Walking the track home in the afternoon, Mick’s skinny shoulders ached under the weight of his school bag. His Volleys kicked up the dirt into a smoky dust as he made his way down the steep creek bed. It used to be full, but three years into a drought there was nothing left but a putrid puddle of muddy water and white-clean animal bones. At the other side of the creek, he stopped for a moment, a flash of fur in the trees ahead. But he shook his head and kept on walking, stewing over the day at school he had just had.
His maths teacher was ready to give up on him altogether. It didn’t help that his classmates encouraged his defiance, fueling his desire to gain attention. Despite this Mick was lonely and didn’t have any close friends. The other students were far more concerned with themselves than with how the class clown got on outside of the classroom.
Mick, however, was not self-aware enough to consider what motivated his behaviour. His only concern at that present moment was with his current conundrum. How was he going to explain to his parents that yet again, he had to skip bringing the cows in because of serving another after school detention. He had earnt this most recent detention fighting some of the bigger boys of grade eleven. Even now as he walked, the bruises on his arms had smarted and turned blue. Being in the meat of high school years, as a year nine student, sucked.
His right cheek slammed into the ground as the rest of his body made impact with the cracked dusty clay. Great, now a black eye to go with the bruises. Must have tripped on my bloody laces.
He grit his teeth and lifted his head up from the ground as another pair of eyes met his.
Quizzical and deeply black, the beast tilts his head. His gaze moves from Mick’s messy hair to the blood dribbling from the cut on his bottom lip. It reaches out a paw towards the boy but Mick draws back and rapidly shuffles to his feet. The beast draws back in response, almost curling itself into a ball, never taking his eyes off his adversary.
‘What the heck is that?!’ Mick cried out, wiping the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand. He watched in curious horror as the creature stood on its hind legs and stretched as if it had just woken from a quick afternoon snooze. Probably no more than four feet high, the beast’s black-green mass of fur was broken up by thick orange stripes that stretched across its wide belly.
‘I’m a Bunyip, you nitwit.’
Mick stifled a shriek.
The bunyip cackled like a kookaburra.
What did Bunyips eat? Mick wasn’t sure. Only moments before Bunyips were simply a mythical legend, not a smelly, hairy reality that stood and spoke before him. Mick scrunched his nose at the wet-dog odour that emanated from the creature’s body.
‘You don’t smell particularly nice yourself,’ the Bunyip gruffly replied to Mick’s disgust.
‘Wh- what are you doing here?’ Mick asked, clenching his fists till they were white.
‘I live here.’
The Bunyip grinned slyly, letting the left corner of his mouth open enough for a thin sharp tooth to appear.
‘You don’t really know much about us, do you?.’
‘You live in billabongs?.’
‘Ha! Used to. Hasn’t rained in three summers.’
‘No you don’t! Your house stays whether it rains or shines. My house always needs to be wet.’
Mick shuffled his shoes in the dirt underneath him. It has been a long three years. Mick couldn’t remember what rain even smelt like.
‘You can help me get my home back though.’
Mick’s eyes widened as he raised his eyebrows.
‘A Bunyip only appears when a visitor to their billabong is deeply troubled and needs their help . . .’
‘I’m not troubled! I don’t need you!’ Mick protested.
The bunyip glared back at the boy.
‘But if I help you then the rain might come.’
‘Huh, right, the rain might come’ Mick taunted the Bunyip.
The Bunyip’s eyes gleamed, ‘You’ll see.’
‘I’m late getting back home.’
He walked past the Bunyip. I must be dreaming. But he could’ve sworn he heard the beast say to his back ‘see you tomorrow!’. However, he quickly forgot all about the Bunyip when he got home. His parents were so furious and exhausted that they didn’t say a word at all through dinner. Mick wasn’t going to get out of this one easy.
The final lesson of the day was again, maths. Outside the classroom the wind spewed across the empty playground little rocks that pinged off the classroom windows. Mick hoped this was a greater sign that finally there was a rain storm coming. But the sky was still clear.
A scrunched piece of paper bounced off the side of Mick’s forehead. The sounds of classroom chatter, scratching pens and fingers tapping on desks surrounded him once again. He looked up, meeting his teacher’s glowering stare. His teacher must have asked one of the boys to get his attention. He sighed with despair and continued with the lesson, turning back to the equation on the whiteboard.
Mick’s classmates giggled, especially the two larger boys sitting in the back row behind him, Jack and Andy.
Mick hadn’t slept well that night and had no energy left to be his usual attention seeking self. It was then that he noticed a familiar coloured fur poking out from the top drawer in the teacher’s desk.
How did it get in here?.
Mick felt the hairs on the back of his head start to rise as the drawer began to rattle.
Whap! Another scrunched up piece of paper bounces off Mick’s head. His teacher pushed his glasses up his nose, shaking his head again. The giggles from his classmates were getting louder. Jack gestured to Andy next to him and then back to Mick. But Mick hadn’t noticed, as he was madly scribbling in his book, glancing up at every moment he could to check on the drawer.
‘Hey Bluey!’ Jack called out. The class was quiet, the teacher seemingly preoccupied with the solution to the equation on the board. Mick instinctively touched his red hair. He hated that nickname.
He didn’t respond, which only riled up Jack even more.
‘You know, the year eleven guys are going to find ya after school today?.’ Most of the class had put down their pens to watch. ‘What are ya going to do about it?.’
Mick, to his detriment, hadn’t heard a word. His eyes were widening in fright as he fixated on the drawer that was now opening gradually, like in slow-motion.
A sweaty hand grabbed Mick’s shoulder, making him jump out of his skin and look up into Jack’s face.
‘You know if you’re worried, I can give you some practice’ Jack offered menacingly.
‘Practice for wha-.’
A couple of the girls screamed whilst the rest of the class gasped. Mick turned back to look at the front of the class in horror as the Bunyip stood upon the top of the teacher’s desk, arms folded, glaring at the class. This is also when he noticed that the teacher’s arm that was lifted to write up on the board was stiff and unmoving.
‘Sir!’ someone cried out.
The teacher didn’t respond. He was frozen in time, like a statue – his back to the class and his face to the board.
‘He can’t hear you,’ the bunyip responded, matter-of-factly ‘but don’t worry it’s only temporary.’
Students were now slowly climbing out of their seats and making their way to the back of the classroom. Jack remained with his hand gripping Mick’s shoulder tightly.
‘So, your name is Bluey . . .’
‘Get off me,’ Mick snapped out of his seat, slapping Jack’s hand off his shoulder and turned to yell at the Bunyip ‘don’t call me that!.’
‘Seems like you do need some help’ the Bunyip sniggered, Mick fuming.
‘What the hell is going on?’ Jack finally managed to spit out of his quivering mouth.
The Bunyip grinned before he replied ‘It’s time I got my billabong back.’
The Bunyip leapt off the desk and walked towards the two boys. His wide feet thumped against the thin worn carpet, his nails like cat claws scraping the occasional tuft out from underneath.
‘You,’ he pointed to Jack and then to Andy ‘are going to leave Bluey alone.’
Mick’s jaw dropped.
‘And you all can’t just sit back and laugh and think you have no part of it’ the Bunyip then waved his paw at the rest of the class as some of the other students clutched each other closer.
‘Or what?!’ Andy squeaked from behind Jack.
The Bunyip bared his teeth in a menacing grin and let out a guttural growl that shook the tables, chairs and windows.
‘Cheers Bunyip’ Mick thanked the beast, grinning at the rest of his classmates cowering in fear.
‘Don’t mention it, literally’ the Bunyip replied then disappeared outside through an open window.
The class scrambled from one end of the classroom to another, but the Bunyip had, for lack of better words, vanished into thin air. No trace of any of the bright orange stripes and shiny black fur in any of the trees out-skirting the playground.
‘What are you all doing out of your seats?.’
The entire class whipped their heads around in unison as their teacher stood with hands on his hips, completely oblivious to what had just happened.
‘Nothing sir’ Mick, Jack and Andy half-shouted back in reply.
The teacher took a step towards the windows to investigate and at the very same moment the first break of thunder rattled the small town. Now everyone was squealing, glueing their faces to the glass and hanging their heads out the window at the grey-green sky. As the thunder began to roll like a big drum the teacher gave up and shouted, ‘let’s go!’ to his class, as chairs and tables tumbled out of the way of the stampeding students.
The rest of the school was emptying into the playground, students and teachers alike holding out their hands under the now black sky. In all the chaos, Mick hadn’t noticed the year eleven boys raising their heads above the crowd to search for him.
‘There he is!’ one of them shouted.
Mick looked from side to side, arms outstretched, searching for an escape.
‘You want to go for round two, Bluey?.’
Just as Mick clenched his fists at his sides, ready to defend himself, lightning flashed across the horizon. Its electric white lit up against the sky as the school cheered and the first, big, fat drops of precious water slapped the dust on the ground at their feet.
Mick braced himself to face the others but when he looked back down they were gone. He glanced around in panic as the year eleven boys instead were embracing each other and dancing along in celebration with everyone else. It was as if they had completely forgotten about him. The hairs on the back of Mick’s neck began to raise as he turned and watched the Bunyip scurry back into the bush from the playground on all fours. The Bunyip turned, giving him a final look and a wink before disappearing again for good.
‘Thanks again’ the boy shouted back at the Bunyip, not even sure that it could hear him over the joyous raucous. Students began to grab handfuls of mud from the ground and slap it onto each other’s backs. Mick felt the mud’s cool wetness against his own as he turned to meet Jack and Andy’s grins.
‘Pretty weird pet you’ve got mate’ Jack said.
‘What did you call it again? A bunyip?’ Andy asked.
Mick grinned at the two, putting his hands on either one’s shoulders and said, ‘Let me tell you a story . . .’
Sue-Ella Bailey is currently a third year student studying a Bachelor of Arts with Secondary Education. She’s passionate about nurturing the storytellers of the future and giving teens a voice through their writing. Drawn to Australian historical fiction, you’ll mostly find her on a beach, writing a story at sunrise.