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FICTION FOR CHILDREN

 

Sarah and the Bunyip

Sarah and her parents went to stay at a holiday village in the bush. Her little brothers and sisters came too. They cried a lot and made lots and lots of noise and mess. All morning Sarah had to help unpack and look after them.

            In the afternoon Sarah's dad said she could go for a hike along the walk tracks but she should be careful not to get lost. She walked and walked until – aren't you surprised to hear this? – she realised she didn't know which way it was back to the holiday village .

            She was lost but she wasn't scared. She liked being in the bush. It was quiet. There were no babies screaming or little kids yelling and throwing things around. She wasn't afraid of snakes because she was wearing proper shoes and looked carefully where she put her feet.

            The bush was very quiet. There were only tiny noises of insects or birds. Sarah could hear a few rustling sounds in the bushes but she knew they were only lizards. She walked beside a little creek until it became a deep pool under the trees.

            By now Sarah was feeling hungry. She remembered she had an apple in her pocket and a muesli bar her mother had given to her. She sat down under a tree and ate the apple. Then she threw the apple core out into the pool. It sank beneath the water. She decided to keep the muesli bar for later on.

            It was starting to get dark so Sarah decided she should stay where she was. She didn't know how to get back to the holiday village but she was sure someone would come looking for her. Or maybe with all the fuss and noise the little kids were making they wouldn't even miss her! She would stay out all night and sleep in the bush. That would be an exciting adventure. In the morning she would be able to find her way back. She was sure of that.

            The sky was very black and she could see the bright full moon and all the stars. She was feeling cold so she pulled on the jumper her mum had made her take with her. Then she leaned against a tree and watched the ripples in the water of the pool.

            There must be fish or marron in the pool, she thought to herself. But then something huge and black lifted its head up out of the water and looked at her. Sarah's eyes went wide and her mouth gaped open. She had wanted an adventure but she hadn't really wanted to meet a monster!

            "You threw an apple core into my pool."

            The big black something crawled out of the water and came close to Sarah. It was enormous. It had red eyes and big teeth but Sarah thought it sounded sad instead of angry.

            "Ah...yes...I'm sorry."

            "I was hungry. I ate it. Have you got anything else to eat? I'm still hungry. I'm STARVING."

            Sarah reached into her pocket and took out the muesli bar and held it out. The creature took it from her. It had large hands with very sharp claws. Sarah showed it how to take the paper wrapping off first. Then she watched it eat the muesli bar. It only took one bite and it was gone.

            "That was delicious. Have you got any more? I'm still hungry."

            "Um...no." Sarah dug in her pockets but the only thing she could find was a chocolate frog. She offered that to the creature. "What ARE you?"

            "I'm a bunyip. Haven't you ever heard of bunyips?" The creature ate the chocolate frog and looked at Sarah, showing its sharp white teeth. "We live in deep pools in the bush, where people hardly ever see us. Nobody believes in us any more, anyway, and there aren't very many of us left. I haven't seen another bunyip for ages and ages." It sniffed. "I'm lonely."

            "I'm sorry," Sarah said. "Um, why don't you move? You might find another bunyip who would share his pool with you."

            "Don't be silly. Whoever heard of TWO bunyips living in the same pool?"

            Sarah shrugged. She hadn't even got used to the idea of ONE bunyip yet.

            "How long have you lived here? How come people haven't found you before this? Er, you don't eat people, do you?"

            The bunyip laughed and sat down next to Sarah.

            "You really are full of questions, aren't you? I have always lived here. I sleep all day and only come out at night, so no one's ever seen me before. I don't eat people either, not even talkative little girls. I wouldn't mind another muesli bar. It's a pity you didn't bring any more with you."

            "And how come we can talk to each other?"

            The bunyip shrugged its enormous shoulders.

            "That's dreamtime magic. Bunyips can understand all the other creatures of the world. Even people."

            Sarah yawned. She wasn't afraid of the bunyip any more. But she WAS tired. She leaned against the creature. It was like leaning against a big furry wall. She closed her eyes and fell asleep. In the morning she woke up and felt stiff and sore but there were still footprints where the bunyip had crawled out of the water to talk to her. And then she had fallen asleep leaning against it. She didn't think that had been a really clever thing to do.

            If the footprints hadn't been there she would have thought that maybe she had dreamed it all. It HAD been real, but she decided not to tell anyone else about it. Not straight away. Probably not at all. She didn't think anyone would believe her, anyway. She started walking back in the direction she thought the holiday village was.

            She hadn't gone very far before she was found by some of the people from there who were looking for her. They gave her some warm clothes and something to eat. She really was very hungry. They were a bit cross with her, but they were more relieved that she wasn't hurt.

            On the way back there she made herself remember the way she had gone so she would be able to find the bunyip's pool again.

            When she got back to the holiday village her mum and dad were so happy to see her they didn't even growl at her. They gave her big hugs and so many kisses she was embarrassed. Her little brothers and sisters squealed and giggled to see her again. Then they started crying and throwing things around because no one was paying any attention to them.

            Sarah was pleased to be home, but she wasn't going to forget about the bunyip. She was sure she could find her way back to the pool and she wondered if the bunyip might be awake during the day. All that day she stayed close to the holiday village. She enjoyed sleeping in a bed again that night. It was much more comfortable than the ground.

            Next morning she filled a bag with food and took some fruit juice and a can of cool drink. She told her mum she was going for a walk but she would be sure not to get lost this time. Mum sighed but just told her to be careful. She made Sarah take a watch so she would know what time it was and a whistle so if she got lost she could make a lot of noise and people would find her.

            She didn't really want to have to get all the other people from the holiday village to look for her again. They would be very cross and she would be FURIOUS, she warned her. Sarah hugged her mother and promised she wouldn't get lost this time.

            She found the bunyip's pool easily this time and sat down by the edge. She had three apples in her bag so she started to eat one herself. She threw the other two out into the middle of the pool and sat down to wait.

            Before very long the bunyip's big black head lifted up out of the water. Sarah waved at the bunyip and it grinned at her, showing all its teeth.

            "I didn't think you would ever come back again. Thank you for the apples. Um...you didn't happen to bring any muesli bars with you, did you? I really liked the one you gave me."

            "I brought you six," she said. "They're all different flavours."

            Sarah and the bunyip sat by the pool and had a feast. The bunyip ate all the food but it didn't like fruit juice, it said. Sarah wondered what a bunyip would like to drink.

            Milk? No. Tea? No! Coffee? NO! (That would keep it awake at night.) Coca Cola? It didn't think so. (That would probably make it burp.) Sarah pulled a face. Blood?

            The bunyip laughed.

            "Don't be silly. I'm a bunyip, not a vampire. No, I don't drink blood either. I just drink water." So Sarah drank the fruit juice and the bunyip drank some water from its pool. Then they sat and talked to each other.

            The next day Sarah came back, with more apples and muesli bars. She brought chocolate frogs, too. The bunyip seemed to like them, but muesli bars were its favourite. Every day for a week Sarah went to visit the bunyip at the pool out in the bush. She spent most of her holiday pocket money on muesli bars and chocolate frogs from the little shop at the holiday village.

            Sarah told the bunyip all about the place where she lived and where she went to school and all the things she did. The bunyip listened but when Sarah finished talking it looked sad.

            "I wish I was a person instead of being a bunyip. Then I could do all the interesting things you do."

            "Isn't being a bunyip interesting?"

            It sniffed and wiped a tear away.

            "It used to be.  I think I'd rather be a person. You're my friend, Sarah, and I've never had a friend before. I'm going to miss you when you go. But the magic to make me into a person is very hard to work. And sometimes it doesn't work at all."

            "Magic? What magic?" asked Sarah. The bunyip looked very sad. She wanted to do something to help it. And it would be fun if the bunyip was a person. She would have someone to play with, instead of just little brothers and a little sisters making lots of noise and mess all the time. "How can magic make you into a person?"

            "There is a way. But it's very hard, and very dangerous, too. If it doesn't work properly something truly terrible could happen instead."

            "Dangerous? What do you mean, dangerous? What might happen?"

            "Let me tell you a story first. A long, long time ago, in the dreamtime, the bunyips were happy. Everybody loved them. But then one day one bunyip did something SO terrible that ever since then all bunyips have had to live alone in deep pools in the bush. People told awful stories about them and everyone was afraid of them. They didn't love the bunyips any more. They hated them."

            "That's not fair!" Sarah said. "YOU didn't do anything wrong. Why should you be punished for what someone else did, and such a long time ago?"

            The bunyip shrugged its enormous shoulders.

            "That's just the way it is, Sarah. But sometimes, if a bunyip finds a person who will help and not be afraid, then it can become a person. That doesn't happen very often, and it's always very dangerous."

            Sarah looked at the bunyip. She was feeling scared now. But she wasn't scared of the bunyip. She was scared of what she might have to do to help it. She WANTED to help, but she knew if it was something really dangerous she might be too afraid to do it.

            "Tell me what I should do to help you."

            "I want you to come for a swim in my pool. All the way across to the other side and back again."

            Sarah gulped. This was worse than she had thought. She could swim, but she had been told she should never go swimming all alone. Especially not in a deep pool in the bush. She should always have a friend with her. She wondered if the bunyip really was her friend, or if it was trying to trick her. It had SAID it didn't eat people, but she wasn't sure...

            The bunyip looked at her and Sarah knew it could tell what she was thinking. It didn't say anything, but two big tears rolled out of its enormous eyes and ran down its cheeks. Then it got up and started to walk slowly and sadly away from Sarah and back to its pool.

            "Um, wait a minute," Sarah said. "Um, what if I go and get Mum or Dad to come and watch...ah...no, I don't suppose that's a very good idea." She was imagining what they would say if she told them a bunyip wanted her to go for a swim with it. "No, that won't do. Let me think a minute." The bunyip stopped, but it didn't come back to Sarah. "Is that the ONLY way I can help to make you into a person?"

            The bunyip didn't say anything, but it looked at her and nodded its head slowly. There were still tears in its eyes.

            "People don't like bunyips. They're afraid of us because sometimes the magic hasn't worked properly. Sometimes people have drowned because they were afraid and when the magic started they got scared and panicked. I told you it was dangerous. It's scary, too. You don't have to do it if you are afraid." It sniffed sadly. "Maybe, one day, someone else will come along and help me."

            Sarah shut her eyes and thought very hard. She was wondering what it would be like if she were a bunyip and the only way she could get to be a person was to beg someone to go swimming with her. She wondered how she would feel. She kept her eyes shut for a long time.

            When she opened them the bunyip had gone. There weren't even any ripples in the pool. It was only the middle of the day but the water was deep and black and cold. It looked a long way across to the other side of the pool but she knew it really wasn't all that very far. Sarah really was a very good swimmer and she knew she could easily swim all the way across the pool and back again.

            She walked down to the edge of the water and took her jumper off, and her shoes and socks. She kept her tee shirt on. She had jeans on but under them she had a pair of shorts so she took the jeans off too. Then Sarah put the clothes in a neat little pile. 

            She slipped down into the cold black water and started swimming across the pool. Suddenly the bunyip was there next to her.

            "It's a long way, Sarah. Are you sure you can manage it? I don't want anything bad to happen to you. If you're scared you can go back now, while you're still close enough to the edge. The magic hasn't started yet. It will start if you keep going."

            Sarah trod water and looked at the bunyip.

            "What's this magic you are expecting to happen? Is it something we can see, and feel?"

            "Oh, yes, it certainly is. Are you sure you want to go on?"

            "Yes. Yes, I'm sure. Are you going to stay with me?"

            The bunyip was big and black and strong beside her. She could feel it breathing.

            "Yes. For as long as I can." Then its voice went very quiet and soft. "Thank you, Sarah. You really are my friend."

            As they both swam across the pool the air became cold and dark. Sarah could feel THINGS flying in the air above them but she couldn't see anything. Underneath them, in the water, she was sure there were lots of other creatures. She felt some of them brush her feet as she swam, and once she felt tiny teeth nibble at her heels and her knees. She was very scared, but the bunyip was swimming beside her and she kept going.

            "Don't stop, don't stop, whatever you do. Just keep going. We're almost half way across the pool."

            Only half way? That was impossible. She felt as if she had been in the water for hours. Her arms ached and her legs ached and all the time she could feel the creatures all around them. And then it got worse. She couldn't just feel them, she could HEAR them too. They were murmuring things in her ears, scary things, about how she was going to drown, about how the bunyip was going to drag her down to the bottom of the pool and eat her, and about how she would never see her mother and father and brothers and sisters again. Sarah tried not to listen to the horrible whispering voices. She kept swimming, faster now because she was frightened and wanted to get it over and done with.

            At last her fingers touched the tree branches that dipped into the water on the other side of the pool. She had done half of what the bunyip wanted her to do. Now she only had to swim back again. It wasn't THAT hard after all. She turned around to start and realised it was very very dark and that the bunyip had disappeared. She was all alone. She was tired and cold and the side of the pool where she wanted to be looked very far away. It looked further away than she had thought possible.

            "Where are you?" she shouted. "Come back!" But there was no sound from the bunyip. There was not even any sound from the horrible voices Sarah had heard before.

            It was absolutely silent in the pool. And it was cold. It was getting colder. Snowflakes started to fall, thick and fluffy and freezing cold. The water around her felt as if it were full of iceblocks. She could feel them all around her, starting to freeze solid. Soon she wouldn't be able to move. She would be caught helplessly in the ice and couldn't be able to move a muscle.

            But it NEVER snowed here! Her mind was telling her none of this could be true, that she was imagining it all. Her icy fingers and toes, however, were telling her how real it was. She started to swim, almost in a panic. What would happen if she froze to death in the bunyip's pool, when everywhere else it was a warm autumn day and the sun was still shining? This was just unbelievable!

            It was the magic, the bunyip had said. She shouldn't panic. But then the bunyip had said it would be with her, too. And now it had gone. She kept swimming, but she was getting slower and colder. It looked an awfully long way to the edge of the pool. Sarah could hardly feel her toes, they were so cold.

            She could feel the other creatures again. They were swimming in the icy water, all around and under her. She couldn't hear their horrible voices this time. But she knew they were waiting for her. They wanted her to drown, so the bunyip could never be a human person. But she WASN'T going to drown. Sarah was determined to make it back safely.

            She had almost reached the edge of the pool where she had started from when the shapes under her reached up and took hold of her feet by the ankles. She almost shrieked aloud in fright. They started pulling her under the water. She pulled back. They were pulling her, trying to drag her under the water. Sarah wrenched free and made the last few metres to the edge in record time. She jumped out of the pool and ran to where her clothes lay in a pile.

            She pulled her clothes on quickly, trying to stop shivering. She hadn't known she could be so cold. Sarah felt as if she had been in the water for hours. She looked at her watch and shook her head. Maybe it had stopped. She held it to her ear and listened to it ticking. Then she looked at it and watched the second hand moving around.

            According to the watch, she had been in the water for just ten minutes. Long enough to swim straight across and back. But Sarah was sure it had taken her much longer than that. She was scared and tired. She thought she should really go back to the holiday village. But it was still early in the afternoon.

            And what, she wondered, had become of the bunyip? The magic had scared her, but it hadn't done her any harm. What had it done to the bunyip? Would she ever see it again?

            She walked down to the edge of the bunyip's pool and looked out across it. There was not a trace of ice anywhere. The water was a greeny blue in the sunshine. It looked almost warm. The sunshine made little sparkles on it. Could she possibly have imagined the ice, the slippery things swimming around her, and the voices? Could she possibly have imagined something trying to pull her under the water? And the snowflakes? Impossible!

            She went back up near the trees and curled up on the ground, trying to get warm. There was a sunny spot and when she looked up she could see the sunshine through the treetops. She was so tired....

            Sarah closed her eyes and fell asleep beside the pool. The water was very still. There was no sign of the bunyip anywhere. There was no sign of any living thing anywhere in the water. The bush was totally silent. Above, the sun shone down on the little girl sleeping beside the deep pool.

            When Sarah awoke it was the middle of the afternoon. She was stiff but not cold any longer. And there was still no sign of the bunyip. She went down to the edge of the water and called for it, but there was only silence. Sarah shook her head, then started back to the holiday village.

            She'd wanted an adventure, and she'd certainly had one, she was sure of that. Something strange had happened, but she wasn't ever going to be able to tell anyone about it. Not her friends, and certainly not her parents. They would either freak out or send her to a shrink. Sarah decided she would have to keep this to herself forever. She didn't even have the bunyip to talk to.

            Now Sarah knew how lonely the bunyip had felt. The next day she and her family went back home. It was almost the end of the school holidays and after the weekend she would go back to school. Sarah didn't like school much. She could do all the work all right, but she didn't have a lot of friends.

            There was a new girl in her class. The teacher sat her next to Sarah. She asked her to look after the new girl at playtime and show her where everything was. She was a little bit taller than Sarah and she had black hair and smooth brown skin. At playtime she reached into her school bag and grinned. She had lovely white teeth and bright blue eyes.

            "Here. Have a muesli bar. I LOVE muesli bars, don't you? They are my favourite food."

            Sarah knew then that the bunyip's story had been true after all. The magic really HAD worked.

 

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