It is the only form of freedom, said the Calibrator. We had passed another night in the badlands, where strange things cried and died in the darkness, some of them not due to our activity. Catferret had made camp some distance away and his own fire, and I was not surprised to see him standing on a rock silhouetted against the dawn. The Calibrator was cooking ham and eggs on a frying pan balanced over his portable cooking stove. His oilcloth wrap was propped up on branches as a windbreak. The dawn sky was a horrid pink.
The freedom, the Calibrator said, to do those things we saw yesterday. In the hollow.
I told, he said, a young man that many years ago on a far island. He was shall we say susceptible his head addled by an upper class upbringing and probably untreated syphilis from the Oxford doxies - oxies, shall we say - he had porked during his undergraduate years. I took on the persona of a village mayor I had known during the late unpleasantness.
What happened to the mayor, I said unwisely.
What do you think, said the Calibrator. They were bloody times. As they are now. But be that as it may young man I told him as I am telling you that the only freedom is to shed blood.
Nietzsche, I wondered.
Bless you, he said. My young man - that young man - went home to write a two hundred thousand word novel which had that one scene buried somewhere in it like the slim handsome boy inside the fat boozy old man slouched at the bar. He had not understood the lesson not one bit. I even showed him the mayor's gravestone and he still went on believing that I was the mayor. The night mayor I told him. Night mayor geddit?
I do, I said. The ham and eggs were cooked now and we ate them. We could not give our position away so did not call to Catferret. I was not sure Catferret was human anyway. I was not really even sure that the Calibrator was human either. Which left me. Like a reverse version of that fine John Carpenter movie "The Thing", one of us was human.
Perhaps Catferret would have paced down and caught and eaten his own breakfast one of the pikas that darted about the rocky sagebrush lands their only source of nourishment the sagebrush and water from the cactus. The mountain pika, a species of jack hare, has an elongated snout that allows it to burrow into the cactus between the spines. This is also useful to it for hiding against owls and other such things that think pikas are a tasty dinner. At first people thought the pikas were impaled on the spines but they were borrowing them as defensive armour. Oh no Brer Fox, don't throw me into the briar patch. That kind of thing. Of course Brer Rabbit lives in the briar patch and once there he hops away to safety and Brer Fox can't follow.
After our breakfast we set off, on foot as ever, heading for Upland. We planned to be in it by nightfall.