It was getting dark. All around people were weeping, their clothes soaked with sweat. The air stunk of adrenaline, perspiration, and human waste. Humility had fled and left everyone half-savage. Sharon couldn’t get the images to stop. Poor Dustin fighting in vain for his life. His terrified little face. She’d abandoned him. Surly he was dead because of her.
You would’ve died too. He’d have dragged you both down.
And whose voice was that in her head? Ethan’s? Dustin had trusted her and she’d pried his fingers away. Jesus, she’d broken one of them!
You were fighting for your life, too. For Michal and Ethan.
This thought almost calmed her, then she thought of Michael and Ethan going over the edge of the Iron Horse, the flood of people crushing them, the yellow windbreaker. Every time she thought she might be able to pull herself together, she’d think of that windbreaker and moan.
But how do you know?
True. She didn’t really know. There were plenty of people still moving, still trying to swim. There could’ve been a dozen yellow windbreakers similar to the one Ethan was wearing. She’d been too terrified and exhausted to notice. She could be wrong.
You’re not wrong. You know it in your heart. You’re his mother!
And what if he had survived the deluge of bodies. Where were they heading if not toward sure oblivion? Her feet were bleeding but she didn’t care. She was trapped in a nightmare. Her nightmare. She’d foreseen all of this, and the thing she hadn’t told Michael was that she’d been alone in the dream. Being alone was the worst part of it. Maybe that crazy old man had been right. Maybe it’s what she deserved. Maybe it’s what everyone deserves. To be led to the slaughter like so many who’ve gone before. One great history of pain and bloodshed reaching back to time out of mind. An evil so great that none dare to name it, to claim it, to admit that each shares the blame. Each just as greedy, just as unscrupulous and unwavering in the pursuit of whatever it is that best distracts.
“Maybe we deserve this,” she whispered to the gathering night.
A young girl was walking next to her. In her trembling hand she held a cell phone. On the screen there were people walking. Walking into the ocean and going under. Suddenly Sharon realized that whoever was recording the scene was moving toward the water as well. The image turned and focused on the host, a young man with shoulder length brown hair who looked so tired and afraid that Sharon could hardly believe he was still on his feet.
“This is it!” the young man’s voice erupted from the phone’s tiny speaker. “I’m going home! We’re all going home! If you find this, please tell everyone we’re sorry! We were stupid! We were arrogant! We didn’t love each other! We didn’t know!” The young man gave the phone a toss, and it landed half buried in sand. But Sharon could see the procession of people, hundreds, thousands maybe, walking headlong into the surf. Then the screen went blank.
The young girl holding the phone looked at Sharon, a moment of grim understanding passing between them before the girl spoke. “I can’t walk anymore,” she whimpered.
Sharon didn’t speak for a long time. She had been about to agree with the girl. Her feet were throbbing and the trail of crimson fluid trailing behind her was growing heavier by the moment. Her mouth was dry, and she knew none of them would go much further without water. It didn’t matter.
What do you mean it doesn’t matter?
She knew though. It was over, had been since she walked into a hotel room with a man who wasn’t Michael. She’d blown the only good thing in her life. Hell, she’d blown her life. No reason to keep pushing. No reason to beat herself up for one more minute.
But I tried. I tried to fix it.
But had she really? Had she ever told Michael she was sorry? Not until that morning. Not until any hope of a life with him was dead and gone. Too late Sharon Rawlins. Carve it into her headstone, if there are any left to carve.
But I loved him.
And he loved you too, right up until that night.
Too late, Sharon Rawlins.
Sharon took the young girls hand, the one not cradling the phone.
“Just walk a little further sweetie. I think I know a way out of this.”
The girl looked at her wide-eyed, whispering Sharon’s words like a prayer. “A way out.”
“Yes,” Sharon said, so calm, so in control, so unlike herself. She’d seen to the destruction of the last
youngster who’d counted on her. She wouldn’t leave this girl down.
“Just walk a bit further honey. There’s a special place just up the road. If I’m right, and we can make it there, this might all be over soon.”
The young girl looked skeptical, and Sharon couldn’t blame her. But when she’d told Dustin not to worry, that the water was shallow and that they’d all be alright, she’d lied. This time, she was telling the whole truth. She did have a plan. A damn good one in her humble opinion. It occurred to her just after the tragedy at the Iron Horse. She’d planned to go it alone, but the young girl was so scared, so in need of comfort, and Sharon knew that feeling well.
“Are you sure?” the young girl asked, that longing in her eyes making Sharon turn away.
“I’m sure,” Sharon replied, reaching out and gripping the young girl’s hand.
And she was sure. Sure, that she was making the right decision, the only decision, considering the alternatives. They’d come to it soon. A place Sharon and her friends had named just like her son and his friends had named the Iron Horse. They called it Look Out Point. When she was a teenager, everyone knew about Look Out Point. A great place for kids wanting privacy or parents looking for their kids. A narrow strip of gravel on the left side of Route 9 overlooking the southern curve of the river. Beyond the gravel strip is a bank that drops straight down one hundred feet to the rocky canyon below. A concrete wall separates the gravel lot from the embankment beyond, but there’s a spot where the cliff edge nearly kisses the edge of Route 9. A dangerous spot the state had been either too cheap or too lazy to close off. It was narrow, only a few feet wide, but it would be enough. She gripped the young girls hand harder, turning to look at her. This time the young girl saw something that made her want to pull away. Sharon was smiling a very wrong sort of smile.
“Are you O.K. lady?” the girl asked.
“I’m fine honey, and so are you. I promise.”
And unlike many promises that Sharon Rawlins had made, she intended to keep this one.