I do not own the Left 4 Dead series or anything from it. I own only my fan characters.
Chapter 2: His Reasons
A few hours later found the clouds outside ever darkening, plunging the house into even further shadow. Thomas lay in bed on his back, on top of the meticulously-straightened covers, so as to not disturb them. A cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth, half burned away, a thin trail of smoke drifting towards the ceiling. He hadn't smoked in over twenty years. Not since before his daughter's birth. Kind of funny how the stresses of the "zombie apocalypse" could make one crave the temporary comfort of a good smoke. He knew it was a bad habit to fall back into, especially in a situation where keeping fit and healthy was in your best interest, but still he found himself caring less and less.
His half-lidded eyes traveled around the room, to the laptop folded on the desk beside the bed, now covered in a fine layer of dust, to the posters of various rock bands tacked onto the walls (predominately "Avenged Sevenfold"), to the clothing still hanging up untouched in the closet. The work uniform draped across a chair, the framed photographs, the tattered plush dinosaur that had to be over fifteen years old…
This wasn't his room. This was the room that'd belonged to his twenty-one-year-old daughter, Katheryn.
His eyes fell back to what he held in his hand; a bent photo, taken about five months ago. A photo of himself, looking so much happier and well-groomed that it felt as though the man in the picture was a complete stranger. He was at a barbecue a friend had been having, smiling cheerfully at the camera, his hand on the shoulder of a young woman with chin-length blonde hair and dressed in a fur-trimmed, leopard-spotted hoodie. His daughter. His beautiful daughter. His pride and joy and the reason behind most everything he'd done in the past two decades. He even had her name tattooed on his upper back, just behind the left shoulder, surrounded by ribbons and roses.
And he hadn't seen her since the day the outbreak had begun.
Thomas stared at the photo as he had countless times over the past several weeks, at his daughter's amused half-smile and blue eyes just like his own, and he had to fight to stave off the sudden flood of emotion that threatened to strangle him and bring frustrated tears to his eyes. He allowed his mind to wander, back to the last time he'd been in contact with her. Back to the last time he'd heard her voice.
It was a Sunday morning like any other, around eight or so, and he was in the kitchen, fixing breakfast for himself. Golden early-morning sunlight beamed in through the open window above the sink, filling the room with a sleepy sort of warmth. The radio on the windowsill was turned up, tuned into the local news-talk station, where of course the main headline and topic of discussion was the unusual illness that seemed to be spreading throughout the nation like wildfire, as it had been for the past several days…
"…the sickness, with its notably strong flu-like symptoms, is proving to be highly contagious and spreading quickly… close contact with sick individuals is discouraged, and everyone is urged to keep their hands and work surfaces clean…"
Thomas listened to the broadcast with furrowed brows, pouring himself another cup of coffee. After another minute of listening to the newscaster rattle off several other possible health safety measures, he lowered the volume and distracted himself by buttering some toast. It was next to impossible to escape talk of the recent flu "pandemic" – it was the word on the lips of most everybody you passed by lately, whether they were brushing it off or speaking of it in harsh, panicked whispers. There were more and more cases reported every day… hundreds. Maybe even thousands. There'd even been deaths… or so he thought he'd heard. He didn't really know. He was trying not to pay it too much mind. He had enough to bog him down as it was…
A soft mewl at his feet startled him, and he looked down to see his daughter's aging cat, Inkwell, brushing his sleek, black body up against his pant leg, and a moment later, his daughter walked in behind him. It was obvious she'd just woken up, blonde hair tousled, eyes drooping with tiredness. She'd already thrown her hoodie on, too. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. She'd hardly ever taken that thing off ever since he got it for her nearly four years ago, and it'd since become a running joke between the two of them.
"Morning, sunshine." he said, raising his mug at her. "You're up early for a day off…"
She shuffled past him with a yawn, heading towards the medicine cabinet. "Morning, dad. Just… had trouble falling asleep last night. Then I woke up ten minutes ago and couldn't get back to sleep, so…" She shrugged and smiled slightly at him. "Here I am." Then, her smile faded slightly as she squinted at him, dressed for the day in his construction worker's uniform. "I thought you had today off, too…?"
Thomas sighed, taking another sip of coffee. "I DID, but I'm covering somebody else's shift now. He called out sick…" He shook his head. "It's that damn flu going around. We've got more and more workers dropping like flies every day. We're understaffed over there and stuck busting our asses tenfold to make sure we don't fall behind…" Shrugging, he drained the rest of his coffee. "I have to admit, it's worrying me a little. People have apparently been DYING from this…"
Katheryn toyed with the piercing in her lower lip, as she often did when she was thinking, and shrugged. "It's… not the first time a nasty bug's gone around and done some damage." She opened up the medicine cabinet and started rummaging through it. "Don't stress yourself out over it too much. All we can really do's try and keep ourselves healthy, then." She gave him a small smile. "And getting stressed out makes it easier for you to get sick, right…?"
He chuckled. She'd always been pretty good at taking his mind off of negative things. Very reminiscent of her mother, in fact… he quickly let that thought drop before the pang of emotional pain became readable on his face. "I guess so…" He was about to say something else but stopped when he saw Katheryn pull out a bottle of high-strength ibuprofen. Immediately, warning bells began to sound off in his mind. "Ibuprofen? What's wrong? You're not feeling sick, are you…?" He took a few steps toward her, concern etched into every muscle on his face.
She jumped a little, giving him a bewildered look. "No, it's just… a little migraine, is all." She held up her hands. "That's it. I'm fine. Promise…"
He gave her a long, searching look. Something in her eyes, something in the way she'd said it gave him a nagging doubt, but perhaps he was just being paranoid again. "Are you sure…?"
"Yeah, dad, chill. I'm fine, seriously." She snorted. "You're letting this flu stuff get to you too much. Just try to stay away from any sick people and I'll do the same, okay? It's just a migraine. I'll be okay." She waved a dismissive hand. "No stressing, remember?"
"…Yeah. No stressing." He forced a quick smile and picked up his duffel bag. "Can't be late now. See you later, hun. Love you. Oh, and don't forget to feed Inky."
She smiled. "I won't. Later, dad. Love you, too."
A sudden small, burning pain on his left collarbone made him yelp, jerking him back into full wakefulness. He grabbed at it, and his fingers closed around the remnants of his cigarette; he was so tired he'd completely forgotten he'd been smoking it. It'd fallen out of his mouth. He cursed and crushed the butt in his fist, turning over on his side. The photo still dangled between the fingers of his other hand, a lifeline to that past life that he could never bring himself to release.
He squeezed his eyes shut, breathing slowly, painfully. He'd left the house that fateful morning without a suspicion in the world as to what was coming, spreading, like a thick, green, poisonous storm cloud rolling in from some hellish horizon. Just a day like any other, surely. He'd go to work, finish his shift, then return home to his daughter and make dinner. Just like they always did.
It was only when he'd actually arrived at the construction site that he'd noticed something was amiss. He remembered walking in to find a scene of budding chaos; people dressed in white uniforms and surgical masks bustling in and around the site, moving from worker to worker. They'd seemed to be questioning them, taking notes, quite aggressively, in fact, even going so far as to shine lights into their eyes despite the worker's vehement protests. His friend Brent, along with a site manager, had been arguing with one of them. He'd looked pretty official, holding a clipboard, wearing a crisp, white lab coat-type shirt, a logo reading "CEDA" stitched onto the left side. The leader, perhaps. All he'd heard as he'd walked up was something about them being on "official government business" or some shit and how they were "trying to identify infected individuals" and then he'd stormed away towards another group of workers without further explanation. They'd been confused. Confused, angry, and maybe even a little frightened. Interfering with their jobs over a flu? But why? Surely it wasn't serious enough to bring their entire project to a standstill…?
He opened his eyes, staring blankly at the wall as he remembered how they'd been gradually herded into a large tented area set up around the corner from the construction site, and told to remain there until further notice. They hadn't been allowed to leave, though several of them had tried to argue with and shoulder past the guards. And it hadn't taken long for them to notice that not all of them were there. Several of their colleagues had apparently been taken to a separate tent, the guards refusing to tell them why when questioned. The ripples of anger and unease had started spreading through their group like wildfire.
There was something about this "flu" that nobody was telling them.
That word again. "Flu". As always, Thomas allowed himself a bitter chuckle at it, turning over onto his back. They'd believed it, too (though more by ignorance than anything). They'd known nothing of what was to come. Until sunset, anyway. Until the world they'd known was extinguished forever.
He remembered a commotion from somewhere a short distance away from their tent; someone shouting, a strange sound, like a roar, and then gunshots that'd made everybody inside bolt to their feet in alarm. Hushed, panicked whispers abounded. Suddenly, more roars, more gunshots. The sounds of people shouting and running past outside. The guards keeping watch outside their tent seemed to disregard them completely, taking off somewhere out of sight to the left. They could still hear the awful roaring sounds, like wild animals, the gunshots. One of them made a run for the entrance, skidding to a halt just outside it – only for one of the workers that'd been taken to the other tent to suddenly jump on him, pin him to the ground, and start tearing into his neck with his teeth.
That's when they'd panicked. That's when they'd bolted. He could still remember the yells of pain and terror that'd filled the air as they'd poured through the entrance of the tent and into the street, scattering, every man for themselves. He'd headed straight for his car, weaving in between the running bodies of co-workers and CEDA personnel, trying not to stop and stare in disbelief as men attacked each other with nails and teeth like rabid dogs, skins the sickly, graying color of the badly diseased…
He'd had no idea what was going on, or that his life was about to be shattered forever, and not even for the first time. He'd only known one thing – he had to get to his daughter.
Thomas winced, moving a hand up to cover his eyes. This was where the memories always became particularly painful. He'd raced home like his very life depended on it (hell, it very well could've), knowing full well it didn't matter when the whole city would soon enough be enveloped in total chaos. He'd reached their small city house, only to find Katheryn's car gone and the front door unlocked, ajar. And, on her bedroom floor, her cat Inkwell, dead in a pool of his own blood, his throat torn and mangled in a way that looked like something had been eating him...
He moved his fingers just enough to peek through them, over at the corner of the room, where a patch of gray carpet was discolored a dark reddish-brown. The stain had never fully come out.
And that's when time had ceased to function as he knew it, and everything had seemed to be happening either too fast, too slow, or not at all. He'd been nearly on the verge of hysterics at that point, having no choice but to lock and barricade every door and window in their home (after making sure that whatever had killed the cat wasn't still in there) and repeatedly call his daughter's cell phone, desperate to get in contact with her, desperate to know where she was, if she was safe. He'd gotten nothing but voice-mail every time. Nothing. He'd run to the kitchen, turned on the radio, but no matter which way he'd turn the dial, he'd get nothing but static, brief blips of voices, something like a garbled warning transmission. The television hadn't had much to offer him, either. Just static there, too. And so, terrified and alone, he'd had no choice but to grab the closest thing to a weapon he'd owned up until then (a kitchen knife) and hunker down in his kitchen until frantic knocking at his door had forced him to crack it open and find five of his friends from work, alive, disheveled, laden with weapons, and thereby setting the tone for the most confusing, grueling, and terrifying week of their lives.
They hadn't known anything other than the city – and apparently everywhere else – was going straight to Hell, and they had to get out alive. They almost had, too. And then…
He sighed, a long, pain-ridden wheeze of a sound. And then… he was alone. And then… here he was, three months later.
But, then again… he hadn't really been planning on leaving the city with his friends in the first place, had he?
He sat up in the bed, resting his chin on top of his fist. No, he hadn't. He'd planned on making sure his friends got out of the city alright, that much was certain (and he hadn't even managed to do that), but he hadn't intended to go with them. He hadn't been planning on telling them that until the time was right, though. He knew they only would've tried to stop him, they would've told him he was insane, had they made it far enough to do so. But he didn't care. He'd had it in his mind to stay behind in the city, by himself, as long as he had to.
He wasn't leaving until he knew for sure that his daughter was no longer in the city. That's why he was still here, after all. Alone. Alone and searching.
His lip curled. So far, he'd found nothing. Day after day he'd skulk about through the streets and alleys (fuck, even the sewers and subway tunnels) of Fairfield like some kind of stray dog, fighting off the Infected he couldn't manage to sneak around, eyes constantly peeled for a glimpse of short-cut blonde hair, of an orange, spotted hoodie, anything at all, praying that the next maggot-ridden corpse he accidentally stumbled over wasn't hers. Of course, he was still hopeful that she'd taken her car and left the city at the first sign of trouble; he'd never found it, at least. A part of his heart still somehow believed despite everything that she'd left the city, and she was safe somewhere right now, being taken care of, and they'd be reunited again soon. That if she was still here, alive or… or God forbid, dead, that he would've found her by now. It was all he could do to keep that tiny flame of hope flickering for so long.
Christ, he hadn't even seen another non-infected human being in, what… a month and a half? (It wasn't as if the same recorded evacuation messages looped on repeat counted, or were even around to listen to anymore.) He thought back to the run-in with a group of four fellow survivors from weeks before, passing through Fairfield on their way to… wherever it is they were going. Yeah, that was definitely a good while ago. He'd offered them some food and shelter for the night, and they'd been on their way the next day. Hell, he'd been almost certain the leader of the four was going to try and drag him along with them by force – none of them could seem to grasp the concept of a survivor wanting to hang around a city completely overrun by hordes of Infected. He recalled being fairly evasive about explaining his motives, simply hinting at having "unfinished business" to attend to, and left it at that. At least he hadn't been dishonest.
In time, he'd leave, certainly. He'd move along to wherever it was local survivors went, and hopefully find his daughter waiting for him in the end. But not until he'd combed through every last dismal inch of this city, until he'd seen every last goddamned body. Every last Infected. No matter how long it took him, he'd do it without a second thought.
He… he had to be sure.
Thomas suddenly realized his fists were clenched, nearly crushing his prized photograph; he quickly relaxed them, carefully smoothing out the wrinkles and giving it one last look before folding and tucking it safely back into his wallet. His eyes flew around the room, anxiously taking in the shadowy shapes of his daughter's untouched possessions. It suddenly felt too hot in here. Too dark, like the shadows could physically reach out and snare him, snare him like the inhumanly powerful hands of the Infected…
He abruptly stood and left the bedroom, marching up the hallway towards his own. He couldn't stay in here right now. The thinking was getting to him, the memories. He had to go outside for a while, distract himself. Breathe a bit.
He grabbed his rifle from the bed and slung it over his shoulder, stopping only to quickly slip his boots and ammunition belt on, and then he was back at his door, standing before it as he often did before he left the house. Many would think him a madman, going out there for no reason other than to clear his mind, knowing what monstrosities now ran rampant in the streets. Again, he didn't care. He was used to it. He knew a lot more about them than probably CEDA themselves did at this point, and he knew where to go. CEDA... He grunted in disdainful amusement. What a goddamn JOKE.
Thomas at least thought enough to look through the peephole (nothing out there right now, mercifully) before again undoing all the locks and bars on the door and stepping outside. The air was cool and moist; dusk was fast approaching, though it was darker than it'd usually be, thanks to the thick cloud cover. The breeze was picking up, too, whistling between the buildings and through the broken windows, pushing trash around in the street. It'd probably storm later that night. Perhaps that'd keep the more dangerous Infected indoors, out of the rain and wind. Not that he'd be out long enough to find out, anyway. He never stayed out after dark.
They liked to come out after dark.
He shivered and rested a hand on the handle of his machete as he took off through the same left-hand alleyway he'd taken earlier before, though when he reached the end of it he went in the opposite direction of the gas station. As always, he kept close to the shadows cast by the buildings, his head bowed, moving as quickly and quietly as he could manage. His destination happened to be closer to Fairfield's outskirts this time, where the Infected were fewer and farther between, so he wasn't quite as concerned as he'd ordinarily be – he had his rifle, bouncing against his back, his machete, and where he was headed was out of the way enough…
About ten minutes and a brief scuffle with a stray Common Infected later, Thomas found himself staring across the street at a decrepit old apartment building, very tall and long abandoned even before the Green Flu outbreak had swept through here. The windows were heavily boarded-up, the brick walls worn, faded, covered in graffiti; clearly no one had been inside it in a while. On the side of the building was a rusted old fire escape, the bottom ladder left down and accessible, probably by vandals, leading up to a broken window on the top story. Very good.
A quick glance both ways and he was already darting into that alleyway, bounding up the fire escape two steps at a time. The old metal creaked and shuddered beneath his weight, but it held, as it always did. He had only to try and land his footsteps as quietly as possible – he didn't want the noise to attract the attention of any Infected that could be nearby. He stopped at the window, cautiously squinting into the darkness inside, just in case one or two had decided to hole up in it for the night (he'd stopped bringing a flashlight with him a long time ago, useful as they were… once he'd learned that a lot of Infected didn't take kindly to being disturbed by bright lights shining into their eyes).
It was quiet and deserted, as usual. Climbing through it, he passed through the bare room beyond and into the hallway, and from there taking the nearby staircase up to an open door, leading out onto the roof. This place was a favored "perch" of his. He came here from time to time, just to sit and void his brain for a while, away from all the madness and bloodshed in the streets below. Up where the stench of illness and decay wasn't quite as strong, and he could breathe. He closed the door behind him and wandered over to the ledge, sitting down beside it, leaning against the cool concrete. From here, he could see for quite a distance – a couple of times he'd even been able to snipe some potentially dangerous Special Infected, totally unseen. And how could he forget the time he'd had to run up here to hide from a passing Tank…
Thomas couldn't hold back a brief smirk at the memory, removing his rifle from his shoulder and holding it in his lap. After taking a few moments to reload it from his belt, he held it up and looked through the scope as one might use a pair of binoculars. There wasn't much to see today, aside from a meandering group of Common Infected a ways down this back street, and a few vultures squabbling over a well-decomposed corpse across it directly below. Nothing worth wasting his ammo on, anyway.
He sighed, lowering the rifle and setting it back down in his lap. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out another cigarette, popping it into his mouth and lighting it up with a single swift motion.
Christ, I really need to re-break this habit… he thought to himself, pinching it between his fingers to exhale a steady stream of smoke into the evening air. Katheryn won't like it when she sees me smoking…
He chuckled quietly to himself, able to picture perfectly in his mind's eye her pouting face and crossed arms, chastising him for doing something so bad for his health. Somehow, it warmed him inside. Something in the thought brought him comfort, reassurance, however fleeting. He ran a finger along the caution tape tightly bound around the barrel of his rifle, his determination rekindled anew. Tomorrow he'd spend another day exploring some part of the city he hadn't pored over yet. He'd move twice as fast, find a working car if he had to (though he detested the thought, Infected could hear cars coming a mile away), just to cover that much more ground.
The faster he did so, the sooner he could leave this lost, forsaken shell of a place. The sooner he'd be out on the road, one hell of a straggler on the winding path back to civilization. And, most importantly, back to his beloved baby girl.
He rested the back of his head against the ledge, closing his weary eyes, the dull orange glow of his cigarette the only source of light and warmth for miles around as the night took over again.
I apologize a million times over for the delay in finishing this. I don't have much of a good excuse for it, except that I'm not particularly satisfied with this chapter and had to motivate myself to get it done, on top of real-life stuff like college and work and whatnot running me down. It'll all pick back up in chapter three, which HOPEFULLY will be up faster than this one was, gah. Until next time!