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A Day Too Late

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Cracks grew deep in the barren, parched soil; baked hard like a wrinkled old face. Hot and dusty – the sort of dust that got in your bones. No rain, no clouds, just the blazing hot, unforgiving sun. We have owned, lived and loved on this property for four years. Four dry, hard years that neither man nor beast could enjoy. We pray for rain. When will our prayers be answered?

I stand outside our homestead gazing across a barren horizon. I feel a hot breeze on my cheeks and I taste the dust in my mouth. I see a dust devil – some call them whirly-whirly’s – rise up and start to spin its pocket of hot air. As I peer across the olive plantation, the smouldering heat begins to play tricks with my eyes. The trees look blurry as nature’s fever glistens upon the air.

Drought conditions are a worsening bad dream; only tufts full of yellow, knee-high grass are left. The native animals, kangaroos especially, are near death’s door. They are each waging a brave and desperate struggle to find food and water.

The dams are pitifully low. Our hearts are heavy with worry, as soon we will have to disconnect the pipes and turn off the olive plant watering system, going back to watering by hand. Even in the daytime, kangaroos are scattered like battle-weary soldiers amongst the olive trees, simply to nibble the juicy tips of young leaves. They hold a desperate hunger that makes them brave enough to come close to the homestead in search of food.

Then, as I sit on the veranda, I overhear my dad and uncle having a conversation about a practice they call ‘culling’.

“I say we target the big grey males first. It will disperse the herd,” says Dad.

“I think it’s time to go spotlighting tonight,” adds my uncle, then he calls me and asks, ”Can I count on you to hold the spotlight, Paul?”

In answer, I nod obediently. I really have no other choice.

As darkness falls, so do my spirits. Doubts fill my mind and I start to feel uneasy and nervous about killing our native animals. I realize the battalion-sized troops of kangaroos on our land are a pest, but I am a stranger to the act of ending the life of any living thing. It is not something I have ever done before.

We set off in the “Bushpig”, my name for our trusty old, old Hilux. I’m propped up in the front seat gripping tightly onto the big spotlight – its golden beam baths the field in light. Before long I’m a magnet for all sorts of winged bugs, drawn as they are to the light.

It isn’t long before we come face to face with a mob. Uncle looks through the sights and aims the .22. A pair of big red, innocent eyes, unaware of the mortal danger about to unfold, is shining back at me. My stomach is in knots of unease. I desperately don’t want it to die. Then, at the speed of thought, an idea enters my mind. I move the spotlight ever so slightly. The shot explodes into the night… and misses!

“Whose side are you on, kid?” bellows my Uncle.

No words come from my trembling lips. This time I must hold the light steadier – or he will know. This time he doesn’t miss. In an instant, a sick feeling rises up in my stomach, followed by a wave of sadness. I can see the kangaroo is somehow still alive, writhing in pain from the bullet wound. My right knee begins to shake uncontrollably. Uncle shoots it again; this time up close. By 1 am, there are eight more bodies.

When there are no more bullets left and the killing spree finally ends, we arrive back home. Guilt keeps me awake. I cannot sleep. It was my light that helped Uncle aim. The stench of death still fills my nostrils. In the darkness, on my knees, I pray beside my bed for the drought to end soon.

By the next night, my aching soul has grown to accept what happened – mostly – and I sleep more soundly. But then a noise awakens me. The sound of large droplets of rain splashing on the tin roof starts slowly and then gets louder. Louder and faster, like thousands of bullets landing from above.

I race onto the veranda for a better view. Nature has finally, finally waved its magic wand! I see the ground is soaked with rain and I feel joy; joy and overwhelming relief. The drought has broken. After making us wait for so long, the watery alphabet of the clouds has now come to sing upon our roof; and our land. I breathe a deep sigh and press my palm to my heart. My lips part and I whisper to myself, “Thank you.” I will never have to go spotlighting again.


Image by Marion from Pixabay

Glen Donaldson (AUSTRALIA)

Glen Donaldson from Brisbane, Australia owns two Dobsonian computerised telescopes, one of them still working. If Glen were a wine he would be described as 'light bodied with a nutty after taste'. He blogs weekly and uniquely at both SCENIC WRITER'S SHACK and LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    What a beautifully written story.
    And not the usual kind for children. If my stepson was still a child, this is the kind of story I’d have him read so that he doesn’t shy away from reality, from environmental to emotional, and therefore dips into the full spectrum of life’s myriad experiences, pleasant and unpleasant both.

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