“What were you doing?” Amber said after slowing down to let him catch up.
“Making sure she was OK.”
“How is she?”
“She got a big lump on her head but she be OK.”
“Check how much blood that dog’s losing,” Amber pointed to a patch of blood shining in the grass. “FASTER!” she ordered.
Billy ran. He ran like he’d never run before. He even kept pace with her for awhile.
“We’ve got to make sure she’s OK, Billy.” The dogs were already a few hundred metres ahead and heading for the gates near the Opera House, the Malamute running on three legs now. The Bullies were full of excitement, jumping up to lick her face but she wasn’t interested in any more kisses.
By the time the dogs flew through the gates, Billy and Amber had hardly made up any ground at all. Then the dogs disappeared into the crowd waiting for the harbour ferries. There were hundreds of people, coming and going, jostling each other about. The dogs left a trail of commotion as they parted the crowd so Amber went for the opening. By the time they emerged through the other side, the dogs were approaching another busy intersection. Amber hoped the Malamute would stop and wait with the pedestrians. She did, and then she turned deliberately, looking directly at Amber.
The lights changed with a hundred metres still to go so Amber did what Billy thought was impossible — she sped up even more.
“Come on, Billy,” she encouraged.
He couldn’t speak. He just ran.
The dogs bolted across the street and then disappeared around a corner. Billy was already out of breath but he was aware enough to notice the Malamute seemed to know exactly where she was going, after not hesitating in the slightest to take the corner.
He and Amber hit the intersection just as the pedestrian lights changed to red. They kept going and caught up to the stragglers by the time they reached the other side. They wove through the crowd and rounded the corner feeling confident they’d gained some ground but the dogs had disappeared.
Amber ploughed on regardless. Up a narrow cobblestoned road and past the old sandstone stairwell leading up to the Harbour Bridge.
Billy heard echoes of the Bullies barking in the stairwell as he passed.
“AMBER!” he called. “THIS WAY.” He mounted the stairs three at a time and faltered in shock near the top as Amber surged past him. When they emerged into the bright sunlight of the walkway, the dogs were already halfway across.
Billy sighed. He remembered the long hill rising to a magnificent view of the harbour from Rosy’s place. He wished they could all stop for a drink and say g’day. Perhaps have a munch on some of her juicy tomatoes. He got a stitch thinking about it so he tried to stop thinking.
The Bullies were way ahead, stark against the black bitumen footpath. Then all of a sudden they disappeared again. Billy knew where they’d gone — he remembered a long, steep, flight of stairs on the other end of the bridge leading down into the suburbs. He couldn’t help but feel relief, he wasn’t looking forward to Rosy’s hill.
The uneven stone stairs must have been hard on the big Malamute’s heavy body while hopping on only one front leg because they’d caught up quite a bit by the time they hit the bottom. Her trot on the flats had slowed down too. She was tiring.
Amber wasn’t. She saw her opportunity to gain some ground and pushed on.
Billy wanted to object but as he turned up a street, he only just caught sight of a dog’s tail turning into another street. He knew if it wasn’t for Amber, he would have lost them for sure. He thought of whistling to slow them down but he was way beyond whistling, he was barely able to catch his own breath let alone catch a breath to whistle. His bag was weighing him down so he decided to lighten the load by dumping what he didn’t need.
As they cut back onto the main road, Billy realised they were heading back in the general direction of the lookout. He was again impressed by the Malamute realising she’d bypassed the peak of the hill to save energy.
He was even more impressed by Amber. She could run longer and harder and faster than anyone he knew. Faster than Mallee even.
They were off the main road again now and about twelve kilometres from where they’d started out. The houses were bigger and much more spread out. Front yards turned into paddocks with the odd sheep or horse keeping the grass in check. The streets were longer too which allowed them to settle into a steady trot where Billy finally had a chance to catch his breath. Not that it made much of a difference — he was stuffed. Amber on the other hand seemed to be in her element — light on her feet and trotting along nicely.
“Give us your bag,” she said when she noticed him struggling with it. It was much lighter than she remembered but she didn’t think anymore of it and slung it over her shoulder to join her backpack. Then she picked up the pace.
Billy’s relief of losing his bag was indescribable, but short lived after seeing Amber charge ahead. He stumbled on rubbery legs and had to focus hard to stop himself falling. He didn’t know how much farther he could go. Then the dogs stopped. It was hard to see from so far away, but there seemed to be a struggle going on. And then they vanished. As if they’d melted into the fence.
Amber sprinted straight for the spot. It was a rundown old property that looked impenetrable behind a huge, kilometre long wrought iron fence. Thick, round, fearsome looking poles ending in a spear point rose three metres high along its entire length. On the other side, a dense, heavily overgrown bush. It looked foreboding, like an old prison.
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