I watched, as Bloodhound thrust his knife into the skull of the last risen in our way, Husk then made an immediate attempt to open the cage door but it wouldn’t budge. He rammed it with his shoulder a few times, before the other mercenary went to assist, but even with the two it remained shut.
“What the fuck!” Husk screamed in frustration, kicking the door repeatedly to no avail.
“It’s the ceiling, look!” I said, pointing to the large crack above, where the roof had shifted.
“I’m sick of this shit!” Bloodhound yelled, before lifting his assault rifle and emptying his clip into the area just above the door.
This time when they rammed the door, it budged just a bit, but it was still stuck and we were nearly out of time. The next time they went to attack the blocked exit, I swiftly followed behind them. The three of us hit the door like a freight train, causing it to burst open just as another explosion rocked the building, sending us crashing to the floor. It wasn’t the mall that got hit this time, I felt my stomach drop, when I realized it sounded like the ReCharge station had exploded. The blasts were enough to weaken the lobbies riot glass further, allowing the dead ones to start smashing their way in, we jumped to our feet and made a beeline for the way we came. Kahlil lead the way, as he knew the back passages best, the kid was fast, even giving me a run for my money.
“Don’t look back, they’re right on our ass!” Husk screamed at Hadji, trying to get him to keep pace, the risen were hot on our trail and he was falling behind.
“Holy shit! We’re gonna die! We’re all gonna fucking die!” He cried, going into hysterics, nearly tripping over his feet.
“If you don’t shut the hell up and concentrate on running, you’re gonna be the only dead one in this bitch!” The sandy skinned Merc replied, pushing him hard from behind, adding momentum to his lacking speed.
By the time we had reached the jewelry store, it was clear the explosions had damaged a large part of the building, fires were everywhere and this paradise was burning to the ground.
We literally ran over diamonds as we escape to the next room, which was literally full of flaming panties, ‘Victoria’s Secret’ had also caught fire. I dodged a fiery fragrance display that toppled over, it was so close I could feel the heat from chemicals burning. As we entered the sporting goods store, I immediately noticed the front window was broken, leaving a gaping hole to the mall lobby, the second thing I noticed was that someone in the group had stopped.
“Hadji, come on, you can do it. We’re almost there, we can make it!” I placed a comforting hand to his shoulder, to accompany my attempt to motivate the younger man, but they were ill received.
“Don’t you fucking touch me you freak!” He replied, slapping away my offered hand. “I’m not trying to catch any of that shit you have..”
“Yo, watch your fucking mouth kid, shit could turn bad for you real quick!” Husk brandished his knife as he warned the younger male, who was now looking at me like I had Ebola or Bubonic plague.
“Oh yea, please do tell, How could this situation get any fuckin worse?!.. AAhhh, fuck, my leg!”
He let out a cry of terror as a man had latched to his leg, the infected torso of a security guard began to chew the muscle and flesh of his right calf, Kahlil tried to run for his brother but Bloodhound was close enough to snatch him back.
“Hadji! Nooo! Get up, get up brother! Get up!” The young teen cried, reaching for his last of kin to survive the world’s end with him.
“Help me, please!” He sobbed from the floor, reaching for Husk, who just watched sort of shocked. “I’m sorry, I swear I’m so sorry, just help me man!”
Husk seemed to wake up, and in a split second, he stabbed into the skull of the attacking man. It was too late though, the fatal damage had already been done, the young middle eastern male started to turn quickly, evident by the black muck that now seeped from his mouth. He lunged from the ground on his good leg, and went for Husk’s throat, he didn’t get far thou. I had snatched one of the bow guns from the wall display, and shot an arrow straight through the back of his head, bringing his pain to a swift end.
“Hadji..” Kahlil whimpered softly, as a flood of tears shed from his eyes, his heart broken.
“Come on guys, we have to go..” Bloodhound said after a minute or two, his voice showing how sorry he was to have to be the man to bring us back into the moment, we were still in imminent danger.
“Kahlil, I’m so sorry.. I truly am, I just want you to know we never wanted something like that to happen.” I said, offering the kid some kind of apology.
“It’s like you said before, you people didn’t come here to save us..”
He wiped away his tears, as he pulled away from the mercenary that restrained him, I knew no apology could make up for the fact we took away this boy’s brother and uncle. I think he understood why, but the hurt of such loss didn’t bend to reason, he’d feel it till the end of his days. For now tho, he decided to soldier on and lead us out of here, revealing a strength of character beyond his years. Once we had entered ‘Footlocker’, the building rocked and swayed, sending sneakers and apparel flying everywhere.
“This way, next up is ‘Burlington Coat Factory’.. It’ll lead us to the exit closest to where I found you and your friends.” The boy mentioned, as we entered the last passageway along the side of the building.
“We have to hurry, we aren’t the only ones in danger..” I said to the others as I started to run faster, remembering the rest of the way from where we were.
After masterfully making my way through the aisles, and on through the long corridor, I saw the door we came in through and we all made a sprint for it, but once we burst through the exit we were met with the rapid fire of machine guns and assault rifles. While quickly retreating back into the burning building for cover, I could see my suspicions about the fate of the ReCharge station were correct, the black plume cloud still blazed, reaching high into the afternoon sky. Once we were back inside, the four of us looked at each other, a mixture of anger and fear amongst our faces.
“What the hell are we going to do now?” I asked, looking to the two mercs who in turn looked at each other, from their faces I could tell we were in deep shit. “I didn’t see any sign of the Betty.. Where could they be?!”
“They have to be on the other side of the building!” Bloodhound replied adamantly, but I wasn’t so convinced, and I knew he wasn’t either. “We cut through the lobby, it’s the only way..”
“Yeah, the only way we fucking die! Did you not notice the fifty or so walking dead behind us, PLUS the lobby is swarming with them, it’s a suicide mission!” I remarked, voicing my doubt.
“You or anyone else got a better goddamn plan?!” He screamed at me, showing his frustration. “If not.. Let’s get the fuck on with it!”
I didn’t have another plan, I was all out of them, hence my lack of a reply. Husk didn’t doubt his higher ranking comrade like I had, he was a soldier ready for orders, ready to walk into the fires of Hades if so commanded. There was gunfire against the door, so we didn’t stall any longer, we cut back through ‘Burlington Coat Factory’ and on through ‘Footlocker’. As we entered the sporting goods store, I gagged on the smoke, and ducked low like everyone else. The fire within the mall had spread and the dead ones had made their way in, we ran towards the broken display window, but two flaming attackers lunged at us from the mob. They were fresher than the others, so they were slightly faster, Husk almost got snagged but he dodged and deliver a devastating kick to one’s spine. There was a loud sickening crack, as it went flying into the other one.
We jumped through the display window, and made a sprint for the other side of the building. There was a fountain in the center, it was tainted with blood, and I didn’t dare look at the bloated bodies for more than a blink.
“Look there, just ahead!” Bloodhound yelled, pointing towards the doors, where several risen were blocking our way.
“I’m out of bullets, what about you guys?” I asked, turning to Husk first, who just shook his head.
“I’m out too.” We looked to Bloodhound, the mercenary cursed to himself in Spanish.
“Mierda, estamos jodidos.. I have half a clip, but I’m thinking I should save a few of those for us, in case.. you know.”
My jaw dropped, this nigga was already thinking of contingency plans, when we were trying to fucking live! I felt a tug to my sleeve and looked down, it was Khalil trying to get my attention, he pointed up. My eyes quickly found the giant Disney balloons floating above, actually, it was quite hard to miss the obnoxious colorful characters, because they were big as ones I’ve seen in most parades. The blown up monkey and fluffy lion seem to circle the newest princess in the line up, a dark skinned young girl crowned by an afro of thick curls. Snatching the rapid fire rifle from Bloodhound, I then raised it to the sky and emptied the clip, deflating the helium filled advertisements. They fell to the ground slowly, covering everything below them like a curtain, the dead ones buried beneath three layers of plastic.
Suddenly, the building churned and groaned, it was clear her frame would give in soon. The fires had spread throughout, and smoke was quickly filling the lobby, we all hacked and coughed as the noxious clouds filled our lungs.
“C’mon let’s go, the fucking building is coming down, try to stay as low to the floor as you can!” Bloodhound yelled, and we all began to sprint for the doors ahead, I grab hold of Khalil’s hand because I felt I could protect him if he was close.
The dead moaned and groaned behind us, shuffling as fast as their decayed legs could carry them, the sound of the lost souls sent shivers up my spine. When we reached the doors, they were locked and chained from the outside, but fortunately the riot glass was cracked. The two mercenaries picked up a nearby bench and tossed it as hard as they could, the glass shattered to pieces, leaving a gaping hole large enough for us to escape. That’s when the ceiling started to collapse, a large fiery piece came crashing down over the boy and I, separating us as we dodged out of the way. I landed hard on the ground, dinging my elbow but ignored the pain, as I quickly stood to my feet. I looked for Khalil, and my eyes found him trying to escape the clutches of a blood covered woman in a bright blue burka.
“Mother! Please don’t! It’s me Kah-lie.. It’s me! He screamed, as he struggled with her, but she continued to claw and bite at him. “Mum, you’re hurting me! Mum, please!”
“Watch your head!” I yelled in warning, as I swung the butt of the rifle like a baseball bat, it connected hard with her skull and knocked her back about a foot.
“Loki, kid! Hurry the fuck up!” Husk bellowed for us from outside, so I quickly helped the boy up, and ushered him ahead of me with haste.
When we jumped through the opening, I gasped as the fresh air hit my lungs, finding it burned as much as the smoke did. Bloodhound tapped my shoulder, but I was too busy hunched over swallowing as much good air as I could, when I looked to where he pointed I felt a surge of joy, it was the Betty!
“You were right, they’re here!” I yelled enthusiastically, feeling the fleeting hope from earlier return, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. “Khalil come on, that’s our ride!”
“Oh wow! She beautiful..” He replied, all wide eyed, as he saw the Black Beauty in all her glory parked across the lot. “You have a mustang too?!”
“Not even the apocalypse is gonna cramp our style kid, we stay fly!” Husk chimed in, as we all started running for the bus.
The side door opened and I could see my cousin waving us on, his mouth was moving but I couldn’t make out what he was saying, a feeling of dread coursed through me causing my pace to quicken. I strained to listen harder but I couldn’t focus, when I saw him lift his assault rifle, I turned my head to look back. It was already too late, the sound of gunfire was deafening, I felt a sharp pain pierced through my shoulder. It was the General’s men, the man was as unrelenting as the risen dead that plagued us, he wouldn’t be satisfied till he had me in his clutches.. Half dead or alive.
I looked down to my bleeding shoulder, the incipient flash of heat let me know the bullet was lodged in the muscle. I didn’t slow down, none of us could afford to when when we were so close, so fucking close to getting away. I could see Balthazar returning gunfire, and it wasn’t long before Patience and the Wolf joined him, the four of us just ducked low as we ran for dear life. I heard a shriek from Kahlil, and I turned to see he had been hit, blood pour from a wound to his leg. Instinct caused me to run back for him, I had little care for my own wellbeing, but suddenly I was being dragged in the opposite direction. Bloodhound and Husk both had one of my arms, their grips like steel as I fought them off, thou in vain I made sure they felt my dissatisfaction.
“What the fuck are you assholes doing?! Let me go, we can still help him.. get the fuck off me!” I screamed, kicking and pulling for freedom. “Stop! We can save him! We can save him goddammit!!”
“Loki! Loki! Help me!.. Help!” The boy cried, as he clutched to his leg, tears streaming down both our faces.
“I’m sorry Loki but we have to go.. I liked the kid, but YOU’RE the mission, and that takes precedent over anything.” Husk told me, and I could hear the sympathy in his voice, Bloodhound sounded the same when he added his two cents.
“Sorry to say, he’s not gonna make it anyway.. I think they hit an artery, he’s shooting blood everywhere.”
“I can save him.. Please guys just let me go!” I pleaded through the tears, I didn’t know how but I knew I could, they didn’t even consider it.
As the mercenaries forcibly lead me on the bus, my last sight of Kahlil, was of the General’s men encroaching upon him, I could have sworn I heard another gunshot but I really couldn’t be sure, I tried to convince myself that I didn’t. When the bus started to move, the two men finally let me go, I just sat on the sofa not even bothering to wipe the tears. They trailed silently down my face like a river with an endless source, Sera rubbed my shoulder and back, to soothe me any way she could.
“Loki, you’re bleeding.. allot.” Patience mentioned, showing concern, studying me with her soft almond brown eyes.
“We need to tend to your wound Loki..” Bloodhound said, as empathetic as his naturally assertive personality and tone could be.
I looked up at him in a rage, I reached for my bullet wound and dug in, the shrapnel had traveled deep into the muscle but I was so furious I didn’t feel a thing. So much blood spilled from the gash before my fingers finally dug out the cooling piece of metal, I tossed it hard into his chest, and it make a loud thud as it bounced to the floor. Everyone present was silent, the tension thick, none but Husk knew why. If possible, things were even worse off between us than when we left, any hope for unity was gone.
“Im guessing we musta missed something..” Tzar mused in a snarky tone, arching a brow and crossing his arms, I let silence give him all the answer he needed.