An Australian Folktale
When little possum hears a gum nut fall into the billabong—Kerplunk!—she sets off a forest stampede until cool, calm Kangaroo settles everyone down and teaches them a valuable lesson about fear.
Variously known as Chicken Licken, Chicken Little, Henny Penny, and The Sky is Falling, among others, the basic motif and many elements of this tale are found in the Jataka Tales, a body of folklore originating in the 6th to 3rd centuries BCE. While the moral often changes, the enduring lesson of this story is to attend to nature and not to be swayed by rumor.
Long ago, in a gum tree beside a shallow pool known as a billabong, a tiny possum was born. By summer she was eating sweet nectar from the flowers, and one day, after a feast, she climbed to the top of the gum tree to rest.
As she slept a gum nut fell from the tree into the billabong below.
Possum woke at once. Below her the water shivered in the shade of the tree, and when she saw this she began to shiver too. Without stopping to think, she scampered down the tree and ran as fast as she could, calling out loudly, "Run for your life! Kerplunk is coming to get us! Run for your life!"
Soon her mother and father and all the other brush-tailed possums heard her cries. They too began to run, crying as they chased Possum, "Kerplunk is coming! Run! Run for your life!"
As they dashed beneath a grove of eucalyptus trees, Koala heard their cries. Koala almost never hurried, but now she slid down the tree, carrying her baby on her back, calling, "Little Possum, what's wrong?"
"Kerplunk is coming after us! Kerplunk is coming to get us. Run fast for your life!"
And Koala joined the race. They ran and ran, calling out for all to hear, "Kerplunk is coming to get us!"
Soon they came to a wide, rocky cave. The dust they raised while running flew into the cave, and out trundled Tasmanian Devil, grumbling, "What's all the commotion out here?"
Possum called, "Kerplunk is coming after us, run for your life!" and Tasmanian Devil lumbered along behind them.
Before long the group passed by a quiet stream where Platypus was taking a rest. Tasmanian Devil cautioned him, "Run for your life, man! Kerplunk's coming!"
When Platypus heard the news, his long snout quivered and the spurs on his ankles stiffened. As fast as he could he slid out of the stream and ran along on his webbed feet.
Possum cried, "Kerplunk is coming after us," and everyone else echoed her.
"Kerplunk is coming after us! Run for your life! Watch out for Kerplunk!"
Before long Kookaburra swooped down from the sky. When he heard the cries, he began to laugh nervously. And then he called to all the birds he saw. "Fly fast, Kerplunk is coming!"
Soon the air was filled with flapping wings, and below, on the forest floor, dozens of running feet pounded the earth. Spiny anteaters and wombats and bandicoots ran, and even Emu flapped his wings and cried, "Here comes Kerplunk! Look out!"
Now Wallaby heard the noise, and with one of his hind legs he thumped the ground and then, swinging his arms, he hopped for his life. "Kerplunk's coming! Run for your life!"
The forest floor trembled with thumping and pounding and flapping and hopping and crying, and Dingo raised his head into the air. "What's all this about Kerplunk?"
Possum cried, "Run, run, run away, run fast!"
At long last the thundering sound roused sleepy Kangaroo who had been resting peacefully in the shade.
He opened one eye, then the other, and when he saw every creature in the forest running towards him, he said, "G'day, mates."
Then he hopped into the middle of the path, and as each animal galloped past, he asked, "What's this about? What's going on? What's the hurry? Stop!"
And the fleeing herd came to a halt.
Dingo howled, "Run, Kangaroo, Run! Kerplunk is coming after us."
Tiger Cat hissed, "We gotta run!"
Kangaroo was skeptical. "Slow down, mates. Who told you this?"
Tasmanian Devil mumbled, "Koala gave me the news."
So Kangaroo turned to Koala, and Koala looked down at the ground and whispered, "It was little Possum who told me."
Now Kangaroo turned and stared at little Possum and calmly said, "Little Possum, what and who and where is this Kerplunk whom you say is coming to get us?"
Possum was trembling. She was trying to catch her breath, and all the other animals stood very still and waited. The birds swooped close and hovered overheard, while Kookaburra laughed and laughed. "Tell us, Possum."
Once more the forest became still and silent. The only sound was the soft summer wind blowing through the leaves, and just at that moment another gum nut dropped into another billabong.
Little Possum leaped two feet into the air. "There it is! Kerplunk! It's coming after us!"
Koala looked at Platypus, and he looked at Goanna, and she looked at Wallaby, and he looked at Dingo, and every single animal looked at every other animal, and Kookaburra laughed and laughed.
Now they all understand just exactly what had happened, and one by one they dropped their heads in shame. Then they turned and looked at Kangaroo.
Kangaroo smiled. "Little Possum, listen to me. The sound you heard is only the sound of one of our gum nuts falling into our waters. Be careful, Little Possum. Next time you must see for yourself what is happening before you start such a stampede."
The animals began to chuckle, and then they laughed.
Kangaroo called, "Order!" And then he stared hard at all the rest. "And all of you! Next time each of you will think before you believe every little rumor you hear!"
They all nodded. "We promise. We will think!"
And as for Little Possum, from that day on, she always made certain to sit and think a while before she jumped, and she lived a long and happy life.