‘”I want to warn you about the cassowary. They get aggressive if you’re near their young or the nest. And they got this killer hook on their toenail. It’s a giant spike. They kick really hard and can gore you with their spike.’ He used his foot to demonstrate, kicked the air like a black belt martial artist.
‘Mmm. I’m not so sure this is the thing for me’ Anne said, looking around.”
Hello friends, Jet Eliot here. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my novel Wicked Walkabout.
The Cassowary Scene as presented here really did happen to my partner and me, and our guide, in a rainforest in northeastern Australian. We didn’t know we were infringing on this cassowary. The photos are taken by my partner that day in the jungle.
There are many wildlife scenes weaved into this mystery novel set in Australia, and you can purchase the e-book ($4.99) via the above link.
This scene from Chapter 18 takes place between the protagonist Anne Lamington and one of the major characters, Brett Malcolm. Anne is an American visiting Brett, her long ago friend who lives in Australia and owns the lodge where the story is set. He’s a rambunctious Aussie who knows no fear. He is familiar with a cassowary that lives in the rainforest adjacent to his lodge, and is pressing her to go see it with him.
“Brett ignored her comment. ‘So if we see it, just remain calm and submissive. Don’t run or scream or turn around. Just walk away backwards without turning your back. Got that? Don’t ever turn your back.’ He swatted at a mosquito. ‘But it’s bloody unlikely that anything like that’ll happen.’
When they entered the rainforest, Anne was struck by how instantly dark it had become. Even the piercing Australian sunshine could not penetrate through this dense tree canopy. She slipped her sunglasses off and let them sit tethered around her neck.
They walked quickly through the forest for about ten more minutes, stepping over rotted fallen logs and swatting at mosquitoes. Anne had a bandanna around her neck for mosquito protection. She held it up over her nose to block out the putrid decaying smell of the forest. Her body was sweating under her long sleeved shirt and long pants, but she was glad she had covered up from the mosquitoes, they were fierce.
They didn’t talk as they walked in single file down the path. Their fast pace was challenging and she did not know why he was going so fast, but she had to stop periodically if she wanted to look around. The trail was too overgrown with roots and debris to take her eyes off her footing.
Steering clear of a massive parade of ants, Anne stopped when Brett turned to her and whispered, ‘Okay. I just saw the head, way back to the right there. I’m not pointing because I don’t want to attract attention. Do you see Annie, do you see him?’
She looked and nodded. She was surprised at how tall the bird was. Never before had she seen a bird that was taller than herself.
‘We’ll have to go off track to get closer. Just step where I step and try not to make any noise.’
Anne did what she was told. Her heart was beating fast and sweat dripped down her back. She longed to look ahead, see the illustrious cassowary, but there were so many vines, stumps, downed logs, and holes on the path that all she could do was keep her head down and watch where she placed each foot. Brett stopped. She looked up.
The massive bird was only 20 feet away. Shaped much like an ostrich, it was looking the other way and did not see them. In the darkness of the forest, the colors on its face and neck seemed incongruously brilliant: turquoise, azure, and fire engine red. His back was long and broad with coarse, black feathers. As she stared at this beauty, a mosquito flew into her nostril. She instinctively blew air out her nose and swatted at it, causing her to slightly lose her balance. Although she regained her balance, she accidentally snapped a branch underfoot.
The cassowary turned his head toward them. They watched as his long slender neck slowly extended ten inches taller. Now it was easily a foot taller than she was.
It was the most beautiful and unusual bird she had ever seen in her life. What an exquisite creature! She squinted to get a better look at something that seemed to be on top of its head, or was it some animal on the tree behind it? The bird was looking directly at them now. Whatever that brown thing on top of its head was, it was part of the cassowary’s head. It looked to Anne like a Mohawk hairstyle.
The bird slowly started walking toward them, its long, stout legs unfazed by the vines and logs. It walked with a soldier-like stiffness. Fifteen feet away, the two humans stood completely still while the cassowary placed one foot in front of the other and walked in a small circle, never taking its eyes off of the intruders. Two loose red wattles hung from his neck, swinging freely as he walked.
Brett leaned toward Anne and whispered, ‘Okay, we need to go now. This is aggressive behavior. It’ll get worse if we stay.’ He took one careful step backward and then another. ‘Just walk backwards and do not turn your back.’
In deliberate, slow, stiff steps, the cassowary advanced toward them, one plodding step at a time.
Anne and Brett took one step backward. The cassowary took one step toward them. ‘Just don’t turn around’ he said. ‘Take another step. Slowly.’
On the next step backwards her hiking boot landed on something so big her foot could not land. She kept her balance and moved her foot to a different spot and it landed firmly on the ground.
The three beings continued like this for about three more minutes. For every step that Anne and Brett retreated, the cassowary advanced.
When they neared a large tree, Brett stopped beside the tree and broadened his chest. He whispered, ‘Do exactly what I say. Do not—absolutely do. not. run. Step backwards very slowly, stay behind my body shield, and continue backing up until you are out of its sight.’
Anne’s eyes burned—she thought from sweat—and she blinked and teared. She continued to step backwards, careful not to land on a log or a vine, and with slow methodical steps she gradually advanced to the forest’s edge. She was 25 feet behind Brett now, and had not turned her back.
Brett stayed beside the tree, shielding the movements of Anne. The cassowary stopped advancing and lowered his head all the way down to the ground, until it looked like he was sniffing in the leaf litter. Brett guessed that was where the nest was.
When the creature lowered his head, Brett took several slow steps backward so that both he and Anne were retreating; quietly and submissively.
Anne could barely see the cassowary anymore, with the trees and foliage between them and the canopy darkness. She continued to cautiously move backward and was able to find the path. A few minutes later Brett reached the path too. Without speaking, they retreated backwards down the trail, still facing the aggravated, but now invisible bird.”
I’m currently working on a second mystery novel in which Anne Lamington is in San Francisco investigating a mysterious death in her neighborhood.
Until this book gets published you can count on reading more of my weekly posts highlighting wildlife and travel adventures around the world. Many thanks to my blogging friends for your colorful comments and loyal following.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander