The Night Is for Hunting
a ray of light would beam down from Heaven and there they’d be.
    I was losing my confidence that there was no real danger in the bush. It seemed incredible that in these modern times people could still get badly, seriously, lost. But the kids, undernourished and bruised and a bit off their heads, were the last ones to be wandering around on their own in an environment they didn’t know. You had to be seriously worried about them.
    The boys were still awake, huddled over Kevin’s little fire, waiting patiently for us. I appreciated that they’d stayed up. We were all so dog-tired. We didn’t have much of a conversation, because there was nothing worth saying; just curled up under a rough bark shelter Homer had made to keep off the dew.
    At dawn we were away again, all five of us this time. We thought there was every chance the kids wouldn’t get moving this early. It was a freezing morning and I hugged myself as we hurried along. Being hungry didn’t help: we’d learned in this war that if you wanted to leave a campsite early, the only sure way was to skip breakfast. Even the quickest of breakfasts seemed to hold us up at least half an hour.
    Skipping breakfast this particular morning wasn’t such a problem because we didn’t have much food anyway, just the remnants of the stuff Fi and I had brought from Hell: a packet of prunes, and half a packet of survival biscuits that could break your teeth but were meant to be full of nutrition. Fi said prunes were good for the bowels. Maybe that’s why no-one had eaten them yesterday.
    We tried to walk fast and look for signs of the kids at the same time. We knew clues would be difficult, because Fi and I had followed the same route last night, so any human tracks might be ours. But that didn’t stop me scrutinising soft earth, leaf litter, water soaks. I found some squashed kangaroo poo, that might have been trodden on by a human foot, and which was higher up in the scrub than where Fi and I had walked. More importantly, nearby was a piece of bark that had been dragged along for a hundred metres. It was a long way from its home on the trunk of a stringybark tree. You could see the little trail it made in the dust. Maybe, just maybe, some unhappy kid had picked it up and dragged it along behind her for a while.
    They were the only clues. The good news though, was that there were no obvious detours they could have made. The gully, or creek bed, followed a pretty definite path, and to leave it would take a tough climb up the sides. I was sure they wouldn’t have enough energy left for that. Still, we’d underestimated them on everything else. I hoped I wasn’t underestimating them on this.
    By eleven o’clock I was ravenous. We had a break, sitting on the edge of the gully, talking quickly and urgently about our options. We were now seriously worried. At first we’d been half anxious, half furious with them for being so stupid and annoying. But the time for being angry was long past. In their weakened state they were at real risk. With hundreds of square kilometres for them to wander in and no-one but us to search, they were in a lot of danger. ‘The only good thing about it,’ I said, ‘is that when we do find them they should at least be grateful. They mightn’t kick up such a fuss about coming with us this time.’
    ‘If we find them,’ was all Fi said.
    ‘Do you have the slightest clue where we are?’ Lee asked me.
    ‘I’ve got a rough idea,’ I said, a little annoyed that he didn’t give me more credit. I’d been carefully noting landmarks the whole time. ‘If we kept going this way for long enough we’d come out close to Wirrawee. Our property’s back there, over the hills and far away.’
    ‘And ours is over there,’ Homer said, pointing. I reckoned he was out by about twenty degrees.
    Fi amazed me then by saying, ‘I think it’s more that way,’ pointing almost exactly to where I thought. For once in my life I had enough smarts to shut up.

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