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Clickers in ‘The Last of Us’ Are Scary, But There’s Something Much Worse

Joel and Ellie vs bloater

Picture this: You’re a grizzled survivor making your way through the dystopian world of The Last of Us.

The outbreak began about five years ago, but you’re not exactly keeping track of the days anymore. You’ve killed your fair share of infected, including the dreaded clicker. You’ve also probably iced your fair share of human beings. I’m sure it kept you up at night at some point, but these days you’re learning to live with it. You’re an old pro. A veteran. A regular Joel Miller. There are few things that scare you anymore. You know that you can handle yourself in virtually every situation that bitch Mother Nature can throw at you.

Except for one.

You first encountered one in the ruins of a hotel about a month ago. You were picking through the wreckage in the basement. You had choked out a couple of runners and shivved your fair share of clickers in order to get to where you thought they kept the good stuff. You’re rummaging around in the darkness, looking for anything that you can use. All you hear is the clink and clatter of debris, the drip drip drip of water from the ceiling, and sound of your own breathing.

And then you hear a distant rumble.

You stop what you’re doing. Strain your ears. Listen. No familiar clicking sounds. You would have recognized though. Maybe it was a survivor convoy rolling through town over your head? An explosive booby trap triggered far away? An earthquake? Mother Nature has always loved to surprise you.

You hear it again. Louder this time. The floor shakes a little.

It sounds like a footfall. The footfall of some sort of shambling colossus, maybe. But nothing in this world is that big. An elephant? A rhinoceros. Last you checked, there weren’t any of those running around the ruins of Hartford, Connecticut. Maybe an animal escaped from the zoo? You’ve heard tales of a group of giraffes that roam the wreckage of Salt Lake City after having escaped their enclosure, but they might as well be unicorns. No, you have survived up to this point because you’re rational. You’re practical. You don’t let fear get the better of you.

But the sound comes again. Louder. Closer. And you are afraid.

The wall at the other end of the room begins to buckle, as if pushed on from the other side by a bulldozer. Over the sound of falling bricks and twisting rebar, you swear that you can hear a groaning. A roaring. It sounds almost human. But no human being could ever make a sound so deep and powerful. It’s more like an animal. A monster. A demon. You unsling the shotgun from your back and pump it. Whatever comes through that wall, you’ll be ready.

Except you aren’t ready. You never where.

Snaking its way through a hole in the bricks is a hand. It is gargantuan. Whatever it belongs must be at least seven or eight feet tall. And it’s plated in something. Some hard, chitinous substance. You strain your eyes and see that it is fungus. A fungal plate, the same the grows over the faces of clickers. Except it’s in the wrong place. Clickers don’t grow fungal armor anywhere but their heads.

But as it comes through the wall, you can see this isn’t a clicker.

If it’s not a clicker, then what the hell is it?!

It’s a massive, bloated thing. It has the same humanoid shape as a clicker, but its body is swollen out of proportion. Fungal plates cover the creature from head to toe. It is a suit of living biological armor. You pump your shotgun reflexively, and it is alerted to your presence. It gives off a deafening roar and charges at you, crashing through wood and concrete as if it were tissue paper. You unload both barrels into its chest, but it doesn’t stop moving. It only seems angrier.

You turn and run, and in the same instant you are blasted with an explosive force. You can feel a corrosive substance eating away at the leather of your jacket, down through your shirt and onto the skin underneath. Spores fly up into your face. If you weren’t wearing your gas mask right now, you would be dead.

You turn around and see the creature pulling off a chunk of its own body at the shoulder and hurling it at you. You duck your head and the sack explodes against a wall behind you. You run about the stairs, and the creature is in hot pursuit. You vault over the hotel concierge desk, hoping that the creature will lose you momentarily. It gives you just enough time to reload your shotgun and prep a molotov cocktail. You rear up over the counter and come face to face with the creature. It swipes a massive hand at you, strong enough to break your neck with one blow. You hit it with both barrels once again, and it is blown backward a few feet. Your fingers frantically reach for a lighter in your jacket pocket. The creature lumbers towards you once again.

You strike the lighter and ignite the alcohol soaked rag of the molotov. You hurl it at the creature, and it explodes in a gap between the creature’s plates. It writhes and bellows, reaching it for you, but before it can touch you it finally succumbs to the flames. It falls to the floor, dead.

Congrats, you survived a Bloater

Later that night at your campfire, you realize that this creature is the culmination of the Cordyceps fungus’ infernal design. The clicker is not the ultimate stage of the infection as you had once thought; only a precursor to it. The Cordyceps fungus, given enough time (perhaps around five years) will engineer its host into the perfect killing machine. A fungal juggernaut. Nigh invincible, nigh unstoppable.

With mounting horror, you realize that this is the fate that awaits all infected things, the final evolution. The creature is only rare now because the infection has not had enough time to create more creatures like it. But in your lifetime, these creatures will be the only kind of infected that remain if they are not killed before reaching the ultimate stage of their life cycle. The world will be owned by these bulging monstrosities. These bloaters. And that will be a darker age than humanity ever dreamed possible.

(featured image: Naughty Dog)

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