The customer’s always right. That’s what Turell’s manager at Eagle Car Rentals said about delivering the replacement car to a zombie outbreak at The Chalco Mall. Plus, it was in the contract. ‘Take the Hummer,’ he’d said. Turell took the green FJ Cruiser instead.
Turell hated the different code’s that people followed. Especially now since his own code was to take the hard jobs when his team needed it.
Zombies started appearing several blocks before hitting the mall. Military troops and law enforcement fought in intermittent locations. Turell circled the entire mall, clusters of zombies here and there, tracking his vehicle as he sped by. They mostly concentrated around JC Penney, which was bad news since the customer, Mr. Harper, was holed up somewhere in the Gap next door. The entrance on the other side by Sears had the least activity, so he took the Toyota right up to it, bailed with tire iron in hand, and pressed the key fob to lock the doors as he ran inside.
He crept down a wide vacant hallway and turned into a wide open space, fountain in the middle, pair of escalators to the upper level, storefronts with opened and closed security grilles, and zombies everywhere. Turell could either duck into Sears, which might be swarming with more, run the gauntlet in hopes that he could duck into a store through the main corridor, or he could head back to the FJ Cruiser. Then he espied a narrow hallway between a shoe store and an Orange Julius on his right.
He ran for the hallway, and a cacophony of raspy growls echoed through the mall as zombies turned and started toward him. “Stupid idea,” he gasped. He sprinted down the hall. He glanced back to see the zombies bunching at the entrance as the hall turned left. He tried to open several doors along each wall, but none gave. The growling got louder as he turned again and ran into a door labeled ‘Security.’
It opened, and an arm shot out, pulling him inside. Turell stumbled in the dark and fell to the floor as a short, plumpish man with black hair, ‘David’ embroidered on his shirt, locked the door. “I saw you coming,” he said in a squeaky voice, indicating the monitors. “You shouldn’t be here. Why’d you come?”
There was something a little off with this man. Like he’d inhaled too many helium balloons or watched too many Teletubby reruns. “I’m delivering a replacement car. I’ve got to get to the Gap.” The growling reached the door.
“Don’t worry. They don’t understand doors. I can get you there,” David said.
“Really? Let me call.” Turell dialed his cell phone.
“Hello?” It was a whisper.
“This is Turell Smitt from Eagle Rental. I’m here with the replacement car.”
“It’s about time. Where is it?”
“By Sears. Are you still at the Gap?”
“Yes, but we’re boxed in and they’re getting closer. You have to draw them away.”
“I have to…” This was getting better and better. “How should I do that?”
“I’m no zombie expert, pal. Just get it done,” said Mr. Harper.
“I’m not an expert, either,” said Turell.
“Maybe not,” said Mr. Harper. “But you’re the replacement guy, and until my butt’s in the seat of the car, your job isn’t done. Besides, I’ve got a couple kids and their mom here, too.” He hung up.
“Okay,” said Turell. “How do we get there?”
David showed Turell a map and pointed to some back hallways.
“Wow, this is like an old castle with hidden passageways.”
“You now what else it’s like,” said David. “A modern mall with security access halls.”
The words deserved sarcasm, but Turell was certain there wasn’t an ounce of irony intended.
David followed the access halls with his finger. “I can get you as far as the food court. I wanted a calzone anyway.” He took Turell through a side door to the management offices, then a backdoor into the service hall. At the end, he opened the door. The food court was trashed but empty. He needed to get to the corridor where the Gap was the first store past JC Penney on the right.
Turell called Mr. Harper. “Are you ready?”
“More than ready. They smell us, I’m sure of it. You’ve gotta do something now.”
Turell explained where the food court’s passage door was and let him know a distraction was imminent. He left David to grab his calzone and peered through the glass front at JC Penney as he trotted by. Shadows moved in the back. The Gap was even worse. He could see more shadows and the occasional wandering zombie. “Here goes nothing.”
Turell smashed the tire iron into the window front, but it bounced off and only slightly chipped it. He bounded into the entrance and smashed the glass counter, which did the trick. The zombies roared and trudged toward Turell, faster than he expected. He figured he could outrun them, but he had to get them well past the food court.
He lured them to Macy’s where he intended to bring them to the back of the store, then circle around out the other mall-side entrance to return to the food court service door, but another group of zombies poured out of Macy’s. He slid to a stop, almost colliding with the one in front. If he continued around them down the corridor, they would cut him off from the food court and trap him between this mob and the first one he saw when he came in by Sears. The stores on either side were too small to duck into without getting himself cornered. He had nowhere to go.
He looked back to see a man with two children and a woman sneaking out of The Gap. Turell had to get these zombies farther away to give them the space to run for it. Turell dangled the keys in front of him, and the man nodded in recognition. Turell then threw the keys back toward the food court where Mr. Harper could retrieve them, threw up his arms, yelled like a mall rat fighting over an Adele T-shirt, and ran around the zombies by Macy’s toward Sears. He’d gone a hundred feet when the zombies at the other end appeared, closing in upon him.
About half way between the two hordes he stopped, waving the tire iron ineffectually. “I guess I’m taking one for the team,” he said. The sound of a vehicle rumbled through the corridor, disturbing the zombies and slowing them down, but only for a moment.
The FJ Cruiser roared down the corridor from the Sears side and smashed through the back of the horde, scattering corpses and pushing a few past Turell until they tumbled off onto the floor. The Toyota turned back toward Sears and the driver’s side door popped open. “Get in!” yelled David as he scooted to the passenger seat.
Turell climbed in. A man, woman, and two children huddled in the back. “Mr. Harper?” asked Turell.
“Yeah. Get the hell out of here, now!”
“The customer’s always right,” said Turell. He floored it.