By Jeremiah Blane Kniola
From behind a thicket of perennial grass, seventeen-year-old Rosalyn Fowler eyes a rabbit as he hops towards her snare. A notched stake holds a sapling bent in place; the bark splintered at the curve from the tension of the angle. Stems are piled carefully into a teepee on the opposite side of the looped twine; food to draw the rabbit’s attention.
Beneath her breath, Rosalyn encourages him forward, praying the snare doesn’t accidentally set off and scare him away. The rabbits big, maybe four pounds, with spotted brown-white fur and long ears sticking up from its head. More meat than Rosalyn has eaten since she arrived at the dunes a month ago. As he hops closer, the rabbit unknowingly slips his head through the noose, but pauses momentarily, as if instinct has warned him of danger. “Come on, don’t stand there,” Rosalyn mumbles beneath her breath.
As she leans forward a branch pops beneath her boot. The rabbit jumps, tugs the knotted twine, and untethers the young tree. The slender trunk catapults back to its natural vertical position, jerks the twine skyward, and jolts the rabbit off his feet, the snap of his neck echoing in the silence. For a moment, his fluffy body swings back and forth, legs kicking the air in a last-ditch effort to hop to safety, before finally running out of nerve.
Rosalyn unties the noose, carries the rabbit by his ears to a clearing in the dunes, and checks the fur for ticks. Once she’s satisfied there are none, she carves two u-shaped cuts around the ankles with her knife—a slightly dull blade with a curved wood handle she stole from her dad—digs her finger beneath the flaps, and tugs off the hide like a parent removing a child’s coat. Fluffs of fur stick to the bloody meat, but Rosalyn’s too impatient to care. Hunger rips through her like a gut shot. Four days have passed since she’s eaten anything but mast. She builds a fire from sedge grass, hacks the meat from the bone, and quarters it into tiny bite-size pieces to roast on a stick. The sulfurous stink of burnt fur does nothing to discourage Rosalyn’s appetite. She keeps her eyes and ears peeled for movement; the smoke liable to attract the rangers’ attention.
Once she’s eaten her fill, Rosalyn relaxes against a log, and watches the sky change from blue to a peach color as the sun lowers behind the cool waters of Lake Michigan. Her dad would’ve been proud of her today. She wishes he could’ve seen her snag that rabbit. He would’ve given her a high-five and said, “That’s my girl.” On the other hand, her mom would’ve scorned her for dirtying her fingernails and clothes. “You don’t want people thinking you’re a hillbilly,” she’d say. Rosalyn didn’t think that was in all together bad thing to be, but her mom was always concerned what others thought about the family, even if what they said was true.
Every summer, Rosalyn’s folks took the family camping at the dunes. They said it was beneficial for her and her siblings to connect with nature, get them out of the house and away from the TV, but the truth was a free vacation was all they could afford, her folks stuck in a financial rut from which they could never climb their way out. Mom spent those weekends sitting around the camp, reading her magazines and complaining about the heat and the bugs, while Dad—who grew up around these parts—trained his offspring how to live off the land. They ate by campfire, slept in tents, and learned survival tactics such as how to purify water, forage for edible plants, hunt and fish. Rosalyn always looked forward to those trips, counting down the winter months, impatient to return to, what she considered was, her place of origin.
When she was seven, Rosalyn jumped at the opportunity to gut a steelhead her dad had caught while fishing off of the East Arm of Little Calumet. He teased her that he didn’t want her hurling breakfast at the sight of blood and tried handed over the duty to her older brothers. Back then, Rosalyn was scrawny and soft-spoken, the runt of the litter, but she picked up the knife and demanded he show her where to cut. Astonished by Rosalyn’s candor, her dad instructed her to insert the tip of the knife beneath the fish’s tail and cut along the belly toward the gills. Rosalyn sliced that steelhead open as easily as a loaf of bread and didn’t flinch a millimeter when blood squirted on her wrist. Her dad spread the abdominal cavity and offered her a spoon to clean out the guts, but Rosalyn stared directly in his eyes and dug her hands into its stomach and pulled out its entrails.
Rosalyn often reflects on those summers while scavenging for driftwood in the evenings. The wood floats listlessly in the lake, pushed forward by the waves, until it finally washes ashore, where it collects in piles and becomes homes for seabirds. As she walks along the shore, Rosalyn selects a few small pieces then collapses onto the sand and carves little figurines out of the scraps with her knife.
She enjoys the concentration of the work, the attention to detail, but it’s the silence of the dunes she enjoys the most. The silence has always soothed her.
* * *
From morning until evening, Rosalyn trounces along the spider web of trails weaving through the hurst of Black Savannahs, across the Mesic sands of the Hoosier Prairie, around the boggy marshlands, and over the windswept dunes, scouting for food. Hunger is always foremost on her mind, gnawing at her from the moment she wakes until she falls asleep. She tries spearing fish in the lake and stealing eggs from nests and sets snares for animals whenever she comes across feeding areas. But hunting proves harder than her dad made it look when she was a girl. Of course, he had more weapons than a dull knife and his wits. What she wouldn’t give for a fishing pole or rifle? Most of the time she has to settle for a pocketful of mast she picks from shrubs or digs from the ground. To preserve her rations, she dehydrates the fruits and plants on rocks where there is plenty of sunlight. Sometimes she loses her rations to pesky predators.
Late on a cool night in September, Rosalyn awakes to a critter scavenging outside her tent. She opens the flap to a possum stuffing his furry gray belly on some mushrooms she’d planned to soak in hot water for broth the following morning. She sneaks up behind him, but when he hears her footsteps, he hisses and cowers over the loot, eyes like tiny white flames in the darkness. Rosalyn shakes a stick and in a gruff voice orders him to “shoo!” When that doesn’t work, she pokes him in the hind with the pointy end. He drops to his side and lies motionless as if stabbed through the heart. Watching him play dead, Rosalyn feels sorry for the poor critter. She leaves him her rations and from her tent watches as he eats until she falls back to sleep.
Whenever she encounters hikers, Rosalyn tries to blend in, but people tend to take notice. Hard to look normal when there’s two-week dirt in your tangled hair and you smell rank like something rotten. Normally nobody says anything directly to her, but Rosalyn hears their whispered judgments, feels their stares, sees their disgust. She fears one of these days someone is going to report her, which is why she always on the move. Staying in one place too long is dangerous and she avoids the camp sites at all costs. Though the scent of cooking meat from the campfires draws her close, and she’s tempted to rummage through the coolers and trash bins, she knows if the Rangers catch her they’ll take her in for trespassing.
One afternoon, a young family stumbles upon her pissing behind a bush. The mom hides the kids’ eyes while her and the dad divert their attention elsewhere. Once Rosalyn has hiked up her pants the dad lectures her on decency. “They have laws against that,” he says. He asks about her folks and looks around as if he expects to find them in the vicinity. Ignoring the parents, Rosalyn pulls a totem in the shape of a fish from her knapsack and offers it to the kids. The mom pulls them away as if Rosalyn’s diseased. The dad warns her that there’ll be trouble if she touches his children. Raising her arms, Rosalyn tells the family she meant no harm then runs off into the woods before they can shout for help. Once she’s far enough away, Rosalyn slouches against a Black Oak and peels away a hunk of bark, feeling the difference between the tree’s rough exterior and its soft inside, watching for any sign the family followed.
Often when she’s lying in her tent, Rosalyn thinks about her family. She wonders if her folks regret throwing her out. Do her siblings ask when she’s coming home, or do they just fight over who gets her stuff? Have her parents been searching for her these last few months? Did they report her missing? She imagines them speaking with the police, faces marked by tears as they plead for her safe return. They probably called every number listed in her phone and checked her texts and messages. Drove around every street in town and knocked on the neighbors’ doors and searched for her at Fox Lake and Winding Creek Park. They may have even searched for her at the dunes. But Rosalyn is careful to cover her tracks. Far as she’s concerned, they never need to find her, but that doesn’t stop her from missing them. After all she put them through can she blame them if they forgot about her altogether?
* * *
All through high school, Rosalyn was in trouble. She could recite the policy book from memory and describe the principal’s office down to the number of pens in his mesh cup, the monthly tasks listed on the calendar, and the degrees and awards displayed on his walls. Rosalyn had a habit of mouthing off to teachers. She didn’t understand how they expected her to sit inside a class all day in those tight desks, listening to them babble endlessly about things that didn’t matter. She could read and write and pitch a tent and kill a rabbit. What else did she need to know? She wasn’t above challenging boys to fights or telling girls her opinion of them. Her temper as unpredictable as a spooked deer. She got the reputation as someone to steer clear from, which was fine by her; she was never much good at talking with people anyway.
Her mom demanded Rosalyn cool her attitude or she was going to force her to go to La Lumiere, the local Catholic boarding school, and let the nuns straighten her out, but Rosalyn understood this as an empty threat, her parents couldn’t afford the tuition, and so she continued doing whatever she pleased. Rosalyn’s reckless disobedience spawned many heated arguments. If there was one thing her mom despised—and there were many—it was disrespect. She told Rosalyn constantly she didn’t have to love her, but she’d be damned if any of her children didn’t respect her. Sadly, she didn’t realize that not a one of them did.
Her dad, on the other hand, tried reasoning with her. After the fighting settled, he’d come to Rosalyn’s room and plead with her to first apologize to her mom then promise to do better in school. He was worried she was going to fail, or worse. All he expected of her was to obtain her diploma. It wasn’t too much to ask for. Was it? Rosalyn would lie and say it wasn’t but knew as soon as she returned to school it wouldn’t take long before she got into trouble again.
Then her sophomore year, Rosalyn got expelled for breaking Brad Hullinger’s nose. She’d leapt on him in the vocational hall outside metals class, pinned his arms beneath her knees, and drove her fist into his nose turned crooked. By the time the shop teachers dragged her off, the front of Brad’s shirt was covered in blood and two purple half-moons had risen beneath his eyes.
Rosalyn had to wait in the principal’s office for her folks to fetch her, knuckles swelled to the size of chestnuts and a tiny compression in the shape of a tooth marking her ring finger. They had to pay Brad’s medical bills and drive to his parents’ house to apologize for their daughter’s behavior. The entire ride home, Rosalyn had to listen to her mom break into hysterics. She couldn’t believe her own daughter was capable of such violence. As if she’d raised a savage. Her dad didn’t have the same visceral reaction. Actually, he said nothing at all, but he didn’t have to, she could sense his disappointment by the way he refused to look at her. They grounded Rosalyn to her room for the remainder of the grading period. At sixteen she’d drop out of school and acquired her GED. Would it have changed their mind if she’d told them why she’d attacked that asshole Brad Hullinger? What would they have said if they learned he’d texted nude photos of her to his friends with the word “Slut” typed in capital letters? But then she’d have to admit she was fucking him in his car out at Winding Creek Park sometimes after school.
Occasionally, Rosalyn walks to a rusty pay phone, the only one she knows of in the entire area, outside the log cabin style building of the Visitor’s Center. She only goes here early in the mornings when no one is around, stashing her rucksack inside a log about fifteen feet off of the trail. When she grabs the handset, the plastic crackles around the exposed earpiece where someone bashed it against the dented top of the kiosk. She pulls her only quarter from her backpack pouch, a quarter she’s carried ever since she found it on the beach, and runs her thumb along the ridged edges smoothed with sand. She drops it in the slot where it lands with a clank and is greeted with the steady buzz of a dial tone. She presses her folk’s digits, but pushes the squeaky release lever the moment the phone starts ringing, catching the quarter as it rolls out of the scratched metal slot of the coin drop.
She wonders what would happen if she talked to her folks. How would she feel if she heard her their voices? Would it be so bad?
“Do you need some assistance, miss?” a woman says from behind her.
Rosalyn snaps out of her thoughts and turns her head to find a ranger leaning against a wood pillar. She’s dressed in the standard uniform: green khakis, gray buttoned shirt, and a wide-brimmed felt hat that shades her round, moon face. Her bangs fall over the left side in a swooping wave. A toothpick twirls between her teeth. The Ranger doesn’t look in the best shape. Rosalyn guesses she could outrun her in a foot race, but the firearm holstered to her tactical belt gives her pause. She decides to play it cool.
“I was just calling my boyfriend. My folks don’t allow me to bring my cellphone on camping trips.”
“Your family staying at the Mather or Douglas site?” the ranger points with her toothpick in opposite directions.
“The one by the RV dump.”
The ranger pulls her toothpick from her mouth and shakes it to make a point. “Tell your folks to rent a spot at the Douglas next time. It’s quieter and closer to the hiking trails.”
Rosalyn smiles. “I’ll let them know. Well, I should be getting back. My folks worry if I’m gone too long.”
“You and your folks need anything be sure to ask for me, Carla Coons.”
“I’ll be sure to mention that,” Rosalyn replies.
The ranger sticks the toothpick back between her teeth and tips her hat. “Take it easy now.”
Ambling down the path toward the State Park Road, Rosalyn waits until she’s out of sight of the Visitor’s Center, grabs her rucksack from the log, then dashes off the trail into the woods.
* * *
The sun has barely peeked above the horizon when Rosalyn strips out of her clothing and steps nude into the cold waters of an interdunal pond. She shivers in the early autumn breeze, wraps her arms tightly around her chest, and rubs the goosebumps prickling her tan skin, the light fuzz on her arms and legs standing to attention. A thin film of mud spreads around her as the water laps the sand from her body. She hardly recognizes the rippled reflection staring back at her.
The primitive diet has trimmed the fat from her body, her ribs sticking out above her concave stomach. Hours spent in the sun has tanned her rawboned features the color and texture of beef jerky and hair grows in places where she’d shaved before. Not that Rosalyn has ever been pretty. As an adolescent she sprouted to a respectable 5’9 but remained flat and straight in the wrong places. She inherited her dad’s lean cheekbones, angular jaw, thick eyebrows and her mom’s beak-like nose. Her voice deepened, but it wasn’t the sexy deep of movie stars, more like a toad’s throaty rasp. Unable to look at her reflection any longer, Rosalyn dunks her head beneath the surface and runs her fingers through her butchered scalp.
Floating in circles on her back, she watches the rays of light glistening through the branches and listens to the waves murmuring their aquatic songs. Rosalyn reaches down and rests her palm against the soft patch between her legs.Thinks about when she used to sneak out at night to have sex with immature boys in their cars at the park down the street, their eagerness to be pleased, their ravenous appetites and swollen erections rubbing against the inside of their pants. She thinks about the blankets spread across their backseats camouflaging the stains and crumbs and dog hair. The bedding area, she thought of it. Rosalyn would order the boys to lie on their backs and close their eyes before removing their pants. She didn’t like it when they watched and would stop if she caught them peeking. She’d take them in her hands. Take them in her mouth. Take them grunting and bucking and sweating. She was aroused by how easy they were to tame, though she didn’t derive any pleasure from the exchange. It wasn’t the attention she craved. Nor the intimacy. It was the silence afterwards. The moment when they were lying next to her and the only sound was the boys’ heavy breathing.
Rosalyn dries in the grass before putting on her clothes. When she emerges from the tree line, clothes stuck to her damp skin, she comes upon two rangers rifling through her tent. She’s careful not to step on any twigs or make a sound. She ducks behind a royal fern and brushes a space between the fronds. The woman she’d spoken to at the payphone, Carla Coons, kneels inside the zipper flap and tosses her things—clothes, canteen, cooking pot, first aid kit, sleeping bag—outside while chewing her toothpick to splinters. The other ranger, a burly cave dweller of a man, pokes her stuff with a stick to inspect for contraband. Carla Coons asks if he found anything.
He shakes his head. “Looks like some weekenders wanted to have a bonfire and brewskies without paying the campground fees?”
Carla Coons slides the skinning knife out of Rosalyn’s shoes. “Squatter. From the blood on the blade I’d say she caught herself a little breakfast recently.”
“How do you know it’s a her?”
She shows him a package of tampons. “Intuition.”
“You sure she’s still around?”
Carla Coons takes a couple steps toward where Rosalyn is hiding, and for a moment, Rosalyn freezes, afraid the ranger has spotted her. She curses her misfortune. She shouldn’t have been so careless.
“Unless she’s decided to abandon everything.”
The other ranger hocks a loogie. “What do we do?”
Carla Coons swirls her toothpick in her mouth. “Bring the jeep around. We’ll load up this stuff and lock it in the station. You never know, she might get desperate enough to come around for it.”
As Rosalyn watches them cart her stuff away, she thinks about everything she’s lost. Her family. Her home. Her dignity. Some might even say her sanity. She reaches into her pocket, feels the smooth ridges of the quarter, and is thankful she hasn’t lost everything.
* * *
Temperatures drops a dramatic forty degrees over the next few weeks, as they only can in a Midwest fall. Frost greets Rosalyn where she sleeps in the morning, covering her in a thin icy layer. Some nights she’s lucky to get any rest with the cold, shivering and gritting her teeth against the biting winds that blow hard off of Lake Michigan, her clothes too worn to protect her from the weather. Building a fire has become an arduous task. It rains frequently and without matches Rosalyn struggles to spark a flame. She has yet to master the trick of rubbing two sticks together.
Since the rangers stumbled onto her tent, Rosalyn has taken every precaution to limit her exposure. This is increasingly difficult due to the leaves beginning to shed. She hunts at night when she thinks no one is around, but the lack of visibility mixed with the shortage of food has left her desperate. Birds have begun to migrate and there’s less evidence of other animals. There are still fish, but they’re harder to catch, her hands and feet numb in the frigid waters. And since the rangers stole her knife, Rosalyn has no tool in which to skin or cut her meat. She has to use a stick or sharp rock. This leaves her foraging for mast—walnuts, persimmons, chickweed—that grows in the cold seasons. But without proper sustenance, Rosalyn feels fatigued and irritable. Desperation pushes her to scavenge the trash bins in the campsites when no one is around.
On a late afternoon, Rosalyn is scarfing down a half-eaten Nestle bar when dark clouds sweep in out of the west. Powerful winds rattle the trees and knock branches in her path as she searches for shelter. Rain pummels her head, soaks her to the bone, and washes the ground beneath her feet. She slips several times, the ground splashing her in mud. By the time she reaches the bathhouse by the public beach she’s drenched from head to toe and bleeding from scratches on her face and arms. She hangs her clothes to dry on the urinal walls, kicks the stall doors and curses her bad luck. She slumps onto the linoleum floor and waits there the rest of the afternoon for the storm to settle.
A month before she ran away, Rosalyn’s dad procured her a job as a warehouse stocker at Lowes. For eight hours a day, she drove a forklift, unloaded inbound freight, organized product on shelves, and reviewed shipping paperwork. The job wasn’t terribly exciting, but it kept her busy. For the most part, she got along with her supervisors and co-workers. She kept to herself and didn’t complain and performed her duties satisfactorily. She scraped enough money together to buy her a beater with tons of miles and a loud muffler. She cut her hair to a respectable chin length, bathed daily, and even occasionally wore makeup, though she never felt comfortable with it on, as if she were camouflaging her true nature.
Her parents checked in on her though they’d pretend to be shopping, curious to know how she was getting along. They were proud that she’d turned things around. Also relieved to have the extra income she paid in rent. Rosalyn pretended she was happy but couldn’t deny that deep down inside she craved something more. Something she couldn’t explain. Maybe she lacked imagination, but she couldn’t picture a career at Lowes as her life. The moment she decided to leave she knew she wasn’t going to miss it.
Long after the moon has risen and the chill has set in, Rosalyn manages to blindly stumble her way to the Visitor’s Center. She knows it’s stupid coming here late night. Carla Coons could be waiting for her. There’s a single blueish bulb glowing in the building, but otherwise the place is dark and appears empty. Just to be certain, Rosalyn circles the perimeter, keeping low behind some underbrush, and when she sees no one, tests the front doors and finds they’re locked. She tiptoes over to the payphone. Her hand trembles as she lifts the receiver. The dial tone crackles in her ear. Hesitating, she fingers the quarter while arguing with herself whether to go forward with the call. Finally, Rosalyn drops the coin in the slot, leans her head against the kiosk and rest her eyes. With each ring, she considers hanging up. She hasn’t thought about what to say if her parents answered.
Her mom picks up, sounding groggy. Rosalyn listens to her say “hello” several times. Her mom’s pitch rises in annoyance when Rosalyn doesn’t respond. A tone Rosalyn loathes for its superiority. She hears her dad in the background asking who it is. Rosalyn recognizes the concern in his voice and she almost calls out to him. “I can hear you breathing, creeper,” her mom’s contempt reaches across the line. Rosalyn slams the phone down on the cradle.
The last time they’d spoke they’d fought over Rosalyn walking out on her job. Neither of her parents understood how she could make such a brash decision, considering the financial burdens they faced, and she had no way of explaining it to them. Her dad begged her to ask for her job back. Her mom told her if she didn’t want to work to pack a bag and move out. She wasn’t going to take care of a bum. Rosalyn expected her dad to come to the rescue, talk some sense into her mom, but he just walked out to the front porch to smoke a cigarette. Along with her siblings, her folks watched as Rosalyn packed her stuff into her car. None of her family said goodbye. None of them waved. None of them could even look at her.
As she drove away, headlights illuminating the country road, Rosalyn had no idea where she was going. All she knew was she finally felt free.
* * *
For days, Rosalyn lumbers around the trails of the dunes, cold, hungry, and weary, searching for a warm place to sleep and something to snuff her hunger. Beneath the overcast sky, the leaves have changed color and fallen to the clay colored ground, stripping the park of its former beauty. Rosalyn can’t ignore her own filthy stench. Her tattered clothes and knotted hair reek of wilted plants. She can only guess what she looks like. Every mile or so, she needs to stop and rest, tell herself the fatigue doesn’t mean anything. She begs her stomach to shut up. With its pangs and rumblings, it sounds like her mother.
One evening, Rosalyn stumbles upon the Douglas campground. The campers have long gone. Only remnants of their presence remain: a pile of salt-and-pepper ash burned cold in a firepit. Rosalyn pulls a half-scorched piece of paper, a receipt from Wal-Mart. The campers had bought hot dogs and burgers and potato salad. The rest she couldn’t read, but she could imagine them with their little outdoor picnic, carrying their supplies for a few days of relaxation in the wilderness. While scrounging for wood, Rosalyn comes upon a sleeping bag draped over the twigged skeleton of an eastern redbud. It’s pretty clean for being out here for several weeks. No filthier than her anyway. It looks like the one she used to own, blue on the outside, checkered on the inside. She unzips it, knocks out the leaves and dead bugs then curls inside to watch the sunset over the treetops and listen to the silence until she falls asleep.
Rosalyn awakes to Carla Coons nudging her with the tip of her boot. “Mighty brisk to be out here snoozing,” she says. Carla sits across from Rosalyn on the stones of the firepit, pulls a toothpick out of a package, and points with the tip to the sleeping bag. “Thought you might want that back.” Rosalyn snuggles deeper inside it. “I have the rest of your stuff at the station. I had a feeling you might make it out this way at some point. I have to admit you took longer than expected. I looked all over you, but you’re a tough rascal to catch. What are you doing out here anyway?”
Rosalyn wishes she knew.
“Oh, come now. You’ve got to give me something. What do you say we have a nice chat? Between girls.”
“You got anything to eat?”
Carla digs through her coat pockets, produces a chocolate flavored protein bar, and hands it over. Rosalyn tears the wrapper with her teeth and takes two huge bites. The mushy brownie is the best thing she’s tasted in months.
“You running away from something?” Carla asks.
Rosalyn takes another bite of the bar, swallows.
“So you just decided one day to live out in the wilderness?”
“I don’t understand why that’s so unbelievable.”
Carla Coons bites down on her toothpick. “Because honey, it’s not every day a girl decides to be homeless.”
“I’m not homeless. This is my home.” She motions at the woods.
“Mmm-hmm. Now I’m not passing judgement, but you know this is a state park. You have no legal right to live on these grounds.”
Rosalyn finishes the protein bar, tosses the wrapper in the firepit, and licks her fingers. “I’m not bothering anyone.”
“Be that as it may, we have laws against soliciting on state owned land.”
“Then why haven’t you kicked me out yet?”
Carla sucks on her toothpick. “Teens are always camping in the dunes during the summer. No one says much if they don’t cause any hassle. But if you’re planning on staying any longer then we have a problem.”
“Are you saying I have to leave?”
Carla Coons shrugs in her jacket. “Listen, I’m not going to pretend I know what you’re going through, but living out here in the dunes isn’t the solution. A person can get hurt. Trust me, I know.”
“A person can get hurt no matter where they are.”
“Can’t disagree with you there,” Carla chuckles. “Be that as it may, my guess is you’re underage, and it’s my duty to get you back safely to wherever you belong.”
Standing, Carla Coons dusts sand from her ass and tells Rosalyn to come along. She can wait at the ranger’s station and enjoy a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee while waiting for her parents to come get her.
Rosalyn considers running, but where would she go. And she can’t deny how much she’d love a hot meal and a warm bed. She begins to cry. She doesn’t understand why, but something has broken the dam inside her and released a flood of emotion. Before she knows it, her body is shaking, racked by a hurt so deep she can’t say where it originated from.
Carla comes down on a knee and rubs her back. Promises is everything is going to be okay. Rosalyn lies her head in Carla’s lap and they stay that way for a while. The two of them listening to the bird calls as the sun rises in the sky.
As Rosalyn follows Carla toward the ranger’s station she listens for the silence. She remembers the evening when she first saw the dunes rising above the tree line. She stopped the car on the shoulder of a gravel road off Highway 12, killed the ignition, retrieved the title from the glove compartment, and climbed out into the steamy heat to burn it along with other things from her past: license, social security card, a discount voucher to Applebees. She remembers climbing the dune, forcing herself to keep moving despite the sand sliding beneath her, threatening to throw her backwards. Twice she lost her footing and tumbled a good ways down, the sand ingraining in her clothes and hair and mouth. She’d had to collect some of the things had fallen out of her backpack before continuing upward. By the time she crested the dune she was completely out of breath.
She remembers shrugging off her gear and collapsing onto the sand. In front of her, miles of beach spread along the blue waters of Lake Michigan. She lied back, closed her eyes, and listened to the silence. The silence she may never hear again.
About the Author: Jeremiah Blane Kniola lives in Chicago with his wife and pets, but is originally from a small town in Indiana, similar to the setting where his fiction takes place. In 2020, he graduated from UIC with a Bachelor’s in English at the age of 43. Throughout his life he’s worked as a Law Office Clerk, English Teacher, Railroad Steward, Construction Worker, and Restaurant Manager. His fiction has appeared in Hobart, Literary Orphans, Dogzplot, Lover’s Eye Press, among others. He enjoys baseball, jazz, and gin martinis.