Taconi and Claude: Double Trouble. (Mid-grade, historical coming of age adventure, set in the Aussie outback of 1950.)
On Coorparoo Cattle Station, Taconi, a young aboriginal boy, deals with what life throws at him, including a lot of advice from his chatty mate, a sulfur crested cockatoo named Claude. When Taconi has nightmares about his upcoming “man” ceremony, ancient Dreamtime Spirits stalk him with plans of their own.
It’s not easy being an aboriginal boy in the Aussie outback of the mid 1900′s. He dodges a nasty Medicine Man, helps his dad become station “cookie,” by hunting enough witchetty grubs, snake and yabbies, for a bonzer soup. And he ends up a hero of sorts, thanks to a crazed emu. All this, plus a grand tribal gathering that helps Taconi decide his future.
** Glossary of Australian and Aboriginal words included.
The full moon cast a cold light on Taconi’s naked body as four wizened elders pinned him on the ground close to a blazing fire. Sweat rolled off him, and his heart raced the thump, thump, thump of the feather drums: faster and faster.
The Medicine Man slid out of the shadows, a ceremonial spear in his hand. Firelight flashed across the wrinkles on his painted face. His bony old limbs ducked and bobbed to the ancient rhythm of the drums. Eagle, kingfisher, and cockatoo feathers swayed on his headdress. The Old Man plunged the tip of his spear into the flames, holding it there while he mumbled an age-old mantra.
When the tip of the spear glowed red, Taconi’s arms and legs dissolved into mush. There was no escape. The man ceremony was about to claim him. His insides threatened betrayal. N-o-o-o . . . mustn’t pee, mustn’t pee. . .
The Medicine Man thrust the glowing tip of the spear under his nose. Taconi felt the heat, sniffed its acrid smell. The tip sizzled, hovering over his reluctant flesh, poised, ready to burn him into manhood.
The singsong voice of the Medicine Man grew faint. The Old Man’s eyes stared into his, blazing with the power of timeless ritual. The stars—a billion sparkling eyes—whirled overhead, cold and uncaring. Taconi shut his eyes, waiting for his flesh to sear—waiting for the pain.
Taconi held his breath. He waited . . .
When the pain didn’t come, he risked a quick peek. Smoke from the fire blotted out everything except the eyes of the Medicine Man. His burning stare hung over Taconi for a moment, before the smoke claimed him.
Bathed in sweat, Taconi jolted upright. “By Cripes, what’s happenin’?” Relief flooded through him. He was safe in his bed.
Outside in the cool pre-dawn air, Coorparoo Cattle Station’s feathered alarm clock, a sulfur crested Cockatoo named Claude, rasped, “Wakey, wakey. Rise and shine!”
“Crikey,” he muttered. “That man ceremony dream would scare the hide off a croc!” Ever since he found out about his upcoming man ceremony, the recurring dream had haunted his sleep. He glanced at the other bed and frowned. “Bed’s Empty. Dad musta left early for the homestead kitchen.”
He couldn’t understand what drove his dad to cook white folk’s muck for the Boss and the Missus. This was an outback size worry. If his dad got the cookie job, permanent like, there’d be no time for hunting together or throwing the spear. If he was to become a man of his tribe, Dad must teach him these things. The idea of his dad as cookie sat on Taconi’s shoulders like a giant termite mound.
He stared out the small window of the hut he shared with his dad. The vast expanse of Coorparoo Cattle Station waited for the day’s first sunlight. “Coor-par-oo,” he murmured, liking the feel of the word on his tongue. The soft sounds mimicked the gentle call of doves.
Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband and family.
Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between writing. Her husband is very supportive, though not interested in children’s books . Their three children are now grown and doing very well.
Margot didn’t begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, “I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes!” Website: http://www.margotfinke.com
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