I am the quiet one.
Penny says my periods of silence are caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She reads a lot; she knows things.
She also spent a lot of time talking to the doctor when we first went underground, and he agreed that it was probably the case.
I don’t remember being traumatized. Everything I know about what happened to me, Penny and Mae have told me.
There was the break-in, of course. Men with guns burst into our house and grabbed our mother and hauled her away. Penny and Mae hid, so they didn’t get taken with her. And as for me? Well, I was strapped into my high chair for lunch, and one of the men dragged me out to the stoop and tossed me head first into the dumpster.
I guess up until that point, I was screaming my head off. And if Penny and Mae hadn’t run out and jumped into the garbage can and pulled me out, I know I would have drowned in the liquefied muck I’d landed in.
They did rescue me, though. The thought of it amazes me; the nerve they had to even get out the front door and see the legs of my highchair sticking up over the edge of the dumpster? That would have been the end of me right there! And they jumped in and got my head and face up out of the slop and got me out of that slide and buckle contraption. They are my heroes, that’s for sure.
I don’t know how they didn’t get caught. Heck, they don’t know how they didn’t get caught. They got me out of there and back inside, and from that point they get me cleaned up and kept me clean and fed for the days up to the point when Daddy and Morty showed up to rescue us.
But after that, I didn’t make a sound for a long time. Penny says it was months. And the first sound I did make was a laugh.
It was Danny, of course, who made me laugh. Penny says he brought me out of my shell. I’m not surprised; he’s so outgoing and friendly and happy, he just pulls you right into his circle and holds you there. No offense to my sisters, but Danny is my favorite person in the world.
It’s weird knowing that he and his mother weren’t part of the group intended to live at the compound. They were a last-minute addition. Penny says it’s the last minute alterations to the best laid plans that make the most impact, and I think that’s true. For worse, like Mamma’s plan to leave the base the day after everything went to hell, or for better, when Danny ended up with us in the community.
Anyway, I did learn to talk, but I am still mostly quiet. I don’t find that I have a lot to say under most circumstances.
And then there are times when I do find Penny’s theory of PTSD plausible. Those are the times when I find myself with plenty to say, but no voice. There are also times when I completely lose my words, so that even if I could make a sound, nothing coherent would pass my lips.
That was the condition I found myself in when we rounded that last curve on the twisty downhill road, and the valley spread out below us. I could feel my eyes widen and my heart starting to race. My breath caught in my throat, and I pushed my hat far back from my forehead so I could drink in every single sight.
I had stopped my dirt bike and turned off the engine without even realizing it. Danny, who was just behind and to the left of me, stopped too. “Wait,” he called to the others.
I sat on my bike, my hands pressed over my nose and mouth, and just stared.
Danny took in the vista, too. He smiled at me and said, “Yeah, baby! It’s spectacular.”
It was. Until now, we’d seen trees and more trees, and only glimpses of what lay below. Now the tree line was behind us and the valley lay in a splendorous display. Green wheat swayed in the breeze. Wild flowers of all colors nodded their tiny heads, mere dots against the green field. Far across the valley, a river flowed at the base of cliffs that rose high above the level of the hill we were on.
I dropped my hands from my face and stretched out my hands, gesturing for my companions to look. From here the derricks were easy to see; they reminded me of pictures of Diplodocus in one of my old dinosaur books.
“Holy shit!” Morty cried. He was grinning widely. We all were.
Mae turned to Penny and said, “I told you it was a dragon cave!”
Penny nodded. “You were right. And there’s his treasure!”
We all laughed. Penny’s treasure, her trove of library books, included all volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and we had listened to the adventures of Bilbo Baggins so many times that it would have been impossible not to understand the reference.
“Ready to go, Dawn?” Morty asked.
I shook my head, still speechless. Danny studied me for a few seconds, and then said, “She wants to paint it.”
I nodded vigorously. Didn’t I tell you? Danny understands me, even when I can’t speak for myself.
“I’m sure we can set you up with a canvas, easel and paints soon,” Penny said. “We need to keep going.”
I shook my head, dismayed. I’m sure my distress showed on every inch of my face.
“It will never look the same to her as it does right now,” Danny said. “I know we don’t have any paint, but I do have something for you, Dawnie.” He pulled his backpack off his back. Soon he produced a large book of drawing paper and a bag full of colored pencils.
Sid looked impressed. “You don’t happen to have an easel in there, too, do you?” he asked. I studied him carefully: no sarcasm; genuine interest.
Ash laughed. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if he did.”
Danny shook his head, smiling. “I only wish!” He looked at me as I greedily accepted his offerings. “Will this do?”
I know my smile was big enough to crack my head in half as I nodded happily.
Danny waved a hand at the others. “You go on, now,” he said. “We’ll be here waiting.”
“No!” Finally, my voice was back. “No, Danny. You go with them. I’ll need a full report from all of you if I’m to make a decent map later.”
“Sure,” Morty agreed. “I think you’ll be fine watching from here, Dawn.”
“I will,” I said. “I just need…” And there went my words again.
“Maybe you’ll draw us into the picture,” Mae suggested.
“No,” Penny said quietly, studying my face. “Not in this one. The first one…it’s going to be—”
She swept her arm dramatically, gesturing at the fullness of the land. “It’s going to be perfect. Just the way it is, it’s going to be the perfect first look.”
I smiled at my sister. Wow. It’s good to be understood, even when words don’t come.
Danny kissed my cheek and remounted his dirt bike. “You have fun, now,” he said.
“Yeah,” Morty added. “We’re going to see if this is real treasure, or just costume jewelry.”
Engines roared to life and the six of them headed down the road. I propped my sketchbook against the handle bars of my bike and prepared to draw.
I hope Penny’s right. I hope it is perfect.
Dawn rarely says anything. She is, as she said, the quiet one. But she needed her chance to weigh in on this story.
If you want to know where it all began, see it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L4GM4PN