She was getting closer to the foot of the hill when she saw the footprints. Two big dogs, then a human’s bare feet. Another track branched away and she followed the prints into higher country. Swampy melaleucas and bottle brushes made way for the banksias and squat eucalyptus trees. A gang of cockatoos roared and shrieked overhead, like black-clad bikies coming into town, settling on the outer branches of the red gums. The track was split by a sapling growing between the wheel ruts and she ducked under the branches to find a kangaroo path.
The dogs walking towards her looked like lions. Two wolfhounds, one brindle, one a dirty white, their snouts and brows made of whiskers and bone, long tails slung low, swinging with their swaggery gait. The bitch carried a grey possum in her jaws, its white ringtail and lifeless head trailing from either side of her teeth. Both dogs lowered their heads, cocked their ears and fixed their yellow eyes upon her.
“Someone or something is taking my samples.” Crow’s words flashed through Sal’s mind, before the dogs started a lope towards her. Fright shocked through her legs to the soles of her feet and she stood, willing herself not to run.
She held her ground as the dogs ran at her. She made herself as big as she could and tried to glare them out. Just don’t run, Sal. Don’t run. They kept coming, the dead possum lolling about in the bitch’s jaws. About a metre from her the dogs stopped. The male laid back his ears and growled. She could smell their breath and the heat coming from their matted fur.
“Sit!” She shouted and then pointed at them. “Down!” She may have laughed at her ridiculous commands if she hadn’t been so bald-naked terrified. The bitch sat on her haunches but the male, his chest as wide as a kangaroo buck’s, stepped towards her. Sal watched the male. He seemed to be sizing up her authority, a reckoning glinted in his eyes. He took another few quick steps towards Sal and launched himself at her.
When she was a kid Sal had a picture book of dogs of the world. In the centre was a photograph of an Irish shepherd with his wolfhound. The dog was standing on his hind legs with his paws over the old man’s shoulders. The shepherd had one hand against the dog’s flank, one hand on its paw and the two of them laughed towards the camera. The image flashed through her mind as she went crashing to the ground.
She couldn’t quite believe it was happening. No bucolic man-and-his-dog scene this one. Her head jarred against an exposed tree root, the heavy thud making small sparkles behind her eyelids. Tasted dirt. She fell on one arm but her left arm was free and she used it to cover her head. She curled her body around her throat and her stomach, and waited for the teeth.