A small bird lands at the roadside, scuffing the hot dust, and she asks the tour guide what it is.
“Zebra finch,” he says. “They’re what you wanna see if you’re lost out here.”
Eilidh watches the bird dab at the earth with its orange beak.
“Must be water somewhere close,” the guide says. “They never stray far from it.”
“I wouldn’t either,” she says.
Tom was stranded by the roadside thirty miles north of Ti Tree. His supplies, which had been meager to begin with, had diminished to a few tins of bully beef and half a canteen of water. He had felt no misgivings a week ago when his ride, a Land Rover from a local cattle station, melted into the desert, but he knew he would soon have to decide whether to continue on to Darwin, still three hundred miles north, or return to Ti Tree for as long as it would take him to replenish his supplies and then hitch another ride north. The thought gave him the first sense of anticipation he had felt in days, a small thrill of novelty that persisted even though he knew the option was false. It had been two days since he had seen a vehicle traveling in either direction.
The Dreamtime, a series of Aboriginal legends, celebrates shapeshifting giants that once roamed Australia. The giants forged paths—songlines—which marked the mountains, the rivers, the stars. Their spirits still linger today. Continue reading