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by Bill Baber

He didn’t know what awakened him from a restless sleep that had been filled with surreal dreams. He was with her and they had floated over a verdant landscape where peaceful rivers flowed and danced atop a turquoise sea while watching dolphins frolic. The dream ended with a vision of her fading into a cloud, beckoning to him to follow. Perhaps it was the wine. He had drunk a full bottle of Zinfandel the evening before.

It was just past four. He reached toward the place she had laid for nearly thirty five years before realizing he would never again find her there. From the bedroom window, he could see muted flashes of lightning illuminating mountains to the east while soft rumbles of distant thunder rolled off sharp-edged ridges. In the wash that stretched toward the mountains a coyote chorus started. It seemed to him they sang of loss and loneliness.

He got out of bed, used the toilet before pulling on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. After making his way downstairs to the kitchen he started a pot of coffee. When it was ready he poured a cup, hesitated for a moment then adding a healthy splash of Jim Beam. He repeated the process for a second and third cup, adding more whiskey each time.

Sitting at the kitchen table he recalled their wedding — the happiest day of his life. He looked back on the travels he experienced with his wife and the joy they shared in making new discoveries. He remembered the birth of both of their children and the remarkable sense of awe he experienced as they entered the world.

The kids had blown into town the night before the funeral and left the morning after, both promising to check on him regularly. That had been a week ago and he had not heard from either. They were back on the coast busy with careers, kids and their own lives.

He quit adding coffee to his cup, instead just pouring straight bourbon. He walked a little unsteadily to the den and removed his father’s ancient .30-30 from a cabinet. He ran his fingers over the darkened and weathered walnut and the barrel that the bluing had long ago worn away from.

He levered a shell into the chamber.

The mourning might end, he imagined, but the pain of losing her and trying to go on alone would never fade.

The sun had just climbed over the mountains. He took a final swallow of whiskey before setting out to find her wherever it was she may have gone.

Bill Baber’s crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies including Betrayed from Authors on the Air Press.  His writing has earned  Derringer Prize and best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.