Under a canopy of stars, Joanna and Carl toast marshmallows in the fire. The night is warm, balmy; the moon is low in the sky, sending a silvery glow around them. Joanna shivers, despite the temperature. She feels as though they’re the only two people in the world.
Their tent is behind them. It’s a fancy two-room palace, nothing like the hideous, claustrophobic canvas of doom Joanna used as a child on camping trips with her family. At the back of this tent, there’s two cots, nestled close, and their two sleeping bags zipped to make one large doona cover. The front has a makeshift kitchen and lounging area, complete with a blow-up couch and a camping kitchen sink.
‘This was a good idea, Carl,’ Joanna says.
‘Yeah.’ Carl rubs her back. ‘Ev’ry so often I come up with the goods.’
‘That’s why I keep you around.’ Joanna pulls a marshmallow off the stick and quickly pops it in her mouth. The gooey mess sticks to her fingers and the roof of her mouth. ‘God these are so good, aren’t they?’
Carl doesn’t answer. He’s too busy shoving the four marshmallows taken from his own stick into his mouth. He nods instead.
Joanna giggles. After three years together, he can still make her laugh like a pre-pubescent girl. She stokes the fire, adds more twigs. Standing, she dusts off her jeans.
‘I’m going to find another log or two,’ she says.
‘Sure. You want me to come?’
‘Nah, I’ll be right. I’ll yell if I need help.’
Joanna walks behind the tent. She remembers seeing numerous logs there when they put it up in the daylight, just hours ago. With her torch streaming a narrow light, she soon finds three logs that will be perfect to keep the fire going overnight.
A twig snaps in the distance. Behind her, in the foresty undergrowth on the river bank. Not Carl, then.
‘Carl?’ she calls, even though she knows it can’t be him.
‘Carl?’ This time, louder. Her heart races so hard it feels like it’s beating against her ribcage.
She hears a groan. Her fingers tingle and her knees shake as she makes her way back to the tent. She holds tightly to the logs, hoping she won’t be faced with the decision to throw them at something, animal or human. Not a wild boar, please, anything but a wild boar. She’s been terrified of them since her last camping holiday with her dad, fifteen years ago.
In the glow of the fire, she sees Carl lying face down in the dirt. Running towards him, it feels like she’s moving against the oncoming force of a tsunami. Joanna feels his neck for a pulse—he’s unconscious. The back of his head is covered in blood.
Joanna knows where Carl hid his gun. With a flush of embarrassment, she remembers being horrified that he had brought it along.
‘You never know, Jo,’ he’d said as he placed it in the plastic container under the camping sink, next to the box of tools and the shoebox filled with cutlery. ‘It’s unloaded,’ he continued, ‘but the bullets are here. You know how to load it?’
She’d nodded glumly. Dad had taught her after the boar attacked. It’d ripped the tent to pieces, ravaged through their supplies and sent her scampering in fear up a tree until Dad shot it with three cracking explosions.
Now, she carefully and quietly treads to that spot in the tent. The onus is on her to save them both, from whatever predator is stepping around in the dimming dusk light. She find the gun and bullets, loads them into the chamber and tucks the gun in the back of her jeans.
And waits. She crouches next to the blow-up couch. Her brain scrambles for a plan.
Turning, she notices a shadow falls over Carl’s body. From her vantage point, she sees a man, kicking Carl’s mid-section. Hard enough for him to cough. He stirs, rubs his hand over his eyes.
‘What the fu–‘
Carl is quieted by a gun in his face.
‘I got this one,’ the man yells, piercing the silence around them. ‘You find the girl.’
Another voice mumbles a reply as the man presses the barrel into Carl’s cheek.
Joanna hears the footsteps of the one who’s charged with finding her. Male or female, she doesn’t know. But she has to act.
She takes aim for the man, taking her chances that whoever’s after her is far enough away for her to shoot them both before they can retaliate.
Squeezing the trigger, she prays it hits. There’s no time for mistakes.
With a crack, the man is down. Carl leaps into action, and takes the man’s gun. To his right, Joanna sees the second attacker approaching. She aims again, and fires. This time she misses, but Carl’s already taking aim. He fells the second man in one shot.
‘Carl!’ Joanna runs to him.
Carl’s leaning over the man Joanna wounded. ‘How many?’
He spits in Carl’s face.
Carl presses the gun into the gaping hole in his stomach. He yells in pain.
‘I said, how many?’
‘Just two.’ His voice croaks. Carl shoots him again, this time in his head. Joanna yelps as the man’s brains and fragments of bone spray around the campsite.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Carl says.
‘But what about our stuff?’
‘Leave it. We’ll head to the nearest police station and let them deal with it.’
‘Absolutely. It’s a crime scene anyway. We should leave it untouched. That way, the police have a better chance of collecting evidence that supports us.’
‘OK.’ Joanna looks around. ‘You’re right. Let’s go.’
‘The town’s only about half an hour away. Everything’s gonna be fine, Jo. Promise.’