With a powerful beam of light, the ranger zeroed in on a possum about ten metres up a tree. The poor little critter looked stunned by all the sudden, blinding attention.
“That’s a ringtail possum,” said Ranger Tom. He was speaking in a loud whisper, although I don’t know why. If he was worried about scaring off the possum by announcing our presence I would have thought the 1000-watt beam of light would have given us away. “It’s a subspecies known as Pulcher, which is common to these sorts of rainforests. You notice the white colour on the end of its tail and behind the ears?”
“What do they taste like?” I asked the ranger. Probably a bit gamy, I’d decided. It was smallish. Maybe like goat or lamb.
“Sorry?” He looked lost for a second. “Do you mean the possum? They’re a protected species.”
“Oh, right,” I said. After the dinner we’d had that possum was looking mighty edible. I looked around the base of the tree. Maybe there was a scrub turkey around.
We were about fifty metres down one of the bush walking paths. I hadn’t really expected us to spot anything because the noise from the group of twenty or so kids was truly impressive. That coupled with the light display should have been enough to scare off the wildlife for a good kilometre or so.
“Ringtail possums,” Ranger Tom went on, “eat leaves, particularly eucalypt leaves, fruit and flowers. They really like nibbling on roses actually. Anyone have a question?”
“What’s their sense of smell like?” called a familiar voice from behind us.
“Fairly keen,” answered Ranger Tom.
“That’s probably why it’s looking so upset then,” said Bruiser. “It can smell Poo-face and Dung Beetle here.”
I stumbled forward as I received a shove to my shoulder.
“Grow up, Bruiser,” snapped Meg. “You two really need to get a hobby.”
“We’ve got a hobby,” said Crusher. “Annoying you!”
Ranger Tom walked over. “That’ll be enough of that. How about we separate you people? You two,” and he pointed at Crusher and Bruiser, “come up the front near me and you two,” and he indicated Meg and me, “can bring up the tail end.”
“Yeah. Good idea. You stay at the bottom of the line,” said Crusher. Bruiser joined in with a hearty laugh as they pushed past, nearly sending me flying again. “You’ll both blend in there.”
For the next ten minutes Ranger Tom shone a bright light on several impressive looking trees, with growths on them like Grandma’s knobby knees, but very little actual wild life. Finally, he found something for everyone to gawk at – an echidna. Expectantly, the group surged forward in the dark towards the beam of light.
As we went with the crowd, Meg was suddenly startled as a black shape jumped out at her from behind a tree.
“AHHH!” it yelled at her.
“AHHHHH!” yelled Meg.
It was Crusher being an idiot.
“You idiot!” Meg yelled at him and pushed him away.
“You gonna cry, little stink baby?” he said.
“Leave her alone,” I said and stepped between Meg and him. If anything he looked even bigger close up.
“Or what?” he said. Clearly, he knew he could beat me up too.
“Why don’t you go and pick on someone from your own subspecies?” I said. My survival instincts had been overridden by some bizarre need to stand up for my sister.
Crusher shot forward and pushed me backwards. Stumbling, I toppled over something I was sure hadn’t been there a second ago. As I spun, throwing my arms out to protect myself from the worst of the fall, I realized what must have happened. Bruiser had snuck in behind me on his hands and knees. It was an old school yard trick, only much easier to do in a forest at night.
“Over here, Ranger Tom,” called out Crusher, as he and Bruiser walked back towards the group. “There’s a foul looking creature mucking about in the dirt.”
“Are you okay, Tristan?” Meg bent down and asked me.
“Fine,” I said, but I wasn’t. My pride had taken a tumble. As I stood and brushed off the undergrowth from my buttocks I decided it was time to take action. “As Dad would say,” I said to my sister, as an idea began to form, “I have a plan.”
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