The Walking Dead
Marc patiently sat, watching Grace fidget with a single strand of dry hair for the hundredth time. Forty minutes had past, since she first stepped to the vanity. A sympathetic smile curled the edges of his lips.
“Shush! Don’t you say a word!” Grace combed her fingers through lack-luster, moisture-starved locks. “I can’t do a thing with this mop, today! Honey, I don’t think I’m ready. Maybe we should wait until next week.”
Marc, watched as flakes of brown ash rained down Grace’s shoulders and settled into a neat little pile around her feet. Dust encircled her head, as she turned away from the living room vanity. He gathered she was entertaining second thoughts.
“No, you look beautiful, sweetheart. Remember, your appearance isn’t what’s important, there. Mine should be the only opinion that counts, right?”
Grace’s pupil-less eyes gazed at the floor, as she twiddled her fingers around the hem of her dusty black silk dress. A black teardrop rolled down her cracked brown cheek, trailing ash as it dangled from her chin. Marc crossed the living room and wrapped an arm around her waist. Pulling her close enough to inhale her putrid breath, he lifted her chin.
“Hey, do you hear me? You look beautiful. You are beautiful…to me.”
“Oh Marc, they’re all going to judge me the moment I walk into that place! How can you stand to be seen with me?”
Grace buried her face into Marc’s brilliant golden shirt. She felt his strong arms embrace her; fire seemed to ignite her skin where his arms touched. Despite the burn, the heat was soothing. Once again, she found herself amazed at their differences, but thankful for his presence in her life; such as it was.
“For better or for worse, remember?” Marc squeezed Grace, filling her fragile, decaying body with all the love he could muster. “You never quit. Even if something or someone changes, you never quit, babe.”
Grace suddenly tore away from Marc’s embrace, crossing the living room toward the bay window overlooking the downtown square. Ash trailed along the dirty white carpet, as her dress sashayed against the exfoliating skin of her legs. Grace folded her arms, absently scratching at a dry patch as she stared through the window toward the street, three stories below. Outside, ‘normals’ and ‘brighties’ milled about. She was suddenly reminded of just how different she and Marc were, once again.
“Honestly Marc, I don’t know why you even stay with me. I’m sure you could find yourself a nice brighty to shack up with. You people seem to keep to yourselves anyway. Why waste your time? Don’t your friends badger you about your normal wife?”
“Stop it, Grace. That’s the enemy playing his double-minded game on you right now. You know I don’t want anyone else, but you.” Marc slid behind Grace. He gently massaged her frigid shoulders. “Besides, I would never force you to do this sweetheart. You know that. But I can’t lie to you; it’s a better life. Honey, look at me.”
Grace slowly spun around and stared into her husband’s dazzling golden-brown eyes; those unnerving, yet peaceful eyes. His gentle smile was filled with warmth that called out to something deep within her soul; something she didn’t understand. His touch burned her shoulders, but the heat radiated a weird pleasure within her bones. Grace began to cry, staring into his radiant face.
“Sweetheart, I will wait for you, for as long as it takes,” Marc said, “but I pray that you make the decision before it’s too late. I know how afraid you must be. I get it; I was there once, remember? But I found out, fear was only keeping me from experiencing true life. Look out the window. There.”
Grace and Marc looked toward the corner of Sodom and Gomorrah, where a normal couple were crossing the street, approaching a bright couple. As the bright couple approached, Grace saw the man, dressed in a brilliant golden-fleece jacket, raise a hand of salutation toward the normal man. The normal couple, seemly appalled by the gesture, jerked out of reach, and scurried to the other side of the crossing. A hint of embarrassment stabbed at Grace’s heart, while Marc only shook his head.
“Did you see that? Fear of life. Sure, I get some folks who heckle me about our unique relationship. But the hecklers look like you: normal.”
“But that’s impossible,” Grace said. “I thought that only brighties worked on staff, with you?”
“Well, there’s the punch line, isn’t it? Once upon a time, they were bright. In their minds, they believe they are still bright. It is possible to lose the luster of life.”
Grace pondered this, for a moment. “How is it possible for…someone like you, to become normal again? Listen to me. I say that as if it’s actually a bad thing!”
“The bright can lose sight of what true life is all about, honey. The moment the luster becomes a badge of achievement, it tarnishes. The luster of true life was never meant to be flaunted as an idol, but that’s exactly what some people make of it. That’s why normal folk fear the luster. A few bad apples really can spoil the bunch, or at least the appearance of the bunch.”
Grace shrank under the weight of some invisible force. Her shoulders slumped. Marc pulled her tight against himself, to steady her.
“Marc…I’m so tired of being afraid of…of you; of your kind. I love you, but I’m afraid of what you are. I’m tired of the aches and pains in my skin and bones. I’m tired of being angry all the time. Sometimes…death just seems like a viable option to this.”
Marc squeezed his wife gently. His warm lips pecked the frozen nape of her neck.
“Sweetheart, you’re already walking in death. Come into life. For better or for worse, remember? Come to life, with me.”
Pride broke within Grace and she sobbed. As Marc held her close, hot tears rolled down his glowing brown cheeks. A fizz and puff of ashen smoke rose from Grace’s breast as Marc’s tears dripped onto her cold flesh, sending a shockwave of painful pleasure coursing through her body.
“Marc I want to, but I don’t know how to start. Please, help me. I can’t do this on my own.”
“You won’t have to, sweetheart. That’s the enemy taunting you again. He knows you’re ready to make the decision that will change everything for you. But, I’m with you. I’ll always be with you. I’ll never leave you, sweetheart. Steady now. Breathe with me.”
Grace drew in several short gasps, as the last of her sobs subsided. She felt the heat of her husband’s body rest against her; felt the warmth of his arms wrapped around her cold shoulders; smelled the overpowering sweet scent of his breath against her face. She slowly began to match his breathing, in and out. Slow. So very slow. Soon, they were in rhythm together.
“Are you ready, sweetheart?” Marc whispered.
“Yes. Take me, now.”
The walk down Sodom was slow and deliberate. Grace was conscious of every set of eyes watching them stroll hand in hand along the gray concrete. Brighties smiled and spoke greetings in passing. Normals, on the hand, avoided Marc and Grace completely. In the few instances when normals were encountered, she heard whispered curses in passing, tempting her to respond in kind. Oh, if not for the temperance of her husband. Several times, she looked to Marc, to find him smiling as they walked. What was he so happy for? All the time! This perpetual happiness of his was down-right maddening! But, then she reminded herself that today was the day, she’d chosen to find out personally. No more fighting it.
The sky was cloud free and clear blue-gray. Nice weather, she thought. Grace glanced at the gray-brownstone Condominiums across the street. She noticed the disproportionate number of normals to brighties leisurely walking the blocks. But that wasn’t really right at all. No. The brighties were leisure, while the normals seemed to be perturbed.
“What’s that, sweetheart?” Marc asked.
“You all don’t seem to be too pressed to get anywhere fast, do you?” Grace said with a smile.
“If we’re moving too slow for you, we can pick up the pace. I’m so excited, I could run!”
“No, no. That won’t be necessary,” Grace said. “Honey, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, go for it.”
“How do you see me? What I mean to say is, color-wise.” Grace searched for the words, barely aware of the burning in her intertwined fingers, resting inside her husband’s hand.
“You’re beautiful, period. What does it-”
“No honey, seriously. You’ve been here before. You know what I’m asking, even though I can’t articulate it. You know why the brighties constantly smile at us when we walk by. Please, tell me how you see me.”
Marc sighed, still smiling. His hand gripped her fingers tighter.
“How about this,” Marc said, sweeping a hand across the skyline. “You see all of this in color no doubt. The sky is blue; the buildings over there are brownstones; there’s Mrs. Jenkins at the fruit stand in a red blouse picking through a bunch of bananas.”
“Yes. Nothing out of the ordinary to me.”
“That’s because you don’t understand truth yet. Your eyes see everything in a shade of gray. It’s not just gray; it’s like a milky film or a fog you see through. The colors of the world come to your vision as an afterthought. Sort of a subtle hint to the gray, rather than the vibrant shades I see.”
Grace slumped, overcome by another wave of shame.
“When you look at other unbelievers-”
“Just call me normal Marc, please.”
“Fine. When you look into the eyes of other normals, you see the gray of their pupils. Tell me, honestly, have you ever seen a normal person with colored pupils? Brown eyes; blue; green; have you ever noticed a shade other than gray, in the eyes of another normal person?”
The thought had never occurred to Grace. Faced with it now, she shook her head, reluctantly agreeing with him.
“No you haven’t. Honey, from my vantage, the normal have no pupils. Your eyes are completely white. You’re missing the light of truth in your eyes.”
Grace’s hand slipped out of Marc’s. He stood there, a few steps ahead, allowing her to engage the moment. Silently, he said a prayer for his wife, as he remembered the feeling of confusion she must now be dealing with.
Grace stood still, staring into her own hands. She lightly brushed her right index finger across her left palm and watched a thin wisp of ash float into the air; brown ash. Glancing up and down the street, she watched normals hustle and bustle. Some were close enough for her to see their pupils. Not a single colored pair of eyes. Different shades of gray, yes. But, not one pair of normal colored pupils, returned her gaze.
“And what of my skin, Marc?” She looked to her husband. Black tears had begun to run down her cheeks again. “What does my skin look like to you?”
Marc stepped to Grace, but she recoiled.
“Sweetheart, you are…and will always be…beautiful to me.”
Grace’s face contoured in anguish. “Stop saying that! Just tell me the truth! What do I look like in your eyes?”
He inhaled deeply, and nodded. “Your skin is brown, like mine. But you do not reflect any sunlight. If it makes any sense to you, I’ll explain it this way: You look as though you have a perpetual layer of cracking mud all over your body. It is smooth to my touch, but cold. Beneath your decaying flesh, I can see the beauty of your Spirit. I see who you really are underneath the surface, Grace.”
She stood before him, horrified. Marc knew how deeply his words cut. But, now was the time for the truth to be completely known. For so long, he had filtered his words; careful in his choices. He never wanted to turn her away from the knowledge of the truth. He knew how crucial this moment was. This was the time when the enemy would come against Grace in full force. For the sake of her salvation, he had to tell her everything.
“To your eyes, I glow like some sort of specter. No matter what color my clothing actually is, you only see a golden shade, honey. It’s uncomfortable for you to look into my eyes, because your decaying mind cannot comprehend the light within me. My touch burns the surface of your skin, but causes a flutter in your heart.”
He reached out and grabbed her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. Grace gasped, as Marc drilled her with a fierce stare. His eyes penetrated her soul. She was simultaneously gripped with a fear of the unknown, and a heat inside her heart unlike any she had ever felt before. Marc had never looked at her this way.
“Marc,” she whimpered, “I’m scared. I’m afraid it’ll hurt me. I’m afraid it will all be too much for me to take, and my heart will burst. I’ll die, Marc.”
“That’s exactly what the enemy wants you to think, my love. Feel my warmth, Grace. Hear my voice. Look at me. Am I dead to you?”
“No. You’re…” she forced herself to hold his frightening gaze, as she searched for the words. “You’re not dead. You’re…beautiful. Marc, you’re beautiful. I want what you have. I want to be beautiful, for you. Why can’t I make up my mind to do this? Why do I continue to struggle?”
“It’s the life you want, vying for control over death, sweetheart; confusion within you.”
“I don’t want it anymore. I’m sure of it.”
“Then let’s go!”
He grabbed her hand and they took flight. Grace ran with a vigor Marc had never seen before. She practically dragged him up the street, toward the church four blocks away.
As they ran, Grace noticed brighties cheering them on. How did they know? It was as if they were cheering specifically for her.
“Run Grace,” Mr. Matinez yelled from his hot dog kiosk across the street. “Don’t stop until you’ve found life!”
Her knees screamed in protest. Her elbow-pain spiked with every stride, but Grace smiled wider with every step. Marc panted as he ran behind her; too slow. She wretched her hand free of his and picked up speed. She ran for life, despite her body’s objections.
“Run honey, run! I’m right behind you! Run, Grace!”
She ran harder than she ever had. Her lungs froze with icy-fire. Her vision swam, in a weird hazy fog. Her breath was shallow. Still she pushed harder. Normals scattered out of her way, as if she were inflicted with a contagious plague. Brighties whooped and hollered on both sides of the street as she strode toward the church, now two blocks ahead. Everything was a blur. She heard shouts of encouragement, screams of terror and anger. Grace never broke stride.
Marc stopped to catch his breath and fished his cell phone from his pocket. He quickly punched speed dial number 3, on the keypad.
“Pastor, it’s me. She’s headed your way, outrunning me! This won’t wait for ceremony. You’ll have to be ready for her.”
“Praise God!” Paster Martin shouted. “I’ll get the team ready. Shall we wait for you, brother?”
Marc was winded. He caught a glimpse of Grace weaving through pedestrians. “No! Don’t wait for me! I’ll get there in God’s time.”
“As fast as you can, brother.”
Marc punched the SEND button, then stuffed the phone back into his black trousers pocket. He looked up into the sky and said a prayer.
“What are you waiting for, Marcus,” Mrs. Walters called out from the flower shop, front door. “Get over here quickly, and take this bouquet for Grace.”
Marc laughed, as he jogged over to the shop.
“She outran me, Marry. Did you see that? My honey ran toward life!”
“I saw it, my dear boy! Today is truly a blessed day. Now hurry, or you’ll miss her salvation!”
Marc grabbed the bouquet of colorful roses, kissed Mrs. Walters on the cheek, and sprinted after his wife.
Grace burst through the church foyer doors, to find a crowd of brighties standing before her, smiling. Her eyes locked with Pastor Martin’s just as her legs gave way. She stumbled into his arms, exhausted and aching. Black tears streamed her cheeks, and she could hardly find the wind to speak.
“It’s alright child, I know. I know! Grace, are you ready to accept the gift of life, God offers freely to you?”
Grace howled in broken submission. “I can’t walk, Pastor. Please, where is Marc? Where is my husband?”
“He’s on his way, Grace. He instructed me to help you along, upon your arrival. Would you like to wait for him, dear sister?”
Dear sister. The term sounded foreign to her ears, but rang true in her heart. As Pastor Martin slung her right arm around his neck, another brighty, Mrs. Jefferson, draped Grace’s left arm around her neck. Together, the three slowly made their way down the main isle of the church, toward a large stage. A congregation of brighties followed behind, spouting prayers and praises to God. At the top of the stage, she saw a large see-through tank filled completely with golden water. Grace was overwhelmed. She couldn’t find her voice. At the bottom of the stage, Pastor Martin stopped.
“Grace, are you sure you want this, daughter? To come into life is a free gift that must be chosen; never forced.”
Grace nodded. “Marcus. Where-”
From the back of the church came a horrendous crash, through the foyer doors.
“Grace! I’m here sweetheart! I’m here!”
Cheers erupted throughout the church. Grace was suddenly aware of dozens of people inside the sanctuary. She felt the strong arms of her husband wrap around her waist and lift her feet from the carpeted floor. Marc’s sweet and warm breath pressed into her right ear.
“I’m here, sweetheart,” Marc whispered. “I’m here. I’m so proud of you. Are you ready?”
Grace stared into his wet eyes. She was beyond exhaustion, and only managed a limp nod and a soft smile.
“Marcus,” Pastor Martin called, “please carry your bride to the baptism tank.”
Marc carried Grace up the flight of six steps, onto the large stage overlooking the sanctuary filling up with onlookers. He turned to face the congregating crowd and was surprised to see a few normal faces cautiously observing from the back of the sanctuary.
“Brothers and sisters,” Pastor Martin’s amplified voice rang out through the church’s sound system, “today…is a glorious day. Today, our Lord welcomes another lost soul into His kingdom. Today, sister Grace has accepted the call of Jesus, quite spiritedly I might add.”
The congregation erupted in cheers and laughter. Grace smiled up at her husband.
“Beautiful for you,” she whispered.
“No, not for me. For you, sweetheart.” Marc whispered. He carried Grace toward three steps ascending to the lip of the tank.
Grace looked at the water. Its shimmering surface seemed to call out to her, inviting her to swim. Living waters, she thought. Suddenly, she shed the last remnants of fear, realizing this was her destiny all along. She was born to swim in the waters of life. Her lips stretched into a wide grin as Marc ascended the steps. Behind Marc, she could barely hear Pastor Martin address her over the cheering crowd. It was the water. It whispered directly into her heart, come into me, Grace. Join me, my sweet.
Marc stepped into the tank and descended the three steps to the bottom, shoes, trousers and all. The moment the water touched Grace’s bare feet, he felt his wife shudder. She clamored for his neck, holding him close.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. I have you.”
The water rose to just above his waistline, submerging Grace’s legs and back. She shook, as if freezing, but held a smile across her face. Marc remembered the sensation of heat and pleasure. And then, he noticed the water.
“Oh my Lord.”
Pastor Martin placed a hand on Grace’s shaky forehead, and yelled over the crowd. “Sister Grace, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Nodding at Marc, Pastor Martin gently pushed Grace’s head under the golden water.
The first thing Marc noticed was the golden water changing black, as if Grace’s skin had been coated in ink. Next he saw a thin mist rise from the water, where her skin actually came into contact. Before he could fully interpret what was happening, Pastor Martin nodded his way, and Marc completely submerged Grace’s body under water. There was a bright flash, accompanied by a puff of golden smoke hovering over the darkening water. Marc lost the weight of Grace in his arms. She simply wasn’t there anymore! The congregation gasped collectively, before falling silent.
“Pastor! What in God’s name-”
“Quickly Marcus, out of the tank, brother.”
“My wife! Where-”
“Out of the water, brother!”
Marc reluctantly tread up the tank’s inner steps, and vaulted the lip, completely soaked from torso to shoes. He stared into the water, now as black as nightfall. The golden puff of smoke hovering over the water’s surface seemed to increase in density, taking on the shape of a cloud. Marc looked to Pastor Martin, who stood nearby with hands raised in praise. Marc looked back to the cloud now descending over the water. The second it touched the water, it transformed into a golden rain, splashing into the tank, leaving a golden pool surrounded by the black oily water.
In one instant, Grace felt the shock of the golden water burning and soothing her feet, legs and back. Then, she was under. Quiet. No sound from the congregation; no Marc; no Pastor Martin. In fact, her arms and legs seemed to dangle freely as if floating in a deep ocean. Her whole body floated in darkness.
I love you, Grace. Thank you for coming to me. Breathe my gift of life, daughter.
In the next instant, tiled flooring made contact with her feet. Slowly, she pushed up, immediately aware of no pain in any of her joints. As she broke the surface of the water, her vision took on a new sense. Vibrant light shown down on her from overhead fixtures, in differing hues of lavender, raspberry and cobalt. The stage’s carpet texture seemed to jump out at her, in alternating patterns of red and black swath. Pastor Martin rushed toward Grace carrying a billowy royal blue choir robe. A black stripe, blacker than any darkness she had ever seen, straddled the left arm of the robe. Pastor Martin’s face, no longer blazed a fiery golden peach, but glowed a magnificent tanned apricot. She heard the congregation burst into celebration.
“My goodness, child,” Pastor Martin said, stepping into the tank. “Cover yourself with this. You’re as naked as the day you were born!”
Grace was oblivious to the Pastor’s commentary, awe-stricken by her new heightened senses. Everything smelled different, from the Pastor’s cologne to the pastries outside the main sanctuary. She felt the soft fabric of the robe drape over her shoulders; a surprising tickle against her bare skin. As she slowly walked toward the inner steps, she saw him, and her breath caught. Marc was gorgeous.
At first glance, Marc couldn’t believe the miraculous sight of the golden cloud exploding into raindrops, just before collecting like an oil spill on the surface of fresh water. He knew God was capable of anything, but he’d never seen such a site. He blinked, and panic set in momentarily. Where was Grace? Where was his wife? Had something gone horribly wrong? Was she past the point of salvation?
“Pastor, where is my-”
The second glance toward the murky water caught a glimpse of beautiful raven-silky hair slowly rising from the tank. The hair split at the crown exposing a butterscotch-colored forehead; raven eyebrows; hazel eyes; pouty lips slightly split, revealing pearly white teeth. Grace. She was stunning.
Marc dropped to one knee, unable to move. Even when Grace stood high enough out of the water, exposing her beautiful breasts, he couldn’t move toward her. He was overcome by emotion. Marc was barely aware of Pastor Martin racing past him, carrying a choir robe. The congregation had exploded into boisterous celebration, but Marc could only see his beautiful bride, and hear the beating of his own heart.
I love you Marcus. Thank you for bringing her to me. Breathe my gift of life anew, son.
Hot tears rolled down Marc’s cheeks, as he struggled to regain strength to stand, tall for his bride.
“Thank you, Lord,” he whispered. “I love you. Thank you for saving my wife.”
Grace raced across the stage, and leapt toward Marc, just as he regained a foot hold. His salty tears mingled with her own, as she smothered him in kisses. She could hardly believe how handsome her husband was; how brave he had been, in sticking by her side for so long; how blessed she was to have him in life, now.
“I can see you, Marc. You’re absolutely beautiful, honey; inside and out. I’ll never leave you.”
“Welcome to the land of the living, sweetheart. You’re more beautiful now, than ever before. I will never leave you, either.”
Marc glanced through the partially opened robe, and smiled wide, secretly thanking God again. Grace held her husband close, allowing his prying eyes to drink in her new-found beauty. She was suddenly aware of claps, whistles and cheers rising from the congregation. Tonight, they would explore their new life together, as one.
“Thank you God, for your gift of life,” she whispered into his ear.
Pastor Martin wrapped his arms around the young couple, shifting them toward the front of the stage. Grace modestly closed the blue robe around her naked body, then waved toward the congregation.
“Brothers and sisters of Living Water Resurrection, please join me in formally welcoming Grace Zoe Adams, into her new life.”
The congregation celebrated, while Grace cried joyful tears.