The blade came out of nowhere, from the unseen and unknown, behind, below, blind. A slash in the dark. It’s always in the dark, isn’t it? A blade, unexpected and unannounced. The hand and blade as one, wielding the will of the assailant, the enemy, the highwayman in the night who robbed you of the one thing you took for granted-- your next breath. It's when you are not looking that it strikes, a glint and a flash before you tell yourself, “too late" to miss the razor's edge. In the end, the sharper the blade, the more confident you are that you dodged its purchase. At first, you don’t feel the sting, instead the warmth of your own spilt blood, a rush of life, not the nod of recognition from Death.
A step backward and then you see it, the blade, slick with red. the night being the only witness to confess the dying of the light, the last breath, the last moment when the moonlight the only guardian left to mark the spot.
Cole felt with his own icy fingers that place where the blade entered. His hands trying in vain to staunch the blood.
Hannah dropped to her knees beside him and cried out for help. None came.
“It was Deacon,” Cole struggled to speak.
“I know,” Hannah hushed him. “Ramse went after him. The others are coming.”
Cole knew it wouldn’t be enough time. All he had would be these fleeting moments with his mother. This time he could save her. It should be this way. He should save them all before he was erased. Sacrifice was the only thing left that he had to give. He owed them that. If spilling his blood would save them, he would gladly do it. He couldn’t even blame Deacon, not after all this. It was the Witness controlling him, working through him, he was just the vessel. Perhaps it was a fitting end to a such a life. Cole knew he wasn’t a particularly a good man. He’d lived his life on the outside. He was guilty of the cruelest actions, done in the name of survival. Did he deserve their pity or love? Still, here was his mother crying over her son.
Time was a cruel taskmaster. All these days and weeks together and he hadn’t known she was his mother. He regretted what had passed between them. He’d been obstinate and pushed her away as one of the nameless minions, one the Daughters. How long had she known?
He ached for more time. Isn’t that just the way it is? Not realizing the moments that mean the most? Those isolated moments with Cassie, brief and in some ways bitter? The look she once had for him when she looked at Deacon. He'd stepped away when he should have fought. Or the first moment he knew he'd be a father? His fear that he wouldn't be there for his son. Or the final day with Athan, his pride to see the man Athan had became, not an outcast, alone and feral. Athan had lived a life, full of compassion and promise. A man worthy of the gift of life.
Cole hated that he had not lived up to what his own father would have wanted for him. Instead he'd fed the wolf inside, a child of the apocalypse. Though his father was a simple man, he saw a light in his son. Cole knew that light died on the day his father was shot in front of him. That dark street, that fall to the ground, that realization that he was alone in the world.
Maybe that little boy was still inside him? That frightened little boy, his heart stripped of all feeling. He’d been empty for so long. Fighting for scraps and starving in the cold of an endless winter. He’d been willing to give up, to quit. To give in to death. And at those desperate moments of doubt, he was found. Jones found him. He didn't see the light, to him trading one death for another—inconsequential, unimportant, a way to escape.
Perhaps, it was how Cassie gave him her resolve, her hope, her light, bringing him back to the world. Why couldn’t he be the man she looked up to? Why did he always disappoint those he loved?
“They’re coming. Cole!” Hannah was yelling at him, but he sensed the distance, drifting off to nameless sandy beach, an inevitable end. A chance to try again. Be a better man. Or at least not hurt the ones he loved.
He remembered looking into Athan’s eyes, It had been Cassie’s eyes staring back. That was a moment of redemption, wasn’t it? A moment worth a second chance? He could feel Cassie’s hand in his and hear her voice whispering, “after….we will have each other after....”
The cold came creeping in, he was numb. Everything was still. Cole knew his blood was soaking into the ground beneath him, carried away from this shell. Would anyone remember him or was he now gone for good?
He wanted to keep his eyes open, keep looking into his mother’s eyes, but he knew he was closing them for good this time. It was in his mind that he saw his hand in the light of the machine, Jennifer Goines’s insistent voice reminding him, “can’t you feel her in there? We’re all in there.”
He wanted to feel the Light. But all that surrounded him was darkness, no Red Forest for him. Just him, in the black cover of night.
Cole was running through the forest. His feet stumbling over the uneven ground, until he fell.
“We’ll carry you, brother.” Ramse said, he and Deacon picking up Cole’s limp body.
“Carrying the Dead, eh?” he said, laughing at his jest, but Ramse and Deacon didn’t answer.
The water was up to his chest now. Cold as ice and rising.
One more look back at the shore. Jennifer, Jones, his mother and father, Athan, Ramse, and staring back with soulful eyes--- his Cassie.
Athan had wanted to die at the feet of his beloved Eliza. And Cole? In his last moment, drowning, while those he loved, witnessed. The water was over his head and he let it take him without struggle.
"Here we are again, back at the end. We’ve been here before. It feels a little colder now."
The surf rushing up on the shore, erasing the steps that once were visible.
The sun warmed the sand, the tide going out.
Cole opened his eyes. Light blinded him. First only the bright, then the warm, he could feel the sun on his skin. He dug his fingers into the wet sand. He didn’t want to sit up, didn’t want to see anything but blue sky, the blue that he remembered as a boy. Blue so deep that you could write your name in the sky and know that the world would speak your name in the wind.
A question. Did they ask his name? Was that still his name in this now? Am I still James Cole?
“Can you hear me, Cole?”
He couldn’t speak. Didn’t have words for this new place.
Eyes open. Sky. Blue Sky. He reached up one hand to write his name in the air. C O L E. Cole, he murmured.
He felt the touch of a hand in his. A memory he was allowed to bring with him on this new journey. Who’s hand? Ramse, his brother? Hannah, his mother? Athan, his son?
He closed his eyes again. He wanted to see Cassie’s eyes.
“Cole, open your eyes.”
Her voice still echoing in his head. A last sound, a last look, a last touch.
“Cole, open your eyes.”
He obeyed and when he opened them again, the sky was gone. Stars in their place, the night full of more stars than he’d ever seen. The Milky Way, that ribbon across the midnight. And her eyes, staring back at him.
“Welcome back,” she said, leaning in to kiss him.