Five on a Monster Huntby Keith Robinson
"Oh, how I hate this awful dreary weather!" Anne said as they finished their breakfast. They were all looking out of a large hotel window at the neverending gloom. "My hair is limp and straggly with all this damp air, and I haven't even been outside!"
Julian laughed. "You and your hair, Anne. Honestly, it's as if the world just ended. It's not even nine o'clock yet."
"You wouldn't catch me acting like a girl," George said, scowling. Her own hair looked exactly as it always did—thick and curly, just like a boy's. "Timmy, keep your eyes off the seagulls. You can't have one, so forget it!"
Now it was Dick's turn to laugh. "He can't believe how many there are out there. He'll catch one soon enough, you mark my words."
The Five were on holiday, staying at a rather posh hotel on an island just off the coast of Cornwall. But, for once, the weather was not on their side. Although it had been forecast as sunny, a thick fog had rolled in that morning and seemed to be here to stay. "It's not as nice as my island," George had commented more than once.
Everyone had agreed. Yet there was something of interest to Julian and Dick besides the quiet, remote lifestyle and the thousands of birds that squawked in the sky over the rocks on the beaches. They had discovered just the night before that there was a good old-fashioned story of a sea serpent out in the waters. The girls had been reluctant to tell the story, but once they had accidentally mentioned a sea serpent, the boys had dragged the whole story out of them. "It was just something we heard from the local fishermen," Anne said, dismissing the whole thing.
"But wouldn't it be absolutely wizard if we snapped a photo of the monster," Dick said, his eyes shining as he stared out to sea.
"It's no more real than the Loch Ness Monster," George replied, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, you boys are such dreamers!"
But Julian was just as starstruck. "I vote we go to the docks and take a look this afternoon."
"What, in this awful fog?" Anne said in dismay. "Oh, must we? Really? Can't we wait for the sun to come out?"
Dick shook his head. "You told me yourself, Anne, that the monster only appears when the fog rolls in. And I'd say the fog has definitely rolled in! Look at it out there."
They all peered out the hotel window again, staring in fascination at the blanket of white that surrounded them. Their hotel was very close to one of the pebbled beaches, yet they saw nothing beyond the neat little picket fence around the garden. It was an eerie feeling, almost smothering.
"Reminds me of Mystery Moor," Dick murmured. "Or Castaway Hill." He sighed impatiently. "We simply have to go monster hunting. Are you up for it, Ju?"
Julian was. "You girls can stay here if you prefer. Monster hunting is boys' work, anyway. Too dangerous for girls. You stay put while Dick and I go to the docks. You mentioned a funny little raft we can use if we want to go out on the water?"
And so, that afternoon, the boys left the girls behind and went off to the docks. It was a long walk, and the air was cold and damp, but they felt warm thanks to their brisk pace. Sure enough, a funny little raft awaited them. It belonged to a fisherman, or more correctly his son, who liked to tinker. The boy had built the raft from whatever materials he could find—an old front door with a diamond-shaped window, four plastic drums that once held gallons of primer paint, and lashings of ropes and nails. It seemed sturdy enough, and bobbed quite comfortably on the cold, green water.
Julian offered to pay the fisherman, but the old man grinned and shook his head. "No need, me ol' friend. It'll be worth it to see what you find."
The fisherman had an odd look of merriment on his face as Julian and Dick hurried over to the raft. "What's with him?" Dick asked, as he gingerly stepped down off the wooden jetty and onto the floating platform. "Ooh, careful, Ju!"
"It bobs quite a bit, doesn't it?" Julian gasped as he nearly slipped off. "But it'll be all right once we get situated."
The boys seated themselves. "Well, let's give it a try," Dick said, rubbing his hands. "Where are the paddles?"
Julian handed him one of two shovels that were lying beside him. For a moment Dick stared, bewildered. Then he burst out laughing. "These are our paddles? Well, all right then." He took the shovel and hefted it as though it were a paddle. He nodded with approval. "Yes, this is going to work fine." He peered through the diamond-shaped window to the water below. "If we were a little lower and the door was actually touching the surface, we'd be able to see underwater."
Julian laughed. "If we were any lower, we'd get wet. And anyway, the water's too murky to see more than a few feet. Okay, I'm going to untie us. Ready to start paddling?"
Together, without another word, they dipped their heavy shovels into the water on opposite sides and began to paddle. It took a moment to get synchronized, but soon the raft started to move away from the pier. The waves slopped against the underside of the door.
The raft seemed to handle well. As the boys bobbed over the water, paddling with their shovels, Julian glanced back at the jetty and was surprised to note it was already fading into the fog thirty or forty feet away.
Then he spotted four figures standing like statues by the roadside. One was an old man—the fisherman, by the looks of him. The others were...
"Anne and George!" Julian said, puzzled. "Look, it's the girls, Dick. With Timmy. What are they doing here?"
"Where are you going?" one of the girls called, her voice echoing off the swirling green water. It was George, and she sounded smug.
The raft bobbed and drifted. "To look for the sea serpent," he called. "What are you doing?"
As the raft drifted and the girls faded into the fog in the distance, Anne called, "We were scared you'd get lost out there, or be eaten by the monster. Be careful!"
"We'll be fine!" Julian shouted. He patted his pocket. "I have my camera and we'll bring back a great photo for you!"
The girls were now just faint silhouettes. "You should have brought loads of string," George called, her voice now oddly muffled.
"String?" Julian muttered, puzzled. "What does she mean?"
Dick slapped himself on the forehead. "She's right. We could have tied the string to the jetty and unraveled it as we went. Then there wouldn't be any danger of getting lost."
"We'll be right here when you get back," George's voice called from far away. "And if you're not back by, say, next week, we'll go and get help."
"Oh, you're so funny," Julian murmured through gritted teeth. He stabbed at the water with his shovel, paddling hard. But Dick fumbled, trying but failing to get the timing right, and the raft ended up in a slow spin. It was a good thing the girls couldn't see them, Julian thought; they'd have been laughing their heads off.
Once they got synchronized again, the raft surged onwards, heading farther into the murky grayness. It was a different kind of fog to what they were used to on land: thicker, colder, somehow menacing. Smoky fingers reached out to touch them, tentative and curious, and Julian had the eerie sensation it was sniffing at them the way Timmy sniffed at fences as he scampered along the road.
They paddled in silence. A damp, freezing chill seeped through Julian's thick sweater and into his skin. Even the wooden handle of the shovel felt like a shaft of ice. Dick's teeth were chattering.
Julian glanced back the way they had come and couldn't help but gasp. The jetty, the road, even the pier had vanished from sight, swallowed up in the gloom. The island had disappeared, and all around was silent, rolling mist, and cold water that lapped against the raft. Suddenly Julian's nerves went haywire and his breath came in short, ragged bursts.
Dick stopped paddling and turned to him with a frown. "Are you all right?"
"We... we're a long way out," Julian gasped, fighting to stay calm. He jabbed a finger back toward the island. "How are we ever going to find our way back? Dick, this is a silly idea."
Dick's eyebrows shot up. "It was your idea."
"No it wasn't!" Julian said. "Well, not completely mine, anyway. In any case it was a stupid idea, all right? We need to think this through better. George is right, we should have brought some string to help guide us back. We could get completely lost out here. There's nothing to see but fog. How do we know we're not going around in circles right now?"
Dick looked around, silent. "So... should we give up?" he asked, continuing to stare into the fog. A hint of disappointment had crept into his voice.
Julian pondered. It would seem a great waste of effort if they just paddled back and never tried again, but there was nothing wrong with thinking things through better and returning later. Apart from bringing some string for guidance, they could tie lines around the shovels in case they got dropped in the water. So it wouldn't be a complete failure if they returned now, as long as they planned to come back out better prepared.
"I think," Julian began, "that if we go back and get some string, then—"
Something bumped the underside of the raft.
Julian and Dick looked down in unison, then at each other.
"What was that?" Dick asked nervously. "A rock? Is the water shallow here?"
Julian peered anxiously into the water, but saw no rocks sticking up. The surface of the ocean undulated like a sheet blowing on a clothes line, eerie and silent except where it slopped against the raft's plastic drums. It didn't seem shallow... but rocks could be lurking just below the surface. What if one ripped the floats apart? "We should head back," Julian said. "Let's plan this thing a little better and come out again."
"Okay," Dick said, and now Julian detected a hint of relief in his voice.
They switched their grips on the shovels and paddled in the opposite direction. Again it took a second to get synchronized, and the raft began to turn.
"Stop!" Julian exclaimed. "I mean, don't stop, but—we've got to keep this thing straight, otherwise we won't know which direction to go in. Wait while I turn us back a little..."
"That's too much," Dick said, dipping his shovel into the water and paddling against Julian's strokes.
Julian ground his teeth together and tried to hold down his temper. "Let's just row together and go straight. We must be turned about right by now. As long as we get back to the island we'll be okay—anywhere will do. Then we can follow the shore until we get back to the docks."
"Right," Dick said, nodding. "As long as we don't row away from the island and miss it completely."
Something bumped the underside of the raft again, and this time they felt the deck rise for a second. Julian glanced down and glimpsed a flash of white through the glass panel. But then something to the side caught his attention and he searched the water just beyond his paddle.
He gasped and pointed.
A gigantic milky white serpentine body slipped by just beneath the surface, fast and silent, dwarfing the feeble little raft Julian and Dick cowered on.
"Th-the sea s-ser-pent," Julian stammered.
Dick brandished his shovel over his head as if batting at the monster might help. "We're dead," he moaned.
It seemed to take ages for the full length of the serpent to undulate past, its girth narrowing to the blunt tip of a snake-like tail as it went. It slid away under the surface and a current tugged at the raft, causing it to bounce up and down.
Julian gripped the shovel in one hand and scrabbled for a secure hold on the raft with the other. Every muscle in his body was taut. He was shivering hard, and his breath came in rasps. He felt powerless. What could they do? That thing could capsize them with a flick of its tail, or chomp them in one mouthful.
"We have to paddle," he said. "Ready? Three, two, one, go."
He began paddling, but Dick was frozen in place, gripping the shovel over his head.
"Dick, stop gawking and paddle!"
"Yes you can! I can't do this on my own—"
Dick mumbled something.
Julian frowned. "What? What did you say?"
"It's coming back."
Out of the fog came the monstrous snake, its enormous bulk slicing easily through the water toward them. Its head lifted slowly—three feet wide with glistening white scales the size of fists, long drooping fins that stuck out from behind its lower jaw, and yellow eyes as big as plates. The serpent stared right at them, unblinking, emotionless. Its mouth opened just a fraction, enough for a shining black forked tongue to slip out, quiver, and slip back in again.
Dick began yelling. He dropped the shovel onto the deck and scrambled back, bumping into his friend. Julian woke from his temporary paralysis.
"Dick, there's nowhere to go—be careful or you'll—"
Too late. As the raft bobbed to one side, Dick's shovel slipped off the deck and into the water with a tiny plop, gone forever.
But now the serpent was right over them, glaring down with baleful eyes. Water ran in rivulets down its scaled face and spattered the raft. The serpent's tongue flicked out again and quivered, lingering this time, as if tasting the air. A nasty rotting smell engulfed the frightened boys, and they recoiled as a deep hissing sound filled their ears.
"We're dead, we're dead, we're dead," Dick was mumbling, his voice muffled. He had both hands over his face and was rocking back and forth.
As Julian stared up at the monster, something strange came over him. Some of his fear drained away, and determination crept into his heart. With a shaky voice, he spoke to the serpent. "We're the Famous Five. Leave us alone. I mean it. Or you'll be sorry."
His fingers tightened around the shovel.
The serpent moved closer, somehow able to tread water and keep its head poised above them. The fins behind its lower jaw hung dripping and limp, and now Julian saw other fins farther along its body, just below the surface, fanning back and forth. Julian imagined the serpent's endless length undulating from side to side below the surface, deep within the murky depths. He shuddered and wished he could erase that creepy image.
The serpent's mouth opened partway, and the rotten stench caused Julian to recoil in disgust. He swung upwards with all his strength, and the shovel caught the monster a resounding smack on the chin.
Julian thought he saw surprise flash across the serpent's huge unblinking eyes as it backed away. It tilted its head once more and stared at him.
"See what you get when you mess with us!" Julian shouted, his face heating up. "We've dealt with worse than you! Clopper the pantomime horse was scarier than you!" Panic gave way to the anger that bubbled up from deep inside. He felt breathless. "Come back for some more, you worm!"
To his astonishment, the serpent slipped below the surface with hardly a ripple.
Julian searched the water. He saw flashes of white, then felt a bump under the raft. "It's going to sink us," he said, his anger suddenly evaporating and horror setting in. Would it pull them under and wait until they drowned before chewing them up? Or would it just swallow them alive?
The raft lifted, and both boys made a grab for the deck. Julian's shovel—the last remaining paddle—dropped out of his hands and slid off the deck into the water with a plop. "This is it," he muttered between gritted teeth.
"I don't want to die!" Dick wailed.
The raft tilted a little to one side but continued to rise out of the water until all four plastic drums were clear. Now Julian saw the monster's broad, flat head below the deck, with its slick scaly skin. The raft wobbled as the serpent began cruising through the water.
Julian's mouth fell open. What—?
Cruising through the water? Why wasn't it capsizing them? Why would it lift them up and carry them through the fog? It didn't make any sense.
Unless it was taking them to its lair, or whatever sea serpents called their homes. Maybe it wasn't hungry yet. Maybe it wanted to save them for later, by storing them in its larder. Maybe they'd find the skeletons of other people stored there, people who'd been swallowed whole and their bones spat out.
Dick was moaning, his eyes jammed shut.
"Hey," Julian said, poking him, "we're not dead yet. It's taking us to its lair. There's still hope."
"There's no hope," Dick said, shaking his head. "We're dead. We should never have tried this."
The serpent continued to slide through the water, seeming to know where it was headed even though the thick fog revealed nothing.
Then the fog thinned and Julian caught sight of land. He squinted, and his mouth fell open. "Dick. Dick, look. The docks."
Dick's eyes snapped open. "What?"
The serpent slowed as it approached the jetty, then sank out of sight, lowering the raft back into the water. Momentum carried the raft onwards, and Julian and Dick sat in silence as they bobbed the rest of the way to the jetty. Seconds later they bumped against one of the posts, and Julian instinctively reached for it, his mouth hanging open.
Glancing around, he caught a flash of white, and then the water swelled as massive scaly coils broke the surface and the monster circled around.
The boys scrambled onto the jetty, bumping heads in their hurry to get off the raft. The moment they were clear, the serpent raised its head out of the water once more and descended on them. Julian and Dick yelled and crouched low, knowing it was already too late...
But nothing happened except a loud splash. Julian felt cold seawater spatter over him, and he jerked upright and snapped his eyes open. Where had the monster gone? There—gliding away through the fog, receding into the distance... with the small, pathetic raft perched at an angle on its head. In half a minute it faded into the gloom, and everything was quiet.
Julian and Dick stared in stunned silence.
Then came squeals of laughter. George and Anne stood nearby, almost doubled over with mirth, and the fisherman was guffawing loudly.
The boys stared at them, mystified. "Didn't you see that thing?" Julian demanded, his face heating up. "It was a real sea serpent! It was gigantic! It might have eaten us whole!
The girls went off into peals of laughter again. Even Timmy seemed to be amused, and started barking and wagging his tail.
Then a young man appeared out of the fog. He seemed to be in his twenties, and he carried something in his hands—some kind of remote control device with a long, long arial. "Sorry about that, boys," he said cheerily. "Just wanted to test out my mechanical sea monster. I hope you didn't damage it, whacking it with a shovel like that."
Julian and Dick were stunned. "It... it wasn't real?" Dick stammered.
George grinned happily. "Oh dear, I'll never forget the looks on your faces. Priceless!"
Anne grinned. "Sorry, but I think you've rather forgotten the date. The whole thing was make-believe, just for your benefit, boys. We knew you'd fall for it. We planned this from Day One, after bumping into Old Sam and his son Jonas here. When we saw the mechanical serpent he had made... well, we just had to plan something."
"The weather forecast said it would be foggy today," George said. "I know I said the weather was supposed to be sunny, but I fibbed. A foggy day, a gigantic mechanical serpent... and the timing was perfect."
"Timing?" Dick said weakly.
Anne tilted her head to one side. "You do know what today is, don't you?"
The boys looked at each other. And then a glimmer of understanding came over them, and they groaned loudly in unison.
George and Anne shouted together: "It's April Fool's Day!"