As per Ms Simmons suggestion, the group fled the hallway and raced up the access stairwell, arriving at the Year 8-10 science room in silent formation. Elizabeth took point at the door and examined the room through the glass – the coast looked clear. She entered slowly, checking the areas that had been hidden from view.
Her heart still raced from the close call. She gently tapped the nearest desk with the stone in her hand – loud enough to lure out any zombies hidden in the room but quiet enough not to attract any from further away. After a few seconds she repeated the noise – no grunts. She did a quick sweep of the room, examining all potential grunt-sized hiding places. Clear. She called the others in.
Ms Simmons was last through the door. She eased it closed as she entered, then scanned the room, which had been ransacked already – cupboards opened, beakers broken and chemicals spilled. She surveyed the damage and issued everyone with masks to protect them from any airborne nasties.
“OK,” said Ms Simmons returning to her teacher’s voice (perhaps triggered by their arrival in the classroom). “It looks like we’ll have to be happy with whatever we get. Gather any chemicals, mixing containers, scalpels – anything that’s still in one piece.”
She cleared some space on the main work bench then joined in the hunt.
“Why are we looking for weapons when we’ve got the biggest one sitting here,” said Sonny, directing his attention to Abby.
“True that,” said Vihaan.
“Please tell me you didn’t just say that,” said Zhang.
Vihaan ignored her and turned his attention to Elizabeth. “Do you think she can do that again? Like whenever we needed it?”
“What are you asking me for?”
Everyone looked at Vihaan as he assumed the unsure look Abby had seen a thousand times before. He repeated the question, but slower and louder.
“Just because she can’t speak doesn’t make her deaf and slow,” said Elizabeth.
Vihaan adopted a defeated position that involved hunching the shoulders and lowering the eyes – it was a pose that could only be performed at this level by a master, someone with an overbearing mother and two older sisters. He mumbled some sort of apology that was too low in volume to be heard.
Abby, meanwhile, had found an appropriate response on her choices app. “I think so.”
Vihaan found a new glimmer of confidence in her response. “There you go. Mega weapon.”
“I’m tired,” came the voice from Abby’s communicator.
“I can see it in your aura,” said Ms Simmons. “I know enough about magic to know using that amount of power will drain her for some time.”
“How long?” said Vihaan.
Ms Simmons fixed her eyes on her wand. “I’m not sure. It’s beyond anything I’ve experienced.”
“And you say we have this aura too?” questioned Zhang. “Does that mean we could do that too?”
“Yes. Your auras grow stronger every day. I’ve never seen anything like it before. There’s magic there, you’ve just got to find what works for you.”
“That’s not for me to say, it will be different for everyone.”
The thing about weapons
When you’re up to your eyeballs in a zombie apocalypse, and you have any thoughts of ongoing survival, you’re going to need some weapons. Serious weapons.
If Elizabeth and her friends were being graded for the cache of weaponry they’d amassed since the RiZing, they would be lucky to get a D-. A slingshot, cricket bat, violin bow, some rocks and Ms Simmons’ “magic” (air quotes intended).
It meant their favoured tactic was avoidance rather than battle. But things were starting to get desperate. Zombies were everywhere and they were getting more adventurous with where they roamed. Even worse, the group’s food situation was deteriorating and on the next run they took, they would have to venture beyond school grounds. Then there were the other gangs – both within the school and beyond. Every other group they’d seen had been more heavily armed.
There was a group of Year 10s in one of the classrooms near the oval, some of the oddball older kids hung out in the art & design centre and various small groups owned a classroom here or there. Then there was the clan that claimed the canteen. They were by far the biggest group and full of older students. By owning the canteen, they owned the best remaining food supply and they weren’t in the mood for sharing.
The gang’s plan had been simple up until this point. They’d locked down the teachers’ wing as their home base. Ms Simmons had the key and no one else was allowed in or out. From there they snuck around, avoiding detection and scavenging as much food as they could from vending machines, lunch boxes and lockers.
They stuck to the parameters they’d set themselves and did pretty well for a while. But now the food was running seriously low and there was nowhere else in the school to find more.
It all added up to a big problem. Soon they would have to journey outside, but would then be exposed to more zombies, rival groups and who knows what else. They would have to be prepared – armed and prepared.
Ms Simmons stared at the bounty on the table – a random and unconvincing collection of chemicals and containers. “I think we can make this work.”
“How?” said Vihaan.
“Well, we have enough here to make some explosive combinations – certainly more than enough to distract a few hungry zombies.”
“You sure? With that?”
Vihaan looked at what amounted to a number of clear liquids and various other pieces of paraphernalia – he was far from convinced. “Will it work better than your magic?”
Ms Simmons walked up to the blackboard, picked up the duster and hurled it across the room, hitting Vihaan on the back of the head as he turned to protect himself.
“Say what you want, but between magic and science I think we’re going to feel very protected.”
“I’ll feel safe when we’ve stocked up on weapons from the maintenance shed.”
“Weapons aren’t the answer, young Vihaan.”
“We’ll see, we’ll see.”
As some of the group readied themselves to leave, Elizabeth was drawn to the window. The science room gave her an excellent field of vision, all the way to the big buildings in the city. Behind her shoulder, Zhang shared the view.
“How many people do you think are still out there?” said Zhang.
Elizabeth thought on the question for a moment. “Hard to tell. I’m mean, look at us, if we’ve made it this far, anyone can.”
“True, but a lot haven’t.”
“Is that the shopping centre?” said Sonny as he joined them at the window. “That big grey roof?”
“Yep,” said Elizabeth.
“That’s a long way away.”
“I used to walk further than that to school every day.”
Elizabeth looked at Sonny, she could tell he wasn’t keen on leaving the school. None of them were, really. The school had been all they’d known since the RiZing. It was safe. But she also knew a trip was inevitable if they wanted more food. If they wanted to live.
“I’m sure we’ll be perfectly fine,” said Ms Simmons as she wheeled Abby over to join the others.
Elizabeth looked at Abby. “Do you want to get up?”
Abby had a tray on the front of her wheelchair, where the iPad was kept. On the left of the iPad was a green ‘yes’ button, on the right a red ‘no’. She tapped the green indicator with her left hand. Elizabeth smiled and began removing the tray. Vihaan moved in to help.
Soon Abby was sitting on the counter near the windowsill. Behind her Elizabeth, Sonny, Zhang, Vihaan and Ms Simmons stared across the city. Each imagined the future in their own way. Staying positive, well, that was their first challenge. The vista beyond the window wasn’t any help in that regard as there were few signs of life on this gloomy afternoon. Plumes of smoke rose up, unhindered by human intervention. It was a new world. It was their world.