She’s standing there, panicked, pointing the gun at me. The narrow briar-lined path we’re on stretches behind her, down to the water’s edge. A boat is waiting, but between us and the boat is a massive wolf, a lean nightmare with hardened hide and dripping jaws.
She hasn’t seen it yet, hasn’t heard it crash through the brush and onto the path. She thinks her friends have waited for her. “Back off, asshole,” she says with a smirk, feet trying to find the path behind her.
I pause to look her over. I have time, after all. Hair like the spray of sea crashing on rocks. Blue-green eyes. Curves beneath practical clothing. Tall. She looks damn good holding that gun. Tattoos lace her face, adding to the storybook surreality of her presence that drew me in at the bar. Who did this to you? What do you fear so much that you would hurt others like you?
“You’re already dead, Sam.”
“Fuck you,” she flings back, but her confidence wavers. She looks behind her and sees the creature, still frozen in time. Its eyes are trained on her.
My friends are behind me now. Not enough bullets to shoot all of us, I wager. I extend my hand to her, slowly. “It’ll be okay. Come with us. I won’t hurt you. Hell, if it helps, I’ll even Pledge on it.”
She slowly lowers the gun, eyeing me up and down. She’s made this choice before, between death and surrender. She steps towards me, cautiously, and takes my hand. Time gradually returns, and we run together.
I awaken. The stitches have come loose somewhere, and I’m bleeding through the bandages that cover my right side. It’s 3 AM. The hospital is quiet save for the occasional padding by of a heavyset nurse in scrubs. Lire is asleep in his chair by my bed, strangely comfortable on its minimalist cushioning. He carried me here, I assume. Thank you, brother.
Sam is dead. Sam is dead and Ken is dead and I’m alive. Did I kill them? I let Ken take up the rear alone, let him get dashed against the corridor wall as I ran. I delayed Sam, couldn’t communicate through the panic and the wrestling for the gun, then dropped her when the wolf caught up to me and tore open my side. Not fast enough, not strong enough.
No, I refuse to collapse like that. There is no room for fear, Samantha, no room for self-doubt. I won’t fall prey to this singular fear of Them that drives this mad world we’ve come back to. I won’t hurt and betray people out of fear, just to be the strongest rat scrabbling for his life amongst rats. When the Privateers or the Others or the next damned creature out of Hell comes to find me, they will find I’ve forgotten all about them. They will have to politely knock and be invited into my world, where their fear and hate buy them nothing. And you won’t be a Privateer there, Sam. You’ll greet visitors with a carefree smile, ask them their names and whether the traffic was bad on the way over.
… but all in due time. For now, I think I will dream another morphine dream, and rescue you from the path once more.