Staring up at the high ceiling, she sighed again. The mall’s emergency lights were still on and it was annoying. She needed pitch-black to sleep.

She needed her Juan next to her, warm and slightly snoring. Again, she shifted on the cot and this time rolled over so that her back was to Bill.

Next to her, on another cot, was Mikey. He was fast asleep, his sweet face that was slowly transitioning from little boy to teenager made her heart beat faster in its innocence.

No, no, Mikey was dead.

Yet, he lay next to her. He was deeply asleep, his mouth hanging slightly open.

She pressed her eyes closed, then re-opened them.

Mikey was still there.

“You see, Jenni, it wasn’t you I saved that day on the lawn. It was Mikey.

He was crying and staring at the house. I saw him and pulled over,” Katie said as she sat down on the edge of Mikey’s cot. She looked thin and a little haggard. Her belly wasn’t swollen with her pregnancy and she looked like a pale shadow of herself.

“No, it was me,” Jenni whispered. “Mikey..Mikey…he was…you know what he was.”

Katie sighed and shook her head. “You shoved him out the door and your husband took you instead. You slammed the door shut and it was Mikey I picked up that day.”

“No, no. I…I…” Jenni sat up sharply. Her head swam fiercely and she had to steady herself. “He turned back to defend me.”

“Mikey told me about his brother, but we didn’t know where to find him.

Jason died out there at the camp. We found our way here to where my Dad is,” Katie continued. “I never met you.”

“You never met Juan. I never met Travis. I’ve just been here rotting away with the rest of them, trying to take care of your son and remembering my dead wife.”

“No, no,” Jenni whispered. She sat up and reached toward Katie. “I didn’t push him out the door. I...I...heard him turn back to fight his dad, but I kept running. I...went out the door alone. I didn’t save him.”

“But this is the outcome you believed should have happened. Mikey alive and you dead.” Katie’s image blurred a little and for a moment, Jenni saw another form behind it, but just for a second.

The words were true, yet horrifying. Seeing Katie here, not pregnant, without Travis seemed wrong.

“You’re not Katie,” Jenni whispered. “You’re someone else. Something else.”

“I’m here to tell you the truth,” the form said, now merely a shadow.

“No!” She awoke with a start, gasping, her head feeling like a bobble head. Looking over at the cot next to her, she saw a little girl tucked in with an oversized teddy bear.

Her heart was thudding so hard she could barely stand it. Tears flowed freely as she covered her face with both hands and wept in silence.

She hated the mall. Hated it! It made her feel helpless and it made her think of that horrible day. She should have found a way to save her son.

But she hadn’t. She had been terrified and had run. She had not once turned back to see if he was behind her.

“It’s about second chances,” a soft voice said. “Do you understand?”

She looked up to see Lydia sitting at the end of the bed.

“It’s about choices made and not made. It’s about what we do with our life and the impact we have on others.”

“Wasn’t Mikey the one who was supposed to survive? Didn’t I steal his life from him?”

“Right or wrong, you made a choice that day and because of it you had a second chance to find happiness. To save others. To fight to survive with those who love you. To live a new life.”

“But why are you here telling me this?” Jenni asked.

“Because very soon, Jenni, you are going to have to make that same choice again.”

Jenni shivered so violently, her teeth chattered. She looked up at Lydia.

“I know. I have been feeling it.”

Lydia nodded. “It’s going to be okay. I believe you will make the right choice.”

Jenni smiled with relief, crossing herself. “Thank you for telling me that.”

Lydia gave her a sweet smile. “Jenni, sleep. You need to rest and heal. The wheels are turning faster. Events are moving quickly toward the moment of decision.”

Lying back down, Jenni reached out toward the ghostly woman. “Lydia?”

“Will I make it back to the fort? To see Juan?”

The ghost’s expression became tinged with sadness. “I know, honey. But you will be.”

Jenni woke up with a start. She was startled to realize she had been dreaming. The mall was full of light and voices drifted around her. The smell of weak coffee and maybe something close to oatmeal wafted in the air. Sitting up slowly, she looked across the store at all the people gathering in line for breakfast.

Running her hands through her long dark hair, she lowered her head and prayed.

3. John Wayne, the Alamo, and the Republic of Texas

“We have cows,” Katie said in a somber tone.

They stood at the guard post overlooking Main Street looking down into the corral that had been thrown up on a cleared lot near the hotel. Safely ensconced in the fort’s walls, the cows looked rather comfortable with all the attention they were getting. People were lined up around the roped off area trying to pet them while Calhoun proudly strutted among the small herd.

“And cats,” Katie said pointing to a cat walking daintily across the old construction site.

“And dogs,” Nerit added. She gave the Chihuahua trying to mate with her boot a dark look. It just grinned up at her and kept going.

“Did we want him back?” Katie asked scrunching up her nose.

* * * * * “Calhoun, seriously, I want to talk to you,” Travis called out.

Travis climbed over the rope and pushed between two cows that barely acknowledged his presence.

Calhoun was on a short stool milking away. He was still in his foil suit and smelled of sour milk and sweat. Three cats and two dogs sat patiently on the other side of the cow waiting for their master to send a squirt their way.

Travis had been voted as the one to debrief Calhoun since he didn’t trust the “Amazonians.” He was having a rough time getting the old timer to talk to him. Calhoun was definitely on his own agenda.

“Calhoun, seriously, we got to talk,” Travis repeated drawing near.

Calhoun looked up at him through the long, crazy threads of his busy eyebrows and said, “You wired?”

“That old woman with the devil’s eye.”

“I figured it out. She’s the Amazonian queen.”

Travis considered this, then shrugged. “Probably, but no, I’m not wired.”

“Eh…what do you want to know?” Calhoun asked and shot a cat with a spray of milk.

The cat lapped up the rich milk from its whiskers with relish.

“The army. How long have you known about it?”

“Um, army has been around for a long time,” Calhoun answered. “Started back when we fought against the alien overlords that were possessing the English king.”

“I TOLD you the government was kidnapping people for cloning. And the clones got fucked up and now they’re zombies.”

“Do you know where the helicopters were coming from? Which direction maybe?”

Calhoun looked up, studied Travis long and hard and said, “Madison.”

“Madison? So they are at the Madison Rescue Center!”

“Yeah. Madison. They’re always blathering on the radio to each other.”

“Military channels. I monitor all the time. I will not be caught unaware again!” Calhoun squirted the two dogs. He muttered for a few seconds about zombies, clones, the mayor and the possessed government.

“You’ve been listening to military channels?” Travis blinked slowly and almost laughed.

“Yep. Madison Mall. They’re all holed up in there and some Amazonian overlord is running the whole shabang. She wants the fort so she can buy her way into paradise. Talks all high and mighty to some nitwit out in some place called Central. They keep telling her that they want her to stay put.”

“Why doesn’t she take a helicopter to Central?”

“Cause they’d shoot her ass down. BAM BAM BAM!” Calhoun made a great show of this happening, complete with a demonstration of how the helicopter would fall to earth. “Zombies would have barbecue. Anyway, she’s all sweet talking them, telling them how important she is, trying to do her voodoo. They told that old bitch that the clones follow any kinda vehicle. Car, truck, motorcycle, plane, helicopter and they don’t want her dragging stinkbags down on them. I think they got alien spaceships patrolling.”