Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 8 [93]

         Peppermint and Fencepost:

                           The Fox

(an extract from a work in progress)

                        by Uli Krahn

Photo credit: Stella Reid, Wildhaven Wildlife Shelter

Peppermint and Fencepost had strayed away from the mob to investigate a rumour of a patch of specially nice grass down at the bottom of the valley. Fencepost had gone on about it for days.

“It’s a bit out of the way, that’s why nobody goes there. And it’s not enough for everybody.”

 

Peppermint was sceptical. If it was so perfect, why didn’t the others go there? Ironbark, their boss male, went far and wide every day to investigate, and if he found something good, he often let the does with the joeys follow him. Most of the other males also roamed, but they didn’t all share what they found. Some did, though. Peppermint’s older brother Paperbark said they weren’t selfish.

“Sometimes you only find enough for one, no point dragging everybody there. They help the mob, too, if they themselves have a full belly.”

 

Fencepost wanted to be like Paperbark and go on his own roams. But he didn’t want to do it by himself like Paperbark did, so he nagged Peppermint. Finally, he started talking to Gumleaf, a male his age with a crooked tail. It looked like a bent gum leaf. Something had gone wrong when he was little, it made his hop a bit wobbly but he was fast alright. He just couldn’t fight very well: when he tried to lean on his tail to kick, he sometimes fell sideways. Not always. It was only the very end of the tail that was dodgy. Still, Gumleaf hung around the mothers mostly, not with the young males his age who were forever having play fights. He made himself useful by being the best look-out in the mob. Any danger anywhere, Gumleaf saw it first and stood stock still. Peppermint was a little surprised that Fencepost had convinced Gumleaf of all people to go on a potentially risky and pointless roam. Maybe Gumleaf was flattered to be asked. Peppermint felt jealous that Fencepost had asked somebody else. He was too young to realise that this may have been Fencepost’s plan. When it came to getting what suited him, Fencepost just had a way. That’s at least what Peppermint reckoned when he thought about the whole thing later.

“I’ll come too!”, he said. Fencepost looked serious.

 

“You sure, little one?”

“Yes”

 

“Come on then”, and off they bounced, down by the thickly overgrown gully that led from their grazing ground halfway up the hill to the bottom of the valley. The trees and bushes stood more densely here. It even smelt damp, a delicious smell of young fat growing shoots that made Peppermint’s mouth water. Otherwise he didn’t like the area much, like all kangaroos he preferred staying at the edge of the woods, but wasn’t so keen on crashing through dense vegetation. It made so much noise, and the smell of broken shrubs and ferns overshadowed everything. How were they to know if an enemy approached? He asked Fencepost, who said that nobody could see them in here, though he didn’t seem so sure either.

 

“We have Gumleaf with us”, he reminded Peppermint. “He’ll spot all the enemies before they spot us.”

 

Finally they reached the bottom of the valley. There was a dry creek bed, and beside it was a stand of grass, as promised. It looked great. Peppermint hadn’t seen grass this green and juicy for a while. But it also looked a bit weird round here. There were holes in the ground from rabbits, and a trace of a strong smell that was definitely not rabbit but enemy. His nostrils large, Peppermint looked at the others.

“Don’t worry”, Fencepost said, though he didn’t look so sure himself. Gumleaf looked almost panicked.

 

“Let’s eat, friends”. Fencepost made a show of relaxation and chewed the long thin blades. Just looking at him made

Peppermint and Gumleaf need to eat, too, it just smelt so good, and hearing Fencepost crunch away would make anybody hungry. They all chewed contentedly for a while.

“Isn’t this the best”, Fencepost said around a mouthful. “Bet some of the males come here and keep it to themselves”.

 

“Mmmm” said Gumleaf.

 

They ate some more, each thinking one of the others was looking out for danger. Suddenly Gumleaf froze. But it was too late, the enemy was already close. It was an old fox. None of them had ever seen one. It smelt of death though, and seeing those teeth made you want to stand stiller than you’d ever been and run away faster than you’d ever run. The fox went for Gumleaf, who made a few feeble kicks in his direction. Peppermint was surprised, he didn’t know kangaroos fought back. He could barely breathe. Fencepost was frozen, too.  Gumleaf missed the fox with his first kick, and fell sideways with his second. The fox was closing in on him for the kill, his yellow eyes on the spot of Gumleaf’s throat where his teeth would be in a moment. Gumleaf got up and finally turned to run. The fox’s teeth were bared and gripped Gumleaf’s tail. With his large paws he expertly pushed Gumleaf down. Now he would go for the throat. Suddenly there was an almighty crash in the shrubs above them. Even the fox stopped to look. It was Ironbark, their mob’s boss male breaking through the undergrowth. He simply wiped the fox away with his huge tail. The fox snarled and growled, but Ironbark was much bigger than him. The fox pulled in his tail and scuttled away.

 

Now it was quiet in the brambles. Gumleaf still lay on the ground, his tail bleeding a little. Just a trickle. Ironbark bent down and sniffed the wound and gave it a little lick.

“Lick away the blood so you don’t attract every fox and cat and eagle in the district, and go home all of you.” 

When he saw they were all still frozen, he added,

 

“Before I beat you up”, but he touched Gumleaf gently with his heavily muscled forearm. 

 

“Back to your pouches”. He hopped behind them all the way. After that, Peppermint didn’t leave the mob for quite a while.

Uli Krahn has published fiction, poetry and essays on antipodes, big things, migration, madness and art. After years in the foundations of maths, she now lives in Kings Cross with partner and untamed indoor cat, working on vegan aesthetics, the kangaroo novel and a poetry cycle about Adorno visiting.

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