Copyright 2008 to TerribleThom (Thomas Bailey) may not be changed or reproduced without author's written permission.
"Well Mr. Ritter, I must admit you're taking this very well. If I were in your shoes, I don't think I would be so calm."
"I knew something was wrong, and this is the third opinion I have gotten. So far they have all been the same."
"What are your plans now, Sir, if you don't mind my asking?"
"I am going to have to think on that one for a while, Doctor. At least now I am totally sure there's been no mistake about my condition."
"You have filled out all the insurance forms, so all I can say is that I'm sorry, Mr. Ritter, for giving the bad news to you for the third time. I hope you have all your affairs in order."
I just smiled at him as I got up and left his office. Hell, I was a realist and I had already accepted what was happening to me, but damned if I was going to go down feeling sorry for myself. I had been a fighter all my life, and if I was going to die, then it was going to be on my own terms. When I got home, I sat outside looking at the split level house I had built years ago. I had already gotten rid of all my animals except for Cody, my old lab. I knew or at least had a plan on how I was going to go out, and he was going with me, since over the years he had been with me everywhere and gone through it all. I figured he deserved one last adventure before he passed on himself.
I let myself in through the front door. The silence was soothing after driving in the city traffic all day. Cody came over and flopped down on his favorite rug, watching me as I fixed a small meal for myself. With my sickness, I had lost a lot of weight but it hadn't been all at once. I still had the muscular build I had been able to keep since I had retired years ago. I sold the house for a huge profit last month. I had three more days before I had to vacate and give the keys to the young couple who had bought it. When I had first met them, I had taken an immediate liking to both of them and their two little ones. I was glad the new owners had kids so they could have fun with the barn and fishing in the big pond. I had built them for my own family before they had been killed in an auto accident years ago.
Unlike a lot of men, I didn't quit my job and live on the large settlement I had received after the accident. I kept working and to my surprise, I had been promoted several times over the years and was able to retire with a large pension. I hadn't used a lot of it since my needs leaned toward food and taking care of the animals I owned. Everything else was paid off, so the only bills I had were for the utilities every month, and they weren't high.
I made my last visit to my attorney yesterday, and I knew all my papers were in order. The kids buying the house would have a big surprise when my will was read, but I thought they would need it and I didn't anymore. I left just five dollars to each of my two brothers since I hadn't heard from them or seen them in years. I had several large insurance policies that would go to a good friend of mine who had always been there for me during the hard times. He had five kids and I knew it would help them out more than just my friendship. I had gotten rid of all the furniture in the house except for a single bed, which I had set up in the front room to sleep on till I left. I also had several old towels that would last until I got out the day after tomorrow.
I was sitting at the counter when the pain hit like it always did after I ate anything. I just rode it out, since I didn't want to take the pain pills I had been given. Cody came over and put his head in my lap like he always did when I was hurting. It was like he could sense it happening. I scratched behind his ears because I knew he liked it.
"Well, old fella, I think we are going on our last journey together. I decided to take you along since you deserve it. Besides, I wouldn't feel right without you by my side."
He just wagged his tail like he always did whenever I spoke to him as an equal. The pain finally passed, so I got up and went to the garage to finish up the little plan I had in mind. I got down my old backpack and checked it thoroughly to make sure it hadn't rotted over the years of non use. I had decided I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail until I went on to the other side. I had told my daughters that when they were old enough, we would all do it together. They both had been tomboys like their mother and thought the idea was great. I had taken them camping almost as soon as they were out of diapers and they had always had a blast. My wife had always gone along and I knew she enjoyed it. She was always in awe of how fast the girls took to it. I checked the small tent I used and it was still like new. The sleeping bag smelled a little musty, but was in excellent condition also. I knew I wouldn't be able to carry much so I had to pare it down to the bare essentials. I took a small 2 quart pan with a long handle and the large non stick skillet that I had owned for years. I had a six cup coffee pot, but since I couldn't drink coffee anymore, I took the guts out of it and laid it on the bench. That took care of what I needed to cook with. I would be taking freeze dried meals since they were nutritious and very light to carry. I even had several bags of dog food for Cody, just in case he didn't want to share my meals, which I doubted would ever happen. I packed two sets of silverware, just in case I met a guest on the trail. I got out the 2 quart canteen, then at the last minute decided to take the western one gallon one instead.
I packed several bars of soap and bug repellent in sheets, which were easier to carry. They also made good fire starters if I needed help making a fire. I filled several small shampoo bottles with baby shampoo. They fit into the outer pocket and also didn't weigh much. I took the small machete out of its sheath and sharpened it before reseating it again. I had made a small carry sheath that fit across the outside of the pack to carry it. I knew I could get at it easily if I had some kind of an emergency. I had been an avid camper and hiker for many years, so I knew what I could get by with without being short on creature comforts. I had several packets of toilet paper that broke down quickly in the wild, so I dug in the box and added another handful. I also had ten tubes of the strike anywhere waterproof matches in a side pocket. I checked them to make sure they were still in good shape. I stood there for a moment, trying to think about anything that I might have forgotten, but I couldn't think of anything at the moment.
I set the pack down on the bench and started back to the house. Then I remembered the two long ropes I had always carried, but they were old and probably unstable after all these years. I would replace them tomorrow when I went to town to get the freeze dried meals. I turned out the light, thinking I had forgotten something, but maybe it would come to me later.
I went in and took my shower, letting Cody in with me. I wouldn't have a chance to give him a good bath before we left and he just loved having me scrub him down. My daughters used to fight over which one would let him in the shower with them. I smiled to myself at the memory of the fights my wife used to referee over this. For some reason, he did one thing that most dogs wouldn't. He would stay in the shower and do his shaking in there. When he got caught in the rain, he used to come straight into the house and go to the shower and shake the water off there. He would wait there until one of us toweled him dry.
I went in and went to bed, totally drained. Cody lay down next to the bed in his usual spot. I drifted off to sleep, thinking about what I needed to buy in town tomorrow.
I woke the next morning at my usual time, about six in the morning. I quickly got my shower and fixed myself some tea and toast. Cody bummed part of my toast after I dipped it in my tea. This had been a ritual with us for years and I couldn't see changing it now. Since I knew nothing in town was open yet, I decided to walk the property saying my last goodbye to the home and land where I had been so happy for years.
As we walked by the barn, I thought of the first time I brought my oldest daughter out here to help me dig a few worms to go fishing with. I had jokingly dared her to eat one, and to my surprise, she scarfed it down without blinking. Of course when we got back to the house after fishing for a couple of hours, she told her mother about it. She was so mad at me for doing such a mean thing to my own child that I had to sleep on the couch. I tried to explain what happened, but she refused to listen. I got up the next morning and she apologized to me. We had a little husband and wife time before the girls woke up wanting something to eat.
I stood in my own little world, thinking about the past and all the good times, when Cody snorted his impatience at standing in one place so long. I smiled and turned toward the pond and he went nuts as usual. He ran past me to the little dock I had built and jumped in for his morning swim. He swam around for about ten minutes before coming out with a doggie grin on his face. That's what my daughters always called it. He shook and we headed back to the house so I could dry him off before we loaded into the jeep and went to town.
.... There is more of this story ...