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Nathan sat on the sun-warmed beach, trying hard to appreciate the million-dollar view that Uncle Rodger kept raving about. What was so great about it? There was nothing interesting about the endless carpet of sand that stretched for miles in either direction. Or the roar of the surf as it tumbled onto the shore. Or the shrill cries of the seagulls as they fought over tiny morsels of food from the rockpools.
Yes, this beach had to be the most boring place in Australia, he thought. And he was stuck here all summer. He and Ashley were prisoners, held at the mercy of their horrible old Uncle Rodger while their parents were away.
Nathan sighed, wondering exactly where in Central Queensland his parents were right now. Exploring a newly discovered archaeological site would be so much more exciting than sitting on this rotten beach! So much more exciting than dodging "The Dodger" and his endless list of chores. Again he wondered why his parents didn't take Ashley and him with them to the site. They weren't babies who needed constant care. They could have helped at "the dig". But no.
A shout from his little brother banished Nathan's grumblings. "Nate! Come look at this!"
Ashley crouched low over the sand about a hundred metres away, tracing something on the ground with his finger. Whatever it was, it was more interesting than sitting here, Nathan thought, and bounded to his feet. He flew over the sand, enjoying the feel of the damp, hard surface beneath his bare toes.
Ashley sat back on his heels as Nathan arrived. "What do you think this is?" He pointed to the deep furrowin the sand that he'd been examining. "It looks like someone has driven a tractor over the sand."
But there was only one furrow. "A tractor with one wheel?" Nathan replied. It couldn't be.
"A trailbike then," Ashley persisted.
Nathan shook his head. "Look at the width of the track, Ash. It's huge. Trailbike tyres aren't that wide. And they'd leave much deeper grooves in the sand. Not like this."
Nathan shaded his gaze from the late afternoon sun as he traced the path of the track from the water up into the sand dunes. On the hard, wet surface that led up to the high tide mark, the track etched deep into the sand. Beyond the high tide mark the imprint blurred in the dry sand. It looked like something had been dragged--or dragged itself--up into the dunes.
"No, Ash, something else made this track. Let's follow it and find out."
Seven-year old Ashley wasn't as brave as his big brother. "I don't know, Nate. It might be dangerous."
Nathan threw back his head and laughed. "Ash, this is the most exciting thing to happen to us since we came to stay with The Dodger. We've had to camp out on this beach all day, every day, otherwise we'd be his slaves. Cleaning the house! Mowing the lawn! Watering the plants!" Nathan rolled his eyes in disgust. "Ash, come on! We're not slaves, we're adventurers. Let's investigate this track. Let's find out what--or who--made it."
Who could argue against logic like that? Ashley sighed and nodded. "Okay. Let's go!"
Nathan whooped with delight and bolted up the sand dune. He found it difficult to negotiate the mountain of soft sand and panted hard as he reached the top. As he waited for Ashley to catch up, Nathan surveyed the area beyond. The glare from the slowly setting sun obscured his view, and he shaded his eyes. As his eyes adjusted, he noted that the dune dipped down into a little clearing that was sheltered by a ring of pandanus trees. The last rays of the sun danced through the treetops, casting long flickering shadows across the clearing. Shrouded in the dim gloom of early dusk, the clearing was eerily quiet. It was also the final destination of the mysterious track.
Nathan suppressed a shiver that crept along his spine. He'd wanted adventure all right, but this...
At that moment, Ashley made it to the top of the dune and dropped to his knees, exhausted. "That hill's a killer!" he laughed between ragged breaths. "I'll never be an ironman, Nate."
But Nathan wasn't listening. His gaze focused on an area hidden by long grass to one side of the clearing. An area of intense activity. Sheets of sand flew through the air with almost military precision. Flick ... flick ... flick ... He gulped as the hairs on the back of his neck stood rigidly to attention.
Someone was digging down there! Or something...