Garth and Shanama
Stories for Another Day
Garth and Shanama were the children of the Dharab, the dragon-slayer and Eva, his wife, who was known across the seven secluded kingdoms as a healer. The children were born within the same hour on the same day, just as the morning star was rising. They grew together and played together and loved each other with all their hearts.
One day when they were about four years old, they were playing together in the front garden when a wicked woman snatched Shanama up into her carriage and drove off at high speed. She took her many miles away, to a place where she owned a weaving house. Children as young as Shanama were chained up and made to work unravelling silk threads from the cocoons of the silk moth, with their light, nimble fingers. As they grew older they were trained in dyeing the silk and then in weaving. The weaving house was filled with the clacking of shuttles passing back and forth in the looms, and the screams of the wicked woman urging them to go faster and work harder, for she sold the long, shining lengths of silk for a great deal of money, and it meant everything to her.
Garth, left alone as Shanama was carried off, screamed and cried. As the carriage disappeared down the road, he set off after it, running as fast as his study little legs would carry him. When their mother came out to fetch the two children, they were nowhere to be found. No matter how long and how far the parents searched, and they searched for many, many years with hearts weighed down with sorrow, they found no trace of them.
Garth ran and ran until his feet were cut and bleeding and his breath tore at his chest, but the carriage was long out of sight. He wandered weeping into the depths of the forest and fell asleep in the heart of a rosemary bush. The next morning a woodcutter found him, and took him home to his house, deep in the darkest heart of the forest. He and his wife treasured the little boy, and they brought him up just as if he were one of their own sons.
Garth grew strong and tall, a forester like his foster father and foster brothers. By the time he was a young man, he knew the name and care of every tree in the forest, when they should be planted and when thinned out, when to prune and how best to bring down an old dead tree. All foresters are skilled at these things, but Garth also had a deep understanding of the herbs and mosses, and he knew how to use them for healing. As time passed, he forgot his parents and his family home, but he never forgot losing his sister, Shanama.
Now Shanama grew to be a beautiful young girl, the most beautiful of all the young women who worked in the weaving house. She was also the most skilled, and everything Shanama wove sold for the very highest prices.
The wicked woman was very pleased. Only one thing troubled her. Every year, on midsummer day and again on midwinter day, a fierce dragon would fly out of the waste lands to the north, and snatch away one of the silk weavers. Its fiery breath would have burnt the weaving house and all within it to the ground, so the wicked woman turned her face away and allowed the dragon to claim its tribute. But each year she gave Shanama a special tea to make her sleep and then hid her away in a cupboard, rather than lose her best worker.
One year Shanama forgot to drink the tea the old woman gave her, and peeping out from her hiding place, she saw the dragon come. As it swooped down, the wicked woman pushed forward one of the older weavers, who was slower than the others. The dragon seized her in its talons and prepared to carry her off.
A cold fire of anger sprang to life in Shanama’s heart. She went to her loom and in no time she had woven a length of silk so closely set that it was as strong as steel, so fine that it shone like a silver mirror, and so soft and flexible that it wrapped around her body and clung to her. Wrapping it over her head and shoulders, she took her shuttle and went out and called to the dragon.
The dragon came, huge and old in evil. When it caught sight of Shanama standing alone, shining like a beacon in the sunlight, it glowed with excitement and dropped the young weaver it held between its talons. With heavy wingbeats, it flew towards Shanama while the old woman screeched and pleaded with Shanama to let the dragon have the other girl instead.
Fire streamed from the dragon’s mouth, but Shanama was protected by the silken armour she had woven for herself. As soon as the dragon was close enough, she threw her shuttle and struck the dragon in the eye, killing it with one blow. It fell out of the sky and landed on the ground with a noise like thunder. Its tail, lashing the air as it fell, pierced the old woman’s heart, and she lay dead at its side. But the shuttle, as it fell back to the ground, struck Shanama’s shoulder, so that her arm hung useless at her side.
News of this battle spread far and wide across the kingdom. Deep in the heart of the forest, Garth heard it and knew at once that this must be his sister, Shanama. He packed some herbal ointments that he had made and set out to find her. He knew the weaving house when he reached it, for the body of the dragon still lay where it had fallen. Villagers came to throw stones at its lifeless body, and occasionally they would saw off a piece of its tail to plough their fields with, or cut their firewood.
Garth went into the weaving house, and saw his sister weaving almost as fast as the others, even though she could weave with only one arm. “Shanama!” he cried.
She dropped her shuttle and ran to him, and they embraced and wept over each other. Garth rubbed the healing ointments into Shanama’s shoulder and it gradually regained its strength. They gave the weaving house into the hands of the women who worked there. Those who wished to, returned to their families and those who had no memory of their homes, stayed and taught other women their skills and made sure that all the workers were paid equally for the work that they did.
Garth and Shanama travelled home to their parents, and the joy and tears with which they were met can only be imagined. In time Garth married the gentlest of all the girls in the weaving house, who happened to be the one that Shanama had saved. They had happy, healthy children of their own who loved Shanama second only to their parents. Shanama did not marry for many years, until the Wild Dog came out of the west, but that’s a story for another day.
The Winged Tiger
Stories for Another Day
In a land far away there is a place where three great rivers come together at the edge of the sea. Mangrove trees grow in the rivers and their roots grow upwards like black fingers in a sea of mud.
One day, a long way upriver, a melon fell off the back of a farmer’s cart and tumbled into the water. It floated and bobbed a long way downstream until it came to the place where the three rivers meet. A small eddy in the water pushed it towards the bank, where a tiger happened to be prowling around, looking for something to eat. The tiger, Kandaar, pulled the melon up onto the bank. It had thick, green rind so he couldn’t eat it himself, but gradually an idea grew in his head.
He pushed the melon with his paws and nudged it with his snout along the bank, until he came to where the old hawksbill turtle, Shukshu, was stripping green shoots off a riverbank plant and eating them.
Now Shukshu was old, the oldest and wisest of all the creatures that lived in the waters or on the banks or among the trees. He knew Kandaar, and he knew that he was vain and a coward. He went on quietly eating, and he waited for Kandaar to speak.
“Shukshu! Greetings, old friend!” Kandaar said heartily.
The turtle said nothing, only munched on his green shoots.
“Look at this fine melon I have,” Kandaar went on. “Doesn’t it look ripe and juicy?”
Shukshu nodded. “Indeed, it looks like a very good melon,” he said.
Kandaar said, “I’m not hungry just now – I had a big meal of young crocodile not long ago. Would you like this melon?”
Now Shukshu was very partial to a sweet, green melon, so he took it. He broke it open with his horned beak, and he ate the sweet, pink melon flesh inside. But every animal knows that a gift given means that a gift is expected in return. Shukshu ate the melon, and waited to see what Kandaar wanted in return for it.
“Shukshu, you are the wisest and cleverest of all the creatures hereabouts,” Kandaar began.
“What do you want, Kandaar?” Shukshu asked, cutting him short.
Now Kandaar was not the biggest tiger, nor the strongest, nor the cleverest. He disliked swimming, so he could not catch the fish and other water creatures that other tigers did. He often watched the river dolphins laughing and playing, jumping out of the water and tumbling in the currents, and he often thought how he would like to sink his teeth into their shining, meaty flesh and eat them.
Besides, once he had been trying to catch fish at the side of the river and slipped in the mud and fell into the water, splashing and flailing about, and the dolphins had seen him and laughed at him, and he hated the dolphins for it.
He said to Shukshu, the turtle, “O mighty one, I have always had an idea that I would look well with a pair of wings.” For he knew that dolphins are all but blind, and he dreamed of flying over the river and swooping down to catch one.
Shukshu threw back his head and laughed and laughed. “A tiger with wings? Seriously?”
Kandaar grew very angry, and he would have smacked Shukshu with his heavy paw and broken his old, tired neck, except that he remembered in time the sharp claw that the turtle had on each of his flippers. Instead, he forced a smile onto his face.
“Why, yes,” he said. “I think a pair of elegant wings would suit me very well. I have heard tell of horses with wings, and even pigs are said to fly from time to time.”
Shukshu knew very well what Kandaar had in mind, how he hated the dolphins, and how he was looking for an easy way to hunt them. He said, “Wings? Like a butterfly, or a blowfly?”
Cold anger filled Kandaar and he opened his jaws and bared his teeth. But he remembered in time that the hawksbill turtle eats almost everything, even the deadly Portuguese man’o’war, which makes their flesh poison to other animals, so he turned his growl into a smile and said, “No, of course not. I want wings like the great eagle who soars above the trees, noble and majestic.”
“Very well,” the turtle answered. Then he paused. “Do you mean the greatest eagle of all, the Whistling Eagle, whose talons whistle as the wind streams through them as he dives on his prey, striking terror into their hearts so they are frozen to the spot?”
Kandaar liked this idea very much. “Of course,” he said.
When he looked again, he had great, feathered wings on his sides. He flexed his shoulder muscles and sprang from the ground. His new wings carried him up and up, far above the trees, high into the sky. He laughed to himself, beating his wings in the warm air, soaring up, circling and dropping down.
Far below he could see the waters where the three great rivers meet, and he could see the dolphins swimming in packs. He picked out one that was a little behind the others, and he dived. The wind shrieked through the tips of his feathers and he laughed to himself.
Now Kandaar did not know, but Shukshu did, that although the river dolphins are all but blind, their hearing is excellent. They find their food and find their way by listening to the sounds around them, and how the sounds bounce and echo. When they heard the tiger dropping through the sky, his fur rippling, his wings beating and his talons whistling, they easily rolled out of his way and swam swiftly to safety.
But the river crocodile, Sunda, also heard the tiger plunging through the air, not with the grace of an eagle but heavily and clumsily. She slid silently off the bank and lay in the water, almost invisible, waiting for Kandaar. For she remembered that not so long ago it was Kandaar who had killed and eaten her young, just as they were hatching out of their eggs, and she hated him for it.
Kandaar came screeching down out of the sky, but his wings were heavy and cumbersome and he did not have the skill to turn or to lift himself up again. He crashed into the waters with a mighty splash. Fish, crabs, dolphins, all scattered quickly, but the Sunda the crocodile shot forward.
Her jaws fastened onto Kandaar’s leg and he gave a terrible scream. They wrestled in the water and the mud, crocodile and tiger, until Kandaar wrenched himself free. He slunk away through the mud, his wings shredded and one leg so damaged that he could never hunt again, but had to skulk in the mud at the water’s edge, feeding off crabs and beetles and the occasional dead fish.
Time and Tide
Stories for Another Day
Once, in a small house on a small island in the middle of a vast, sparkling, blue sea, there lived a small family. The mother’s name was Shalinda, and there was a boy named Rush and a girl named Esha. Their father’s name was Kopp. It was such a small island that if you stood on the very highest point, in the hills that ran from one end of the island to the other, you could see the shore on both sides of the island at the same time.
Shalinda and Esha and Rush worked hard, collecting shells from the seashore every day. The most perfect shells, ivory, pink, or brown and white striped, they sold to people in fast boats who came from the other islands. The rest they made into necklaces and bracelets, which they also sold. When the moon was right, Kopp would take his long, barbed spear and stand on the rocks at the tip of the island, or in the waves as they crashed ashore, and spear fish for them to eat, or to be smoked in the tall smoke-houses so they would keep for the times when the fish were not running.
When he was not fishing or teaching Rush and Esha how to fish, Kopp spent his time gathering seaweed to burn for fuel. Some of the seaweed he even sold to the people in fast boats, to be made into creams for their rich wives to put on their faces.
Twice a year, at high tide, the sea came rushing up the beach, past the line where the old dry seaweed and broken shells lay, up and up, even to the doorsteps of the houses closest to the shore. These were known as king tides. Anyone who could afford it, built their houses on tall legs, with steps reaching up to the door so that the sea did not sweep away their cooking pots and fishing spears.
One day Rush noticed that the sea was creeping higher and higher with every high tide. “It must be the season for the king tide,” he said to his father.
“No, that is another month away,” said Kopp.
“But see,” Rush said, “the waves are reaching up past the high tide mark already.”
Kopp looked up and down the beach, and he could see that Rush was right. He called all the people together. “The tide is rising higher and higher,” he said. “It is almost as high now as the king tide.”
Others had noticed the same thing. “There are fewer and fewer shells to collect. The sea has swept them all away,” said one.
“The sea is beginning to come into my house,” old Vanca said. Her house had been built at the very edge of the shore many, many years ago by her grandfather.
“What can we do?” everyone said, looking to Kopp for an answer.
Rush said slowly, “I have heard of an old king, in ancient times, who took his throne to the edge of the shore and commanded the sea to go back.”
“Truly?” said Kopp. No-one could think of any other way of stopping the sea, so they decided to try it. Each person took a chair or a stool, or even an upturned bucket in Rush’s case, and sat at the high tide mark as the tide was coming in. “Go back! Go back!” they chanted together, but the waves still came in. The sea rushed in, in small waves at first, then in bigger and bigger waves. “Go back!’ everyone shouted at the very top of their voices, but the sea rushed on, in higher and higher waves that lapped the very chairs they were sitting on. It swept Rush’s bucket out from under him, and would have taken it out to sea if Kopp hadn’t swum after it and brought it back.
That night old Vanca’s house was swept away completely, and old Vanca with it.
The people cried and protested, but nothing would stop the sea. Eventually men in suits came in the fast boats, and told everyone that they would have to leave the island.
“It is not safe for you live here,” they said. “Before long, the island will be under water.”
“But where will we go? What will we do?” Kopp asked.
“It will be all be taken care of,” the men in suits promised.
Kopp and Shalinda gathered their pots and the fishing spears, but the men in suits said, “No, leave all those. They won’t be needed where you’re going. “
All the people from the island were loaded into fast boats. They were taken to a place a long way from the sea, where there were shops and big houses. Kopp and Shalinda found work in a factory that made plastic boxes, and Rush and Esha went to school. They both worked hard at school and in time they both got very good jobs, Rush as a teacher and Esha as a doctor. Rush married a beautiful, clever woman who was an artist, and they had two children of their own. Every night at bedtime, Rush told them stories about the sea, about shells and fish, sea creatures and rock pools, swimming and fishing and playing in the sand. But after a while his wife said, “Leave it, dear, they don’t understand what you’re talking about,” for the children had never seen the sea.
One day Rush said to his eldest son, Tali, “Tonight I feel like eating fresh fish for dinner.” Tali ran off and came back smiling, with a can of fish in his hand, and gave it to his father.
Rush looked at the tin of fish, and he looked at his son and daughter. He went to his wife and he said, “I asked my son for fish, and this is what he brought me.”
He and his wife sat up talking late into the night, and for days afterwards. Then Rush went to see his father Kopp, whom time had turned into an old man. His fingers were permanently bent and scarred from years of work in the factory. His wife, Shalinda, had injured her eyes in an accident at the factory and now sat at home all day, rocking in her chair.
“Come,” said Rush, “come with me, back to the sea.” He went to his sister, Esha, and told her what he and his wife wanted to do. “I think about the sea every day,” Esha said, “the feel of shells in my hands and sand under my feet. I will come with you gladly.”
They sold everything they had, and Rush and his wife and their children, and Esha and her partner, Talesh, and their father and mother travelled to a distant country, where they bought themselves a long stretch of land close to the sea. They built a house big enough for all of them, on tall legs to keep it safe and dry when the king tides came. Kopp went fishing every day and taught his grandchildren how to catch fish, and Shalinda and Talesh collected shells and made them into necklaces. And at the end of every day, they gathered to watch the sun set over the sea at their doorstep.
The Tale of the Cat
Stories for Another Day
A cat once had a litter of kittens, and the prettiest of all was named Zirka. She was as black as night all over except for a single splash of white on her tail, like a star. Perhaps it was for this reason that she was enchanted by the night sky. When other cats were off hunting and fighting and yowling, Zirka would perch on the highest fence post she could find, and gaze at the stars. Before she was even half-grown, she knew all the patterns which the stars made, the wriggling snake, the crow, the jumping dog and the fish caught on the end of a fisherman’s line. She was never lost at night, because one glance at the sky told her exactly where she was.
One night when she was staring at the sky, an extraordinary thing happened. One of the stars fell from the sky. Zirka watched it fall out of its place and drop towards the earth. Quick as a flash, Zirka was after it. She ran towards the place where she thought it must have landed, but there was nothing there but huge, grey buildings, protected by a very high fence.
“It must be behind one of those buildings,” Zirka thought. She climbed up and over the fence in no time. Slipping from shadow to shadow among the blank, square buildings, she came upon a very strange building. It was round but very narrow, with a pointed cap on top, and at the very tip of the pointed cap, there was a red light blinking. A wooden platform was going up and down the side of it, carrying boxes and tools and people from the ground to the top and back again. It was the highest thing Zirka had ever seen.
“If I can sneak onto that lifting platform,” she said to herself, “it will take me to the very top, so close I might even touch the stars.” She slipped in among the boxes, a shadow among shadows, and waited.
A voice hissed at her. “What are you doing here? This rocket is for me!”
Zirka jumped and shrank back. “What do you mean? What is a rocket?”
“You fool,” said the other cat, who was patched black and white, like moonlight on a puddle of ink. “I am Felicette, the first cat to ever travel in space. This is the rocket that I will travel in.”
“Ohhh,” breathed Zirka. “You’re going to the stars? Let me come with you!”
Felicette sniffed. “I have been chosen for my intelligence as well as my beauty,” she said. “A mere stray cat like you can never fly in a rocket.”
Zirka said, “Will you see the crow, and the wriggling snake, and the jumping dog?”
Felicette hissed, “What? Nobody told me there would be snakes and dogs!”
“Can you get out of the rocket and fly among the stars?” Zirka asked wistfully. She had dreamed all her life of flying in the darkness of space.
“Fly?” screeched Felicette. “I can’t fly! I’m not a bat!” She began scratching wildly at the door of her cage, until it sprang open. She leapt out, jumped off the platform and disappeared among the buildings.
The platform suddenly gave a jerk and started to move upwards. Zirka slipped into Felicette’s cage and held on tightly. At the top, a young scientist opened the cage and lifted Zirka out. “Wait!” he said. “You’re not Felicette! How did this happen?”
Zirka purred and rubbed her head against the man’s hand. “Where is Felicette?” he demanded. “She must go on this flight! We must have a cat, or the mission will have to be cancelled.” He lifted Zirka up and she settled comfortably into his arms. It was a pleasant surprise for him. Usually Felicette spat and scratched whenever he handled her.
Way below, under their feet, the rocket began to tremble as its first burners were lit.
The scientist looked at Zirka. “Well, a cat is a cat, I suppose,” he said. He put Zirka into the nose-cone of the rocket and tied straps around her to hold her safe during take-off. Then he shut the door and locked it tight. The platform sank back to the ground.
Zirka waited. There was a huge noise and the rocket was heaved up off the ground. Zirka felt herself being squashed flat, too flat to breathe or move a whisker. It got extremely hot, and her ears suddenly felt as they wanted to explode. Then just when she was sure she was going to die, and she wished that she’d never been such a fool as to get into the rocket, an amazing thing happened. The squashing stopped and she was floating. She felt like a fish in water, as if she didn’t weigh a thing.
Through the window she could see the stars, brighter and closer than she had ever seen them before, glittering in the deep blackness of space.
“This is what it must be like to be a star!” she said. “Heaven!” It was cold, colder than she’d ever been before. Then she slammed into the side of the cage again and the burning heat started up again and it was over. The rocket was plummeting back to earth. Everything inside her head went black.
When she woke up, the scientist was lifted her out of the nose-cone. “You did it!” he said to her, cuddling her into his arms and smoothing her fur. “The first cat in space – you’re a star! Let’s get you back to the lab where I can take a good look at you.” He put her into the cage and loaded the cage into the back of a truck.
Then out of the darkness in the truck came a voice. “Get out!” Felicette hissed. “I’m supposed to be the first cat in space, not you! Get out of here, before I slice you into little pieces!” She scrabbled with the catch on the cage door until she got it open.
Zirka didn’t argue. She slithered out of the cage and out of the back of the truck and ran. She dodged around buildings for what seemed like hours, searching for a way out, until finally she saw the fence in the distance. She ran to the fence, but just as she was about to launch herself at it, a large hand grabbed her.
“So I’ve found you,” said the young scientist. He picked her up and tickled her in her favourite spot under her chin. “You and I are the only ones who know that it wasn’t Felicette who went up in that rocket. What should we do about it?” Zirka rubbed her head against his hand and purred. “That’s what I think too,” said the man. “It’s our secret.”
Zirka never went into space again, but for years and years afterwards, when she had kittens of her own and they had kittens of their own, she would tell them the story of flying among the stars. And every single one of them was as black as night, with a single white star at the tip of their tails.
Stories for Another Day
Dharab the Dragon-slayer
Dharab killed his first dragon when he was four years old, but then it was a very small dragon, hardly bigger than a lizard. When he was ten years old he killed his first fully-grown dragon, by luring it into a closed valley and levering a heavy rock onto it. It was then that he was taken into his first apprenticeship. By the time he was fifteen, he had far out-stripped all his masters, at an age when most young men were just beginning to flex their muscles and begin their apprenticeships.
From then on, in a few short years he became known as the greatest dragon-slayer in all the seven kingdoms, and even beyond, possibly the greatest dragon-slayer of all time.
The townspeople of the village where he lived when he was not travelling the length and breadth of the seven kingdoms plying his trade, were very proud of him, and they built him a large house in the centre of the village. The master sign-painter made a sign that said, ‘Dharab the Great, Dragon-Slayer’, and hung it above the door of his house.
Dharab owned very little, only his weapons and his helmet and shield, but he had a great heart. He took no pleasure in slaying dragons, except the pride of a craftsman in a job well done, and the happiness of seeing a town freed from an evil menace. His needs were few. Half his time he spent polishing his shield and helmet and sharpening his weapons, because the sharpness of a dragon-slayer’s sword can mean the hairsbreadth between life and death. The other half of his time he spent daydreaming outside the house of a beautiful girl named Lainie.
Lainie had flaming red hair that flowed in waves down her back, and deep green eyes in a perfect, heart-shaped face, and she played the harp. Hour after hour Dharab would stand in the dark, in the street outside Lainie’s house, listening to her playing the harp, and sighing.
One day, when he was visiting the healer to have a cut from a dragon’s claw attended to, he asked, “How can someone like me ever find a girl who would marry him?”
The healer, Eva, sewed up the cut carefully, stitch by stitch, before she answered, “You’re a fool, Dharab,” and sent him away with a jar of ointment. “Put this on the cut every day, and the scar will be no worse than any of your others.”
Dharab thought about Lainie as he polished his shield and he sighed. What could he say to a girl like Lainie? What did he have to offer her? And then one evening, as he stood outside her house, listening spellbound as the notes of the harp died away, the door opened and she invited him in. Further down the street, Eva, who had been standing in the shadows watching Dharab, slipped away.
The wedding between Dharab and Lainie was celebrated in great style. Dharab spent all his savings to pay for the magnificent wedding that Lainie wanted, with musicians and fine clothes and a great feast. His heart was overflowing with joy when he led her to his house, with the flowers still in her hair.
She looked around his house, with its plain table and plain chairs, a cooking fire and a few simple bowls and cups, and she said. “But where is everything? Where is all your wealth, the gold and silver?”
Dharab said, “What do you mean? This is all I have, my home and the tools of my trade.”
“But the dragons’ hoards,” Lainie said. “Everyone knows that dragons heap up gold and jewels of every kind, gold cups, coins, crowns, necklaces…” Her eyes shone at the very thought.
Dharab shook his head. “Very few,” he said. “Most dragons are interested only blood, in killing and slaughtering cattle and children and anything they can catch. The few who do steal gold or silver, I return that to the villagers that the dragon stole it from, for it is rightfully theirs.”
“You what?” Lainie spat. “But the rewards! Townsfolk must give you great rewards for ridding them of their dragons?”
“They pay me what is just,” Dharab answered. He did not say that sometimes their grateful thanks was all that a poor village could afford to give him. “It is enough to live on.”
“But you are the greatest dragon-slayer in all the seven kingdoms! You could demand any fee you like!” Lainie said.
Dharab said nothing, but shrugged hopelessly. He knew then that Eva was right, he was a fool.
From then on there was no peace in Dharab’s house. Lainie jeered at him and taunted him constantly. When he made food for her, she threw it down in disgust, and when he tried to speak to her, she turned away coldly, or else she screamed at him in anger.
Dharab began to spend more and more time away, taking four days to reach a village and dispatch its dragon, when before he would have taken two. On one such trip he came home empty-handed, because the villagers were so poor they had nothing to give him.
Lainie screamed at him, and in her anger she caught up a pot and threw it at him. It shattered, and left a long cut down the side of his face. Dharab looked at her in sorrow, and she picked up a second pot to throw at him. He backed out of the house quickly and she slammed the door between them.
With blood trickling down his face, Dharab made his way to the healer’s house once more. Eva came down the stairs in her white nightgown, with her long dark hair hanging down over her shoulder. “This cut was not made by a dragon’s claw or teeth,” Eva said, wiping his cheek.
Dharab said nothing. Eva shook her head and said, “You are a great fool, Dharab.” Dharab looked at her bare feet and her deft hands and and he knew she was right.
That same evening he left for a quiet place, taking only his spear with him. He was gone for a week.
When he came back, everyone saw that his face was set, and his hand was steady on his spear. He went to his house and found Lainie there, brushing her hair by the fire.
“It is over between us” he said. “There is nothing here for either of us.”
Lainie said, “I will not go back to my father’s house with nothing. I will have this house.”
“Very well,” Dharab said. Taking only his shield and his helmet and his weapons, he left, with no other word of farewell. He built himself a grass hut on the edge of the village and lived there in peace and contentment. In a short time, Lainie married again, a wealthy silk merchant, who gave her all the riches she desired. They filled Dharab’s house with soft carpets and golden cups and plates. They took down the sign that hung at the front of the house and threw it into the gutter.
Some time later, Dharab saw Eva gathering herbs at the edge of the village, and he called to her. They stood talking for a few moments, then Dharab said, “I asked you once how I could ever find a woman to marry me. It is even harder now that I have nothing to offer except the tools of my trade and a house with dirt floors and a grass roof.”
“You are forgetting all the wealth of your heart,” Eva said.
Dharab’s heart caught in his mouth. He said, “Do you think…”
Eva said, “You are such a fool, Dharab,” and she took him into her arms.
They were married, and no home in all the seven kingdoms knew more joy or passion than theirs. In time they built a strong, sturdy house, with a garden full of herbs, and in time they were blessed with two extraordinary children, Garth and Shanama, but that’s a story for another day.
The Old Soldier
Once there was a soldier in the king’s army, who lost his taste for fighting, He put down his weapons and would not fight any more, so he was dismissed with a week’s pay and the clothes he stood up in.
He walked away, and kept walking until he was too tired to walk any more. He had reached a country he didn’t know, and he said to himself, “I have nothing and no-one. I will lie down under a tree and prepare to die, for there is nothing left for me to live for.”
The soldier, whose name was Ralf, lay down in the shade of a tree and closed his eyes, waiting for death. But the noise of birds in the tree above him, and the sound of water kept him awake. He got up and searched for the source of the noise, and he discovered a spring of water bubbling up out of the ground nearby. He looked around and found a large flat rock, and he heaved it over the top of the spring. The water was silenced, and he lay down again and closed his eyes.
In a little while he was woken by the sound of someone climbing up the hill towards him. It was a young boy dressed in rags. The boy was using a strong stick to help him climb, because his left leg dragged uselessly behind him. Ralf called out to him, “What are you doing here?”
The boy turned his head from side to side, and Ralf could tell at once that the boy was blind. The boy said, “I have come to find out why the source of the stream has dried up. I have brought my sheep to pasture at the bottom of this hill, but without water, they will soon die.”
Ralf replied, “Do you mean to say that the spring just here is the source of a stream?”
“Yes, sir,” the shepherd boy answered. “The water makes its way down the hill and becomes a stream. A little further on, it joins another stream and together they gather strength and eventually become a river that waters all the fields and farms around this part of the country.”
When Ralf understood this, he lifted the heavy rock away, and the spring started to flow again, bubbling up cheerfully out of the ground. Ralf saw that the channel that the water flowed through was overgrown and choked with weeds. He pulled out the weeds and dug the channel deeper, so that the water flowed freely down the hill. When the boy heard it beginning to flow again, his face was covered with happiness. He said, “Thank you, sir. This water is life to the whole valley.”
Ralf walked with him down the hill, asking him, “How do you come to be a shepherd, when you are both blind and lame?”
“When I was a child there was an earthquake in the country where I lived,” the boy said. “My parents and all my family were killed, but I was pulled out alive, although my leg was injured, and my eyes. Kind people looked after me, and brought me safely to this country. A farmer gave me a job as a shepherd, looking after just five sheep at first, but when he saw that I did the job well, he gave me more to take care of, and now I look after twenty sheep,” he said with pride.
They had reached the pasture at the bottom of the hill, where there was a flock of fine, healthy sheep. They left off eating the grass and came milling around the boy, nudging him and calling to him. He spoke to them, calling each one of them by name, and led them down to the freshly-flowing stream.
Ralf turned to leave, but the boy called after him, “Won’t you eat with me before you go?” So they sat down together, and ate bread and cheese that the shepherd boy pulled from his bag. “This is excellent cheese,” said Ralf.
The boy smiled happily. “I made it myself,” he said. “The farmer lets me have some of the sheep’s milk as part of my wages. And look,” he said, pulling out a wooden spindle, “I am learning to spin, so I can make my own wool. The farmer’s wife has promised to teach me to knit when I have enough of this yarn, so that I can make myself a new coat!”
Ralf marvelled at the boy’s happiness. He had so little, and yet he found so much contentment in it. Ralf looked at his own hands, and his feet, his strong arms and his straight back. He got to his feet, and prepared to set off, whistling. The shepherd boy said, “I suppose you must return to your own work now.”
“Yes,” said Ralf. “There is a great deal I have to do.” He thanked the boy for his meal, and set out. And for the rest of his life he used his strength, his health, his abilities and his kindness to do as much good as he could in the world. But that is a story for another day.
The Wild Dog from the West
In the last years of Dharab, the greatest dragon-slayer ever known, his daughter Shanama hunted with him, and she learned from him many of the skills that made him great. She learned how to kill her dragon cleanly and humanely, how to protect herself from the fire that the dragon throws from its mouth, and how to avoid the razor-like flail that is the dragon’s tail. She learned to keep her weapons sharp and in good order, but she did not learn the art of burnishing armour or polishing a helmet, for her only armour was a sheath of silver that covered her from head to toe, which she had woven with her own hands.
Shanama had been a weaver of silk before she learned the trade of dragon-slaying, and between journeys across the secluded kingdoms to slay dragons, she would still find peace sitting at her loom, creating magical patterns in more colours than you can see in a rainbow. In between times, she played with her nieces and nephews, racing and tumbling with them, teaching the girls the art of swordplay and the boys the business of argument and persuasion.
One day, when she was passing the shuttle back and forth at her loom, making a blanket in the colours of the sunset for her youngest niece, she heard a scratching at her door. When she opened it, a great wild dog stood there. His head was a big as a drum, and his teeth were like daggers dripping with foam. He seized Shanama in his jaws but she twisted away, and pulled her sword from its place above the fireplace.
Back and forth they battled in the tiny room, lunging at each other, sometimes one briefly dominating, sometimes the other. Finally the great dog leapt in the air and threw himself against Shanama. She fell backwards and hit her head against the stone edge of the fireplace and lost her senses.
When she woke, she was in a large room hung with curtains and carpets of finest wool. It was lit with crystal lamps and scented with the fragrance of hundreds of roses, pink, red, yellow and white. She was lying in a soft, warm bed and a handsome young man was bending over her. “Shanama, my sweet!” he said when he saw that she was awake. “Forgive me for stealing you away, but my feelings for you overcame all wisdom. I have loved you from afar for longer than I can remember. My only wish is to make you my wife!”
Shanama sat up carefully, for her head was aching badly. She looked at the young man, his soft dark eyes, the way his hair curled softly on his neck, the rings that covered his fingers and the gold chains around his neck.
“Be that as it may,” she said, “you should not have had me brought here against my will.”
The young man’s face fell. “Forgive me, I beg you, beautiful one! I could not wait to call you my own.” Shining tears gathered on his eyelashes, and Shanama’s anger faded.
“Who are you,” she asked him, “and what is this place?”
“I am Prince Aleksey of the fourth kingdom. My father is king, and on his death, which I hope and trust will be many years from now, I will be king. My fondest wish is that you will rule with me as my queen.
“This dog,” he went on, indicating the wild dog who lay on the floor at his feet, “this miserable hound is my servant, whom I sent to bring you here. I cannot begin to tell you how angry I am that he has caused you hurt.” When he said this, he gave the dog a savage kick. “But I will not press any more questions on you for now. Come, eat and drink with me, now that you have rested.”
“I will not eat nor drink at your table, since you have brought me here by force,” Shanama said. “Return me to my home, and I will consider what you have said.”
For a moment the prince’s eyes darkened with anger, but then he bowed his head and said, “As you wish, my lovely one.”
He snapped his fingers, and the great dog leaped to his feet. “Carry her back to the place that you brought her from, and be sure no harm comes to her this time, or you will feel the bite of my anger,” he ordered. The dog growled deep in his throat, but obeyed immediately. He picked up Shanama with his teeth, and lifted her onto his back. In less than the blink of an eye they were back in Shanama’s own room. The dog gave a long, echoing howl and disappeared.
Over the next days, Shanama gave much thought to the handsome young prince with his enchanting smile, and his huge wild dog. The more she thought about it, the stranger it seemed to her. She took the problem to her father, Dharab, and they talked at great length, long into the night. When she returned home, she found the wild dog waiting outside her door, his tail whipping back and forth.
Shanama seized her sword, but the dog dropped his head and whined. Instead of launching himself at her, he paced back and forth in front of the door. Shanama saw the marks of many beatings on his back and on his belly, and a fierce anger rose in her. She dropped to her knees in front of the dog. She held his muzzle between her hands and said, “Your master has sent you to being me to him, is that so? And it is not what you would wish?”
She looked into the dog’s eyes and she knew it was true. “No matter, I will go with you,” she said. “But first…” She took her short sword and tied it in its scabbard on her back, between her shoulder blades. Then she dressed herself in a beautiful, silken gown, “For after all,” she said, “I must look my best for the crown prince of the fourth kingdom.” When she was ready, with her lovely hair falling as smoothly as water down her back, she placed one hand on the dog’s shoulder and in an instant they were transported to the elegant room where she had first met the prince.
“Shanama, my lovely one! You have come!” the prince cried. He took her hand and his eyes shone with pleasure. “I have never seen you look more beautiful,” he said. He took a golden ring from his breast pocket.
“You have come here freely, of your own will,” he said to her. “May I hope that you will accept my ring and make me the happiest man in the seven kingdoms by becoming my wife?”
The dog began a low, savage growling deep in his throat. “Quiet!” the prince snapped. He turned back to Shanama and said, “My darling, what is your answer?”
“My answer?” said Shanama. She drew her sword and in one swift movement she sliced the prince’s shirt from neck to waist. It hung open, revealing his bare chest, with a long mark over his heart. “This is my answer. I know you, Tarn, dragon-enchanter from the southern-most island. I know you by your voice, by your cruelty, and by the mark my father Dharab put on you when he almost ended your life!”
The prince’s face and body changed. His eyes grew darker, black and glittering, his face twisted and huge horns unfurled above his forehead. His body, banded with muscle and covered in armoured scales, grew until he towered over Shanama. He laughed, with a sound like chains in an empty cave, and with one huge claw, he swept her aside as if she were merely a blade of grass.
“If you had accepted my ring you would have become my own creature, a slave to my will like this miserable dog!” he hissed. “Now death is all you have to look forward to, you foolish, witless female!”
Shanama lay dazed at his feet but the wild dog hurled himself at the dragon, snarling. The dragon swung his tail to crush the dog like an irritating mosquito, but as it rose in the air, Shanama managed to thrust her sword into the pale flesh beneath the dragon’s tail, the weakest spot on his armour-plated body.
The dragon shrieked with pain. Blood, thick and black as oil, poured out of the wound. He turned his claws on them, long and sharp as knives, but Shanama was on her feet now, striking with her sword again and again. Losing blood, the dragon began to weaken, his huge head drooping lower. “Now – to me!” Shanama shouted. The great dog leapt towards her, and she sprang onto his back and threw her sword, straight and true, into the dragon’s throat. It crashed to the floor, dead.
Shanama fell back, exhausted. When she looked up, a man stood before her, with the piercing blue eyes and the rough, brown hair of the wild dog.
“You are the true prince of the fourth kingdom, Prince Aleksey?” Shanama asked.
“I was placed under an enchantment and held captive by that evil creature,” Aleksey said, “but now, through your courage, I am a free man again, and your humble servant, if you will have me.”
Shanama accepted him and they were married, and in the fullness of time she reigned at his side as queen of the fourth kingdom. Their children were known as the swiftest hunters and the bravest warriors the land had ever known. No dragon or enchanter ever dared even so much as set foot in the fourth kingdom while they reigned, until the Princess Zahara was born, but that is a story for another day.
The Wooden Doctor
In a village in a valley not too far away from here lived a doctor, called Dr Averil. He was a good doctor who looked after his patients well. If his patients could pay, well and good, but if they were very poor, he didn’t ask them to pay at all.
As time went on, Dr Averil began to notice that more and more of his patients were sick because they didn’t have enough to eat. They had no money to buy food or medicine or warm clothes. Dr Averil was afraid that it would not be long before their children started to die from hunger, and something must be done.
He left his home and went to see the king.
Now King Esher was a greedy and selfish man. When Dr Averil told him that the poor were starving, he merely said, “What is that to me? So long as I have plenty to eat, that’s all that matters.”
Dr Averil pleaded with him. “Even a small part of the food that you throw away every day would be enough to feed a family for a month,” he said.
The king stared at Averil and said. “My dear doctor, what are you suggesting? Feeding a family for a month would cost me a great deal of money.” He turned to the Keeper of the Treasury, Count Zilf. “How much would this ridiculous plan cost, Zilf?”
Count Zilf did some calculations on a piece of paper and said, “Oh, a great deal of money, your Majesty! Why, your Majesty might have to close down your third-favourite swimming pool!”
“You see?” the king turned back to Dr Averil. “It’s completely out of the question.” And he sent the doctor away.
Dr Averil fretted and worried, until he couldn’t stand it any longer. He called together all the newspapers and journalists and reporters and said to them, “Come with me. King Esher has an important announcement to make.”
He led them to the king’s palace. When they reached the audience chamber where the king was sitting on his throne with Count Zilf beside him, Dr Averil said to the reporters, “The king has an important announcement to make. He is concerned for his people, who are poor and hungry, so out of his extremely kind and generous heart he has decided that anyone who is in need, will be given bread from the royal kitchens and vegetables from the royal gardens.”
Everyone was shocked, none more so than the king. “What’s this?” he thundered.
Count Zilf touched the king’s sleeve and whispered into his ear, “Shhhh! Do you want people to think that you are NOT extremely generous and kind-hearted?”
The king looked at all the cameras and the journalists. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to smile. “Yes, they will be given all the bread and vegetables they need,” he said.
The very next morning there was a long, long line of people outside the palace. They were all given fresh vegetables and bread. Before many weeks had passed, the people were much healthier and happier.
The king was very angry with Dr Averil. He called the wickedest sorcerers in the kingdom and told them he had an enemy that he wanted to punish. The most wicked gave a sinister chuckle and said, “I have exactly what you need.” He showed the king a large, black, metal gong. “If you wish to make your enemy very unhappy, you only have to say his name and then strike the gong once. Half of his body will be turned to wood.”
The king was very impressed. “Let me see.” He took the gong into his hands. “Like this?” he asked. Then he said Averil’s name and struck the gong.
In his house on the other side of the village, Dr Averil felt both his legs turn to wood, all the way down to his feet and his toes inside his boots. “What is happening to me?” he said. He couldn’t walk, or get up out of his chair.
When the king heard that Averil’s legs had turned to solid wood, he chuckled gleefully. It almost made up for having to empty out his third-favourite swimming pool.
As winter drew on, Dr Averil was called to visit many more sick patients. He noticed that their houses were very cold, with leaky roofs that let the rain in. The drains were blocked up and some of them had no bathrooms at all. No wonder they’re getting sick, he said to himself. He shook his head, and thought hard. Then he went to visit the king again.
“Your people are living in broken-down shacks,” he said to the king. “You should build them proper houses, with bathrooms, and windows for fresh air, and gardens for the children to run around in.”
“What?” yelled the king. “Outrageous!”
Count Zilf took out his calculator and made some calculations. “It would cost a great deal of money, your Majesty,” he said. “You would have to get rid of all but five of your sports cars to pay for it.”
“Only five sports cars? Unbelievable!” the king said. “Take your impossible demands out of my sight,” he said to Averil, “and no tricks this time, or you’ll be sorry!”
Dr Averil went home and thought about how much his wooden legs ached and how he could no longer walk or swim or ride his bike, and how he could only move about using a wheelchair. Then he thought about his patients with their bad chests and their children with terrible illnesses, and he made up his mind.
He called the reporters and journalists again, and he told them, “King Esher is such a just and compassionate man that he is going to build new houses for all the poor people. No more leaky roofs or damp floors or smelly drains. “
The news was announced in all the newspapers, and so of course the king had to go through with it, or it would have seemed that he was not a just or a compassionate man. Rows of tidy new houses were built, with windows and bathrooms, and a small garden at the back so the children could run around, and people could grow their own vegetables.
King Esher had to sell all but five of his sports cars to pay for the houses. He ground his teeth and said in a rage, “I told that interfering doctor that he would be sorry!” And he struck the gong.
Its reverberations rang out across the country to the very house where Averil was sitting in his wheelchair by the fire. All at once his arms and his body turned to solid wood, everything but his face, his hands and his heart.
“What is happening to me?” he cried. But he was a doctor, and a very clever man, and he knew that this was no sickness or disease. “It must be the king’s doing,” he thought.
His back and his legs hurt constantly, and he could hardly bend his arms to feed himself any more, yet he still took care of his patients as well as he could. As the months went by and spring came, Dr Averil noticed that people were much healthier and happier, now that they had warm, dry houses, and gardens to grow their own food.
Then one day an old patient came to see the doctor, with a long gash along his arm. “How did you get this?” Dr Averil asked him.
“I have a new job in a factory,” the man said, “but I don’t know which machines are dangerous, and so I injured my arm.”
The doctor said, “Aren’t there signs saying ‘Danger’?”
“There may be,” the man said, “but I can’t read. There are no schools for poor people like us, only for the wealthy.”
“No schools?” Dr Averil said. “But everyone should be able to go to school and learn to read and write.” He gathered up his courage and went to see the king once more.
“So, it’s you, Averil,” the king said, chuckling to see the doctor in a wheelchair, unable to move his arms or his legs. “What do you want this time?” He was sure that the doctor would not dare try to trick him again, for it would be certain death for him if he did.
“The poor cannot read or write,” Dr Averil said. “They need schools where they can learn.”
“Schools?” blustered the king. “Absolutely impossible! Why, they might learn to read, and then they would start having ideas and opinions. That would never do!”
“Never!” agreed Count Zilf. He was adding up sums on a white table-cloth. “Very expensive,” he said, “very, very expensive. If your Majesty had to build a school, there would hardly be enough money left in the treasury to go on holidays more than three or four times a year.”
The king was horrified. “Holidays only three or four times a year? Unthinkable! Go home, and forget about this preposterous idea, or you’ll be VERY sorry.” He pointed to the black gong and nodded knowingly.
Then Dr Averil knew for certain that King Esher was responsible for what had happened to him. He went home, but he could not allow the king’s threats to stop him doing what he knew was right. He thought about his hands, and his face, and most especially his heart, and he sighed deeply. Then he called the journalists and reporters and told them, “King Esher in his great wisdom and foresight knows that his people need to be educated, so he is going to build a new school for anyone who wants to learn.”
The exciting news went out to everyone at once. The people gathered to cheer in the streets and wave flags with the king’s picture on them, but the king’s anger blazed. “Averil has gone too far this time,” he snarled. He pointed with a finger shaking with rage. “Strike the gong, three times!”
The gong was struck, once, twice, three times. Its sound rang through the streets, making the children shiver and the trees shed their leaves. Dr Averil felt the vibrations through his wooden legs, his wooden back and his arms. Then first his left hand and then his right hand turned to solid wood, then his head and his face. Lastly his beating heart turned to solid wood and stopped dead.
But his heart was so full of love that it could not be contained. It split the wood open, and life-giving blood poured out into every vein. His hands, his arms, his body, his legs and his feet were living flesh once more.
He sprang to his feet and gave thanks with a joyful heart. And so he lived out the rest of his long, happy life.
The Toad and the Giraffe
A toad once asked a giraffe to marry him.
The giraffe, whose name was Tilly, looked down and down at the toad. “A toad?” she said. “A slimy, warty, ugly, disgusting toad? I could never marry a toad!”
The toad was quite offended at her words, as you might well imagine. He became angry and said, “We are not so different. Both of us are noted for our throats. Yours is long and elegant, some might even say that it is a little too long, whereas mine is deep and wide, and swells up in a most delightful way.” He drew in his breath. His throat bulged out in an enormous brown bubble and he blurted, “Gork! Gork!”
The giraffe fell back in surprise.
The toad went on, “We both have the same brown spots, you know,” he said, “except that my skin is green while your coat is a beautiful golden brown. And we both have exceptionally attractive eyes. Your eyes are large and brown, and mine bulge out beautifully. Think of how handsome our children would be, with large, bulging brown eyes and green, furry, spotted coats!”
Tilly shivered with horror. “It’s no use asking me, Gork. I could never marry you,” she said.
The toad said, “Let me give you some time to think about it. I’ll come again tomorrow.” And he hopped away.
Tilly returned to her basket of hay and thought no more about the silly toad that day, but the next morning when he came again, she was quite pleased. “He must really love me,” she thought to herself. She asked him, “Do you really think I’m pretty, Gork? Only my friend Lallie says that my horns are too short.”
Gork said, “Only the most lovely of giraffes could make the king of all the toads fall in love with him.” Gork was not the king of the toads, but only the king’s second-youngest nephew, but he would have said anything to persuade Tilly to marry him. He was determined to win her no matter what. He could not bear to think that a mere giraffe would refuse him.
Tilly was flattered and she smiled a little shyly. She said, “My family have always been admired for their beauty, from the times when my ancestors roamed the wide plains of the Serengeti. I personally was selected from all my family to be placed in this zoo, as the most beautiful young giraffe.” She forgot that when men with nets and guns captured her, she had tried to run away with the rest of her herd, but she was slower than all the others so she was the one who had been taken.
Gork said, “Of course, that is why I chose you. Not just any giraffe would do for me, only the most beautiful of all. You must marry me.”
Tilly said, “No-one in my family has ever married a toad. I’m afraid it is impossible for me to marry you.”
Gork wasn’t put off. He was sure she would change her mind in time. “I will give you one more day to think about it,” he said.
The next day when Gork came, he brought her a large bunch of flowers. He began in his usual flattering way, “Queen of my heart, have you decided to marry me and make me the happiest toad on earth? If you were married to me, you would have a life of ease and luxury. You would have servants to do all the work. You could sit around all day long and merely give orders.”
Although she was not actually sure she knew how to sit, this sounded very good to Tilly, but she still hesitated. She had another reason for not wanting to marry Gork.
He noticed how her eyes turned often to a handsome young male giraffe, named Norman. Gork said, “If you are waiting for Norman to ask you to marry him and become his second wife, your friend Lallie has whispered to me that he has already asked her.”
Now this was a very black lie, for Lallie had not said anything to him, and she had certainly not been asked to be anyone’s second wife. But Tilly didn’t know that. She felt exceedingly jealous of her friend, Lallie. She thought resentfully that she would hate to be a mere third wife, and have Lallie looking down on her.
Gork said, “If you marry me, you will be my favourite wife, first among all my wives. You are so beautiful! None of the other giraffes walks as gracefully as you, or has such deep brown eyes. I love you with all my heart!”
Tilly said, “Very well then, I will marry you!” She could hardly wait to tell Lallie and Norman that she was going to be married to a king. Never mind that he was king of the toads, a king was a king. She stretched out her tongue to eat one of the flowers that Gork had brought her.
“Argh! Your tongue!” screeched Gork. “It is so… purple!”
“What’s the matter?” Tilly said. “All my family have tongues like this, the true purple of the Serengeti giraffe.”
“It is hideous!” Gork cried, with a great shudder. “To think that our children may have tongues of such a revolting colour, purple from one end to the other! What would the other toads say? It is impossible. I cannot marry you!”
He hopped off, pleased that he had found out in time.
Tilly sniffed and said to herself, “He was only a slimy old toad, anyway.”
As you know, the very last and final story about a young wombat named Benson was published some time ago, and we said goodbye to Benson and his family and friends.
Now a new website is beginning, offering stories of a different kind, called Stories for Another Day. To access this website and investigate the new stories, try http://www.storiesfromthesevenkingdoms.com . You won’t meet Benson there, but you will meet enchanting new characters and find intriguing new adventures and ideas. Leave a comment and let me know what you think! See you there!
(The Last Story)
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson said to his mother, “Will you remember me when I’m not me any more?”
His mother said, “How do you mean?”
Benson said, “I mean when I’m grown up, will you remember ME, the me I am now?”
“Of course I will,” she said.
Benson said, “Only I was thinking about Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. I was thinking that maybe they were young once but nobody remembers.”
“I would say they were definitely young once,” his mother said.
“They weren’t old when they were young, were they? I mean, what were they like when they were like me?” Benson said.
Benson’s mother said, “Let me think about this. You mean, were Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss the same as they are now when they were young, right? What were they like then?”
Benson nodded. His mother said, “That was before I was born, so I don’t remember, but I’ve heard lots of stories. I tell you what, let’s talk about it at lunchtime.”
Benson’s mother made everyone’s favourite soup for lunch, leek and potato, with fresh cornbread, and everyone’s favourite cake, carrot and banana.
As soon as everyone was sitting down and enjoying their soup, Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, do you remember Moss when she was little?”
“I remember when she was born!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I remember the first time she came out of her mother’s pouch. She was just a tiny round ball of fur. The very first thing she did was smile at everyone, and then she went to sleep.”
Aunt Moss said, “I remember that you were always so good at everything, Lillibet. Skipping, drawing, arithmetic – and colouring in. Lillibet was famous for her colouring in,” Aunt Moss said to Benson’s mother. “She never, ever went outside the lines.”
Lillibet said, “And your colouring in was always a mess. I remember one time when you coloured in the sun blue and the grass black. And that time we had to draw our families, and you drew dozens and dozens of smiling wombats. We had that drawing hanging on our wall for years.”
Benson went and got some paper and his pencils.
His mother said, “What was Moss like when she was little, Lillibet?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “She was always happy for no reason. She made friends with everyone. I remember when she was just a little joey, sitting on a blanket under a tree and clouds of butterflies came and sat all over her, and she just smiled and laughed.”
“I don’t remember that!” Aunt Moss said.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Do you remember Lionel trying to teach you how to ride a bike, and you didn’t know how to steer and you drove straight into the compost heap?”
“I remember that,” Aunt Moss said. “The smell of mouldy cabbage and dead oranges didn’t wear off for weeks, even after my mother put me in the bath and scrubbed and scrubbed. But that was nothing compared to Lionel and the rock-melon!”
Benson’s mother brought the cake over the the table and cut it into pieces. “What did Lionel do with the rock-melon?” she asked. Benson was busy drawing, but he stopped for a minute to have a piece of cake.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Lionel absolutely loved rock-melons when he was little, and one day he hid one under his pillow so he could keep it all to himself, and it gradually went rotten. The smell!”
Aunt Moss said, “Everyone thought there was a dead rat in the house. It took weeks to find it, and then it was just a ball of slime.”
“Lionel tried to say it must have rolled under his pillow by itself,” Aunt Lillibet said, “but it had his teeth-marks all over it.”
“Speaking of teeth-marks,” said Aunt Moss, “I remember the time that you…”
“Stop!” said Benson. “I’ve run out of paper.”
“Paper?” said Aunt Lillibet. “What are you doing with all that paper, Benson?”
“Look,” said Benson. He held up what he had been drawing. “This is Aunt Moss when she was a baby, and this one is her with the butterflies. This is Aunt Lillibet colouring in, and this is them riding bikes with Uncle Lionel.”
He had drawn three wombats on bicycles, and then one of them crashed into a compost heap.
“And this is the rock-melon,” he said, holding up the last drawing. Everyone looked at it.
“It was much worse than that,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Much, much worse,” Aunt Moss said. They both picked up the brown and green and black pencils and made a much bigger, slimier mess of the drawing of Lionel’s rock-melon.
Benson’s mother said, “The cake is all gone. I think it’s time to do the dishes.”
Benson said, “But what about you? I don’t know any stories about you.”
His mother said, “Tomorrow. We’ll go and see Nanna, and you can take lots of paper and your pencils. Right now it’s time for the washing-up.”
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were still reminding each other of all the things they remembered, so Benson and his mother did the washing-up together.
When they were finished, Benson said, “What about me? Who will tell stories about me when I’m old?”
His mother said, “I will.” She went into her room and brought back her journal. She showed it to Benson. “See? I write about you all the time.” There were even some tiny drawings.
She showed him some of the pages. “This was when you got me tulips for my birthday, and this was when there was a quokka at the playground. And remember the time you dug a hole so deep you couldn’t get out? And when little Zip got lost?”
They sat down and looked at all the stories she had written down, and they read their favourite ones together.
“I remember this!” said Benson. “Will you read this one to me?”
“I’d love to,” said his mother. And she began. “Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.”
And what comes after that, you will have to read for yourself.
This is the final story in the series of stories about a young wombat named Benson. A new series, Stories for Another Day, stories of imagination and adventure for children of all ages, is coming soon. Check out the ‘News‘ page to find out when new stories will be available.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a happy, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother said, “Benson, would you like to go and stay with Nanna for a few days?”
A warm feeling spread through Benson’s tummy. He loved visiting Nanna.
His mother said, “Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss are going to a barn dancing camp with Gordon and Fenella, and I have to go to a conference and give some talks on organic gardening. Nanna says that she’d love to have you.”
Nanna always loved having him, and he always loved her having him. Staying at Nanna’s meant hot chocolate and date and walnut rolls and cauliflower sandwiches, and lots and lots of drawing and telling stories, and cooking together and playing games – so many wonderful, happy things that Benson couldn’t count them all.
He packed his pyjamas and his library book and his toothbrush, and his drawing things. When he got to Nanna’s, she said, “Benson, how lovely to see you!” as she always did, and gave him a big hug. His mother kissed him goodbye and said, “Benson, make sure you help Nanna as much as you can.”
Nanna said, “What would you like to do first, have muffins and dandelion tea in the garden, or take some sandwiches and make shadow hands on the big rock?”
That was the trouble with going to Nanna’s, Benson thought. It was so hard to decide what he wanted to do most. “Umm,” he said, thinking about climbing the big rock and eating their sandwiches in the sunshine, then getting mouthfuls of paint and making shadow hand-prints on the rock. “What kind of muffins?” he asked.
“Banana, carrot and coconut,” Nanna said. “I just got them out of the oven.” Then it was easy to decide. They sat in the garden among the wildflowers, seeing who could count the most butterflies, then they made cauliflower and blueberry sandwiches and took them up to the rock. They had a wonderful day together. Nanna had a nap while Benson was making hand-prints, and some foot-prints, then they walked home together telling stories and playing, ‘Guess what animal I’m thinking of.’
The next morning, when Benson got up and went out to the kitchen, Nanna was standing there in her pyjamas. She said, “Benson, what are you doing here?”
Benson felt confused. He said, “I’m sleeping over, remember?”
She looked at him with a tiny frown on her face, until he went up and touched her hand. Then she smiled an enormous smile and said, “Benson, how lovely to see you!” She wrapped him a big, warm hug.
“Are we having pancakes for breakfast?” Benson asked.
Nanna frowned again, and said, “Pancakes?” She looked around the kitchen. Then she got out a saucepan and some pickles, and tomato sauce. “I’m not sure,” she said, uncertainly.
There was a knock at the door, and a cheery voice said, “Nanna, it’s me, Shelley. Can I come in?”
Nanna said, “Shelley, it’s so nice to see you!” Shelley put down a big bag of fruit she had brought, and gave Nanna a hug. “We’re just going to make pancakes,” Nanna said. “Would you like some?”
Shelley said, “I’d love some! What have you got the pickles and tomato sauce for?”
Nanna looked puzzled and said, “I’m not sure.”
Shelley said, “Why don’t I give you a hand?” She got out the frying pan and the flour and the eggs, and she and Benson helped Nanna make the pancakes. They were delicious.
When it was time for the washing-up, and Nanna was getting dressed, Benson said to Shelley, “Nanna was funny, before. It’s like she didn’t remember that I was here.”
Shelley stopped washing up and said quietly, “I think Nanna is having trouble remembering things, sometimes. Sometimes when we get old, our brains don’t work as well as they used to. Sometimes we don’t remember things that we used to know really well. It’s like things get lost in our memory and we don’t know where to find them.”
“Does it hurt?” Benson said. He started to get worried. “What if Nanna forgets to eat, or if she forgets to breathe?”
Shelley gave Benson a hug. “It’s not as bad as that. It doesn’t hurt, but I think Nanna gets a little bit frightened sometimes, when she can’t remember. I come over every morning now, just to see that she’s okay. She needs a little more looking after now, that’s all.”
“Can we fix it for her?” Benson said. “What should I do?”
Shelley said, “I think you should talk to her just the same as you always do. She’s still Nanna, you know. You might just need to remind her of things, now and then.”
Benson was worried after Shelley left, but Nanna seemed just the same as always. They listened to some of her favourite opera music, and she remembered all the words. She had a little nap while Benson was reading his library book, and when she woke up she couldn’t quite remember that it was Tuesday, but Benson chatted to her and she soon felt fine again.
Benson remembered that his mother had said to help Nanna as much as he could, so he helped with the cooking and the washing up, and he reminded Nanna that she still had her slippers on when they were going out for a walk. Sometimes she got confused about whether they had already had lunch, but Benson never minded having lunch twice.
When it was time for Benson to go home again, he told his mother all about Nanna forgetting things, and what Shelley had said. “Nanna’s getting holes in her brain,” Benson said, “and things she’s supposed to remember keep falling out, but you just catch them for her and remind her again and it’s okay.”
His mother was very worried. She talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss.
“What are we going to do?” Aunt Moss said. She was very upset. “We can’t be with her all the time to look after her.”
“We should bring her to live here with us,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson’s mother said, “I think she’d be happier in her own home, with her garden and everything she loves.”
“That’s what Shelley says,” Benson said. He was busy drawing pictures of every single wombat that they knew, and writing their names underneath. He told his mother how Shelley came to see Nanna every day.
“That’s very kind of her,” Benson’s mother said. “I wonder if we could ask her to help us look after Nanna?”
So they went to see Shelley and talk to her about Nanna. Then they all went to see Nanna.
Nobody knew exactly what to say, but Benson said, “Here, Nanna, I made you a book of drawings of everyone you know, so that when you forget, you can look at the pictures and see their names underneath.”
Nanna’s face crumpled. “Oh dear, I am forgetting, aren’t I?” she said. “I thought it was just the little things, but lately I feel as if sometimes I even forget where I am, and what I’m doing.”
Shelley put her arm around Nanna and said, “How would it be if I came to look after you? We can dig an extra room or two for my loom and my spinning wheel – maybe I could even teach you how to spin!”
Nanna said, “I think that would be lovely.” She looked at the book that Benson had made, and sighed. Then she had an idea. “You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to have a big party, so I can see everyone again, while I still remember.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Benson’s mother said. So they had the most enormous party and invited everyone Nanna knew, all her family and friends, Uncle Elton and Elmer, and Lance and Wilma, Mr Fenn and Gordon and Fenella and Malcolm and Rebekah and Hazel, and Nils and Nella and their family, and all the dunnarts, and the sugar-gliders, and the turtles, and Zip and Zali and their mother Teresa, and all Benson’s friends and their families, Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Ralph, and Philip, and Rodney and his family. Even the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats came, and danced with everyone. And of course, Pascoe came. She said she wouldn’t dream of missing it.
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Shelley cooked piles and piles of food, muffins and sandwiches and cakes and pies and tarts, and everyone else brought food to share, and they all sat in Nanna’s garden talking and playing music, singing and telling stories, and having a wonderful time.
When everyone had gone and Nanna was having a rest while Benson’s mother and Shelley were tidying up, Benson said, “I made you a special present, Nanna.” He had made little models of all her wombat friends out of clay from the riverbank. “They’re to remind you,” he said, “so even if your brain and your eyes forget, your hands will still remember.”
He put them in her hands, and her face lit up. “This is Zali, isn’t it?” she said, touching them all over. “And this one is Elton, and this is your mother, and this is you, isn’t it? They’re beautiful, Benson.” Then her face clouded over a little.
Benson said, “Are you okay, Nanna?”
“Benson,” she said very quietly, “I’m frightened.”
Benson took her hand and said, “What are you frightened of, Nanna?”
She held his hand tightly, and said, “I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t remember you, or your mother, or anyone any more. I won’t have a chance to say goodbye.”
Benson thought about how sad that would be. He said, “We’d better make sure we say goodbye now, while you still remember.”
Nanna gave him a radiant smile. “That’s a wonderful idea!” She took him in her arms and told him how much she loved him. And from then on, whenever Benson was going home or it was bedtime, he would say, “Goodbye, Nanna. I love you.”
And Nanna would said, “I love you too, Benson. Sweet dreams, little wombat.”
The Super-Dooper Solar-Powered Billy-Cart
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson was outside trying to work out the best way to put up a flag in a tunnel, when he heard a great clattering and banging coming down the track. He looked out to see if it was maybe an invasion of metal triceratopses, but it was his friend Mick, in a big, metal contraption with wheels and gears and air foils and a steering wheel the size of a cartwheel.
The contraption stopped and Mick got out. So did his little sister, Bonnie Lou, and then Arlette and Twiss, who were two kind-of friends. “This is my new super-dooper solar-powered billy-cart!” Mick said, nearly bursting with pride. “I made it myself!”
“It’s …..amazing!” Benson said. Words couldn’t describe how magnificent it was.
“I made it with parts from my old bike and and Hazel gave me some bits too, this gear-stick and the sun-roof,” Mick said, pointing out his favourite parts. “I’m thinking of getting air-conditioning, too, but I need some more bits.”
Benson walked around the billy-cart, admiring the hubcaps and the mudguards. Mick said, “It’s got a top speed of… I’m not sure, but really fast, anyway. When it’s only me. It’s a bit slower when there are four of us.” He leaned forward and whispered to Benson, “Arlette and Twiss were playing with Bonnie Lou, and my mum made me bring them too.”
Arlette came over and said, “It’s SO much better than riding a dusty old bike. The seats are really comfortable. But Mick, you should definitely get a GPS.”
Mick rolled his eyes and shrugged.
Benson’s mother came out to admire the billy-cart too. “Solar-powered!” she said. “What a good idea!”
Twiss said, “We’re going over to the gully to pick some passionfruit.”
“Passionfruit?” said Benson’s mother, frowning.
Just hearing the word ‘passionfruit’ made the thought of summer explode in Benson’s mind, warm days, golden juice and the most incredible smell. “Can I come too?” he asked eagerly.
Arlette said, “There’s only enough room for four, and we thought of it first.”
Benson was really disappointed. He said, “The gully’s not that far away anyway. You could probably walk there just as fast.”
“No way!” said Arlette.
“Do you want a race?” said Bonnie Lou.
“All right,” Benson said. “First one back here with a bag full of passionfruit is the winner!”
Mick and Bonnie Lou and Arlette and Twiss piled back into the billy-cart. Mick started it up with a loud bang. Benson ran inside to get a big bag for the passionfruit. His mother said, “Benson, I don’t think…” but he was in too much of a hurry to listen. He put on his hat and sped off, over the back fence, through the bush and down by the creek.
Mick’s billy-cart trundled down the track, speeding along. “Turn right here,” said Bonnie Lou. “That’s the track to the gully.”
“It’s not wide enough,” Mick said. “The billy-cart can’t make it down there.”
“Go left,” Arlette said. “We can go around behind the library and get to the gully that way.”
They went left but when they got closer to the gully, that road got narrower too. “Go left again,” Arlette said.
“That’s not the way to the gully,” Bonnie Lou said.
“Yes it is, if we go across the park and over the bridge,” Arlette said.
Mick turned left. The track got bumpier and bumpier. Two of the hubcaps came off, and one of the reversing mirrors. The gears made loud complaining noises. When they got to the park, the ground was muddy from weeks of rain. Mick stopped the billy-cart. “I’m not driving over that,” he said. “We’ll get bogged.”
“We should go back, and round the other way,” said Bonnie Lou.
“I think we should keep going,” Arlette said. “It doesn’t look that muddy to me.”
“No, we need to turn left,” Twiss said. “It’s definitely drier over there.” They all started arguing.
Mick folded his arms and said loudly, “Who’s driving this billy-cart?” Everyone stopped.
“All right, you are,” Arlette said, “but I think we should definitely keep going.”
Mick sighed, and kept going. The front wheels got bogged straight away. Bonnie Lou and Twiss got out and pushed while Arlette gave directions. Then the back wheels got stuck. By the time they got the billy-cart turned around, they were all covered in mud, and exhausted. Then the sun went behind a cloud.
“Why aren’t we moving?” Arlette said.
“Solar-powered,” Mick said glumly. They all got out again and started to push.
Meanwhile Benson went along the narrow track until he got to the gully where the passionfruit vines were. But there wasn’t a single passionfruit on the vines. “Oh no!” he said to himself. “Mick must have been here first and picked all the passionfruit.” He hunted around everywhere but all he could find was one wizened-up old passionfruit way under the back of the vine. He put it sadly in his bag and set off for home.
When Benson got back, he found Mick and the others there, looking very grumpy. “We had to walk all the way back,” Arlette said. “Solar-powered, huh!”
“I suppose you won, then,” Mick said to Benson. “Where are the passionfruit?”
Benson showed him what was in the bag. “Only one?” Mick said. Everyone’s faces fell. One passionfruit among five hungry young wombats isn’t much.
Benson’s mother said, “Perfect! I’ve made a lemon cream sponge, and all it needs is some passionfruit icing on top.”
“Really?” said Benson. His tummy suddenly felt a lot happier.
His mother nodded. “One passionfruit is plenty to make icing with.” Everyone had a turn at stirring the passionfruit into the icing, and then they all helped spread it all over the cake, and licked the bowl and the spoons afterwards, and the only thing better than that was eating the cake.
The New Bridge
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s friend, Mick, had a new bike. It wasn’t really a new bike. He had found some old handlebars and Hazel had helped him fix them up, and then they had painted the whole bike so that it looked like a new bike, or even better, Mick said.
At breakfast time, Benson said to his mother “Is it okay if I ride my bike down to the creek? We’re going to do time trials over the new bridge. Mick thinks his bike is going to be way faster, now that it’s red.”
“That sounds like fun,” his mother said, collecting all the empty plates. “Do you want to finish Aunt Moss’s rockmelon? Aunt Moss, do you want to eat Benson’s paw-paw?” Benson always left the paw-paw behind when they had fruit salad. It looked like it was going to taste like pumpkin but it never did.
Aunt Lillibet said ominously, “They didn’t build the new bridge high enough. Don’t they remember the Black July floods?”
“I don’t think anyone remembers them, Aunt Lillibet, they were so long ago,” Benson’s mother said.
“Nanna remembers,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ve heard her talk about how the creek came up right over the old bridge and hundreds of animals living along the banks were drowned.”
“That was a long time ago,” Aunt Moss said. “It could never happen again, now that they’ve made the dam bigger. Besides, the banks of the creek are much higher now.”
“That’s just because the creek is lower,” Aunt Lillibet insisted. “Never underestimate the power of nature!”
“You’re absolutely right,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, make sure you wear your hat and drink plenty of water. It’s going to be quite sunny today.”
Benson put on his hat and got his water bottle and sped off on his bike. Alejandro and Elmer were already there, admiring Mick’s bike. It was beautiful.
“Do you think Hazel would help me paint my bike?” Elmer said, wistfully.
“I think it would take more than paint to make your bike go fast,” Alejandro said. They all looked at Elmer’s bike. His dad was always coming up with ways to improve its performance. It had a windsock tied to the handlebars, and an extra-large reversing mirror, and a cushion tied to the seat. Elmer sighed.
Arlette and her sister Twiss came up just then on their roller-skates. “Hey, do you boys want a race?” Arlette called.
Mick just laughed. “Race with us? Roller-skates are for girls. You’d never even make it to the finishing line!”
Arlette stomped up to the beginning of the bridge, as well as she could with her roller-skates. “We’ll see about that!” she said. “Ready, set, go!” and she whizzed off.
“Hey!” yelled Mick. “I wasn’t ready!” He got on his bike and set off after her, but she got to the end of the bridge well ahead of him.
“I won!” she chortled, but Mick whipped his bike around and started back across the bridge at top speed.
“And back again!” he shouted, flying along.
“That’s not fair!” Arlette shouted. She started off after him, but he won easily. All the boys cheered.
Arlette panted up, shouting about how unfair it was. She wasn’t looking where she was going and one of her skates got caught on a rock. She stumbled and started to fall backwards into the creek. Benson and Elmer each grabbed one of her hands. She hung there in space over the water, with the wheels of her skates scrabbling against the bank.
“Just leave her!” said Mick. He and Alejandro lined up at the beginning of the bridge again. “Come on, we’re starting the race. Last one across is a loser!”
Elmer dropped Arlette’s hand and jumped on his bike. Benson felt his arm stretching and stretching, trying to hold Arlette’s weight while her wheels slid and spun helplessly in the dirt.
“Benson, it’s now or never,” Alejandro shouted. “Ready, set – “
Benson said hurriedly, “Sorry, Arlette!” and let go. He got on his bike just as Alejandro said, “- go!” They raced off, over the bridge and down the track on the other side. Benson didn’t even look back, but he heard Arlette splash up to her waist in the muddy water, yelling, “I’ll never trust a boy again!”
The next day and the next day and the day after that it rained. It rained for a whole week without stopping. Most of the time, it didn’t just rain, it poured. Aunt Lillibet started to make dire predictions about floods. “It’s going to be Black July all over again,” she said.
Aunt Moss said, “It’s only a bit of rain, Lillibet. Even the back yard isn’t flooded.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It isn’t flooded yet! That’s what happened in Black July. The river and the dam filled up and up, then all of a sudden they overflowed and there was a flash flood.”
“What’s a flash flood?” Benson asked. “Too much lightning?”
“It’s when the flooding happens suddenly, like a wall of water out of nowhere,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That’s why all the animals were taken by surprise and why so many of them drowned.”
Benson’s mother was looking worried. “I think I might go down to the bridge and have a look at the water level in the creek, just to be on the safe side,” she said.
“Can I come too?” Benson said. “I haven’t been anywhere for a week.” So they went together. It wasn’t actually raining, and Benson thought it was a bit silly to be looking for a flood when it wasn’t even raining, but he was happy just to be outside.
Once they got to the creek, his mother looked even more worried. The water was running deep and fast, carrying lots of rubbish, sticks and broken branches with it. Benson had seen it like this before, and it was scary. His mother sniffed the air and said, “There’s more rain coming. If Aunt Lillibet’s right, this could be a disaster. I’ll go along the banks of the creek to warn the families living there, and tell them they should move to higher ground.”
Benson’s tummy was turning over. The clouds overhead were getting darker and heavier, and rain was beginning to fall again. His mother said, “Benson, go straight home, and tell Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss they may need to start getting ready for lots of animals who need shelter. Go the long way – don’t go over the bridge.” She set off running along the side of the creek, and was soon out of sight.
Benson set off quickly. He was nearly home when he saw Arlette, going the other way towards the creek. “Where are you going?” he said.
Arlette sniffed and said, “You made me lose my favourite hat in the creek. I’m going to get it back.”
“You can’t go down to the creek,” Benson said. “There may be a flood coming.”
Arlette just ignored him and kept going. He ran after her, trying to explain about Black July, but she wouldn’t listen. They got to the creek and she kept going onto the bridge.
Benson shouted, “Arlette, you’ve got to get off the bridge!”
Arlette stopped in the middle of the bridge with her hands on her hips. “I don’t believe anything you say,” she said. “It’s a perfectly good bridge. You just want to make me look silly again.” She put her nose in the air and stalked the rest of the way over. Then to Benson’s horror, she started to climb down the bank of the creek.
“Don’t go down there!” he shouted at her. “The flood could come any minute!”
“Huh! Floods don’t just come all at once,” she said. “You’re not fooling me. I’m going to find my hat.” She kept on climbing down.
“Arlette, please!” Benson said. “I’m not tricking you, there really might be a flash flood coming.”
Arlette looked up at him scornfully. “I don’t believe you!” she said.
Then they both heard a noise like a deep, thundering roaring from further up the creek. Benson felt a very bad feeling in his stomach.
“We have to get out of here,” he said urgently. “Come on!” He held his hand out to Arlette. She folded her arms and just stood there, refusing to listen. He said desperately, “Look, I’m sorry about dropping you in the water last week, but this is different. You could be drowned!”
She said stubbornly, “Why should I trust you?”
“You just have to!” Benson said. “Come on!”
She climbed up and went back across the bridge. The terrifying sound suddenly got much louder. Benson grabbed her hand and yelled, “Run!”
They both ran, as fast as a pair of young wombats can run. There was a huge, crashing, grinding sound behind them. They looked back over their shoulders, and saw a wall of water like a giant, tumbling, dirty wave, come crashing down the creek. It flooded up the banks of the creek and over the top of the bridge and tore half the planks away, sweeping them along with it.
Benson and Arlette kept on running, and didn’t stop until they were nearly home. Benson said, still panting, “We just made it in time! If you hadn’t listened to me…” He shivered to think about what might have happened.
Arlette said, “Maybe it’s okay to trust boys sometimes. Thanks, Benson.” Then she said, “But you still owe me a new hat!”
Once there was a young wombat who lived in a nice, roomy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother took him to the park. His friend Alejandro was there, playing with someone Benson hadn’t seen before. “Hi, Benson,” he said. “This is my cousin, Errol.”
“Hi, Errol,” said Benson. “Do you want to come and dig in the sandpit?”
Errol said, “I can’t. I’m not very good at digging. My arm got hurt in a bushfire.” Benson hadn’t noticed it before, but one of Errol’s arms was hanging down at his side.
Benson felt sorry for him. “I’ve got a friend who was hurt in a bushfire too,” he said.
Errol said in a soft, sad voice, “It was so terrible. My whole family was burnt up.”
“That’s awful!” Benson said. He felt really bad for Errol.
Errol said, “I tried to rescue them but a burning tree fell on me and now my arm will never work again. I’ve got no family left in the whole world.” A tear ran down his face and dripped off his nose.
Benson felt very sad for him. He wondered what he should say.
Just then Alejandro called, “Errol, do you want to go on the swing?”
Errol jumped up, not sad at all any more. “Sure,” he said. He jumped on the swing and started swinging higher and higher.
“Hey!” Benson called. “I thought your arm didn’t work!”
“It’s better now,” Errol said, swinging really high.
Benson felt confused. He went over to the sandpit to dig with Zali. Zali was happy to see him and little Zip said, “Huh huh,” and climbed into his lap and tried to pull his nose off.
After a while, Errol got off the swing and came over towards the sandpit. There was an old paddle-pop stick lying on the ground. “Look what I found!” he shouted. “A troglosaurus bone!”
“It’s not a bone, it’s a paddle-pop stick,” Benson said. Maybe it was Errol’s eyes that got hurt in the bushfire, not his arm.
“No, it’s a bone,” Errol said. “I know because my mother is a famous scientist and my father has the biggest collection of dinosaur bones in the world!”
Benson said, “I thought you said all your family was burnt up in a bushfire.”
“That was before,” Errol said. “They’re better now.”
Benson was so confused he didn’t know what to think. He went over to where Alejandro was pushing himself on the roundabout. “Does Errol have something wrong with his memory?” he asked him. “Did he get hit on the head in the bushfire?”
“What bushfire?” Alejandro said.
“He said all his family was burnt up in a bushfire,” Benson said.
“I’m his family,” Alejandro said. “Do I look like I’m all burnt up?”
“Why did Errol say that?” Benson said.
“I don’t know. I suppose he likes making things up,” Alejandro said.
Benson asked his mother about it when they got home. “I think Errol is the biggest liar I ever met,” he said.
His mother smiled. “He certainly has a very lively imagination,” she said.
Benson said, “What does that mean?”
His mother said, “You know how when you want to draw something, you imagine it in your head first? I think Errol gets mixed up between what he imagines and what is real.”
“Like he can’t tell if something really happened, or if it’s something he made up?” Benson said.
“More like when he hears a story, he imagines it happened to him, and it’s so exciting, he thinks about it as if it really did happen. Then he hears another story, and he forgets about the first story and he gets caught up in the new one instead,” his mother said. “Some people have very powerful imaginations, so powerful that they take over.”
Benson imagined his imagination like a giant monster taking all his pencils and paints and drawing things without him. He shook his head. That could never happen.
His mother said, “You just have to remember that when Errol tells you something, it may be his imagination talking.”
Benson said, “Pascoe is a storyteller, but she’s not like that. She never pretends it happened to her.”
His mother said, “No, Pascoe is a story-teller and a story-keeper. She remembers stories and tells them. She never gets mixed up between what is real and what isn’t.”
Benson said, “Do you know when I’m telling a story, or when I’m telling the truth?”
“Every single time,” his mother said, with a smile.
Naming No Names
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.
One morning after breakfast, Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ve been invited to a naming party.”
“What’s that?” Benson asked. He was drawing a cockatoo but the ears weren’t coming out right.
“Remember my second-cousin, Bingo?” she said.
“Oh, yes!” said Aunt Moss. “I remember when Bingo got married to Bongo. It was such a beautiful wedding!” she sighed. Weddings always made Aunt Moss sigh.
“And now they’ve had a baby?” Benson’s mother asked.
“Yes, and they’d like the whole family to help name the baby,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“How lovely!” Aunt Moss said. “Everyone chooses such interesting names for babies nowadays, like ‘Goldie’, and ‘Angora’, and ‘Masala’. Such pretty names!”
“Is it a baby girl?” Benson asked.
“They’re not saying,” said Aunt Lillibet. “They don’t want to give the baby a name that sounds like a girl’s name, or a boy’s name, in case the baby may not like it when they’re older,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Why don’t people give their children proper names any more?”
“What’s a proper name?” asked Benson. He had figured out the ears, but the tail was giving him problems. He couldn’t remember which way the stripes should go.
“Proper names like we had when we were growing up, like George and Herbert and Cuddles,” said Aunt Lillibet.
Aunt Moss said, “Oh, Lillibet, nobody calls their children old-fashioned names like that any more!”
“How do people know what to call their babies?” Benson asked. He was very carefully drawing the cockatoo’s eyelashes.
“Nowadays they just make something up, like Blob or Sneeze,” said Aunt Lillibet.
Benson’s mother said, “I don’t think so, Lillibet. Sometimes they name them after someone else in the family. I remember when Benson was born, you wanted to name him after Uncle Lionel.”
“Lionel!” said Benson. He could NOT imagine himself as a Lionel. He asked his mother, “Why did you call me Benson?” He was using the side of his pencil to give the cockatoo long, wavy fur.
She said, “I thought of a few names I liked, and then you were born and I looked at you and Benson was the only name I could possibly call you. You were just…. Benson!”
Benson liked that idea very much.
“That’s not always such a good idea,” Aunt Moss said. “Remember when Elton was born, and his mother thought he looked exactly like a cute little piglet so she called him Little Oink.”
“Oink?” said Benson. “Uncle Elton’s real name is Oink?” He dropped all his pencils and rolled under the table laughing. “Oink! Oink, oink!”
“That’s what everyone said,” Aunt Lillibet said. “He changed it as soon as he was old enough.”
“Why did he choose Elton?” Benson asked. “Was it the name of someone famous?”
“No, I think it was his favourite fingernail-polish colour, Elton Pink,” his mother said.
“Arlette changed her own name, too,” Benson said, picking up his pencils. “It used to be Arnette, but she liked the curly loop in the ‘L’, so she changed it.”
“You changed your name too, didn’t you, Lillibet?” Aunt Moss said. “Your real name is – “
“That’s enough, thank you, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I didn’t change my name, I just decided to use my middle name instead. That’s perfectly all right.”
“What was your first name, Aunt Lillibet?” Benson asked.
“That’s best left in the past,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It didn’t suit me, and it was difficult for people to spell. No-one remembers it now, anyway.”
“Of course, Lillibet is a lovely name,” Aunt Moss said, “but I still like – “
“Moss! If you say one more word…!” Aunt Lillibet said threateningly.
“All right, Lillibet.” Aunt Moss closed her lips and locked them with her finger.
Benson’s mother helped him pick up his pencils. “What were you drawing?” she said.
“It’s a cockatoo in a zebra onesie,” he said.
“Does he have a name?” she asked.
Benson thought. “I think I’ll call him Louise,” he said.
The baby-naming party was more fun than Benson thought it would be, for something that was all about babies. All the family came, and everyone had their own ideas about what to name the baby.
Bongo said, “When the baby was born, we thought we would wait and let the baby choose their own name, but that didn’t work out too well.”
“Everyone kept calling the baby things like ‘Cutie-pie’ and ‘Sweetie’, and we didn’t want the baby to end up with a name like that,” Bingo said, with a shudder. “So we decided to hold a naming party and ask everyone to help.”
Uncle Elton said “Why don’t you call the baby after yourselves? Go-Go? Or Bing-Bong?”
Elmer started to giggle. “Like a door-bell!”
Bongo said, “We want the baby’s name to be special, not just a name like other people give their babies.”
Bingo said, “So we’ve made a list, and we’d like to hear what you think. The first name on the list is ‘Mood.'”
“Moo-ed,” said Benson, long and low. “Like a baby calf. Moooo-ed.”
Elmer started giggling again. Bingo crossed ‘Mood’ off the list. “The next name we thought of is ‘JJ’.”
“How do you spell that?” asked Aunt Lillibet. Bongo crossed it off the list.
“What about Jon?” Bongo asked.
“I’ve got an uncle called Jon,” two people said, and someone else said, “I knew a horse called Jonnie.” Bingo crossed ‘Jon’ off the list.
“That only leaves one name on the list,” Bongo said. “Actually it was our favourite anyway.” Bingo and Bongo looked at each other and smiled. “So we’re going to name our new baby, ‘Wombat.'”
Nobody knew quite what to say. Aunt Moss looked puzzled, and Aunt Lillibet looked disgruntled. Uncle Elmer said, “Is that even a name?”
Bongo held up the baby, who blinked and looked back at all the family. Benson went up and touched his nose against the baby’s nose. “Hello, little Batty! It’s nice to meet you.”
Everyone smiled and started talking at once. “Batty, that’s a cute name! Looks just like a Batty to me. Welcome to the family, Batty!”
Benson on the Train
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a happy, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson and his mother were going to visit his mother’s friend, Dellie, who lived by a big lake. It was a long, long way so they were going to catch a train. They got up very early and walked a long way to the train station. It was so early that there was nobody else there. They waited on the platform until a big train came hissing up to the platform.
The doors opened with a whishing noise, and Benson and his mother stepped in, very carefully because there was a bit of a gap between the train and the edge of the platform and they didn’t want to fall down into it. The doors whished shut behind them and the train set off.
Inside the train, it was bright and clean. There was hardly anyone else in the carriage at all, just a man in a bright orange vest who was asleep in the corner. Benson’s mother thought that was a very good idea, so they found a cosy spot under the seat at the very end of the carriage and snuggled up and went to sleep.
When Benson woke up a while later, there were a lot more people on the train. They were all being very quiet, looking at their phones. Every now and then the train stopped at another station, and one or two people got off and two or three got on and sat down and started looking at their phones.
After a while, someone got up and came down to Benson’s end of the carriage, where there was a door that Benson hadn’t noticed before. She pressed a green button on the door, and it opened. Benson wondered what was on the other side, so he got up and followed her through the door. There was another door, exactly the same, and they both went through that one too. Then both the doors shut with a solid thunk.
Benson was in another carriage exactly the same as the other one, but much more noisy. A mother and a father and a boy were sitting on the seat near the door. The mother and the father were drinking coffee out of plastic cups and the boy was yelling that he wanted a drink. His mother gave him a can of something, and the boy stopped yelling to drink it, but then he dropped it. Benson ducked under the seat so the can didn’t hit him on the head. The can rolled back and forth on the floor, spilling sugary drink everywhere.
The boy stood on the seat and cried because he had dropped his drink, so the mother gave him a biscuit. The boy sat down, kicking the seat while he ate the biscuit. Biscuit crumbs showered down on Benson’s head and fell into his ears. He decided he’d go back to the nice, quiet carriage where his mother was. Then he realised he had a problem. The green button was too high for him to reach. How was he going to get the doors to open?
Above his head, the boy was standing on the seat looking out of the window, eating a packet of chips. Benson was thinking he seemed to be a very hungry child and then the chip packet, still half full of chips, fell on his head. He brushed chips off his head and out of his ears, and then he thought he’d better squash back further under the seat in case anything else was going to fall on him. It was a good thing he did, because a minute later nearly a whole apple with just one bite taken out of it dropped on the floor right where Benson’s nose had been.
The apple rolled around on the floor. Benson was starting to feel hungry himself, and the apple, even with a bite taken out of it, looked delicious. It looked like nobody wanted it, so he reached out to catch it as it rolled past. Just then the train stopped and a crowd of people piled into the carriage. Two ladies with shoes with long, pointy heels stepped dangerously near Benson’s nose. He pulled his nose and his hands back under the seat quickly, so they didn’t accidentally get stepped on.
The ladies with the pointy heels started to sit down, but when they felt their nice shoes sticking to the floor where the boy had spilled his drink, and saw all the rubbish on the floor, they got up again and went to another part of the carriage.
Benson peeped out. The mother and father were looking at their phones and the boy was pestering them for some chocolate. The mother gave him a chocolate bar out of her bag, without even looking up from her phone. The boy peeled the wrapping off it and dropped it on the floor. The apple rolled back towards Benson. He waited until it was nearly within his reach and then he made a grab for it. Clopp! A nearly-empty coffee cup hit him on the head.
The mother said to the father, “You shouldn’t just drop your cup on the floor like that.” Benson silently agreed, rubbing his head.
The father said, “Why not? The floor’s already filthy. They keep these trains in a disgusting state. Anyway, we’re getting off here.” The train stopped. The mother brushed some crumbs off the boy onto the floor and dropped her own coffee cup and they all got out.
When the train started again, Benson looked around at the rubbish everywhere. Even the apple was covered in bits of dirt from rolling around the floor so much. It looked disgusting. Someone should do something, Benson said to himself. There was too much to pick up, so he spread his arms out like a small bulldozer and gathered it all up. Then he pushed it in front of him towards the door, so that when the train arrived at the next station and the doors opened, he could push it out.
He waited by the door, and the train stopped. As soon as the doors opened, he gave a big push and all the rubbish fell out. Then the train jerked suddenly. Benson felt himself falling into the gap between the train and the platform. He could see a dark space, and giant, metal train wheels.
Luckily for him, his tummy and his feet were glued to the sticky floor. Instead of falling, he stopped halfway, with his head out of the doors and the rest of him inside the train. There was a sharp hiss and the doors started to close. Benson pulled his head in like a snail backing into its shell, just in time before the doors shut. He sat there, panting and feeling himself all over to make sure that all of him was safely inside the train.
Then he heard a shriek. Two women were standing behind him in the carriage. They screamed and pointed at him. “Euyywwwwhhh! A dirty, disgusting wombat!” They ran to the connecting door and pressed the green button. The door to the next carriage opened and they ran through.
Benson wasn’t going to miss this chance. He scampered through as fast as his legs would carry him. He made it through just as the door whished shut behind him. “It’s a good thing wombats don’t have tails,” he said to himself.
His mother was still curled up in the corner under the seat. She said sleepily, “Where have you been?” She sniffed. “You smell like… biscuits, and chips, and… coffee!”
“Tell me about it,” Benson sighed. He snuggled up against her and closed his eyes.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were playing cricket in the back yard with Uncle Elton and cousin Elmer and Aunt Moss’s friend, Shelley, one sunny afternoon. Aunt Moss hit a beautiful straight drive off one of Aunt Lillibet’s googlies. It went straight over Uncle Elton’s head, over the compost heap and landed just inside the fence.
“Four,” said Benson, who was being the umpire instead of Uncle Elton, because Uncle Elton had a sore eye from when he had gotten a bit too close to the stumps when Elmer was batting.
“What are you talking about?” yelled Aunt Lillibet. “That was clearly leg before wicket! A blind horse in a snow-storm could see that! She’s out, lbw!”
“Four,” Benson repeated calmly. Aunt Lillibet always said she got someone out, every time she bowled, even when the ball landed in the asparagus patch on the other side of the yard, or when the ball slipped out of her fingers and flew backwards straight over Uncle Elton’s head and knocked his hat off.
Aunt Moss said, “Oh dear! There’s a big hole in my leg-warmer. I must have over-reached myself.”
Everyone looked at Aunt Moss’s leg-warmers. The right one had a big split from top to bottom. She took it off and showed it to Shelley. Shelley said, “I think it’s beyond repairing, Moss dear. But you know, if you cut it in half and sewed the edges together, you could make two sweet little possum pouches for homeless baby possums.”
“What a good idea!” Aunt Moss said. “But what about the left one? What can I do with just one leg-warmer? It would be such a shame to waste it.”
“It would make a very nice scarf,” Uncle Elton suggested.
“Do you think so?” said Aunt Moss. She took it off and wrapped it around her neck. Aunt Lillibet picked up the other one, the one with the hole in it. She took a needle and some bright green thread out of her pocket.
“It looks very nice,” said Uncle Elmer. “It may be just a little bit too short, and a little bit too thick, but it’s lovely.”
“It’s very warm,” Aunt Moss said. “But I already have a very nice scarf. What would I do with that?”
Shelley said, “You can sew a whole lot of scarves together and make a lovely warm quilt for your bed.”
“Oh, yes!” said Aunt Moss.
“She already has a beautiful quilt on her bed,” Aunt Lillibet said, sewing away industriously.
“You can do a lot of things with an old quilt,” Uncle Elton said.
“It could be a horse blanket!” Elmer said.
Aunt Moss looked unhappy. Nanna had made her quilt for her, and she didn’t like the idea of giving it to a horse. Benson was thinking of a horse getting into bed, with horse sheets, and a horse pillow.
“Or you could make a parachute,” Uncle Elton said, “or you could join a whole lot of quilts together and make a hot air balloon!”
“Cool!” said Elmer. “We could all go for rides.”
Benson started imagining floating up into the sky in a giant balloon tied to a bed with a horse in it.
“How lovely!” Aunt Moss said, her eyes shining.
“It could get very cold up there,” Aunt Lillibet said. She cut off the end of the thread and put her scissors and the needle back into her pocket.
“You’d probably need a blanket,” Elmer said.
“And a warm scarf,” Uncle Elton agreed.
“You’d probably need some leg-warmers,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Here you are.” She held out Aunt Moss’s leg-warmer, all nicely sewn up.
“Oh, you’ve fixed it!” Aunt Moss said.
The balloon in Benson’s imagination popped and the bed with the horse in it sank slowly to the ground.
Shelley said, “You’ve done a beautiful job darning it, Lillibet. It’s funny the way the stitching is in the shape of an ‘L’. I didn’t notice it before.”
“It must be an ‘L’ for ‘left’,” said Uncle Elton.
“But it’s my right leg-warmer,” Aunt Moss said. “Unless I wear it on the other leg.”
“You wouldn’t want two leg-warmers on one leg,” Benson said. “What if you turned it inside out? It wouldn’t look like an ‘L’ then, would it?”
Everyone turned their heads on one side, trying to imagine an inside out ‘L’.
“It’s not an ‘L’ for ‘left’,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You can wear it on your right leg if you want to, Moss.”
Aunt Moss put the leg-warmer on her right leg, then she unwound the other leg-warmer from around her neck and put it on her left leg. She beamed at Aunt Lillibet. “Thank you, Lillibet. My legs feel toasty and warm again,” she said. “It must be an ‘L’ for ‘lovely’.”
“Whose turn is it to bat?” asked Elmer, who was getting impatient.
“Aunt Moss is still batting,” Benson said.
“No, I just got her out lbw,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I don’t think so, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss.
“Are you sure, Moss?” Aunt Lillibet said. She pointed to Aunt Moss’s leg-warmer. On the front there was a long ‘L’, and when she turned around, on the back was a ‘B’ and a ‘W’.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet had been in bed with a bad cold for a week and she was very grumpy. She had read all her gardening books twice. She had knitted two pairs of socks and one-and-a-half scarves, and she had finished three baby jackets that Aunt Moss had started for baby Rosie and stopped because the pattern was too hard or the neck was too tight or she had lost one of her needles halfway through the last sleeve. She was so bored she could scream.
“Arghhhh!” she screamed. “This is the most boring wombat hole in the universe!”
Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, don’t get so upset! I’m sure it’s bad for you. Would you like another cup of sage tea?”
“No!” Aunt Lillibet said very loudly. “I’ve had so much sage tea, my feet are turning green! And if you make me one more horseradish and lemon myrtle sandwich, I’ll throw it at you!”
“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Moss,” said Benson, who was lying on the floor, comfortably out of reach, drawing a crocodile circus. “Aunt Lillibet is just in a mood.”
“I am not in a mood,” Aunt Lillibet said in a very scary voice. “I am sick and tired of being sick, and tired,” she said.
Benson’s mother said, “Aunt Lillibet, I think it might do you good to go for a little walk, out in the fresh air and sunshine.”
Aunt Moss said, “Oh, yes! A little nature-bathing is sure to make you feel better.”
Aunt Lillibet said dangerously, “Moss, a walk in the bush is a walk in the bush, not a nature bath or a sun shower or a fresh-air fun fair. I’m not going to take my clothes off and swim in a puddle!”
“No, of course not, Lillibet,” Aunt Moss said. “But don’t you remember Shelley saying how good it is for you to spend time taking in the beauty of nature and getting in touch with your inner naturist?”
Benson’s mother said quickly, before Aunt Lillibet could blow her top, “Benson, why don’t you go for a walk with Aunt Lillibet? That way she’ll have someone to chat to, and if she gets tired, you can help her on the walk home.”
Benson didn’t want to go for a walk, especially not with a grumpy, fire-breathing Aunt Lillibet. He wanted to keep drawing crocodiles juggling and crocodile clowns with red noses, and crocodiles on trapezes, but his mother had a look on her face that said, If you take Aunt Lillibet for a walk, there’ll be muffins or possibly a carrot cake when you get home.
“Oh, all right,” he said, getting up slowly. His mother raised an eyebrow at him, and he changed his expression into a cheery smile and said, “I’d love to go with you, Aunt Lillibet.”
So he and Aunt Lillibet set off. It had been raining earlier but now it was nice and sunny. Aunt Lillibet lifted her face up to the sun and felt better straight away. Benson lifted his face and tripped over a big tree-root.
Aunt Lillibet laughed and helped him up again. Benson brushed off the dirt and they kept going. Aunt Lillibet breathed in the fresh air and felt so much better that she started to smile. Benson breathed in, and snuffed a bug right up his nose. He snorted and sneezed until it came out again, while Aunt Lillibet fell over herself laughing.
A bit further down the track there was a banksia covered in golden yellow flowers. Aunt Lillibet exclaimed, “Aren’t these flowers beautiful?” A bee came buzzing out of the bush towards Benson. He backed away quickly, trying to gently whoosh the bee away without making it angry. He slipped on some moss on the track behind him and fell backwards into a huge pile of wet, slimy leaves.
Aunt Lillibet laughed so much she had to grab onto a branch and sit down. Benson tried to get up, but he slipped over again on the leaves. When he sat up, he had leaves stuck to his head and coming out of his ears, and leaf slime all down his back. He looked at himself and he started to laugh too. He threw handfuls of leaves up into the air and let them rain down on him, and he rolled over and over in them. He burrowed deep into the pile, smelling the dank, earthy smell, then he lay down on top of the soft pile of leaves and looked at the sky.
After a while, he said, “I think it’s time to go home, Aunt Lillibet.”
“Oh, all right,” Aunt Lillibet said. She was really feeling much better. They went home, with Benson dripping leaves and dirt and slime every step of the way.
“Oh dear, Benson, what happened to you?” Aunt Moss said, when they got back.
“He’s been nature-bathing, can’t you tell?” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I think he needs a proper bath,” Benson’s mother said. “And then there’ll be muffins AND carrot cake!”
Benson smiled happily and went off to have his bath.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother made some particularly good banana and carrot muffins. They smelled so good, warm and golden, that Benson couldn’t wait to eat them. But his mother said, “These are too good to keep to ourselves. Let’s take them over to Nanna’s and share them.”
Benson was disappointed. Warm muffins straight from the oven were nearly his favourite thing, but then visiting Nanna was even more favourite, so he said, “Okay,” and off they went.
His mother let him carry the muffins, wrapped in a clean tea-towel, so he could breathe in their wonderful muffiny smell as they walked along. But as they walked under a big gum tree, a nestful of wasps noticed the lovely smell too, and came down to investigate.
Benson was afraid of wasps. One had stung him on the nose once and he still remembered how much it hurt. When he saw the wasps, his heart jumped and he started to run. Then he tripped and fell over flat on his tummy, with the muffins underneath him.
His mother managed to shoo the wasps away, and she helped Benson up. His leg was bleeding, and the muffins were completely squashed. Benson started to cry. He didn’t know which was worse, his hurt leg or the ruined muffins.
“Never mind,” said his mother. “Nanna will fix everything.”
Nanna was overjoyed to see them, as she always was. “Benson, what’s the matter?” she said.
He showed her his leg, and the squashed pile of muffins. Nanna smiled. “Don’t worry. We can put one of my special band-aids on it,” she said. She washed his leg, then put a band-aid with a bright, smiley face on it.
“There!” she said. “Now those muffins: they’ll be perfect for making a wonderful trifle. All we have to do is make some jelly and whip some cream.”
Benson helped Nanna make mulberry jelly and they sat down to wait for it to set and turn into jelly. Benson said, “Nanna, how come you’re always so happy? Even when the most beautiful muffins aren’t muffins any more?”
Nanna smiled. “I’ll tell you a story,” she said. “A long time ago, I had a very special friend named Cora. Everyone loved her. She was so full of joy, it made you happy just to be with her. I used to wonder what it was that made her so happy all the time.
“One day, she said to me, ‘My darling daughter, Maribelle, has just had a new baby. Would you like to come and see him with me?’ I said, ‘But Cora, it looks like it’s going to rain.’
“Cora said, ‘What’s a bit of rain? We can wear our gumboots and take an umbrella.’ So we did. We’d only just set out when it started to rain. Not just rain, it poured down. I wanted to turn around and go back, but Cora said, ‘It’s only a bit of rain. It will be wonderful for the garden.’ So we kept going.
“Then Cora stepped in a big puddle of mud. Her boot got stuck so her foot came right out of it, and she slipped over and got covered in mud.
“I said, ‘We’ll have to go back now,’ but Cora said, ‘It’s only a splash of mud. Don’t you love the feel of mud when it squishes between your toes?’ Then she smiled and started stamping in all the puddles. ‘It can’t get any worse, so I might as well enjoy myself,’ she said.
“But then it did get worse. A big gust of wind blew our umbrella inside out and snapped the handle off. The rain poured down on us. ‘Oh no, we’ll be soaked!’ I said. Cora said, ‘Lovely!’ and lifted her face up to the rain. ‘It will wash all the mud off.’
“We kept on going, getting wetter all the time. I was cold and miserable, but Cora was still happy and excited. Then we finally got to Maribelle’s house, and I found out why.
“Maribelle was so happy to see Cora that she didn’t notice we were both wet and muddy. She and Cora hugged and talked and laughed and took turns holding the baby and kissing him and telling each other how big and strong and beautiful he was. And that’s when I realised what it was that made Cora so happy. It was love.”
Benson said, “Is that all? Love?”
Nanna smiled and gathered him up onto her lap and kissed him. “Yes, Benson, just love. Ordinary, everyday love.” Then she said, “I think that jelly should be set by now, don’t you?”
They spread the squashed muffins in the bottom of a bowl and tipped the jelly on top, then they spread cream all over everything. Nanna got them a big spoon each and they tried it. It was wonderful.
“I think this is even better than just muffins,” Benson’s mother said.
Nanna said, “I think you’re right. It really is a great trifle.”
Benson just nodded because he had his mouth full. While he was eating, he thought about things. He said, “Nanna, is it because you love me that you’re happy all the time?”
“It absolutely is,” Nanna said. She kissed him on the nose and smiled at him.
Benson looked down at his smiley band-aid and he smiled back.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson and his mother went to the zoo. They saw lots of strange animals, antelopes and lions, and even some giraffes. They stared at crocodiles in ponds, and shivered at exotic snakes in glass boxes. Then they came to a space with high wooden fences. Inside was a mob of kangaroos.
Benson said to a sleepy, red kangaroo that was next to the fence, “Hey, what are you doing in the zoo?”
The sleepy kangaroo opened one eye. He said, “What do you mean? We live here.” He shut his eye again.
Benson said, “Zoos are for strange animals. Unusual animals. Animals you can’t find anywhere else. Kangaroos aren’t strange or unusual. They’re ordinary.”
The kangaroo opened both eyes. “Ordinary? What do you mean?”
Benson said, “I’ve seen hundreds of kangaroos in the bush, leaping and jumping around, and eating the grass.”
A big grey kangaroo came over to listen. “What’s leaping?” he asked.
Benson’s mother said, “Show them, Benson.”
Benson said, “You know, like this.” He gave the biggest leap he could, but because he was a wombat, it came out more like a small hiccup.
The grey kangaroo laughed. “You mean like this?” He jumped up like Benson had, but because he was a kangaroo, it came out like a high, graceful bound.
“Yes, like that,” Benson said, “only bigger.”
“Bigger?” the kangaroo said.
Another kangaroo came over to see what was going on. “Here, let me try,” she said . She pushed off with her tail and sailed through the air, over the top of the red kangaroo. “Wow!” she said, “that was great!” She bounded across the small yard and bounded back again in two long leaps. All the other kangaroos sat up, and started coming over.
Benson said, “That’s exactly what bush kangaroos do. They leap and bound all day long, when they’re not eating the grass or drinking from the water-hole.”
The grey kangaroo said, “I want to be an ordinary kangaroo! How do I find the bush where they live?”
“It’s just over the fence,” Benson’s mother said.
The red kangaroo, who was still lying on the ground, said, “Just wait a minute. What’s wrong with right here, on this side of the fence? It’s comfortable, there’s plenty of shade, and we get food and water whenever we need it. We get to lie around all day.”
The grey kangaroo shook his head. “Watch this,” he said. He bounded off, and zigzagged from fence to fence and back again. “These fences are in the way. I can’t jump as far as I want to, or as high.”
“These fences protect us from wild animals,” the red kangaroo said.
“We ARE wild animals,” said the grey kangaroo. The other kangaroos were all trying out little jumps and hops, hopping back and forth and bumping into each other.
“Hey, this is great!” they said to each other. “Watch what I can do!”
The grey kangaroo said to Benson’s mother, “How do we get to this bush you were talking about, when all these fences are in the way?”
“Well, you are kangaroos,” she pointed out.
The big grey kangaroo frowned, and then he smiled. “Out of the way, everyone,” he said. He took a flying leap and sailed right over the fence.
“Hey, where did he go?” the other kangaroos said, then, “Wait for me! I’m coming too!” and “Too easy!” One by one they jumped over the fence and disappeared.
The sleepy red kangaroo still lay on the ground, with his eyes shut.
Benson’s mother said, “Your friends have all gone. Aren’t you going too?”
The red kangaroo said, with his eyes shut, “They’ll be back. As soon as they find out that they have to get their own grass and find their own water, they’ll be jumping back over that fence faster than they left.”
Benson waited. It was very quiet. Then the red kangaroo opened his eye again. “Although it would be nice to see those hills and gullies, even just once. But I’m too old and tired to jump over the fence.”
Benson and his mother looked at each other. Then Benson had an idea. “I’ve got an idea,” he said. He got a stick and some mud, and crossed out ‘Kangaroos’ on the sign at the front of the enclosure, and wrote, ‘Common Wombats’. Then they dug a tunnel under the fence, and came up inside the enclosure. They started walking around, eating the grass.
Before long, the zoo-keepers came past. They looked at the sign, and they looked at Benson and his mother inside the enclosure, and they nodded approvingly. Then one of them frowned. “What’s that old red kangaroo doing in the wombat enclosure?” she said.
She opened the gate and said, “Come on, out you go,” and shooed the kangaroo out. The kangaroo hopped a little way, and then bounded off up the hill where his friends had gone.
Benson and his mother waited until the zoo-keepers had gone, then they went back out through the tunnel under the fence, and went home. Before they left, they rubbed out ‘Common Wombats’ on the sign, and wrote ‘Rare Disappearing Wombats. Do Not Disturb.’
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.
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss went to the fruit shop, and Benson went with them. “First of all we need a nice, ripe avocado,” Aunt Lillibet said. There were stacks and piles of fruit and vegetables everywhere in the shop. Aunt Lillibet found a pyramid of shiny green avocados and gently squeezed one to see if it was ripe.
Mr Pretty, who worked in the shop, came over and said, “No handling the produce, please.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “How can I tell if the avocado is ripe if I don’t squeeze it?”
Mr Pretty said firmly, “No handling, please. All fruit that is handled must be paid for.” He noticed Benson leaning close to the rows of oranges, breathing in their lovely orangey smell. “No touching, young man!” he called loudly.
Benson stood back. “I wasn’t touching,” he said.
“And no smelling, either,” Mr Pretty said. “Move away from the fruit, please!”
Aunt Lillibet didn’t want to buy an avocado that was too hard, or too soft. “I’ll have some celery instead, please,” she said.
Mr Pretty gave her a bunch of celery. “There you are,” he said.
“I only want half a bunch, thank you,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“We don’t have any half-bunches,” Mr Pretty said.
Aunt Lillibet grasped the bunch of celery and snapped it in half. “You do now,” she said. She put the half-bunch of celery in her basket. Mr Pretty’s mouth dropped open.
“And we would like some eggs, please,” Aunt Lillibet said. She moved over to the shelf where there were boxes and boxes of eggs. There were boxes of small eggs, and boxes of medium-sized eggs, and boxes of large eggs.
Aunt Moss said, “Benson usually has a large egg for his breakfast, but I only want a small one. But we need medium-sized ones to make a cake.”
Mr Pretty said, “Then you’ll need three boxes of eggs.”
“But that’s too many eggs!” Aunt Moss said. “Three whole boxes!”
Mr Pretty said, “You can’t buy eggs one at a time, you know. You have to buy a whole box.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ll see about that.” She picked up a box that was marked ‘X-Large Eggs’ and took some out. She put in some small eggs, and some medium eggs from other boxes. “There. One box of eggs.”
“You can’t do that!” Mr Pretty said.
“I have done it,” Aunt Lillibet said. She plucked the pen out of Mr Pretty’s pocket and crossed out ‘X-Large’. Mr Pretty tried to grab his pen back. They tussled for a minute, then Mr Pretty’s elbow bumped a big stack of rockmelons. They rolled everywhere, and unbalanced a wall of watermelons that Mr Pretty had spent the whole morning stacking up. The watermelons thundered down like a green avalanche, tumbling across the floor, heading straight for Benson.
Benson backed away but the largest watermelon hit him right in his middle. He fell over backwards, into a huge crate of pineapples.
Rough, scaly pineapples scratched him, and poked sharp, spiky leaves into all his soft parts. “Ow!” he said. “Ow – help – ow!”
Aunt Moss said, “Benson! Are you all right?”
Mr Pretty was furious. “Would you kindly remove that young wombat from my pineapples?” he said to Aunt Lillibet.
Aunt Lillibet said, “If Benson is hurt, I will hold you completely responsible! What sort of shop do you call this? I should report you for unsafe displaying of fruit!”
“That young wombat is completely out of control,” shouted Mr Pretty. “Coming in here, interfering with the displays, and now playing with the pineapples!”
“Playing?” yelled Aunt Lillibet. “Your pineapples could cause him a serious injury! First you assault him with watermelons, and now he’s trapped in a crate of dangerous fruit!”
They all looked down at Benson in the middle of a sea of pineapples. He was lying very still, because whenever he tried to move, another pineapple spike poked him. There was a tiny scratch on his ear already.
“He’s bleeding!” Aunt Moss screamed.
“There, I told you!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Those pineapples are a danger to customers!”
“If that young vandal gets blood on my pineapples, I’ll never be able to sell them,” Mr Pretty said. “You’ll have to pay for all of them.”
“Pay for them?” Aunt Lillibet bellowed. “You’ll be the one paying, for medical treatment and for psychological damage! He may never be able to look at a piece of fruit again!”
“Could someone help me out?” Benson asked quietly.
Everyone stopped yelling. “How are we ever going to get him out?” Aunt Moss said. “If we try to move one pineapple, the rest will fall on him. Oh, poor Benson!”
“There’s only one thing to do,” Mr Pretty said. “We’ll have to take the sides of the crate off.”
He took hold of one side of the crate and Aunt Lillibet got the other one and they both pulled. The sides came off the crate, and pineapples rolled everywhere. Benson lay on the floor. “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” he said, but he wasn’t really hurt. He pulled a pineapple spike out of his shoe, and rubbed his nose carefully.
“Benson, are you all right?” Aunt Moss said, checking him all over.
“I think so,” Benson said.
“All my pineapples!” Mr Pretty moaned. “Bruised and battered, every single one!”
Aunt Lillibet was looking at the pile of pineapples consideringly. “Have you got any jars?” she asked.
“Jars?” said Mr Pretty, looking at Aunt Lillibet as if she must have gone crazy.
“Moss, don’t you have a recipe for pineapple jam?” she asked.
“Oh, yes!” Aunt Moss said. “And pineapple relish, and I believe you can make a very tasty chutney with pineapple skins.”
It was a lot of work, peeling and chopping so many pineapples, not to mention the cooking and boiling and stirring, but in the end they had jars and jars of shining, golden jam and delicious relish. Benson made labels for them all, with a picture of a wombat juggling pineapples on the front.
Mr Pretty lined them up on his shelves, and everyone who came into the shop wanted to buy some. He said it was because of his excellent pineapples, but Aunt Lillibet said it was because the jam was so good. But Benson thought it was really because of the cute labels.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet went to see Uncle Elton, and Benson went with her, to play with his cousin, Elmer. Uncle Elton was fixing the rake that Aunt Lillibet had broken when she accidentally raked a rock hidden inside a pile of leaves.
“I’ve fixed your rake,” Uncle Elton said, “and I’ve made a few modifications.”
“That means he’s added some things to make it better,” Elmer told Benson.
“I’ve put on a new handle, twice as long as the old one,” Elton said excitedly. He always got excited about inventing things and having great ideas. “Now you can reach up into the tree and rake the leaves even before they fall!”
“I don’t want to rake the leaves that haven’t fallen down,” Aunt Lillibet said, “only the ones that are making a mess on the ground.” She took the rake and tried it out. “It’s much too long, and much too heavy,” she said.
“I can fix that,” Uncle Elton said. He took his saw and zazzed off the handle so it was hardly as long as Aunt Lillibet’s arm. “There! Much lighter and easier to use!”
“Now it’s too short! I have to bend over to reach the ground!” Lillibet said. “Really, Elton, this is useless. You’ll have to put a new handle on it.”
While Uncle Elton put a new handle on the rake, Benson and Elmer played knights and dragons with the old bits of handle. By the time he was finished, it was lunch-time and Benson was getting hungry.
“Would you like to stay for lunch?” Elton said. “It’s nothing special, just a light, fresh salad.”
Uncle Elton like to cook, but he also liked to try out new ideas, and when he tried out new ideas to eat, you had to watch out. Aunt Lillibet thought a fresh salad should be pretty safe. “Yes, we’d love to,” she said.
They all washed their hands and set the table while Elton got the salad ready.
Benson was very hungry, and the salad looked delicious. He started eating straight away. Aunt Lillibet was a bit more careful. “What’s in it?” she asked.
“Mostly lettuce and tomatoes,” Elton said, “and some chopped broccoli. And a little bit of parsley.”
“Anything else?” Lillibet asked.
“No, except for a few slices of avocado. And a sprinkling of fennel seeds,” he said.
“And that’s all?” Lillibet said.
“Yes, that’s all,” Elton said.
“Nothing else at all?” Lillibet said, still peering at the salad.
“Absolutely nothing else,” Elton said. “Except the weevils.”
Benson already had his mouth full of salad. He stopped chewing suddenly.
“Did you say weevils?” Aunt Lillibet said.
“For added protein,” Elton said happily. “They’re perfectly fresh.”
Aunt Lillibet looked closely at the salad bowl. “So fresh they’re still moving,” she said. She put her fork down.
Benson looked at his plate. Now that he looked, he could see little white weevils squirming around among the leaves. Then he saw that one of the weevils was only half a weevil. That could only mean one thing. His stomach turned over.
He put his hand over his mouth. He said, “I think I’m going to be…”
“Don’t speak with your mouth full, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said.
He went to get up and rush to the bathroom, but Aunt Lillibet pushed him down again. “We’re still in the middle of eating lunch, Benson,” she said.
Benson couldn’t help himself. The salad in his insides came rushing back up again. He vomited everywhere.
“Benson!” Aunt Lillibet screeched. She was so embarrassed she didn’t know where to look. “I’m so sorry, Elton. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. Such disgusting behaviour!” She took Benson’s hand, the one with the least amount of vomit on it, and took him home at once.
When Benson’s mother saw him covered in vomit and smelling like a walking compost heap, she said, “What happened?”
“Benson behaved in the most appalling way at Elton’s!” Aunt Lillibet said. “He vomited all over everyone and everything. I’ll never be able to look Elton in the face again! I’m so embarrassed! I was mortified!”
Benson’s mother put him in the bath and listened while he told her the whole story. He said, “I saw the half of the weevil and I knew I must have eaten the other half, and I could kind of feel it worming around inside me, and I couldn’t help it, it just all came vomiting up.”
His mother nodded. “If your stomach wants to bring something up and get rid of it, there’s not much you can do about it,” she said. “Never mind, I’m sure Uncle Elton understands. I’ll go and see him tomorrow.”
The next day she went to see Uncle Elton. When she came back, she said to Aunt Lillibet, “I explained everything to Elton, and he understands completely. I invited him and Elmer to come and have lunch with us.”
“Oh no!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can’t face him, after what Benson did! I’m absolutely mortified!”
Benson’s mother said, “Don’t worry, it will be fine. Just don’t mention salad in front of Benson.”
She and Benson made a very nice pumpkin and zucchini pie, and squeezed some oranges to make orange juice.
“This is yummy,” Uncle Elton said, “isn’t it, Elmer? Even without the extra protein. I’m sorry the little weevils disagreed with young Benson. I must say, Elmer and I love them, don’t we Elmer?”
Elmer was starting on his second piece of pie. He said with his mouth full, “Not so much the weevils. I never eat them, anyway. I always brush them off the leaves onto the floor.”
Aunt Lillibet couldn’t help herself. She snorted loudly. Unfortunately she had just taken a big mouthful of orange juice. Orange juice sprayed out of her mouth, and out of her nose, all over the table. There were streaks of orange juice all down her front.
She went bright red. Benson said, “Do you need a handkerchief, Aunt Lillibet?”
Aunt Lillibet got up from the table and rushed into her room and slammed the door.
“Oh dear,” Uncle Elton said. “That was a bit embarrassing, wasn’t it? Still, it could happen to anyone.”
Benson said, “I don’t think she’s embarrassed. I think she’s absolutely mortified!”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a tidy, comfortable wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson’s mother came home with really good news. “Pascoe’s mob is up on the high paddock,” she said.
Benson said, “Can we go and see her?”
His mother said, “Why don’t we all go up, and take a picnic?”
That was such a good idea, they all got to work straight away, and packed up lots of delicious food, roasted beetroot and cucumber sandwiches, lemon coconut slice, corn and blueberry muffins and some plums and apricots. Aunt Lillibet got the picnic blanket and they all got their hats and water-bottles and set off.
The first thing Pascoe said was, “I’ve seen Roly. He’s fine.”
“Is he happy?” Aunt Moss asked.
“Is he coming back?” Benson asked.
Pascoe settled down and her voice changed the way it did when she was starting a story.
“You all know that Roly left here a while ago, to go back to the place where his people were from, the place where he was born. It wasn’t easy to begin with. It was a long, difficult journey, but the echidna-board that Hazel made for him helped a lot.”
Everyone looked at each other and smiled, imagining Roly riding along on his special skateboard.
Pascoe went on, “When he got there, it wasn’t the way he remembered it. The trees and bushes had grown back since the bush fires, and the rocks and hills were the same, but the problem was, no-one recognised him or remembered him. You know how Roly is different from other echidnas?”
Benson nodded. “He’s very, very smart,” he said.
“That’s right,” Pascoe said. “And when he was burned in the bush fires, his spines didn’t all grow back, and his face has some scars on it. The other echidnas weren’t friendly at all. They didn’t like a strange echidna moving in who was different. They didn’t like it that he ate strange food like vegetables, instead of just ants, and they said he smelled like a wombat.”
Benson whispered to his mother, “Do wombats smell?”
She whispered back, “I suppose we do, to other animals.”
Pascoe said, “Some of the younger echidnas even threw stones at him and told him to go back to where he came from.”
“But that IS where he came from,” Benson said.
Pascoe nodded, and said, “Yes, exactly. So Roly decided – “
“Did he decide to come home again?” Benson asked, crossing his fingers and hoping very hard.
“No,” Pascoe said, “because he knew it was his place, and he wasn’t going to run away. Instead he thought hard and came up with a plan.”
“A plan?” Benson said, wondering what it could be. Roly was always really good at plans.
“First of all,” Pascoe said, “he made himself a hat.”
Aunt Lillibet smiled very happily. “What a good idea!” she said. She thought she was looking very fetching herself, in a smart black hat with orange ribbons sprouting out of the top like a volcano.
Pascoe went on, “Roly put his hat on and he made a whole pile of thistle and ant sandwiches.”
“Just like I used to make for him,” Aunt Moss said fondly. “They were one of his favourites.”
Pascoe said, “Then he got on his echidna-board and went out to where the other echidnas were. They stared at him. One of them, called Prickle, said, ‘That hat is stupid, and you’re stupid.’
“Roly didn’t say anything. He got his sandwiches out and started eating them. Prickle said, ‘Why are you eating that weird food?’ Roly said, ‘Because they taste really good. Would you like to try one?’
“Prickle didn’t want the other echidnas to think he was afraid to try the sandwiches, so he took one and had a tiny nibble. Then he took a bigger bite, then he ate the rest of the sandwich in one bite, it tasted so good. ‘That was great!’ he said. ‘Can I have another one?’ Roly gave him another one, and then all the echidnas crowded around, and Roly shared his sandwiches with them.
“Then Prickle asked Roly, ‘What do you have that thing with wheels for?’
“Roly said, ‘Oh, that’s just my echidna-board. I can go really fast on it.’ He got on his echidna-board and zoomed off down the hill. He flew over two big roots of a gum tree, then swung twice around a termite nest and screeched to a stop. Prickle’s mouth dropped open. ‘Can I have a try?’ he said. The other echidnas all said, ‘No, me first!’ and they started arguing over who should have the first go.
“Roly said, ‘Maybe tomorrow. I have to go now.’ He pulled his hat down tight and zoomed off.
“The next day, everyone wanted to have a turn on his echidna-board. All the mother echidnas wanted to know how to make his delicious sandwiches, and all the auntie echidnas wanted hats just like his. So now he’s busy every day, showing his friends how to do tricks on his echidna-board, and teaching the mothers and aunties how to make sandwiches, and his favourite food, chocolate-covered ant cookies.”
Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were very pleased that Roly was happy, and had lots of new friends, but Benson was looking sad.
Pascoe asked him, “What’s the matter, Benson?”
Benson said, “Roly’s got so many new friends, I suppose he doesn’t miss me at all.”
“Do you still miss him?” Pascoe asked. Benson nodded. Pascoe said, “But you have lots of friends, too.”
“Not like Roly,” Benson said sadly.
Pascoe said, “I think it’s the same with Roly. None of his new friends is like you.” She took a piece of paper out of her pouch. “Roly asked me to give you this,” she said.
Benson unfolded it. It was a picture of a wombat and an echidna sitting side by side. Roly had drawn it with the red pencil that Benson had given him.
Benson smiled. He said to his mother, “As soon as we get home, I’m going to draw lots of pictures for Pascoe to take back to Roly.”
“Good idea,” his mother said.
Then Benson thought of something else, and he frowned. “What am I going to draw about? Nothing’s happened since Roly went away. Pascoe won’t have any stories to tell him about us.”
His mother smiled. “Are you sure? What about the wolley-ball game? And the art competition, and the new baby woylie, and little Rosie, and making your kite, and…”
“Wait!” said Pascoe, “one thing at a time.” And they all sat down together, with the sandwiches and the lemon coconut slice and the muffins, and told stories and talked and laughed for hours and hours.
Out of Sight
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, comfy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet joined a jogging club. She had a jogging t-shirt and special leggings and jogging wristbands and a special hat, just for jogging. It had a hole on each side for her ears and big, yellow, tinselly bobbles on it.
Every morning she put on her jogging clothes and her jogging hat. She waited by the front door for her friend Gordon to come jogging past. He always wore his headband and his jogging shorts and his special air-conditioned jogging shoes. He would stop outside, jogging on the spot, and Aunt Lillibet would go jogging out to meet him and they would jog off together down the track.
When they got to Fenella’s house, they would both jog on the spot until Fenella came jogging out. Then the three of them would jog off along the track until they got to Bliss’s house. At Bliss’s house, they all went inside and had a cup of tea because they were all puffed. Bliss never went jogging because of her Bad Leg.
Benson asked his mother, “Why do people go jogging?”
“Exercise,” his mother said. She was hanging the washing on the clothes-line in the sun.
“Like when Mick comes over and we’re getting noisy and you say that we need to go outside and get some exercise?” he asked. “Has Aunt Lillibet been getting too noisy?”
“No, it’s more like they all enjoy having a reason to go to Bliss’s house and have tea and cake,” his mother said.
Aunt Lillibet went jogging with her jogging club on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday it rained, and she said that cold water was very bad for warm muscles so she stayed in bed. On Saturday, Bliss came over with some terrible news.
“The most dreadful thing has happened!” Bliss said. “Gordon has gone blind!”
“Blind?” Aunt Lillibet said. “You mean he can’t see anything?”
“Not a thing!” Bliss said. “He’s completely blind!”
Aunt Lillibet couldn’t believe it. “I can’t believe it!” she said. “How did it happen?”
“It was so sudden,” Bliss said. “One minute he was getting ready to go jogging, and the next minute it was as if all the lights went out at once. He can’t see a thing!”
“How terrible!” Aunt Lillibet said. She was shocked. “You don’t think it had anything to do with all the jogging we’ve been doing?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Bliss said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve always thought that too much exercise is bad for you. You wouldn’t catch me jogging!”
Aunt Moss was very upset when she heard the news. “Poor Gordon!” she said. “He’ll need someone to look after him, and feed him and help him put his clothes on, and lead him around anywhere he wants to go.”
“Like a guide wombat,” Benson said.
“Yes,” Aunt Moss said, “someone to make sure he doesn’t run into things or fall into a hole.”
Benson’s mother said, “It’s very sad. Poor Gordon!”
Later on, Gordon came walking slowly down the track, with his arms held out in front of him. Fenella was holding onto one arm and saying, “Mind the fence!” and “Be careful of the rock!” and “Sorry – didn’t I tell you there was a hole there?” Everyone came out to see him, and tell him how sorry they were that he couldn’t see.
“I’m very sorry, Gordon,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
Gordon said sadly, “I’m afraid we won’t be able to go jogging any more, Lillibet. I can’t even go for a walk by myself!”
“Why does he have his eyes covered up?” Benson whispered loudly.
Aunt Moss shushed him and said, “Sometimes blind people do that.”
Benson’s mother looked at Gordon, and then she looked again. She said, “Just a minute, Gordon.” She went up to him and lifted the covering off his eyes.
“I can see! I can see!” Gordon shouted. “It’s a miracle!” He was so excited, he jumped up and down, and gave Fenella a big, smacking kiss. Fenella went all pink.
Everyone clapped and cheered. They all patted him on the back and said how happy they were that he was cured, then they all went back to Gordon’s house and had a big party to celebrate.
Benson said to his mother, “That was amazing, what you did. How did you fix Gordon’s eyes?”
His mother said, “It was nothing, really. He wasn’t actually blind. His headband had just slipped down over his eyes.”
The Present That Nobody Wanted
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet’s cousin Ruby sent her a present. Aunt Lillibet was very excited until she opened it up. “Oh, it’s an apron,” she said, disappointed.
“That’s nice,” Benson’s mother said. “That will keep your clothes clean when you’re cooking.”
Aunt Lillibet was frowning. She put the apron on. “Look at this,” she said. The apron had a smiling cow right in the middle of Aunt Lillibet’s chest. Benson fell off his chair laughing.
“Have you ever seen such a dopey cow?” Aunt Lillibet said. Then she had an idea. “I know! I’ll give it to Elton. He’ll love it!” She wrapped the present up again and took it over to Uncle Elton’s place.
“I’ve brought you a present,” she said to Uncle Elton.
“A present? For me? Thank you!” Uncle Elton said. He was very excited. He unwrapped the present. “An apron, with a nice, happy cow on the front! I can wear it when I’m working in my workshop! Thank you very much, Lillibet!”
When Aunt Lillibet had gone, he put on the apron and went straight to his workshop. He was building a desk for his son, Elmer, with wheels so that he could take it outside, and six different cup-holders. He starting sawing a piece of wood, and then zazz! He slipped and sawed right across the apron.
“Oh no!” he said. “I’ve ruined my new apron!” Then he had an idea. “I know! I’ll cut off the ripped part and make it into a nice wrap for Polly’s new baby.” He got his scissors and made a nice square for wrapping the baby up in. Then he took it over to Polly’s place.
“I’ve brought a present for baby Rosie,” he said.
“A present?” Polly said. “Oh, it’s lovely,” she said. “A wrap with an adorable cow on it! Thank you, Elton!”
She wrapped Rosie up in it. “There! Aren’t you the cutest little wombat?” she said.
Rosie sicked up her milk all over the wrap. “Oh no!” Polly said. She popped the wrap into the washing machine. Unfortunately there was a pair of purple socks in the wash, too. When Polly took the wrap out, it was a murky purple colour, and it had shrunk, too.
“Yuck!” she said. “That colour will look awful on Rosie! Besides, it’s too small now.” Then she had an idea. “I know, I’ll give it to Shelley to use as a duster.”
She wrapped it up and took it to Shelley’s. “A present? For me?” Shelley said. “Thank you, Polly! But it’s much too nice to use as a duster.” Then she had an idea. “I know! It would make a beautiful quilt for a doll.”
Shelley got another piece of fabric for the back, and folded the sides over and put some stuffing inside to make it thick and soft, then she sewed it all together. She wrapped it up and took it to Bonnie Lou’s house.
Bonnie Lou was very excited to get a present. “What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a quilt for a doll,” Shelley said. “I made it myself.”
Bonnie Lou said thank you very nicely because she knew it was polite to say thank you when someone gave you a present even if you didn’t like it, but as soon as Shelley was gone, she let her face look as disappointed as she felt. “I don’t play with dolls any more! I’m not a baby,” she said. Then she had an idea. “I know! I’ll make a pin-cushion for Aunt Lillibet. She’ll love it!”
She hunted around in the recycling until she found a small, round tin. It used to have tea-leaves in it, until her brother Mick played frisbees with the lid and bent it in half. She stuffed the quilt into the tin really tightly, so that only a bit stuck out at the top. Then she wrapped it up and took it to Aunt Lillibet’s.
“I’ve made something for you,” she said. “It’s a pin-cushion.”
“A pin-cushion?” said Aunt Lillibet. She unwrapped the present and smiled. “Thank you, Bonnie Lou, it’s just what I wanted! Look, it has that dopey cow right in the middle, just where you stick the pins. I love it!”
“I thought you would,” Bonnie Lou said. And they smiled at each other.
A Stewpot Turkey
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day there was a Mishap in the kitchen. Benson’s mother was cooking some rhubarb in the big stewpot but she had to go out to a meeting, so she asked Aunt Moss to watch it, but Aunt Moss accidentally dozed off. When Benson’s mother got home, all that was left was a black mess burnt to the bottom of the pot, and a nasty smell all through the house.
“I’m sorry,” Aunt Moss said, holding her nose. The smell really was awful. “I tried scrubbing it as hard as I could, but it just wore a hole in the bottom of the pot.”
Benson’s mother picked up the pot and held it up to the light. She could see right through the hole in the bottom. “You’re right, Moss. Never mind, it will make a nice plant pot now.”
Aunt Moss clapped her hands. “Oh yes! If we took the handles off, and decorated it, we could give it to Elton. He loves unusual plant pots.”
Uncle Elton had parsley growing out of a teapot, and pansies growing in a gumboot.
Aunt Moss asked Benson if he would help her decorate the stewpot. “Uncle Elton loves birds, so if you draw some birds, I’ll cut them out and stick them onto the pot.”
“Okay,” Benson said. “What birds should I draw?”
“Let’s have a look in Aunt Lillibet’s bird book and choose our favourites,” Aunt Moss suggested. They got the book and started turning the pages.
“I like this turkey,” Benson said, “and the owl.”
“Oh, yes,” said Aunt Moss. “They both look friendly and cheery.”
“There won’t be room for a turkey and an owl too,” Benson said. “The pot’s not big enough.”
“I know!” said Aunt Moss. “We can put the pot in a big paper bag to take it over to Elton’s. We’ll put the turkey on the stewpot, and you can draw a friendly owl on the bag.”
Benson went to his room and set to work. He drew a fat, red turkey with bright, yellow eyes and skinny black legs, then he started drawing a cheerful owl with big round eyes, on the paper bag. He was trying to get the beak right when Aunt Lillibet came along.
“Benson, could you come and help me weed the broccoli, please?” she said.
Benson said, “Sorry, Aunt Lillibet, I can’t. Aunt Moss told me to draw a stewpot turkey.”
“What?” Aunt Lillibet said. Her face went a funny purple colour.
Benson remembered that old people sometimes don’t hear very well, so he said it a bit louder. “She said to draw a stewpot turkey, and a smiley owl bag.”
“Well, really!” Aunt Lillibet said. She marched off.
At lunchtime, Aunt Lillibet wasn’t talking to anyone. Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, I’m going to Elton’s this afternoon to take him a new plant pot. Would you like to come?”
“Why would you want to go with a smelly old bag like me?” Aunt Lillibet said, angrily.
Aunt Moss was very confused. “What are you talking about, Lillibet?”
“Isn’t that what you told Benson that I am?” Aunt Lillibet said, getting more and more angry. “A stupid turkey, and a smelly old bag! “
Aunt Moss was very upset. “I would never say things like that, Lillibet!”
“Well, that’s what Benson said you said!” Aunt Lillibet shouted.
“No, I didn’t!” Benson said.
Benson’s mother said, “Calm down, everyone. Benson, what did you say to Aunt Lillibet?”
“Nothing!” Benson said. “All I said was that Aunt Moss told me to draw a turkey to put on the stewpot, and a smiley owl on the paper bag.”
His mother thought hard. “Did you tell Aunt Lillibet that Aunt Moss said to draw a stewpot turkey?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Benson said.
“A stewpot turkey?” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ve never heard of any such thing!”
“And what else were you drawing, Benson?” his mother asked.
“I drew a smiley owl on the paper bag,” he said.
“A smiley owl bag?” his mother said slowly and clearly.
Aunt Lillibet’s face was red. “Oh,” she said. She felt very silly. She turned to Aunt Moss and said, “I’m sorry I said those things to you, Moss.”
“That’s all right, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss. “It was only a little misunderstanding.”
“I should have known you would never say things like that,” Lillibet said. “I think I was a bit of a stewpot turkey, and a silly old bag.”
“Oh no, you’re not stupid, Lillibet, and you’re not silly!” Aunt Moss said.
The New Baby
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a comfortable, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were cooking, and Benson was playing one of his favourite games, Guess-What’s-Cooking-by-the-Smell-in-the-Kitchen.
“Is it banana bread, and apple pie?” he said.
“Close,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Banana cake, with walnuts and cranberries.”
“And baked apples with cinnamon and sultanas,” Aunt Moss said. “What an excellent nose you have, Benson!”
Benson sniffed happily. “Are we eating them for lunch or afternoon tea?” he asked.
“Neither,” his mother said. “We’re taking them over to Rodney’s place. His mother just had a new baby.”
“Another baby?” Benson said. “Everyone’s always having babies. Why do we have to give them all the best food? Babies don’t even eat cake!”
“Benson,” his mother said, “every new baby is a wonderful gift. A new little person in the world is always something to celebrate. Who knows what they might grow up to be? Maybe a famous writer!”
“Or an engineer,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Or an artist,” Aunt Moss said.
Benson sighed. Babies were just blobs, he thought. Sometimes they were noisy blobs and sometimes they were smelly blobs, but they were always just blobs.
“Are you coming to see the baby?” his mother asked.
“Absolutely,” Benson said, thinking about the banana cake and the baked apples they were taking, not to mention the food that the other visitors would be bringing. “I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
When they got to Rodney’s house, the baby was asleep, so Benson had to be quiet. He got some of the banana cake and a whole pile of sandwiches and went outside. He took them around to the back door where there was a nice sunny spot to eat them in and he could make as much noise as he liked. The back door was open, and someone was throwing books and pillows and toys and all sorts of good stuff out the door. It was Rodney’s sister, Ada.
She climbed on top of the pile of stuff and sat down with her arms folded, looking extremely grumpy.
“What are you doing?” Benson asked, eating the banana cake.
“When you get a new baby, you have to throw out all the old stuff, to make space for the new stuff,” she said. “Like me.”
“They’re throwing you out?” Benson said.
“They might as well,” Ada said. “Rodney’s the eldest, so they’ll keep him, but now there’s a new baby sister, what do they want me for?”
Benson said, “Ada, every baby wombat is a special gift. You were a baby wombat once, so you’re a gift too.” He wondered if he had said it right. It didn’t sound the same as when his mother said it.
“Nobody wants me,” Ada said. “Everything’s about the baby. The baby’s so cute, she’s the most beautiful thing in the world, be quiet the baby’s sleeping, I can’t play with you now because I’m busy with the baby. What sort of a name is Rosebud, anyway?”
Benson didn’t know what to say. “The thing is,” he said, “mothers go a bit weird when there are babies around. Even Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. I don’t really understand it. What’s cute about a baby? They can’t talk, or ride a bike, or dig.”
“They can’t play games,” Ada said. “All they do is cry and sleep.”
They both thought about babies. Ada had one of Benson’s sandwiches.
She said, “If a giant eagle flew over right now and picked me up and flew away with me, I bet my mother wouldn’t even notice I was gone.”
Just then a giant eagle, floating overheard, saw two plump young wombats sitting in the sun. It zoomed down out of the sky.
“An eagle!” Benson yelled.
“My baby!” came a cry from inside the door. Ada’s mother rushed out and grabbed her.
Benson threw the rest of the sandwiches at the eagle and they all ran inside.
The eagle landed and pecked at the sandwiches. “Cheese and fennel, yuck!” he said, and flapped away.
Ada’s mum said, “Where have you been, sweetheart? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She wrapped Ada in a big, warm hug.
Ada smiled up at her. “I was just explaining to Benson about babies,” she said.
Her mother said, “The baby’s awake now, and everyone says she looks just like her big sister. Do you want to come and hold her?”
Ada nodded. “Thanks for the sandwiches, Benson,” she said. Then she ran inside, yelling, “I’m coming, Rosie!”
Peanuts and Prison Bars
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson said to his mother, “I think I’ll make a picture book, about elephants.”
“Elephants?” his mother said. She was busy trying out a complicated new recipe for walnut and lentil surprise.
Benson nodded. “I like elephants. I think elephants are a lot like wombats,” he said.
“Are they?” his mother said.
Benson said, “They’re both round, and friendly, with hardly any tails.”
“Is this book just going to have pictures, or will there be words too?” she asked.
“Both,” Benson said.
His mother helped him fold some sheets of paper in half and staple them down the middle to make a book. Benson got his coloured pencils and set to work.
On the first page he drew lots and lots of green grass, really tall green grass. He wrote underneath, “Elephants hiding in the long grass.” On the next page he drew a big pile of peanuts next to a jar of peanut butter. Underneath he wrote, “Favourite food of elephants.”
He turned the page over and started drawing big black bars from the top of the page to the bottom. He asked his mother, “How do you spell ‘jail’?”
His mother was stirring the egg whites carefully into the lentils. “Some people spell it ‘j-a-i-l’, and some people spell it ‘g-a-o-l’. Or you could put ‘prison’, and then you don’t have to decide.” She tipped the mixture carefully into a dish. Then she looked up and said, “Why is there a jail in a book about elephants?”
“Because elephants think cages are like prison,” Benson said. He wrote, “Elephants don’t like cages. It’s like being in prison.”
On the next page he drew a deep waterhole, full of blue water. He put, “Elephants are good at swimming underwater because they can breathe through their trunks.”
He was up to the last page in the book, so he drew a saxophone and some drums and a big gong. He wrote, “The Elephant Band” at the bottom. “There,” he said. “Finished!”
His mother put the dish into the oven and closed the oven door. “Can I have a look at your book?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Benson. “It’s really good.”
His mother looked at all the drawings and read every page. “Benson,” she said, “this is a picture book about elephants, right? Where are the elephants?”
Benson said, “Well, on this page, they’re hiding in the grass, and on this page they’re under the water.”
His mother said, “What about the Elephant Band?”
“They all got thirsty playing, so they went to get a drink of water,” Benson said.
His mother said, “Don’t you think if you were reading this book to a little wombat, like Zip or Ada or little Quentin, they would expect to see a picture of an elephant?”
“Maybe,” Benson said. “But I can’t draw elephants.”
“You can’t draw elephants?” his mother said.
“I can’t get the trunks to look right, and their knees are always wrong,” Benson said. “When I try to draw them, they always end up looking more like a dinosaur with camel legs.”
His mother thought about it. She said, “Let me have a try.” She took Benson’s grey pencil and drew something that looked a lot like a wombat, on the front cover of his elephant book.
Benson had a look. “That’s a very good try,” he said. He actually thought it wasn’t even a very good drawing of a wombat, but he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. “It’s not much like an elephant, though, is it?” he said.
His mother said, “It’s a bit elephantish, around the bottom.”
“The legs are too short and it’s got no trunk,” he said. He rubbed out the four stumpy wombat legs and drew longer, wrinkly elephant legs. He frowned. “I got the knees all wrong again,” he said.
His mother drew long socks on the elephant, that came right up over its knees. “Is that better?” she asked.
Benson smiled. “It’s better, but it’s still got no trunk,” he said. He drew a long trunk hanging down to the ground in front of the elephant. It looked like a garden hose. “See? It’s all wrong.”
“What if the elephant has its trunk up in the air?” his mother suggested.
Benson rubbed out the garden hose trunk and drew a wavy, upwards trunk.
“That’s a good trunk,” his mother said. And it was, actually. “Don’t elephants have bigger ears than that?” she asked.
Benson rubbed out the small, wombatty ears that his mother had drawn, and gave the elephant big, flappy ears. It looked a lot more like an elephant now.
His mother said, “I don’t think you’re terrible at drawing elephants, I think you just need more practice.” She opened his book. “Here’s a good place to start,” she said.
Benson set to work again. He drew two elephants hiding in the long grass, with just their top halves showing, so he didn’t have to worry about the knees. He drew elephants in party hats sitting down eating the peanuts with their trunks. He drew a sad elephant behind the bars, with its trunk drooping sadly like a garden hose. Then he drew a big happy elephant driving a bulldozer, breaking the bars down.
On the page with the waterhole, he drew two elephants spraying each other with water, and another invisible elephant under the water with just the tip of its trunk showing.
On the very last page he drew an elephant playing the saxophone, and another elephant hitting the drums with drumsticks held in his trunk, and seventeen elephants dancing.
When he was finished, not one more elephant could fit on the pages. He and his mother sat down and read the book together, from the beginning to the end. They both loved it.
“You must be tired after all that drawing,” his mother said. “How about an elephant snack?”
“An elephant snack?” Benson said.
“Celery sticks with peanut butter, and peanut butter sandwiches,” his mother said.
“Yes, please!” Benson said.
When Someone Dies
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother came into his room, where he was making a machine for scaring snakes, out of an old hairbrush and banksia seed pods. She said, “I’ve got some very sad news. You know my friend Lulu, Nils and Nella’s auntie? A terrible thing has happened. Her little one, Button, has died.”
“Died?” Benson said. “How could she die?” Button was just a baby possum. Dying only happened to really old people.
“There was an accident and she was run over by a car,” his mother said. He could tell by her voice that she was really sad.
“We’re going to go to Lulu’s place, so put your shoes on and make yourself look nice,” she said.
“What are we going to do?” Benson asked.
His mother said, “We’re going to help Lulu say goodbye.”
“Oh,” he said. It felt pretty strange. How do you say goodbye to a dead person?
They set off for Lulu’s place. His mother had made a cake and a vegetable casserole.
“Why do we need to take all this food?” he asked.
“All Lulu’s friends and family will be coming,” his mother said. “It helps to have people around who love you, when something terrible happens and you feel really sad.”
They talked about Button, and how sad Lulu must be. Benson said, “What happens when someone dies?”
His mother said, “Usually their body just gets worn out, and breaks down. Their heart stops and everything just stops and their body dies. With Button, she was injured so badly that her heart just stopped and she died.”
Benson said, “I mean, when you’re dead, what happens to you?”
His mother said, “Well, usually your body gets buried, and after a while it just goes back to the earth. But your spirit, the part of you that makes you you, that part can’t die the way your body does.”
Benson thought of Button, how she was the only possum he knew that could hang upside down by one leg and spit at the same time, and how she liked peanut butter so much she would put her whole face into the jar.
His mother said, “Some people think that when you die, your spirit goes to heaven and is completely happy for ever and ever. Some people think that the your spirit stays alive in people’s hearts and their memories.”
“What do you think?” Benson said. He was imagining being happy for ever, having all the custard he wanted and all the oatmeal-and-raisin cookies he could eat and no washing up. New holes to dig every day, and sunshine and stories and all the people he loved around him. It made him feel happy just thinking about it.
“I think,” his mother said, “that if I died, all the joy and peace and happiness in the world wouldn’t be enough without you, my precious darling, so no matter where I was, I wouldn’t be far away from you.”
Benson smiled at her and held her hand tight.
“Did it hurt Button when she died?” he asked.
His mother said, “I think it probably hurt very much, but only for a second, and then it was over.”
Benson waited until his mother stopped crying and blew her nose. Then he asked her the question that was really bothering him. “Am I going to die?” he asked.
“Yes, of course!” she said. “Everybody dies, every animal, every tree, every leaf, every ant – everything finishes its life and dies. But wombats live for a long time.”
Benson thought about it. Aunt Lillibet was very very very old. It would be a long long time before he was that old.
“What are we going to do when we get to Lulu’s place?” he asked.
His mother said, “I’m going to help Lulu get Button ready to be buried. We’ll wash her and make her all nice, and wrap her in her favourite pink blanket. Mr Fenn has dug a beautiful grave for her, and we’ll bury her there under her favourite tree.”
When they got to Lulu’s house, it seemed like everybody was crying. Lulu hugged Benson’s mother and they both cried. Lots more people came with more casseroles and cakes and pies.
When it was time, everyone gathered around the place where they were going to bury Button. Lulu was carrying her, and Benson’s mother had a little fluffy rabbit that was the toy Button had had ever since she was a baby. Nella wanted to sing a song, but she kept crying instead of singing, but nobody minded. Benson’s mother said a prayer, and some people closed their eyes and prayed too and everyone else looked down and thought about Button.
Benson’s mother asked if anyone wanted to say anything but no-one could really talk. It seemed like everyone was crying. Benson thought someone should say something, so he stepped forward and said, “Button was just little, but she was cute and funny, and she was our friend and it’s really sad that she’s died. But the real part of her is never going to be far away, even if she’s in heaven because this is where heaven is, where the people who love her are.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he stopped talking.
Benson’s mother touched Lulu on the shoulder and said, “It’s time now.” Lulu put her gently into the grave, with her fluffy rabbit. Some people who had brought flowers put them in the grave and said goodbye to Button quietly. Lulu said goodbye last of all, and Benson thought she was never going to stop crying. Benson’s mother took her hand at last, and brought her back to the house with everyone else. Mr Fenn stayed behind to fill in the grave and make everything nice and tidy.
On the way home, Benson’s mother said, “I’m glad you said those things about Button.”
Benson said, “It was like everyone was feeling so much they couldn’t say anything.”
“That’s exactly right,” said his mother, “and what you said was exactly right too.”
Benson smiled at her and held tight to her hand.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a tidy, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning after breakfast, Benson was getting ready to go to the park when his mother said, “I’m sorry, Benson, I can’t take you to the park after all.”
Benson said, “But it’s Alejandro’s birthday, remember? I’ve even got a present for him!”
His mother said, “I’m sorry, but there was a big thunderstorm over on the other side of the creek last night, and lots of animals had their homes damaged. I have to go and help organise food for them, and find places for everyone to stay.”
Benson looked so disappointed that his mother said to Aunt Lillibet, “Lillibet, do you think you could possibly take Benson to the park instead of me?”
Aunt Lillibet thought about the park, which would be boring, and the weather, which was perfect, and all the children who would be at the park, which would be annoying, and wearing her new hat with the marshmallows and snail shells on it, which would be fun. “Yes, all right,” she said.
The park was full of young wombats and their mothers and grandparents and aunties. Everyone looked at Aunt Lillibet’s hat with surprise, and she was very pleased. Benson ran off to give Alejandro his present, which was a drawing of two dancers. Alejandro loved it. Then they both went to the slippery slide to play with Mick and his sister, Bonnie Lou.
Benson’s friend Rodney came, with his mother and his little sister, Ada. Rodney gave Alejandro an excellent present. It was a long, long ribbon tied to a stick. It made beautiful loops and waves when Alejandro twirled it around, and when he danced, he could twirl it around himself like a waving sea.
Aunt Lillibet found a tree that no-one was sitting under and she sat down and closed her eyes for a quiet nap. Then Rodney’s mother, Polly, came up and said, “I’ve left Ada’s hat at home. Would you mind watching her and Rodney while I run home and get it? I’ll only be five minutes.”
Aunt Lillibet woke up and said, “Mmmpf? Yes, all right.”
Polly hurried off. Ada sat down under the tree next to Aunt Lillibet and started looking for flowers to make a daisy chain with. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes again.
Benson and Alejandro had a go on the see-saw. Then Alejandro’s baby brother, Quentin, suddenly started crying. Not really crying, more like bawling his eyes out.
Aunt Lillibet woke up again and said, “What? Is that a fire engine?”
Quentin’s mother, Amelie, said, “No, a bee stung poor little Quentin on his foot.”
Mick’s mother, Delia, said, “I have some ointment at home that’s excellent for bee-stings. Why don’t you bring him back to my place and we’ll put some on his foot?”
Amelie thought that would be a good idea. She asked Aunt Lillibet, “Would you mind keeping an eye on the children while we’re gone? We’ll only be five minutes.”
Aunt Lillibet thought they couldn’t take that screaming baby away fast enough. “Yes, all right,” she said. Both the mothers hurried off with Quentin. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes again.
Benson came running up. “Can you push us on the swing?” he asked.
“No, I’m much too busy,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’m watching all the children, Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Alejandro. And Rodney and Ada,” she remembered.
“That’s a lot of watching,” Benson said.
Aunt Lillibet thought so too. “It’s…” she counted on her fingers, “… five children altogether.”
Benson said, “Don’t forget me.”
“I meant six,” Aunt Lillibet said. She looked around the playground and counted. “One, two, three, four, five. Only five! There’s one missing!”
“Did you count me?” Benson said.
“Wait, I’ll count again,” she said. “You, and Mick, and Alejandro, and Rodney, and Bonnie Lou – that’s five!” She ticked each one off on her fingers. “Ada! I’ve lost Ada!” she said. She jumped up and looked around the whole playground. There was no Ada anywhere.
“Quick!” she said to Benson. “Get everyone to look for her! She could have fallen into the creek and drowned! She could have climbed up a tree and fallen out and hurt herself. She could have been taken by a pack of wild dogs!”
“Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said calmly.
“Don’t just stand there!” Aunt Lillibet said. “There’s a child missing! What if a herd of tigers is roaming around, looking for a child to eat? Or there’s a bear behind a tree, just waiting to snatch her up and carry her away to its lair?”
“Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said, “it’s okay. Ada is right here. She’s holding your hand.”
Aunt Lillibet looked down. There was Ada, holding onto her hand, wearing a very pretty daisy chain on her head.
“Oh!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Where have you been? You shouldn’t have been hiding from me like that!” She sat down, feeling quite shaky around the knees.
Just then Polly came back with Ada’s hat, and Delia and Amelie came back with baby Quentin, whose foot felt much better.
“Thank you for minding the children,” they said. “Were they any trouble?”
“No trouble at all,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I knew they’d be fine with you,” Delia said. “You’re so calm and experienced.”
Benson opened his mouth to say something, and Aunt Lillibet glared at him, but all he said was, “Is it time for the birthday cake yet?”
“Definitely,” Amelie said. She brought out the cake. It was covered in pineapple and pawpaw and mango cream. All the children rushed over, and they sat under the tree and ate every bit of it, except for one extra-large piece that Amelie saved for Aunt Lillibet.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
It was Wonderful Wombats Day, and everyone was celebrating. There was going to be a big ceremony at the community centre, and Nanna was getting a special award for Helping People.
“It’s a wonderful award,” Benson’s mother said. “Nanna is the very best person in the world at helping people.”
Benson said, “I’m going to make something very special to give her.” Everyone was giving Nanna presents, but Benson wanted his to be the best present of all.
He hurried down to the creek and got some clay. He took it home and started making it into a model of a wombat that looked just like Nanna. It was only half-done when Aunt Lillibet called, “Benson, I need you!”
Benson went to see what she wanted. She said, “I’m making Nanna a hat. I need you to hold it up while I glue on the eggshells and pin the pumpkin seeds on.”
Benson held the hat on for Aunt Lillibet, but he wriggled and squirmed all the time, because he wanted to get back to making his model.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Can’t you stand still for one minute? I nearly poked myself with a pin just then.”
Benson said, “Is this going to take much longer? Anyway, I don’t think you should put the banana skins on it. They look like lizards’ tongues.”
Aunt Lillibet whipped the hat out of his hands and said frostily, “If you haven’t got time, I’m sure I can manage by myself.”
Benson went back to his room, but his mother called him from the kitchen. “I hope you don’t want me to help you too,” he said. “I’m too busy.”
His mother was making caramel icing for the fairy cakes. She put down her spoon and said, “No, I wasn’t going to ask you to help. I just wanted to say that the way you help people is just as important as what you do for them. You know Nanna is always patient and kind whenever she helps people?”
Benson nodded. He remembered how Nanna was always helping him with things, and she never said she didn’t have time.
His mother said, “If you’re impatient, or unkind, then it’s nearly as bad as not helping at all, isn’t it?”
Benson thought about Aunt Lillibet struggling with the glue and the pins and everything while he kept wriggling. “I suppose so,” he said.
He went back to Aunt Lillibet’s room. He asked her if she needed any help.
“Are you sure it’s not too much trouble?” Aunt Lillibet said. Her mouth was full of pins and she had glue everywhere.
“It’s no trouble,” Benson said. He stood patiently wearing the hat while Aunt Lillibet glued and snipped and arranged, until she was quite finished.
“There!” she said. “It’s finished. What do you think?”
“It’s very nice,” Benson said. “I think Nanna will love it. I’m glad you took the banana skins off.”
“I didn’t think they would suit Nanna, and besides, they were getting slimy,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson went back to his own room, but the clay for his model had all dried out. It was as hard as a rock. “Bother!” he said. “I know, I’ll make her a painting instead.” He got out his paints and a container of water and a big piece of paper and set to work.
There was a loud yell from the kitchen. “Benson, help!” his mother shrieked.
He jumped, and accidentally knocked the container of water over. It went all over his painting. “Bother!” he said. He ran into the kitchen.
His mother was holding a saucepan with foam rising up over the top of it. “Quick!” she said. “Can you bring me that pan, please?”
Benson got the pan, and put it on the bench. His mother poured the foam into it just before it overflowed. “Phew!” she said. “Thank goodness you came in time.”
“What are you making?” Benson asked.
“It’s honeycomb, Nanna’s favourite,” his mother said.
“Are you going to put some nuts in it?” Benson asked. “Nanna loves nuts, and cranberries, too.”
“That’s a good idea,” his mother said. Benson helped her sprinkle nuts and cranberries on top of the honeycomb, then he went back to his room. The painting was ruined.
“Oh well, I’ll do a drawing for her instead,” he said to himself. “It won’t be the best present, but it will be better than nothing.”
Just then he heard Aunt Moss calling, “Benson, do you have a minute?”
He sighed, and went to see what she wanted. “It’s this wool,” she said. “I’m trying to finish these leg-warmers for Nanna, but the wool keeps getting in a big tangle. If you could hold your arms out like this, it would be a big help.” She stretched the wool between his hands, and kept knitting. It took ages and ages, but Benson didn’t wriggle or complain. Finally she was finished.
“Thank you, Benson,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
His mother called from the kitchen, “Time to go everyone! We have to hurry or we’ll be late.”
“But what about my drawing?” Benson said.
“I’m sorry, Benson, there’s no time for that,” his mother said. “We have to go.”
There was a big crowd there, and everyone had presents for Nanna, all except Benson. He hung back behind everyone else, hoping Nanna wouldn’t notice. Aunt Lillibet gave her the hat and Nanna thought it was beautiful. Aunt Moss gave her the leg-warmers and they fitted perfectly. Benson’s mother gave her the honeycomb and Nanna loved it.
Then Nanna called, “Benson!” He had to go up in front of everyone with empty hands.
“I haven’t got a present for you, Nanna,” he said, sadly.
Nanna smiled at him as she always did, as if she loved him more than anything else in the world. “You’ve already given me so much,” she said. “I know how you helped Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and your mother. Thank you, Benson.” And she gave him the most enormous hug.
They all had fairy cakes and honeycomb and told stories and laughed and had a wonderful time. It was the best Wonderful Wombats Day ever.
Aunt Lillibet Loses her Hat
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet loved hats. She loved making hats, and decorating hats and wearing hats. Sometimes she would lie in bed at night and dream up new types of hats.
One hot, sunny afternoon, she was going outside to work in the garden. “I’d better wear my hat,” she said to herself. She put her new hat on, then she went into the kitchen to fill up her water-bottle. She went into the laundry to get her favourite trowel, then she went back to her room to get her gardening gloves. She got the carrot seeds she was going to plant, and then she was ready.
Benson’s mother came out to the kitchen. She said, “It’s very hot outside. Don’t you think you should wear your hat?”
“I am wearing it,” Aunt Lillibet said, but when she felt her head, she found she wasn’t. “Drat!” she said. “I had it a minute ago. Now where did I put it?”
She looked everywhere. “Where could I have left it?” she said.
“Maybe it flew off by itself,” Benson’s mother suggested.
“Don’t be silly,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Hats don’t fly.”
Benson’s mother wasn’t so sure. She remembered when Aunt Lillibet had made a hat out of a real bird’s nest with real eggs in it. When the eggs hatched, the baby birds flew off and took the hat with them.
Benson came out to get a snack from the fridge. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Aunt Lillibet’s lost her hat,” his mother said.
“Do you want me to help you look for it?” he asked. “I’m an excellent finder. I once found seven socks under my bed in one day, and an old sandwich.” It was the smell of the old sandwich that had made him look under the bed in the first place.
“Thankyou, Benson, that would be lovely,” his mother said.
“What does it look like?” he asked.
Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s very creative and daring, perfectly unique and original.”
Benson thought that wasn’t a very helpful description. It could look like anything. “Is this it?” he said, holding up a round thing that was blue and white, with orange spots and two horns.
“No, Benson, that’s a Viking helmet I’m knitting for Nanna,” Aunt Lillibet said, with a withering look. “It’s my hat we’re looking for. Try to concentrate.”
They kept looking. Benson’s mother found something under a chair that looked like a saucepan with three handles. “Is this it?” she said.
“No, that’s a saucepan with three handles,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Elton left it behind last time he visited. It doesn’t look anything like a hat!”
“Of course not,” Benson’s mother said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Aunt Moss came in, looking sleepy after her nap. “Have you lost something?” she asked.
“Aunt Lillibet’s lost her hat,” Benson said.
“I put it down somewhere and now I can’t find it,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Are you sure you’re not wearing it?” Aunt Moss said. “I’m always losing my glasses that way, and they’re on the end of my nose all the time.”
“Of course I’m not wearing it, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Can’t you see?”
“Oh, is that your hair?” Aunt Moss said.
“Why don’t you look in the laundry, Moss?” Benson’s mother said.
Aunt Moss went into the laundry. She came out in a minute and said, “Is this it?”
“No, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said coldly. “That’s a broken plant pot.”
“Oh, I see that now,” Aunt Moss said, putting it down.
“Found it!” Benson said. He held up something the shape of a bucket, covered with paper streamers and rubber caterpillars.
“Don’t be silly, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That’s a model of a tropical island that I’m making for Earth Day. It’s obviously not a hat.” She took it away from Benson and looked at it admiringly. “Although come to think of it, it would make a very nice hat, with some chicken wire here and there.”
Benson said, “If you took the paper streamers and the caterpillars off, it would make a good bucket.”
Aunt Lillibet’s face started to go red. Benson’s mother said quickly, “You know what everyone says: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Benson said, “What does that mean? How can you have beauty in your eye?”
His mother said, “It means different things look beautiful to different people.”
Aunt Lillibet sniffed and said, “Sometimes I think no-one in this family has any taste at all, except me. Could we just focus on finding my hat for now? It must be here somewhere.”
All this searching was making Benson hungry, so he went to the fridge to get a carrot. There was a pile of burnt toast on a shelf in the middle of the fridge. “What’s this doing here?” he said. “Shouldn’t it be in the compost heap?”
“There it is!” Aunt Lillibet said, very pleased. “I knew I hadn’t lost it. I just put it somewhere.”
“This is your hat?” Benson said. It didn’t look a thing like a hat. It looked like a stack of very black toast.
Aunt Lillibet put it on her head and smiled. “It looks good on me, don’t you think?” she said.
Benson couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t sound rude, so he didn’t say anything. His mother said, “It’s very original.”
Aunt Moss said, “It’s unique, and creative.”
“That’s just what I think,” Aunt Lillibet said, admiring herself in the mirror.
Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, why did you put it in the fridge?”
“It’s hot outside,” Aunt Lillibet said. “This way I’ll have a nice, cool head when I work in the garden.” She put on her gardening gloves and got her seeds and her trowel and went off, wearing a pile of burnt toast on her head.
The Giant Hairy Nose
Hairy Nose Day 2022
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, tidy wombat with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning everyone was sitting at the table eating breakfast. Benson had porridge with stewed plums and almonds, and then he had some toast with mulberry jelly, and he was just drinking his banana smoothie, when Aunt Moss said, “I had the most horrible dream last night. I dreamed I was being chased by a wombat with a giant hairy nose.”
“Cheese,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Eating cheese at bedtime will always give you nightmares.”
“But I didn’t have any cheese,” Aunt Moss said, crunching on her crumpet with avocado and tomato. “I was so frightened. It was so big and brown and hairy, and it kept coming after me.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It was only a dream, Moss. Don’t make such a fuss.”
“Sometimes dreams are real,” Benson said. “Once I dreamed it was raining tomatoes, and when I woke up, my red bouncy ball had fallen off the shelf onto my pillow.”
“It’s lucky you didn’t try and eat it,” said Aunt Moss. They both had a little giggle about trying to eat a red bouncy ball.
“Dreams are just dreams,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Don’t be so silly.”
Just then there was a low, rumbling sound and a loud ‘flummp’. A whole pile of earth fell onto the table right in front of them. When they looked up, a giant hairy nose was poking through the roof over their heads.
Aunt Lillibet screamed and grabbed her bowl of porridge and held her hat on with her other hand and ran for the front door, pushing Benson and Aunt Moss in front of her. “Get out, get out!” she yelled. “It’s coming for us!”
Benson noticed that his mother hadn’t moved at all. She was staring at the brown, hairy shape that was coming through the ceiling.
He had a terrible thought. He stopped suddenly. Aunt Lillibet ran into him and dropped her porridge bowl. “What are you doing, Benson?” she shouted. “Get out of the way!”
Benson said, “Wait! If that’s the wombat’s nose, what’s outside?”
Aunt Lillibet’s eyes boggled. She threw her hat in the air and ran shrieking into her bedroom and slammed the door.
Aunt Moss said, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” and ran around in small circles.
Benson’s mother said, “It’s all right, Moss, calm down. It’s not a hairy nose. I think it’s just the root of a big gum tree that’s broken through the ceiling. All those straggly hairs are just little rootlets.”
Benson looked hard at the big lumpy shape. It was easy to see that it was just an old root, covered in lumps of dirt. It actually looked more like an elbow than a nose. “What about my banana smoothie?” he said. There was dirt all over the table, and Benson’s smoothie was a cup of mud.
“Let’s think about making you another smoothie later,” his mother said.
Benson started to get worried again. “Why? Is the tree going to fall down on us?”
“No, this trees must have hundreds of roots holding it up,” his mother said. “This is just one of its arms. But I do think we’re going to have to dig a new kitchen. And we’re going to need help.”
She and Benson went to see Mr Fenn and Shelley to ask them to help, while Aunt Moss went to ask Gordon and Uncle Elmer. Before long they were all pacing around, measuring things with bits of string and talking about complicated things like solar orientation and geo-physical stability. Benson had an apple and waited.
“So we’ll start about here,” Mr Fenn said, “and dig this way,” he pointed with his arms, “and go across that way, and finish about there.”
Benson’s mother nodded. “That way it will connect up to the other rooms but it will be out of the way of the rest of the roots of the tree,” she said. “We’ll block off the old doorway for safety, and make the new front door just here.”
They began digging. Benson and Aunt Moss and Uncle Elmer got everything out of the old kitchen, and when the new kitchen was finished, they moved everything back in again.
“This is lovely!” Benson’s mother exclaimed. “It’s so big and roomy, and there’s so much light from the new front door.” Everyone came in and she started making sandwiches for everyone. “Benson, as soon as you’ve finished, you can make a new sunning spot outside the front door. It will get much more sun than the old one.”
Benson said, with his mouth full of parsley and broccoli sandwiches, “Aunt Lillibet will be happy. It’s a lot closer to her vegetable garden.”
Everyone stopped and stared at him. They had forgotten all about Aunt Lillibet. “Her door is all blocked up with dirt,” Aunt Moss said. “Oh no! She’ll be trapped inside her room!”
“No problem,” Mr Fenn said. “We’ll just go right through that wall there and make her a new door.”
They dug fast and hard, and then Shelley gave a big kick with her back feet and broke a hole in the wall of Aunt Lillibet’s room.
Aunt Lillibet was hiding under her bed, fast asleep, with her biggest knitting needle in her hand.
“You can come out now, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said.
Aunt Lillibet woke up with a start. “Get away from me, you great big hairy monster! You’re not getting me with your giant hairy nose!”
“Don’t worry, Aunt Lillibet,” he said. “It wasn’t a giant hairy nose at all. It was more like a gum-tree’s hairy elbow.”
They took her out to the lovely new kitchen, and Benson’s mother made banana smoothies for everyone. Aunt Lillibet had a nice cup of camomile tea and felt a lot better.
Winking, Blinking and Rodney
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson was digging a hole in the backyard one day, humming a little song to himself about a bear that he had read about in a book, when he heard a voice say, “Psst! Hey, kid!”
He looked up and saw two galahs perched in a tree. One of them said, “Do you know a big wombat called Fenn?”
“Mr Fenn?” Benson said.
“That’s the one,” the galah said. “You see, we want to give him a nice surprise. Do you think you could give us a hand?”
“Sure,” Benson said. “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, here’s the thing,” the galah said. “My mate Rosie and I have got a nice custard tart that we want to give him, but the problem is, all you wombats look the same to us.”
Rosie, the other galah, said, “Rosco and I will hide in the bushes, and when Mr Fenn comes along, you give us a wink to let us know that it’s him, and then we can give him the surprise.”
“Okay,” Benson said. It sounded like a very nice idea. Anyone would love to be surprised with a custard tart.
Actually, the two galahs were planning to play a trick on Mr Fenn because he had chased them out of his loquat tree the day before, and yelled at them for biting holes in the fruit.
“Make sure you don’t say anything to him,” Rosco said. “We don’t want you to spoil the surprise.”
“I won’t say anything,” Benson said.
The galahs hid in the bushes and Benson kept a lookout. Before long, he heard someone coming down the track. It was his new friend, Rodney. He was just about to call out, “Hi Rodney,” when something tickled his nose. He shut his eyes and sneezed.
Rosco and Rosie yelled, “Now!” They flew up and dropped a custard tart right on top of Rodney.
The custard smooshed down Rodney’s face and bits of pastry dropped all over him. Rosco and Rosie fell over each other laughing.
“What did you do that for?” Benson shouted. “That’s not even Mr Fenn!”
“But you winked!” Rosco said.
“That wasn’t a wink, it was a blink!” Benson said. “I sneezed.”
Rodney was still standing in the middle of the track, covered in custard tart. “What happened?” he said to Benson. “Is it raining custard tarts?”
“No, not exactly,” Benson said. “Sorry, Rodney.”
Rodney licked the custard off his nose and scraped it off his face and ate it. He picked the pastry out of his hair and ate that too. “Mmm, yum,” he said. “Maybe I’ll wait here in case it starts to rain again.” He looked up at the sky, to see if there were any custard tart clouds up there.
Benson said to Rosco, “You didn’t say you were going to drop the tart on top of Mr Fenn.”
“That was Rosie’s fault,” Rosco said. “She let go of her side and it slipped out of my hand. Don’t worry, we’ve got a whole bag full of tarts.”
Benson didn’t believe him. “You’re not going to give him a surprise, you’re trying to play a trick on him, aren’t you?”
“We think he’ll be pretty surprised,” Rosie answered.
Rosco said, “You just concentrate on winking. Otherwise you might get a sharp nip on the ear.”
Just then they heard another wombat coming down the track. This time it was Mr Fenn!
Benson decided he wasn’t going to wink, no matter what. But a crumb of pastry got into his eye and scratched and tickled. He tried really hard, but his eye scrunched up and blinked, all by itself.
“This is him, Rosie!” Rosco yelled. “Come on!” They flew up into the air with another custard tart, and dropped it right over Mr Fenn’s head.
Benson shouted, “Mr Fenn! Look out!”
Mr Fenn looked up and saw the custard tart falling out of the sky. He stepped back smartly and bumped into Rodney. The custard tart landed right on Rodney’s head. The two galahs laughed so much they could hardly fly. They swung upside from a branch and laughed until they cried.
“Yippee! Another one!” Rodney said happily. He scooped the custard out of his ears and ate it, and picked up all the pieces of pastry he could find. “This is a great place,” he said. “It never rained custard tarts where I used to live.”
Mr Fenn said sternly, “That’s enough, you galahs! No more tricks! Now hand over those tarts!”
“Chill, chill!” Rosco said, but he handed over the rest of the tarts. He and Rosie flew off to tell the other galahs about their clever trick.
Mr Fenn gave all the rest of the tarts to Rodney. “I think you deserve these,” he said. Rodney was so pleased, he skipped all the way home.