Maribelle couldn’t help thinking of her first encounter with the Blackmane. A feeling of discomfort washed over her in accompaniment with the memory. That time the creature had been in their hut, had stolen some of her things. The feelings of disquiet grew. But he never tried to hurt me, Maribelle answered them. He could have, no problemo. But he didn’t. And, Maribelle added, it’s not like I can just sit back and let him get…What? Caught? Hurt? Killed, her mind answered her. Sooner or later, that’s what would happen, if they were ever to capture him. He’d get killed. I can’t let that happen.
“Maybe we should make some noise,” Judith said.
“What,” Maribelle said, “start yelling ‘here, kitty, kitty?'”
“Most of the time I was singing,” Judith said. “On those occasions when I encountered the creature.”
The place where they waited was beside a wide game trail, maybe an elephant path, in the shade of a cluster of stubby trees. A solitary monkey had appeared from somewhere and sat in the deeper branches chattering and complaining. Low hills to their front and rear and on their right, tall waving brown grass and nothing else to see. A swirl of gray and white clouds in the sky, some birds far off in the distance flying around in a circle, the brassy orb of the sun beginning its long descent towards the horizon.
Maribelle had gotten used to the sweat. Air-conditioning was just a pleasant but indistinct memory. She lifted her mass of reddish curls off her neck and tied them with a scrunchy. She thought of Phil Hamm back in the village. He would notice soon that she and Judith were missing, if he hadn’t already. Hamm wasn’t stupid, whatever else he might be. He’d figure out pretty quick what the two of them were up to. *Maybe he’s coming after us right now.*
“You think it would help?” Maribelle said. “If we sing?”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Judith replied.
“Have you heard my singing?” Maribelle said. “It’s liable to send the poor thing running in the other direction.”
Judith smiled. “Let’s give it a try, shall we?”
“What should we sing?” Maribelle asked.
“You pick something.”
“Um, okay, How about the Beatles?”
“Uh, Yellow Submarine? It’s an easy one.”
They sang until Maribelle was sick of it, certain she’d never want to hear the song again. Then Judith suggested a hymn they tried, then Bob Segar. Judith sat on the backpack they had brought and Maribelle sat on the ground. The monkey in the trees jeered their every performance. They kept their eyes in constant motion, alert for any threat. A lion or leopard might come upon them with ease through the tall grass if they weren’t careful. But they saw nothing. No predators, no sign of any other living thing. Neither did they see the Blackmane.
He came at them from behind, and Maribelle screamed in spite of herself when he materialized out of the brown stalks like the demon the Warumbi believed him to be. She stifled the outcry, choking it down. The monkey shrieked in the trees, hysterical with terror.