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3.31.2013

Resurrection Day: Rochelle's Gospel



In 2011 I was among a few Permuted Press authors who wrote short stories for a Left 4 Dead 2 fan-made campaign which sounded pretty badass. The stories served to establish the outbreak and each character’s arrival at the campaign’s starting point. Unfortunately, the project is still in development, but I’ve been cleared to “leak” my story. Each of the writers was to choose a Survivor and a Special Infected. I went with Rochelle and the Smoker.

I don’t know whether the story, if and when the campaign is finished, will be included as-is. So here’s my draft, warts and all…

It should be noted that the Left 4 Dead series was launched in late 2008, after my eyes had gone postal on me, so I was never able to play the games myself. Instead I had to rely on online research and gamer friends. I leave it to you to judge how this affected Rochelle’s character and story.


Rochelle: Shaking the Disease

I.

     Shaggy had finally stopped hacking up his lungs and there was maybe an hour of decent light left. Rochelle rushed Bryan and Marcus into place before the tree, then stepped back with Ranger Rick, who had yet to wipe that bemused smile off his face.
     “At least you’re in a good mood,” Rochelle muttered, crossing her arms over the Depeche Mode logo on her chest.
     Ranger Rick shrugged. “Tomorrow’ll be another story. Swing by if you want to see me turn red.”
     “We shouldn’t be here period,” she replied through gritted teeth. Shaggy, her nickname for the brave leader of the hippies chained around this tree, was the one who’d e-mailed her station. Evidently this stretch of national forest had been turned over to some other department to be razed, and he’d made it sound like there was going to be a full-scale war in progress when she arrived. And now here they were, doing a fluff piece about three baristas tweeting from an oak they’d named “Treebeard.”
     While field reporter Bryan Steele practiced his something-out-of-nothing face, Marcus was playing with the light settings on his camera. He glanced back at Rochelle and said, “This is gonna look like shit, boss.”
     “You’re supposed to be the one protecting this land!” the girl hippie shouted at Ranger Rick. “You’re just going to stand there and gawk like an idiot?”
     The smile never left his face as he said, “Don’t light me up, kiddo.”
     Shaggy shook his chains angrily. “Save it for air,” Rochelle called. “Marcus, you ready to do this?”
     “Gotta do it now if we’re gonna do it,” he said.
     Bryan straightened up and smoothed his hair. “Don’t make me squint.”
     Rochelle couldn’t see Marcus’s face, but she felt him grinning as he put his harshest light on Bryan’s face. It caught the hippies too, and when Shaggy glared at it, Rochelle could have sworn his eyes were ablaze, like those of an animal.
     Then Shaggy leaned over and took a big bite out of his girlfriend’s shoulder.
     For a full two seconds, seconds that seemed like hours, there was only the sound of Bryan’s complaining. Then Shaggy’s girlfriend let out a piercing scream.
     “Shit!” Ranger Rick ran into the shot. Bryan turned and stammered at the sight of the girl’s gushing wound, and at Rick, who had frozen in his tracks as Shaggy snarled and lurched within the chains.
     On the other side of the tree, the third hippie swung his head from side to side. “What’s happening? Emily! Derek, what the hell’s going on?”
     Rick pulled a pistol from his waist and trained it on Shaggy. “On your knees! On your knees!
     Emily shrieked and tried to pull away from her boyfriend, but only succeeded in getting his attention again, and he threw himself at her.
     Rochelle felt her nails biting into her palms. Her face flushed with heat. Sweet Jesus, what am I doing just watching? But she couldn’t move a muscle.
     Rick’s gun cracked twice. Shaggy slumped against the tree and growled.
     “He won’t die!” Bryan cried.
     One or both of the bullets must have hit the chains, because they suddenly slackened and Emily collapsed. Shaggy dropped into a feral crouch.
     “Shoot that motherfucker!” Marcus barked from behind the camera.
     Rochelle saw Rick’s arms trembling as he tried to assess the unfolding nightmare. Then Shaggy was on him.
     The pistol flew from his hands when he went down. Marcus had turned and was filming the attack; he was screaming for it to stop, but couldn’t seem to realize he was part of the situation. Maybe he didn’t want to. Bryan had checked out entirely. The other hippie was cradling Emily and hollering incoherently. And Shaggy sat atop Rick and clawed his face off.
     CRACK! CRACK! He flew back, blood spouting from a hole above his eye, and lay still.
     Marcus turned his light on Rochelle, who lowered the gun and said, in a barely audible voice, “Shit.”

II.

     “They’re forty-fives,” Marcus said as he shook the rounds from the unmarked box. “Hand me the P220.”
     Rochelle slid him the ranger’s pistol and went back to holding her head. It was pounding, and on top of that she smelled like she’d just run a marathon. Supposed she had. How long had they been on the move now? They’d made it all the way into the heart of the city, mostly on foot, and were now hunkered down in a trailer on a construction site.
     Smelling something else, Rochelle shot a look across the room. “Really?”
     Bryan took a long drag on the cigarette he’d just lit and slouched on the floor. “What do you want me to do? I’m an addict.”
     “Let him smoke,” Marcus said. He handed Rochelle the reloaded pistol. “I want to know where he is if the power goes out again.”
     “I’m fine,” Bryan snapped. “I got bit two damn days ago and I’m not even running a temperature. I’ll tell you what, the nicotine’s helping. I’m telling ya.”
     He pointed that tiny stinking cinder at Rochelle. “I can’t even remember how long it’s been since Flower Girl got you. We’re immune, both of us.” For the tenth time in an hour he pulled out his cell phone and checked it. “Crap.”
     Marcus rested the shotgun he’d found across his lap and shut his eyes. “We’re alone, Bry. Meet your new family. Ro’s Mama Bear.”
     “I was always Mama Bear.” Rochelle punched Marcus’s thigh. “Don’t you forget it.”
     She didn’t know how long she slept. She hadn’t even felt tired, just went out like a light. Then she woke up, and the lights were out.
     They’d covered all the windows; she didn’t know if it was day or night. All she saw was the faint glow of Bryan’s cigarette. It looked like it was on the floor. Groping through the dark, she found Marcus’s leg again, and he grunted. “Mrh…wha?”
     “Turn your light on.”
     A second of fumbling and he switched on the camera, propping it on his thigh. Their little comfort zone had one flimsy door which they’d blocked with a desk, but it opened outwards and Rochelle could see that it was just slightly ajar, night beyond. The only evidence Bryan had ever existed was that cigarette, smoldering in a still-wet puddle of blood.
     She and Marcus both grabbed their guns. He set the camera down and shielded its light with his free hand. “I didn’t hear anything. I was sound asleep,” he whispered.
     Rochelle stared at the blood, now black in the dim light. “He wasn’t attacked. Not enough mess. He’s hacking it up.”
     “He just took off,” Marcus breathed.
     There was a sound from outside, like feet on gravel.
     Then, a cough.
     Rochelle shook her head at Marcus, silently telling him to hold his tongue. She began scooting on her backside toward the door. Sometimes being Mama Bear sucks.
     She rose over the desk and reached for the doorknob. All she had to do was whisk it shut and flip the bolt. She wouldn’t make a sound. Bryan, even if he was still Bryan, had to be on the verge of turning. Had to be losing it if he’d gone out there on his own—
     Something struck the wall by the door. Rochelle dropped down with a grimace. Her finger curled over the P220’s trigger.
     Whatever it was – hell, she knew what it was – it scrambled up the wall and onto the roof. The trailer rattled. She lunged over the desk and yanked the door shut.
     Marcus turned his light upward and said, “Dammit.”
     There was a translucent panel in the middle of the ceiling. They hadn’t noticed it when they’d first come in. Marcus shut the light off, and they sat in darkness.
     Scraping on the roof. A wet cough.
     Rochelle’s eyes adjusted and she could make out the plastic panel. It probably couldn’t be pried open from the outside…right?
     The shotgun ratcheted in Marcus’s hands. “Let me handle it,” Rochelle said softly.
     “It’s him, Ro.”
     “I know it is. Don’t be firing that thing in here.”
     Silence. She laid back and held the pistol on that panel. She waited. Marcus was breathing hard. She hoped he’d lowered the shotgun. Didn’t want to ask. It was too quiet now. The thing outside, it was listening too. Maybe it didn’t remember that they were in there. Maybe it would go away, and she wouldn’t have to shoot The Man of Steele in his pretty little head.
     The panel was torn away. It sounded like it fell inside. Marcus let out a choked gasp.
     “I’ve got it!” Rochelle cried. The opening above was empty but her hand was steady. Let’s get this over with. Come on baby!
     Marcus gasped again. She heard his feet beating on the floor. She called his name and got no response.
     The camera light came on, swinging through the air in a wild arc, then dropped to the floor – and there she saw Marcus struggling against some kind of cord or rope around his neck. It had come down through the opening and – oh god – it was alive – it was a tongue, impossibly long and impossibly strong, lifting Marcus off the fucking floor toward the opening.
     She grabbed at Marcus’s legs. Bryan’s head came leering into view. Rochelle let go of Marcus, who swung into the P220’s path. He waved the shotgun blindly and she ducked under the desk, afraid he’d fire in his panic. She didn’t have a shot! Bryan was going to kill him!
     She didn’t even think about what she was doing as she leapt over the desk and kicked the door open, as she raced from the trailer. She heard Marcus gurgling behind her and blocked it out. Had to be smart, not emotional.
     She turned in the gravel and sighted Bryan’s prostrate form on the trailer. With him silhouetted against the starry sky, she could make out his heaving back and his arms bracing against the roof. He made an awful sound like he was puking and screaming at the same time. Lord, Bryan was totally gone. With that thought, she emptied her clip.
     Bryan lurched upright and wisps of what looked like cigarette smoke exuded from his lips and back. She saw the tongue snap back into his mouth with no purchase. He turned, unsteadily, to look at Rochelle.
     Shit! She must have hit him at least a few times, but the only visible sign of discomfort was his hacking, spitting cough as he lumbered to the edge of the roof. The rest of the .45s were in the trailer. She should have filled her pockets. Stupid!
     The tongue lashed around her throat out of nowhere. She dropped the pistol and wrestled with the slimy, pulsing muscle. It was no use. Bryan arched his back and she was being pulled on her heels through the gravel.
     A shotgun blast erupted through the roof, sending Bryan skyward, his tongue peeling away from Rochelle and whipping through the air. He landed somewhere in the shadows and Rochelle shouted, “Marcus!”
      He ran out of the trailer and pointed past her. “Up!”
     She turned. The skeleton of an office tower loomed overhead. At its base she saw the shadows of infected, drawn by the gunfire.
     Marcus pushed her to a ladder at the corner of the tower. “Up!” he said again, placing the shotgun’s strap over her head.
     “What are you doing?” she hissed. Marcus replied by pushing her up the ladder. He followed her onto a wooden platform, then kicked the ladder away just as the infected swarmed around it.
     Marcus sat and touched his neck. Despite the darkness, Rochelle knew from his body language that he was hurt. More than hurt. Defeated. Bryan's attack must have broken the skin.
     Rochelle knelt beside him. “You might be all right, like me.”
     “And like Bryan?” Marcus laughed bitterly. The howls of the infected filled the night. “Babe, what are the odds? I’m already burning up. Papa Bear’s screwed,”
     “I didn’t know you were Papa Bear,” she said, softly, so that he wouldn’t hear her voice break.
     “Yeah you did.” He got to his feet. “I’ll climb down the other side and lead them away. Stay put till it’s light and take a look around, then wait till dark to move again.”
     She followed him across the platform. “Where? And why? Why keep going?”
     He stopped at the edge and, without turning, said the last thing he’d ever say to her.
     “Make this mean something.”

III.

     The concourse was scattered with bodies and debris. Huddled behind a newsstand’s soda cooler, Rochelle picked a sliver of bone off her t-shirt. She’d been able to bathe herself in the sink in the janitor’s closet a few hours prior, and had scrubbed as much crud as she could from her clothes. This goddamn shirt was the last remaining bit of her former life, the thing that said I’m still Rochelle. I’m not just surviving. I’m Rochelle and I’m gonna live.
     She’d heard an explosion outside moments earlier. If there weren’t any rescue planes left idling on the tarmac, as the voice on the radio she’d found promised, maybe she’d come across a running truck. Maybe one of those carts they drove old ladies around in. Almost laughed at that.
     Things had been quiet since the explosion. She decided to sprint to the end of the concourse, to the last gate, and outside. She was down to just the shotgun. As long as she stayed in the open she hoped to avoid any groups too tight to be parted by its blast.
     Okay, baby. Time to run that Green Flu Mile. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a plane.
     Automatic gunfire from outside. Then screaming, the screaming of infected. Time to go.
     Just as she came out from behind the cooler a man and woman holding hands ran past her. They both glanced at her, then quickened their pace. Rochelle looked back to make sure the coast was clear and started after them.
     The gate door led right out onto the tarmac. The man threw it open and stopped cold. “Jesus! They’re everywhere!”
     Rochelle tried to push past him, but the girl shoved her back and yelled “We gotta go honey!”
     “I’m not--” He saw something behind Rochelle and lost his words.
     A cough echoed through the concourse.
     Rochelle turned just in time to catch the tongue as it coiled around her throat. She heard the couple shriek and flee out the door, leaving it to bang against the wall like a war drum. Like the pounding in Rochelle’s head as the smoker’s muscle tightened and tunnel vision set in.
     A green cloud belched from Bryan’s open mouth as he reeled her in. How long had the bastard been shadowing her, waiting for the opportunity? Son of a bitch! Rochelle pressed the shotgun against the tongue’s quivering meat and fired.
     Bryan roared as half of the vile thing fell limp on the floor. Rochelle darted outside.
     Here, at last, was the war she’d been waiting for. And she with no cameraman.
     Military vehicles littered the tarmac but there wasn’t a living soldier in sight. Just a plane – one measly little plane - surrounded by infected, and that’s where the gunfire was coming from. Rochelle’s feet beat the ground and pushed her along in great strides. No sense trying to conserve strength now. No time to look back. Bryan couldn’t run anyway.
     Wrong.
     He knocked her into the side of a camouflage Jeep and sent her sprawling. Then he was on her, bloody stump lolling from his mouth, smoke spewing forth, black claws coming down.
     She fired into his gut. He staggered back and vomited bile. Rochelle rolled to the side, came up on one knee and the next shot opened the side of his throat. One serious trach hole.
      He surged forward with a last diseased, guttural scream. She let him get within clawing range before shearing his head off.
     A choking green cloud erupted from the ruin of his neck. Rochelle spun, but the crap swirled around her and she gagged. Follow the gunfire. Save that plane!
     She ran – her vision cleared just in time for her to swerve around the small mob laying into that poor couple. She heard the infected snarling as they took notice of her, but Rochelle’s eyes were on the prize. She could see that there were two men defending the plane. One had some sort of mounted machine gun and the other was cutting the zombies down with a freakin’ machete. The infected at the back of the horde turned to see her, their attention drawn by the screams of the ones who’d taken down the couple. She was going to be boxed in within seconds. Rochelle fired and knocked a pair of infected down. Others filled the gap. Dammit, this was just what she’d feared – the plane was being thronged with the fuckers and she couldn’t cut through their numbers. She couldn’t backtrack to a vehicle either. Boxed in. Swallowed. Eaten alive.
     She spun and took the head off an infected in coveralls. It fell on its knees and the shoulder strap of an AK-47 slipped free.
     Thank you Jesus. You better believe I’m gonna make this up to you.
     She didn’t know how to control the beast, but she didn’t need to. There was meat everywhere she fired and it went down.
     Machete Man waved at her. “Come on! Get on the plane!”
     “That’s where I was headed!” she yelled. Leaping into the doorway, she turned to face the closing ranks of the enemy.
     “How many rounds you got?” Machete Man shouted as the other man resumed firing.
     “Count the bodies,” Rochelle said with a grim smile, and pulled back on the trigger.

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