Britain, 1891. The ‘Crimson Plague’ breaks out in England, reasons remain unknown. Symptoms included internal bleeding, rapid contortions and strange growths on the body. The plague took its name from the distinctive red boils that formed on the skin. A few months after the plague’s initial outbreak it mysteriously died away.
Emma stared at the book. The words seemed to float and contort in front of her as she imagined a victim of the stupid Crimson Plague would. She glanced up irritably and saw that Anna, who was sitting on the other side of the class, was staring at her. Emma hadn’t spoken to her since the weekend when she’d fled from them. Their eyes met for what felt like an eternity. Then a ghost of a smile flickered across Anna’s face. She looked away. Emma frowned and turned back to the Crimson Plague, not sure what that had meant.
After the lesson Emma idled outside the class. She must have missed Anna coming out, because when she turned around she was behind her.
“We need to talk,” Anna said.
“Oh, right, yeah,” Emma agreed hastily, “yeah, definitely. But… maybe… not here.”
Anna looked around and nodded.
“Okay, sure,” she said. Grabbing Emma’s arm she pulled her away, rushing down the hallways and snaking amongst the crowds of students, before finally breaking out into the open air. Anna headed for a bench, secluded from the others, and motioned for Emma to sit down. She leaned over her.
“So,” she said, “why didn’t you tell me you were super-human?”
Emma sat there, unsure of what to say. Anna watched her face intently.
“Well…” Emma said, searching for an answer, “I thought you might… I thought you might… not really like me anymore.”
“Why would you think that?” Said Anna, staring her straight in the eye, “I’m not a complete jerk Emma! I’m not like that! You ever wonder why I left you? It’s because you’re entirely selfish, mean spirited and resistant to human emotion.”
“Right,” Emma said, a little stunned, “uh… thanks.”
“It wasn’t a compliment.”
“I realise that.”
“But you know what,” Anna sat down, leaning against the bench and pointing at Emma, “it all makes sense now.”
“Of course! You’ve been hiding your… super-humanness or whatever it’s called, from us all this time. No wonder you were tetchy, annoying, irritable. I thought I could make you change when we started dating, but how could I do that when I had no idea what you were really going through? All that time you had this hidden secret.”
“Riiight,” Emma nodded.
She had no idea whether to be pleased, confused or insulted by this reaction. Anna was looking at her with the weird half smile that meant she was curious and interested.
“So you don’t mind,” she said eventually, “me being… super-human? You’re not going to tell anyone, right?”
“Of course not,” Anna rested her chin in her hands, “you have an extremely secret secret and you have absolutely no idea how cute that is. No, if you don’t want anyone to know your secret is safe with me. On three conditions.”
“Which are,” Emma said pensively.
“One, you are now my girlfriend again,” said Anna, counting off on her fingers, “you, Emma are a mystery, a mystery which I want to solve, a puzzle I’d like to crack. Therefore we are dating again. Two I’d like to know exactly what you’re doing with Francis and Adelaide.”
Emma couldn’t help an amused smile.
“I wish I knew, but sure, deal. And third?”
“You are going to help me,” said Anna, “hook my friend Alexis up with the girl of his dreams.”
Emma nodded and raised an eyebrow.
“I think her name’s Lydia.”
“Okay, the less I ‘help’ there the better. I’m on kind of shaky terms with Lydia right now.”
“I have this special power too, y’know,” Anna said, “it’s called not caring. You’re gonna help me out right? Help me or everyone learns your secret.”
Emma stiffened, then sighed. Why on earth did it always come back to blackmail? First Francis and Lee, now her former, or maybe not, girlfriend. It was becoming a definite trend.
“Fine,” she’d muttered, “now?”
“No obviously not now,” Anna groaned, “I’ve got Chemistry next. Can’t matchmake in Chemistry.”
“Fine, well,” said Emma, “see you later.”
“Cool,” Anna nodded.
Then she leaned forward, kissed Emma, and hopped off the bench, then hurried away. Emma looked after her, stunned. Then she very quickly pulled her phone out of her pocket, turned it on and dialled quickly.
“Adelaide,” she said putting the phone to her ear, “here’s the deal. I need your help. I need everyone’s help.”
“Oookay,” Adelaide whispered, “I’m in the middle of something right now so -erm- maybe we can talk about this later.”
“No,” Emma said hurriedly, “we need to find Lydia quickly.”
“That’s not going to be easy,” said Adelaide, “and look, I really think we could talk about this at a better time.”
“We need to do this quickly,” Emma said, “I have a girlfriend to impress!”
“Righto,” Adelaide said, “that’s good to hear but maybe not…”
There was the sound of a brief scuffle. Then another voice spoke down the line.
“Hello there,” said Mr Curst, “Emma is it?”
“Oh,” Emma tried to end the call desperately.
“Yeeees,” said Mr Curst, “perhaps you find disturbing one of my detentions amusing. Perhaps you would find it less amusing if I invited you along to one myself.”
“Oh, no need,” Emma laughed nervously, “no, no, no, no…” her mind flailed around for some word other than no, “I’ve learnt my lesson, I won’t do it again. You won’t hear from me.”
“Okay,” Mr Curst paused for a second, then he lowered his voice and his tone changed, “actually I might be able to help you. You were talking with my favourite student just now about Lydia, yes? What’s my niece got herself into this time?”
“We’re just trying to find her,” Emma didn’t question the relation revelation, the lack of family resemblance explained itself, “she hasn’t been in school recently, and we don’t know where she is.”
“Of course,” Mr Curst said, sucking in through his teeth, “I remember now. Yes, well… I’m sorry to say it, but Lydia’s had a little bit of an accident. You can find her in the hospital.”