A scream ripped Kat from her horrifying dream.
Kat's eyes snapped open, and panic assaulted her mind when she found she could not see. Her hand darted to the dagger sticking from the space between mattress and bed frame, fingers curling around the panther shaped hilt and pulling the heavy blade with jerky movements.
The girl was silent as she waited for a sound to alert her to danger. When nothing came, Kat sat up and clicked on her lamp, wincing as the light struck her eyes.
She did a quick basic check on her surroundings, trying to find the source of the cry. Everything was where it was when she had turned off the light, and no one was in the room with her. As a childish afterthought, Kat prodded the mattress above her with a fist, relieved when she felt no extra weight.
Kat's heart raced as her lungs panted for air, trying to recover from another nightmare. Hyperventilating was a constant threat for Kat, an annoying problem that brought with it dizzy spells and fainting. Any type of fear, from Cottonmouth snakes to tests to nightmares, set off her weakened lungs.
"Damn it." Kat hissed as she pulled her shirt over her nose, trying to inhale some sparse Carbon dioxide, "Not again."
'The same dream. I know it's the same.' The girl thought. 'Why can't I remember it? If I want to face it, I have to know what's scaring me.'
A soft knock started Kat from her reverie. "Kat, Are you okay? I heard you shouting."
"Yeah. You can come in." Kat answered and pulled her shirt down, hiding the dagger under her pillow quickly as Jason peered in. "Just...just dreaming again."
Jason examined his daughter with sympathetic eyes. "Honey, I'm sorry." Kat nodded with a grunt, picking at her bedspread. She mentally berated herself for waking up her Dad again, something that happened nearly every time she had a nightmare."Do you want to talk about it?"
Kat sucked in a deep breath, relieved as the lightheaded feeling cleared. "No, thanks. Still can't remember."
"Alright. Love you."
"Love you too, Dad."
Jason pulled his head back and closed the door gently. With nothing else to do, Kat turned the light off and lay down once more.
She didn't let go of the knife beneath her pillow for the rest of the night.
'Shouts to all my lost boys! We rowdy! Shshshshouts to all my-'
Kat groaned and slapped a hand on the snooze bar, stopping the dubstep song in mid drop. There was nothing that could wake someone up faster than dubstep.
Kat rolled from her bed and onto the floor with a thud, untangling herself from the covers as she grabbed her clothes. With practiced form she hopped down the hall on one leg with her shirt clamped between her teeth as she pulled on her jeans, nearly falling on her face as she reached the kitchen.
Jason was never up before his daughter, so Kat measured out some instant coffee for him as she fit her head through her shirt and pushed her arms through the short sleeves. It was customary for Kat to dress in the kitchen, whether her Dad was there or not. She believed it saved time.
"Dad, come on!" Kat yelled, setting the coffee on the table. "I promised Ms Luther that I'd fix her door and I need to check in with Miss Denvers. Let's go!"
A loud groan was heard as Jason stretched and got out of bed. Kat grinned at him as he entered the kitchen, wearing a pair of slacks and a dress shirt. "Morning, Kit-Kat."
"Morning, Dad. Got your coffee for ya."
As her father continued to go about his morning routine, Kat gathered her school supplies and waited in the car. Thirty minutes later, Kat kissed her father on his scruffy cheek as he dropped her off in front of the Gainesville High School band room.
Kat rattled the band room's locked door as her Dad droves away, and stood on her tiptoes to peer into the small window. "Miss Denvers? It's Kat. Are you here?"
After a few moments, the door's lock clicked and the band teacher smiled at Kat.
"Good morning, Kat." Miss Denvers said in her usual cheery voice. "Forty minutes early, again."
"Yes, ma'am." Kat smiled and nodded past her teacher towards the band room. "Anything need doing?"
Miss Denvers waved the teen inside and closed the door behind her. "Actually, the desk in my office knocked something loose again. Think you can fix it?"
"Of course. I'd be happy to. If it happens again, I think I'll get you some new bolts. The threads are probably worn down."
The band teacher smiled. Kat was always trying to fix things, trying to work with her hands, and it saved many of the teachers money that would have had to come out of their skimpy pay checks. Miss Denvers often thanked her by giving the girl coffee in the morning from the staff room or a free soda for lunchtime.
Kat retreated into the small office next to the instrument room as Miss Denvers unlocked the band room and clicked on the lights. Kat stuck her hands into the pockets of her oversized army jacket, different from her woods attire, and pulled out a screwdriver before slithering under the desk on her back.
She spent about ten minutes tweaking and adjusting the bolts and screws with the tools in her jacket before something suddenly grabbed her ankles and tugged. Kat let out a startled yell and sat up quickly, whacking her head on the desk with a resounding bang and a muffled string F bombs and shitake mushrooms.
The assailant let go and started laughing uncontrollably. As they stumbled back onto the couch to roll in fits of giggles, Kat caught sight of red converse scribbled with pen marks and a distant pair of girl's cowboy boots.
"Quinn!" Kat growled in mock anger. "I'm gonna beat your ass so hard for that!" Seizing the edge of the desk, Kat pulled herself out from underneath before jumping on the girl laughing on the couch.
The other girl standing in the doorway let out a chuckle, leaning on the frame to watch the show. "Don't kill her, Kat."
Quinn Vincent shrieked as Kat started tickling her sides with a vengeance, knocking her glasses askew. "Getting kinky, there." She managed.
Kat paused in her attack with an impish grin. "Well, you know what they say-"
A wide smile spread across Quinn's childlike face. "Sticks and stones may break my bones-" She began.
"But whips and chains excite me!" The two collapsed into laughter again.
Kin Moswin shook her head from the doorway, her moss like hair bouncing slightly. "You two are terrible."
Kat hopped off Quinn and fell to her knees, clutching her heart with both hands. "Oh, the pain!" She exclaimed with an agonized expression on her face. "You wound me with your cruel, cruel words, my love! How ever shall I go on?"
Quinn sat up and straightened her glasses before readjusting the pink chopsticks in her short blonde hair. "You always have me, sexy!" She said with a cheeky grin.
"I still love you, don't worry." Kin patted Kat's head, darker skin nearly blending with Kat's brown hair. Kat always liked to describe Kin's skin tone as 'Watered down coffee with a single creamer.' Kin just said she was black until proven otherwise.
Kat pushed herself up and dusted off her hands and what she could reach on her back. "I'm done here if you guys want to go with me to Ms Luther's room. Her door broke again."
Quinn bounced up. "Yeah! Let's go, man!"
Kin gave a much mellower, "Fine with me." And slipped off to put her trumpet away before joining the other two girls in the main band room.
After reporting to Miss Denvers that her desk was fixed, the self-proclaimed 'Troublesome Trio' headed across campus.
"Good morning Ms Luther." Kat called with a smile, waving to her science and biology teacher. "Happy Monday!"
The blonde woman smiled back over her glasses and put down her coffee. Ms Luther was one of Kat's favorite teachers, and allowed Kat to use her supply closet in return for fixing anything around the classroom and cleaning after labs. "Morning, Kat. I take it you had a good weekend."
"Fantastic, ma'am! Only thing that could make it better would be zombies!"
The teacher chuckled and said hello to Kin and Quinn, who were getting comfortable at a lab table with their drawings spread out for critique. The two had always had a knack for art that Kat found herself awed by. It was like they could put pencil or pen to paper and put their life force into the ink to make the drawings come alive.
Just as Kat began working on the door, the handle turned. She jumped back and pulled the ladder that was blocking it away before opening it for the students outside.
Two boys filed in, both rather pale. The taller of the two waved at Kat with a broad smile, the corners of his sunken, red-rimmed amber eyes crinkling.
Before he could speak, Kat interrupted him. "If a zombie apocalypse hit, I would loot the Walmart down the street for supplies." She considered the two for a moment with a grim, serious expression, then grinned. "Good morning, Fish. Hi Alex."
"Morning, zombie Kat." Cameron 'Fish' Kirk laughed, hugging Kat with skinny arms. Kat hugged back, and swore she could count his ribs by touch alone. His chocolate brown hair, straight as a razor down to his bony shoulders, tickled Kat's ear.
Alex Summers, hunched over behind Cameron, looked up with a pained grunt. His normally light tan skin was grey, his chubby cheeks sunken. Kat gazed at him with worry. He didn't look happy to be here.
"What's wrong, Alex?" Kat asked, and she jerked back as the boy gave a hacking growl, coughing loudly. "Jesus, you shouldn't be here like this!"
Cameron nodded in agreement. "He got a stomach virus over the weekend and lost his voice. He's only here to turn in his project." Alex bobbed his head miserably. Alex was Cameron's best friend ever since the two could crawl.
Cameron had been friends with Kat since first grade. A scrawny thing made up of long limbs with weak bones and pale, thin skin, he had been diagnosed with an immunodeficiency as a child, and stayed inside often as a result. Kat had been the only one able to coax him out long enough for him to take an interest in a no contact lacrosse team, and in turn, Cameron had supported Kat during her mother's death. He even had Kat live with him and his parents for the year when her mind and body were rejecting her memories about her mother.
And despite the fact that he looked like a boned fish- Kat's nickname had stuck because of that- Kat had found herself thinking of Cameron when she was bored on more than one occasion. Quinn said it was a crush. Kat said it was mild interest.
As Alex stumbled to his desk and put his head down, Cameron helped Kat with the door. The skinny teen held it up as his friend unscrewed the bent hinge, asking her about her weekend adventures.
"You should have been there, Fish!" Kat exclaimed, enthusiastically detailing her latest cherry bomb recipe. "If I hadn't been behind that tree, I'm pretty sure I'd have shrapnel in my leg."
Cameron laughed, his yellowish eyes sparkling. "And what has Mr Lyonesse said about your bomb hobby? Have you told him yet?"
Kat's gut clenched. Her father was supportive of her many quirks, including her obsession with knives and survival. But he often had an aversion to anything involving Kat handling dangerous combustible materials. "Of course not." The boy below gave a short 'mm.' and shifted his grip on the door as Kat began screwing the new hinge in. "I saw you had posted another song online, but I didn't have a chance to hear it. You got a copy with you?"
"Yeah. Its on my iPod."
For as long as Kat had known him, Cameron was interested in music. He had begun playing the drums at eight, and often composed his own songs then input them into computer programs to create mash tracks. Kat always listened to his latest each morning when he came in, and looked forward to the CD he burned her every month.
"Aaannndd...done!" Kat tightened the last screw and nodded to Cameron to release the door. It closed smoothly and without its usual wobble.
"Nice job." Cameron praised, and held out his hand. Kat grinned as she accepted it, climbing down the ladder like a quean.
"You're such a gentleman." Kat teased. "I could put you in a suit and call you my butler."
The other teen straightened, adopting an air of importance. "Madam," He drawled, making Kat giggle. "Your tea has been set."
"Thank you, Cameron darling." Kat said with her best British accent. "Go polish the silverware, if you please."
A squeal interrupted the two friends as Quinn popped up behind them and pushed them together. "Oh my God, you two are SO CUTE together!"
Kin chuckled, and asked, "When's the wedding?" She knew that Kat would join in on the fun.
Kat winked. "Next week of course."
Cameron's face turned a shade of pink. "Come on, knock it off." He murmured.
"Fish, they're just playing." Kat bumped his shoulder lightly. "'Sides, I don't think you're the marrying type. More of a bachelor, playboy kinda guy."
The boy's face promptly lit bright red.
Kin hugged Kat as she said, "We gotta get to class before the bell. See you soon."
"All-ight." Before either could leave, Kat seized Kin and Quinn by the shoulder, fingers tight and unyielding. "You remember the plan?"
Kin sighed. "Kat-"
"First you go to the Walmart next door, then we go to the shed and get our packs. If you aren't there, we go on our own." Quinn quickly recited. It was the escape plan Kat had forced them to memorize at the first sign of the Herf-Collins flu.
"Get baseball bats and other weapons from the gym." Kin added. "Kat, we'll be fine. We've picked up enough from you over the years."
Kat pulled her two friends into a hug and pushed them towards the door. "Now go forth and conquer, my loves! Leave no zombie brain unsmashed!"
Seconds after they left, the bell for first period rang. Kat took her place in the desk between Cameron and Alex as the other students filed in one by one. The stomach virus seemed to be going around again: at least six students were shuffling in with a hacking cough and pale skin, most holding their head as they sat like they had a massive headache.
"'Ey Jackie!" Kat grabbed a passing classmate by the hem of his shirt as he walked by. "The propellant worked. Blew the ping pong ball to bits!"
Jackie scowled good-naturedly. "Did you video it?" Kat paused and shook her head. "No video, no proof, it didn't happen."
"Bah, screw you!"
Jackie took his seat and Ms Luther pulled up the day's PowerPoint lesson. Noticing that Alex still had his head cradled in his arms on his desk, Kat leaned over and shook his shoulder. "Hey Alex, wake up. Ms Luther is starting."
With the sickening sound of a snake slithering through wet mud, the burning skin under Kat's hand slid off Alex's shoulder and slipped down his arm. Kat gave an alarmed shout and jerked back so violently that she practically fell into Cameron's lap.
Ms Luther looked up, her usually kind expression an annoyed frown. "Kat, is there a problem?"
Cameron shifted uncomfortably, but still squeezed Kat's shoulder like he always did when she was scared. He knew when to be quiet and just let Kat talk, but having his friend currently in his desk with him when everyone was staring made him uncomfortable to say the least.
"Alex! His skin is coming off!" The teenager choked out, awkwardly getting off Cameron's lap with a quiet, "Sorry, Fish."
"What?" Ms Luther asked, her expression that of angry bluntness. "Kat, I know I give you free reign in the supply room, but using my things for pranks-"
"She's not lying." Cameron's voice cut the teacher off. "Look."
A patch of bloody, raw skin dropped from under Alex's sleeve onto his desk with a wet splat. Ms Luther stared open mouthed at the student that was apparently asleep when he didn't react whatsoever. "Alex? Alex, are you okay?" She asked in a trembling voice.
Taking the initiative, Kat stepped forward and slipped a hand down to Alex's bent neck and felt for a pulse. Fear raged through her mind as she felt none, and her breathing began to speed up. "He needs help." The brown-eyed girl said sharply. "Call the nurse."
As students began jumping up from their desks to see their sick classmate, Cameron stepped in front of the desk to keep them away while Kat gently pulled Alex's shoulders up. Alex's head flopped back on rubbery joints, lolling like a boned fish.
Kat's heart stopped.
Alex's eyes were open, but glassy and filled with red. Some of his capillaries had burst, turning the whites of his eyes bright scarlet, while his now white skin had begun to flake around his cheeks. His mouth hung open, revealing a blackened tongue like a dead slug.
Kat pulled back, staggering away like a drunk as her classmates shoved past to get a look at Alex's body. Her chest heaved as her mind whirled madly, searching for a fact that had evaded her all morning.
All of a sudden, she heard a scream. Kat's head snapped up, stray wisps of dark hair swirling around her face as If caught in a wind tunnel. A crashing, roaring sound filled Kat's ears for a split second then faded just as quickly. Panicked, she franticly looked around to see if anyone else had heard the noise, but no one else had reacted.
'I'm over reacting. He's sick...no, he's dead. Alex is dead.'
The thought struck home. Kat doubled over and stumbled to the sink at the closest lab station, promptly losing her breakfast as a list of statistics and symptoms flew through her brain.
'Herf-Collins flu. Late stage symptoms include peeling skin, high fever, stomach cramps, loss of vocal communication, swelling of the brain, agitation and aggression.'
"Get away from him." Kat whispered, fingers curled tight on the edge of the sink and voice horse. Knowing that no one could hear, she straightened as best she could and turned, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. The bile on her tongue tasted bitter, like sour milk. "Get away from him!" Kat repeated, loud enough to slice through the babble like a hot knife. Everyone fell silent and looked at the now pale Kat. "It's the flu. He has the HC flu."
In the quiet that followed, Ms Luther hit the intercom button. "We have an emergency in room B275! One of my students just stopped breathing and he's-"
A terrible screech split the air.
Alex's once limp hand suddenly clamped onto Jackie's arm and yanked him forward, sending him sprawling across his lap. The captured boy yelled out, then screamed as Alex bent in an impossibly sharp arc and sank his teeth into Jackie's exposed neck.