The panicked cries were coming from north-east side of the school, the side where the ambulance was parked, I realised.
Emma looked at me, her face going pale. "Lucas."
Without waiting for a response from me, she bolted towards the screaming. As I followed, I glimpsed the principal on my left, sprinting in the same direction. The adrenaline started pumping through my veins again as we neared the source of the outcry, the Hub, the communal centre of the school.
As we reached the Hub, the trickle of panicked teenagers running past us quickly became a flood. They tripped, pushed, fell and sobbed as they struggled to escape something behind them. "Lucas!" Emma suddenly cried out with relief as she spied the lanky blue-eyed boy herding a nervous grade-eighter ahead of him. Hell of a first day, kid, I thought wryly.
Lucas blinked in surprise as she threw her arms around him. "Emma! What are you doing here?! Do you know what's going on? It's gone crazy here!"
Emma didn't have time to respond as the answer to that question began staggering down the path behind Lucas. He saw our eyes widen and turned.
"What are the old people from the nursing home next door doing here?" Lucas asked uncertainly. Somehow, his eyes didn't register the bloodstains on their pyjamas or the gaping holes in the limbs as they dragged their feet towards us. But the boy with him did. He emitted a high pitched squeak and dashed off after the other kids.
"The noise." I replied slowly. "All the noise the kids were making at lunch. It's acted like a magnet for every zombie in the area." The nursing home, the other school - was the entire area around this school now a zombie zone? Would we be trapped here? I looked over my shoulder and sucked in my breath. The first lot of zombies had reached the school. They staggered towards us, drawn by the chaos. We didn't have long before we found ourselves the meat in a very unpleasant sandwich.
"Zombies?" Lucas blinked and then started, as his eyes, so much like Emma's, finally registered what they were really seeing. "Oh, shit."
Ignoring him, I looked over at Emma, who looked sick but determined. I knew what she was feeling. Courage comes from having something to fight for, and she had Lucas. "We can't get to the ambulance this way. Let's head back and circle around the other way."
Unbelievably, as we made our way back through the Hub, there were still some students wandering aimlessly, looking confused, huddling on benches or just standing, crying hopelessly. The principal was grabbing them and pushing them desperately towards the hall. "Go to the hall! Now!"
I hurriedly pulled a sobbing girl to her feet. "You'll be safe in the hall." I said in my practical, don't-mess-with-me nurse's voice. "Hurry up, off you go." She nodded, eyes wide and frightened. I gave her a little push and she stumbled towards the hall.
"Lori!" The zombies were now staggering into the hub from both directions. If we didn't leave now, we would be cut off. I stood frozen in my tracks as I met Emma's terrified eyes, torn by my desire to save myself for my kids and the flaw in my character that would not allow me to leave these kids as long as there was a chance to save them.
"Go!" I yelled at her. "I'll catch up!" Emma hesitated and then I saw her face harden; she grabbed Lucas' arm and they disappeared around the corner of the building. I didn't blame her for a moment. Kids come first.
Turning, I raised my cricket bat as I ran to cover a young boy who cowered in terror on the floor as the old zombies slowly encircled him. With a gutteral yell, I jumped over him and poured my rage into the swing of my bat. It knocked three zombies into each other like skittles. Score! They went down in a tangle of limbs and moans. Stepping back to stand protectively over the kid, I hoisted the bat over my shoulder again and let loose in the other direction. It slammed into their heads with a satisfying thud-thud-thud, sending the zombies staggering back a few feet. It seemed the infirmities of old age made zombies even less agile than usual. Thank the gods.
I reached down and pulled the young boy up. "Stay behind me." Sobbing, he clung to my shirt as I backed up slowly. Glancing behind me, I saw that the one remaining avenue was rapidly disappearing from view behind a wall of dull-eyed corpses.
On all sides, zombies merged on us. The sight of young, blank eyed teenagers forming a ring around me sickened me. To my side, I saw the principal thrust a child beneath the arms of two clumsy old zombies. For a brief moment, the child had a clear path. "Run, Madison!" She cried out. As the child disappeared, the principal gathered another child, a boy, in her arms as the zombies closed around them on all sides.
The principal looked up and caught my eye. A look passed between us. My gut clenched as I recognised the look. It was goodbye. She had a look of peace on her face that comes with an acceptance of one's fate. Rather than trying to save herself, she was choosing to stay for the child.
"I'm sorry." I whispered as it dawned on me that I couldn't help her. How many times had I said that today? It felt like I had expressed that emotion too many times, abandoned too many people.
Taking a deep breath, I glanced at the child beside me. He had a hold on my shirt so tight, I don't think a crowbar could have pulled him off.
"We're making a run for it." I told him grimly as we continued to back towards the walkway. I swung the bat at arm's reach in a wide circle around me. "When I go, you go for your life. If you fall, you're on your own because I am not stopping. Got it?" Did I really mean it, I wondered, or was I just trying to put the fear of God in him?
He nodded fearfully, his eyes darting frantically around him.
"Okay - now!" And wielding my bat like some kind of warrior princess, we ran as I beat a path through the twenty or so zombies that had gathered between me and freedom. I didn't stop to think, didn't dare to wonder if I could possibly make it, because I knew if I hesitated for even one moment, it would be over. We would be overwhelmed by these creatures within seconds.
Yet it quickly became clear to me that I was losing the battle. My run slowed to a trot as the space in front of me continued to thicken with zombies. Desperately, I pulled out my parang and slashed at the arms reaching for me and the boy. It wouldn't be long now.
Suddenly, the creatures in front of me began collapsing to their knees or falling against each other. Seeing a momentary opening, I pushed through, hacking wildly with my parang. To my complete amazement, Emma and Lucas stood before me, swinging cricket bats with ferocious abandon as they cleared the path for me.
"Go, go, go!" I screamed as I ran past them, dragging the boy with me. They quickly fell in behind me as we fled down the walkway as fast as our legs could take us.