said heavily. “You were right, they must have gone. They’ve taken all the food supplies they had and left.”

“Gone?” she echoed, as if she couldn’t quite make sense of the word. Caitlin wouldn’t just leave like that without telling us. Unless she couldn’t. Unless she didn’t have a choice to argue. The phone lines down and her father ill - perhaps she was already sick, too weak to stop her frantic mother driving them all away.

“Her nan’s house is too close to here,” I spoke my thoughts aloud for Summer’s benefit. She looked upset, but was trying to hide it. “They might have stopped off there but then left with her grandparents. Where else would they go where they thought they could be safer?”

Summer kicked a partially intact milk bottle so that it rolled through the mess of spilt substances patterning the floor.

“I don’t know,” she said bitterly. “But obviously she didn’t care enough to get us to come with her.”

I sighed. “Maybe…” I didn’t want to voice this particular thought, but I had to. “Maybe she got sick. It comes on suddenly, and maybe she passed out. She couldn’t argue with her parents about it, especially since her dad was like that too.”

“I guess.”

Summer didn’t look convinced.

“Let’s check upstairs, just in case,” I suggested, just to end the awkward silence that had formed. We left the kitchen, looking guiltily at the footprint stains we left on the floor, and crept slowly up the stairs, one at a time. There was no sound from above, all doors closed tight.

No blood.

“Look!” Summer squeaked suddenly, pushing past me to snatch a piece of notepaper from where it had been stuck to the front of Caitlin’s bedroom door with a corkboard pin. I recognised her own blue-penned scrawl before Summer pulled it down.

She scanned it quickly with her eyes, reading aloud, “I figured you guys would come and look for me so I thought I should leave you a message. I can’t tell you where we’ve gone because my mum said that anyone might break into our house and find this. I didn’t want to go without telling you because it wouldn’t be fair, and the phone lines were all jammed with busy signals. I’m sorry. Good luck with getting through this - we’re all going to need it. Caitlin.

The End

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