Young Adult Fiction
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Excerpt from Nioka,
a coming of age, environmental novel
It wasn’t right.

The bodies flickered in the firelight. A single eye glittered from the pile and black stains
spotted the mass of fur.  Skeet looked away.

"Twenty-seven, mate!" Pockets wiped one sleeve along the barrel of his rifle. Skeet stared at
the gun at his feet. Its shine was gone. He shoved it with a toe until it lay beyond the circle
of light.

"Where'd you learn to shoot like that?" Pockets said. He touched the black mole on the side
of his nose and jerked his head toward the mound. "You took down more than half."

Skeet shrugged. He hadn't learned. He'd never even shot a gun before that morning.         
He crawled under his blanket and closed his eyes.        

"You're a natural," Pockets said.

Week after week, Skeet had watched the other station workers head for the bush. Their
eager strides took them into the trees with their rifles slung across their backs like badges of
courage. Skeet could only imagine the camaraderie and adventures that took place while he
stayed back, checking fences and moving sheep. The hunters would return the next day with
pride-swollen heads and stories of bravery.

Skeet had saved his wages. He'd wanted a gun.

The fire was warm. Skeet shifted closer. He could feel the heat on his skin, but inside he was
cold. He lifted his fingers to his cheek and winced. The butt of his rifle had rammed his face
more than once as rosellas and cockatoos burst from the trees to sail away.

His first kill was a bandicoot. He'd woken it from its daytime slumber and it scurried past
his feet with typical dimness. It stopped and looked over its shoulder. Skeet had leaned his
gun against his leg and grinned.

"What're ya doing?" Pockets yelped. "Get him,"

Skeet jumped. He lifted his rifle and aimed, watching the round bottom bounce through the
scrub. He pulled the trigger.

The bandicoot crumpled, its back torn apart.

"Yaha! You got him, mate!" Pockets pounded his back. "Feels good, don't it?" Pockets had
scooped the small body into his Hessian bag. "That's one." He waved a rigid finger in Skeet's
face.

The day had continued. They flushed possums from dead trees and separated wallabies from
their mothers. The Hessian bag grew heavy with carcasses and Skeet grew quiet.

Was this bravery?

As he lay beside the fire, he waited for the flush of success and searched his memory for
stories of courage. There were none.

The animals didn't fight back. Most of them were hit from behind as they fled in panic. They
weren't needed for food. They were too small for even a mouthful. They'd spent the day
killing … for fun.

Skeet was afraid. Why?

Pockets' breathing had grown even.

Crack!

Skeet's eyes flew open. Something was there. Something was standing just outside the ring
of light. He narrowed his eyes to make out its shape.

A dog?

The form moved closer to the light. It had a light brown coat, pale belly and stripes covering
its rump. A thylacine.

Skeet stared. He'd heard about them. Tasmanian Tigers, they were called. People said they
were killing off the sheep. But no one he knew had ever seen one.

Skeet sucked in his breath.

Glittering eyes turned on him, reflecting the flames. The creature quivered. There was
silence as the mind of the boy and the awareness of the animal were linked in one primitive
moment.

The connection was slashed.

The golden head snapped back and the body fell in a heap. The gun's roar thundered
through the bush.

Pockets giggled. He ran around the fire and plopped a muddy boot on the still form. "I did
it!" he crowed. "Killed a Tassie Tiger, I did!"

Skeet sat up. His eyes traveled from the dead beast to the boot to Pockets' thick lips. He was
talking, but Skeet heard nothing. He clenched his fists as he rose to his feet. Blood
hammered in his chest, his neck, his ears. He stepped around the fire and his eyes locked
onto Pockets.

Pockets' mouth stopped moving. He blinked. His grin faltered and he glanced down at the
fur under his boot.

"Take your foot off." Skeet's voice was low.

"Hey?" Pockets lifted his gun.

"Get your foot off of him."

"Him?" The grin was back. "Look again, mate." With the muddy toe of a boot, he parted the
pale fur on the Tiger's stomach.

A pouch.

"A female." Skeet dropped to his knees and placed a hand on her lower belly. The fur was
soft, like powder, the flesh still warm underneath. The pouch was flat. No pups.

Pockets grabbed a back leg. "Here, help me get her in the bag." He started to pull and Skeet
jumped to his feet.

"Stop!" he bellowed. He brought a hand down on Pocket's arm.

"Hey!" Pockets dropped the leg. It thudded to the ground.

"Leave it."

"Not likely. I'm taking her back. Maybe hang her head on the wall, you know how them big
game African hunters hang up lions and rhinos?"

"No." Skeet stepped between Pockets and the thylacine.

"No?" Pockets leaned forward.

Skeet stared at the mole in the crease of his nose. It looked like a raisin. "You shouldn't have
shot her," he said.

Pockets breathed in Skeet's face. The raisin-mole shuddered as Pockets' mouth turned up at
the corners. His eyes were like glass. Cold and hard. "Don't you ever tell me what I should
do. I'll flatten you like a bug." He bent over and wrapped his fingers around the thylacine's
leg.

Skeet's mind went blank as his foot slammed into the back of the big man's thigh.
Pockets whipped around. Skeet heard a crunch as the fist smashed into the side of his head.
He tumbled onto his shoulder. Pockets turned his back again and reached for the tail but
Skeet wrapped his arms around the thick ankles and clung to his own elbows.
Curses and threats flew from Pockets as he toppled like an axed tree. Skeet held on. The
boots pummeled his chest and face until he could feel warmth dripping from his chin. He
tasted blood and then … nothing.