The night before we pick up our Aussie adventure-on-wheels, Ryan and I are sitting in a wine bar in Perth with our friend Pete, a native Aussie.
“Don’t drive after sunset,” Pete says. “Kangaroos are stupid. They’re attracted to your headlights and they’ll run towards your car. It’s bad news if you hit one. Some of them are as big as cows.”
“Okay,” I say, nodding my head. I’ve not even seen a kangaroo yet, but I definitely don’t want to hit one.
“And if you DO hit one and it comes through the windscreen, get out of the car immediately,” Pete says. “Sometimes they don’t die right away and they can kick you to death.”
“Okay,” I say, slightly traumatized at the thought.
“And look out for road trains,” Pete continues. “When they come plowing through, they can kick up stones like bullets. I had one kick up a rock that smashed my windscreen.”
“Geez,” I say.
“And bring plenty of water. Like an obscene amount of water. And if you break down in the desert, DON’T leave your car,” Pete says. “Every year some stupid tourist makes the news for trying to walk and get help. THERE IS NO HELP. Stay with the car.”
I nod my head. “But where are these kangaroos? I’ve been here a week and I haven’t seen a single one!”
“Oh, you’ll see them. As soon as you get outside the city, you’ll see them,” Pete says.
“Yay! I can’t wait to cuddle a kangaroo and a koala and I heard you have these mice — kangaroo mice — they’re like mice but they hop like kangaroos…what other weird animals are out there?”
“All kinds. Just don’t park your camper under any trees,” Pete says.
“Why? What’s in the trees? Pythons?”
“Drop bears,” Pete says.
“Drop bears? What’s a drop bear?”
“It looks kind of like a koala, but he drops out of the trees when you’re standing underneath. They’re really dangerous.”
Ryan and I look bewildered, and then suspicious.
“I’m dead serious. Google it.” Pete says.
I start tapping away on my iPhone and then crack a smile. I look up at Pete, who is now half giggling. “You mean, like a koala with vampire fangs?”
I scroll through the endless photos and warnings about drop bears in amazement. “Is this a thing you tell children to make them go to bed at night? Is this like the Boogie Man?”
“Bogey Man,” Ryan corrects.
“What? No, it’s pronounced BOO-gie Man.” I insist.
“What is that, like a dancing man? That’s not scary. It’s definitely the Bogey Man in Britain,” Ryan says.
“Yes, this is what we tell kids in Australia,” Pete says. “And tourists.”
“That is GENIUS!” I say. “When I was a kid my parents would tell me to stay in bed so the Boogie Man…”
I glare at Ryan. “…So the BOOGIE Man wouldn’t get me and I knew it was a lie. But now parents can actually tell their kids to Google it. Parents totally have the internet on their side these days!” I say, now Googling images for “boogie man.”
“Oh, wait. Boogie Man propaganda is not quite as consistent as the drop bear stuff. Ooh. This is horrible, actually. I’m not sure I’d show this to kids.”
“What and you’d show THIS to your kids to make them stay in bed?!” Ryan says, sticking this image in my face:
“You can TOTALLY tell that’s fake. I mean, look, his hand is rubber. It’s SO obvious.”
“Don’t show this to our kids,” Ryan says.
“You have kids?” Pete asks.
“No, he means our future kids,” I explain. “Okay, maybe we can make up our own scary-but-less-scary monster to keep them in bed,” I say, googling images of “killer unicorns.”
“Like this… that’s totally scary. He can stab you with his horn.”
“What? A cartoon killer unicorn BUNNY? There is no realism in this monster.”
“What about this one. This killer unicorn will stab and kill your stuffed animal and make it bleed stuffed animal blood. That’s pretty scary. I’d stay in bed for that.”
“That’s totally traumatizing. Killing a kid’s stuffed animals? What is wrong with you?”
“Okay, okay. Realistic but not traumatizing.” I say, tapping on the iPhone. “I got it. KILLER PUPPIES.”
“Don’t you want these killer puppies to keep our kids in bed?” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone.
“Awww, they’re so cute!” Ryan says.
“That’s not scary. Drop bears are scary, that’s the point.” Pete says.
“Well maybe it can be like a less traumatizing, less threatening threat,” I say, showing him this photo:
“Like, hey, if you stay in bed and go to sleep, this killer puppy will come cuddle you. Don’t you want that?”
“I want that,” Ryan says.
“We had drop bears and boogie men…”
“…and our children will have killer puppies.“