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BRAND NEW AUSTRALIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Chapter 2 - Wodger

In a clearing you see a massive man beating his head against a tree. The ground trembles whenever his forehead thumps against the splintering bark. He pauses when he sees you, smiles, and bangs his head against the unfortunate tree again.

`Hello,' you say, because that's the polite thing to do. He stops for a moment, smiles and shakes hands.

`Vewy pleased to gweet you,' he says. `Excuse me, but I've got some head banging to do.' And he does. While he knocks a bit more bark off, you inspect him.

He's built like the illegitimate son of Mr Universe and Hercules. There are muscles on him where no-one's ever thought of having muscles before.

EDUCATIONAL NOTE: The word `muscle' comes from the Latin "musculus" meaning "little mouse" because the Romans thought muscles looked like mice running along under the skin. In this head banger's case, they were warthogs, not mice.

Even his ears bulge and his nose could cripple a man if used in anger. He wears an ancient pair of shorts and around his waist hangs a long, savagely sharp sword with a gold hilt and platinum blade. His golden skin flexes as he bends to punish the tree again. A few gum nuts drop to his feet that are in golden winged slippers, size 13D.

`Excuse me,' you say to the rippling muscles on his back. His head swivels around and aims at you like the turret on a tank.

`Aren't you meant to be weading this book? You should be out there, not in here,' he says, not unreasonably.

`I was invited,' you argue.

`By whom, pway tell?'

`The person who's writing it, so there.'

You poke your tongue out to emphasise your victory.

`What's your name?' he asks regally.

You tell him and he sniffs with mild contempt.

`And who are you?' you enquire.

`I am Pwince Wodger, Defender of the Wealm, Pwotector of the Sacwed Gum Twee and Hewo of all poor unwoyal wascals and wuffians.'

`Fair dinkum,' you reply with a yawn.

`And I'm wich and wuggedly handsome.'

That he is rich is obvious. His glistening black turbocharged warhorse wears a golden saddle with a diamond pommel. Its stirrups and horseshoes are silver and in its eye is a monocle. He snorts a little impatiently as he reads the financial section of the newspaper.

It is also apparent that Rodger is ruggedly handsome. His blue eyes are limpid pools under rainbow eyebrows. His lips are red and full. His fair hair curls in splendour, his jaw is firmly set and dimpled, his voice is smooth and deep. His teeth are an orthodontist's delight to behold. His breath is as sweetly fragrant as perfume. There are numberless breathless rumours amongst the local maidens about the contents of the shorts around his trim hips. He could've got a patent on handsomeness. In short, he's perfect, faultless, the paragon of manhood. There only remains the problem of him headbutting the local flora.

`Don't you like trees?' you ask.

`I'm wuined.'

`Well, you will be if you keep that up.'

`I'm disgwaced.'

`I imagine quite a lot of people hit their heads against trees at some time or another, so you shouldn't feel embarrassed about it. It's not as if you're in love with your horse or...'

`No, you don't understand,' his luxurious voice moans. `I have failed in my glowious quest. I shall be fowever accursed in this land. My immaculate wepuation is maculate. My impeccable self is peccable. My illustwiousness hath lost its lustre. My immortality is immediately impewilled,' his beautiful head says.

`I see,' you say.

`The fanged fiend hath defiled my mind.'

`Uh huh.'

`Come, sit and bweak bwead with me and I shall wecount my woeful wecord.'

`Do I have to?'

`Would you rather die?' he charmingly croons as he digs his sword's razor point into your throat.

You sit on a beautiful garden chair that he takes down from his horse. He himself sits in a massive mahogany throne with life-sized lazing lions carved on both sides and a carved eagle above his head, shading him with its spread wings.

`You know I am Wodger, Pwince of the lands, cousin of Cuchulain, Bwother of Beowulf, son of Zeus, good fwiend of Fwed and lover of Andwomeda the beauteous. Our kingdom has for ages been plagued by a monster who has decapitated, disembowelled or disgwaced all our noble youths. This howwid beast hath made our bwave wawwiors cower and cwinge and soil their underclothing until I - Wodger the Fierce - undertook the quest to wid our wegion of this wepulsive wapscallion.

`Fourteen pairs of underpants ago, I left with my magic shoes; Tom, my magic sword; Bwuce, my magic steed; Incubus, my magic shield; and a pack of sandwiches packed by Juno, my magic mother. I have twavelled far to find my foe, and fail. O! Alack and alas! I am doomed to despair and disgwace for he hath vanquished me.'

A pathetic tear like molten gold runs down his magnificent cheek.

`You damned cry-baby,' you say soothingly. He beats you to a pulp.

`What is this fiendish foe anyway?' you ask through broken teeth.

`Words cannot tell the howwor of his face. He is the vewy devil himself: fanged and razor-clawed; firebweathing beast fwom the bowels of hideous hell itself. O! I shudder like a maiden at the thought of him.'

`Is it a dragon or something?' you enquire.

`If only it were! I'd slice him fwom here to kingdom come.'

`A Cyclops? Minotaur? Loch Ness monster? Dinosaur?'

`Playthings. Mention them not!'

He resumes a rhythmic head beating.

`Well, what is it then?' you ask.

He grasps you by the shoulders and pierces you with a terrified gaze from his divine blue eyes.

`It hath no name - no word could encompass its tewwor. When people dare utter its existence, they call it - The Thing .' He trembles for a moment and looks nervously around himself as if The Thing were listening.

`Not very useful,' you mutter. `What does it look like?'

`No man hath ever set eyes upon The Thing and lived to tell the tale. Legend says it is a flying fanged ball of fur, stwonger than a hundwed men, more evil than the King of the Underworld: the vewy sight of The Thing turns men to stone or makes them wip off their own heads wather than face it.'

`Pretty mean, you mean.'

`Howwid. Twuly howwid.'

`And you've been beaten by it?'

`Alas, it is twue.'

`How come you're still in one piece then?'

`I was in this cleawing when I heard a tewwible gwowl. The earth twembled and the birds stopped singing. The sun vanished. I gwipped my magic sword and wan away. I shall never be able to face my kinsmen again. O! woe!'

He slumps to the foot of the tree and sobs pathetically. `Do you want a hand to waste this Thing? I've got nothing else to do this afternoon.'

A valiant offer from a noble reader! I knew you were exceptional when you started reading this. You're a person of honour, courage, good taste and very little brains.

Prince Rodger looks up at you imploringly like a lost puppy.

`WOULD you?'

`Yeah, s'pose so,' you say in your Indiana Jones voice. You flick imaginary lint from where the medals will be pinned to your chest.

`Then let us consult the Owacle. We must see if the omens are in our favour.'

He reaches into the silk and gold thread saddlebag and withdraws what looks like a gold and ivory radio transmitter.

`This is Wodger calling the Owacle. This is Wodger calling the Owacle. Come in Owacle.'

`This is the Oracle. Hello Rodger, how's things?'

`Pwetty wugged. Look owacle, I need a forecast, OK?'

`Roger, Rodger. Stand by ... today is propitious for attacking evil monsters. You will meet a tall dark stranger. You weigh sixteen stone and the estimated high this afternoon is 24 degrees with a chance of rain in the west.'

`Thanks, Owacle. This is Wodger signing off.'

`Onward to Glowy!' he cries excitedly, waving his sword around a lot.

`Yeah, OK,' you join in.

Wodger leaps upon his steed and with a roaring "Hi Ho Bwuce, AWAY!" he gallops into the bush, leaving you in a cloud of bulldust.

`Some hero,' you mutter.

Just then a glistening black Labrador runs slobbering towards you. On his back is a cute little saddle. He sits down beside you. You yell out to the author, `Don't I rate a Horse?'

Finances are tight nowadays and this book is being written with very little money. It's not like a film where they can get away with using real horses. I have to make up my own - from scratch. Anyway, Labradors don't need - or like - horseshoes nailed into their feet. They're cheaper to run and easier to park. Their exhaust emissions aren't nearly so bad as a horse's either.

You realise it's not worth arguing, so you leap atop the Labrador (whose name you find on the gem-studded collar), grasp the reins and cry `HI HO ELFA, AWAY!'

With a big slobber the Labrador leaps forward at tremendous speed so you hold on tightly. Elfa flies like the wind! The landscape blurs as the sleek, slobbering doggy steed flashes through trees, rocks and innocent passers-by. You valiantly hold onto the reins crying, `Stop, you mangy beast, stop!'

With a woof and a wag Elfa leaps from a thousand-foot cliff (a thousand metres in Metric).

EDUCATIONAL NOTE: When converting from Imperial to Metric, temperatures fall but cliffs get higher. This could explain why our summers don't seem as hot any more: it hasn't reached 100 degrees for years, and everyone knows a hundred somethings are more than thirty somethings. We just don't get value for temperature any more.

To convert from feet to metres usually involves some quite involved mathematics. To simplify matters, when reading this book, please use this handy conversion chart:

1 inch = 1 metre
1 foot = 1 metre
1 yard = 1 metre

The story continues...

Elfa gently lands at the bottom of the 1000 metre cliff next to Rodger. After a good scratch, Elfa sits down and you tumble out off the saddle.

`Where are we?' you ask as you have a good scratch.

`It's the lair of The Thing ,' Rodger mutters.

Before you can reply, the sun disappears, the birds stop singing and the wind dies. There is a deep silence around you until you hear a low, rumbling leonine (EDUCATIONAL NOTE: lion-like) growl that seems to come from all directions.

`You haven't got a machine gun, have you?' you ask.

Rodger hands you a pointed stick.

`A stick?'

`That's the magic Staff of Zeus, so don't knock it,' he tells you. `If you'll excuse me, I have to wun away.'

Before you can object, he does.

The earth trembles and you stare into the gloomy bush ahead of you. Elfa is trying to hide under a rock. There's a hissing sound that reminds you of a fighting possum, then silence falls again.

You can see two small red eyes glowing in the dark canopy of the trees. They stare into your eyes and you hear a gentle chuckling and a smacking of lips.

Believing that this is all only a story and that the author wouldn't let you get hurt, you gulp and shuffle forwards, tightly clutching your magic pointed stick. A rolling, chuckling, deep juicy growl invites you towards the red, unblinking eyes.

You approach the gum tree warily and with stupefying fear you see The Thing sitting on a branch twenty feet (20 metres) above you.

Every sphincter in your body snaps shut with an audible *ping*.

It is a cruel mockery of a koala. Its silvery-grey fur is matted with coagulated blood, its sneering mouth is filled with three-inch (3 metre) razor fangs. Its claws, curved like scythes, stab the tree branch. Its cute round ears quiver in blood lust. On the branch next to it are bowels, livers, human heads and slabs of raw reeking flesh. It lifts a pawful of intestines to its mouth and munches on them, watching you all the while.

Without warning (most dramatic events in this book will happen without warning) it plummets to the ground, doubling - trebling in size. When it lands, it's the size of a polar bear. Saliva drips from its white fangs. It licks its lips. Small flames jet from its nostrils. Its eyes, burning dully like coals, never leave yours. You notice its fluffy tail wobble and you clutch your magic stick firmly. Suddenly it leaps with a deafening roar, its mouth stretched open like a white pointer, its claws aiming for your throat. With a furious flash of fur the monstrous manic marsupial crashes upon you, crushing you beneath its colossal cuddliness. It pins you to the ground, lets out a satisfied growl and takes your shoulder off in one bite as you would eat a Teddybear biscuit. It munches with relish, dripping your blood and crushed bone into your face.

"That's just rude," you mutter.

It swallows, studies your wound and licks up the flowing blood from the ground. It lowers its blood-soaked muzzle close to your face and sniffs you curiously. It licks your face, and you smell its eucalyptus-laden breath just before it bites off your nose and tastes it with interest.

You realise too late why Rodger took off. It's when The Thing grips your left leg in its jaws, twists its head and snaps the leg off that you decide that I've betrayed you and that you are, in fact, being eaten alive by a Drop Bear.

`You rotten swine!' you call as The Thing plucks off your remaining toes, one by one, like succulent swollen grapes from the stalk.

You haven't used your magic pointed stick, I point out.

`Is it worth it?' you ask.

Could be.

`How does it work?'

The instructions are printed on the side.

You act while you've still got an arm left. The side of the stick bears the following inscription.

MAGIC POINTED STICK*.

Directions for use:
Aim pointed end (A) at foe (B) and press button (C).

* Magic Pointed Stick Co. Pty.Ltd.
Patent Pending.

It's at this precise moment that you realise how thoughtless your parents were.

You hadn't asked to be born: it was all their idea, and as a result you are now being devoured by a monstrous koala. If your parents had asked your consent - or, even better, entered a contract with you - you wouldn't mind being mangled by Phascolarctos Plummetus. It's a clear case of gestation without representation. Why couldn't your parents have been disgustingly wealthy royalty who could just send a subject or two to be eaten instead of you? You could be happily munching hors d'oeuvres by a swimming pool instead of being consumed by a carnivorous koala. You briefly curse your parents' excess of hormones and deficiency of riches as The Thing begins to take an overly-interested taste of your remaining arm.

You press button C. Suddenly shafts of light appear from the heavens, trumpets cleave the silence. A rainbow stretches across the sky and there is a tintinnabulation of silver bells across the forest. The voices of a thousand singing angels floats sweetly to your ears. There's a blinding flash, a crack like a thousand bolts of lightning and you thankfully brace yourself for your rescue.

The light disappears, the choir packs it in and The Thing prepares to slice your head off. The batteries in your magic pointed stick are flat.

`Damn it,' you say in annoyance, and you poke the koala in the eye with your magic pointed stick. It reels back with a hideous roar, clutching its paws to its sore eye. You rack your brains for details of koala biology and decide to take a chance. You kick him in his furry groin. The Thing doubles over with startled eyes and you poke your pointed stick at his arboreal (tree dwelling) bum. It yelps and crashes away but you hop after it and with a flying tackle you bring it to the ground.

`All right Thing, freeze!' you shout.

The Thing whimpers submissively and flattens his furry face to the forest floor. With a joyous yell, you discover a zipper running the length of the beast's back. You unzip him, reach in and reclaim your arm, leg, shoulder, nose, and miscellaneous other appendages without which you wouldn't be the same. While you're rummaging around you also discover similar miscellaneous bits, only bigger, so you take them instead and put your original bits back.

Elfa Labrador slobbers up to you and you notice for the first time that there's a sewing machine behind the saddle. With skill that could do credit to a microsurgeon and a seamstress you quickly sew your loose limbs (and bigger, better miscellaneous parts) to your torso. They fit well. Fully equipped once more, you investigate the interior of The Thing more deeply.

`Anyone in there?' you call into the vast blackness of its body.

`Is that you, Rodger?' a voice replies from a distance. You say it isn't and proudly give your name.

`Oh,' the disappointed voice returns.

`Come on out,' you shout.

`OK. We'll just finish this game first.'

Soon you hear the clatter of hooves and a snow-white steed rears from the unzipped koala with a stainless steel knight on its back. After him march a hundred knights with fearsome swords and ostrich plumes in their helms. A dozen beautiful maidens then climb out and finally a thin, spotty, knock-kneed prince emerges.

While the knights roar a baritone song of praise to you and the maidens shower you with rose petals, kisses and telephone numbers, you zip up the koala again. Now emptied, it is a vestige of its former massive dimensions. The shame of its defeat has made it docile and as you pick it up, it clings meekly to you. `Stick to gum leaves,' you tell it masterfully. It looks at you submissively through half-closed eyes. You put it down and it hops to the safety of the nearest tree where it gorges on eucalyptus leaves to drown its humiliation and suffering. Soon it is sluggish and lethargic - the first of the legendary gum-leaf junkies. It has since become folk wisdom that koalas hate being kicked in the groin or poked in the bum with pointed sticks.

That afternoon you attend a huge banquet in your honour. Elfa Labrador sits by your side eating pork chops from his nosebag. The knights sing the saga of your heroic battle, the maidens dance, sing and do the washing up. The wine flows freely - at first into the knights and later from them. You are given golden amulets, a dwarf-forged sword, a magnificent suit of Teflon-coated, non-squeak, non-rust, air-conditioned, power-assisted, magic armour. You also get sumptuous silken clothing, new batteries for your magic pointed stick and a tube of pimple cream (from the Prince).

As the afternoon fades into enchanted evening and the knights and maidens swear their allegiance and debt to you as they drift into the night, you hear the stealthy approach of a horse. Elfa neighs a warning as well as a Labrador can neigh. A black horse walks towards your fire. You put down the honey-basted hummingbird wing as you recognise Rodger.

`I - umm - had to deliver a speech at the Baby Care Centre,' he explains.

`Yeah, sure.'

`Twue dinks: Knights and Nappy Rash.'

`How come you said "Rash" and not "Wash"?'

`Because otherwise the weader would think I said "wash" as in soap and water, not skin inflammation.'

`I see. Anyway, you left me to fight The Thing .'

`Yeah - well - sowwy about. He didn't eat you then?'

You show him where your limbs have been reattached.

`Lovely needlework. I particularly like that dart there, and that seam is delightful!' he coos.

You discuss dress patterns for a while and then you tell Rodger of the contents of the koala.

`Oh joy! Oh Bliss! My deaded comwades weturned to me! Bless you!'

`S'nothin'

Modesty is valuable in heroes and readers.

Prince Rodger mounts his fiery black steed, Bruce rears and gallops into the darkening bush, leaving you in the enchanted woods with Elfa, your magic pointed stick and your knightly gifts.

In the warm sweet forest night you put up the tent you unexpectedly find behind Elfa's saddle. You drift off to sleep, safe under the ceaseless protection of Elfa Labrador, wondering what's likely to happen in Chapter 3.



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