The Same Place, Chapter 9: Birds and Snakes

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Published on 15.02.10 09:38 Age: 10 yrs
Category: The Same Place

Letters : 23110 Words : 4268

By: Cedar

"Actually, I want to get a few more shots of the campsite," said Kylie. She took out the Scout and panned over the campsite, she then panned over to Mungo, who didn't feel like saying anything that moment. She then held the camera away at arms length and tried to center the frame on her face. "It's day...four?" That was right. It had been their third night, and fourth day of the walkabout. "We haven't seen another person since we left the cattle station..." She wanted to provide some narration for when she went back to edit the video. Without context, she might lose track of the order of events once pieces of footage hit the cutting room floor. Still she wasn't happy with her take. Her dialogue felt forced and stilted. Granted, this sort of footage was unlikely to make the final cut, but it just wasn't up to her standards of quality. Why was she having such a hard time creating organic sounding dialogue?

"Whatcha doin'?" asked Mungo.

"Just making a few notes," said Kylie. "I want to leave a few segments where I can remind myself of things that I might forget later. It makes the editing process easier," she explained.

"Ain't what it looks like to me," said Mungo.

"Then what does it look like?"

"Looks like yer tryin' to tell your story. And it looks like ya could use some help."

"Oh, I don't know about that," said Kylie. "It's YOUR story I want to tell," replied Kylie.

"People don't know Mungo. But people know Kylie Burns. I'm sure your fans would wanna see ya." He had a point. "This is just as much your story as it is mine. And I can help ya tell it."

Kylie wanted to tell Mungo that she really didn't feel like telling her story right now. But she didn't want to be rude. "How can you help me?"

"I'llhold the camera for ya. It'll be easier that way," Mungo offered.

For Kylie, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. It wasn't that she was eager to appear on camera. Rather, Mungo lived a life that was not reliant on technology. At the very least, it would be fun to see him out of his natural element, and behind the lens of a modern video camera. "Okay," said Kylie handing over the camera. "It's pretty simple to use. You look through this eyepiece here. This button starts the tape, and this button stops it." She was about to tell Mungo about the various zoom and focus options, but decided to keep it simple. "Have you got all that?"

"I think so," he said with giddy excitement. He was like a little kid pretending as though he had a telescope and was in search of adventure. It brought a warm smile to Kylie's face. "Ready, Kylie?"

"Hold on a second," said Kylie as she went to her pack. She brought out her sarong, and was about to put it on for the shot. But she paused. Could she appear nude on camera? She had not considered this before, but now that the idea was in her head, it would not be dismissed so easily.

One of the founding tenets of advertising is the idea that sex sells products. It would be remarkably easy to market this documentary on her nudity alone. There would definitely be an audience who would tune in to see Kylie Burns nude. But they were most definitely NOT her target audience. She was a classy lady, and would not do anything to demean herself (or Mungo for that matter). She was in the business of producing art, and not smut.

But there were artistic merits to appearing nude on film. She had resolved the night before, that if she were to properly document Mungo's story, she would need to boldly document his nudity. His nakedness was an integral part of his story, an integral part of who he was. So, for that matter, wasn't her nudity just as much a part of her story. After all, she had hiked nude the entire day yesterday, and had sore breasts to prove it. Wasn't it a bit disingenuous to not at least incorporate it into her story?

She set her sarong back down with her pack. "I...I'm ready Mungo," she said as she turned to face him; to face the camera.

Mungo could hear the hesitation in her voice. He could see the hesitation in her eyes. "Ya sure? Ya don't have to do this, y' know."

Kylie appreciated him being so respectful. But right now, she didn't want to be talked out of this. This was something she needed to do. "Take the shot," she said her voice dropping to almost a whisper. She then added, "nothing below the belly button." Aside from people at the Koala Bares, no one knew that Kylie Burns was not a natural blonde. And she intended to keep it that way.

A small green light flicked on, and this was Kylie's cue. 

"It's been less than 24 hours since I have had a hot meal, and less than 48 since I had a hot shower, and yet it seems much longer than that. I'm starting to appreciate everything I had back home. It's not just my kitchen, and my bed, and my bathroom. I miss the little things. It is difficult to greet the day without my morning cup of coffee. I have to wonder if the extra ounces of weight in my pack would have been worth it if it meant being able to bring some instant coffee.

"Yet as I contemplate extra ounces in my pack, I am reminded of a dull ache in my shoulders. Could I carry more? Yes I could. Is my carrying my existing load work enough? Yes it is. My muscles consistently experience a dull soreness. The hiking is difficult, but getting started in the morning is even more difficult.

"We have not seen any one since we left the ranch. And I doubt we will until our return trip home. If left to my own, the solitude would be maddening.

"Yet I am not alone. I have a fantastic guide to the Outback. He has been nothing if not considerate. Each night he builds a campfire. Each meal, he provides food from the landscape itself. He has gone so far as to pack a tent for my own personal use; and yet he sleeps on bare ground. It is as though he is most at home in the Outback. And if this is his home, then he is a great host."

She was about to ask Mungo to stop the tape, when she realized that there was something she had neglected.

"You may be wondering why I am nude. My guide, Mungo, has insisted on doing his walkabout entirely in the nude. With the last signs of the civilized world behind us, I have decided to leave my clothes behind as well. The old saying goes, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." It is a good saying. But there are no Romans here. This is the Outback. There are no roads."

The dialogue flowed naturally. It wasn't especially profound. But it rang true to any would be bush walker. The going was most certainly not easy. She missed the comforts of home, and yet she wanted to see what lay ahead. Mungo's story was not over, and neither, for that mater, was hers.

"Okay, cut," she said drawing her hand in front of her neck.

"Cut what?" asked Mungo a bit confused.

Mungo's naivety was a bit comical. Did he watch TV or movies at all? Surely everyone knew what 'cut' meant? "It means turn the recorder off," she said.

Mungo hit the stop button. "So why say 'cut?' Why not just say 'stop?'"

"In the old days of filming, they would literally cut the film reel each time they needed to stop. Each of the various cut pieces of film made up the individual 'takes.' They would take these smaller film strips together and 'splice' them into a longer film," Kylie explained.

"Cut. Takes. Splice. How do ya keep track of all this stuff?" asked Mungo.

"You get used to it pretty quickly," said Kylie. "Actually I think it's a whole lot more impressive how you know the names off all these animals and plants. How exactly do you do that?"

"I'm just a really good listener," said Mungo.

"You listen to plants?" asked Kylie.

Mungo shrugged. "Ya get used to it pretty quickly. Let's have some breakfast." Breakfast that morning was apples, this time unroasted. They were tart, but not bitter. Kylie was beginning to understand that distinction.

As they munched their apples, Kylie spoke between bites. "So what did you think?"

"About what?"

"My on camera segment," said Kylie. "You know, my 'story.'"

"It was good," said Mungo pausing to chew a bite of apple. "If ya want, I can hold the camera again." There was an excitement to his voice. Kylie suspected that Mungo enjoyed using the camera, though she doubted he would ever openly admit liking any piece of modern technology.  

"Yeah. That would help. I don't know. There's something about being in front of the camera that puts me in my element." There was a note of sadness in her voice. Her future in front of the news camera was uncertain.

"Yer a natural storyteller," said Mungo.

"Well, yeah... I've been a newscaster for many years." It felt odd to bring up her job at such a time of uncertainty in her life.

"It's more than that," said Mungo. "Yer a storyteller. Yer still findin' your voice to tell your story. But yer a storyteller all the same. There's far too few proper storytellers left these days."

What was Mungo talking about? To Kylie's knowledge there was no shortage of artists. Yet she felt honored to be grouped among 'the storytellers.' Given the company Mungo kept, this could only be a compliment.

They finished their breakfast and got ready to hike. This meant applying their own version of sunblock; lotion for Kylie, ashes for Mungo. When they left their campsite that morning, it was full of birds that were more than happy to pick through the remains of last night's dinner and that morning's breakfast.

As they hiked out that morning, Mungo was full of energy. He made a point of pointing out each bird he saw and telling Kylie its name and how to recognize it by feathers or by song. The names he used were hardly scientific. For that matter, the names were hardly even English. Kylie was unsure of whether or not to film this, so she ended up taking a lot of shots. It was interesting information, but it didn't really fit with her project.

"Look, Mungo, I hope you don't mind, but I'm not really interested in producing a documentary about bird watching." She hoped that she had not hurt his feelings.

"I ain't teachin' ya bird watchin'. I'm teachin' ya somethin' more important."

"Which is?"

"How to talk to the animals."

"Mungo, people can't talk to animals," protested Kylie. Sure, she had enjoyed the story of Dr. Doolittle as a child, but that was a work of fiction. People could not talk to animals.

"But I can talk to the animals," said Mungo. "And you can too, if ya listen up ."

"But how does knowing the songs and names of birds translate to being able to talk to animals?" asked Kylie. She didn't exactly follow that logic.

"They won't wanna talk to ya if you can't remember their name," answered Mungo. That was perfect Mungo logic. Even if it made sense to no one else, it made sense to him. And that was all that really mattered. Kylie endeavored to be a more attentive student from then on.  

As they hiked, they took turns with the camera. Granted, Kylie was taking most of the shots. This was, after all, her project. Yet she let Mungo get a few more shots of her to help provide context. He seemed happy behind the camera. If he kept this up, she just might have to get Mungo his own camera as a birthday gift.

It occurred to Kylie that despite being friends with Mungo, she still did not know when his birthday was. He had known about her birthday, after all, but she didn't know when his birthday was. Well, that wasn't EXACTLY true. He had given her a necklace on the day of her birthday, but he had never said it was a "birthday present." Still, the point remained. Mungo was her friend, and she didn't even know his birthday. For that matter, she didn't even know how old he was. Still, she felt funny about asking. She would have to get that information from Loxie, Zoot, Fred, or Herb, or someone who had known Mungo for a bit longer.

During their hike, they came across something a bit unexpected. "Hey Mungo, look at this," said Kylie pointing to a section of ground just a bit ahead of them. "Is this...is this a path?" she asked. There were stones that seemed to be laid out in a pathway. "Who could have built this?" she wondered aloud. "Do you suppose there was some sort of ancient village nearby?" she asked excitedly.

"Maybe. But this ain't a path."

"It's not?" Kylie said disappointedly. "Then what is it?"

"I think ya can figure it out," said Mungo.

"How?" asked Kylie. "It looks like a path to me."

"Look closer," Mungo suggested.

It looked like a path to her. But for Mungo's sake she took a longer look. It still looked like a path. But there was something different about this path. It seemed to wander, bending frequently. If people had used this as a walkway, it would have been a bit inefficient. It should have been made straighter. So why was it bending like that.

"A...creek?" Kylie mumbled to herself. "This is a creek?" Mungo nodded. "It's a creek!" Kylie said happily. She had figured it out, with only a little help.

"How'd ya figure it out," said Mungo.

"From all the twists and turns," said Kylie. "A path wouldn't need all those bends. A path would be straight."

Mungo nodded. "Good. Very smart. Ya can also tell by the rocks," he said picking up a few of the rocks. "See how they're polished. The water does that," he held the rock up so Kylie could see.

"So where's the water now?" asked Kylie.

"It's the dry season," said Mungo. "Lemme see." He bent down and started moving some of the rocks. Below them were more rocks, and below them were even more rocks. "Here," he said handing her one of the rocks he dug up.

"I don't get it, it's just a rock," said Kylie.

"Take another look. What's different about it?"

"It's cool," answered Kylie. That wasn't all. "It's...damp? Now how is that possible."

"The water's just below the ground. A good soakin' rain and this'll be a creek again."

"So you could get water by digging?" asked Kylie.

"Well...yeah," said Mungo. "But you'd have to dig pretty deep. Ya could get water that way, but there are easier ways. Morning dew on leaves is easier to collect. Ya waste less energy that way."

They left the creek bed and kept hiking. Kylie took a few more shots along the way. Before too much longer, they had arrived at their campsite for the evening. Kylie was happy to have left the dry creek bed behind them, because their new campsite had running water.

"I'm going to have a quick soak," said Kylie. She was disappointed to find that this creek did not exactly permit 'soaking.' The creek was only 10cm deep, 20cm in the deepest spots. Kylie had to settle for sitting instead of soaking. She cupped her hands and used them to pour water over herself. She was able to get herself clean, but that was about it.

When she got back to the main campsite, she found that Mungo already had the tent set up. "Mungo, you didn't have to do that. I would have helped." She felt bad about not offering to help.

"Ain't no trouble," he said. He was quite busy with something. He was filing down a stick with a knife. The blade of the knife appeared to be made of rock and not steel. He was filing the end of the stick into a sharp point. It looked like... a spear?

"What's that?" asked Kylie already convinced she knew the answer.

"It's for huntin'," said Mungo. So Kylie had been right after all. "We'll have meat for dinner tonight."

Kylie was awash with emotions. She had never been hunting, and didn't much care for people who owned firearms. Yet at the same time, they word 'meat' swayed something primal within her. Perhaps she was only thinking with her stomach, or perhaps the walkabout was starting to sway her mind. She could not be sure. But on a professional note, she wanted to show this to her viewers. "Let me film it."

"Get yer camera."

As she got her camera, Kylie began to assess the situation a bit more. Mungo was going hunting. He also intended to kill his prey with a makeshift spear and not a knife. At the very least, this meant that whatever he was after, he wanted to keep at more than an arms length away. That thought was a bit frightening. Kylie knew that Mungo would never put her in harms way. But did she know enough about the Outback to know how and when to keep herself out of danger?

As Kylie was about to find out, snake was on the menu. That's snake, not steak, though the two words sounded quite similar, there was a world of difference separating them.

Mungo speared a snake that had been sunning on a rock, clean through the head. Kylie had captured the whole thing on camera.

"Ewww! Gross!" She frowned. She had not meant to say that aloud. She would need to edit that out of the finished product. If anything, that had been a knee-jerk reaction. The snake had died instantly. Mungo had performed the killing stroke with surgical precision. And while it seemed gruesome to Kylie, it was probably more humane; relatively quick and painless. For that matter, who was to say that the cuts of meat in her fridge had been treated more humanely? Eating meat, being a carnivore (or at least an omnivore who is partial to meat) was built on endless cycle of predator and prey. The outback served as a reminder to city dwellers that tended to forget this fact.

The snake was a black-headed python. Even though Kylie was no herpetologist, the markings were clear as day. There was no missing that prominent black head, even if the head had been speared through.

"It ain't poisonous," said Mungo. Kylie already knew that. People kept black-headed pythons as pets. Still it was a bit odd to see one in its native habitat.

"Can you eat a poisonous snake?" asked Kylie. She was curious, but didn't want to suggest they go and look for one.

"All the venom's in the head," said Mungo. "Cut off the head, and it's probably safe. Still, ya need to clean the meat well. Ya need to know what you're doin'."

"Have you ever been bitten by a poisonous snake?" asked Kylie.

"Once," said Mungo pointing to a scar on his heel. In all their days of hiking, Kylie had not noticed this scar. It had healed well, but if she looked close enough, she could see it. "That won't happen again. I've been much better about listenin' for snakes. Most snakes are scared of humans. We're too big to eat, so they only strike when they feel threatened."

Kylie shuddered. This talk of poisonous snakes made her nervous. She would be happy if she went the whole trip without seeing one of their ilk. 

Before they could cook the animal, it needed to be cleaned first. Mungo took the carcass well outside the boundaries of their campsite. He had explained that the smell from the entrails would attract other animals. That too made Kylie nervous.

He flayed the animal open using his stone knife, and removed the vital organs. It was similar to cleaning a fish. The digestive tract of the snake was unpalatable, and had to be removed. As she filmed the cleaning, Kylie could feel her stomach begin to turn. She had to restrain herself to keep from vomiting. When he had finished cleaning the snake, it was little more than a length of sinewy muscle held together by a scaly skin.

They took the snake back to the campsite. Mungo kindled a fire, and filed a smaller skewer to cook the snake meat on. Kylie filmed as he held the meat over the fire. It crackled and hissed and let off an appetizing aroma. When did the transition from snake to meat occur? It was hard to be sure, but the smells from the cooking fire indicated that meat was on the way.

"Here, try a piece," said Mungo offering her the skewer after the meat had cooled.

Kylie gingerly tore off a piece and took a bite. It was chewy, almost like a jerky. The flavor wasn't bad. Snake kind of tasted like chicken. Kylie remembered from the movie Jurassic Park that modern birds presumably evolved from dinosaurs. If that were true, wouldn't it be more accurate to say that chicken tasted like reptile?

They shared pieces of snake over the fire, and Mungo foraged seeds from a plant he called 'Burrawang' to supplement their meal. The protein content had left Kylie feeling a bit more satisfied than their meal of apples from the previous evening.

They stayed up a few hours after sunset talking around the campfire. Kylie told him stories from working for Channel 5, and some of the more outrageous stories she had been sent to report on. Mungo talked about his travels, and all the animals he had seen. He did not mention if those travels had all been walkabouts. And Kylie did not ask. She did not want to interrupt his storytelling. After hours of talking, Kylie finally announced that she was ready for bed, and she went back to her tent.

Exhaustion quickly took over. She slept deeply. And once again, she dreamt of Fisher's Creek.

She awoke the next morning able to recall the dream a bit better. She needed no reminder of how the event had transpired. She had lived with guilt over it for many years. There was no need to go down that road again.

Yet in her dream, she was a spectator. She would see young Kylie forced to endure the insults hurled at her by rude boys, yet she was merely an observer. This dream was being 'shown' to her. But she could do nothing to change the events of the dream. She was powerless to do anything. It was disconcerting to see the incident from both the first and third person; in the first person as the younger Kylie and in the third as an impartial observer. This split of perspectives was troubling. She never had dreams this vivid at home. So why would she have them here?

There were other details she struggled to recall. Once again, she woke up covered in sweat. In the dream, she could remember that she had been hot, but not why. She had also sensed some unseen presence in her dream; as though someone had been watching. She couldn't tell if this should upset her or not. The dream had been plenty upsetting already.

As she sat up, she winced. Her breasts were even sorer today. So too were her legs. She was considering wearing her bra on today's hike. She would probably look ridiculous wearing only a bra to go with her hat and sunglasses. But who would see? 

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