Disclaimer: I don't own Left 4 Dead 1 or 2.
Christopher Nielson stood on the shore next to his wife, Amanda, and stared out at the broken skyline. What had once been a quiet North Carolina city was now a ruin. Dust and shadows were all that remained of their world, their home.
This was what Christopher knew:
It had been two months since the first outbreak, if the transmissions on the radio were to be believed. During the first week, Christopher acted much like the rest of the nation had; he had done nothing, expecting it to be another scare tactic by the media. Then everything had gone straight to Hell, and Christopher had taken his wife and fled the city on his private yacht.
Three weeks in and the military had abandoned the mainland. Christopher heard this over the radio, and stayed on the water. There they had lived, for over a month, until they had run out of supplies. When they dared a trip back to the city there were no people to be found. The yacht had run aground on the shore and toppled, leaving them stranded on the beach.
There was nothing more to be done. They would not be able to get the yacht back into the water. The only thing they could do now was move on.
So Christopher stood, gazing at the city, wondering where to go first. He had once been the head of a veterinary drug company. Now he figured it didn't matter. His graying hair was cropped close to his head and his blue eyes were shrouded as he glanced over to his wife.
Amanda looked back up at him. She was tall and slim, brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her arms were crossed over her chest; fear had entered her eyes. Both of them were wearing the heavy jackets with his company logo on it, jeans, and tennis shoes. Amanda shifted her feet in the sand.
"Chris," she said. "I don't want to go into the city."
"We have to," Christopher said, looking back out towards it.
Amanda had always been a serious person, levelheaded and kindhearted. She'd been blessed with a good life. Now there was nothing in the world that could have prepared her for the strife ahead.
"Do you think it's true?" she asked suddenly. "They were talking about... infected people. Like... zombies."
"I hope not." Christopher glanced back at the toppled yacht. "Besides, honey... zombies don't exist."
They stood for a few more minutes. The shoreline was silent but for the growl of the ocean. Ahead of them the city sat like a damaged watercolor painting, unmoving.
Above them, the sun was high in the sky.
Christopher and Amanda started off then.
It had been less than a mile when they saw their first dead body. A woman, curled into herself, on the roadside into the city. Her face was covered in blood.
Amanda had been less startled than he thought she would be, but his stomach turned at the sight and he had to look away.
"Just keep walking," he said.
It was not the last body they would see. The dead were everywhere, piles of them in some places, scattered like broken toys in others. Amanda skirted around them, horror etched upon her face.
The silence consumed them. Everywhere there were empty houses, abandoned cars. Christopher thought they might be the only ones in the entire city. He took Amanda's hand and they went into the streets. A sickly-sweet smell filled the air, mixed with the smoke. Streaks of red over every object they could see.
They had been walking only two hours. Amanda was sobbing, covering her mouth with her free hand while Christopher tugged her along, face set and stubborn.
"We gotta keep moving. Don't look."
There was nothing left.
Two months was all that had passed, and it might as well have been a year. This was not the city he had grown up in, bereft now of its noise and warmth, a wholly different place. Christopher swallowed and tried to quell the vomit rising in his throat.
When they came upon the corpse of a man whose head had been shattered with the force of some powerful blast, painting his insides all over the window of a toy store, Christopher had to stop. There hadn't been much food in his stomach but it ended up on the ground, and he stood over his knees and dry heaved for what felt like hours. Amanda stood next to him in silence. He could hear her crying, but she hadn't said a word since they'd left the yacht.
Eventually, the time came for them to move on, and they did. The terrifying images of the corpses were only replaced by ones much worse than the last.
Christopher didn't know how long they had been wandering, but the light of the sun was beginning to wane when Amanda pointed out a sign. It was spray-painted on the side of a white van-- the image of a cross inside a house, and an arrow pointing down the street.
"It might mean safety," Christopher said, clutching Amanda's hand tighter. His own voice sounded unknown to him in the stuffy silence.
He led her down the street, where more signs pointed out their path. They came to an apartment building that had been fortified with a heavy steel door, and bars over the windows. Christopher looked inside and saw only shadows. There was a final sign next to the door beckoning them to enter.
When they walked inside, Amanda found a bar that had been used to lock the door shut.
"Wh-why would anyone need this?" she asked. Her first words roughened her voice. "Why would someone need to barricade themselves inside?"
Christopher shook his head, unsure of the answer. He found a battery-powered lamp on a nearby table and turned it on. The warm orange light filled the room, a strange juxtaposition to the emptiness of the streets outside.
Almost immediately he saw the scrawled writing on the walls, and Amanda stood next to him, reading them aloud.
"The infected are not your friends. Kill on sight. Military evacuating up north. Can hear the helicopters. Avoid the sewers." Amanda was shivering. "What does this all mean, Chris?"
"Maybe..." Christopher swallowed and rubbed his eyes. "Maybe you're right. The infection... it really did make all the people crazy."
"Is that... is that why they're all dead out there?" Amanda's voice was barely above a whisper. "Were they infected?"
Christopher just shook his head again. The mural of writing continued down the wall. Most of them suggesting to head north up the coast. Some of them from other people trying to get in contact with loved ones. Amanda followed him as he walked along the wall, flicking his eyes over the multicolored writing.
"Look," she pointed down at one near the floor. "This one is from a few days ago."
"Ellis, Coach, Nick," Christopher read aloud. "Waited two days. Where are you? HEAD NORTH. Rochelle."
There was more. Someone else had written below her note.
"GUYS. IF YOU CAN READ THIS, KEEP GOING NORTH. WE WILL MEET UP WITH EACH OTHER. ELLIS."
"followed the coast north! waited here for a day. no sign of anyone coach."
Amanda bent down and looked closer. "It's dated for today. There are people still alive out here!"
Christopher frowned. "Sounds like they got separated somehow."
"Maybe we can find them," Amanda said. "Maybe they can help us."
"I hope so," Christopher muttered, glancing around the room. "Do you want to keep moving?"
"Yes," his wife replied. "Yes. I do. I don't want to stay here."
"It's getting dark. I don't know if I want to walk around in the dark."
Amanda screwed up her face a little in anguish. "Please. Let's just go."
Christopher sighed. "All right. Come on."
"Wait. Look at this," Amanda said next to him, halting and pointing down at a table. There was a pistol here, gleaming in the light of the lamp. She looked over it uneasily. "Do you think we should take it?"
"I've never fired a gun," Christopher told her, but he took it anyway, stuffing it in the pocket of his jeans.
They turned off the lamp and continued through the backdoor. The sun hadn't quite set yet, filling the streets with a strange gray light. Christopher led Amanda through a park, and a playground. He tried not to think about the still forms that lay in odd positions in the grass.
Then, out in the dark, there was a sound.
"Listen," Amanda hissed, stopping him.
It was a soft popping sound, as if echoing from miles away.
"Gunshots," Christopher exhaled. "Those are gunshots."
"It could be those people. The ones from that barricaded room."
He was hesitant. "If they have guns, I don't know if I want to meet them."
Amanda glared at him. "You have a gun."
"But I'm not using it! Come on."
They kept going. Somehow the street lights were still operating, and they walked from post to post, holding hands tightly and staying where it was lit.
Christopher had led his wife around a corner when a soft growl came to his ears. His heart leapt up into his throat and he skidded to a halt.
"What is that?" Amanda asked, panicking. "What is that?"
Out of the mixture of shadows and moonlight a form came stumbling. A person.
"Hey!" Amanda yelled.
Christopher hushed her and pushed her behind him, yanking the pistol out of his pocket. The person looked over at him, head lolling awkwardly, a groan coming from its lips.
It shifted on its feet, and charged at him.
Christopher pulled the trigger on the pistol but it stuck, and after a second he realized the safety was still on. He found the switch and lifted the gun again, firing twice.
The person stumbled, muttered something unintelligible, and toppled over.
Amanda was hyperventilating behind him. "Oh my God, Chris."
"It's okay," he said, although he wouldn't stop shaking and the pistol threatened to slip from the sweat on his hands. "It's okay. It was infected. It was infected." He wiped his face and put the gun back in his pocket. "He was going to attack us. I had to."
"I know," Amanda said, but she was crying again.
Christopher took her hand again and they were off. It didn't take them long to find the red door of another safe house.
"Let's stay in this one," Amanda told him. "I don't want to go on in the dark anymore."
Inside, there was a lamp similar to the last. Christopher lit it and sat down in a nearby rocking chair while Amanda tried to collect herself next to him. He had never killed anyone before, unless he counted the drugs he sold to veterinarians for euthanasia. No, that didn't count. These were people. People. With lives and family and pets of their own.
"I'm scared," Amanda cried softly.
"I know," Christopher said, trying to sound stronger, for himself more than her.
They clung to each other in the rocking chair, listening to the quiet in the city outside.
Christopher woke up, not quite knowing how he'd fallen asleep. Amanda was curled in his arms, and they were stuffed in a chair too small for the two of them. Carefully, he settled her down in the chair by herself while he stood up with a stretch. The pistol was still in his pocket and they were still in the city.
Somehow, he was hungry, and he found a box of fruit bars in a kitchen. He ate one while staring at the graffiti on the walls. More warnings of infected, of 'zombies.' It made him shiver.
One of the last ones was dated for two weeks ago. Next to it was one from yesterday.
"NICK I HOPE YOU FIND THIS BECAUSE IF YOU ARE DEAD I WILL BE MAD. ROCHELLE COACH AND I ARE GOING NORTH, WE CAN NOT STAY IN THE CITY. KEEP GOING MAN. DON'T LET THE ZOMBIES KILL YOU. ELLIS."
Christopher sighed as he read the note, looking back at his sleeping wife. If north was where these other survivors were heading, then he would be going that way, too.
He found another note, hastily written.
'nicholas. we are leaving this for you. i know you need it. GO NORTH! coach.'
Beneath the note was a cardboard box. Christopher reached over and pulled it towards him.
"That's not ours," Amanda said suddenly from behind him.
Christopher started and looked at her. Apparently she'd risen without him realizing it. "What?"
"The other survivors left that for their friend."
"Well, we need it more," Christopher snapped, while she let out a small huff of irritation. He pulled the box open. A sheet of paper was folded and set on the top. When he opened the paper, a second piece, thick and laminated, fell out. It was a map of the East Coast, with an 'X' just above the state line of Maine.
Amanda bent down and picked up the first sheet.
"'Nick'," she said aloud, "'follow this map. This is where the safe zone is supposed to be. You are more of a fighter than any of us and if we can get there so can you. Ellis found some ammunition for your sniper rifle if you still have it. I know how much you-'" Amanda paused. "It's been scratched out. Oh, here we go-- 'We miss you. I'm sorry about what happened on the bridge. Just know that we haven't forgotten about you. We WILL SEE EACH OTHER IN MAINE. I PROMISE. Rochelle, Ellis, Coach.'"
Christopher listened in silence, digging through the box. Inside he'd found two heavy boxes of ammunition, along with a set of clean clothes. Beneath that he found a first aid kit, and a few other menial things. A bar of soap, a pack of cigarettes.
Amanda bent down and took the map from his hand, folding it neatly back into the paper.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm putting it back. It's not ours."
"We should take the first aid kit at least," Christopher told her.
Amanda shook her head. "No, Chris."
"Well, I am gonna take it, 'cause it'd be stupid not to, especially if this guy isn't ever going to come for it."
His wife gave him a heated glare. "I can't believe you."
"I'm just thinking realistically, honey."
"You're as bad as the zombies."
"Don't say that. Come on, I'm putting the rest of it back."
Amanda just shook her head and went to the back door of the safe house, glaring out the window. "You're such an asshole sometimes."
Christopher frowned. Honestly, he couldn't see the problem.
They started out through the city late in the morning. It was gutted from fire, rotting like an animal corpse, stripped buildings like ribcages and silent high-rises like teeth. The air smelled like copper and burning hair, and a haze had settled down around them, yellow and thick and suffocating. They had to get out of the city as soon as possible, Christopher thought, or the smell alone would probably kill them.
Amanda kept herself out of arm's reach of her husband, turning her nose up every time he tried to reason with her. She was still sore about the supplies he'd taken, but although he tried his best he couldn't figure out why leaving the stuff would have been better. His job was to take care of her, not someone else, some anonymous survivor that was probably dead by now.
From some strange miracle, they took all of the right alleys and side-streets and avoided the infected, though they could still hear them. Snarls and yelps and gibberish echoed along the buildings, drifted through the air. Every once in a while they would hear a discharging gun, hear the infected take notice and wander in the direction of the noise.
Christopher was glad that his wife wasn't speaking to him at the moment. The silence that came between them only seemed to help as they picked their way to the outskirts of the city.
In his pocket, the pistol was cold and heavy. He kept his hand wrapped around the handle but never withdrew it. After a few hours of walking, stewing in her own anger, Amanda seemed to give up her grudge. She hunkered close, smiled apologetically, and slipped her hand into his free one.
Christopher nodded, kissed her on the forehead.
"We're gonna be okay," he whispered.
They continued on, turning into a street lined with shops and open-air diners. Immediately they froze.
Bunched amongst the tables and doors and parked cars were the infected, some swaying in the sunlight, others ripping amongst each other. There had to have been dozens of them, clumped together tightly like lost, wild animals.
Amanda's breaths came in short little gasps. Christopher tugged her back around the corner.
"Oh God," she was whispering over and over again. "Oh God. Oh no."
A few yelps echoed across the street.
"Did they see us?" Christopher hissed, yanking the pistol from his pocket. "I think they didn't see us."
Amanda was clinging to his arm, panting. "No, no, no..."
Christopher edged around the corner again, peering down the street. One was stumbling around just a few meters away, mumbling something that he couldn't discern.
"Let's go back the way we came," he whispered to his wife.
When they began to backtrack, another came crashing out of an apartment doorway right in front of them.
Amanda couldn't help it. She shrieked.
The answering call was filled with anger and hunger, coming from all directions at once, even the windows above them.
Christopher grabbed her hand, catching her terror-filled eyes with his own. "We need to run."
Feet pounding on the concrete underneath them, they dashed back to the market street. The infected were there, already snarling, becoming louder as they caught sight of them. To his left, Christopher saw a real estate office that had been boarded up with planks. A large metal red door stood out against the wood grain.
It was a door not unlike the safe house they'd first found. He yanked his wife after him and went for it. The infected were on their heels, howling and yapping like animals of an ancient time. Amanda screamed and screamed, but her feet kept moving out of instinct.
Christopher didn't look back at the swarm behind them. He kept his eyes on the red door, his grip hard and crushing on his wife's hand. The empty space between them and the building became smaller, but to Christopher, it felt like he was bogged down in tar. Every shuddering breath he took he knew would be his last.
But death never came. They reached the door, bodies slamming into it from their own momentum, both of them grasping for the handle.
It stuck and wouldn't turn.
"Oh fuck," Christopher yelled, hearing the zombies getting closer, closer, closer. He yanked hard at the door. Amanda wailed, deep and primitive, clawing at the barred window. "Open, open, for God's sakes, open!"
A snarl came just behind his ears and his panic turned into screeching, babbling prayers to God, to Jesus, whoever and whatever could help him, if only they would help him.
And then, salvation. The door swung open and they both fell face first at someone's feet. Christopher was still praying, unsure whether they'd landed in front of a zombie or someone else, but he got his answer when he heard the earsplitting bang of a rifle being fired above him.
It fired again and again. Christopher's ears were ringing, but he was scrambling to get away from the noise, from the animals coming after him. He crawled behind the receptionist's desk in front of them, dragging his shrieking wife with him. Together they huddled underneath it, clinging to one another. Amanda was sobbing, hands gripping painfully to his upper arms.
Through the static and his wife's wails in his ears he heard the door being slammed firmly shut and locked. The sounds of the infected seemed to dwindle. He heard approaching footsteps and couldn't look up for the trembling in his limbs. He rubbed Amanda's back, hushing her through numb lips, although both motions were useless.
Within his line of vision he saw the black barrel of a rifle swing into view.
"You guys ever see a zombie before?" came a voice, older and male, smooth and calm.
Christopher was blinking tears out of his eyes, his brain finally piecing together that this person had saved them, and that they were, more or less, safe. The gun's barrel glinted in the partial light of the office. The owner tapped him with it.
The barrel was warm.
"Is she okay?"
Amanda was beginning to calm down, sobs turning into huge sucking gasps for air. She was shaking her head over and over, fingers twisting in her hair. "No, no, oh God," she was whispering.
Christopher slowly looked up as he wrapped his arms around his wife. Their savior was a tall man, probably in his mid-thirties, wearing jeans and a hooded jacket. Dark hair swept back out of his slightly stubbled face. Christopher saw a series of scars across his forehead, ending near a milky left eye. The other was a dark, dark green. In one hand the man held a black rifle; it was sleek, scoped. He had an impassive look on his face as he stared at them.
"What the hell are you doing out here? The military abandoned the mainland weeks ago," the stranger said, leaning back against the wall behind him.
Amanda was recovering faster now, and was able to formulate more than a few words at once. She twisted her head in Christopher's arms and looked up at the man. Very quietly, she said, "We were on our yacht. It ran aground."
The stranger looked incredulous. "A yacht?"
Christopher nodded, looking up as he began rubbing his wife's shoulders, holding her close to his chest. "We went out to the ocean when we heard about the illness... ended up staying out there."
"For eight weeks?"
The man ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "That's pretty insane." He slung the rifle over his shoulder and shrugged. "Welcome to Zombieville, I guess," he muttered.
Amanda began feeling better. She detached herself from her husband, rubbing her face hard. "I think I'll be okay. Hard to catch my breath."
"We're fine," Christopher told her, shaking his head. "We're fine."
The stranger watched this exchange with little interest before stepping forward and offering Amanda a hand. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. "You two," he started, leaving the husband to pick himself up, "need to find some guns."
"We have a pistol," Christopher spoke defensively, before he realized he'd lost it sometime in the mad scramble to get away from the infected outside. "Had... a pistol," he muttered.
"There's a shotgun in the back room. You could take that."
"I can't shoot a shotgun," Christopher shook his head again.
The man raised an eyebrow. "You might want to learn, buddy." He shrugged again. "Well, good luck," he said, before disappearing into the back office.
"Ph- wait!" Christopher called, following after him, Amanda close behind. "Where are you going?"
The stranger didn't pause. "Well, I thought I'd head downtown. Have lunch with some old colleagues. Stop at the mall, pick up somethin' for the family."
Amanda stared after him, jaw dropping open. "What are you talking about?"
"It was a joke," the man stated, lifting up a duffel bag from the floor and slinging it over his shoulder with the rifle. He offered them little more than a quirk of a smile. "The shotgun's over there. Later." Then he opened the back door and was gone.
The husband and wife looked at each other wildly before scrambling after him. Christopher paused at the door, looking back at the shotgun. He hesitated for only a second before jogging back and grabbing it up, then following his wife out to the back.
Chistopher stumbled out and into the bright sunlight. It was quiet. Ahead, he saw the stranger slipping into an alleyway. Grabbing Amanda's hand and holding the shotgun in his other, they ran to catch up.
"Wait, wait," he hissed, trying not to attract the infected. Christopher ducked down the alley and saw him already on the other side, pulling his rifle from his shoulder. "Hey, wait!"
The man looked back at him as they approached, irritation present on his face. "Get lost, you two."
"Wh- you can't just... just leave us here!"
He saw the man flick the safety off of his rifle. "Sure I can," he said, squeezing off of a couple of loud shots into the street ahead as he gazed down the scope with his good eye. "Now stop following me."
"Maybe there's some kind of deal we can work out," Amanda said. "My husband here owns a drug company. We can pay you--"
The stranger didn't look up. He continued to sweep the rifle, seeking out targets through the scope. "You know your money is useless out here, right?"
Christopher came closer. "Can't we just follow you? We won't get in your way."
There was a long moment where the man seemed like he hadn't heard him. Then he sighed, resigned, lowering the barrel of the rifle. "Fuck it. Just stay behind me, alright? I'm not gonna apologize if you run into the line of fire."
"Okay, okay," Christopher said, letting out a sigh of relief. "Whatever you need. Just lead the way."
The man rolled his shoulders and set off again, grumbling under his breath.
Christopher saw a few fresh-dead zombies as they turned into the street. Amanda walked next to him, hand in his, and looked at him with hopeful eyes.
"Stay over here," the man ordered, waving his right hand. "Where I can see you."
Christopher and Amanda hurried to comply. "So are you blind on that side or something?" They kept their voices hushed, trying to not attract undue attention to themselves.
"Does it matter?"
"Well, it's pretty scarred up, isn't it?"
"I guess," the stranger replied, his voice devoid of interest.
"What happened?" Amanda asked, tone innocent.
The man gave them an irritated glare. "I didn't bring you two along for conversation. Shut up."
Christopher looked at his wife, who closed her mouth and screwed up her face a little. She was a woman who was used to getting her way, and it showed in the way she looked at the survivor.
God, but she was resilient. Just ten minutes ago she was shrieking and unable to talk from fear. Maybe she felt better now, being around someone who knew how to use a gun.
That was it, then. Christopher would just have to learn how to use his new shotgun. It was his job to protect her, after all. He was the husband.
Hopefully, they wouldn't have to stick with their new friend the survivor for too long.
Christopher hadn't even asked the man his name.
(A/N: He's exactly who you think he is. Stay tuned.)