“Yeah. That’s it. That is the feeling.” Katie looked around the store.
“That is exactly how it feels. Like we should be out on the road running away from the city.”
“About to find Ralph and Nerit at the gun store.” Jenni rolled onto her side. “Do you have any regrets about the first day?”
Katie returned her gaze to Jenni’s face, nodding. “Oh, yeah. Two actually.
I just don’t like talking about it. It seems fruitless. Useless.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Jenni assured her, reaching out to touch her hand.
“I really haven’t told this to anyone. I haven’t even thought about it too much.” Katie rubbed her shoulder as she searched for words. “The morning it all went to hell, I was getting into my car. Lydia and I had just kissed goodbye and she was drinking her morning coffee. We were talking about our plans for the night and we noticed, through the trees and bushes lining our front yard, that our neighbor was stumbling up the walk to his front door. He was always getting trashed with his business buddies and coming home in the morning. We saw him fall over a bush then get up and start banging on the huge plate glass window they had in the front of their house. We laughed about it and I told Lydia I’d see her later. I drove off.”
Jenni’s mouth formed an “o” as she understood what Katie was telling her. “The neighbor...”
“I think she went over to see if he was okay. I saw him when I went home after being attacked. He was attacking the mail man, too.” Katie shoved her hair back from her face, holding her head, her eyes unfocused as she remembered the painful moment. “That is my second regret. I didn’t kill the zombie Lydia had become. I didn’t give her peace.”
Gripping Katie’s hand tightly, Jenni kissed her fingers. “I think you gave her more peace than you know. I think she’s okay. In fact, I dreamed about her a few nights ago.”
“Yeah, she was telling me that I had to make some hard choices soon.”
Jenni didn’t think Katie’s eyes could widen anymore than they were.
“Travis dreamed about her and she said something really similar.”
This didn’t surprise Jenni. She was now convinced that she was fulfilling her destiny in a way she did not understand. The mall had forced her to face some terrible demons from her past, but now she had laid them to rest. She couldn’t live with guilt or regret or fear. Fear had stolen too many precious opportunities from her as it was. She now realized that what she had been running from was exactly what she needed to confront.
For the first time since the zombies rose, she felt sane. She felt solid inside of her own mind. No, she was not the Jenni that existed before she married that wife-abusing asshole, but she also wasn’t the abused housewife anymore. She wasn’t even the loca zombie killer, trying to get revenge against the dead for the death of her family. Strangely, she now realized after a few days in the mall that she was more than the sum total of her life’s heartbreaks and torments. Looking into the faces of the people around her, she accepted that she was stronger than she ever realized and the choices she made had to be her own. She could no longer let life just sweep her along.
“What is it, Jenni? You look odd.”
“I’m okay. Probably better than I have been in a long time,” Jenni answered. “I figured a lot out while here. Seeing what could have been, pondering what could have happened. I’ve been in loca mode so much since it all went down, I don’t think it ever hit me that maybe I am still alive because my life is important in some way I don’t understand.” She fingered the rosary around her neck. Juan’s mother had given it to her before she had left for the hospital. “Do you ever feel that way?”
Katie smiled slightly. “I always felt I was supposed to save you. That it was my destiny. Or maybe just a way to keep me focused so I would survive that first day.”
“My grandmother always told me that God had a plan for everyone’s life.
I don’t think I really believed her until now. But then again, I don’t think the world was supposed to die. I don’t think that was God, but man. I think we did it.”
“Probably.” Katie twirled her wedding ring around her finger thoughtfully. “Lydia was a Buddhist. I was raised Methodist. We didn’t get into a lot of spiritual talks, but we did agree that this life is precious and that we need to do our best, be our best in this lifetime. When I saw she was dead, I felt so lost. And then I heard you scream. And there you were. I could save you. And by saving you, I saved myself.”
Jenni took Katie’s hands gently in her own. “We’re saving these people tomorrow and in a way I think we’re saving ourselves. We’re making a new world for all of us.”
“Nah, but it will be the right thing.” Jenni grinned and kissed her friend’s hands again. Pressing her cheek against Katie’s palms, she closed her eyes, sighing. “I like that. Doing the right thing.”
Katie smiled down at her. “It’s the only thing we can do.”
Pulling away and lying down on her cot, Jenni sighed with contentment.
“I can’t wait to see Juan tomorrow. I want him to see I’m okay now. No more fear. No more regrets. I’m okay now.” The thought of telling him those words made her smile. “Tomorrow will be a beautiful day.”
* * * * * Outside, the moon rose. The pale white light flowed over the undead gathered around the mall, smashing their hands against the once white wall now a mottled black and dark red. Inside, the moonlight poured through the mall skylights washing over the sleeping forms of the people tucked away inside.
In the gray dawn, the Senator and her people quietly walked down the employee staircase to the floor below. One of her guards swung the double doors open and she stepped out in front of the blacked out doors that were the main entrance of the mall. She stood at the pinnacle of the top of the “A” shape of the mall and smiled to herself.
The Major General was awkwardly absent, but she had explained he had second thoughts and had chosen to remain behind. In reality, they had fallen into a horrible row and she had shot him through the head without a second thought. She didn’t have time for his bullshit.
The painted blackened door swung open and the low moan of the zombies beyond the wall filled her ears for a moment. One of her men entered, looking flushed and anxious.
“Okay, the guards are neutralized. We got two trucks pulled from the side parking lot. I don’t think we were spotted.”
“Good,” the Senator said with a smile. “Well done.”
“We should pull the guards in,” the soldier continued. “So they won’t get killed.”
“Excellent point. Pull them inside,” the Senator responded with a big smile.
Raleigh was fidgeting, staring down the darkened mall corridor toward the silent stores where the people slept. “If we blow the front gate…”
“The zombies can’t get in. And besides, the two sides are blocked off. It’ll be fine,” the Senator assured him.
The mall parking lot was a trapezoid with the main entrance at the narrowest end. This gate had never been a major concern since the gate was solid metal and locked securely. The three gates in the parking lot behind the mall were more of a concern because they were wrought iron and had to be fortified with vehicles and heavily barricaded. The two narrow side parking lots had been blocked off as a preventative measure in case of a breach. It was thought they should try to keep the zombies contained on one side of the mall and escape through the other.
Transports had been parked along the side of the mall in the front. Buses and transports and regular cars were on the other. All the gates were wired with explosives. Additional explosives had been tossed out on a line and their triggers were next to the interior of the gate. The idea was to blow the gate then the explosives out in the crowd of zombie to clear a path.
“I would really hate for these people to end up dead,” Raleigh said after a beat.
“I didn’t know you were such a bleeding heart,” the Senator teased him lightly. She watched as her men dragged in the unconscious guards from the main gate and laid them on the floor.
“Just none of this feels right,” Raleigh decided. He shook his head, gazing at the guards.
“They made their choice,” the Senator said, her eyes hard. “In one month we would have been out of food and the water is contaminated. Without the fort there is no point in us staying here.”
“There should have been another way. This seems too risky.”
“Do you want to go to Central or not? Or do you want to go to the fort and be led by the hicks?”
Raleigh frowned, then shook his head. “I just want us out of here.”