* * * * * Arnold was breathing heavily from running around the parking lot and turning on the trucks when the first of the people from the mall ran out into the parking lot. Behind him the helicopters were already rising to try to help defend the mall.
“Get to the trucks,” Arnold ordered. He pointed to the nearest ones. “Just get in!”
People ran past him, women, men, and children. All of them were screaming with terror.
The soldiers assigned to the escape vehicles leaped into the driver’s seats and began to rev up the engines of the big trucks and buses.
Arnold turned to see Guadalupe being shoved down the ramp toward the parking lot by a teenage boy. She looked terrified and was gripping the armrests of her chair tightly. Arnold wondered briefly if it was because of the zombies or the breakneck speed at which the boy was pushing her.
* * * * * The crush of people running down the Right Corridor slowed them down and more and more fell to the zombies. In the Left Corridor, people were making it out to the back parking lot as the soldiers kept firing into the zombie throng. The dead zombies tripped up their stumbling comrades, but the horde just kept coming.
* * * * * A soldier, defending the fleeing people in the Right Corridor was dragged down three minutes after the initial breach. He pulled the pin on the phosphorous grenade he had clutched in his hand and the explosion resounded through the entire mall. The resulting fire engulfed the surrounding zombies. In their desperation to escape the fire as their primal fear overwhelmed them, the zombies staggered into stores and set cots, blankets and clothes on fire. Soon black smoke began to fill the Right Corridor.
* * * * * In the midst of the chaos, Travis, Katie, and Jenni fought their way out of their store to get out into the Right Corridor. Smoke and fire made the going rough. People were in a panic and shoving and pushing each other.
Travis held tight to Katie’s hand as he pulled her through the throng.
Katie had a tight hold of Jenni’s hand. The three of them were swept along in a crowd of people as the zombies stumbled out of the smoke behind them.
Chapter 19 1. Trapped Jenni held tight to Katie’s hand as they made their way down the mall corridor. She felt she was being crushed from all sides and she could barely hold onto Katie’s hand.
Smoke was rising to the ceiling and was blessedly not overwhelming yet.
Jenni whipped around to see Amy’s terrified face staring desperately after her. She was struggling to maneuver through the crowd, her three children in her arms. No one around her was even trying to help and Jenni kept losing sight of her.
“Keep moving!” Jenni called out to her.
The corridor widened as they passed the corridor that cut the mall in half and led to the food court. Jenni was shoved so hard into the wall by a man trying to escape, she lost her grip on Katie’s hand and almost fell. She managed to keep on her feet and looked up to see Katie’s horrified expression as she was swept forward by the crowd.
Jenni looked back to see the zombies were gaining on the last of the crowd. Gritting her teeth, she struggled to move on.
* * * * * The first of the crowd in the Right Corridor hit the back doors only to find them locked. The blacked out countenance was unforgiving as they banged on the doors and tried desperately to open them. Behind them, people shoved forward, trying hard to get out. A few people were literally smashed to death against the doors by the push of a hundred people behind them. Others were trampled.
Precious minutes were lost as the crowd surged, cried out, and fought at the locked doors. Finally, people retreated leaving the dead victims of the chaos lying before the doors.
* * * * * Travis heard the shouts of “The doors are locked!” and immediately turned back. Skirting the crowd and keeping close to the wall, he managed to get to the food court corridor. Dragging Katie behind him, he ran toward the other side of the mall. Other people began to follow his example and soon they were running down the hall toward the food court.
“Jenni! Jenni! Travis, I lost Jenni!” Katie pulled on his hand, trying to turn back.
“We can’t go back! Keep moving, Katie. She’ll catch up!” Travis kept pulling Katie after him, determined to save his wife and their unborn child. Lydia said choices were to be made and, dammit, his choice was for his family to live.
* * * * * Katie ran behind her husband, his hand holding hers so tightly, she was sure he was breaking a few bones. As she ran, she kept looking around for Jenni, but could not find her. Her stomach clenched tightly as she whipped her head about, looking around desperately.
Fear hit, harsh and strangling, and she fought to keep her senses.
The gunfire, fire, smoke, and screams only made her blood pump harder.
* * * * * Jenni reached the corridor to the food court and struggled to press her way through the crowd. She was at the back of the throng of people and the smoke was beginning to affect her vision.
Looking back she could see the zombies still dragging people down. But they weren’t taking their time to completely consume their victims anymore. They were taking a few bites, then lunging toward their fleeing prey.
Out of the black smoke, two tiny figures emerged near her. Amy’s daughter banged into her hip and Jenni swept her up into her arms. Then Amy’s son gripped Jenni’s hand.
The smoke parted as Jenni looked back. Amy struggling with a zombie that had grabbed hold of her from behind. Her elbow was up under its chin and she was trying to push it back away from her throat. Her eightyear- old daughter, Margie, was still holding onto her mother’s shirt.
“Margie, run!” Amy screamed at her daughter, but the little girl kept held on.
“Oh, my God,” Jenni gasped, unsure of what to do. The kids holding on to her were sobbing for their mother.
As the other zombies neared, Amy made a choice. She turned, grabbed her daughter, and threw her toward the Jenni.
“Run, Margie run! Go with Jenni!” Amy screamed, then the zombies dragged her down.
Jenni screamed in horror, then surged forward, reaching for Margie. She managed to grab the girl’s hair and yank her back away from the zombies.
The little girl was shrieking. Clutching Amy’s children to her, Jenni pressed forward into the crowd. She fought harder, pushing her way through the crowd with renewed vigor.
* * * * * Kevin and Valerie fell back as the zombies continued to swarm the Left Corridor. They were fighting with six other soldiers, but overwhelming numbers of zombies were filling the mall. Kevin ordered them to fall back to a candy kiosk just as the first running zombies appeared. Literally racing past the barricaded soldiers, they dove into the last of the fleeing people from the Left Corridor and began tearing them apart right in front of the doors to the parking lot.
Thomas began firing at them and Kevin motioned for the soldiers to run into the corridor that lead to the food court.
“We’ll exit through the Right Corridor!”
The only thing that saved them was that the new zombies, ravenously hungry, dove onto the already dying victims to feast.
* * * * * Greta swung her helicopter low for the third time, trying to blow the zombies off their feet as they struggled to get into the mall. Cursing that her helicopter was for rescue and transport only, she wished she had a nice bomb or machine gun.
Below her, the zombies stumbled and fell beneath the wash of the helicopters. But they just kept coming.
* * * * * Travis reached the food court and its thundering waterfall just as Kevin and his men did.
“We have to go out the Right Corridor,” Kevin ordered.
The two men stared at each other in shock, then looked back and forth.
Smoke was wafting in from the Right Corridor.
* * * * * Jenni and the children were some of the last people to escape the Right Corridor. The fire finally overcame the zombies and began to spread along the walls. It was a food kiosk that finally saved those fleeing. The fire hit it and the oils used to make donuts ignited. The fireball flattened zombies and set them on fire. The flames burned hot and fierce, pushing back the zombies and stopping their pursuit of the people escaping into the food court.
“Where the hell do we go?”
Travis’ question hung in the air as Kevin’s eyes strayed to the maintenance stairway that snaked up the side of the building toward the skylight overhead. Pointing to metal stairway, Kevin said, “We go up.”
“A fire escape goes down to the parking lot from the roof,” Kevin answered. “It’s the only way out now.”
“Then we don’t have a choice,” Katie said. “They’ll be here soon.”
“Go! Move!” Valerie started to shout, motioning people to the staircase.