"Can we go now, mum?" Michele asked uneasily beside me. She still seemed subdued but the colour had come back to her face at least. I nodded hesitantly. The sooner we left, the better. But I knew I couldn't leave just yet, not while there was a little time to spare. I had to at least try to warn the people here.
Squeezing Michele's arm, I smiled reassuringly. "Go ahead, honey. I will be along in two minutes." With that, I set off at a trot for the office. Stepping into the airconditioned room, I saw a pleasant looking receptionist with a short blonde bob, and two men talking. One was the young man Emma had tried to talk to, and the other was an older, pot bellied man with salt and pepper hair.
"I need to speak to the manager."
"I'm the manager." The older man stepped forward, a hint of a smirk on his face. "How can I help you?"
Keeping my voice level, I looked him in the eye. Somehow I had to convince him that I was serious and yet not a lunatic. "Yes. I am a nurse and I have just come from the hospital. I'm here to warn you and your staff that you need to leave. Right now."
"Ahh. You're with the, ah, interesting lady Brad was just talking to, aren't you?"
"I am." I tried not to show how much his condescension irritated me. "We work in the ER at the Cairns Base Hospital. There was an outbreak of some kind of...plague this morning. It is infectious and appears to cause extremely violent behaviour in affected people."
Young Brad grinned. "Yeah, that's what the other lady said, too, except she said it was making people come back as zombies, or something!" He laughed, looking at the others for backup.
Gritting my teeth in frustration, fighting the urge to look at my watch as I felt precious time slipping away, I looked at the boy coolly. "You'll have to excuse my friend. She has been through a lot of trauma today." I turned back to the manager. "The virus is spreading rapidly through the city area. We just passed a large number of infected people heading this way. If you are caught by them, you could be killed or...infected."
The manager looked very dubious. "I haven't heard anything about this on the radio."
I had to go. The sense that at any moment now, the zombies could appear and block any escape, plagued me like an unbearable itch. "The authorities may not be aware of the danger yet, or they may be too busy dealing with the crisis. I promise you that this is no joke. You have maybe five minutes, ten at the most, to get out of here. " The blond receptionist's eyes widened in alarm as I continued desperately. "Please understand - if an infected person attacks you, they will try to kill you. You won't be able to reason with them or placate them..."
Giving up, I moved towards the door. I had already spent way too much time here. "Leave now, find your family and, if you can, get the hell out of town for a while." The receptionist moved to get up but the manager pushed her down into her seat.
"No one goes anywhere until I contact the authorities and confirm the situation." He glared at me and then his staff, and headed into his office.
I caught the girl's worried eyes as I opened the door. "By the time he contacts someone who knows anything, it will be too late for you." I gestured through the shop window at the two smoke plumes which were clearly visible. "You can see for yourself that something is going on in town." Brad looked uncertain but the young woman nodded decisively and reached for her handbag.
As I turned around, I bumped into Emma. "Time to go, Lori." Her face was pale again. I realised why as I registered the sounds of traffic chaos. Tires squealed, horns blared and sirens screamed as the madness neared us. It was definitely time to go.