Joey had scrambled from his pouch as soon as Billy and Amber disappeared from view, climbing up the torso of that big tree. They’d hung him high on a limb to prevent him jumping out and to stop the dogs from getting him, but the ground was barely a hop, skip and a jump for a lively little kangaroo.
He landed with a thud that would have normally woken the hungry dogs but they were full of food and content. Sweet, green grass surrounded him and he was hungry so he got to work eating as much of it as he could. A strangely familiar smell drew him to a carcass laying by the fire. Larry and Curly were snuggled up against it, Moe practically in it. Joey sniffed heavily, trying to understand its familiarity. It was his mother’s scent.
The last time he’d seen her she was disappearing over the edge of the drop–off into the waterhole ahead of the wild dogs. Later, he’d smelt her again, her scent intensified and mixed with smoke. He didn’t like that at all.
He stood high on his back legs and tail looking around for her. He’d roamed free from her pouch in the past but she’d always been close. A few hops and he was back home, snuggled into his mum’s pouch, safe and secure, warm and content. Tonight, looking into the darkness, she was nowhere. He walked around in his odd way, using his tail as a third leg, but every time he ventured from the burnt carcass he lost her scent altogether. He came back and lay beside it, amongst the bloated bellies of the Bullies.
* * *
Growls woke Joey on sunrise. Larry, Curly and Moe stood in a semi–circle around him, their teeth bared aggressively. He wanted to hop away but he was too scared to move. He snuggled closer into the carcass that reminded him of his mum. She’d tried to teach him to be scared of dogs. She practised the emergency drill with him regularly, letting him roam for a bit before giving him the signal to race for her pouch and a fast getaway. Once inside, her pouch closed around him like a seatbelt and she was off. Hopping fast and dodging and weaving. It was loads of fun. But he’d never seen or even smelt a dog before so he had no idea what all the fuss was about. He got lots of praise when he raced for her pouch really fast so he liked that game, strange as it was. He was thinking of it now, but there was no emergency call.
The dogs seemed unsure about what to do, looking to one another and talking in a language he didn’t understand. He was sure they’d like him if only they got to know him. He gathered every ounce of boldness stored inside his tiny body and stood straight up to show them how clever he was. Moe launched for his throat with all his teeth bared. But he wasn’t quick enough as Mel’s monstrous mouth enclosed Joey’s entire body from behind and whipped him away from the Bullies.
She was gentle but her mouth was very wet, like his mum’s tongue. She liked to lick him. Joey never liked it much but he appreciated it now. All that flashed into his mind while watching those nasty little dogs below, all trying to bite him.
WHACK. Buttons landed a heavy slap to the top of Moe’s head that slammed his jaw into the ground.
Joey liked her. She cuddled him and twirled his ears.
“NO DOGGY! NAUGHTY!”
Moe slunk off with a yelp, behind Larry and Curly and out of Buttons’ reach, but still close enough to keep Joey within his sights.
Mel carried Joey off to where Billy and Amber had been laying the night before, before they’d snuck away on their adventure up the tree. She backed into the alcove created by the exposed roots of the fig tree giving the Bullies just one angle of approach. When she felt secure, Mel lay down and released Joey. He snuggled straight into the thick folds of fur under her neck and peeked out to keep a wary eye on the Bullies. They were watching, strung out in another semi–circle with military precision. Mel lifted her lip to show them her massive fang, which was seconded by Buttons who was still rousing on them with a sternly pointed finger.
Satisfied with the Bullies reproachful looks, Buttons sat herself down beside Mel and boldly pulled Joey from his new pouch. She cuddled him and petted him and told him that he’d be OK, all the while sending scathing warnings to the Bullies. Mel got up to put herself between Buttons and the Bullies and rumbled a constant, low–pitched growl of warning. The honeymoon was definitely over.
The Bullies remained undeterred and held their positions, so Mel attacked, scattering them far and wide. When she settled down they regrouped around Joey’s mum to chew on her bones and grumble under their breath.
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