Fear had dried the spit in her mouth.
"A way to become like them."
A way to become like them...
The words echoed over and over in her head.
He was mad. He had gone mad. Rachel stood staring at Matthew, her arms wrapped around her middle as she listened to him speak.
"You cannot be serious," Nicholas whispered, tears making his young eyes bright.
"Matthew, they are cursed." Jude turned away, refusing to look at Matthew. Others wouldn't even speak to him.
Ezekiel murmured, "It must possible to become as strong as they are without becoming the monster. You stand before me as proof, Matthew."
Rachel watched as Matthew nodded curtly.
Ezekiel closed his eyes and sighed. When the old man opened them, he lifted his eyes heavenward and whispered, "I prayed for an answer--I prayed for help. I did not expect it to come in this form."
Matthew laughed bitterly and Rachel felt tears sting her eyes. They had all prayed for help. None of them had realized the cost, though.
"I'll do it."
"You cannot, Zeke."
Ezekiel's eyes narrowed and he rose slowly, glaring angrily at Matthew as he demanded, "And I'd like to know why not, boy."
"You are old, Ezekiel. Your time in this world is nearing its end... I can feel it somehow."
Even though nothing changed on Matthew's face as he spoke, Rachel felt the pain in his words as he spoke to Zeke. The old man was the closest thing that Matthew had to a father. Tears burned her eyes and she moved forward, wrapping an arm around Zeke.
Ezekiel just continued to glare stubbornly at Matthew. "Even if you can feel it, what does that have to do with anything?"
Matthew smiled. "If your body was still as strong as it was ten years ago, it wouldn't matter at all. And if your body was as strong as your soul, it wouldn't matter. But your body is getting weak. The body has to be strong or it won't survive the Change."
Ezekiel's shoulders slumped and for once, he looked weary. Rachel hugged him and he smiled at her. "All is well, Rachel. Our prayers have been answered, after all. We have a way to fight them, finally. Something besides huddling in the dark."
With that, he turned to face the men and women who were, arms wrapped around each other in the dark corners of the room. "Who is willing?" he asked of the men. "We have strong men here. We have all lost people to these monsters. Wives, children, mothers, fathers."
Husbands, Rachel thought starkly as nobody answered.
As the silence continued, Ezekiel started to walk through the room. "We have a chance here. We must have strength to fight them. Our prayers have been answered. God sent back our warrior--Matthew is stronger now than he ever was, and just as true. And yet you all stand there as cowards."
"Zeke," Matthew said quietly, shaking his head. "They are right to be frightened."
Rachel said flatly, "We've all been frightened. Ever since they came here. We've lived in fear. The men and women your age...you were born in fear. The children we have now live in fear. How can we expect that to stop unless we are willing to do something?"
Samuel whispered harshly, "We are doing something. But becoming monsters ourselves?"
Rachel spun to face him, her hands fisted at her sides. "My husband is not a monster. He is the same man he was when I married him. On the inside--I see that man when I look in his eyes. The monsters are the things out there that make me afraid to walk outside in my garden at night. That make you afraid to fish before the sun rises. Those are the monsters and Matthew offers us a way to take back our lives and none of you will dare say yes."
Her heart pounded in her chest. Her head felt strange. God, do I dare? she wondered. The tears that had threatened to fall most of the night finally broke free.
The life she had once known was over. It had ended the night Matthew hadn't returned all those weeks ago.
Quietly, she asked, "What would they have to do?"
For the longest time, he wouldn't tell them. And when he did, the men and women looked even more terror-stricken. The pounding in her head increased and her heart raced so hard, she could hardly breathe. She wiped her damp palms on the long cloth of her robes as she paced, listening to him speak.
It sounded horrifying.
Could a person possibly survive it, she wondered.
Moving off to the side, Rachel watched surreptitiously from the shadows as he spoke--she hoped that Matthew had no idea just how closely she was listening. He wouldn't allow her to do it.
Women had survived what the monsters had done. She'd seen them.
As Matthew had finished talking, Ezekiel turned and faced the men once more. "Who among you has the courage?" he asked quietly.
One man did bow his head and start to stand, but his wife clung to his arm. Rachel moved forward. "Jude, no. Ruth has need of you. She's lost too much already."
Matthew turned, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Rachel, but she wondered if maybe he saw something in her eyes. He studied her thoughtfully and then looked back at Jude and murmured agreement. "Indeed, Jude. A man should be able to spend both day and night with his wife."
When no other man made move to rise, Ezekiel said, "So we have not one soul brave enough?"
Rachel swallowed. "I am."
And before Matthew could say a word, she took a knife. Lifting her eyes, she forced a smile at him. "You'd never agree, love."