From downriver, boots crunched and digested the gravel. A face came into frame. Mid-fifties. I shot my flashlight up and down his face, distorting the sag in his cheeks, torturing the wrinkle in his brow. His eyes sunk into shadow. I couldn’t make them out. This time I’d really wake up. I clawed the pebbles in the sand, and felt the dry dirt gouge the skin under my nails. I wasn’t dreaming. In my shaky hand, the faltering beam made his shadow sway behind him while he stood still as a butte. It made it seem his shadow was possessed by a spirit of its own.
He wore a baseball cap. Philadelphia 76ers. From the 80’s. A long gray beard dropped off his chin in waves. His rolled up polo shirt betrayed a left forearm scarred with an old, crater-like wound that had gouged away part of the muscle. He wore black Nike workout pants from this day and age. His old boots were black, with a slit that exposed his big toe in a wool sock. The frayed laces knotted from several pair. I rolled over, shining the light in his face.
“Who are you?” I repeated from my dream.
His eyes were green, it seemed. He was six feet plus, and bone thin. Danny Abraham? Maybe. But what 20 years in the desert did to him destroyed any configuration of his former self, the tortured self I’d seen in local papers, from military photos after he’d been fingered in the death of my father; the handsome self I’d seen in high school year book pictures, in family albums I’d seen at his sister’s house in Cuba, New Mexico. Was it him? I couldn’t be sure. Should I ask him? Accuse him of his name instead? He stood with a practiced stillness. He turned his triangular face a few degrees to eye me straight on, his lower lip dropped open a little. A bottom tooth was missing.
“You look like you’ve been down here a long time,” I finally decided to say. The only part of me that felt real was my fluttering chest.
“Thought you were hurt,” he muttered finally in what could’ve been small town Southwest.
“More like lost,” I proposed.
“That isn’t what I heard before. I heard a woman scream she was fallen.”
I dared drop the light from his eyes, down to his waist. His long finger bones, dripping from his long hand bones, grasped no weapon. He turned and started to pour back into the nothing.
The scattered beam of the flashlight, the side of it, nicked the bottom of the slope where my backpack lay with my father’s knife in the bottom compartment. It held my notebook and pen, my camera, and my tape recorder. Those were my real weapons. What I’d come to do was bring him to justice in the public eye, in the court of the word, with the readership as prosecutor and defense counsel, but mostly as jury. That’s what Mama had whispered without saying. That’s what my life was. People would listen to Mama now. All at once all her letters and calls would be answered and the heartache washed away. And would it earn me something, too? Yeah, that too. This story was more than a feature in a small town journal. It was a bestseller. Why not? I’d given my life to one story. But now, that story was dissolving in the dark.
“I know who you are, Danny Abraham!” I rattled off, freezing his leanness. He straightened out his step, but kept his back to me.
He twisted around and faced me, then limped toward me. “You’re pretty foursquare,” he remarked.
“That word has a few meanings.”
“You going to kill me, too?”
He scrutinized my face. I’d asked that question with so much emotion.
“Go get your gear. I have stew waiting back at camp.”