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Monday, August 19, 2019

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

They entered a large chamber, the floor heavily cracked, and with a heavy heart, Joel closed the door behind him, closing it on Tess, his partner, his friend…


Ellie, standing beside him, cried out in shock. "What the fuck! I can't believe we just did that."

"Stop," Joel told her as he tried to get his bearings.

"We just left her to die."

"Stop!" he barked. He lowered his voice: "You stay close to me. We need to move."

"Oh man…" Ellie gasped.

He turned numbly. There was a large tree growing in the center of the cavernous chamber. All across the enormous rear wall were faded murals, painted depictions of historical events.

Joel saw the flight of concrete steps to his left leading up and immediate made for them.

"We'll go upstairs. We can probably get out from there." As he spoke in a hushed whisper, he heard distant shouting, a man's voice. Then gunshots. His body quivered.

"Oh man…" Ellie gasped again.

"Just keep pushing forward."

He reached the hall of the great room. To his left hung the balcony overlooking the front entrance… He had to see what they had done to her.

He hurried down the hall, saw the opening to the edge of the balcony. Staying low, he approached, creeping up slowly behind an outcropping of broken stone.

He peered down.

He saw Tess's dead body lying now in a pool of her own blood as he heard a soldier announce: "Target neutralized. She took out two of my men. Copy that. You, take out that door. You, with me."

"Yes sir!" another soldier acknowledged.

"Oh my god," Ellie gasped. "Tess…"

Joel watched as the soldiers ran past him underneath, oblivious to his position, their sidearms raised.

"There gonna be here soon," Ellie panted.

The balcony circled the perimeter of the inner room and Joel saw a framed passageway to the far right and moved toward it. He was careful to stay crouched behind the broken stone railing.

Below him he heard loud pounding: soldiers using a battering ram against a locked door.

"We're through!" a voice rang out.

"Proceed with caution! There's still at least two more of them in here."

A momentary thought crossed his mind, nagging him about what the soldier had said, but Joel pushed it aside.

He turned to his right, through a crown-molded entrance and entered the next room: green carpet, law-maker desks, arched windows with tiled panes. The room was bright with sunlight. Immediately he saw the gaping hole in the wall directly facing him. He passed a wooden lectern, a cracked leather sofa against the wall…

"Hallway clear!" came a distant voice, somewhere below and behind him.

Across the hole in the wall was the adjoining wing of the capitol building and beyond that, another gaping hole. A makeshift wooden platform provided a jumping off point from which to leap, a way to traverse the wide gap between the two rooms.

There were high up, and Joel sucked in his breath and jumped, landing hard into the adjacent room. He turned to usher Ellie to follow him, but she was already in the air. He grabbed her to brace her fall and together they moved silently into the room.

It was a great hall. Furniture sat covered in faded drop cloths. Elaborately framed paintings hung askew on the walls. This place, like the one they had just leapt from, had narrow squared-paned windows with arching tops.

Near the front of the hall were two large doorways, side-by-side, surrounded by colonial-style molding and framed on the ends and in the middle by inset colonial pillars. Against the middle pillar, they found the body of a dead Firefly, slumped. Joel approached, and saw the bolt-action rifle leaning against the dead man's shoulder.

He pried it from the icy grip and pulled the bolt back. To Joel's relief and astonishment, it still contained half a dozen brass rounds in its clip. He chambered a round and, staying crouched, slipped through one of the two pillared entrances.

The middle of the great hall had chandelier lighting hanging from the ceiling. It was a tall ceilinged hall and the windows on his right were the same as the others, but with faded green drapes. Harsh sunlight poured through. Vegetation covered the floor and he saw more of the drop-clothed furniture dotting the room. Up to his right, a balcony ran the full length of the hall.

He heard a soldier's voice shout: "They're escaping into the hall! Go around!"

Joel ducked through an arched doorway to his left, stepping over the body of another fallen Firefly.

"What'll we do?" asked the girl in a panicked voice.

He caught sight of a guard descending steps at the far end of the hall.

"Joel?" Ellie asked again.

"Ssh," he told her. "I got this."

He moved up to a pillared column beside a blood-stained drop-cloth. From his vantage point, he could see a handful of soldiers approaching from the opposite end.

There was an arched doorway now to his left, just ahead, leading into another room. Joel slipped his pack off, reached inside and withdrew an empty bottle he'd been holding onto. He took aim and hurled it as far as he could to the balcony on his right.

The bottle shattered and the guards turned. "What the fuck was that?" one exclaimed.

Now was his chance. He motioned to Ellie and they hurried through the arched doorway.

The small room they entered had display cases with broken glass, and standing placards describing their once-held contents. A doorway stood at the far end. Joel moved toward it with Ellie close on his heels.

He came out into a darkened hallway and found himself staring at the profile of an armed soldier facing the end of the hall where they had first entered. Out of reflex, he turned and moved away toward the opposite end, ducking into another room which was cloaked in darkness.

As he crouched behind a desk, he saw the shadow of a guard pass by, followed by another. Both had their pistols at the ready. He could feel Ellie's frightened breath on the back of his neck as she clung to his side.

The second guard froze, as if startled by something. He could sense the man peering around in the darkness. Joel swept up behind him, grasped him in a silent choke hold and snuffed the life out of him. With the man's death rasp came the sound of a pistol falling quietly to the carpeted floor.

"Holy shit," Ellie gasped.

Joel picked up the revolver and emptied the rounds into his sweaty palm. "Stay with me," he told her. "C'mon."

He followed in the footsteps of the first soldier, leaving the room they had just entered.

In the adjacent room, a patrol-capped soldier stood with his back to Joel listening for movement.

He didn't hear Joel slip up behind him and it was too late for him to react. Joel lunged up, cutting off the man's airflow with a forearm against the windpipe. The man struggled a few seconds before the last gasp left his body.

Two down, he thought to himself.

They retraced their steps, ending up at the hallway facing the end of the great hall. Joel saw another soldier there, this one in riot gear. The man's attention was to his immediate front, and Joel slipped around the man's periphery to approach from behind.

He killed this soldier in the same manner, and as the man silently struggled, Joel caught a glimpse of the other soldiers moving away from him down the main hall, oblivious to his presence behind them.

The rear of the hall brightened to his right, through an archway with more of the crown molding. He leaned to get a better look and saw a brightly sunlit hallway flourishing with plant life. Sun poured in from two sets of windows at the far end where a stone staircase led the way down.

Quickly, he and the girl made his way down the end of the hall.

Not hearing a sound other than their own racing footsteps, they descended the steps. They passed one landing, turned, passed another. The third landing and steps had been turned into rubble, so they had to drop about ten feet to reach the ground floor.

The end of the hallway they were in opened into another large room, sparse with furniture. He moved inside and spoke over his shoulder in a hushed whisper: "Stay down. I don't know how many more there are."

They crept up behind a desk facing a long hallway leading to another room. They could see a handful of armed soldiers searching the room carefully. One soldier said in an authoritative tone: "They have to come through here. Comb the area."

"What're we doing?" Ellie whispered frantically. "Joel, how are we gonna get out of here?"

"We're gonna go through that hall," Joel said, indicating the one on the far left.

They slipped into the dark hallway, stopped, and listened.

The acoustical nature of the next room made it easy for Joel and Ellie to overhear the conversation taking place. One soldier said, "They still haven't found the last two." Another said: "I heard one of 'em was a kid."

"Does it matter?" replied his comrade with agitation. "They took out a bunch of our guys."

"Jesus," one of the soldiers said. "Well, hey. After today, this whole Firefly bullshit will be behind us."

"Amen to that, brother."

Joel grimaced. He could only come to one logical conclusion based on what he'd overheard: one of Marlene's Firefly buddies must have squealed. There was no other way to explain it.

He popped his head up. The hallway emptied into another large room, and beyond that, sunlight.

Ellie must've been looking over his shoulder because she tapped it and said, "Joel, there's the exit."

"I see it," he whispered back.

They froze as they heard boots approaching quickly. "Report!" ordered a soldier. "South clear!" came one response. "North clear! No target!" came the other.

"Hold your positions," the leader ordered.

The guards were grouped near the entrance to the wider hall, away from where Joel and Ellie were hiding. Joel saw his chance. They snaked the length of the room, staying glued to the far-left wall. Unseen, they spilled out into harsh sunlight. Joel squinted as the sudden brightness stabbed his eyes.

"There are stairs over there!" Ellie said.

"Stay low," he told her.

Beyond a row of concrete barriers, stood a squat, subway entrance partially covered in ivy several yards away. Above the entrance read a sign: "Park Street." A green pond separated them from the building and Joel hissed a silent prayer that it wasn't deep.

Just as they began sloshing through the pond, he heard the heavy rumble of an approaching vehicle. It was coming around the corner fast.

"They're going into the subway!" A man shouted. "Stop them!"

"Shit," Joel cursed. They were spotted.

They made a mad dash for the entrance, almost tumbling down the jagged, rocked-strewn staircase. Ellie screamed, ""They're following us!"

Just as they reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard a vehicle slam to a halt above him. He saw the turret of a large black assault vehicle spinning toward him.

"Run down there!" another soldier yelled. "Go get them!"

"Goddammit!" he cursed, as the armored vehicle began firing wildly. Fifty-caliber bullets ricocheted over his head, bouncing off subway tiles. Ceramic shards peppered his arms and face.

He raced down, whipping around the corner, away from the hail of bullets. He flipped on his flashlight, ran past a row of busted turnstiles. He looked around, searching for an exit.

He saw a bank of payphones along a red-tiled walled, the floor covered in garbage. He turned back the other way and ran down the hallway to his left, turned another corner, and kept running. The sound of the machine gun fired faded in the distance.

Ellie was nowhere to be seen.

He stopped, spun around, looking into the shadows with his light. He remembered her being ahead of him when the shooting started, but he wasn't certain if he had passed her.

Where was she?

He crept quietly down the hall, blood pounding in his ears, a cold sweat forming around his collar.

At the end of the hall, a hideous sight glowed against the wall in the beam of his light. Fungal growth, heavy spores hanging in the air. Now he prayed Ellie hadn't rushed ahead. He didn't know if she carried a mask.

A nasty lumped formed in his throat. He edged forwarded, donning his mask.

The fungus at the end of the white-tiled hallway was a nightmarish creation. Pink and puffy, oozing and spongy, like an exposed giant brain, fibrous and phosphorus. It looked like something a giant cat had hacked up.

He shivered. Somewhere in that awful mess were the remains of the poor bastard who gave birth to it all, and it flourished here because the air was breathless and still. The dark, damp underground subway provided the perfect growth medium.

He felt clammy, nauseated. It wouldn't do well for him to heave into his mask. Luckily, there wasn't anything in his stomach to dislodge.

He turned and went through the exit to his left. Immediately, he gasped. A dark heavy fog hung low in the subway platform, swirling in the mists. He'd never see a room so laden with spores. He silently prayed the integrity of his mask would hold.

Edging forward, he could see practically nothing. It was like swimming through a hazy soup.

A hand reached out of the darkness and grabbed him, almost sending him into shock. "Get down," a hushed voice said.

He was filled with relief to have found her. He heard a male voice in the room say, "No target. I repeat, no target."

"There's a soldier over there," Ellie panted.

He looked at her and felt an immediate bolt of panic: she wasn't wearing a gas mask.

"Understood," came another man's static-filled voice over a two-way radio. "Hold your position and wait for reinforcements."

"Copy that," said the man in the room. "Holding position."

He peered at her in dumbstruck wonder. "How the hell are you breathing in this stuff?"

"I wasn't lying to you," she whispered earnestly.

The truth was, he was relieved he'd found her, or rather, she had found him. He was afraid that he'd lost her - that Tess's death would've been in vain.

A guard raced past them, unaware of their presence, the beam of his light barely able to penetrate the haze.

"Did you spot them?" he asked.

"No. Place is empty."

Joel saw two hazy lights bobbing around like insects: it was their flashlight beams.

"Search the area," the authoritative soldier ordered. "Let's find them and get the hell out of here before clickers show up."

Joel stayed low and moved silently around the perimeter, staying crouched behind the dark shapes he bumped into. With his mask on and this haze, his visibility was almost null. It would be just his luck if he tripped on a garbage can or kicked an empty bottle noisily across the floor.

The guard was searching inside one of the long-abandoned subway cars moving toward the front end of the entrance. "Where is this rat?" he hissed.

Joel saw the dark shape holding the beam leave the car and jump down onto the tracks.

Now at the far side of the room, Joel slipped through one of the open doors of the car and moved down its aisle in the opposite direction of the soldier. This time, he was making sure the girl was right behind him.

Up ahead in the gloom, he could make out the shape of another car a few yards away. He could also see the faint, parallel outline of tracks disappearing into darkness. He kept moving forward. When he was far enough away, he sprinted to the next car, and heard Ellie's footsteps and her heaving panting behind him.

"Screw that," a distant voice yelled, apparently with a change of heart. "I'm not heading into that tunnel."

"Let the clickers have them! We're out of here," agreed his partner.

The tracks Joel was following slanted down into water and the tail end of the last car was partially submerged. Splashing through, he heard Ellie's tentative voice cry out from behind.

"Hey, uh. I can't swim."

He was neck-deep in the cold water. Confident that no one had had the guts to follow them, he flipped on his light and saw Ellie's frightened face glowing in its beam.

"We'll figure something out," he reassured her.

She stayed to the far wall of the tunnel, keeping to the narrow ledge.

His way down the tunnel was blocked by fallen debris. He dove underneath, to see how deep the obstruction went. To his relief, the beam revealed a gap under a fallen crossbeam, and he saw subway tracks continuing into the murky deep.

He popped up on the other side and saw a subway car wedge sideways in the tunnel. Diving again, he went under the car and came back up on the opposite side. Another car was partially submerged, but he managed to climb up onto its surface.

Looking far down the tunnel, he saw square concrete pillars following the underwater tracks. It looked like the railing on the left continued as well.

Ellie had managed to follow him by staying on the elevated emergency walk behind the railing. He hoisted himself up on a raised ledge near a short flight of steps which rose as the railing ended. He felt relief now that they were reunited.

She ran toward him, and in his panic, he thought she was rushing to embrace him, but instead she dropped to a dead corpse lying at his feet. She bent down and scooped something up.

"Hey, look!" she said with an excited smile. The object in her hand shot out a bright beam of light. "It still works!"

Joel looked down at the corpse and noticed a piece of paper lying beside it. He picked it up; it was a note: something about a smuggler named Frank desperately trying to sneak into the Boston QZ. The dead guy, thought Joel, must've been Frank's contact. Apparently, the guy named Frank never showed up.

Joel flashed his beam around.

A gap in the nearby wall revealed stairs going back down into the water. It might lead to an exit, he thought, preparing to dive in.

Just before he submerged, he heard Ellie's voice cry out: "You're not going to leave me here, right?"

"Just stay put," he told her.

"I'm not going anywhere," she yelled back. The words sparked a memory that made his blood run cold: it had been something Tess had said to him right before she died.

He dove down, entering a room fully submerged underwater. It was a maintenance room by the looks of it, with a parts bin and metal shelves. Some control panels were bolted on the outer wall. He saw something glint off his beam and sure enough, he found another Firefly pendant. By reflex, he picked it up.

He swam back out of the room and came up gasping for air through the tiny filter cartridge in his mask .

"Anything down there?" Ellie asked.

"Nuh-huh," he said. "It's a dead end."

Keeping himself afloat, he glanced across to the other side, to the yellow bordered platform with thick horizontal cables, and something caught his eye. He swam over to it. As he approached the platform, he could see the tail end of an aluminum ladder.

He tried to reach it, but unfortunately, the platform was too high for him to grip the ledge.

"Here's a ladder," he called out to Ellie. "Maybe we can use that."

The question was, how to get to it?

He needed to get Ellie from one side of the tunnel to the other, but how he had no idea. He swam a little farther out, scanning the black surface of the water. He saw something nearby: a wooden pallet floating in the dark. He grabbed it and, using it as a paddle board, made his way back to her.

He was feeling exhausted now, wondering just how long his strength would hold. It'd been over two days straight of running and fighting without sleep. He knew he couldn't go on much longer.

He followed the dim glow of her light and made his way to her. He bumped the wooden pallet against the ledge and told her to get on.

"Really?" she asked, her voice shaking.

"Ellie…" he started tiredly, but she quickly appeased him and said, "Okay. Okay."

She jumped onto the pallet as Joel tried to keep it steady. Water splashed on the plastic viewports of his mask and the pallet rocked. On all fours, Ellie hung on for dear life.

"Be careful," she pleaded with him.

"I got you," he panted.

He swung the pallet slowly around and paddled her over to the platform on the other side. It was a precarious maneuver, him pushing the pallet, her doing her level best not to slip overboard.

Finally, the pallet bumped against the platform. She carefully climbed off and made her way to the ladder lying on the ground. She grabbed the far end and raised it. It scraped loudly against the concrete edge as it slipped into the water.

"I got it," he told her.

Once in place, he gripped the rungs and pulled himself up. The excess water added an extra twenty pounds, or so he felt, so exhausted he was. He straightened and sighed with relief; at least they were standing together on the other side.

He looked around. There were benches against the tiled wall and old poster frames for movies and advertisements. That meant only one thing: they had found their way to the next subway station, and more importantly, a way out.

He turned toward the exit and saw another clump of phosphorus fungus growing from a body long since dead. It was an unnerving sight, seeing an alien growth emerge from what was once a human being. In all these years, he'd never gotten used to it.

"Alright," he gasped. "Let's get out of here."

There were lots of metal gates, some locked with crowbars wedged on the opposite side, some hanging open. They slipped through one and followed a never-ending hallway, but he kept pushing forward. To his heartfelt relief, out of the waning fog, a set of concrete steps materialized.

Up ahead, natural light loomed in the distance.

They went up the long staircase and when they reached the rock-strewn opening, they scrambled up the rocks and tumbled out of the entrance.

Finally, they were back outside.

He trudged down the slope to a squat piece of concrete sitting underneath a large elm. With one hand grasping at the chin, he tugged the mask upward, ripping it free from his face. He sucked in a deep breath greedily, eager to the fresh air. He took a seat on the concrete stool, coughing and wheezing.

Ellie trailed behind him. She approached him tentatively, her nervous hands hanging on her hips.

"Hey, look," she began awkwardly. "About Tess…" She took a deep breath. "I don't even know what to -"

Joel stopped her in her tracks. After all he'd been through, the last thing he wanted was to hear this kid utter Tess's name. "Here's how this thing's gonna play out," he informed her. "You don't mention Tess. Ever."

Her face turned red and she lowered her eyes.

"Matter of fact," he continued. "We can just keep our histories to ourselves." He sucked in another breath. "Secondly," he was on a roll, "don't tell anybody about your...condition. They'll either think you're crazy or they'll try to kill you."

He fixed her with his gaze: "And lastly," he paused for emphasis, "you do what I say, when I say it."

The young girl sighed.

"We clear?"

Still staring at the ground, she nodded. "Sure."

"Repeat it," he ordered.

She exhaled and lifted her eyes to meet his gaze. "What you say goes."

It annoyed him that she'd sidestepped his demand, but he had no choice but to let it slide.

"Good," he finally declared.

He looked over his shoulder to set his internal compass. "Now," he said with a grunt, rising to his feet. "There's a town a few miles north of here, and there's a fella there that owes me some favors."

He stared off in the distance, saying the words without really believing them: "Good chance he could get us a car."

Her silence made him turn to her and she glanced down, twisting an invisible ring on her finger.

"Okay," she nodded.

"Let's get a move on," he told her, and he started off, with her trailing behind.

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