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"One sick kid. That's all it takes," Vicky would start, usually with a sigh or an eye roll. "One sick kid, and we're all infected. Everyone's coughing, sneezing, puking, whatever it may be, and it spreads." If the woman wasn't so annoyingly intimidating, one would argue with something along the lines of 'well, you signed up for that when you decided to work in a public elementary school', but nobody ever did, because Vicky was always right.
Kaitlyn was 28 years, three months, and five days old when she got called in for her first 'gig' as a substitute for the kindergarten class at Walker elementary. She hit it off immediately with the kindergarten class; always the laid-back and artsy type, she kept the class entertained with a Bill Nye and a few construction paper projects from the back of a magazine. The normal teacher, Mrs. Trechet, was always calling out sick. "Poor thing," the other teachers would whisper as they congregated during lunch break. "71 and still working here? No wonder she's always sick." But Kaitlyn never cared; she just loved little kids.
"Okay people, we need to talk." Vicky looked nervous, tapping her long fingernails on the desk in front of her as the other teachers sat in a circle of chairs. It was Thursday; after-school meeting day. "There's been a... rather nasty bug reported," she said, obviously choosing her words carefully. "I believe it would be very health-conscious, both for us and the children, to maybe shut down school for just a few days." The teachers groaned, all knowing that the more days they missed in the winter, the more would be added on to be made up before summer. "I know, I know. But..." she trailed off. She looked concerned, Kaitlyn noticed. Ms. Lee, the art teacher, was the first to speak against Vicky.
"Come on now, Vick. It's just a bug. We'll send the kids home the second they hit a degree higher than 98.8." All the other teachers, with the exception of Kaitlyn, nodded in agreement, with mutters of "sounds fair enough" and "it'll be fine". Vicky stood, clipboard in hand, and gave an exasperated sigh. "You know what? Fine. But when you're all as sick as those poor kids at Chesterfield, don't come crying to me!" And with that, she stomped out of the room, which had fallen silent.
Ten minutes until the kids would be let inside from the playground and class would start, and Kaitlyn had still been too intimidated by Vicky's intensity to look up what had happened at Chesterfield. It was a particularly small middle school the next town over, and she was sure that at least some of kids at Chesterfield would have siblings at Walker... maybe Vicky was right? The bell rang, and Kaitlyn jumped. She shut her laptop quickly, and as the children began trickling into the classroom, she decided to think nothing more on the matter.
"Abigail?" Kaitlyn read the names from the clipboard, sipping her coffee occasionally.
There was no response. "Maddie?" she called out again, looking over the sea of children for the small blonde girl. "I think she's tardy!" piped up one child.
"Yeah, or absent," called out another.
"Could be sick!" squeaked another.
"Okay, okay, settle. If she isn't here by lunch, I'll have the office call her parents." Kaitlyn finished the coffee, really hoping Maddie would be in soon. She didn't want Vicky to be right.
"Ms. Kate." She had gotten absorbed into a book a bit after naptime started, and hadn't even noticed Maddie enter the room. "Oh, Maddie, good. I was just about to call your paren-" She was cut off by her own gasp as she set down the book and took a good look at the girl. Her skin was a sickly pale grey colour, deep purple lines running like rivers under her skin from a deep, scabbed gash on her shoulder. Her pale blonde hair looked stringy, and her eyes were yellow with sickness. "Oh. Oh my. Maddie." She really had no clue what to say.
"I'm sick," said the young girl quietly, tugging at the corner of her dark green dress. "My mommy and daddy said I had to come to school." Kaitlyn was scared and confused, but the state of the girl weakened her heart. She forced a comforting smile, patting the girl on the head. "Why don't you go lay down on a mat? I'll get the nurse in a little bit." She knew very well that the nurse was busy in the fifth-grade wing, dealing with a girl who had fallen off the auditorium stage, but she wanted to make it seem like she knew what to do, for the sake of both her and Maddie. The young girl nodded and went to lay down, leaving Kaitlyn feeling chilled.
An hour passed. Maddie spent most of that time sleeping - Kaitlyn couldn't bring herself to wake her - and finally Kaitlyn decided to go get the nurse. She asked the teacher next door, Ms. White, to watch over the children for a moment. As she made her way down the halls to the office, she felt uneasy. Something was wrong with Maddie, and it was even worse than Vicky had let on.
The office called the nurse, who didn't pick up, and then Maddie's parents, who also didn't pick up. Kaitlyn walked back to the class as slowly as possible, and opened the door hesitantly.
It was chaos. Blood slicked the floor in randomly-strewn puddles, two or three bodies - including Mrs. White's - sat in ghastly condition; one girl had pencils and scissors sticking out from her chest, while a boy's head had been stuck in the play oven, his body propped up in a chair. The rest of the children, attacking each other mercilessly, seemed to have taken on the symptoms Maddie had shown; sickly skin, yellow eyes, and those ghastly purple lines spreading out from oozing gashes. It took Kaitlyn little time to realize what the gashes were; deep bite wounds.
She shrieked as a child jumped on her. More followed, but after the first she lost count. She couldn't do anything except scream bloody murder as she fell to the ground, her skull making a cracking noise as it hit the hard floor. Her vision blurred, and she tasted blood in her mouth. She heard the clicking of heels, and what sounded like a gun. Before her last thoughts - along with a good portion of her brain matter - slipped from her head, she saw a familiar woman, her face stoic and her pantsuit stained with blood.
"One sick kid. That's all it takes."