Bridge on the River Cow

The weekend I stayed at Aaron Thompson’s farm was killer hot. When we woke up on Saturday, it was already warm. I was totally excited because Aaron’s Mum went shopping in Heywood every Saturday. Not because I wanted to go shopping—because I wanted to go swimming.

“It’ll be great, Tom,” Aaron said. “Mum’ll take us to the pool. Then she’ll go for coffee, and talk to everyone in town about three times over. We’ll be swimming for hours.”

I lived on a farm, too, but further out from town than Aaron. No way did I get to go to the pool on weekends. It would be awesome. I checked my bag. Sunscreen. Togs. Tuckshop money. Towel. We waited around under the verandah. The sun was like a comet burning into Earth’s atmosphere. It was going to be one of those days where you have to get wet.

Mrs Thompson came outside and saw us waiting. “Oh, Aaron. I told you that I wasn’t going into town today. Your father’s taken the car to buy a new shed.” She pointed past the garden, over near the dairy, where the old shed was just a pile of wood and tin stacked up in the grass. “I’ll take you both into town tomorrow.”

Aaron made a face. “But it’s going to be a bazillion degrees today! We need to go swimming. Can Tom and I go up to the dam instead?”

“No, Aaron. You know the bulls are in that paddock. And I don’t like you swimming where there aren’t any adults around.”

“Aww, Mum,” Aaron said, half-looking at me. Then he gasped. “I could pull out my Slip’n’Slide! We’ll run it down the hill away from the house. It’ll be sweet!”

Mrs Thompson shot that idea down. “C’mon, we’re in the middle of a drought. Our water tanks are only half full, and you’re not going to pour the rest down the hill.”

“So we can’t even have a hosefight?”

“No! But take Tom and do something, as long as it’s not dangerous, or wasting water. You’re making me feel hot just listening to you complain.”

“I guess that’s it,” I said, when Mrs Thompson had gone back inside. “There’s nowhere else we can swim around here, is there?”

Aaron shook his head slowly, and then his lips twisted into this evil smile. “We-e-ll, there is one more, um, stream around here. Come have a look.” He led me up across the paddock beside his house, past the ruins of the shed his dad had knocked down, to the back of the dairy. I saw straight away what he meant. There was a huge concrete drain at the end of the dairy. The drain poured into a channel about eight or nine feet wide that was filled with—

“Gross,” I spluttered.

“We have four hundred cows,” Aaron said. “I reckon each one goes at least twice each time it gets milked, and each cow gets milked twice a day. Dad hoses it all into this channel. Four hundred times two, times two, that’s like … loads.”

I did some multiplication in the dirt with a stick. “Sixteen hundred cow dumps a day,” I said. “Awesome.” The River Cow was filled to the brim with what looked like khaki mud. The sun had baked the top into a sort of crust, like cooling lava. You could almost fool yourself that you could walk across the channel without falling through. The smell was worse than horrible. “I bet you can’t jump across.”

Aaron looked at me. “No way. I bet you can’t jump across.”

“You’re taller than me and you run heaps faster.”

Aaron shook his head.

“Okay,” I said. “I bet I can work out a way that we can both get across.” I looked at the pile of wood where the old shed had been and my eyes narrowed. “Does your Dad have a hammer and some nails?”

Building a bridge was harder than you would think. Aaron frowned uncertainly at the planks of wood that lay across the River Cow. “It doesn’t look solid,” he said. “I thought there was going to be a handrail.”

“It’s fine. I used nails and rope.” I swallowed and inched my way along. The bridge wobbled a little in the middle, where we nailed the wood together. “See?” I walked across and back to Aaron’s side. “Your turn.”

He tiptoed onto it, shuffling his feet like an old person crossing a busy street. “Hurry up,” I hollered. He was taking so long that I followed behind him, to poke him along. The bridge was groaning a little with both of us on there, but I’d used so many nails that nothing could go wrong.

Then there was a crack and Aaron gasped. “Errgh! Spider!”

“Where? Cool!” One of the boards had split open under our weight. It was hollow and a huge Huntsman spider crawled out. It looked pretty upset that its home had been ruined.

Aaron turned and took two huge steps away from the spider. “Errgh! Get out of my way!”

“Dude! Don’t jump around.” Another huge crack, and I felt my legs starting to sway. “Hold still!”

Aaron turned sideways as a couple of nails screeched out of their holes. One of the boards fell into the steaming crust of the River Cow. Aaron windmilled his arms, held his balance for three long seconds and fell backwards with a scream. Splot.

I tried backing up, but it was no good. The bridge collapsed in two, and I had just enough time to yell, “Cow lava!” before I was in it, up to my waist. The smell was just … insane.

But at least we did finally get wet. Mrs Thompson sprayed us with her garden hose for at least ten minutes each, before she even let us near the bathroom to shower off.
‘Bridge on the River Cow’ was first published in Chopper Rescue.