Her crazy mother was headed up Thunderbolts Way – a vertical climb to hell … a fly-ridden, cattle town called Walcha. Bexley Darling cycled on oblivious to the declaration of war by her exasperated 12 year old. Maurice ditched her bike into the weedy verge of the road in peak anxiety.
She had not complained when her mother made her walk the abandoned railway line to Newcastle – all the way from Sydney. She had grown used to walking. They weren’t alone on the line anyway. Thousands made that pilgrimage after Sydney went dark. They were wrong about sea level rise. It did rise. The coast road collapsed into the pounding, rising ocean during the superstorms of 2040. But then, the oceans started evaporating. It didn’t rain. Sydney Harbour drained out. The planet’s vital organs started shutting down – the water cycle, the oceans and atmosphere.
The fuel shortage of 2042 forced everyone to abandon their fossil-fuel relics and, by 2044, few remained in operation. The heat buckled the railway lines and roads. So people walked, or perished, or both. That was four years ago.
Civilisation, as her parents once knew it, was gone; but Maurice still objected to stealing bikes in the middle of the night. Her mother held no such qualms. Her empty stomach rumbled.
Like a freshly dropped cow pad on a winter’s morn, Maurice sat steaming on the grass. Her feet, her calf muscles, her skinny legs and boney bum were all numb from the long ride in 48 degree heat. She gazed at the countdown on her watch as her body temperature fell. Despite the rising, hot rage that consumed her, her heart rate returned to resting.
“Poo Mountain,” she muttered.
Poo Mountain was Maurice’s pet name for Walcha, her parent’s home town in the Australian Alps. She stood up, having regained her energy and made her decision. She would return to Sydney, alone if necessary. Maurice breathed heavily, fighting tears back as she paced back and forth. She planned to put all the stress, anxiety, and lack of rest, the mental torture of not knowing their destination behind her, she would suffer no more. She detected movement in the corner of her eye again. Luckily, all she saw was a water dragon scuttling across the road towards her. She skittered out of its way. Maurice had never seen a real lizard before, since they went extinct years ago.
“How long do you think before she notices I’m gone?” Maurice quizzed the lizard.
I almost answered before I remembered that extinct, water dragons don’t talk. Frustrated, she kicked the gravel verge. I ran into the grass, leaving only a puff of dust. She kicked the ground several times after me! Dust filled her lungs.
“Ignore me? Who do you think you are?” she yelled.
Convulsing in coughs, she collapsed in the crunchy grass. Something growled. Maurice frowned, jumped to knees. The grass rustled. Maurice waited. A screaming quoll burst out of the bushes and stood motionless before her, tail lifted.
“No fear! R-raaaaaaaa!” Maurice screamed back. The quoll chuckled and ran away again.
She plonked down onto the grass.
“This is not fair!”
The scream-a-thon alerted her mother to the fact that Maurice was MIA, missing in action. Maurice sighed and announced in her authorial voice, “In the dying light of a dreadful day, with pink steamers of light festooned over a lavender sky…”
Her voice dropped to a disheartened mumble, “in a nightmarish week, the hero finds herself stranded, alone, abandoned by the side of a deserted road, waiting … waiting …. waiting… and … dejected.” Maurice closed her eyes, “… waiting…”.
A moment later, her mother rode up. She circled round. A wave of sudden panic washed over Bexley when Maurice failed to move.
“Maurice!” she screeched. She hurriedly dismounted.
The bike clanged on the road. The human stick insect opened its eyes and stared up unblinkingly and didn’t move.
“Sup?” Maurice calmly quipped as she crossed her legs and stretched her arms to rest hands behind her head, casual-like.
Although relieved that Miss M was okay, Bexley was peeved at being messed with, just as Maurice had intended.
“What’s up??!” Bexley demanded. “You screamed!” And Miss M then let it rip. Now fully recovered, she jumped to her feet.
“Needed to think, Mum! That ok with you? Someone here has to think this little road trip through, even though I do not have a spare ounce of energy left, with Dad gone, I guess it is up to me …” Maurice stopped mid-sentence. She heard a chuckle.
“That pesky beast,” Maurice hushed.
“What? I didn’t hear anything.”
Maurice glared. “Mum?”
“I have decided to go back,” she said.
“Back where, honey?” Bexley replied, smiling.