“Yeah. Because between the overlord and Central are butt loads of what they call zombies. Messed up clones is what they are.”

Travis frowned and said, “Okay, so this Amazonian overload is at this Madison Mall place and she has the military working for her?”

“Something like that. I don’t listen too much to her. She’s just begging to get out. I just listen so I know where they are gonna be. I don’t want them near my stuff. Bad enough dealing with the aliens and the zombie-clones.

Don’t need to be dealing with the Amazonian overlord’s helicopters. I seriously think she has mental powers to control people.” Calhoun pointed to his hat made out of foil. “She ain’t gonna get me.”

“Yep. And Bill. Heard that this morning,” Calhoun began to milk with earnest now.

“Bill?” Travis felt a sense of relief, but he knew what that meant for Roger and Felix. His stomach did a slow roll. “Okay. And what are they gonna do with them?”

“Use em as pawns, Travis. What else? Yer kinda slow sometimes. Lucky yer woman is smart. Okay, gotta fix the kiddies chocolate milk now,”

Calhoun said standing up and snatching up the bucket.

“Anything else to tell me? We’ve been trying to contact them, but there hasn’t been an answer.”

“Yep. They are a coming to visit. That’s why I brought the animals in.

Figure if we’re gonna pull an Alamo might as well have fresh eggs and milk.” With a grin, the old codger was off toward the hotel, a trail of kids, dogs and cats behind him. “Y’all should have listened to me when I first told you all this. Now we’re gonna have to fight down to the last man.”

Travis walked slowly, turning over Calhoun’s words in his mind, trying to make sense of them. Katie and Nerit came down from the guard post to walk with him.

“Yes, Travis, but did he say anything enlightening?”

“He says the military is at the Madison Mall like we suspected. He’s been monitoring the military channels.” Travis hesitated and took Katie’s hand gently. “He says it’s Bill and Jenni at the mall.”

Katie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Nerit merely nodded her head.

“He says they are going to use them as pawns. He said something about a woman being in charge of the military and the mall and that this woman is trying to get to a place called Central. I’m not sure how much to believe.

He sees the world in a really warped way. He’s convinced we’re about to do another Alamo.”

Nerit shrugged. “Maybe. I have a feeling that a lot of what he is telling you is important, just twisted to fit his theory of how the world runs.”

Katie shook her head. “Okay, what do we do?”

“I guess get ready for the military to come knocking,” Travis decided.

“Calhoun says he overhead them talking about coming to see us today.

“And I get to be John Wayne,” Nerit decided with a gleam in her eye, but a stoic expression “Oh, no, no, no, Nerit. I want to be John Wayne,” Travis protested.

Nerit considered this. She shook her head. “No. I’m John Wayne.”

Katie looked back toward the people gathered to pet the cows. She knew in these moments of ridiculous brevity there was serious concern. They were going to have to take to heart something she had read somewhere that John Wayne had said, “Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway.”

They were going to have to saddle up.

Sweeping her hair back from her face, she could only wonder what Bill and Jenni were experiencing in this very moment.

What were their thoughts? Were they saddling up?

Chapter 15 1. Tales of the Madison Mall Jenni poked at the lumpish gray stuff in her bowl that she was certain was supposed to be oatmeal. It looked nothing like oatmeal, though the smell was similar.

“Army food,” a woman said sitting down across from her.

Jenni was surprised that someone was talking to her. Everyone the day before seemed to regard her with suspicion. But she was grateful for the company. “Not all that great.”

“Makes me really appreciate the army,” the lady said with a wry smile. Her eyes flicked to a soldier strolling by in full battle fatigues. “Where did they rescue you from?”

“I wasn’t rescued. They kidnapped me,” Jenni said with a frown.

Jenni lifted her eyes to truly look at the woman. She was probably a few years older than Jenni, but those had been hard years. She had lank dark blond hair and pale blue eyes.

“We were returning to our fort and this helicopter swooped down and blinded us. We had an accident and woke up here. We were pretty much kidnapped.”

“Fort? Do you mean a real fort?”

“Well, more like four blocks of a downtown walled in, but the big hotel is pretty damn nice,” Jenni answered.

The woman double-blinked. “Are there lots of people?”

Jenni furrowed her brow. “I think may be close to two-hundred and fifty people now. I’m not real sure.”

The woman slowly exhaled. “Wow. We really thought we were the only ones still alive out this way. But why would the army take ya if you weren’t in trouble.”

“I think whoever runs this place wants the fort. Or at least that is what my friend Bill says.”

“Well, damn, that would be the Senator. But then, it has been real tough here,” the woman confessed.

“How long have you been here?” Jenni shoved her plate of food away with one hand and tried to eat something that looked like toast.

“Since the first day. We were over at that yonder civic center first. When the news started getting bad, FEMA said to go there. It was a rescue center. At first we didn’t pay no attention. It was just crazy talk on the TV, but then this man came and started trying to get in our back door. Troy, my husband, he shouted at the man to get lost, but this guy kept hitting the door. Hitting it so hard he was busting his hands open. We could see it through the window. My kids started screaming. Troy keeps threatening to shoot the guy with the shotgun, but the guy keeps banging and making these noises.”

“Oh, God, what did you do?”

“Well, Troy grabs the shotgun off the fridge and opens the door and waves the gun at the guy. But this guy has his guts falling out and he just lunges into the house. Troy shouted for us to run,. So me and the kids run out the front door. Troy runs, too. That guy, the messed up one, falls on his own innards.”

“So we get into the truck and Troy is getting into the truck when he sees Mabel, our neighbor running to us. She’s got some nasty folks after her.

Troy shouts her name and reaches out to her. And she bit his hand! So he cold cocks her one and we see her back is all tore up. He gets into the truck and we hauled ass to the civic center.”

“So if the rescue center was the civic center, how’d you end up here?”

Jenni was enraptured by the story and reached for another piece of stale toast.

“Soldiers came and got us after FEMA took off.”

Jenni mulled this over. “FEMA took off?”

“Yeah. They gave us milk and cookies and told us to sit down in the auditorium. They took the worst of the messed up people into this reception hall or something. I dunno. They said Troy wasn’t hurt enough to go back there with the volunteer doctors and nurses. I heard all sorts of rumors that the hospital wasn’t taking no more patients.” The woman sighed. “We just sat in there and it was real scary. All we heard was gossip and shit. I heard someone was gonna come and give us all shots so we wouldn’t get rabid, too. Troy starts getting a fever and the kids were all antsy and it was just plain shitty. Then the damn FEMA people started packing up their stuff and told us that we need to sit tight and wait for the Army to come get us and take us to another place. So they bail and we get stuck in the auditorium just waiting.”

A few other people began to draw closer to listen. Jenni became aware of one older black woman vigorously nodding her head. “Oh, yeah. I remember that!”

“So Troy gets sicker and so do some other people. Finally the Army does show up, but it’s just a few guys. They start getting on the radio trying to figure out what is going on. One of them comes in saying that the doors to that other room are locked and there are those things in there.”

“FEMA just up and left us with a whole bunch of those zombies in that back room. All those doctors and nurses got ate up,” the black woman cut in.

Jenni thought back on Katie’s decision not to go to the rescue center in Madison and was she ever grateful for her friend’s intuition.

“Right, right. So then more soldiers show up, but they are looking for a place to be safe, too. Then a few more. And it gets real clear to us that none of them know what is going on. Then that one guy shows up.”