Ripples on the Water – 2
(an excerpt from chapter 10 of Cry of the Bunyips)
Billy grabbed his phone as it started to ring.
“I’ve spotted a boy about three hundred metres south-west of you,” the ranger said, “Caucasian with shoulder-length brown hair.”
“That’ll be Joel,” Billy said, breathing half a sigh of relief. “Can you get down to him or do you want me to come around?”
“There’s a clearing close by where I can land. You stay put.”
“Any sign of David?”
“No, but Police Rescue are on the way from Melbourne with their infra-red imaging.”
He was sure there’d be police divers too, but wasn’t going to ask.
“I’ll keep looking as soon as I’m airborne again, but the way this weather’s closing in, I won’t be able to see much soon.”
“Just do whatever you can.”
“It’s good that they’ve found Joel,” Loraine said, her eyes still tearful.
“David’ll be fine, I’m sure,” he whispered, wrapping his arms tightly around her, but at that moment his phone rang again.
“I’ve picked up the boy, but he’s pretty dazed and keeps saying something about the rippling water. Does that mean anything to you?”
Billy stared into space for a moment.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, um, somewhere in the middle of the bulrushes is an open pool. Can you see it?”
“No, wait, yes, I think I can see where you mean. I’m going down for a closer look.”
“There was a strange rippling on the surface, but I don’t see how Joel –”
“I’ve spotted something in amongst the bulrushes. It looks like, yes, I’m pretty sure it’s a pair of striped board shorts.”
“That’s what David was wearing!”
“Still no sign of the boy I’m afraid, and I really don’t know how those shorts could have gotten where they are. They’re well back from the channel but there’s no sign of anyone having pushed their way in.”
“They’ve found David’s shorts,” Billy said to Loraine.
“Huh? But that means he couldn’t have drowned, doesn’t it?”
“Let’s hope so.”
* * *
“Tell me what happened,” Billy said to Joel.
They’d returned to the ranger station after failing light had forced an end to the search. The police infra-red scans had revealed nothing, and apart from confirming that the board shorts were David’s, there’d been no other trace of him.
Joel ran his hands through his hair. “I, um, I stayed on the rocks like you told me to until you were out of sight, but then I thought I heard David calling me, just down the bank a little, so I started walking towards him, but then, I don’t know, then all I can remember is being in the bulrushes looking out over a rippling pond, and knowing something was wrong, terribly wrong, but not knowing what it was.”
“What happened then?”
“I don’t know. It’s like I was dreaming, and the next thing I remember is the ranger taking me into his shuttle.”
“Are you sure it was David calling out to you?”
“Yeah, positive, like who else could it be?”
“Did you see him at all?”
Joel buried his face in his hands. “No, I didn’t see anything.”
“Let him be,” Lorina said, leading Billy over to where Mark was pacing up and down while talking on his phone. “There’s something the boy’s not saying, but I’m sure he’s not deliberately holding back. He’s still in shock, I think.”
“Dad’s flying down as soon as he can,” Mark said, “and bringing Chris and Peter with him.”
“Good,” Billy said, but his mind was elsewhere, back in that rippling pond to be precise. “I guess there’s nothing more we can do now until daybreak.”
“We should’ve gone with you,” Mark said. “If only we’d known it was dangerous.”
“It wasn’t; well it shouldn’t have been, not from what the ranger told me.”
“There’s no point wishing we’d done this or that,” Lorina said, putting her arms around Mark and stopping his pacing. “We’ve just got to do whatever we can to find him.”
“Can he –” Mark began to say before deciding not to ask the question on everyone’s minds.
“Of course he is.” Lorina eased his head down onto her shoulder, running her hands through his long dishevelled hair. “Hush now, sweetheart.”
Everyone turned as a man in an old-fashioned suit entered the room.
“I’m Inspector O’Reilly. Are the missing boy’s parents here?”
“That’s us,” Lorina said.
“May I have a word please?”
He waved them into the adjoining room.
“In private, sir,” he said as Billy started following.
“He’s my grandfather,” Mark said, “Dr Billy Collins, and I’d like to have him with us.”
The inspector glanced at his notes. “You were leading the bushwalk, is that correct?”
“I need to speak to you anyway, so come along.”
“It’s not bad news, is it?” Mark asked.
“No, nothing like that; actually we’re reasonably confident now that your son is still alive.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Your family is quite famous, am I right?”
“You’re thinking David could have been abducted,” Billy said.
“It’s one line of inquiry we’re currently pursuing.” He handed each of them his card. “If you receive a call from anyone, whether they’re demanding a ransom or not, call me immediately, and especially if they tell you not to involve the police.”
“Of course,” Lorina said.
The inspector glanced again at his notebook. “Do you by any chance own a dog?”
The inspector frowned. “Could David have been in recent contact with a large dog?”
Mark and Lorina looked at each other.
“It’s probably nothing, but there are teeth marks on his board shorts, not attacking marks I hasten to add, but consistent with him having been playing with such an animal.”
“Nothing comes to mind,” Lorina said.
“Our laboratory will be checking first thing tomorrow for any traces of saliva to help identify the type of animal, and once that’s done we’ll have a clearer picture of whether it’s likely to be relevant to his disappearance.”
“You don’t think he was taken by a dingo, do you?” Mark asked.
“I doubt a dingo would be big enough to take a twelve-year-old boy, but as I said, we’ll know more in the morning.”
“There wasn’t any blood, was there?”
“No, as I said, the marks appeared to be just playful tugs and didn’t even penetrate the fabric. There’s no indication your son was attacked by the animal.”
Mark gave Billy an uneasy look.
“Is there something I should know?” the inspector asked.
Mark glanced again at Billy. “It’s surely nothing more than coincidence, but at the time we were planning our holidays, my grandfather had been researching the origins of legendary creatures like the bunyip, and that’s how we ended up coming to this park, to see where it all began.”
“We have bunyips in my home galaxy,” Lorina said, “but they’re placid little animals, nothing like your swamp monsters.”
“Peter Thorpe and I have been looking into extraterrestrial foundations to ancient mythology,” Billy said. “Hades and the river Styx, for example, are real places created as a refuge by a race called the Tivinel following the devastation of their home world. We wondered if there might be something similar with the bunyip legend, so when Mark and his family decided to holiday in south-eastern Victoria, we couldn’t resist tagging along.”
“Is that how you came to be leading the bushwalk?” the inspector asked.
“Yes, I’ve been meeting with the local Aboriginal communities while exploring the park and it was actually the ranger who suggested I take the group out today. I was telling the children about the bunyips’ reputation for taking people who ventured too close to their habitats in the swamps, and then, well, the unthinkable happened.”
“You’re not trying to tell me the boy was taken by a bunyip?”
“No, of course not; it’s just that when you mentioned the teeth marks, well it’s one of those eerie coincidences I suppose.”
“You said a Peter Thorpe was with you, but I don’t see him listed on any of the records of interview. Did he play a part in staging this bunyip walk of yours?”
“Peter twisted his ankle on our first day here and returned home to recuperate.”
The inspector stared at him. “Look, you’ll probably think I’m an ogre for saying this, but if this whole business is a publicity stunt for some bunyip book you’re writing, you’d better tell me right now or you’ll be doing your proof-reading behind bars.”
“How dare you!” Lorina said. “My son is lost out there somewhere, being dragged around by wild animals from what you say, and you have the damned hide to accuse us of staging it all for publicity?”
Mark opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He ran his hands through his hair, sending it into even wilder disarray. “How – a man of my grandfather’s standing and reputation – I – I – I’m utterly lost for words.”
Billy lowered his eyes, staring at something of great interest on the floor.
“I’m sorry, but I had to ask; it wouldn’t be the first time someone’s pulled a stunt like that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think that’s all for the moment.” The inspector turned and left the room, leaving Mark gaping in his wake.
“The nerve of that man!” Lorina said. “I have half a mind to speak with his superiors.”
“He was just doing his job,” Billy said, placing his arms around their shoulders.
“Do you think David could really have been taken by a bunyip?”
Billy shook his head. “In spite of what I told the inspector, I haven’t found anything linking the bunyip legend to any real species, native or extraterrestrial. I told the kids the legend probably grew from the smells of decay around the bogs and the dangers of being snagged, and that’s probably true.”
“So what could have happened to him?”
“He may have been abducted, hopefully by someone who just wants a bit of easy money, but I sensed something odd in that pool amongst the bulrushes where his shorts were found. Joel saw something too, something so extraordinary his mind won’t cough it up.”
“Are you thinking some kind of portal?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know, honestly, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I’m glad Chris is coming down tomorrow, though, as he’s much more sensitive to such things than I am.”
“You’re really scaring me,” Lorina said.
“Don’t worry,” Mark said, now grinning for the first time. “The more bizarre it is, the better David’s chances. Dad, Peter and Chris are experts in bizarreness.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this sample of Joel’s world and his introduction into Cry of the Bunyips. The book is available now from Zeus Publications’ on-line bookstore.