Timpson, Cele's and Nalbo's conspiracy-nut neighbour has just arrived with Cele's partner, Nalbo, injured, on a sled.
“On the day-bed in the kitchen, please Tim,” she said.
“His night-time bed would be better,” Timpson said. He wrenched Nalbo up by his right arm and slung him over his shoulder.
Maybe just sick and slightly injured. “The day-bed,” she insisted.
“Fine.” He dumped Nalbo uncaringly on the kitchen couch. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
Nalbo rolled his head side to side. No, please not. He gasped. “No. No. No.” He retched. Wiped bloody spit from his lips. He stared wildly around the room as if he searching for escape.
She frowned at Timpson’s back.
Nalbo nodded hard. Please? he mouthed. Gestured with his head. Get him out.
“I’ll deal, Tim,” she said. “I’m very up-to-date with my first-aid.”
“Don’t get hung up on the fact that I shot him,” Timpson said. “I told him and told him. The government …”
Nalbo snorted. Turned to the wall.
He wept? Tears?
“No, really. You should go home. Allie wasn’t very happy when she got out of the car.”
Timpson frowned at her. “Something you said?”
“Something Allie said.
Tim looked blank.
“Cuckoos do it to other birds,” she said.
She herded him to the door by getting into his space. “Thanks for saving Nalbo from bleeding to death, Tim. And thanks for bringing him back.”
“What friends are for.” He shrugged. “See you again.”
Cele buttoned her lips and waited to hear his footsteps fade toward the gate.
“Stay!” they heard him say.
“The young dog?” Cele said.
“Timpson tracked me with it.”
“You went hunting with that gun-toting idiot knowing you were sick and you expect me to believe your fevered excuses?”
Shivering non-stop, Nalbo hugged his hurt hand to his chest with his other, whole hand. “I found a little girl in the swamp. Four years, no older.” He plucked at his clothes. Stiff with something.
“This is her, all over me. He shot her.”
Now Cele shuddered. If that was true? “Why?”
“I don’t know. Or at least, there’s a fall-ground. Where some very weird …” He swallowed. “… weird life forms came down with the asteroid.”
The young dog barked at the door, wanting to be let in.
Nalbo shuddered. “He licked her blood from me and enjoyed it. Timpson encouraged it. Said a dog’s tongue healed where a medic’s ministrations kept you hurt. What did I ever do to deserve such a neighbour?”
She pressed her lips tight. “Stay! Here!” she told them, old dog and old man alike.
They’d be seeing her lips white and thin. Her fury. Jazz lay her head on her paws. Nalbo nodded.
She grabbed the rifle from above the door. Shut the door after her. Checked the mechanism. They kept it loaded for a quick reaction. Feral cats and foxes, usually.
The mongrel preceded her toward the gate.
She stopped. Aimed. Squeezed the trigger.
He fell. A perfect head shot. He wouldn’t have known what hit him.
She set the gun against the house and went to fetch a spade. She’d bury the dog where he’d finally do some good. Set one of the new fruit trees over him.
How many minutes was she away?
The body was gone.
The ground was stirred where it had lain.
Even the blood was taken. Scooped up, soil and all.
The fence was down, she saw peering over the steep bit of slope, a third of the way down.
The dog-and-pig proof wire was crimped in places as if by a large hand.
The tops of the waist-high tussock grasses lining the path through the swamp moved as if something large but low to the ground ran through.