Silence. Wait—not quite. There was something… a humming? Was someone humming? Who was that? Was it even human? Or was it his imagination—no—wait—it was definitely a person. But where are you? Where have you gone? I can hear you, but I can't find you! Come find me! I'm here, I'm here, I'm here!
He moved blindly through the darkness, trying so hard, so damn hard to find that gentle noise, that little hum of life in all of this godforsaken darkness. His hands lifted, shaking, reaching out and grasping through the ink-like abyss, feet shuffling but making no noise. Where are you? Where are you!
But there was nothing. No one. He moved endlessly through the darkness, hands grasping so desperately for anything, mouth working, weeping so badly that it hurt to breathe. Hurt to live. Hurt to survive.
Please don't leave me! Don't leave... I can't do this alone. Please…come find me… Hold me and protect me, because I can't hold on much longer all on my own.
Ellis jerked slightly, eyes fluttering opened, heart pounding in his chest. He took in a startled breath before slowly relaxing his tensed body. He blinked out into the dim light. It was dark, but nothing compared to that darkness in that nightmare. Yeah… nightmares… he'd be having those a lot lately. He probably should be use to them by now... But never in his life had he been plagued by such haunting dreams. Such terrible, awful dreams… They were so real…
The young man shifted onto his elbows and squinted around. His companions—all three of them—were still sound asleep. He envied him… It would be nice to be able to just pass out and give in to all the exhaustion… just sleep and wake up with a fresh start… But he hadn't been able to do that. Not for weeks now. As of lately, the moment his eyes closed it seemed the nightmares would begin… it was maddening. Just… maddening. He wasn't sure how much longer he could endure it.
Ellis let out soft sigh before inching himself onto his back again. He searched the ceiling wordlessly. He was tired, really tired, but he couldn't force his eyes shut. No matter how badly his body—his mind—craved rest he just couldn't make himself close his eyes. He never would have imagined that one day he'd grow to fear his own mind.
And as the days went on and his sleep became less and less, it was growing increasingly harder to keep up the act of the enthusiastic optimist. But he knew better… He wasn't stupid… He knew that likelihood that they would—any of them—would survive was decreasing day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute… But he had to keep smiling—if not for himself, then for the others. The needed that little ignorant kid from Georgia, that little boy that would just reassure everyone that one day soon everything would be okay. But the doubts… they were overwhelming.
Ellis rubbed his tired eyes, letting in a shaking breath. It was just becoming so god damn hard. So fucking hard to smile.
"Hey… You're awake?" It wasn't really a question, more of a statement. That was just the way Nick was. The conman half-glanced to Ellis as he adjusted his collar and then he smoothed out his ruined suit. Despite the state of the badly soiled clothes, he still looked so god damn cool doing it. The man ran his fingers through his hair and slicked it back obsessively. Yeah, he was still as smooth as ever. Zombie apocalypse or not, Nick was still Nick. "This becoming a habit?"
Maybe Ellis should have been flattered that Nick had noticed that he had been awake before everyone else consistently as of late. He was typically the last to rise and it often took a bit of an effort to wake him. Lately that hadn't been the case. Funny how you could change so damn much in such little time. The mind was a terrible thing sometimes.
The older man was starting his morning ritual—check, double check and triple check each of his weapons, load them to the maximum and begin the tedious task of dividing out the ammunition between the four Survivors. No one ever complained or questioned why Nick had decided to take that position. He did it well… It was probably his OCD that made him so good at it, but hey, it kept the conman occupied and usually kept his mouth in check—unless, of course, he found the need to bitch and moan about lack of supplies (which he often did come to think of it).
The audible sound of the magazine clicking into place as Nick reloaded was almost deafening in the silence. Nick again half-glanced to Ellis, one eyebrow raised questioningly but he didn't say anything.
Jesus… What did he want to say again? Hey, Nick, how do you sleep at night? What do you think of before you close your eyes? What makes it easier? Do you have nightmares too? I can't stop having them…
"What, Overalls?" Nick's voice was laced with annoyance.
Ellis shook himself from his thoughts. "I…uh… nevermind. It's nothin'."
"Don't sound like 'nothin'," Nick replied, heavily emphasizing the last part in his badly stereotypical southern accent. "But, whatever." Nick shrugged. "Are you just going to lay there all day or are you actually going to get up and do something helpful?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry." The young man grudgingly got to his feet. God damn did his eyes ache. Felt like sandpaper whenever he blinked. And his throat was dry. Be nice if he had something to drink. Or eat. That'd be nice… real nice. Ma's cookin' would be the best right now though. What he wouldn't give to just be back home on a Sunday evening… Just him and his Ma. It'd be mostly him talking and her smiling patiently and listening… but that always seemed all right—for them both. She just loved to listen to his stories, and god did he love telling them.
Man… it's been so long… so long since he last sat down with her for dinner. How long has it been, Ellis? Too long, Ma… Too god damn long…
Suppressing a sigh Ellis did his best to help Nick sort the ammunition. Had he been paying attention he may have noticed the conman's worried frowns.
He had to admit, at first the swamp had been pretty cool. However it lost its huzzah after a measly day—if even that. Hell, it'd probably had only been half a day later that Ellis decided he had had enough swamp to last him a lifetime. The smell he could handle. Everything about the swamp was annoying now. From the awful humidity, bugs, the swamp life—including zombies now (and mudmen)—the constant wetness—oh, right, and the inevitable ankle twisting and knee jarring trek through the dangerous terrain. He probably had more bruises and sprained limbs in the last half day than the last few months.
Call him clumsy, but Ellis would have sworn he had seen the others struggling through the water just as much as him—maybe they didn't actually fall into the water like he often did—but, still. That at least was a little comforting. Even though he was running low on sleep it seemed that it was pretty unnoticeable. At least the swamp hid his clumsiness… he couldn't decide if that was a good or bad thing.
But—oh shit—Ellis foot sunk in a particularly deep patch of muck and he attempted to yank his foot free. He failed, miserably. Hands clutching his weapon he tried to take another step to reorientate himself but his foot simply refused to cooperate. Instead of recovering he found himself throwing his gun in a desperate attempt to catch himself before he found himself gulping swamp water again. But it was fruitless. He felt his knee jar painfully and his leg buckled involuntarily under the painful shift of weight. He clawed desperately at the air and then—splash. And he was under water again. God damn it.
Coughing and sputtering Ellis found his footing and stood quickly. He shook his arms of the moss and other questionable things sticking to him, choking on the smell, face twisted with misery. God damn it, he could probably cry. Didn't help that somewhere behind him he could hear Nick laughing. Obnoxiously.
"Jesus Christ, Ellis, that's got to be the fifth time I've seen you go completely under." Even though Coach was typically a good natured man at heart, he was trying hard to stifle his laughter—at least he was making an attempt, unlike a certain conman that continued to laugh outright.
"Leave the poor kid alone," Rochelle said, doing well to not laugh herself. "Ellis, are you okay?"
"Yeah… I don' know where my gun went through." Ellis reached up to pull off his cap and ran his fingers through his disgustingly wet hair. Aw, man… he was going to be smelling like Swamp until the day he died… which, when you really thought about it, might not be so far from now. Ellis shook himself. Nah, man. Keep your head up. Everything'll turn out all right.
"Here kid," Nick shuffled through the thigh-deep water and stuffed a pistol—the one that he so meticulously cared for—right into the southerner's hands. "Double wield until we find you a new gun. And don't you dare get that wet."
"I ain't gonna promise I won't," Ellis said, smirking slightly. "But, thanks man." Ellis was touched—actually touched by this gesture. Nick was so damn… protective over his guns… the fact that he—
"Right. If you go down, I fully expect to see those pistols high and dry above your drowning head." Oh, right. Nick was still Nick. Guess he should have known better.
"I'll be sure ta do tha'," Ellis replied drily.
Rochelle rolled her eyes, butting in, "Don't you listen to him, Ellis. Nick is an asshole."
"It is my life goal to make everyone around me more miserable than I am," Nick agreed. He sounded so damn smug about it too— he probably meant it.
"Yeah, well, ya go fer me more often than anyon' else. Ain't jus' me here ta make miserable, Nick." There was an edge to his voice—a tiredness, maybe even a hint of venom. He liked Nick, he really did. He liked that despite always poking fun at him, Nick was genuinely looking out for him (case and point with the pistol). He was aways there for him… At least, when it came to zombies. But sometimes Nick was so god damn insensitive… It was almost easier to just keep his mouth shut and just take his insults instead of trying to give a witty comeback. He wasn't good at that stuff—couldn't think of things right on the spot like Nick could. Ellis was pretty damn sure he could never win a battle of words with Nick.
"Well, your cheery outlook is just a bulls-eye right on your back," Nick chuckled.
Twitch. Ellis felt one eye spasm violently. His breath hitched in his throat and he gripped both pistols in his hands.
Yeah, but too bad this cheery exterior is crackin' like fine china, Nick. An' once it's dead an' gone, it's gone fer good.
"What?" Nick asked.
"What?" Ellis replied instantly. Holy shit. Did he just say that out loud? Sure as hell seemed like it. Nick was giving him an intense stare. Ellis looked everywhere but those piercing eyes… God damn, Nick could be pretty intimidating. He didn't even have to say anything. Just look. Just fucking look at him and he felt like he was about to spill his soul to him. Not that he'd would have minded telling him… but Nick didn't seem to be the kind of guy to really care. And Ellis would be damned if he were going let his bleeding heart make a fool out of him. There was no reason to confess his failing heart to Nick. Nick didn't want to hear it. That Ellis was sure of.
"Thought you…" Wait… was that a hint of concern…? For some reason, Ellis felt his heart skip a beat.
God, please. Jus' ask. Ask me if I'm okay, ask me if I need ta talk, 'cause I do, Nick. I really fuckin' do. I don' even care if ya jus' laugh or say nothin' at all. I jus' really need ta talk… I jus' need ta sort all these thoughts in my head… So please… Jus' please… Ask me if everythin's all right…
"Nevermind." The lingering look Nick gave him betrayed him, but even still, that look of concern wasn't enough.
"Right…" Ellis' heart plummeted in his chest, to a point that it just hurt to breathe. Just like how it always ended in his dreams. There was a weight crushing him. Just crushing, crushing, crushing. If that weight wasn't lifted, his heart might just be inclined to stop all together.
…That thought was starting to seem not so terrible.
The body grows tired when no sleep can mend it,
And time has chased and killed all of our friends…
There's no place left in the sky for them to send us to.
A/N: Last three lines are from the song "Go Find Yourself a Dry Place" by Bright Eyes (I think I have an unhealthy obsession with Conor Oberst ;;)
I've had this idea in my head since Hell on Earth back this summer… but I wasn't sure how I felt about toying with Ellis' seemingly indomitable persona. I feel like I'm treading dangerous waters messing with his personality like this… but I kinda want a challenge. Try to make this work. It'd be easy to replace Ellis with Nick… But, hell, I've already written Nick with mental issues. So… Ellis, ya get to be my little project.
Not sure how long this will be, no promises… Started it on Swamp Fever (God knows why) but I doubt I'll go chapter by chapter of each campaign since… in reality I don't have the time or patience (thanks Uni, for taxing my creativity). So… we'll see where this goes. I probably can't keep up my one-a-day chapter update, since school practically saps my will for life.
Also, in the future I hope to explain why Ellis has no desire to go to Rochelle or Coach for comfort. Right now I couldn't figure out how to fit it in smoothly, so I suppose as the chapters move on it'll explain it more. From my understanding, Ellis sincerely looks up and marvels Nick, always trying to get his attention, approval or comments on things. He seems to greatly ignore Rochelle and Coach in those aspects.
BTW. That mean's this'll be a Nellis fic.