Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 68 [33]

   Peppermint and Fencepost:

                     The Cave

(extract from a work in progress)

                    by Uli Krahn

Photo: Stella Reid, Wildhaven

Everything was weird. Peppermint spent a lot of time thinking about Raincloud, and what he would do. He missed Ironbark. Thinking about the stories helped a little. One thing that troubled him however was imagining Old Man Snake’s living hole. The idea of somebody living in something was unusual. Peppermint had only ever thought of pouches as in. Wattle had to remind him of a particularly dense part of the forest, where passing kangaroos had formed a tunnel in the undergrowth. Once he got the idea, it gave him even more to think about. For starters, he watched better where he was hopping instead of just following his mum or some other kangaroo. If animals lived in the earth, they might also come out at any time. Peppermint didn’t want to hop onto a snake, or even almost hop onto a snake. He became a little obsessed with the dense tunnel in the forest, and hid there, and imagined all kinds of things.

 

So when Fencepost came, and asked him whether he was game to explore the cave on the other side of the forest, he was all for it. At first he didn’t know what a cave was, but once Fencepost explained that it was a hole in the ground, Peppermint became excited and wanted to go immediately.  He didn’t even ask whether anything nice to eat grew in there, like the other joeys had. Peppermint hoped it’d be like being in the pouch, but with exploring thrown in, and more room, and doing whatever you wanted. What was there not to like? Eagerly he bounced after Fencepost. They hopped down the wooded creek line, giving wide skirt to the blackberry brambles where that nasty old fox lived, and up again on the opposite hill, deep into a gully. It was thickly overgrown, but you could still see unusual things lying about – bits of broken concrete, rusty machine parts, piles of rock, old fences. Stuff like that was part of the landscape for the joeys, but here was a lot of it, which seemed a bit intimidating and a bit exciting. Finally, they arrived at an opening in the hill. It was tall, as tall as Wattle if she stretched up.  Not as tall as Bluegum. And it was dark. It smelt of earth, and of something else. Fencepost and Peppermint stopped for a moment and looked at one another. It was a little scary. But Peppermint had never been in a hole in the ground, and needed to know what it’s like. And Fencepost, anything he didn’t know, he had to get his nose into. They turned around once more, and sniffed, and listened for enemies. You wouldn’t want to be followed into there by a fox or a dog. They both had never seen a dog, but they’d heard about them, and didn’t want to meet one. The air was clear. The birds were making the calls they make when nothing more unusual is going on than two joeys climbing a hill by themselves.

 

Fencepost went in first, ears rotating on his head. They hopped very slowly, the ground was covered in hard broken things, which was uncomfortable. Peppermint nearly wanted to leave again, then he felt soft earth under his feet. That was better. They couldn’t see where they were going, but kangaroos spend most of their lives being up at night. Even young ones are good at using their noses and ears to orient themselves in the dark. Peppermint even began to enjoy the experience. This was like he’d imagined it to be. Safe but new. Then Fencepost stopped and Peppermint walked onto his tail.

 

“What?”

 

“There’s two paths.”

 

Peppermint liked standing there, looking back at the small piece of evening light that came in the opening far away, and getting to decide which way to go. It was always hopping after somebody else when you were with the mob, never deciding yourself where you wanted to go. Right now, Peppermint didn’t remember that he usually wanted to follow his mum. This was big kangaroo stuff they were doing. The left path smelt nicer, earthier and more exciting. So they took it. It led down, deeper into the hill. In the middle of the path were metal rails.  You couldn’t see anything. They bounced along for a while. Now they heard something! It rustled, like an enormous snake uncoiling. Then there was movement, something flying around their heads. A lot of somethings or somebodies. They had stirred a colony of bats. Of course, they’d both seen single bats before, but a whole colony taking off towards your head is different. They hastily turned, and galloped like crazy towards the entrance. It didn’t help that bats kept coming at them from behind. The colony hadn’t been disturbed for a long time, the bats were as freaked as the joeys. Before long, Peppermint was outside in the warm evening air. Out here, there seemed much less to be afraid of. He paid no attention to the bats flying out. He’d seen that before, and didn’t really connect it to what had gone on in the cave. But where was Fencepost? He looked around. Fencepost was definitely not ahead of him. He peered back into the darkness. There was nothing to see, but worse, there was nothing to hear, either, only that scary rustling and high shrieking. Fencepost hopping anywhere in the cave should make a familiar sound. Peppermint didn’t want to go in there again. He tentatively stuck his head in, and swivelled his ears around. Nothing. He pulled his head out again, and listened over the hillside. Definitely no Fencepost hopping away out here either. What to do? His impulse was to run home to his mum as fast as possible. But where was his mate? He didn’t know what to do.

 

Peppermint took some deep breaths to calm himself. There was no Fencepost outside, so he had to be still somewhere in there. And Peppermint had to go and look. Gingerly, he hopped a few paces inside. Still no Fencepost. But also, no sign of the scary flying horde, and no more rustling. A few more steps. Nothing. After some more steps, he was back at the place where one path went down. He followed it. All the distances seemed much longer now, and less pleasant than when they’d first come in. The path narrowed and the ceiling got lower. There was nowhere to hide if a dog should come. Then he found Fencepost. He was lying on the ground, not moving. Peppermint smelt blood. Had Fencepost been attacked by one of the flying monsters? Peppermint bent down and gave his mate a closer sniff. The smell of blood came from the top of his head. Had a flying monster bitten him? That was too much for Peppermint. He startled and jumped and hit his head on the ceiling and didn’t care about the throbbing in front of his ear. He raced out of the cave, down the gully, avoided the blackberry bramble where the fox lived, and up the wooded creek to his home range. There was his mum. He ran to her and stuck his head in the pouch. She clucked comfortingly, and combed his neck, which always calmed him down, and licked the blood off his head.

 

“Have you been fighting?”, she asked.

 

“No”, he wailed. “We were in a hole in the ground and Fencepost has been eaten by a monster.”

 

“Fox?”, Wattle asked, serious now, looking out for a fox following.

 

“No, flying monsters!”

 

His mum stopped looking around and looked at Peppermint instead.

 

“Flying? An eagle?” Now she looked up.

 

“No, many flying monsters, in the cave!”

 

“That’s bats. They can’t have eaten Fencepost. Did you see it happen?”

 

“No, he’s lying there with blood on his head, he’s dead.” Fencepost tried to be calm, but it was hard, even with his mum here.

 

“He’s still there?” Wattle wanted to know. “Let’s go find him. You hop ahead and show me the way.”

 

Peppermint wasn’t too happy about going to the scary place again. With all his courage he hopped along. They went down the creek, around the blackberries, up the gully. Peppermint only stopped once they were at the cave entrance.

 

“Here”, he panted.

 

“Go ahead then and show me.”

 

This was getting worse and worse, but he had to. It felt less scary knowing his mum was behind him, but he still didn’t want to go in there again, even though he was very upset about Fencepost. Or maybe because he was upset about Fencepost. His mum pushed past him. “Follow me”. In they went, past the rusting metal in the entrance, down the left path, until they found the small kangaroo. At least the flying monsters hadn’t eaten him yet.

 

“Peppermint, bats don’t eat roos! They don’t even bite. “

 

Wattle sniffed Fencepost. She noticed there was blood on the top of his head, just like there’d been blood on Peppermint’s head.

 

“How did your head get bloody?” she asked.

 

“I jumped too high.” Jumping too high and crashing into branches isn’t exactly rare in a joey’s life, though they don’t often draw blood.

 

“Maybe something similar happened to Fencepost”, Wattle said thoughtfully. “I’ve seen roos knocked out from jumping too high. They wake up again.” She began to lick Fencepost’s head. “It’s not a lot of blood. But if we leave him here, a fox or a dog might get attracted by the smell. Also,” she added, “it’s not very nice waking up all by yourself in the dark.”

 

Wattle bent over the still joey. “He’s such a little thing,” she wondered. “Maybe if you push…” She bent over Fencepost in the way of a doe who lets the young into her pouch. But it didn’t work. Kangaroo front paws are no good for pushing a lifeless joey into a pouch.

 

“We need to wait here”, Wattle finally said. “When he wakes up, he can climb into my pouch himself and we’ll get him home.”

 

Peppermint hoped very much that Fencepost would wake up at all. He felt terribly guilty. If Peppermint hadn’t been so keen, Fencepost wouldn’t have gone to the cave. He shuffled and sniffed most unhappily in the dark. Finally Wattle said, “Let me tell you a story...”

 Find out about Uli Krahn at Day 8 [93] and read more

‘Peppermint and Fencepost’ at Days 29 [72], 43 [58] and 56 [45]

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