A/N: Here we are again! This chapter took a lot longer to crank out. I've been working odd hours and getting some gardening done. I've also been playing way too much 360.
Oh Jesus Christ Almighty, Do I feel alright? No, not slightly. _ Lily Allen
A breeze tousled Nick's hair as he held the very used axe at his hips, giving his arms a rest while his eyes scanned the warm streets for their fourth member, "Shit I don't see her out here either," he said.
"Don't mean she didn't make it," Coach said, "Might've found another door out. Let's keep an eye out."
Nick sighed, "Bye sweetheart, you could have at least left me your first aid."
Coach glared at Nick but remained quiet as they walked down the street, "I guess we press on to the mall, people," he said.
"Hey you guys I know a gun shop we could stop at," Ellis said, "It's on the way and we could do a lot more damage than we're doing with what we got!"
Neither man protested as Ellis led the way, clearing out the few wandering infected as they climbed dead cars and police roadblocks, "Looks like all they managed to do was set up a death trap," Nick muttered as he regarded the corpse of a woman with half of her face missing through her broken car window. He reached in as his travel companions passed and gently lifted the string of pearls from her neck, "You're a peach, honey," he told the body before pocketing the necklace and hurrying to catch up with Coach and Ellis.
Ellis spotted the man when he caught up, "I bet you're from a big city, Nick. I bet you're from Chicago ain't you? Dressed like that I bet you are, holy shit they got some fancy shit up in Chicago you know like that Museum of Natural History and shit? I never been there but Keith said he seen it once. He said they got horse butchers there, man, really messed up shit. I mean it ain't right eatin horse."
"I don't know maybe you should try it. It's pretty tasty," Nick said.
"Horses are for ridin, Nick. Everybody knows that. Bologna now that's another story. You can't ride bologna or do nothing else with it so eatin that stuff just makes sense. Hey, Nick you're probably some kind of spy or conman right?"
Nick loosened his tie, "Just a tourist, dumb shit," Nick replied, "Nothing but a tourist."
Ellis chuckled, "Naw ain't no tourist I ever seen handle a gun like you do! Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining!"
"Ok fine I play cards," Nick said.
"You know," Ellis said with a strangely serious face, "I play a mean game of Egyptian Ratscrew. We find a deck of cards in the mall and I'll take you on, my friend."
"Let's get to the gun store," Nick said, "I don't have any bullets left to shoot myself with."
Ellis continued as if he hadn't heard, "Matter of fact me and my buddy Keith were playing Egyptian Ratscrew with my friend Dave? Well it was Strip Egyptian Ratscrew cuz. We got Dave to play even though he always told us before that a man oughtn't be hanging things out around a table where people are slamming their hands down on cards. Anyway Dave was losing—I mean all he had was his socks left, real shitty playing—and we kept moving the pile every round a little bit and so the last time Dave leaned across the table to slap, Keith just slams his hand right down on his-"
"Gunstore!" Nick announced, desperate to shut the boy up and point out the building, "I bet it's locked."
"Shit man I hope not!' Ellis said with a frown, running over to try the door, "Hell yeah!" he cried in triumph when the door opened, "There's so many guns," he said as if he was regarding the Mona Lisa, "God damn Beautiful."
Nick smirked and moved around the counter, taking an Assault Rifle off of the wall, "Hello gorgeous."
"Hey Nick your druthers is my ruthers," Ellis said as he picked up an identical gun.
"Excuse me. Would any of you ruffians like to assist a gentleman in a rather troubling situation?"a voice over a loudspeaker called.
Coach looked up and then walked to the communication box near the backdoor, "Hello?" he said into it.
"Hello there! I am owner of this fine establishment! Please take anything that you need but I will ask you for a favor before you move on. There is a very pressing matter concerning my provisions, you see."
"So all we gotta do is run our asses across the street and bring you back some soda. That sounds fair enough in exchange for these sweet fucking guns!" Ellis said brightly.
"There wouldn't be some kind of death trap over there we're going to run into, would there?" Nick asked skeptically.
"That I do not know, my friends, but I can tell you that the road to the evacuation center is blocked, if you're headed that way, you will need my assistance. I have equipment perfectly capable of destroying the blockage."
"So help or rot in this gun store," Nick said, "Sounds fair to me. Just keep your end of the bargain or I won't be in such a good mood."
"Good luck friends. Bring the cola back here to me and I will do everything in my power to assist in your safe passing."
Ellis was first up the stairs when the heavy back door unlocked, and he looked out across the balcony towards the convenience store, "Shit I bet they got Slim Jims in there," he said, licking his lips lightly.
"Pick me up some too, Young'n," Coach said, rubbing his knee, "I better cover you boys from here."
Ellis hopped over the railings of the walkway and jumped down onto the street while Nick followed at a slightly more humble pace, "Be careful," Nick said as they crossed the suspiciously empty street.
"There's a whole god damn display in there!" Ellis said, practically drooling as he pressed his face to the glass, "I can taste those bitches already."
"Just stay focused," Nick said as he reached down and grabbed the handle, opening the door. He winced as the alarm rang impossibly loud into the quiet Savannah heat and the roar of infected echoed all around him, "SHIT MOVE YOUR ASS!" Nick yelled, rushing through the store aisles toward the soda cases. He picked up a six-pack of bottles and hurried back to the front. The infected had just hit the door and Ellis was nowhere to be seen, so Nick began fighting his way outside.
After struggling clear of the store and struggling through waves of the scrambling brainless creatures, Nick managed to climb back up onto the walkway where he passed Coach who had been shooting since the first infected had shown up. He shoved the bottles one at a time through the small slot and then shouldered his own weapon, dropping to one knee to assist in the extermination of the mass. When Whitaker's promised explosion rattled the parking lot, any infected still in the area were either caught in the explosion or thrown to the ground, where Coach and Nick easily mopped them up with gunfire.
"Where's the boy?" Coach asked once all was quiet.
Nick looked around again and felt a pang of panic and then he shook his head, "Fucking kid just ran off. I never saw him come out. Aw, Ellis," he said regretfully.
"God bless that poor boy," Coach said.
Both men stood and looked across to the entrance of the convenience store, where Ellis was standing triumphantly with a bag stuffed full of food, "They had the ones with cheese too!" Ellis called to them.
"You want to shoot him, or should I?" Nick muttered as they started toward the pathway to the mall.
"Not until I get my Slim Jims," Coach replied.
It was a lovely summer day, with long shadows stretching down from the overpasses and buildings; it was fairly quiet, and birds were even singing, although all of this, to Rochelle, seemed rather obscene. She didn't feel like the day should be so beautiful as she struggled against the Smoker's tongue that had constricted and drug her nearly twenty yards. Now she felt like she was the embodiment of the phrase 'beat a dead horse' as she flopped uselessly under each of the Smoker's heavy swiping blows. Rochelle told herself that she should have eaten that Spaghetti Bolognese at the restaurant with Jason instead of opting out for a salad; no one would care how fast it had gone to her hips out here with her corpse hanging from of a Smoker's mouth.
As Rochelle contemplated how long it would take the Smoker to eat her, or whatever it planned to do, a loud crack sounded and she was suddenly on the ground, crying out as it felt like her ribs gave on impact, though they did not, "Oh Christ," she whispered.
"Hey good shot, dumb shit!" Nick said as he pulled Rochelle to her feet, "Hi sweetheart, why'd you run off so fast?" he flirted.
"Oh trust me, never again," Rochelle muttered, but leaned heavily against Nick as he looked over her wounds which were fairly superficial save for the bruises that would rise later from the Smoker's grip, "God damn fire melted my boots," she said.
"You can have mine! I bet they won't fit right but I'll tie em up real tight, miss," Ellis offered, sitting on the ground and unlacing his boots.
Rochelle smiled pleasantly and Nick rolled his eyes, "Thank you sweetie; you don't have to," she said, but sat when Ellis insisted.
"That's real cute but while you ladies have a fashion show I think I'll check up ahead," Nick said, taking a few steps.
"Don't go alone," Coach said, "I'll go too. Can you kids find the Mall in case something else happens?"
"I sure can!" Ellis said triumphantly as he handed his left boot to Rochells, "Hey miss this one time my buddy Keith came to see a horse pull in the mall's parking garage. It's like a tractor pull but with draft horses and Keith he wanted to get up close and see if he could spook one of the horses you know cuz they're so big? And he-" Ellis continued, much to Rochelle's amusement, but Nick and Coach were—happily—out of earshot.
"That idiot's got a hell of a lot of worthless stories," Nick said, half to himself.
"He's a nice kid, and he's a hell of a shot," Coach said, having an obvious soft spot for a boy not much older than those he coached, "Hell I'd rather have a good ole boy with a good shot than a smart scientist with bad eyes, right?"
"I'd like a scientist with bad eyes to shoot at," Nick replied, to which Coach chuckled.
"Hey boys wait up!" Rochelle called, catching up to Nick just as the telltale shriek of another infected horde sounded.
Ellis was about to catch up to the others when he was tackled by a zombie in a blue-ish sweatshirt, and he let out a childish cry of pain and surprise when the monster began to rip at the boy's torso, "HELP!" he called, his eyes wide.
Rochelle shot the monster and the Hunter gave a squawk of surprise before it fell dead beside Ellis, "I got you," Nick said patiently and extended a hand to Ellis, with half a mind to drop the boy.
Ellis rose and hugged Nick tightly around the neck, "You saved my life!" he cried jovially, then moved away and ran off to shoot his way through the horde while Nick hung back in an awkward mixture of intrigue and horror, until Rochelle ran past him and his trance was broken.
"Keep an eye out people!" Coach called to the younger three as he cleared the way to the Mall with the shotgun he'd picked up in one of the scattered CEDA tents as they neared the large evac station, "Start looking for an open door!"
Nick stumbled to a stop when a zombie busted through a large glass door in front of him, "Here!" he shouted, ducking inside and into a room past a heavy steel door with the others on his heels.
"OH MY GOD!" Ellis shrieked.
"I can't believe I didn't know about this!" Ellis said in awe, "Honest to God if Nature would allow it… I would bear this man's child. Jimmy Gibbs Jr is an American hero!"
Rochelle snickered as she sat down and pulled off Ellis' boots, applying some burn ointment to the soles of her feet and trying not to hiss in pain, "I hate fire," she said decidedly, "Ellis sweetie could this wait?" she asked of the boy, who had gone off on a tale about his buddy Keith, "I can see about those scratches."
"Shoot I'm alright," Ellis said, scratching his forehead under his hat, "I'd crawl on my knees all the way to the top floor of this place to see Jimmy Gibbs Jr's car." Ellis removed his hat then and held it to his heart as if he were about to utter the national anthem, or at least some bizarre marriage proposal to the poster of the racer.
"Let the lady look at you, Young'n," Coach said as he sorted through the pile of ammunition on one of the long tables, "We're in for a bit."
"Aw!" Ellis protested lightly, but drug his feet over to sit beside Rochelle.
"Keep your hopes up, dumb shit," Nick said cheerily, "Maybe he's dead or infected and you can take his boots!"
Ellis looked up with wide eyes that threatened to fill with tears as Rochelle gripped his shoulder, "I'm sure he's fine, sweetie," she comforted.
"No competition ever caught Jimmy Gibbs Jr, and no zombie can't neither," Ellis said with a sniffle.
Nick blinked at the triple negative that spouted from the young emotional redneck, "I stand corrected," he said with a smirk, walking over to peer into the dark mall beyond the second heavy door.
Coach moved to join him after a while, "Don't hear nobody talking," he said softly.
"Well how the hell could you with this shit going on?" Nick asked, nodding back to where Ellis was telling Rochelle some drivel about his mother's insistence that Jimmy Gibbs Sr. could have been the boy's father.
"It's true you know," Ellis said, "I got his eyes."
Rochelle looked up from where she was applying a third butterfly bandage to Ellis' chest, "I bet you do," she said with a smile.
It was slow going on the first floor, wading through an ocean of infected, guns blazing and teeth bared like Rambo—at least that's what Ellis was doing, running past, through and over the hordes of infected, "Like a god damn inner city kid at Chuck E Cheese," Nick muttered as Ellis slipped and fell in a puddle of Boomer bile, rising to grin at them stupidly with a small smatter of green on his cheek.
"Hold up Young'n! We ain't all got legs as young as yours!" Coach called as he struggled with Rochelle up the broken escalator past the dozens of fallen bodies.
"Maybe we should stop and find a brace for that knee," Rochelle suggested, "I noticed you favoring it. Did you hurt it in the hotel?"
Coach shook his head, "Old football injury, little sister. I'll be fine."
"How did not I see that coming?" Nick muttered as he passed them on the other motionless escalator.
"I'll be fine," Coach repeated, irritated at the conman's remark, 'It's not far to the evac center anyway, maybe in the food court. I wouldn't mind a little something to eat."
When the three caught up to Ellis he was standing in front of a line of closed gates and trying to work out a way past them, "They're locked," he said, "Just when everything was gettin exciting too now I'm bored."
"Coach give me your keys," Rochelle said, holding out her hand.
"You gonna dangle them in front of him to entertain him?" Nick asked as Coach handed over his keys.
"I assume you've got locker room keys? Which of these?" Rochelle asked, and then knelt when he told her, "A lot of these manufacturers use similar cuts on the keys. The trick is to convince the lock they're the same." She picked the three keys Coach had indicated and put the first against the lock of the gate, running the key against the lock until the metal began to wear away slowly, just enough to allow the key inside.
"And you know this how?"
"I'm with the Press. Unlike the police we don't really need a warrant to get the proof for our stories," Rochelle said.
"Or any proof, for that matter," Nick added cheerily.
Rochelle ignored him, "It doesn't always work and I don't even know if I'm doing it exactly right. My cameraman Jason usually-" She stopped when the key clicked in the lock and the lock fell from the steel circle it held together, "Bingo."
"What do you know about that," Coach mused, taking his keys back and following the others inside, "Aw hell! The Food Court!" he cried in despair.
"Sorry Coach," Rochelle said with a gentle smile, "Maybe the evacuation station will have some food."
"Looks like we go up," Nick said when they came to more escalators, "There's sure as hell nobody down here. I'm starting to think there's nobody up there either."
A/N: Well that was chapter two! I hope it was worth the effort to read! Anyway I know most people don't review unless they're sure the story's actually going to be a story instead of just a chapter, so I hope I've earned your confidence by now and you'll grace me with your lovely reviews. Even if it's just a "Love the story" or "Hate the story", it's better than nothing! Chapter three should be up by the weekend, hopefully