“Come on, troops,” said Dad, throwing the last of the lunch scraps into the bin. “It’s time for a bush walk.”
At our latest campsite, where we’d had the second best night’s sleep of the weekend, only having to contend with roots and macadamia nuts digging into our backs while we tried to sleep, we grabbed some supplies and spread them among our backpacks. Because he’s nothing if not fair, Dad got the feather-light torch and I was lumbered with the first aid kit.
“You’ve got young muscles,” he explained.
“Then by that logic, Brandon should be carrying it,” I wanted to say. But I was so tired after the last couple of night’s non-sleep I wasn’t sure I could pull off pretending I was joking, so I kept this observation to myself.
Grumbling, we followed Dad to where a path began its intrusion into the rainforest. There were several which the rangers planned and maintained for people to enjoy. Personally, I’d be happy to watch it all on the Discovery Channel and avoid the blisters.
A sign at the start of the path said there was a waterfall two kilometers away.
Dad looked at his watch. “I think we can manage that by sunset,” he said.
With Brandon on Dad’s shoulders we descended down the side of the hill, the rainforest canopy blocking out all the direct sunlight. Occasionally we could hear something rustling away through the leaves as we approached. More often than not, it turned out to be a scrub turkey. I made a point of not thinking about what else it could be.
Walking amongst the huge and ancient Nothofagus and Araucaria trees, which were named on convenient little signs, I was surprised to find I was actually enjoying myself.
Brandon hopped down off Dad’s shoulders for a bit of a run and almost immediately fell over an exposed root.
“Come here, pumpkin,” soothed Mum. Brushing him down, she squinted at something on the back of his neck.
“David, what’s this?” she asked.
Dad eventually decided it was probably a tick.
“You guys soldier on,” he said, as he put Brandon back on his shoulders. “Your Mum and I will go to the ranger’s office to have this taken care of.”
“We’ll meet you at the campsite for dinner,” said Mum, eager to start back. I thought she was handling this rather well, although after the weekend we’d been having one tiny little tick hardly seemed worth ranting about.
Normally I would have insisted on accompanying them back along the path because that would put an end to the whole bush walking affair – but I was enjoying myself out in the forest. So far it had been quiet and calming, even with Meg and Brandon. And now Brandon had gone back with Mum and Dad it was bound to be moreso.
Or so I thought.
We could hear the falls well before we saw them. It’s funny how when you look at a picture of a waterfall you never consider there’s any noise involved. In fact, there’s a whole world of noise.
When Meg and I arrived at the falls I had to admit it was great. A mist hung around the base where the water hit the rocks. It wasn’t a particularly large waterfall – Niagara Falls wasn’t in danger of losing tourist dollars – but despite the noise I was thinking there was definitely some peaceful about the whole thing.
Which was ironic.
“Pisstan! Even a shower this big won’t get rid of that stink!”
At first I couldn’t even see where the shout had come from, although I had no doubt who it was. Meg pointed to the top of the falls. Bruiser and his bright mate, in another canary yellow shirt which it now occurred to me must be some sort of football jersey, were at the top of the falls. They were walking out to where the water launched over the rock face and cascaded down to the pools below.
“You shouldn’t be up there,” Meg called to them. “It says so on the sign here.”
“You hear that, Bruiser,” said Crusher, “the dung beetle says we shouldn’t be up here.”
“They need to work on some new material,” Meg mumbled to me.
I really wasn’t in the mood. Pulling on Meg’s sleeve I indicated the path.
“Let’s go,” I said. “These losers aren’t about to leave us alone and this way we’ll at least have a head start.”
We walked back quickly the way we’d come, with Bruiser and Crusher yelling insults at us from the top of the falls. After a while we couldn’t hear them anymore.
“Boys always ruin things.” Meg was upset. “I wanted to sit by the waterfall.”
“If we’d stayed much longer they’d have thrown rocks at us or tossed me into the rock pools,” I told her.
“I’d like to see them try,” she said defiantly. I assumed she meant they’d have a tough time getting past her, not that she’d like to see me tossed in the freezing water. That was nice of her, because if it wasn’t for me they wouldn’t have bothered picking on her.
Five minutes up the path we stopped. There was a noise – someone running. And they were behind us and coming fast. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out who it might be.
“Quick!” I said to Meg, pulling her towards a large tree whose roots appeared to stretch halfway up its trunk. I wasn’t getting beaten up again if I could help it. “Behind here!”
We’d barely ducked from view when Crusher went running past, looking stressed and panicked. He was sprinting flat out along the path like he was being chased by the devil.
Meg said what I was thinking. “Where’s Bruiser?”
“We better go look,” I said. “Something’s happened.”
We walked quickly, worried about what we might find back at the falls.
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