Four Small Stones - Urban Hunters series #1

By Gary Taaffe

Young adult, Action & adventure, Children's, Comedy & satire, General fiction

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742
18 mins

Four Small Stones, Chapters 1 to 3

— CHAPTER ONE —

FOUR SMALL STONES 

“Where’s your spirit, Billy?” Cobar said as his withered legs lowered him to the edge of the cliff face beside his great–grandson. He peered past his dangling feet to watch a stone descend beyond his eyesight into the river far below.
But Billy didn’t answer.
Cobar’s wisened years afforded him an enduring patience, so he tuned into the caress of cooling shade lavished upon him by a tortured old eucalyptus tree. He admired the twisted, gnarly, old trunk that bulged and clung with determination to a crack in the ancient rock wall. He unconsciously gave his nose–bone a twist while he considered how life had sculpted his own body. A fall down an embankment and a gash in his forearm had drawn a hungry dingo to the smell of his blood. So Cobar ate the dingo and salvaged its foreleg for a trophy. The bone now sat above his lip like a moustache, giving him an air of importance, and a memory that made him smile. All the twisting had made his nose itchy, so he slid out the bone and gave his nose a good scratch.
Finally, Billy sighed as if dragging himself into the relief of his elder’s presence.
“Mother come to me last night,” he said.
“That’s why we have Corroboree here, Billy.” Cobar spread his arms wide, displaying the mist swirling up through the carpet of treetops across the river. “The spirits are strong, the ancestors can talk to us.”
“She want me to follow the river till the brown snake stand up, where he watch over them whitefellas.”
“Ah, it’s you!” Cobar said while sliding his bone back into place. “She show me big Red kangaroo go down river in a canoe.”
“Why she want me to go, Grandfather?”
“No future for you boys here. We the only Aborigines left. We gotta find you some girls or no more Dreaming.”
“But, Grandfather I’m only thirteen! I’m not even man yet. Them whitefellas gonna kill me too.”
“Your mother won’t let that happen, Billy. That’s why she pick you — you smart, you listen her, not like brothers.” He indicated his head towards Billy’s older brothers, Mallee and Pindaari.
A tiny smile curled one edge of Billy’s full lips as he noticed Mallee selecting some stones from the dirt around their campsite — he knew his day was about to get interesting.
“Not time yet anyway,” Cobar said. “Maybe when it is time, you be man. When you see the big Red kangaroo, you will know it is time!”
Billy sat, despondent and quiet, while he considered how intense his mother had been this time. He knew she wanted him to leave soon, but he didn’t feel ready to go on his Walkabout yet. He wanted time to grow into a man at his own pace, like his brothers had, not in some kind of a hurry. He thought about the kangaroo and hoped Cobar was right, but then he worried about the fact that there were big Red kangaroos everywhere. The drought had lured them to the coast from out west in search of water. He decided not to look at them.
“When you got no future, Billy, you got no past — no Dreaming to guide you into the future. Gotta have your Dreaming or you get lost, like us, we nearly lost. Can’t hide here anymore, little fella — time to find our future!”
“Hey, Billy!” Mallee called.
Mallee’s only goal in life was to make galahs of his younger brothers and by the way he’d been giggling with Pindaari, Billy figured it was his turn again.
“Walkabout through the whitefella culture, Billy. You be OK. If it’s safe for us, we find plenty wives for good lookin’ fella like you.”
Billy wondered what he’d do with one wife, let alone plenty. He’d never even seen a girl before. Still, he figured Cobar would teach him all he needed to know anyway, so he let the problem go.
“OK, Grandfather.” Billy rose and waited while Cobar struggled to his feet. “But first I gotta cook me up a couple o’ galahs.”
Cobar smiled in anticipation, put his arm around his favourite grandson’s shoulders for support, and they wandered back to their Corroboree site.
“What?” Billy said as he stepped onto a massive rock platform that jutted out from the cliff face like a balcony at a theatre.
Mallee said nothing and held out his four small stones for Billy and Pindaari to behold. There were two small stones; about the size of a wallaby’s nuts, a slightly larger, rounded stone made of granite that was quite heavy, and then a bigger stone again with sharp edges that wasn’t very heavy at all. He selected the smallest one for himself with a grin, and then offered the remains to Pindaari.
“What’s this for?” he said, as if he didn’t already know.
Billy couldn’t believe how stupid they still thought he was.
“Just pick one!” Mallee said.
“Hmm,” Pindaari pondered while rubbing what he liked to think of as a beard. He picked out the stones one at a time, scrutinising them carefully before taking a moment to consider his findings. Then he selected two at a time to compare their weight and shape. He even gave them a spit and polish to compare their colour before annoying Mallee by putting each freshly spat stone back into the palm of his outstretched hand. Pindaari walked around in circles with one hand on his hip, the other rubbing his chin intelligently. Then he kicked up the dust as if he was struggling with his decision. Occasionally, he stopped to give Mallee and the stones a ponderous look, before going back to his chin rubbing and dust kicking.
“Bloody hell, Pindaari, will ya hurry up?”
Pindaari considered Mallee’s impatience, and then raised one eyebrow in sly recognition of a clever thought. He began knocking the stones together, listening carefully to their sound, before putting them back again to reflect on the result with more intelligent chin rubbing and dust kicking.
Mallee dropped his head, shaking it from side to side. He looked like he was giving up, but then he filled his lungs and huffed out a huge sigh to help him tap into his reserves of patience. He wedged his free hand under his armpit and adjusted his outstretched arm for the long haul, while looking at Pindaari with contemptuous patience.
“I swear you galahs are gonna turn me into an ancestor!” he moaned.
Billy laughed — whatever the consequences of the game were, they’d be worth the memory of Mallee’s face. Pindaari was like a predator prowling around his prey, poking it and prodding it for pleasure. Mallee was about to lose it, Billy could see it in his face — he’d clenched his jaw and squinted his eyes. Pindaari must have seen it too because he quickly snatched up the granite stone with a satisfied grin.
“Finally!” Mallee cursed. Then he impatiently offered the last two to Billy, as if trying to pressure him into making a quick decision.
“I wanna pick first,” Billy said.
Mallee’s whole body slumped and he sighed so heavily that he looked like he was emptying.
“Why?” he demanded.
“‘Cause I want the little fella.”
Mallee did his head drop thing again and said,
“It don’t matter how big it is. Alright, you have mine and I’ll have the big one then.”
Pindaari looked shocked and shuffled about nervously, which he tried to hide from Billy while waiting for his reply.
“No way! You probably wanted the big one all along!” Billy said.
“No I didn’t! It don’t matter how big it is! Will ya just pick one?”
Billy was tempted to drag it out a bit longer in the hope they’d let something of their plan slip, but judging by Pindaari’s surprised expression when Mallee offered to take the big stone with the sharp edges, he wondered if Pindaari wasn’t the one being set–up. So he decided to take the big stone, just to show them that he wasn’t scared.
Pindaari seemed relieved.
Mallee didn’t say anything. He just grabbed his spears in deflated triumph and headed straight down the mountain trail without even looking back to see if his brothers were following him.

— CHAPTER TWO —

SANCTUARY

Cobar watched the boys trail off through the scrub and waited — sure enough, Billy turned back before he disappeared to give Cobar a wink. Cobar grinned and nodded in return. He was excited for Billy, he was off to have some fun with his brothers.
It was the middle of summer in the year 2011, the boys had grown up but for the most part, Cobar realised, little had changed in the last thirteen years, not since he’d stood holding Billy, blood–soaked and motherless after his tragic birth. Billy’s mother, Elanora, lay on the ground at Cobar’s feet, he’d just cut Billy out of her stomach, blood was everywhere and she was dead. He didn’t even have time to think about what had to be done — after a day and a half in labour, Elanora had died suddenly in a lather of sweat, so he quickly cut the baby out before it died too.
All the family was by her side, trying to comfort her, trying to help her. They were still in shock over her abrupt demise when suddenly Cobar performed the gruesome task with his stone–age knife. It was incomprehensible, but in the same instant, he was pulling the newborn out of her open belly. He held it up with his hands under its armpits, but the baby hung limp, and lifeless. The calamity tore at everyone’s hearts. Suddenly the boy gasped a breath and squirmed about. The clan’s sense of joy was tragic. They laughed, cried and screamed in frustration.
Cobar put him straight onto his mothers breast, hoping to get at least a little nourishment into him. He couldn’t suckle. He was too weak after running his own marathon for life. They named him Billy, after his mother’s love of billy tea, and wrapped him in a specially softened piece of leather, where he went straight to sleep, exhausted. He lay so completely still that they found themselves constantly opening his blanket to see if his chest was moving up and down. It was, barely.
He needed milk and he needed it fast. They considered rushing out of hiding to find a milking mother back at the church mission from where they’d escaped when Billy’s father, Mandu, was a newborn. However, they feared the government would take Billy from them, just as they would have stolen Mandu had his family not escaped back into the bush to live.
That was the government’s solution to the “black problem” at the time. To steal the black’s babies and give them to white women to bring them up proper. To teach the girls to be housekeepers and the boys to be cheap labour. To boost the economy and dilute the population at the same time — “Hurrah!” At least it wasn’t barbaric like slavery, someone must have reasoned. Killing them outright had become too distasteful for a modern, new Australia. Still, they had to do something with the way the blacks were complaining all the time about the theft of their land and the murder of their people. Cobar knew the story well.
He asked Mandu what he wanted to do but Mandu couldn’t think straight — he’d just watched his wife die a slow and agonising death, and his newborn baby lay dying in his arms as well. He needed Cobar to decide. Cobar wondered if he could go back to being a stockman again as he’d become when he and his son, Burnam, were first rounded up like sheep and marched out of the bush. Cobar knew they were lucky that day with Constable Hopkins finding them instead of his old–school father, the sergeant, who preferred to shoot the blacks on sight like vermin. The constable wanted to be a preacher. His father wanted him to be a policeman, and so it was. However, the sergeant was attending a funeral that day so young Hopkins scored another group of heathen souls to save. His father was furious, but the constable felt the Almighty Father held rank, so he walked with a jaunty step as he pompously dropped in on the mission to check on his flock.
Cobar had shown an interest in horses, or at least they saw him looking at one with interest, so they sent him into the paddock to be a stockman. Really, he was just hungry and wanted to eat one. Burnam showed an interest in becoming a butler, well, that’s how they interpreted him holding up a whitefella’s dinner plate to say that he and his father were hungry. Mrs Windsor tried to hide her befuddlement when Mr Windsor turned up with a near naked sixteen–year–old Burnam on her front porch. She’d retired from teaching English to follow her husband into the wilds of Australia to raise cattle. But she was bored. Today however, her cunning husband had a solution — a butler! And a heathen one at that who needed educating.
Burnam didn’t mind. He found everything new and interesting and she really was quite a nice old lady. He didn’t like the silly outfit she insisted he wear, but he changed his tune when the girls from the mission started to take an interest in him. He liked Binda. She had big, round, brown eyes that fluttered shyly whenever she saw him. They married and before long, a baby was on the way. They called him Mandu.
Life wasn’t too bad, until one ordinary day in 1963 when a van arrived at the mission and left with everyone’s children. It changed everything. Burnam and Binda made immediate plans to flee to the bush as soon as Mandu was born, along with another couple, Taree and Iluka, and their newborn, Elanora. One moonlit night they all filtered through the trees like a mist on a breeze.
Cobar joined them of course, leading his tiny tribe to a place he knew, a place dear to his heart where the spirit of his wife rested. He had longed to return to the old ways, to find his own long–lost spirit and guide his family into a bright new future. He led them to a mountainous region with steep gorges, treacherous cliffs, and dense forests. It was too harsh for the whitefellas to colonise, especially with vast amounts of more easily accessible land available elsewhere, so they left it undisturbed, creating a natural sanctuary for the ecosystem’s top predators to move back in. A lucky coincidence further assured their security in 1979 when the whole million–acre site was protected for posterity and declared, the Wollemi National Park. As long as they stayed under the park ranger’s radar, which wouldn’t be difficult as they’d been living hidden for over a decade already, they wouldn’t be kicked out. Little did they know that a mere two–hour’s drive along a winding road, the white population of Sydney was in the process of exploding to over a million people.
Mandu and Elanora had always been the best of friends, so it was only natural to see them marry as soon as they came of age. However, a dark cloud hung over them as they tried desperately without success to have children of their own. Then, when Elanora was twenty–one, her grey–haired parents surprised no one more than themselves by giving birth to little Jarrah. Mandu and Elanora were ecstatic and fussed over him like he was their own. However, tragedy struck when a raging bush fire decimated the already fragile tribe into a clan. Binda, Taree, and Iluka’s lives were harshly lost that searing summer night while Jarrah was still a toddler.
It was eight long years before the clan finally showed hope of more growth with Mandu and Elanora at last, having a baby of their own, Mallee. Pindaari followed soon after but then tragedy struck yet again, with Elanora’s demise upon Billy’s birth. Freedom had come at a terrible cost.
Jarrah was fourteen–years old at the time and inconsolable, so he ran away. He had a special bond with his sister who had become his mother. He had had her all to himself, until Mallee, Pindaari and Billy arrived and ruined everything.
The men figured he just needed some time alone, and that he’d be back when he calmed down, but he wasn’t. Burnam followed his tracks first thing the next morning. He’d travelled far to the south in a determined march where Burnam eventually lost his tracks at a bitumen road. It reminded him of the feel of steel of Constable Hopkins’ gun barrel on the back of his head just before he said, “Stick ‘em up.” Which he did, in a hurry — he’d seen what happened if you didn’t.
The immediate problem when Billy was born, was what were they going to feed him. They didn’t think he’d last a day without food, let alone a week’s march back to the mission, so they had to figure out a way to feed him right away. They turned to Cobar as usual, his knowledge of bush tucker and medicine was legendary amongst his people.
He remembered watching his great–grandmother mashing mammal brains for the babies, but they weren’t as young as Billy was. He couldn’t think of anything else at the moment anyway so he sent Burnam and Mandu out to see what they could find. In the mean time, he wondered if they should head off to their favourite spring. It was a day away but the water was pure and invigorating. There was an abundance of wildlife in the area too which meant a good supply of raw eggs that Billy would find easy to digest. Then he remembered the insects. There were swarms of them. Bees, he thought, and honey that would help him digest meat and other solid foods. That was the clincher, Cobar decided to move there straight away. They’d stay in a cave above the canopy, away from the insects and the dingos.
Suddenly six–year old Mallee burst into camp shouting excitedly that Burnam and Mandu were on their way back. They’d smoked a possum from its hollow and speared it, rather than clubbing it over the head as they normally would have. Cobar mashed its brains immediately and fed it to Billy with one wet finger at a time. It was slow and tedious work with the little fella rejecting most of it initially, but the small amounts he did take were enough to give him strength.
Cobar headed north first thing the next morning with Mandu, Mallee, Pindaari and Billy, while Burnam headed south after Jarrah. It was a week before he came back, empty–handed and distraught. He knew Jarrah could find them no matter where they were in the bush, if he returned, but he worried about the whitefellas finding Jarrah and killing him, if they hadn’t already. The adults felt there was nothing more they could do, so with Billy putting on weight and doing well, life went back to relative normality for the isolated little clan.

— CHAPTER THREE —

THE STENCH OF SOMETHING DEAD

The sun wasn’t far off the horizon but it was already stifling hot and Billy was thirsty. He’d been following Mallee for a good four kilometres when Mallee veered off their trail towards a nearby billabong for a drink. Billy wanted to ask how far they were going, but he knew only too well that they’d probably tell him the opposite of the truth anyway, so he started digging into a north–facing embankment for the eggs of the long necked turtle. It was a regular foraging spot so he knew exactly where to look. It wasn’t long before he had over a dozen filling his belly. Mallee and Pindaari followed his lead and then, after carefully filling the dirt back over the holes of the remaining eggs, they set–off again.
It was only about another half a kilometre before the stench of something dead insulted Billy’s senses.
“Not far now,” Mallee called from the front.
“Where we goin’?” Pindaari asked, as if he didn’t already know.
“Not far,” Mallee said.
Billy just laughed to himself and tuned into the unmistakeable hum of a swarm of blowflies up ahead. Then he saw it, the enormously bloated belly of a long–dead kangaroo cooking in the hot summer sun. Billy’s brain began swirling in the possibilities of Mallee’s twisted mind when suddenly he was set upon. Hundreds of noisy blowflies landed heavily upon his skin where they proceeded to vacuum him dry of salt. He darted for a clump of grass, ripping it from the ground before jamming it up under his headband so it hung down over his face. It helped, but it didn’t stop the stench left behind by their sodden little feet. He didn’t like this game already.
* * *
As a youngster, as much as Billy wanted to follow his older brothers in their never–ending pursuit of mischief, he was never quite able to keep up with them. If Pindaari had slowed down for him, he might have been OK, but Pindaari was struggling to keep up with Mallee as it was, so Billy missed out altogether.
He was an inquisitive little boy who wanted to know everything about everything, which kept Cobar, Burnam and Mandu busy thinking of lessons to fill his young mind. Cobar took him on long walks observing nature and discussing dreamtime stories. They gathered seeds to grind into flour for biscuits, and herbs for medicines, which Billy eagerly applied to his brother’s injuries. Mandu was the consummate hunter who loved having Billy along for the hunt. He said Billy was quiet, and that he considered his surroundings with a keen sense. Burnam was the toolmaker of the group, often sitting around camp surrounded by half a dozen projects in various stages of development. While carving a hardwood spear tip or constructing a trap of one kind or another, he constantly recited the ABCs with Billy, or practiced counting, just as Mrs Windsor had done with him. He told Billy that he stood the best chance of survival if he spoke proper English with, “Don’t shoot!” being a phrase of particular importance.
Billy wanted his skills to make up for his lack of size, so he learned as quickly as he could. Even before he could hunt, his brothers often returned to camp with a kill, only to find everyone full from Billy’s biscuits. They didn’t mind or have any jealousy towards him, as the better provider he was, the more food they had to fill their insatiable appetites.
Billy’s greatest skill came naturally — he had a wonderful sense of humour and an infectiously cheeky smile. It acted like a magnet on his already handsome face, drawing everyone in for a good time and helping to create a happy atmosphere that set the tone for the clan in general. Ripples of mirth constantly undulated around the campsite. It was the little things that amused them most: Cobar bursting into a thunderous snore during his afternoon nap, a yabby latching onto someone’s toe or a simple fart would often see the clan rolling around in hysterics.
To make up for having to go off without their little brother, Mallee and Pindaari often dramatised their day’s events for him with highly exaggerated tales around the camp–fire at night, much to the delight and entertainment of everyone. However, as Billy got older, they started playing tricks on him as they constantly did to one another for harmless fun. The problem was, the tricks were usually at their level and not at Billy’s, so he often came off second best, which frustrated him enormously. He began to brood, and his sense of humour stopped bubbling to the surface as it normally did. The Elders figured he’d work it out by himself, but again, he was just a bit too young.
They realised they hadn’t teased him themselves, which would have taught him how to handle it. So they put their heads together and came up with a plan. They didn’t want to mollycoddle him and protect him from the boys’ games, and they knew he was smart, so they tried to teach him how to anticipate their tricks and turn them around. They started with the basics, like distracting him and then pinching a little of his food. They gave it back of course, at first, and made it fun, but it wasn’t long before Billy was loading a tasty morsel with hot bush pepper berries and placing it strategically for the Elders to pinch.
So as Billy watched to see what Mallee’s next move would be with the overinflated kangaroo, he felt well prepared to counteract his devious mind.
Mallee didn’t bother protecting himself from the flies, in fact, he did the opposite — he laid down his spears and his woomera, pulled his boomerangs and knife from the loincloth cord around his waist, and even went as far as removing his loincloth. What was he up to Billy wondered. He noticed that Pindaari seemed to be wondering the same thing, although he looked a little concerned.
When Mallee was ready, he turned proud and naked to face his brothers, and then presented his small stone for them to see. He grinned mischievously and crouched down with his arms spread wide as if using them for balance, while looking at the kangaroo with caution. He flashed one last look at his brothers as if to say, “I’m going in,” and then he began his stalk.
Billy just shook his head, dumbfounded by the stupidity of what he figured Mallee was about to do. He was going to place his stone on top of the roo’s belly, carefully, as if it might explode in his face. Billy had no doubt that it would take a lot more than just a few stones for that to happen.
Pindaari shot a fearful look to Billy while shaking his head slowly, as if he couldn’t believe how brave Mallee was being. He moved to a tree to watch the proceedings from behind its safety, while Billy stood in awe at the level of idiocy right before his very eyes.
Mallee hesitated, obviously unsure of where to place his foot on the leaf–littered ground that crunched noisily every time he moved. He backtracked and searched for a better approach, which impressed Pindaari no end, as if the sound of a leaf crackling would surely cause the roo to blow up. Mallee closed in again, more cautious this time with the strain obvious, especially when he took a moment to flick the sweat from his brow. Pindaari’s intake of breath was audible, the tension palpable. Finally, Mallee stretched out his arm and placed his small stone on top of the over–inflated belly. Then he ducked down in an attempt to avoid the eruption of maggot–filled contents that would surely spread far and wide. It didn’t, so he popped his head up from behind a clump of grass with a mouthful of shiny white teeth announcing his victory. He returned in triumph, shoulders wide and chest out as if he had just conquered the world.
Billy expected Pindaari to rush to Mallee, to congratulate him for his brave deed. But he didn’t look happy at all, in fact if anything, he looked downright concerned. He was bouncing the granite stone in his hand thoughtfully, feeling its weight.
Mallee turned to Pindaari with a malicious grin and said,
“Your turn!”
Pindaari looked horror–struck and stared at his stone as if it was about to put him to death. Mallee smiled wide and shot a quick wink to Billy. That’s when Billy remembered Pindaari tricking Mallee into sitting on a bull ant nest the week before — he was still walking funny and itching incessantly. Pindaari was much more suited to gathering than hunting, so Billy realised that he really didn’t have a clue whether the roo would explode or not. It would give Mallee a victory if Pindaari chickened out. Not much of a victory but still, at least it would be something to tease him about. And when Pindaari finally realised that there never really was any danger at all, it would make Mallee’s victory even greater. Mallee really was making a meal of him. Pindaari was stomping around in frustrated defiance while Mallee goaded him into having his go. Billy decided he wanted a piece of Mallee’s action too, so he started stripping off. The look of shocked disbelief on Pindaari’s face was priceless.
“Hey, what are you doing?” he yelled, “I’m next, not you!”
“Too late!” Billy declared. “You’re too scared, so it’s my turn.” Billy looked to Mallee for confirmation that it was OK, who nodded back with pure delight lighting up his face.
Pindaari was outraged, he let loose a tirade of raucous indignation and even reverted to his native tongue to lend weight to his objections. All it did was increase Mallee’s victory.
Billy took his time undressing, enjoying the show too much to waste it. Pindaari was kicking up the dust and stomping around in circles, throwing up his arms and cursing. By the time Billy was ready, Mallee was already dressed and moving off to the side for a better view.
Billy followed Mallee’s lead by making a big deal of his stalk, even going as far as testing the wind direction and changing his approach to suit.
Pindaari in the meantime had finally calmed down enough to watch the proceedings. Billy knew that Pindaari was hoping beyond hope that the roo would blow up in his face, so Pindaari wouldn’t have to have his go. Billy remembered seeing Mallee pointing out the sharp edges on the biggest stone by rubbing his finger along it, and then hearing Pindaari giggling. He bet Mallee was telling Pindaari that the sharp edges would make the roo explode for sure. But Billy knew that Pindaari had figured it out by now and realised that his stone was the heaviest by far.
Billy had his back to them but he could feel their eyes upon him, watching his every move. He decided to drag his stalk out as long as he could, to build up the tension and make Pindaari sweat. It wasn’t easy. The smell was horrendous and the flies had formed a dark cloud around him. He wanted to show them that he wasn’t scared at all, nor bothered in the least by the smell, so he took a moment to examine the roo’s broken leg. Probably from a rabbit hole, he figured. He couldn’t hold out any longer, he reached out over the stinking roo while holding his head back to avoid the stench steaming up above it, before slowly, and carefully lowering his stone. He felt the fur on his fingertips as he settled it, ensuring it wouldn’t roll off when suddenly he saw the flash of Mallee’s boomerang whiz past his nose.
Everything slowed down: the weapon whirling end over end and indenting the belly, Mallee’s words, “It don’t matter how big it is.”, and the memory of the, “whomp, whomp, whomp,” sound of the boomerang that hadn't registered. Paralysed with fear he watched in horror as the indentation deepened and then, “WHOOSH,” a cloud of flatulent gases exploded in his face. His mouth, wide open at the time, snapped shut. Too late — gangrenous guts stormed in, slamming into the back of his tongue and filling his mouth. He gagged while trying to spit it out but the rotting remnants were gummy and sticking to the insides of his mouth. That’s when it moved, the ball inside his mouth started wriggling around in a porridgy mass of maggots. He spat and spat and spat but it was useless without water. Then he heard the howls of laughter coming from his brothers. He tried to open his gummed up eyelids and had to wipe them clear with the back of his hands. Mallee and Pindaari were rolling around in uncontrollable fits of laughter. It enraged him. He plunged his hands deep into the carcass and pulled out two huge handfuls of the green, maggot–filled guts.
He was standing over them before they even realised he was there. He waited, needing to see the fear in their faces before he rubbed it in. Pindaari saw him first but Billy was watching Mallee, and as Billy turned to see Pindaari roll away, Mallee rolled away too, leaving Billy standing alone and flustered with two lively handfuls of stinking guts.
It set them off all over again, so Billy lunged at them. They moved like lightening, bolting back along the trail from where they had all come. Billy would have cursed them, cursed them all the way back to the Dreamtime, but he wasn’t wasting his breath, he was focused, focused on catching them and making them eat that roo! His legs powered him like never before, floating over obstacles with ease while concentrating on balancing the wriggling mass at the ends of his outstretched arms. They kept a safe distance ahead of him, only just ahead to keep him keen, but none the less, well out of his reach. By the time they reached the billabong and swam away all Billy had left was the slime dripping from his hands.
“You bastards,” he yelled. Even his inability to land a decent curse made them laugh. He stood in waist–deep water looking at his hands in frustration. He couldn’t swim after them without the water washing his hands clean. “I’m gonna get you mongrels,” he said.
“You gotta catch us first,” Mallee said, swimming closer now that Billy had washed his hands.
Billy was swishing and spitting in a vain attempt to rid himself of the foul taste.
“Here y’are,” Mallee said kindly, revealing a lotus lilly that he was hiding below the surface of the water.
Billy snatched at it and ravenously devoured the bulbous end of its root system; but it was far from enough so Pindaari threw him a couple more.
“Still gonna get yez,” Billy said with the onion–like substance overflowing his mouth.
“Oh, come on! I saw you wink at Mallee thinking you was gonna get me,” Pindaari challenged.
Billy tried to hide his smile but it was too late, he knew they’d seen it wrinkle his cheek. They burst out laughing and came closer, knowing they’d checkmated him.
“We got you good, little bro!” Mallee said.
“You just remember that when I get you back!”
“You won’t get me. I’m too smart for you.”
“You won’t be saying that when you’re swimming in it,” Billy promised with a plan already forming in his head. All it did was make them laugh even harder.
“It even went in your mouth!” Mallee said in between fits of his own laughter.
Billy felt something moving in his hair so he felt around and fingered out a maggot, which he flicked at Pindaari who was within range.
“Oooh, a little maggot, I’m sooo scared,” he teased. “You thought I was too scared to have me go didn’t you?” He exaggerated a big wink to Mallee who burst out laughing all over again.
“So the stones had nothing to do with it?” Billy said.
“Nah, they was just to make you think I was gonna get Pinni, but I tricked ya,” Mallee said, as if he was a genius.
“Took two of you to think of something to get me!”
“Wasn’t that hard,” Mallee said.
“That’s right, ‘cause you’re not that smart.”
“Smarter than you, little bro, you’re the galah today,” Mallee beamed in delight.
“Well you’re gonna be a bigger galah tomorrow.”
“Pindaari might be, but you won’t get me!”
“You weren’t that smart when the bull ant bit you on the balls!” Pindaari said.
“I’m still gonna get you back for that!”
Billy’s mind wandered while his brothers splashed around bickering with one another. He had to find a way to get them back or he’d never live this one down — it had the makings of a story that would go on for years and years, perhaps even making it into legend! He had to get away to concentrate so he figured this was as good a time as any to go back to the roo to get his things.
“Hey! Where you goin’, Galah?” Mallee said. “Get me boomerang will ya?” he added, a little sheepishly.
But Billy didn’t reply; he had plans for Mallee’s boomerang …



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