Shadow Puppets

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a roomy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One night there was a big storm with thunder and lightning. Benson was reading in bed when the lights went out. He got out of bed and got his torch from his shelves and turned it on.

His mother called from the lounge room, “Benson, could you bring your torch out here, please? Aunt Moss has dropped her sewing needle, and the batteries in Aunt Lillibet’s torch are flat.”

Benson went out to the lounge room, lighting the way with his torch. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were sitting together in the dark.

When Aunt Moss saw the light from Benson’s torch, she said, “Oh, that’s better!”

“Bring the torch over here, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said. She didn’t like thunder and lightning either. The thunder got louder, and the lightning was so bright that it made the torch seem very small.

Benson’s mother said, “Do you remember when you were very little, Benson, and we used to make shadows on the wall with a torch?”

“I can do bunnies,” Aunt Moss said, in a quavery voice.

Benson held the torch, and Aunt Moss put two fingers up and scrunched up the other fingers, and held her hand in front of the torch. A big shadow of a bunny jumped up on the wall. Aunt Moss wriggled her fingers, and the bunny wriggled its ears.

“Bunnies, hmphh,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can do a bull-dog.” Aunt Lillibet made a complicated shape with her fist and held it up in front of the torch, and a big shadow of a dog jumped up on the wall and chased the bunny shadow. There was a big crash of thunder and the bunny and the bulldog both jumped.

Benson’s mother said, “Watch out for the crocodile!” She made a big crocodile shadow with both hands. It snapped at the bulldog, and made the bunny run away.

Then Benson had a turn and made a kind of duck, and Aunt Moss made a butterfly. Aunt Lillibet turned her bulldog into a swan and then she made an eagle with giant flapping wings. Everyone forgot about the thunder and the lightning until Benson’s mother said, “Listen! I think the storm is over.”

Everyone listened. There was some gentle rain, but no more thunder or lightning. Benson knew his mother was going to say he should go back to bed now, so he said, “What are shadows made of?”

Everyone thought for a minute. Aunt Lillibet said, “They’re not made of anything. They’re where the light isn’t.”

“Like when you put your hand on a rock, and then you spray paint on it and you take your hand away and there’s a shape of your hand on the rock,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson said. “So light is like paint.”

“No,” Benson’s mother said. “Light lets you see things. Like sunlight. When the sun’s shining you can see everything. It’s darkness that covers it up.”

“So darkness is like paint,” Benson said. “And light washes it away.”

“No,” said Benson’s mother. “Paint is like paint. Light makes it easier to see things. The less light there is, the harder it is to see things. Which reminds me, did you find your needle, Moss?”

Aunt Lillibet lifted up her bottom a little bit. “I found it,” she said. She gave the needle back to Aunt Moss.

Benson was still thinking of good questions. He said, “Then why does the torch make it easier to see shadows?”

Benson’s mother said, “I think it’s time for bed, Benson.”

Benson got up slowly and said goodnight to everyone. When he got to the door, he turned around and said, “But what’s lightning made of? And why can you see it in the daytime sometimes?”

His mother said, “That’s a question for tomorrow. Now it’s time for bed.”

Benson got into bed, and imagined painting swirls of light and shadows all over his room until he went to sleep.

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