Here's the epilogue chapter. First some angst, then a cliffhanger, and finally an idea from back when this was supposed to be just oddball vignettes that I saved for a closer.

The mall was dark except for pools of emergency lighting that did little except accentuate the dark. The figure flitting down the ring-shaped corridor could barely be seen as she skirted every disk of pallid blue-white light. But when the Wyland gallery was reached, Chacha stepped into the light, revealing the wrenching sight of her face, red with tears and bruised from Krista's blow. "Krista... please," she said in a strangled voice.

The reply came from pitch darkness. "You can't see her," Krista said. "Not ever."

"Is that what she wants?"

"It's what's good for her." After a long pause, Krista said, "Well? Are you going to beg?"

"No," Chacha whispered. "Just- please don't hate me." An equivocal grunt came from the dark. After another long silence, Chacha flitted away, with half-choked, guttural sobs that could be heard long after she faded into the dark.

Austin and Abilene huddled on a couch, with only an EXIT sign for light. Krista stooped to look Abbs in the eye, wincing at a pain in the back. Abbs raised her face ever so slightly from her hands, and Krista extended her arms for an embrace. Instead, Abbs threw her arms around Austin and buried her head in his chest.

Jack Ketch awoke in impenetrable dark. Sitting up, he heard a chorus of guns being cocked and pumped. Austin's voice called out, "Jack Ketch! Can you speak?"

"'Course I can talk," Ketch said between mumbled curses. He swore loudly on running into a wall. "G'me some * light in here!" Outside the dark gave way to gray mist. "You call that light?"

"Ketch... that's the mall entrance. It's wide open, to broad daylight. Ketch... are you all right?"

"All right? Do I sound all right? Bastards... bloody bastards..."

"Ketch! What's happening?"

"Wha's happening? What's happening? I'll tell you what's happening! Those bastards, bloody * bastards..." His voice dropped to a mumble, then rose to a sudden crescendo, "The bastards! They cured me!"


"Okay," Sydney said to Bruce, "how are we gonna do this?"

On the other side of the door, Bruce frowned. "Uh... I guess I could knock." He wrapped twice with his ball prosthesis. "I'm Bruce- uh, well, just Bruce, from the Treasure Island casino. We know somebody's in there! We just want to talk!" Just as he was getting ready to knock the door open, locks and bolts abruptly clicked, and the door opened, to reveal a woman with graying hair.

"You strangers have been making a ruckus," she said scoldingly. "What do you want?"

Something in Sydney's mind snapped. "`Ruckus'? Ma'am, you shot at our men with a slug gun! If we didn't have Kevlar, you could have killed three people! And what the * is going on in here?" He pushed past her

The woman scowled. "Well! If you young men think you can just barge in uninvited, maybe you deserve a few flesh wounds."

"Ma'am, we need to see the premises," Bruce said. She grudgingly stepped aside.

Bruce examined the weapon in plain sight, a rugged old over-under double 12-gauge that looked most ideal for taking down a hippopotamus, propped up against piled water tanks and styrofoam coolers. Sydney went straight to the window and wrenched it all the way open, then leaned out to look down on twenty zombies foraging on a heap of dropped refuse. "What the * were you thinking? That's a swarm-class grouping, and why? Because it was too much trouble to carry your garbage out?"

The woman shrugged. "I'm fifty-eight with a bad back. After the pickups stopped, and the icebox went out, what was I supposed to do?"

Bruce interposed himself between Sydney and the woman. "Ma'am, why are you even still here? At least eight sweeps have gone by here! All you had to do was signal, and they would have taken you to one of the casinos. You could have had running water, power, medical attention, cable TV for cryin' out loud!"

The woman tsked. "Now why would I up and do something silly like that? I'm just fine up here. I have my books..." She pointed to a hoard of ragged romance novels. "I have Milo and Mustard..." She pointed to a cat that was probably alive, and a bird that definitely wasn't. "I see my neighbors all the time... though they don't seem to talk much these days... Why, I even get to watch Jay!"

"Jay?" Bruce said warily.

"Yes," the woman said, leading him to the window. "See?" Among the zombies below was one that bore a casual but readily evident resemblance to Jay Leno.

"Well then, he's canceled," Sydney said, already taking aim. A double tap sent the zombie to the pavement.

The woman gazed for a moment, then turned away with a shrug. "Well, I liked Letterman better."