He stalked down the hallway, through the masses, head held high, eyes sweeping from left to right. People watched him as he made his way toward his target.
They never stared directly. Of course not! No, they would never dare turn and make eye contact. That might draw his interest to them, might cause him to stray from his course.
And that would be bad... for them. He thought as he picked up his pace.
Being late was not an option. The target had a very specific timetable.
The hallway gradually widened into a larger space. The people were thicker here but most of them were sitting at tables, having discussions about their boring little lives. A few glanced at him and lowered their conversation.
He was used to it and brushed it off. There was no time to contemplate what civilians thought.
The target was in front of him.
As he approached the counter, something hit him in the back.
"Hey, look, it's Blart the Mall Cop!" a nasally, cracking voice said, just as the doughnut that hit him slid to the floor. "I got your doughnut for you. All warm and fresh, first off the line! Just like you like them!"
"Blart" was not his name, but he turned anyway.
The owner of the voice was standing with five other teenagers near one of the food court tables. They were the same age as the kids he taught all day. They had the smug, superior smiles all adolescences wore and that, in his opinion, should be slapped off.
God, he hated them.
"Dude," smug teen said, "You got something on your back."
His followers burst into loud horsey laughs.
"But," the little bastard continued, "It goes good with the mustard stain on your front."
Reflexively he looked down toward his expanding gut and there it was: A large yellow mustard stain from the three hotdogs he had at lunch.
He felt his face go as warm as the destroyed doughnut had been.
The other mall patrons sitting at the various tables in the Food Court either turned away, embarrassed for him, or snickered behind their hands and watched.
No respect for authority. He thought hitching up his uniform pants.
"Didn't I ban you from this facility?" he asked the teens. He took a step toward them and nearly slipped on the doughnut. The boys erupted into louder gales of laughter when they saw this.
"You can't ban anyone." their leader said. "I thought that your boss made that clear to all of us, Mitchy" The boy sneered the last part.
Mitch (he preferred Mitchell though no one used it), reached for his radio.
"Go ahead and call," the teen said. "My dad already talked to your boss."
Mike sighed. He should have known. When he had "banned" these boys from the mall, he was "reminded", in front of the little bastards, that he did not have the power to ban them. He spoke to his supervisor, explained that they were hooligans and responsible for more than half of the vandalism, and, he suspected, most of the petty theft. His supervisor assured him it would be taken care of.
He hated this job. He had taken it to supplement his teaching job, to help pay off his student loans. He'd figured it would only be a couple of years, three at the most.
Then there was the divorce. And then he met his fiancée.
She was a lot younger and, well, she put out like a broken candy machine. In fact, she jumped him the first night they met. After that, she never left. It gave him a self-esteem boost to brag about his young, blonde fiancée.
Until people saw her that is.
Still, like he told her (and everyone else), looks didn't matter to him. No, what was important was that he was The Boss, The Man. His ex-wife really took that out of him when she started making a lot more money than he did. She got this idea that since she was making the money, she should be able to use it the way she wanted. She forgot that he was in charge.
As he saw it, she really blew it.
But that was in the past. She was gone and he had a woman who knew her place. Of course, that meant he needed the job more than ever. A girl like her needed to eat after all, and the criminal record kept her (or gave her an excuse) from getting a job.
"Look," he said, trying to sound reasonable and to project that image of authority and confidence that he tried to convince himself he had. "We don't have to do this every day. Just..."
Another doughnut sailed through the air and smacked right on top of the mustard stain.
The boys whooped like howler monkeys and Mitch's hands began to shake. Then they balled into fists.
"You smug little fu-" he began.
A scream tore through the food court din followed quickly by another. At the same time his radio sprang to life with intelligible shouting and static.
He grabbed at the radio, but it slipped out of his hand. As he bent over to retrieve it, the cellphone in his pocket started to vibrate.
What the hell? He thought as a woman ran into him, stepping on his foot with her high heels.
"OW! Damn it!" He screamed but she just slapped at him and ran away with the rest of the crowd.
Mitch stared at the oncoming crowd and raised his hand.
"People!" he shouted over the screams. "Please move in an order-"
A tall man slammed into him, warm, sticky soda spraying out of his mouth and all over Mitch's face.
"Hey man!" Mitch began but stopped as he realized it wasn't soda all over him.
It was blood and it hadn't come from the man's mouth, but his torn open throat.
The man slumped to the ground
Oh my God! What the hell?
Mitch looked at the oncoming crowd. The people coming toward him now were not running. They were ambling, as he had seen a million times in the mall. He called it the "mall walk"- no hurry, no real destination, just walking.
Still... there was something off about these walkers.
As the first few stepped into the slanting light from the skylights, Mitch realized that they were too stiff and dragging their feet. They were also uniformly covered with blood.
Emergency protocols flitted through his mind even as he turned and started running.
Ahead he saw people inside stores pulling down the security gates and slamming the doors.
"Wait! WAIT! Let me in!" he screamed at each store he ran to. None of the doors opened for him.
He began running again and nearly slipped in a pool of blood that spread out into a long drag mark. As he came around the corner, he saw that the drag mark ended at the prone body of a teenager.
It was that smug little bastard.
Despite the circumstances, Mitch smiled.
Fucker got what he deserved.
His smile was short lived as he realized that he was in a dead-end hallway. Down past the last store, The Gap, there was an emergency exit, but Mitch knew that, in direct violation of fire regulations, the door was locked. Too much merchandise going through that door courtesy of assholes like the one on the floor prompted management to lock it down.
Mitch looked around and saw the narrow service hallway that had, once upon a time, contained payphones and now was used as a "hidey hole" for chairs and empty planters.
Hurrying as quietly as he could, he squeezed into the space and crouched down as low as he could. He decided he would wait and sneak out when those... people... were gone.
Mitch had already decided that he was not going to think about what they were. He knew what they looked and acted like, and he just didn't want to think about that. What he decided to do was get out and think about it later.
He could hear more screams. One wailing, high pitched, screech sounded very close. It was cut off with an abruptness that made his bowels want to let go.
Man up! He silently told himself as he squeezed his eyes tightly.
A sound snapped them open again. Holding his breath, he stared at the corner but saw nothing.
Mitch slowly let his breath out and tried to listen over the sound of his own racing heartbeat. The screams continued but they were farther away.
He nearly screamed himself when his phone rang. Fumbling it out of its holster, he saw it was his fiancée. He tried to disconnect the call without answering but accidentally swiped the wrong way
"Hello? Mitch?" he heard his fiancée's panicked voice. "Mitch! You have to come home! There are… people? I don't know, things? And they're trying…"
He hung up without a word.
Nothing I can do anyway. he thought and turned off the phone.
The screaming continued in the distance but over that was a closer sound. It was coming from around the corner of his hallway. It was a dragging, bumping noise. Then, a low moan came from that direction and a shadow fell across the hallway opening. From his place behind a stack of chairs, Mitch peeked out.
One of the… things… was standing in the opening. He… it… was covered in blood and had what looked like a handful of hair. As he watched, it lifted the hair to its mouth. That's when Mitch saw it wasn't just hair; it was someone face and part of their scalp.
It took a bite then dropped the rest to the ground.
Mitch felt hot urine stream down the front of his pants.
The thing sniffed the air and let out another low moan.
Mitch stepped back and nearly slipped in his own piss. He grabbed at the stack of chairs and they shifted.
As the creaking stack fell, Mitch realized three things:
He was trapped.
He was not the bad ass he had always pretended to be.
And he was going to die screaming.