The warm air is alive with birds staking territorial claims, squawking their rights up into a pale sky turned gold and peach as the blood-orange sun dips. The man walks through chaotic clouds of midges, whistling, one hand sunk deep in his pocket, the other leading a handsome dog, a young German Shepherd, its magnificent coat still puppy-fluffy, its energy quivering like a coiled spring. Dog and master round the corner by the ancient oak, and turn onto the old drovers’ road.
They stop. Their way is blocked. A black dog, a Labrador, over-fed to barrel-like proportions stands snarling, its coat gleaming, its podgy hackled bristling. Teeth bared, it advances, growling.
The man steps back. His head turns this way and that, his eyes combing for a streak of movement that will identify an owner, but there is no one. The pup whines, and tries to slink behind his owners legs as the black dog growls and growls, edging forward. Heart hammering, the man shouts, but it makes no difference. The dog advances, locked on target.
It launches in a fury of teeth and barks. The man remembers his sturdy boots. He lashes out with his foot, but nothing deters their attacker. So the man kicks, and kicks again, his boot pounding through ample flesh to the bones below. The dog yelps, but it doesn’t stop. Anger takes over. The man kicks and kicks until the dog squeals, turns tail, and runs.
The man is panting, his face flushed scarlet and sweaty, his eyes wild. For a moment he is triumphant. Then he remembers what he learned in childhood: we don’t kick animals. He looks around, fearing, perhaps, his cross mother standing with hands dug into her hips, or an irate owner, or a crowd of horrified onlookers. But there is no one save the birds and midges. Content justice has been served, he dismisses his conscience, and carries on his way.