for Janet

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 Aussie 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 country fair. He was on the verge of inheriting a small sheep station in the far north of South Australia, nestled around the rolling hilly scrub. After a whirlwind romance and blissful outback wedding, Josie embarked on a life as a sheep farmer’s wife, lasting 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. And with the following years of droughts, livestock disease and ongoing pressure from the banks, Josie had reached the end of her rope. She ate less, drank more, and soon discovered showering was a mere option. Her flowing red locks hadn’t left the confines of a ragged scrunchy for months. Despite the temptation, and occasional attempt to end it quickly, she was determined to honour the memory of her lost husband and silence the family critics. She refused to give up entirely – and there was a slither of silver lining that helped her stay strong.

She’d spent months preening her prized sheep Maisy for the upcoming fair. An orphaned lamb, Maisie was her rock. Both needed the other just as much, and it became a daily ritual for the little lamb to be trailing behind Josie on her morning walk around the paddocks. You’ve become spoiled, Josie would say everyday as Maisie insisted on being with her whenever possible, sometimes even venturing in the front door when no one was looking. Josie knew she let Maisie get away with a lot compared to any other lamb, but she also relished in the quiet fantasy of being a real-life Little Bo Peep – a favourite childhood nursery rhyme.

Once Maisie began to grow, Josie knew she came from good stock. Her woolly coat was thick and healthy, and she had perfect bone structure in the face. Ben was always into the local competitions, hoping to breed the best stock which would become another source of income for breeding. She knew he would’ve been proud of having the likes of Maisie in his ranks, but also revelled in the idea that she did a better job in raising the lamb. Her instincts for animal welfare would often clash with Ben, causing the occasional feud – so now things were done her way. 

But right now, her way had led to this. Her way ignored the bleats of Maisie the other night while she searched for that bottle of red she knew was somewhere in the pantry. It was her way that allowed the attack to happen and put an end to that slither of silver lining that was holding it all together.

Dragging herself through the cycles of anger and guilt and anger again, feeling everything had been taken from her, Josie arrived at a weird calm. Her body completely numb and her mind with a singular focus. Until now she hated that Ben insisted on keeping his father’s old double barrel shotgun under the bed, and it was the first thing that she rectified when he died. But now, as she slowly walked to the garden shed in the cold night air, this was all she could think about. It was now everything she wanted.

It was the third straight night she sat there with the dusty 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 through the clouds it had shed a gentle light across the dusty terrain. The advantage of having lost weight meant Josie only needed a small shadow to curl herself within to remain unseen. The hour was late, her body weary, feeling the toll 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 over her time in this land. Watching her husband’s infuriating battle against their taste for livestock, she never held them in a favourable light as stealth was certainly 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 barren paddock; that beautiful Maisy who Josie raised from a lamb and became its surrogate mother.

Josie had shed enough tears in this dirt to thwart the searing droughts, but crying wasn’t a luxury she could indulge. She fought back misty eyes and watched as the merciless fiend sunk its jaws into the carcass, tearing off a large woollen chunk. She forced herself to keep watching. Every movement it made was another knife in the stomach as she waited for her moment to strike. The gun sight lined up with precision and slowly, she bit 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 fence railing behind had caught the blow.

Feeling the sting of the shotgun’s kickback into her shoulder, Josie was in a moment of shock.

The dingo didn’t run.

She felt this beast was toying with her, like it didn’t think she had it in her to end this misery. It stayed put, just long enough to grab what it came for. 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 fucking monster, 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 slow down, dropping its meal several times along the way. Josie figured it must’ve been old, or better yet injured. Perhaps she did graze it with her first shot. She could only hope.

After a few minutes of chase, Josie had managed to follow the dingo beyond her paddocks and into the dense scrub that lined the creek. She knew this part of the land well as she’d always be collecting the sturt desert pea flowers; a flame red display she enjoyed having around the house. There hadn’t been water in the creek for a couple years, so the dingo took off along its bare bed, trying to gain speed from its pursuer. However, Josie knew all the sections of this creek just as well. The fallen tree branches to dodge and the hidden sink holes that for the untrained, would easily snap an ankle on impact. She found herself gaining on her assailant, as it appeared to struggle with its hind leg unable to propel it as fast as it needed to escape. Her plan was coming clear – wait for the next clearing and she’d be easily in range. This time she won’t miss.

As the pursuit continued, Josie could feel her lungs burning, desperate to suck the air in as much as humanly possible to keep her going. She could feel her feet swelling, and blisters rubbing inside the old leather boots she’d been meaning to replace. But she’d come this far and there was no going back without some recompense.

The clouds had rolled across the moon, diminishing Josie’s view to the mere shadow ahead of her. She could see it didn’t even hesitate where it was going as it took off up the small embankment and into the marshes nearby towards the base of a small mountain. The terrain was getting rockier here and Josie felt the sharp edges of the surface digging into her worn soles.

She stumbled.


Her hands broke her fall and the gun fell to the side. The sting of the bloody graze was eye watering, but she’d become accustomed to pain and was getting good at numbing it out. She swiftly wiped the shards of gravel from her palms and latched onto the gun beside her. It would take a lot more than that to end this.

Momentarily she lost sight of the dingo but could see a feint track leading ahead. She knew this feral animal had a pattern and would likely take the same path, so she forged on.

Predictable. She thought to herself, feeling the distinct difference between her and this creature was clear. It had relied on never straying from its path whereas Josie had learned to survive being thrust into unknown territories. The surge of adrenalin from knowing she would have the upper hand, gave her the extra power in her legs to keep going.

As she pushed her way through a thorny thicket, she found her shadow assassin once again. It had just limped into a small crevice within the side of a stony hill; a place she quickly recognised. The rocky structure that rose in front of her was a picnic spot her and Ben would sometimes visit. He 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 to her ignorant pleasure. She’d always felt a spiritual connection here and would wonder about the old carvings within some of the larger boulders. She’d heard stories about the traditional owners of this area and always wanted to know more but Ben was never good with history, so he wasn’t much help.

Then a small sound took her attention.

A gruff, snorting sound that was clear to her, the beast had stopped. She knew it was just within the small gap between these mammoth stones, away from view, most likely enjoying its prized meal. It must’ve thought it was safe, but Josie knew otherwise.

She crept around the stony mound; the shotgun poised against her throbbing shoulder. Steady in its aim she locked her enemy in sight, waiting for it to turn – it needed to be facing her. 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. Perhaps it was for Maisy, or Ben, or everything other fucking tragedy she had to endure in this god forsaken land. She no longer cared why. This would be the final thing she would accomplish, even if this retribution ended her.

Josie crept closer to get a better angle of the crevice opening, making sure this shot would hit the mark, when she saw it staring back at her. Her stomach knotted. Her finger resting gently on the trigger. They locked eyes, 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. It had to die now. Everything, had to die now.

Her sights squared firmly onto its 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.

But she paused.

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, and she refused to allow it to happen again.

But a different instinct prevailed.

She lowered her weapon.

The mother dingo shared a lingering look with Josie, also at the end of its tether. It struggled to continue this battle and would do anything to avoid it. It then ushered its young further into the cave as they ravenously chewed on tiny pieces of flesh to soothe their hungry bellies. Finding a meal for them had become a challenge in the current drought. She often had to travel far and wide for the smallest of morsels, but a mother’s instinct kept her going. Even if it meant allowing them to feast on her own flesh if it came to that, she wouldn’t hesitate. She had no malice in killing for the sake of killing but rather doing what had to be done. And like Josie, she too was merely trying to make it from one day to the next.

Josie fell to her knees.

The unfired weapon released from her clenched hand as the overflow ensued. Tears streamed down her cheek. Her deep, guttural sobs, while drenching her in defeat, led to a moment of clarity…

…her enemy was her.

The walk back to the farm was slow.

The odd numb feeling that she carried, for once, wasn’t the scars of defeat. This time it felt different. Never before had she given herself permission to simply give up. Give up fighting everything and everyone. Trying to find worth in past dreams, trying to justify suffering for some unknown finish line. For the first time in her existence, she felt okay to stop.

As she arrived home, placing the gun in the cupboard in the garden shed, she removed the shell from the chamber, discarding it in the nearby bin. She then removed the scrunchy, twisted in her mangled hair. The flowing locks of dusty red split ends, draped effortlessly beyond her aching shoulders as something long forgotten began to radiate – a smile she hadn’t felt for years.  

Within the hour, Josie had returned to the rocky monolith. Slung over her back was a scrunched up old tarp which she laid near the opening of the mountain crevice. What was left of her beloved Maisy lay there, an offering for a fellow creature in need.

She backed away and could hear the snuffling and whimpers of her enemy’s pups, joyously lunging at the feast that lay before them. The mother, cautiously keeping an eye on Josie as she walked away.

Until this moment, Josie thought she’d endured the ultimate defeat in life…

…but somehow just avoided it.