She slowly stood and raised her arm to show them her hand. Blood, hot with her life, trailed down her arm.
“No!” Katie’s shout echoed throughout the mall even over the roar of the water and the cries of the dead.
Tears filled her eyes as she saw Katie turn to Kevin and saw him hand Katie his rifle.
She kept her hand up as her victory salute. She had done the right thing.
There had been no running away this time. She had faced the monsters and she had saved people she loved. There was no fear anymore. Just joy. She had won.
The zombies were coming up the narrow staircase but they didn’t matter anymore.
I love you, Juan. I love you, Jason. I love you, Benji. I love you, Mikey. I love you, Katie.
Yes, I did the right thing. This is how it should be. Absolution is good. I can face God and myself once more. I saved the children. I saved those people. I saved the ones I loved.
The zombies were so close now.
Jenni smiled a beautiful, intense smile as peace filled her and tears fell down her cheeks. She clutched her hand tightly over her head, the blood pouring more fiercely.
“It’s been one helluva ride,” she whispered to Katie.
Jenni saw the flash at the end of the rifle. It was bright and brilliant. It just didn’t flash. It exploded out toward her. A brilliant white pure light.
It was warm and beautiful and it filled her senses. The smell of death disappeared, the pain disappeared as all she felt was love.
Her body fell in silence from the top of the waterfall, just out of reach of the clutching hands of the zombies as they breached the top. As she fell, her leg hooked onto a rock for a second, twisting her around so she slid down onto a maintenance ledge hidden by the falling water. There she rested in the cold water, out of reach of the zombies forever.
If the ones who loved her could seen her, they would have seen that her silent form was laying face up, the tiny hole in her forehead covered by her long black hair. Her raven locks floated around her head like a halo as the blood she had sacrificed slowly turned the water around her red.
What would have given them true comfort was this: On her face was a happy, satisfied smile.
Juan woke slowly. His eyes flickered open and he took a deep breath.
Something felt different. Wrong. The gray morning light filled his bedroom in the makeshift clinic in the hotel. The light felt cold.
“Hey,” Jenni’s voice said as she slipped into view.
“Hey, baby.” She sat down next to his bed. Her long dark hair was soaked with water and fell across her brow and face.
“Why are you wet?” he asked as her hand took his. She felt so cold and damp.
“You know me. A total klutz.” She waved her hand, grinning.
His mind felt jumbled and confused. He tried to focus on her, but her form seemed blurred around the edges by the morning light streaming around her.
“I know and it totally sucked. We got stuck in this awful mall and there was this bitch of a Senator and it was just bad.” Jenni rolled her eyes. “A mall. Can you believe it? Ugh. So annoying.”
“But you’re here now,” Juan said with relief. “Oh, Jenni, I was so worried.”
“Juan, you should know me by now. Nothing, not even death could keep me from coming to see you,” she said with a laugh.
Her kiss was soft and wonderful and he touched her wet hair lovingly.
“You’re hurt,” he said with concern, looking at her hand.
“You know me. I do crazy shit sometimes,” she giggled. She tucked her hand out of sight and winked.
“Are you okay?” he asked worriedly. He was sure they wouldn’t let her into the fort if she were infected.
“But you’re so wet.” Something didn’t feel right and he struggled to decipher what was bothering him.
“Loca, I’m shot and you’re beat up and you’re thinking about sex,” Juan teased right back.
“Uh-huh. Well, mostly thinking about how much I love you,” Jenni said in a more somber tone.
“I love you. I promised myself that I would ask you to marry me when you got back. This really isn’t all that romantic, but…”
Jenni kissed him again, then gazed deeply into his eyes. “In my heart, we were always married.”
Juan smiled softly and tried to focus on her, but it seemed so hard.
“I know. I have to go now anyway and you need to sleep.”
She stood up, her hand holding his. She felt so cold and wet. He was worried about her.
To his chagrin, sleep pulled at his eyes and he felt himself fading into slumber. “Jenni, be with me.”
“I always will be,” Jenni assured him.
As his eyes flickered close, the light behind Jenni seemed to brighten.
“Jenni,” he whispered desperately as he finally understood.
She was engulfed in the light, but her voice whispered, “I love you.”
And then he was asleep.
Trembling, Katie lowered the rifle. Tears, hot and angry, flowed down her cheeks as she watched Jenni’s body fall. She choked back sobs as Jenni’s body caught on the edge of the waterfall, then fell into a hidden spot behind the water. The zombies pursuing Jenni began to tumble into the pool below, thrashing around. Jenni’s body remained hidden behind the waterfall out of the reach of the dead, her blood turning the flowing water red.
“Katie, we need to go,” Travis said in a firm voice. He stood on the other side of the doorway waiting for her. His hand reached out to her. “Katie, you did the right thing for her, but now it is time to go.”
She couldn’t tear her gaze away from the food court filled with zombies.
Several groups were feasting on the fallen soldiers while others fought to get to the top of the waterfall only to fall into the waters below.
“Katie,” Kevin said softly. He reached for his weapon. “She’s at peace.
Gulping down her sobs, she looked toward Travis, her eyes filled with tears. “I did the right thing.”
“Yes, you did,” Travis answered her in a soft, yet firm voice. “And now it’s time to go.”
Handing Kevin the rifle, she moved through the doorway onto the roof.
The helicopters were trying hard to lure the zombies from the back gate and the sound of engines revving filled the air. People were still panicking as they were herded by the surviving soldiers toward the waiting vehicles.
Sobs of despair, screams of terror, and cries of desperation filled the air.
Travis and Kevin grabbed Katie’s arms and guided her across the roof to the fire escape. It was rickety and frightening, but she moved as fast as she could. Her body was trembling so hard, her teeth were chattering. She had no idea where Bill or her father was.
She had to bite her tongue to keep from screaming.
Jenni was dead because she had killed her, but it had been the right thing to do. Lydia had told her the truth. This is what she was supposed to do, but it did not make it any easier.
Bette rushed the children Jenni had saved to the nearby vehicles as Travis ran with Katie across the parking lot. People scrambled to get into trucks or buses that weren’t already filled. Kevin ran to the lead truck as Arnold motioned Katie and Travis to another one.
“We’re almost out of here,” Travis exclaimed. “We’re going to be okay.”
Nothing could be okay. Jenni was dead. But Katie ran with him, her hand slick with sweat.
The back of the National Guard truck was full of people, so the driver shouted at them to get into the cab. It was so far off the ground, it was hard for Katie to get in. Her stomach felt awkward and heavy as she tried to heave herself up into the cab. Travis grabbed her hips and helped her in, then climbed in next to her. The seat was horribly uncomfortable, but Katie squirmed until it felt better.
Black smoke billowed out of the mall. The helicopters continued to try to corral the zombies away from one of the gates, taking turns gliding over the crowd of zombies as one brave soldier hung out the side waving.
Travis’ hand held Katie’s firmly. Already bruises were showing on her flesh from where he had gripped her so tightly during their escape. He gazed down at her hand. She could see his concern, but the physical pain was nothing compared to her broken heart.
Arnold motioned to the drivers. Slowly, the buses and trucks began to move forward. Soon, they were moving in a huge circle around the parking lot building speed for their departure. The redheaded soldier dove into a big Ford truck just as the gate blew wide open. Immediately, the secondary bombs went off.