Out of the Badlands: Part 21
Boomer caught up before long, but he hadn’t been tied to the cart, so I couldn’t be sure what that meant. He was limping badly. I was crying as I jogged, afraid to be alone in the world again. I know you’re going to say, “but what about Sheila?” The thing is, she didn’t count. Not then, anyway. She’d already told us she was good for nothing but scavenging from the houses of the dead, and that she expected to die when that source from the old days ran out—assuming she lived even that long. She wasn’t going to be able to contribute anything useful to our survival.
Behind me, she kept crying out, stumbling in her poor shoes, panting and gasping. She was crying, too, though probably not for the reason I was. I didn’t slow down for her, though. My gratitude for her earlier warning extended only as long as she didn’t get me captured now. We continued straight out into the wild. Boomer ranged ahead of us now. I don’t know what he made of the whole situation, but he was hot, tongue lolling.
Finally, I got myself straightened up, stopped for a moment, studied the land behind us, and said, “They don’t seem to be following. That’s good. We’ll have to start looking for water and shelter, though. We’re in a bad way. Do you have a knife on you, and do you know this area at all?”
“I have a little pocket knife, but this is all just bush to me.”
“All right. We’re looking for water first, shelter second. We can do without food for a while, if we have to.”
“But where are we going?” Her voice quavered.
“Home,” I said shortly.
“And where is your man?”
“I don’t know, do I? But he’ll follow us if he’s able. He knows his way back to the house.”
She said something else, but it amounted to, ‘whine fear confusion’. I tuned out most of it.
I loaded her up with larger pieces of dry wood as we went. I didn’t want to start a fire the hard way, but I thought I might strike a spark with Sheila’s knife if I could find the right kind of tinder. We went several kilometers before I found what I wanted, a stony outcropping that would radiate heat during the night. There was no water. It couldn’t be helped. Poor baby Bobby was hungry and thirsty, and I had nothing to give him, so I handed him to Sheila to deal with while I got a fire going. The way he was carrying on, he was likely to attract dogs, and Boomer was already hurt. I wasn’t sure he could hold off a determined pack.
Before night fell, I did manage to find something for Bobby to eat—a number of fat witchetty grubs, which I toasted crisp over the fire. Sheila said she’d rather be hungry, and she looked like she knew what it meant to be hungry, so I didn’t insist. When Bobby was done eating, I tossed the remainders to the dog. We settled down on the earth with small fires ringing us, the stone providing residual heat from the day, and the usual sounds of the night for our music. Sheila fell asleep quickly, and Bobby of course slept with a full belly, but I kept watch for a while with Boomer at my side, peering into the darkness.
Part 22: The End – or is it the beginning?