Drawing: a field of lavender, with a drag mark through it. Caption reads, “Drag marks through the lavender field.”

Bunyip short story by Iris Carden

Five storeys below Brisbane’s Roma Street Police Station, is the headquarters for the Human Defence Unit. Its members are drawn from among the highest performing members of military, intelligence, and police forces throughout Australia, along with select highly specialised members of the civilian population. The Human Defence Unit and its elite staff are neither police, military nor intelligence. They do not exist.

The HDU team were dressed in orange hi vis rescue uniforms.  It wasn’t normal attire for a secret organisation, but it would fit in with all the other searchers who had set out from the lavender farm.

Senior Agent Jo Burns briefed them. “We’re parked here, because this is as far as vehicles can go.  The creature grabbed the child here, and dragged her across the lavender field.  It’s easy to follow the path here, because of the damage to the lavender plants, but once the track gets to the forest, that’s where everyone’s lost it.  Search and rescue brought in sniffer dogs, but they’ve just gone nuts.  Maybe it’s all the mangled lavender plants, maybe it’s something else.  Harry can’t search from the air until dark, but he will join us then, if we haven’t already found the child.  Any questions.”

Agent Marissa Tyler had a question.  “What is the creature?”

“The girl’s parents said it had the body of a seal and the face of an owl.”

“A chimera?”

“Could be, but it’s also one of the known descriptions of a bunyip.  There’s endless descriptions of bunyips and they’re all contradictory, so your guess is as good as mine,” Jo said. “Right, so to start we just follow the trail of floral destruction.”

As they walked, Trainee Agent Kate Murdoch said, “I know why the dogs went nuts.  I’m struggling here with the scents.  I can smell lots of lavender, the child, and then this overbearing, overpowering, frightening scent of something I can’t place. It’s not like anything I’ve ever smelled before and it’s making me feel sick.”

“Can you stick with it?” Jo asked.

“Yes, it’s horrible, but I’ll deal with it.  I should be able to cope.”

They walked across the field following the path of destruction. 

“How big would something have to be to leave drag marks like this?” Marissa asked.

“Big,” Jo answered. “The parents said the drag marks were the thing dragging its body.  It actually threw the kid on its back. Kid was just too terrified to move.”

Arriving at the edge of the lavender plants, they could see massive damage to the plants in the rainforest where previous searchers had already gone. 

“Not that way,” Kate said.  “It had already made that path when it came, and it looks worse because so many people have trampled it. You see there are lots of other well-worn paths through the forest? It uses them regularly.  I can smell traces some older, some new.  The most recent is this way.”

She led them over what looked like a bushwalking track.  “I think it only churned up the soil in the lavender farm so much because that soil was already broken up for growing the plants.  In here, the soil’s better held together, and it’s got its regular tracks.  They could be bushwalking tracks or wallaby tracks, no-one seeing them would question it.”

Kate led them along the path through the forest, to a creek.  Playing in the shallow water, was a five year old girl, splashing around with a creature the size Labrador, that looked like a seal with an owl’s face.

“What the hell?” Marissa said.

“That fits the description the parents gave of the creature, but it’s so much smaller,” Jo said.

While the others stayed still, Jo approached slowly. “Hey, Jamie, you’re Jamie, right?” Jo said.

The little girl looked up.  “Hello,” she said.

“Your Mum and Dad are looking for you,” Jo said.  “We’ve come to take you home.”

“I’m playing with my friend,” the girl said.

“And it looks like you’re both having lots of fun,” Jo said, “but it’s time to go home now.  Say good-bye to your friend, and we’ll go back to your home now.”

The girl hugged the strange animal.  “Bye bye friend,” she said.  “Play again tomorrow?”

“Ah, Boss,” Marissa said.  “Turn around very slowly.”

Jo did as instructed.  A massive creature which looked like a super-sized version of the animal the girl was playing with was there.  She was between a very dangerous-looking animal and its young. 

Marissa raised her gun, which had been loaded with animal tranquilliser darts.

“Friend’s Mummy,” the little girl said, and ran to the larger creature, throwing her arms around a front flipper.”

“Don’t shoot,” Jo ordered. “Everyone stay calm.”  If only she could obey her own instructions.  She moved very slowly towards the mother.  

It looked at her with steely eyes. That beak looked as if it could tear a human apart.

“I’ve got to go home now, Friend’s Mummy,” the girl said.  “Bye bye.”

The child walked over to Jo and took her hand. The creature seemed to nod at Jo.

Jo slowly walked away, leading the child to the path.  Her team slowly, quietly followed, Marissa taking the rear position, walking backward with the gun raised.

“What are we going to do about it?” Marissa whispered.

“Do about it?” Jo answered, quietly.

“The bunyip or whatever?”

“How about we leave it alone?” Jo said.  “Apart from being lousy at arranging play dates, it doesn’t seem to have done anything wrong. And for all we know they could be close to extinction.”

“Didn’t the stories of bunyips say they were dangerous? Is it safe to just let it be so close to humans?” Kate asked.

“Yes they did,” Jo said.  “Stories also say werewolves, vampires, zombies and yowies are dangerous, but we know it depends on the individual.  I’m not killing something that hasn’t harmed anyone.”

Kate blushed.

Jo continued, “I will try to swing some funding to fence the forest off from the local farms.”

There was a loud screeching sound from the forest behind them.

“Let’s make that electrified fencing,” Jo added.

They returned the wet, dirty, tired, and happy, child to her parents, who would tell them her own story, whether the parents believed it or not. The HDU agents simply said they’d found her playing in the shallow creek.

Human Defence Unit Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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