Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 56 
Peppermint and Fencepost:
(an extract from a work in progress)
by Uli Krahn
Photo: Ray Drew
Just when Peppermint thought he had understood how things worked, something happened. After that, he didn’t feel like he understood anything for a long time. It was an evening like all others, neither warm nor cold, not even windy. The kangaroos were grazing on the clearing, some of the bucks had left to roam. Not all of them, the grass was a little better after the drizzle. Peppermint enjoyed the sound of the mob around him, the tearing at the grass, the breathing, the footfalls, the rustling of tails, the occasional snort or cough when kangaroos got in each other’s way. There was a sound coming closer. It was a familiar sound, though Peppermint wouldn’t have been able to say what it was. Also, it was coming closer than it had ever been before. It was loud. Some kangaroos were lifting their heads up from grazing. Some adults were standing still and tall to see what was going on. The joeys were looking at their mothers. Peppermint didn’t know what to make of it. It sounded dangerous now, it was too loud, but he couldn’t work out what kind of danger it might be. Surely the fox or a dingo couldn’t make a sound this big. Then it came over the crest of the hill, and wasn’t just sound anymore. There was light, like the moon, several moons, near one another, only much brighter. They were moving along together, getting bigger. Meanwhile the sound had become roar, louder than anything Peppermint had ever heard before, louder even than the strongest wind. The moons were by now so big there was nothing else left to see. All Peppermint could make out was too-bright moons coming down the hill, not gently and steady like the real moon, but shaky, their strong light making trees stand out from the dark and step back again a moment later. All the kangaroos were now standing tall and staring at the moons. Nobody was hopping away or getting ready to attack.
Then there was another sound, a sharp crack like when a branch breaks in a storm. There were several such cracks. There was nothing left but light and cracks and the roar. Peppermint stared at the brightness with the other kangaroos. Suddenly there was movement. Somebody hopped past, smelling of blood. That caused the kangaroos in his wake to panic and follow, or just bounce anywhere. Others stood still. Peppermint looked at his mum. She didn’t look back at him like she usually did, she was staring into the moons. This troubled Peppermint. Something was wrong. He hopped over to her, but didn’t push at her belly. It didn’t seem like a good idea to stick his head in her fur. After all, some kangaroos were fleeing. They might need to flee, too. There were more cracks. Peppermint was panicking now. He scratched his mum to get her attention. Finally, she looked away from the light and at him. Now she noticed the general commotion, some kangaroos fleeing, some lying on the ground. Peppermint couldn’t understand why they lay down to rest in a moment like this. The smell of blood was stronger now.
At last his mum turned and fled, Peppermint closely behind. They went into the forest. All around them were the crashing sounds of other panicked kangaroos. Some birds were sounding alarm calls. Possums were hurrying up their trees. From the clearing still came the cracks, the light and the roar. The forest was full of fear and fearful sounds. Kangaroos ran in all directions, not sure which way to go, or what they were escaping from. Peppermint and his mum were down by the dry creek now, all scratched and twigs and burrs stuck in their fur. Peppermint thought he had a thorn or splinter in his foot. Wattle noticed his hopping wasn’t as it should be. Together, they hid in a thick bush. The terrible sounds continued for a long time. The roar rose and fell now, the cracks had stopped. Then the roar became quieter, more like the sound they were familiar with. They stayed in their bush for the rest of the night, huddled up together. Later Peppermint stuck his head in the pouch and sobbed.
At dawn, they were hungry and damp from the dew. The forest was quiet. Only some of the usual birds were calling. There seemed to be fewer animals about. Wattle got up, and together they hopped back to the clearing to find the other kangaroos. Some were already there. The clearing didn’t look normal. The grass was torn up in long lines. It smelt of blood and Peppermint could see blood on the ground, too. They didn’t feel much like eating from the clearing now. But they had to eat. Peppermint hadn’t eaten all night, and was beginning to feel shaky and light-headed. His mum gave him milk, but it wasn’t enough. She led him to the edge of the clearing, where it didn’t look and smell so bad, and Peppermint grazed a little. He didn’t feel hungry but he had to eat something to feel less sick. When his mum saw him hesitate, she bent over and ate some of the grass, too. That made it easier for Peppermint. After a while they turned around, wondering what the other kangaroos were doing. Some were at the edge like themselves, mostly mothers with children. There was a bunch of bucks in the middle of the clearing, bravely tearing at the squashed grass not far from the blood. There was Bluegum and his mates…some of his mates. Some must still be hiding in the forest. Some of the does and joeys hadn’t returned yet either. And where was Ironbark? And whose blood was on the ground? There was a lot of blood, it must be more than one kangaroo that got hurt.
After they’d eaten, they went back to the edge of the forest. Now Peppermint was exhausted, and his mum, too. They lay down to sleep, but they didn’t sleep well. The lights and sounds of the previous night returned when they shut their eyes. When they finally slept, they dreamt not of the mob bounding around together, but of how eerie the clearing had looked, and how the mob also didn’t look like before. Smaller. When they woke it was only afternoon. They stayed cuddled together, Wattle grooming Peppermint’s fur. It was in a terrible state after all the crashing around in the forest last night. He also hadn’t had the energy to groom himself. His mum saw to that, and pulled the thorn out of his foot, too, and licked the place. Then they returned to the clearing. It smelt less of blood, but still looked bad. Yet they had to eat, so they started grazing at the edge again. Soon they were joined by other kangaroos. Peppermint could see Fencepost not far away. The other kangaroos also hadn’t seen Ironbark. “He’ll come back soon”, Peppermint said. There was nobody taller, stronger or more reassuring than Ironbark. The does were looking sad. Some older kangaroos said this has happened before. And somebody else said they’d seen Ironbark lie on the ground. Nobody knew what had happened to the kangaroos that lay down on the ground. ‘They won’t come back’, an old doe said. ‘Bluegum’s in charge now’, somebody else said. Peppermint couldn’t believe any of this. He went and stuck his head in the pouch. His mum combed his ears.
The mob stayed restless after the too bright night. Small things scared grown bucks into running away. A bird perhaps, or a branch falling was enough. Even the wind. Most kangaroos grew thinner, as they interrupted their feeding too often to look out for enemies. There were many kangaroos missing, it took the remaining mob a few days to realise just how many weren’t there anymore. Everybody felt empty and scared when they looked to see what Ironbark was doing, and there was no Ironbark. Fencepost said, ‘I feel like the split tree’. That was a tree near the clearing which had been struck by lightning. One side was still like a normal tree with green branches, on the other side was nothing. It looked like the tree should fall over. Peppermint was confused how kangaroos could simply disappear. One kangaroo might be dragged away by a mob of dingos, he could imagine that (though he didn’t like to). But there’d be tracks. There were no tracks in the clearing apart from the lines tearing up the grass. How big must that enemy have been? Was it big like Peppermint was bigger than a bug? Did it just swallow the missing kangaroos with a crack of its enormous jaws? Thinking about that gave him nightmares for a few days. His mum noticed and got him to talk to her. ‘No Peppermint, it’s not an enormous mouth. It’s the stick monsters. They’re smaller than a large kangaroo, they stand upright like a kangaroo, but their legs are shrivelled up, they can’t hop. They’re slow. Some people say they were kangaroos once, but I don’t think so. They get around on sliding tree trunks, and have sticks that crack and bring death.’
‘What is death?’
‘Remember the dead possum we saw?”’
Peppermint remembered. It hadn’t moved at all, and something was missing.
‘Don’t think about it too much.’
‘But what about..’
‘I can’t explain the stick monsters to you. They don’t make sense to me, and I don’t want to repeat silly stories I’ve heard. Kangaroos say all kinds of things about them. Just – when you see those moons, try to get away from them. If you see a stick monster, get away.’
Peppermint was sure he was going to run away from the stick monsters. He had so many questions, but he could see his mum didn’t want to talk about it anymore. But one thing bothered him even more than the others.
‘Why didn’t we all run away when the moons came?’
‘It’s hard. They do something to you. You were very clever, Peppermint, to move as you did when you did. Remember that any time you see the too bright moons again.’
‘Again? Will they come back?’ Peppermint was shocked.
Wattle looked sad. ‘Hopefully not in a hurry.’
Peppermint felt even more confused after all this. He kept looking out for Ironbark – maybe he had just run very far away and took a long time to return? It wasn’t like Ironbark to leave his mob.