Chapter 3

Emma Mitchell

Sick, cold and tired.

I felt bad. I decided to skip my lecture and stay at home. I had one of those fevers where I was too hot to stay in bed and too cold to get up. I felt too sick to do anything but too guilty to sit still and do nothing. I had tried to do some studying for a while. I gave up when I realised that I'd had five attempts at reading the same paragraph but had never made it past the middle of the third line.

Kayleigh, my flat mate, hadn't been home for almost two days. She'd phoned so she knew I felt bad and she'd promised to pick up some milk and a loaf of bread. I cursed her as I searched through the kitchen cupboards for something to eat. They were empty, and I was forced to accept that I'd have to pull myself together and go shopping.

Wrapped up in my thickest coat I tripped and sniffed to the shop at the end of Maple Street feeling drained, pathetic and thoroughly sorry for myself.

There were three customers (including me) in Mr Rashid's shop. I didn't pay any of them any attention at first. I was stood there haggling with myself, trying to justify spending a few pence more on my favourite brand of spaghetti sauce, when an old bloke lurched at me. For the fraction of a second before he touched me I was half-aware that he was coming. He reached out and grabbed hold of my arm. He was fighting for breath. It looked like he was having an asthma attack or something. I was only five terms into my five years of medical study and I didn't have a clue what was happening to him.

His face was ashen white and the grip he had on my sleeve tightened. I started to try and squirm away from him but I couldn't get free. I dropped my shopping basket and tried to prise his bony fingers off my arm.

There was a sudden noise behind me and I looked back over my shoulder to see that the other shopper had collapsed into a display rack, sending jars, tins and packets of food crashing to the ground. He lay on his back amongst them, coughing, holding his throat and writhing around in agony.

I felt the grip on my arm loosen and I turned back to look at the old man. Tears of inexplicable pain and fear ran freely down his weathered cheeks as he fought to catch his breath. His throat was obviously blocked, but I couldn't tell by what. My brain slowly began to click into gear and I started thinking about loosening his collar and laying him down. Before I could do anything he opened his wide, toothless mouth and I saw that there was blood inside. The thick crimson blood trickled down his chin and began to drip on the floor in front of me. He dropped to the ground at my feet and I watched helplessly as his body convulsed and shook.

I turned back to look at the other man who also lay on the marble floor, thrashing his arms and legs desperately around him.

I ran to the back of the shop to try and find Mr Rashid. The shop led directly into their home. By the time I found him and his wife they were both dead. Mrs Rashid had fallen in the kitchen and lay next to an upturned chair. The tap was still running. The sink had overfilled and water was spilling down the units and collecting in a pool around the dead lady's legs. Mr Rashid lay in the middle of the living room carpet. His face was screwed up in agony. He looked terrified.

I ran back through to the front of the shop. Both of the men I'd left fighting for breath were dead.

I walked back outside. The sun was incredibly bright and I had to shield my eyes. There were bodies everywhere  -  even through the brightness the dark shapes on the ground were unmistakable. Hundreds of people seemed to have died. I looked at the few closest to me. Whatever it was that had killed the people inside the shop had killed everyone outside too. They had all suffocated. Every face I looked into was ashen white and the mouth of every body was bloodied and red.

I looked up towards the junction of Maple Street and High Street. Three cars had crashed in the middle of the box junction. No-one was moving. Everything was still. The only thing that changed was the colour of the traffic lights as they steadily worked their way through red, amber and green.

There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of bodies around me. I was numb, cold and sick and I walked home, picking my way through the corpses as if they were just litter that had been dropped on the streets. I didn't allow myself to think about what had happened. I guess I knew that I wouldn't be able to find any answers. I didn't want to know what had killed the rest of the world around me and I didn't want to know why I was the only one left.

I let myself into the flat and locked the door behind me. I went into my room, drew the curtains and climbed back into bed. I lay there, curled up as tightly as I could, until it was dark.

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