Oracle and No Spoons Picture

It would be arrogant to assume that humans are the only species with folklore. The colourful world of rat mythology is replete with nail-biting escapes from fire-breathing cats, voyages to exotic garbage dumps, and food deliveries to damsels in distress. However, the most enchanting tale is that of the Sea Of Lamingtons, whose shores lick at the aridity of central Australia. A world away from the more pleasant climes of the coast, promises of a delectable inland sea had tugged at the sweet tooth of all rodents since the first European rats settled in 1788. Rat lives, too many to count, were lost to the desert as hoards of the greedy fuzzballs trekked over coastal ranges to the plains of the interior. Every single one succumbed to the elements, predators or their own parched lips. The indigenous rats tried to spare them the trouble, saying that the Lamington Sea was the stuff of nonsense, but the stubbornness of the imports pressed them onward.
Over 200 years later, Opal, Amber and Ebony started their own exploration. The myth of a sea of cake died hard in a species ruled by their stomachs, and the desert still claimed its victims. Adjectives such as "hostile", "vast" and "pitiless" to describe their intended route were shrugged off like so much desiccated coconut. They would succeed- rats were tough!
As the land became more arid, the trees petered out, and the grass thinned to a knife-edged 5 o’clock shadow, even Ebony, the most hopeful of the girls, felt her spirits flagging. Calloused feet dragged through each kilometre. The sun laughed at them in its passage. Coastal soils fell away altogether to reveal sand, red as a neon takeaway sign, garnished with silver eucalypts offering pathetic shade. Rocks taller than skyscrapers jutted out of the pancake flatness of the landscape. Looming, immense couchant beasts, they paid no attention to the three specks filing past their hallowed feet.
Weeks passed with little variation, the sky always too big, too blue, clouds frightened away by the sun that assaulted the rat's bulging eyes and prickled their fur. Suddenly, Opal sighted a dot. It sparkled, so it wasn’t another sandstone snob like Uluru. She pointed as Amber and Ebony sucked in their breath. Could this be the Sea? They pelted forwards until the night claimed the dot and they could run no further. In the glow of morning it was closer than they'd realised, and their whiskers quivered in anticipation. The sisters drew closer still, it becoming apparent that they were heading for a giant building, tall and skinny like a chopstick stood on its end. Their excitement dulled- this wasn't it- but like any rat sheer curiousity overcame disappointment. (It wasn't a help either to the rats that the author continually used food similes in the story.)
At last, they stood at the foot of the tower. From up close, a delicious smell reached noses twitching faster than a kid on a sugar fix. Saliva puddles formed until Ebony pushed her way through the convenient doggy-door and attacked the stairs one at a time.
It took the rats three days to reach the landing at the top of the stairs, with most of that time consumed by endless snack breaks, even breaks within breaks to give regular breaks a break. At the summit, a room greeted them, as might well have been expected. Glass, tiles, monster, pot plants, elevator music....
"I've been expecting you." The monster’s voice, peppered with harmonics, cut through the musical dross. Three small rodent jaws dropped.
"Ooooh... wow, this is just like that movie with the Oracle and no spoons," said Ebony. Amber inched closer.
"Are you psychic?" she breathed, twitchy nose in overdrive.
The alien mouth grinned. "You're cuter than I thought. I saw you through my-" and was interrupted.
"Crystal ball? Disco ball?"
"Oh," Opal said. She whispered to her sisters, "Maybe we can use the telescope to find the Lamington Sea." When asked, the creature infuriatingly smiled and shook its head.
"Impossible. Such a marvel does not exist. Lamingtons grow in tropical rainforests 2000 kilometres northeast. Their core is spongecake, so like all sponges they need a moist environment. In addition, they are close to their relatives, Great Barrier Reef sea sponges, so family reunions are convenient." Realising it was waffling on, and seeing disappointment furrow the brows of its visitors, the monster leaned close and gently changed tact. "But you know, there is a sweet that thrives in hot conditions. Melting only makes it better: The Marshmallow."
Six round ears pricked. "Marshmallow?"
"I am the Guardian of the Marshmallows."
Amber swallowed. "Do... do you have a snappier title?"
"I cultivate all forms of marshmallow here. Also I do believe there may be some lamingtons in the fridge with my chocolate-coated mallow seedlings."
The rats squeaked in unison, holding each other's hands, dancing in crazy circles. Over the days they learnt more about marshmallows than any rodent had ever known, and the guardian was more than pleased to pass on its knowledge of what was, in its opinion, a most underrated confectionary. They discovered that the yellow ones were ok to eat, unlike other yellow-tinted white stuff, and that Opal and Amber could fit three marshmallows into each cheek without significant breathing difficulty (Ebony managed four). Best of all was the glorious toasted marshmallow. As a species, rats were seldom patient enough to cook their food when cooking time intruded on potential eating time, and the gooey innards of toasted mallow was enough to make the girls delirious.
After a fortnight of feasting, the rats felt the tug of homesickness, and knew they'd been loafing around their polite host's digs for long enough. Bags full, spirits fuller, tummies dangerously over-flowing, Opal, Amber and Ebony bid farewell to the marshmallow guardian and set off home. It was only natural there would be a minor 2000 kilometre northeast detour along the way.

Acrylic on illustration board, 38 x 25.5 cm. If you plowed through all that, you are a champ.
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