Read Mounty’s First Adventure by Laurian Brand
Laurian Brand’s short story was adjudged the best entry in the Department of Environment’s AFW LitFest competition.
Read about Mounty the mountain chicken and his first adventure. We really hope Mounty goes on to have more adventures.
Mounty’s First Adventure
Mounty hopped with glee. The cool water from Boo Boo Pond was refreshing and swimming was this little Mountain Chicken’s favourite activity on a hot day.
His long legs stretched as he leapt along the broad mossy leaves of the old cedar tree. The mountain breeze dried Mounty’s wet glistening skin as he settled on a bed of roots to dream and wonder about leaving the majestic mountain on which he lived. He was only seven weeks old and his bumpy brown leathery skin had shiny black spots that sparkled like black opals. Mounty was not a chicken, he was a frog but his long, long legs allowed him to spring higher than any frog, higher than you could imagine. Mountain Chickens were hunted so Mounty had to be quick to stay alive.
He was alone in the mountains. His family had been taken one by one by the giant creatures with the loud stomping walks and long ugly boots. First, it was his mum and dad, then it was his brothers Clucky and Froggy and lastly his sister Mousy. Luckily, Mounty was the best at hide and seek and the giant creatures never found him. Mounty was lonely and often cried for his family; he was the youngest and couldn’t understand why they left him. His friends Toad, Birdy and Bunny played with him but he missed his family so much and often talked to the white ball in the sky when evening came, hoping it would grant him a wish. The little shining lights up high reminded him of bugs with their lights on their backs and he would fall asleep dreaming of family, friends and food.
Mounty had seen tall structures coming out of the ground far away when he had gone to the very top of Old Cedar. There were thousands of bugs moving around and moving in carts, they looked like families except he wasn’t sure they were bugs since their bodies looked a little strange and they never flew in the air. He hoped they were bugs though because they were his favourite treat. Mounty dreamed of a day when he could wander into this bug village and eat and eat and eat. His long pink tongue flicked in the air as he thought of the yummy, delicious bugs. Smilingly, Mounty fell into a deep, long sleep while the chirping crickets played his favourite bedtime song.
Birds sang sweetly announcing to Mounty that it was time to get up. The fiery ball in the sky peeped through the trees that provided Mounty with lovely shade. He decided that today was the day he would look for his family. The little Mountain Chicken had followed the giant creatures to the edge of the bug village and today was the day he would begin his adventure. Mounty picked his backpack, an enormous leaf and filled with a few dried bugs and long, dark millipedes sprinkled with water from Boo Boo pond.
He set off after saying goodbye to his friends. Jumping along the path, Mounty was anxious to see what lay beyond the lush, tall green trees and the soft cushioned grass. It took him three hours to get from Boo Boo Pond to the edge of the mountain. The tall structures were bigger and scary now but Mounty pressed on. He didn’t see the bugs that couldn’t fly but he saw gigantic things on wheels that rolled quickly zooming as they went by. The giant creatures that captured his family were driving the wheeled carts; they had only seemed like bugs from afar. He was scared and considered turning back but Mounty remembered his lonely nights and desperately wanted to see his family again.
On the other side of the path, Mounty could see glistening blue water that sparkled like precious jewels. He was parched and opened his sack to munch on some bugs. They were not enough, he needed water and Mounty could picture himself swimming in the cool bejeweled water so he jumped up and put his treats away. How can I cross the path he wondered as the wheel carts zoomed by? He decided to wait, look and see, then hop as quickly as his long elastic legs could take him. He hopped quickly at first, then slowly when he became tired. A bright yellow wheeled cart came around the corner with loud beeping sounds and Mounty stopped abruptly. Should he move forward or should he turn back?
Mounty began to hop anew with all his strength and made it to the other side narrowly escaping the humungous wheels. He was now on rough dry stones that led a path to the inviting water. Excitedly, Mounty jumped to the water’s edge, it smelt different, unlike the flowery mossy pond he knew and loved; it was huge and Mounty wondered if he could swim in what looked like the biggest pond he had ever seen. He jumped in with a tiny splash and gave a shout of delight. Cool, smooth, silky water moved in waves around him but it stung him with its saltiness, just a little. Mounty did front and back flips, he did the breast stroke and the back stroke, for a few minutes he forgot all about being lonely.
While swimming, Mounty thought of a plan. He would find the ugly creature with the yellow boots and follow him. Mounty jumped back to the forest edge dodging the traffic like he was performing gymnastics. He sat and waited and after waiting all afternoon he began to get sleepy. This would be his first night sleeping outside of the mountains. He began to miss his mossy bed of roots and the crickets’ bedtime song. Night had fallen and he heard the crunch crunch of dry leaves and the heavy breathing of the giant creature as it wandered into the forest. Mounty peered from behind the bush of a small loblolly tree and decided to wait until the creature was leaving the mountain.
About two and a half hours later he was awakened by the creature stomping its way out of the forest. As he hopped stealthily, Mounty imagined himself a spy who was on an urgent mission to rescue his family. He avoided landing on the brown crisp leaves to ensure there was no noise to alert the tall creature he followed. The journey was challenging and the creature hardly let out a strangled breath while Mounty huffed and puffed trying to get fresh air into his lungs. With each upward motion, Mounty exhaled and wished that he could stop. Sharp sticks scratched his aching body and stinging nettle leaves brushed his bumpy back as he rushed to keep up. By now the little mountain chicken was not only exhausted but getting discouraged.
Eventually the man came upon a black wheeled cart and opened one of the back doors to lay his backpack down. While his back was turned, Mounty snuck into the opened door and tucked himself under the front passenger seat. He willed himself to be patient, quiet and still. Not long after, the creature pulled into a large abandoned structure. All was calm and still. As the creature exited, Mounty hopped behind it, careful not to make a sound.
Humungous doors creaked opened and he was greeted by the sound of his sister Mousy croaking for help. Mounty hopped behind an old drum and hid, leaving behind wet, slimy webbed footprints. When the creature disappeared behind an opening in the wall, the brave frog hopped towards his sister.
“This shiny wire transmitter allows the tall creatures to communicate with me,” Mousy stuttered trying to give her brother as much information as she could before the men returned. “They’ll use this to track me; they want me to lead them to others like us.” She explained that she could understand when their mouths moved and they could understand her. She knew that meant she could never go home or she’d be placing others like her in danger.
“They’re called humans and the ones who captured us are men,” Mousy croaked. “They took mum and dad away but Clucky and Froggy are here; save them first.”
Mounty’s only response was a nod to show that he understood all she said.
Mousy gestured to a heavy iron door with a picture of various animals piled unto a plate. Mounty made small hops as he moved over to the door that led to his brothers and lay against the wall trying his best to blend in and waited impatiently for the doors to open. It wasn’t long before they opened with a loud groan as the man with the tall boots walked out and then exited the building. The little frog slid inside stealthily, then tucked his legs and wrapped his body as tight as he could before rolling along the tiled floors, stopping only when he got to a long wooden table. He rested his head on the firm legs of the table and slowly looked around the room. Froggy sat despondent in a transparent box and his bossy older brother Clucky lay strapped to the countertop staring in the distance as a round man with a tall white hat stood above him with a sharp chopping knife.
Time stood still as Mounty watched the man swiftly chopping fragrant leaves and red and yellow juicy peppers before moving to stand over Clucky. Thoughts of how and why raced through Mounty’s mind as he wondered what to do. Rocking backwards, he sprang into action and catapulted himself into the air, landing on the man’s thick brown neck. His slimy legs dangled and rubbed against the exposed flesh and scared the man into dropping the huge knife onto his sandaled feet. Mounty hopped onto the counter top and rushed to his brother.
Meanwhile angry shouts escaped the man’s lips as blood gushed from the gash in his foot and he hopped around the room trying to soothe his pain. Suddenly he slipped, hit his head and lay unmoving on the floor. Mounty knew he must help his brothers before the man got up or the other man with the tall boots returned. Grasping a small knife in his mouth Mounty rubbed and sawed on the ropes until Clucky pulled free. Clucky rubbed his face unto Mounty’s whilst whispering his thanks; he was so relieved to see his younger brother. Together they jumped towards the box that held Froggy. Clucky did a backflip and used one of his springy legs to unhook the latch and out jumped Froggy. The three brothers lifted their fore legs and embraced. A soft groan from the man on the floor caused the brothers to pause their celebrations. Quietly and quickly they retrieved Mousey from the heavy rusted chains.
Silently, Mounty wept for the loss of his parents for Mousy had explained that the humans ate his kind and his parents were not coming back. He was devastated but Mounty was relieved that he had saved his siblings. The ordeal was not over for it seemed the humans would track them back to the mountains but this time they intended to be ready. They needed to get back to the mountains quickly. First, they needed to remove the tracking device from Mousy’s back or the whole mountain would be in peril. Dr. Agouti could help; he was great at curing their ailments and he was a very smart animal.
Slowly they hopped from the quiet structure, keeping the mountain in sight; they were heading home. Their parents had told them that they hadn’t seen another mountain chicken family in over three years and they feared they were the last of their kind. Their job was now to search the mountains for others like themselves to warn them because these humans were relentless. By early afternoon when the sun was standing high in the sky, the siblings had crossed the last path with the big wheeled carts zooming by and stepped happily into an open field.
Mounty wondered why all the animals were dashing through the fields that lay to the bottom of the vast mountain. It seemed they were running from something and if he was honest, terrified grins stained their faces. Birds, bees and other winged insects sprung as if thrown from a canon, vaulted into the air in clusters while their speeds remained constant and their loud warning cries pierced the once peaceful skies.
As the four little mountain chickens hopped through the fields and began their ascent up the mountain, deafening sounds like thunder pierced the air. Giant trucks called bulldozers tore humungous trees from the ground as their occupants flew and sprinted, dodging wheels that were sometimes just too gigantic to escape and the smoky fumes that suffocated the air overwhelmed them.
Up they hopped, attempting to see how far the devastation had spread, wondering if Boo Boo Pond was still safe, and wondering if their home remained. As they looked ahead, they saw more and more trucks destroying lush green trees; home to many of their friends. Looking back they saw chaos; animals lay hurt and broken on the wide open field, while some stood frozen and others tried to escape; their homes now a battlefield and they were surely losing, they were no match for these giant machines and the cruel men that controlled them.
Undaunted they hopped on, intent on getting home. As they approached the summit of the mountain, they were relieved to see that Boo Boo Pond and Old Cedar were undamaged. However, they could still hear the rumble of the machines and the shriek of petrified animals; the sound was getting closer. It was clear, they had lost their parents and shortly they would lose their homes. Froggy wanted to stand and fight but Clucky and Mounty knew this was unreasonable, if they stayed they would perish like many animals below but first they had to find Dr. Agouti to remove the tracker from Mousy’s back. Quickly, they made their way to his office in the old hollow oak tree. Before they could call out he shouted, “Get in,” in his soft soothing voice.
Mounty hurriedly explained their plight and Dr. Agouti examined Mousy’s back to see what he could do. Wires in intricate patterns were embedded in a box attached to her back. He grabbed his extractor and began snipping at the cables. He tiptoed high to look above it and bent low to see under it but nothing he tried could remove the wiry contraption from her back. The siblings knew from experience not to disturb him while he worked so they rested silently while their minds raced as they processed the recent events.
Undeterred, Dr. Agouti stepped outside and returned with two smooth stones and began rubbing them together in earnest. There was a spark and he said “Mousy, this will hurt a bit but it’ll be worth it.” Gently he placed the stones on either side of the box. There was a spark from the box and a low groan from Mousy but whether it was from pain or relief that the box fell from her back is uncertain. She sprang into the air excitedly, relieved to be free of the excess weight. She nudged Dr. Agouti and then her brothers.
The noise from below ceased and the animals guessed that the humans had left for the day because the flaming sun had gone to rest, but they knew it wouldn’t be long before they returned. Dr. Agouti told the youngsters that he was too old to make the journey to the other side of the mountain and he would spend his last days at Boo Boo Pond. He urged them to be safe and to stick together.
Not far away, Toad, Bird and Bunny lay quivering under a short, broad- leaved tree so Mounty hopped towards them and convinced them to follow him and his siblings on their quest to find safety on the other side of the mountain. He remembered how his three friends did their best to comfort him when his family disappeared; now it was his turn to help them.
Mounty rubbed against the old hollowed oak tree of Dr. Agouti’s home for the last time; he dived in and had his last splash in the mossy pond that had been his home for so long then he looked longingly at the tall branches of Old Cedar knowing he’d never climb her again.
The seven frightened animals set off in search of a new home on the other side of the mountain and hoped they’d be lucky enough to find family along the way.