Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a comfortable, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One night after dinner, Benson and his mother were just doing the dishes when they heard a big bang outside. “What was that?” Benson said.
They both stopped and listened. There was another loud bang, and a long whistling noise.
Benson’s mother said, “I think I know what it is. It’s fireworks.”
“Fireworks?” Benson said. Fire in the bush always meant danger, and people running and hiding and smoke everywhere. “Should we get some water and go and put them out?” he asked.
His mother shook her head. “Fireworks are like tiny coloured lights that sparkle in the sky,” she said. “They shoot up with a big bang, and then they hang there in the sky for a few seconds and then they go out.”
“What are they for? Where do they come from?” Benson wanted to know.
His mother said, “I don’t know exactly. Most of the animals don’t like them. The noise is very frightening, and the coloured lights dazzle their eyes so they can’t see. Some of them get very scared.”
Benson said, “Do you think we should hide under my bed?”
“There’s no need to hide,” his mother said. “It’s just lights and noise.”
Just then there was another loud bang, and then a whole lot of bangs in a row. Benson put his hands over his ears, and thought that hiding under his bed wasn’t such a bad idea.
His mother said, “When I was little, I used to imagine fireworks were really cicadas.”
“Cicadas?” Benson said. “How can they be?”
“I used to imagine all the cicadas getting together for a big celebration, like a festival of colours,” she said. “They’d paint their wings in bright shiny colours, red and yellow and green and pink and blue, and put glitter on them, then they’d fly up into the air and make patterns like stars and flowers. They’d even have competitions to see who could make the prettiest patterns in the sky.”
Benson started to imagine hundreds of cicadas making flower shapes and star shapes in the night sky. “But why do they have to make all that noise?”
His mother said, “I imagined that that was how they got high up in the sky. They would all stand on one end of a long board, like a see-saw, and then someone would drop a rock on the other end and they would fly way up into the sky.”
There was another bang and Benson jumped. He tried to imagine it was a big rock hitting the end of a board, and hundreds of painted cicadas flying up into the sky.
His mother said, “You know how cicadas get really noisy at this time of year? I used to imagine it was because they were all getting together to talk about what they were going to do at the festival. And afterwards, they kept on talking about it for weeks, and arguing about who made the best patterns.”
“I wish they didn’t have to make such a big noise when they fly up,” Benson said. It made his tummy all jumpy.
His mother said, “I think I’d better go and see Teresa and the rest of the Bushcare group, and ask them if they can keep a look-out for sparks, just in case. You can come along, if you like.”
“Outside?” Benson asked nervously. He didn’t want to go outside where the noise would be even louder, but he didn’t want to be by himself either.
“It’ll be fine,” she said. “Remember, it’s just lights and noise.”
Benson went with her as far as the door, and peeked out. All of a sudden there was a big scary bang and a whoosh, and brightly coloured sparkles filled the whole sky. Benson’s heart jumped and he just about ran inside, but they were so beautiful that he didn’t want to miss seeing them. There was another sharp bang, and this time there was a giant shining fountain of blue and white sparks in the sky. Benson thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. Then there were three bangs in a row, and three red flowers with sparkly yellow edges exploded in the sky. He forgot about being scared and just looked and looked.
“Maybe I’ll come along, just as far as Zali’s place,” he said. If he held on tight to his mother’s hand, the bangs weren’t so loud.
Before they even got to Zali’s place, they could hear Zali screaming almost as loud as the fireworks. Her mother was trying to get Zali to stop screaming and come out from under the bed. “Benson, could you try?” she asked. “Zali might listen to you. She’s so upset I can’t get her to listen to anything I say.”
Benson suddenly felt very brave. He put his head under Zali’s bed and said, “Hey, Zali.” Then he said in a much louder shout so she could hear him over the noise she was making, “Hey, Zali! Do you want to come and see the cicadas?”
Zali stopped screaming for a minute. “Cicadas?” she said, fearfully.
Benson nodded. “All sparkly, up in the sky. Do you want to see?”
Zali came slowly out from under the bed. Benson held her hand and they went to the door together.
There was a huge bang and a sparkly silver ball filled the sky. “Bang!!” Zali screamed and made a dive for the bed.
“No, Zali, look!” Benson said. He got a spoon and balanced it over a stick on the ground, like a see-saw. He put a pile of leaves in the round end of the spoon, then he banged down on the handle. The leaves all flew up into the air. “See? Bang!” He did it again. The leaves flew into the air. “Cicadas fly up in the air!”
Zali watched. “Bang!” she said. She picked up the stone and dropped it onto the handle of the spoon with a thud. “Bang!” she said. She threw the leaves up into the air. “Cicadas! Bang!” she said.
There was a boom, and red and green wheels of light shone out and twinkled in the sky. “Bang!” shouted Zali happily. “Bang!”
“Bang!” shouted Benson. “Boom, boom, bang!”
He took Zali’s hand and they stood watching the fireworks, side by side. “Cicadas,” Zali said. “Pretty.”