Charlie Mularczyk liked his job. He liked living on the island. And he liked working for the Parks Service. Life on the island had a little bit of everything: indoors, outdoors, water, sun, sand. In a one-man office, he was his own boss – at least when the suits and pencil-necks weren’t on the prowl – he set his own timetable, and the weather was terrific. It was all upside. Or was it?
For years Uncle Cec and Uncle Eck had been trying to convince him that there were dangers in paradise. They told Charlie, time and time again, that it’s not all myth, that there’s truth, a lot of truth, in the ancient fables.
“Ya remember what Ecka told us? Ya know, from when he was down the Lachlan? He seen it one night. He told me at the pub in Condo. It was dinkum mate.”
“Seriously Uncle Cec, we had this discussion years ago.”
“I’m not kiddin’ ya know. Ya gotta watch out. ‘Specially at night. Don’t go near no waterholes at night, I tell ya. It’ll grab ya.”
But Charlie ignored Uncle Cec and Uncle Eck. He usually had too much to do, and while he didn’t entirely dismiss what they said – that would be disrespectful after all – he thought it was more than a little bit ‘out there’. There was always a simple explanation. Until the tourists began to disappear.
‘Ronnie swept the beam in a circle around the truck. The light flickered over low dunes and small shrubs, the sand a blinding white, the shadows black and impenetrable. There was nothing there. He flicked the torch off and turned back to Shana.
“There’s nothing out here” he said, the relief evident in his voice. “Must have been the wind.” Then he saw Shana’s eyes. They were wide with horror.
“There…there…there’s something…something behind you.” Her voice cracked as she spoke. Ronnie turned around fearfully. There was something there, a deeper shadow in the darkness, a presence more felt than seen. He thumbed the switch of his torch.
With three tourists missing and another a gibbering mess in the intensive care unit, the island is suddenly awash with police and emergency services personnel. It’s a hothouse of competing tensions, and Charlie feels like he’s completely swamped. Then the weather closes in.
A huge storm front settles on the island. It’s pouring rain, the visibility is all but zero, and they have only ninety personnel to search an area bigger than Ipswich. Who’s kidding who here? And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Charlie’s least favourite cop, Roger Bulmer, turns up with the team from Cleveland. Aye yai yai!
For three days mixed teams of CIB, local police, Park Services and SES personnel quarter the island, searching the overgrown terrain for the lost tourists. Everyone’s exhausted, the forensics crowd is stumped, the politicians are baying for blood, and Roger’s being his usual repulsive self.
Charlie and his colleagues, Graham, Kenny and Dao, struggle through a streaming landscape bathed in water and fog. They wade through raging creeks and across tortured hillsides, they scale impossible dunes and search the inky canyons beneath. Each day they move deeper into the heart of darkness. Each day they move closer to the point of no return.