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The deer’s back appeared broken and her eyes were wide and filmy. Her tongue stuck out of the side of her mouth, ringed with dried foam and blood. Jack Tabor imagined the small doe died of thirst mere inches from the water gently lapping next to her head. Had she dragged herself all the way here, inching her life away as she tried to escape the pain of her injuries?

How long does it take to die? The question rippled through his mind, unbidden, as it had so often since he had been lying in his own pool of blood, six months ago.

Limping along the side of the road this morning should have been good therapy, if only the walk could have quieted his mind as well.

He grimaced with each step, teeth gritting slightly. Six months ago, he had thought he would never walk again, thought the hand holding the cane would never work again, so he didn’t begrudge the pain. He was old friends with the pain.

He forced himself to walk on past the doe.

Although this was his first view of Rainbow Lake in the daylight, the first time he had walked this road along the shore, the rubber tip of his cane was already beginning to show signs of wear from the gravel chewing at it every time he put his weight down.

The sun coming over the green manicured mountains of Rainbow County reflected off the lake and made him squint. Neat rows of grapevines, the hallmark of California’s wine country, latticed the sides of the mountains surrounding the lake. The tidy green rows were sullied by the rundown houses and trailer parks lining the valley highway.

He could feel the dead eyes of the doe behind him trying to get his attention.

How long does it take to die?

The sound of popping gravel caught his attention. He looked up to see an old Ford truck driving towards him. The driver raised two fingers off the steering wheel in greeting as he passed. Jack nodded back solemnly. So far, the people out here seemed nice. Maybe he could get used to a small town. Maybe he would even want to stay here—as much as he would want to stay anywhere.

He tried to admire the sunlight playing on the fog bank floating in the center of the lake like a misty island. Even the stillness of the water and the birds lazily circling the mist couldn’t calm his soul.

How long does it take to die?

He turned around and headed back to his uncle’s farm. Once these thoughts started, they cascaded uncontrollably.

He avoided looking at the doe again, as he walked by, but the doe’s eyes were calling to him, pleading.

He felt his knees buckle as he looked into her pleading eyes once again. He couldn’t pull his gaze away. They were so much like her eyes; pleading.

His hand shook violently on the cane.

Please, Daddy, help me…