Last Muster

Fiction, Short Story, For Adult Readers
Karen Clarke | The commuting Book
Karen Clarke

Aug 12   ●  4 min read

Sitting on the small brick fence outside the night shelter, watching the early morning
commuters. Thinking about the dream he had last night. He was in the high country, behind
Mt. Thomas. An environment he knew well, strolling through the tussock, sheep in front of
him. His dogs pushing them along. The air was crisp and the sky bright blue. In his hand
was a shepherd’s crook, larger than any wooden staff he had ever had. One that he could
nearly pull the clouds down with. Suddenly he was at the edge of a bluff. Miles above the
earth, above the mountains, the ravines below him. Then he stepped off the bluff into space.
That is what woke him. He thinks he might have screamed as his neighbour in the dormitory
looked at him with wide eyes. A few hours later after that dream, after breakfast in the dining
room, he sat miles away from the high country he loved, in an urban landscape, in a city

Recently the road had become a cycleway, the stream of bikes and scooters now
sailed past him and his first cigarette of the day. He could afford three a day. This was the
first. He usually liked a smoke after eating. This was an old habit from his mustering days
when after a day walking over the hills he would relax after having dinner. The only sounds
would be the dogs gnawing on their bones and the bleating of the sheep settling in for the

He sat, smoked and thought about his days now. No dogs to let out and work with.
Now he walks out with a group of misfit men who are battle scarred by life. Men who
reminded him of the young horse’s he used to ride. Horses that would rear up and shy at
ghosts in the bushes on the hillsides. Always on the lookout for trouble, the thing that would
catch you by surprise. Now he scavenges for day-old food from dairies. His territory is now
the flat land of Christchurch and its hard pavements. Now walks his way through the day,
until returning to the shelter for his bed.

This is not where he thought he would end his days. He thought it would be in a hut in the
high country, looking across the valleys towards the snow-capped peaks. Slowly easing up
on the work, becoming the chef, tea maker and storyteller for the younger hill riders.
Eventually taking his last ride out.
But a nervous horse saw to that. He remembers the day well. The horse was young,
a bundle of energy, like a stick of dynamite beneath him. It was a frosty start to the day. the
tussock was coated with a white sheen. They had been going uphill. Suddenly the horse
took fright. Shying and rearing on a mountain path which meant that man and horse fell over
and over down the hillside. Which left his body broken. His bones now too stiff, too much of
a jigsaw of arthritis to sit in the saddle or skate down scree faces chasing after the trail.

Now he wonders when his last muster will be. He gets up, pockets his ciggy butt and start on
his street trail around the city.


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