Endless Love | By: Gary Heath | | Category: Short Story - Twilight Zone Bookmark and Share

Endless Love

Endless Love

by: Ronald Gary Heath

The year was 1938 and the headlines in the weekly issue of the Monroe County Press indicated that the country was beginning to show signs of recovering from the great stock market crash a decade earlier. That positive forecast meant very little to a lot of the people living in the isolated regions of East Tennessee. Change came leisurely slow here and prosperity came even slower.

Roosevelt’s overwhelming victory in the 1932 election brought about hope for people all over the country. But nowhere was it felt or needed more than in the Appalachia Mountains. People were starving and there were no bread lines like those found in the larger urban cities. Roosevelt’s New Deal program meant jobs, particular in the South, and jobs meant husbands could finally feed their families.

When Roosevelt’s Housing Bill was finally approved by Congress in the fall of 1936, close to forty desperate workers from the Tellico Plains region of Tennessee were selected for the production phase of Roosevelt’s plan. It was hard and dangerous work, but the fortunate men that got the positions were thrilled to get them. At least, they were working now. And for those families, life was better.

The logging train rolled to a stop each morning at six o'clock at the tiny Tellico Plains Train Depot. Claude Bivins and the other loggers boarded the flatbed train cars and rode them on into the dense forest of the Appalachia Mountains.

Once the loggers arrived at their destination, they consumed trees like a billion termites on a single log. For ten hours a day, each logger chopped, sawed, and finally overpowered scores of tall Southern Pines. The huge timbers were trimmed and loaded onto the trains to haul back to the booming lumberyards. Eventually, the trees were turned into lumber for Roosevelt’s new Housing Program.

It was the first week of December and the snow had already brought the small community of Tellico Plains to a halt. The town lights were just coming on that evening when the loggers disembarked from the trains. Exhausted from another long day in the backwoods, Claude Bivens gathered his lunch box with his callused hands and pulled his coat tight around him as he hopped from the train.

“You stopping by Homer’s tonight, Claude?” Grover Williams, one of the older loggers, asked.
“Not tonight, Grover.” Claude replied with regret. “I’ve got to stop by the store and pick up a few things for Rose. “I’ll be there tomorrow night though,” Claude promised.

Claude found his old truck in the gravel covered parking lot of the depot and tossed the lunch box inside. Using his large bare hand, he wiped the loose snow from the windshield and started the engine. It was only a few blocks to Lyons General Store but Claude wasted no time getting there. He wasn’t sure what time Mister Lyons would close the place, particularly in this kind of weather.

Claude loaded the last of the groceries into the back of his Ford truck. He covered the boxes with a tattered cotton blanket to keep out the moist snow and went back inside the General Store to sign the credit ticket.

“It looks like we’re goin’ get a good one,” Claude said to Bill Lyons, the storekeeper.
“Yep,” Mister Lyons said. “I’m gonna close the store a little early tonight. Don’t look like anybody else is gonna get out in this weather.”
“I can’t say that I blame you for that,” Claude replied as he signed the ticket. “Well, I’m gonna get this stuff home. Rose has been after me for three days to get her that sugar. I guess she’s completely out by now. Good night to you, Mister Lyons,” Claude said.
“Same to you Claude,” the storekeeper replied. “Now you be careful going up that mountain. Looks like the roads are getting pretty slick.”
“I will,” Claude promised as he left. Mister Lyons followed Claude to the door and locked it behind him.

The cold wind ripped through Claude’s heavy coat as he made his way back to the truck. He checked his load and placed a couple of pieces of firewood over the blanket to keep it from blowing off. He glanced around the little town. Not a soul was stirring. He thought for an instant about stopping off at Homer Thomas’s house for a little nip, but finally decided against it.

Life had changed a lot for Claude and his wife, Rose, since the logging job came along. Another few months without work and they would have left the hills. Both of their families had called Monroe County home for over one hundred years. But since the depression hit, trying to scrape out a living just got harder and harder. Some of his kin and a lot of his neighbors had already left their homes for promises of work in California.

When the limited number of positions finally arrived in the logging camps, Claude was selected to be a part of the labor crew. Both him and Rose were relieved not to have to leave their home. Claude was a little older than most of the young men that were hired, but he was in fit physical shape and was quickly selected for the crew.

Since then, Claude and Rose had managed to save a little money and had plenty of food to eat. They were much more fortunate than many of the other men still desperately looking for work. Claude sold his horse and buggy over one year ago and bought a good used truck. All their bills were paid and things were finally showing signs of a better life.

By the time he got to the long muddy driveway leading to his cabin, the snow was so thick that he could barely see the turn-off. The skies were dark and the wind was blowing the snow like a Minnesota blizzard. The thin tires of the truck spun a few times before they finally dug into the wet soil and he slowly made his way on up the long driveway to his cabin. He parked the truck in it’s usual spot in the front yard, and had to struggle with a ceaseless blast of the wind to get the door open.

Rose met Claude at the door. “Honey I’m so glad you’re home, I was getting worried about you,” she said with relief. He carried the boxes of groceries to the table and set them down without replying.
“Supper ready?” he finally asked
“Yea, I got it in the warmer,” she replied. “I’ll set the table, it won’t be a minute.”

Their cabin was small, just two rooms and a tiny open attic area that they used for storage and a place for some of Rose’s cousins to sleep from time to time when they visited her from Knoxville. Separating the living room from the kitchen area was a four-chair dining table Claude had built years ago. He designed it so that he could add on to it as their family grew. Electricity had not made its way this far out of town yet, so an oil lantern and a few candles lighted the cabin. The Warm Morning coal stove provided more than enough heat even in this kind of weather. Rose used wood to cook and the coals in the old cooking stove were hot year round.

Rose placed the warm food on the table and took her seat while Claude washed his hands in the wash pan and joined her at the table. As he set down across from her, she bowed her head and began the same prayer she had used for years at suppertime:

“Lord, we want to thank you for the food you put before us and for the many blessings in our life.
Thank you for my wonderful husband, Claude. And please help him to see the light, Lord, before it’s too late. Help him to give up his drinkin’ and evil ways and give me the strength to stand with him till he does.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!”

Claude watched Rose blankly as she prayed. “I sure wish that woman would quit talking to God about me and my drinkin’,” he thought. “Hell, I ain’t hurting nobody, and besides I’m sure God’s got more important things to do than to worry about me having a drink now and then. He blinked and waited on her to finish before picking up his fork.

By anyone’s standards, Claude certainly did drink too much. Although it never prevented him from going to work, he spent several nights a week over at Homer’s house. Him and a handful of the other mountain men set around with Homer consuming glass after glass of the clear harsh liquor. Some nights, he didn’t even remember driving home.
Claude and Rose were the same age and had known each other all their lives. They played together as children and attended the same church. For as long as he could remember, Rose had been his best friend. Their families lived on the same high ridge about twelve miles outside of town. They spent their childhood days stomping through the woods or swimming in Cane Creek, a small stream that divided their properties.

Although only a few acres remained from the land they had inherited from their parents, they treasured it like a kingdom. The soil was rocky and the hills were steep, but they managed to harvest enough vegetables to help them make it through the long harsh winters.

In the spring, evidence of their hard work flourished. Delicate flowers and hardy green foliage surrounded their humble cabin. They spent hours sitting in the swing on their front porch or taking slow walks through the many paths that crossed their land.

When they were fourteen years old they began talking about marriage. Sitting together on the back pew of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, they talked of a life with a fine home in town, and lots of kids. Neither Claude nor Rose ever considered courting anyone else.

Two years later, at the ripe old age of sixteen and with their parent’s blessings, Rose and Claude said their “I do’s.” That was twenty-five years ago, and during that time they held strong to the love they shared. They spent their first year of marriage living with Rose’s family. During Claude’s spare time that year, him and his father, William, built the small cabin that they now live in.

Rose lost both of her parents and her only brother to the flu in the winter of 1918. For awhile, it looked like Claude’s mother would die too. Although she never totally regained all her strength, she finally recovered. For the next three years, she lived a feeble life and ultimately died in her sleep one summer night of unknown causes.

Claude had two brothers. Tom was the oldest and he never married. Jimmy Ray was three-years-older than Claude and he planned to leave the mountains and go to college. Unfortunately, during World War One, both of them were killed in Germany. Claude’s father struggled with the tragic deaths of his sons the remainder of his life. A horse accident in the mountain town of Coker Creek killed him in the fall of 1927.

Even with all the tragedies and disappointments of their life’s together, they never lost their love and respect for one another. Rose loved Claude for the kindness and patience he had always given her. And he loved her for her values and commitments to keeping a good home. Times were tough, and a strong and faithful spouse was a mighty valuable thing to have.

When they were much younger, Claude thought he loved Rose because of the beauty and warmth of her eyes. He was always telling her how pretty they were. Although she was a plain and simple woman with few distinctive features, she had unusually bright and intelligent blue eyes. “The color of a clear autumn sky,” is what Claude used to call them.

Almost ten years to the day after their young marriage, they found out for sure that Rose would never be able to have children. Shortly after that was when Claude started drinking. Not much at first, just a couple of times a year on some hunting trip with the boys. Now, Claude drank three or four times a week and Rose was very worried about him, and his soul.

All her life, Rose attended church. Rarely, did she miss a service. She read the Bible everyday, and studied the scriptures the best she could. She considered herself, a God fearing woman. She believed with all her heart that a drunkard shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, she was determined to do everything she could to make sure that her and Claude spent eternity together.

Even though she knew that he was addicted to the stuff, she never mentioned it to him or complained about his late nights. She just asked God to help him to stop drinkin’ every night at supper, and she had been asking Him that for years.

As they ate their meal, Claude noticed that Rose looked a little feeble. “Are you feeling alright,” he asked sincerely. “You’re looking mighty pale.”
“Yea, I’m fine,” she said, picking at her food. “I think I’m coming down with something though, I’ve felt weak all day. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Maybe I should stop by and see Doctor Whitehead tomorrow,” Claude said. “I’ll ask him to come out and check on you.”
“No, now that ain’t necessary Claude. I’ll be fine, and besides, we don’t have the money for the doc to come all the way up here just to tell me I’ve got a little cold or something. I’m sure I’ll be fine in a day or two,” she assured him.
“Well, suit yourself,” he said pushing back from the table. “I’m going up to the barn to check on Ella.”

Claude left his empty plate sitting on the table and put on his heavy coat. It was still a little damp and moist from the recent snow. He lit another lantern, adjusted the wick, and opened the door. The cold night air was crisp, but at least the snow had stopped falling.

Claude walked the hundred yards or so to the barn. He enjoyed the soft crunchy sound the fresh snow made beneath his boots. Ella, the cow, was standing in the corner of the stall and rasps a low moo as Claude entered. He sat the lantern carefully on a timber and threw a few racks of straw into the feeder. Ella wasted no time showing that she was ready for the evening snack.

Before heading back to the house, Claude located a small pail setting subtly upside down in a pile of clutter near the grain feed. He gently tipped it over to reveal a jar of Homer Thomas’s finest moonshine concealed underneath. He picked up the jar and gave the lid an easy turn. The aroma of the clear fluid filled his nostrils as he took a long slow sip. He could feel the whiskey burn its way down his throat. “Just a few sips to knock off the winter chill,” he told Ella. Four or five more quick gulps and he returned the jar to it’s hiding place.

By the time Claude made his way back to the house, Rose had finished the kitchen cleaning and was in the bed. He added a few pieces of coal to the Warm Morning heater and blew out the lantern. In the light of a single candle beside the bed, he removed his clothes, except for the flannel long handles and crawled in beside her. She was asleep and he could hear a slight raspy sound coming from her as she exhaled. “Her skin felt awful warm,” he thought, as he dozed off to sleep.

The next morning, Rose was already up and had breakfast prepared when she woke Claude at five o’clock and set his first cup of coffee on the night stand beside the bed. “Good morning honey,” she said kindly. “How’d you sleep?”
Claude set up in the bed, reached for the cup, and took a short sip. “I slept fine, Rose, Claude finally replied. “How are you feeling this morning?” he asked with concern.
“Much better, ” Rose said. “I guess I was just feeling a little tired last night.” She ruffled his already messed up dark hair. “Now you need to get up,” she said softly. Breakfast is getting cold.”

She walked back into the kitchen and fixed his plate of eggs and bacon with a hefty side of homemade biscuits and sawmill gravy. As he ate, she fixed his lunch and neatly placed it in the small black lunchbox along with a fresh thermos of coffee.
“You not eating?” he asked.
“No, I don’t have much of an appetite yet, I’ll fix me something a little later. I’m sure I’ll be hungry soon,” she said.

After he left, Rose thought about lying back down for awhile, but there was just too much to do. She had to finish the laundry and the iron was already hot and waiting for her. There was cream to churn, and Ella had to be milked. Besides, it was Wednesday, and that meant there was a church meeting tonight. She wanted to spend some time reading her Bible before this evening.

By the end of the day, Rose was not feeling any better. As a matter of fact, she was much worse. Her hands were trembling and she was so weak she could barely finish Claude’s dinner before leaving for church. She left him a plate in the warmer of the cook stove and went outside. The bright December sun was gone and just a glimmer of light illuminated the darkening skies. A shallow blanket of snow covered the ground and hung heavily in the bare branches of the trees that surrounded their cabin. She placed the wool scarf over her head and pulled it snuggly to her cheeks. Her already flushed face tightened from the touch of the cold wind as she began her walk.

It was close to two-miles to the church, but Rose had walked it many times. Sometimes Claude would pull up in just the nick of time, like her knight in shining armor, and give her a ride. But, most of the time he did not. She knew where he was. Like most of the Wednesday nights for the past several years, Claude and some of his drinking buddies, mostly other loggers he worked with, would stop off over at the Thomas farm. “Homer Thomas makes the best moonshine in these hills,” she had heard Claude say to a neighbor once. And he was mighty generous with his whiskey too, she figured, since most of the drinking men in the hills would be at his place two or three nights a week.

“Here, Claude! Drink you another n’,” Homer said as he poured them a refill from the jar.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Claude replied holding out his almost empty glass.
All of the other men had already left when Claude pulled his timepiece from his pocket and saw it was after nine o’clock. “I reckon I’d better be gettn’ home too, Homer,” Claude said, struggling with the words. “Rose is probably there by now, and she’ll be gettn’ awful worried if I don’t get there soon. Besides, she’s been feeling poorly here lately.”

Homer followed Claude to the door and they walked out on the porch. The snow was falling again and the heavy dark clouds hung in the air like a gloomy fog. “Well, you take care of yourself Claude,” Homer said. “Tell Rose I said hey.”
“I will,” Claude promised as he clumsily climbed into his truck.

Meanwhile, the church service was just letting out. Preacher Beasley was shaking hands and hugging necks when he noticed Rose standing by the heater near the front of the church. He made his way back through the pews and over to her. “Claude going to pick you up tonight Rose?” the preacher asked.
“I reckon not Preacher,” she said. “I thought I’d just warm up here a bit before heading outside.”

“Well you just hold on a minute Rose,” the preacher said holding up his hand. “Me and the Miss’s is going right by your place and we’ll be glad to give you a ride.”
“That’ll be mighty nice of you Preacher,” Rose said hesitantly. “But I don’t want to put you out any; I’ll be fine.”
“Nonsense,” the preacher snapped gently. “It ain’t no trouble at all, and besides it looks like you’re not feeling too good. You look a little weak in the eyes, Rose. Are you coming down with something?”
The Preacher’s wife walked up beside them. “I noticed that too, Rose,” she said. “You’re as white as a sheet. Are you alright?”
“Just feeling a little poorly the past few days,” Rose said.
“We’re going to give Rose a ride home honey,” the Preacher told his wife. “Just give me a minute to blow out these lanterns and we’ll be gone,” he said looking at Rose.
“Well, if you don’t mind. I’d be mighty grateful,” Rose said.

The church parking lot was empty except for the preacher’s 1929 Chevrolet Imperial when they finally left the building. The snow was falling heavily and Rose tucked her Bible under her coat to keep it dry as she followed the preacher’s wife quickly to the car. The preacher cranked the engine sharply and it came to life with a roar. Rose sat patiently in the back seat. A cold shiver rushed through her as they pulled the sedan out onto the road.

“How’s Claude doing now, Rose?” the preacher shouted over the hum of the engine. “I haven’t seen him in awhile.”
“He be doin’ just fine preacher. Thank you for asking,” Rose replied, pulling herself forward so he could hear. “If he’d just give up that drinkin’ though, I’d be doing a lot better. I’m mighty feared for him preacher. I’m worried what might happen to his soul if he keeps drinkin’ like he is. I pray for him everyday.”

“Liquor does a powerful thing to a man if it gets a hold of em’ like that,” the preacher said. “Sometimes it’s awful hard to let go. You keep praying for him though, Rose! I’ll throw in a few good words for em’ too. I’m sure with you behind him and with God’s help, he’ll come around.”

They were approaching the turnoff to Rose’s place and the preacher started to turn in. “No preacher!” Rose declared. You don’t have to drive on in there. The road’s too slick. I’m feared you might get stuck. I’ll get out here; it’s just a short piece.”
“Are you sure, Rose? The preacher asked. “I don’t mind a bit.”
“I’m sure, it’ll be fine,” she assured him.
The car came to a stop. “I want to thank you both for the ride,” Rose said sincerely.
“Anytime, Rose,” the preacher and his wife said at the same time.” They gave each other a quick glance and looked back at Rose. She was gone.

Claude’s truck skidded a few times on the narrow mountain roads but he managed to keep it moving. His vision was blurred more than usual and the truck was swaying slightly from one side of the road to the other. He felt relieved when he finally made it to the turn-off for the cabin. The snowflakes were falling heavily now, and his tires made fresh tracks in the untouched blanket that covered the slim driveway.

As he topped the first ridge leading to the cabin, he caught a glimpse of something moving ahead of him. His dim headlights only penetrated a few feet through the heavy fog and the dense wall of falling snow. By the time he was close enough to see clearly, it was too late.

The blaring sound of the wind roaring through the trees prevented Rose from knowing the truck was behind her until she was trapped in the murky beam of the headlights. She turned quickly and froze in her tracks. Just a few feet away and closing rapidly, she saw Claude’s truck skidding sideways in her direction. She was clutching her bible tightly to her chest when the truck engulfed her in its deadly course.

Claude tried desperately to stop the truck, but it was entirely out of his control. When he realized that it was Rose in front of him, he jerked the wheel sharply to the right and hit the brakes with all his strength. The truck reacted immediately, but not the way Claude had hoped for. It turned completely sideways on the narrow wet road and began sliding like an out of control sled racing down an icy mountain. When the truck reached Rose, it seemed to swoop her up into its path. The last thing she saw was Claude’s terrified face.

The truck finally jerked to a sudden stop pinning Rose between it and a huge oak tree. Her lifeless body slumped motionlessly over the hood. “No!” Claude screamed, as he opened the door to get to her. He pulled and jerked for what seemed like forever, but the door refused to budge. Finally, he escaped the truck through the passenger’s side door and raced to her. “Rose! Rose! He screamed! He gently raised her head. Blood was everywhere. He saw her lips move and craned his neck to hear. Lowering his ear to her mouth, he heard her final word: “Claude?”

By the day of the funeral the snow had turned into a cold rain. Everyone from the mountain was there. Claude set motionless on the front row of the church as Preacher Beasley concluded the service and opened the casket for one final viewing. Friends and neighbors supported Claude as he slowly stood and went one final time to see his beautiful Rose. With tear filled eyes, he bent down and kissed her cold lips and placed her tattered bible beneath her hands.

After the service was over, Doctor Whitehead approached Claude. “Claude?” Doctor Whitehead said. “I’m awful sorry about Rose.”
“Thank you, Doc,” Claude replied dryly. “I just don’t know what I’m goin’ do without her. She was a mighty good wife.” Claude gave another misty-eyed gaze toward the fresh grave behind the church.

“She was a mighty fine woman,” the doctor agreed. They stood in silence for a few seconds before the Doctor continued. “Claude, I’ve got something else I need to tell you.”

Claude watched the doctor curiously. “What?” Claude asked.
“I debated whether I should even mention this to you or not Claude,” the doctor paused. “Then I decided that it was your right to know.”
“What is it Doc!” Claude demanded softly.
“Rose was carrying, the Doctor said.
“Carrying?” Claude asked with confusion. “What do you mean?”

“She was pregnant, Claude,” the doctor said. “About three months, the best I can figure.”
Claude’s heart sank even further and a strange numbness rushed through him. He collapsed and crumbled to the ground.

When Claude came to, he was stretched out on the floor inside of the church. There were people all around him. “You fainted Claude,” Doctor Whitehead said gently, as he wiped Claude’s face with a cool, damp cloth. “You’re all right now,” the doctor assured him.

Cautiously, Claude struggled to his feet and was helped outside by the doctor and Preacher Beasley.
“Let’s put him in my car,” the preacher said. “I’m going to take you home now, Claude,” the preacher said calmly. Claude stared blankly at the preacher without responding. They lead him silently to the car.
“It’s going to be alright! She’s gone to a better place!” Claude heard voices in the crowd saying, but it was like a blur to him.

Claude’s cabin was filled with friends, neighbors and a few cousins when the preacher pulled into the yard. The rain was pouring down in heavy buckets and the skies were thick with fog. “Let’s get you inside Claude,” the preacher said. “You’ll feel better when we get you something to eat.”

Inside, concerned friends were everywhere. The women had prepared food and the table was covered with all sorts of delicious delicacies. The preacher’s wife fixed Claude a plate and set it on the table. Claude picked at it slowly for a few minutes without eating very much. “I think I’m going to lay down awhile,” Claude finally said not to anyone in particular.
“That’s a good idea, Claude,” one of his neighbors said. “You get you some rest and we’ll take care of things around here.”

Claude walked slowly into the tiny bedroom and closed the door. The emptiness he felt consumed him, he was angry for what had happened, and he was afraid. How could he go on without Rose? How could God do this to him? How could He do it to Rose? The rain was pounding heavily against the metal roof as he sat down stiffly on the bed. The misery worsened as he glanced around the darkening room. Memories of Rose were everywhere.

The first quilt she made hang loosely on the rack. She was so proud of that quilt, Claude recalled. Then he noticed the picture that Rose’s father had taken of them on their wedding day sitting on the dresser. Through misty eyes, he carefully studied the image of Rose. The tears erupted as he closed his eyes and fell back heavily onto the bed. After some time, he finally cried himself to sleep.

Claude slept fidgety for awhile, and then his dreams turned to Rose. She was in the kitchen cooking while Claude and his grown son set on the front porch and watched the grandchildren playing in the yard of the old cabin. His son had a beautiful wife and three lovely daughters. He watched them closely as they tumbled in the yard. They all had Rose’s eyes, he noticed. Suddenly, the children came running toward him and jumped upon his lap. “We love you, grandpa!” they shouted, and smothered him with kisses and hugs.

Unconsciously, he reached out in the bed and sadly realized that Rose was not there. He hesitated, then opened his eyes. All the pain he had felt the past few days rushed through him. Rose was gone.

He lay there in the darkness for awhile staring blankly at the ceiling. The rain had stopped and a full moon dimly illuminated the room. He could hear the ticking of the clock in the living room and wondered what time it was. Reluctantly, he finally got up and opened the bedroom door. The heat from the Warm Morning stove swept over him like a hot blanket as he walked into the room. Everyone had left, but the place was as neat and clean as Rose always left it. It was midnight.
For a moment, he thought of walking up to the barn and having a little nip to help him sleep again. He didn’t want to be awake. But he was just too tired to make the short trip. He felt drained. Tomorrow, he decided. He’ll go see Homer tomorrow, and pick up enough shine to help him make it through the next few days. He tossed another lump of coal into the stove and went back into the bedroom.

He was just beginning to drift off to sleep again, when he heard the latch on the front door click. Was it the preacher coming back? He wondered. He didn’t hear a car. Then he heard footsteps gently cross the living room floor. He opened his eyes and waited.

Suddenly, standing straight and tall in the doorway was Rose. She was dressed in the light blue dress that she was buried in just hours ago. Claude watched in shock as she entered the room. His mouth hung open as she drifted closer to the bed. He stared with disbelieve and noticed that her dress was wet and covered with mud.

“Rose?” Claude whispered in the darkness. “Is that you, Rose?”
Rose moved closer. “Yes, Claude. It’s me,” Rose responded quietly. She reached out her hand and stroked him gently on the cheek. He flinched uncontrollably from the touch of her cold fingers. His heart was pounding and he could smell the fresh scent of earth on her skin.

“You’re dead, Rose!” Claude moaned.
“I know, Claude,” she said warmly. “Being dead is not so bad,” she added slowly as she set down on the edge of the bed. Claude blinked and rubbed his eyes. What was happening? How could this be? His body shivered briefly with panic as he inspected her colorless face.

“I saw our parents today, Claude,” Rose whispered after a short silence. Claude could feel the goosebumps crawling over his skin. “Your mother wants me to tell you that she’s fine, and that she’s waiting for you.”

Claude gasped. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It had to be another dream, he thought. But it was so real. He stretched out his trembling hands and locked her icy fingers into his. The coldness of them chilled his bones. Then, as if she could read his mind, Rose answered. “No, it’s not a dream Honey,” she said tenderly. “I’m here.”

“Rose!” Claude screamed. “Rose!” With tears pouring down his face, he reached out and pulled her to him. “I’m so sorry for what I did, Rose. I’m so sorry. Can you ever forgive me for the terrible thing I’ve done?”
“It’s fine, Claude,” she assured him honestly. “It wasn’t your fault. It was just the way things were meant to be. Don’t ever blame yourself.”

“How Rose? How are you here?” Claude pulled away from her slowly. “We buried you today, Rose. This just can’t be!” He cried.
She studied the fear and confusion in his eyes. “Don’t be afraid Claude,” she urged. “I’m not here to harm you.”

Claude watched her curiously. “There’s a better life waiting on the other side, Claude,” Rose whispered. “I’ve seen it, and it’s a wonderful place.” Her words had a tone of pure happiness. Then suddenly, her expression changed, her gentle smile faded to sadness and fear. “But I can’t rest there, Claude,” she said sorrowfully. “Not unless I know that you will join me someday.”

“What do you want me to do, Rose?” Claude finally managed to ask.
“You’re a good man, Claude Bivens,” she said freely. “You’ve got a kind heart, and a winning way with people.” She paused. “I want you to quit drinkin’, Claude.”

“Rose!” he started to protest.
“Shss,” she whispered. And placed a cold finger across his lips. “You must, Claude. I can’t go on till you promise me that you will stop.” He looked into her eyes. They were just as beautiful as they had always been. How could he refuse her?
“OK, Rose. I promise,” he finally sighed.

“Will you hold me one last time?” She asked tenderly.
“That would be the answer to my prayers, Rose,” Claude said as he pulled her to him.
She lay beside him on the bed and he held her cold body tightly in his arms. It felt so good to have her here. They lay silently for several long minutes. “You were pregnant, Rose,” Claude finally whispered softly into her ear.

He could feel her smile.

“Yes, Claude, I know,” Rose replied happily and shifted closer to him. “It’s a son, Claude. We have a beautiful and wonderful son. And he’s waiting on you too.”
“I love you, Rose,” Claude said.
“And I love you, Claude.”

Claude peacefully drifted off to sleep.

When he woke, he snapped open his eyes, but Rose was gone. On the nightstand beside the bed lay her worn and soiled bible. He snatched it up and run outside to the truck. The snow was falling again, and a thin blanket covered the ground. He started the engine of the Ford and headed to the cemetery.

The parking lot was empty when he whipped the truck to a stop. He turned off the engine and got out slowly. Holding the bible, he walked to the grave behind the church. Protruding from the fresh snow was two white winter roses in full bloom. He knelt beside the grave and repeated his pledge to Rose. He asked God to forgive him for all his sins and rejoiced in the peace he felt.

Claude kept his promise to Rose and never took another drink. His testimony in church the following Sunday filled the crowd with tears and the church with the Holy Spirit. Claude went on to become a popular preacher and held hundreds of tent revivals throughout the Appalachia hills. His commitment to God and his love for Rose helped him lead thousands of souls to Christ. He never remarried and died peacefully in his sleep in 1962. They buried him beside his Rose.

The End
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