“Here. Come here.” The voice was behind her on the waves.
Stepping into the water slowly, she felt disoriented and afraid. Behind her the wind howled.
“Come deeper into the water, Nerit,” the voice called out again. “Come to my voice.”
Now in water up to her waist, she felt the warm water lapping up around her hands as she held them out at her sides.
The howl of the wind was louder now, almost screaming in her ears.
“Don’t look behind you, Nerit, just come here,” Ralph’s voice persisted.
Slowly, despite his words, Nerit turned. Behind her the shore was filled with the undead, screaming, howling, reaching toward her. A few were daring to enter the water behind her.
Then a hand reached out of the water, grabbed her and dragged her down into the salty depths.
In the tiny clinic room, Nerit’s eyes opened from her nightmare. Her fingers trembling against her heaving chest, she tried to focus her eyes and take a deep breath. It hurt at first, then the pain in her chest lessened and she pressed her hand to her forehead.
The I.V. was an annoying pain in her wrist, but she ignored it as she caught sight of Kevin asleep in a chair near the door.
She was sure the voice in her dream had been Ralph, but now she wasn’t so sure.
Slowly, Ralph stepped out of the shadows near the bed and sat down in the chair closest to her. He smiled softly at her and reached out to take the hand still clutching the bed covers.
“Nerit, you’re okay. You’re awake. It was hard to get you back. You were so far gone.”
“Ralph,” she whispered, laying her other hand over his. “I can feel your hand.”
“Only for a little bit, hon,” he answered, giving her a small smile.
“No, hon. You’re awake. Out of the coma. Lots of prayers were going up for you, you know,” Ralph said with a wink.
Looking sad, Ralph sighed and squeezed her hand. “What happens next is gonna be hard. Not to my liking. Probably not to yours. But how it is.”
“Ralph, you’re frightening me,” Nerit whispered. She felt groggy and unsure of the world around her. The dreams of Israel had been so vivid they had felt real to her.
“Sometimes, Nerit, we gotta sacrifice ourselves for the greater good. We gotta do the hard job. The thing that hurts most.” Ralph sighed softly.
“Lots of prayers for you, like I said. Lots of fear here. Lots of need.”
“Ralph, please, I know I have cancer, I know--” She dreaded that he was here to take her for good.
“Not no more, Nerit. It’s gone. I wanted you home. With me.” He looked so heartrendingly sad and Nerit squeezed his hand tightly. “But, you got an extension. You got more time. They need you here. They need who you are and what you can do. I even prayed myself for you to stay here.”
“Ralph, I’ll always love you and-” The sense of relief she felt was overwhelming. To not die of cancer, to fight on for the fort, it was all she wanted, yet; she felt so sad to not be with him.
“I know, Nerit. But your place is here. And this changes everything for the fort. Time is not set in stone. Some of us on the other side realized that.
We saw it all: Past, Present, Future. We knew what could happen and we...we found a place in time to try to change how it comes out. Not saying it’s going to turn out okay, but you guys got a better chance now.”
With a sad, weary sigh, her dead husband said, “There are points in time that the future hinges on. A moment when it can all go one way or the other. This is one of those times. Some of us have worked hard to see that this swings in a way that will let the living win.”
Slowly, achingly, Nerit sat up. She could feel herself growing stronger in mind, body and spirit and her eyes became more sharply focused. “I see.”
“I’ve seen two futures, Nerit. I hope, pray that...” He hesitated and slowly stood up. “I hope that the world lives on beyond tomorrow.”
“Ralph,” she said softly. She looked at him evenly. “Tell me what to do.”
With a short nod of his head, Ralph said, “That’s my girl. This is what you gotta do...”
* * * * * “Curtis,” Travis said in a low, soft voice. “You don’t want to do this.”
“No, actually I do.” Curtis took one step forward. His young face was very calm, his eyes hard, and his jaw set. He was more self-assured, cockier than usual. He moved with confidence that made him only seem deadlier.
“What purpose will it serve to kill me?” Travis asked, watching the knife warily. His body was tense, ready to evade any attack. His heart was thundering in his ears.
“I’m not going to kill you, Travis. Just help you along.” Curtis smiled slowly. “You know, originally, I wanted to ditch Katie over the wall. Let you see how it feels to lose the woman you love. But I am okay with this.
The cold manner in which Curtis spoke of throwing his wife over the wall had Travis speechless with horror. He took a long breath to calm himself.
He needed to think clearly, not emotionally. Stepping back, Travis could feel the catwalk sway slightly. Looking around him, he realized how perfectly isolated they were. Curtis had picked one of the best places in the entire fort for an attack.
“Who knows? Maybe your lesbo wife will hook up with Bette and return my girl to me. That could work. Maybe.” Curtis moved forward in a slow relentless pace.
“Curtis, think about what you are saying. You’re speaking about murder,”
Travis said in a measured voice. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Why not? I’ve done it before. I got rid of the people you wouldn’t. I took care of the fort when you wouldn’t. Yeah, yeah, you all blamed Blanche, but she was a stupid whore. I took care of this fort when you wouldn’t. I did what was necessary!”
“You’re the Vigilante,” Travis said slowly, the shock of his words making him feel a little numb.
“Yeah, Travis, took you long enough. You’re dumber than I thought.”
Curtis laughed. “You’re all so busy just trying to be goody goody and make the world great by talking and talking, but I am the doer. I do what needs to be done.” The young man’s face was full of cold, raw anger. “I am the law around here, whether you want to admit it or not. I am the only real cop left standing around here. I took care of our people while you just talked and talked and talked.”
“I’m not the only one making decisions around here,” Travis started.
“No, you’re not. But you got more influence than you deserve to have.
You’re an outsider, Travis. You don’t belong here. But ever since you blew into town, everyone has acted like you’re some great wonderful messiah.
All the girls were blabbing on about you and all the guys wanting to be your buddy. But you ain’t all that. You’re a city slicker that came out here to play country. And your city slicker ways ain’t doing us no damn good.”
“So you killed all of them, huh? Ritchie, Jimmy, Phil, Shane...” Travis tried to push his shock away and focus on the moment.
“Shane and Phil may have been a mistake. I’ll admit to that. I don’t approve of men raping women. But now that I know she really was a lesbian before she was with you, I see now that I may have gotten the wrong sinner.”
Travis swallowed his anger and took a step back from the young man with the sharp knife. “You’re afraid of what you don’t understand.”
“Oh, I understand plenty. Trust me, Travis. I can see very clearly that you have been letting in sinners that will destroy this fort.” Curtis took a firm step toward him.
Trying to furtively examine his surroundings and figure a way past Curtis and out of the dead end the man was pushing him into, Travis decided that to keep Curtis talking was the best route. “Yeah, you seem to hate it that the people from the mall are here.”
“The Baptists got that right. Crime went up when they got here. People got sick with the flu. Got more gay people and wetbacks to deal with. We were moving toward being a solid, Godly community until that happened.”
“I guess you forgot our Reverend is black,” Travis said with a slight smile.
The sound made both of them tense even more. Simultaneously, they looked over the wall to see a zombie staggering into the alley.
“Well, now that is perfect timing. Guess he heard the lunch bell,” Curtis said with a grin.
Then he lunged at Travis.
* * * * * Katie ran down the hallway, her feet pounding the floor in rhythm to her rapidly beating heart. She tried to keep the apparition of Jenni in view as her dead friend ran in front of her. Skidding around the corner, she almost ran into the Reverend as he stepped off the elevator.