Following is Chapter 1 of The Roo. Select any of the options here to read the whole novella.
John Lynch stepped out of the George Hotel and spat blood into the red dirt gathered in the deep stone kerb. He didn’t stagger, no sir. Sure, he was a few beers deep, but he wasn’t drunk. He certainly wasn’t the “aggro pissed bastard” Patrick McDonough had accused him of being, which led to pushing and shoving, which led to fists flying, and subsequently to John leaving the pub with blood in his mouth. Pat McDonough had blood of his own to spit out, too. No clear victor, unless you counted John’s eviction. So Pat had knocked John onto his arse, that wasn’t a victory. As John got back to his feet, Kealan Burke had yelled from behind the bar, threatened to come around the front with his cricket bat and bust skulls if John didn’t fuck off out and not come back. Kealan always sided with Pat. But in a town of only four hundred people and a single pub, of course John would be back. The next day probably. The whole thing would blow over like these things always did. Maybe it was time to be getting home anyway, there was a lot of work to be done on the farm, most of it on his own these days.
He sniffed, spat again, winced. His cheek was coppery mince against his teeth where McDonough’s gnarly old knuckles had landed. That was going to be sore for a few days. That arsehole. Pat wasn’t a big man, certainly a lot smaller than John himself, but Pat was wiry and tough. Surprisingly strong, it turned out.
John looked left and right, watched a cloud of moths swarming around the streetlight outside the small real estate agents’ office opposite for a moment. He glanced back at the pub, then said, “Fuck yas all” and strolled off along the footpath of Morgan Creek’s one main street. The creek after which the town was named was a dry rocky scar in the landscape some kilometre or so north of him.
He blew air out. It was still hotter than a shearer’s armpit even at nearly 11pm. And so dry the trees were chasing the dogs. Rain seemed like the memory of a dream. As he left the pool of streetlight, stars glittering in a blanket above, providing enough illumination to see by, John strolled towards the last shop, Carol’s Café. Most of the folk in town would get lunch there at least a couple of times week. After that the pavement ran out and it was red dirt and scrubby paddocks for as far as a car could go on a tank of petrol, the city a virtual myth in the distance. John had been to the city a few times, but he didn’t care for it. Weird fucken people inhabited cities.
John’s farmstead was a good thirty-minute walk, and that was considered to be still in town by most, but he had his ute parked about a hundred metres down the road, pulled up on the dirt. Steve Gomzi, the town’s one cop who didn’t even live anywhere nearby, ignored drink driving as long as they parked outside the main street. Country law far more lax than elsewhere. Another benefit of not being anywhere near the city. No one could be expected to make those long walks, after all. Designated driver was city folk bullshit. As John strolled past Carol’s, a large silhouette stepped out of the shadows on the far side.
“Come to have another go, McDonough, ya bastard?” His face ached. “Go root yer fucken boot, mate, I’m over it.”
The shape shifted uncannily and moved further into the street, a leaning forward, then two oversized legs lifting and landing with a thud, ochre dust clouding.
“Fucken hell,” John breathed. “That’s the biggest fucken roo I ever saw.” He giggled, maybe a little more drunk than he had first allowed. “Go on, Skip!” he shouted. “Go on, fuck off!”
The roo turned to face him. Its chest was twice as broad as John’s and he was a big man. Deeply muscled under its red fur, its shoulders rounded balls of thick meat, even its biceps put John’s own to shame. It leaned forward, and flexed, like a parody of Mr Universe. Or maybe not a parody, the thing’s musculature enough to make John feel inadequate, despite a hard life of heavy farm work.
The roo’s mouth opened with a soft grunt. Its eyes glowed fiery orange. John startled, realised it wasn’t reflected streetlight, but the beast’s eyes had seemed to ignite with a kind of internal flame, bathing its face in a glow like a campfire. It grunted again, guttural.
“The fuck are you after, eh?” The tremor in John’s voice betrayed the bravado he tried to show. What was the thing doing here? Sure, they could get territorial around their young, sometimes, but these grass-grazing animals were like upright deer, harmless and pastoral. There was no malice in the creatures, more likely to bolt into a great leaping run than get aggressive. They had been known to grab a dog around the neck, or drown one in a damn if they felt threatened, but they didn’t front up to people.
The roo leaned on its front knuckles, pressed its long, thick tail into the bitumen and lifted its back legs, a slow-motion hop forward. John was over six feet tall but he looked up to see the roo’s face. The massive red male had to be at least seven foot, towering over him. He’d never seen anything like it. Its balls swung in the night, metronomic. It grunted a third time.
“Fuck’s sake.” John stood up to his full height, opened his chest up and lifted his arms to either side like he was carrying milk pails. “FUCK OFF, YA CUNT!” he bellowed, sure the animal would decide there was no value in a confrontation.
It leaped forward, covered the six feet between them with ease, and clamped its front paws onto John’s shoulders. Black, almost human fingers gripped, each with a two-inch long claw that dug in. The claws all popped through the cotton of his shirt and then his skin with ease. The pain was sudden and electric.
John yelped, whipped one hand up and over, and cracked the roo across the jaw with his heavy fist and not inconsiderable strength. It was a solid blow that would have floored anyone. He grinned. A shame he couldn’t have landed one like that on Pat fucken McDonough just now. The roo’s head whipped to the side, John’s knuckles singing with the satisfyingly solid impact. But the roo slowly turned its head back to face him.
“Tough fucker, eh?” John hauled back to punch again.
The roo leaned back, took all its weight on that fat, meaty tail, and kicked out. Its back foot was longer than John’s arm, with three toes. Two small ones to either side, and a central one that was long, strong, and armed with a thick, sharp, black claw, longer than John’s hand. That middle claw drove into his gut, pushing all the wind out of the big man as he flew backwards and skidded painfully across the road on his back. His shirt was instantly drenched with blood. Then the agony kicked in, his stomach afire with pain.
“What the fuck is this?” John muttered, staggering to his feet. A slick shifting under his ripped shirt made him gag, fresh pain washing outwards into every nerve. He grabbed at his abdomen, knew his gathered up shirt and his palm had taken the place of the flesh supposed to stop his insides coming out. “To the pub,” he said stupidly, thinking only of getting back, getting help.
He stumbled backwards, but the roo leaped, kicking out one huge back leg as it landed. The thick, horny claw slammed into his forehead and ripped downwards as the animal landed, butterflying his face. John howled as flaps of skin opened to either side, blood flooding over his eyes. He hit the bitumen on one shoulder, coughing and gasping for breath. His insides shifted sideways, further than they should ever have been able to. He tried to call for help, but gurgled. The giant roo leaned down, eyes filled with fire. Its mouth opened, revealing long sharp fangs instead of the flat, ruminant molars it should have.
“Isss not right,” John slurred through rent lips. “Iss not natural…”
That mouth closed over his neck, furnace hot, its breath a thick, cloying sulphurous cloud. John felt himself dragged along the tarmac, several metres, then the teeth clamped tighter, fresh waves of agony. The flesh of his neck peeled up and away with a wet tear. The roo slapped its mouth, gulped noisily and hissed its pleasure. Darkness swam in to the edges of John’s vision. The last thing he felt was its sharp teeth closing over his arm, then the road sliding underneath him again and becoming dirt and dust. Pain overwhelmed him and the darkness swallowed him down.