Back at the Koala Bay Bares Kylie found Mungo out lying in a grassy field. Oscar was napping nearby. So the emu had found his way home, just as Mungo had said he would. "They told me I'd find you here," she remarked.
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Still shaking him, Kylie was now beginning to panic. "Mungo, wake up! Mungo you have to wake up!" Why wasn't he waking up? Maybe he had been bitten by a snake during the night. He couldn't be dead. He just couldn't.
Slowly opening his eyes, Mungo managed to utter a single word. "Ky...lie?" His speech was broken and slurred. He seemed dazed. Kylie could see that his mouth and his tongue seemed to be covered with a white film. He was dehydrated, and probably suffering from heat exhaustion. Or was that heat stroke? Admittedly, Kylie did not know the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke. All she knew was he needed water.
How had this happened? He had seemed so vigorous, so full of life around the campfire last night. So why was he so weak and feeble this morning?
Perhaps playing music had taken a toll on him. Kylie could not be certain how long he had played last night. But the physical activity of clapping the sticks together would have been tiring. The singing, too, would have left his throat dry. If he hadn't taken any breaks he would probably be dehydrated. After all, it had hot last night. Very hot. And with the way the morning was, it would be much hotter by this afternoon.
There was another possibility. If that really had been Wirinun, er Mungo, in her dream last night, then maybe that sort of magic was physically demanding. Kylie put that thought far from her mind. Such things were not possible. Were they?
Acting quickly, she went to his pack. She quickly searched his pack for one of the animal skin bags that he used to hold water. She found one, but it was disappointingly light. It was empty. So was the second. She found the third bag to be nearly empty, but still had a few sips left. There were no other water bags.
Kylie began to panic about their water situation. Mungo was nearly out of water, and she only had two 20 oz bottles left in her pack. It would be enough for one day, and that was it. The situation had suddenly become desperate. They needed to find water today. If she didn't get Mungo to a reliable source of water, he could become seriously ill. He could die out here! And if Mungo died out here in the outback, what chance did Kylie have of making it home. She could die out here too...stop thinking about that! Thinking like that didn't help the situation, it only made things worse.
She took the skin bag over to Mungo. "Here, drink this," she said.
He could scarcely hold the bag, so Kylie had to hold it for him. She held the back of his head and the water bag, and let him drink. He drank what was left of the water bag. That was it. Mungo was out of water. "Thanks..." he said smiling weakly. He could barely sit upright. How was he supposed to hike with her to the next source of water? She could leave him behind. No! That would never work. Even if she did find water, she doubted she'd ever be able to find her way back.
"Mungo. Mungo, I need you to think. We have to find water. We can't go back the way we came; it's a two day hike back to the creek. We have to find something closer." Kylie tried to remain calm. "Where do we need to go?"
Dazed and confused, Mungo looked right, then left, then all about. "I...I dunno... he replied. That did little to help ease Kylie's worries.
"Come on Mungo," said Kylie hopefully. "You know the Outback like the back of your hand. You've been here before. How do we find water?" She asked again hoping that he would remember.
"I...I dunno...," he repeated. He sounded even surer of this fact.
Great! Just great! Now what was she supposed to do? They were stranded in the wilderness without a reliable supply of food or water, and her only guide was in poor health. What was she going to do?
The deep guttural sound alerted Kylie to the fact that an emu had wandered into camp. "Get out of here!" Kylie hissed. She needed to think of a plan, and having the large flightless bird interrupt her thought process wasn't helping.
It did not appear to be leaving. Kylie picked up a small pebble, and threw it at the emu. She didn't try to hit the bird, and the rock dropped a few feet away. She hoped it would startle the bird into leaving. "Go on, get out of here!"
The emu began to walk over to Mungo. "Get away from him!" Kylie hissed. She had heard stories about the kick from an emu being able to cut a person open. People had died from emu kicks, either from loss of blood from the wound being deep, or from infection from the wound not being properly treated. The last thing Kylie needed was an emu who suddenly decided to get aggressive. "Get away from him!" she hissed again.
Still the emu kept walking toward Mungo. There was something that seemed strangely familiar about this emu. "Oscar?"
The emu was now looking directly at her. "Oscar? Is that you?"
The large bird was now bobbing its head up and down as if it was agreeing with Kylie. It was Oscar! No! It couldn't be! Sure he had gone missing from the Koala Bares, but there was no way he would come hundreds of kilometers to this random patch of the Australian Outback. Yet somehow, there he was. "Looks like I've got another 'cat story'," Kylie mumbled to herself.
So, Oscar was here. That didn't really change anything. They still needed water, and unless Oscar had brought bottled water with him (which was ridiculous to think he would) their situation was still dire.
"Gooooonk! Gooooonk! Gooooonk! Gooooonk! Gooooonk! Gooooonk!"
Oscar was now making quite a racket in excitement. "Not now, Oscar," said Kylie. "I have to think. I have to come up with a plan." This was crazy. She had no plan. And now she was talking to an emu.
He still kept making noise. Kylie was beginning to lose her temper. "Damn it, Oscar! Not now! I said I'm trying to..." She trailed off mid sentence.
The animals want to talk to you. Will you listen?
There was something about Oscar, something different, which had caught her attention. The emu looked a little...plump. It was a strange observation to make, but Oscar did look a little fatter.
Kylie's brain began to connect the dots. To say that Oscar was well fed at the Koala Bares would be an understatement. People were always offering him bits of their lunches. But he had gone missing from the Koala Bares and had GAINED weight. How? How was that possible? If anything, he should have lost weight from the trek and the lack of free lunches. But he had gained weight.
"Do you...do you know where we can get water?" asked Kylie adding, "and food?"
The emu bobbed his head up and down as if he were agreeing with her. So that was her plan? To follow an emu that she assumed was Oscar? It didn't seem like much of a plan, but Kylie was positive that the emu was Oscar. She didn't have any other plans. She had to trust the animal. Animals had...instincts...
Going over to Mungo, she whispered in his ear. "It's alright; we're going to get food and water. It's going to be alright." She added, "it's okay. Oscar's here"
At the mention of Oscar's name, Mungo seemed to perk up a little bit. "Oho! Is that right?"
"Save your strength," said Kylie. "We still need to hike out of here." Had Mungo known about Oscar the whole time? And if so, why didn't he say anything? She helped Mungo to his feet.
"Lemme pack up the tent," said Mungo as he struggled to the tent.
"Leave it," Kylie insisted. "We'll need to travel light." She emptied the contents of his pack and put them into her pack. "I'll carry your stuff, but you'll need to carry the empty pack."
"Sounds good," he said as he took the empty pack from her, and put it over his shoulders. Was he grinning? He looked so tired, so exhausted, and yet Kylie could swear she saw him grinning.
"Wait here a sec," she said. Kylie went to the fire pit and grabbed a piece of charcoal. It was cool to the touch. She went back to Mungo. "Here," she said as she rubbed the black ash over his body. "You still need to protect yourself from the sun." She continued rubbing until he was covered from head to toe in a dusting of ash.
"Ya wanna to get yer lotion?" asked Mungo.
"No, just use the charcoal," said Kylie. Time was of the essence. She really couldn't be bothered to get her sunscreen and insect repellant, and if the charcoal worked...
"Ya sure?" asked Mungo holding the piece of charcoal awaiting further instruction.
Doing as he had been instructed Mungo rubbed charcoal over Kylie's body. He was quite thorough until she too was covered head to toe in ash; the Outback's version of sunscreen. Looking down at her arms, they were black and grey from the ash. If only she had a mirror. She could only imagine how she looked right now.
"We need to start walking," said Kylie taking command. "Oscar, lead the way." She didn't know for sure if the emu understood her, but Oscar started walking, pausing only to see if the two were following him.
Slowly, very slowly, they began to walk. Usually Mungo was faster than her, but not today. Oscar was in the lead, with Kylie following behind, and Mungo taking up the back of the pack.
He kept falling behind. Oscar and Kylie would wait for him to catch back up to them, but as they continued to walk, it became more and more frequent. As he walked, he listed from side to side. He was in bad shape, and Kylie could see it clearly.
She searched the ground for sticks, and found one capable of supporting a person's weight. She snapped off the side branches and handed the makeshift walking stick to Mungo. "Here, use this," she said. She took off her pack and brought out one of the two remaining water bottles. "Drink this."
Mungo sipped at the water bottle. He drank thirstily. Within no time, he had finished the bottle.
Kylie was amazed at how selfless she had been in giving him her water. After all, the two water bottles represented all of the water they had left. Out here it was their lifeblood; and she shared it freely with Mungo. She would share the last bottle, too, down to the final drop.
"Better?" she asked hopefully.
"Better," Mungo said in agreement. "Let's go."
They continued their walk. Mungo seemed to be keeping the pace better after having a drink of water. As they walked, Kylie began to take more notice of her surroundings. They were walking on a walkway of smooth tumbled rocks. A creek bed. They were walking on a dry creek bed. Not only that, but Oscar seemed to be leading them downhill. Water flowed downhill. He was leading them to water, just like Kylie had thought he would. She knew this to be true.
Looking back over her shoulder, she saw Mungo hunched over. He looked like he was in pain. "Are you okay?"
He began retching until he vomited; it was bright yellow.
Running over to attend to him, Kylie asked again, "are you okay?"
"Nah," said Mungo weakly.
"You drank that water too fast," said Kylie. "You'll give yourself a stomach ache that way." Listen to her, she sounded like a doting mother. She took her second bottle of water from her pack. "Drink this--not all of it. Drink it slowly. It's the last of the water."
Mungo did as instructed. He drank a few sips, maybe a quarter of the bottle's contents, and handed it back to Kylie. She took a few small sips. She could have easily finished the whole bottle, but she restrained herself. All she really needed was a few sips to take away the cottony feeling inside her mouth. "Let's go."
They kept moving, but again, Mungo kept falling behind. Losing the contents of his stomach did little to improve his condition. It was clear that he couldn't go on like this for much longer.
Kylie came up with a plan. An emu could support a person's weight. Couldn't they? She looked at Mungo's relatively small frame, and Oscar's large stature and convinced herself that this plan would work. "Oscar, come here," she said, and she whistled to call him over. The emu did as she had commanded. "Okay Mungo, climb up on Oscar," she instructed.
As soon as Mungo put his hand on Oscar, the emu walked away. Kylie called him over again, and tried to coax Mungo back up on the emu. Again, Oscar walked away.
"I told ya, he's still mad at me," said Mungo. That was typical Mungo. Here they were in a fight for survival, and he was still making jokes.
"Save your strength," said Kylie. She didn't know how much further they had to go, but they both had to conserve their strength. She slipped her arm under one of his armpits and helped to prop him up.
With Mungo putting some weight on the walking stick, and some weight on Kylie's shoulder, they began to walk again. The going was much, much slower. This was easily the slowest pace they had gone the whole trip. With the weight of her pack, and Mungo using her for support, her shoulders were getting quite sore. She was getting worn out. They hadn't eaten all day, and had been running on just a few sips of water. She was tired. Just how much longer could she keep this up?
The answer? Not much longer, but that was irrelevant.
They turned around a bend in the creek and discovered a small lagoon. Here in the harsh landscape of the Outback was a private little oasis. Kylie wanted to jump for joy. She wanted to run to the water. But she couldn't. She needed to get Mungo to the water first. She could celebrate later.
"Come on, let's go. We've made it," she said to Mungo. Those last few hundred meters were very slow going. Mungo seemed almost incapable of taking full steps. She was very close to having to carry or drag him that last little bit of the way. Once they got to the water, everything would be fine.
And what if it wasn't?
Reaching the banks of the small lake, Kylie gently laid Mungo down on the banks. She wanted to have a swim in the lake, but Mungo's needs came first. It had been her idea to put him in the lake, but she decided against that. The change in temperatures could be too much of a shock to his body.
She went to the lake and refilled the empty water bottles. She also refilled Mungo's animal skin water bags. She went back to Mungo and handed him a bottle of water. "Drink this slowly," she said. "I don't want you throwing up again."
Kylie went back to the lake. She needed to cool down Mungo's core body temperature somehow. She took her sarong from her pack and soaked it in the lake water. She went back up to Mungo and kneeled down beside him. Using the sarong, she gently dabbed his skin. The sarong got black and sooty from the ash that Mungo used as a sunscreen. The sarong was probably ruined.
Kylie made a few trips down to the lake to re-wet the sarong. She continued to cool Mungo down. He was starting to look a little better. "Are you feeling any better?"
"I'll go find some food," Kylie offered. "Go easy on the water." In her time on the news, she had heard stories of marathon runners passing out and needing to be hospitalized from drinking too much water. It had something to do with the salt balance in the body. Although Kylie did not understand the physiology of it all, the idea of having some food with water sounded medically sound.
Truth be told, Kylie didn't know how she would find food. Yes, she had watched Mungo forage for food, but could she repeat it? Spearing a snake was out of the question. Could she find fruits or vegetables? Maybe, but it would take all of her wits.
She glanced around for anything that would give her clues to where to find food. There were just trees; trees with birds in their boughs. She couldn't eat the trees, and she couldn't eat the birds. Wait a minute! The birds! The birds had given her an idea. She had seen these same birds picking at the remains of their roasted apple buffet (okay, not these SAME birds, but the same species nonetheless). That meant that these birds were fruit eaters. Maybe if she watched them for long enough, they would lead her to food.
The birds studied her quizzically. After a few minutes, one of the birds flew into the bush, with Kylie following after it. She followed the bird's flight path for several minutes, until the bird landed on a familiar looking shrub.
"Lillypillies," Kylie said aloud. She was sure that they were lillypillies. Yet she was still new at this. How could she be sure that she had properly identified the fruit. She paused and watched. As if the bird had sensed her hesitation, it began to eat the fruit. Well, if it was good for the birds, it probably wouldn't kill her.
"I hope you don't mind sharing," she said as she plucked a cluster from a branch. The bird just looked at her. She popped one of the fruit into her mouth.
Bitter will make you sick.
These fruits were definitely not bitter. They were tart, but not bitter. They would make a good meal. She picked as many clusters as she could and went to bring them back to Mungo.
She found him lying on the banks of the lake, where she had left him. He hadn't moved, but he was sipping water from the bottle. He looked stronger.
"I've brought dinner," she said. He still seemed a bit week, so Kylie fed him lillypillies one at a time. She was nursing him back to full health. She didn't know if she was doing a good job, but she thought she was.
She alternated feeding him lillypillies and eating some herself. After a while, Mungo announced, "I'm full."
"Do you mind if I have the last of them?" asked Kylie.
"Not at all."
Kylie finished off the last of the fruit. She was full now, too. "Excuse me," she said. "I need to go to the bathroom." Kylie felt a bit odd saying 'going to the bathroom' when there was no bathroom, or for that matter any room nearby. She excused herself to take care of nature's calling.