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.
Every year on Our Wonderful Waterways day, there was a big picnic for everyone down by the creek. Everyone brought their picnic blankets and they ate waffles and watermelon and watercress sandwiches, and they paddled and swam in the creek.
When they all got to the creek, it was deeper than Benson had ever seen it. There was white foam on top of the water in lots of places, and it was so noisy they could hardly hear themselves.
Benson’s mother was worried. She talked to all the other grown-ups. “We’ve had so much rain, the creek’s running really fast. It isn’t safe to swim.”
Everyone agreed. “No swimming, and no paddling,” they all said to the young ones. “It’s too dangerous.”
Mick said, “It looks fine to me. I could wade across easily.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It may look all right, but when the water is running this strongly, it could knock you off your feet. I’ve seen it before, young wombats thinking it’s not that fast, and they take one step and then whoosh! They’re gone!”
“Gone?” said Bonnie Lou.
“Gone,” Aunt Lillibet nodded, “never to be seen again.”
All the children stepped back from the edge. Mick threw a stick in, just to be certain, and the water grabbed it and sucked it under in a second.
They put the picnic blankets under the trees a long way from the rushing water. While they were eating the waffles and the wild rice with wasabi, Benson felt something itchy on his leg. He looked down and there was a black, slimy thing like a finger made of mud on his leg. One end was stuck to his leg, and the other end was waving around in the air.
“You’ve got a leech on your leg,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Just flick it off.”
“Eeuywwh!” Mick said, moving back. “It’s slimy and ugghh!”
Arlette picked the leech off Benson’s leg. She waved it in front of Mick. “Look, a slimy, sucky leech,” she said.
Mick backed away. “Don’t put it on me!” he said.
Arlette followed him, waggling the leech. “It wants to suck your blood!” she said.
Mick turned and ran. Arlette chased after him, waving the leech. Her little sister Twiss was right where Mick was running, and he crashed into her. She fell over backwards, and toppled into the creek.
Arlette screamed. Everyone ran over. They yelled to Twiss to try to swim, but the water grabbed her and tumbled her over and over.
“Float on your back!” Benson’s mother shouted, but the noise of the water was too loud. Twiss struggled, trying to get her head out of the water, but it was too strong for her. She disappeared under the water.
“I’m going in after her,” Benson’s mother said. She turned to Zali’s mother, Teresa. “You’re the fastest,” she said. “Run and get Fenn, as fast as you can, and tell him to bring a rope.”
Teresa flew off, running as fast as the wind. Benson’s mother said to him, “Take care of Zip and Zali,” and then she jumped into the water.
Benson’s heart leapt into his mouth. Twiss was gone, out of sight, and his mother had jumped into the water. She was a strong swimmer but the creek was very deep and very fast. Benson just wanted to go after her and bring her back.
Aunt Lillibet said sharply, “Everyone away from the edge! We don’t want anyone else falling in! Benson, mind the little ones.”
Benson got Zali and Zip and held onto their hands tightly. He watched his mother swim across the creek to where Twiss had gone under. The power of the water crashed her against the rocks in the creek and dragged her back, but she kept going. She dived under the water, and Benson held his breath. He waited, hoping and hoping, and then he saw her head come up out of the water, and her arms, holding Twiss.
She turned on her back straight away, holding Twiss tight against her chest. She kept her feet up, to push away any sticks or rocks that got in the way. The rushing water pushed them along faster and faster, down the creek.
Then Mr Fenn came running up, with Teresa, carrying his strongest rope. They ran along the side of the creek until they found a place where the water was a bit quieter. “Over here!” Mr Fenn shouted to Benson’s mother. She started to swim towards the spot, holding Twiss tightly with one arm.
Teresa and Uncle Elton held on to one end of the rope, and Mr Fenn took the other end and waded into the water as far as he dared. The water snatched and shoved at him, trying to push him over, but he used his claws to grab on to the rocks in the bottom of the creek.
Little by little, Benson’s mother swam closer. Mr Fenn threw the rope and she caught it and held it tight. Then Mr Fenn started to pull. Uncle Elton and Teresa pulled too, as hard as they could. The water pulled back and Benson’s mother nearly let go of the slippery rope, but Mr Fenn pulled harder and then they were safe, with Mr Fenn’s strong arms around them.
Twiss was okay, once they gave her a good rub-down with a blanket and wrapped her up warmly. Benson kept holding Zip and Zali’s hands to make sure they didn’t get near the water, until Teresa came over and picked them both up and hugged them.
Benson’s mother was dripping with creek water but Benson didn’t care. He hugged her as tight as he could, and then Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss hugged her, and then Mr Fenn hugged her and then everyone hugged Twiss and Uncle Elton hugged everyone. When finally all the hugging was over, they all sat under the trees together, a long way from the water, and ate walnut and white chocolate muffins and the rest of the watermelon, and talked about the creek and how happy they were that everyone was safe, until they all felt much better.
Benson said to his mother on the way home, “Jumping into the creek was very brave, wasn’t it? But I wasn’t proud of you, I was just frightened.”
“Twiss was the brave one, I think,” his mother said. “She didn’t panic, she just held on, and she was even more scared than I was.”
“Were you scared?” Benson asked, surprised.
“Really, really scared,” his mother said.
Benson thought about that. Then he stopped and gave her a very special hug.