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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2314442
A man goes in search of a thylacine only for fate to intervene.

When I announced that I was going hiking in the wilderness of West Tasmania, people thought I was raving. “Why there?” they asked. “It’s all just bush and thick forest. You’ll get lost and fall off a cliff or something.”

“I have my reasons,” I said. “To me it sounds exactly the place to get away from it all.”

“Yeah right. And you can have too much of a good thing.”

I always left it right there. After all, they’d never have understood my real reason. While it was true that I wanted to get away on my own for a while, the choice of place had been influenced by my fascination with the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger. There were always rumours floating around that the animal had survived somehow, most likely in the thick bush of the west of the island. And so many claimed sightings must have some foundation in fact, surely.

Or so I reasoned.

It seemed the perfect opportunity for me to put myself in a position where I might see for myself. Certainly, I was never going to experience the thing if I just carried on dreaming. To win the lottery, first you must buy a ticket.

The ticket for this particular adventure was to do my homework. I researched the area and chose my starting point as Strathgordon on Lake Pedder. From there, I could take the difficult Port Davey Track, ending up in Melaleuca and a plane ride home. This should take no more than a week, going at a fairly easy pace, and allowing me plenty of time to appreciate the magnificent scenery. As well as taking a few photos of any thylacines I might bump into.

Having attended to all the planning and preparations necessary, I persuaded my old friend, Harry Venner, to drive me in his clapped out VW Combi from Hobart to Strathgordon on the B61. An evening spent at a barbecue, a good night’s sleep, and I was off into the wilderness with loaded backpack and a feeling off relief at having escaped at last.

It was tough going, I won’t lie. Years of easy living at a desk job in the city had not been the best preparation for the sudden introduction of strenuous exercise, but I was young and determined enough to make it through the early growing pains. After the first three days of clambering up steep and rocky paths on mountainsides and fighting my way though thick brush, I was through the worst of it and really beginning to enjoy the wild vistas of untouched wilderness. It was a good deal more open than I’d expected, with only a few areas where the bush was thick enough to hide a population of thylacines. But in all that huge expanse, anything could live unnoticed for years. Hope refused to die and I continued happily enough, content that I was fulfilling a dream at last.

On the fourth day, I gained a companion. I was well ahead of my schedule, in spite of travelling so slowly, and a lone hiker caught up with me. He was the first human I’d seen since setting out, so it was entirely natural that we should talk for a while as we walked together.

His name was Bruce Canford, hailing from the Northern Territory. This Port Davey hike was part of what he called “my exploration of Tazzy.” Apparently he was hiking all the main trails in Tasmania with the intent of claiming the knowledge of all Australia. Tasmania, it seemed, was his last project. He was a man of huge ideas and questionable achievement, judging by his alleged history. It seemed just a little too much for one of no more years than thirty-five, I guessed.

But he carried a rifle slung across his back and it reassured me to have some protection against any aggressive wildlife we might encounter. The question of whether Tazzy harboured any animals large enough to require shooting did not cross my mind at the time.

That night we set up camp together, both glad of company after so long alone. I pitched my store-bought tent while he constructed a makeshift affair of sticks and brushwood.

“It’s all I need,” he claimed. “I’m a Northerner, you know.”

Well, I was a city boy, but I knew how cold it could get in Taz, so I said nothing and laid out my sleeping bag. If he wanted to show me how tough he was, that was fine in my estimation.

That was also the night we first heard the tigers.

It must have been around two or three in the morning when I was awakened by a strange yap-yapping in the darkness surrounding the camp. I stuck my head out of the tent flap and could see by the light of the stars that Bruce was awake also and staring into the night.

“What the hell is that?” I whispered.

He did not turn to look at me. “Dunno,” he answered. “Sounds like a pack of terriers chasing a fox, but that can’t be.” We kept quiet for a while then while the yapping continued, gradually moved away and faded into the deep gloom of the night.

When all had gone quiet, Bruce turned to look at me. “You ever hear a Tazzy tiger?” he asked.

“Nope.” I shook my head. “But I read somewhere that they can make sounds like that… You reckon it was them?”

“Can’t think of anything else it could be. Unless a Taz Devil. But who knows whether they even make a sound.”

“I don’t think so,” I returned. “They can growl and sorta bark, but not yapping like that. That was really weird.”

“Ah well, nothing to worry about anyway.” He grunted and wriggled back into his shelter. I lay back in my sleeping bag again but had no sleep the rest of the night. It was just possible I’d heard at least two thylacines on the hunt and that’s not something you put out of mind easily.

In the morning there was nothing said about our experiences of the night. It was as if neither of us was quite sure that it had really occurred, and we didn’t want to break the spell of the possibilities it raised. The last thing I wanted was for Bruce to look at me in amusement and scoff at the idea of thylacines chasing about in my dreams.

After a simple breakfast, we set out on the trail in the misty morning light. And it was no more than we deserved that the first bend in the trail should reveal a thylacine on the path ahead.

There was no mistaking it. It stood side on to us, looking back directly into our eyes, long jaw wide open and striped back arched just as you see it in the old photos of the zoo-kept animals. We froze and it stood there unmoving, perhaps as surprised as we were at seeing each other.

Then I moved slowly to slide the backpack off my shoulders. I had to get a photo and my camera was in a pocket of the pack. With utmost caution I bent to feel in the pocket.

The gunshot, when it came, tore my world to pieces. I whipped round to see Bruce with gun lowering from his shoulder and the thylacine slumped in the path ahead.

“What the hell?” I shouted. “Are you insane? That’s a thylacine and you may have just shot the last of its kind.”

He shrugged as though it was of no concern to him. “We need proof,” he said. “And there’s nothing better than that.” He pointed at the dead animal. “Anyway, we heard lots of them last night. There’s probably plenty of them.”

I clenched my fists in frustration and anger. “You idiot! And what if it’s the last female? Or male? Have you no appreciation of what you’ve just done? People have spent their whole lives trying to find just one of these animals.”

“More fool them,” he said. “And don’t call me an idiot. The damn things were exterminated in the first place because they were vermin. Sheep killers, the lot of ‘em.”

I closed my eyes in despair at the foolishness of the man. He still believed that old tale about thylacines and sheep - as though it had not been known for decades that they were incapable of such rapacity.

The thought of Bruce walking into a ranger’s office, dead thylacine over his shoulder, then occurred to me and, with that, the sheer absurdity of the situation cooled my rage and set things in sharp focus.

“So you think that carcase is proof?” I asked.

He struck a careless pose, one hand on hip and the other still cradling the gun. “None better,” he replied. “They won’t argue when they see the thing with their own eyes.”

I sneered. “Yeah, and they won’t be much pleased with you either,” I said. “That’ll get you a few years in prison without a doubt.”

He looked at me then with sudden fear in his eyes. “Whaddaya mean? They wouldn’t, would they?”

“Bruce, this is a national park. They go nuts if you kill any animal in it, no matter how many of them there are. Imagine how they’re gonna freak with you killing something so rare they thought it was extinct.”

He caved then. “Oh shit, you’re right. Maybe we shouldn’t tell ‘em.”

“And that’s why you’re an idiot, Bruce. Shooting was the stupidest thing you coulda done. I can’t even take a photograph now.”

He wasn’t listening. His mind was fixed on escape and he burst out, “That’s what we’ll do - just keep quiet. There’s no need for them ever to know. And we can bury the thing in the bush here so it’ll never be found. That’ll work, won’t it?”

I didn’t answer. It had occurred to me that the flaw in his reasoning was myself. His plan would only work if I went along with it. And if I didn’t, there was an easy way out for him. He wouldn’t be the first criminal to dispose of witnesses.

Yet would he believe me if I agreed to support his story? He could choose any moment in what remained of our hike to get rid of me, however much I assured him of my silence.

This was becoming a bit awkward for me too.

I could see by the suspicion in his eyes that he was coming to the same conclusion. If I were going to escape the looming danger, I had best act now, before it became too late. I turned and ran back around the bend in the track, ducking down so that the scrub made me a difficult target indeed.

It was just sufficient to give me the head start that I needed. He fired a few shots but they were wild and I kept going. Reaching a larger bush, I stopped when hidden by its branches and looked back.

He hadn’t moved. The rifle was trained on me and the sight of me without movement, though partially hidden by foliage, was enough for him to take a shot. I was slammed to the ground before I heard the report.

The bullet had hit me in the shoulder and I hovered on the brink of unconsciousness for a moment. Then the pain came and I knew I had to move. He would be coming to complete the job.

I crawled into the scrub and kept going as long as I could. In the end, the pain became too much and I kept still in the hope that he wouldn’t find me. I sensed rather than heard his arrival by the bush that had sheltered me. I held my breath.

In time, he gave up and went back towards the thylacine. I stayed where I was, determined to wait him out, at least until nightfall. At times I drifted into sleep, only to wake within a few minutes. Loss of blood was killing me, I knew, but I just did not have the strength to do something about it.

It was as the sun was setting that an amusing thought came to me. I was dying, that was sure. But at least I might provide a bountiful feast for a thylacine or two.

Word count: 2,064
For Horror Writing Contest, February 2024.
Prompt: Write a horror story set in Australia involving an Australian creature, set in the twenty-first century.
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