Until Dawn

By D. Paul Fonseca 

        The sun fled slowly into the west, sinking in its attempt to leave the day behind.  I followed it down the highway towards my uncle’s place just beyond the desert. He’d given me directions to cut north on Zzyzx Road, to take the old Arrowhead dirt trail, and up through the mountain range to get to Kern County. Zzyzx meets a service road there, and it could cut two hours off my drive, if my uncle Randy was correct, and if I could stomach all the dirt and sand.

        Dust covered my dash from leaving windows open all night at the last motel I had stayed in.  Las Vegas, what a place! I’d had my fill of thrills and just wanted to get back to the world.

        Owning an old International Scout had not been all I had expected.  It isn’t really a car and it’s not a truck either. I’d have to say that the Scout was one of the original sport utility vehicles. It has been a lot of work to keep up. But, at least my ‘67 worth it. She was a beautiful beast and I babied her to no end.  

        Nonetheless, I realized I would have to find somewhere to stay the night. I could hardly keep my eyes open. As I drove, I found the road devoid of gas stations, devoid of anything, really. Only dirt, sand, and cactus surrounded me for miles. In fact, even the cactus was scarce. There was no way I was going to reach the mountains by nightfall. I’d also driven too far from the last city to consider making a U-turn.  Finally, I had to admit to myself that I had left too late and drank too much this afternoon.  By the time I had sobered up my body felt ready to sleep.

        But here I was, driving nonetheless. 

        A glance at the gas meter told me I had two strikes against me. I needed to put some gas in the tank, and soon.  The situation looked pretty grim, but I drove on thinking I would find something.  That’s the strange thing about driving in the desert. It sounds like a fun drive, but only for people who make good plans. I’d always kept a spare tank of gas on the back of my Scout.  That was one of the benefits of owning this beast. But when I’d arrived in Vegas a week ago, some schmuck had stolen the tank right off my vehicle. Whoever that was, they cut the lock right off. I couldn’t find a replacement in town and be so tired… That false sense of security smacked me in the face when I remembered and realized I was driving without that extra gas. How I was going to make it to California City was anybody’s guess.

        I kept scanning the horizon. Nothing. Nobody drove behind me. And nobody passed me up. Was I alone out here? I couldn’t be the only one driving this road, could I?

        The sun had reached the mountains and dimmed the sky. I could never understand how anybody sane could set up a business out in the middle of the desert.  But then again, now I really hoped somebody had.  Feeling nervous, I put a cassette in the stereo to relax.  I had recorded the tape a few days before my road trip. It had a lot of Love and Rockets and The Cure but it also had a couple of cuts from my own band, Etcetera.  The Love and Rockets song “Holiday on the Moon” began and soon I relaxed and rode along with my head swaying in time with the beat.  Music always made me feel better about anything and everything.  If my house had caught fire and destroyed all I owned I could write a song that could cheer me up and give me the strength to be my old self again. I don’t want to be too dramatic here, but I felt like I was about to need that level of comfort.

        I checked my gas gauge again.  Almost empty. I glanced at myself in the mirror. Boy did I ever look nervous! I’d hoped or rather prayed really, to see something human soon.         The sun had gone home for the day and a cold wind came blowing hard through the desert.  Hazy orange and yellow debris filled the sky.  Dark blue skies still showed in the east but soon lost itself in the night.  Bits of plants wafted across the road in front of me.  Side one of my tape was ending and I stopped it prematurely taking it out.

        The highway seemed to go on forever, never changing.   It was eerie in a sarcastic kind of way.  I knew that my mind was toying with me just because I was nervous but just then a shadow appeared up ahead.  There was just enough light in the sky for me to make out the shape of a small house.  It didn’t seem very big, at least it didn’t look big from where I was.

        I put the tape back in on the B-side.  I heard the laughter of my friend Rod.  “Better stop dropping your sticks …” Nice

Then I heard my own voice saying, “One, two...” in a melancholy manner, then the music started.  It sounded good, I have to say.  I was always surprised at how good we sounded on tape, so mellow.  The tune was full and mellow with an electric edge and real drums, and it was easy to get lost in that sound. It reminded me of old Cure stuff.

        As I neared the house, I could see that it wasn’t an illusion after all.  The small building, two stories high, reminded me of the home where I had grown up in the back hills of Virginia.  I’d slowed down as I passed the house by, just to get a better look at it.  It felt so familiar.  It looked as though no one lived in it, so I hadn’t really considered stopping.  When I passed by, I saw something moving the curtains in the front window.  I stepped down on my brakes and slowed way down to make a U-turn.  Instead.  I just stopped the car and looked back at the window.  

        An older woman walked out onto the porch. She looked older to me anyway, at least my mother’s age, me being only twenty-three.  She wore a conservative blue dress. In her hand, she held a candlestick on a holder. Her free hand took the glass off the lantern on the porch wall.  She lit it and replaced the glass and then turned to look at me. She smiled with kind eyes and gave off a gentle air about her.  I felt warm inside like I knew her from somewhere before. Like someone so familiar, and I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d known her from. 

        She motioned with her hand for me to come closer.  So I turned around and parked next to the house.  

        Night had fallen quickly.  I should have left but curiosity overwhelmed me.  Sand crunched beneath my feet as I shut the door to my car and walked up to the front of the house.  The woman was sitting on a chair on the porch when I reached the steps.  There were three wooden steps and a foot of sand between me and the house.  

        “Hello,”  I said to her.  “My name’s Paul.  Do you know … I mean is there a gas station around here anywhere?  Or is there a place I can stay for the evening?”   

        She smiled again and said, “We don’t get many visitors around here anymore. You’re the first person to come by here in a long time.” She stood up and looked down the road towards the west.  A thin line of brilliant orange and red ran across distant mountains on the horizon glimmering with an ever-fading thread of daylight ready to wink out until the morning.  

        She continued. “There’s a gas station about 20 miles down that way.  But if you want we’d be happy to put you up for the night. You look tired. Are you all right?”

        She disarmed me with her eyes. Every sensibility had left me and I felt drawn to her request, beyond my own comprehension. I looked the house over again, reevaluating it as lodging. It looked all right. I didn’t have many other options. On the surface, the house was not at all appealing. However, the longer I looked across the porch at the old woman, the more her eyes pleaded with me. The house presented a warm and inviting place to stay anyway. I was seriously going to consider her request.  “We?” I inquired.  

        Oh, yes... My husband is due to be home any time now.  He works in the mine, Lotgrave Mine. Takes him two hours to get home, but he should be along soon. Besides, my daughter, Allie, is making dinner already. There’s plenty!  We’d be happy to have you here.  Like I said, we just don't’ get a lot of company coming by here.” She walked over to the front door.  

        Against my better judgment, I could feel myself walking into a real live joke from my freshman days. I smiled, nodded, and stepped forward. I just hoped this wasn’t a farmer’s daughter scenario.

        “Well, that sounds like an offer I just can’t refuse.” I smiled back at her and took a step up onto the porch.  At that moment with one foot on the dirt and the other on the hollow wooden stair tread, I felt the oddest sensation almost like an electric shock running through my toes to the tips of my fingers. A cold feeling grazed my stomach: Fear. It surprised me, but I shook it off.

        The woman was just beaming at me.  She said, “Oh excuse me, I’m so sorry I almost forgot to introduce myself.  I’m Ana. Ana Holtry.”  She said, her eyes fixed boldly on me as she extended her right hand.  

        I took her warm, soft hand and shook it meekly as I stood, from the middle of the steps. “Paul Stephens.  It’s a pleasure meeting you.”  

        She nodded. Her smile was contagious. I could tell she was happy to have me there. I felt honored, really. That welling of warmth projected at me from her eyes. Then she turned back around and we headed inside the door.  

        Inside the house, the charm of the home really came through. A fire burned hot in the fireplace, just inside the living room.  The walls were painted a pleasant shade of green.  Not that sickly putrid green which is often found in retirement homes, but a soft, light sky green, if there were such a color.  It went well with the furnishings in the house.  Most of that was a lightly toned brown, and natural wood accents.  I guessed there was no electricity since the house was lit completely by candlelight.  

        Ana led me down a hallway. The simple structure had a coziness about it.  We passed a doorway that looked like the entrance to a very small library, more or less a closet with bookshelves lining it.  The door to it was open and I could see a few open books on the floor. I wondered who among the three of them read so much.

        We entered a small room with a table and four chairs.  There were two windows in this room.  They were perpendicular to each other as this room was on the corner of the house.  There was also a small door leading outside to the backyard of the house. Opposite that exterior door was an open doorway and a delicious aroma carried through it.  I peeked inside and saw a young woman chopping vegetables on a board at the counter. Ana’s daughter was hard at work preparing something which looked beautiful and the dinner smelled delightful.

        “This is Mr. Stephens,” Ana said.  “He’ll be joining us for dinner tonight.  He’s been traveling a good while.  He’s hungry as they come, and it seems he’s about out of gas.” Ana’s face appeared less sincere as she said this to her daughter. But, I decided it was my imagination.

        “Mr. Stephens, this is my daughter, Allie.”

For the moment, I couldn’t see the girl’s face very well.  The light from the candles did their best to hide her features from me.  All I could make out was her pleasant silhouette. She stood about five foot two, with a very slight build. In the shadows, I made out a heart-shaped face, with high cheekbones and beautiful, full, shoulder-long hair. 

        “Hello,” I said.

        “Hello. How do you do?” She replied, bowing her head slightly, with a large knife in her hand. “How long will you be staying with us, Mr. Stephens?”

        “I do well,” I said.  “I’m only here for tonight,” I answered her.  I felt like it was the wrong answer.

        “Oh. Well… too bad,” she said.  “Maybe you might stay longer if you like the food?”

        I could see her smiling at me, and then she turned back to her mother and said something I could not hear.

        “Well. I have some business to attend to, down in Kern County, but it’s flexible.”  I didn’t understand why I’d said that, but something about this girl just drew me in.  Something about this place begged me to stay longer.

        The girl seemed nice enough.  I wondered what she looked like in the daylight.  Her voice sounded sweet, a woman’s voice for sure, but her age eluded me.  I began wondering how old she might be.  She continued her work and said I could sit down if I wanted, and offered me a stool to sit on. So, I did.

        We talked for a while. I don’t remember where her mother went off to, but she had left us to get acquainted.  The girl and I talked about the weather and the desert, small talk.  Then dinner was ready.

        She called her mother and we ate.  Her father still hadn’t returned from work.  I asked about him and Ana said he worked so far that he sometimes just stayed up there if he was too tired to drive back.

        “I know the feeling,” I responded. “No phone?” I asked.

Ana shook her head as she chewed her food.

        Over dinner, I had the opportunity to get a better look at Allie.  Her fair complexion, dark hair and brown eyes were captivating.  She smiled a lot during dinner but did not say anything more.  I’d had two filling helpings of the vegetable stew she’d made.  It was delicious.  Most of the dinner had been eaten in silence until I noticed that the girl had her eyes on every move I made.  She was trying to hide it, but I could tell.  She kept her head tilted forwards so I couldn’t see her eyes very easily.

        The candlelight was dimming and flickered a lot, so it became even harder to see her face.  Suddenly, she broke the silence.  “You haven’t really asked anything about me. Don’t you want to know about your hosts? It’s hard to believe you’re so quiet. Mother always said to watch out for the quiet ones.”

        Ana shot Allie a glance. Allie sighed. Then she continued. “Would you like to see my paintings?”  She got excited and her eyes became animated when she spoke.  “I’ve been painting since I was a little girl.” A smile crept up to her lips and shown nicely under the soft glow of the candle.  Her charm was working its magic on me.  

        Needless to say, I felt pretty stupid at that moment.  I began thinking of how as I child I had always forgotten my manners about such things.  I thought of how my little sister, Tara, had acted like Ali, pointing out all my mistakes and flaws.  It bothered me a little, but then at least I always knew when I made a mistake.  This time it wasn’t Tara though.  This time it was Ali.

        I think I blushed.  I can’t remember right now, but I probably did something like that.  I wiped my mouth with my napkin and stood up with my hand extended.  She took my hand and shook it as I apologized for being an imbecile.  Her hand was cold, soft, and delicate.  Quickly she withdrew it and stood up herself, smiling back at me.  She had this infectious little smile which easily captivated me.  

        As I let her hand go, I just stood there, my eyes fixed on hers, looking her over from head to toe.  Was she for real?  The thought crossed my mind and for a second, I wondered if I might be dreaming.  Oh god, was I asleep at the wheel?  

        “Let’s go,” she said.  “I just wanted to get you to say something to me.”  

        Ana smiled at us and said to us as we went, “I’ll get the dishes.”

        Allie took my hand and led me down the same hall past the book nook.  The same books, still lying on the floor, looked very curious.  This time we took a turn that I hadn’t seen before. I hated it when I missed small details.  The whole while we walked, her cool embrace tingled.  I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise up.  

        We passed another open doorway.  This one had a couch and a couple of chairs in it.  They all looked pretty much antique to me.  I like that kind of furniture. It reminded me of the way my grandparents’ house was, filled with lots of antiques.  The room was small, however.  And that was about all that was in it.  We passed it by and turned to face a steep staircase.  Too steep, if you ask me.  But I guessed that in a house this small, that was the only way to fit stairs in.  Otherwise, I might just be a ladder.  

        Still holding my hand, she stopped and stared out a window.  Feeling the connection in her embrace, the delicate nature of her touch, I knew that I wanted to remember this feeling, this moment. The peace, the calm, the way her eyes reflected the gentle glow of the candles on the walls as she gazed out across the darkened desert landscape. Who was this girl, I mean, really? A familiar feeling swept through me just then and I could feel it building from the pit of my stomach to the tops of my shoulders and down to my fingertips.  I was falling in love with this girl.  

        As she looked out into that darkness, her face bore the look of loneliness.  Without ever looking back at me, she turned and led me up the stairs and into a small dusty room.  The smell of paint was in the air, oil paint.  Two rows of large stretched canvas leaned against the wall to the right of me as we entered the space.  A door sized window let in the moonlight from the wall opposite the door.  The room showed the house’s true age at a glance.  I had thought it was old, from the outside, but this was a truly historic sight.  The wooden walls needed sanding and paint, it had splintered support boards so badly cracked I grew concerned about it holding our weight.  To our left stood an easel, upon which a recent painting sat.  Next, to that, a tall stool held up several large yellowing candles.  

        Allie took one of the candles and lit it in the hallway from a wall sconce.  Then she lit the rest of the bunch on the stool and stood back to observe the painting being worked on.  It seemed nearly complete.  The scene was what you could see out the window, but during daylight, the desert road as it crossed between this window and the distant horizon.  You could tell she’d worked on it for some time.  There were so many layers of color on the canvas.  Far down the road to the left as it drew up from the way I had come, was a small black vehicle, the sun glinting off it something fierce.  I leaned over to get a better look.  It almost looked like my Scout. It was hard to tell in the candlelight, but then that was just crazy thinking.  It was a painting, not a photograph and surely just a coincidence.  

        Black car.  Not the best choice of color for a car in the desert.  I figured that out the day before when I had first entered the desert just North-West of Death Valley.  Ten or fifteen minutes into the desert and I had to stop to put the top up.  I couldn’t tell if it was hotter or cooler, but at least my skin stopped burning.  The car became one big solar cell.  

        Allie’s hands pressed against the window before her, giving the impression of a prisoner taking a private moment to dream about the stars as they shined down on her.  I made another attempt at guessing her age.  Maybe she was nineteen.  Seemed about right, but her expressions bore the look of someone who had lived a thousand years.  She wore a simple dress, made of thin gray cloth with a pink belt made of the same material.  Her petite frame, so slight, suggested youth.  Maybe it was the way she tapped her toes against the floor as though she had a pleasant melody in her head, but it compelled me to move in closer to her.  I don’t think she knew I was watching her, for when I stepped towards her, she jumped and spun around with her eyes wide

        “Don’t do that!”  She said in a loud whisper.  “You startled me.  She came to me with open arms and embraced me.  “I want to go away from here” she sobbed.  “Why is it so hard to get away?”

        I didn’t know what to say. There I stood, in a house in the middle of nowhere with a girl I didn’t even know crying in my arms. One thing I was certain of, however, if love, at first sight, were possible, I know I loved her then. Where the feeling came from, I will never know, but god help me, I loved her.

        She didn’t say anything more the rest of the night.  I sat leaning against a wall in that room as she lay her head in my lap with my arms around her. We remained embraced like that all night until we had fallen asleep.  

        In the morning, I woke before the sun rose.  I had to be on my way before the burning sun came up.  I remembered from the day before, the guy on the radio said the desert heat would get up to about 122 degrees. As I moved her gently so I could get up, she woke.  She sat up and looked outside.  

        Sadness once again filled her eyes.  “You’re leaving, aren’t you?” She asked.

        “I should leave before that sun gets up there and the heat becomes unbearable,” I told her. “I’m sorry.” I stood up feeling a pain run through my throat and misery pulled at my limbs.  What was I doing?  I stood up and headed toward the door.

        “Wait!  Are you coming back?” The pain in her eyes penetrated my soul in a way I was not prepared for.  I’d only just met her, and the emotions running through me had all the relevance of an eternal love.  I was torn between getting on my way, and never leaving at all.  

        “I’d like to come back if you want me to.  I will.  I mean, I’d like that.”  

        “Tonight?”  Her timid voice sounded desperate, nearly like panic.  

        “All right.”

        She stood up and threw her arms around me, pulling her body so close to me that I could feel the rhythm of her breathing and the beating of her heart, strong against my chest.  The smell of lavender hung in the air as her hair caressed my cheek.  “Thank you,” she said.  It sounded as though she’d waited years for me to say that.

        Three miles down the road, not twenty, I found the gas station.  It was lonely, dusty and all but abandoned.  The sun wasn’t up yet.  The sky was a dead, pale grey above me. An old glass-walled phone booth stood on the far side of the station.  Beyond it, a decaying heap of automobile rusted to permanence where it lay.  I don’t think the owner wanted to bother with removing it.  

        Under the lightweight carports were four gas pumps.  I pulled up to the third.  As I got out of my car, I heard a noise.  A radio echoed from the attendant’s office. It was only then I noticed that I hadn’t even turned on my own radio since I left that house.  I had been too absorbed with thoughts of Allie to even put on some music.  

        The attendant came out and walked over to where I’d parked.  “Hiyas,” the young man said. “What are you doing way out here in these parts?”  

        “Just going to visit some relatives.”  I lied.  I don’t know why I lied, but I felt like I had lost my way.   I just didn’t want to say anything to anyone about my business.  

        “You must have a lot of driving to do, Mister.  There ain’t nothin’ around here for at least fifty miles.”  

        I looked at him, smiling.  I nodded, and then said, “Except for that house back there, you mean.  Back that way.”  I pointed back to where I’d come from.  The smile on the young man continued but adopted a shade of blank stare in his grin.  I asked him directly, “Do you know those people?  I mean, you must know Allie, anyway.”  I got up and began to get the gas pump and he gestured to let him take over.  

        As he pumped the gas, he said to me, “Mister, I’ve lived here all my life and I ain't seen no house back that way,” he pointed back the way I’d come, “or the other.” He pointed west, toward the coast.  

        The gently sloping hills surrounding us were stark, bald and a light wheat color from both the ground and the short, dead grasses which lay sideways. It didn’t feel right, what this man said. He had to be wrong. Maybe he just hadn’t been out and about down the same road. This couldn’t be true, what he said. No way.  

        He cocked his head, like a Labrador, and asked me, “Are you talking ‘bout the town back north of here? You know... Benz Creek?”  He paused, then said, “It’s funny they call it that still cause the creeks been dried up for at least a hundred years.  I was born there, ya know.”  

        I looked north and in the distance, grey clouds hovered over a dark patch of earth, miles away, way past the low, sloping hills.  “No, it’s back that way.” I pointed again.  “It’s the Holtry residence.” I looked over at the glass phone booth, curious and feeling a little crazy.  “Does your phone work over there?” I pointed at the booth.  

        “Sure does, Mister.”

        “Good.  How much do I owe you?”  

        “That’ll be thirty-seven fifty-three, sir” He held out his hand.  

        I handed him the money as I put the cap on the tank and turned it shut.  “Thank you very much.”

        I walked to the phone to call my uncle.  When he picked up, I was distracted by my emotions, still thinking of Allie.  Just as well, my uncle was in a hurry to get off the phone.  He said he’d been called into work unexpectedly. He worked at a factory that made small plastic animals which bartenders hang on the sides of fruity cocktails. He said tomorrow might be better for a visit.  I eagerly agreed and hung up.   

        Back in the car, I sat down and watched the sun come up. The glorious colors of the desert sunrise are something to be revered. If there was a god, he certainly did a fine job with that. When the show was over, I decided to just go back to Ali’s.  So I turned the car around and drove back towards her house.  

        I drove for at least ten miles and never saw the house pass by.  It didn’t make sense.  I turned off the road and stopped by a tree which looked familiar.  Seemed like the one which stood out in front of her house.  Sure enough, there were my tire tracks and my own footprints leading off to nowhere. They stopped dead where they lay in the dirt.

        “What the hell?” I got out of the Scout.

        I leaned against the hood of my vehicle and scratched my head.  The wind blew a warm breeze across the desert at me.  I let out a sigh and shook my head.  Putting my hand down on the hood of my Scout, I jumped at how warm it was.  The sun had already started working its magic on heating up the black metal hood. The desert was certainly a mystery to me.  The wind on my face was warm.  For a moment, I felt as if Ali had been right there with me.  It just didn’t make sense.  I decided to walk around and see if my mind was completely gone.  

        The sand crunched beneath my feet as I wandered around.  From the corner of my eye, I saw something.  I saw it for only a moment.  A silver figure of a woman, a young woman.  Allie! I ran to where I saw her and embraced only a gentle whirlwind.  I knew she’d been there.  I could feel her.  I could smell the sweet honey Lavender scent of her hair.  

        Down at my feet, the corner of small 8”x 10” canvas poked up through the sand.  I pulled up and shook out the grains of granite, dusting it off.  It was one of Ali’s paintings, for sure. But the painting was aged. The image on it had eroded away from the sun and wind, making it brittle and vulnerable to decay. Thought it was difficult to make out, it was a painting of the sunset and the house with my car parked next to it.  I knew I wasn’t crazy!  Either that or I’d gone so far off the deep end, I wasn’t coming back.  

        I jumped into my car and raced back to the gas station to tell the attendant what had happened.  When I got there, a sign on the door to the office said, “Refrigerator gone bad.  Gone to Benz Creek for lunch and a new fridge.  Be back later, Signed Jesse.  P.S.  If you need gas, the key is on the counter. Leave your money and the key next to the register.”  

        Terrific.  I didn’t know what else to do so I stayed around the gas station office until nightfall. Jesse never did come back.  

        Around seven, after I had read all the outdated magazines and counted all the bottles on the shelf behind the counter, I fell asleep.  I woke up in my car just before dawn.  I thought about what had happened the day before.  Ali had told me to be there for dinner!   Boy, was I ever late!

        I almost flooded the engine getting down to where the tree-er... the house was.  As I drew near, there was a sudden shift in the landscape.  Things were not exactly the same one moment to the next. But the house was there!

        I slowed the car and looked down to my passenger seat at the painting next to me.  In the dim grey light, I looked back at the house as I got closer.  I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop.  

        Just at that moment, the sun’s light breached the peaks of the distant horizon.  I got out and stood before the house with mixed emotions.  My heart was pounding, my mind raced and I had stopped breathing altogether.  I had to remember to inhale and when I did, I nearly choked.  My mouth had gone dry.  The atmosphere was electric.  I could smell the charge hanging in the air and the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms had begun to tingle and stand on end.  Common sense told me it couldn’t be there but my love for Allie said it was all very real.

        The house, mere steps from me, seemed the same as when I first saw it.  I walked on shaky legs over to the patio steps.  I hesitated, wondering if my grip on reality had left, and did I care?

        It was then that I reached out to touch the old wooden railing and held it firm in my grip.  Then the small curtain over the window in the door swept aside and I saw Allie’s face. She looked at me.  For a brief moment, her face warmed and she smiled at me, that smile which told me everything. It told me I was home. It told me who I was to her and it gave me such a firm and real purpose in this life. Her hands went up to the glass as though to touch me, to greet me and bring me home to her.  Then suddenly, tears fell from her eyes.  Her face lost its composure and sorrow replaced that joy.  

        The shadow of the mountain behind me still covered the house. Pulling on the railing to rush up into her arms, I reached to step up.  “Stop!” She yelled at me.  Then she pointed at the sun as if to tell me to look at it.  I did, for just a moment, and when I looked back at her, she had somehow managed to come out and sit before me on the middle stair.  But, she was different.  She’d changed.  Everything about her, and everything about the house... had become translucent.  I saw the tree behind the house, vaguely through the structure.  I could just make out the form of her mother, Ana, sitting in the kitchen in a chair and reading a book.  

        “What’s happening?”  I shouted.  I reached to touch her hand as she reached for mine.  Our hands passed through one another.  As it happened, I felt her, not her body, not her soft skin, but I could feel her true self, her soul.  I felt my foot give way beneath the stair tread and I fell to the ground, confused.  My knees dug into the sand. I sat up and faced her.  My eyes met hers as we reached for each other’s hands once again.  As the sun came up, she faded into the morning.  The house around her did the same, growing less and less real with every moment.  I shouted her name, “Allie!”  I was in a panic.  “Allie, don’t go!”  

        Allie’s tears dropped from her cheeks, hitting the sand and stone on the earth beneath her.  

        I asked her, “Will I see you again?”  

        “I don’t know.”  She was crying so hard; her face was red and her eyes had rings around them.  The sky grew brighter and her form became ethereal. “Come back, Paul. Keep coming back.”  She closed her eyes as her body sagged onto the porch. She hugged her knees as she sat, devastated, as though she’d regretted some great decision. “I will be here, somewhere.  Come back for me.”  She looked up at me.  Her eyes had turned black and gorged with sorrow.  “I love you.”  The last beam of sunlight erased the very last trace of the home on the sand.  not even a splinter remained of the old cottage.  I looked down at the sand where she had sat, saying goodbye.  On the ground was a flat, grey, granite rock.  Two dark spots stood out against the stone. I put my fingers to them and wiped away her tears.  

        I returned to that spot every morning, afternoon, and night for over three months, camping there for weeks straight and then every year on the anniversary of our meeting until I just couldn’t go through it anymore. The pain was too much to bear, and I never saw her again.  Now I know why she cried.  Now I know why she hurt.  Now the hurt was my own.   

Until Dawn House

Allie's House in the desert. 

© 1982-2019 Mayachrome Press & D. Paul Fonseca

Photo, courtesy of Pixabay.com 

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