Something wet stuck to her chin. Her head hurt and her mouth tasted of acid. She gripped the side of the old timber cart and retched again.
"You okay?" Mr Ron said. "I mean, well, I mean I thought you would be alright; I didn't get sick. We're almost there. Can't you be okay until then?"
Her eyes flicked towards his wrinkled face, then shot forwards as she heaved again. Mary could feel his eyes on her and imagined him shaking his head. She continued to hang over the side until the sick feeling and the pounding in her head dulled.
"I'll walk until we get past the rocks," Mary said, trying to keep her voice even. What she really wanted was to scream at this confounded man.
Mary thought of the cart jostling over the uneven ground again and felt her stomach lift. She closed her eyes and pushed the feeling down.
The driver continued to stare at Mary while she climbed down the rusted steps of the single horse cart. Only then did he shrug and turn back to face his tired animal.
"Watch out for snakes," he told her, then yelled to the horse, "Ya, ya."
He whipped the reins, going through the motions, oblivious that his actions were as mechanical as the horse's.
Mary fixed her eyes on the rocky earth, not only to keep her balance but also to make sure a branch didn't develop eyes or a flickering tongue.
Her heavy breathing burnt her sore throat. The pounding in her head worsened. She didn't slow. She wouldn't give that scruffy man the satisfaction of feeling pity for her. He was beneath her, not worth her thoughts. Up ahead the cart had stopped, He stared back at her and shook his head.
"You right now?" the driver asked.
Mary quickened her pace now that she was on flat earth again, but didn't reply. Her cheeks were so hot they ought to be smoldering. He hadn't even bothered with a hand to help her up. He smiled, but to her it was a jeer.
"The rains have been pretty heavy of late," the old driver said while taking off his dirt-laden hat, then scratching his stringy grey hair. "If we didn't cross here where it's dry, we may have been stuck until the end of time."
Mary stared off into the dense green bush, not wanting to look at him. Her mother had not approved of her leaving the farm to live in the larger city of Bendigo with her auntie and uncle. Maybe mother was right and she was too young? The driver gave the leather straps a whip and the horses began at a trot.
A loud crack sounded, then another. Mary wondered why the driver would whip the horse if it was already moving. But the driver had slumped forwards almost out of his seat. Blood poured from a hole in his head.
"Oh god," Mary screamed, "No."
Mat Clarke (AUS)
Writing order: Suraya Dewing (NZ), Ken Burns (NZ), Angela Shaw (NZ), Sumanda Maritz (S. Africa), Ray Stone (Cyprus), Donna McTavish (NZ), Iliena Bosu (Ind), Suraya Dewing (NZ), Anna Zhigareva (Scot), Ray Stone (Cyprus).