Rosie picked up a bunch of glasses with one practiced hand, putting them into the sink noisily, pulled a couple of pints and slid them across the bar to the group. All eyes were on a central figure, Corbett Rush.
Corbett took a long drink of his beer, leaving a thin white line of froth on the tip of his moustache. He wiped it with the back of his hand and considered.
“Well, then what happened?”
“What’s your name, young feller?” Corbett asked.
“Geoffrey,” the holiday maker replied.
“Where you from?”
“White Beach, Virginia.”
Corbett knew the type well, full of information about the place they had read from a book before buying their plane ticket.
“Well lad, they only ever found Larry’s hand. The beast don’t like gold and he was wearing a wedding ring. Never found nothin’ else! It’s a fact.”
He nodded, then turned his back on the group and lifted his glass, his hand shaking visibly.
“Oh, this is trash. C’mon Cassie, he’s talking absolute crap,” Geoffrey said.
Corbett looked up at Rosie and she smiled back. There was the hook and he was about to bait it.
“Don’t mock what yer don’t understand young feller. I’ll never forget the screeching, gurgling sound the beast made as Larry went down its gullet. Haunts me in me dreams.”
Geoffrey took his hand off his girlfriend’s arm. He looked at the group gathered around the story teller, all rapt, eyes wide open in unquestioning belief.
“So how come these killings weren’t in the news? I’ve never heard about them.”
Corbett smiled inwardly.
“Remote parts here, lad. Put down to hikers getting lost in the bush. Happens a lot in our country. A lot! It’s an ancient land, this is. And there’s more here than you or I ‘ave ever known. The tribes, they know. Them fellers heed the land talkin’ to ‘em. They look after the lands. But white fellers, we don’t. We dig it up, cut it down, burn it, and the spirits out there don’t like it. So you never venture down the lake alone, mate. Never alone or they getcha.”
“Last calls everyone. You wanna another drink before closing you better order now,” Rosie hollered.
There was a rush to the bar, glasses clinked, and Corbett sat brooding over his beer, chancing a sly look at the American couple who began talking quietly and animatedly off to one side.
“You’re a shocker, Cor,” Rosie said and laughed. “Anything for a quid.”
“Keeps the wolves from the door, Rose. Anyway, that’s what they come ‘ere for. A thrill from a bit of local colour.”
They looked at the young couple. Clearly, the woman had lost the argument and Geoffrey approached the bar.
“So, you don’t go down to the lake alone, hey? Well, you take me down there. I want to see what’s out there,” Geoffrey ordered.
“Don’t do it for nothin’ mate. Got to get me upkeep on the boat, me time and local knowledge.”
“Alright, how much?”
“Fifty should about do it, mate. One of them yellow ones. I’ll pick yer up in me ute at six tomorrow morning. It’ll be cold so wear somethin’ sensible.”
As everyone filed (or staggered) out the door, Rosie mopped up the bar and shook her head.
“One born every minute,” she muttered.
Corbett pulled his battered old ute up in the motel carpark and killed the engine. His dinghy sat in a frame on the back, the gear and motor packed beneath. He had packed a few cold pasties and a thermos of black, sweet tea. No doubt his fare would not think to pack anything.
The sun was not quite up and the morning still had chill in the air before the earth began to bake. There was a light on in only one of the three units; the other two most likely empty at this time of year, dark and silent. It was just as well. There was a full on domestic happening inside the middle unit.
Corbett listened intently, anticipating the loud smack and a woman’s recoil.
“Yep. There it is. Thought so, sunny Jim.”
Shortly, Geoffrey appeared, the light from the room shining briefly on the scoria yard outside. He made a beeline for the ute.
Wearing a designer safari shirt and shorts, sturdy hiking boots, expensive sunglasses, and a baseball cap with the words ‘Deer Hunter’ embroidered across the front, he looked a right tool in Corbett’s opinion. For all his fashion sense, he had none in terms of dressing for the occasion. The old cocky imagined this tourist toting an automatic paintball rifle and an ammo belt, all just for show.
“Let’s go show that Bun Yip thing what we’re all about,” Geoffrey declared, swinging himself up into the ute. He flicked his thumb behind him towards the motel unit as he spoke.
“What was that all about?” Corbett asked.
“Nothing. She forgot who she was talking to.”
They drove along the winding highway in silence. Presently Corbett turned the ute off to a dirt track that went deep into the rainforest. They drove for some time in darkness and silence.
Eventually Geoffrey broke the silence.
“So, what’s it look like?”
Corbett pondered a minute or two, manoeuvring the vehicle around stumps and over mounds of mullock.
“I’ll never forget it, mate. It was huge, rose up out of the water like one of them killer whales. Gaping jaws, needle sharp fangs. Long black body and red eyes. Those eyes, brrrr.”
“You’re full of shit,” Geoffrey retorted.
“No mate, all true,” he answered.
“And for all its size, it still devoured blokes, leaving behind anything with gold on it. The last bloke, well, he had a wedding ring on and that hand was all they found afterwards. His widow was a sight to be seen. Wailing and keening when they showed her the ring for identification. ‘course they finger printed as well. Dunno how they went with that. His hand was floatin’ about for a good week before they found it.”
Corbett could never be accused of spoiling a good story with the truth. The widow, in actual fact, was shocked, but glad to be rid of the bastard. Although he never had laid a hand on her there were myriad other forms of abuse. The old man recognised the signs well, although they were not that hard to detect. He imagined she flowered into life after she was rid of him.
The car pulled up at the edge of the lake. It was still quite dark, although an eerie light filtered across the sky and through low clouds. Thin fog veiled the lake surface and shadows of waterbirds, most likely ducks, were barely visible as they glided across the water’s surface. Ripples creased the skin of the water behind each small, dark bird as they swam away from the noise of the ute and the male voices; not panicked, but quite leisurely seeking more comfortable and deserted environs.
“Been a fair bit of rain the last few years. The lake’s edge has risen. That’s why it looks like a dead forest in parts,” Corbett explained, but Geoffrey was not at all interested.
They worked together to pull the dinghy off the back of the ute, sliding it into the water in one fluid motion.
As they climbed into the boat, Geoffrey cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled.
“Hellooooo out there. We’re coming to get yoouuu.”
The sound echoed loudly. Corbett shivered.
“Shut the hell up, you idiot. We need to be silent no matter what. If it’s here today, that thing will be hungry. Why help it find breakfast?”
Geoffrey grinned broadly and looked at his companion.
“You really believe there’s a monster out here?”
“Don’t you? Why’d you pay me to bring you here if you don’t?”
“Boredom, buddy. Bored.”
Too many dollars and no bloody sense more like, Corbett thought.
The tiny motor of the boat began to cough and splutter. It strained then cut altogether.
“Oh shit. Guess it’s a bit late to ask, mate, but can you swim?”
“What’s wrong? Sure, I can swim. But I’m not swimming in that.”
Corbett lifted the outboard out of the water and looked at the propeller. Wrapped around the blade were long strands of black hair.
“What tha?” A cold stabbing pain ran through Geoffrey’s stomach and he immediately fingered the gold chain around his neck.
“Don’t panic, mate. It’s common in these parts. If I can get that lot off, should be alright.”
Corbett took out a hunting knife of Crocodile Dundee proportions. Geoffrey looked at the blade with growing alarm and began to stand up.
“You’d be stupid to come out here without protection. That thing is out there. I’ve carved a bit of meat in me time with this. It’s not going to get me,” he said and laughed. He began to cut away the hair from the propeller and Geoffrey sat again as the boat rocked from the shifting weight.
“Yeah, well I never thought I’d need protecting. Still don’t believe in your monster,” he answered.
“So, what do you reckon killed those men then?” Corbett put the motor back in place and started it up again without too much effort. “There are more monsters around the world than you or I will ever know. Just a matter of perspective really. You just need to look into the deeps of this lake to see what I mean.”
The boat made its way to a small bay surrounded by dense bush. Corbett cut the engine. The boat drifted a bit then stopped in the middle of the bay.
“Hello,” Corbett suddenly yelled, making Geoffrey jump. But there was no echo.
“It’s like that sound proofing stuff in a studio,” he explained. “Nothing gets out, very secluded. I reckon this is the best spot for your monster. Just look down there will ya. The water’s so clear. What do you see.”
Geoffrey held the edge of the boat carefully and leaned over.
“Don’t see anything.”
“Look harder mate. Hey wait, I’ll get me torch.”
He pulled out a long LCD torch and handed it to Geoffrey.
“That’s it. Lean right over there, I see something moving.”
Shock and fear paralysed the younger man. The workings of a monster lay in the silty basin of the bay.
Rosie mopped up the bar and pulled a few more beers. The crowd gathered around the old cocky waited impatiently for him to continue his story as he took a long draught of his beer. He wiped away the thin white line of froth from his moustache, put the glass down, then singled out the smart arse from the back of the group.
“So, where ya from mate?”
“Cardiff. That’s in Wales. You know, the United Kingdom, the old country.”
“Yeah, yeah, gotcha. Might be a local yokel but I know me geography. Well, lad, there’s more to the bush than any of us know. There are monsters out there and I seen ‘em. The last bloke I took out in me dinghy didn’t come home alive.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“Nope, it’s all true. The only thing the bunyip leaves behind is anything with gold on it. They found one bloke’s hand; wedding ring ya know. The last bloke, well, he was wearing a gold necklace. Ugh!”
That had pissed him off a bit. The clunky talisman on the chain left a notch in his good knife.
“I can take you out there and show you. Cost ya fifty quid.”
A story teller in a pub tells a darn good yarn, and he never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.
Based on the beautiful image of Ducks on Elizabeth by Paul Grinzi