The Bridge

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

It was Uncle Elton’s birthday, so Benson and his mother went to the big park for his birthday party, with Benson’s cousin Elmer, and his friend Zali and her mother, Teresa, and her little sister, Zip.

At the end of the afternoon, big purple storm clouds started to gather, and the wind started to get stronger. Benson’s mother said, “It looks like there’s a storm coming.”

Teresa said, “We’d better get home before it starts. Zali hates storms, and so does Zip.” She called Zali and Zip and told them it was time to go home.

Uncle Elton said, “It’s getting closer. I think we should take the short-cut across the bridge over the creek.”

Benson’s mother said, “I don’t know if the bridge is safe. Wasn’t it damaged the last time the creek flooded?”

Uncle Elton said, “It’s fine. Elmer and I came that way this morning, and it was perfectly safe.”

Teresa said, “I think a short-cut would be a good idea. The storm looks as though it could be here any minute.”

They hurried down to the creek. The bridge stretched across, high above the water. Benson’s mother said, “I don’t know. Are you sure it’s safe?”

Uncle Elton said, “If you’re worried, Elmer and I will go over first.” He took Elmer’s hand and they walked across. Elton even stopped in the middle and jumped up and down. “See?” he said. “It’s fine. Have a safe trip home, everyone! Thanks for the party!” He and Elmer disappeared down the track.

Teresa put little Zip on the bridge and then she took Zali’s hand and they started across. Suddenly a huge gust of wind hit them. The bridge shook and rattled and then it started to fall apart. Teresa grabbed Zali and pulled her back. The boards of the bridge dropped into the creek and were swept away, all except for one thin, narrow board. It stretched across the creek, wobbling and shaking in the wind, and little Zip was crouched in the middle of it.

Teresa screamed. Benson’s mother grabbed her hand and said,”Shh! You mustn’t frighten her!”

“Ma-ma!” Zip cried. She was scrunched down into a small, furry ball, holding on to the board with every single one of her little claws.

Teresa ran out onto the board to go and save her, but as soon as she set foot on it, the board dipped and creaked and started to crack. Teresa jumped back just in time.

Benson’s mother said, “You and I are too heavy. The board will break if we get on it. Try and get her to crawl over here to us.”

Teresa called and called, but Zip was too frightened to move even a whisker. She just kept crying for her mother at the top of her voice.

The wind blew harder, as if it was trying to blow Zip off the board altogether. The board swayed from side to side.

Teresa said desperately, “What are we going to do?”

“There’s no time,” Benson’s mother said. “That board is going to go, any minute.” She looked at Benson and he looked at her.

“I’m not too heavy,” he said. He took a big, deep breath, and stepped out onto the board.

He tried to tell himself that the board wasn’t really that narrow, and it wasn’t swaying that much. He wished he could shut his eyes, but he didn’t dare. The board wobbled a bit, but it didn’t creak or crack. He took some more steps. It was easy, so long as he didn’t think about what would happen if he fell off into the water underneath. He made it all the way to the middle where Zip was. “Come on, Zip, let’s go,” he said.

That was when the real trouble started. Zip wouldn’t go with him. She wouldn’t let go of the board, even when he pulled her. She just screamed and pulled away so hard that the board wobbled and he thought for one awful minute that he was going to fall off.

“Come back!” his mother shouted. “It’s too dangerous!”

Benson went all the way back to where Teresa and Zali and his mother were standing. “She won’t come with me,” he said miserably.

It started to rain, big heavy drops.

Zali was watching Zip and getting more and more upset. She called, “Zip! Zip!” but Zip was crying so hard she couldn’t hear her. Zali stepped onto the board and started off towards her.

“No, Zali!” her mother screamed, but Zali kept going. The board shook and trembled, but Zali took no notice. She reached little Zip and put her head down and touched her with her nose.

Zip stopped crying and looked up at her big sister. She let go of the board and climbed onto Zali’s back. Then Zali walked all the way back to the bank, with Zip holding on tight, her eyes shut against the wind and the rain. The rain was coming down heavily, but Zali just kept on going.

As soon as her feet touched the bank safely, her mother threw her arms around her. Benson’s mother helped little Zip down and Teresa hugged her too. Benson’s mother hugged him, and then they all hugged each other all over again.

They all ran back to Teresa’s place through the pouring rain. Outside, the thunder and lightning crashed, but inside they had hot chocolate and raspberry jelly sandwiches, and talked and laughed, just being glad they were alive.

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