The Hunt was my first story to make it into a book!
It was published by blackdog in their Short & Scary anthology. I was in very good company, published alongside the likes of Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton, Shaun Tan and Gabrielle Wang.
There was another massacre last night.
Blood and pieces of pink flesh strewn across the backyard.
As I padded across the dewy grass, something stuck to my left moccasin. Something, which until a few short hours ago, had been one of my girls.
My cornflakes heaved in my stomach. I swallowed the bile and crossed to the coop to investigate.
My latest brood had consisted of Ginger, Mrs Brown and, okay I admit it, the stupid one, Harriet.
Beautiful, brown birds who trusted me. Who stretched their feathered necks through their chicken wire enclosure when they heard me coming. And who, every day, provided three fresh eggs.
They’d lasted eight weeks. The chooks before had lasted three months. The ones before that, only one.
The pen was surrounded with chicken wire and I’d shut the gate. Inside the pen was a wooden coop and the girls were shut in by a door with a latch. I swear, some wily fox had figured out how to push the latch across.
I’d just begun burying what remained of my girls when I heard a fluttering above me. Harriet!
She’d escaped. And was now pacing the deck of the tree house. I raced up the ladder and took her in my arms. I was rubbing my cheek against her downy back when I heard a scuffling on the fence which could mean only one thing.
Our neighbor, Mr Reynard.
“G’day Markus,” he said, leaning a fat, white arm on the fence.
“Hi,” I said, barely glancing up.
“How’re the girls?”
I looked up at him quickly. Was I dreaming or had he run his tongue over his upper-lip, flicking at his reddish moustache?
“All except this one – gone,” I told him flatly. “Another fox – last night.”
Harriet started clucking loudly. The alarm cluck.
“Hmm.” He stroked his auburn whiskers with flabby fingers. “You know what they say – cunning as a fox – and all that.”
A bizarre thought entered my head.
I pushed it out. The trauma of the bloodbath was playing havoc with my mind.
We never saw Mr Reynard much – he kept to himself. But every time I lost a flock he seemed to rear his ugly head, scenting the fresh kill.
“I’ve got to get ready for school,” I said, tucking Harriet under an arm and climbing down. “Seeya.”
At lunchtime, I went to the library and looked up animal trapping on the net. I’d decided. If a fox could catch my chooks, I would catch a fox. Traps were about $50 bucks a pop – way out of my price range.
That night, I was bathing my little brother Jack, when inspiration struck. The baby bath! Propped up with a stick, bacon underneath, it might just work.
Friday night, I told Mum and Dad I wanted to camp out in the tree house. I used my Grandpa’s night vision goggles to keep watch.
At midnight, I awoke with a start. A scuffling noise came from the coop. I scrambled down the ladder flashing my torch through the chicken wire. A blur of orange whizzed past, escaping through a hole in the fence.
I scooted back up the ladder and shone my torch into Mr Reynard’s yard. Nothing.
Saturday night, I tried the same routine, with jelly beans to stay awake.
At 5am, I slipped the goggles back to the hole in the fence. And that’s when I saw it. A twitchy brown nose, followed by a pointy muzzle, and a sleek orangey body.
It approached the baby bath, cautiously, sniffing around the edge, trying to pull the meat out.
Meanwhile, I started inching my way down the ladder.
I’d just reached the coop gate when the fox dived under the bath, devouring the bacon. Twenty pieces of organic free-range – cooked.
It’s tail swished in satisfaction, dislodging the stick. The bath fell.
I lunged at the bath, pinning it down. The fox went crazy, pawing at the edges, as I made myself comfortable on top of the bath.
I reached into my pocket for my mobile and called the RSPCA.
Three months later, a young woman with red spiky hair, knocked at our door.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Liza. I’m looking for Gerard Reynard – my uncle. He lives next door. At least, I thought he did. The house looks kind of deserted.”
“Um, yeah,” I said – I hadn’t thought of him for ages. Suddenly, I felt ill.
“Sorry, we haven’t seen Mr Reynard for, gee – months.”
“Oh,” she paused and sniffed the air. I was expecting her to be upset or say she’d call the police. But she just sniffed the air again, and looked at me curiously.
“Tell me,” she said, licking her lips – just like her uncle! “Do you keep chickens?”