Part III

It had been a long and emotionally draining night for John and Ann as they tended to John's father, who spent most of the night chomping down hard on a wooden spoon while John himself dug in his father's leg to remove the .22 slug lodged in there.

It well into the wee hours of the night before all were able to sleep.  Abner was physically spent and passed out on the couch, in front of the flickering fire.  For a while Ann and John alternated watching over the older man while he slept, but they too succumbed to exhaustion around two-thirty in the morning.

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It was February, but the recent storm had added another five inches of snow to the already waist-deep levels in and around Corrigan County, and when the morning sun finally blazed over the horizon and through the trees, John winced in his sleep as the sharp whiteness of the outside world invaded his slumber.  Groggily, he pushed himself up and looked to his left, where Ann gently snored beneath the comforter.  A pang of guilt pulled at his chest as he looked upon a lock of her wild hair which spilled across her pillow.  What had come between them to force her into the arms of another man?  John was not angry with her as he was disappointed in himself for allowing her to nearly slip away.  He vowed to be more attentive to her in the future and not take her for granted.

Presently however, he was worried about his father.  The events of the previous night should have had a detrimental effect on John's well-being, yet instead there was a peculiar vigor coursing through his veins on that chilly morning due to the vigilance necessary to nurse his father back to health.  He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and directly into his boots.  He stood, tucked his shirt into his britches, and pulled the suspenders over his shoulders to start the day.  He plucked his coat from its spot by the door as he walked into the main room to check on both his father and the dwindling fire.

John stopped cold.

The fire was well tended, and crackled merrily to itself.  Even more surprisingly, Abner was absent from his appointed position on the couch.

John looked around and called softly, "Dad?"  He waited for a reply before moving on to the tiny kitchen area, which consisted of a badly leaning table and two chairs in front of a terribly dilapidated old stove.  Old Abner was obviously not there, either.

John turned around and called again, a little louder, "Dad?"

He looked up when he heard the creaking of a door, but it was just Ann in the bedroom doorway. Her eyes were puffy and half-closed and her face was lifeless but for the shivering from the cold as she held on to the door handle.  The ratty comforter was wrapped around her shoulders and completely ensheathed the length of her body save for her heavily stockinged feet which protruded from the bottom.  She looked blearily at him and asked, "How's your father?"

"I don't know.  He's not here."

Ann blinked as comprehension of John's words seeped into her features.  She shook her head in disbelief and asked, "Then where is he?"

The End

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