(Quote in summary is by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
Re-start after my last failed attempt when I wasn't happy with the direction I was letting my story take me. Trashed that idea and started anew. I realize I have a horrible track record for actually updating and continuing my thought processes, but I do like to write when the mood strikes me and share what I produce. This idea of mine was actually original, but got lost in the mix when I started my last - and now scrapped - story.
Essentially this will follow the television show from the get-go with an added character of my own. The added character will toy with the plot a bit and add a few (hopefully) interesting twists and turns, but all of our favourite characters will still be there and familiar scenes will play out.
Now, without further ado, I hope you enjoy. Feel free to leave any thoughts and comments!
Pain. A streak of blinding, white-hot pain seared its way through her system, momentarily leaving her breathless. Time seemed to stand still, as her mind fought to process what was happening. Her vision immediately darkened with the force of the blood that pounded in her ears, quickened by her body's reaction and subsequent adrenaline surge. Then without warning she fell back into the normal flow of time and reality and she screamed.
Ellie shot straight up out of sleep, her hands instantly clamping over her mouth, attempting too late to stifle the scream that tore from deep inside of her. She was panting and her brow was bathed in sweat from her dream, causing tendrils of her golden hair to stick stubbornly to her forehead. Ellie hastily wiped a hand across her face, disturbing the sticky tendrils, and scrambled to her feet.
"Stupid," she muttered fiercely to herself, frantically stuffing some of her few belongings into an old, tattered backpack then zipping it up forcefully. She quickly rolled the flattened sleeping bag she had been using and secured it to the bottom of the backpack with string. Ellie deftly swung the pack onto her back as she simultaneously pressed herself to where the wall met the window. She took a single deep breath to calm herself, and then peered out the window into the early morning gloom, making sure she kept out of sight as much as possible.
The small, concrete utility shelter Ellie had stumbled across had served as the perfect shelter from an impromptu rain shower the evening before. Just as the rain had begun to fall, Ellie had broken through the woods into the clearing and spotted the square structure just to her left. She had weighed her two options quickly in her mind: keep moving and suffer through the rain in search of something else or bed down early for the night and get some much needed rest and respite from the elements. Deciding on the latter a moment later with the aid of a loud clap of thunder, she had hurried to the structure, stopping just short of its door in order to draw out her pistol. Checking once to ensure it was properly loaded, she'd held it before her, threw open the door, and quickly entered. The building had been empty, save the winding mess of utility pipes and meters against a far wall. Their humming had ceased some time ago and a thin film of dust covered the knobs. After firmly closing and locking the door behind her, she had laid out her sleeping bag on the dingy concrete floor and gone to sleep almost the moment her head touched the floor.
Ellie's eyes scanned the line of trees located only a hundred feet away, visible from the tiny window. The rain had long since stopped, but while Ellie was thankful for clearer weather, she worried her scream might draw some unwanted attention. So far, so good. The hazy morning was still quite dim. Probably only 6 am, or so, Ellie calculated after a quick glance to the watch she wore on her right wrist. It had stopped working weeks ago, but force of habit kept her from discarding it completely, and she found herself glancing at it every now and then in an attempt to see the time.
Ellie waited a minute longer, barely breathing as her eyes flickered from left to right, scanning and searching. Finally satisfied no one – or no thing – had heard her, she tightened the straps to her backpack and placed a hand on the pistol case at her right hip, physically checking for the pistol it contained. She fiddled with the keffiyeh(1) she wore around her neck as she rested her hand lightly on the door handle, mentally preparing herself to exit the building. The keffiyeh's black and cream checkered pattern showed its age and use through the obvious fading and tears in the fabric, but the worn scarf held sentimental value for Ellie, and so she did her best to keep it clean and in one piece. Touching the softly worn fabric helped further put her mind at ease and she took a deep, mind-cleansing breath.
The door knob turned smoothly in her hand and the creaking of the metal door as it slowly swung inward cut through the silent morning air. Ellie winced at the sound, cursing silently for the noise. She stepped through the door quickly, one hand on her holster, ready to draw her weapon at a moment's notice. But the clearing was empty as she had observed and once again silent. Ellie immediately struck out across the wide expanse of tall grass, urging her tired legs onward towards their destination.
"Damnit," Ellie swore as she tilted the paper map in her hands left then right, cocking her head the opposite way each time. She gave a frustrated groan and messily folded the map back up and jammed it into her open backpack where it sat at her feet. Ellie had never been good with directions, even in this age of computers literally reading them to you turn-by-turn. Somehow she had always found herself miles in the opposite direction or circling around her objective cluelessly. So now that the world had gone to hell and most of modern technology with it, Ellie was left with an outdated paper map found in a backwoods convenience store.
She knew she was still headed in the correct general direction, since her surroundings were becoming less wooded and more inhabited – once by the living, but now by the dead. Ellie knew that traveling straight towards such a heavily populated area like Atlanta was dangerous – maybe even reckless and stupid – but she had to get to the CDC. If anyone knew what was going on, someone there would. It was that one, insistent hope that kept her will to live alive and enabled her to keep from "checking out" early. But once again, for what had to be the thousandth time in her nearly thirty years, Ellie found herself lost.
Ellie pressed forward towards the direction she felt was right, and felt more assured as the houses grew in number and small businesses followed by larger businesses began appearing. She was getting closer. But with the feeling of assurance also came the deep, biting fear of who – or what – she might encounter. She had been astonishingly lucky the past week to have only encountered a handful of the dead, probably because she had done most of her traveling through heavily wooded areas away from civilization's ruins. But now in the surrounding suburbs of Atlanta, Ellie was forced to travel quickly and silently, flitting from cover to cover as she made her way through the neighbourhoods.
Another stark difference between the past week and her current travel conditions were the number of bodies she came across. And though it had been months since the start of this nightmare she currently found herself in, the sight of such devastation never failed to shock her. The streets she ran down were strewn with bodies: the young, the old, women, and children. The dead did not discriminate. Limbs were missing on many, chunks taken out of all; some had their flesh eaten away so that stark, white bone was exposed to the hot, Georgian sun. Ellie ran past the bodies, trying hard not to return the blank stares from the upturned faces she sped past. As she turned the corner of the street she was on, Ellie stopped so suddenly, her feet slipped on the loose gravel and she almost lost her balance.
The man – or thing that had once been a man – turned its gore streaked face towards her and growled. The prospect of a live meal versus the long dead one it was currently gorging itself on made the dead man rise unsteadily to its feet and begin shambling towards her. Its arms were outstretched, reaching and grabbing at the air in Ellie's direction; its lust for her flesh evident in its excited moans. Ellie forcefully pushed down the overwhelming feeling of revulsion that rose in her as the dead man slowly came towards her. She decided against firing her pistol while in such a once-heavily populated area, and drew a menacingly sharp 6 inch blade from its sheath attached to her right calf. With one quick movement, Ellie drew herself within arm's reach of the dead man and buried her knife squarely between its eyes. She withdrew the blade just as quickly and bent to wipe it on the dingy clothing of the collapsed monster before re-sheathing it.
Ellie stared down at the dead thing that lay at her feet, a twisted heap of limbs, blood, and ragged flesh. Before she could stop herself, Ellie emptied her stomach of the few contents it held on a patch of nearby grass by a light post. Her stomach acid burned her throat and the mere sensation caused her to gag again and dry heave. Bent over with her hands on her knees supporting her weight, Ellie waited until she no longer felt the urge to purge her stomach before slowly straightening. She slowly took a deep breath. No matter how many times she had been forced to dispatch one of the once living, it never got any easier, and she always found herself struggling to compose herself afterwards.
Just as Ellie went to continue on her way, a strange sound caught her attention. She froze and strained her ears for the sound. For a moment she heard nothing but the soft breeze whispering through the overhanging branches of an oak tree, then it came to her again. It was a rhythmic sound of something hard on pavement and as she listened, it slowly but steadily grew louder. Ellie crept further down the street trying to follow the sound and made an abrupt right turn down a second street when she found it definitely was coming from that direction.
Directly ahead of her lay a highway overpass, exit and entrance ramps flowing onto and away from the street Ellie silently ran down. A large sign on the side of the overpass indicated a right turn lane for merging onto I-85. Ellie immediately recognized highway 85 as the one she had been trying to navigate towards and briefly congratulated herself mentally on getting to where she needed to be … even if she hadn't taken the most direct route.
The sound Ellie had been tracking grew louder still as she approached the highway, but its decreased distance did not help her identify it anymore than when she had first heard it. Ellie crouched behind the burned husk of a Dodge minivan that sat close to the exit ramp off the highway and strained her neck over its roof just enough to see past it, but in a way she could remain hidden. Suddenly the source of the sound came into view.
A man on a horse rode slowly down the inbound lanes of the highway towards the heart of Atlanta. His upper body swaying with the gentle rhythm of the horse's movements and the horse's bobbing head were visible to Ellie from over the concrete barriers that lined the highway. The sight made Ellie pause at the momentary bizarreness of what she was seeing. She would have laughed had the situation been any different, but the need for silence stifled the reaction immediately and she could only stare. Ellie had come across various survivors during her trek from up north, but each and all had appeared bedraggled and exhausted; lines of fear and sadness etched plainly into their faces. There was something different about this man, however. His almost relaxed posture and the fact he was casually riding a horse straight into the heart of the city made him stand out like a sore thumb in the midst of this apocalypse.
The man on the horse continued down the highway at a steady pace and when it seemed he would disappear from view around a bend, Ellie impulsively decided to follow him. There was something about his appearance that intrigued her and compelled her to learn more about him; to see where he was going and what he would do. Ellie followed behind, silent as a shadow, her heartbeat quickening as the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta loomed before them, giving no hint as what she should expect next.
(1) Traditional Arab scarf, that has now become quite common in today's fashion.