-CHAPTER 9: DEAD END-
After fleeing from the Reapers in Las Vegas, Joel and his group arrived in Los Angeles in a matter of hours. The survivors hoped to find the proposed safe zone within the city, but all that welcomed them was the eerie silence of the streets and the deterioration of the buildings as nature took over. The group decided to rest inside the Staples Center. Before, it used to be full of spectators who watched major events, such as sports games or concerts. Now the giant stadium was used as a momentary shelter for the small group of survivors.
At the moment, the group used the arena as a camp. They laid their sleeping bags in the centre of the floor and took the moment to rest after last night's events.
"I can't believe how many people this place could hold." Ellie said. Her voice echoed throughout the arena. She sat atop her sleeping bag and gazed around to the endless number of seats surrounding them. She turned to Alice, who was falling asleep in her sleeping bag. "How many seats do you think are in here, Alice?
"It's hard for me to see." Alice responded. Ellie chuckled.
"Same. I wouldn't have the patience to count them anyway. My guess would be about a hundred."
"That's some nice math you've got there, kiddo." Roselyn responded. She lied on her sleeping bag a few feet away from Ellie, tinkering away on her broken walkie-talkie. "Didn't they teach you any algebra in those military schools?"
"No. All I did was get beat up." Ellie replied. She raised an eyebrow to Roselyn. "How about you? Did you learn anything at your schools?"
"Nope. The only education I got was from kindergarten. After that, all I focused on was surviving in this world. I'm sure the same thing applies to you."
Ellie nodded. She turned to see where Joel was. At the moment, he was huddled around with Tommy, Bruce and Gordon, discussing their next course of action. Joel gave his thoughts. "We need to start looking for this safe zone. I suggest heading towards the downtown area. Most of the military would have gathered the citizens there along with the supplies."
"Sounds like a good place to start. I'll go and look there first thing in the morning." Bruce said. "I'd appreciate if one of you would accompany me."
"Count me out. I still feel wonky after what happened last night." Gordon excused himself. His experience with the Reapers was suspenseful. There was no way he'd throw himself into possible danger again.
"I'll go with you." Joel volunteered.
"You sure about that? I'm fully capable of going if you need me to." Tommy said. Joel patted him on the shoulder.
"It's fine, little brother. You need the rest as much as me. Bruce and I can handle this." Things were settled. The men decided to rest until the next day. With a safe place like the stadium, they wouldn't need to worry about any threats for the time being and they had enough supplies to sustain them for the next few hours. Joel joined Ellie as she lied in her sleeping bag reading a book at the moment.
"Hey." she greeted him.
"Now what's that you've got there?" Joel asked, pointing to the book in her hands.
"It's Of Mice and Men. Bruce gave it to me. It's actually not a bad read." Ellie answered. She finished the sentence she was on, closed the book and sat up. "So what's up?"
"Bruce and I are planning to scout around the city and find this safe zone. Once we do, we'll gather everything and bring all of you there."
"What if we don't find the safe zone? What happens then?"
"We'll keep looking. But I promise you we'll find someplace safe for us." Joel told her. He noticed Ellie's eye glisten with hope, which made him smile. Joel suddenly sighed and took a seat beside her. "Look, I want to talk about what happened back in Las Vegas."
"Joel, I've already apologized to you like a thousand times. I'm sorry I disobeyed you."
"It's not about that. I'm talking about what happened in the casino." Joel recalled to the crossfire they had with the Reapers. In the heat of the moment, Ellie appeared. When she took her first glance at the Reapers, she experienced a panic attack and almost got herself killed. "You didn't look too well when I saw you there. What happened?"
"I don't know. I just looked at their masks and I suddenly felt dizzy." Ellie explained. She had no idea what happened to her. "It's like something triggered inside me. Do you have any idea what happened to me?"
Joel didn't answer her question, but he knew what she'd went through. Ellie was still affected by her first encounter with the Reapers back in Jackson. She just wasn't aware of the effects. She thought she was getting over the trauma and had replaced her fear with anger against the Reapers, but in reality, her mind subconsciously still associated them in horrific ways.
"Ellie, I just want you to know you don't have to be scared."
"I'm not scared anymore, Joel. Don't worry about me."
Oh, baby girl... I still and will always worry...
The next day arrived as Joel and Bruce left the group and headed towards downtown Los Angeles. It took them over an hour to arrive in the area. A majority of the routes they took were blocked by vehicles and barricades made to fend off against the infected. Fortunately, Joel and Bruce encountered no threats along the way, which seemed a little odd to them. They quietly drove around the streets, trying to find where the proposed safe zone lied.
"I don't see it." Joel spoke. He sat in the passenger seat as Bruce drove his vehicle. Their bags were in the back seats, carrying their weapons and ammo in case they ran into danger.
"Just keep your eyes peeled. The safe zone has to be around here somewhere." Bruce told him.
Joel sighed as he looked out the window, gazing up to the destroyed buildings skewed at an angle. They reminded him of Boston, causing Joel to reflect on his journey. He couldn't believe he had made it from the east side of the country all the way to the west. This was all due to his determination to find a safe haven for him, Ellie and his new group.
"When was the last time you heard about this safe zone?" Joel asked. Bruce lowered his head and gave an uneasy look.
"If I recall, it was at the end of March."
"That was a few months ago. A lot of shit can happen between then and now. Are you sure there really is a safe zone around here?"
Bruce sighed. "I must confess to you. We weren't exactly told about this information. Before my wife and I met up with the group, we were back up in Nebraska, fending for only ourselves. We had found this note in a house we were scavenging in. It talked about how the family inside received a transmission from their radio. A voice told them how they formed a large safe zone in Los Angeles. Any survivors who arrived were guaranteed survival."
Joel noticed how Bruce shook his head, as if bothered by something.
"The thing is... the family was long dead. Their bodies were left inside the house. Each one had a bullet in their heads. They weren't overrun by any Runners. They didn't commit suicide. They were killed by hunters. They died with the hope of finding a sanctuary for them. It was not fair to them, you know? They had their chance taken away from them."
"Then why did the family write the note in the first place?" Joel asked. Bruce could only shrug.
"The note was written by the father before he died." Bruce further explained. "It was held tightly in his hands. His daughter... his daughter was tucked in the other. It's like he wanted others to know about this safe zone. Knowing he was dying with his daughter by his side, he wanted to give someone else a chance to be safe. You don't see that much humility in this world, I can tell you."
"Yeah. We don't." Joel agreed. Bruce's story caused him to reflect on his own actions he committed in the past. He was brutal towards others and did whatever it took for his own survival. There was not one clear moment in his memory where he helped someone else simply to be kind. Was he really a cruel monster? It wasn't his fault. The plague shaped him to become something he didn't want to become.
But then he remembered about his group, more specifically, Ellie. He was willing to do anything to protect them. Hell, he'd been risking his ass for the past weeks to find them a safe place. To start a new life. Joel wasn't selfish as he thought he was. This safe zone, this group, this girl he was taking care of, would redeem his horrific actions he had committed in the past.
"I want to find the safe zone. Not only for the well-being of our group, but to fulfill the dying wish of that dead family." Bruce said.
"We will." Joel assured.
The duo drove through downtown Los Angeles for another hour. They began to lose hope when they could not find any sign of the safe zone. Fortunately, their luck changed when they came across a gigantic, metal wall sprawled across the street. There was a large hole created in the side leading into the safe zone, which seemed out of place. Joel and Bruce drove up to the hole and exited the vehicle, bringing their belongings with them.
"Do you think this is it?" Joel asked.
"It has to be." Bruce answered. "Let's see if anyone is inside."
The two cautiously entered the area. They expected to be stopped by a few military guards, but oddly enough, there was no one there. The inside of the zone appeared the same as the rest of Los Angeles. They scoured the streets, trying to find any other survivors. But there was no one there.
"What's going on? Why is there nobody here?" Bruce demanded. He cupped his hands and shouted. "Hello! Is anybody here?"
"This can't be happening. This has to be some kind of joke." Joel said. He began to pace around in a panicked state. If this was the safe zone, why wasn't there anybody there? Were they all hiding? Joel recalled to the hole in the wall they entered through. Why exactly was it there in the first place?
"Hold on, I hear something." Bruce said. The two stood there in silence and heard a noise coming from the street around the corner. Hoping to find somebody, Joel and Bruce headed in the direction of the noise. Their hope quickly turned into shock as they were greeted by a large herd of Runners overcrowding the streets.
"Son of a bitch!" Joel shouted. The Runners turned and lunged towards them. Joel and Bruce did not hesitate to run away. The streets filled with thunderous footsteps and the duo desperately tried to escape from the herd.
"Quick! Take the alley!" Bruce said. The two ran into an alleyway, only to notice it was a dead end. "Damn it! We're trapped!"
"No, we're not." Joel pointed over to a ladder hanging over a few feet from them, which was attached to a fire escape. The ladder was too high for them to reach. He looked around for something to give them a boost. Joel found a dumpster tucked in the alleyway corner. He grabbed it and started pushing it underneath the fire escape, only to be caught off-guard by a Clicker hidden behind the dumpster. It grabbed Joel by the shoulders and attempted to bite him.
"Hang on!" Bruce shouted. He quickly grabbed the fire axe from his backpack, aimed at the Clicker's head, and swung forcefully. The axe cut through the Clicker's head, splattering the fungus into many directions as a huge crack was left in it's head. Joel pushed the lifeless Clicker onto the ground and wiped away some of the fungus off his shirt.
"Good aim." Joel said to Bruce, thanking him.
"No problem. Now let's get out of this alleyway."
Joel and Bruce hurriedly pushed the dumpster beneath the fire escape. As they climbed on top of it, the infected soon reached them and ran down the alleyway. The two climbed onto the fire escape, raising the ladder up so the infected could not climb up with them. Joel and Bruce watched as the infected bashed on the dumpster as their roars filled the alleyway.
"Shit. That was a close one!" Bruce gasped as he leaned against the railing.
"No time to rest. We still need to get out of here." Joel reminded him. They two made their way up the fire escape and climbed onto the rooftop. They took the moment to catch their breath and gazed around the safe zone. It was abandoned. No survivors could be spotted anywhere. Not even the military. All that was left were the infected to roam the streets.
"How could this happen? This was supposed to be a safe area. How could the infected take over?" Bruce pondered. Joel thought the same. He looked over to the zone's wall, which was only a few blocks away from them. Could the infected have entered through there? But what made the hole in the first place? No amount of infected could be strong enough to make a dent through a sturdy structure.
"Those fucking Reapers." Joel grumbled. It all made sense. He recalled to the night the Reapers attacked Jackson. After ridding the area of civilians, the Reapers released a group of Runners into the town. There was no doubt the Reapers made their way to Los Angeles before and did the same thing.
"Why would they do this?" Bruce asked.
"They're brainwashed to think they're the only people capable of living in this world." Joel explained. He decided to show Bruce the vaccine he retrieved from their camp. The golden liquid shined in the sun as Joel swished it around in its vial. "This vaccine is what gave them their strength. It's what made them crazy."
"These Reapers must be stopped." Bruce stated. "Imagine all the innocent people living in this zone. One minute they're minding their own business, next thing they're hiding from men who wish to kill them. It's like they think they're the minions of Death granted to do his own dirty work."
"We need to get back to the others." Joel said. "Los Angeles is lost."
"Look what I found!" Mark exclaimed. He entered the arena of the Staples Center, holding a basketball in his hand. The rest of the group waited around for Joel and Bruce to return. Tommy and Gordon had ventured into the other parts of the building, hoping to find more supplies. Mark began bouncing it on the gymnasium. "Blimey! I haven't played around with any balls ever since my younger days as a child."
"You touched balls when you were a child? Ugh! That's more than we need to know!" Roselyn shouted down to him, causing Ellie to chuckle. The two were seated in the upper rows of the stadium.
"Sod off, you wankers!" Mark yelled back to them. He held the basketball to his side for a second as he flipped the middle finger towards them.
"Mark! Do not do that in front of the children. You're an adult! I expect better from you!" Natalie lectured him. She had been watching from the other side of the gymnasium. Mark completely ignored her as he began dribbling the basketball around. Natalie simply sighed. "How can someone his age show so much disrespect?"
"Well, he is the son of Gordon. It's pretty obvious, if you ask me." Maria explained to her. Natalie nodded her head. She looked over to Alice, who sat alone in the seats closer to the gymnasium.
"I'm just glad his daughter hasn't exhibited the same behaviour yet. Even if she may be the youngest, she appears much calmer and more mature than either men." Natalie commented.
"But the girl looks so lonely whenever I see her." Maria said. The two woman looked back to Alice. She didn't seem to notice them staring at her. Instead, she stared in the blank space in front of her, with an emotionless expression covering her face. "Sometimes I wonder what's going through the child's mind."
Meanwhile, Kyle was busy sketching the entire inside of the arena. He sat in the top rows of the seats for a better view. Charlie took a seat beside his owner and focused his attention on the arena floor as Mark was making shots with the basketball he found. The dog especially kept its attention on the ball, bobbing its head in sync with the ball bouncing.
"Hey there." Ellie greeted them, walking up to the duo. She kneeled onto the seat in front of Kyle to face him. "So whatcha doin'?"
Kyle didn't answer her. Ellie rolled her eyes. Noticing his feet were resting on top of the seat she kneeled on, Ellie grabbed both of his feet and pulled them down, causing Kyle to yelp as he was dragged out of his seat and fell onto the floor.
"Ow! Hey! That hurt!" Kyle moaned, rubbing his behind as he got up.
"Serves you right for ignoring me again." Ellie teased him. Kyle shook his head at her as he picked up his sketchpad.
"Sorry, I was busy sketching and I didn't hear you."
"You seem to sketch a lot, don't you?" Ellie said. She walked up to him and looked over to the gymnasium sketch he was currently working on. "Hmph, looks okay so far. Could use a little more shadowing on the backboards, if you ask me."
"Since when did you become a certified art critique?"
"Well, someone needs to provide feedback to your work. And what better person to do it than me?" Ellie put her hands to her hips as she grinned at Kyle.
"Oh great, how lucky of me to have you criticize my work. Yipee!" Kyle spoke in a teasing tone. He waved his hands around to the side in a sarcastic manner as if he was excited, causing Ellie to playfully push him back. Kyle grinned back to her. "Hey! I was only kidding!"
"I know you were."
"Then why'd you push me?"
"Because you looked stupid doing this." Ellie mimicked his hand gesture, adding a funny expression on her face.
"Okay, you're over exaggerating." Kyle said. "I did not make that face."
"You still looked stupid, though." Ellie remarked. The two took a seat beside each other and watched as Mark continued to shoot hoops on the gymnasium floor below. "You've ever played basketball before?"
Kyle shook his head. He turned towards Charlie beside him. "How about you?"
"Are you seriously talking to your dog?" Ellie asked,
"Yeah. Dogs can understand human language. Watch." Kyle whistled to Charlie and pointed down below. "Fetch, boy!" Charlie gave a bark and quickly jumped out of his seat and ran down the stairs. He rushed over to Mark and snatched the ball out of his hands. Charlie quickly ran back to duo and dropped the ball onto Ellie's lap.
"Whoa, that's awesome!" Ellie grinned. She rolled the ball in her hands and began to pat Charlie on the head.
"What the fuck was that about!" Mark yelled at the duo as he shook his hand towards them. Natalie began to lecture him again about using foul behaviour. "But Mrs. Parker! It wasn't my fault this time! It was your son and that red-headed twit!"
"That does not excuse you of using foul language!" Natalie lectured him.
"Your mom is so cool, you know?" Ellie said. Kyle simply nodded.
"Hey, you mind if I ask you something?" Kyle said. He turned towards Ellie and took a moment to find his words. "So... remember back in Las Vegas? When Joel and the others went to get the gasoline cans? Why did you end up following them? You know how risky that was, right?"
Ellie's head lowered for a moment. She sighed. "I couldn't sit there and do nothing. I wanted to help." She decided to hide her true motive from Kyle. Killing the Reapers for what they did to her was a big priority. But it was personal. It was nothing Kyle had to be aware of. "Why are you even asking?"
"...I've never seen someone like you do something so idiotic." Kyle explained to her, giving a soft chuckle. His words seemed to hurt Ellie. How could he say that? She crossed her arms in annoyance and was about to leave when Kyle stopped her. "Wait! Hear me out!"
"Why should I? You just called me an idiot."
"Listen, what you did was stupid... but it was a really brave thing to do. Like I said, I've never seen anyone do that before. I kinda like that, though. It makes you different, but in a good way."
"Really?" Ellie asked. Kyle nodded his head and gave an awkward smile, hoping his compliment would outweigh the stupid remark he made to her. Luckily, Ellie did appreciate his comment. This weird boy she'd only met a few days ago agitated her, but there were times she really came to like his attitude. Ellie found herself looking away from him in timidness. A sudden "fluttery" feeling began to overwhelm her body. She felt blood rush to her face. Ellie could only question what was happening to her.
Why the hell do I feel like this?
"Bruce! Joel! You're back!" Jenny expressed in gratitude. The two men entered the arena. She ran towards her husband and they embraced each other for a moment. Jenny began to feel around his shirt and noticed the blood stains on it. "What happened out there? Are you okay?"
"We're fine. We just came across some infected, that's all." Bruce explained to his wife. At the same time, Tommy and Gordon entered the arena.
"Joel! How'd you guys do? Did you find the safe zone?" Tommy asked.
"We did... but... it was overrun with infected. There was no one alive left. They're all dead." Joel explained. He watched as a rush of disappointment took over the group. Their hopes had been crushed. "This was all the Reapers' doing. They invaded the safe zone exactly like they did to Jackson. They were the ones who let the infected in."
"So where do we go now?" Maria asked.
"The real question we should be thinking is where can we go now!" Gordon corrected her. He stomped his foot in anger. "Jesus, those Reapers probably plagued half the cities in the country at this point! Why, I oughta' shove my machete up their asses the next time I see their sorry faces!"
"Gordon! Please! Quit with the foul language! Your daughter is right here!" Natalie pleaded with Gordon.
"How dare you argue with me, woman! I don't care if she hears me spit out the most explicit of words! You see me as a terrible role model, but all I'm doing is trying to protect her! Who even allowed you to give concern to how I act around my own daughter? Your not even her fucking mother!" Gordon yelled. He breathed heavily as he shoved his face towards Natalie's, causing her to back away in both fear and pity. The rest of the group stood back in silence. They were struck with awe from Gordon's words. It was the first time he showed the slightest care for something. Normally, he was angry, but this time, there was a small sign of distress showing through him.
"Please stop shouting, daddy. I don't like it when you're mad." Alice spoke up. Gordon turned to his daughter. She held her hands together over her chest in a begging manner. The sight of her standing up to him calmed his anger for a moment. He regained control of his breathing and turned silent. It was a rare moment for the group to see from Gordon.
"Look, I know this seems like a dead end for us, but we can't give up hope. There has to be a safe place for us somewhere. We just have to keep looking." Joel reasoned with the group. The others were unsure about his words. Los Angeles was their only option, and with it gone, they felt hopeless. What were they supposed to do now?
"I may have a suggestion." Roselyn spoke. "If my memory recalls, Malibu is only a few miles away from Los Angeles. Why don't we try heading there?"
"What's a Malibu?" Ellie asked in curiosity.
"It's a city by the coast." Joel explained. He slowly walked up to Roselyn and showed interest in her idea. "What makes you think we should go there?"
"Well, first of all, they have these really nice looking mansions there." Roselyn exclaimed. Her face brightened in delight as she imagined the luxury of the mansions in her head. "Plus, the area is significantly smaller. Think about it: everyone in the world focused on heading to the major cities for the safety and resources. Over time, the smaller cities could be left untouched. Less infected roaming the streets. More untouched supplies for us to grab."
"That must be the most dim-witted idea I've ever heard!" Mark criticized her. Roselyn rolled her eyes at him.
"I'd like to see you think of something better then, ball boy!"
"What do you think, Joel? You think that's a risk we should take? Scouting out Malibu?" Tommy asked his brother. Joel was unsure about Roselyn's idea. They were in need of supplies and low on gas. If Malibu wasn't resourceful as she said it would be, then the group would have wasted all their efforts for nothing. But on the other hand, Malibu could be a goldmine of untouched supplies and a possible safe haven. A home. With no other options, what else could they do?
"Everyone get ready. We're heading to Malibu."
-TO BE CONTINUED-
A/N: A turning point in the story, where the group must now relocate to Malibu. The purpose of Los Angeles was to show how powerful of an effect the Reapers can leave behind in regards to a large city.
I have an interesting story arc planned when the group arrives in Malibu. One that may change the whole dynamic between the characters. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming chapters.
I hope you guys enjoyed the chapter! Thanks for all your support! Bye for now! :D
~I do not own any The Last of Us material. They are the respective property of Naughty Dog Inc.~