Wow, it's been two months since the last update?! Holy crap, I'm sorry about that! I'll take this opportunity to thank everyone for their continued reviews and support, and I hope you all enjoy this latest chapter.
I'm thinking of buying either L4D1 or L4D2 for my PC, and I'm sure updates to this story will happen much faster once I can play again. Does anyone still play those games? I'd totally be up for some multiplayer goodness. I've also heard that L4D2 has pretty much all the campaigns from L4D1 available on it. Is this true? If so, how does it work? Are the original campaigns DLC or something?
By the way, I have heard rumours that Valve is working on L4D3. Does anyone know if this is true? If so, I might have to start rehearsing my happy dance.
Anyway, without further ado...
Part V: Blood Harvest
"No hope, no cure. No problem."
Chapter 59: Hopelessness
Zoey's eyes fluttered open to the sight of sunrays filtering down through the leaves above, casting a beautiful light over the grass upon which she lay. It was so green and soft. The world smelled fresh and beautiful.
The young woman sat up and looked around to find herself lying beneath a lone tree at the top of a small hill. Green fields stretched on in all directions, as far as the eye could see. Birds twittered in the branches overhead.
"Well, well, it's about time you got up, sleepyhead!" a painfully familiar voice rang out overhead.
She looked to see the brunette form of her mother, but she was not as she last remembered her. Her mother seemed younger and more at ease with herself – before the arguments within the family had started, and she became a cold, motivation-driven woman.
"Mum!" Zoey exclaimed. She started to get up, only to stop when she felt her mother gently place a hand on her shoulder.
"No need to get up," she said softly. "Let's sit and listen to the birds for a while."
The two women did just that for what felt like an eternity. Eventually, the girl turned and stared at her mother, as if afraid that she would disappear.
"How is this possible?" she asked quietly. "You can't be here, mum..."
"I will always be with you," she replied. "As will your father. You're our daughter, after all."
At the mention of her father, Zoey's eyes began to water, and she hugged her mother tightly as the tears ran down her cheeks. "Oh, mum, the last three weeks have been hell. We only just managed to escape from Newburg, and... terrible things happened there..."
Dark clouds began to appear on the western horizon, blotting out the blue sky in the distance and coming closer.
The sympathetic look on the older woman's face showed she knew exactly what her daughter was talking about. The horrific deaths of Captain Williams and his men. The devastation of the city when the F-16s arrived.
The near-death experience of Bill in that dark tunnel.
"After what happened to you and dad, I don't know what I'd do if I lost him..." the former college girl continued, her breaths coming out in ragged gasps. "It just seems like death follows me around wherever I go – "
"You stop right there, young lady," her mother said sternly, in a tone that she had used to scold four-year-old Zoey when she was caught with her hand in the cookie tin. "You are not to blame for any of this. You have to do what you must to survive."
The tone in her voice gave Zoey pause, and she looked at her in earnest. "Mum, what are you – "
"Promise me that you'll survive Zoey," she interrupted. "You are a survivor. Promise me."
A rumble of thunder in the distance drew the young woman's gaze toward the dark clouds on the horizon. When she turned back, her mother was gone. In her place was a pale wraith-like woman, with fingers like long knives, and eyes like burning coals.
The banshee screamed as she raised her claws and plunged them into her chest.
Zoey jolted awake with a gasp. She was breathless, and raised a hand to her chest. She recalled bits and pieces of a dream, and that something terrible had happened, but the memories were already slipping away – like trying to hold water in her hands, only to have it slip through her fingers.
"Hey, are you okay?" came Louis' voice out of the darkness.
She looked to see his figure sitting on the table nearest the front entrance of the roadside diner they had taken refuge in, his M-16 rifle cradled in his hands. The boards across the windows were poorly arranged and had wide gaps in between them, allowing clear views of the stars in the dark sky outside. The diner had obviously been abandoned for a reason.
However, the group had been on the run for thirteen solid hours since dawn, the van having traversed numerous highways and turnpikes. They had spent the latter part of the day travelling west along Route 80, until Francis made the point of stopping the van outside the abandoned diner for his "beauty sleep".
All based on a message they had heard from a dispatch radio they found in a stray police cruiser they had passed on the outskirts of Newburg during their exodus. Never mind the fact that the message had been an ominously automated one, which was already waving enough red flags as it was, but it also appeared that, aside from refugee camps and isolated pockets of resistance, the only major evacuation sites left on the entire Eastern Seaboard were located in New Orleans and the Alleghany National Forest.
Two major evacuation sites left on the east side of the entire continent. The thought made her want to hurl.
"Zoey?" Louis said again, bringing her mind back to the present.
"It's okay, just a bad dream," she answered.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I can't really remember much. Just that it was... bad." She shivered, recalling the feeling of something impaling her through the chest. She had no idea that dreams could feel so real.
She spared a glance toward the other booths, where Francis and Bill lay sprawled out on the benches. The old man had heeded the late army medic's instructions for fluid replacement, and Zoey had absolutely refused to allow him to take a driving shift during the day, insisting that he used the time in the van to rest up his injured ribs.
She was thankful, though. Things could have been much, much worse for him.
"I'm not sure I'll be able to sleep much either after what happened in Newburg," Louis commented. He was fairly certain that every time he closed his eyes, he would see that... monster. The thing that had wiped out Captain Williams and his men without breaking a sweat.
'Tank' did not even begin to describe it. More like 'abomination'.
"You remember what you told me back in that gun store?" Zoey piped up. "About coping with whatever curveballs the universe throws at us?"
Louis smiled at her words. "You have a good point."
Aside from Francis' snores, the dark diner was enveloped in silence for some time, until Zoey broke it. "I'm here for you if you ever need anything, Louis."
"Thanks, Zoey. Right back at you."
With that, she lay back down in her booth and fell back into a restless sleep.
It was later on that night that Zoey slowly opened her eyes for a second time. Something had awoken her, but she was not quite sure what it was. She lay there, staring up at the ceiling and listening for a sound. Any sound.
She heard Francis snoring, Bill's light breathing, and Louis cleaning his rifle. Those were not the sounds which had stirred her from her sleep, however.
Finally, she heard it.
Her joints creaked as she climbed to her feet and made her way over to the nearest window to peer through the gaps between the boards.
"Gee, you're up again?" Louis commented from his spot near the door across the room. "You still have an hour until you have to relieve me, you know. I'll wake you up, so don't worry."
The young woman did not answer him, instead straining her ears to listen out for the noise. It could be heard, barely, as though the wind of the desolate countryside was carrying it to her ears. No matter how hard her eyes probed the dark world beyond the boarded-up windows, the source of the sound was out there, beyond what she could see.
This made her feel uneasy.
The sound was pitiful and gut-wrenching, as though the owner was feeling the same hopelessness of the situation as her.
Louis shifted nervously. "Zoey? What is it?"
Turning around, she saw him staring at her, his concern over her mental state clearly visible, even in the darkened room. She turned back toward the window and looked out, as though her eyes would allow her to see past the darkness outside.