Overcast. The Um stood soulfully on a sloshed bluff, gazing down at the cold, bleak plain as if it were a microcosm of all human endeavour. Wind-blasted bastard. Next to him, snapping a distant cliff, sat Mr. Brooke, a pale, bijou urbanite under a dense web of tan pig tails. Clicking a further two times, he slid his delicate rims back onto his nose and frowned. Not the right angle? I didn't much mind. A few yards across, Pub Sneer wandered in two-piece rag and bum-glove, looking lost and impotent. He winced at me weakly, seemingly trying to smile. I looked at him as one looks at a three-week-dead mouse circa lunchtime and continued narrating. (Myself, I hasten, clad in Brobdingnagian pants befitting his heightsake, amphibian features, capped, coated, restless; boyish.)
For the moment, that was it: a less-than-formidable four. We entertained plans of rafting to France to find our fifth, but that had more than a whiff of pipe about it, particularly in the mire of our present. I paced self-consciously, imagining the passage in a future history book. It scarcely seemed worthy of a footnote, let alone a passionate treatise. As if to illustrate my point, Sneer dry-retched himself into a ditch behind me, capping it off charmingly with an audibly exhaled orifice. A moment later, the distinct, lackadaisical scent of marijuana drifted up from the hole, ruining the carefully narrated atmosphere — the clot. The sky dimmed slightly. Then thunder. Panning across the Hm, Is It Raining?, I pretended to sigh. This was not the stuff of legend. This was not even the stuff of blogging. I slumped back on my deck chair, sighing for real. It began to rain proper. Amidst the downpour, what started as an almost imperceptible rhythm rose to a hoofed clatter, drawing intriguingly nearer until its source could (just) be made out. By this point, the non-pot-addled among us had gathered on the far side of the camp, peering attentively into the distant sheets. Obscured by rain and fog, it looked rather like a waddling town house.
The cart rolled to a stop. One of the horses snorted — sneezed? — and grumpily toyed with the mud at its feet. Silence. (Except the rain.) The purple carriage shook for a moment. A door, also purple, thudded open. After an excruciating delay, a leg stepped out, followed by a body, another leg, two arms and a head. The fetching whole was somehow even purpler than the carriage. Approaching swiftly, she smiled away the cold. In—
"Wait," she said.
Yes? I wondered.
"'Smiled away the cold'?"
"What am I supposed to be, a princess?"
I considered this.
"Yes," I said, quoting for emphasis. "Prince-ess. Princess! 'Prince' as in Prince, 'ess' as in... I dunno, 'dress' or something. Perfect."
"You're not calling me Princess."
"All right, how about... Ess?"
— her hand she held one of those crass Melbourne Renaissance A4s I had sticky-taped to Flinders Street. The ink was running; I didn't blame it. Still, at least it wasn't Comic Sans or Skia. She kick-started a lantern and held it to her face.
"Hello," she beamed. She looked a little taken aback at our less-than-heroic shapes, but did a serviceable job of suppressing it.
We exchanged the same glance.
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