Road trains had dust, the heat and Big Reds to contend with, there was none of that at fifteen thousand feet. Just the odd soaring bird, maybe a swallow, the odd cow.
The Friesian hit the cockpit ass first, the airframe buckled, pushing Stephan to one side, shards of heavy duty perspex slashing his skin as they shot past his face. Not content with nearly killing him, it managed a deft bounce and skilfully killed the port nacelle, the engine choked, screamed and fell off the wing, spewing kerosene out of its skin like blood from a severed artery. Being hit by an eight hundred pound bird was not part of Stephan's training schedule. It also wasn't in his itinerary to ever hear the words, ‘terrain, terrain', but as the aircraft was heading down like a brick it was inevitable. There was the acrid taste of metal in the young man's mouth and an unbearable stench

in the cockpit. Stephan was thankful his face was covered in blood. Bovine blood, the iron taste in his mouth, as the rest of the cockpit was full of cowshit, he considered himself lucky. It may seem stupid, but it probably was the only chance he had of staying alive. Had he been vomiting, well you try and imagine any ability to concentrate under those conditions.
Somehow Stephan regained a mediocre amount of control, he was going to hit the ground at thirty degrees instead of ninety.
‘Terrain, terrain.'
‘I had noticed,' Stephan mumbled.
It may have been impossible to fly the aircraft, but at least there were control surfaces. By the time impact with the ground was imminent the starboard engine had stalled, all the fuel had been pumped through the damaged wing. Had there been a few more workable controls in the cockpit maybe he could have done something about that. Still he was thankful the wing was still on the fuselage, a plane will have some difficulty remaining in the air unless there is a degree of symmetry, bluntly, it needs two wings.
‘Terrain, terrain.'
You won't be saying that in a couple of seconds.
Another repetitive phrase entered his thoughts.
Brace, brace.
Fat chance.
How come there's never a road around when you want one. Thousands of square miles of arid scrub and desert and you get hit by a cow over forest.
A clearing!
Call that a clearing.
Don't be choosy, there's grass down there. Maybe even enough to land on. If you happened to be in a helicopter. So the stricken metal bird hit the ground with an almighty crash, travelled all of sixty yards, we're in Australia, before losing both wings.
Stephan woke with nostrils filled with smoke, he was already erect before he realised that it was wood smoke, just about enough to pinpoint a small camp fire.
An old man was smiling at him, poking the embers, waiting for a tin pot to come to the boil. Aborigine, that meant he might not even open his mouth. Nostrils flared, something was rather rank and it wasn't the other guy.
‘Cow shit.'
‘You don't seem surprised.'
‘747 blew a cargo door, been raining black and white cows west of here.'
Stephan had an uncontrollable urge to go somewhere, only there was no reason behind it. Still he got up, stripped off and tried to remove some of the offensive debris. Material hanging from his hands, he bowed his head and began to shuffle. Only this wasn't a couple of steps, it was almost a dance. The action took him out of his body, all his senses shut down, he just shuffled, for maybe a minute.
Confused, when light on his retina was once again sending images to his brain, Stephan looked at the native for understanding.
‘You hit your head bad, this is strange ground. Looks like you're on a vision quest.'
‘Spirit of the Earth enter your body, place pictures in your mind.'
‘Only the Earth Mother will understand, you'll be going where she wants you to.'
‘I'll be heading straight for civilization.'
‘That'll be the McPherson ranch, twenty miles East. But you won't be stopping.'
‘How do you know?'
‘You do the sand shuffle, you're not in control anymore.'
‘Damned tribal gobbledygook.'
‘Damned flying cows.'
‘You don't think it odd then, to hit a cow that high up?'
‘Yes, of course I do.'
‘Worked out the odds yet?'
‘You're saying the Earth Mother dropped a cow on my plane?'
‘Sand shuffle.'
‘Why me?' Stephan was putting his clothes back on, their appearance may have been improved slightly, the smell remained.
‘Who knows, maybe you have gift she needs.'
‘Sand shuffle indeed.' Stephan bowed his head, just for a second he could see a map, some words. Shaking the images away, he headed East.
‘Good luck Old Man.'
‘What for, you'll be needed her more than I.'
‘Vision quest.'
Stephan was quite fit, it was late afternoon, it took four hours to reach signs of civilization, the odd outbuilding, an airstrip. The place was deserted, only a single dry road leading away into the distance. No doubt the farmhouse was just over the horizon, this the best site for the airstrip. After all, when they built the ranch, no doubt they put it close to a water source, beneath a small hill for a little protection from the elements. Out there everything was flat, not too many rocks either.
There was a Cessna in the hangar, Stephan walked across, the easiest way to get help was to use the radio. Only adjacent to the wing, his head bowed once more, his feet moving without instruction. Stephan didn't recall getting into the cockpit, even starting the engines. Anyway, it was something he could almost do in his sleep. At five thousand feet he became aware of a sense of direction, West by North West. Logic was beyond him, there was no urge to call for help, maybe he was possessed.