Walkabout: Part 2
When Carol caught up, she turned and looked down the hill to the riverbank. They could just see underneath the overhanging branches where the croc had crawled out. Indeed, there were obvious footprints and drag marks in the mud where it had come up onto land, but it must not have stopped just out of the water like they had been expecting. It must have crawled up further among the trees and the bushes.
That meant it was now somewhere back along the trail they had just run down.
"Hold on now. Something ain't right here..."
James waved for the couple to stay put as he walked back along the trail, crouched down, scanning down the hill and into the trees and bushes that obscured the view from the trail to the riverbank.
"James? That looked like an awfully big croc. Maybe we should just continue down the trail a bit, wait and see if it crosses behind us or heads back into the water?" Daryl's excitement was suddenly gone. The only sound was the guide's shoes on the dirt as he picked his way slowly back along the trail.
Animals dealt with predators on a regular basis. On a trip to Africa several years ago, Daryl and Carol had witnessed a small pride of lions share a watering hole with gazelle, hyenas, and even a giraffe with no problems. The prey could sense when a predator was on the hunt and dangerous, as well as when it wasn't. The silence of the park around them, combined with the knowledge that there was indeed a large predator nearby, wrapped them in a thin veil of fear, which threatened to thicken and smother them at any moment.
Carol slipped behind her husband as she watched the guide quietly search for the animal.
"I'm honestly not sure that was a saltie, mate. No ridges on its back. Looked more like a large monitor lizard."
"Monitor lizard? They don't get that big, do they? I mean, that thing was huge!" Daryl's voice wavered.
"Dunno, to be perfectly honest with you. I just know that wasn't like the salties I'm used to out here. Ah, there it is. Okay, you two, stay here. I'm going to see if I can get a better look at it."
"Are you crazy? Can't we just wait until it goes away?" Carol continued trying to squeeze herself behind her husband. Her sense of fear only increasing.
James worked his way carefully around the edge of the trail, keeping his eyes trained on the animal in the brush as he stepped down. "Just, stay there!"
James made his way down the hill, keeping his eyes on the shape which remained motionless in the bushes. He knew it was watching him as much as he was watching it. This was a massive animal, and an extremely dangerous predator if it was the reason all the other animals cleared out.
The coloring wasn't too far off from a saltwater croc. A mix of dark browns and greens, making it near invisible in the brackish water or the low brush. Even in the tall grass it would be hard to spot. It stood taller than a crocodile though, its head lifted high, with a much shorter snout. The scales were smooth as well, not the rough armour that the salties had.
James nodded to himself. It looked more like the biggest goanna he'd ever seen. If he had to guess, it was easily six meters long. He picked up a small rock and tossed it over into the bushes. The animal didn't move. He backed up slowly, his feet finding the way back up to the trail, eyes locked on the animal almost entirely hidden in front of him. Looking right at it, watching, it still seemed to vanish with the distance as he stepped back.
He didn't turn his back until he reached the trail again, then he hurried back to the couple.
"Yeah, that ain't a saltie. Looks like the biggest damn goanna in the world though."
"Goanna?" Carol asked, peeking over her husband's shoulder.
"Lizard. A really, REALLY, big lizard."
"Is it dangerous?" Daryl continued the line of questioning.
"Well, yeah. I imagine it is. Something that big could take down damn near anything it wants."
"You don't know what it is though?"
"Nope, never seen anything like it before."
"Can we sneak past it? Get back?" Carol's voice trembled.
As if to answer her question, the bushes shook, and then the beast charged up the hill and at them, the ground shuddering under their feet. It was absolutely a massive lizard, and not a crocodile. Its open mouth hissed at them, baring sparse, pointed teeth.
The couple turned and ran down the trail. James followed a ways then darted off into the bushes. The reptile chased after the older pair, its tail waving side to side.
Before she could do anything, the beast had clamped down on his leg several times, almost gnawing on it, shaking its head, the old man flung around like a dog's toy. There was a distinct snapping sound as Daryl's leg gave to the motion, breaking, and the air filled with the smell of blood and the old man's screams of pain.
Then he was laying on the dirt, blood pooling around his leg from several deep puncture wounds. The animal left him there and continued on, chasing after Carol now.
"The tree! Get up in the tree!" James screamed at her from his own perch, some twenty feet up off the ground. Somehow she heard the command over the sounds of her own screams and its mass pounding the ground as it pursued her.
She made it off the trail to a tree, scrambling up, but not making it high enough in time. She gripped the branches as sharp teeth dug into her ankle. The pain was excrutiating as she screamed at the top of her lungs. The reptile didn't bite down and hold on. It almost seemed to try to chew while attempting to pull her down from the tree.
The flesh of her foot gave before her grip did. The teeth dragging down through her foot and ankle, the lizard tearing huge gashes and ripping off half her foot before it slid back to the earth, swallowing the small chunk as it looked up at her. Tears streamed down her face as she tried to force herself to climb higher. The beast just looked up at her, a long, forked tongue flicking out between its closed lips. It somehow looked satisfied.
She managed to work herself up into a fork in the tree and hung there, blood streaming out of the mangled strips of flesh that used to be her foot. She watched the huge lizard circle the tree she was in before turning back down the trail. Daryl was gone though, the blood marking where he had fallen stretched into a trail off into the bushes and grass.
Her eyes grew heavy and her breath came in quick, short gasps. Carol had spent fifteen years as a nurse. She knew she was going into shock. The wound on her foot was bad enough that if nothing was done she would bleed out in short order anyway, and there was no real way to get proper help in time. She let her eyes close, hoping it would just be quiet and peaceful.