E.J. lay on a dirty canvas cot in a small room, weakly lighted by one naked bulb on the ceiling. The small incandescent light strained to overpower the darkness that pervaded the room, but was failing. The inky black surrounding E.J.’s cot seemed to absorb the dim light, further diminishing his view. He knew the room was small, but he could barely see beyond his bed through the encroaching dark, which—he noted with amazement—changed as he looked and now appeared as a gray mist that stopped at the foot of his cot.
Then, he saw her. She approached out of the darkness, moving into the half-light through the veil of mist. He could barely make out her shape as she approached, but he knew automatically that it was Nikki. She glided toward him as he lay on his bed, walking in that graceful way he appreciated. With his head propped up on the bed, he was able to view her approach much easier. She was dressed in khaki slacks and a T-shirt. As she drew nearer, he heard her call to him in a soft, sultry voice.
“Help me?” she asked demurely. Then she climbed onto the bed, and straddled E.J. She looked into his eyes and indicated that he should help lift her shirt. He was happy to oblige.
E.J. allowed his hands to pull her shirttail out of the waistband of her khakis, and then slowly slid it up her torso, his hands pressing lightly against her body as he moved them up. When he met resistance, he pulled her shirt out slightly to clear the swell of her breasts, allowing each firm mound to break free of its fabric bond. He paused a moment, smiled at the view, and then continued to lift the shirt as she spoke to him.
“Help me,” she said softly, but with more emphasis. Her hands raised over her head to assist him.
“Yes, help her,” a second, yet strangely familiar feminine voice encouraged.
As E.J. tried to remove her shirt, it became caught around her head. Try as he might, he could not get it free. As he wrestled with the stubborn shirt, the material of it seemed to change, becoming rougher, darker, and stained. At the same time, it appeared to be binding itself around Nikki’s eyes. Her hands had been free, but now they appeared to be bound together above her head, being pulled up by some invisible force.
Nikki’s voice changed. Now it was pleading, almost crying for him to finish.
“Help me!” she cried.
“You must help her,” a second disembodied voice added. This one was male and familiar as well.
“I’m trying, dammit,” E.J. said in response. He continued to struggle with her bindings, but they resisted all his efforts.
He looked up at her and recoiled from the sight. Nikki was there, still straddled across his lap, her smooth, flat belly and firm, round breasts illuminated in the light. However, as he looked, the light, that had been a dim white, changed to a deep, blood red that pulsed with each beat of his heart. Nikki writhed in pain with each pulse.
“Help me!” she screamed. Now, she arched her back in agony, her mouth open in a rictus of pain. E.J. tore at her blindfold, but could not remove it. He reached for the invisible bonds that held her hands, but could not break them. In desperation, he clasped his hands around her back and tried to pull her to him. The effort caused her to scream in pain, so he stopped and pulled his hands back. When he looked at them, he noticed they were covered with blood and bits of flesh. Then suddenly, her body was viciously wrenched up off him. Nikki was lifted up by the bindings that tied her hands, until she hung suspended from some unseen attaching point. The pulsing red light punctuated her screams of agony. He tried to help her, but she remained out of his reach, slowly turning in the red strobe light.
“My God, please help her!” the familiar voices, now desperate, implored him.
He closed his eyes and screamed in anger and frustration. When he opened them, she was gone and the voices were silent.
E.J. jerked awake, sat up in his hospital bed and blinked, the stabbing pain in his side momentarily stealing his breath. His eyes squinted against the bright white light that saturated the hospital room where he lay. He looked around frantically, trying to get his bearings. Where was Nikki? Then, the realization hit him: it was a dream. He grasped for the talisman he wore around his neck, but it was gone. In a panic, he searched for his necklace and found it and his hunting knife in the drawer of the nightstand beside his bed. He quickly put the necklace on, closed his eyes and focused on the vision. Now that he was awake, and could control his emotions better, he was able to comprehend what his vision wanted him to see. Nikki, Shaura, and Pete were alive but in danger. Nikki was also in pain.
E.J. had seen enough. He knew what the vision meant, and he had to find his friends and free them as soon as possible. Swinging his legs off the bed, he sat there while he steadied his breathing. An I.V. line was taped to his left wrist. Looking up at the bag of I.V. solution, E.J. saw that it was lactated ringers, a type of intravenous fluid often used in trauma situations that mimics the chemistry of human blood. They were not pushing any meds in him, so he pulled the catheter out of his wrist and pressed the wound while he considered his next actions. He needed his clothes. He located them on the chair next to the bed where someone had folded them neatly. The big man slid off the bed onto cold tile, tried to stand and fell to the floor when the pain in his side flared red-hot. He landed on his hands and knees, and rested a moment until the pain subsided. Then, he slowly got up and examined himself more closely.
His abdomen was bound with wide gauze bandages with extra padding over the bullet wound on his left side. He noticed a small red stain beginning to show through the padding; he had pulled something loose when he fell. E.J. pressed his right hand to the bandage, and felt around to his back with his left. A similar padded bandage was there as well. So, he thought, the bullet went through. That’s good. He should have a doctor look at it again, but that would have to wait. He had to get to his teammates. E.J. looked at the clock on the wall. Ten thirty, I’ve been here less than two hours.
A search of the supply cabinet against the far wall yielded extra bandages and padded dressings for E.J. to use later. He placed these in a small trash bag, and began to dress. As he was struggling to tie his boots, the door opened and a nurse walked in.
“Señor, what are you doing?” she asked, and hurried over to E.J. in an attempt to stop him. “No, Señor, please,” she pleaded, “you must not leave. You must rest.”
E.J. looked hard at the young woman. “I must go and find my friends. Thank you for taking care of me, but I must leave.”
“You must get back into bed, Señor,” the nurse placed her hand on E.J.’s right arm.
He looked at her hand, and then directly in her eyes. The look in his eyes was enough to tell her she was making a mistake. She removed her hand, “As you wish,” she said. With that, she turned and left the room.
E.J. knew she would be back, but this time she would have either a doctor in tow, or a couple of tough orderlies. He did not want to fight, but he was leaving. He decided that it was better if he was gone before she returned.
He finished tying his boots and then slowly stood up, wincing slightly at the stab of pain in his side. Then he retrieved his knife and the rest of his belongings, and left the room. He needed two things before he started his search. The first was to see how Brian was doing; he remembered that the kid had been shot, too. E.J. could not leave without seeing the kid. Then, he needed information, and for that, he had to find the authorities. He was vaguely aware that his teammates were forced to board a boat of some kind. He did not know which direction that boat had gone, but it had a two-hour head start. He made some quick mental calculations; if he left soon, he could intercept them before they got too far. He just needed to know which way they went.
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