‘Head south east. Yeah that was a good idea.’ The problem was the map. Katie had gotten familiar with the streets of Chicago on the lake shore for her original mission as a sniper with Randy. She had only a vague notion of where the highways went outside of the city and had ended up on highway fifty seven heading almost due south out of Chicago. Now the sports utility vehicle was dead.
‘Out of gas. Dead as a three day old zed.’ Katie was good at many things, she could knock the eye out of a sparrow at five hundred yards, she could take most people she ran into out in close combat, she could field strip and make minor repairs on her weapons, however, she knew next to nothing about cars and less about how to get electricity to work at a gas station when the power was out. And the power was out everywhere.
The only good news was that once she made it into the outskirts of Chicago there were no zombies to be seen anywhere. Now she was in a small city named “Kankakee” and the place was a literal ghost town.
“Just add in a few tumble weeds blowing across the street and I will get really creeped out.” she said to herself. Her car had died near exit three fifteen, where the services offered were 'Gas – Food – Shopping' and a large billboard listed it as the exit for the Northfield Square Mall. Other shopping included a 'Farm and Fleet', where Katie thought she might have luck with getting some supplies.
Looking at the car one last time she decided there was nothing else she could scavenge from it. Reluctantly she shut the door, remembering what Heath had done, she left the door unlocked and set the key in plain sight on the seat. ’Maybe someone can fuel it up and still use it. Maybe I will be back with some fuel myself.’
Katie made a beeline directly to the mall, the place had a cleaned out feel to it, nothing was moving and the glass doors she was heading towards were propped open or broken out all along the entrance she could see. She held her shotgun in a ready position and she was wearing the oversized shoes to protect her feet from the glass littering the ground. There was a corpse holding one door open. By the look of him, he had been a zombie, his skull was blasted open.
‘What did that? Probably a shotgun.’ His body was decayed, with flesh slumping off of him to sag to the ground, giving the impression that he was melting. Moving inside she darted to one edge of the door and ducked down beneath a large planter full of wilting vegetation. Giving her eyes a moment to adjust, she scanned the area inside for movement. ‘Nothing.’
There was a store directory not too far from the entrance and she approached it, looking for a place to pick up better shoes, then a woman's clothing store. Katie found both just around the corner from where she was standing and didn't waste any time moving out. She paused in the four way atrium looking at the upper level and down as much of the vast mall as she could. There was movement on the upper level. And bodies, so many bodies, spread out in the south hallway.
The shambling zombies on the upper level didn't seem to spot her, they were involved in an epic battle with some of the malls indoor plant life. ‘If I stay to one side they might not even hear me.’ She thought, planning her route mentally after she ducked back around the corner out of sight. The zeds couldn't see her, but from her position she could see the bodies sprawled in front of the major retailer that anchored that end of the mall. ‘So much for going there to get stuff as my backup plan. I'll keep heading north, I ain’t wading through corpses for underwear and shoes.’
Nodding to herself she darted around the corner and did a quick jog towards the store she wanted, a familiar shoe place with a sunny, bright logo. Katie hadn't counted on the darkness inside. The store was on the lower level and the mall was of a more modern design, with plenty of ambient light, but 'ambient' only goes so far in the dark recesses of a shopping mall. The back of the store was lost in the shadows, at least the security grill was up and open, alleviating one worry that Katie had thought of when she decided to come in here.
‘Wouldn't you fucking know it, my size has to be at the far end.’ Katie wore eights, and following the sizes down she could estimate where they would be. ‘Dash and grab?’ She thought, ‘Or find a light? Do I want to shine a light in here?’ To give herself the option she looked around for flashlights, however, there were not any in sight, nor was there one behind the cash register. There was, however another corpse. This one too, was dead. It was the body of a young teenager, female and bloated from days of lying behind the counter. The youth's head had been smashed open, and though the decomposition and darkness made it hard to see, Katie suspected the woman had died from being eaten.
Katie crouched behind the counter to get out of sight from outside the shop and to plan her next move. There was a peg board near her back full of socks, absentmindedly Katie grabbed a bag of socks her size and kicked off the man's shoes, she would not leave here without footwear. Now how would she get the shoes she came here for?
‘Patience.’ That is one thing being a sniper had taught her. You could never have too much patience. She waited for three or four minutes to let her eyes adjust fully to the gloom, the light from outside, surprisingly, was enough to let her see the back of the store. It was empty. At least 'her' aisle was. Taking her bag of socks with her she crept down between the rows of shoes until she found some athletic shoes in her size. Instead of dashing back to the front of the store as she had planned, she took her shoes to rear of the store then quietly crawled the length of the place looking down the aisles, empty. It was just as she had thought when she was crouched behind the counter. There hadn't been any noise at all from inside the store, just the quiet scuffle from outside in the plants versus zombies struggle that was going on upstairs. Patience was a virtue sometimes. Now she could sit at the back of the store and anything coming in would be back lit and probably half blinded by the darkness to which her eyes were accustomed.
Pulling a stool to the middle of the aisle with the size eights, Katie tried on the shoes. She ended up going with a black pair of Nikes, the first pair she had tried on. During that time one of the zombies fell from the second level to the floor out in front of the shop, the zombie was laying there squirming on the ground, too broken to get up and walk. This one was a heavy white male, with a bald head and a sleeveless denim jacket. The guy rolled around on his bloated belly and Katie was wondering if he was fat from before he was turned or if he was bloated from decomposing. If it was decomposing then humanity might only have to wait for nature to take its course to be free from the zombies, otherwise it was going to be a long fight.
Katie grabbed a large canvas purse from an accessory rack near the front of the store and put a backup pair of the same shoes and her extra socks in it before stepping out to examine the zombie, which was still twitching on the floor in front of the store. Again she crouched down, this time just a step outside of the shoe store, and watched, slowly counting off the time in her head as she looked at the guy.
‘Not decomposing.’ She finally decided. Katie realized she could be wrong, the man might have been turned yesterday, which is why the eagle tattoo on his arm was still in good shape. That tattoo had decided her, this guy had just been fat; he was not bloated or swollen from decomposing. The artwork from the ink on his massive arm was not distorted or disfigured in any way, had the zed been decomposing she would have expected it to be different in some manner. Going on a couple of admittedly unsupportable assumptions, such as he had died more than two weeks ago and he had been here most of that time, she would have expected to see some decay by now. ‘Damn. Nothing is ever easy.’
The zombie was not making any headway on getting to his feet. ‘He is a slow one too, probably won't heal the damage from that fall anytime soon.’ If healing was actually what they did. Katie still didn't know how they 'got better' or shrugged off injuries the way they did. She knew they had to eat the living to get smarter and figured they might need to do that to heal too. ‘Well this one is out of luck as far as getting to me is concerned.’
The shoes felt wonderful, next stop would be clothing that actually fit and who knew where she would end up? If she were lucky there might be a shower, or at least a dip in a local pond to clean up. Mentally she added 'towel' to the list of things she wanted to acquire.
‘And not one of those cheap forty-thread pieces of sandpaper, now I can get the good stuff.’ In her mind she was seeing a soft, over-sized towel that she could wrap up in. The picture was tarnished a little when she added herself stepping out of a lake, but clean was clean. Katie kept to the front edge of the stores as she made her way to the woman's clothing store, she didn't see any movement anywhere and the place was a lot less damaged than she would have thought, given the amount of bodies that lay behind her down the other wing. Frowning, she paused and looked at a cell phone kiosk, the glass had all been shattered in the display cases and the register was pock marked with bullet holes as well. Shaking her head she carefully trod by it to her destination.
The clothing store boasted a wide entrance, typical of most stores in a mall, but was darker than the shoe store. The front of the store fell under a large overhang that probably accommodated a wider pedestrian walkway above. Moving into the store Katie went for the underwear first. She thought that there was nothing so bad as riding two hours in a pair of dirty men's jogging shorts to make someone want to have fresh panties, especially when she had been commando at the time. Katie snatched the first pair of one hundred percent cotton underwear off the rack that she saw and slipped the men's short off over her shoes.
Softly she laughed out loud, ‘Here I am standing half naked in a dark store at the mall, even in a million years I would not have guessed this would ever happen to me.’ Katie pulled the underwear on and moved to grab some jogging shorts more appropriate to her gender. Continuing her shopping she made sure to grab three of everything, it all went into the canvas bag she was carrying. The store was completely empty of zombies and other than the wrappings and packaging she had left on the floor it was as clean as it would have been when if it had been open for business.
‘I expected more trouble, this is too easy and easy makes me nervous.’ The clothing store did have flashlights in a small travel section, they were small and inefficient looking to Katie, but she took two of them anyway. She was expecting to replace them at the Farm and Fleet, which sounded like the kind of place with good flashlights and maybe, if she were lucky, rifles.
Once her bag was loaded up she turned back for the entrance and cautiously checked the area outside the store. It was dead quiet. This was a little nerve wracking. The disabled zombie should still have been making noise, unless it had passed on. Moving along the store fronts again Katie back tracked towards the entrance. When she reached the shoe store she looked over at the zombie on the floor. It was not moving. Katie took a step towards it, and glanced upwards to see how the others were doing against the vegetation above. The fat tattooed man wasn't moving because someone had bashed its head in. Without thinking Katie jumped to her left, swinging her bag upwards as she did so.
Something metal crashed into her arm, luckily it was cushioned by her bag of clothing, but the force of the blow still knocked her sideways and dumped her sprawling on the ground. The shotgun, held in her other hand, ended up underneath her, but she didn't let go of it. Katie bunched her legs under her and rolled forward in a diagonal somersault. Her foot connected, inadvertently, as she rolled and she heard someone quietly say, 'fuck', followed by a metallic clattering sound. Pulling the shotgun up as she completed her roll Katie found herself facing a young man who looked to be in his middle to late teens. Behind him two startled looking girls were hastily trying to move around the guy to aim their guns at her.
“Hold it!” Katie yelled, not firing. The young man raised his hands to about shoulder height.
“Please.” he said, “Please don't shoot me.”
The girls kept moving, and stopped when they had their rifles pointed at her.
“Nobody is going to shoot anybody. Just take a breath here and talk this out.”
“Put your gun down!” yelled the blond girl to the right side of the boy.
“Now, just calm down. I don't want to shoot another living person and I am sure you don't either, we all have to work together to get out of this and we have enough trouble already.”
“Just put your gun down!” the blond was trembling and shaking, barely able to keep her gun pointed at Katie.
Katie looked at her and said, “Okay, I am going to lower my gun, but do not shoot me. Just relax.” Slowly Katie lowered the barrel of the shotgun until it was pointing at the young man's lower leg. The blond calmed down a little, but still had the jitters.
“Put it on the ground and back up.” the darker haired girl said. Her gun, Katie noted, was not shaking.
Hesitant, Katie answered, “I've been through a lot today and I am not sure if I can get another gun and I need it to protect myself from the zombies.”
“I don't want to shoot you, but I will. You look like a zombie and I don't trust you. So put the gun down or I am going to put a bullet right through your head.”
‘I look like a zombie?’ Katie thought, ‘Oh shit, I'm still covered in dirt from the building. In this light I gotta look bad.’ Out loud she said, “Okay, I am not a zombie. I am just dirty, I got dirty because the building I was in collapsed and I haven't had a chance to get cleaned up yet. I had to get more clothes and shoes, so I came here after my car ran out of gas. Do not shoot me. I won't be happy about it.”
“I won't if you drop your gun.” the dark haired girl said.
Sighing, Katie slowly bent over and put her gun on the ground, then raised her hands above her head. The man let out a muffled sob of relief and kicked Katie's gun away from her, then went and retrieved a long odd shaped piece of metal, Katie saw that it was a crowbar.
“Now what?” Katie asked. The two girls were still pointing guns at her.
“Jess?” asked the blond.
“Shoot her. Just in case.”
“No!” yelled the young man, “You can't. We check her, if she is alive then she is okay.”
“And how are you going to prove I am alive? You gonna listen to my heart? Cut me to see if I bleed?”
The three stepped back to confer in front of the building, leaving Katie to look longingly at her shotgun, which the man had only kicked about three feet away.
“Aw leave her!” came another voice from the upper level of the mall. “If she were a super zombie she'da ate your brains by now. A poor meal it would be too. I told you, Bobby, to hide from anyone except the slow zombies.”
“All clear up here, is she the only one you found down there?”
“Yeah, well and that twitchy one on the floor.”
“Okay you kids sit tight, we will be down in a minute.”
Katie saw two men walking towards her from the far end of the mall, picking their way through the piles of the dead as they came. A moment later the two were standing in front of her, looking her up and down.
“She looks alright, dirty, like she said, but okay other than that.”
Flushing Katie didn't know how to respond, flashes of the rape scene from 'The Road Warrior' were running through her head. The man must have sensed her unease, he did the unexpected, he threw back his head and laughed.
The three teenagers and the man next to him stared at him with worried looks on their faces. Katie could have used this distraction to escape, but she too was spell bound by the man's laughter.
He stepped forward and Katie flinched backwards. “No.” he said gently, with a trace of laughter still in his voice, “You don't have anything to worry about lady. My name is Robert.” He held out his hand to her, turned as she shook it and pointed to the man beside him, “And this is my partner Kent.” He paused and added, “My 'life partner', Kent.”
Understanding dawned on Katie and she laughed too, a short, bitter laugh, but it broke the spell and finally the dark haired girl stopped pointing the rifle at her.