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Mandy Hager

Excerpt from

The Nature of Ash

 

Mikey’s stuffed inside the kennel like a sow into a crate. His hands are tied behind his back but, even worse, he’s trussed around the neck as well. A slipknot. He’s tethered to the wood so if he tries to get away the rope will tighten like a noose.

Everything shrinks down to the point of worst insult – the chaffed skin around his neck. The edges of my vision blur to red while white noise shrieks inside my ears. Have to save him. Have to get him as far away from these heartless bastards as we can go.

His eyes are shut, his mouth hanging open as flies preen on his tide-marked lips. I can’t tell if he’s breathing, and I’m too bloody chicken to find out. What if that whimper was his last? I need Jiao. Don’t think I can face another corpse alone.

I find her crouched behind the clump of bracken, her gun drawn and ready to fire. ‘Put that away,’ I whisper. ‘I’ve found him. Need your help.’

Her eyes are freaked. ‘Is he okay?’

‘Don’t know,’ I say. ‘You’re not going to fucking believe it.’ It’s all I can bring myself to say. Any more and I might crack. I take her hand.

As we approach the kennel I feel her bristle at my side. Her free hand shoots up to her mouth. ‘How could they do that?’

By this point I don’t care that we’re out in the open. The bastards have done their worst. We squat down beside him and I look him over, careful not to startle him. There’s an ugly bruise on his temple, and he bloody stinks. Must’ve shit his pants, then been left in them. If that bitch was here right now .  .  .

‘Mikey.’ I press my hand to his forehead. ‘It’s me. It’s okay now.’ His skin is clammy to my touch. But warm. Thank god he’s warm.

He snuffles in a breath and opens one eye. It’s a long time before the other follows. The bastards must have drugged him – probably that damn hot chocolate, now I think about it. I’ll bet the little gannet guzzled twice as much as us. He licks his lips with a patchy grey tongue.

‘Dad?’

‘No, matey, it’s me. Ash. Jiao’s here too.’

‘Hey Mikey,’ she says. ‘We’re going to get you out now. Take you home. But you have to be really quiet. Okay?’

She reaches in and starts to untie his hands. Frees them while I wrestle with the ropes around his neck. He just lies there, staring up at Jiao like she’s an angel of deliverance while she whispers random shit to keep him calm.

He’s so bloody out of it he doesn’t even move when he’s released. We have to coax him out, a little at a time. I can’t bear to think of what it must have taken to squeeze him in. His track pants are pasted to his arse by shit, his shoes nowhere to be seen. Damn it. He’s going to be pissed as hell they’ve gone.

We get on each side of him and guide him back the way we came. It’s a nightmare: he’s so ga-ga he can’t even coordinate his feet. We have to lug him like a crash-test dummy.

I want revenge. Slow, gory, excruciating revenge.

It takes a bloody age to get back to the car. Hefting him over fences. Cajoling him to move. Panting to diffuse the smell. He says nothing. I never thought I’d miss his yabber, but this freaks me more. By the time we get him there, we’re drenched in sweat. We have to wrestle hard to get him in and lay him on the back seat, on top of Trav’s dried blood. I jolly him to sip bottled water to wet his mouth. The poor little sod can hardly keep his eyes open – whatever they’ve given him has written him off. I hope to god it’s not toxic.

Need to get him help. But first I have some business.

‘I’m going back,’ I say to Jiao. ‘As Dad would say: have gun, will use.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ she says. ‘Let’s get as far away as possible before they notice he’s gone.’

‘I can’t. It’ll eat away at me for ever if I don’t confront them.’ I can’t believe I sound like this – feel like this – but I’m stuck inside my own private horror movie and there’s only one way it can end. The baddies have to die. That’s how it is in horror-movie land. I have no choice.

I drive the car out to the road and park it by the sign at the gate. While Jiao climbs into the back seat with Mikey I run back across the paddocks, driven by such a whirlwind of rage it wipes away all other thought. Just before I go in through the trees, I look back at the truck. Hang on. Why not shoot a couple of the tyres to slow them down? That will still leave four bullets. And the noise will draw them out. It’s bloody perfect.

I take aim, holding the gun with both hands, shaking like a bastard. Brace myself, ready to take flight. Pull the trigger.

Click. I try again. And again. Stand here firing without bullets.

I should’ve bloody guessed. They lied about that too. Set us up so we’d believe we had protection when we had no chance. Their sheer cold-blooded evil disgusts me.

I hurl the gun, shattering the windscreen with a satisfying crack. They’ve screwed my one chance for revenge. I might’ve risked a shoot-out, but I’m not so bloody stupid as to go unarmed. Fuck them. Damn them to hell.

First published in 2012 by Random House New Zealand

 

 

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