Billy was crouched behind a thick stand of paperbark trees on the edge of the kangaroos clearing without a clear shot. Moving to the left would leave him out in the open so he looked for a quiet place to put his foot as he stepped to the right. He passed his woomera across his face to chase away a fly that might carry his scent to the roos, and just as he was about to give the all clear, he disturbed a massive Red kangaroo that was asleep in the long grass. It was trapped with nowhere to go but through Billy. It grunted a loud warning and raised itself to its most threatening height. This was no cute kangaroo, this was a proud male in its prime. Billy was in trouble. His head barely reached the roo’s belly as it balanced on two long legs and a strong tail. Bulging, hard–as–rock forearms as thick as a man’s thighs with hose–like veins stupefied Billy for a life–threatening moment. It spread its arms aggressively wide and extended its fingers, revealing ten, long, dagger–like claws.
If Billy had backed up and stepped aside, the big buck would have taken the opportunity to bound away, but Billy stood his ground while slowly swinging his spear around to face his opponent. The roo looked down upon him in outraged hostility. It grunted a final warning and flared its nostrils angrily. Foolishly undeterred with only one spear at less than ten metres, the young hunter prepared his shot.
The signal for the clan to attack would normally have been the fact that Billy’s cover was blown, but it was instantly clear to the men that he was in trouble and needed their help, even if it wasn’t evident to the troubled young teenager himself. They abandoned their stalk and bolted for him, causing chaos as surprised roos thumped a warning on the ground before scattering in every direction.
As soon as Billy’s nemesis heard their warning and looked to see what was going on, Billy launched his spear. The roo, noticing the flash of movement, looked back only to become mesmerised by the strange dot in his vision that appeared to be getting bigger and bigger at a bewildering rate. Billy’s spear was dead on. His wide blade skimmed the roo’s neck opening a deep channel through to its jugular vein. Hardly disturbed in its path, the spear continued as blood spurted out like a fire hose announcing the inevitable. In an outraged instant with eyes glaring and nostrils flaring, the big Red kangaroo stared deep into Billy’s soul and froze him solid.
Billy knew as soon as he’d launched his merciful shot that it was a mistake. The roo was now free in the remaining moments of its life to attack him. If he’d anchored his spear deep into its chest, it would have had a lung full of spear blade to contend with, rendering the roo unable to retaliate at all. But that wasn’t the case and Billy was in real trouble now.
It grunted a spine–tingling curse that snapped Billy back to fight or flight. He chose to fight and made a grab for his heavy boomerang, while unconsciously back–peddling in fear. The kangaroo reacted quickly and closed the gap in two easy bounds. He stood facing Billy, ready to lean back on his big tail and strike out to rip Billy’s guts from his body with its massive middle toes. Billy fell over in fear, landing on his back and losing his boomerang in the process. At the same time, loss of blood was beginning to take effect and instead of leaning backwards, the big roo bounced forward awkwardly and fell spreadeagled right on top of Billy, knocking the wind clean out of him. The big buck quickly regained composure and pushed itself up off Billy’s chest, attacking him with a flurry of fore claws and long, snapping, rat–like teeth.
Billy fended him off as best he could but he was losing the battle. In desperation, he sacrificed his guard and made a grab for his knife, but the roo got through and gouged four deep channels right across his chest. Billy screamed in pain and for a life–threatening instant, hesitated like a boy. Then he recognised the defeat his fear would bring and it outraged him. The man inside him emerged. He attacked, plunging his knife deep into the roo’s chest. Dead from loss of blood in the same instant, the big buck collapsed, pinning Billy to the ground and inundating him with what remained of its blood. Billy dropped his head in relief and caught his breath.
* * *
Mandu noticed Billy’s foolish neck shot and yelled in an attempt to distract the roo as it made its charge. It made no difference so he sprinted with all his power to close the gap and launch his spear. Billy and the roo went down. Mandu lost sight of them through the tufts of long grass. Then he heard his son scream in pain. He willed himself closer, insanity surging through his soul. He feared the worst when he saw Billy’s head crash to the ground. He dropped his spear and ripped out his knife, shoulder charging the roo clean off Billy while sinking his knife deep into its chest.
Cobar and Pindaari arrived immediately after Mandu to the gruesome sight of Billy’s whole upper body completely flooded in blood. Fearfully they knelt down on either side of him and stared at his heavily clawed chest through the pool of blood. Cobar’s uncertain hands didn’t know what to do. Desperately, he splashed them down upon Billy’s chest trying to stop the bleeding.
Pindaari winced and did the same — he was feeling queasy at the mangled sight of his little brother.
Mandu knelt down and followed their lead.
“WHAT DO WE DO?” he pleaded as Burnam and Mallee arrived.
Billy lifted his head to get a look at his chest and was shocked by the sea of blood.
“Don’t move, Billy. You’re gonna be alright,” his dad tried to assure him, but the fear in his eyes was unmistakeable.
“What can we do?” Burnam asked, needing to help.
Cobar’s mind raced as he tried to figure out how to stop the bleeding. None of them wore any material clothing that he could use, nor was there any plant material in the immediate vicinity that he wanted to use.
“THE ROO! Skin the tail, Burny,” he instructed.
Burnam knew exactly what he wanted.
“Make a fire, Mallee, quick!” Cobar was thinking clearly now and back in charge. “Don’t move your hands,” he instructed Mandu and Pindaari.
Billy was relieved that something was finally being done to help him — everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Stop the bleeding, he considered — good, it must be bad. He panicked a little. The roo skin — that’s a good idea, to cover the wound and slow the bleeding. Fire?
“Why do you want a fire?” He was hoping it wasn’t what he was beginning to think it might be.
“We gotta close the wounds.”
It was exactly what he was hoping it wouldn’t be.
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