Linda glanced into the mist. “Yeah, I feel it now, too.”

Almost as if on cue, the mist parted and at least a dozen zombies staggered into view. Decayed and gruesome, they reached toward the fort wall with low, rumbling moans.

Once again, Katarina was grateful for the wall. “Not too bad a group.”

They both grabbed their long spears that were screwed into extensions to ensure their reach. Katarina braced herself against the railing and slid her spear into position.

The first group of zombies looked up and froze at the sight of the lights.

They stared with wide glazed eyes, their mouths gaping open as they reached upwards toward the lights. Some of the zombies behind them seemed to be more aggressive and shoved past the ones staring and began to beat against the wall.

Katarina took a breath, ignoring the stench, and began to aim, shoving the spear downwards as hard she could. She killed three of the creatures before a fourth managed to grab the spear. Releasing it instantly, she didn’t fight the creature for it.

Whirling about, she reached for another one.

Leaning over the rail, she could see most of the zombies turning slowly back into the mist leaving only three behind staring at the Christmas lights Katarina stared in shock, blinking, then whispered, “Someone is alive down there. That is the only thing that would make them back off.”

“Shit!” Linda pulled out her walkie-talkie. “We have a situation outside the wall. Possible human survivors approaching.”

Moving swiftly, Katarina dropped the spear, raised her rifle and dropped the three zombies staring up at the lights. She then hit the spotlight and it lit up the mist like a beacon.

All around the fort, the spotlights switched on. Katarina cursed as nothing became visible except mist. Hopefully whoever was out there would clearly see them now.

The sun broke the horizon, the sky cracked by rays of yellow and pink.

The world began to slide from shades of black to gray. Katarina strained to see into the fog, but could see only a few tree limbs beginning to poke through the thick soup.

In the distance, Katarina could hear the rumble of what sounded like an engine. Linda began to swing the spotlight back and forth.

The yapping and barking of what sounded like a pack of dogs began. The moans of the zombies seemed to echo hungrily up from the street below.

The dogs began to growl down below.

Travis and Katie appeared out of the fog. “What’s going on?”

“Zombies were attacking the wall, but then took off,” Linda answered.

“We think someone alive has to be down there,” Katarina added “What’s that noise?” Katie asked.

A huge chunk of the mist broke off and floated down the street as the sun’s rays began to slowly penetrate the fog. The area they had cleared of buildings was now visible, as was Bowie street that intersected with Morris.

A huge tractor was slowly coming down Bowie. A strange, cage-like contraption had been welded around the driver’s seat. The tractor was towing a flatbed piled high with chicken coops and pet carriers. Attached to that flatbed was another one piled with several bales of hay. Following the bales of hay at an even, slow walk was a small herd of black and white cows. Weaving in and out of the parade was a large pack of dogs of every size and zombies.

It was almost comical to see the zombies trying to get to the tractor through the herd of cows. The undead seemed utterly oblivious to what these moving obstacles were and would bounce back and forth off of them as they struggled to get to the person driving the tractor.

The dogs, even the little Chihuahuas, seemed almost rabid in their hatred of the zombies. They would grab hold of the dead, tearing at them viciously. As the stunned onlookers on the walls of the fort watched, the pack of dogs took down a zombie with primal savagery. When a little terrier walked out of the fray with the thing’s head, Katarina began to laugh.

“And we thought he was dead!” Katie covered her mouth with her hands, giggling.

“Are you sure?” Linda asked, squinting, trying to see the driver.

“That cage thing’s top is covered in foil,” Travis pointed out.

A zombie scrambled up onto the side of the tractor and began to shake the cage. It suddenly stiffened, then tumbled over dead. Another zombie, an elderly woman, tripped and fell over a dog and immediately was trampled by the cows.

“I’m going to start picking off the zombies on the outer edge,” Katarina decided. There were at least a dozen struggling to get past the dogs and cows to Calhoun.

The sun was higher now, the mist rolling back as the grayish light of dawn filled the streets. The old man seated in the cage erected on the trailer was now visible as Calhoun, complete with a foil jumpsuit and cowboy hat.

Katarina and Linda began to steadily pick off the zombies as the tractor drew near. Calhoun began to slowly turn in front of the wall before the hotel. He noticed the people up on the wall and slowed down to shout up at them.

“Thems here dairy cows for milk and chickens for eggs. Nobody eats ’em or I keep driving,” he called out.

Katarina could now see the pet carriers tied to the flatbed trailer were filled with cats. They were snarling and hissing and not too happy.

Meanwhile, the little dog was still dragging around the zombie head while a bigger dog made attempts to steal it away.

With a salute, Calhoun shifted gears and the parade continued. “Leave that nasty ol’ head alone, Pee Wee, and get along little doggie,” Calhoun shouted.

The little black dog heard his master, hesitated, then lifted its leg, peed on the zombie head, then trotted after the rest of the dogs.

* * * * * Travis met Calhoun in the courtyard after the old coot successfully managed to get in the gate. The snipers on the walls had picked off the zombies mingling with his herd and all the dogs, cows, chickens, and cats were accounted for to the old man’s satisfaction.

“So you went for your animals,” Travis decided with a wry smile.

“Figured we need fresh milk and eggs anyway,” Calhoun decided. “Keeps your brain sharp against the aliens.”

“Yeah, right,” Travis said dubiously, staring at the grizzled old man in the foil jumpsuit.

“’sides, army has been circling my farm. Don’t need them taking my stuff,”

Calhoun said in a dire voice. “I don’t take kindly to martial law. I didn’t vote for that yokel in the White House.”

“I think that yokel is dead,” Travis answered.

“And leading the messed up clone hordes? Their undead master? Damn!

“So you saw the army?”

“Saw their helicopter flying around. Told you them folks were up to no good,” Calhoun said, and gave Travis a hard look.

Travis laughed a little and said, “Yes, yes, you are and we’re glad for it.

Even though we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with the animals now.” He looked down at a Chihuahua busy sniffing his foot. “We honestly thought Blanche had killed you.”

“That bitch? Hell, no! But she were up to no good right before I left. Did you know she was doing ol’ Shane back in the day? I think she got some men sneaking stuff out to her mansion and shit like that. But I’ve seen her wandering around on the roads, so I guess that plan failed, huh? I think someone dern ate her.”

“Almost feel bad for them zombies that ate her. Must have been a bad case of indigestion,” Calhoun decided.

Rolling onto her side, she felt her brain swim around in her head before settling at a weird, annoying angle. Bill was snoring loudly in the cot next to her and the soft breathing of the others hummed around her.

She couldn’t believe she was in a freaking mall. At least the damn mall music wasn’t on.

Wiping a tear away, she tried to get comfortable, but it wasn’t easy on the hard canvas cot. It was hard for her to believe she was spending another night in this godforsaken place. She missed Juan. Missed him terribly.

She missed him with the terrible ache that comes with death or abrupt separation. She knew in her heart he wasn’t dead. Somehow she knew he was alive and waiting for her to go home.