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‘Shit, where do we go?’ Sal said.
Monique found the fear in his voice contagious and it added to her worry and terror.
She looked round fast.
‘That record shop is over two floors,’ she said, pointing to one of the stores to their right. ‘We can use it to get downstairs and get away.’
He nodded. His face was drawn, his eyes wide.
She knew how he felt.
She could feel her racing pulse in the back of her eyeballs and in the hollow at the pit of her throat.
‘Go,’ she said, pulling his arm as she ran.
Gunshots raked the shop fronts behind them, taking out the lame and those dumb enough to be left behind by the herd.
They ran into the shop, which Monique had often thought of as a haven from the bullshit of day-to-day life.
It’s another type of sanctuary altogether now, she thought with a grim smile.
The walls of CDs and DVDs, usually so precise and uniform, had been scattered across the floor by the force of the explosion.
The store’s lights reflected madly on the thousands of broken mirrored discs.
I bought most of my CD collection here, Monique thought with a frown.
The place was a part of her life, as silly as that sounded.
To see it like this upset her on some deep, almost primal, level.
Still, to dwell on it now was to invite death.
They ran for the stairs, trying not to slip on the CDs which were scattered everywhere.
The shelves were empty, torn from the walls and tipped over in places.
The neon purple lettering which advertised the various departments of the store were shattered, looking pitiful.
The lights were off on the staircase, the emergency lights that illuminated the rest of the store seemingly not working over here.
A fire alarm’s shrill cry sounded from somewhere downstairs, making them all cover their ears.
They glanced over the edge of the stair rail, not wanting to commit to going down until they knew the coast was clear.
Sal peered carefully over the edge then beckoned them forwards.
He moved halfway down, brow furrowed as he squinted into the darkness.
When he’d seen enough to ascertain that the coast was clear down here too, he waved them forward again.
Their feet clanged on the metal staircase, but the noise was hidden by the blaring of the alarm from here and seemingly every other store on this level.
‘Shit,’ Monique hissed, seeing one of the uniformed men standing behind the checkout in a position which was likely to have caught out anyone running into the shop.
She pulled her husband down.
Her kids shouted in protest.
Again, she was grateful for the alarm.
They hid behind a rack of DVDs, most of which were scattered across the floor.
Her heart pounded in her chest.
She moved along to the left, recoiling in horror when her hand sunk into something warm and wet.
She glanced down to see that it was the riven skull of one of the mall’s customers.
The feel of the congealing blood on her hand made her want to hurl.
Sal saw her plight and wiped her hand onto his t-shirt.
‘Thank you,’ she said, giving him a brief hug.
He winked at her. ‘Hey, this is all gonna be ok,’ he said, smiling a sad smile.
She could see in his eyes that he didn’t really believe this, that he was just putting on a brave face, like she had done with Zeke.
They reached the end of the aisle and crept round the corner.
‘If it comes down to it, I’ll rush him so you guys can get away,’ Sal said, his chest hitching.
Monique shook her head.
‘We might have to,’ he said. ‘Better me than you or the kids.’
She said nothing, just shook her head again.
She fought back tears at the thought of losing him.
They crept through the horror section, keeping low, wishing for the make-believe terror of the movies on the shelves there.
At least there was a pause button for those, so you could grab some reprieve from the nightmare.
This was all too real and seemingly unending.
At the end of the horror section, the aisle split into two.
The service desk was to the left, where the guard stood, a menacingly big assault rifle in his gloved hands.
It was roughly ten feet away.
The doors were to the right, about twenty feet away.
To the right of the horror aisle was empty space.
They could try crawling, but it was highly likely they’d be spotted.
Towards the desk were more displays, leading right up to the luminous purple wood that made up the counter.
‘We need to head that way,’ Sal said, pointing towards the till point.
‘Are you fucking crazy?’ Monique mouthed.
He shook his head. ‘He’ll see us over there cos there’s no cover. Over here there’s cover. We need to keep low, come right up to the desk and move round it out of the doors.’
She shook her head.
‘It’s the only way,’ he said. ‘Look at it.’
She looked, took a full minute to assess the layout of the store.
‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘Shit.’
It took them a few minutes to psyche themselves up for it.
They knew that their lives depended on getting this right.
Sal went first, crawling on his knees, keeping one arm behind him as a barrier between his children and the gunman.
His other arm held the racks for support.
He couldn’t see the gunman, and he hoped the reverse was also true.
They reached the end of the display which showed the DVD special offers.
They still couldn’t see the gunman.
The counter looked close enough to touch, but didn’t actually seem to get any closer as they shuffled forward on all fours.
They were all glancing around, terror hewn into their faces, except for the kids who thought it was some epic new variant on hide and seek.
The display shelving before the counter came with a burst of adrenaline that threatened to petrify them.
‘This is it,’ Monique said.
They all nodded.
Suddenly the world was a blur of light and thunder as the gunman began to unload.
Monique’s wide eyes saw a group of teenagers run into the store.
Within the blink of an eye she had assessed that none of them were her daughter or her friends, but still, she winced and jolted when the gunman’s bullets tore bloody holes in their torsos.
One of the girls fell, the right side of her face a bloody crater that pissed blood all over the central display in the doorways.
The cardboard cut-out of the cast of Star Wars was spattered in gore.
The gunman peered over the desk, close enough for Monique to smell the reek of garlic that seeped out from beneath his helmet.
Holy shit, he’s seen us. He’s gonna blow a hole in our faces just like he did to those poor girls, she thought, her thoughts a spiral of panic.
Sal raised a hand ever so slightly, telling her to stay put.
They couldn’t see any further behind them without turning, and knew that to look round was surely to draw the gunman’s eye to them.
Their eyes were nearly torn from their sockets trying to look backwards.
After an eternity, the gunman moved back.
Sal chanced a look, saw that he had returned to his previous position.
Monique feared the force of her heartbeat would resonate through the wooden counter against which she leant.
She felt dizzy and sick with fear.
Who the fuck has done this to us? She wondered, the thought cropping up, unbidden, in her mind.
She pushed it out; to focus on anything other than getting out of their current predicament was to risk discovery.
‘You ready?’ Sal asked.
She didn’t get to answer as the DVD shelving in front of them tipped over in a hail of shattered plastic.
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