Humor Fiction posted January 25, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
another funny adventure with the Hoopers Crossing folk

Wranglin' Emus

by mfowler

'Why don't you try your luck ridin' the emu?' asks Willie. Frankie, my older brother, and Willie are always givin' me good ideas. And they don't want any of the glory.

It was Frankie and Willie who taught me how to eat worm sandwiches with raspberry jam, and how to pull a snake out of its hole by the tail. But, this emu ridin' seems a yard too hard. Firstly, I haven't ridden a bike yet, let alone a six foot bird. Secondly, this particular bird and I don't get on.

Nana Gibson owns the emu which she calls Pecker. She says she hand-raised Pecker since he was as tiny as white fella's member. I never really knew how small that was, but I do know she raised him since he was just a little bunch of stripy feathers. Les Gibson used to say she was cruel and that a bird like Pecker should be runnin' around with a flock in the outback. But, Nana Gibson doesn't give a goanna's gizzard for anything Les Gibson might be sayin'.

'Tell ya what, Markie. I'll show you a picture of a kid like you ridin' a bigger bird than old Pecker,' says Willie. 'Hey Frankie, you got the Funk and Wagnel?' Those Funk and Wagnel encyclopaedias that Nana Gibson bought from some whitefella for my Daddy to use when he was a little tacker, surely do come in handy. My Daddy didn't find any use for them so they spread out over Hoopers Crossing over the years. Uncle Possum has Volume "U" and "P" on display in his store. Says they make him look educated. Joe Jagemara uses Volumes "K, L,M, and N"  to prop up the back left wheel on his FJ Holden. Says he'll fix it one day. It broke eighteen years ago.

Anyway, Frankie shows me a picture of some big birds running in a race. And blackfellas are ridin' on their backs like jockeys at Barellan Picnic Races. 'See, Markie. They race them ostrich birds like horses. And ostriches are bigger than emus.'

'Why don't you ride Pecker?' I ask.

'Way too heavy,' says Frankie sincerely. 'If Willie or me got on his back, he'd fall down for sure. We need someone light and strong like you Markie to make Pecker run.' I don't know what to say. It's not every little brother who gets to do the fun stuff like this, but I'm still more scared than a cave full of shitty fruit bats.

'I can't even ride. He's too big.'

'Don't worry, Markie. We got a perfect thing for you to practise on. Smaller, not as fast, and he won't peck your eyes out. Meet us down by the big stump after tea,' says Frankie. I guess practise will make it easier, so I agree.

I walk home for lunch and pass Nana Gibson's animal enclosures. Pecker is standin' there lookin' daggers at me as I walk by. I'm only as big as his legs. He looks at me with those big evil eyes as if he's sayin': come here Markie and I'll peck your face off. Frankie reckons those eyes make him look stupid, but with a face made up mainly of a death-threatening pointy beak and two big googly eyes, he just looks like an evil spirit to me.

'Hey, Markie,' says Nana Gibson as I watch the emu, 'you look more down than feathers on black duck's arse.' Normally, Nana Gibson's poetry makes me laugh, but the thought of wranglin' that crazy bird has me stumped.

'Yeah, Nana. I'm thinkin' what Pecker's beak might do to a fella if he gets loose.'

She laughs like a kookaburra at a weddin'. 'Nah, old Pecker, he's as harmless as my worn out teeth.' She smiles and I see what she means. Then she picks up a small melon from the trailin' vine by the henhouse. She throws it into Pecker's pen. The demon demolishes the fruit like a killer dingo.

I don't think I'll tell Nana 'bout our plans to ride Pecker just yet.

Late in the day, I slip out of Hooper's Crossing and make my way to the Murrumbidgee River. The stump where we meet is near a muddy beach where we can catch yabbies and go fishin'. Soon, the boys arrive pulling Great Uncle Wombat's pig behind them.

'What for you bring that greasy bugger with you?'

'This is your practise emu, Markie,' giggles Frankie. I remember: Smaller, not as fast, and he won't peck your eyes out.

'Ohh! I don't know.'

'Don't be a scaredy-cat, Markie,' probes Willie. They know I get crosser than cross-eyed mongrel when they say that. And they know I'll do anything not to be called that.

'OK,OK,' I say bravely.

'Ya sit on his back, Markie. Hold onto this rope we got tied round his neck, and kick him in the bacon. He'll run like a lost horse. Think about them rough riders we saw at Barellan Rodeo. See how long you can hold on.'

He's not a big pig, and he doesn't have demon eyes, so I climb on his back. I don't have to encourage him at all. He takes off like randy rabbit and I'm bouncin' up and down as if I'm on a carnival ride. I got skinny legs and big feet so I wrap around his wobbly gut like a python on a tree branch. That pig zigzags and squeals like I'm killin' him or somethin', and we run around the paddock on a trail goin' nowhere. I can hear the boys cackin' themselves in the background. Suddenly, the pig heads straight for the beach. I think we're goin' swimmin', but he suddenly pulls up like he's been shot and I go flyin' over his head into the gooey mud. I pull my face out of that smelly muck and I see a gecko grippin' a branch of a low hangin' gum. He's laughin' at me too; bug eyes rollin' round and judgin'.

The boys assure me that I'm a champion wrangler. 'That pig's way harder to ride than an emu,' says Willie with the authority of a Melbourne Cup jockey. I'm not sure, but I have to get the mud off and so I dive into the river.

Next mornin', I stop in at Uncle Possum's store for a Seven Up. All the men from the community are talkin' in a huddle. Les Gibson sees me and says, 'Why, if it isn't young Markie? How are you today?' I get suspicious 'cos Les Gibson never says nice things to me. I hear Great Uncle Joe sayin', 'Two quid on the bird. Two to one!' Then all the men stop what they're doin' and say, 'Hello Markie.' I'm confused, so I smile and buy my Seven Up. Bein' old does seem to confuse folks.

At ten o'clock I meet Frankie and Willie behind Pecker's pen. I say, 'Nana Gibson's mighty kind to let us use Pecker.'

'Oh,' says Willie, 'she says we is kinder than Santa Claus givin' out beer, for givin' old Pecker some real exercise.' I figure if Nana has shared some of her poetry with the boys, she must be real pleased with us givin' Pecker a ride. With Nana Gibson away visitin' Auntie Nellie Wombat, she will be pleased she doesn't have to take him out for a run.

'How do I hold on?' I ask.

'You take this towel, see,' says Frankie, 'and wrap it round his neck very carefully. When he realises you're on his back he'll run and we'll open the gate. Hang on like you did to that piggy. Should be easy.' I love my brother's confidence.

Willie gets some melons and drops them in front of Pecker. The greedy bird drops his head and starts demolishin' his tucker. 'Now,' says Willie. I sneak in under the wire, tippy-toe up behind the bird and slip the towel under his neck while he's gorgin'. I climb on his drinkin' barrel and leap onto his back while I'm just holdin' onto the towel. The boys open the gate and start screamin' like a gun-shot bunyip.

I feel the bird get restless very quick and it turns those demon eyes on me. I shrivel up and slip to the back of his tumble-down feathers. I pull hard on my towel reins and that bird shifts his weight so fast that I nearly come off in the dust. He runs out into the scrub flingin' and swingin' that neck tryin' to dislodge me. I hold on 'cos I do not want that big, evil bird pecking' me to death if I fall off.  He drives back out into the open those giant clawed legs movin' faster than a buck roo on the hop. I hear screamin' and yellin' from near the pen and it's the men from Uncle Possum's store shoutin' out stuff. 'Go big Pecker,' I hear. 'Run you feathered fiend,' shouts Uncle Possum. 'Dump the turd,' says Les Gibson.

They seem confused about who to cheer for. I'm holdin' on tighter than bee's arse and suddenly old Pecker changes direction and runs in a bee-line for Frankie and Willie who are throwin' melons at the bird as it fights. He's so determined that he bucks me right of and I end arse-up in the sand. Old Pecker keeps runnin' at the boys who scamper faster than a fox on fire as they run to safety. We chase after them towards the Murrumbidgee. When we get there, old Pecker is standin', scrapin' the ground. My brother and Willie and swimmin' across that river like it was the Olympics. Pecker runs off into the bush never to be seen again.

The men at Uncle Possum's store are countin' out money and laughin' and jokin' at the top of their voices. Old Uncle Joe buys me a Seven Up. 'You stayed on for two minutes, fifty seconds, boy.' he says. 'I won a ten quid on your riding.'

Les Gibson mumbles, 'And I lost ten quid on that bloody bird.'

Suddenly, Nana Gibson storms in. 'Has anyone seen my Pecker?' she demands. The men start cackling like a henhouse on heat, but Nana Gibson is in no mood for their silliness. 'When I find out who's done what with my emu, they be sorrier than a dog what's eaten a two month fly-blown roo-corpse.' When Nana Gibson's poetry gets that bad, we know she's out for blood.

Two days later she catches Willie and Frankie near the store. She takes them by the ear and drags them to her place. She says, 'When I hear what happened with Markie, I knows you two were up to your ears in horseshit.' They will be cleanin' up after the animals and birds she keeps till the weeks have eight days, or so Nana says.

'I'm sorry, Nana,' I say, 'I didn't mean to lose your Pecker like that.' She winks.

'Don't worry, little Markie, old Pecker will be runnin' about with his kind, happier than a carpet snake in your dunny.' Now, I know she's not mad, 'cos the poetry is soundin' sweet again.


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