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Adventure Romance Mystery

His eyelids fluttered as he slowly became aware he was awake. Dazed, he looked around the cabin, struck by how nothing and yet everything seemed familiar. He knew his name was James, and he knew the woman sitting next to him in the cabin was Eileen, his beloved wife. However, he had no idea how he ended up strapped to a chair, or why Eileen was strapped to a chair right next to him. 

The brain is a complex organ, moving at a rate so fast that sometimes it leaves consciousness behind. James quickly freed himself, feeling a primal urge to get to Eileen. He needed to know she was all right. 

She wasn’t.

As far as he could tell, he was in perfect health. But the love of his life, his precious Eileen, wasn't breathing. Her body appeared cold and stiff.

“Help Me!” he called out in a panic, his words forceful and deliberate. “Please—is there anyone there?”  

Nothing.  

"She's not breathing—she needs help!" The words were heavy and raw, but James instinctively knew they were fruitless. Eileen was gone, and he was alone, stripped of his short term memory and facing his worst nightmare.

It had been only minutes since he had regained consciousness, at least it seemed as if it had been only minutes. A few things were now abundantly clear. Eileen was dead, the cabin was dark and bitterly cold, and he had lost all track of time.  

The door to the cabin was locked, but even if it wasn’t, James would not have been able to pry it open. He would learn this later. The back of the cabin had been destroyed, with a gaping hole, large enough for a truck to drive through. 

In the moonlight, He could see old snow crusting around the rough opening in the back of the cabin as new snow continued to fall. Although grateful for the protection the cabin afforded, it was no match for the bitter cold. He began to shiver uncontrollably.

The adrenaline that had provided his only warmth started to wear off quickly. He knew he couldn't survive long in such harsh conditions. After a short search, aided by the last light of the phone retrieved from his shirt pocket, James discovered the cabin offered no relief from the cold. His time was short, only a few moments to make a viable plan. 

James was a consummate planner with Eileen, his good natured wife, putting up with his micromanaging. He wished he could tell her now how much she meant to him one last time, but she was gone. He would think about her later. Now, his survival depended on his ability to focus. 

He made his way to the hole in the back of the cabin and trekked out into the woods. With the powdery snow, his careful footsteps made no sound. The softness of the snow couldn't hide its destructive chill. 

Looking from left to right and only seeing trees, James made his way to the front of the cabin. At a time where he should have been consumed by panic, he was struck by the stark beauty of the serene landscape. 

If he and Eileen had come here on one of their many hikes, he might have impetuously decided to build a home in these woods. He had promised her a dream home, but there was no escaping the truth that his life, whatever was left of it, would never be the same and would no longer include Eileen. Though the woods held an ethereal beauty, there was no solace to be found—certainly not in a frozen wasteland that was quickly becoming a coffin.

Lost in thought, James pictured Eileen and what might have been. He almost forgot to assess his situation. Almost

Breaking the silence, he could swear he heard his wife's voice. Don't dilly dally, James. There's work to be done. Heeding Eileen's unspoken words, James looked for anything that might be of use. 

He observed the left side of the cabin, the side where the door was located, under a foot of snow. There was no way he would have been able to open that door. He became grateful for the damage to the rear of the cabin. It allowed the cold air in, but it also provided an exit. Being outside cured any burgeoning claustrophobia with which he might have been afflicted but it also brought into clear focus his seemingly unsolvable dilemma. He had to survive until morning. The night was a predator and he—its prey.

   The last thing James had seen on his phone before the battery had gone completely dead was the time: 3:00 a.m. It would be at least four hours before sunlight would offer any relief from the frigid night. The cold provided the slap in the face he needed to knock him from his waking slumber. He wasn’t sure how he would survive, but he knew walking around in the snow in sub zero weather—in dress shoes—was not a good start. He headed back inside the cabin. 

Once indoors, James enjoyed the respite from the wind that seemed to have been blowing through him. Now in survival mode, his eyes adjusted to the low light, and he retrieved the first aid kit from his initial search. Although seemingly unimportant at the time, he now grabbed it and flipped open the lid. He remembered that many kits contain Mylar blankets, small but effective tools in prolonging life in cold weather emergencies. To his great relief, there was just such a blanket in the kit; he quickly wrapped the shiny foil around himself, waiting for its warming properties to take effect.

Four hours is no time at all when one is watching a double feature or playing a family game of Monopoly. In fact, James could recall many a time at work when he set aside an hour to work on a legal brief. Before he knew it, he was taking a call from Eileen asking why he had missed dinner. Four hours is no time at all unless one is sitting in a freezing cabin in the woods next to a dear wife whom you will never see alive again.

Extreme cold can have an odd effect on one's thoughts. Strange ideas started to enter his mind. Eileen had been wearing a sweater and what looked like some very warm woolen socks. He could use both to increase his chances of survival, but then she might get cold. His first impulse—as always—was to care for her. The desire to protect his wife was great, yet so was his desire to live. These few articles of her clothing, small as they were, offered life in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, in the middle of nowhere.  

“Eileen, do you mind if I borrow your sweater and socks?”

There was comfort in hearing a voice, even his own. Not at all, my dearest James. Eileen would never have said my dearest James, but in the fog of delusion that drove a man to have a conversation with himself, her imagined words seemed perfectly natural.  

   Undressing someone who is deceased and bound to a chair in a frozen cabin is harder than one might initially think. James’s hands shook, both showing the first signs of frostbite. Getting a firm grip on anything had become quite the chore. Add to that the rigid nature of Eileen’s body and the grim undertaking, retrieving the warm clothing took what seemed like hours. Had his phone battery not died, he would have noticed that no more than a few minutes had passed during his struggle to warm himself.

Once he had donned the sweater and socks, he wondered if her articles of clothing actually made his torso or feet measurably warmer. However, he felt closer to Eileen, making up for the difficulty of the task.

As he sat in his chair, wrapped in his blanket, wearing his wife's clothing, the hours turned to minutes. Suddenly, James became painfully aware of the lie recounted by every author of every book he had ever read. Great philosophers from Aristotle to Bugs Bunny had postulated that as individuals moved closer to death, their entire lives would flash before their eyes. 

This was demonstrably untrue. 

As he felt the encroaching effect of hypothermia, first on his hands and feet, then throughout his skull, slowly chilling the vital organs that sustained his life, he didn’t reflect back on the moments passed. He thought long and hard about the moments unrealized. The grandchildren he and Eileen would never hold, the travels they would never make, the forever home they would never build, and the front porch they would never occupy. James didn’t miss the things he had; he missed the things he missed. All he wanted to do was to sit in his rocking chair next to Eileen, holding her hand as the sun set.  

It was then he finally understood what he had to do. Summoning all the strength he had left, he took off the sweater and socks he had borrowed from Eileen and returned them to their rightful owner. He folded up the Mylar blanket that was his only source of heat and placed it carefully back in the first aid kit. He returned to his seat, where he belonged, right next to his wife, and took her hand in his. In that moment all was exactly as it had been when he first opened his eyes. Content in his decision, he looked at his wife and then simply closed his eyes for the last time.  

James would never know that less than twenty minutes after he had passed away that rescuers, guided by the signal from the black box in the plane's cabin, would find the star-crossed lovers. 

No one knew exactly why James's plane had crashed. He was, after all, an experienced pilot in a brand new plane. According to the autopsy, the pair were listed as dying from blunt trauma resulting from a plane crash. Newspaper articles were written about the tragedy that had befallen the couple, but no one who was there, when they were found, viewed it as a complete tragedy. They told a story of timeless love encapsulated in the wreckage of an airplane’s cabin and of two people holding hands for eternity.








January 18, 2021 20:39

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41 comments

Deidra Lovegren
15:44 Jan 19, 2021

Clever twist at the end! I didn't see that coming. Best line: James didn’t miss the things he had; he missed the things he missed. Typo: The night was a predator and he it's prey. (Use its for possessive; it's = it is) Well done :)

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Zilla Babbitt
16:19 Jan 19, 2021

I have a bunch of critique (mostly typos) but before I get into all that, I should say that this is a really beautiful story. Enjoyable and sweet, classic Thom Brodkin. The ending is perfect and I love the inclusion of the riddle. Great job. "As far as James could tell, he was in perfect health" --> "she was in perfect health"? "“Help Me!” Jim called out, his words forceful and deliberate. “Please—is there anyone there?” Nothing. James was alone, stripped of his short term memory and facing his worst nightmare." --> "Help me!" and th...

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Thom Brodkin
16:34 Jan 19, 2021

One day I will learn to show rather than tell. I wonder if I don't trust my reader to understand or to completely grasp what I am feeling but you are so right that I've been doing it since my first story. I also should write and read and correct before I submit. I am so anxious to get my stories out there that I miss a lot of the small stuff. The one push back I have is my line that hours turned into minutes. That was supposed to be a clever way of expressing how slowly time passed. I was a soldier in Alaska and I remember one night I ...

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Zilla Babbitt
14:04 Jan 21, 2021

Wow, 68 degrees. You win on that one!😉

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Aman Fatima
13:27 Jan 19, 2021

The story was amazing.

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Kristin Neubauer
11:47 Jan 19, 2021

By the way, I forgot to say that I thought you’re approach to this prompt was just brilliant - very clever, very original.

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Thom Brodkin
14:54 Jan 19, 2021

Thank you for your observations and feedback. This story was actually based on a riddle my mom told me as a child. "A man is found dead in a cabin in the woods. How did he die?" We were only allowed to ask yes or no questions and it took forever before we realized the cabin wasn't a log cabi. As for James's response to the loss of his wife I see exactly what you are saying. I would like to say it's because of the shock but honestly I'm not sure. I wrote it in a stream of consciousness and that's how it came out. I think it was a slow...

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Kristin Neubauer
18:42 Jan 19, 2021

I love hearing about where the inspiration for stories originated. Imagine...from a riddle when you were a child! Love it! I absolutely understand your point about shock dulling his reaction to his wife's death. That seems very likely. But I'd still try to find ways to demonstrate the shock becaus e- while one can assume shock - it didn't really come through. Maybe you could go inside his mind - a sense of numbness....or an utter denial that his wife is dead. Like he sees her not breathing but his mind doesn't accept it....maybe he dr...

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Kristin Neubauer
18:42 Jan 19, 2021

I love hearing about where the inspiration for stories originated. Imagine...from a riddle when you were a child! Love it! I absolutely understand your point about shock dulling his reaction to his wife's death. That seems very likely. But I'd still try to find ways to demonstrate the shock becaus e- while one can assume shock - it didn't really come through. Maybe you could go inside his mind - a sense of numbness....or an utter denial that his wife is dead. Like he sees her not breathing but his mind doesn't accept it....maybe he dr...

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Kristin Neubauer
02:28 Jan 19, 2021

Beautiful, tragic and poignant - you always seem to find the essence of your story. I love how you took the reader on a roller coaster of emotions suspense, sadness, mystery, resolution and then this bittersweet happiness. And all with such clear description - I could see James stumbling around outside, I could I see the dark frigid cabin. I rarely have a critique for your work but in this case, something stood out to me as missing.... and that is James’ emotion after realizing his beloved wife is gone. I was struck by how matter-of-fact...

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Megan Sutherland
00:43 Jan 19, 2021

Bittersweet ending, but I loved it. :) I loved how you told almost their entire love story in just a few paragraphs. It was all so awe-striking(is that even a word? Well it is now) and kept me hooked the entire time. Great job. :) -Meg

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22:17 Jan 18, 2021

Why must you always make me cry? You sir, are a great talent, you write the things that I can't. The things that terrify me to write, you do. As the great man said, "Writing is easy, you just sit at the typewriter and bleed." or something similar. That's what you have done here. You have opened a vein.

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Thom Brodkin
22:19 Jan 18, 2021

Writing is such an interesting past time. We write for ourselves and we write for the world but we also write for individuals. You are one of the individuals I write for. You are also one reason why I read.

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23:00 Jan 18, 2021

That is an amazing compliment. Thank you.

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23:00 Jan 18, 2021

That is an amazing compliment. Thank you.

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Jonathan Blaauw
12:02 Jan 20, 2021

Hey, Thom. Excellent take on the prompt! I thought we were going in a kind of Saw direction, which would've been cool, but it becomes a kind of survival-love story. I think you've invented a new genre here! It was really well done. Having only a single (living) character, you could've gone first person, but doing third allows you to show what's going on from a step removed, and that enhances the effect. And, of course, you can't do first person if the narrator dies at the end. Well, you can, but not easily. Some minor insights. The beginn...

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Anna Mosqueda
12:51 Jan 19, 2021

Brilliant! This was such a clever story! I'm so glad that you are able to write stories that affect the reader so emotionally, and you should be too! You did a great job at holding off details as well like they weren't actually in a cabin, they were in an airplane cabin! You kept me guessing the whole time so great job, Thom!

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Thom Brodkin
14:56 Jan 19, 2021

I'm so glad you enjoyed it. One of the things I've found about Reedsy is I want the writers I admire to approve of my writing. It's validating. I love the way you write. I love your style. Because of that I always want your feedback and when it's positive it makes me want to write more. Thanks for your time and opinions. :-)

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Anna Mosqueda
17:16 Jan 19, 2021

Me too! I love it when people I look up to like my writing and better yet, comment on it! I'm glad my feedback makes you want to write more because I love your stories and cannot wait for more of them to come out! And no problem, I love making Reedsy friends:)

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Claire Lewis
00:05 Mar 18, 2021

I think this one is the last and it makes me sad! Now I’ll have to wait patiently for new stories like a normal person. Once again, the twist at the end took me by surprise. It’s a very clever take on the prompt, reimagining the cabin. The story itself was somber and filled with the tension that comes from a well-written life or death situation. The setting was frightening and frigid; I could practically feel a chill in the air. And the ending was heart-wrenchingly perfect. I’m still amazed at how easily you can get us invested in your ch...

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Thom Brodkin
00:11 Mar 18, 2021

Once again thank you. I’m working On one this week that is a challenge. Another Reedsy writer and I decided on each other’s prompt and the name and age of the main character. It’s been an exercise in adapting. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ll let you know when it’s posted.

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Claire Lewis
00:19 Mar 18, 2021

Oh I’m excited to read it! I wrote one but didn’t like it and I’m feeling rather uninspired to try again this week. If I do post one I’ll let you know :)

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Thom Brodkin
23:38 Mar 19, 2021

I just submitted another and you have a new story. Are we just going to skip the formalities and read. By the way I was given the prompt and the city. The main characters name and age and I had to write the story. It was a challenge to say the least. 😀

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Claire Lewis
00:27 Mar 20, 2021

Yes let’s skip to the good part haha. I’ll keep the context in mind, I’m sure it’s amazing 😊

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Radhika Diksha
14:24 Mar 11, 2021

Gonna upvote few more points, you need my reward. But I am sorry to tell someone is constantly downvoting you that why you maybe not rising. But do not pay attention to them, they are the people who write 10-12 stories and think of themselves as great writers. They care only about points and attention rather than focusing on writing.

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Thom Brodkin
14:28 Mar 11, 2021

Thank you for your kindness.

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Radhika Diksha
14:36 Mar 11, 2021

By the way, can you give me feedback for some of my stories, I would love your insight.

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Thom Brodkin
14:42 Mar 11, 2021

I’d be happy to.

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Anna Mosqueda
12:53 Jan 23, 2021

Hey Thom! I’ve got a new story out if you wanna check it out! 🙂

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:04 Jan 21, 2021

Damn, Thom, that ending! I am too tuckered out from my proofreading day job to give you a lengthy review, but I will say I loved the warping of time you depict in this story. Thanks for inviting me over to give it a read.

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Thom Brodkin
18:10 Jan 21, 2021

Honestly I think you said more in less words than almost any other feedback and it is much appreciated. You made my day.

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Julie Ward
15:50 Jan 21, 2021

What a ride! I have come to expect a sweet, emotional, satisfying story from you Thom, and I always love them. But I have wondered if you would throw in some action...and here it is, served up hot with a side of suspense. Great story! Now, I am the annoying person in the room who always figures out the ending to the movie, so I got the red herring right away. The title alludes to the ending, so I knew what was going to happen there too, even though I didn't want it to. Overall, I thought you did a fantastic job of keeping the story taut...

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Thom Brodkin
16:17 Jan 21, 2021

Julie, you’d think I’d be upset that you guessed the twist and foresaw the ending but it makes me smile. Maybe because you know me, at least as a writer or maybe because I appreciate you as a reader. Either way I smiled broadly at your comment. As an aside, sometimes knowing the ending but hoping you’re wrong makes for the best story. When the movie Titanic came out I remember getting so lost in the love story that when it came time to hit the iceberg I was actually hoping they would miss it. That’s a good story. Once again thanks for readin...

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Radhika Diksha
14:22 Mar 11, 2021

The story was amazing and the ending took me by surprise. I loved how you showed James anxiety, his disbelief, his memories, and everything. You really work on the plot and storyline very well. I loved the story and the title was amazing too. You are a great writer, sometimes I would love to do a collab with you. You are an amazing writer.

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This is the best story I've ever read

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Valerie June
02:11 Feb 19, 2021

Wow this so sweet yet so tragic. The ending was so unexpected, but I feel like, in this case, the ending fit perfectly. You took me on an emotional roller coaster just in these few paragraphs. Yet another great story, Thom.

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Mango Chutney
22:46 Feb 10, 2021

Good One.. Enjoyed reading this story..!

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Thom Brodkin
23:01 Feb 10, 2021

Thank you. It’s a little darker than my usual story but I enjoyed writing it. Thank you for reading.

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Salma Jarir
13:21 Jan 27, 2021

Oooh ! Loved the twist at the end,it was unexepted!

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Katina Foster
21:47 Jan 26, 2021

Sorry for the delay, Thom. Been sick. But I'm finally here! This felt a little different from your recent stories, but in a good way. It still focuses on the relationship - something you always do well. But you took the prompt in a darker direction this time - yet, it was still sweet story. I really enjoyed seeing that side of your writing! Like not knowing why they were strapped into the seats until the very end. Nicely done. P.s. I am still writing, but focused on my novel. I'll be back to Reedsy in a month or two. ;)

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