Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson was exploring in the bush down by the creek with his friend, Roly, when they heard a noise like an animal calling for help.
“What’s that?” Roly said.
“Let’s go and investigate,” Benson said. Benson liked the idea of ‘investigating’. It made him think of detectives and alligators.
They followed the sound until they came to a clearing. Someone had put up a tent and made a camp-fire. There was a metal cage on the grass under a big mahogany tree, and inside the cage there was a small echidna.
“It’s Snippet!” Roly gasped.
Benson knew that Snippet was Roly’s best echidna friend. “What’s he doing in a cage?” Benson said.
As soon as Snippet saw them, he cried, “Roly, get me out of here, please!”
Roly said, “What happened? How did you get put in a cage?”
Snippet said, “A man grabbed me and put me in this cage and locked it. You’ve got to get me out of here, quick, before he comes back.”
Roly looked at the cage. It looked very strong, and it had a big padlock on the door.
Just then Benson heard someone coming. He hissed, “Roly! Quick, we’ve got to hide!”
Roly slipped into the bushes, and Benson scampered in beside him. A man came into the clearing. He went over to Snippet’s cage and said, “Hello there, my little echidna friend! You’re very cute, did you know that? You’re going to make someone a very good pet, and I’m going to make lots of money!” He got a stick and poked Snippet. Snippet curled up into a ball, and the man laughed. Then he went into his tent, singing a song about stealing sheep.
Benson whispered to Roly, “This is bad. We have to save Snippet.”
“What are we going to do?” Roly whispered back.
“I’ll bite the man on the leg, and you get Snippet out and run away,” Benson said.
Roly thought for a minute. “I don’t think that will work,” he said. “The man will put you in the cage instead. Besides, there’s a big lock on the cage. How will I get Snippet out?”
They both thought a bit more. Benson said, “I think the only way to save Snippet is with brains and sneakiness. You be the brains, and I’ll do the sneaking.”
“Okay,” Roly said. “This is what I think. What would the man want more than a cute little echidna?”
“Two cute little echidnas?” Benson said. “A banana and coconut sandwich?”
“A white wombat,” Roly said.
Benson looked around. “Do you know any white wombats?” he said.
Roly said, “Well, you’re a wombat, and there’s lots of white clay down on the banks of the creek.”
Benson smiled. “I knew it,” he said. “Brains and sneakiness.”
They went quietly down to the creek and Benson rolled himself in the clay until he was covered all over. “How do I look?” Benson said.
Roly said, “Spooky. A bit like a very short polar bear. Your nose is still black, though.” Roly patted a blob of clay on Benson’s nose. “There, now you’re perfect. This is what I think we should do,” he said.
They talked and thought and talked again until they had a good plan worked out. “The man will have to open the cage to feed Snippet,” Roly said. “As soon as he unlocks the cage, you walk along where he can see you. That will make him stop what he’s doing and try to catch you. You run away, and I’ll get Snippet out while he’s chasing you.”
It sounded like a good plan, Benson thought, except for the running and chasing part. He wasn’t a very fast wombat. “Just wait a minute,” Benson said. First he dug himself a short tunnel. Then he dragged a short hollow log over to the opening of the tunnel.
“I’m ready,” he said.
They waited in the bushes until it was time for the man to feed Snippet. When the man unlocked the cage, Benson walked out of the bushes, right where the man could see him.
The man stopped what he was doing and stared at Benson. “A white wombat!” he said. “That’s amazing! Come here, little wombat! I’ve got a special cage just for you!”
The man came after him. Benson started to run, but the clay had gotten harder while he was waiting in the bushes, so his legs would hardly move.
“Run, Benson!” Roly shouted. Benson clumped and staggered along as fast as he could, with the man chasing after him.
Roly grabbed Snippet and they both ran into the bush and dug themselves into the ground as quickly as they could. In a few seconds they were safe and snug underground.
Benson could hear the man getting closer and closer until he was right behind him, but just up ahead he could see the hollow log. Just as the man went to grab him, Benson slipped inside the log.
The man laughed. “Hah!” he said.”I’ve got you now!” He picked up the hollow log, thinking that Benson was inside, but Benson had already sneaked out the other end and was hiding in the tunnel he had dug in the ground.
The man carried the log back to his camp. He tipped the log up, but no wombat came out. “Where did you go?” he said. Then he noticed that Snippet was gone too. He shouted and stamped around and searched the bush around his camp, but Benson and Roly and Snippet were long gone. He shouted some more angry words, and then he packed up his tent and went home.
Benson went home too. When his mother saw him covered in clay, she said, “Benson! What have you done to yourself?”
“Oh, nothing much,” he said. “This is just my disguise for rescuing echidnas and stuff.”