On my first glimpse inside the yurt, I’m unimpressed.
It’s a tent.
And I’m not a camping kinda girl. Nor glamping, for that matter.
But John gives me a nudge, so forceful I almost lose my balance, and it’s enough to jolt me out of my selfishness. I breathe in deeply through my nose, and whoosh it out through my mouth. Only two nights. It’s for my best friend, Belle. Her new business in a tourism industry still smarting after the pandemic. I can do this. A positive review on Trip Advisor is the least I can do.
‘Ya right?’ John asks.
I simply nod, looking around at the eclectic mix of furniture, the bed, so many cushions. A chest at the foot of the bed reveals at least six blankets. Good, we’re going to need those. The small kerosene heater is a fire hazard if you ask me, and I don’t want it lit while I’m staying here. There’s two armchairs, scarves pinned haphazardly, yet stylishly, to the canvas walls to add elements of colour. A coffee table sits between the two chairs and a battery-operated lamp gives off a dim glow. Belle has provided a small camp stove with pans and canned food. Next to it sits an esky. John’s already peering inside it. Checking out the food supplies.
‘It’ll be alright. Won’t it?’ I respond. I go back to the door, look out at the paddocks and the dam, and the mountains in the distance. The outdoors spread further than the eye can see. Sliding my phone out of my back pocket, I check for mobile coverage.
‘Oh god, John. There’s no way to contact anyone if something goes arse-up.’
‘That’s part of the attraction. Belle wants her guests to really disconnect from the hustle and bustle of their lives.’ He stands behind me now, nuzzles the back of my neck. ‘Come on, let’s unpack, get settled for the evening. We can build a campfire outside, toast marshmallows.’ He smiles, winks. ‘Then we can have an early night.’
Well, there’s nothing else to do. Of course I don’t say this out loud to John. I place our backpacks on the bed and begin to unpack. Belle’s even got a wardrobe inside this tent, so I take everything out and lay them on the shelves.
Once that’s done, I walk back to the door. ‘Maybe we could go for a hike?’ I say, looking at the sky. Desperately trying to alter my negative aspect on all things outdoorsy. At least for now.
‘Tomorrow morning, for sure.’ John glances at his watch. ‘There’s not enough daylight hours left to really enjoy it now.’
He walks outside. Grabs logs from the covered area beside the yurt where Belle’s stacked wood and gently tosses them onto a small dug-out. It’s about four metres away from the entrance to the yurt. Belle’s thoughtfully provided fire lighters and matches; in no time John’s built a raging fire. Its orange flames rise high, licking and dancing, mesmerising me. The warmth reaches me at the door, where I’m still standing. Still wondering how I’ll make it through the next few days.
‘Missy?’ John calls, not realising I’m right behind him.
He jumps slightly, chuckles. Turns to face me. ‘There’s a box near the esky. It’s got plastic glasses in it, and there’s a few bottles of wine in the box next to it. Choose a bottle and come and join me here. It’s toasty warm, and the view is to die for.’
I can hear him mumbling still as I wander back inside to collect the glasses and wine. It’s still light outside, can’t be much later than four o’clock. Bit early to start drinking, but again, what else is there to do here.
John’s found camping chairs somewhere and has set them up. We’re facing the paddock; the undulating land ahead disappears from sight and rises again to meet the mountains on the horizon. My gaze darts from the view to the flames. Flames to horizon. I can’t decide which is more stunning.
Before I know it, the sun’s set behind us and we’ve drunk one bottle of wine. John grabs a blanket and cushions from inside and brings them out to me. He collects more wood to throw on the fire; as the logs drop on, the fire spits and flickers wildly.
I clamber up from the chair and lay the blanket on the ground, throw the cushions down. We lie beside each other on our backs, facing the sky, holding hands. It’s not so bad after all.
‘Count the stars,’ John says. He turns onto his side to look at me.
‘Impossible. Too many to count.’
‘Give it a try. At least make a start,’ he says. His voice is low, croaky.
And I do. But there’s too many. ‘I’m hungry. What’s inside to eat? Did you notice?’
‘Um, baked beans, spaghetti, few canned soups. Bread. Marshmallows. Cereal.’ He rubs his hand over my flat belly. ‘What takes your fancy?’
None of those options. I’d like a slow-cooked Beouf Bourgenion in a restaurant with white tablecloths and huge napkins, to be honest. That’d better suit this lovely wine. This is why camping doesn’t make sense to me. Why have the finer things in life, like a decent wine, with shit food. I say none of this to John. He knows this about me. No point whingeing, just got to make the best of it. For him. For Belle.
‘Baked beans, I reckon. Maybe a few slices of bread. We can toast it here, over the flame.’
John’s up before I’ve finished speaking, getting the food. He opens the can and the beans slide into the saucepan, hanging over the fire. I use sticks to toast the bread, trying not to think about what’s crawled along that stick before I picked it up.
We eat quickly. Both of us famished. But for me, I eat fast so it’s over and done with. Where’s the attraction in savouring baked beans and flame-grilled bread.
He takes my plate when I’m done, leaves it beside the blanket. Gently lowers me down and kisses me. The taste and smell of our dinner on his mouth threatens to bring a distasteful end to this moment, but I gather my thoughts and it’s enough for me to keep it inside my tummy, where it belongs.
‘Shall we stay here, under the stars? Or go inside?’ he asks, already climbing out of his jeans.
Taking his cue, I say, ‘Here’s fine.’ I’ve never had sex outdoors before, under a canopy of stars. Something to tick off my bucket list.
It takes me a while, but eventually I’m in the moment, with John. He’s kissing my breasts, my stomach. We’re both starkers, the cold night air tickling our skin, while the fire and our growing need for each other warms us simultaneously. It’s as wonderful as it always is with John. He goes further south; I moan, close my eyes, arch my back.
A howl in the night jolts me back. Deadens the desire immediately. ‘What was that?’ I ask.
‘What?’ John’s still trying to keep it happening. He pushes the top half of my body back onto the cushions. ‘Didn’t hear anything.’
I can’t let myself surrender. While John’s at work, I’m thinking of that howl. Wondering what sort of animal makes that noise. My head darts left to right, looking around.
‘Come on Missy,’ John says. ‘Work with me.’
It’s then I see the eyes. Glowing yellow. Narrow slits. But definitely out there.
Screaming, I push John off me and stand up. He stands too, the fire lights half his lean body in an orange glow.
‘Over there,’ I say, pointing into the darkness. ‘There’s something out there.’
‘Miss, it won’t come near us. The fire. It’ll keep us safe.’
I shake my head.
‘Missy, I really want to fuck you out here.’ He walks to me, hugs me. I can feel his hardness; it presses against my lower belly. His hands rest on my bare arse. ‘Trust me, babe. We’ll be fine.’
Reluctantly, I let him guide me back to the ground. ‘Now, where were we?’ he asks, with a smile.
The inky dark around us is silent. I relax into the feeling again. Eventually, John moves inside me, then does his deft, signature movement of rolling over, still inside me, so that I’m on top. We rock in time, climaxing together. My cries of pleasure ring out through the night and I hear, beneath my own moaning, the howling creature I heard earlier.
I shudder, flop forward onto John’s torso. ‘Did you hear it this time?’
His fingers trail my spine. ‘Only heard you babe. The township twenty clicks away woulda heard you.’
I laugh. Endorphins charge, causing me to forget my worries. We stay on the blanket, naked and side-by-side for…I don’t know how long. My thoughts are a jumbling kaleidoscope. John’s breathing changes, slow and deep. He’s asleep. I should wake him. Put out the fire. We should head inside.
There’s those eyes again. Closer this time. I gasp as its footsteps crunch in our direction. I shake John awake. He opens his eyes in time to register it’s upon us, at the edge of the blanket. Sniffing.
‘Missy,’ John says. ‘Stand slowly. Stay behind me.’ We inch our way to standing. ‘We’re going to creep inside the yurt now. Don’t worry about our stuff. Let’s go now, very slowly, while it’s interested in what’s left on our plates.’
I edge towards the door to the yurt. Never has four metres felt longer. John’s in between me and the…I think it’s a dingo. Christ, the whole nation knows what they’re capable of. We’re probably not even safe inside the yurt, with its secure doors.
We’re inside. John closes and locks the door.
I begin to sob.
‘It’s alright, Missy. We’re safe now.’ He leads me to the bed. ‘Let’s hop in, get some sleep. We’ve got that hike tomorrow.’ He’s pulling back the doona, the sheets and blankets.
Sniffing, I say, ‘D’ya want your pyjamas. It’ll get cold overnight.’ I look at the clock next to the bed. It’s not even eight o’clock.
He shakes his head. ‘Let’s keep each other warm.’ His gaze drags up and down my body, lingering on my breasts. He grins, salutes, and says, ‘As you are, my darling.’
We climb in, I rest in his embrace. I drift off into a fitful sleep, half-listening for sounds of the canvas ripping, dreaming of being torn limb-from-limb by a bloody dingo.