A Man of Few Words
Brett’s body lay lodged against a pine tree in a crumpled heap. His face ached with cold, and his extremities felt like dead stumps. Each shallow, labored breath stung.
How long had he been unconscious, he wondered? Brett groggily scanned his surroundings to discover the canary-yellow Cessna - a twisted heap of snow-covered wreckage. A quick glance at the pilot’s dismembered body affirmed his fears: he was alone on this mountain.
He’d planned to spend some time with the pilot at the hangar upon landing, and wasn’t expected home until well after dark. Would rescuers know to come? Would he find shelter for the night, or become easy prey for wolves?
Burning pain erupted along the full length of his right side when he tried to stand. He rolled his body away from the prickly tree branches and sprawled out on his back, grimacing at a glassy, gray-and-gauzy sun hanging in the late afternoon sky. His breath rose in gentle puffs and then quickly dispersed. The groaning whine of the pines deafened his pounding heart.
Twenty feet away a birch tree displayed its typical peeling white bark. With the determination of a mortally wounded animal, Brett rolled back on his stomach and approached the tree, using his bent elbows as picks in the snow.
He tore off a wide strip of bark with his teeth and found its underside as smooth as paper. With numb, unfeeling hands, Brett unzipped his coat and fumbled for the ballpoint pen he kept in an inside pocket. Somehow he maneuvered the pen to his mouth, remembering the way a quadriplegic had orally mastered the use of both a pen and an artist’s brush.
Although Brett’s body had been crushed, his spirit told him he must survive long enough to write a letter.
“D …” The letter was too big, and he lost control of the pen. A jagged line zig-zagged across the bark.
He tried again. “Deb.” His wife’s name was scratchy, but legible.
What did he need to say? He shook his head as if to clear the mental fog. Platitudes like “I love you,” even if redefined, meant nothing now.
For many years Brett had chided Deb. “You love your Jesus more than you do me, Deborah!” In reality, her relationship with the Lord inspired her zeal and sacrificial love for her husband.
“Y …” Could he finish the word? “You …”
Those first two scritch-scratched words filled the entire piece of bark. He craned his neck to peck and gnaw at the tree like a deranged woodpecker-turned-beaver. Eventually he ripped another strip of bark: page two.
“ … were …” His teeth chattered, but he steadied the pen by applying pressure and using his bent knee as a desk.
“ … rig … “ Five letters? It seemed an impossible assignment! “ … right …”
The sun dropped below the horizon, and only a stale glow remained. Light would soon fade. He must hurry. Again, he stripped bark – a smaller piece this time.
“ … about … “ Another five-letter marathon word, but it came easier this time. Only one more left, but his mind seemed fuzzy. Surely it would be all right to rest for just a moment; to take a little nap.
A branch snapped in the wind overhead, jostling him. NO NAP! He MUST finish this letter, despite the fact that an unrealistically small writing space remained. Mustering courage, he shaped the first letter of this final word.
“ … J …” His head fell back against the birch tree. He had no strength.
The open sky heard Brett’s whisper – a mere shadow of his usually deep bass voice: “God! Help … me … write … this.”
The frozen mammoth-of-a-man tucked the pen deep inside his cheek and clenched his teeth to hold it firm.
“ … e … s … u … “
One more letter! It must fit in that miniscule space at the edge of the bark.
“ … s …”
Brett clumsily jammed the three pieces of bark inside his unzipped coat and flopped facedown in the snow, exhausted. He closed his eyes in the mountain twilight, but was not alone as the wind sang its hymn of praise in the trees. The death angel hovered expectantly with protective, outstretched wings, and the Lord Himself drew nigh. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
And now Deb would know.
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