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Out With Lanterns

Page 5

Jane Downing

Ros Watt was stung with guilt. She’d been stupid to have got lost. But at least I found my way out, she thought, before empathy kicked in. Yes, the poor man, what a night he must have had. He might be old and frail. Or young and foolhardy. Or just unlucky.

‘Can I help?’ she asked loudly.

A high-vis steward told her that any set of eyes was welcome. It was reassuring to think of herself as needed, even in this small way.

The quickest way into the foothills of the National Park was through the caravan park. A conclave of kangaroos barely bothered to look up as the search party moved through. Dry leaf litter crackled underfoot, fuel, once bushfire season arrived.

Ros tripped, over a root, and clumsiness, and tiredness, but straightened herself and kept going. Walking in line. Purposefully. The search was finally taking her mind off her own problems, that record stuck in her head, going round and round, asking her who she was, now she wasn’t a wife.

They were moving up the foothills of the range, the trail getting steeper, when the sound of leaves crunching underfoot reached into memory, and there it was, something she’d somehow forgotten in the relief of getting back to the motel. She was back in the dead of night. Well, not dead – there were the sounds of small animals rustling and grunting around her. She was hopeless, sleepless, and she abandoned the tree trunk she’d propped herself against and lay flat against the crackling leaves, eyes tight shut. Then she remembered opening her eyes. And falling.

The stars out here, without the pollution of the city, were pure. They were brightly, insistently themselves. And they reversed gravity, pulling her up into their embrace. It was then and only then, that she’d drifted into sleep. On a starlight lullaby of hope. Not a thing with feathers in this instance.

Page 5

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