Author's Notes: This is my first fan fiction; I'm not really a writer. I'd really appreciate reviews and suggestions as to where to go with the story. Thanks for reading.
A thick fog crept in over the aged buildings. A soft orange orb grew in intensity as the survivors passed an antique-looking streetlamp. Rayford's historic district was massive. They had been driving for at least an hour, but the fog was thickening, constricting their view of the faintly lit cobblestone street.
"Ellis, we'd better slow down. This fog is getting awful thick," Rochelle suggested as she peered into the dense mist.
Ellis slowed the car to nearly a crawl. "Shoot, it is gettin' harder 'n harder to see. I don't wanna crash into nothin'. Jimmy Gibbs would not be pleased."
"All the noise from the crash would no doubt attract a horde. That's the last thing we want in this damned fog," Coach added.
"Shouldn't be much longer. Just keep checkin' those buildings for a safehouse," Ellis said, wearily.
Zoey's face was plastered to the window, staring out into nothingness. Bill had sacrificed himself for the group, and now Louis and Francis were gone. They were gone. Zoey couldn't believe it.
She had only just manned herself at the machine gun on the bridge when the two tanks galloped into view. Two horrifying monstrosities headed straight for them. Before she knew it, a huge chunk of concrete was sailing through the air, right at Louis and Francis, who were perched on the balcony. A third had snuck in from a side alley.
She didn't know how long she had been screaming and crying. But she just stared at the concrete slab on top of her two comrades. She wouldn't move. She just collapsed in terrifying sobs, staring at the concrete. Francis' tattooed arm sticking out underneath it, and a pool of crimson blood expanding.
"ZOEY, WE GOT TO GO!" Ellis shouted at her, running up the metal bridge stairs. He grabbed her hand, but she wouldn't budge. He scooped her up in his arms and ran back to the car, placing her in the backseat with Rochelle and Nick.
She hadn't moved since he placed her there. She sat curled up in a ball, staring out of the window. Her tears hadn't stopped flowing.
"Zoey, darling, we're here," Rochelle said as she patted Zoey's shoulder. Zoey looked down, muttered a weak 'okay', but didn't move. Rochelle sighed and took both her and Zoey's backpacks inside.
Ellis himself hadn't moved from the driver's seat. He had been staring at Zoey via the rearview mirror for a few minutes now, his blue eyes deep in a soft gaze. He finally got out, squatted down next to the car and opened Zoey's door slowly. She looked at him, eyes meeting, hers swollen, glassy, and red. He took her hand gently.
"Zoey, I know it hurts, but we got to get inside for the night." He tugged gently and led her into the building.
Zoey looked around the dimly lit room, faint light pouring in from barred windows. Nick leaned against a wall, lighting a cigarette; Rochelle rummaging through a med kit for a few bandages. Normally, Zoey would be a bit nervous that Ellis was holding onto her hand, but she was too distressed and exhausted to object.
"There's two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. But only one's got a mattress," Coach announced as he came back downstairs.
"You should take the room with the mattress, Zoey, Who wants the other room?" Rochelle suggested, as she inspected some sleeping bags in the corner of the room.
"Coach should take it for now," Nick grunted as he pushed a dresser in front of the steel door. "I'll stay up a bit and keep watch. It's been too quiet around here."
"Sounds good to me," Coach said, picking out his sleeping bag and carrying it upstairs.
"C'mon, I'll lead you up," Ellis said soothingly, tugging Zoey along softly.
Ellis opened up the door and led Zoey inside. She took a seat on the mattress and ran her fingers and hands through her hair.
"I'll be back with a blanket in a sec'," Ellis said, closing the door gently.
Zoey looked around the room. A dilapidated bed frame was crammed into the corner of the room. The closet door was collapsed, revealing some stacked boxes and clothes, strewn on the floor. Faded photos of a small family decorated the wall next to the window. "Mom… dad," she murmured.
A soft knock came from the door. "Come in," Zoey said, softly. Ellis peeked in, then slowly opened the door, holding a few sheets.
"Sorry, but this is all I could find. They were in a closet, so at least they're clean." He placed the folded sheets in the middle of the bed and sat down next to her. "How ya holdin' up?"
"I don't know, to be honest. I just feel so… I don't even know…" Zoey choked, placing her face into her hands.
"It'll be okay, Zo. Can I call you Zo?" he inquired. She nodded softly.
"I've felt like you do too. Don't know how to feel. Sad… Angry… Scared… Hell, we've all lost people…" Ellis paused. He hunched over slightly, clasped together his hands, staring at the floorboards.
"I'm sorry," Zoey wavered, trying to hold back tears. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be. It's already happened, so nothin' we can do to change that."
There was a minute of silence. Zoey returned her stare from Ellis to a frame on the wall.
"How do you do it?"
"Hm? How do I do what?" Ellis glanced at Zoey.
"When I met you earlier today, you were just so… cheerful. If you've lost people, how can you do it?" The image of her comrades popped into her head. Bill keeping watch out a crack in the window. Francis cleaning his shotgun. Louis sleeping soundly on the floor next to her.
Ellis blushed slightly. The first moment he saw Zoey up on that bridge he was dumbstruck. He had never seen a girl so beautiful. She was leaning against the railing, with a rifle slung across her shoulder. He had let Rochelle do all the talking. He was sure Nick was snickering and shaking his head, at him gaping at this girl.
"Ellis?" Ellis blinked rapidly and looked over at her, her green eyes widened.
"Oh, uhm, I'm sorry miss. Was just thinkin' about somethin' from earlier today. Dunno where my mind went to…" His blush deepened a bit.
Zoey smiled softly. "It's okay. Don't worry about it."
There were a few seconds of silence before Ellis stood up. "I'll letchu get some sleep now, miss," he said, while stretching.
"Yes'm?" He turned back to face her, only to be blessed with the sweetest smile he's ever seen.
"Thanks for talking with me. I feel a bit better."
"Ain't no problem at all, Zo." He smiled back and closed the door behind him.
Zoey tossed and turned under the sheets.
They're gone. Gone forever. There's nothing I can do to change that. I'll miss them dearly, but at least I'm not alone.
Zoey's eyes began to slowly shut. Mom… dad? Can you hear me? I promise. I promise I won't disappoint you anymore. She drifted into sleep.
Zoey awoke to soft orange sunlight pouring into the window. She tugged on her shoes and proceeded downstairs.
"Morning, Zoey," Coach looked up at her, while shuffling through some supplies in the corner.
"Hey Zoey," Rochelle chimed in, carrying some cans from the kitchen. "Lucky for us they had canned fruit here." She handed each of each of them an opened can.
"Thanks, Ro," Nick said, putting down his gun.
"Is Ellis still sleeping?" Rochelle wondered. She had barely finished her question when Ellis strode down the stairs.
"Mornin' y'all," he said cheerfully. "What's for breakfast, Ro?"
"Fruit. We got a can of pears for you right here."
As they all ate in relative silence, Zoey finally asked, "So where are we headed?"
"New Orleans," Coach declared. "Supposedly that's the only city still evacuating."
"I still don't see how we're going to get to god damned Louisiana from Georgia," Nick scoffed.
"We still got Jimmy Gibbs racecar. That should take us purdy far," Ellis added.
"For now, New Orleans is the only place we got," Coach mumbled as he finished his can of fruit.
Rochelle was eyeing the map. "It looks like we can get to the freeway from here. We're still next to the river. It shouldn't be too far."
"Will the freeway take us south? We should probably head to I-10. That interstate will take us straight to New Orleans," Coach added.
"Looks like it will," Rochellle replied, hopefully.
"Well, let's get a move on," Nick rose, picking up his gun and bag.
They had been driving for hours. The speed was kept fairly low as they weaved in between abandoned and crashed cars. They had found the freeway long ago and began heading south towards Florida. The windshield of the car was stained with blood from zombies stumbling in the way of the car. Luckily they hadn't run into any big hordes or special infected yet.
"Shit, we gotta find a gas station. We got a little less than a quarter of a tank left," Ellis bit his lip. A moment later he chuckled. "This reminds me of this one time, me and ma buddy Keith went mud ridin'. Now you MAY think we got stuck in the mud… but nah, we actually ran outta gas. We had to hike three miles through…"
"Ellis…" Nick shot him a death glare.
"Sign says Valdosta's just ten miles ahead. We should stop for gas and supplies," Coach suggested.
Zoey had been fairly quiet the entire ride, keeping to her own thoughts. She thought about what Ellis said last night and had finally decided that she wasn't going to be weak anymore. She was going to survive. For her parents. For her fallen friends. For her new friends. For herself. Her eyes widened in excitement and anticipation, and she had the broadest smile. For the first time in a long time, she felt exhilarated.
"Zoey, you okay?" Rochelle noted, seeing Zoey's change in expression.
"Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Just been thinking about stuff." Rochelle smiled softly and rubbed Zoey's shoulder.
Twenty minutes later they arrived in Valdosta. The blue racecar rolled up to a gas pump and everyone got out. Zoey stretched and leaned into the back of the car.
Nick and Coach headed inside the building, guns at the ready. Rochelle began to look at each pump station, looking for a squeegee to clean the bloodied windshield with.
Ellis began fueling up the car. "I hope to God they got enough gas left in this place."
"If not, we can always scavenge around the town for extra gas cans." Zoey said, glancing over to Ellis.
"Mhm, we sure could."
Zoey scooted along the car to Ellis. "Thanks again for last night; it really made me feel better." She smiled at the southern man as he blushed slightly.
"Oh, it's nothin'," he mumbled, eyes avoiding her smile. Zoey giggled at his bashfulness.
Zoey caught Rochelle's wide smile and she returned with a wet squeegee. She obviously had heard them.
Coach and Nick returned with some bags of supplies and began loading them into the car.
"It's been too quiet around here," Nick said, glancing at the abandoned buildings with a few straggling infected in the streets, uninterested in the survivors. "I don't like it."
"Don't let'chur guard down, now," Coach warned.
"I don't think we should get back on the freeway," Rochelle added, studying the map. "If we just keep driving south, we'll no doubt hit the interstate. We need to have shelter in case of a horde."
They all hopped back into the car and began driving again. The sky had clouded up hours earlier, threatening rain. Zoey stared out of the window up at the gray sky.
Nick had his window rolled down, and was shooting idling infected with his pistol.
"Shit, it's starting to rain," Nick sighed and began rolling his window up.
Ellis slowed his speed as the rain began to pour down, drenching the landscape and making it impossible to see.
"We gotta find a building for the night," Coach stated.
Everyone gathered their bags and stepped out into the soaking rain.
"Stay together now!" Coach shouted, wielding his gun, shooting infected as they became visible.
As they moved along the side of the road, some taller buildings came into view.
"We shou—" Rochelle was cut off as a smoker tongue dragged her off.
"SMOKER!" Ellis yelled, running in Rochelle's direction with his axe.
Before Zoey knew it, a horde approached, surrounding the group from all directions. She began shooting down zombie after zombie with her rifle. Nick was yelling as he shot infected heads clear off.
Ellis came running back, Rochelle in his arms. "Guys, we gotta get inside, Rochelle's bleedin' bad!"
The group stuck together in a tight circle, moving closer to the buildings. The rain was so severe, none of them could hear the charger approaching. By the time Zoey caught sight of it, it was too late. It scooped her up and ran, slamming her into the side of the first building. Its huge grotesque hand wrapped around her waist, and crushed her into the pavement. Zoey couldn't even scream, her head pounding into the hard cement, pain wracking through every bone in her torso. Then everything went black. The screams of her comrades fading.