Amateur cartoonist and writer, actual architect, coffee lover, and professional et ceteratist. May contain offbeat cartoons, short stories, fan art, and/or platypuses. I'm also on Twitter and Instagram as aarondoodles, and Tumblr at http://aarondoodles.tumblr.com/.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I actually wrote this piece to submit into a creative writing contest. The guidelines didn't say anything about not posting the material elsewhere, so until I hear otherwise I'm going to share it here. Just in time for Halloween, it's another scary story. Rosewood resort is the vacation destination of only the most posh and well-to-do. By why was the island abandoned by its indigenous peoples in the first place? Read and find out!
"Rosewood" Aaron Matthew Smith October 2010
“Max! It’s amazing!” Tabitha said as she stepped into our room. She slipped off her sandals and tread barefoot across the plush blood-red carpet, then dropped her bags onto the king sized bed and walked to the extra-large Jacuzzi in the corner. I crossed the room, past the mini bar and plasma television to our private sun deck. I swung open the French doors, allowing a warm salty sea breeze to fill the whole room. The evening sunlight painted the sky a panorama of pinks and purples, reflected brightly on the endless black ribbon of ocean beneath. The sound of the waves crashing against the rocky bluff below the window washed over me like a tangible thing, and I felt the tension melt away from my body.
Just then a heavy gust of wind tossed the curtains on the doors.
“What is it hun?” I said.
“Hm? I didn’t say anything,” Tabitha said from behind me.
“Oh. Um, nothing. Must’ve been the wind,” I said. I glanced out at the tranquil ocean once more before returning inside, closing the French doors behind me.
“The island chain that Rosewood Island Resort is part of is made of volcanic rock.” the tour guide was saying, pointing to the rocky bluffs at the face of the island.
“Kayak tours right after breakfast? Whose idea was that?” I mumbled.
“You were the one who wanted to take the ‘adventure vacation’,” Tabitha replied. We were on the dark side of the island now, shaded from the morning sun by the island itself. High above, the face of the resort loomed over us.
My kayak bobbed uneasily in the green water as I guided it to the edge of the bluff. The water came right up to a sheer wall of blackish volcanic rock, covered in moss and lichens where the water lapped the face. This far down, the stone was remarkably smooth. Father up, though, it looked sharp, like it had been cut out with a tool.
Just then, a sharp wind whipped around us, tossing a cool, salty spray over our whole group. On the wind came a low, sharp whistle which rose in volume until it couldn’t be called anything but a wail. The pure torment and pain in it chilled me to my core. I looked around and noticed some of the others in the group getting visibly agitated. The tour guide who’d been speaking smiled.
“The water has eroded deep caverns and passages into the face of the island over the course of hundreds of years,” he said. “When the wind rushes through the natural stone caverns in the face of the island, it creates a hollow noise like you just heard. The locals came to call them the Caves of the Damned.”
“Psh,” someone said, and I turned to find our other tour guide by my side. I’d lagged behind the others when I was examining the rocks, and the second guide was bringing up the rear of the group. “Don’t listen to that guy. He’s from the mainland. I grew up on these islands.” He glanced at me with dark, serious eyes. “You ever wonder why no locals work here at night? It’s because we know well enough to get off the island after nightfall.”
I really didn’t want to ask, but I had to know.
“What happens after nightfall?”
“The island wakes up.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“This island is more than two hundred years old. And it’s more than an island. It used to be a temple.”
“Who? No, to what. Nobody knows. When the island first woke up, everyone moved to the other islands and destroyed all evidence of the old order. Only in whispers and fairy tales does anyone remember anything about it.”
“What about you? What do you know about it?” I asked carefully.
“No sir,” he replied, shaking his head. “They don’t pay me enough to go through that. No sir. It ain’t worth it.”
“Meet me at the hotel bar at eight tonight,” I said, “And I’ll make it worth it.”
He was there, just like I’d asked.
Adrian (he’d told me him name at the end of the kayak trip) met me at the entrance of the bar. He saw me approaching and walked toward me. Without speaking, I removed a fifty dollar bill from the pocket of my jacket. He palmed the note, then turned and headed through the main hall of the hotel, toward the patio. I followed him.
In a moment we were out from under the high crystal chandeliers and soft chamber music of Rosewood’s main hall. On the patio a live band played smooth jazz into the night. He led me to the edge, down a short flight of steps and across a sidewalk that lead to the edge of the vast garden.
Finally he stopped at the steel guardrail on the edge of the bluff. Beneath us was the sheer cliff face where sixty feet below I’d touched the smooth face of the stone earlier that morning. He leaned on the guard rail for a moment before speaking, watching the moonlight reflect in the endless, rippling black ribbon of ocean.
“Can you hear it?” He asked. “Calling your name?”
“I have heard it. How does it know my name?”
“How do you know to call the ocean the ocean, or to call dirt dirt? You’ve grown up, and you’ve learn the names of these things over time. It’s the same way with the island. It’s very, very old. Older than the oceans around it and the skies above it. It has learned many things.”
The wind drew up around us suddenly, and despite the balmy weather I was chilled. Then, I heard it. The same tormented wail that had come out of the caves beneath the island that morning.
Adrian didn’t react to the screaming, but he watched me carefully.
“What is that?” I asked.
“The screams of the people that the island has devoured,” he replied. “My grandmother told me a story, when I was a boy. About a man who wanted to know all that the island knew. He wanted to possess that knowledge and power for himself, so he tried to go into the heart of the island to claim it. And the island devoured him, just like it does everyone.”
“What’s down there?” I asked as I peered over the railing, my voice tiny.
“Nobody’s ever gone down to see and came back to tell,” Adrian told me.
The wind rose again, and the wailing began anew, louder and more tormented that before. Fear coalesced in a cold, hard lump in my stomach, but something else blossomed to life there. A morbid curiosity, a need to know just what was lurking down in those caves. Could there actually be something living down there? Or was the island actually alive like Adrian claimed?
Or was it all some sort of hoax, cooked up by a guy working a summer job to spook an extra fifty bucks out of a naïve tourist?
“How do you get to the caves?” I asked.
Adrian turned to me, his dark eyes huge in the moonlight. “You can’t be serious. You want to go down into the screaming caves? Do you have a death wish?”
“I have to know what’s down there.”
“I won’t have anything to do with this,” he said, and turned to walk away from me. I grabbed his arm.
“Just point the way.”
Adrian hesitated. He wouldn’t turn around and look at me. Finally, he pointed with the arm I wasn’t holding. At the edge of the guardrail, where the carefully manicured garden ended, was an old, gnarled tree. Out of the light from the garden lamps, it was nearly invisible.
Before I could ask anything else, Adrian had pulled free from my grasp and headed back to the resort. I stared at the mangled, dried tree for a while. Why had the landscapers not simply torn the thing up? I had approached it before I’d realized it, and was soon reaching across the guard rail to touch it. As I did, something out of the ordinary caught my eye.
There was a set of narrow steps carved into the rock face beneath the tree, just out of site from the garden.
Equal parts madness and wonder overcame me as I climbed past the guard rail, gripped the edge of the tree for dear life and slowly began to descend those narrow, slimy steps. After a few steps, I had to let go of the tree and press myself against the cold stone. I had to keep going. If I allowed myself to stop, I knew that I’d be overcome with terror and be unable to go either back up or farther down.
The wind had shifted and seemed to be howling from beneath me now, trying to either blow me back up the stairs or off into the roiling sea below. Finally the steps lead into a sharp crack in the face of the bluff, like a wound torn into the stone. I squeezed into the crack and was for a moment relieved that I was no longer in danger of falling into the roiling sea.
A scream, louder and clearer than ever before, tore at me from within the crack, and the wind that came with it felt like the hot breath of some colossal animal. I couldn’t stay where I was; it was either keep going or turn back. I was this far into the island. If I turned back now, I could never live with myself.
The starry sky above me vanished from site as I followed the crevasse deeper. It turned into a tunnel, and I found myself surrounded on all sides by damp, cool rock, pitch black save for my cigarette lighter. Every few moments the screaming wind would tear past me as if it was in a rush to escape the cavern, blowing my lighter out and plunging me for a horrifying instant in complete wailing blackness.
The tunnel widened as I followed it deeper into the island until I was walking through a great dark corridor. The walls and ceiling were so far away now that my meager flame couldn’t reach them. In fact, the only evidence that I was still inside the island at all was the damp, rough stone beneath my feet.
That is, until I came to the solid wall at the end of the tunnel. Its surface was smooth and flat, not at all like the rough floor I’d been walking on.
“What is this?” I asked no one, my voice echoing eerily in the impossibly black cavern. I slapped the bare wall with my hand. It was curiously warm compared to the rest of the stone. “Is this it? There’s nothing here.”
“MAXWELL!” called a huge voice, so loud that I dropped my lighter and clapped both hands over my ears. The wick on the lighter continued to burn as it lay on the floor. In the tiny flickering light, I watched the stone wall before me split like a colossal mouth, tearing open with a sound like a landslide near the floor and splitting up out of view. I opened my mouth to scream, but the sound was drowned out by the horrible noise that came from the opening, a whistling scream like the sound of tearing metal.
The floor beneath me shuddered and I was thrown from my feet, tumbling face first into the horrible opening. I landed in a heap on damp, warm stone. My cries were washed away in the screaming wind that surrounded me like a hundred grasping arms, and I watched in horror as the yellow light from the lighter vanished and the rocky chasm sealed itself up around me.