Jack was watching for the sign to Route 180 as he sped along the Interstate. They had been on the road for 4 hours, stopping only once, and he wanted to get there and get settled before dusk. Maggie was being sullen and quiet again. She perked up a bit when they stopped for lunch on the way. But now she had lapsed again into her dark mood.
But Jack felt good about this trip. Two weeks in the country was just what they both needed. He knew Maggie would like this lodge and after some rest, some hiking in the woods, some good food, drinks by the fire place, peace and quiet she would feel a whole lot better. He hoped so.
Maggie was not sure about this trip. She agreed to it because her doctor told her it would be good for her and because Jack had his heart set on it. She would have preferred to stay at home, alone and sort things out, or to come at some more convenient time of the year. Her wishes for fixing up the house seemed futile to her now. What’s the point, she thought, of making it better when they were only going to die someday with no one to leave it to.
Her depressions came on more often now, accompanied by some strange behavior. She had trouble communicating.. They didn’t talk to each other as often as they used to.. But the therapy seemed to be working, Jack had said, and he promised that for the next two weeks he could spend all his time taking care of her.
The sign for Rte 180 appeared. Jack slowed down and made the turn. At the bottom of the ramp he turned right onto a small town road, dotted with gas stations, fast food places and occasional gift shop or market.
Suddenly Maggie spoke up, “Do we need to stop for anything?”
“No. I don’t think so, sweetheart. If we need anything I’ll drive back out and get it” he said.
After a few miles there was a small wooden sign on the side of the road “Hidden Slope Lodge – next right.” Jack signaled and made the turn. His car staggered down onto a dirt road with no buildings in sight.
Jack remembered this lodge from his college days. He called to make sure it was still here and open for guests. September, the summer was done and skiing season hadn’t begun. It would be quiet.
“Jack. Are you sure we’re on the right road?” Maggie was concerned.
“Yup. Relax and enjoy the view”
“I don’t see anything but snow.”
“Snow.” He had learned not to ridicule. “Now your eyes are playing tricks on you again. It’s probably the afternoon sun. It’s making strange colors on the ground.”
Maggie fell silent.
Soon Jack turned abruptly left and stopped the car. “Well, here we are, Maggie. You’re going to love this place.”
“I don’t see any lodge,” she said.
“It’s right over there. C’mon.”
Jack removed their large suitcase from the trunk, slammed the trunk closed with some irritation. But he went back to Maggie and asked her to come with him. She stared straight ahead without speaking. Jack had learned that when Maggie was in one of her dark times, not to push her.
“OK” he said “take your time, sweetheart, and come in when you’re ready. I’ll go get our room.”
Maggie watched Jack as he stepped across the snow bank, crossed a short ice field, walked in between two pine trees and disappeared.
She waited. He’ll come back when he doesn’t find any lodge in there, she thought.
Time went by. He didn’t return.
Jack stepped across the log barrier set up to mark the parking area, crossed the lawn and went through the archway to the front door of the lodge. He stepped inside and made his way to the desk where he was greeted by a pleasant young man.
“We have a reservation. Winthrop.”
“Oh yes sir. I’ve been expecting you. Uh. The reservation is for two. Is there….”
“Yes. My wife is in the car. She’ll be along soon.”
“Why don’t I hold this second key for her then?”
“Good. Thank you.”
“You have the room you requested, Number 4, just down the hall.”
“Great. Thank you. Are there other guess here?’
“We had a noisy group for the long Labor Day weekend. The last couple left yesterday. But it picks up again in a few weeks when the leaves are at their best. The seniors come up in bus loads to gawk at the foliage.”
Jack chuckled, signed the register, picked up the suitcase and strode down the hall. He unlocked the door and went in. He plopped the suitcase down on the king size bed, snapped open the locks and tossed it open. Let Maggie put the things where she wants, he thought.
After a while, Maggie got out of the car, stepped over the snow bank and followed Jack’s footprints across the icy field and through the two pine trees. When she pushed between the trees large globs of snow fell on her from the branches. She jumped in fright. But she kept following the footprints until they suddenly stopped.
She called out, “Jack. Jack. Where are you?”
Seeing a bottle of scotch on the side board, Jack opened the mini fridge and found an ice tray. He turned over two of the glasses and dropped some cubes into one of them, hearing them ring the glass. He opened the bottle and poured a generous helping into the glass and stuck his finger in to stir the ice around. “I’ll let Maggie fix her own” he said.
Maggie was trudging about in the snow looking for Jack. There was no Jack. There was no lodge. The sky was darkening and it looked like there would be more snow. She was frightened.
Jack went into the bathroom and started the water flowing gently into the big double tub. He removed all his clothes and took his drink through the sliding door out onto the private terrace. It was still warm out there. He looked across the valley as the late afternoon sun was lighting up the trees in the distance, just beginning to change color.
“Maggie is going to love this,” he said.
There was no sign of Jack. Maggie kept calling out for him, frantically plodding through the snow. The trees were close together and she was hit with snow from the branches over and over again as she searched. She couldn’t understand why his footprints suddenly stopped. Had he gone in a different direction? Was he also lost? Or did he go off somewhere else and leave her here? Why? Why would he do that? What was wrong? Her thoughts started spinning with fear. Was it because she can’t get pregnant? Or because his father doesn’t like her much? Or some other reason she doesn’t know about? Is there someone else in his life now?
Jack took his drink into the bathroom and stepped into the tub. As he sat down his body began to relax from the tension of the long drive. He set the drink down on the wide edge of the tub and leaned back.
It began to snow again. It was getting very dark. Maggie was desperate. Now she was calling out “Please. Please. Jack. Where are you? Please! Come and get me! I don’t know where you are.” The snow was coming down in great huge flakes. A fierce winter wind was blowing now. The branches of the trees were flailing in it and throwing large clumps of snow to the ground with a thud. They frightened her.
Jack was leaning back in the tub letting the warm water wash over him. He didn’t hear her calling. He thought about his college days with some regret. A mere few years ago he was entertaining one girl or another in this very tub. Time away from school was spent in the pursuit of imaginative pleasures. He smiled in recollection.
Once out of school life was easy. His father’s insurance business was waiting for him. Not much in the way of imaginative pleasures but a secure future.
Now it was very dark. Night was coming. It was extremely cold. In the last bit of light Maggie saw a clearing in the forest. She thought, “That must be where the car is. At least I can get inside the car away from this storm”. She walked with great difficulty through the gathering snow toward the clearing.
Jack leaned further back now as the water was filling up the tub so that his ears were under water. With a benign smile he listened to the hiss of the water coming into the tub. He didn’t hear her scream.
Maggie made it to the clearing expecting to find the car. But instead she plunged forward over a steep slope. She screamed as she fell forward on to the icy slope and couldn’t stop herself. Her body twisted and turned. She reached out frantically trying to grab something to hold onto, but she just kept plunging further and further down the slope until she came to a sudden stop, when her head slammed against a tree.
Jack lay in the tub thinking about tomorrow and the days and nights that followed. Sitting by the fire, walking in the woods, the early autumn colors.
The blood spattered dark red on the snow where Maggie lay unconscious. The snow was coming down heavily now, covering the blood and covering her, as she gradually froze to death.