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Authors: Andrea K. Höst

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Teen & Young Adult

Stray (2 page)

BOOK: Stray
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Tuesday, November 20

Definitely not Earth

Guess how I know this isn't Earth?  Not animals I can't quite identify.  Not the stars, which, while Southern Cross-less haven't exactly stood up and looked wrong.  Not freaky alien civilisations.  No, my watch told me.  Each day the sun's set a quarter hour or so later.  So this is a world which is really like Earth, but not it at all.  Not even an alternate Earth, unless it's one which has a slightly longer day for some odd reason.

I'll have to think up a name.

A whole new world.  Other planets, habitable planets, actually exist.  There could be anything, anything at all out there.  I'm trying to be excited about it, to appreciate what an amazing experience this is.  But my feet hurt, and I'm hungry.

As well as discovering a planet, this has been a big day for Survivor Cass.  I reached the river at last, at about mid-morning.  Since my water bottle was empty, it was great to get to it, and I jumped straight in before the idea of piranhas occurred to me.  I seriously needed the bath, though.  The river bottom is all small rocks and grit, and the water's very clear at the shallow parts.  It's wide, but I've already found a spot where I could wade across.  The water is very sweet, no hint of salt, and so long as I follow the river I won't have any more thirsty days (or get so manky!).

I finished my hat while I was drying off.  A frame of twigs woven together with grass, and not exactly comfortable, but it does shade my face.  Every so often I pull some more long grass to weave into it, and tighten everything up.  I've been plaiting skinny grass stalks together to get something resembling twine, and then I'll reinforce it all again.  My hat might look like the makings of a campfire, but it's the first thing I've made since woodwork in grade eight, and better than nothing.

During the day I've kept my eye out for:

 

- Anything edible. 

- Rocks that look like flint.  Not that I know what flint looks like.  Most of the rock here is grey, with some yellow.  No really red earth like you'd get in Aus. 

- Clay.  This involves squeezing any mud I find.  Extremely silly. 

- Friendly alien civilisations.  I could really do with one of these.

 

It's also been a big day for animals.  Plenty of deer, and what I think was an elk, but very big.  And grey terrier-sized dogs that run around in groups of three or four.  They followed me for a while, and I was a bit worried, but not really because I could send one flying with a good kick, or climb a tree if they came after me.  Mid-afternoon I saw paw prints of something larger and spent ages looking for a good place to spend the night.  There just doesn't seem to be anywhere safe.  Maybe I can weave a hammock?  The best I can do is not sleep anywhere close to the river.  If all the animals go down there to drink, I don't want to be the after-drink snack.

So new animals today:

 

- Mondo Elk. 

- Grey Terriers. 

- Mr Paws.

 

I'm not even going to start listing the birds, because there's so many.  It was a great day for fruit, too.  Red pears, berries everywhere, and what I hope are edible nuts.  I haven't eaten anything but the pears yet because I'm going to have to be systematic about experimental eating so I know exactly what fatally poisons me.  Throat still sore, but my nose isn't blocked.  It's sleeping out in the dew which is doing it.

Wednesday, November 21

Handicrafts and cats

Walking along the river is easier than the hills.  There's still plenty of ups and downs and rough patches, since someone forgot to install a boardwalk, but overall not too bad.

The big event of the day was the cat.  Mr Paws indeed.  It was on the other side of the river, which might be the only reason I get to sit around writing this.  It wasn't as big as a lion, was more like a leopard, except not spotty.  With a golden body and darker brown ears, face and legs, it reminded me of a miscoloured Siamese cat.  It watched me across the river, then
flowed
up the nearest tree and was gone – probably to look for a bridge.  I dubbed it Ming Cat and I'm going to have nightmares about it tonight.  On a less I'm-going-to-die front, there were also otters in the river.  Or something like otters.  I haven't seen them clearly enough to know whether they're different enough from otters to need their own name.

All the berries I've found continue to be sour, but the nuts were great.  Fiddly to get out of their shells, which are like a harder walnut.  They taste more like cashews, and would be perfect if I could figure out how to roast and salt them.  I'm calling them washews.  I wish I'd brought more with me, and if I spot another tree I'm going to harvest as many as possible, since they're light and they'll keep.

Today's home economics project was to grab long stalks of grass and long flat leaves to twist into cords, or to try and weave with.  Just sampling which plants work best and don't hurt my hands.

After the Ming Cat, I gave up on weaving for a while and found myself a Big Stick.  Then I swapped it for a long, straight(ish) stick.  When I'm resting, I rub one end on the nearest rock, trying to make a point.  I'm not really pretending to myself that I'd be able to fight Mr Paws off, but I can at least wave it about and look fierce. 

Navel Gazing

I've never been the type to keep a diary, so this pile of words is strange to look back over.  The first thing which leaps out is how calm I sound.  That's a big bluff.  I just haven't written down all the shouting and crying I've done.  I don't want to write pages about how it feels to wake in the middle of the night, stiff and cold in my grassy nest, to listen to SOMETHING moving around in the dark and hope that if it bites I die quick.  Every day, this could be the last thing I write, and no-one would know.

So I don't write too much about the crying and maybe dying.  I think about it enough, listening in the dark.  During the day, Survivor Cass keeps busy with practicalities because I hate the idea that the whole of my future might be a diary which one day stops. 

Thursday, November 22

Life without entertainment

I've been camping a bunch of times with my family, and once on a school camp which of course was wall to wall activities.  Even then I brought along half a shelf of books to get me by.  Borrowed Mum's iPod.  Recorded all the TV shows I was missing, and straight on the comp as soon as we were back to catch up on message boards and all my web comics.  I'm the kind of person who watches TV while checking FaceBook, and reads whether I'm having breakfast, or on the bus, or in the loo.

I don't get to find out how anything ends.  I don't get to see the next episode, read the next volume, or pick through the latest pile of books Mum brings home to find something new to love.  I keep thinking about the book I left sitting face-down on my bed.  I'd just reached a scene where the characters were being attacked by these big fleshy bugs which lay eggs in people to make more bugs, but then Mum yelled that I had get in the car RIGHT NOW if I wanted a lift, and now that book is stuck in my head with these bugs chasing people in the rain, and no way to know who gets stung.

Exams are practically the only time I don't bring a novel to school.  Theoretically only taking my notes means I'll read them while I'm waiting outside the exam room.  Any other day and I would have at least had one book to read and re-read.

So, here I am, Survivor Cass, boldly exploring an alien world.  And in between crying, whining and trembling, I'm BORED OUT OF MY MIND.

No remarkable developments today.  I've been working on trying to weave bamboo-ish leaves into a mat/blanket/Superman cape.  I'm not too bad with the basic structure, but still don't have the slightest idea how to do the edges.  I've no needles and no thread.  I'm thinking of spending tomorrow not walking, to devote some daylight time to dive-bombing fish and trying to light a fire – something I haven't even tried because reality TV shows have taught me that it's super-hard.

If I catch a fish (my crooked-ass spear has been decidedly ineffective) then maybe I can make the bones into needles.  Thread will be hardest – really bad twine I can do, but I don't see how to make thread.  I need a horse willing to let me cut off its tail.  There's all sorts of things I'm scheming about making, but the bamboo leaf mats are priority number one.  Big, light mats I can roll up and take with me, which I can sit and sleep on.  One I can use to keep the dew off me, and shut away the night.

Friday, November 23

Treed

The Grey Terriers turned up in numbers.  Before today I've only seen them in groups of three or four, but about twenty started following me this morning.  I climbed a tree.  I'm not sure if they're at all likely to attack me – it's not like they're all gathered around the base of the tree jumping up at me.  But every so often they drift back past the tree, and there always seems to be one hanging about watching.

Don't know how long I'll be stuck up here, but I do have food and water – and a sore ass from sitting on this rough bark!

One week

It's been a lifetime.  The past couple of days I've been feeling so...annoyed.  I mean, if I was going to be whisked off to spend the rest of my life stumbling around the wilderness, couldn't it have happened BEFORE the exams?  Or at least after the Schoolies cruise?  I don't even get to find out how I did.  The whole HSC thing seems pretty minor now.  I was going to do an Arts degree while making up my mind where to end up, since there's nothing out there that sounds like an interesting way to earn a living.  That I can do, anyway.

The Grey Terriers went away eventually.  I waited a long time, not sure it was safe, and saw a new animal as my reward.  It must have been hidden in a burrow.  It was only the size of a kitten – for all I know it was just a baby, though I didn't see any adults – and was like the tree fox, except smaller with shorter legs and more a creamy manila folder colour with black markings.  It was so cute.  It leaped about, exploring under the leaves and darting and rushing and then freezing and listening hard and then scurrying back under the tree roots where it lives.

I'm calling it a pippin, and it cheered me up for a while.

The rest of the day was more walking, and finding a rash all over my legs and on my arms.  Just pinpoints, but not comfortable.  And now I'm sitting here on a hill well away from the river, watching the moon rise.  It's the first time it's come up, and if it had bothered to show itself before I would have known straight away that this isn't Earth.  It's big, and blueish, and there's a huge scar almost like a bullet hole, or an odd meteor crater, with lines radiating out from it.  It's about two-thirds full, and it looks like it'll make the night a bright one.  Weird, beautiful.  Mum would love it. 

Saturday, November 24

I am not my Mother

But sometimes I wish I was.

There was a patch where I hated Mum.  My first year of high school, I went to St Mary's.  Great school, I really liked it, and April Stevenson was in my class.  She was just...there's a certain sort of person who is like a little walking sun.  No party feels like it starts until they get there, because they're just so alive.  April was full of great stories and ideas and could do anything she set out to.  Everyone gravitated to her, like they do with HM at my current school, but April was straightforward nice as well, and a reader, so we were always chatting in the library.

April thought science fiction and fantasy was kid's stuff.  She wasn't nasty about it, but she couldn't understand why anyone over ten would read it.  So I peeled the fairy stickers off my folders and read other books.  She invited me over to her house a few times, and everything was so sophisticated and Mrs Stevenson was like someone off TV.  Then we had a parents' day at school and Mum shows up in one of her Celtic dragon t-shirts.  She didn't say anything rude, and chatted away with other parents, but I hated her for that shirt.

I said a few things to Mum that year that I can never take back.  About how embarrassed she made me.  How I was surprised Dad had stuck around as long as he did.  Mum doesn't like arguments.  She just took me out of St Mary's at the end of the term, and pretty much ignored everything I said for about six months.

Before that I used to think she was the best Mum in the world.  When she's not reading she makes jewellery, and eerie but cool little dolls, and sells them online.  She plays computer games.  She's really bad at racing games, but she'll even play them when Jules bugs her enough.  She tries to explain when she wants us to do stuff, and she cares more about what's right than what's in.  It's only over the last couple of years that I realised that she wasn't that embarrassing really.  And I never got around to telling her that.

I can't imagine what she's doing now.  I wish there was some way to at least let her know I'm alive.  That no nasty old man grabbed me and did things to me.  The worst part about all this is that every day I'm complaining about being Survivor Cass is a day she doesn't, can't, will never know.

Sunday, November 25

One long river

I've been following the river in a loop around the base of a big hill, which is easier than trying a straight line over the top since I get lost so easily once I'm under cover of the trees.  The river is narrower and faster than I've seen previously – I'd only swim across it at this point if I absolutely had to – but it's still clear without any hint of salt or tides to suggest that I'm nearing the ocean.

BOOK: Stray
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