The following is a piece of short fiction by Scott Nagele that was originally posted on a website for fiction writing.
The Thorough One
One thought kept him going: she was back there still.
He hopped through the snow on his good leg, dragging his injured one along as best he could. This was the direction to go in order to hit the main road, but the woods made it difficult to travel in a straight line.
He found an old, tattered scarf in his coat pocket and tried to tie it around his thigh, but his fingers were stiff and he made a poor job of it. Blood ran down his leg and dripped from the cuff of his pants, leaving a trail of red drops in the snow.
It hadn’t seemed like much of a wreck. The car would still be drivable were it not stuck half-way up the side of a snow bank. She would have received nothing more than a good jostle if she’d been wearing her seat belt, but she had been sitting sideways in the passenger seat, facing him as he drove. She wanted to give him her undivided attention. When they hit the snow bank, she was thrown into the dash of his classic Mustang. It wasn’t much of mountain car, but then they weren’t mountain people.
Now, she was back there. He had to find help, and soon.
He might have stuck to the winding, mountain road leading down from their winter chalet, but it could be an entire day before another vehicle traveled that secluded road. He decided it would be better to cut cross-country. If he could walk straight down to the main road, he’d find help much faster.
He felt light-headed, but he didn’t dare stop to rest. How could he rest when she was back there? He had to focus on reaching help. The pain, the trouble breathing, the dizziness, none of it could be allowed to interfere with his goal. She was back there and rescue was up ahead. That was all that mattered.
He couldn’t stay focused. Though he kept moving, his mind wandered. He thought back to how she had read about these chalets online. She’d been so taken with the idea of a winter getaway, far from civilization. He wasn’t sold on the idea of winter in the woods, but she’d practically begged him for this vacation. There’d been a gulf growing between them, so he gave in. If it made her happy, and brought them back toward that old closeness, he couldn’t say no.
He clutched onto the trunk of a tree to catch his breath. He shouldn’t stop but he couldn’t help himself. If he didn’t rest a bit he’d fall down. He hugged the tree hard as he closed his eyes and tried to regain his wits and his determination. Making himself think of her gave him the motivation he needed to resume his march.
No sooner had he begun again than his mind began to drift. He thought of needless things—things that wouldn’t matter to him under the circumstances. Of all the things that could wait until danger had passed, his mind concerned itself with his insurance policy. Yes, there would be plenty of coverage; she would have seen to that. She was always the thorough one—a regular rabid robin of those types of housekeeping details. He shook his head. The claim could be for millions of dollars and it would not matter to him in the least if he couldn’t reach help in time.
He stumbled regularly, chiding himself for the weakness he could not prevent. She was still back there. If he failed to find rescue in time, his life was over. He caught hold of another tree trunk.
She had called it a crisp morning as they began their drive down the mountain, but now that he had difficulty feeling the rough bark with his numb fingers, that understatement almost seemed funny. It was bone-chilling cold out here. That was all the more reason to keep going. He pushed himself off from the tree.
He went from tree to tree. It wasn’t good progress, but it was some progress. The main road couldn’t be too much farther. Maybe it was just down the next slope. He couldn’t hear any traffic, but the woods had a way of deadening noises.
Once in a while he looked back. So far, there was nothing that way except trees and the pitiful trail of red spots and stumbling footprints he left behind. Every time he looked backward, he thought of her. Her image propelled him toward the next tree.
As he groped from tree to tree, his mind went back over the events of the morning. She hadn’t meant to do it in the car. Surely she planned to take him to some secluded spot where tonight’s snowstorm would cover her tracks, but she’d gotten a little over-anxious.
The discharge had been premature. Nobody could blame him for swerving into a snow bank after having been shot in the thigh. The crash stunned her; he should have taken advantage of that to get the gun from her, but was stunned too. The shock and the pain of his wound had panicked him into flight.
He tripped and fell. If he didn’t have the strength to rise she wouldn’t need find him. He’d freeze to death right here.
But she would find him. She would find him and finish what she’d started. Then, when his body was discovered, she would use the perfect mix of tears, patience, and discretion the role required to collect the millions from his life insurance policy. Yes, her plan had gone off schedule, but she would have a dozen contingency plans to fall back upon. She always was the thorough one.
©2017 Scott Nagele