TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She’d moved to the mountain to escape humanity so she was surprised one day to see large, bare footprints in the snow by the frozen pond. Curious, she took a plate of food, and left it there, complete with a fork. When she returned the next day, the plate and fork, completely clean, were where she’d left them. She kept leaving food, and retrieving the dishes, every day…until she’s spiked that high fever and her stomach revolted against her. On her third day in bed, she startled when she heard heavy footsteps on the front stoop… .
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
He has decided today will be the last day.
He has made this decision every morning for the past 232 days.
Sweat breaks trail down his beaklike nose and drips into the barrel of his sidearm; his eyes are closed as if in prayer. But, he doesn’t pray anymore. He gave up praying a very long time ago.
His home is cold, dark inside like a crypt where someone’s lover lies beneath mossy granite finality. Little tiny dots of light creep in through where the paint is pecked, Thick black acrylic that he used to paint the inside of the windows some time ago.
The refrigeration unit blows its silky chemical breath through a hole that was once a chimney. The snow outside, now stained with sooty grit, the proof of his…insanity. This can’t go on, he knows.
He shoves cold steel between his lips and he remembers. Bursting pain. Hot coal. And souls like tadpoles in a murky waterfall who screamed a million reasons why to live is better than to die…and died anyway. He cries. And toes his way carefully through the bodies of the real heroes forever tattooed in his mind.
Tears slide down his bony cheeks. Tears and sweat in a frigid room. He pulls the gun from his gooey lips and he remembers. A plane ride home. A noisy crowd with cheers and sneers and one-sided opinions. His family, unfamiliar as a tumor on the drunk tank wall. He grabs his pack and heads for where? he doesn’t know. He would be better off alone, or so he told himself until he saw her.
He watched her, silent in her woolen skirt and cape. She carried crockery that, somehow, he knew was meant for him, and placed it near some tracks he had left in the snow. She was slight and lovely in his eyes.
The days took on new meaning he supposed. To watch her gentle form drift through the trees with pottery filled to the pretty brim with love he knew was made for him, such heaven on this earth he’d never known.
“Today will be the last day,” he tells himself as his shoulders sink and he sets his sidearm on the table. The table where they shared so many meals together once he’d gathered up the nerve to knock upon her door. When her daily gifts of meals had stopped so suddenly. He knew she was not capable of the cruelty it would’ve taken to leave him out there all alone. And he remembers…
The loud stomp of his weight, heavy on her porch steps. Wood snapping as he shouldered through her cabin door. He found her lying in her bed trembling and covered in sweat. He built a fire and placed cool rags upon her forehead. That night he held her fragile frame against his scarred, brutal body while northwinds blew and swirled the snow outside. In the morning, her fever had left her, but he never did. And he was happy. And she was happy, for a time.
They lived quietly and simply, with few words ever spoken. They were gentle with each other and, in kind, the world around them. And the years passed sweetly by until the sickness with no cure. The doctors stated very black and white opinions on their radiation treatments and their chemo therapies. And he wanted her to try whatever it would take to save her, so she tried. Until the day she said, “no more.”
And he remembers…
Cancer, eating all her quiet dignity and he remembers…
Doctors spewing out their life expectancies and he remembers…
Desperation in the eyes of the only person he has ever truly known.
So, he lifts her wasted body in his arms and takes her home to where…
He holds her as she softly cries and says goodbye as she sofly dies.
“This is the last day,” he says out loud to the empty room. He rises from his chair and makes his way to the heavy metal door of the refrigeration unit. Guilty bile blisters his throat as he opens the door, and croaks, “Hello.”
Her frozen body lies, wrapped and swaddled in her favorite quilts and throws. He gently brushes frost from her lashes and lifts her weightless frame up in his arms. His body, so immense and yet more fragile than her icy, birdlike body. He places her softly on the mattress and lies down beside his wife. He holds her bony hand and breathes, “Goodnight.”
But nights have never really been his friend. Sleep comes angry filled with irradiated doctors and dreadful war songs sung by corpses in the mud.
When morning comes, he puts his wife back into her refrigerated crypt. He lights a candle to cover the stench and is horrified by the madness of it all. “THIS CAN’T GO ON!” he screams.
As he rips his sidearm from the table he decides, “This will be the last day.”
He has made this decision every morning for the past 233 days.