The pain was excruciating. As Carol regained consciousness, she had to fight against passing out again. Tears squeezed out of her shut eyes. She couldn't feel her left leg at all. The one the reptile had bitten. Her nose was filled with the scent of blood and she raised her hands to cover her face in a useless attempt to block it out as she started to sob.
"Easy, now. Easy."
The voice was James, bringing a small sense of clarity to her distraught mind. She finally realized she wasn't in the tree where she had passed out. Carol dared to open her eyes.
James was kneeling over her, the sky a reddish haze behind him. She was on the ground, which felt strangely warm compared to the chill which ran through her body.
"Okay, Carol? Carol. It's alright. You're safe for the moment. I put a tourniquet on your left leg, it's slowed the bleeding a lot, but I can't get it to stop."
"Oh God. Oh God. Idon'twanttodieouthere. Godpleasedon'tletmedieouthere."
"Carol. Carol! Listen to me! You need to calm down. You're in shock. There's an airlift on the way, but it'll take them a little time to get here. You need to hold on until then. Can you hear me?" James had his hands on her shoulders, jostling her, but she barely registered it.
"Carol." Daryl's voice cut through the fog, pausing her mind enough for her to turn her head and look. Her husband was laying there next to her, his one leg badly mangled through the rudimentary bandages James had made out of his shirt. It still continued to bleed through the fabric, pooling underneath his leg until it spread enough to roll down the rock their guide had pulled them both up onto. The sun was setting on the horizon, making the sky match the blood-stained sandstone underneath them.
"Is it...is that animal gone?"
"I haven't seen it for a while, it wandered off into the brush after the attack. Considering that I can't stop either of you from bleeding, I have to guess it was venomous and now it's waiting for you two to die." He leaned in to Carol again. "But I'm not going to let that happen. I've got my mobile and I called in a medical emergency, they have an airlift on the way."
She nodded slowly in understanding, the pain still throbbing through her body. She still wanted to close her eyes, just sleep for a while. Carol knew that was just the shock. To fall asleep now was risking never waking up.
"Are you happy now?"
She smiled as she heard a week, wheezing laugh at her question. She busted his ass on these trips a lot, but they made him happy, and that was usually enough for her.
"Okay smart guy. What was that?"
"...Lania...Megalania...I would have to guess. I just saw a little bit on a program about Australia's extinct animals."
"Yeah, extinct. There haven't been any Megalania in Australia for ten thousand years." James almost spat at the suggestion.
"Well, I think we found one." Daryl said, wincing at the pain of his broken leg and the multiple puncture wounds from the animal's teeth. James didn't have another response, he just looked out into the wilderness around them. Whatever it was, it was close by still. Waiting for its prey to die. He estimated the airlift was still between ten to fifteen minutes out.
Off to his right, about thirty yards out, he saw the bushes shaking. The animal's head stuck out from between the leaves. He still wouldn't have seen it if it hadn't stuck out its tongue to smell the air. Just like a goanna. It made no sign of coming for them though.
There was usually some kook or other claiming to have seen one every few years, most were just ignored or blown up into a joke. Most sightings were also usually down south, and out in the bush. but James couldn't doubt his own eyes. This was a lizard, bigger than any croc he had ever seen. Whether it really was or not, he had no idea, but the name stuck to it in his head. Megalania.
Daryl had closed his eyes and passed out again, and Carol's eyelids were fluttering as she struggled to stay conscious. James was used to stupid tourists getting themselves in trouble. Getting bitten by a funnel web, or stung by a bullet ant or jellyfish was more common than anyone wanted to admit, so he was used to seeing people going into shock. This felt different though. Between how rapidly and strongly this couple went into shock and how he couldn't stop the bleeding, he was sure the lizard was poisonous somehow.
He remembered back to the attack, watching from the tree he had escaped into, watching the reptile gnaw on Daryl's leg rather than just try to rip it off. Most poisonous lizards didn't inject their venom like snakes did, they had to work it in. He reckoned that was exactly what he had been watching.
Now how long would it wait?
Almost on queue it stepped out of the bushes, it's long, forked tongue flicking in and out. Its body waved from side to side, and James could hear every step as the massive body slowly started heading towards them. Megalania. The Giant Ripper Lizard.
Somehow the slow advance was more terrifying than the initial charge had been. It was deliberate, like it knew there was no escape. This massive lizard, easily a thousand kilograms, held up its head as the tongue tasted the air.
James hoped the height of the rock outcropping would offer some protection, if just for a few minutes, long enough for the chopper to show up and scare it away with its noise, but he couldn't believe that as liesurely as the animal looked while it approached. The fear in his chest was palpable, something he'd never felt before, not even facing down the salties. He was staring into the face of something that looked back at him and saw nothing but prey. Food. James would've given anything to have his rifle with him, but he had assumed this would just be a quick trip up the trail and back. It should've been as safe as any trip he had made into the park.
The couple laying on the rock behind him were both unconscious now as he risked a glance over to them. He couldn't be sure Carol was still breathing. He only knew Daryl wasn't dead because his body was trembling as he lay there.
How much longer before the airlift? Five minutes? Seven? He couldn't fight it off, and he couldn't escape with the older couple. If they moved now, there was also the chance the airlift wouldn't be able to find them.
It was now at the base of the rock, looking up at him. That tongue flicking in and out.
He ran for it. Leaving the old couple to their fate as he jumped down from the opposite side and took off through the grass. James cursed himself as he ran, feeling the weight of the couple's deaths dragging on him, threatening to slow him down.
Then he cursed himself more for not being smarter.
He heard the sounds of it crashing through the brush as it chased after him. Running had made him the target, and this was a patient predator. It knew the bodies of the others would still be there after it chased this prey down.
He could hear it behind him, clawed feet pounding the ground as it charged. It's open mouth hissing, ready to grab onto any limb that fell within reach. Then he felt its sheer power as it plowed into him from behind, sending him through the air and sprawling into the dirt. Its weight was on top of him, crushing one leg as he felt it sink its long, thin teeth into his side, gnawing into him. Working the venom into his flesh. James screamed at the pain, lashing out with one arm, pounding against the side of the beast's head. It completely ignored him as the dirt sucked up his blood as it poured out of the wounds.
Then the weight was gone, and he was laying there bleeding out in the grass. His breath came in short, quick gasps as he slowly turned his head and found himself staring into the reptile's face.
It regarded him silently, it's long tongue slipping out, flicking in his face. The breath was foul, reeking of the blood which covered its mouth and dripped down to the ground mixed with thick strands of venom-laced saliva.
Then there was finally a sound to pierce the otherwise silent bush. The familiar whop-whop-whop of a helicopter as it approached. James felt his eyelids getting heavy, even against the pain of the gaping wounds in his side. He bit his tongue against a fresh wave as the animal, having also heard the sound, grabbed onto his arm and started dragging him off into the brush. In his last thought before he lost consciousness, he hoped the old couple would be found in time.