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Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Last of Us Novelization - Chapter Eighteen: An Example of Turning Your Screenplay into a Novel

The culvert was ruptured in two, clogged with rubble at the opposite end, and the only way out was to climb up through its broken surface, which they promptly did. When Tess emerged, she looked around and said, "Yeah, this looks right."

They were standing in a low-ceiling room, a concrete basement, with pipes along the walls and above their heads There were metals steps leading up and around the corner. In the other corner sat a pile of rubble with a shovel protruding from it.

"Stay close," Tess said, and Joel wasn't sure if she was speaking to him or the kid.

Joel took the steps, leading the way, his electric torch providing the only source of light. "Well," he said lightheartedly. "At least we're out of the rain."

When he reached the top of the stairs, Tess, seeing only darkness and shadows, asked, "How's it look?"

Getting a handle on their new surroundings, Joel glanced around. This room had a ceiling much taller than the one below and was much larger, and as he turned, it seemed the expanse exceeded the limit of his light. He didn't like what he couldn't see and a howling wind sent chills through his rain-soaked body.

As he approached the walls, he saw wooden pallets and then a doorway, but then quickly registered the pile of rubble at its base, rendering it useless. On instinct he turned to the opposite wall where he found another exit, but this one had been barricaded with crates and shelves.

His immediate impulse was they were trapped, and he could feel his adrenaline working again. He wanted to be shed of the place and fast, but when he turned again, he did a double-take. There was a hole at the base of the wall near the first door, where a dozen cinder blocks had been wrenched free.

He approached, and a wave of relief engulfed him. "I think we can squeeze through here."

Crouching, he led the way, entering the darkness, but voices from above caused him to freeze. "Shit, shit," he hissed. "I got more soldiers."

"Charlie Squad, report!" "Targets still on the loose, sir!"

From his vantage point, he saw soldiers on the ruptured roof above his head peering down with their flashlights into the shadows of the manmade gulley stretched out before him. A long, heavy pipe extended the length of the gulley, disappearing into the gloom.

"I don't think they see us."

They were in a long, narrow basement of a building that had been partially ripped away. Fallen timber pilings leaned upright against the walls, and just ahead, two wooden crates sat crumbled amid the debris. A large tree branch spanned the opening above his head; vines draped from the gap's jagged edges like shabby green curtains. The rocky ground underfoot was littered with weeds.

"Break off pursuit and report back to sector eleven!" "Acknowledged! Get back to your vehicles!"

Joel was relieved to hear that bit of news, creeping to the cover of the crates and then crouch-walking around them. He could hear the rain falling outside, but their path inside the ruined structure was relatively dry. He could sense Tess and the girl following close behind.

He came to a short makeshift bridge of wooden planks and traversed it. "Stay in the shadows," he whispered. It grew dark where the ceiling reappeared, and he felt they were safe enough to flip his flashlight back on.

The wide hallway, if you could call it that, stretched into darkness, and there to his right stood a gaping hole, leading to the outside, cool air buffeting his body. Out of instinct, he pressed forward, ignoring the hole, curious to see what other options there were. Two steps further he saw the end of the hallway, and then the set of double-doors to his left hanging open. Without hesitation he stepped inside.

The band of three had entered a small office with desk and chairs, a sofa against the far wall. Some electrical panels sat protected inside a chain-linked cage.

"All right," Joel sighed, letting his muscles relax.

"Are we safe?" Ellie anxiously asked.

"No," Tess answered abruptly. "They're still around." And then perhaps forgetting the girl was still a child, she added, "Look, take a moment to catch your breath." And then, like the flip of a switch, the Tess Joel knew was back: "Joel, see if there's anything we can use in here."

"Sure thing, boss."

A certain feeling comes over you when your life is no longer in immediate danger, the adrenaline begins to ebb, the heartbeat returns to normal. He knew they all felt it, a sense of relief; it was palpable. They'd managed to dodge a bullet – a close one. He wondered how long their luck would hold as he turned his focus to a search of the room.

He found some loose nuts and bolts on a desk where a weathered bulletin board hung and scraped them with the edge of his palm into his pocket. Next, he went to the lockers along the wall and, opening those one by one, found a broken pair of scissors.

Perfect! he thought, dropping to one knee. He swung the backpack off his back and rummaged through it, removing a small spool of duct tape. He used these to rapidly fashion a shiv. Sooner or later, he surmised, it would come in handy.

Giving the room a final glance, he thought briefly about staying here until daylight, allowing them some much needed rest. But on further reflection he rejected the idea. The room was a dead end, and if someone should stumble upon them in the dark, they'd have nowhere to run.

The fact was, they still hadn't passed the point where the soldiers - or any sane person for that matter - dared to go: the heart of downtown, the hive of the infected. He and Tess both knew it. The dangers they'd encountered thus far were nothing compared to the unspeakable horror that lie ahead.

He exited the double doors and took one last look around the end of the hallway. He saw another chain-linked cage, some pallets, and a stack of damp cardboard boxes, folded flat and wrapped with twine; nothing of value there. It was time to exit this underground chamber.

The hole they had passed earlier led to a tunnel beneath the earth and ended at the opening of a large sewer drain.

"Tess, up through here, through this pipe."

They were close to the surface, water falling through the cracks, icy cold, just managing to land on Joel's neck and run down his spine. He cursed with a shiver as he slipped past the streams and entered the sewer, not needing to crouch. "I think we can make it through here."

The black water was ankle deep and they sloshed their way forward, rounding a bend. "Stay very close, Ellie," Tess reminded the girl.

"Okay," Joel heard the reply. He had to hand it to the kid… after everything she'd been through, she still sounded relatively calm.

The sewer's bend marked the end of the tunnel; it let out into a junction where lights filtered through a grating overhead. This was another narrow passageway with vines hanging from the grates, snaking their way around the pipes lining the walls, with rainwater gushing in along the sides. An exit like the one they had entered was visible on the other side.

The floor gave way about a foot or so and soon the trio found themselves waist deep in water. As Joel led the way across, keeping his arms above water, he spotted headlights shining down from above and heard the motorized sound of an approaching vehicle. "Whoa, whoa, hang on, hang on" he said in a hushed voice.

He watched the vehicle as it passed over the grates above their heads, hearing it screech to a halt. "Jesus," he muttered to himself.

"Gather up. They're calling us back. We're returning to the wall!" "You heard the man. Load them up. Let's go! Let's go!"

The words sparked relief and he felt the tightness ease in his shoulders and back. It was about time these assholes gave up!

Having reached the other end of the junction, Joel hefted himself into the sewer where he saw a metal gate blocking their path. He prayed silently it wasn't locked. "C'mon," he cursed, Give us a goddamn break!

Relieved, he noticed the gate opened from the inside, and with the brute force of his shoulder against the rusted metal, he pushed until the thing gave way. It protested loudly as it grinded against stone, the hinges screeching.

One by one they dropped out of the sewer and at last, the rats in the maze were free…

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Last of Us Novelization - Chapter Seventeen: An Example of Turning Your Script into a Novel

At the bottom of the crevice, Joel turned and looked up the craggy surface covered with thick vines. He heard the military vehicle grinding to a halt not far from where they had fled. Soldiers disembarked, and he heard their voices above.

"Holy shit," a man exclaimed.

Tess was wasting no time in making a hasty retreat, heading under a collapsed walkway where a gap between empty oil drums offered an exit. She ducked underneath, into the stream of rainwater rushing by.

Joel followed, but not before hearing a woman's voice call it in. "I got two dead uniforms. I repeat, I got two casualties in Sector Twelve. Requesting immediate backup."

"Shit!" he cursed. "They're gonna be out in numbers."

"I know," Tess replied. She eagerly took the lead. "Follow me," she said, her voice calm and steady. "Quickly."

They were in a rocky ravine of debris and she took cover behind an old air conditioning duct stretched out before them. The remains of a burned-out vehicle lie just up ahead.

Joel lifted his head and saw an armored Humvee emerge from the fortified gate of the concrete wall surrounding the zone; there was a searchlight atop the vehicle. The towers on the wall to his right had searchlights too, and their white circles of light were now scouring the area, looking for them, as horns sounded in alarm.

Joel crept up to the wrecked car, making sure to stay clear of the lights.

"All right, Ellie," he heard Tess say. "When I give you the signal, we run."

Joel made a beeline for a trench to his left, hoping its narrow walls would provide better cover, anxious to move away from the well-lit gate. Behind him, the footsteps of Tess and the girl as they hurried to keep up.

He jumped down, splashing into knee-deep water. It didn't look like the soldiers had made it this way, and so he hurried toward the dark shadows where, suddenly, a beam a light swept by.

He crept up to a corrugated panel topped with barbed wire and waited, and from this angle, he could see the searchlights on the towers scanning for them. The zone wall was well-lit, a good reason to stay as far away as possible. He watched a circle of light roam across the ground in front of him. The incessant lights were everywhere: the towers, the vehicles, the muzzles of weapons held by those on the ground searching for them.

Looking over his shoulder, he saw Tess run forward, hurtling over another chunk of debris blocking their path, and now the edges of the trench closed tighter, offering a better chance of concealment. Heavy pipes jutted from the edge of the crevices above them, water gushing through.

Up ahead lie the open end of a drainage pipe, big enough to squeeze through, and he pushed his way forward. Suddenly, there were footsteps on the ledge just above him and he saw the beams of their rifles race over the rocky wall beside him.

The area ahead was a scattered maze of fallen containers and oil drums, fallen street lamps and twisted metal; a battle-scarred warzone. Their pursuers were closing in on the gap under the bridge leading out from the compound.

"Ellie," Tess heaved. "It's gonna be another sprint. You ready?"

"Sure," she replied, catching her breath. "Yeah."

As they entered the narrow gap beneath the heavily armed bridge, Joel saw a myriad of roaming beams crisscross in the darkness. "Goddammit," he gasped. "They're everywhere."

They reached the pipe which sloped upward and he ushered the females through, making sure they wouldn't be seen. Then he entered the pipe and followed them to the other side, underneath the bridge. They were a little further, he thought, from the fortified walls. If they could just get past the reach of those spotlights, they might stand a chance…

The three emerged from the pipe where the trench widened and branched. There was another concrete bridge above them to the left, much higher, with fallen rubble underneath, and Joel heard footsteps rushing overhead.

"Soldiers," Tess alerted him. "Right there."

"I see 'em," he replied in a hushed whisper. "I see 'em."

The bright lights of the soldiers shot down from above, always moving, searching, but luckily their angle failed to spot the trio plastered with their backs against the edge. All it took was one pair of anxious eyes to spot them and their little expedition would be over.

"They must've gotten through. Check the trenches!"

That was the last thing they needed, Joel thought, as he had hoped their attention would stay on the ravine. They were outmanned and outgunned, and he still wasn't sure the risk was worth it… not with the girl being infected. The girl's words still hung in the air:"Three weeks." How was that possible?

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Nothing mattered except getting out of this mess alive. If they were found, he knew what would happen, and so he set himself with grim determination to make sure that didn't happen.

Above and to the right, a soldier suddenly appeared, pointing his flashlight down, scanning the trench. Joel held Tess back with his arm, becoming statues, gluing themselves to the inside of the crevice. Then, just as quickly, the light moved away.

"I don't see anything down there. Are we sure they came this way?"

"Unless we're told otherwise, we just keep scanning."

Joel relaxed and scampered along the trench, edging up to one of the concrete trellises of a fallen bridge. Using it for cover, he peeked around and saw another soldier on the ledge above him looking almost straight at him. He jerked himself back in the shadows. "Stay down. Don't let 'em see you," he whispered to the two behind.

He wanted to wait until the guard above him moved off, but he couldn't take the risk of being spotted from behind, so as soon he saw the soldier glance away, he darted into the murky shadows ahead. He heard Tess hiss, "C'mon, kid. Follow Joel."

They were rats trapped in a maze, but, like rats, they were good at moving undetected, and that's exactly what they did. They scurried to a point under another guard, where the jutting ledge beneath the boots would keep them unseen. Sticking to the far wall, they crept along, over the rocky floor of the trench. There was a bend to the right and they headed straight for it.

"You see anything?" Joel asked, his heart racing.

"Clear back here," came Tess's winded response. "How's it look up ahead?"

"So far, so good."

There was a hole in the wall of a building where the gulley ended, a way inside the heart of its ruined remains. Water ran past him and down the entrance, and when he peered down, he saw a swirling pool of black and prayed it wasn't deep.

Joel jumped, into the water, falling several feet. The pool was waist high - cold! He made his way, paddling with his arms, to a ledge where a wooden floor had once existed. He climbed the broken ledge, scurrying up to grab hold of another ledge just above it.

They were now in the demolished remains of an apartment building where the walls had been partially ripped free. He looked up, relieved to see nothing but dark sky. They had managed to put the towers and their search lights behind them. The way ahead was all up, leading to the street, and he made his way quickly, glancing back now and again to make sure Tess and the kid were close behind.

He had begun to pick up his pace, but then a sound made him immediately duck for cover. "Shh, shh, shh," he whispered. "I hear 'em up ahead." He saw the roaming beams of light. Shit! More soldiers were in there with them.

"Ops said they took out a couple of our boys."

"It's gotta be those fucking Fireflies retaliating."

"We'll be done with them soon enough."

Tess told Ellie to hold up as Joel crept forward, toward the moving beams of light. "Shit. Stay down," he hissed at them over his shoulder.

God, if we make it out of here alive, it'll be a miracle. Their only advantage was the abundant amount of cover the walls provided, a row of jagged teeth. Joel was using the fang of one now, keeping himself glued behind it, staying low.

The soldier moved off and Tess encouraged the girl to scoot. "Go. Go."

He felt lucky to have Tess behind him looking after the girl. He had to remain focused, and he couldn't afford to worry about the soldiers and keep the kid out of trouble. They were in the thick of it now, and one misstep was all it took.

He made his way to a set of stairs on the side of the hollowed-out tenement that rose to a ledge where a second floor had once existed. The rain gushed in waterfalls all around them from the floors above.

"Fuck it! Let the clickers get 'em."

That's good, thought Joel. He was willing to take his chances with clickers over these armed assholes anytime. If the soldiers retreated, he just might be able to get them out of this mess alive. With their voices receding, Joel fell into a sprint, heading deeper inside the war-torn remains.

At last he stumbled upon a metal door that lifted via a chain on its side and he sighed heavily in relief. "Maybe we can get through here," he said, ushering the others to draw close.

He gripped the chain, pausing a moment to make sure no other sound was nearby, and then began to pull. The door was heavy and screeched as it rose. He grimaced from the effort but continued to pull as quickly as he could. "Down through here," he said, motioning to the opening under the door.

"Okay," replied Tess. She ushered the girl through. "C'mon, Ellie."

"Okay," the girl replied, breathing heavily. She followed Tess under the narrow gap Joel had created.

Tess's fingers appeared, helping to hold the door in place so he could follow. He slipped through and she let the door close, and luckily the sound was masked by a crack of thunder overhead. Joel turned to get a handle on their new surroundings as the three huddled behind a nearby barrier.

They were now in the outskirts of the city, with tall buildings looming ahead in the distance. The rain continued to fall, the sky occasionally lit up with lightning as thunder boomed. Joel saw the ragged edges of what used to be an apartment building lining the street ahead. An old police cruiser sat covered in rust, and beyond that, more beams of light.

"Soldiers!" Joel cursed under his breath. Just when he thought they were shed of them. Several uniforms fanned out at the end of the street, fifty or so yards away, moving toward them.

"Oh shit!" cried Tess. "Another patrol. Everybody get down."

They had to move fast, to get to the security of the hollowed-out building to his right, so Joel took the lead, racing with his back bent low, ducking behind the abandoned squad car. He saw another opportunity and made his way to a wrecked Humvee a little further ahead.

"Yes, sergeant! C'mon! Follow my lead. You, check those buildings!" "Roger!"

If they could get through the remains of the apartment complex, with its many walls and shadows, they stood a good chance of slipping past the unsuspecting guards.

The front of the tenement was no more than fragments of brick where the roof had been torn apart. Free-standing pieces of furniture - table and chairs - were the only remnants of the previous dwellers that survived. Joel rushed inside, seeing the sweeping flashlights to his left.

He paused to catch his breath. Across the street, he saw guards positioned on the balcony of another ruined building facing them, their flashlights focused away, in the direction they had come.

Ellie, seeing flashlights all around, shuddered in fear. "There's so many… How are we supposed to get past 'em?"

Joel scooped up a brick, heading for the dark shadows deeper inside what was left of the building. "They ain't spotted us yet," he said. "Let's go around."

He paused by a window and peeked out. "How's it look?" whispered Tess, close behind.

"There's too many, Tess."

Just then, the sound of boots crunching on gravel a few yards away made them freeze. "Oh shit," Ellie gasped. "They're in here with us."

Tess placed a hand on Joel's back and whispered, "See if you can distract them."

"All right," he nodded.

He snaked around a corner quietly, took aim, and hurled his brick over the sound of the approaching footsteps. They saw the beams of light turn away in unison. "What was that?"

A suppressed build-up of air escaped his lungs as he watched the lights move off. They pressed on, creeping silently deeper inside the shadows, staying as far away from the street as possible, using dressers and sofas and tables for cover.

"I see more lights," Ellie whispered, and they froze.

Soldiers were headed their way and Joel cursed again. They'd managed to paint themselves in a corner with nowhere to hide. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Tess pointing to his right. "Up there," she whispered.

He turned and looked and saw it. A gap in the wall leading out. Another heavy sigh escaped his lips and he carefully scrambled up and over debris, slipping quietly out the gaping hole.

"All right," he gasped, landing outside the building in a crouch. Now they were back outside, no longer trapped.

The three snuck behind the cover of a nearby delivery truck half buried in rubble. The street beyond them sloped sharply down, ending in a ledge formed where the ground beneath the pavement had given way. Beyond that lie more darkness.

Ellie, seeing where they were headed, asked, ""Are they gonna follow us down here?"

"We ain't stickin' around to find out," Joel replied gruffly. The rain was falling much harder; thunder and lightning roiled overhead. He was drenched to the bone. Carefully, he slid over the edge and waited, with Tess and the girl joining him at his side.

"Stay low, keep quiet," Tess said to the girl, finger to her lips. They huddled in the shadow of the ledge, waiting and listening…

"All clear, sergeant! You see anything up there?"

"Negative! It's all clear. Hold your positions! We wait for the other squad."

Joel let go a sigh and turned to the sloping rubble of highway that dropped into darkness before them. He signaled for them to advance with him leading the way.

They carefully made their way down a rocky gorge where the street had collapsed, and thick vines had grown over the edge. They entered an underground jungle of rock and overgrowth. A flood of rainwater rushed past their ankles, and around rain cascaded in rivulets down the sides. Joel reached another ledge and paused to catch his breath.

"That was too damn close, Tess," he cursed, and then, under his breath, he muttered, "You better be worth it, kid." He flipped on his torch and eased down another ledge, descending lower into the abyss. In the dim beam of his flashlight, he saw multiple avenues of escape, all disappearing into inky darkness. "Tess, you got any idea which way?"

"Uh… it looks so different," she replied, wiping the rain from her eyes, squinting to see.

His beam caught sight of something… the broken entrance of a concrete culvert jammed into the base of the gorge. It looked large enough for them to pass through. "Hang on," he said, heading down. "Let's see where this leads."

"Yeah, this looks right," Tess affirmed. To Ellie she said, "Stay close."

They huddled close together and followed Joel into the narrow sewer, hoping to find a path which led to the heart of the city...

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Last of Us Novelization - Chapter Sixteen: An Example of Turning Your Script into a Novel

The dream, the dream, the dream… running madly, Sarah in his arms, flames whipping at his sides, and something behind him, something hideous and black, something inescapable, chasing him, desperately trying to reach her, to lay its icy finger upon her. And Joel runs and runs, screaming in desperation, desperate to keep Sarah safe…

And then he's out, he's free, the blackness is gone, and he's panting and sobbing tears of joy, holding onto this precious life, the center of his universe, and he gathers himself, releases a sigh of welcomed relief, looks down at her, at what he's holding, looks down at the thing in his arms… and the horror of it all snaps him awake with a jolt…

His eyes flutter open and he registers the room, the sofa beneath him, the gentle rain outside, and he feels the chill in the air, welcoming it, and slowly his senses ease him back to reality.

Joel's body relaxed, sucking in a deep breath, grateful for the hellish nightmare to be over.

"You mumble in your sleep," came the soft voice nearby.

Ellie sat bunched up on a cushioned chair, facing a window, looking out across the city sparsely populated with light. "I hate bad dreams."

At last they had something in common. Joel sat up on the sofa, running a hand over his eyes, wiping away the last remnants of his nightmare. "Yeah, me too," he agreed with a sigh.

The rain outside was coming down hard, and the sound of it eased the melancholy within him. He rubbed his chin, relieved to be back among the living, and he rose, feeling an unconscious urge to join the other spark of life near the window beside him.

Ellie spoke to him over her shoulder: "You know, I've never been this close. To the outside."

Something began to nag at Joel, a concern he wished wasn't there, something that threatened his wound, but he couldn't let it go. He walked over to the lantern on the end table and turned up the flame.

"Look how dark it is," spoke the girl behind him. And then in a voice that appealed to a need deep within him, she said, "Can't be any worse out there."

He straightened, fighting within himself, fighting to retain his indifference, but she wouldn't relent. She rose and looked at him with the innocence and vulnerability of youth, and asked, "Can it?"

She was seeking comfort, but Joel didn't want to give it. He didn't want to be her provider of comfort, or of anything else for that matter. He turned to look at her, torn between concern and detachment.

"What on earth do the Fireflies want with you?" he asked against his better judgment.

Before Ellie could reply, the door to the apartment opened and there stood Tess, looking chipper and quite satisfied. "Hey," she said.

The two turned to look at her as she closed the door behind her. "Sorry it took so long. Soldiers are fuckin' everywhere."

The first words from Ellie's lips were, "How's Marlene?"

Tess gave her a reassuring nod. "She'll make it." And then she approached Joel, and with a look of satisfaction, said, "I saw the merchandise. It's a lot."

She let the news register a moment and then motioned to the kid beside her. "Wanna do this?"

"Yeah," Joel lied.

"Let's go."

The three of them entered through a door to the adjacent room with Tess leading the way. The sound of pounding rain filled the silence.

In the next room, Tess walked to the corner windows and took a moment to scan the outside. Joel's curiosity was still eating away at him and he went to Tess to help ease it. "Don't you think it's a bit strange that they're having us do their smugglin'?"

"Marlene wanted to do it herself. We weren't their first choice, or the second for that matter. She's lost a lot of men. Beggars can't be choosers."

It still didn't feel right, but Tess's reassurance managed to do its job. Feeling deflated, Joel sighed and said, "Yeah, let's just hope there's someone alive to pay us."

"Someone'll be around."

Joel caught a glimpse of a yellow notepad lying on the table. He picked it up and glanced at it. It was a ledger Tess kept detailing what they had managed to smuggle in from outside the city: pills, weapons, food… at the bottom of the last entry she'd scribbled, "I know what you're thinking: weak as shit delivery. Bill promised he'd do better next shipment."

It seemed to Joel that their deliveries were yielding less and less. He wondered what they would do when Bill, their contact with the outside, ran dry.

Against the wall behind Tess was a sagging, empty bookcase which she slid to one side, revealing a gap in the wall where the plaster and panels had been ripped free: a hidden entrance to the tunnel leading to the outside. One by one, they scooted through the narrow gap.

The room they entered was cramped and walled with bricks on three sides. There was a wooden elevator beside a large motor on a wooden platform with a yellow operating switch affixed to the wall. Oil drums stood rusting nearby the adjacent window. Beside the gray motor sat a generator and attached to it was a power cable leading to the elevator's electrical circuit.

Joel went to the generator and grabbed the pull handle. It didn't give easily but he managed to start the device on the third pull. It gasped and sputtered, then, finding its rhythm, chugged along loudly. He joined the others on the elevator's surface and pushed the glowing green button. A horn sounded, and, with a jolt, the lift began to descend.

"Who's waiting for us at the drop-off?" Joel asked, raising his voice above the din.

"She said that there's some Fireflies that have traveled all the way from another city. Girl must be important." She turned and addressed the teenager standing quietly beside them. "What is the deal with you? You some big-wig's daughter or something?"

Apparently, Joel wasn't the only one curious.

Ellie merely shrugged and said, "Something like that."

The trip down was short and abrupt, and now they were surrounded in almost total darkness. Joel flipped on his flashlight, the light of which revealed a hole in the brick wall of where they now found themselves.

Ellie's voice sounded behind him: "How long's all this gonna take?" Her tone revealed the uncertainty of what lie ahead.

"If everything goes as planned," Tess answered, "we should get you to them in a few hours."

They were in the basement of the building with pipes running overhead, a concrete floor beneath their feet. Joel saw water heaters rusting against the wall, and meters and circuit breakers hanging on the walls with conduit running in all directions.

"Ellie," Tess said, making sure she had the girl's attention. "Once we get out there, I need you to follow our lead and stay close."

"Yeah," Ellie sighed. "Of course."

Joel saw what looked like a map lying on the floor. He walked over, picked it up. It was a map of the city, with hand drawn lines in purple ink showing the heaviest areas of military presence, along with the routine paths of patrols. He pocketed it, knowing it would come in handy.

He turned and headed toward the three-foot, jagged hole in the wall, just big enough for them to crawl through. On the other side, a red glowing light burned ominously. Joel entered, feeling his heartbeat quicken.

There was corrugated steel flooring under his feet. Broken and sagging wooden beams formed the narrow walls. The short, cramped tunnel looked as if it would collapse at any moment. There were orange glowing lamps along the way, providing light. Joel made his way, crouching, to the end where the tunnel emptied to his right. Relieved, he stepped out and stood, now in a larger room where broken bricks and concrete dust covered the floor.

There was a metal ladder covered in rust leading up.

"Climb up and check if the coast is clear," came Tess's urgent voice behind him.

Joel ascended to the top, about ten or twelve feet, and pushed the metal panel concealing the opening aside. He stuck his head out; the area was dry, positioned under a low canopy, but the rain continued to fall outside. He saw the beams of flashlights scouring the gulch which lay ahead.

"Now hold up," he whispered to Tess below. "There's a patrol up ahead."

He maintained his vigil, keeping low, until the beams moved away.

"All right," he said. "We're good. Come on up." He climbed up, waiting for the others to follow.

Ellie was next and hesitated as she reached the outside, unsure of what to expect. "C'mon, kid," Joel encouraged her. Then he went to the metal plate just as Tess emerged from the gap.

"Watch your step," he warned them, sliding the cover back into place. The rain made the rocks slippery; a broken leg or twisted ankle was the last thing they needed.

Joel left the cover of the canopy to join Tess and Ellie who were out in the open, standing in the rain at the base of the gulch, staring forward. "This rain ain't gonna do us any good," he said.

As they dropped to the rocky floor below, Ellie voiced the wonder before her eyes. "Holy shit… I'm actually outside."

The three walked along the gulley's bottom. Up ahead, a semi-trailer with its backdoors open stretched haphazardly down the ridge. Joel made his way for it, knowing that through its empty container was the entry point to the gulley's ridge. On its side was painted a large red lobster bracketed by the name of the company that once owned it.

He climbed into it, glad to be free of the rain and flicked on the flashlight. It was empty save for a few wooden crates fastened at the far end. He walked the length of it, with Tess and the girl in tow.

"Up this way," he said and quickened his pace. The rain drummed on the roof creating a serene sense of calm. Once they were safely past this, he told himself, they could scurry like rats and leave the city and its soldiers behind.

He reached the top end of the trailer and, sensing no presence, hopped out. He was about to acknowledge their luck when suddenly the butt of a rifle appeared out of nowhere and struck him in the head, just as a voice ordered gruffly: "Get off!"

Joel fell to his hands and knees in pain, stunned by the blow.

Another soldier appeared, and she pointed her weapon with its attached beam of light to the other two stragglers emerging from the shadow of the trailer.

"Don't do anything stupid," she advised, her finger poised on the trigger.

Ellie raised her hands and complied, with Tess behind doing the same.

Joel struggled to regain his senses. He saw the look in Tess's eyes, knew she was calculating the odds. As for Ellie, her face had turned white with fear.

"Move," the other guard ordered. Joel looked at them from the ground: there were two of them, male and female, in full riot gear and heavily armed. His heartbeat raced…

The female gave the orders fast and abrupt. "Turn around. On your knees."

Ellie obeyed as Tess stepped down from the container, holding her hands up high, and Joel knew her mind was working overtime.

"You scan 'em. I'll call it in," the female guard told her partner.

"All right." He pointed his pistol with both hands at the last of them, Tess, and told her to put her hands on her head. Joel felt the tension ease a bit, and as Tess complied, the other guard jumped on the radio to report their findings.

"This is Ramirez at Sector Twelve. Requesting pickup for three stragglers." The radio crackled a response and then the woman said, "Understood."

The guard next to Tess shoved a scanner against the base of her skull and as he did so, she managed to catch his eye.

"Look the other way," Tess tempted him. "We can make this worth your while."

"Shut up," he told her. The scanner beeped and flashed green. He then moved to Joel and performed the same action. "I'm tired of this shit," he said, and he sounded it.

Beep. Greenlight. On to the next, but Joel could sense the teenage girl beside him growing nervous, jumpy. He hoped to God she wouldn't flee…

"What's the ETA?" the guard with the scanner asked, as he pressed the device against the base of Ellie's skull.

"Couple a minutes."

"Oh man, oh man," Joel heard Ellie mutter, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the knife emerge.

"Oh shit!" cursed Joel under his breath.

The teenage girl spun on her knees and jabbed the blade of her knife deep into the soldier's thigh and Joel thought later on she had actually uttered the word, "Sorry!"

Ellie lunged for the gun in his hands and they struggled, and in a heartbeat, Joel was on his feet. The guard wrestled the gun freed himself and walloped Ellie hard in the face, sending her reeling backwards. As he leveled the gun to shoot, Joel pounced, launching himself into the soldier's side just as the round went off.

The other guard wanted to shoot, needed to shoot, but she didn't have a clear target, couldn't see that well in the rain, and she was confused as who to shoot, not sensing Tess lower her arms...

But she should've opted for Tess, for in the next instant the straggler had her pistol out and was on one knee aiming the barrel right at her head. She planted two bullets squarely in her target's skull.

Joel had his knee on the struggling guard, could hear him gasping in fear, not wanting to die, but he twisted the man's grip inward and pulled the trigger and the bullet caused him to fall silent. Joel tossed the weapon away in disgusted relief.

"Oh..." exclaimed Ellie, "oh, fuck." She backpedaled her way against a nearby crate lying beside the trailer. Trying to catch her breath, she exclaimed, "I thought we were just gonna hold them up or something."

A flashing red light caught Tess's eye and she picked something up from the ground.

It was the scanner.

She looked at it bewildered, and her face turned pale. "Oh shit," she muttered, and it was the way she said it that grabbed Joel's attention. Turning to face her, she said, "Look," and tossed the scanner to Joel.

Joel looked at the flashing red panel and could not believe his eyes.

"Jesus Christ," he muttered, registering the cold bitter truth. He looked around until his eyes fell on the girl. "Marlene set us up?" he asked in stunned disbelief.

Ellie's jaw was working but nothing came out. Joel's voice grew menacing as he turned to confront her: "Why the hell are we smuggling an infected girl?"

Ellie shook her head in alarm and said pleadingly, "I'm not infected..."

"No?" Joel asked angrily, tossing the scanner beside her. "So was this lying?"

"I can explain…"

Tess, a smoldering gun in her hand, advanced toward her, her eyes narrowing. "You better explain fast."

Ellie anxiously pulled the sleeve of her right arm back, revealing scarred bubbles of raw flesh, the nasty telltale signs of infection. "Look at this," she implored them.

"I don't care how you got infected," Joel said, waving the scarred tissue away with his hand. In his mind, the girl was already dead. The revelation sickened him and he turned his face away.

"It's three weeks old," Ellie exclaimed.

"No," corrected Tess. "Everyone turns within two days, so you stop bullshitting." She pointed the gun at her for emphasis.

"It's three weeks." She was desperate to convince them. "I swear." And then, sensing an opening when no response came, she said, "Why would she set you up?"

Joel looked at Tess and they held each other's gaze a long moment, trying to make it all fit. The girl was right, there was no logic in Marlene wanting them dead. It just didn't make sense.

"I ain't buying it," Joel said finally, walking away, and just at that moment he caught sight of a pair of headlights barreling through the rain in their direction. "Oh, shit," he gasped. "Tess, run," he said, and realizing she was lost in thought, yelled at her in the rain. "Run!"

Tess went to the girl and ushered her to her feet. "Go! Go! Move!" she yelled, and together they raced after Joel, following him around an abandoned truck and down a dark crevice in the gulley.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Last of Us Novelization - Chapter Fifteen: An Example of Turning Your Script into a Novel

They rounded a wide wooden staircase with a rusted water heater underneath. They appeared to be in some sort of unfinished garage with metal basins stacked on a far table, paint cans lining the near wall. A cylindrical metal pole stood in the center.

At the top of the stairs stood an open door. Joel flipped on his flashlight and saw they were entering a commercial kitchen with white tiled walls covered in grime. Except for some bakery racks, metal shelves with empty glass jars and a kitchen sink, the room was empty. To the right was a gray metal door. Marlene made her way straight to it.

Marlene paused to fish a key out of her pocket and then tried the door, pressing her weight against it but it wouldn’t give. She looked to Joel as if she’d finally run out of steam.

“Joel,” she sighed. “Gimme a hand with this.”

Joel stepped to the door and together, the two of them pushed…

The door opened easier than expected and he watched as Marlene groaned and fell to the floor.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said, surprised by her collapse. “C’mon now, get on up.”

He was about to help her to the feet when the flash of a knife caught his attention.

“Get the fuck away from her!” came the unseen voice charging at him from behind.

Before he could react, Tess was between them in an instant. She grabbed the wrist holding the knife and stared down the attacker with a fierce grimace. “Hey, hey, hey!” Tess hissed; she was in no mood to be trifled with.

To Joel’s surprise, it was a young girl wielding the knife.

The girl struggled under Tess’s iron grip, but it was no use and then Marlene’s plaintive voice came from behind Joel.

“Let her go.”

Irritated, Tess obeyed, shoving the girl’s arm away, her smoldering gaze revealing just how close to physical harm the girl had come. Not many people pulled a knife on Tess and her friend and lived to talk about it.

They were standing in an old eatery, with tables and counters, napkin holders and condiments. An old chalk menu hung on the wall. Joel shared Tess’s rage as he lowered himself to Marlene and hissed, “You’re recruitin’ kinda young, aren’t you?”

With a grunt of effort, Marlene struggled to her feet. “She’s not one of mine.”

Joel got a good look at the girl as she went to Marlene’s side.

She was a teenager, or just barely, with chestnut hair partially tied back in a ponytail. She had freckles and green eyes and a slight stature. She wore a faded tee and blue jeans, a small backpack and sneakers.

“Shit,” she said, seeing Marlene in distress, going to her. Joel noted the ease in which she single-handedly folded her knife and slipped into her back pocket, a feat perfected with practice.

“What happened?” the young girl asked,seeing the wound and helping Marlene to a nearby table.

“Don’t worry. This is fixable. I got us help,” she said, resting on the table’s edge.

The girl turned to register the help Marlene had secured and by her reaction, she seemed less than thrilled. It was healthy not to trust strangers, Joel thought, especially these strangers. Marlene had taught the girl well.

She turned back to Marlene who leaned on an elbow, fixed her eyes upon her and said, “But I can’t come with you.”

There was silence in the room as the implication slowly sank in… into the girl… and into Joel and Tess.

The young girl registered the news and then sighed and shook her head. “Well then I’m staying.”

“Ellie, we won’t get another shot at this.”

Joel wasn’t the most quick witted, but he quickly understood what was going on. “Hey,” he said, approaching, pointing at the child. “We’re smuggling her?”

Marlene immediately sought to ease the alarm: “There’s a crew of Fireflies that’ll meet you at the Capitol building.”

Tess quickly chimed in and said, “That’s not exactly close.”

The sun coming in from the window above framed Marlene’s face in light. “You’re capable,” Marlene hissed.

So this was it, Joel thought. This was the package Marlene wanted delivered. But the question why nagged at his back.

“You hand her off, come back, the weapons are yours,” Marlene stated, and before Tess could object, added quickly, “Double what Robert sold me.”

Joel turned his back on them, trying to reconcile the mountain of doubts piling up. There were too many negatives -- with very little positive. He heard Tess ask, “Speaking of which… where are they?”

“Back in our camp.”

Tess grunted in disbelief, turned to her partner and Joel just shook his head and folded his arms. No fucking way. Like always, they were on the same page. She turned back to her adversary.

“We’re not smuggling shit until I see them.”

Marlene’s shoulders sagged, she sighed and said, “You’ll follow me. You can verify the weapons. I can get patched up.” And then she paused for emphasis, pointed at the young girl and added, “But she’s not crossing to that part of town.”

A moment of silence passed before she dropped the next bombshell.

“I want Joel to watch over her.”

The two concerned parties immediately voiced their objections, with Joel saying, “Whoa, whoa! I don’t think that’s the best idea,” and the girl, Ellie, announcing: “Bullshit! I’m not going with him!”

“Ellie,” Marlene said forcefully, causing the girl - and Joel - to fall silent.

Ellie’s shoulders slumped in resignation, then she approached the wounded woman and asked in a small voice, desperate for reassurance, “How do you know them?”

These two had a history, Joel gathered from their exchange. He could sense the bond between them, and now the young girl was confused because it seemed her protector was handing her off to strangers…

“I was close with his brother, Tommy. Said if I was ever in a jam, I could rely on him.”

At the mention of his brother’s name, hairs rose on the back of Joel’s neck. “Was that before or after he left your little militia group?”

“He left you too,” she reminded him. “He was a good man.”

Tess, sensing her partner’s rising unease, came over to him. “Look. Just take her to the north tunnel and wait for me there.”

“Jesus Christ,” he said, turning aside.

“She’s just cargo, Joel.”

Ellie took a deep breath, “Marlene…”

“No more talking,” Marlene said softly. “You’ll be fine.” And then she looked at her in a way that conveyed she’d never let anything bad happen to the girl. She rose and said, “Now go with him.”

Joel, watching the exchange, cursed his bad luck. He looked Tess in the eyes and said, “Don’t take long.” And then he turned to the girl. “And you,” he said, his voice cold. “Stay close.”

He turned and walked toward the far exit - “Let’s go” - and held the door open, giving Ellie no time for long goodbyes. The girl gave one last look at Marlene before turning to follow.

Joel was now back outside, with the girl standing beside, and he took a moment to gather his bearings. They were on a brick-paved street peppered with weeds and dead bodies. Storefronts of tall buildings were behind and in front, their signs weathered and aged. Most of the windows of the buildings above were broken. Parking meters lined the street.

The girl seemed impatient but resigned. Not wanting to engage her, Joel trotted off to his right down the street, but the bodies elicited a reaction. “Whoa,” she said. “I heard all the shooting but…”

Joel paused to stand over one of the fallen Fireflies whose brains were blown from his head.

“What happened?” Ellie asked.

He looked at the surrounding carnage of the military’s brutal slaughter. “The Fireflies,” he sighed. “Same thing’s gonna happen to use if we don’t get off the street.”

“You’re the pro. I’m just following you.”

His eyes caught sight of something shiny and he jogged over to another fallen member of the resistance and picked it up. It was a dog tag emblazoned with the iconic FF logo. He’d developed a habit of picking these up. For what reason, he couldn’t answer. Maybe it was to remind himself that he was still alive.

He caught sight of some concrete steps leading down to the street below and headed for them. Up ahead was a checkpoint entry no longer in use. As he reached it, as if right on cue, the PA system issued a routine pre-recorded warning: “Attention. Harboring or aiding wanted criminals is punishable by death. Do not place yourself at risk. Report any suspicious activity immediately.”

Go fuck yourselves, he mumbled to himself.

The chain-link fence surrounding the checkpoint was open and he hurried through it, finding himself in an empty parking lot with orange cones and overgrown weeds. On the other side was the thoroughfare and he watched as two military vehicles drove past.
Instead of heading for the opposite side of the fence, he turned left, toward a narrow gap created by a wrought-iron gate and the building beside it. This revealed a long stairway leading down, which he quickly descended, with the young girl, Ellie, following close behind.

“Down here,” he said. There were headed toward a short, concrete tunnel beneath the thoroughfare. Joel flipped on his flashlight.

He traversed the tunnel in silence and came to another turn to the right, steps leading up to the street on the other side. Joel paused impatiently to let his cargo catch up.

“C’mon,” he admonished her. “Keep up.”

“I am,” came the typical teenage response.

Now they were jogging along the walkway adjacent to the main street, with a low concrete wall and a wrought-iron fence beside them, partially blocking their view. As the PA repeated its warning, more military trucks barrelled past. Joel kept low to avoid being seen.

They reached a corner where the walkway turned right, between the buildings. At the end of this was another fence, its double-doors wide open. Joel headed to the gate, maintaining his pace and found himself emerging onto a courtyard surrounded by apartment tenements long since abandoned.

“Where are we going?” asked Ellie.

“Up there. That’ll get us to the north tunnel,” he said, pointing to the top floor of a building to his left, where a metal staircase zig-zagged its way up. The only problem was, the staircase didn’t zig-zag to the ground, only to a steel platform far above their heads.

“How are we supposed to reach that?”

Joel sighed as he took stock of the situation. “Just gimme a minute.”

He looked around, searching for a way up, something to climb on. Unfortunately, the little courtyard they were in was empty, but Joel was determined to find something, so he jogged around the corner of the building and found a storage area hidden from view. He felt a sense of relief as his eyes landed on something they could use: a beat-up dumpster with wheels.

He grabbed the yellow handle, and pulled. It was heavy, and with effort he dragged it out and then pushed across the brick courtyard covered in moss as Ellie waited patiently nearby. Grunting, he managed to shove the thing next to the iron platform with a bang, providing them a way up.

He climbed atop of it, then jumped up to the lower landing and struggled his way on top. He stood on the corrugated steps and watched as the girl quietly retraced his actions. She seemed agile, which was good; he didn’t want to baby this kid all the way to the tunnel.

Once she was safely up, he resumed his progress. Quickly he ascended the steps up to the next landing, where a metal door hung open.

“This tunnel,” he heard the girl’s voice behind him, “you use it to smuggle things?”

Great. A conversation. “Yep,” he replied tersely. He entered the building’s hallway which was dark and barren.

“Like illegal things?”


He walked down the hallway toward the entrances to its inner rooms. The floor was wooden and scattered with debris.

“You ever smuggle a kid before?”

Even the kid appreciated the absurdity of the situation. “No,” he replied. “That’s a first.”

He rounded the hallway and flicked on his torch. The way ahead was long and dark. Most of the doors on his right were sealed with the familiar locking device used by the government in the months following the outbreak. Their metals bars extended vertically, securing the door to its jam in such a way that entry was almost impossible.

His curiosity got the better of him and against his better judgment he heard himself asking as they walked: “So what’s the deal with you and Marlene, anyways?”

“I don’t know,” Ellie sighed. “She’s my friend I guess.”

“Your friend, huh?” Joel guffawed. “You’re friends with the leader of the Fireflies.” His words were thick with sarcasm. “What’re you, like twelve?”

“She knew my mom, and she’s been looking after me.” Then she corrected him, as teenagers are apt to do, saying, “And I’m fourteen, not that that has anything to do with anything.”

Morbid curiosity - it wasn’t concern - managed to escape Joel’s lips: “So where are your parents?”

Ellie sighed, and sounding philosophical, said, “Where are anyone’s parents?” They were now in a walkway stretching the street below. “They’ve been gone a long, long time.”

“Hmm,” Joel said, weighing her response. “So instead of just staying in school, you just decide to run off and join the Fireflies, is that it?”

He was beginning to sound like a parent, traces of a nature he had long since buried. He felt irritation with himself as they reached the end of the long hallway, heading up a flight of stairs to the floor above. Forget it, Joel! Why do you care?

“Look,” the girl replied, remembering the directive Marlene had given her. “I’m not supposed to tell you why you’re smuggling me if that’s what you’re getting at.”

Joel reached the top of the stairs and said, “You wanna know the best part of my job? I don’t gotta know why. I could give two shits about what you’re up to.”

He prayed that was true. He flipped off his torch in the sunlit hallway.

“Well great,” Ellie quipped.

Joel was agitated. Why he had gotten into a conversation with this girl, his cargo, was beyond his comprehension. He needed to shed whatever concern he had and focus on the task at hand.

“Good,” he said, managing to get the last word.

They walked the remainder of the hallway in silence, passing more government-sealed doors, until finally coming to rest before the last door in the hallway, a door where the seal had been broken.

Joel opened the door and stepped in. “This is it,” he stated, shutting the door behind her.

The room was bare except for a few pieces of furniture. A stained sofa sat in its middle, refuge for a weary traveler. Joel saw it and immediately plopped himself down after swiping away some debris. He adjusted the pillow and then stretched out, making himself comfortable. It could be hours before Tess returned.

Even though his eyes were closed, he could feel her questioning gaze upon him.

“What are you doing?” the girl asked.

“Killing time,” he sighed.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?”

Joel felt an odd sense of enjoyment as he said, “I am sure you will figure that out.”

He heard her exasperated sigh and as he felt her move past, she said, “Your watch is broken.”

Don’t say a word about my watch! It was a sharp pain that shot through him, the threat of an old memory he had spent his life avoiding. He shook his head to rid himself of the anger. She didn’t mean it - she was just a kid - but this turn of events was the last thing he needed in his life. He took a deep breath to calm his mind. Soon, with any luck, this nightmare would be over.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Last of Us Novelization - Chapter Fourteen: An Example of Turning Your Screenplay into a Novel

Suddenly Joel and Tess were alerted to a presence hiding in the darkened alley behind them.

"You won't have to look very far," a soft voice spoke nearby.

As the woman emerged from the shadows, Joel recognized the face immediately.

"There you go," he said matter-of-factly. "Queen Firefly."

It was Marlene, a face familiar to most everyone in the quarantine zone, a face that sparked awe in some, resentment in others and hatred in the ones desperately trying to hold onto power. An innocent, infamous face villainized by the military's many WANTED posters plastered throughout the city.

To Joel, the sight of the young black woman sparked only curiosity. He knew who she was and the cause she stood for - and why the military hated her - but his own personal feelings toward her were ambivalent.

Marlene wore a blue denim jacket over a maroon sweatshirt. She was a thin woman in her early thirties with an impressive stature. A bloody hand stretched across her stomach concealing a nasty wound.

She waved her other hand vaguely at them. "Why are you here?"

Tess acknowledged the leader of the Fireflies with a nod. "Business," she replied.

These were two strong-willed women, each impressive in their own right. They stood facing each other, sizing one another up.

"You aren't looking so hot," Tess said, indicating the wound.

Marlene bent her head down to concede the truth, then she quickly dismissed the comment and glanced around her.

"Where's Robert?"

Without a word, Tess stepped aside, allowing her to see the body that lay at her feet.

Marlene released a sigh of disappointment with a shake of her head. "I needed him alive."

Tess didn't care. "The guns he gave you," she calmly explained, "weren't his to sell, and I want them back."

Marlene looked at the ground and shook her head. "Doesn't work like that, Tess."

"The hell it doesn't."

"I paid for those guns." Marlene said, advancing, looking Tess squarely in the eyes. "You want 'em back? You're gonna have to earn 'em."

To Joel, this was a showdown between two equally-matched, independent women. Tess turned and looked over her shoulder at Joel, who was still leaning patiently against the wall.

He gave her a slight nod to indicate it was her call.

"How many cards are we talking about?" she asked impatiently.

Marlene sighed with exasperation. "I don't give a damn about ration cards." She took a brief moment to size them up and apparently come to a decision. "I need something smuggled out of the city. You do that," she said with a nod, "I'll give you your guns back, and then some."

Tess turned to look at Joel.

Joel pushed away from the wall and approached, his arms folded across his chest. "How do we know you got 'em? Way I hear it, the military's been wiping you guys out."

"You're right about that," she conceded. She then straightened and said, "I'll show the weapons."

Just then, the sound of a voice on a megaphone caused them to jump. It was the military, and they were nearby.

"Search the area!"

"Yes sir," followed a faint reply.

"I gotta move," Marlene said, alarm in her voice. "What's it gonna be?" She was edging back to the shadows, preparing to flee.

Joel looked at Tess and knew they had to make a decision.

"I wanna see those guns," Tess replied anxiously.

"Follow me." Marlene said, turning to head back into the shadows of the alley.

The alley opened into a back lot behind the wharf. A large blue tent stretched across one corner and Joel saw several empty bunks peeking out from the shadows - sleeping quarters for the men guarding the docks. Elsewhere were pallets, carts and a couple of blue port-a-potties way past their prime.

"Find the door!" came a voice closing in.

"We gotta get out of here, now!" Tess hissed.

"They locked it," replied another irritated response.

"You want this deal," Marlene spoke as she turned a corner, "we gotta move."

The two followed Marlene through a narrow gap between a building and a high brick wall. From his point of view, Joel thought the area was inescapable: a tall metal fence surrounded them. He saw stairs materialize to his right, rising to the platform above them, which Marlene and Tess ascended, and Joel jogged to catch up.

Marlene seemed to know where they were headed, so Joel allowed himself to follow, but suddenly he found himself facing a locked gate beside a large mesh-wire fence.

"Through here," Marlene said, dodging to her left around a large wooden crate, revealing a route Joel hadn't noticed. "I know a way around this. C'mon."

Marlene vaulted over a table covered in a blue tarp, knocking over empty paint cans as she went. To her left were wooden crates stacked four or five high, forming a crude set of steps. At the top of this makeshift stairway extended a fire escape with a ladder just barely within reach.

She moves pretty good for being wounded, Joel thought as he followed her up. He found his admiration for the woman stirring but he quickly dismissed it. He didn't need anymore friends.

With one hand on her wounded side, Marlene leapt and grabbed the ladder. She tugged it down and rapidly ascended.

Joel followed her up. He glanced down to see Tess climbing right behind him. He hoisted himself onto the fire escape catwalk and hurried his pace, trying to keep up with the resistance leader ahead.

Another set of metal stairs appeared, leading up, and up Marlene ascended, agile like a cat. Joel found himself becoming winded, using the teal-colored railing for support, wondering where the wounded woman found her strength.

As he reached the top of these stairs, he saw razor wire bunched up on the protective railing blocking access to a nearby roof tiled with shingles. They were now standing on the tall ledge of a building with the cityscape stretched before them.

It was hard not to be awed by the incredible sight: the landscape of a city lying in ruins. In the distance was a ragged-topped skyscraper leaning on another for support. The sky to the east hung gray and ominous. It was if a pallor of death had settled over a dying metropolis. To Joel's right the skyline ended as the city meet an unseen ocean.

Marlene stood at one corner of the ledge, beside yet another fence topped with wire, looking out across the rooftops, anxiously scanning the horizon. There was a certain hopelessness reflected in her sagged shoulders.

Joel approached, and then he jumped as an explosion in the direction of Marlene's gaze erupted a few blocks away. A huge red fireball blossomed and he felt the tremors ripple beneath his feet.

If Marlene had a reaction, she didn't show it.

As he watched, he saw bright flames quickly become engulfed by a pillar of black smoke rising to the sky.

"Holy shit," exclaimed Tess, just coming up. "Is that your people?"

"What's left of them," Marlene replied, and then added with tinge of hopelessness, "why do you think I'm turning to you guys?"

She scampered down from the ledge and walked along the edge of the adjoining rooftop, displaying no fear. "This way."

"So why now?" Joel asked, standing perilously close to the edge, looking down at the street below him.

"We've been quiet. Been planning on leaving the city but they need a scapegoat. They've been trying to rile us up." She led them on a path across the shingled roof which slanted downward.

"Looks like they did," Joel said.

Something in his tone must've struck a nerve because she turned and gave him a look. "We're trying to defend ourselves," as if that needed explanation.

It looked like she was walking off the edge of the roof with nowhere left to go, but suddenly she turned to her left, ducking around a corner. Joel saw the hidden passageway that lead through an open window surrounded by brick.

She dropped several feet down, with Joel and Tess following close behind.

They were now in a warehouse with brick walls filled with wooden crates and metal shelves. What was left of the sun poured in through the two open windows above. Joel glimpsed a few miscellaneous nuts and bolts on a table and snatched them up for possible use later.

He heard Marlene grunt before calling out to him.

"Joel, gimme a hand with this."

Marlene was standing next to a heavy galvanized door painted in blue that slid on a track affixed to the wall. She was hunched over in pain, holding her side. He knew she was suffering badly, and he admired her refusal to give in to the pain.

He went to the door and took up a position beside her. Together they pushed the door open, grinding it along its tracks. There was no doubt about it; the door was heavy. He grunted as the door begrudgingly gave way. As they pushed with effort, it scraped loudly across the concrete floor.

With the door now open, another hidden passageway was revealed, and beyond that entrance lay darkness. Marlene hurried through, not stopping a moment to catch her breath.

"Hey," Tess asked with concern. "How you holding up?"

"I'll live," came the exhausted reply.

They descended down a series of steps into a wide hallway with concrete-tiled floors and gray brick walls. The air had grown noticeably colder; Joel realized they were in an open-ended throughway and close to the sea. The place reeked of dead fish and rotting wood. All around them were various crates and piles of debris.

Marlene took a position behind a wooden crate and peered around its corner, pistol in hand. "Hold up," she said, her voice low. "Soldiers."

As Joel and Tess crept beside her, he could see at least one of them: a uniformed guard strolling casually in front of a door on the far other side. They were separated from the guard by a concrete bank surrounded by water. The sign above the door near the guard read: NO THOROUGHFARE in faded letters.

Joel quickly surmised they were hunched under a bridge with a channel of water running between them and the exit.

"That's the way out," Marlene whispered. "The door under the bridge."

"I ain't a big fan of these odds," Joel said, hoping to find another way around.

"We can sneak by them," Marlene assured him, "even though I know that's not your style."

Tess must have caught the look in Joel's eyes. She quickly interjected, "We'll see how it goes," and then she gave Joel a resigned look and sighed. "Let's get moving."

Moving single file, Joel crouched behind Marlene and Tess, following them out into the open throughway, leaving the cover of the crates behind.

Marlene, taking the lead, ducked for cover behind a low wall of containers. "We need to get to that door."

There were several long, waist-high crates strewn about that offered concealment and they used them to advance to the edge of the channel. The sun was resting on the horizon, creating long shadows that helped them remain hidden.

Joel rounded the corner to his left and saw Marlene waiting patiently beside a set of concrete steps leading up to the platform of the bridge above them. He quickly jogged to join her and just as he reached her, she turned and took the lead, scampering up the stairs.

They reached an open landing where another set of stairs carried them to the top. They were now outside, next to a white-bricked building with open doors and windows. Metal lamps hung from the walls. Marlene sat hunched below a low wall of crates with Joel slowly advancing toward her. Up ahead, an armed uniform guard patrolled, his back to the them.

Joel froze when he heard the voice of an unseen soldier standing some distance away. The words came out menacingly.

"You picked the wrong day to screw with us."

Another man's voice responded, weak with defiance.

"Go fuck yourselves."

"Damn," came another voice, much closer, from the open doorway just to Joel's left. "We missed all the action."

"Justice waits for no one, private," replied another soldier in the same vicinity.

Marlene hissed a command to Joel: "I'll get this one. Go around and get the other."

Joel could feel the adrenaline pumping through his veins as he scooped up a brick lying on the ground. He ducked through the vacant doorway and through a narrow hallway, staying crouched the entire time.

"Ah, whatever," replied the unseen soldier.

In a narrow hallway, a desk sat between him and the open doorway leading to the room with the soldiers and he silently vaulted over it. Then he saw the unsuspecting guard standing aimlessly with his back to the hallway.

In a flash, Joel had his arm around the man's throat in such a way that it choked his ability to speak. He caught a glimpse of Marlene driving a shiv into the neck of the guard on the other side. Their timing couldn't have been better.

Joel used his two-handed grip, one crushing the brick against the windpipe while the other bent the head forward. A death gasp followed, and in seconds Joel was dropping the lifeless body at his feet.

"Good," Marlene said approvingly. "Stay quiet."

Joel stayed crouched and made his way past more metal desks through the empty room to another room visible just ahead. He was careful not to let the paper trash covering the floor rustle and give away his position.

"Okay," sighed Marlene. "Watch yourselves."

He heard Tess quietly remark behind him, "They're out in numbers today."

He entered the room, staying low. Two windows on his right faced outward. Standing just outside the farthest window was an unsuspecting guard wearing a cap; a broad-shouldered man with fingerless gloves and a pistol in his right hand.

Joel slipped silently through the open window where tall weeds had sprouted through the broken pavement. Shadows from the tall buildings to his left helped keep him concealed, and there was a large, drab olive-green shelter to his right.

Unseen, he crept up to the soldier standing idly before him.

Grabbing his pistol, Joel wrangled the guard, jabbing the muzzle against the man's temple, steering him toward some nearby cover: a stack of crates wrapped in a tarp and bound by ropes.

"Easy buddy," the man said on impulse. "We can work something out." But Joel wasn't in the mood to negotiate. He dropped to one knee, drawing his prey down with him, and used his grip to end his enemy's life. Then, using the covered tarp as concealment, he moved to its edge and peered around the corner.

Another unsuspecting guard patrolled the perimeter.

Christ! Joel thought. How many of these bastards were there?

His arms were beginning to tire and he wasn't sure how many death-grips he had left in him, but when it came to his friends in uniform, he always seemed to find the extra strength he needed.

Just then he caught sight of another armed guard moving on the bridge. Joel lifted himself to get a better look: the armed soldier stood facing three captives who were bound and on their knees. They each bore the familiar Fireflies emblem: a yellow banner with the stenciled logo pinned around one arm of a green jacket.

Joel watched with simmering anger as the man executed his prisoners, each with a single pop of his pistol to the head.

"Good riddance," the man said, casually turning to join the others, the barrel of his gun smoldering at his side.

Joel registered his enemy's number and position: two of them, spread out evenly. He glimpsed a third descending the steps on the far side. With their attention diverted, he knew it was time to move. He quickly approached and grabbed the first man, choking the life out of him - easy - with the rage burning inside him. He then crept and rushed the next man and dispatched him in the same brutal manner.

As the third man's head appeared bobbing up the steps, Joel drew his handgun, aimed and fired, blowing the cap off the soldier's head, along with half its contents.

Tess was behind him and couldn't help but praise his accuracy.

"Looks like you are good for something." she chuckled.

Standing near the bridge, he saw Marlene race past them, toward her fallen comrades. She stopped when she registered their faces.

"Goddamit," she said, appalled by what she saw. "They got Warren." She stepped back and shook her head with dismay. "Goodbye old friend."

Joel's impatient eyes scanned the area. The three of them were out in the open, vulnerable. "We should go, Marlene. There's bound to be more soldiers on the way."

The emotionless woman quickly recovered. "You're right. Let's move." She led the way down the wooden steps. "Not much further now."

They were now standing before the door which had been their goal since entering the throughway. A red AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY sign hung on the wall beside the gray door.

"Go on," Marlene said, motioning to the door. "Get inside."

They entered the room in a hurry, and turning to look over her shoulder, Marlene saw a pair of heavy metal lockers standing next to the entrance. Tess instinctively caught on, and together the two women pushed the lockers, making them jack-knife in front of the door, blocking the entrance.

Marlene doubled over in pain from the effort as Tess looked on. There was frustration in her voice as she asked, "Where are we going, Marlene?"

With a grimace, Marlene straightened. "This way," she said. "It's not far now."

They were in a warehouse of sorts, with pallets and crates and machinery stacked along the walls. At the opposite end of the room was an empty doorway with a sign above marked EXIT.

Joel and Tess followed Marlene out and Tess, sounding guilty for being callous, asked, "How you holding up?"

"I'm running on fumes," she panted, "but I'll make it."

They entered another small room with another doorless exit.

"The place is right up ahead."

Just as they passed the second exit, that familiar, uncaring, female voice-recording sounded overhead: "Attention. Curfew is now in full effect. Anyone caught outside without proper authorization will be arrested and prosecuted."

Tess said what Joel was thinking: "Shit. We need to hurry."

They walked past an alley whose open end was blocked by a chain-link fence. Marlene guided them through yet another doorless entryway in the side of a red-bricked building covered in graffiti. This room was much smaller and cramped, dark and cold. Joel felt his survival senses begin to tingle.

"What the hell are we smuggling?" he asked with agitation.

"I'll show you," Marlene replied, and there was something in her voice that filled him with apprehension.