The Magpies

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

“Let’s go on a picnic,” said Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Moss clapped her hands. “Oh yes!” she said. “I love picnics! We can take the hibiscus jelly muffins you made this morning. “

Aunt Lillibet said, “I think we’ll go to Turtle Ponds.”

Aunt Moss’s face clouded over. “Do you think that’s a good idea, Lillibet?” she said. “Every time we go there, you have a problem with the magpies.”

“Not this time,” said Aunt Lillibet. “This time I’ve got a plan!”

“That’s what you said last time, dear,” Aunt Moss said. But Aunt Lillibet’s mind was made up.

Aunt Moss made apple and peanut butter sandwiches for Benson and apple and cucumber for Aunt Lillibet, and cucumber and tomato for herself. She put hers and Benson’s in brown paper bags. Aunt Lillibet put hers in a container with a lid. She put the container in a bag and she put the bag in a basket then she covered everything with a tea-towel.

She put the muffins in a box and she put the box in a box and she tied it up with string. “There,” she said, “that should do it.”

Aunt Moss said, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask Fenn if he would like to come? You know how he can talk to the birds.”

“Fiddlesticks!” Aunt Lillibet said, but she asked Mr Fenn anyway. They all got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off.

“That’s not your usual hat,” Benson said to Aunt Lillibet. She was wearing a helmet like Benson’s bike helmet, with scary eyes painted on it.

“It’s all part of my plan,” she said. “Just you wait and see.”

Halfway there, Aunt Moss took out her sandwiches and started eating them. Benson said, “We’re not at the picnic yet, Aunt Moss.”

“I know,” said Aunt Moss, “but they’re especially delicious sandwiches, so I thought I’d eat them now.”

When they got to Turtle Ponds, Aunt Lillibet spread out the picnic blanket under a very tall gum tree. She got the things out of the basket while Benson and Aunt Moss went paddling in the ponds, and watched the long-necked brown turtles swimming to and fro.

Aunt Lillibet called them to come and have lunch and they all sat down on the blanket. Aunt Lillibet handed Benson the bag with his sandwiches. He took out a sandwich and put it down on the blanket. There was a quick flash of feathers and his sandwich was gone! “Hey!” he said. “What happened to my sandwich?”

“It’s the magpies, dear,” Aunt Moss said. “They love a picnic.”

Benson took out his second sandwich, being careful not to put it down this time. Before he could take a bite, a magpie swooped down and snatched the sandwich right out of his hand. “Hey!’ he said. “That’s not fair!” Having a sandwich on the way to your mouth and not getting to eat it makes you even hungrier. Benson grabbed his two other sandwiches and crammed them both into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed very fast. “You’re not getting these,” he said to the magpie.

The magpie turned its yellow eye on Aunt Lillibet. She was taking the container out of its bag.. “You may as well flap off now, because you’re not getting even a crumb of my sandwich,” she said to it. She slipped her hand under the lid of the container to get a sandwich out. The magpie stepped forward. She took her hand out again. “Shoo! Shoo!” she said.

The bird flapped away lazily. She waited till it was sitting on a faraway branch before she sneaked her hand into the container again. Suddenly a black and white bird flashed out of the tree behind her and knocked her helmet off.

“Hey, stop that!” she yelled. She reached up to grab her helmet and a second bird dive-bombed the container, knocking the lid off. Then the first bird swooped in and peck-peck-peck-peck, every single sandwich was gone.

Aunt Lillibet jumped up and yelled at the birds and called them all sorts of rude names.

Mr Fenn leaned back and had a good laugh. “That’s not how you should talk to them, Lillibet,” he said. “I’ve told you before, they’re not stupid. They remember you from last time, and the time before. “

Benson said to Mr Fenn, “Do you really know how to talk to the birds?”

Mr Fenn looked at Benson thoughtfully, then he said, “Watch this.”

He stood up and whistled a long, complicated whistle. Then he cleared his throat and said, “Ahem, all you glorious black and white flying creatures, these are my sandwiches. Please don’t eat them.” He took out his sandwiches and put them on the blanket. The magpies stayed quietly on their branches.

“Wow!” said Benson. “You really can!”

Mr Fenn ate his sandwiches one by one, while Aunt Lillibet grumbled under her breath. “They’re not getting my muffins, anyway,” she said.

She took out the box with the box of muffins inside and undid the string. A whole flock of magpies flew down and crowded around the blanket. Aunt Lillibet lifted the muffin box out. The magpies came closer and closer. One of them stood on top of her helmet.

“I’m not opening this box until you go away,” Aunt Lillibet told them very loudly. She folded her arms and waited. Benson waited too. He remembered how delicious those muffins smelled.

Aunt Lillibet very, very slowly lifted up the lid of the box just a tiny bit. Immediately, dozens of magpies flew down in a big cloud, flapping their wings in Aunt Lillibet’s face. Benson reached in among them and managed to grab a muffin, then they were all gone. There wasn’t even a crumb left.

“My muffins!” wailed Aunt Lillibet. The magpies flew away, chortling to each other.

Benson said, “You can have some of mine if you like.”

“How did you save it from the magpies?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“I sat on it,” Benson said. He held out a very flat muffin. “You want some? I can pick off the ants.”

“I don’t think so,” Aunt Lillibet said sadly.

Mr Fenn said, “Cheer up, Lillibet. Have some of my yoghurt. I brought extra spoons.”

They all shared Mr Fenn’s yoghurt, except Aunt Lillibet who was busy thinking up a better plan for next time. On the way home, Benson asked Mr Fenn if he could teach him how to talk to the birds.

Mr Fenn started whistling. He said, “I don’t actually know how to talk to them. It’s my kale and fennel sandwiches. They hate them. I always bring the same thing, and they remember. They’re not stupid. They remember that Lillibet makes the best muffins ever.”

Suddenly Benson remembered something too. “Aunt Lillibet left some of the muffins at home,” he said.

“What are we waiting for?” Mr Fenn said, and they both hurried off as fast as they could.

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