The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Red Raging Sun

It’s too hot here. You should come to this place in winter, when you’d be happy it’s warm. Not in summer, it’s way too hot. But Dad said Affordable and Mom said Adventure, so we’re here. We’ve been here almost a week.

I don’t like it here. The dirt is yellow on the empty paths that run from the jungle to the beach. The dirt glows hot and yellow back up to the hot yellow sun.

black dog on yellow dirt road

Photo by Todd Campbell.

There’s an ocean, but the water’s hot, and when the sun’s out the beach is too hot to walk on barefoot. The sea breeze feels more like walking past an open dryer, the wind is so hot and damp. The sun is so bright on the water, it gives you a headache.

At night it’s cooler, with better breezes, salty and fishy and dark. When the sun goes down, everybody—not the local people, but the vacation people, like us—everybody walks down to the beach, and they build a bonfire, and we sit around it. It’s the best part of the day, when the sun is gone. The fire is like the sun, but all packaged up and neat, surrounded by rocks, so it can’t jump out and get you.

I like to sit on the warm sand in the dark, just outside the circle of light, watching the fire, listening to the laughing. It’s nice. Mom and Dad sound happy, happier than at home. The three of us walk back singing to the cabin—Mom calls it an Eco-Cabin, which means no glass in the windows, and no doors in the doorways, and a roof made of dry grass. It’s like sleeping outside. Mom and Dad have the bed, and I’m in a hammock by the window, facing the jungle. I swing to sleep like in a rocking boat.

But later that night I wake up, because someone is talking. A light is flashing all around the room like a scared bird. For a second, before I wake up all the way, I think somehow police are in our room, arresting us.

Then I see that it’s Dad. He’s sitting straight up in bed, shining a flashlight all around, all wild. When the light catches his face by accident, I see he’s sweating.

Monkeys, says Dad. His voice is shaking. He’s saying: There were monkeys in here, did you see? Did you see them? I swear, just a second ago, these long-armed . . . They must have been monkeys . . . I swear they were here.

And all the time Mom is saying Shhh, shhh, and Bad dream, and Honey, maybe you shouldn’t have had that margarita. All very soft—she’s trying not to wake me up. That’s nice of her.

The flashlight goes out, click. In a while, I hear their breathing go long and soft again.

But I don’t go back to sleep.

Because for just a second, just for one second, while that yellow light flew around our cabin, I saw something. I did. I saw something long-armed and long-tailed swing over me in the dark, and out the window, into the jungle.

I only saw for a second. I don’t know what it was.

But it didn’t look like a monkey to me.

I’m not hungry for breakfast that morning, and I walk on the beach away from other people. The sun hangs over the sea, burning at me.

In the afternoons we always nap, but I have a bad dream, that there’s an animal in the room with us but I can’t quite see it, only hear its heavy tail dragging along the floor. When I wake up, the cabin smells wrong, a dirty, snakey smell. Mom and Dad are still asleep.

I can’t stay in the cabin with that smell, so I go for walk. I start at the beach, but it’s way too hot, even with flip-flops. The rubber’s melting under my feet. So I start walking back.

But you’re not supposed to go into the jungle, because of snakes, or something. Mom made a big deal out of that, and asked me Did I understand and Did I promise.

Now I’m standing there on the dirt road. I can’t decide what to do. A pale green lizard, only much bigger than the lizards at home, turns its face to me. Its eyes are half open, something pulses at its throat.

Oh: the ruins, I think. I’ll go there.

Sand ziggurat

Photo by Todd Campbell.

The ruins are mostly huge piles of gray stone, lots of thousands of years old. But in some of the piles you can see the shapes of the buildings they were, see the steps leading up to broken temples at the top. I’m not supposed to go to the ruins, either, actually. But it’s not as definite as the jungle. Dad was actually all disappointed, he thought it looked archeological or something. But the people who run this place said It needs repairs, and reinforcements, it’s not safe to climb on. They said how last year a little girl ignored the warnings and fell, and died.

But I’m not going to be stupid and climb on the stones. I’m just going to look around.

As I walk past him, the lizard turns its head to watch me.

I walk for a few minutes. The sound of the waves is nice. But it’s so hot, my head is hurting, and my eyes are squinched up against the brightness. My shirt sticks to my body.

But walking is good. The sun will go down soon. I start to relax. Just a bad dream.

When I’m almost at the ruins, all of a sudden, there’s a dog. There’s nothing around here, I don’t know where it came from. It’s not a huge dog, but it comes up to my knees. It has slick brown hair, peeling off in patches to show gray and purple skin below, and its eyes are blue and round and blind. At least I think it’s blind. It stares just over my head, barking hard, growling in its throat.

Hurt, it sounds like it’s saying. Hurt, hurt, hurt.

The dog walks in front of me on the road for the while, walking backwards, facing me, barking HURT, HURT, HURT, like it’s trying to stop me. But I stay brave, I keep walking, and after a while the dog gives up. I walk through the door of a chain link fence that’s just hanging there, broken, and into the ruins.

The ruins have their back to the jungle. It’s like the jungle made them, kind of, then pushed them out: Here. I made this for you. Come in, come in.

That’s a dumb thought, but it’s what it looks like.

The sun shines hard on the huge blocks of gray stone. They crowd everywhere, you have to sort of pick your way through. Even just one block is taller than my head, and one of the old . . . buildings, I guess is what they are, the one that’s still mostly there, is really tall. A zillion steps are running up the side. That girl who died must have climbed up there, and fallen.

It’s quiet here, a weird kind of quiet, no birds or insects at all. And it’s so hot, the heat is like a fever or a warning, but I don’t know what the warning says.

Hurt, hurt. Hurt hurt hurt.

My parents might be awake my now, I should go see.

But I don’t go see. I keep walking through the stone blocks and towers, the huge piles of stone.

Now a shadow passes across me. A bird? But it’s too big for a bird. I look up. The sky is squinty empty blue.

But then—what was that, out of the corner of my eye? Not a bird, but more like something on one of the stones above me. Something running.

And then behind me—I whip around fast. I can hear a ripple of running feet, high on that one pile of gray stone.

And now that, there—out of the corner of my eye—it’s gone now, but it it seemed like a leg, almost a human leg, but also it had — a tail?
A monkey?

But no monkey has a tail so thick, so heavy, swishing across the stone like a pale green snake.

I should go. It’s time to go. My heart is beating really fast, and I turn back—but I’m not sure where I am now, where the gate is, the stones are so high, and I’m all turned around. I start one way, then turn back and try another.

The skittering sound above me, nails on stone.

I start running. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I have to run.

But I started running too late. When I round the corner of another pile of stones, they are waiting for me, and their hands are on me.

Their hands are scaly with long, sharp nails. Their teeth are pointed and long, and their mouths are open in a horrible smile. Like they’re glad to see me. One of them is holding a cup, like a wine glass, but carved out of the same old stone as the ruins. They hold me, and they force my mouth open, and they pour something burning down my throat.

In a minute, in less than a minute, I can’t move at all. I can’t even close my eyes.

With green, long-nailed hands, they lift me high above their heads. They take me to the steps, and they begin to climb.

My mind is going so fast, so fast in my still body. I see that they were waiting for someone to come. If it had not been me, it would have been someone else. Maybe my mom or dad, come here looking for me. Maybe just some other tourist kid, dumb enough to wander in here.

I think of that as they bear me gently in their long-nailed hands, their thick-muscled arms holding me high above their heads, as if I were weightless. Weightless, paralyzed, and my blood going so fast with fear that it makes everything perfectly, exactly clear. I think: At least it won’t be someone else.

Green, long-toed, long-nailed feet climb the stone steps, and the indentations in the stone match their feet exactly. How many thousands of years have they been doing this?

It’s getting late. The sun is going down, it’s looking straight at me now, and its face is red with anger. Why is the sun angry with me.

Shining, scaly arms lift me high, high, so the sun can see me. The long-nailed hands begin to turn me toward the empty air. The sky darkens around the red, raging sun.

I think of my parents, and I feel so sad. I can’t move my face to cry, but tears leak out and fall far, far to the ground below. In my mind, I can see the search party. I can hear the screams of the ones who find me first. They’ll say I fell, like that little girl. They’ll say they told me not to go to this place, that I must have climbed up on the rocks and lost my footing, and fallen.

But that can’t be right, my mother will say. She will say Too good, too smart, she will say It can’t be, it can’t, as my father cries, big gasping sobs.

And the other vacationers will say, Shhh, shhh: the old rock crumbled, and the child fell.

But they’ll be wrong, I think. I want to shout it, but I can’t shout, but I want to shout: I didn’t fall, I didn’t fall.

I am thinking that, I am thinking all of that, as I fall, as I fall, as I fall.

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3 Responses to “Red Raging Sun”

  1. Katherine,

    I really enjoyed this! I thought the spare tone—no identifying names, lack of solid details, etc.— really added an effective creepy vibe to the piece. I thought the descriptions and thought process right when we hit the ruins was especially effective.

    The only thing I think that would help this piece a little more is a few details early on. I feel like the island is a very fantastic setting, so maybe if we had a more realistic setting the family came from to contrast it with, the ruins would seem more threatening.

    Overall, however, I really enjoyed it! Thanks for posting.


  2. Sarah says:

    What an eerie, well-written story… This is my first time to this site, and I’m hooked. This is great 😀 Thank you!

  3. Katherine Catmull Katherine Catmull says:

    Love reading this, thank you so much!

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