The story so far: Besieged for months by bushfires, Wes and Alice Piddens face the latest attack: a blaze started by Suleiman the Maggot outside the walls of Vienna circa 1472. OK, he may not have started it but he definitely did nothing to put it out, and that’s repugnantly reprehensible right there.
Armed with very little and not much else besides, Wes and dog have legged it down a gully at dawn to try to snuff the fire before it wakes for the day.
He leaves Alice parked in the CanAm buggy on a dim and distant hillside to monitor the fire and the radio while trying to ignore the trees falling all around her.
Now read on.
It was scary. Alice didn’t like it.
“I don’t like it.”
But her pluck was still undaunted. She just didn’t know what the pluck to do.
Think optimistic thoughts.
“What’s that damn song Wes is always banging out? The one about the bloody Squonk. Squonk? Good grief! A Squonk. How does it go? (sings) ‘When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more. Any major dude will tell you. Any major dude will tell youuuuuuuuu.’
A word about Squonks. A Squonk is a mythical creature with the ability to cry itself into a ball of tears.
Alice had come pretty close herself lately.
“Fa la laaa…oh forget it!” Alice was not a keen singer.
“Come on, come on, come on, Wes. Where are you?”
Alice knew that her fool Life Partner tended to miss/avoid radio calls seeking details of his location/welfare, so she resisted the temptation to call. For now.
A flame trickled along the bare earth of a wheel rut and ducked under the CanAm. So that gave her something constructive to do: decamp at speed to a safer spot.
And what of Wes?
He was cutting a break around the snoozing fire front with a rake-hoe and stomping out stray flames with his size 16s. So far, so good, but the cow cakes were holding him up.
“These damn cow cakes are holding me up, Bruce.”
The dog didn’t disagree.
A word about cow cakes. Despite serving as cooking fuel for most of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Subcontinent, dry cowpats spread fires like Putin spreads evil bastardry. You think they’ve gone out, but all it takes is a waft of air from a passing wallaby or the puff of an echidna fart and these devil turds will sprout fire. Wes hated them.
“I hate ‘em.”
Once alight, they have a half-life of approximately three million years. You can pulverize them down to a molecular level and they will still smoulder. You can drown the particles with a hose and they just float to the top and continue smouldering. There’s no call for that.
“There’s no call for that.”
Wes took a pull from his water bottle and rake-hoed on, singing.
‘Have you ever seen a Squonk’s tears? Well, look at mine. Any Major Dude will tell you, you hoo, you mongrel cow turd, youuuuuu.’
Marital telepathy? Or a limited repertoire? It’s hard to know.
By eight o’clock he’d cut a break down to the bed of the gully and started up the other side, but would he have time to complete it before the heat came and the wind sprang up? It was a gamble: cut too wide and he’d run out of time, too narrow and the fire would spot over anyway.
Wes couldn’t help but feel a little low in spirit as he chipped and raked away like some Greek dude consigned at whim to a life of unending chippery by some petulant goddess.
“My spirits are low. I shoulda been a golf pro. I’ve never played golf. That makes it all the worse. Ah me!” And more in that vein.
And what of Alice?
Her neck was sore from craning around watching for falling trees. The last one was so big and so close that the CanAm jumped a metre sideways, and she nearly choked on the ash and dust. Enough was enough.
“Right. Enough is e-bloody-nough! You can stick your Squonk, Wes. I’m calling.”
She reached for the radio.
And it sprang into life.
“It’s on my tail, Allie!”
A lesson to us all.
To be continued (What? Again? Really?)