The first clue was when Ms. Edmunds, who delivered the post, was discovered stumbling across the west lawn, drooling and gibbering insensibly. The first years quarantined her in the sports pavilion and called for Matron. Matron, once she was roused from her bed and had peered through the slim glass pane in the door, diagnosed her with "attempting to gnaw off her own arm" and ordered the girls to stay well back.
Chelsea Parker thought it was a whole lot of fuss about nothing. She had never been on particularly good terms with Ms. Edmunds, stemming from a certain incident in which Chelsea had offered some friendly advice on how to make the Royal Mail uniform more fashion-forward and Ms. Edmunds had snarled at her. Snarled. Honestly, Chelsea wasn't surprised to hear about the arm chewing one bit.
Of course, she was also eager to get her hands on this month's issue of Vogue which was supposed to be delivered today. What was the point of a subscription if your regular postal delivery person couldn't be relied upon to deliver the issue each month? What use were those hideous thick-soled shoes if not for delivering the mail in a timely fashion?
"Timely fashion," Peaches had repeated, giggling, when Chelsea told her this, and Chelsea smiled helplessly -- she couldn't stop herself from smiling when Peaches got the giggles. It was infectious.
The second clue was a mass text message from former Head Girl JJ French. The Posh Totties were lying on Peaches' bed when they received it, curling each other's hair and comparing the results of their recent chemistry experiments for class (Chelsea's explosion was the biggest, but Bella's had lasted the longest).
The text had gone out to all the students at St. Trinian's and read simply, protect the brains.
"Well, I have no idea what that means," Peaches said, pouting a little.
"Maybe it's a code," Bella suggested.
"Maybe it's auto correct!" Saffy said, her voice rising in high-pitched delight. "I bet it's supposed to say 'Protect Brian!'"
There was a moment while they considered this.
"You mean, 'protect the Brians'?" Chelsea said doubtfully.
Saffy and Bella were the youngest members of the Posh Totties, having only been inducted into their elite group at the beginning of the school year. Saffy, however, was showing an unfortunate tendency towards excitability, which worried Chelsea; true Posh Totties needed to be able to maintain their poise in all situations. But Peaches, Chelsea's main confidante and best friend, had been away for a semester in Switzerland during the recruitment period, and Chelsea had been forced to make all the decisions on her own. Webcams and text messages were not a substitute for Peaches' actual presence.
"Wait, who's Brian?" Bella asked.
None of them knew of any Brian, but it turned out that protect the brains was a code, after all. It was a Head-Girl-to-Head-Girl emergency code to warn Annabelle of an impending zombie attack.
When Annabelle explained this to the assembled student body, there was a moment of stunned silence. Then Taylor took her gum out of her mouth, and said, "What're you sayin'? Not actual chew-your-face-off walking-dead rawr braaaains rawr zombies." She paused. "Right?"
"Of course actual zombies!" exclaimed Andrea. She shivered with macabre delight. "The epitomization of the struggle for life even after death, and its ultimate, horrible futility."
"That is disgusting," Taylor said flatly.
"You don't know how long I've been dreaming about this day," Andrea said dreamily.
"So have I," said Annabelle grimly.
While the Geeks checked international news online for coverage of a zombie apocalypse, Chelsea had the Posh Totties reach out to their network of contacts to find out if there was any news on the ground. One of Peaches' ex-boyfriends wanted to know if she was safe and, if so, where exactly so they could meet up and keep each other safe, and no really, but did she know a safe place to go? Chelsea told Peaches to tell him she was in the south of France and hang up.
"Ah, oui, j'adore les croissants!" Chelsea added loudly, with her most authentic French accent, to provide the appropriate background noise for Peaches' call.
"He was out of breath," Peaches reported. "He sounded like he was on the run."
Peaches was the most talented of all the Posh Totties in what they referred to audio eroticism, and she was the most requested of all the girls on their hotline. So Chelsea trusted Peaches' judgement unquestioningly when it came to identifying characteristics of and reasons for breathlessness.
"Confirmed action on the ground in London," she said authoritatively to Annabelle.
The Geeks were finding reports in the blogosphere that supported this, although the major news networks were conspicuously silent about the attack. Nevertheless Annabelle declared a state of emergency, and the girls dispersed to put the school under lockdown.
The third clue, and visual confirmation of the event, was the capture of four escapees from the local boys school. A patrol found them attempting to untangle themselves from a camouflaged barbed wire barricade in the woods. They were escorted at the ends of outstretched hockey sticks and tennis rackets into the sports pavilion. Two of them were foaming at the mouth, and the other two had large visible bite marks on their extremities.
"Unfortunately," Annabelle said, "I think this means that it's time to tell the teachers."
Miss Cleaver had already been informed of the goings-on because her background in the military made her an ideal consultant for setting up a zombie defense, and Matron of course had inspected their visitors upon first arrival. The new maths teacher, however, fainted in the hallway when she heard the news, and Bursar fell into a sneezing fit of shock. Miss Dickinson said, rather faintly, "Well, well," and Miss Maupassant exclaimed, "L'anarchie!"
Miss Fritton, of course, was predictably unsurprised. "Good work, girls," she said. "May I suggest making use of the swords in the theatre department? We never did get around to ordering those boring old fake ones. A good sharpening and they'll be good as new."
Chelsea asked Celia, who'd been on the patrol, if she happened to see Chelsea's copy of Vogue.
"I'm surprised you concern yourself with crass commercialization and unrealistic expectations of female beauty when we're in the middle of an emergency," Celia said with some reproof. Then again, Celia disapproved of crass commercialization and unrealistic expectations of female beauty even at the best of times. She was also currently boycotting the use of paper because of the decimation of the rain forests, a political cause that several other students had adopted mainly to get out of doing schoolwork. Celia, however, diligently typed up all her assignments and handed them in on a flashdrive.
"Just because zombies are taking over Britain, we can still remain informed about fashion trends," Chelsea said. Bella and Saffy nodded earnestly.
"In fact," Peaches added. "When zombies are taking over Britain, it's even more important to remain au courant. What if the zombies eat the brains of all the supermodels in the world?"
"Oh. em. gee," Chelsea and Bella gasped together.
"I never even thought of that," Chelsea added. "Excellent point."
"You are all ridiculous," Celia said, but Chelsea winked at Peaches. Peaches was always thinking about things like that. Earlier that year, she'd convinced her father to hire a documentary crew to film a reality TV special on the Posh Totties, focusing on their lives following the School Challenge victory. It had yet to be picked up, but the early edit was very promising.
The students of St. Trinian's were extremely well trained in how to act during a state of emergency. It was a talent Miss Fritton often praised at the rare school-wide assemblies. Indeed, the school was soon protected by a veritable fortress of road blocks, barricades, and booby-traps, and girls started meticulously cataloguing and organizing their stocks of weaponry, resources, and personnel. The Geeks were monitoring the situation on a global scale, while the Posh Totties and the Chavs both made sure their contacts kept them informed.
On the second day, several of the girls dragged the hot air balloon out of the basement, and they anchored it on the flat part of the roof and stationed a look-out in the basket at all times. When it was Peaches' turn to take a watch, she made Chelsea come up with her -- not because she was scared of heights but because she got airsick.
"Getting airsick in a plane is not the same as in a hot air balloon," Annabelle pointed out, but it didn't make a difference to Peaches.
Chelsea didn't mind anyway. She held Peaches' hand the whole time. It was actually quite nice up there, hanging in a basket in the sky with the bright pink St. Trinian's skull and crossbones flying above them. The sun was starting to set in a flattering pink-gold light that made Peaches' hair shine and Chelsea's skin glow. The view was very pretty, too: fields and hedges and roads and houses laid out underneath them, all looking peaceful and seemingly undisturbed by attacks of the undead.
It was almost -- romantic.
She glanced at Peaches who was still clutching her hand tightly. She looked a little green.
"Be sick over the side of the basket," Chelsea advised. "Aim for a zombie if you can." Peaches rolled her eyes and didn't reply.
They'd been up in the sky for just over an hour when Peaches gasped, squeezed her hand, and exclaimed, "Did you see that?"
To the east, they could see the distant High Street of the nearest village. It was difficult to make out details in the twilight, but it looked like there was a figure dressed in black in the middle of the street. It was racing flat-out in their direction.
Tara and Tania had refused to lend Chelsea their high-resolution binoculars, even for something as worthwhile as keeping lookout ("But what if you drop them, Chels?" they'd said in unison), so Chelsea had borrowed Miss Dickinson's opera glasses.
With the help of the opera glasses, the figure seemed to be female. Her face and hair were hidden by a knit cap, however, and Chelsea didn't know if she was a friend or foe.
"It's heading straight for us!" Peaches said. "Do you think it's a, um -- " she lowered her voice dramatically -- "an eater of flesh?"
Chelsea had once had a boyfriend who liked to watch scary movies with her -- most likely because he knew Chelsea would get bored and make out with him halfway through (at least, Chelsea could think of no other good reason to watch them). So she was familiar with basic movements of zombies. This figure was moving far too quickly and with great determination. She also seemed to be in possession of all her limbs.
"I don't think so," Chelsea said, and gave the signal to lower the hot air balloon.
By the time Annabelle made it to the top of the roof, the figure had disappeared into the trees that ringed the school. She was still heading steadily and purposefully in their direction, as though St. Trinian's was her final destination.
"A patrol reported a lot of hostiles in that part of the woods," Annabelle said slowly, weighing their options. There were small frown lines on her forehead. "A rescue would be tricky."
"What if it's one of our girls trying to make it home?" Chelsea said. She took a deep, shaky breath, and said what was at the very back of her mind: "What if it's Kelly?"
Annabelle's head shot up. "Did it look like Kelly?"
Chelsea glanced at Peaches, who said, "There's a definite possibility it's Kelly."
"Well," said Miss Fritton, coming up behind them and startling them. "This is not the time for every girl for herself."
It took five girls and two diversionary explosions to extract the figure in black who was, in fact, Kelly Jones. When she arrived, she was flushed and her face was scraped up, but she was whole, unbitten, and her saliva thankfully remained in her own mouth.
"Well, hi, girls," she said, grinning, before she was tackled to the floor with hugs. "I came as soon as it was safe," she added.
"Safe?" Annabelle exclaimed. "You should see what's inside the sports pavilion!"
Kelly winked. "I knew you'd know what to do," she said, and Annabelle flushed. "The effects of the virus are temporary," Kelly continued. "I was sent into central London to subdue some of the more dangerous sectors. But I found most of the reported hostiles were just regular people, confused about where they were and why I was about to swing a sword at their heads."
They all nodded sagely. The emergency pamphlet that Annabelle had put together had been clear that beheading was the surest way to destroy a zombie.
"What's Kelly's job again?" Saffy whispered to Chelsea, wrinkling her nose. "I thought it had to do with diamonds and gold and stuff, not swords and zombies."
Chelsea didn't know exactly what Kelly did either, but she didn't see any reason why a decent job for a St. Trinian's graduate shouldn't have all of those things. Although, she personally would be happier if her job included less secrecy and more television appearances.
Annabelle sent a team with Matron to check on the guests in the sports pavilion, with instructions to release them if they passed the quick test Kelly provided. Everyone was drinking tea (or, in the case of the staff and the older students, alcohol -- or even alcohol and tea) in the Dining Hall when they returned, the prisoners having been successfully escorted to the other side of the barricades and sent on their way.
"Here you are," Celia said to Chelsea, and she handed her a tattered and sadly three-days-out-of-date copy of Vogue, salvaged from the wreckage of the sports pavilion.
"Oh. em. gee," Chelsea, Peaches, and Bella chorused when they saw it. Saffy pushed up behind them to read over their shoulders.
Chelsea opened the magazine to the cover article. Zombie chic! it proclaimed. The spread of photographs showed several celebrities and supermodels decked out in a strange combination of rags and red-stained clothing.
Saffy gasped. "Does this mean Kate Winslet is a zombie?" she exclaimed.
Chelsea was scanning the article quickly. "It says here that Dior is launching a new perfume line called -- oh. Reanimate."
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"I think you girls might have found the origin of the outbreak," Kelly said, and grinned at them. "Excuse me -- I have to go make a call."
They passed around the article.
"Ew, I do not wanna smell that," Taylor said firmly.
"I do," Andrea said with reverence.
"We do, too," Tara and Tania chorused.
Celia gave Chelsea a look of apology. "I'm sorry I said your magazine was full of crass commercialization," she said. "Even if it's mostly true."
Chelsea smiled at her. It wasn't Celia's fault she couldn't appreciate high fashion. After all, Celia kept her hair in dreads; Chelsea reluctantly recognized dreads as a legitimate style choice, but mostly considered them gross. There was no excuse for not properly conditioning one's hair, even in a zombie apocalypse.
"But how did you know the answer would be in Vogue?" Saffy asked.
"Lucky guess," Chelsea said.
Peaches shook her head. "You do more than guess, Chels," she said, her smile a little soft. Then she leaned in and kissed Chelsea on the lips. Startled, Chelsea opened her mouth and kissed back.
Then she stopped, pulled away, and said, "That wasn't a planetary kiss!"
"Do you mean platonic?" Celia said.
"There was tongue!" Chelsea added.
"Not planetary or plantonic," Peaches said firmly. She had tasted like raspberries, and Chelsea licked her own lips self-consciously. "It was a galactic kiss."
"You really are blonde, Chels," Annabelle said. "She likes you."
It usually didn't bother Chelsea when people called her blonde; she was used to being underestimated. That didn't mean she liked it now. "Peaches," she said firmly. "Outside. Now."
Peaches followed her onto the front steps of the school. "Annabelle told me that St. Trinian's was a place free of judgment and I should feel free to explore my sapphic desires," Peaches said. She sounded a little hesitant, and she wouldn't meet Chelsea's gaze. "I think she meant I should snog girls. But the only girl -- the only person -- I really want to snog is you."
"Oh," Chelsea said. She started to smile, helplessly wide, the way she couldn't help doing when Peaches fell off the bed in a fit of giggling or when she made faces at Chelsea from across the science lab or when she texted Chelsea from Switzerland just to say hi i miss you. "Oh," Chelsea said again. "I've been thinking about you, too."
Peaches turned her head, her smile wide. There was debris from their zombie defenses strewn across the lawn and it was starting to rain. It was not at all romantic. Chelsea didn't mind, though, and she thought Peaches might not mind either.
"Well, that's good," Peaches said, and kissed her.
As it turned out, the audio eroticism Peaches was renowned for on the Posh Totty hotline worked really, really well on Chelsea. Chelsea was more than okay with that.