from Te Aratiatia
Dot was wearing her ugliest skirt, a dull washed-out grey that looked dusty in the light and was itchy to the touch, but good to protect against gorse or, in this case, angry chicken claws. She hitched it up as she marched across the backyard to the henhouse, hearing them stir despite the sun still waking. She had hardly slept, feeling guilty in her old lumpy bed that she missed her hard flat bed of Wellington, upset that her sister had waited for hours at the hospital with a bleeding, oozing wound. Making them breakfast was the least she could do. They would be busy while Amiria was recovering anyway. Show that stupid Tu she still knew how to farm; she remembered where she came from.
The chickens were not happy. She could hear them screeching from a distance. Were they always that loud? For a moment Dot wondered if perhaps Tu was right and she had become spoiled. Get it together, Dottie. You can collect enough eggs from frazzled chickens for breakfast.
She didn’t see it until it was too late. A big black mass stalked around the back of the henhouse, searching for an entry point. The hens shrieked. Dot froze. There wasn’t anything to hide behind, nothing around to grab and use as a weapon.
The dog was huge but skeletal. Patches of fur left its thick skin bare. Was that foam at its mouth or was it her imagination? The teeth – the teeth were bared. It could snap through her.
It hadn’t noticed her yet.
Very slowly, Dot took a step back. It kept trying to get into the henhouse where the chickens squawked and squawked, snapping and ripping at the wood, manic. It managed to pull away an old board that was rotting, and the screeching got louder. One of the younger hens tried to escape through the new hole but there was a sickening and wet crunch as the dog caught it by the neck. The hen was a mess of gore and feathers in seconds. She should have run while the dog was distracted but she couldn’t bear the thought of it taking another chicken. They only had six, now five. But the little one wasn’t enough. Dad would be awake soon, and Tu. They would know what to do.
But the dog was so hungry. It shoved its snout into the hole, ripping it open further and another hen began screeching louder than the rest. Dot ran at the dog, screaming and waving her arms to try make herself look bigger, hoping it would bring the others to her aid. Dad slept with a shotgun.
The dog paid her no attention until she smacked it on the side of the head, her hand in the kete in an attempt at safety. It fell like paper, releasing the chicken from its jaws. Bloodied and stunned, the chicken lay at the open hole to the henhouse. Dot stood in front of it and the hole, waving, screaming. But the dog was too hungry to feel scared. It launched at her, catching her right hand, ripping through the thick, strong flax of the kete. The teeth were sharp like a dull blade, pressing and piercing her skin, scraping her knuckles. She screamed louder, pulled her hand out from the kete and the teeth.
There was nowhere to go. She raised her arms over her face to try protect herself, but the dog ripped into her arm and yanked, pulling her to the ground where it sought a better hold. How did such a skinny dog have so much strength? It latched onto her bloodied hand, dragging her away from its easier meal.
Dot put all her strength into her weaker arm to bat the dog’s head, but the teeth just ripped along her knuckles into her fingers at the force of the impact, holding tight.
A loud bang.
The chickens began to settle.
Heavy, hurried footsteps.
The air was still hot from yesterday’s sun but Dot shook as she removed her hand from the still dog’s mouth. She didn’t protest as her father picked her up and carried her back to the house. Tu stayed behind and another shot cracked the air. Best to be safe.
Dot cradled her injured arm and hand against her chest. She felt the warm blood seep in. She’d seen blood before, lots of it. But she didn’t want to look down. Couldn’t. It felt like a lot of blood. Someone would tell her if it was a lot of blood, right?
The air felt electrified, or was it just the adrenaline? Everyone ran around her, dizzying her. They sounded panicked. Were they panicked? Her mother carefully took her hand and began to clean the wounds.
She couldn’t feel the pain. That was a bad sign, wasn’t it? She was going into shock. Don’t go into shock. Think about … anything. Think about anything. What will Sandy’s face look like when she tells her she fought off a wild dog? And Phillip? What a laugh! Well, Phillip, I fought off a wild dog. Don’t do that every day!
Her fingers. She couldn’t feel her fingers.
The pain. There it was. The water seeped in and stung and burnt. Dot screamed and remembered how to breathe. Amiria ambled off and returned with a piece of leather for her to bite on. Dot did so, the earthy, animal taste on her tongue.
The room was silent.
There was something wrong.
No one said a word.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mel Cleary has completed her MA in Creative Writing at Te Pūtahu Tuhi Auaha o te Ao, IIML. Her piece is an excerpt from the chapter ‘Counting Chickens’ of her MA project Te Aratiatia.