It was my dog Plato that coaxed the shadow out from the depths of a dark, dense army of evergreen trees and into the flickering light of the bonfire.
Plato barked and whined with excitement but his tail also slowly wagged in a grand swishing movement, and I said quietly, “OK.” Plato took a few tentative steps, nose thrust forward, and someone emerged, hand first for the dog to sniff, like a child who’d been taught to do so by a careful parent.
It was a child who stepped forward. Young, with long hair like a girl, but scruffy, thin, and ragged. Plato sniffed, and then licked her hand. She lifted her head and looked at me with a blank, dead expression. It startled and confused me. Where was the curiosity, the relief, the fear— all the emotions I felt?
“He’s gentle,” I said to the girl. “You can pet him if you want.”
She fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and put her arms around Plato. He didn’t like hugs, but only squirmed a little.
“What’s your name?” I asked, as Plato had a quick taste of her cheek with his tongue.
“I don’t know,” she said. She stood again, and took a step backward.
“Would you like a hot dog?” I asked her.
She nodded and I went to the small table I’d set up beside the fire, where there was a cold, roasted hotdog, and some fresh ones that might take a few minutes to heat up. I figured she didn’t want to wait, so I gave her the cold, roasted one. She turned her back and ate it. I guess she ate it quickly and greedily. Someone taught this kid both manners and dog protocol. Who? I buttered a couple of hot dog buns and gave them to her, too.
“Where are you from?”
“I don’t know.”
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you travelled far?” I asked. “Never mind, don’t answer.”
She slept in the tent with Plato, while I lay by the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag set on a thin foam mattress, and watched the stars move across the sky. I thought about how they still moved across the sky, even though life had all but ended on Earth, and about how they must have moved across the sky before the first squiggle of life struggled into being.
The following morning we walked to the mall, where we picked out some jeans and shirts and sweaters, a coat with a hood (age 9-11 seemed to fit her best), toiletries, a carry-bag, and other necessities, then she cleaned up, and a fresh, clean, nameless child with shiny black hair walked back to the camp with Plato and me. She never spoke unless I asked her a question. So I asked her questions, though she had few answers, and got upset and frustrated. I realized it might take some time. It had taken me and Plato a bit of time to get used to the plague and everyone gone and being alone, too.
“You still can’t remember your name?” I asked.
She hesitated. “Folly.”
She looked at me in silent despair. “I don’t know. I think so.”
“OK,” I said. “Would you like to come with us to the Grand Canyon?”
And so we all three crammed into the front of the red 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, Plato partly in her lap, and hit the open highway again. It wasn’t until we stopped at one of those gas station pantries to use the toilet and pick up some Cheezies and Snapple, that I idly looked at the big map and spotted a little town about seven miles from where we’d camped in the woods behind the big mall. The town was called Chandler’s Folly.
I decided to change our plans. The Grand Canyon wasn’t going anywhere.
- Image credit
- Original prompt: Folly, September 16, 2017.