Alone

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’s uncle Elton was going on a camping trip with his son, Elmer, and he invited Benson to come too. They were going to sleep in a tent and have a campfire with baked potatoes and marshmallows. Benson thought it would be fun. He loved tents, and he really loved melting marshmallows.

When his friend Mick found out, he really wanted to go too. Uncle Elton said it would be a tight fit in a two-person tent, but he thought it would be okay. When Mick’s sister Bonnie Lou found out that Mick was going, she complained and complained until her mother, Delia, said all right, they would all go, and take their own tent so it wouldn’t be so crowded in Uncle Elton’s tent.

The campsite was in a big, wide clearing with lots of shady trees around the edges. Uncle Elton put his tent up under a big shady gumtree. Then he went to look for some rocks to put in a circle for the campfire. Delia put up her tent under the next tree, and then she put up Uncle Elton’s tent again because it had fallen down, but she put it up properly this time.

They had roasted corn and baked potatoes, and they ate melted marshmallows until they couldn’t eat another thing. They sang strange camping songs about little green frogs and black socks and green bottles, and then they all climbed into their tents and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Uncle Elton woke Benson up.

“I have to take Elmer home,” he whispered. “His stomach hurts and he’s feeling sick. You’ll be all right here with Delia and Mick, won’t you?”

They went off together as quietly as they could, so as not to disturb Delia and Mick and Bonnie Lou in the other tent. Benson went back to sleep.

A little while later, a noise woke him up. It was a huge, loud, cracking, falling noise, and then a heavy thump. He got up and put his head out of the tent.

It was extremely dark. He could hardly see a thing, but he could hear a noise like someone crying. He climbed out of the tent and went to see what the noise was.

It was coming from where Mick’s tent was supposed to be, but instead of the nice, tidy tent that was there when he went to sleep, there was a squashed, broken mess, with a giant tree branch lying on top of it.

Benson tried to run, but his feet were so shocked that they couldn’t move. Mick and Delia and Bonnie Lou were supposed to be in that tent. There was so much branch and hardly any tent left, Benson couldn’t see how there could be three wombats in it, unless they were squashed flat.

The noise kept going. Benson’s feet moved forward up to the tent, but his brain didn’t want to see what was there. He shut his eyes tight, but he couldn’t stop seeing the crushed, broken tent in his mind.

Then he heard Bonnie Lou crying, “Help! Help me! It hurts!”

He opened his eyes. In the middle of the mess of sticks and leaves and crushed tent, he could see Bonnie Lou, but only her head and her arms. The rest of her was somewhere under the giant branch. “Help! Help me!” she cried. “Get it off me!” She was crying like it really, really hurt.

Benson pushed and shoved at the branch as hard as he could but it was like a rock. It didn’t move even a millimetre, no matter how hard he tried. “I can’t,” he panted. “It’s too heavy.”

“Get Uncle Elton,” Bonnie Lou cried.

“They’ve gone,” Benson said, almost crying himself. What if the branch was killing her? he thought. “Elmer was sick so they went home. Where are…”

His voice stuck. He couldn’t ask about her mum or Mick in case the branch had done something to them that he didn’t want to hear.

“They’ve gone too!” Bonnie Lou said. “Mick got scared so Mum had to take him home. She wanted me to go too but I wanted to stay. I should have gone too!” she sobbed.

“There’s nobody here but us?” Benson said. He was scared before, but now he felt really frightened. The feeling swept over him like a giant wave. There was nothing but darkness around him for miles and miles, and he was alone in the middle of it, with Bonnie Lou hurt and screaming.

Bonnie Lou kept on screaming and crying, louder and louder. “Stop it!” Benson shouted at her. “Stop crying! They’ll come back for us soon, you just have to hold on.”

“What if they don’t?” Bonnie Lou sobbed.

“They will,” Benson said.

“But my mum thinks Uncle Elton is here with us, and he thinks she’s here. What if none of them come back?” she said.

“They will,” Benson said again. “We just have to wait. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.” He felt better hearing himself say it, and Bonnie Lou calmed down too.

After a while she said, “I’m thirsty.”

Benson said, “I’ll get my water-bottle,” but when he went to get up, she grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go.

“Don’t leave me!” she cried.

Benson sat down again. “It’s all right, I’m not going,” he said. The night stretched out around them, full of dark and secret noises.

Bonnie Lou said in a small voice, “I’m frightened.”

“It’s okay to be frightened,” Benson said. His mother had told him lots of times that it was okay to be frightened when there was something scary, but she had always been right beside him when she said it. He felt very small and afraid.

Bonnie Lou was very quiet, and then she said, “It’s all my fault. It was me that frightened Mick. I kept going ‘wooo’ and making scary noises, and he got really frightened so Mum had to take him home.”

Benson couldn’t believe it. “Why would he be scared of some stupid noises?” he said.

“Listen,” she said. She started to go ‘wooo-ooo’, in a low voice, getting louder and louder. The hair stood up all over Benson’s head.

“Okay, that’s enough!” he said, and she stopped. “Just because you made some stupid noises, that doesn’t mean it’s your fault,” he said. “It’s just something that happened.”

Bonnie Lou felt a bit better, but she still didn’t let go of Benson’s hand. She went to sleep after a while, and Benson got his sleeping bag and spread it over both of them. Then he went to sleep too, holding her hand.

When they woke up again it was nearly morning, and it was even colder. “Have they come yet?” Bonnie Lou asked sleepily.

“Not yet, but it won’t be long,” Benson said. Then he said, “Maybe I should go and get help?”

Bonnie Lou looked so scared, he just took her hand again, and said, “It’s probably better to wait. They’ll be here soon.” He didn’t know if it would be soon or not, but he didn’t want her to feel bad. What if it was days and days before they came?

“What if it’s days and days before they come?” Bonnie Lou asked in a quavery voice.

“It won’t be,” he said, in the most comforting voice he could. “I’m sure they’ll come soon.”

They shared the water in his water-bottle, and Benson found a cold potato in the ashes of the camp-fire and they had that too. They played ‘I Spy’ until Benson couldn’t think of a single thing more to spy. Bonnie Lou was just dozing off again when they heard voices calling, and Delia and Benson’s mother ran into the clearing.

They hugged and cried and everyone talked at the same time. Then they all they lifted the big branch off Bonnie Lou. Underneath it she was bruised everywhere, and she had a big cut on her leg. Benson’s mother bandaged it up, and said, “It could have been a lot worse. You were very lucky.” Delia hugged Bonnie Lou again, and Benson’s mother gave him another big hug, and both the mothers cried again.

Then Benson’s mother opened up her bag and brought out bananas and chocolate with macadamias, and they got the campfire going again and made toast with marmalade.

Delia snuggled Bonnie Lou on her lap, and said, “I should never have let you stay by yourself. When I saw Elton this morning and you weren’t with him, I was so worried about you, I couldn’t wait another minute. I had to come and get you. I couldn’t bear to think of you all alone out here.”

Bonnie Lou looked as if she didn’t know what her mother was talking about. “It’s all right, I wasn’t alone,” she said. “Benson was with me the whole time.”

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