On the ride home, Dawn’s face strangely reminded Jack of his time in field triage. Trying not to think of such things Jack concentrated on the warm May wind sailing through Dawn’s long brown hair.
Shortly Dawn rocketed her attention towards a small grassy turnout, shouted for Jack to pull over. Her small voice like shrapnel clipping the air.
Jack took a dirt road hardly large enough for his car.
Cheatgrass. Sage. And something Jack couldn’t identify wafted in lowered windows.
The pathway ended at an overgrown gated entrance, a No Trespassing sign rusting away.
Jack squinted through his abraded windshield and saw smoke and fire and broken scattered buildings in the hazy headlight glare. Discarded bodies, screaming everywhere.
This is the spot Dawn said uprooting Jack.
Jack sighed, said Thanks, removed his tactical Maglite from his Search and Rescue Pack.
Dawn took it and traipsed ahead with her shoeless feet as another world slipped by.
Jack worried Dawn might break a toe on a tree root or jamb one on a jagged rock. There would be blood, Jack’s hands clasping Dawn’s wounded foot, dressing it with his bandages. Something almost not worth it.
Jack and Dawn came to an impenetrable bramble.
Jack looked down at his waterproof watch. It had only been three of four minutes, not the fifteen or twenty he imagined.
Dawn tiptoed on her undamaged toes. Beamed Jack’s LED through a portal within the intertwined branches.
A small unlit cabin came into view.
Jack saw broken window glass, chartreuse lichen on a sagging roof.
Jack said nothing except Huh, an old cabin. His mind was elsewhere.
Truth was, Jack hated giving up. But all he wanted was for him and Dawn to return to his car. He’d have to make up some lame excuse, drop Dawn off early, go home and see if he could sleep without waking at two in the morning. Bad dreams. Drenched in sweat in someplace foreign. Again.
Jack opened his mouth in protest.
Dawn stepped between Jack and his line of sight of the dingy cabin. Now Jack imagined a ragged boy running towards him squalling in a language he knew but couldn’t understand.
Stop it Jack told Dawn.
And Dawn said Yeah or something like that. Shined the light towards the stars, neither smiling nor grimacing at Jack. Jack and Dawn’s faces illuminated in a conjoined circle against the darkness. Their pale noses framed in halos of soft, translucent red.
Dawn, lowering the flashlight, said This is where it happened, then dropped his flashlight to the ground. Jack and Dawn watched the world go dark.
Dawn said Jack and clasped Jack’s cold fingertips.
Jack thought Dawn was going to ask him about his time in the Army. Then Dawn let go of his fingers as suddenly as she had grasped them.
Jack shook his hand at the bulleted black scrim sky.
It’s dark, he said.
My father, Dawn interrupted. I was fifteen.