Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson was going to his friend Mick’s house for a sleepover. It was his first actual sleepover and he was pretty excited. He had slept over at Nanna’s place before, but this was the first time he was going all by himself to stay a friend’s place for the whole night.
Aunt Moss said, “Do you want to take your favourite pillow?”
Benson considered. “No, I think they have pillows at Mick’s place,” he said.
“Do you want to take your teddy-bear?” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I don’t have a teddy-bear,” Benson said. Once when he was very little he had a toy reindeer called Ralph, but after one of the eyes fell out and he accidentally ate one of the legs because he thought it was a parsnip, he didn’t play with it any more.
Aunt Moss looked worried. “But what if you wake up in the middle of the night and you feel lonely?” she said.
“Why would I be lonely?” Benson said. “Mick’s there. And Bonnie Lou.” Bonnie Lou was Mick’s little sister. He thought about it a bit more. “Maybe I’ll take my library book.” He might feel like reading a book, and he remembered that Mick had a lot of books about snails and hardly anything else.
He put his library book in his bag, with his pyjamas and his clean clothes for tomorrow.
Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve made you some rhubarb muffins, and some barley and cranberry bread, and some pikelets and a big mulberry pie.”
Benson’s mother said, “He’s only going to sleep over for one night, Lillibet. He’s not crossing the Nullabor Plain on foot.”
“He might not like the food at Mick’s place,” Aunt Lillibet said obstinately. “He could get very hungry.”
Benson’s mother said, “Delia is an excellent cook. I think she’s making parsnip turn-overs for dinner.”
Benson’s tummy started to smile at the thought of parsnip turn-overs. “I can take the muffins – Mick loves muffins. You can keep the mulberry pie until I come home. And the pikelets.”
He got his hat and his water-bottle and he was ready to go.
“Don’t forget to thank Mick’s mother for having you,” his mother said.
Benson said he would remember, and they set off. Benson was very excited.
He and Mick played robots and warriors all afternoon, until they were too tired and hungry to play any more. The parsnip turn-overs were excellent, and Mick’s mother had made muffins too, so they had two kinds of muffins for dessert, rhubarb, and pear-and-walnut.
At bedtime Benson remembered that he had forgotten his toothbrush, but Mick’s mother had a spare one for visitors.
Benson was going to sleep in Mick’s room, sharing Mick’s bed. Mick had his head at one end of the bed and Benson had his head at the other end, so Mick’s toes were right next to Benson’s face. It was a bit funny, but Benson liked it. He had never shared a bed with anyone before, and it was fun.
Mick talked and talked for hours after they got into bed, and then he suddenly went to sleep. Benson snuggled down and closed his eyes.
It was then that he heard a strange noise.
When you’re in your own bed at night and you hear noises, you generally know what they are and you don’t get worried. But when you’re sleeping somewhere you’ve never slept before and you hear a noise, sometimes you start to get a bit worried.
At home Benson was used to all sorts of noises at night, like the sound that Aunt Lillibet made clicking her toenails and the sound of the wind in the big peppermint gum tree, and the little snores that Aunt Moss made sometimes. But this noise was different. It sounded a bit like two small insects playing table-tennis with tiny bats, and a bit like someone walking along with sticky tape on their feet.
Maybe it’s just a clock, Benson said to himself, or water dripping somewhere. But it didn’t sound like a clock, or like water dripping.
“Mick!” he whispered loudly, but Mick was sound asleep and didn’t wake up.
Benson shut his eyes tight and snuggled his head deeper into the pillow so his ears were covered, but he could still hear the noise. It sounded like the noise a giant butterfly might make if it was rubbing its giant feelers together. Benson’s mother said sometimes that Benson let himself get carried away imagining things. He imagined a giant butterfly picking him up and carrying him away.
Don’t be silly, he said to himself, butterflies don’t have hands. He sat up in bed. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get to sleep unless he knew what the noise was.
Walking very quietly, he went into the kitchen. The tap was dripping and he turned it off, but he could still hear the noise. Very quietly he peeped into Mick’s mother’s room. There was a tiny clock ticking, but it wasn’t making the right noise.
He tiptoed to Bonnie Lou’s room and listened. The noise seemed to be coming from inside. He went in very quietly. The noise got louder. Then it stopped. Benson felt his heart stop. Then the noise started again, louder than before. Benson’s heart started racing.
He tiptoed up to the edge of the bed. Bonnie Lou was asleep, with her thumb in her mouth. She was sucking it loudly in her sleep, and that was what was making the noise.
Benson gave her a poke. She opened her eyes and went, “Mmmnhh?” then she went straight back to sleep, sucking her thumb.
Benson went quietly back to Mick’s room and got back into bed. He could still hear Bonnie Lou sucking her thumb. He smiled to himself and closed his eyes and went to sleep.