“Wasn’t that Zeus, not Jesus?” Travis said with a wry smile.
“You know how Fundies are,” Bill responded. “Hellfire and brimstone, God is gonna getcha.”
Mary walked up to join them. Her blue skirt and pale blouse were heavily starched and very neat. Her hair was swept into a chignon on top of her head and Travis thought she looked a little like Peggy from King of the Hill in that moment.
“We’re leaving now, Travis. I felt it best to give you one more chance to repent your sins and do what is right. Cleanse the fort and return to godly ways,” she said.
Her towering beanpole of a husband stood behind her looking rather fierce.
“If that means casting out the people you consider undesirable, I think I’ll stay with my sinner ways,” Travis answered.
Mary’s face darkened. “A proud heart belongs to the fool,” she responded tersely.
“Yeah,” Travis said significantly, looking at her pointedly. “It does.”
The elevator doors slid open behind them and Travis paled as he saw Kevin stumble out with Nerit in his arms.
“God is already striking down the sinners,” Mary said to her husband with a vindictive gleam in her eye and a smug smile.
“Get the hell out of the fort,” Travis snarled at her before rushing to where people were gathering around Kevin as he carried Nerit toward the clinic.
“What happened to her?” Katie asked as she kept pace with Kevin’s heavy footfalls.
“I don’t know. I found her on the floor of her room,” Kevin answered, tears gleaming in his eyes.
“I think I felt a pulse. I’m not sure,” Kevin responded in a voice thick with emotion.
Travis moved ahead of the small throng and flung open the clinic door to let them in. Bette looked up from where she sat reading a book. She was the night shift nurse for the week.
Bette was instantly at their side, guiding Kevin with a hand on his arm.
Switching into full nurse mode, she quickly began to check Nerit’s vitals even before she was completely on the bed.
Travis stood next to Katie, his arms crossed over his chest, swallowing hard.
“I have a pulse,” Bette answered. “Barely.” Then she shooed them out the door. “Get Charlotte,” she said, then shut the door on them.
Travis reached out and gently guided her into his arms. He held Katie close, feeling her body trembling.
Kevin sank into a chair in the waiting room and buried his face in his hands.
“She can’t die,” Bill said after a moment of excruciating silence. “She just can’t. We need her. She’s vital.”
The clinic door swung open and Charlotte raced in followed by Belinda.
The two woman rushed into the examination room where Nerit was and when that door was briefly open, Travis caught sight of Nerit’s pale unmoving form.
Katie was pale and gently dabbing her eyes with her shirt sleeve. Being pregnant, her hormones tended to get the best of her, but she was trying to remain calm.
The Reverend entered, his Bible clutched in one hand, his expression bewildered and frightened. “They’re saying Nerit is in here dying.”
Kevin looked up at the older gentlemen and sighed. “Her pulse was barely there. She felt so heavy in my arms.”
The Reverend looked down, his eyes glimmering with sudden tears. “I will pray.”
Outside the door Curtis’ voice screamed shrilly, “Get the fuck out of here!
“You will all be struck down as she has been! All of you! Consumed by sin you will be consumed,” Mary shouted back.
“Get them out of here,” Travis said to Bill, his voice raspy. “Get them the hell out of here!”
Bill looked up then over his shoulder, as if becoming aware of the commotion outside. “Oh, yeah. Okay.”
“Fucking get out of here now!” Curtis sounded as though he was about to break.
Bill stood up, adjusted his uniform, then headed out.
Silently, the Reverend sat down, his hands clutching the Bible.
“Sorry, Reverend,” Travis finally said. “I didn’t mean to swear in front of you.”
“It’s all right. These are hard times.”
Kevin looked toward the door that Nerit lay behind. His expression was shadowed by pain. “I didn’t know what to do when I found her,” he said in a low voice.
“You did the right thing bringing her here,” the Reverend assured him.
“It is and we must do what we can to support her during this time,” the Reverend answered her.
Katie reached down to the Reverend. He took her hand then Kevin’s.
Travis slowly stepped into the circle and took Katie and Kevin’s hands.
The four of them stood in silence for a moment, then the Reverend’s voice, full of warmth and faith began, “Dear Heavenly Father, be with us now in this most terrible hour of despair and rest your hand upon your child and our dear friend, Nerit. Bring her comfort in this time and heal her body…”
5. Where The Dead Are Juan slowly crept into his hotel suite, hoping not to wake the children, but instead found them in their pajamas gathered around his grandmother, Guadalupe and his mother, Rosie.
“Hi, Daddy One,” Holly said with a somber expression on her face.
“Why are you children still up?”
“Praying for Nerit,” Margie answered, her hair falling around her face.
Her small hand swept it back, but it promptly fell back into her face.
“How is she, Dad?” Jason looked at him through his bangs.
He saw the rosaries clutched in their hands and those of the children.
“Coma. They don’t know why. Charlotte says she’s stable, but in critical condition. Her life signs are not very strong.” He sat down on the sofa and Holly and Troy promptly crawled onto his lap. He cuddled them close and sighed into Holly’s hair.
“We’re praying and asking Daddy God to make her well,” Margie assured him.
“And his Mom,” Troy said in a soft voice. “I didn’t know we could pray to Jesus’ Mom. Can we pray to my Mom, too?”
“I am sure your Mama hears your every word,” Guadalupe assured Troy.
“Does she?” Troy looked at Juan expecting the truth of him.
Juan thought of Jenni appearing to him after her death and nodded. “Yes, I know she does.”
* * * * * “We got zombies!” Katarina swung her rifle around and aimed down toward the edge of the lighted area in front of the west wall of the fort.
Two zombies staggered into view, staring up at her with lidless eyes. One slowly reached its hand up toward her while the other moved slowly toward the wall.
“Shit, already?” Bill peered down and took aim. The reaching zombie’s head exploded almost in time with the one about to reach the wall.
“Check in. We had zombies on the west side,” Katarina called into her headset.
“I’m watching the fucking Baptists circling around trying to figure out where the hell they are gonna go. Do they count?” Calhoun’s voice answered her. “Oh, yeah...East Wall reporting in.”
“South Wall reporting in. No sign of zombies.”
“North Wall reporting in. No go this way,” Lenore’s voice answered.
Katarina nodded and looked toward Bill, tears in her eyes. “Oh, God, my heart is beating so fast I can barely stand it. How the hell am I going to feel when all those zombies show up?”
“You’re just spooked because of Nerit, honey,” Bill assured her.
“Look at me! I’m shaking! I don’t do this, Bill. I don’t freak out,” Katarina said, running her trembling hand through her hair.
He kissed her cheek softly and held her tight against him. “It’s okay, honey. It will be okay.”
Curtis watched through squinted eyes as the shiny new Durangos were having last minute checks done. He stood on the platform that straddled the wall between the hotel courtyard and the entry gates.
It was two days after Nerit’s collapse and she was no closer to life or death in that time. She seemed suspended between the two worlds and the Reverend was holding an around the clock prayer vigil for her.
Nervously, Curtis shifted from foot to foot, his hands tucked into the pockets of his trousers. Glancing over his shoulder at the back entrance of the hotel, he saw several of the volunteers saying emotional farewells to their loved ones.