Kevin made the announcement over the intercom system that anyone wanting to move to the fort and have a new way of life was to line up in the food court to be registered for the airlift. A few people had laughed when they heard Valerie’s voice whisper: “And tell them the Senator won’t be in charge.” Kevin had then hastily added that sentiment.
The line had formed immediately. Jenni and Katie had found themselves scrambling to get organized.
Families were to register in one notebook. Elderly singles in another.
Orphans in another. Singles in the last.
Jenni carefully translated for the immigrants that were confused and promised them that they were not going to be reduced to non-citizens.
Meanwhile, Katie kept assuring the elderly that they would be taken care of and the helicopter ride wouldn’t be all that bad.
“Child, after nearly having to run from those damn zombies, that helicopter will be like a ride to heaven,” Ethel had assured her.
Travis and Kevin spoke with the soldiers that filed in from outside to make sure their allegiance was known. Most of them were relieved at the prospect of something more stable than the mall. They were weary and rundown. They had been keeping the zombies at bay for months with no chance of relief or to mourn all that they had lost. It had been hard and some men and women had broken. There were five soldiers that had disappeared over the last few months. It was tempting to try to make a break for it and try to make it home. But the zombie threat was all too real beyond the walls and too much of a risk if you were in your right mind.
But then again, who was truly in their right mind anymore?
“Jenni, I really do wanna make sure my kids and I get on the same helicopter, okay?” Amy’s face was drawn with concern as she sat to write down her name and those of her kids. “Losing their Daddy like they did was so hard and I don’t want them to think they’re alone.”
Jenni looked up to see a little boy with thick, straight bangs staring at her with the biggest chocolate brown eyes she had ever seen. She couldn’t help but smile. The boy’s older sisters were both blondes with eyes the color of the morning sea. All three were holding hands and the oldest girl, around eight, was holding her mother’s shirt firmly in one hand.
“Don’t worry. We want to make sure to keep families together if we can,”
Amy scrunched up her face and sighed. “Just so hard, Jenni. Having faith again. After all that went down at the civic center and here.”
Jenni leaned toward Amy and took her hand gently. “It’ll be okay. I promise. Your kids are gonna get a good life. Okay? And somewhere far from here.”
With a smile, Jenni reached out and ruffled the little boy’s hair. “You’re going to have a big adventure tomorrow.”
He just stared at her, blinking those huge dark eyes.
“He doesn’t talk no more. Not since his Daddy died,” Amy said softly.
Jenni sighed. “I understand. It’s not easy.” She thought of her own kids and brushed her hair back from her face, trying to regain her composure.
Amy stood and gathered her kids around her. “Thanks for doing this, Jenni. We needed it. Bad.”
“Guadalupe Garcia,” the old Mexican woman said to Katie. She wielded her cane like a sword. “Let the puta stay here and die.”
With a laugh, Katie wrote down the woman’s name. “Well, she can come along if she promises to behave.”
Mumbling in Spanish, the old woman gave Katie a hard stare.
“Not that I think she will come along,” Katie assured her.
“She won’t give up control. She’ll do something. That is her way. She’s not a good person,” Guadalupe said firmly.
The announcement from the Senator came about an hour before dinner.
“I realize that many of you have chosen to depart for the fort. This is understandable since you are desperate to escape the zombie scourge and the conditions here have not been easy. But what you need to consider is that you may be exchanging one haven you are not completely happy with for one that is in a worse condition. The reason why I want to take over the fort is to ensure that all the surviving citizens of this great State and this great Country are given a fair and equal chance to fulfill their patriotic duty. To ensure that all the citizens of this mall and the fort have strong and capable leadership in the coming years. I have worked hard for this State and its people. I am an experienced and strong leader. I believe in this country and its people. I know that this has been a rough time for all of us, but help me appeal to the fledgling leaders of the fort and help them see that true leadership will be best for all of us. I am in contact with the President and what remains of our government. They care about what happens to you and they have assured me that they will do all they can to assist us once we are at the fort.”
“So why aren’t they helping us now,” Guadalupe said loudly, waving her cane at the nearest speaker A few people laughed as the Senator’s voice droned on.
“…together, unified, we can withstand all that comes against us. Do not give up hope. America will rise again and the President and the remains of the government are dedicated to helping you.”
“Come stand with me. Come to the top floor and let the leaders of the fort see that you want a strong, powerful new home. To be part of the rebuilding of America and the great state of Texas. Come, join me, and let’s begin a new world together.”
There were murmurs from the people crowded down on the first floor. A few people made jokes, others looked serious. No one seemed anxious to join the Senator.
“I think this is a pretty good answer,” Katie said after ten minutes and still no one had attempted to go upstairs.
Travis just looked somber, his arms folded across his chest. He could see soldiers on the second floor, patrolling the escalators. It was still uncertain if those men would do anything to hinder them. Kevin had explained to him that the Senator had made grandiose promises to all the soldiers. A few were still holding on. It was hard to let go of the hope that somehow you would find your family and friends alive. Travis understood that far too well. Beyond that, some people found it hard to give up their faith in the old institutions. It was hard for some people to stop believing in their superiors.
At around eight PM, Kevin finally decided to see if the Senator had reconsidered joining them peacefully or if she was going to stay behind.
He and Valerie started up the escalator, both of them bone weary and just wanting the day to be over.
“She won’t come with us,’ Valerie said softly. “She’s too proud.”
“It doesn’t seem right somehow to just leave them here,” Kevin answered, his eyes on the men at the top of the escalator.
“I have no problem leaving her here,” Valerie assured him. She looked back over the people in the mall. There was excitement in their voices and people were carefully packing just one bag to take with them to the fort.
“She’ll just fuck things up at the fort.”
They were almost to the top when one of the National Guardsmen came into view. He was from East Texas and determined to get there, one way or the other. Snapping off his weapon’s safety, he aimed at Kevin and Valerie.
“We’re just coming to ask the Senator to come with us,” Kevin answered.
“You made your choice. Now go back down,” the man repeated.
“I said go back down. I have no problem shooting either one of you.”
Kevin could see from the look in the man’s eye that he meant it. “Okay,”
he said softly. “Okay.” Turning, he calmly walked back down the moving stairs to the main floor, Valerie close at his side.
* * * * * Katie and Jenni shoved Jenni and Bill’s cots into the corner of the store and set about inflating an air mattress for Katie and Travis to sleep on.
“I can’t wait to get back to Juan tomorrow,” Jenni said as she fluffed a pillow.
“Sorry you have to wait until tomorrow.” Katie frowned as she sat on the air mattress, tucking her hair behind her ears. “But with the fuel being limited and all that.”
“I understand. Hell, I’m not too happy about you and Travis being here tonight. It sucks here,” Jenni flopped onto her cot and tucked her hands behind her neck.
“It feels a lot different from the fort,” Katie conceded.
“It was worse before the people began to have hopes about the fort. It was very gloomy. Everyone just waiting around for something bad to happen.” Jenni rubbed the tip of her nose and exhaled. “The atmosphere is a lot more claustrophobic. It feels like the first day never ended here.”