“We’ll get control of the fort. At some point they’ll be begging Central for help and we’ll have to go and save them.”

“Yeah. Yeah. You’re right.” He looked around nervously, his hands shaking slightly.

She always thought he was way too skittish. He was good at the campaign, but he liked to be apart from the process, ensconced in his privileged world. He hated dealing with the people that were behind his carefully monitored statistics and polls. The Senator didn’t care much for the people either. She was in politics for two reasons: power and the knowledge that the peons really didn’t know how the hell to take care of themselves. Without the government, she knew they would fall into chaos.

Mistakes had been made here. That was true. But she learned from her mistakes and she would move on. Once at Central, she would make sure the President understood her giving nature and her determination to stand with him and rebuild America.

She flashed her perfect beautiful smile at the soldier in front of her. “Yes, sir. I am.”

He opened the door for her and she walked out to the waiting truck.

Her dead wife sat on the floor next to the air bed she was sharing with Travis.

“Lydia?” Katie sat up, the mattress rippling like a wave under her.

“Lydia!” Katie stumbled to her knees and flung her arms around her wife.

She could feel the softness of Lydia’s curves beneath the long black jersey dress and her long dangling earrings tickled Katie’s cheek. “I’m so sorry!

I’m so sorry. I didn’t make it home in time!”

Lydia drew back and kissed Katie softly. “It’s all right, Katie. I promise.”

“I’m so sorry.” As Lydia gently wiped her tears away, Katie gazed at her, pleading with her gaze for forgiveness.

“Katie, it’s all right. I’m not trapped in that body. I promise. And my death…I barely recall it. But, darling, listen to me. Listen carefully. There isn’t much time now.”

Katie blinked, her hands resting on Lydia’s shoulders. “What is it? I’m listening.”

“You came here for a reason,” Lydia started.

“No. For another reason. You don’t know what it is yet, but you will when the time comes.” Lydia’s expression was filled with sadness.

“When the time comes, you will know what to do.”

“What do you mean? Why are you telling me this?” Katie’s brow furrowed.

“Because, you will give the one you love the gift you never gave me,” Lydia answered .

Katie woke up with a start. Travis was deeply asleep beside her, his back to her. Shivering, she pressed herself up against him, her hand seeking out his. Her heart was thundering in her chest and she was terrified. Her gaze swept over the people in the boutique. Everyone was sleeping despite the excitement of the coming exodus from the mall.

Finally, she forced her eyes to close, her arm snaking around Travis’ waist. She clung to him, her heart still beating hard in her chest. He rolled onto his back in his sleep, his face tranquil. Snuggling into his side, she stared at his profile, trying to calm herself. It had been wonderful to dream of Lydia, but her words had shaken Katie.

It may have been a dream, but she felt strongly that Lydia warned her.

She did not want to even think about something terrible happening to Travis.

Beyond her husband, she could see Jenni curled up in a ball on the cot next to them, snoring softly. Her friend’s black hair fell around her pale face. Jenni looked like Snow White with her white skin and raven hair.

Her red sweater set off her looks beautifully.

Closing her eyes, her heart still thudding in her ears, she tried to sleep.

* * * * * The gate slid open soundlessly and the explosive detonated with a loud thump. Flames erupted, setting the zombies near the gate on fire. They staggered back, setting more zombies on fire and a small stampede followed as the primitive fear of fire sent the undead scrambling backwards. The secondary explosives, that had been tossed out on a line, also exploded, setting more zombies on fire. The two trucks roared out of the gate and down the street, crunching burning zombies under the tire treads.

The Senator looked out her window at the mall and the burning zombies.

“I’m sure they will,” the Senator answered.

The trucks roared into the gray dawn.

Thomas jerked his head up when he heard a distant thud. The zombies at the wall were instantly whipped up into a frenzy. Some of them stumbled toward the sound, while others quieted down and continued to stare at the barricades and moan.

“Did you hear that?” he asked the soldier next to him.

The young private with the shocking red hair tilted his head. “Yeah. What the hell was that?”

They both looked toward the direction of the noise. The mall rose up in front of them, imposing and silent with its blacked out doors.

Thomas looked over the huge back parking lot with its many vehicles and National Guard helicopters. “Something is wrong.”

* * * * * The first zombies staggered cautiously past the remains of their burning comrades and into the wide drive in front of the mall. Huge white letters over the front doors read “Madison Mall,” but none of the zombies looked up. They staggered to the front doors and began to claw at them. Some instinct deep in their reptilian brain told them that food lay beyond the doors.

Struggling to get to the doors, the zombies jostled each other, their masticated limbs sometimes breaking off. Pushing and shoving, the first wave of the zombie horde struggled to get to the doors.

The doors did not give, but blocked the dead outside securely. Desperate for food, the zombies clawed and pounded on the doors.

In the melee, one zombie stumbled into the bright blue button sticking out from the side of the door. The white outline of a person in a wheelchair was on the button. Long ago, in the first days of the mall, all the doors had been secured and the key copies were used by the guards on duty. But someone had forgotten the handicap door. It had stood unlocked all this time.

Now, the button was pushed.

Several zombies immediately lurched through the opening and into the mall corridor beyond.

* * * * * Poor Robert. He lived his life in obscurity. No one ever noticed him. No one seemed to ever see him. He had nothing to set him apart. He would never be known for anything special.

Even his death that morning would never be noted as the first causality in the mall.

He was dragged down on his way to the bathroom. So blinded by sleep, he had not even noticed the decaying man stumbling toward him.

Poor Robert; he was even robbed of a zombie afterlife. So thoroughly devoured, even his brain was plucked from his head.

* * * * * The zombies filled the first two stores and set about devouring the sleeping people. The first few people died silently, they were killed so quickly.

Soon the entire Left Corridor was filled with people running and screaming, trying to escape the dead still pouring through the handicap door.

* * * * * Thomas reached the back doors and pulled them open in time to hear distant screams. Turning toward Arnold, he said in a horrified voice, “Get the trucks ready!” then raced inside.

* * * * * Valerie dove off her cot and grabbed her gun and flack jacket. She could barely see, but she struggled to wake up. Located halfway down the Left Corridor, she stumbled into the mall to see zombies down at the far end greedily devouring people. In front of the oncoming zombies, terrified people were running her way. More soldiers appeared out of side stores.

“Stupid puta bitch,” Guadalupe hissed as she was wheeled past Valerie in her wheelchair by a teenage boy running at top speed. “She did this!”

Valerie motioned to the other soldiers and they began shoving cots and anything else they could use as a barricade out into the corridor to slow down the zombies.

Thankfully, they were not running zombies. Sadly, the newly fallen dead were keeping them distracted as the zombies greedily stuffed their ruined mouths. Their hunkered forms further slowed the onslaught of zombies pushing into the mall.

Then, slowly, some of the zombies rose.

* * * * * Martin wasn’t known for thinking ahead. He heard the screams and the gunfire from the other side of the mall and ran to the nearest exit.

Desperate to get out, he pushed on one of the doors and found it unlocked thanks to the Senator. With relief, he opened it and immediately had his throat torn out. The zombie tried to bend down to eat Martin, but the undead throng pushed him over then trampled him. Soon the Right Corridor began to fill with the undead.