Shape Changer

I am Kaaryla, a tiny possum, at the risk of appearing glib, this is my story. 

Back in a time of Dreaming, I was a victim of a vindictive spirit. But before this dreadful event, my life, while largely nocturnal, I am sorry to say, I lived loud. Not really my fault, I spent time calling to my mate. Or chasing after errant offspring. Or frequenting a particular tree, hill or notch this spirit considered their own private domain. My biggest sin appears to be locating a dishevelled space, where I lined a tree cavity with soft fur. 

Seriously there is so much noise, what little did this monster hear.

Waterbirds heard kookaburras and so it is deemed to be dawn. Even though darkness still abounds, and frost gently settles on the ground. This is a time I must find shelter and nestle into a hole. Nightjars might be allowed one or two more freakish ululations, but night heron leaves space for one final kwok. Frogs in ferns adhere to more loosely defined rules and will continue his calls filling hours with leisure or pleasure. It’s hard to know about frogs especially those ridiculously named as the pobblebonk. 

‘You make too much noise, disturb my sleep,’ came a crackling voice of the newly awaken. 

I am thinking, did you miss endless conversations from frogs, crickets, Mopoke calls, even screeches of night owls. But I dare not say anything to a desiring more sleep spirit. 

With aggression this Dream Time nasty, zapped me to a tiny size. Shrunk down to a human hand sized pebble, dimensions a man might easily pick up and throw a great distance. In an instant my life changed, now I needed to find new places to keep warm.  

If I were to be picked up from tumbling brooks in a similar way, my tail might slip between fingers. My eyes shine like ripples of gems twinkling at fear of being so grasped. At least I do not fear being hunted, there is little about me to make a meal. I am no longer sort to be skinned and thrown on hot coals to roast. I provide no more sustenance than a single seed. 

Previously I’d never thought about winter. Body heat and fur, plus my nightly activity kept my warmth circulating. Many say our island continent winters are too mild, too little snow. But I am tiny, my heart can only beat so fast to warm my being. Now I saw as water froze, fishes appeared to freeze with it. I looked at icy lakes and streams with curiosity, wondering how fish survived. I mentioned this once to my mate, who smiled and told me, it is only surfaces frozen and not fish. Neither the inclination nor desire to prove or disprove his views. Far better things demand my energy. 

Ice laid on ground, forming windowpanes in gullies. I could never decide which seemed worse, to be frozen or isolated. Now I feel that I am both, and it has been a long winter. I am unable to move. Huddled still and often shivering. 

When times of plenty return, due to my small stature I can feast on a single Bogong moth. Find shelter in the smallest cleft of trees. Birth my babes during these summer times. Nursing them on richness gained from gathered grains and insects. We arise from our mother’s heartbeat. It’s a declaration of primacy of femaleness. 

I must teach them lessons ready for those times when we need to sleep. Warning them to watch out for dangers and perils. As now we provide a tasty meal for warrior snakes. Noses and whiskers twitch about potential threats. But rest a while my babes, snakes sleep in winters deep, dark, iciness too. 

Fires can be a danger and peril from a tiniest spark. Watch men and observe when they prepare for fire. It’s how they manage this land with heat and flame. Smoke robs my breath. But I can shelter deep underground if need be. Between rocks where I might frantically dig into loose earth. 

So much was lost when the others came. Fewer trees, fewer rocks. Hotter fires, less insects. Often dryness settled. Streams and gullies no longer flowed with tumbling waters. Barely possible to scratch aside dirt set solid. These new ones practised winter grazing, large animals, destroying everything. Rough huts were built in summer pastures on hills, some of which eventually became solid stone houses. Places where sheep were milked, cows sheltered. White cheese made which hung in bags from rafters. Plum brandy drunk. New songs, about ships sung around fires at night. I began to wonder if men moved about in response to seasons, why not wildlife. 

These newcomers gave me another name. Eastern, as if first peoples, who really owned, loved and respected the land pointed out direction of sunrises. They simply knew another day would arrive. Listened to choruses from fellow inhabitants, made warmth for their own bodies. 

Eastern Pygmy Possum. 

Oh, so I am given a moniker not of this continent and meant to punish me for my size. Reinforce aggression by a Dream Time spirit. Do they not understand my place in this world? Never mind my abilities to draw nourishment from a harsh place. Shelter my babes from the worse strife. Rest easy when winter draws her harsh hand around our lands. 


Flash Fiction by Karen Lethlean

Karen Lethlean is a retired English teacher. With fiction Barbaric Yawp, Ken*Again, Pendulum Papers. She has won a few awards through Australian and UK competitions. Including Best of Times, with Bum Joke. In her other life Karen is a triathlete who has done Hawaii Ironman championships twice.