“That handsome Kevin,” the black woman put in with a grin.
“Yeah, and he finds out about those things in the back room and he just says that we are all going to the mall. So they load up the old people in the trucks. The soldiers start going and asking people if they are bit or not.
And all the bit people are made to go to another room. Including my Troy,” the woman took a breath, looking ready to cry. “The kids are crying and it’s just bad.”
“Well, we got into lines and filed outside. The trucks were taking people back and forth to the mall. It’s only like two blocks away, but they wanted us to be safe. You got a ride on a truck, didn’t you, Ethel?”
“Thank you, Jesus, yes, or I wouldn’t be here today,” Ethel answered.
“My kids were crying real hard for their Daddy. We younger folks were the last to go and just as the trucks left with some people, the doors behind us start banging hard. We look and those things are trying to get out of the Civic Center. So the soldiers shouted ‘run.’ And, girl, we ran.”
Ethel nodded her head. “We got into the mall and the soldiers were all shouting and telling us to keep moving. Was bad.”
“We were running like crazy down the street. A whole bunch of us with some soldiers. Then those doors got knocked down and those things came running. And everyone was screaming and crying. People were tripping.
The soldiers were trying to shoot...” The woman steadied herself emotionally and Ethel took her hand.
Jenni looked around to see their table was now not only packed with people but others were gathering around to listen. Most were nodding their heads, obviously remembering the horror of the first day.
“And my little boy said, ‘Look, Mommy, Daddy is coming, too’ and I looked back. It’s not my Troy anymore. He is all messed up and screaming. We just keep running and I could barely breathe. One of the soldiers grabbed my kids and just yanked them up into his arms and ran.
And I was running hard. And people...started…to fall back…then we could hear them getting…getting…ripped up…”
A big black man leaned forward, taking over the story as Amy sobbed into Ethel’s shoulder. “So we made it to the mall and the soldiers were closing the gates the city council had put in to keep vandals from doing graffiti on the mall.”
“Probably the only thing they ever did right,” someone huffed.
“We just had that one gate to get in and the soldiers were shooting and we just ran, ma’am. We just ran,” the black man continued.
“They shoved cars up against the gates to keep them closed and kept those things out,” Amy said.
“Oh, yes, they were shooting those undead bastards for hours. Almost ran out of ammunition,” Ethel added.
“Those soldiers didn’t know what they were doing at first,” another woman said. “They were scared, too, but once they got it safe and those things weren’t getting in, they tried to calm us down.
“So this wasn’t the rescue center?” Jenni asked. “They just brought you here and made do?”
“It was real scary. Every time new people showed up to get saved, it was real scary. Lots of shooting. I heard the helicopters went and got more ammunition and soldiers until the National Guard base got taken by the dead things,” a middle-aged man said. “And they had to…shoot…the people who got bitten.”
Amy, the first woman who started speaking, nodded sadly. “They had to.
Cause they’d die and just get right back up.”
Jenni’s back was a coil of nervous knots. Hearing what these people had been through brought back all her memories of the first day. When Bill touched her back, she jumped, then looked up with relief to see him. He slid onto the bench next to her and looked very solemn.
“So you folks have been here all this time with the soldiers taking care of you?” Bill asked.
“For the first week,” Amy answered. “Then the Senator came with her soldiers and that Major General. They made Kevin step down. He did such a good job in the beginning, too. When they came, they brought a lot more zombies with them. They went through the damn town and dragged them down on us.”
“So you don’t like the Senator?”
Everyone looked nervous now, looking around warily.
An old Mexican woman, probably almost a hundred years old said, “Tonta! Pendeja! Stupid. She makes the Mexicans do the...the…work of the gutter. She don’t like us cause she says we’re wetbacks. My family has been in Texas since it was Mexico!”
“Total bitch,” a woman said who looked like she had been some sort of professional. “She won’t talk to any of us. She stays up on the second floor and looks down at us. I know she’s behind them doing some sort of weird questionnaire on everyone.”
“Yeah. That was kinda weird and scary,” Amy agreed.
Jenni giggled, reminded of her own late Mexican grandmother. The woman was on a roll with her insults.
“Things are not good here,” Amy said to Jenni. “Not at all. We’re all hungry. We’re all scared. Nothing is getting better. It only gets worse.”
Bill folded his hands on the table and looked at the people gathered around. “The fort has room for everyone here. I just don’t think the Senator will let y’all go there and live with us. I think she’s gonna try to take over our home, too.”
Murmurs of discontent spread through the group.
“Is it really better for y’all? Really?” Amy’s expression was hopeful.
Jenni looked around at all the tired, smelly people with their desperate expressions. “Yeah. It is.”
The old Mexican woman hit the top of the table with her cane. “Then we go with you. The puta stays here.”
Everyone laughed until Bill coughed nervously as the Senator appeared on a walkway above them. Everyone lapsed into silence, a few people drifting away.
“I’m not sure what is going on,” Bill said at last, when the Senator walked away. “But I’m sure if we can get you good people to the fort, you are more than welcome there.”
Expressions of hope appeared on the faces around them and Jenni looked at Bill nervously. She leaned toward him and whispered, “Bill, how are we going to get all these people there?”
Jenni looked up to see the people talking around her and realized that what had been missing since she had arrived was a sense of hope. Now it was spreading like wildfire and the very desperate expressions were giving away to smiles.
Travis could always tell when his wife was on edge. She’d stand with her legs slightly apart, arms crossed, one hip shifted to one side, her chin set firmly. Walking into the lobby of the hotel, he saw her posture and thought “crap.” Moving up behind her, he looked over her shoulder to see at least fifteen people sitting around on the sofas and love seats, backpacks, suitcases and even pillow cases, all packed up and ready to go.
“They’re waiting for the army to come rescue them,” Katie answered in a low voice. “Ingrates.”
“They are! We risked our asses to go out there and rescue them and this is the thanks we get? Them ditching their chores and sitting around waiting for the army?” Her eyes were flashing with indignation.
“You know,” Travis said with a slow smile. “You’re kinda sexy when you’re feisty.”
Katie frowned and narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
“I am not hormonal!” Katie said passionately.
Katie narrowed her eyes even more and pointed at him with one long finger. “You’re just lucky I love you.” Turning on her heel, she stomped away.
“Pregnant lady coming through! Step aside!” Calhoun shouted as Katie walked toward the dining room. “She’s loaded and dangerous.”
Katie flung up her hands at Calhoun before vanishing down the hall.
“She’s really cute pregnant,” Travis decided to no one in particular.
“I can’t believe they’re pulling this shit,” Curtis said joining him. “There are more coming down the stairs, all excited that the army is going to come rescue them.”
“You can’t take offense, Curtis. I’m a little peeved, too, but they just hope things are better somewhere else.”