By Ezra and Vivienne Lanoue
All was silent for a moment in the orphans’ home, and then the three children and the old man all began to cheer.
“We did it! Holy cow, we’re alive!” Charlie jumped up and down.
“I’ve never heard of anyone who’s been that close to a cassowary and lived!” Harriet nodded.
Pierre chuckled, “What did I tell you kids; they’re not so tough! We just gotta use our superior brains and opposable thumbs and they go down just like they did in the old days!”
Robert looked down at the ground. He wasn’t cheering. “Well… I mean, I’m glad we’re alive, too, but now the birds know where we live. It’s not really safe here anymore, is it?”
Robert’s astute observation cast a pall on their celebration. They might have survived a cassowary penetration into the sewers, but would they live through the deadly days to come? They all turned to gaze in consternation upon the baby emu, which had ceased its struggling to lie limp in the trap.
“Well,” said Harriet, “we do have a hostage. Maybe we can use it to keep the birds at bay?”
Pierre shook his head. “No. It’s a wonder that that worked this time. Them birds is bloodthirsty; they don’t care how many of their own have to die so long as every human is nothing more than an eviscerated cadaver for them to peck away at. That baby is worthless to us, now. The only thing we can do is get out of here and try to regroup somewhere else.”
“Hmm…” Charlie eyed the baby emu, “worthless to us alive, but what about roasted and seasoned?”
The cats in the room began jumping about in excitement, yowling in hunger. “Food! Food! Food!” They screeched.
“That’s a great idea Charlie!” Said Robert, “would you do the honors and snap its neck?”
Charlie nodded and took a few steps forward to the trap, licking his lips hungrily, eyes focused on the baby emu. He opened his mouth, the other humans and cats cheering him on, but then when the baby emu turned to look at him…
We are brothers. The baby emu’s gaze seemed to say. We are equal. Charlie shook his head.
“He’s just a baby. We should let him out,” Charlie said.
“But you’re hungry, Charlie,” said Harriet.
“If we let him out, he’ll come back with ten thousand cassowaries!” Robert complained.
“No, Charlie,” sighed Pierre, “he has to die.”
“Food! Food! Food!” The cats screamed.
Charlie covered his ears, “but what if the cassowary is still out there! This baby could be our only way of getting past it!”
“If you don’t do it, the cats will have to.” Pierre said.
The cats meowed, advancing forwards. The baby emu screamed in terror. Charlie spread his arms out and stood between them and the baby. “No! I won’t let you!” he yelled.
“Charlie,” Pierre growled, “you need to move.”
Suddenly Pierre felt cold steel at his neck. “No Pierre,” Harriet’s voice came from behind him, holding her Bowie knife, “you need to move. Cats, let the baby live for now!”
The cats drew back, confused, glaring at Charlie and Harriet.
“What are you doing, stupid girl,” Pierre said, not moving a muscle. A trickle of blood slid down his neck.
“I never thought I’d say this, but… Charlie’s right. We can’t let blind hatred or hunger destroy the only thing that might get us out of here alive. We can eat it later, as for now, let’s tie it up and bring it with us.”
Robert wasn’t sure how he felt about keeping the emu alive, but he trusted Harriet and Charlie a lot more than he trusted Pierre. “Let’s all calm down everyone, okay? Let’s just get the emu tied up, pack up our stuff, and get out of here!”
Charlie nodded in relief. “Yeah, he’ll taste better when we’re hungrier, anyway.” Maybe it would be easier to deal the killing blow when he was really starving, he thought.
Harriet withdrew her Bowie knife from Pierre’s neck and he collapsed, glaring up at her.
“It’s eat or be eaten,” he spat, “you’re making a mistake.”
The orphans ignored him and began to gather their things. Robert tied the emu up with his knot tying skills. As he did, it glared at him with hatred in its eyes. Pierre sat on the floor waiting for them, arms crossed. Soon, all was ready and they hurried away through the sewers towards another orphan group they knew lived in the Northeastern sewer complex.
The baby emu’s sibling sat underneath the great emu’s rock, cat scratches still stinging.
“He’s gone…” He sighed hopelessly. “All of them. Gone.”
He looked up at the sky, turning gradually pink as the sun began to dive into the sea where it would come back up on the other side, lighting the sky up again after it would be all dark with a few stars far, far above.
But the baby emu shook his head. “Hope, I must have hope. My sibling… He must be alive somewhere.” He whispered. “Even though inside my heart it’s nighttime if I just keep hoping… The sun will rise again. And the humans will be reduced to dust and sprinkled in the filthy dirt that is the ruins of their city.”
All around him the emus were in an uproar. Messengers ran to and fro as fast as they could, delivering important news from various parts of Australia. Now that humans had been discovered undomesticated and alive, they could be anywhere waiting to strike. The great emu himself had emerged from his grove and was talking to the princess, something that hadn’t happened for years. The great emu was one of the oldest emus alive, but still led because of the emus great respect for his heroism in the war. Normally, another emu would have challenged him for leadership, but they were all too scared to try.
Domesticated humans were carrying armloads of insects and fruits to the emu high command and nobles. The baby emu saw the great emu turns to look at him and draw near with the princess.
“Child,” the great emu rasped, “never did I think this day would come to pass.”
“What?” The baby emu asked, standing up with a wince as the cat scratches throbbed in pain. “What is it?”
“Five years ago, we took back our lands from the humans.” The princess said.
“But we’ve seen more humans preparing for war at New Guinea and Tasmania.” The great emu sighed. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“There is something to do. You just are too weak to defend us.” The princess hissed.
“Hey, she’s right.” An emu chirped.
The great emu shook his head. “No. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Shut up, you filthy, disgusting old bird.” The princess screeched. “You do nothing! Nothing! Nothing!
“We need to save this baby emu’s sibling first!” The great emu rasped, raising his wheezy voice.
“You’re so unrealistic. That baby emu is dead.” The princess hissed flatly.
“He’s not dead! He’s not!” The baby emu shouted, a tear coming from his eye,
All the emus screeched their opinions, a great clamor rising. They argued and argued until only a quarter stood with the great emu.
The princess narrowed her eyes.
“Fight for our freedom.” She hissed.
The emus all launched into battle, the fathers with chicks hurrying away as fast as they could. The baby emu leapt back, running into the bush. The emus squawked and kicked. The baby emu kept on running until he bumped into a cassowary. The same one he and his sibling entered the city with.
“You’re alive!” The cassowary gasped.
“Cassowary! Come quick! T-there’s chaos everywhere! The great emu and the princess-“ The baby emu screamed.
“Say no more.” The cassowary murmured, picking up the baby emu and putting him on his back then running to the great emu’s rock on his long, thick, muscly legs.
They came back to the emus on the ground, groaning in pain. The princess and the great emu circled each other.
“Stop!” The cassowary dropped the baby emu and ran in between them but both birds kicked him away.
“I challenge you for the honor of being the great emu.” The princess stood tall, looking down at her father with a glint of confidence in her eye.
“Cassowary!” The baby emu wailed, running over to the cassowary as he struggled to get up.
The great emu narrowed his eyes and leapt at her. She dodged, doing a backflip over his head, kicking at his leg, but he dodged too, leaping in the air and kicking her eye.
Her eye bled and she shook her head, pouncing on him and holding him to the ground, one foot on his neck. Her foot clenched and he gasped for breath, eyes meeting hers. Suddenly he kicked her, throwing her off. He kicked her side and she coughed, wavering, then slapped her neck against his and pecked his face.
She did another backflip over him, but he leapt up and grabbed her, throwing her to the ground and holding her down with a foot over her head and a foot holding her feet.
“Bad move.” He hissed.
She narrowed her eyes. “You win for now, filth.”
He let her up and she shook debris from her feathers. He stood extra tall to assert dominance.
The other emus rose and bowed their heads in respect along with the baby emu and the cassowary. The great emu began to speak to his daughter.
“You will lead a team to the ruins of Sydney to find that baby emu and bring it back to us, alive or dead, and you will kill every cat and human there. Where there are four, there are bound to be hundreds crawling through the mud. His brother deserves his revenge. You will have all the resources of Australia at your disposal, so failure is not an option.”
He turned to address the rest of the emus. “The human armies in Tasmania and New Guinea are waiting for us to turn on each other! So long as we remain strong and united, they cannot harm us! They feed on fear yet flee from brave hearts and stern claws! Remain faithful and stalwart, siblings!”
The emus nodded and began to disperse and preen themselves. Domesticated humans rubbed down their wings and put cobwebs on their wounds. The great emu shook them away from him and limped towards the baby emu.
The baby emu lifted its head to stare up at the magnificent bird, the hero of all Australian birds. “My liege,” he began, “I want to go with the princess to get revenge!”
The great emu shook his head. “No. I can’t lose another. Besides, you’re horribly wounded.”
The cassowary stepped forward, “I will go in your place, young one. With each blow of my talons, you will be with us, tearing the entrails from those filthy cats and humans.”
The baby emu nodded his assent, then turned back to his ruler. “Do… do you think you’ll find him alive?”
The great emu turned away and stared off into the distance. After a long moment he spoke.
“Who ever heard of a human sparing an emu?”