Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson went over to his friend Mick’s house to play with Mick’s new tennis set. It was fun, until they had a big fight over whose turn it was to get the ball out of the bushes again. Benson said he thought tennis was stupid anyway, and Mick said Benson was stupid and Benson stamped off and went home.
He was about halfway home when something sharp stabbed into the bottom of his foot. It was a piece of broken glass that someone had left lying on the track. It cut right into his foot, and really really hurt. There was blood everywhere. Benson sat down in the middle of the track and cried.
Someone came up behind him. A warm damp nose touched his hand and a low, growly voice said, “What’s wrong? Do you need help?”
Benson bawled, “I cut my foot!”
A wet warm tongue licked his foot, and the voice said, “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Benson opened his eyes and looked. The voice belonged to a skinny, bony animal with sores on its back and its sides. It had a long, soft nose and dark brown eyes, but what Benson noticed was its sharp yellow teeth. His heart started to pound wildly and his breath stuck in his throat. It was a dog, and it was going to eat him, for sure. He cried even harder.
The dog lay down beside him and said, “It’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you. My name’s Mandy.”
Benson didn’t know whether to believe her or not, but the dog lay still and she didn’t look as if she wanted to bite him. Her voice sounded kind. “See if you can climb onto my back,” she said.
Benson struggled up onto her back and she got to her feet and they started off.
After a while she stopped. “You’re too heavy for me,” she panted.
Benson tumbled off her back onto the ground. Mandy carefully picked him up by the back of his neck with her teeth. She had to stop every few steps and put him down and rest, but they managed to make it all the way back to Benson’s house.
When they got there, Mandy dropped Benson and lay down exhausted. The front door opened, and Benson’s mother stood there, horrified. All she saw was Benson and a dog, and blood all over both of them.
“Benson!” she screamed.
Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet came running. They screamed and shouted at the dog to go away. Aunt Lillibet got the broom and beat Mandy over the head until she got up yelping and ran away into the bush.
“No! Stop – wait!” Benson said. “She didn’t hurt me, she was helping me.” But it was too late. Mandy was gone.
They carried Benson inside and cleaned his foot and bandaged it up, and Benson told them what had happened.
Aunt Lillibet said, “You were lucky this time. You can never trust a dog.”
Aunt Moss said, “Dogs are dangerous animals. They can’t help it. Dogs and wombats just don’t get on with each other. “
Benson’s mother didn’t say anything. She just held Benson in her lap until he went to sleep.
The next morning, Benson stayed in bed, thinking. Then he got up and went into the kitchen. His mother was making sandwiches. He said, “It isn’t right. Mandy didn’t hurt me, she helped me. I didn’t even say thank you.”
His mother said, “I was thinking the same thing. Do you think you’ll be able to walk?”
Benson tried out his foot. With the bandage on, it felt much better. “I think so,” he said.
“Let’s go then,” his mother said. She packed the sandwiches into a bag and Benson got his hat and his water bottle.
“How are we going to find her?”Benson said.
“We’ll keep looking until we do,” his mother said.
They followed the track that Mandy had taken, deep into the bush. They searched everywhere and asked everyone they met. A couple of possums thought they had heard a dog howling one night, and told them where to go. The bush got thicker and thicker.
After a while they stopped. Benson’s mother said, “Maybe we should come back tomorrow.”
Benson said, “I’ve got an idea.” He took a deep breath and shouted as loud as he could, “Mandy! Mandy! It’s me, your friend, Benson!”
They waited, and then they heard a gruffling noise in the bush, and Mandy came out.
Benson’s mother gasped a little bit and held Benson’s hand to stop herself running away. “We came to say thank you,” she said.
Mandy said, “That’s okay.” She turned to go back into the bush, but Benson’s mother saw that she was very thin and covered in sores and bruises.
“Are you hungry?” she said. “We’ve got sandwiches.”
Mandy was very hungry. She ate the sandwiches in two gulps before Benson managed to get even one.
“What are you doing here?” Benson asked. “What happened to you?”
Mandy said, “The man that had me used to hit me. He used to go away and leave me tied up with no food or water, so I chewed through the rope and ran away.” She seemed sad and angry at the same time.
Benson’s mother made up her mind. “Come on,” she said, “you’re coming home with us. You need proper food and somewhere to rest.”
Benson’s eyes opened wide. “What will Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss say?”
“I don’t care what they say,” his mother said. “This is an animal that needs our help.”
They took Mandy home with them. Aunt Moss screamed and hid in her room. Aunt Lillibet argued, but Benson’s mother wouldn’t listen. She washed Mandy all over and gave her a bowl of milk and some of the lentil and spinach casserole they were having for dinner, and put ointment on her sores and bruises. They made her a bed next to Benson’s, in case she woke up during the night and was lonely.
In the morning, Mandy said she had to go.
Benson said, “Why? Did Aunt Lillibet snore too loudly?”
Mandy said, “You’ve been very kind, but I can’t stay here. I need space to run around, and other dogs to play with. I like to run and bark and chase things. We’re just different.”
Benson’s mother said, “But where will you go? You can’t go back to the man that hit you, and you can’t live in the bush.”
Mandy didn’t know what to do either. She lay down and put her head down on her paws.
Benson said, “I think I’ve got an idea. Remember cousin Lance’s empty wombat hole, up near the river?”
His mother said, “Mandy doesn’t want to live in a wombat hole.”
Benson said, “No, but right beside Lance’s place there was a fence, and a yard, remember? And inside the fence there was a big dog. It was a big yard. I think there would be enough room for two dogs.”
The three of them set off together, but before they even got near the river Mandy sniffed the air and said, “I can smell the other dog from here. I think I can find the way now. Thank you.”
She touched Benson’s mother’s nose with hers, and licked Benson, and then she bounded away.