A commotion in the back of the ambulance attracted my attention. In the rearview mirror. I saw his belligerent face appear in the window. "If you want to get your daughter, that's fine, but you have no business dragging us along with you! We should be getting the hell out of town!"
I gritted my teeth, ignoring a flare of guilt. "You don't like it, Roy? Just say the word and I'll drop you off on any corner you like."
He scowled. "Like hell. I'm just saying - who made you captain?"
"Really, Roy, really?" I glared at him through the mirror. "You want to argue about who's the fricking boss now?!"
He had the grace to look a bit shamefaced as he mumbled "Just saying..."
"Stow it, Roy." The bald man beside me said calmly, popping a gum in his mouth. "None of us are going to abandon family."
I glanced at him gratefully as he pulled out his weapon and started loading it. "Last lot." He glanced blandly at me. "I guess I'd better make them count."
As the large shopping Centre loomed a block away, the phone rang. I snatched it up.
"Michele? Where are you?"
Her whispered reply sent cold chills through me. "I'm hiding upstairs in Tosca's, mummy. We can't get to the stairs. They are people...killing people with their teeth!" Her voice broke.
"I'm right there, sweetheart." Did my voice sound as hard to her as it did to me? "Stay out of sight until you hear my voice."
Jim cocked his weapon. "Trouble?"
I nodded. People were pouring out the front doors of the large building ahead. Screams of terror and pain filled the air. Amongst the crowd, I spotted shambling, torn figures grabbing at panicked shoppers. I drove the car screeching up onto the curb, narrowly missing people and zombies alike. Reassuring myself that my trusty stake was in my belt, I flung open my door and took the outside stairs to Tosca's, two at a time.
On the balcony, a zombie held a young blonde girl close, teeth buried in her throat. The blood poured down her dress as she stood in his arms like a lover, the light dimming in her eyes. Two more zombies appeared in the restaurant's doorway, stumbling towards me. One had been a teenage boy before he died and the other would have been a chef. As the freshly dead creatures came towards me, I felt, rather than saw, Jim's comforting presence at my back. "I'll handle them." He murmured. "You get your daughter."
An agonised scream from within the restaurant sent me bolting past the zombies and inside. A woman in a floral dress chewed upon a body beside the door while another zombie sat near the kitchen bench gnawing on the leg of a large male tourist. I looked around desperately. "Michele!"
Another feminine scream sent me running to the back of the Italian restaurant. As I neared it, I saw a zombie tearing at the face of a prone girl. A girl with honey hair. No, no, no!
"Mum!" From behind a pillar, Michele launched herself at me, sobbing. "Mum! It's got Hannah! Help her!"
I gathered Michele in my arms for a brief moment, absorbing the smell of her warm, live body. Thank you, God. Pushing her behind me, I approached the zombie cautiously. I didn't believe the girl was alive anymore, but she had been part of our lives for four years. I couldn't just abandon her. The zombie, a waiter, looked up with its unnervingly blank eyes, blood dripping down its chin.
Something about that impersonal look infuriated me without measure. I picked up a nearby iron-wrought chair and swung it at the monster like I was wielding a baseball bat. It connected with a most satisfying thud, knocking the monster sideways. I brought the chair down on his head again and again. His features became a meaty mash but still I knew he persisted, if not lived.
"Mum!" A squeal of dismay brought me around and I saw Hannah on her knees, face so torn she could not see anything before her. Quickly, I turned back to the zombie before me and, planting my knee in his chest, I ended his miserable existence with a stake through the eye. Swinging around, I grabbed what used to be Hannah around the throat.
"What are you doing?" My daughter's horrified whisper brought me up short. I didn't have time to explain all this to her, but I knew I had to try.
"She's already dead, Michele." I looked her firmly in the eye. "They all are. Take a look around you." Michele looked around and saw the two zombies at the other end of the restaurant as they began to shamble in our direction. The large gaping wounds all over their bodies combined with their complete lack of pain said more than an hour's explanation possibly could have.
"Oh my God." She whispered. While she stared at the approaching creatures, I silently finished off sweet Hannah with an ache in my heart that I feared would never go away. I had watched her grow up, seen her giggle and plot with my daughter, heard her dreams for the future. All ended with a piece of wood through her eye.
Keeping Michele safely behind me, I approached the two zombies slowly. Both were dripping in the blood of their victims. I needed to get us out of the shopping centre as quickly as possible, before the noise we were making attracted all the remaining zombies in the area. I did some quick calculations and then without further thought, launched myself at the nearest zombie, bowled it over, staked it, spun up on my feet, kicked the other zombie over as it started to turn, and despatched it with a minimum of fuss. As I stood up and shook the blood off my stake, I saw my daughter standing it the corner with her mouth hanging open.
A bit discomforted, I muttered a hurried 'come on' and headed for the balcony. From the corner of my eye, I saw the wide-eyed glances Michele was sneaking at me. I could almost hear her thoughts. My mum used to feel faint if she squashed a cockroach and now she's staking humans without blinking! I guess I couldn't blame her. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined I'd be auditioning for the part of an Aussie Buffy, either. But, in truth, after the number of zombies I had faced this morning, it would take more than two or three shufflers to faze me now.
Jim stood calmly within a circle of dead zombies, wiping clean a metal picket he had acquisitioned from the nearby potted tree. I raised a questioning brow, to which he shrugged. "Didn't seem worth wasting my bullets on just a few zombies."
I couldn't help it; I threw my head back and laughed out loud.