Milly couldn’t feel her arms. She had been carrying the dingo pup inside the blue zip-top
cooler bag through the forest for at least an hour, always chasing the stream of light
emanating from her headlamp, into the darkness. All around her, towering red satinays stood
tall in the sand like giants attempting to smother the moonlight. And every now and then, as
they trudged into the night, the pup would let out a squeaky howl that made her jump and
regret leaving the safety of her tent on the eve of her twelfth birthday. And somewhere in the
distance, an electronic drumbeat called out, flickering and pulsing, casting a desperate rhythm
over the island.
She was the one who found the pup and by the law of finders keepers it should’ve been
hers. She was the one who heard its cries and found it laying bloody in the beachside scrub.
Nobody else had paid any attention at all. Not until she carried it into camp. Not until her
father wrestled it from her arms.
He caged the pup in an upside-down laundry basket weighed down by a cooler filled with
newspaper-wrapped dry ice to preserve the weekend’s supply of generic-brand beef sausages
and icy poles. Milly sat in the sand beside the basket and wriggled her finger through the
plastic lattice to tickle the pup’s snout.
‘Get out of it,’ her father said.
She pulled her hand away, reluctantly.
The pup bounded to the other side of the cage and curled into a ball. He was bright orange
except for two furless, red-scabbed patches on his back. Milly had decided he was a he,
despite the lack of a thorough investigation.
Her father stood under the awning attached to their four-wheel drive, shirtless and holding
a stubby bottle of beer. The woman, and the owner of the laundry basket, stood next to him.
Her arms were thick tanned leather and she wore a wide-brimmed sunhat that was far too big
for her narrow face. Milly wished that she would go away.
‘How’d it even get in here? The website said the whole campsite is fenced. Those things
are dangerous, you know? I mean seriously, I’ve got a toddler,’ she said.
‘I think it flew in,’ Milly’s father said, hitching up the waist of his faded board-shorts.
The woman crossed her arms in front of her stomach.
‘Not by itself,’ he said. ‘It looks like an eagle or something had it. Them marks on its
back look like bird claws. I’ve seen them before, on the lambs.’
Milly shifted onto her belly to get a closer look at the pup. The sand was hot against her
stomach and she wiggled from side to side until the temperature of her body and the
temperature of the earth found a comfortable balance. Flying, she thought. Imagine that. One
day you’re curled up against your mum and your brothers and sisters are snuggled up next to
you—and then you’re snatched into the sky and you see the big sand hills—wait no, sand
blows. Her father had told her they were called sand blows—and you see the sand blows and
them big tall trees and the Coral Sea stretching all the way to somewhere. And the whole
world just comes straight up at you. And at the same time you know the thing that snatched
you up and showed it all to you is gonna to eat you for lunch. Fricking hell. What a life.
The pup whimpered and lifted his head. Milly met his eyes. They were big and gold and
‘Don’t worry. I ain’t gonna eat you,’ she said.
Milly dropped the cooler bag on to the ground beside a peeling wooden sign. Wongari
Lake 2.4km. The pup poked the tip of his snout through the opening of the zip and snuffled
‘Not long now,’ she said, pulling a plastic squeeze bottle from her backpack. She angled
it above her mouth and sprayed the water in without it touching her lips. When she was done,
she bent down and unzipped the bag enough so that the pup could stick his whole head out.
Then she dribbled water on to his tongue and he lapped at it, greedily.
‘There, no backwash for you,’ she said.
She didn’t know how lost dingoes found their packs again, or even if they could. But she
figured if she could get to the other side of the forest, past the lake and outside the fenced
camp zone then the pup would have at least half a chance of finding his family. She didn’t
like sneaking and she didn’t like being alone in the dark, but she knew what happened to pups
without their mother.
Last winter, she decided to walk the entirety of the sheep station’s borders. She climbed
to the top of a disused grain silo and planned her route. The land was flat brown and she
could see for kilometres in every direction. Up there, she drew a rough green-pencil map on
the back page of a paperback copy of Call of the Wild. Her father had reluctantly agreed to
her undertaking the journey, as long as she promised to record the sites of any broken fences
She had only been walking for a few hours before she found the den. It was a hole
beneath a dead gum tree with only a cascade of grey roots to keep the earth from collapsing
onto the tiny bodies sleeping inside. They were brown and brindle and hadn’t yet opened
their eyes. Milly crept close and reached her arm into the hole. The den air was moist with
breath and her hand began to sweat as she gently stroked the slumbering litter. Then she sat
back on the dry grass, emptied out her backpack, pulled the pups out one by one, and tucked
When she got home, she placed the backpack on the timber floorboards in front of the
fireplace, to keep the babies warm.
‘You should’ve left them where they were,’ her father said. ‘What happens when their
mother comes back and can’t find them?’
‘They didn’t have a mother,’ she told him.
‘Of course they did. Everything has a mother.’
‘I don’t,’ she said.
But there was no nursing bitch to feed them and they were too young and dehydrated, so
he took them from the backpack, loaded them in a bucket and set off for the creek.
Milly wasn’t going to let that happen again.
The music grew louder as they drew closer to the lake but so far they hadn’t seen
anybody else on the trail. Milly kept her eyes fixed to the track doing her best to avoid the
ferns that sprung randomly from the ground like trip wires. The salt breeze cut through the
lingering humidity and caused goosebumps to rise on Milly’s neck. A light flashed through
the trees down the path. A high-pitched voice slurred on the wind.
‘But why? Like, why would he do that?’
Milly crouched and turned her headlamp off. Rocks, scattered in the sand, pushed into her
‘No. Stop. Wait. Can you hear me? Hello?’
The pup wriggled and yipped inside the bag. Milly shushed him, but it was no good. He
scratched and pawed at the inside, trying to cop a whiff of where the voice was coming from.
Milly gave in and unzipped it. The pup sprang up and sniffed loudly, relishing his little
Stay low and move slow, Milly thought, as torchlight swung wildly across the trail. She
reached down to pat the pup, to coax him into laying flat so that she could zip shut the bag
again, but he was gone.
PooCrapFrickStupidStupidStupid. Sweat bubbled from her brow. No wonder her father
didn’t trust her. It was just like the lamb, all over again It was just like the lamb all over
again, she thought. Which really wasn’t even her fault. He should’ve known the ewe was
pregnant. He shouldn’t have left her to give birth by herself in the corner of the sweating pen
with all the other sheep bleating around her. Milly was just trying to help her. She didn’t
know they’d all start running when she hopped the pen’s fence. She didn’t know they’d flock
and stampede and trample anything in their way.
She turned on her headlamp and lit up the trail again. The pup skulked along the edges of
the brush, towards the voice. Milly moved after him, keeping the beam fixed on his little
orange body, as she followed at a distance, careful not to spook him and send him bolting
into the undergrowth.
The girl was a faint moon-glow of tangled blonde slumped against a tree. She was
wrapped in a pink towel, the thin straps of her bathing suit just visible around her neck, in her
hand she held a phone with the torch turned on which she switched from ear to ear in an
attempt to gain a better signal.
‘Hello,’ said Milly.
The girl let out a sharp yelp and dropped the phone. She was older than Milly, almost an
adult but not quite. Her bloodshot eyes were sandwiched between smudged black lids. She
had been crying, which was not something an adult would do. She squinted and shielded
herself from the headlamp.
Milly sat cross legged on the ground. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.’
The girl found her phone and shone it at Milly. ‘Oh, you’re just a kid.’
‘I’m looking for my dog.’
‘Okay,’ said the girl, relaxing again against the tree.
Milly noticed her teeth were stained a blue and her breath stank like sweet beer. She tried
not to stare. She peered around awkwardly, scouting the edges of the undergrowth for orange
The girl picked up a leather handbag and poured its contents on to the ground beside her.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Milly.
‘Um, I don’t know. I was at a party but then I had to come here because my friend called
me because my other friend did something bad.’
‘What did she do?’
‘No, it’s a he. He, he um—he decided he wanted to be friends with somebody else.’
‘So? Can’t you all just be friends?’
‘No, not that kind of friend.’
‘Oh, so he cheated on you?’
The girl ran her fingertips across her cheekbones and pushed back her hair. ‘You
shouldn’t have to know about those things yet,’ she said.
‘It’s okay. I have TV,’ said Milly.
The girl laughed and sorted through her pile of things until she found a small black comb.
‘So, have you seen my dog?’ asked Milly.
‘What? Oh, no. Sorry.’
‘That’s okay,’ said Milly, standing up. ‘I hope you feel better soon.’
‘Wait, don’t go yet,’ said the girl. She leaned forward and grabbed Milly’s wrist. ‘Sit with
me for a little bit, please.’
Milly allowed herself to be pulled to the ground.
The girl placed a hand on Milly’s shoulder, shuffled behind her and started to run the
comb through Milly’s tangled knots.
‘Where’s your mum? Does she know you’re out here?’
Her brushstrokes had a calming rhythm. Gentle and consistent. Not constantly catching
and tearing, like her father’s. Milly wanted to drift off, wanted to close her eyes and sink
away, wanted to be held until she fell into a deep sleep.
‘Yes, she’s waiting for me at the lake,’ she said, jumping to her feet. She looked down at
the girl with her trove of hair ties and loose coins and then turned her head away, ashamed.
The light from her headlamp flitted across the forest floor and nestled in the bracken,
camouflaged against the night sand, was the pup, chewing on a strawberry lip gloss.
The lake was nestled in a clearing, and free from light pollution and the satinay-thatched
canopy roof, the water formed a mirror-image of the yawning purple star-litter above it. Milly
imagined flying over and hovering in-between the two depths. Then a thundering bass-drop
caused the ground to rumble. A bright white strobe flashed visions of bather-clad revellers
dancing in a sweat-steam pack. Blue and pink lasers cut across the sky and the pup let out a
long high howl from inside the cooler-bag.
Milly hugged the shoreline and hurried away from the crowd, through wet sand.
‘We’re never going to find them with all this noise,’ she said and placed the cooler-bag
on the ground. She unzipped it, lifted the pup out and placed him at the edge of the water.
He tentatively pawed at the shallows then lurched forward and snapped before bouncing
backwards to hide behind her legs. She brought a gentle hand down on his back and traced
the dried slashes on his pelt. He let out a whine and buried his head against her.
‘It’s okay,’ she said. ‘We’ll find—’
And then the world was lit up. Two giant shining eyes raced down the shore, turning up
loose sand and spraying it into the air. Milly grabbed the pup and lay flat on the earth. She
held him tight against her side. He grumbled and squirmed, and she had to struggle to keep
him pinned. Not now. Don’t take him now. She pictured her father with the bucket. Sorry, but
it’s what has to be done. I don’t like it either. And then he’d walk towards the water. But out
here there were no doors to lock. She’d run him down. She’d fight and scratch and maul him.
She’d drown herself, if she had to. The engine grew louder and louder and then quieter and
quieter and then it was gone.
The music cut and she lifted her head. Partygoers scattered. Floodlights mounted on a
white four-wheel drive swamped the shore. Somebody was yelling instructions, or threats.
She only stopped to wrestle some breath back into her lungs when she reached the wire
fence. It was taller than her, taller than her father even. She placed her fingers inside the mesh
circles and tugged. It would hold her. She heaved the cooler bag high on her shoulder and
forced her foot into a wire foothold. She felt the threshing pup squirm under her arm and her
forearms strained each time she reached higher to pull both their bodies further from the
ground. Finally, she swung herself over the top railing, let her legs dangle in the air and
watched pairs of marble lights float among the bracken and brake of the underwood.
Being scared ain’t gonna help you, her father had said, standing in the paddock with a
carpet python’s head under his boot. Just grab it. It’s only little. She strained to keep her eyes
open because she knew if she allowed herself to blink, she would cry. She took little steps
towards where it whip-wriggled in the brown grass—Rah! He grabbed her shoulder. She
shrieked. And he let the snake slither away, laughing.
She jumped from the fence. And stumbled. Her body crashed into the sand. A mess of
granules invaded her mouth and chaffed her lips. She sat up, spitting. The cooler-bag rocked
back and forth next to her, barely muffling the pup’s squeals. Milly edged towards it. And a
deep call whistled through her chest. Lean black and tan bodies skulked through the scrub,
circling her. One slunk forward, haggard and thin. Ribs visible through sand-flecked fur.
Drooping black teats hanging from its belly. Milly kept her gaze fixed on the cooler-bag. Just grab it.
The dingo snorted hot air and moved closer. Just grab it. She crawled towards the bag; the
dingo bared its yellow teeth. Just grab it. She reached and yanked the zip. ‘Go.’