When Dwight wakes at dawn on the last day of his life, he is treated to winter blanketing his world. Today, it’s the day of first snow. Everything looks bright and new because of this. It’s as though nature has decided on a fresh start. A new season is beginning, right now. The orange morning sky seeps its color into the whitened landscape, its hues gently caressing the ground. Sky and earth are aligned in spirit. They declare that today is a beautiful day for freshness, and pure beginnings.
Dwight agrees with them. Seeing the snow excites him. He’s been waiting for this day, the day when winter wakens to show its true colors. The season of snow has always been his favorite one. He loves this time, because he remembers nature’s solitude. He feels permission to be still in times like these. To know his place within the nature surrounding him.
As dawn breaks into the full glory of morning, he goes to be with that natural world to celebrate the new season with her. He steps out into the woods behind his home, the ones that extended for acres upon acres. Crunching snow under his feet is the soundtrack for his entertainment. It snowed several inches the previous night, perhaps three or four of them. Enough to cover the earth, but not so much that the boots he wears in the summer months are inadequate for walking today.
Dwight lets his steps take him farther and farther from the refuge of civilization, a quart of water and two ham and cheese sandwiches his only staples. Yet, he’s been here so many times before, he’s in no way lost. He feels more of himself the further he travels from society’s cocoon. This happens every time, and Dwight has no reason to believe today will be any different.
The sun is at high noon when Dwight is struck on his head from behind.
He’s looking right at the sun when it happens, as it marks its center point in its trek across the heavens. He watches the sky when the bullets pump into him afterwards, paralyzing him. He counts the shots: one, two, three. Deafened by both the blowback of the shots and the silence afterwards, he lies weakened by both bewilderment and brutality.
In all of this, his soul directs him to notice the curiosity of cirrus clouds in the winter sky rather than the agony that mankind has just victimized him with. He follows its lead, and contemplates the clouds. When he does, the pain of attack and betrayal lessens. Instead, Dwight feels numb. Why, he has know way of knowing. Shock? Cold? Blood loss? It could be any of those reasons, or none of them. Regardless, the pain is minimized as he watches the clouds. It gives him some sense of agency, even as he’s dying, if he’s dying.
The clouds trot across the sky, continuing their playful dance for him, which he critiques. If they are cirrus clouds, he thinks, there will be a storm soon. Not today, perhaps, but soon. He tries to distinguish what kind of cirrus it is as his attacker flees from him, far into the woods. Cirrus Intortus? Cirrus Spissatus? Dwight isn’t sure. He’s tried to learn the proper terminology that is assigned to the nature around him. But he’s never quite got the hang of it. It all seemed so soulless to him, just memorization of dry facts and figures. He just knows he now sees what resembles the streaky tails of comets, all throughout the sky. They rush across the heavens. Feeling life slipping from him, Dwight wonders if he too will be dashing through the sky. Like an eagle. Or a dream.
Dwight can barely make out his surroundings, as he is able to tip his head forward only slightly before agony overtakes him. In this place where he lies, the one that most likely is his last, there are two ash trees on opposite sides of each other. Each has branches which arch towards the other’s, almost like a cathedral ceiling. He’s walked this way so many times before, he knows it means he’s about four acres from his home. If he had a phone, if there were service here to even begin with, he’d tell the emergency personnel this. Look for the ash trees that arch like a cathedral. That’s where I’m dying. Find me there.
But he has no phone, and there is no service. He wonders if his killer chose this place to murder him for a reason, if there is some symbolism to choosing the icon of cathedral arches to slaughter him. Dwight decides that there is, because he’s dying. His killer’s say is over now. The killer was just a messenger of sorts. Dwight’s thoughts are his own, and he could do with them what he pleases now. The woods have taught him that, and it appears it will be the last lesson he’ll ever learn.
Dwight thinks about his wife Elizabeth, what she will do once he is gone. She isn’t here today, nor would she be for several days now. Dwight misses her whenever she leaves, misses her even more now. Whenever she left their refuge to pursue her dreams while he pursued his here, he was reminded how separate each person was in the end. He is glad she’s not here today, seeing that a killer is on the loose.
After today, he would not be there to protect her physically. But he would do everything in his power to protect her in whatever stratosphere he was assigned to next. It doesn’t make him afraid, thinking this. It only feels like what is supposed to happen, strange as it seems to him. Thinking this, the wall of separation seems to disappear. He’s not alone, because he’s remembering her. He will always remember her.
Images of other people in his life, past and present, flood him. They seem to buoy the weakness that overshadows him. His parents, his sister Alice, his close family. He sees them sitting in the home he grew up in, all on sofas by a roaring fireplace. Thanksgivings were spent this way. Christmas, often Easter too. He had just spent his last Thanksgiving with them, along with Elizabeth. He tries to remember the words exchanged, but they seem so unimportant now. He just remembers them. Everyone is smiling, everyone is laughing. He lets the fire warm him as it did then, even if it is just a dream of imagination. Perhaps life itself was nothing more than a dream? Who could tell? For it is nothing more than a dream to him now. One playing in front of him, a cinema of gigantic proportions.
He wonders if he will see nightfall, along with the dropping temperatures. Dwight’s unprepared for the frigid darkness, even in the best of circumstances. But even if he had been, his immobility from his wounds would have prevented him from making the necessary provisions. When he dies, he wonders if the public will shake their heads at the foolishness of those like him. The ones like him who venture into the elements like a personal playground, and forget the lethality that awaits them.
Dwight has always known this possibility. He’s always met that responsibility with the utmost regard and respect. But he also knows that one day, the elements would win anyway. He always knew something would take him down, ultimately. It has always been nothing more than a question of when. Today, most likely, will be his day to leave this dream life to wake up to the next one. He wonders what awaits him in this new dream. Maybe he will be an eagle, soaring in the wind. Maybe he will be a comet in the sky, like the clouds gathering above him bringing in the storm. This dream was ending, and another would soon begin.
As if on cue, the wind picks up speed, as though it’s ready to take his spirit with it. Yet, Dwight doesn’t feel cold, not at all. He still basks in the warmth of the memory of his family, the fire that kindles him. Is it all a dream, these people he imagines? Why not, as everything else is real or dreamlike as anything else. His mind dances around the edges of these questions as the trees sway, dancing in front of him.
Mesmerized by the wind and the trees, lying under a cathedral of God’s making, he almost forgets that he was felled in cold blood. When he does remember this, it’s not with anger or shock. Why, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t have the presence of mind to even question why he doesn’t.
Instead, Dwight thinks if he’s going to die in this violent way, at least it will be a beautiful kind of murder. One that really isn’t murder at all. It’s no more than one dream passing into the next. No more than waking from sleep, or falling weightless in the air. That is what he feels as he senses the wind carrying him. Where or what he will wake up to, Dwight has no idea. But he only knows that everything he knew will soon change. Everything will be bright and new, like the first snow of winter. He is ready for the next chapter to begin. Perhaps he will be a comet, soaring across the sky.
He then closes his eyes.