Thomas thought the reminders would help. The scent of crisp pine, snowfall, and brisk winter winds. The visionary blanket of frosted green as he took in the mountains from the overlook. The feeling of complete isolation in the center of a world that revolved around constant communication. He thought he could handle it, but he was wrong.
The moment he swung open the door to his truck, it all came back.
A sudden burst of sobs escaped him without warning. Dr. Reynolds was right. It was too much too soon. He should be taking it easy until he felt more settled. Regardless, Thomas needed this escape. He needed to try to grasp this loss.
Thomas quickly shook the doubts from his mind; he had to pull himself together. She wasn't with him anymore, and he needed to accept that. Thomas pulled the zipper of his coat up to his chin, put his hood on, and slipped on some gloves - the windchill on the mountain was brutal this time of year. Thomas turned off the ignition, slipped out of the driver’s seat, and shuffled through the snow. With this, he faced the beginning of his journey to the top of the mountain where he and his wife spent their anniversary every August.
Taking a deep breath and giving his gloves one last tug for security, Thomas took on the harsh winds and began to trek the path that led to their spot. As he ascended, Thomas embraced the isolation and allowed himself to remember her as she was. Her soft, golden hair that always had a way of falling in her face when she laughed; the gentle gaze he would catch when they were alone together—her eyes full of admiration and trust. He swore he could almost hear her infectious giggle as the overlook grew closer. Hot tears stung his cheeks and his chest ached from the weight of his grief. He would never have these moments again. They would never be here together again, and coping with these realities had become nearly impossible.
Thomas’s footing grew steady as the ground evened out—the overlook was just ahead. After some emotional release, Thomas felt as though he was somehow more prepared to deal with the circumstances and achieve closure. He finally had some space to himself where he could cry without fear of pity or judgement. This was the ideal place for solitude and the ultimate release of emotions.
Thomas took in a gulp of frozen air, which burned through his lungs as it entered, and pricked his lips on its long release back into the atmosphere. He stood facing the view that he and his wife had enjoyed together every August for the last 15 years. His cheeks were drenched with grief as he recalled their traditions: popping champagne under their tree and pitching the tent to immediately consummate the evening. The vows they read to each other every year never lost their luster. At least, not for him.
Thomas had come to this place for clarity, but the loss quickly became more senseless the more he contemplated it. His knees weakened and he collapsed from his stance, falling to his knees and burying his tear-stained face in his hands. Thomas’s wails echoed between the peaks as he mourned what he’d lost. Suddenly, one sound stopped time.
A shot rang out.
Thomas heard her scream.
Thomas clambered to his feet.
Before he had time to realize the danger he was putting himself in, Thomas was running in the direction of the shot, shouting her name. His ears rang and his eyes watered as they were stung by the wind. Warm mucus slipped from his nose and his bad knee began to throb. All of this hardly occurred to Thomas, who had just heard his wife’s voice for the first time in 36 days.
Just twenty feet past the clearing, Thomas began to see the voices take shape. His wife was on the ground, her assailant hovering above her. Thomas called to her hoarsely, causing the gunman to turn and face him. Gun at his side, the man detected Thomas’s frantic energy and panicked.
“What’s your problem, man?”
“Get away from my wife.”
Thomas knelt to her side.
“Dude, back off. Are you insane? She’s mine.”
The woman bleated through the pain.
“I’ve got you, sweetheart, I’m right here,” Her body writhed beneath Thomas’ touch.
“Hey man, at least let me finish her off,” The gunman began to raise his rifle.
Thomas sprung from his crouched position and lunged at the man. The gunman fell backwards as Thomas tumbled on top of him. The gunman desperately reached for the rifle on his right, which had fallen from his hands during the altercation. Thomas jabbed his knee into the man’s wrist, preventing him from reaching the weapon that would finish his wife. Thomas felt the bone snap beneath his knee as he reached for the gun. The gunman wailed, but Thomas couldn't hear as his ears pounded with rage. Thomas forced the barrel under the man’s chin and pulled the trigger.
Fireworks of red splattered against the snow, causing Thomas to drop the gun and freeze, briefly realizing the permanence of what he had just done. A cry from his wife behind him brought Thomas back into the moment. He spun around and clumsily crawled to his wounded love. Carefully cradling her soft head, he gently lifted her fragile body and reassured her as they descended the mountain together.
“I’ve got you, honey, I’m right here.”
“I won’t let you go this time, don’t worry.”
“No one can take you from me now, you’re safe.”
“I can see the car, we’re almost there.”
One arm wrapped tightly around his wife, Thomas reached for the door handle as he approached the truck’s backseat. Thomas laid his writhing wife to rest atop the flannel blanket that stretched across the seat. With a gentle kiss on her head and tears rapidly escaping from his eyes, Thomas hurriedly assured his wife one last time that everything would be alright. Her hazy auburn eyes were wide as she stared blankly back at him. Thomas could tell she was slipping away, so he tucked and belted her in before frantically climbing into the driver’s seat.
Thomas pulled out of his spot and onto the dirt path that lead to the highway.
“It’s just a 20 minute drive to the hospital, honey. Hang in there.”
Thomas trembled as he merged onto the highway.
“I’m not losing you again. Stay with me.”
Faint groans came from the back seat.
“Steady breathing. Just ten more minutes.”
Thomas pulled into the emergency room entrance and ran through the doors, desperately pleading for help. A nearby doctor responded, promptly called for backup, and followed Thomas to his truck to aid his ailing wife. The doctor opened the door to the backseat, took in the damage, and slowly turned to face Thomas. Studying his face quizzically, the doctor analyzed the situation. He called for additional backup.
“Can we get someone from psych down here ASAP?”
“What are you doing? That’s my wife, she needs immediate help.”
“Sir, we will take care of this. Please follow me.”
Thomas gave his struggling wife a reassuring glance and followed the doctor through the front doors once again. This time, Thomas was greeted by three men dressed in sterile, white scrubs. They reached for Thomas, who lunged for his wife and wriggled from their arms. Thomas broke free and ran for his truck, but before he could reach the door, one of the men pinned him to the wall. Thomas wailed as the men crowded around him. He felt a prick in his arm, felt the men begin to back away, felt the world go soft, and heard the doctor from outside say, “Someone take him down to psych. We need to figure out what to do with the dead deer in the backseat.”
As he slipped out of consciousness, Thomas recalled a glimpse of his wife’s burial on the mountain just days before.