Brian sat in a folding camp chair in front of a tent, staring at the ground but seeing nothing. He wore new clothes that they had given him, dark grey pants and lace-up boots with a black A-style undershirt. Someone had brought him a bottle of soda and he sipped at it without tasting it. He played with the medicine bag dangling from his neck. He paid no attention to the sounds of the camp, the voices and movements and whine of machinery and equipment. He just sat and stared. He didn’t notice Gale coming over until she stood beside him.
“Hey,” she said.
His eyes focused on her and he blinked. “Hey.”
“How are you feeling?” she asked, her hands clasped behind her back. “I wanted to see how you were.”
“I’m fine.” He looked at another chair beside him. “You want to sit down?”
“Okay.” Gale pulled the chair in a little closer.
Brian resumed staring at the ground. “I keep pinching myself,” he said. “It hurts every time, so I must be awake.”
“I know that feeling,” Gale said.
“Freakin’ Africa,” Brian said, almost to himself.
“You know, up until a few days ago, I’d never been anywhere. I’ve lived in two states. That’s it.”
Gale smiled. “Yeah?”
Brian rubbed his nose. “I should be dead now. Twice. Maybe three times.”
“Oh?” Gale watched him. It felt awkward, but he didn’t want her to look away, either.
“How can a person stay sane, if he’s seen too much?” Brian asked. “You said you’re a doctor, right? Do you think it’s possible?”
“You seem sane enough to me,” Gale said.
“You know, I don’t even feel like myself anymore,” Brian said. “It’s like, too much has happened. I’m not living the same life anymore.”
“Who are you now, then?” Gale asked.
“I have no idea. I know who I’m supposed to be. Who I’ve sworn to be. But who do I feel like? I don’t have a clue.”
Gale chewed her bottom lip. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. It may make you more confused, but I’ve seen you before. In a dream.”
Brian looked at her. “A dream?”
“Several times.” Gale looked away. “Off and on, throughout my life.”
“And what do I do in your dreams?” he asked.
“The most recent one, you told me not to lose hope,” Gale said. “That I wasn’t alone. And to remember the way back.”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
“To remember the way back home, maybe,” Brian said. “After all this is over. To find your way back to a normal life or something.”
Gale smiled, looking back at him. “Maybe.” She paused. “Do you think you’ll be able to do that?”
“I’ll have to try,” Brian said. “If I live.”