TROUBLED WATERS RECIEVED A HIGH COMMENDATION FOR THE QUARRY’S 2022 FUTURE LEADERS WRITING PRIZE.
Moreton Island used to be widely known for its beaches and coasts. You couldn’t go anywhere without stepping on a tourist’s beach towel or ruining their selfie by mistake, but that all changed when that Facebook post made the late-night news. There was something hiding in the golden sand and crystal blue waters, and it seemed to be searching for prey.
The regional council had to make a public announcement to reassure people that there were no sea monsters on the island, and that the whole thing was an online hoax. Some residents and tourists packed their bags and left the island, while others tried to search for the sea monster using sailboats and scuba gear.
‘Do you really think that there’s something near the old lighthouse?’ Remy groaned as he carried the camera and its accessories. ‘There hasn’t been any new stories or sightings, and I heard that the whole Facebook thread was meant to be a new ad campaign for tourists.’
‘That’s because everyone’s looking in the wrong place!’ said Carmen, who had been humming Beyond the Sea. ‘The old tourist never saw the sea monster in the water, they said that it was somewhere near the rocks!’
The two had known each other since their university years, though you would’ve thought that they were brother and sister from how they talked. Carmen loved doing photography and photo imaging, and she ended up making a name for herself from her go-getter personality and skills. Remy, on the other hand, had done business and finance, but he worked with Carmen to create a photography service that was ‘on the go’. Their newest client had asked them to take photos of sergeant majors, wideband anemonefish, and shipwrecks – and that’s where they were now.
‘I still can’t believe you rented a boat for this. How much did you pay for it anyway? It looks like it’s seen better days.’
The motorboat that Carmen rented was old and worn down, and there was a damp, mouldy stench coming from the wood. She had also promised that she read the boat manual ‘back-to-back’ before she started the engine, but it was practically taking its last breath from the way it stalled and sputtered.
‘…It was about two hundred dollars.’ She said contritely. ‘I mean, the seller said that they’d get the boat in the water for free, and that they’ll throw in the manual as a bonus!’
‘Wait hold on, did you buy the boat? What are you going to do with it when you’re done using it?’ He tried not to think about how she was driving a boat without a licence, but the sound of the starting and revving engine drowned out his rationale.
‘I don’t know, I guess I can sell it to someone else! But what are you waiting for Remy? I don’t think this old girl is going to last for long!’
Remy sighed when he saw some Victoria Bitter bottles and Coca-Cola cans left on the beach. He’d love to go back to the resort and pay his mini-fridge a visit, but that wasn’t an option at this point. Carmen didn’t like backing down from a decision, she would do anything to get the perfect shot of an animal – and sea monsters were definitely a step above fish, dolphins and whales.
‘Okay, okay, I’m coming…’ He rolled his eyes and walked towards the motorboat, the camera gear in tow. ‘But if anything happens, I’m not taking the fall for it!’
It was a small boat trip anyway, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
‘It can’t be, do my eyes deceive me?’ Carmen gasped, pausing for dramatics. ‘Or is a certain someone doing research on sea monsters?’
‘What? No, I was… I was looking at the Facebook page.’ Remy stammered, as he closed Google Chrome and opened the other app.
‘Uh-huh, that’s definitely what I saw…’
Carmen was doing surprisingly well as the boat’s captain, though she had to read the manual a few times when she didn’t know how to change gears. And while she was busy steering the boat, she made Remy the navigator – which meant marking their destination on Google Maps and letting the app do its job.
Their families would have heart attacks right now if they saw what they were doing. They assumed that Remy and Carmen were taking photos of people at weddings and birthday parties, and that was better than telling them that they worked with animals. It was common for birds and small animals to attack and steal their camera gear, but it was worth the final shot and payment.
Remy didn’t think this was worth the trouble. They weren’t getting paid to take photos of a sea monster, they were supposed to be taking photos of colourful fish and shipwrecks. And if they shared the photos on Facebook, people would think that it was edited and their business’s reputation would fall.
But how would they get out of this alive? They didn’t know whether the sea monster was a kraken, leviathan, or something else that was dangerous. What if there was more than one sea monster? His heart started to pound when he held onto the side of his seat, and it was getting harder to breathe.
‘Remy, are you okay?’ Carmen asked. She stopped the boat’s engine before he could answer. ‘You don’t look good, what’s wrong?’
‘Sorry I… I think I’m seasick or something…’
They hadn’t been out at sea for long, it’d been fifteen minutes at most.
But that was long enough for Remy to overthink.
He could taste the sea salt when he tried to breathe the open air. He could reach the moon and stars when he touched the water’s reflection. There was no telling when he’d fall into the deep darksome abyss. The cries of drowned seafarers and travellers came in the form of harsh waves and wind, as they said one thing, over and over.
‘Don’t let your guard down.’
And the thought of a sea monster causing their deaths formed a pit in his stomach.
‘You have arrived.’
Remy had completely forgotten about the Google Maps app until he heard its computerised voice. It scared the life out of him, though Carmen laughed as she lowered the motorboat’s anchor and stepped onto the rocks.
‘Finally! I thought that was going to take forever!’ Carmen sighed, stretching her arms and back. ‘Can you be the boat’s captain on the way back? It’s pretty much the same as driving a car!’
The boat held up despite the spilling waves, though Remy had busied himself with carrying the camera equipment back to ground. His legs were trembling, and he held out one hand to steady himself before he dropped anything.
‘I think that’s the last time I’m getting on a motorboat, or any boat in general…’
‘It’s okay, I’m sure you’ll feel better when you start walking on solid ground!’
She didn’t hesitate to take the equipment and carry it over one shoulder, though he had a feeling that she had done it for his sake rather than hers.
The two took one last look at the boat before they slowly walked across the beach rocks and cobbles. The Google Maps app said that they were close to the lighthouse, but its rays of light were out of reach, and the sound of the waves hitting the shore reminded them of the sea’s lingering presence.
And before Remy could use his phone’s flashlight, his phone popped up with a system notification.
‘Carmen, did you bring your phone? My phone’s battery is low.’
‘Of course, I made sure to charge it before I left!’ She pulled out her phone and tapped the screen, but it didn’t turn on. ‘Wait, I could’ve sworn that I charged it…’
The sound of crumpling plastic stilled them.
‘…Please tell me that you heard that too.’
It was hard to make out anything in the dark, but the pit in his stomach grew larger as his eyes started to adjust.
And it wasn’t a kraken or a leviathan, it was worse.
Remy and Carmen were no more than thirty metres from what appeared to be the sea monster. It had the colossal body of a man, but it used fins and tentacles as its arms and legs. Their eyes were hollow and disproportionate, and they possessed a wide gaping maw that could swallow small boats and ships whole. They were practically an amalgamation of sea animals and beasts that crept out of Davy Jones’ locker, and there was no telling what it could do now that it was out in the open.
‘I don’t believe it… it’s real.’ Carmen murmured, as slowly approached the thalassic chimaera with her DSLR camera.
‘You’re risking your life for a photo op? Really?’ Remy whispered. His heart was pounding, and he considered tossing the camera into the sea. ‘The safest option is to call the regional council and get back to the boat!’
‘It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity! If I take at least one good photo, I’ll be the first person to document a living and breathing sea monster.’
He tried to pull her back, but it was too late – the sound of the camera’s shutter echoed throughout the rock-strewn shore.
And when the camera’s flash went off, she screamed.
What was supposed to be a sea monster was revealed to be a dying dugong.
The creature raised its head in response to the camera’s shutter and Carmen’s screaming, but it couldn’t move its body. It was surrounded by garbage instead of seawater. The sound of crumpling plastic came from the blue disposable bag that was dumped on its back. Its thick skin was dry and cracked from being exposed to the sun, while its mouth was left filled with green nylon nets and fishing line.
Remy called the regional council as Carmen removed the bag from the dugong’s body, but she cried when she heard it groan weakly. There were brown shards of glass embedded in its sides, and its left flipper was trapped in an old can of soft drink.
It didn’t take long for the wildlife rescue team to arrive. They got lectured by the leader for driving an unregistered boat and exploring at night.
‘Sea monsters aren’t real,’ they said, ‘they’re an old sailor’s tale.’
But their definition of a sea monster was outdated – there were other monstrous beings that dwelled the Earth and its Seven Seas, and they would live for hundreds of years.
The fake Facebook thread and text messages were created using zeoob.com and edited using Microsoft Paint. The Facebook thread images were taken from my personal photo gallery, while the text messages’ images were taken from Pexels.com and Imgur.com.
The Google Search was taken from Google before it was edited using PicsArt – the question and answer were written and edited by me. The low battery screenshot was a screenshot taken directly from my OPPO A74 phone and edited using PicsArt and Microsoft Paint.
The dugong photos were created using crayon.com, an AI image generator, and were edited using Microsoft Photo Editor.
Trinity Rosas is a Creative Writing and Philosophy student at Macquarie University. She started writing stories at a young age before she posted them online, and Troubled Waters is the first work she’s published under her real name. She has plans to make a text-based game in the distant future.