Most of us tossed and turned the night. Sleep was poor.
Breakfast was poorer. Tempers short. Spirits are flagging. Bodies are sluggish-weak.
Breaking camp started and delayed as we constantly stopped to splash water over ash-covered faces. Everything is finely layered in ash. Coughing continues, eyes burn and tempers explosive but contained.
We are not happy. We are slow and grumbling.
The ash rains down on us, yet we see no fire. We are a worried, scared, tired and grumble-ly lot. Now, we are sure, we have been forgotten by the Rangers.
Packed up we move on - to home.
Visibility is so bad we caravan slowly down the 2 track. The town, 2 hours away may as well be a million miles.
Five hours of driving, bumper to bumper, crawling and not many miles, we come to a cabin. We stop and call out but get no answer. The ground around the cabin is burned, barren—ugly and scary. Timidly, we enter the cabin.
He is on the bed - dead, covered in ash. His skin appears to have been burned, but he is fully clothed. The cabin reeks of vomitus and other body fluids. The cabin is static — everything in place — no trace of fire.
Nausea sweeps over us. In a mutual panic, we get in our cars and leave; bumper to bumper; we continue the crawl for mile after mile of fear.
Another cabin – the same scene greets us.
Another, then another.
It is dark. There are no lights to greet us.
We think we are in the forest but trees are black and limbless. The ground is barren and black. The fire was close to us!
We press on and accomplish but a few miles.
It is night; true night and we stop to rest next to the road. Sleeping bags are rolled out and hastily scattered on the blackened ground. We have not eaten. We don’t think to.
We are frantic and weary. Stomachs are in knots. There is little talk and no laughter.
Actions are slow. Tempers are fast.
Sleep gathers like a cloud and overtakes us.
There are no dreams in this night of hunger, exhaustion and fear.
to be continued early