A while back Permuted Press asked some of us authors to write origin stories on the L4D2 characters. I chose Ellis (of course, he is the best). This piece was a little unusual for me to write since it has some lighthearted humor, but it was a blast and I love how it turned out.
Ellis leaned back in the green, plastic lawn chair and propped his feet up on the porch railing. The air was hot and humid, so he was happy he didn’t have to trek over to Hammy’s gas station/convenience store for the po’ boys and beer. He beat his buddy Keith fair ‘n square in that arm wrestle. Sitting there sipping the remains of his lukewarm cola was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
He hadn’t seen Keith since he moved out of the swamp a few weeks ago, to take a mechanic job in the city. Well, city wasn’t the right word, but it was good enough for Ellis. Anywhere with smooth paved roads, a big grocery store, and a strip mall seemed big to him, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. He was born and raised in these swamplands, just like his momma and sisters, and was proud of it. When he took the job, he planned on coming back to visit his real friends and family. But he didn’t miss Keith enough to suffer waiting in line at Hammy’s with him, that’s for sure.
“Well, look at what we got right here! Mandy, you do look good.”
His blonde-haired, blue-eyed one time sweetheart sauntered over from the double-wide across the street.
“Thank you,” she said sweetly. “What’re you doing here?”
“Vistin’ Keith. He’s over at Hammy’s.”
“Mhm, you always were lazy! Even more so now that you’re a city boy, huh?”
“Aw, darling, that ain’t true,” Ellis whined and relayed the epic arm wrestle from earlier.
“You always were strong, too.” She batted her eyelashes and leaned her hip against the railing. “What split us up, anyway?
Across the road two kids burst from double-wide trailer door, followed by an angry older woman.
Ellis laughed. “You got pregnant.”
“And they ain’t my kids.”
“Mandy, I swear, you get back here! I’m not taking care of these youngins forever.”
“Alright!” she called, then turned to Ellis one last time. “Yeah, that’s true. Anyway, it was good to see you. Tell Keith I said hello.”
He tipped his empty cola bottle in farewell and watched her hips sway as she walked off. Twins didn’t take her figure away, that’s for sure. But Ellis had a new girl in his life, Jeanette, who was fixin’ to move in with him in a few weeks. She meant a lot to him, and even if Mandy did put the moves on him, he wouldn’t give in. He cared too much about Jeanette to do that.
Keith’s old red Chevy came clunking down the road. A moment later he climbed up the porch steps with a white bag in one hand and a box of beer in the other. He sat next to Ellis and handed him the bag, panting from the heat.
“One dressed oyster po’ boy with extra mayo,” Keith said as he settled in.
“Much obliged, buddy!”
The sandwich was delicious and exactly what he’d been craving. No one could make a po’ boy like Hammy’s. The oysters were fried just right and the bread was always fresh.
They cracked open their beers and ate in companionable silence.
After half of Keith’s sandwich was gone, he spoke. “I saw Jason Jr. gettin’ a whole bunch of cold medicine while I was waiting for the sandwiches. I asked him what was up, and he said Sue was real sick. You know anything about that?”
Sue was Ellis’s favorite cousin, but he hadn’t heard anything about it. Then again, she was pretty reclusive since she married Jason Jr. Ellis had his suspicions about the guy, but Sue wouldn’t hear anyone speak a bad word in his direction.
“No, I didn’t hear anything.”
“Hmm.” He shrugged and took another mouthful of his shrimp po’ boy. “Well, if I were you I’d go visit her before you leave town. I know it ain’t on the way exactly, but she’d probably appreciate it.”
“I will, yeah. Thanks for the heads up, buddy.”
They talked a while longer about Keith and his recent mishap with a gator, then listened to the latest Misfits album before Ellis decided it was time to leave. If he wanted to see Sue, he needed to get going. The idea of walking down the winding, planked paths to Sue’s place in the dark didn’t sound fun at all. Nasty critters came out during nighttime in the swamps. Ellis wouldn’t want to be caught by a single one.
He blasted the air conditioning in his truck during the ride to the entrance to Sue’s land. When he parked at the No Trespassing sign and turned the engine off, the heat overtook him once again. Not like he wasn’t used to it, but still… it was hot. Ellis pulled off his baseball cap and wiped the sweat from his brow before beginning the quarter mile walk.
Cypress trees grew thick out of the muddy swamp water. Their branches looked shaggy with leaves. Insects buzzed and swarmed the water. Ellis could almost taste the earthy scent of rotting vegetation. His sneakers thudded against the wooden walkway, but sounded muted and tiny in the vastness of the swamp.
Ten minutes later he was at Sue’s door. With any other family member he’d walk right in, but Jason Jr. made it all too clear anyone who wanted to come in had to knock. He rapped on the wood frame at the side of the screen door. When no one responded, Ellis got worried.
“Sue? You in there?”
The sounds of the bayou seemed to fade away. He heard a couple thumps from inside, somewhere near the back of the house, then nothing. The screen door screeched on its hinges as he pulled it open and peered inside. It was too bright outside and too dark inside. He had to wait for his eyes to adjust to see anything.
The front room and kitchen were one big area. No one was inside. Ellis’ heart pounded, but he cowboyed up and walked in. A coppery scent filled his nose and he gagged. It had to be blood. He knew that smell from butchering pigs with his granddaddy when he was a kid.
How in the hell did he go from having an oyster po’ boy with his longtime buddy to this? His heart was threatening to jump out of his chest, and he felt ready to faint.
“Sue, I swear, you’d better answer me!”
Thud. Thud. Thud.
He looked left, down the hallway. There was a bedroom and a bathroom down there. Ellis remembered from when he helped Sue move in. At the end of the hall was a steep staircase going up into the small attic. Though faint, Ellis heard a low animalistic snarling coming from there.
Jason Jr. finally flipped his lid and hurt my cousin, was all Ellis thought as he barreled down the stained brown carpet and up the creaky flight of steps, his doubts replaced with familial wrath. I’m going to beat him into the ground!
That smell—blood—hit him full force when he cleared the stairs and entered the ten by ten foot room. Directly across from him was Jason Jr., body sprawled on the dusty attic floor. Above him was Sue, her back to Ellis. Her limbs flailed and fists connected with his body. Jason Jr. was as good as dead by the looks of him. He was limp, his eyes were glassy, and his mouth hung open.
Her body jerked at odd angles as she spun around to face him. Black spider web veins covered her skin around the eyes and mouth. A glimmer that reminded him of raccoon eyes at night flashed angrily in her eyes. Blood seeped from her tear ducts. Her skin was ashen gray and her hair was greasy, clinging to her scalp as though it were wet.
“That ain’t right.”
Sue tilted her head back and howled to the sky. Ellis took a step away before his favorite cousin charged him, arms outstretched, and knocked him down the steps. He hit the landing first and Sue’s arm got caught in the railing. She screamed but it didn’t seem like she was in pain. More like she was frustrated he was out of her grasp.
Ellis got to his feet and made it out of the hallway before he heard her coming behind him. He dove over the spotted orange couch to put some distance between them.
She followed suit and lunged over the couch. Ellis dodged her but bumped into the small TV. It flickered on. The volume was on full blast, and it made Sue even angrier. His crazed cousin was between him and the front door—his only escape. His only option was to find some weapon to stop her with. Ellis pushed her away as she made another advance towards him, and he ran for the kitchen.
“Let’s make some grits!” He hefted a heavy iron skillet from the stove.
Sue wasn’t right anymore. She might’ve been in a bad relationship, but she sure as hell would never kill Jason Jr. Ellis had to pick between her and himself, and number one always came first.
It took two strikes to knock her out for the count. Now it was just him and the house, quiet as could be, with two dead bodies in it. He didn’t feel hot or sweaty anymore. In fact, his whole body was clammy and shaking. It wasn’t cousin Sue. It just wasn’t.
“Military help is failing. CEDA evacuation centers are becoming overrun. If you come in contact with an infected person, beware…”
Ellis stopped feeling sorry for himself and wandered into the living room, bloody frying pan in hand, to see what was on TV.
“Infected individuals are extremely dangerous, exhibiting spontaneous violence. Please stay indoors and keep your loved ones safe. Contain the infected if you can, but do not put yourself at risk.”
All Ellis could think about as he ran back to his truck and stepped on the gas was finding Jeanette and somewhere safe to say.
He had no idea what was to come.
Six stories below the infected pounded relentlessly on the boarded hotel doors. Once they caught sight of uninfected flesh, they followed it and would try to get through—or climb over—anything to catch and kill it.
It had been five days since Ellis, Jeanette, and three other survivors found the hotel. It took one full day to clear it out and make sure it was safe. They had just enough time to break down the coffee table, reception desk, and a few wooden chairs from the rooms before one infected caught wind of them. Then more came. Now a righteous horde of them was packed real tight against the wood, slamming their bloody fists away. None of them seemed to forget there were healthy people in there.
Besides Jeanette, Ellis’ companions weren’t the best bunch to be stuck with. Stan was a single guy who didn’t say much, but offered too insightful information on the infection every once in a while. Jeanette and Ellis had been traveling with him for quite some time now—weeks? A month? Who knew, time was hard to keep track of these days. Stan would talk about the virus mutating, warning them that more was to come, don’t doubt it. It got on Ellis’ nerves and made him snappy.
Ginger and George were a newlywed couple who came to the South for their honeymoon. When they tried to board a plane to go home to Washington, their flight was delayed—permanently. They said it only took one infected (how they knew that, Ellis didn’t know) to overrun the entire airport. It was a massacre.
The two couples and Stan stayed in separate rooms on the seventh floor, closest to the roof access stairwell. No one knew what to do. They couldn’t risk going outside, and hadn’t been able to locate help through phone or shouting out the window. The world was in total chaos. The infected took over and weren’t going to let go.
Ellis spent a lot of time thinking about how the world was going to turn out now that the zombie apocalypse had arrived. Oh, and the word ‘zombies.’
“Zombies! Ellis, you’re crazy! Zombies aren’t real. They’re just sick people.”
That’s what Jeanette said every time he called ‘em zombies. But hell, that’s what they were! Not like Night of the Living Dead zombies. Nah, they didn’t eat flesh or brains or anything. But they weren’t people anymore, and could take one hell of a beating before dying. Zombie was as good a word as any.
He pictured them surrounding the building, full of hate and fight, their ashen faces contorted with rage. Some of them with dried, caked blood on their hands and faces, snarling. They wanted to kill him and his girlfriend—most of his family had already been killed or become one of them—and anyone else uninfected. Eventually they were going to break in.
“Ellis, I’m hungry.”
He looked over at his now too-thin, hollow-eyed girlfriend, who lay on her side on the unmade hotel bed. They’d raided the vending machines on every floor and now nothing was left. Everyone agreed not to try the kitchen on the first floor since the infected—zombies—would sense they were there and go into a frenzy. But Jeanette was starving, and she was all he had left. He had to find something for her to eat. He had to at least save her after losing so many.
“I know, baby,” he said. “I…I’m going to go downstairs.”
Someone had to take the risk. When he thought about it, Stan was the one who should have been risking his ass to go outside or downstairs to get some food. After all, he didn’t have a significant other to take care of like him or George. Stan was flying solo and had nothing to lose.
When Ellis brought the idea up yesterday and the day before, Jeanette scolded him and told him not to. This time the wild aura of starvation sparked in her eyes, and she said nothing—just nodded and stood to kiss his cheek goodbye.
Ellis picked up the riot shotgun he’d found early on, emptied and threw a backpack over his shoulder, and stepped out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind him. He waited until he heard the soft click of Jeanette turning the deadbolt before heading to the stairwell by the elevators.
All the electricity was still on, but he didn’t want to take the elevator. Too noisy. Instead he jogged down the flights of steps, his destination the first floor. At each landing was a window, uncovered, overlooking the city. Unanswered pleas hung from windows and patios: sheets that were painted with ‘help’ or ‘alive inside.’ Some were tattered or hanging by a mere strand. It pained Ellis’ normally optimistic heart to see so many indications of loss and suffering.
Even worse were the shambling zombies on the street. The ones not near his building were strolling aimlessly in the sun, some of them standing idly. Not an uninfected soul was to be seen anywhere. He clenched his shotgun in attempts to override the onslaught of fear. He had six rounds. Six. There were thousands upon thousands of those things out there.
Ellis had to be careful.
Each time he reached a floor closer to the bottom, the noises coming from the infected grew louder and clearer. Their vicious snarling and banging on the exterior walls and front door were maddening, encouraging Ellis to walk faster. He knew exactly where the kitchen was and took no detours in getting there.
The hotel was small; it was on the extra nice end of a motel instead of a hotel. They didn’t have many windows to board up on the lower story because of that. The first story hallway only had one window (Ellis always figured the nicer a place was, the more windows there were—no reason for the thought, though) and six thin slices of light barely made their way to his end. Shadows passed behind the wooden slats. He didn’t need to think about what they were from.
He crouched low and stayed close to the wall as he made his way past the open archway into the reception area, then towards the swinging door on the other side of the hall. He pushed it open, confident in knowing they’d searched it before and there were no infected hiding in any corners. But there was one thing he had forgotten; the square shaped, unblocked window by the emergency exit directly across from him.
It led into a narrow, dead-end alley on street level. He’d seen it from the windows of other hotel rooms upstairs.
“Enough,” he hissed at himself. He’d been standing there thinking about nothin’ for at least twenty seconds! If one zombie walked past the window and saw him, he’d be a goner.
He darted into the kitchen and glanced around. What he guessed was a big silver fridge was too close to the window to dare approach. Instead he went for shelves of big canned food on the opposite side of the room, farthest from the window, to his right. Ellis set the backpack down and assessed which ones would be the best eating. Most of them were sauces or fruits.
As he bent down and set a can of peaches into his bag, he heard a loud bang, and liquid splashed onto his upper body and face. The tangy, acidic taste of spaghetti sauce dripped into his mouth. His eyes had shut automatically to stop it from blinding him. He wiped it off and spun around, picking his shotgun up from the floor. In front of him stood George, double-barrel in hand, shaking in his boots.
“I-I thought you were one of them! What in the hell are you doing down here?”
“Me? What are you doing? You do that again and I’ll knock you into next week.”
“Ginger was real hungry, and I suspect Jeanette is, too. And—”
Glass shattered. Ellis and George both looked to the uncovered square window and saw a skinny, muddy woman in a sundress climbing through. Behind her were a half dozen infected pacing and growling, waiting for their turn to enter.
The pounding on the entrance doors and windows escalated. Even from their position in the kitchen they heard wood splinter. The gunshot and breaking glass were enough to get them frantic with rage.
“Run!” Ellis yelled.
George didn’t need to be told twice; he was out the door before Ellis could take his first two steps towards it. He slipped in the slick tomato sauce coating the tile. Stumbling, he dropped his gun as he swung his arms. The infected woman was almost at him when the emergency exit flung open and a monstrosity Ellis couldn’t begin to comprehend charged through.
It was a type of infected Ellis had never seen before. He wore dirty, tattered denim overalls that blended well against his gray skin. A bulbous, monstrous arm came at him. It was bloody and splitting in numerous areas, the dark skin hardened and cracked all the way to his upper shoulder. His flailing, weakened left arm was a disturbing contrast.
Heavy feet slapped against the tile floor. Bloodshot eyes bulged from a bony, wrinkled face. His—the Charger, that’s what Ellis thought of it as, a fitting name—teeth were smashed into oblivion. Worst of all? He was coming straight for Ellis.
Ellis couldn’t do a thing. Midway through his fall, the charger pummeled him. In one quick motion he lifted his absurdly strong arm and gathered the front of Ellis’ shirt into his knobby fist. The Charger lifted him off his feet and rammed him through the swinging kitchen door.
During this blur of movement, George stood like a dumbass, watching the whole thing go down, shotgun in hand.
“Just shoot it! SHOOT IT!”
The Charger’s foul, decaying scent became stronger as he reached the middle of the reception area and slammed Ellis into the ground. The act of moving its maggot-infested arm stirred the odor up even more. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do to stop it. The giant beast had the upper hand, and the only way Ellis was going to get out of this was if George saved him.
It didn’t look like George had any intent to raise his weapon. Ellis’ bones felt brittle and his body ached from the million-and-one bruises that would, no doubt, be there tomorrow.
His alleged friend did the opposite. George ran past the Charger, knocking several zombies aside, and ran down the hall. Ellis couldn’t see where he was going since he was too busy being slammed against the dusty carpet, but he imagined he was going up the stairs to save Ginger.
Something like hot tomato juice misted his face a moment later. The Charger belted out a sound similar to a cow and fell dead at Ellis’ side. A pool of darkness saturated the blue and tan patterned carpet around his gargantuan body.
There wasn’t time to start feeling happy. Stan and Jeannette stood side by side shooting at the growing horde of undead. Ellis heard the high pitched beeping of the emergency exit the Charger barreled through. Only fifteen or so feet away, the front door gave in and a man in a green hazmat suit wiggled through.
Jeanette fired her assault rifle into the oncoming fray from the kitchen, clearing it out while Ellis got up onto his feet. Ginger and George were nowhere to be seen. Stan unleashed a spray of rounds from his submachine gun.
“I told you!” he yelled over the deafening gunfire. “More was to come, and there it is!”
Ellis straightened his trucker hat and kicked the motionless body of the charger, but cried out as his leg tightened and back protested. That thing did a number on him. He needed to heal up ASAP or he’d be out of the game.
“Come on Ellis, baby, let’s go! Ginger and George broke through to the roof. Let’s go that way.”
“All right, all right, hold on,” Ellis said as he ran past them to the reception desk.
He remembered seeing it when they first got there, but didn’t think of it as a weapon since he had a shotgun (now too dangerous to retrieve in the overrun kitchen). The machete was mounted behind the desk on two hooks sticking out of the wall. Above it was the profile of a gator skull. The thing looked old and battered, but right now it would do wonders.
He jerked the weapon off the wall and turned to his friends. “Okay, ya’ll. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Days later Ellis walked alone down a highway to get to a small airport he’d seen on one of the many maps he’d gathered from deserted cars. He needed to get away. He heard the UK and some parts of Europe were infection-free. Was it true? He wasn’t sure, but staying in a place that reminded him of his now dead true love, Jeanette, killed him on the inside.
After the first of what many called ‘special infected’ attacked his group, they traveled out of the cities into the suburbs and swamp areas for a while. But other special infected, and there were many, seemed to attack in increasing frequency. Jeanette fell victim to a Spitter. She was a nasty, wreck of a monster with a long neck, jaw dropping low, and green acid coming out of her mouth. Before the Spitter became a Spitter, Ellis was sure she was the biggest piece of white trash there ever was. What with the hot pink thong showing on her behind, and ratty jeans making the biggest frontal muffin top ever, how couldn’t she be?
Ellis usually tried to make fun of the infected ‘cause it made him feel a lot less sad about what happened. Sometimes it worked, other times… it didn’t. Like right then when he was thinking about Jeanette.
The worst part was that he couldn’t even try to save her. As she lay in a pool of Spitter goo, her skin burned and fell off in sheets. She stopped breathing and moving only minutes later. They killed the Spitter afterwards, but by the time her acid evaporated into the air, it was too late.
George fell victim to a violent, pouncing Hunter. Ginger was dragged away by the long, slimy tongue of a willowy Smoker when she ran off to try and save him. By then it was just Ellis and Stan, who were busy fighting the biggest and baddest monster of them all—a Tank.
And Stan? A small little bastard, the Jockey, jumped him at night and clawed at his face, steering him right into the sobbing embrace of a Witch.
His companions were all dead. And he needed to get as far away from the places they were savagely murdered as he could. The day he never saw another cypress tree, or tasted the rotten flavor of the swamp when he breathed, couldn’t come soon enough.
The airport came into sight. Military vehicles stood abandoned on the tarmac behind the tall, chain link fence and in front of it. A few buildings dotted the horizon. In front of the modestly sized airport was a white and red plane—the only one left.
The roar of a machine gun sounded off. Zombies he didn’t even see before came from behind cars and trees and ran towards the noise. Ellis gripped his machete, the only weapon he had, and made the decision to go help whoever was manning that gun.
He sliced up a few zombies as he made his way to an opening in the fence, but didn’t find much challenge. Loud noises were as enticing to infected as a chocolate cake was to a fat kid. Some of them were too distracted, trying to climb the fence, so they didn’t notice Ellis right beside them.
Ellis’ sneakers slapped against the ground as he hauled ass to the plane. As he drew closer, he heard the humming of the engine idling. Wherever this plane was going, he planned to be on it. But the pilot wasn’t going to be able to take off with hordes of infected attacking him.
He let his momentum carry him through the task of cutting the midsection of a zombie in front of him. Stragglers who looked to be other survivors weaved their way between abandoned vehicles and cargo carts, but there was little power in these people. Ellis was surprised he’d made it this far without a group of people to help him. He kept on cutting and stabbing until he made it to the pilot.
“Looks like you need some help!” Ellis shouted over the whining of the machine gun.
The pilot gritted his teeth. “Damn straight I do. I’ve got at least ten people on that plane, and more coming by the looks of it. It’ll be at least fifteen minutes before we can get out of here!”
Ready to defend, Ellis took a wide stance and began fighting off any infected who made it past the pilot’s gun. Many of them did, coming from the forest beyond the fence behind the plane. His whole body was sweaty and weak from fighting them all.
Blood splattered in an arch across the pavement as he almost decapitated an infected man that snuck up behind him. He didn’t know how they managed to do it, but every once in a while one of the zombies got behind him, and when they did something else bad happened. Maybe if Ellis saw the Boomer coming at them, he could’ve warned the pilot so he could’ve shot him from afar. He could’ve said, it’s that barfin’ fat-ass zombie! Shoot him!
A group of three that had been hiding in the airport had almost reached Ellis and the pilot when the Boomer struck. He came out from behind a cargo truck and puked right on them, just as Ellis finished off the guy behind him and turned around. The lumbering, bloated, sweat pant-wearing dude clawed at them, having already hurled his guts out.
The chick with them decided to take the baseball bat she had and whack him right in his belly. He’d be damned to find a girl dumber than her. (Well, maybe Ginger, but she was dead…so did it even count?) One hit was all it took for the Boomer to explode all over them. All three of them!
Boomer puke really got the infected going. They could smell it from unreal distances. The three survivors stumbled as they attempted to wipe the blinding vomit off their faces, but it was no use. A horde came rushing through openings in the fence and swarmed them. Their rage-filled fists beat the trio into the ground before Ellis could make his mind up on whether or not he should save them.
A handful of people made it into the plane, but after a few minutes no one could make it through the continuous onslaught of zombies. Ellis was beginning to find it too difficult to keep the heavy machete swinging through the air.
He hadn’t heard gunfire other than the pilot’s since he arrived at the airport, so when the rapid fire of an AK-47 sounded off in the distance, his hopes went real high. Another person with a gun would be a downright blessing at that point.
Wearing a pink shirt and blue jeans, a thin black woman scaled the fence across the airport and ran through the mass of infected. She used the butt of her weapon to knock a few of them back at a time, before running through the opening she created.
“Careful, there’s a lady over there!” Ellis warned the pilot, who until then had been recklessly shooting into the masses.
He wasn’t no sexist, but damn if he’d ever seen a woman shoot as well as her. She jumped over an abandoned suitcase in her way and closed the distance between herself and the plane.
When she raised her gun and pointed it at Ellis, he was awful surprised. Then she squeezed the trigger and blew the head clean off a Hunter who was sneaking up behind him. It screeched like a wild cat as it hit the big plane wheel and went motionless.
Ellis gaped at her for a moment before he said, “Thank you kindly, ma’am.”