A letter arrives:
Dear, beloved Mr Key
We are lost, hopelessly hopelessly hopelessly lost. We write “hopelessly” thrice to indicate that each of us is hopeless. We would not have you think one is hopeless while two retain hope, nor that two are hopeless and one still hopeful. We are all hopeless and we are all lost.
How we have come to this pass may take some explaining. We got off the bus, as you told us. We were on a lane. There was a hedge. There may have been birds nesting in the hedge. There was certainly sign of nest, if not of bird. Had a bird returned to the nest while we stood there in the lane as the bus chugged away into the distance, there is every chance we might have killed the bird for food. We were famished. Lucky bird, then, that it was off and out, somewhere in the sky, in flight.
We peered over the hedge. There was a field. It was an extensive field containing several cows. We pondered killing one of the cows for food but could not come up with a method. Had there been a bird in the nest in the hedge, we could have borne down upon it, the three of us, menacingly, and made short work of it. Two could hold it still while the third throttled it. We looked at a cow and tried to picture applying that same method. It was not a convincing picture.
We cast our six eyes around in case there might be a pile of rocks in the field or beside the lane. With a rock of sufficient size we thought one of us might bash the cow about the head until it dropped dead. But look as we might there seemed to be nothing bigger than a stone or a pebble, neither of which we thought would prove fatal to a cow no matter how hard we hit it. We had to bear in mind the presence of several cows and assume that the ones we did not attack would come rushing to the aid of the one we did. A few quick sharp blows with a big rock would kill a cow before the other cows came a-charging. But we would have no such window of opportunity armed with mere pebbles. We dismissed the cows as a possible source of food and turned our attentions back to the lane.
We were famished, but at this stage we were not yet hopeless, nor indeed lost. After all, we had only just alighted from the bus and had not yet had time to get our bearings. In our hearts there was a flicker of optimism that within a few hundred yards we might come upon the orchard with its squirrels, or the hotel, or both. We decided to walk along the lane in the same direction in which the bus had travelled. The bus itself had disappeared over the horizon. Ahead of us we could see various clumps and slopes and distant buildings. Hence our hope.
Shortly afterwards, we came upon a puddle of recent rainwater. We fell upon our knees and drank our fill. It was a big puddle, so we did not drain it. We spotted in it a small pale, almost translucent, writhing wriggling wormy maggoty kind of being. Food! We could have compared notes on whose famishment was most debilitating, or drawn lots, but instead, and in spite of its tininess, having plucked it from the puddle we chopped it into three equal portions. Squatting beside the puddle, we then sucked on our helping rather than bolting it down, to eke from it all the nourishment we could and to make it last as long as possible. Yum!
Thus fortified, if only minimally, we toiled on along the lane. Certain clumps and slopes and distant buildings grew closer. None was yet close enough to ascertain whether an orchard or hotel was among them. Pangs of thirst now beset us, as the wormy maggoty thing had proved surprisingly salty. We encountered no further puddles, but then the hedge beside the lane came to a sudden stop and in its place was a ditch. In the ditch was a great deal of water, an admixture of recent rain and some kind of filthy muck-riddled brownish liquid oozing up from below. We judged that were we to drink it, we would be at risk of stomach cramps and digestive horrors and many another gastric malady. “Gastric” may not be the appropriate word, but let it stand. So we trudged on, the watery ditch alongside us like a cruel taunt of the devil’s. It may have been about this time we began to lose hope. But we were still not lost, because we could see the clumps and slopes and distant buildings ahead. We had something to aim towards, be it but a chimera.
But then a mist descended. It was a thick mist. We could not even see our hands in front of our faces, let alone the clumps and slopes and distant buildings. There was some relief in the fact that moisture was present in the mist, so if we gulped mouthfuls of it and swallowed, our thirst raged a little less, oh a little less, but enough, enough. If you can put yourself in the place of a famished and thirst-ravaged orphan recently discharged from an orphanage and sent into the rustic wastelands on a fact checking mission by a writer of unparalleled genius, accompanied by two similarly discharged and famished and thirst-ravaged orphans from the same orphanage on the same fact checking mission, you will appreciate how greedily we gulped that mist-moisture.
In fact, we were so revitalised that we said “Pshaw!” to the mist, the three of us in unison, and we blundered onwards, even though we could not see where we were going. This was our undoing. For when the mist cleared, as suddenly as it had descended, there was no sign of the clumps and the slopes and the distant buildings. There was merely a bleak expanse of nothingness. We were lost. And we were hopelessly hopelessly hopelessly lost.
We slumped against a blob of the nothingness that might have been a vestige of hedge or of the side of a ditch. We sobbed quietly for a while. Then we wrote this report. It is an interim report. Hopeless we may be, thrice hopeless, but we shall press on with our mission, as if it were a metaphor for man’s life upon this mortal coil. If you receive this letter, you will know that at least we stumbled upon a postbox. What the postbox is a metaphor for, we leave for you to judge.
Yours lost and hopeless, your devoted fact checking team.
Bim, Bam and Little Nitty