I’d been in the grip of a strange dream and didn’t want to open my eyes. I wasn’t fully awake, and the dream was still vivid… it scared me, was it real? The girl and dog beckoned to me again, while walking away into the darkness, and I struggled to focus on them when they disappeared from sight.
Don’t be a coward, open your eyes, urged my inner voice. Nothing can hurt you. They're in your head. It's a dream. I opened one eye slowly… then the other one.
I was lying alone… where was pet Sooz?
The Eringa waterhole sparkled in the early-morning light, and the two vehicles were parked nearby. The campfire crackled, and the smell of brewed coffee drifted with the smoke. Sooz was up and that meant breakfast wouldn’t be far away, and with that thought my dream disappeared.
‘Hello Paddington,’ Sooz dropped down to my level and planted a wet sloppy kiss on my nose.
‘Sooz, do you have to?’ Pet Sooz, I’d learnt was a sook. She was forever kissing and cuddling me. Not that I minded most of the time, but I was growing up, and it didn’t look cool to be modi coddled all the time… What will the other pups say when we return to puppy school?
‘Not the blue plastic Sooz.’ My objections fell on deaf ears when she picked me and plonked me back in the middle of it.
‘Sit there, while I organise the breakfast,' she said sternly.
‘I’ll take him for a walk if you like,’ said grand Moo.
‘Yeah, that’d be good,’ said Sooz.
Why did grand Moo think she was taking me for a walk? I thought it was the other way around. ‘Come on then grand Moo, let’s go.’
We walked away from the waterhole towards the rise. I didn’t want to walk that way. The dream surfaced in my head, and so I pulled her away and headed back towards our camp. I was drawn by the delicious aroma of food cooking, and if I didn’t get back, Sooz might forget to feed me. I led grand Moo back to the campfire where grand Poo was turning bacon in a pan, and Sooz toasted bread in a wire contraption with a long handle.
The embers of the fire glowed red, and I joined my family to stare into them. Grand Poo divided the bacon and eggs onto three plates, while Sooz piled a heap of toast onto another plate.
The camping chairs were pulled to the blue plastic sheet, and my pets sat down to eat their breakfast. Sooz was busy buttering toast and layering it with something that smelt of oranges.
‘Sooz, what about me?’ She’s forgotten me, how could she forget me? ‘Sooz, I’m starving.’
‘Paddington, try this.’
I took the piece of toast from her fingers. It was covered in melted butter and something sticky. I put it onto the plastic sheet and licked the topping off. ‘Oh Sooz, it’s delicious. Why haven’t you given me toast before?’
‘I think he likes toast and marmalade,’ said Pete.
‘Don’t give him too much. It’s not good for him,’ said grand Moo.
‘A little bit won’t hurt,’ said Sooz.
Their conversation became a distant murmur, while I concentrated all my energy on devouring the toast. I savoured the flavour when it slid down my throat and licked the blue plastic in case I’d missed a crumb, before looking back at Sooz. ‘Can I have another piece… please, Sooz, please…?
‘… Did you like that Paddington? Okay, here you are.’
‘Thank you Sooz. Don’t listen to anyone else Sooz, what harm can it do me?… Oh, by the way, Sooz, you can kiss me as often as you like.’
And that was my introduction to hot buttered toast with marmalade… Yum.
Once breakfast was over and the Toyota packed and the fire extinguished, it was once again time to head off. I looked up at the house on the rise from the back seat and wondered about my dream. What was the name of the girl and dog? Alice and Red flashed into my brain if you’re real show yourselves, I said to myself. I need to know if my dream was just that.
Pete fired up the Toyota and drove along the track that followed the waterhole. I stared across the sparkling water and the clarity of the water once more mesmerised. I saw them then, standing in the trees. Alice and Red were waving to me. They weren’t a dream, wow… I barked a farewell to them, while my vision remained glued to their smiling faces and then Pete drove around a bend and I lost sight of them.
We drove north, and I drifted in and out of sleep for most of the journey that day. We visited Dalhousie Springs but didn’t stop. I heard my pets discussing dogs weren't allowed. I didn’t understand what difference one small pup could make, but the National Park had a rule about dogs being on their property. Pete decided we’d carry on.
The next couple of days were more of the same, until we travelled through the Painted Desert and for the first time in days, I took an interest. The Painted Desert was just that, it looked like an artist had come along and painted long strips of colour through the rock formation.
‘The colour is spectacular,’ said Sooz. ‘Stop and let's take a picture.
Pete pulled off the track and grand Moo and grand Poo joined us. We walked across the stony ground to the edge of a cliff and looked across the sweeping plains below.
‘That’s Mount Arkaringa,’ said grand Poo.
‘When was the desert formed?’ Sooz stood with the viewfinder of her camera pressed to her eyes.
‘About eighty millions years ago… give or take,’ replied grand Moo.
‘Wow… that’s a long time ago,’ I said. Pete had wandered off with his camera, and I wondered if I should go with him to look after him. Pete needed me. I’d already had to save him from being gobbled up by a snake. Who knew what could happen to him out here. I looked skyward scared an eagle might swoop down and carry him off.
‘Yes the multi hued terrain is beautiful,’ said Sooz dropping the camera back to her chest.
‘Multi-hued… Sooz does that mean colour?’ I swung around looking for Pete. ‘Sooz, do you think I should go and find Pete?’
‘Stop pulling on the lead, Paddington, or I’ll put you back in the car.’
‘But I'm worried about Pete.’
‘How did it get to be that colour?’ Sooz lifted the camera back to her eyes.
Sooz was so frustrating at times. I wished she’d listen to me.
‘It’s to do with erosion on the residue from an ancient inland sea and the leaching of minerals into the soft soil. The two things together are what cause the myriad of colour we can see.’
I didn’t understand a word grand Poo said and turned to look for Pete again. ‘There you are Pete,’ I wagged my tail at him as he appeared from around a rock. ‘You shouldn’t wander off like that… you could get lost.’
Standing in the open with the sun beating down on my exposed body, I suddenly was overcome with the heat. The landscape was made up of soft fragile rock and with barely a blade of grass or desert oak to pee against. I didn’t know where to relieve myself.
‘I’ll take Paddington for a walk over there. I think he needs a pee.’
‘Thanks Sooz. Then, can we get back in the car. I’m not feeling well.’
Back at the car, I gulped back the water offered and settled back into the seat, while Peter negotiated the steep descent.
‘I don’t think Paddington’s feeling well,’ said Sooz.
‘Give him a piece of apple,’ said Pete. ‘He’s probably dehydrated.’
‘Are you sure it won't upset his stomach?’ said Sooz.
‘Stop talking about me. Just give me the apple, Sooz,’ I woofed. ‘I’m sure apple will do me good.’
‘When you get down to the flat, pull over, and we could all have some refreshments.’
‘Okay,’ Pete found a safe place to pull off the track and parked. ‘No shade I’m afraid. I don’t think we should hang around here too long.’
My pets and grand pets enjoyed a quick morning tea. Sooz cut small chunks off an apple and fed it to me. ‘Delicious Sooz, thanks. Juicy, yum, can I have another piece please?’
I went back to sleep once the Toyota started moving again. My stomach churned… funny, this was the first time I’d suffered car sickness on the trip. I didn’t feel well and tried to sleep.
We drove into Coober Pedy. Wow, what an interesting place. Pete and Sooz were talking about the people who lived underground, and they decided we’d stay overnight in the Desert Cave, instead of finding a campsite.
‘Are we going underground Sooz?’
‘We’ll have to smuggle Paddington into our room. So book one up top.’
‘Does that mean, we’re not going underground, Sooz?’
‘Okay,’ said Pete climbing out of his seat.
Sometimes, I got the feeling nobody listened to me. ‘Sooz, can I have another piece of that delicious apple.’
She ignored me, and we waited while Pete and grand Poo organised our rooms. It was late afternoon, and the sun still beat down. It was a harsh environment out here, and I wondered about sitting in my water bowl to cool off. Sooz opened the door for me, and a bit more air circulated into the back of the Toyota, but the air was hot and dusty, and it appeared nothing was going to help my churning stomach. ‘Sooz I feel sick.’
Pete returned and carried our bags up a flight of stairs to a first floor landing and disappeared along it. When he’d taken everything we needed for our overnight stay, he returned for me and wrapped me up in his coat and carried me to our room.
It was a large room, and I walked around it, sniffing at the carpet. ‘Sooz I’m going to be sick.’
I was overcome by an almighty stomach ache. My body hunched over, and my throat contracted and my chest muscles shuddered, and a rush of vomit left my mouth landing on the carpet. Once I started, I couldn’t stop and tottering forward, the convulsions happened again, and again, and again….
‘Oh Sooz, I’m dying.’
‘Oh my God, what’s he eaten?’ Sooz was cleaning up after me while Pete followed me around the room.
‘We’ve been so careful that he didn’t pick up anything off the ground. Do you think he’s poisoned?’
‘I’m not sure,’ said Sooz. ‘It wouldn’t have been the apple, would it?’
‘How can apple cause this?’ Pete waved his hand at the mess over the carpet.
‘Take him into the bathroom, and I’ll clean up. I think we need to settle him down and see how he is in a while. I don’t think it’s poison. I think he has an upset stomach.’
‘Sooz, hold me.’ I whimpered only half hearing their words of concern. ‘Am I dying? I love you Sooz. I love you Pete. Tell Lola that I loved her too, even though she didn’t love me. Will you get word to my mother and brothers and sisters?' I was babbling, but couldn’t stop myself. Pete took me into the bathroom and stayed with me until he thought I stopped being sick and then Sooz picked me up and cuddled me against her chest.
Her hair smelt of Sooz and her hands of soap. I slept in her arms until another bout of convulsions woke me, and once more I chundered. My throat hurt, my chest hurt my whole body ached. I was going to die. I knew it.
When I woke the following morning, I was surprised. It had been a rough night, and I’d kept my pets awake through most of it, when more convulsions seized my body. I was possessed and wondered about Alice and Red. They wouldn’t do that to me… would they?
A knock on the door and grand Moo and Poo came to check on me. ‘How are you Paddington?’ grand Moo looked worried.
‘I’m feeling a bit better, thanks grand Moo,’ I sliced my tongue over her hand.
‘Rough night?’ grand Poo asked.
‘Yes, you could say that. I think it was the apple that upset him. He’s such a greedy guts... he gobbles everything you give him.’
‘Greedy guts… Who… Not me, I’m not. I like my food, what’s wrong with that?’ How could my Sooz say such a thing about me? I thought she loved me, and she was saying horrible things.
‘Let’s check out,’ Pete said to grand Poo.
My male pets left the room, and Sooz picked me up cuddling me against her chest. ‘Poor, puppy.’
‘Now, you’re being nice… well that won’t wash with me, Sooz. How can you say horrid things, and then try to cover your tracks by being nice? I thought you loved me. I’m not a greedy guts, Sooz. Take it back or I’m not going to love you any more.’ I felt bad saying I wouldn’t love her anymore. But it had to be said.
She put me back to the ground while she packed the bags. I watched her from a safe distance, not sure whether she was pondering my words about not loving her or not. Pete arrived back and carried the bags to the Toyota and then smuggled me out in his coat.
Once more, I was shackled into my seat, feeling unhappy and unwell. I’d had no breakfast, not that I wanted any, but still, nothing was offered for me to be able to say – no thank you.
‘Before we leave town, can you stop off at the shop? I want to get Paddington something nice to eat for his dinner. He’ll probably be feeling better by tonight.’
‘Sooz, did you say you’re going to get me something nice to eat?... Sooz you do love me... Thank you Sooz, can I have hot buttered toast with marmalade, followed by roast chicken and biscuits? I’m actually feeling much better now… I wouldn’t mind a nibble of something…’
‘… Paddington sounds better already,’ said Pete. ‘Look at him.’
‘He’s smiling. The only other dog I’ve seen smile like that was Gromit. Funny little fellow,’ said Sooz.
I smiled at them again. So, Gromit could smile, well he isn’t the only one. When I got home, I was going to find out everything I could about Gromit. If Gromit could do it, then so could I and with that thought I settled down into the seat resting my head on my paws for a nap. After all, I’d been awake most of the night, and a puppy like me, needed his beauty sleep, if he was to be alert and on the ball to look after his pets.