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The monster in the bush

Back when I was 8, which must’ve been sometime in 1975, I was at a small school in outback Sth Australia. It served as the primary and high school for the region, with kids from railway camps, farms and stations coming to it from miles around.

The perimeter of the school was fenced, and immediately beyond the fence was the Aussie outback. Trees and bushes that was like a forest, but ‘forest’ isn’t the right word – it sounds too nice and pleasant.

The forest of the Aussie outback is a harsh, unforgiving place. The trees are twisted, reaching out for any water or moisture they can get. The dirt is red, and the undergrowth, like the trees, is rugged. It’s hot out there, and there’s a lot of flies, snakes, and lizards. You wouldn’t want to get lost in it.

Being small children, we used to play and talk about monsters, and I remember one day me and a couple other kids decided to scare some of the others.  At morning recess, we drew monster footprints in the dirt, leading from the grass oval to the fenceline. Then we climbed the fence and drew them ‘walking’ into the bushland, fading out amongst the trees.

Then we ran back to the fence and jumped over it, safely back in the schoolgrounds. While we knew monsters didn’t exist, there really wasn’t any point tempting fate… There MIGHT have been monsters there, watching us drawing their footprints…

So at lunch time, when the footprints had a chance to fade slightly from the breeze, we got a bunch of other kids over to have a look at the monster footprints we found! There was great excitement all round, and one of the most timid of the kids, who seemed to believe it most of all, was decided to be our sacrifice to the monster. So a couple of us grabbed him by the arms and dragged him to the fence. We weren’t going beyond it, but he didn’t know that.

He was so frightened, he was kicking and screaming so much that one of the teachers came running, and the kid ran away crying when we let him go. We just said we were playing, and the teacher told us off. As teachers do.

We laughed about it later, but I remember going to the fence and looking at the footprints as they meandered across the red dirt and into the forest. And I wondered if there was a monster in there, looking out at me.

Suddenly the hair on my head started to stand on end, and in an odd attack of panic I ran away from the fence as fast as my little legs could carry me.

I never played that game again.

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