22 The Trail Goes Cold

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Stephen Whiteside
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22 The Trail Goes Cold

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:17 am

22 The Trail Goes Cold

© Stephen Whiteside 03.10.2011

But Magnifico felt pain. Step followed step across this vast, featureless desert. Magnifico, carrying the full weight of responsibility for navigation, began to feel anxious - and a little resentful. The track was becoming harder to follow, not easier. The rivulets appeared to be slowing up, the ground to be levelling out. The direction to the river was no longer nearly so obvious.

And Horatio was oblivious to all of this. He blindly followed where Magnifico led; a calm, slightly pleased expression on his face, which was very hard to explain under the circumstances. Compounding the situation, Magnifico’s feet were sore. On more than one occasion he had stumbled on some sharp object, and he had now developed a slight limp. One of his feet appeared to be bleeding a little, and he was leaving blood in its footprint - a dead give-away for any animal that might choose to track them.

The sun was now high in the sky. Water was not such a problem. They were regularly encountering small pools here and there - mostly next to small stones - but they had found nothing of any consequence to eat since their feast of fish, and Magnifico’s stomach had been rumbling for some time. It was time to pause and take stock. But where?

Magnifico lifted his eyes for the first time in quite a while, and looked around. The landscape was level, barren, largely featureless, but there were occasional trees and branches strewn around. One large branch lay not far away, and he led Horatio over to it. Horatio remained oblivious to their slight change of direction.

Magnifico was relieved to finally pull up in the shelter of the branch. He was surprised just how large it was then they finally reached it. It provided shelter from the sun, and much needed cover from potential predators. Here was a place they could indeed rest and take stock.

Horatio was surprised when Magnifico stopped walking, and almost bumped into him.

What are we stopping for?

I’m all done in, Horatio. I need a break. This is as good a spot as we’re likely to find for quite a while.

I guess so. If you say so. Where’s the river? Shouldn’t we be at the river by now?

I don’t know, Horatio. Yes, I guess you’re right. Truth is, I’m more confused than ever. The trail seems to be going cold. The ground is levelling out. I’m not sure what to do. All I know for certain is that I need a break. I’m bushed. Aren’t you? How do you keep chugging along so cheerfully?

I don’t know, Magnifico, I really don’t. All I know is one day I’m going to find a peanut cow, and that will be the end of all my problems.

Magnifico said nothing, but rolled his eyes slightly to himself. Nice to know we’ve all got our priorities right.

The two lay side by side in the shadow of the branch and, once again, before they knew it, they were fast asleep. It was dusk when they awoke.

Damn, we’ve done it again, Horatio! Slept without meaning to. We’re all over the place, aren’t we. Still no rhythm. Still completely at the mercy of our environment. We have to do better than this. We have to find a way to take control.

Mmm. Those berries look nice.

It was the first time Magnifico had noticed them. There were large numbers of red berries on the smaller branches. They were partly covered in mud but, yes, they did look nice. It was an easy thing for both the rodents to jump up onto the main branch and run along it to the berries. They spent some time feasting. Again, Magnifico’s advice to eat slowly went unheeded.

The berries were indeed very tasty, and hit the spot. Sweet though slightly tart, with an interesting flavour, and plenty of moisture as well. The rat and the mouse ate their fill, and then somewhat ponderously and unsteadily retraced their steps along the branch and back to the ground.

Once again, they began to feel sleepy. Magnifico fought it. Horatio did not.

Come on, Horatio, don’t fall asleep again. We’ll do our old trick of waking up when the best of the night is spent, and then have to travel during the day once more.

But what’s the point. Where are we going to go? Let’s rest while we can, and gather our strength once more.

Magnifico was feeling exasperated with Horatio. He was too complacent by half. He was sure in his bones they should keep walking, but Horatio was right about one thing. Where to?

Just then, a flock of ducks flew overhead.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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