03 Sep Liam and Stephanie – An Infected RPG Short Story
For inspiration on Infected RPG, I turned to Stuart Holbrook, one of my best mates and a key contributor to the Immersion RPG game design! Not only that, but he’s an incredible writer, with a debut novel on its way. This short story is a classic example of the types of stories we’re looking for in the competition for Infected!
It was a couple of hours past sunrise as Liam marched doggedly through the woods, the weight of his pack and rifle trying their best to drag him down. His machete bounced rhythmically against the side of his leg with each step, hanging from a loop on his belt.
Dried blood covered the blade.
It had been days since his last meal. Liam had gone through all the various stages of hunger, from the annoying twinge in the stomach to the ravenous desire to consume. Even that had eventually passed and for the last several hours his desire to eat had left him completely.
A natural stream several miles back had taken away most of the nausea and dizziness associated with dehydration. It was there he had managed to shoot the doe he now carried in his pack. She had been just as hungry and desperate to live as he was, her belly swollen with the later stages of pregnancy.
It was a clean shot and he had quartered it within minutes.
Liam had contemplated starting a fire and cooking the beast right there. But he had quickly shut down that fancy.
“Shoot and relocate.”
It was a saying he had heard many times before. The woods would shield a lot of the noise from the gunshot, stopping it from carrying too far.
But they had great hearing…
And he had been caught off-guard in the past.
The trees began to thin out the further he walked and his thoughts once again travelled back to those he had left behind.
His wife Carla had been growing weaker by the day. She was such a strong woman… normally. It was unnerving to see her so ravaged by the virus. She did her best to hide it from him. “I don’t want you to worry about me. You have enough on your plate. I’ll be fine.” It had always been her way.
But when he left to get food and water she had been pale and feverish. That was 3 days ago.
He knew what it meant. He had seen it before. They all had. But maybe this time… maybe it would be different.
It had been months since the initial breakout. At first Liam thought it was simply the normal media sensationalism. Words like “epidemic” and “sweeping the nation” were thrown about so frequently on television and social media that he thought it was just another strain of flu. Something which killed a few old and invalid people and caused a whole bunch of unnecessary hysteria.
But it had escalated.
After a month of vandalism, rioting and dozens of mass murders along with an untold body count due to the virus, the government declared a police state. The army rolled into the city with tanks, checkpoints were set up and quarantine zones became part of normal conversation.
Carla had begged him to leave. “Let’s just get out of the city, go to the ranch for a couple of weeks. It’s so crowded here. That’s why everyone’s getting sick.”
But Liam had refused.
“I was a Ranger. I didn’t put in all that work fighting insurgents and watching my friends die so that I could turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble at home.”
“What about your daughter? What about Stephanie? Liam, I love you. We love you… I know it’s not in your nature to run. You’re a protector. But I’m asking you to protect your family now.”
Liam had hugged her tightly.
“We’ll be alright. You’ll see. The army will sort things out.”
A month later, Liam paid $15,000.00 in cash to a red-eyed Corporal at a quarantine checkpoint with his entire livelihood strapped to the roof of his SUV. The Corporal had eyed his wife and daughter in a way which sent shivers of disgust up his spine.
Other soldiers stood around the checkpoint, their guns trembling in their amphetamine powered limbs. Bodies lay in the gutters leading up to the barricade. Stephanie wept silently in the backseat, her hands covering her face. Carla stared straight ahead, her expression deadpan.
“Let them through.”
Liam relaxed his grip on the Glock 19 which was resting underneath a jacket on his lap and accelerated through the checkpoint, not giving them a chance to change their mind.
Thinking about that dark night made him feel sick. He quickened his step, breathing heavily, desperate to be home.
The woods gave way to a small paddock and an old 2-horse stable. The fence around the paddock was old and more often than not was missing chunks of timber. The remaining pieces were wet, split and rotten. The stable itself was equally dilapidated. It was his fault. He hadn’t had horses in years and had neglected it for far too long, busy as he was in the city.
Liam could see the roof of his ranch over the top of the stable. He smiled. It felt like an eternity since he last saw Carla and Stephanie. Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember the last time he smiled. It had been days, at least.
“It’ll be nice to actually eat something.”
As he rounded the corner he saw his daughter Stephanie sitting on the porch steps. His smile broadened. She’d been waiting for him.
“I know I took longer than normal. Something must be spooking the deer in the area, I had to travel past Margaret’s River to find… Steph?”
Stephanie hadn’t looked up at his approach. Her eyes were fixated on her hands. Liam’s heart skipped a beat. One was heavily bandaged with a bloodstained rag.
A swell of nausea rose up within him. His throat constricted. He could barely breathe. His brain wasn’t working properly, unable to comprehend what was happening. His body was on autopilot. He took a hesitant step towards her.
“I didn’t know what to do.”
Stephanie sniffed and wiped her nose on the back of her forearm. She didn’t look up at him, her eyes transfixed to her hands. A teardrop splashed onto the step in front of her.
Liam took another step forward.
“Steph, what happened?”
It took her a minute to respond.
“Dr. Hammond came by yesterday. He said that mom wasn’t going to survive… He said it would be better if we killed her. That way there would be no chance of her… coming back.”
Liam shrugged off his pack and rested the rifle against the timber railing of the porch. He reached out hesitantly and grabbed hold of her hand which wasn’t bandaged. She slowly turned to look him in the eye.
“It’s ok baby girl. Tell me what happened.”
Stephanie burst into tears. She lunged forward, grabbing Liam around the neck in a terrified hug. Sobs racked her as she cried into his shoulder, her whole body shuddering with each strangled breath.
“Oh daddy, I was… so scared…”
Liam stroked her hair gently, making shushing noises. Tears fell unheeded down his face as he looked past her and at the open front door. It was dark inside. The whole house had a dark, foreboding feeling about it.
So Carla was dead.
It was hard for him to rationalize it. He had seen plenty of death in the past. Between his deployments with the US Rangers and the infection he had seen every imaginable facet of death. And yet, still…
“Did… did Dr. Hammond… how did…?”
Stephanie tried to swallow her sobs. Her breath came in shuddering gasps and although she spoke softly her voice was steady.
“He pulled out a needle. He said it wouldn’t hurt but… I couldn’t let him kill mom. He wouldn’t wait for you to come home. I just wanted you to come home. I tried to stop him. He hit me. I grabbed a knife…”
“Oh baby girl, no…”
“I threatened him, told him to leave. He grabbed it off me and hit me again. He then said… He said that I was infected too. That he would just kill me too. I grabbed at the knife. I kicked him… hard. He let go of the knife. And then… then…”
Liam stroked her hair. She didn’t have to finish. He knew what he would find inside.
“I’m sorry you had to do that.”
She cried for a long time. Liam wept silently, his voice shaking as he shushed her soothingly. Eventually she stopped, her shuddering breaths returning to soft sips of air.
Liam pulled away from her, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Did you clean the cut well?”
“What? Oh, yeah. I rinsed it and sprayed iodine on it. I think I need stitches.”
“Ok, I’ll look after you in a minute. I’m just going to go inside now. Where is… your mother?”
Stephanie looked at the front door and shuddered before returning to stare at her hands.
“She’s in the bedroom. I locked the door. Just in case she… you know.”
“And where’s the Glock?”
Stephanie’s bottom lip trembled.
“I panicked. I didn’t think I would need it… then when I needed it, I didn’t think… It was Dr. Hammond, you know?”
Liam did know. The man had been her physician her entire life.
And now she had killed him.
Liam stood up and grabbed his rifle.
“Stay out here baby girl. I’ll be back soon.”
The walk up the porch steps and to the front door took far longer than normal. Liam steadied his breathing and cocked his rifle, walking slowly and keeping his mouth parted slightly. His footsteps were loud across the decking.
Once inside he could see the body of Dr. Hammond. He walked over to the corpse, feeling a sense of detachment. He had known the man for a long time. They had shared many beers and cigars over the course of several years. He had looked after Carla when she was pregnant with Stephanie. He had tended to him when he broke his wrist horse-riding.
And in the end he had tried to kill his daughter.
Liam stepped over the dead man and walked deeper into the house.
It had only been 3 days since he was last here but it already felt like a stranger’s house. He walked past the bathroom. Somebody else’s bathroom. He walked past Stephanie’s bedroom. A stranger’s room.
He stepped up to the door of his bedroom.
He checked the handle. It was locked. He smiled sadly. Stephanie had locked it from the inside before closing the door. Clever girl. He felt his throat constrict as he pressed his ear to the door, dreading what he may or may not hear.
Long moments passed.
He couldn’t hear anything on the other side.
He checked the slide on his rifle, making sure that he was locked and loaded. Bracing himself and preparing himself mentally for all possibilities, he kicked down the door.
It swung inwards, making a loud crack of splitting timber. Liam stepped backwards, rifle raised. His eyes, already adjusted to the gloom quickly scouted the interior of his bedroom. Someone else’s bedroom.
There was Carla.
She was sitting in the large sofa chair next to the bed that she had spent countless hours curled up on, reading incessantly.
A blanket covered her body, leaving her face exposed. Her skin was ghost white, her lips pale and bloodless. A large, swollen boil protruded from her neck, angry and red. Another one sat above her right eye. Her head hung down, unsupported. Flecks of blood dribbled down her chin.
His wife was dead.
Fresh tears sprung to Liam’s face and he sobbed, his rifle slumping in his grip. For 20 years she had remained by his side, loyal and steadfast. She had been his strongest supporter, his best teammate. She had supported him when he went on operations overseas and had always greeted him with a smile when he returned. She never asked too many questions about his missions, a problem many men in his profession struggled with. She scoffed when people talked about the high divorce rate in the Rangers, saying that she was a proud American woman, strong and independent. She would defend their home while he went out defending their country.
His beautiful wife Carla was dead…
She opened her eyes.
He blinked, thinking the tears were distorting his vision.
Her head turned so she could look at him. Her mouth opened wider than normal, a long string of yellow spit dripping down her chin. Her eyes were a strange red, almost seeming to glow in the dark room.
“Oh no… not you.”
Some people… most people died from the infection.
And the others…
Carla stood slowly, the blanket which had been draped over her falling to the ground. Her body was twisted, ravaged by the virus so that when she stood one shoulder hung lower than the other and she hunched. Her eyes focused on him and her face twisted in a snarl. A growl unlike anything he had ever heard before emanated from her. A primal hunger flirted behind her eyes.
Liam knew what he had to do.
He raised the rifle.
Carla took a step forward, her hand stretching out towards him. Her lips peeled back in a violent, hungry snarl.
“I’m so sorry Carla.”
No, not Carla. Someone else.
Liam pulled the trigger.