With a nod, Bette ran up before the people, climbing three stories to the door at the very top.
Thomas ran ahead of her and swung open the gate at the bottom. The jumble of old, young, men, women, and children poured up the stairs.
Valerie tossed chairs and tables into the corridor leading to the Left Corridor. The zombies tended to not pay attention to anything but their victims and were easily tripped. Thomas joined her as more and more people lined up to ascend the stairs.
“Katie, let’s go,” Travis said firmly, pulling her toward the stairs.
Travis turned to his wife and she could see the anguish in his eyes. “Katie, I love you and you know I care about Jenni, but we need to get out of here now! Think of the baby.”
Katie nodded and, tears streaming down her face, she let him guide her into line.
“Target the fast zombies first,” Kevin ordered as the five soldiers took up position, looking down the corridor. It was strewn with chairs, tables, and potted plants.
“Where the fuck did the fast ones come from?” Thomas yelled angrily.
“They all slowed down. Why are they fast again?”
“Oh, shit,” Thomas said in an agonized tone.
Kevin didn’t even want to think of how many fresh zombies there might be.
The people fleeing the Right Corridor were down to a trickle. Some had been overcome by the smoke or badly burned by the explosion. Finally the last survivors stumbled out of the smoke. It was Jenni with the children.
Half-carrying and half pulling the children, she saw the line of people ascending the metal staircase crawling up the wall and hurried toward it.
The first of the running zombies appeared from the Left Corridor.
Running at full speed, they howled with hunger.
The soldiers opened fire, their bullets slicing through the air to impact with the heads of the runners. The zombies were eliminated one by one, several of them managing to make it close enough to trip over the tables and chairs. But they, too, were cut down.
“Running low on ammo,” Valerie said to Kevin.
Kevin looked up to see that the majority of the people were now on the stairs. He caught sight of Jenni with three small children stumbling into the last part of the line.
“We keep them covered until they are up the stairs,” Kevin instructed in a somber tone.
The soldiers all grimly nodded and looked back down the corridor.
The stumbling, slow dead were moving in one great wave toward them.
Katie was nearly halfway up the stairs when she looked down to see Jenni pushing the children onto the first steps of the staircase.
“Thank God,” Travis exclaimed, continuing to climb while holding his wife’s hand.
Jenni pushed Margie up onto the stairs. She heard the gunfire and turned. The zombies had reached the food court and were lunging toward the soldiers. The soldiers backed slowly toward the staircase, attempting to defend those on the stairs.
Why she looked up, she would never know. But Jenni did and saw a single black bird flying over the skylight. She flashed on Juan being shot and all that followed. And she understood.
“Keep going,” she told Margie, setting the two younger children on the stairs. “Get your brother and sister out of here!”
Jenni then turned and ran down the stairs. Running up behind Thomas, she grabbed his revolver from his holster.
She ran past him toward the zombies.
The shambling corpses could not follow the people on the stairs. Amy had given her life for her children. They would live. Katie and Travis were going to have a baby and be a family. They would live.
This was her time. Her choice. Her decision.
“Hey, fuckers!” Jenni waved her arms. “You stupid gawddamn muthafuckin’ zombies, c’mere!” Then she screamed at them and waved her arms desperately. “Look at me, you fuckers! C’mon, you fuckin’ cannibals. Prime rib Jenni right here! Come get me!”
“What the fuck is she doing?” Kevin exclaimed as the woman danced terrifyingly close to the slowly advancing zombies.
Valerie looked up at the people on the stairs and the little kids trying to climb and understood.
“The right thing,” she answered, running after Jenni. “Hey stinkbags, follow us!”
“Oh, shit. Dammit! I don’t want to die,” Thomas growled, but ran after the women.
Kevin was about to follow when he felt a tug on his hand. Looking down he saw a little girl Jenni had shoved up the stairs looking up at him.
“Mister, we need to go get my Mom,” she said.
“Shit!” He snatched up the girl and ran to the stairs.
The last soldier, William, hesitated, then he too followed Jenni. “Awwww, hell…”
The four of them teased, taunted and lured the zombies after them and away from the staircase. Low on ammunition, they held their fire, moving ahead of the mob, keeping them away from the stairs.
Jenni screamed at the things, screaming her hate, screaming her joy, screaming her fucking lungs off. In that moment, she knew she was doing exactly the right thing. Glancing briefly up at the stairs, she could see Katie and Travis near the top and Kevin pulling the children up in the rear.
“Hey, you stupid shits, come get me, you stupid muthafuckas,” Jenni shouted with glee.
Their grisly faces and clawed hands reached for her, grasping at empty air as she danced away from them.
She was moving back toward the waterfall. In her head was a half-formed plan to circle the waterfall and head up the stairs.
It was then the zombies from the Right Corridor made their appearance.
Though delayed, the sprinklers had come on, quenching most of the fire.
The zombies now filed into the food court behind Jenni and the soldiers.
They were now completely surrounded.
Jenni whirled around as the dead began to fill the space around her. “Oh, hell,” she said sadly, but calmly.
William went down first, screaming, firing into the crowd of zombies.
Thomas began to laugh hysterically and kept firing into the oncoming onslaught until he too submitted.
Jenni looked to her left and saw the waterfall rising above her. To her surprise, she saw a narrow staircase cutting up through the rocks.
Without hesitation, she began to ascend the fake stone facade away from the zombies below.
Valerie started to follow, but was cut off so suddenly by a runner zombie.
She staggered backwards and was instantly grabbed from behind.
Without a second thought, she lifted her revolver to her temple and fired.
Jenni climbed, moving quickly. Behind her, the zombies moaned and wailed. They struggled to push their way up behind her.
Glancing toward the staircase she could see Katie looking toward her, screaming her name. Kevin was almost to the top with the children.
Looking over her shoulder, Jenni saw the zombies climbing after her.
Lifting the revolver, she fired off a few shots, watching with satisfaction as their disgustingly rotted heads exploded. Reaching the top of the waterfall, she stood on the edge next to the rushing water. Her gaze swept over the food court and was horrified to see all the dead looking up at her, their hands reaching toward her figure.
Even above the roar of the water, Jenni could hear Katie’s voice screaming her name.
I’ve done the right thing, she thought as she saw Kevin push the children through the doorway to the roof.
The zombies had yet to go even near the staircase.
She was eerily calm. Looking down, she wondered how deep the water was. Maybe she could dive into it and swim to the other side. Maybe she would have enough time to climb the staircase and escape onto the roof.
A growl behind Jenni startled her. Turning, she saw Amy step onto the platform. Raising her gun, Jenni fired at her zombified friend.
Horrified, Jenni rapidly drew her hand back, but she felt her skin tear.
“Oh, shit,” she said as pain erupted in her hand.
Amy chewed Jenni’s flesh, then lunged forward again for another taste.
Jenni brought the gun down hard on Amy’s head, so hard she felt the skull crack. A surge of anger hit her and she brought it down again. Screaming in rage, she slammed the gun into the zombie’s head until Amy’s skull splintered and shattered.
With rage, fierce and hot, Jenni reached into Amy’s head and ripped chunks of her brain out and threw it out over the zombie horde below her.
Amy’s corpse slid to the ground in silence, truly dead.
Exhaling, Jenni stood over the dead body, tears on her face. As quickly as the rage had hit, it was gone.
I made the right choice, she thought again. Bending down, she washed her hands off in the rushing water, watching it turn red with her blood.
Looking toward Katie and Kevin, she could see them waving at her to jump into the pool of water below. They didn’t understand, she realized.