The snow was about six inches deep.
I started the engine, letting the car warm-up while I brushed snow from the windows, the roof, and the hood. Other than my own, there were no tracks in the snow, not up the steps of the back patio, not up to the French doors. It lay white and undisturbed over the entire length of the lawn.
I began to think I was losing my mind.
As I stood there, waiting for the car to warm, my thoughts returned to the grave. Did snow cover it now? If it was buried, calm beneath this new blanket of white, would that mean that I had dreamed the entire thing, that I was going nuts? But if the grave was disturbed, if there were signs that something had clawed its way out, would that make me feel any better?
So in the end, I simply decided not to look.
Before I re-entered the house, I weighed my options.
The most reasonable thing was to get Denise to a hospital. Maybe I didn’t have to tell them anything that I had seen, or what I suspected. Maybe I could just tell them I woke up to find my wife spitting up blood, and let the machinery take over.
But none of this was reasonable, and I doubted reasonable responses could handle the problem. If what I now believed was true, what guarantee did I have that Denise would be safe in any hospital? Somewhere in the night I had been dragged across an invisible line into frightening new territory, and I no longer trusted my ability to make sound decisions there. In this new world, this realm of shadows, I didn’t know any of the rules. Maybe, there were no rules any more.
In the end, I wasn’t certain whether I was more frightened by the notion of the dead menacing the living, or the fact that I had no idea what to do about it, how to react.
With uncertain steps, I returned to the house. Denise had lapsed back into unconsciousness, pale as the snow out in the yard. I would have carried her out if I trusted my feet on the icy steps of the back patio, but I didn’t. Instead, I roused her as gently as I could.
“C’mon, sweetie. We’ve got to go.” I put my arm under her, and helped her up, bearing most of the weight. She started coughing again, raw and hoarse. Blood and foam flecked her lips.
Faltering, half stumbling, we crossed the living room towards the back deck. I ran what little I knew about tuberculosis through my mind. I knew that it destroyed lung tissue, eventually suffocating the victim with his own blood. I knew Doc Holliday had suffered from it. I knew there was no cure. Apart from that, I knew nothing. How contagious it was, how long it took to spread through the lungs, or if it could be treated…these facts remained beyond me.
Stepping out into the morning light, Denise winced, her legs buckling beneath her. I rushed to support her, catching her up in my arms as she shielded her eyes from the weak winter sun.
“…no…no…” She started shaking her head back and forth, suddenly struggling to get away from me and back into the house. Her eyes were screwed shut in pain.
“Denise, please. Just a few more steps to the car…”
She shook her head violently, yanking away from me. “I can’t.”
“Denise…we’ve got to get out of here.” I put my arms around her again, pulling her back out into the daylight.
She gave another shriek, something fragile and brittle, an agonized, high-pitched wheeze. Her hands flailed in front of her face, clawing at the air, and she jerked backwards so hard we both lost our footing. Toppling, we slammed down against the snow-covered stones.
Pain bolted through my right arm and hip, another jolt to the brain. Denise was crawling back through the doorway, finally collapsing into a motionless pile of clothes and flesh. I forced myself up after her, feeling her throat for a pulse. It was there, but weak. Blood was trickling from her mouth.
In a bare moment of helplessness, the morning caught me. I screwed my eyes shut and did something I had not done since my parents died.
It fell like a summer shower, and passed nearly as fast. Yet sobbing had released something from me. The fear wasn’t gone, but it had lessened. A calm was settling over me.
And in a moment of perfect clarity, I realized I couldn’t do this by myself.