Fiction by Prue King

             By Prue King

It was late winter on what should have been a mild sunny day in the luxuriant far north of New Zealand, the sort of day when summer seemed a long way off, a day when Jax tucked all her tops into her long fleece pants and threw a quilted jacket over the lot. Firewood was low, the last of the dead kauri from alongside the old bach where she lived was already burned in the wood stove, and she needed kindling.

Battling the biting southerly on the eucalyptus-lined gravel road ten minutes from the house, Jax gathered an armful of dead branches and started heading back. Her dogs roamed the high roadside banks, sniffing for rabbits and frightening a pair of paradise ducks from a dam in the paddock. As she stooped to pick up one last stick she felt something brush the inside of her long pants. The back of her thigh, just behind her knee, and a little higher. It was moving.

Fully laced hiking boots, while warm and dry, are impossible to remove in a hurry especially when standing. Yes, she could have pulled her pants down to let whatever was creeping around her skin escape, but would that encourage the beastie to search higher up for cover? It doesn’t matter whether you’re woman or man, she thought, no-one wants anything crawling inside their pants, particularly around their crotch. But how to remove her boots, slip off her long pants and ferret about while standing on a public road with nowhere to sit down, nowhere to shelter from a passing neighbour’
s car?

‘No need to panic,’ Jax thought. ‘This is New Zealand, not Australia,’ where she’d been on sabbatical last year, where locals combat venomous snakes and where spiders search for hiding places, people to bite. Even cuddly wombats had spurs. It couldn’t be anything harmful working its way up her pants leg. She didn’t want to stretch her hand down inside her pants so she gave the back of them a little shake, hoping to move the creature at least further down the leg. The fabric folds behind her knee seemed to ease. Nothing moved.

Calling the dogs, Jax retreated home, straight-legged, trying to ignore the feel of the skin around her knees. At the door she sat gingerly, pulling down her pants and removing her loosened boots almost in one movement. She turned her pants inside out, holding them well away from herself. A tiny piece of brown fur was stuck to the fleece. Looking closely, Jax caught a glimmer from the glass bead of an eye and made out a leathery ear, pointed like a mouse’s. She recognised a long-tailed bat, disturbed from his torpor.

She carefully lifted the intruder, folding his wings and picking his tiny thumbs from the fabric. She headed for the garden and placed the creature into the hollow of an ancient puriri. Back in the house she put her pants into the washing machine and combed through the wardrobe for any further invaders.

At dusk Jax went out to check on the little creature. He was snuggled into the hollow, as warm as a fledgling in the nest. Later she would swear he’d winked at her.

- A former journalist who’s published poetry, short stories and a parenting book for new dads and written stage plays and revues, Prue King studied writing for the theatre and has half an arts degree. She lives in Doubtless Bay, New Zealand.

Copyright©2023 by Prue King. All Rights Reserved.