It is July 3rd in the year of our Lord, 1826.
And I am dying.
The question is "Do I wish to be re-born?"
At my bedroom door, the young man, wide-brimmed hat in gloved hands, has the answer.
But I fear I already know it.
The young man is a conundrum.
He looks at me with the eyes of a sad poet.
Yet, he is a walking arsenal: two shoulder-harnesses of pistols, another pistol on his hip, still another in a strange stomach rigging.
"Come in, Sergeant McCord," I speak in a once strong voice now grown frail.
"An honor, President Adams."
"Former President, young man."
He flashes a smile much like a wolf's. "Like with Texas Rangers, sir, once a president, always a president."
He sits down in the plush leather chair close to my bedside, and I frown. "Odd. Your face is perhaps 25. Yet your hair is moon-white."
His lean face goes somber. "There was a time when my hair was darker, my heart lighter."
My voice thickens. "As with myself, McCord. As with myself."
I pat his arm and frown again at how my hand shakes. "I met your father at my Alma Mater. He was a great patriot."
McCord nods sadly. "Father said history bleeds on every page because of patriots. But he liked teaching at Harvard, and he liked you."
"And my wife?"
The light dies in his eyes. "He thought of her as a wise and good friend ... once."
"Before she became a ...."
I find it difficult to say the word, "... revenant."
"I need to ask a favor of you, young man."
His lips shape an uneasy smile. "I'm not going to kill Mr. Jefferson for you, sir, if that's the question."
I slap his arm at his rough jest. "Time will soon have her way with us both I'm afraid."
I tap his buckskin-covered knee. "No. I need to ask you ... w-what do you think of revenants."
McCord sucks in his upper lip, then says low, "Mighty broad question, sir. Might as well ask me what I think of humanity."
"Then, you believe revenants are no longer human?"
He rubs his face with a hand strangely gloved in this heat. "With each passing year, they lose more and more of their humanity, sir, until they forget what it means to be human."
He leans forward. "Surely, sir, you have noticed that in your ... wife."
I clutch his arm feebly. "Yes. Yes, I have."
I close my eyes. "And now, she demands I allow her to ... to ...."
I find I cannot put it into words, and McCord just pats my hand. "You would gain immortal youth at the cost of your humanity, sir."
I look at this strange man with the saddest eyes I have ever seen in a youth. "I know you are aware she rules a confederacy of shadow states all across this country."
I manage to make my lips speak the words. "Abigail says that together, we could do much good for this country."
His face twitches, then he speaks softly. "On a cattle ranch, the ranchers live mighty fine. The same cannot be said for the cattle."
I nod gravely and sigh, "I had come to a similar thought, McCord."
The decision I always knew I would make settles firm within my heart. "I -- I will refuse. Abigail will take this badly."
McCord smiles as if it were a wound. "Even so, sir, you have made a hard but wise decision."
"And in doing so, I have doomed you."
My mind fills with mocking echoes of shared laughter with Abigail, and I sigh, "She knows of this meeting. Once there was a wellspring of forgiveness in Abigail's heart ...."
I could not meet McCord's eyes. "Now, she will believe, despite my protests, that it was you that has robbed her of my being at her side. She will not rest until her revenge is complete against you, sir."
McCord smiles sadly. "That's all right, Mr. President. It'll mean one less monster in this sorry old world."
My blood chills, for I see he wants to die. No. I will not be the cause of the death of my friend's son. But how can I save him from the grave, from himself?
I look up at the portrait of my wife when she was still my Abigail. A plan comes to me. I whisper to McCord.
"When you think 'beautiful but diseased,' what city comes to mind, McCord? Quick. No moment for reflection. What city?"
He laughs like a wolf. "Don't need any time to reflect, sir. New Orleans is the prettiest city with the blackest heart I've ever seen."
"Then, New Orleans is the city I, as former President, charge you to save from the revenants."
"I cannot ask you the impossible task of saving my nation from the evil that has consumed my wife. But one city, McCord, one city. Pledge to save it from the curse of the revenants, and I will die at peace."
"But, sir, I took an oath to Texas."
"Do not speak to me of oaths, young man. I, Jefferson, Washington, even your father bled for this nation. If not for me, save New Orleans for them ... for your father."
I was fighting unfairly I knew. But my friend, his father, would have me do no less to save his son from self-destruction.
McCord runs gloved fingers through his silver hair and sighs, "All right, Mr. President. You have my word."
His poet eyes flick to the portrait of my wife, and he murmurs, "Beautiful but diseased is it?"
He turns to me. "Another pledge, sir. Strange as it sounds, sometimes enemies become as close as lovers. If I can, I will save your Abigail, too."
"You are a romantic, McCord. It will be the death of you."
"Something will. Might as well be that."
When he leaves, and the shadows of the night and death grow closer and closer, it is his second pledge that comforts me.