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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Finishing her trip to the "bathroom", Kylie asked "Are you feeling better?" as she rejoined her friend.
"Much," he said. It was true. His eyes were bright and vibrant. His mouth was no longer chapped after having slaked his thirst. He looked like his usual self. If anything, he seemed more vibrant and vigorous than usual. "I'll light a fire."
"And I'll bathe," replied Kylie. She left Mungo to his own devices, and went by herself down to the small lake. She stood at the edge of the water, and dipped her toes in to test the water. She found it to be quite pleasant. It was not too hot. It was not too cold. It was just right. Grinning in anticipation, Kylie began to wade out deeper and deeper.
She dunked her head under water, and then ran her fingers through her blonde hair. She wished, then, for some shampoo and conditioner. It was wishful thinking to be sure. Still, it was nice to get her hair wet. She rubbed her hands over herself to loosen some of the stubborn trail dust. She didn't get entirely clean, but it was the cleanest she had been in over a week. It would have been nice to apply some facial lotion, and some moisturizer after her bath. That would have to wait until she got home. She found herself more than a little homesick. Today had been the hardest day by far. Thoughts of home cooked meals and curling up with a good book made her miss home all the more. How much longer did Mungo plan to stay out here?
Glancing back at their campsite from the river, Kylie could see smoke. Mungo had the campfire ready for the evening. She decided she was finished bathing. It was time to join him back at camp. As she walked out from the water, her reflection in the water caught her eye. Kylie had always thought of herself as being a bit chubby. She still felt this was the case, but had grown to be more accepting of her figure. Yet in the reflection in that pool, she looked practically svelte. Her stomach was smaller from the time spent in the Outback. Even though she was not completely clean, she looked remarkably good. "Not bad, girl," she said to herself striking a model pose. Not bad at all...
Kylie returned to camp to find Mungo tending the fire. "Enjoy yer bath?" he asked.
"Very much," replied Kylie who was still air drying from her bath. "You're looking better," she said. It was true. He looked nothing like the weak dehydrated man she practically had to carry that day.
"Same old Mungo," he said. "Just gimme a little food and water, and I'm back to me old self." He paused then added, "I guess I've got you to thank for that."
Kylie tried to be modes. "You mean you have Oscar to thank for that. By the way, where is he?"
"Sleepin'," said Mungo who pointed at the tired emu laying on the outer edge of their campsite. Oscar's neck was stretched out long across the ground, and his feet were tucked under his large body. "So ya talked to the animals," he said.
"I did not," protested Kylie. "I just followed Oscar, and then watched a few birds to find edible plants. That's all. I didn't talk to any animals."
"Ya know their names. They spoke to ya. It wasn't in English, but ya understood it."
Kylie wanted to explain it all away using logic. There had to be a logical explanation for everything that happened today. Yet she said nothing more. Perhaps a part of her was content to accept Mungo's explanation. It made her feel...magical...
"If ya want, I can go find some more to eat," offered Mungo.
"No, thank you," replied Kylie. "I'm actually not very hungry. Besides, I don't you wandering off and hurting yourself." She paused and shifted her weight her feet.
"Yer thinkin' somethin'," said Mungo, who could read her like a book.
"I...I want to ask you something, but I'm afraid to," replied Kylie.
"Kylie, we're friends. There's nothing you can't ask me," said Mungo. She believed him.
"I...I want to go skinny dipping!" she blurted out. She covered her mouth immediately as though she couldn't believe what she had just said.
"Ya wanna go back in the water? Go ahead! Go swim!" said Mungo.
"I don't want to swim," said Kylie, "and I don't want to swim in the nude. I want to skinny dip."
"What's the difference?" asked Mungo.
"I swim in the nude all the time at the Koala Bares. It's great, but it's just kind of... pedestrian. Tonight, I want to skinny dip," she said emphatically.
"Still don't see the difference," said Mungo now a bit confused.
Kylie explained. "Skinny dipping is about having fun in the spur of the moment. I want to be spontaneous. I want to splash about, and make all kinds of noise. I want to howl at the moon tonight," she had a twinkle of carefree abandon in her eyes. "That's what I want."
"Then do it," said Mungo encouragingly.
"I want you to do this with me." She stared at him intently. "Will you...will you go skinny dipping with me?" They had swum together at the pool of the Koala Bares before, but this was different.
"Yeah, I'd like that," he replied.
"Come on then," said Kylie, holding his hand, as she started running towards the lake. He followed after her. When they got to the shore, she let go of his hand. She flailed her arms haphazardly above her head. "Wooo-HOOOOO!" she shouted, as she ran into the still water of the lake. As she turned around, she could see Mungo splashing in after her. He had a wide smile on his face.
"Wooo-HOOOOO!" Kylie shouted again thrashing her arms about with carefree abandon. The sound of her jubilant shouts echoed across the landscape. The water was the perfect temperature, and there was a large full moon that hung in the center of the sky, illuminating everything in a white ghostly light.
She and Mungo swam around. Kylie dove under the water. As she came up she noticed that Mungo still had not gotten his hair wet. Sure his beard was wet, but that was unavoidable. The hair on the top of his head was still quite dry. "Hey Mungo?"
"You look like you need to get your hair wet," she said playfully splashing him.
"Hey! Stop that! Cut it out!" Mungo protested. But she did not stop splashing him. Eventually he had to retaliate, splashing back at her. This elevated into a playful splash fight, which Kylie won easily (though, perhaps Mungo had been holding back).
Eventually they swam back to the shallower part of the lake, and spent time sitting, laying, and lounging on the sandy bottom of the lake. For a while, they sat in silence, but Kylie wanted to talk. "I love skinny dipping," she admitted.
"Ya seem to be enjoyin' yourself," Mungo agreed.
This had not prompted the reaction she had been hoping for. So Kylie tried a different approach. "I forgot my bathing suit," she said giggling.
"Whatcha mean 'forgot?'" asked Mungo. "I didn't think ya packed one."
Again, this was not the reaction she had been hoping for. She tried one more time. "This is just as much fun as last night," she said. She was trying to goad him into an answer.
"Yer right it..."
"Ya caught me," Mungo admitted. "I was there."
He had admitted it. The entire thing seemed so impossible. How could Mungo be in people's dreams? And yet, he had been there. "So you don't just talk to animals, you also walk in dreams? Is that it?"
"Yeah. I can walk in dreams," said Mungo. "Haven't done it in years. The connection needs to be really, really strong for it to work," Mungo explained. "It's also physically exhaustin'. That's why I was so tired today."
"Why did you do it?!" asked Kylie giving him a friendly punch on the shoulder. "You had me worried."
"I didn't mean to worry ya," said Mungo. "But ya handled the situation well. You've learned a lot from bein' out here. And everythin' ya did today, ya did right. So, thanks, for takin' care of me today."
Kylie was flattered. Sure she and Mungo were friends, but she was happy to learn that their friendship was even deeper than she had expected. "I guess I should thank you then. After all, you were the one who led us here tonight. You were the one who helped me to finally get over that incident at Fisher's Creek."
"Ya don't need to thank me," said Mungo. "Ya did all those things yerself. I just gave ya a nudge in the right direction."
Things got quiet once again. This had been an emotional moment for both of them.
"Did you ever find your story?" asked Kylie. "You never told me why you came out here on the walkabout in the first place." It was something that she had been curious about, but had not asked. This seemed like the appropriate time to ask.
"I came out here to come to terms with death. I'm gonna die." He could see a look of worry in Kylie's face. "Don't worry, Kylie. I ain't sick. I ain't dyin'. I may live another 10, 20, or even 30 years, but I ain't gonna live forever. I wanted to see these places once more."
"Things have changed. Development's creepin'onto the land. Who's to say what happens here in 30 years. It may be a town. It may be a city. But for now, even though things have changed, it''s still as I remember it. It's the same place but not the same way. The walkin' was much easier last time I was here. I was younger, my legs did didn't hurt as much. But it ain't all bad. This time I had friends; Oscar, Lars, and you to see me through it. I wouldn't have made it this time without me friends."
Mungo's answer was satisfactory. Kylie was flattered to hear that her role in the walkabout was far greater than she had originally imagined. She was not a nuisance. She was essential.
Turning his attention to Kylie, Mungo added, "But you? You've still got time on yer side. Yer still so young. Sure the loss of yer job has been difficult. But that's only what you do. It ain't who ya are. You'vebeen given an chance to go wherever ya want, to do whatever ya want. Don't let it go to waste."
"I won't," she said reassuringly. She took his hand in hers, and the two held hands as they gazed up at the stars. "Hey, Mungo?"
"Don't...don't be in a hurry to go anywhere. You know, to...die. I'd...I'd miss you too much."
He looked over at her with a reassuring look on his face. "I won't." It was all that needed to be said.
They laid back in the shallow water and watched the moon and the stars.
"How...how much longer will we be out here. It's not that I don't want to be here, it's just that I'm starting to miss home."
"Me too," agreed Mungo. "Another two nights."
"Really? That's it?" Kylie had expected another 3 or 4 nights at minimum.
"Yeah," said Mungo pointing out over a ridge. "Kurrajong'sjust over that ridge. It's a tough climb, but a short walk. We'll stay there tomorrow night, and back at the waterfall the night after that. And then we'll be home."
"That sounds good," Kylie replied. "I think I'm going to get out. My fingers and toes are getting really wrinkled." Letting go of Mungo's hand, she got up and went to head back to camp.
"I'll go too," said Mungo. "I'm getting' tired." He followed her back up to the campsite. The fire was still going, but it was no longer the roaring blaze it had been. It was now just down to coals. Not that the fire was needed; the moon gave off enough light, and the evening was certainly warm enough.
Mungo settled into a comfortable resting spot on the ground, and Kylie did the same. Though this was the first night she would spend outside the tent, she was not particularly sad to see it gone. If there were ever a night to sleep under the stars. This was it. Kylie doubted she had ever seen this many stars over the light pollution in the city.
"Good dreams, Kylie."
"Good night, Mungo." Two nights and three days. They would be home in two nights and three days. Kylie drifted off to sleep. Her sleep was deep, but dreamless. She awoke the next morning feeling completely refreshed. She felt even better than she had when Zoot had first dropped them off in the parking lot.