Birds scatter into the dawn and something spooks the roos from the ridge.
‘Do you see her?’ I ask.
Even at three-hundred yards Dad can see the flies buzz above the carcass. We lie in twin tunnels carved in the long grass, Dad with his rifle and me with the binoculars. Dad aligns with the bolt-action Lee-Enfield, his cheek folded over the butt and finger curled around the trigger. He stares down the barrel with the focus of a man reading an epitaph on the ironsight at the far end.
The two of us guard the flyblown carcass of a prize cow lying on the opposite ridge. Dingoes had her this time yesterday, but our cattle dogs chased them off before they could finish. Dad knew they’d be back. In shifts with my brothers we’ve held vigil ever since, wrapped in rugs and riding coats against the cold of night.
A mat of orange fur slinks through the grass. Dad slowly works the bolt back and forth, pushing a round into the chamber. The bolt locks into place with the faintest metallic click. Through the binoculars I see the dingo’s head pop up and stare straight at us. The first rays of light crest the trees behind us so that even a hawk wouldn’t see us against the sun.
The dingo sniffs at the large gash on the belly of the cow. She burrows her face in right up to her ears and her muscles tense and ripple as she rolls side to side.
‘You going to take it?’ I ask.
‘Wait for the shot.’ Dad’s whisper disappears in a cloud of vapour.
He lets out a long breath, emptying the air from his lungs. Honed on the front, his rhythm is clockwork. The dingo tugs free a stretch of gut and tosses it down her throat. She scoffs it down and a flash of sunlight glints off her neck. Through the binoculars I spot a collar with a metal tag. A hand twists my guts and I try to yell but the word dribbles off my tongue.
The dog lifts her head and holds dead still.
Image: ‘Barbed wire’ / Rick Orchard
Read the rest of our Autumn Fiction edition:
‘The fish’, by Rebecca Slater
‘a madman’s lullaby’, by Stevi-Lee Alver
‘Dance of the mobiles’, by David Turnbull