This story is based on the characters from PC/video game Left 4 Dead. It is an original work of fiction that is in no way endorsed by Valve Software. I should point out for anyone who might have concerns about these sorts of things that Valve has a longstanding and uniquely gracious relationship with its fan base. The company has, as a matter of policy, encouraged the creative efforts of its fans. This policy principally involves making available free software development tools to allow fans to create new game content, so long as the end product is not used for commercial gain. But it also includes encouragement of other works of fan art, including fiction. This story was written and is being freely shared in that vein, and I hope I have remained true to the essential spirit of both Valve's creation and their intent to encourage fan participation in expanding the L4D universe.
My first attempt at using this as source material was the short story "The Verdict" (http://zombiehunters.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=113&t=79417
L4D is a cooperative first person shooter set in a zombie apocalypse. The player inhabits one of four sharply-drawn main characters and must work closely with other player characters to shoot their way through a nightmare world teaming with the undead. The game has very little in the way of story or character interaction, so any over-arching "plot" and character relationships are left to the imagination of the game player. Because it influences how this story unfolds, one game convention should be noted from the outset: zombies in the L4D universe are the fast, highly mobile type popularized in movies like "28 Days Later". These creatures are not the shambler type of undead typical of a George Romaro zombie story.
It is the unique cooperative aspect of the game, plus the blank-slate nature of the characters that inspired me to write this story. My primary goal is to entertain the reader, irrespective of whether or not they have ever played the actual game. A secondary objective is to offer up semi-plausible explanations for some of the unique game elements and conventions that characterize the L4D universe. This secondary objective will primarily appeal to fans of the game. To anyone else, those explanations will just seem like another plot point.
A word about the language. I'm nine chapters into this and as I re-read what I've written, I cringe a little over the expletive-laden language I have my characters using. A better writer would come up with less offensive yet still convincing alteratives to words like "shit", "damn" and especially "fuck". Even if that's what the characters would really say. I tried that, but I'm not that good of a writer. My attempts seemed stilted, and rang hollow. They actually just drew attention to the offensive words the character really would have used. So in the end, I decided to just use the real thing. I'm trying to deal realistically with ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances. These people are under extreme duress, and lack the time and emotional energy to filter the language they use to express some very powerful emotions. At my skill level, the real expletives are the only way I can get that across. I apologize in advance to anyone who reads this and thinks "Why can't he tone it down a bit?" I don't mean to offend anyone. I hope you can look past the language and focus on the emotions and actions these characters are feeling and taking.
Finally, I very much welcome feedback, both positive and constructive. If you enjoy the story, please post. Frankly, I need the encouragement to keep going. And if something bothers you about the story or my writing, I want to hear that as well. - MH The Restless DeadChapter One: Locked Out Part 1.When being chased by a bear
, the adage goes, you don’t need to be any faster than the bear. Just a little bit quicker than the other guy.
It’s becoming distressingly clear that I may well be “the other guy”. As I and about a dozen other survivors run panic-stricken towards the trees looming above the far edge of this parking lot, I watch just about everyone else pulling ahead of me. Not too surprising when you’re sixty-six years old, out of shape, with a bad ticker and a pack a day smoking habit. Sweating profusely in a set of ancient army fatigues and a pair of old jungle boots, I'm lumbering along, clutching a time-worn special forces beret tightly in one hand, a baseball bat in the other. It’s a distressing sight to see. Especially when twenty-eight blood-crazed zombies are right behind you.
That was my rough initial count five minutes ago when we first spotted the horde slowly milling past the gates of Tenants Hollow State Forest and Recreation Area. More recently known as CEDA* Designated Evacuation Center 16-N, the sprawling parking area of this state park is where I and forty-two other souls were waiting in a sweltering school bus recently commandeered by CEDA authorities. We were just minutes from getting further away from hell, formerly known as the city of Philadelphia.
The nervous chatter aboard the bus quickly died down when we caught sight of the zeds approaching along the main highway. They likely would have continued on past without ever noting our presence. Except that our bus driver chose that particular moment to emerge from the CEDA evac coordinator’s tent with his route map and rendezvous instructions. Had he simply retreated back into the fabric confines of the tent and waited quietly, he and the evac coordinator would likely still be alive. Instead, he bolted, the sudden movement immediately drawing the attention of the creatures. That he chose to run straight towards the bus packed with his 43 charges, instead of towards, well, anywhere else, ensured that his fatal error would momentarily become an outright slaughter. He led the pursuing horde of undead right to the bus doors. Every one of us inside would have perished had I not gotten the rear emergency exit open. Still, most couldn’t get out before being caught and torn apart by the ravenous zeds surging in from the front of the vehicle.
The chorus of inhuman grunts, groans and hisses behind me is drawing nearer as I overtake a middle-aged woman; overweight and in footwear wildly inappropriate to the task of running for one’s life. She's one of the few surviving evacuees who is even slower than I am. Running awkwardly and wheezing badly, I imagine she now very much regrets all those years of picking clean the half-eaten plates abandoned by her children at the dinner table. We make eye contact as I pull abreast of her on her right. At some point she’s fallen at least once; her hose is torn around the knees, which are bleeding and streaked with dirt. Her face is a mask of terror and agonized exertion; skin flushed, eyes wide, mouth agape. Saliva, snot and tears stream back along her cheeks, mixing together in her sweaty hair, which is plastered to her forehead and temples. She would be disappointed to know that in these final moments of life, she’s definitely not looking her best. I realize I’m likely seeing a mirror image of how I appear to her eyes.
Cinema heroes die with their hair coiffed just so. Complexions are clear with perhaps a modest smudge artfully positioned on a chin or cheek for dramatic effect. And always enough unlabored breath left to quietly deliver a noble soliloquy, reveal some long held secret, or confess a past sin. As in so many other matters regarding death and dying, these past several weeks have taught us that reality is nothing at all like the movies.
In that last second or two before the pursuing zombie latches onto her shoulder, the woman conveys to me with her eyes a plea, a heart-felt request for some kind of assistance, anything that might help to extend her cherished agony just a little bit longer. And when the creature gets a second hand on her, and begins to draw her skidding down into the gravel and dirt, the final look I see is one of startled disappointment. But so soon? I had so hoped for a bit longer.
That’s it then. I’m next. The other fleeing survivors are surging ahead of me, those fleet enough of foot chance a look back over their shoulders. What message do they see, staring back at me? What does the strained face of William Overbeck say in the moments before death? I hope it’s nothing like the look of pathetic resignation I saw in the eyes of that poor woman.
I’m going for more of the “To hell with this horseshit, anyway” look.
* * * * *
The woods are the one place where I feel at home, in amongst the trees and the undergrowth, alone with only the wildlife for company. It is here that I come closest to finding a kind of inner piece.
Today this state forest offers more than a refuge from old memories, more than a salve to the weary soul. Today the sanctuary afforded by these trees has been of a more immediate sort. Reaching that treeline and entering this state forest just ahead of my pursuers, experience and half forgotten training reached across the years, offering the kind of assistance that I could not provide to that unlucky woman. Forty years ago it was a different hemisphere, different environment. A different lifetime. The setting and the foliage have changed, but the principles are exactly the same.Evade. Elude. Misdirect. Hide and maneuver, hide and maneuver. Employ cover, seek concealment. When necessary, surprise and ambush.
Here in the woods, I am not just at home, I am in my element.
* * * * *
I spend most of the day working my way through the state forest, east towards the highway, where I know there will be business parks, office buildings. And hopefully fewer zeds. I have to find some someplace secure to spend the night. The baseball bat I’m carrying and this pop gun of a revolver I have tucked in my waist are scant protection from these things.
Finally, late in the afternoon, I emerge from the trees; cold, tired and hungry. I’m on high ground, looking out over a broad grassy hillside that descends steeply towards the highway. It’s an office park, the nice kind; what they call a corporate campus. There are two large office buildings, one up here on this height of land, the other down at the base of the hill, close to the highway.
Evidence of business wealth is everywhere: sumptuous landscaping and terraced greenery, paved walkways, trendy stone retaining walls. Trees, shrubs and verdant ivy groundcover artfully arranged on the sprawling grounds. And a grand corporate park drive leading from the highway and past the building down below before sweeping up the hill to the second building, just a couple of hundred yards to my right.
The building below me is older: eight stories of alternating columns of window glass and preformed concrete. I’m guessing circa 1960’s architecture.
The building closest to me up here atop the hill is the more modern of the two; and larger than its older corporate sibling. Only four stories, but it‘s much broader, laid out in a sprawling horizontal orientation that’s become popular in recent decades. It has a totally glass exterior, segmented by narrow vertical and horizontal borders of brushed metal. The overall effect is to make the building look like it’s constructed of individual stacked glass cubes.
Either of these two buildings could offer shelter, food. A place to rest and plan out my next move.
There’s a small rise of land between where I am and the newer building. I cautiously crawl up to the crest to get a better look. As I clear the rise, I get a commanding view of the main parking lot.
What I see spread out before me hits me in the gut like a sucker punch. It is a scene of utter chaos, frozen in a still life.* Civil Emergency Defense Agency. A fictitious government authority that appears to be a amalgamation of real life government agencies FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).