Laura drove her four by four, along a path that could best be described as flattened ground on a bulbous terrain, created by the constant patter of horse hoofs, ages ago. With a buoyant spurt of flora along the path, Laura realized that it was she who had revived it for her journey to Animas Fork, a ghost town in Colorado, after what must have been months or years perhaps. Her freshly aligned jeep tires effortlessly trampled every clueless growth along its path, as it made its way through the winding mountain to reach the top.
Just like its name, the approach route forked into sudden directions in an animated ballet of a mischievous elf. Driving up the path was like chasing Johnny across their massive yard that was almost always strewn with toys. You never know, where the boy might turn, when he might turn or how he might turn.
And finally when Laura would huff and puff and shout in a labored breath that she gave up. Johnny would laugh and say, “See how I tricked you, this is how a Zebra’s stripes create a zigzag illusion, Mummy!”
Laura laughed at the memory just as soon as tears trickled down her smiling face. She did not bother to wipe them away, instead she slowed down and she willed time to slow down as well, willed that lifelike memory of Johnny to stay, wished she could live in that memory a thousand years. Johnny was gone, just one instant, one moment when she had looked away, and he had run down the road chasing a kitten; one flash of a truck with the driver distracted by his buzzing phone. One life lost.
Since then Laura’s life had been all about “what if’s”. What if she hadn’t looked away? What if the kitten had decided to cross Johnny’s path a second later? What if Johnny had been distracted just enough to miss seeing the kitten? What if the driver had kept his phone on silent? What if the call had come a second later?
The “what ifs” had haunted Laura for months and they still did. What if Johnny was still alive; she would not be dead inside.
It had been eleven months and twenty-three days now, and she was finally in a condition to take up a solo assignment. It was to create a photo diary of America’s ghost towns. She had already covered Centralia in Pennsylvania; Bodie in California and now it was Animas Fork, Colorado.
The sun had hidden itself behind the horizon of an infinite sky. Millions of stars lit up clear Colorado skies, stars that peeked through tall pine trees lining the woods in a zigzag medley, dangerously claiming the path Laura rode on.