The bloody remains of her prized ewe lay strewn across the paddock. It was the third attack this week and being alone in such a remote land, she had never felt more against the wall.
The younger, spritelier version of Josie Hendricks, a mere four years ago, would be a distant comparison to the same woman now. A young Irish lass who travelled to the famed Australia in search of a new life far from her troubled days in Dublin. Her flowing red hair was a sight of radiance, and she knew in her heart that this was the place she would find true love with a hunky foreign guy. She’d raise a family of her own in the fresh country air and live the peaceful existence she dreamed of as a little girl. She was dubbed crazy to leave home to venture to the other side of the world and her independence was severely doubted; something she was determined to prove otherwise.
But her time here was nothing like the postcards.
Ben Davis was the man that caught the glint in Josie’s eye as they shared a drink at the annual agricultural fair in Bendigo Victoria. He was on the verge of inheriting a small sheep farm further north, bordering on the Eaglehawk Regional Park. Once a place of goldmining frenzy in the 1850’s, was now a peaceful country township that painted the perfect for her new journey. After a whirlwind romance and blissful outback wedding, Josie embarked on a life as a sheep farmer’s wife; which lasted no more than a year.
After Ben’s tragic death in a farming accident, Josie’s world began to crumble. It was hard enough that she’d sunk into severe depression after many failed attempts to have children, but with the following years of droughts, livestock disease and ongoing pressure from the banks, Josie had reached the end of her rope.
Her flowing red locks hadn’t left the confines of a raggedy scrunchy for six months. Determined to honour the memory of her lost husband, and silence the family critics, she refused to give up and moved forward.
She’d spent months preening her prized sheep Maisy for the upcoming fair when the attack happened. Until now, Josie had felt everything had been taken from her and she was helpless to do anything about it – but this was about to change.
Her only focus was to catch the killer in a desperate attempt to put an end to her life of bitter defeats and broken dreams.
With her husband’s double barrel shotgun cradled in her blistered hands, she waited by the back paddock; tucked in tightly behind the leaky water trough. The moon was close to full and shed a gentle light across the rough terrain. The advantage of having lost a lot of weight meant Josie only needed a small shadow to curl herself in to remain unseen. The hour was late, her body weary from months of sleep deprivation, yet she continued to wait for the creature to strike again.
Her intuition was about to pay off.
Sneaking through the shadows of the Mallee trees, she caught a glimpse of her nemesis. A four legged animal that bore the resemblance of a dog. Josie came to know the Australian dingo well over her time in this land and watching her husband’s infuriating battle against their taste for livestock, she never held them in a favourable light.
Stealth was on its side.
As it kept a low profile, the dingo knew every inch of this land and could hear or smell any threat nearby. It paused, and Josie held her breath. It was well within shooting range but she waited just a moment longer until it was closer. She needed it to be still, distracted with the meal that lay on the dusty paddock; that beautiful Maisy who Josie raised from a lamb and became its surrogate mother.
Josie had shed enough tears into this dirt to counteract the searing droughts, but crying wasn’t a luxury she could indulge in tonight. She fought back misty eyes and watched as the four legged fiend sunk its jaws into the carcass, tearing off a large woollen chunk. She forced herself to keep watching and waited for her moment to strike. Sight lined up, she slowly began to bite down on her lip.
Shell number one went hurling through the air. The dull thud she was hoping to hear, bullet penetrating flesh, was replaced with the aching crunch of splintered wood – the railing behind had caught the blow. Slumped in defeat and feeling the sting of the shotgun’s kickback into her shoulder, Josie was in a moment of shock.
The dingo didn’t run.
It stayed put, just long enough to grab what it came for. It too was desperate to achieve its objective. It dragged another piece of her beloved Maisy away with it towards the wooded scrub nearby. Josie had seconds to make her choice. Take aim with her final bullet or…
Without thinking, she suddenly found herself on her feet, effortlessly leaping over the paddock fence with one clear thought in her head. Possessed with an uncontrollable urge to follow that beast, she was going to hunt it down and finish the job.
This Irish lass refused to lose one more battle.
As she followed her prey, it appeared to be slowing down; dropping its meal several times along the way. Josie figured it must’ve been old, a little worse for wear, or perhaps an injured one – maybe she’d grazed it with her first bullet. She could only hope.
Josie felt confident she would get her chance any moment as she watched the limping assassin disappear into a small crevice within the side of a stony hill. She recognised the rocky structure that rose in front of her. Ben used to collect large stones from here to border her vegetable garden that she pestered him for a month to do until he finally gave in. She was never aware how far he had to lug these giants for her ignorant pleasure.
However her vegetable garden, now overgrown with weeds, was far from her mind as she crept around the stony mound to see the elusive creature entering a small gap between some cracked boulders. Josie followed, her shotgun poised against her throbbing shoulder. Steady in its aim she locked her enemy in sight, waiting for it to turn. She wasn’t sure why she wanted to see its killer eyes before she pulled the trigger, but something inside of her hungered for that moment.
Josie crept closer to get a better angle of the crevice opening when she saw the lifeless form of a larger dingo, slumped on the ground a few feet away. Her target sniffed around the unmoveable beast, hoping it would soon wake up.
Josie knew otherwise.
As her thoughts began to alter, she tried to convince herself that she would be doing it a favour. Maybe it’s what her attacker wanted, to be reunited with its mate. Either way, it would die here.
The dingo sensed her presence and shot a look directly at Josie who held the barrel in perfect position. They locked eyes for a moment, neither moving a muscle.
The final standoff.
The dingo emitted a guttural snarl. Even at its most vulnerable moment, it wasn’t about to give in easily. Josie felt a twinge of respect for the creature, but not enough to stop her trigger finger now squeezing slowly to end this suffering.
Her sights squared firmly onto the enemy’s forehead, she began to recall the painful memory of when she held the same gun to her own forehead several times before. However this time, she was determined to pull the trigger – there was no turning back.
Out of the shadows, a small pup, followed by another, trotted playfully towards their mother as together they dragged the chunk of woolly meat into view.
Josie’s trigger finger still hovered in position. She knew to ensure her own survival, she had to follow through.
Kill or be killed.
It’s what Ben taught her. It was the mantra her family and friends back in Ireland lived by. Too many times Josie’s heart overpowered her rational thinking and she felt it’s what led her to where she was today – she refused to allow it to happen again.
However, a different instinct prevailed.
She lowered her weapon.
The mother dingo shared a lingering look with Josie, then ushered her young further into the cave as they ravenously chewed on tiny pieces of flesh to soothe their hungry bellies.
Josie couldn’t explain the tears that streamed down her cheek. She’d given up fighting herself and simply removed the scrunchy, twisted in her mangled hair, allowing the flowing locks of dusty, red split ends, to drape beyond her aching shoulders.
As she strolled effortlessly back towards the farmhouse, the uncocked rifle dragging in the dirt behind her, something radiated.
A smile she hadn’t felt for years.
Josie had always believed that in losing her life partner and watching her dreams shatter before her, she’d surely endured the ultimate defeat in life. But in that one moment, she now realised she had just avoided it.