A sea of ominous clouds hung overhead, further darkening the evening as a red Corolla wound its way up the treacherous track towards the Babinda Boulders. The trees pressed inwards and grey gravel crunched under the car’s heavy tyres, signalling the group’s arrival.

Four teenage boys exited the car as severe shards of light filtered through the ancient rainforest’s dark canopy. A stocky 17-year-old, Adam, scrolled on his phone absent-mindedly, Chris, overweight and near balding, gripped the ends of the towel that hung around his neck. Behind him strode Tom and Matt, walking with athleticism that jarred against Chris’ awkward waddle. The twins were tall and lean with muscle so sophisticated as to strike jealousy into anyone, Brandon included. Brandon was gangly, shy, a startling disparity to the rest of the group, even Chris who was presently sent flying as he tripped over a protruding tree root.

Brandon took his keys from the car’s ignition and watched the others race to a picnic bench. This was definitely not the way he had wanted to celebrate finishing high-school, but if he was going to take the next big step in becoming a boy then he had to make some male friends. He could no longer justify the safety net of only hanging out with girls.

He hid his keys in the front tyre’s silver rim. As he crouched there, an unnerving feeling of being watched flooded his insides and sharp fingernails flew up the centre of his spine, playing each vertebrae like the cream keys of a piano. He gasped and spun around, pressing backwards into the car’s red, glossy door, but only the rainforest’s dense leaves and tree trunks stared back at him.

His friends called in the distance and Brandon jogged after them, glad that he no longer had to tape down his chest for the privilege of wearing a tee shirt. The hormones may have played havoc with his emotions but he was finally starting to like who he saw in the mirror; that was the point of all this. But still, people treated him differently; the families, who raced back to their cars for the foreboding clouds above, stared confusedly as they passed him. He was finally happy with his appearance, it was society who was not, and that was why he had to change.

The group spent the next half hour wandering the picnic area, exploring the shallow green pools and becoming lost in the stories of the Babinda Boulders. Brandon stood behind Chris, who seemed invested in one of the boards’ stories. He craned his neck to see what Chris was reading. Suddenly, Chris spun around, his green eyes wide.

“Holy! This Oolana chick is creepy as.”

“Who?” Chris stepped away from the board and his chubby index finger shot out in front of him, signalling for Brandon to read the story.’Oolana’ was a woman who lost her lover in the Boulders’ waters; now, she searched for him, claiming the lives of many unsuspecting young men. Brandon turned to face Chris, his newly bushy eyebrows high on his forehead.

“I know right,” Chris elbowed Brandon in the ribs “you’re lucky she only takes dudes, hey. I’m not going anywhere near that water.” And, with that, Chris left his words to wind their way through Brandon’s gut. It was true, she only took ‘dudes.’ His fingernails pressed into his sweaty palms.

A grey carpet of foreboding clouds rolled overhead as the five began trekking along the bitumen path, blanketed in moss, past the jagged swords of wait-a-while and the soggy remnants of fallen trees. Brandon stumbled along, struggling to navigate the inclines and declines of the journey. As usual, Brandon stuck to the rear of the group. He didn’t mind, he was used to it, used to being trapped in his own head. That was the punishment for shyness.

He gripped the straps of his backpack and gazed out at the trees and scrub beyond the winding path, steadying his eyes on his shoes each time a group of tourists passed on his right. He knew they were judging him, he did not need to watch them.

They turned a corner and the lapping water became instantly closer. Slowly, a high pitched whistling filled Brandon’s ears. Originally it had blended seamlessly into the rainforest’s cacophony but now it was becoming increasingly more noticeable. Brandon fought one foot in front of the other as his head spun and a headache set in. He gazed at his friends, squinting to determine if this piercing sound was torturing them too, but their joyous chatter and smiling faces told him that they did not.

He raised the heel of his right hand to his head, hitting himself between his hazel eyes, then clamped both palms over his ears, trying desperately to rid himself of this torment. He glared accusingly at the trees around him, searching for some animal to blame for his pain –
but there was nothing
no one.
He was alone.

Finally, the shrill cacophony left his ears as five pairs of rangy teenage legs took a right along the dark path, meager sunlight no longer piercing its leafy veil. They arrived at a concrete platform and surveyed the giant, curving boulders, each rushing with turquoise waves and white froth. Brandon gripped the fence and gazed out at the tantalising waves, the water tugging at his feet and his mind. It was gorgeous, she was gorgeous. The muscles of his right thigh contracted and his arms were ready and willing to pull himself over the bars which so rudely barred his path, when Matt broke Brandon’s trance.

“Don’t get too close mate” his head tilted towards a yellow and crimson sign on Brandon’s left: ‘CAUTION.’
He was right. The rocks were slippery and the water was strong and there must have been countless tunnels but it looked nice and he had felt …calm.
No. It was nothing.
Oolana only took guys.
Despair filled his lungs and married with leaden oxygen as he banished tears from his eyes.

Brandon’s right flip flop collided with the path and a cool breeze washed over him. It froze his sweaty arms and sent shivers stemming from deep inside him.

The group trekked on with Brandon lagging behind when the torturous noise returned. It was worse than before. It buzzed, wailed, inside of his ears, his head, stomach and bones. It called him back to the water that had granted him peace just minutes before. And he wanted to go, he wanted to follow the hibiscus flowers that were suspended, airborne, in front of him. Their sweet scent was intoxicating, it filled his nostrils and made his eyes glow fuschia.

Brandon was terribly alone when his weak body was ripped backwards. He pulled his knees to his chest as a thick humidity danced and clung to him with the weight of a second person. Her golden glow took Brandon and pulled him to his feet, her gentle eyes staring into his soul, and she guided him through the foliage. As he pushed nature’s walls, the walls slashed back and spiked limbs pressed into him. His shoes came off and his shirt ripped, exposing a tanned shoulder, now speckled with red.

His bare and bloodied feet dropped into shallow water. Only now did the torturing whistle cease to pierce his ears. All of the rainforest’s racket was terminated: birds no longer squawked overhead and cicadas no longer clicked.

He waded deeper and deeper, the silver current holding him rather than tugging him downstream, and he was screaming his lover’s name.

“Oolana!”

His torn fingertips gripped at the mountainous black rocks and he heaved himself up inside of its bowl; it welcomed him.

The stone beneath turned to lava and Brandon slowly sunk into it, weeping. Each molten handful rolled over him, enveloping him in an embrace, and tucked his body in to sleep under a warm and heavy doona. It was soothing and Brandon surrendered to it. His eyelids drooped closed over damp eyes and a rouge cloud seeped from behind his head. It mingled with the lapping water, performing twirling pirouettes, before it was stolen downstream.

Brandon’s body floated in the Devil’s Pool, his pale face and Roman nose pointed towards the inky sky, cluttered with an array of glistening gemstones. His hands lay open and too faced skywards, unharmed despite the shallow water around him thickening with blood.

He was shrouded in a tropical bouquet which lapped at his sides and rolled with the red water that dressed Brandon’s coarse hair with brightness. The line of his cheek silvered and his exposed shoulder became sculpted marble. On his face lay a contented smile, his dimples were plastered in the corners of his mouth and his eyes wrinkled happily closed.

It did not matter what anyone else had said or what anyone would ever say, for, in his final hours, Oolana had chosen him. He loved her and would forever be grateful.