Five days since the old girl disappeared over the horizon of the valley wall, silly bitch. Thinks she knows the country up there with its bloody desert. Black grit and tussock grass, and nothing else for miles. What was she expecting – a bloody phone booth?
We found the recce in the side of the gulley, stashed with canned food, three sleeping bags and two blankets, a spirit camp stove, and army utensils. And the lantern. Not much, but after crawling up and across the gulley from the wreck? Heaven away from home.
The bush, bending and cracking as the old van rolled sideways down the hillside, had eased the descent. Ice on the road, a too-tight corner, and it was lost.
Oh, shit – that bastard again. Thinks he’s “the leader”.
‘Yeah, Bob? Waddaya want?’
“C’mere. Jana needs a hand.”
‘Okay, what’s wanted?’
He grins. “That old spirit lantern? The wick’s getting too short.”
‘So? What am I supposed to do? Go shopping?’ Look at him … waiting for me to fix things.
The younger of the two women puts her head out from the tarp flap. “What can we use instead?” She’s got the lantern in her hand as she steps out into the meagre sun. She’s taking it apart, offering bits to him to hold.
‘Hang on, not so fast. We won’t know how it goes back together again!’
“Jana’s already taken it apart and put it back together. Haven’t you, darling?”
Jana darling? Old perv. ‘Oh good. Give us a look at the wick?’
Only a half centimetre left.
“Okay, it’s like a rope, except made of cotton,” Jana says.
‘Any point worrying? If we’ve no spirits left…’
“Plenty left – found a small jerry-can in the back.”
‘Hang on,’ I’m busy looking at the last stub of that wick. ‘Here, Jana. I’ll just put this here… and take a squiz inside.’
Inside the bivvie it’s gloomy, not pitch-black yet. Among Bob’s gear there’s a pair of pyjama pants; he’s not used them yet. Faded blue striped with white, like something his grandad might have worn.
Good. These’ll do. I’ll show the girls.
‘How about these?’ I hold them up. ‘If they’re elastic, we’re stuffed. But I think it’ll be a draw-cord?’
“My pyjamas? You little prick! Rummaging through my things – I knew someone had!” Bob’s face is red with rage.
He stalks off towards the spot he’d picked for fellas to pee. I hunker down with Jana, and thanks to her manicure scissors, we soon have a good length. I leave the girls to it but I hear them nattering.
“God, I am so sick of Bob! That’s Jana ‘Always perving at me.”
“Who made him the boss, anyway?”
“He did. Just after his wife left. To get help, he said.”
Maybe the wick won’t be the only replacement. If worse comes to worst, the old girl’s gun ‘n ammo, that we hid, might be a silver lining in this cloud of shit.
This was to be a 500-word submission, but my enthusiasm ran away on me. When it was stripped back, I lost a couple of the prompt words – those I retained are in bold above.
All thanks to my friend and mentor, author Derryn PITTAR, who culled and corrected for me.