The following is a mid story excerpt from DIAMOND SKY. A team of scientists have been experimenting into astral travelling and unknown to them, their research has produced terrifying side effects. In this scene a local poacher, Ned, is about to discover what kind of effect the technology has had on the local wildlife population...
Ned turned off the main road onto a dirt trail that would take him out of sight or earshot of the town and observatory. There was a sweet spot he knew of down by the billabong, which was perfect hunting ground for red kangaroos. It had already yielded a fertile bounty for him over the previous weeks. Kangaroo steak was his biggest seller and because of this, his trips to the billabong were becoming more frequent.
Apart from his bull terrier, Jake, nobody knew that he came here or how he sourced his produce. Lucas may have had his suspicions, but Ned knew that the policeman could not actually prove a thing.
He pulled his ute in behind some bushes a good thirty or so metres from the water’s edge, turned off the engine and exited his vehicle. He then waited for Jake to follow him out before removing his .30 calibre hunting rifle.
The gun was not fitted with night vision technology, but starlight was all the illumination Ned needed. He was a crack marksman and had been hunting since he was old enough to pick up a rifle. His uncle Donnie had taught him everything he needed to know.
Before leaving, he always cleaned and checked his firearm to ensure nothing could go wrong. This night was no exception. The weapon was in pristine condition and he knew it was going to bag him an impressive trophy; maybe even one of the large, six foot males.
With Jake at his side, he crouched down behind a bush and waited. Ten minutes had not passed when the first animal arrived. It was a female; much smaller than the male of the species and with the head of a young Joey poking out from its pouch, he decided to let it go. Not through sentimentality, but because it made good business sense to safeguard his future stocks. A slaughtered Joey was no use to anybody.
During the following quarter of an hour, more females came. Some carried young and others did not, but all were much too small for Ned’s needs. It would take two or three of these to provide as much meat as from a male of the species.
He decided to change tactics and altered his position in order to view the billabong from a different angle. He carefully crept around until he was much closer and could see the full group of animals more clearly. There were seven females in total, with four young between them. The dominant male was lying down next to the base of a gum tree. Even curled up, he could tell that it was a big one.
Ned had never been presented with an easier and more tempting target. He braced the stock of his rifle against his shoulder and put an eye to the sights. The crosshairs centred directly between the animals eyes. The kill would be quick and painless, but most importantly, it would be clean. If an animal is under stress when killed, it reflects in the taste of the meat. Relaxed meat is good meat.
He rested his finger on the trigger and just as he was about to squeeze it, the animal vanished. It was as if a shroud had been cast over his sights. He looked up and saw that one of the females had gotten in the way. Rather than move, it seemed to settle in this spot and was joined by two of its sister animals.
He glanced around to see if he could move to another position. The billabong blocked him to his left and to the right would have left him exposed and easy to spot by the animals. He could always have just shot the female to get it out of the way, but that would only alert the male leaving him with a substandard catch for the night. What he needed was a fresh strategy.
He whistled for Jake. The animal quickly joined him and having shared many a hunt together, they had an almost telepathic understanding between them. The dog would creep around the back of the animals and drive one out from behind in order to give Ned his shot. It was a manoeuvre that had served him well in the past. In fact, it never failed. Ned once more braced the rifle to prepare for the recoil whilst Jake got into position.
He could still see the legs of the male kangaroo and he could also see that Jake was closing in fast. It would only be a few moments until he got his shot. The night had been still, but a gentle breeze began to blow. As the huntsman felt the wind on his face he realised that it was coming in from the East, which put the prey downwind of the canine. The females confirmed this when they rose up, alert and nervous. They began to part cautiously, leaving Ned once again with a clear view of the male. It too must have smelled the dog, but it remained relaxed and off guard.
The females were now extremely agitated and had all moved away from the clearing. Even if the male was somehow ignorant of the dog’s smell it should have reacted to the rest of the mob, yet it remained perfectly calm. Ned got back behind the sight, but quickly pulled away again. Something was wrong. Looking back across to Jake, he soon figured out what that something was. He leapt to his feet and ran into the clearing, firing warning shots into the air as he did so.
‘Jake! Jake!’ he screamed. ‘Get out of there, boy. Jake!’
The dog jerked its head up in recognition of its master’s voice. Had it done wrong or was the master in trouble? Before the dog could make sense of the calls, it was already too late. The second male was much too fast. It had ambushed the ambushers. In one bold movement it leapt from where it had been hiding and pounced upon the dog with bone crunching ferocity. As it bounced back up from its attack, the momentum of the strike sent Jake tumbling forward through the dirt. When the dog eventually came to rest, it had two broken legs and its ribs were in pieces. Death would now be a mercy.
The original male rose to its feet. This was the largest kangaroo Ned had ever seen. He lowered his rifle and pulled the trigger only for an impotent click to signal that he had depleted his ammo.
He reached into his shirt pocket for the spare bullets. As he feverishly reloaded, the larger kangaroo, which he took to be the dominant male, was standing over Jake. Being a hunting dog, his friend would not go down without a fight. Jake’s body may have been shattered beyond healing, but he still had one formidable weapon in his arsenal. His bite was more than capable of tearing a chunk of flesh from the larger animal.
Jake bore his teeth and emitted the most desperate, sickening growl Ned had ever heard. Avoiding the danger of the dog’s jaws, the kangaroo grasped the badly beaten canine with its feet before leaping into the billabong where it held the dog firmly until it drowned.
Ned knew the dominant male would not stay in the water for long. His gun was now reloaded and he did not intend to miss. Jake would be avenged, even if it killed him. Once the target was in his sights, he squeezed the trigger.
The blow that knocked his shot off target caught him completely by surprise. The force of it brought him to his knees and dislodged the rifle from his hands. As he landed, he instinctively rolled in order to put some distance between him and his assailant.
When he re-orientated himself, he saw that it was one of the females that struck him. It was soon accompanied by the rest of the mob and they were all rounding on the now defenceless huntsman.
Ned was wise enough to know that if one of the beasts timed its strike correctly, it could disembowel him as easily as he could fillet a steak. He looked for his rifle, but it was a good five metres from his reach. By this time, the males had returned from the billabong and the larger of these bounced over to where the firearm lay. It extended one of its feet and placed it over the weapon, in the process displaying a seven inch, curved, razor sharp claw. Ned had encountered this weaponry before, but only when butchering the animals. He had never seen a claw so large and deadly. The animal placed its toes over the trigger of the rifle and as it retracted its claw a shot was fired into the night. The dominant male then looked directly into Ned’s eyes; letting him know in no uncertain terms that it was now the hunter.
Diamond Sky is currently available for 2.99 at Amazon (kindle edition)
Dr Emmy Rayne’s work was designed to open up the universe for exploration like never before, but the brilliant young scientist has an altogether different agenda in mind. Orphaned at a tender age, she has spent her life searching for a way to connect with her dead parents and she is about to discover that the recent loss of a new arrival may just hold the key...
Diamond Sky is the first part of an epic three book series that travels from a remote outback town, through the mountains of Tibet, to the far reaches of space and beyond. It can also be enjoyed as a standalone thriller.