“Good morning,” said the old shaman, “You slept fitfully, I’m afraid. You seemed troubled by dream spirits, but I sang them away in the end. Breakfast? How do you like your eggs? Scrambled I hope?”
I turned and sat, blinking across the fire, my stomach suddenly very aware of the smells my nose had picked up a long time ago. The shaman was expertly cooking a meal of baked beans and eggs in one tin, whilst boiling tea in another and toasting thick slices of bread on improvised twig skewers. Baked beans. God, how long had it been since I had tasted them? Nothing like them seem to exist in this new world and I felt my mouth water in anticipation at their simple pleasure.
He finished and handing me the hot tin to eat directly out of. As hungry as I was (and I was) I made a mental note that if I were to be dining alfresco more often, then I would need some plates and cutlery to at least appear civilised!
The old man watched me eat with a self-satisfied smile, laughing out loud when I paused nervously, my lips hovering at the tea cup’s rim. “Drink. It is not drugged, I assure you.” After a second’s further pause, I decided to take my chances and gulped the tea down. All too soon the meal was finished and I sat back, looking at the old shaman.
“Yes?” he asked
“Well… What now?”
“Yes. What do I do next.”
“I thought you had decided to explore the village and the forest some more.”
“What, I just go? No idea what I’m looking for? No clue? No map?”
“You worry too much, young one. The backpack will guide you, as you will guide it. Give yourself to adventure.”
As I thought about this, I idly pulled my bedroll up to ward off the morning chill that bit at me despite the small campfire.
“Cold?” he asked, “Well, we will have to do something about that, although in time you will become accustomed to wearing fewer clothes; after all, when did you last see a gazelle in a waterproof jacket?” he teased. “Have a look in your backpack.”
“My…? I did, yesterday. It was empty, more or less.” The shaman just smiled at me so I pulled the pack onto my lap and opened it. There, inside, I was amazed to see a neatly folded shirt and pair of trousers. Underneath, as I pulled them out, sat a rugged pair of walking boots. I gawped at the old man, “But… but… how? These weren’t here before!”
“Ahh,” he laughed, “The Elemental looks after its chosen. You will find that the backpack holds a good many things you never imagined possible. But you’ll discover that yourself; for now, why not get dressed and begin your journey.”
I nodded, dropping the bedroll as I stood and pulled my new clothes over my naked fur. They fitted perfectly, as did the boots which hugged my feet and instantly felt as though I had worn them for years. One last item was missing. At my feet sat the backpack, the start of all this insanity. Bending, I repacked it, strapping the bedroll away and fastening it tight, before, with a deliberately exaggerated motion, I slung it over my shoulders onto my back and stood, no longer just HeadBurro Antfarm, but now HeadBurro Antfarm The Chosen. HeadBurro Antfarm The Seeker. HeadBurro Antfarm The Last Hope. HeadBurro Antfarm The Terminally Confused. HeadBurro Antfarm The Hopelessly Lost. Oh God!
I turned to gaze into the forest behind me, its tall trees soaring into a beautifully clear sky, birds and insects calling in its depths, the same depths that held (I hoped) the first clues to my task. “I best make a start then,” I said turning to the old man. He was gone! I spun round, searching for him between the buildings of Cowell, but there was no trace he had ever been with me at all.
Running my hand over my furred head, I kicked dirt on to the embers of the dying fire and headed off to explore Cowell further…