Last month I entered the Furious Fiction creative writing competition and once again, there were story prompts. Here is my offering, which I hope you enjoy as much as I did coming up with it.
Three things threaten the Great Barrier Reef. Rising temperatures, ocean acidification and the Crown of Thorns Starfish. There are other factors, of course, like excess nutrients and plastic pollution, but those are the big three. Butterfly fish surround me, gliding through the water and nibbling at coral. They have round, open mouths and luminous yellow bodies which remind me of polenta pancakes. Wide in profile, yet paper-thin when they change direction, these unruffled creatures are optical illusions.
To the casual observer, the reef appears healthy, but vast tracts have been bleached beyond repair and if we don’t intervene, its future looks grim. As such, why are people so wilfully ignorant? I can see other divers clutching the guide rope, bubbles ascending like helium balloons and I glance up, tracing my own. My dive buddy points to a dugong foraging in seagrass, which makes me smile. Silt billows around her, creating flowery, fast-moving clouds. Sailors of old confused sea cows with mermaids and I wonder whether they were simply lonely or in the throes of scurvy.
My flippers are snug and I gather momentum as I motor along. Bailey, my instructor motions for me to slow down and I dutifully obey. We’ve been drilled on hand-signals and I’ve been watching him almost as intently as I’ve been watching the reef. Why can’t I simply relax? Last night, I was basking in his magnetic personality and hoping my racy top would lure him in. His cologne was powerful, as were his biceps, which I was ogling like a giddy teenager. It was a bit awkward, since flirting’s not my thing, but thrilling all the same.
All of a sudden, I freeze. Will he see through me and become suspicious? I’m a squeaky-clean science teacher, but my best friend Peta is desperate. Bailey, her ex-husband refuses to pay alimony and has skipped off to live in the tropics. He used to be a Navy SEAL, which is probably why he decided to run a scuba school. I met her after he’d left so he has no idea who I am. The problem is, his charisma is palpable. It oozes from him like honey on warm bread. He is effortlessly polite, soothingly masculine and nothing about him is uncouth or inconsiderate.
As we swim towards the surface, my heartrate increases. Has Peta been completely truthful with me? After all, I’ve never seen any evidence of financial neglect. She lives in a large house, drives an Alpha Romeo and skis regularly. Is she simply a scorned woman, out for revenge or is Bailey guilty as charged? A sea snake ribbons in front of me and I shiver all over. My mission is to lead him on and secure his finances, but now that I’ve met him, it feels wrong. I emerge from the water and Bailey grabs my hand. Do I spill my guts or continue with the charade? Like with the reef, I must take decisive action. It’s now or never.