Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 81 [20]

   Peppermint and Fencepost:

      Raincloud and the Stars

(extract from a work in progress)

                     by Uli Krahn

Photo: Ray Drew

The sky used to be as black as this cave. Only when the moon came out it lit up a bit. Otherwise it was dark. This story happened when Raincloud was a small buck, not yet the tall muscular beast he’d become later, just a skinny roo with long legs and sharp elbows. Even though he was young, he was already in love. Admittedly, Blossom had the prettiest tail and the longest eyelashes, and a noble turn to her nose. Raincloud wasn’t the only buck to notice her. Mallee, the boss male of the range, had his eye on Blossom, and didn’t like Raincloud sniffing around her. Mallee went and pushed Raincloud over, that’s how young Raincloud was, and seriously out of place thinking he could pick up a wife already. But Raincloud was a special kangaroo. Raincloud also knew that Blossom liked him. He hadn’t met her much, but she always looked up when he passed by, and sat very still when he quickly sniffed her tail. There’d been one longer meeting, where they’d grazed next to one another, and Raincloud was sure there was a special understanding between them. So that night, he waited until it was very late, the time when kangaroos might stop feeding and have a little rest. Raincloud quietly hopped over to where Blossom was sleeping, and woke her up.

 

‘You wanna run away with me?’  

 

She didn’t say anything. But she got up and had a look around their home range and her sleeping mum and sisters. She let out a little soft moan. Then she quietly hopped away from her favourite shelter under the big gum tree.

 

‘Where to?’ she whispered.

 

‘Follow me’, Raincloud said, and started bouncing, his heart happily bouncing inside him, too. It was almost too wonderful to believe, here they were, hopping through the still night, just the two of them, the fragrant air on their faces. Raincloud didn’t actually know where he was planning to go, just somewhere away from Mallee, to start their own family. Surely another home range could be found, another mob of kangaroos to join, a friendlier crowd, where they could be together in peace. He stopped on the crest of a hill, far above their valley. It only took a moment for Blossom to catch up, she was fast. As they looked back on their old home range, they saw a large shadow crossing an opening in the trees. Mallee was following them. They could hear him, too. Mallee was strong, and fast, and furious. Now he had reached the bottom of the hill.

 

‘We must go.’

 

‘We can’t outrun him’, Raincloud coughed, panicking.

 

Blossom briefly touched his neck with her forepaws, like a mother.

 

‘We must try.’

 

Then she led the way into the forest. Down the hill they raced, as fast as a kangaroo fleeing from dogs. They leaped over rocks and fallen trees with high jumps. They bounded over creeks without looking what was on the other side. Nothing could slow them down. But when they stopped, gasping for breath, they still heard the thump thump and occasional crash of the boss male behind them. Without a word, Blossom turned and started hopping again. They went right to the bottom of the hill, along a valley, and up the other side. They wouldn’t have stopped on the next ridge, it was clear Mallee was still there. But stop they did, as the view was like nothing either of them had seen before. The trees went down to a water, like to a creek or a dam. But this water didn’t have another side to it where the trees continued. There was only water, nothing else. It shimmered in the moonlight. There was nowhere to run! Raincloud was desperate. He was tall for his age, and daring, but not as strong and experienced a fighter as Mallee.

 

‘We have to jump over it!’

 

‘There’s no other side’, Blossom said.

 

‘It must have another side! We just can’t see it!’

 

Blossom wasn’t so sure. And yet, kangaroos are good swimmers, what’s the worst that could happen? They’d fall into the water and swim to safety. Just that there was little safety anywhere with enraged Mallee around. They hopped down to the edge of the water, took extra long speedy strides, and leaped as far as they could. In their desperation, they jumped further than any kangaroo had ever done, they ended up in the sky!

 

Strange things can happen when you jump too far or too high. The sky was very dark, apart from the far corner where the moon was. There was no grass or trees, I can’t tell you exactly what it looks like up there, I’ve not been and neither has anybody I know. Raincloud and Blossom were two very unusual kangaroos. From up there, they saw Mallee arrive at the water’s edge. He looked around, but there was nobody. Then he looked at the footprints in the sand. There were traces of two kangaroos going very fast, then taking off in a big leap. Not to be outdone, Mallee went a few skips back, hopped as fast as he could, and with a massive jump, he made it into the sky too. He was that angry.

 

Blossom and Raincloud panicked. They raced over towards the moon. Maybe some hiding place could be found there. But the moon was just a large still lake. Mallee was slowly catching up with them. They ran towards the far side of the moon. Raincloud and Blossom looked at each other, knowing they’d have to do what all kangaroos do in an emergency: split up. When somebody chases several of you, if you stay together, chances are the last one will be caught. If you split up, the attacker will be confused, and not sure who to follow. That’s why kangaroos disperse in all directions like leaves in the wind. They find each other again later. Blossom and Raincloud looked at one another once more, and then, where the edge of the moon was a little uneven, giving them the smallest cover, Blossom broke away and hopped off into the dark. She was a clever kangaroo, she remembered which way they had come. Soon she was out of the sky again, and hiding in the shrubs. Like she’d feared, Raincloud intentionally lagged a bit, to make sure that Mallee would follow him, not her. Mallee chased Raincloud around the lake that was the moon. If Raincloud was bigger, he would have stood and fought, but no matter how much running away irked him, there was no point doing anything else. He was too small. Mallee would kill him. Round and round the moon they went, even a keen runner like Raincloud was getting out of breath. Mallee was coming closer. With his last strength, Raincloud leaped right into the lake that was the moon, and hid behind some rocks, where the lake started to dry up.  If you look closely, you can see the rocks in the moon from down here. And if you think about it, we see the moon dry up and refill each month.

 

Raincloud hid deep in the water. Only his nose broke the surface, and that was hard to see because of the rocks. Raincloud tried hard to make his breathing slow and quiet, so he couldn’t be heard, either. Fortunately, Mallee was himself out of breath, and could mostly hear the sound of his own breathing. Mallee peered around the lake. There were no kangaroos. Mallee was sick of this. He snorted, yelled out threats, and left. There were more wives at home, what did one more or less matter? Slowly, he hopped off. Unfortunately, too slowly for Raincloud, who’d stuck his head out of the water to look. The sky is a quiet place, and even a little splash like that of Raincloud’s head being lifted out of the water can be heard a long distance. Mallee certainly heard, and returned. He saw Raincloud, and followed him into the lake that was the moon. This was a very dangerous situation.  A large buck like Mallee can easily drown a dingo, or a smaller kangaroo.  Raincloud scrambled out of the water, and fled deep into the sky, Mallee after him. As both had been in the lake that was the moon, they were wet with that bright water. You know how water can shine like the moon at night? Raincloud and Mallee shone like the moon now, and dripped bright droplets wherever they went. At first, they dripped so much they almost lit up the sky – you know that very bright patch right in the middle of the sky? Then they got drier from all the hopping about, shedding only the occasional drop – that’s where there’s only a few stars.

 

Blossom was watching the two bucks from the edge of the land. She was well hidden, and not worried that Mallee would find her. But she was very worried about Mallee catching Raincloud and ripping open his guts, or drowning him in the lake. Then she had an idea. It was almost morning, the first magpies were already stirring in the trees. I don’t know if you’ve watched any magpies, but if you have, you’ve probably noticed that they’re always up for a practical joke. Blossom had bird friends back at the home range, and knew how to talk to a magpie.

 

‘Hey you with the lovely voice’, she cooed.

 

‘Do you mean me?’ The magpie blew out her chest with pride.

 

‘Who else’, said Blossom.

 

The magpie gave her a once over to make sure this was not an animal who eats magpies. All she saw was a pretty young kangaroo. She slid down the branch.

 

‘Would you like to hear my special song?’

 

‘I would love to. But first I need help with a fine practical joke.’

 

The magpie came still closer, and cocked her head to one side.

 

‘Is it a funny practical joke?’

 

‘Very funny’, Blossom replied. ‘See that huge kangaroo hopping around in the sky? He’s got seven wives at home, all of them are getting unruly, letting other males sniff their tails, because that big fat roo is wasting his time running after an overgrown joey. Imagine how cross fattie up there would be if he knew what his wives are up to.’

 

It’s not much of a practical joke, but young magpies think everything is a great joke, as long as somebody runs around fuming with rage at the end.

 

The magpie thoughtfully watched Mallee. ‘Seeing the big guy’s temper now’, she cackled quietly, ‘I guess he’d be quite a sight once he hears about his seven wives’ seven tails being sniffed. That sounds like an excellent joke. It’ll be even better if I make up a song about it.’

 

‘What a brilliant idea’, Blossom said. ‘But don’t take too long, or the moment will have passed. A big roo like that can forget his temper in a moment and just decide to go to sleep.’

 

‘We wouldn’t want that’, the magpie croaked and flew off. And like Blossom had suggested, she flew right into the sky, where Mallee was still pursuing Raincloud. There the magpie began a song about a boss kangaroo whose wives were left alone too long. It did not take long, and Mallee stopped racing after Raincloud, and listened to the magpie instead. Then he swore a frightful oath, and raced to the edge of the sky, then back onto the ground, hurrying past Blossom without even looking for her in the bushes. Next thing you knew he was crashing through the forest to get back to his wives as soon as possible. Raincloud was looking from the sky in wonder. Blossom hopped up and down, calling out to him. Time to leave the sky, it was nearly morning! Raincloud and Blossom met on the edge of the ground, their sore feet cooling in the big water. They stood very closer to one another. Raincloud put his arm gently over Blossom’s neck. They looked up at the sky. Before it had been black apart from the moon, now it was freckled with the bright shining drops from Mallee’s and Raincloud’s fur. In some places there were many drops, in other a few, but all shone like the lake that is the moon.

 

‘It’s different’, Blosssom said. Raincloud snuggled a little closer.

 

                                                                                                        *

 

‘Good story Wattle’, came a creaky little voice from the ground near them.

 

‘Fencepost! You’re back with us!’

 

‘Thanks for coming’, Fencepost said. ‘I wouldn’t have liked to wake up here alone.’  Sometimes he had surprisingly good manners.

 

‘Can you walk?’ Wattle leaned over and licked Fencepost’s head some more.

 

‘If we go slowly…’

 

‘Let’s go then. ‘

 

Together they walked along the path to the cave door. Already from a distance, they could see that it was properly night now, and that the stars had come out. Once they were outside, they stood and looked at the sky. It was nice to be out of the cave. But best of all was having Fencepost back.

Find out about Uli Krahn at Day 8 [93] and read more ‘Peppermint and Fencepost’ at Days 29 [72], 43 [58], 56 [45] and 68 [33].

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