Those Whom the Moai Scare
by Charles Matthias
©2005 Charles Matthias -- all rights reserved
Martin Burney was a loon. Any objective analysis of the various rationales that Martin had developed to answer the questions of why this culture had flourished or that one had died would lead to such a conclusion. Though Martin had benefited from a first-rate education, the financial indulgence of his parents, and an insatiable appetite for knowledge, his mind still sought answers in the fantastic. He read countless reports of alien abductions, sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, and other fabulous mysteries long since dismissed by the academic community. He had even once opined to his closest friend that he would not mind being abducted and anally probed by space aliens, because it would prove that he had finally been right about something.
But his closest friend, Kenny Hanson, could only humour him and endure his flights of fancy, regardless where that took them. They had been friends since their earliest years. Though Martin had been born to wealth, it never mattered to him as much as his theories on aliens or monsters. Kenny had at one time believed in all of those things as well, and during their younger years they tried all sorts of stunts to draw attention to the unexplained. Kenny could even remember with regret that time they had driven an hour out into the rural community and attempted to make a crop sign of their own.
But while for Martin it had always been deeply serious, Kenny had always just viewed it as kids' games. He had resolved after college to no longer participate in Martin's zany ideas. Yet, somehow, he found himself talked into taking time off from his job with a greater regularity than he'd like to admit. Kenny was really getting tired of it. He wanted to settle down, find a girl and raise a family. Martin just did not understand this at all. For some one trying to delve the greatest mysteries in life, he simply couldn't understand those that were plain before his eyes.
So when Martin had come to him with his latest scheme, Kenny had said flat out no. There was no way in the world he was going to trek to the remotest place in the world just to hear his friend's latest concocted theory. Nope, Kenny was going to stay in the States where the world was ordered and only occasionally lapsed from sanity. Kenny made that quite clear to his friend no less than three times.
But still, Kenny grumbled sourly, he was now on Easter Island anyway.
They'd arrived at the Mataveri airport three days ago now. As it was September, the airport had been almost completely deserted. The tourist season wouldn't truly begin until January, when Summer on Easter Island was at its peak. Though it was technically winter, it was nevertheless warm. That suited Kenny just fine. During the course of the flight he had decided that he was going to enjoy a few days being a tourist, and then go home. He had resolved not to take part in whatever mad scheme Martin had devised.
And though Martin had all been feverish with excitement when they arrived, that had been quickly dashed by Kenny's obstinance. For once, Martin was the one that gave in, and went off to attend to his own affairs, leaving Kenny to enjoy the hospitality of the Rapa Nui islanders. Martin made sure that Kenny knew how to get in touch with him should he change his mind, and then left to go explore the island.
Kenny sighed heavily to himself as he sat open a wooden stool watching a native dance. The brown-skinned Islanders were more than happy to put on a show for tourists, even if it was only just Kenny and a few Chilean soldiers at the moment. Though by the way they moved, the rhythm in their bodies he expected that they would do it even if he were not there. The women wore skirts made from grass, and very little else. Their hips shook seductively, and their belly seemed to swim through the air. Few men could keep their eyes from them, but for some reason, Kenny no longer could keep focused on them.
Tonight was to be their last night on Easter Island, known as Rapa Nui by its people. In the last three days, Kenny had seen several of the ahu nearest to Hanga Roa, the island's only city. The ahu, with the massive moai, the central mystery of the island, had been impressive feats of engineering. The faces were carved from volcanic rock, and stood amidst hills of dry grass, their blank eyes straining up into the sky. Standing alone next to those monoliths, with only the sound of wind rustling through dry grass to accompany him, Kenny had felt truly dwarfed. The question of how they had been moved so far and kept in such perfect condition had festered in his mind. And in that wound, he could not help but think of his friend.
Kenny let his eye slip from the waistline of the nearest dancer and down to her feet. She wore an anklet fashioned from grass and small purple flowers woven together. Though he wished to enjoy watching the deft way her feet stepped along the hard-packed Earth, his mind was filling with images of his friend's face. Martin had grown a mustache while at college and never shaved it off, though he was convinced to trim it from time to time. After he'd steadfastly refused to accompany Martin on his ventures around the South Pacific Island, his friends face had been so downcast that the mustache had physically drooped. There was palpable disappointment there, the kind that made Kenny feel like a heel.
Here he was out in the most remote place in the world, all of his expenses being paid for by his closest friend, and he wouldn't even at least humour him. So what if it was going to be just another venture into the laughably bizarre? Martin, despite his quirks, was still his friend, and a genuine soul. There was no duplicity in Martin's manner, he was always forthright in all that he did. How many other folks did Kenny know that he could say that about? Very few, he knew.
Kenny let out another long sigh. He stretched his legs and let his hands settle in his lap. What harm would it bring to indulge his friend this last night that they were on the island? Really, it could do him no harm. And doubtless, despite the likelihood of aliens cropping up in the explanation, he'd learn quite a bit about Rapa Nui and its history. Martin never got his facts wrong after all. As Martin put it, he read between the lines of history.
Read science fiction between the lines was more like it, Kenny thought ruefully. But even so, a friend was a friend. And with a heavy but resigned heart, Kenny got up from his stool, smiled in appreciation to the dancers, and left to find what catacomb or mountain cliff Martin Burney had gotten himself into this time.
"I'm so glad you changed your mind, Kenny," Martin said as they climbed into the rented jeep. It had at one time been green, but the pain had chipped off in splotches, and the sun's fierce rays had stripped the rest of its colour. The leather seats had cracked in several places, and were now covered with a thin yellowed sheet that had also seen better days. Guide maps littered the floor where his feet would soon go. It fit with Martin though. Despite his money, he always seemed to use vehicles who were only barely clinging to life when he ventured into the wilderness.
"So where are we headed?" Kenny asked. The seat, despite all its wear, was still moderately comfortable. "I haven't seen you much the last couple of days."
"Ah," Martin said, a twinkle in his eye. "Before you can understand that, I must tell you a bit more of the island. You know it's really a fascinating place. We're a thousand miles from any other civilized country. And the whole island is quite barren. How did anybody even find this place, let alone build a civilisation here?"
"Did aliens have anything to do with it?" Kenny asked, and then felt like a heel for having done so.
Martin frowned at him, but not angrily. "Now, now, let's not leap to conclusions. There may be a perfectly normal explanation for it after all. Not everything has to happen because of space aliens."
Feeling suddenly better, Kenny could not help but remember why they were friends. "Whoa! What happened to the real Martin Burney? Is this Invasion of the Body Snatchers?"
"Haha!" Martin said, though there was a laugh behind his eyes. "Now buckle your seat belt. There aren't any roads once we leave Hanga Roa."
Kenny grumbled and looked at the dirt track that the jeep was parked on. "There's barely any roads in Hanga Roa."
Martin chuckled and started the car. The engine gave a grunt before turning over and blaring into life. "Have you had a chance to do any exploring on your own?"
"Yes, I've been to a few of the ahus near the city. Pretty impressive. I have to admit that I wonder how the moais could have been moved. I understand that they were all built on the Eastern edge of the island?"
"That's right. At a site called Rano Raraku. There are about four hundred moai still there. They just stopped building them a few hundred years ago, and nobody really knows why. There are a few theories though."
"And I suppose you have one of your own?" Kenny asked, gripping the sides of his seat tightly. There were no other cars on the road, but there were still a few houses along the side of the street. Short trees and flowers abounded along the edges of the street. This was the lushest part of the island, but already ahead he could see where the blossoms would turn to scrub and dirt.
Martin smiled but didn't say anything again until they had left town behind. He turned inland and up the gentle slope. It was one of the few places inland where the slope was gentle. Kenny grimaced a bit. "Well, that explains why I haven't seen you lately. I've only been looking around the northern half of the island."
"We're only passing along the Southern coastline," Martin replied. He shifted about in his seat and gripped the wheel tightly as they dug up rocks with their tires. "Tell me," he called out, "what do you know about Rapa Nui?"
Kenny frowns. "It was a Dutch sailor who found it, I believe. Sometime in the seventeen hundreds. Found it on Easter Day, and that's why he called it Easter Island."
"That would be Jacob de Roggeveen in 1722, very good."
"I think in the next hundred years ships came and took the inhabitants for slaves. Those few that came back brought small pox with them and nearly destroyed the population. I heard that there were as few as a hundred people left alive on the island at one point."
"Generally it's thought that there were no more than six hundred left alive, but I've heard a few suggest that low too." Martin looked out at what road there was left and leaned forward as he steered the jeep through the narrow track of dirt. And that's all that the road truly was anyway, a narrow track of dirt between patches of brown grass.
"There was a missionary," Kenny continued, "Brother Eyraud I think his name was, who came to the island in the 1860s and converted them to Christianity. After that, they were annexed by Chile and they've been living quietly like this ever since."
"That's a pretty brief recent history," Martin replied. But you did have the missionary's name right. When everyone was converted, all of the old ways were lost, the few tablets remaining with their ancient writings were destroyed in favour of the Bible. And so, despite his good intentions, this island's history has now been lost to time. The secrets of the moai may never be fully understood."
"I heard that there was a researcher who came down here not that long ago and proved that the moai were moved using logs?"
"That would be Dr. Van Tilburg you refer to," Martin replied as they crested the rise and began their bumpy descent towards the Southern short. "Van Tilburg proved that it was possible to move the moai that way, she didn't prove that was how they moved." For the first time, there was real derision in Martin's voice. It was clear that he did not particularly care for this Van Tilburg woman.
"I take it you don't agree with her?"
"Well, she might be right that the moai were moved that way," Martin admitted, brushing one hand through his mustache as he thought. The road was leveling out as they neared the white sand beaches along the southern shore. The Pacific sparkled as the afternoon sun shone on the waters from behind them. "But she says a lot of other things that I don't think make a lot of sense. She dismisses the cannibalism that was prevalent during the time of the Birdman, and says that all of the islanders came from Polynesia."
"I thought they were supposed to be from South America," Kenny said in surprise. "Who was it that sailed the boat from Peru?"
"You are thinking of Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon Tiki raft. Just because something is possible doesn't mean it is necessarily true. You know the old story about the men touching an elephant in the dark?"
"Yeah, I know that one. So you are saying Heyerdahl and Van Tilburg don't have all the pieces?"
"Exactly! Look at those moai."
Martin inclined his head towards a series of stone heads that ran along the hillside. The faces were all looking inland, their backs towards the sea. Even in the jeep, the stone monoliths seemed to thrust from the ground like the claws of some underground colossus. "Impressive," was all Kenny could say.
"Indeed, and they're all looking away from the sea. All of them. All but the Moai at the Ahu Akivi, and that's one of the oldest of the ahus. Why is that? Why do they all have their backs to the sea?"
Kenny gripped the seat a little bit tighter as they drove over a large bump in the dirt. "Well, I heard that it was some religious thing. That they were all looking upwards to the sky. You know that whole Birdman thing and all. Connecting Earth and Sky together."
Martin smiled but shook his head sadly. "Kenny, Kenny, there were no Moai built during the Birdman times. In fact, the Birdman was so named because he could swim the two miles to Moto-Nui and back again first. It was a test of their prowess in water, and whether they could steal things of the air. They stopped building Moai when they became interested in the water again. Why would they do that?"
"I don't know, Martin. Is this where the space aliens come in?"
Martin suddenly laughed quite loudly. Kenny could not help but join in the laugh as the two of them continued their trek along the southern coast. Despite the moment of mirth, Martin lapsed into a deep silence from which he would not be roused. Kenny could only hang on tight and do his best to enjoy the trip.
It was another half hour before Martin finally drew the jeep to a stop. In that time they had seen many more moai, several wild horses, beautiful rugged seascapes and volcanic formations, but no other people. This was typical for Rapa Nui though, as rarely did any of the islanders venture far outside of Hanga Roa. Strangely, despite his earlier misgivings, Kenny was now glad that he had allowed Martin to persuade him to come on this trip. This was likely the remotest place in the world, but it was still also one of the most peaceful.
With Martin silent, Kenny had picked up one of the guide maps and compared what he saw with what was printed on the map. For the most part the only thing to see were the ever present moai. He was able to identify the Rano Raraku quarry, though as they only drove past the edge of the crater mouth, he could not see any of the four hundred moai that lay scattered haphazardly within. At last though, Martin brought the jeep to a stop along an especially barren incline. Kenny consulted the guide and saw that the mount was the Volcán Puakitike, the easternmost point on Rapa Nui.
"We walk from here," Martin announced turning the engine off. The car gave a sudden thud and Kenny dropped the guide in surprise.
"Thank goodness for safety belts," he said as he undid his. "Where do you find these cars?"
"Rented it from the airport. Can you get the cooler out of the backseat?"
Kenny pulled the small red cooler out, finding the weight to be bearable. "This feels like more than just dinner."
"It's dinner and breakfast tomorrow." Martin pulled a canvas bag from the other side and slung it over his shoulders. "We're going to be spending the night here! Come on. I've found the perfect spot. I've got the generator and everything else we'll need there already."
Kenny grimaced as he lugged the cooler after his friend. "Spending the night? On this hard stone?"
"We're not going to be sleeping a whole lot. We have to keep our eyes open. I'm rather hoping for a visitation."
Here's where the aliens would come in. "From whom?"
Martin looked back at him and his mustache curled into a wicked grin. "Some friends of the islanders. Come on, I'll tell you when we get there."
And this was not unusual either. "Friends of the islanders? I didn't think they had any friends."
"Please try to put the pieces of the jigsaw together, Kenny. You used to be so good at it!" Martin called back to him.
"I haven't been thinking about this as long as you have, Martin," he reminded his friend as he stepped around a particularly vicious looking stone. The area was covered with short dry grass, with volcanic rock jutting out of the ground at odd intervals. The rocky coastline was a quick jaunt downhill. Rough waves crashed into the rocks sending up white spray a good two or three feet. In the distance, the sky was growing red as the afternoon wore on into evening.
"Just hold your curiosity in for a minute more. We're almost there." Martin jumped around a tangle of rocks bringing them around to the Eastern face of the volcano. The ground was level enough here, so long a one didn't walk around with their eyes closed. Just ahead there was some rather sophisticated looking visual equipment laid out in a triangle with a tripod at their centre. Cables connected them to an inactive generator. A small can of gasoline sat next to the generator, also safely unmolested.
"You just left this stuff here?" Kenny said in disbelief, setting the cooler down on the brown grass.
"Of course. There's no crime here on Rapa Nui. Three reasons. Everybody knows each other. There's nowhere to run to if you do get caught. And the Chilean military isn't exactly the most merciful in the world. Besides, nobody comes out here. Not even tourists, really. We'll be completely isolated!"
"And that's a good thing? What if the jeep breaks down?"
"It's only a twelve mile hike back to Hanga Roa. We can cover that in a few hours if we need to. I don't recommend trying to ride one of the horses. They're all wild you know."
"Yes, I could see that."
Martin took the canvas bag off his shoulder and set it down on the ground. "Now help me get these mats laid out."
"I thought you said we weren't going to be getting any sleep."
"We won't, but we don't want to be stumbling around in the dark from the projectors to the generator now do we?"
Kenny wasn't sure what the projectors were for at all, but did as asked. The canvas bag held a long mat that they laid out between the various pieces of equipment. After staking them down, they now had a path that they wouldn't trip on, despite the unevenness of the ground.
Martin smiled at their handiwork and rubbed his hands together. "Excellent. Everything is almost ready. Now, for the finishing touch." He opened up the cooler and took out a small cloth wrapped bundle. "Here's what will bring our friends out tonight."
Kenny didn't say anything, just watched as Martin unwrapped what appeared to be a rather large bird's egg and set it on top of the tripod. He carefully balanced it, and then slowly tightened the screws to keep it in place. Kenny smiled that resigned smile he had grown used to. Yes, his friend was a loon, but at least things were never boring with him.
"Okay, so who are our friends?"
Martin smiled a bit and held up one finger. "I know I've asked you to wait so long, but please let me show you what the equipment can do first." He almost dashed in excitement over to the generator. Kenny just stood waiting, knowing there was nothing else to do. It took a few seconds before the generator would start, but once it did it made a soft rumbling noise that was much healthier than the jeep.
"Now," Martin said, his face flush with certainty. He looked like a kid with a secret that he couldn't wait to share. "Take a look around, Kenny. What do you see?"
Kenny glanced around the incline. "Rocks, the sea, lots of dry grass, your equipment, a friend who's dying to tell me what this is all about. Yeah that's about it."
Martin nodded. "Ah, but there's one thing missing here." When Kenny only blinked, Martin let out a shout of glee. "Moais! There are no moais here, Kenny! Now why is that? We're very close to Rano Raraku where all the moai were made. But they never put any here on this shore. Why is that?"
"Because the ground's too steep?"
Martin frowned and shook his head. "Rano Raraku is steeper than this in places and they moved the moai from there. But I think you are right that this was one of the last places they intended for the moai before the Birdman cult took over the island. They stopped making the moai then. But they didn't stop moving the moai until Brother Eyraud came and Christianized them. I believe that when they were originally built, all of the moai faced the sea, but the Birdman cult had them turned around one by one. The only thing that they had left to move at that point was the moai in Ahu Akivi. That ahu is the furthest from the sea, so naturally it would hurt their friends the least."
"Hurt their friends? Okay, Martin, you really need to tell me what it is you're thinking."
Martin took a deep breath and began. "There were two clans amongst the islanders. The long-eared and the short-eared. We know that after many internecine wars, the long-eared folks were wiped out. But it was the long-eared folk who erected the moai. The short-eared folk did not like the moai, judging by the number that were toppled over while they tried to move them in the years that followed. Plus, the short-eared folk were the ones who created the Birdman cult. You know, the one that celebrated prowess in the sea.
"The short-eared folk had a connection to the sea that the long-eared folk had lost. Now, the long-eared folk may indeed have come from South America like Thor Heyerdahl suggests. They brought with them the sweet potato, their architecture style, and their love of statuary. But they did not like the sea, and were afraid of what lay within. That is why they built the moai, Kenny. Not to look to the heavens, but to scare those things which lived in the sea."
"Why would the moai scare these sea creatures?"
"They were impressive stoneworks, depictions of the might of the long-eared folk. Charms were cast upon them, prayers said over them. And they watched the sea to make sure that none of the sea people approached. Sort of like how a scarecrow is supposed to keep the crows from a farmer's fields, the moai were to keep the sea people from the island."
Kenny inhaled slowly. "Okay, that sounds plausible. So who are the short eared folk?"
"The Polynesians. The Polynesians have always been a people of the sea. Up until recently, their people could still navigate thousands of miles by the stars and swells alone. It is likely that they found this island at much the same time as the long-eared folk did, but they were outnumbered at first and for many centuries. Where the long-eared folk feared the sea, the short-ears had a special bond with it. And with their friends from it."
Kenny held up a hand to forestall anymore. "Okay, so it's not space aliens this time, but sea monsters?"
"Kenny, come on! Think! It all makes sense. The sea is so vast there is no reason not to believe that intelligent life couldn't also develop there. How many reports have their been of sailors seeing mermaids for instance."
"Sailors who'd not seen a woman in years seeing sea lions or something is what I heard that was."
Martin grimaced, his moustache sticking out from his face like a walrus's whiskers. "Maybe. Maybe. But they may have also been a genuine aquatic race." Martin looked out at the waves and gestured with his hands. "Can you honestly say that nothing intelligent is living down there?"
"Let's say there is, Martin. Then why haven't we found it?"
Martin snorted. "Whose to say we haven't? You know the government keeps all this stuff wrapped up as best they can."
"Okay, right. Forgot about the government," Kenny chided himself for walking into that one.
"I see you are still skeptical. I understand. It is a lot to swallow. But let's think a bit longer about these short-eared fellows. Now, one of the things that was common during the Birdman cult era was cannibalism. One of the appeals of internecine war was that it allowed the victors to feast on the flesh of their foes. Man was the only large mammal the flesh of which they could eat. With the overpopulation and the island stripped bare of its own resources, naturally they would turn to the methods of their friends in the seas. Human flesh was tasty to them. Some even confessed to Brother Eyraud that the most prized tidbits were fingers and toes."
Kenny grimaced and shook his head. "No more of this. I don't really want to think about eating fingers and toes."
Martin blanched. "Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to gross you out. But you see what I mean. Just a few years ago, a Chilean officer pulled a husband and wife out of the water. The officer says they were being attacked by a shark. But what if it only looked like a shark?"
Kenny looked down at the ocean waves roiling in the rocks down the bank. "Okay, and what are we doing out here again then?"
"Well, we're going to try and summon some of them of course. Get evidence that they exist. Then I can prove to the world that I was finally right about something. That's what the egg is for. It's a tern egg, like the kind that the swimmers braved back in the days of the Birdman. You know all the waters around the island are teeming with sharks. Perhaps they were also showing their devotion and worthiness to swim amongst them in that contest. And maybe it was even more than that."
"Right, okay, so how will that egg draw these shark people?"
Martin frowned a moment and looked at the tripod with its large mottled egg nestled on top. "It's been well over a hundred years since any have presented the egg of the tern anywhere on the island. I figure that their curiosity will bring them out to see who has brought back the Birdman symbol."
"And if they do come up, don't you think they'll be a little miffed at finding folks like us around?"
Martin grinned. "Ah, that's where this equipment comes in handy. You see, they fear the moai. Since there are no moai on this part of the island, I chose it to maximize the chance of our success. But, in case they do prove hostile to us, watch this." With a twinkle in his eye Martin bent down and flicked a button on the top of the nearest projector. Suddenly, light shimmered into focus before their eyes, and a surreal picture came to life.
"A moai!" Kenny exclaimed as he stared at the hologram that danced in his vision. It stood only ten feet tall, but it had the rugged long faced detail that he had grown used to seeing in the past few days. Its nose was long, and it stared resolutely forward with blank grey eyes. The chin jutted forward imperiously, while the head sloped backwards into a blunt top that had no hair.
"That's right," Martin replied. "If we fear harm to ourselves, we have just to turn this on and we'll be safe." Martin turned the projector off, and the face disappeared. Kenny felt strangely on edge now. They were going to be waiting up all night for this? But something was nagging at the back of his head.
"Wait a moment. You said these creatures were the short-eared folk's friends. Yet now you are worried they might attack us, even though we have this tern egg like the Birdman cult did. How can that all be?"
Martin sat down and then leaned back against the rock, staring up at the darkening sky. "Well, don't forget the tourists who were attacked by the shark a couple years ago. They were Americans after all. But there is one more story I think I should tell you. This one involves an American vessel, the Nancy. In the early eighteen hundreds, the Nancy abducted twelve men and ten women from the island. This was back when slavery in the States was still legal. These islanders were to be brought to the States and sold into slavery. The Americans on the boat probably thought they were doing them a favour in fact. After all, they would be brought to a civilised country and Christianized. Brother Eyraud had not yet come to the island at this point.
"Anyway, three days out from the island the captain has the islanders brought up on deck. He orders their chains removed. After all, they were three days out, there was no risk in undoing their chains now. It's how the old press gangs used to work. Club a man over the head. When he wakes up, he's out at sea and if he wants to live, has to learn to be a sailor. But the captain of the Nancy was wrong. Once these men and women were freed, they all jumped overboard and began to swim in every direction.
"They lowered lifeboats to try and collect their precious property, but the islanders refused to be saved. The Nancy reports that they all drowned. Of course, they did not bother to collect the bodies. In fact, the bodies all sank, or so the captain reported. Now tell me, what is wrong with this tale?"
Kenny had also sat down at this point. He'd just managed to find a somewhat comfortable position to lie down in when Martin asked him that question. Thinking on what he'd heard, he smiled, certain that he had the right answer. "People who drown float to the surface. Especially in an ocean."
"In one! Excellent! Yes, that's precisely it. I don't think those islanders drowned at all. I think they were rescued by their friends from the sea. Maybe even they are one and the same. I don't know for sure. But I do hope that tonight we'll find out exactly what they look like." Martin climbed back to his feet and took the few short steps to the cooler. "Now, let's get something to eat. I'm starving!"
Kenny hated it, but he had lost his appetite.
It took the sun an awfully long time to descend past the western rise, but once it had, darkness swept over them like a rushing swell. Martin had not brought any flashlights, not wanting to interfere with their night vision, as he did not expect the sea creatures to make an appearance while it was still light out. It had been some time since Kenny had camped out, but back in his youth they at least had a campfire around which to warm themselves. Now even that flickering radiance was denied to him and they had to depend merely on the illumination of the stars.
Kenny Hanson had gone into the woods many times in his youth. He'd loved to camp out, and one of the many treats he enjoyed in that time away form the civilised world was seeing the night sky alive with luminous fields of stars. But the sky had brightened with the passing of the years and the spread of man-made lights. The stars had dimmed and faded from view until only the brightest of stars were visible on a good night. There were few men left who could look into the sky and marvel as did the ancients.
But here on Rapa Nui, true darkness fell with the sun's setting. Kenny could not help but lean back on the rocky slope and stare at the scintillating field of lights that warmed the night. And with the constellations in the southern sky unfamiliar to him, it only magnified his sensation of being on another world. He let out a long exhalation of breath, his spirit captured in the wonder of the sight. He knew there had been a reason he let Martin talk him into coming out here to the remotest place on Earth.
Martin was sitting next to him sipping from a small cup of water. Even with the brilliance of the star light -- the moon would not rise until nearly 3 AM -- it was very difficult to make out anything in the darkness on Vulcán Puakitike. The water occasionally glimmered from the radiance above, but was mostly an impenetrable blackness whose presence was only known by the sound of the waves rushing up the shore. The side of the volcano itself was a mass of silhouettes blending from black to grey and back again. In some places, they flowed into each other so well that they could not quite tell where the land stopped and the air began.
All that Kenny could truly see was the stars, the dim outlines of the tripod upon which sat the tern egg, and Martin Burney sitting next to him. They sat next to each other not only to help keep each other awake, but so that they never need worry about finding each other in the darkness. Martin had also suggested it so that they might be able to see more of the ocean, or at least discern where the shore was in this darkness. His friend had no idea where the sea people might emerge from the water, and did not want to miss it.
With nothing else to do but to watch the horizon and the sky, Kenny resigned himself to a long night of nothing. For a time, he stared up at the stars, trying to make sense of the unfamiliar constellations. But he was not very good at even finding more than the Big Dipper in the northern sky, so gave up after only a few fruitless minutes. He then looked out to the sea, straining his eyes to detect where the land and waters met. There was enough starlight that he felt certain he could see the shore, but it was still a mass of shadows, and he knew it better by the crash of waves than the sight of motion.
It was not very comfortable sitting on the rocks wedged up against Martin. Martin fidgeted from time to time as well, but for the most part, he sat still and stared into the night with an intensity that Kenny could not hope to duplicate even if he wanted to. Still, Kenny did not want disappoint his friend by falling asleep or anything. But as his eyes looked out at the blackness of the night, the lids grew heavier and heavier. Even the shifting of shadows could not keep them from falling.
A subtle green light suffused the world around him. Nothing seemed to hold him aloft except the air. There was a heaviness to the air, and it began to suffocate him. He stretched out with his arms, pushing against the immaterial. A gasp of breath filled his lungs as he moved. The green colour seemed to lighten above him and he looked upwards. And then felt his heart tighten in his chest as a face loomed over him. It stretched upwards beyond his ability to see. The face vaulted into the sky above, blotting out the sun and stars in its cold grey visage. His flesh shuddered with fear and he pushed himself down into the darkness waiting below.
Kenny sat up with a start. A cloud bank had rolled in from the East and had blotted out most of the stars in the sky. The night had grown even darker than before. Though the air was decently warm, Kenny shivered as the easterly breeze brushed across his skin. He wrapped his arms around his knees and buried his face in the crook of his elbow. The nightmare was already fading from his mind, but his heart was still beating heavily in his chest.
Taking several deep breaths, Kenny reminded himself that it was just a dream. Dreams just reflected what was on the mind. After all of the nonsense that Martin had been spouting, it was only natural that those spectres would prey upon his subconscious. Lifting his head, Kenny tried to clear the sleep from his eyes. The last of the green glow ebbed from his mind and he let out the air in his lungs.
Kenny reached behind him for the water bottle he'd prepared. His hand searched among the rocks for several seconds before at last he found the plastic. A smile came to his lips, and a moment later the water bottle did as well. The water was warm but still the taste of the water was welcome on his tongue. He let out a long sigh of satisfaction, but a strange sense of unease quickly replaced it.
His eyes scanned the horizon, but there was even less to see now that the clouds had come. The surf still came in regularly, nothing seemed amiss there. He heard no footsteps on the rocks. The generator still hummed softly behind him somewhere. All seemed to be well. He was just letting Martin get to him.
Kenny looked around frantically. The presence that had been to his side was gone. Martin Burney was no longer there. Kenny sat up straight and felt an icy hand grip his spine. He opened his mouth to call for his friend, but before he could say anything, he heard some of the rocks shift a short ways down the slope. His eyes stared into the darkness, and he fought against the terror rising inside him.
There was a reasonable explanation for this. Martin had probably got up to stretch his legs or something. He'd be back in a moment. Kenny told himself this until he felt certain of its truth. So in the quiet he waited. Since he could see almost nothing, he just listened to the gentle crash of the surf. The sound of rocks being disturbed that had forestalled his exclamation came again after a few minutes. Kenny smiled. That had to be Martin.
But as the minutes trickled by and Martin did not return, Kenny began to worry once more. The sound of rocks seemed to be coming from somewhere in front of them down the slope. Perhaps Martin had gotten lost and could not find his way back. For a moment, Kenny considered turning the hologram on to light Martin's way. But then he chided himself. That was meant to frighten away the sea people if they existed. They certainly existed in Martin's mind, and he'd be quite upset if Kenny turned it on for something so fickle as helping Martin find his way back.
There was another possibility though. Martin could have tripped and was even now in need of help. They did not have anything but a basic medical kit, the same one that Martin took with him wherever he went. There would be bandages, some anti-bacterial ointment, and even gauze and some surgical tape but that was about it. If Martin really was hurt, there was not a whole lot that Kenny could do for him.
There was a small noise from the rocks, and Kenny felt pretty certain it was coming from the same place as all the rest had. Perhaps that was Martin tapping the stones together to get Kenny's attention. Or it could be his imagination playing tricks on him. Either way, Kenny could not just ignore it any longer. Stretching out his legs, he slowly rose to his feet. He'd just have to find Martin and get him back to the camp.
Kenny was careful to take small steps down the slope towards where he thought he heard the rocks. The generator was still running, so he could just follow its insistent rumbling back. Even so, he counted his steps as he slowly crept down the hillside. He had no desire to get lost as Martin had. The rocks were hard under his feet, and he could hear them shift beneath him as he took each step.
After walking twenty paces, Kenny stopped and just listened. The air brushed across his skin, and he felt a cold numbness building in his feet. The generator's soft hum echoed up above him on the hillside. Below him he could hear the crash of water. It was far closer now, and he could almost feel the water as it raced up between the stones to clutch at his toes. And after a few moments of standing still holding his breath, Kenny heard the clack of rock against rock. But it was not in front of him anymore, but somewhere to his left.
Grunting, Kenny set off in that direction. Again, he counted out twenty paces and then stopped to listen. Somehow, he had lost track of where the sound had come from. Perhaps the combination of surf and generator were disorienting him. Regardless what the cause, the click of stone was now to his right.
Kenny stubbed his toe as he began to descend the hill again. He cursed under his breath, but then let out a cry as he slipped and fell to the ground. He felt hundreds of hands slapping at him from every side as the world spun and spun. His mind reeled, incapable of understanding anything that was happening. He just pulled his arms around his head, keeping those fists from striking there.
Eventually, he came to a stop, his body sore from the bruises he felt swelling. Kenny lay there, shivering and moaning from the pain. It didn't feel like anything was broken at least. It just felt like he was covered with bruises. His mind was rather heavy as well, and he had trouble orienting himself. All he knew was that the water was sliding up along his legs and arms.
He did not know how long he laid there. But after a while, he felt the water sloshing over more and more of his body. The tide was coming in he knew. He hoped that Martin had not been caught out here like this. It would not do to have them both drown. He felt comfortable with the tang of salt filling his nose and the water rising up against him. There was a strong undertow though, as he could feel the water trying to pull him down the slope of the shore. He almost felt as if hands were guiding him over the rocks and deeper into the sea.
And then he did feel a hand.
Or at least, it seemed like a hand that brushed across his face. The texture was rough, not like his own skin, but more weathered, almost like sand paper. Kenny gave a start and shifted backwards, his body finally responding. He blinked his eyes open and sat up in the surf. The night was dark still, though the clouds were finally beginning to pass to the West.
Out into the water, he could see nothing but shadows, deep and impenetrable. Of the hand that touched him, he could see nothing, nor any sign of any other living being.
Kenny took a long deep breath, body wracked with sores. It was all in his head. All of it. What Martin had told him on the drive out was just playing tricks on him. There were no sea peoples. It was just his imagination.
His breath was quick and his heart sped, despite his skepticism. Slowly, he lifted his hands and began to slide back up the rocks and away from the crash of the surf. He stared at the shore, trying to see what might have touched him, but there appeared to be nothing but impenetrable darkness before him. Hand over hand, he pushed the rocks beneath him, and he felt them slide against his lower back as they went past. His feet and fingers ached, and his body protested even this motion, but his heart yearned for him to get up and run screaming.
It was several minutes before Kenny realized that the hum of the generator was now a more powerful sound than the crash of surf. He stopped moving then, and closed his eyes, driving out even the illumination of the stars. He stretched his arms, wincing at the pain. He should have known better than to try and look for somebody in pitch black darkness. He was lucky he didn't break his neck tumbling down the slope like he had.
Still afraid of that nameless thing he had felt by the shore, but feeling more ashamed of his stupidity, Kenny proceeded hand over hand back towards the sound of the generator. The pain of his wounds made him feel bloated and disoriented, but he had no difficulty in following the sound at least. If Martin was lying somewhere injured on the rocks, he'd just have to wait until the dawn to be rescued. The brief flare of guilt that came to him was quickly pushed back by the soreness in all of his bones.
The cloud bank had mostly passed to the West by the time that Kenny neared the camp. The starlight helped him make out the tripod as well as the outline of the generator itself. Somewhere next to it was the hologram projector, something he was sorely tempted to turn on now anyway. He was weary of this night, and just wanted to go back to a comfortable bed where he could sleep for a week. But there was some other silhouette at the camp that caught his eye. He blinked in disbelief, but there was a hunched over figure leaning near to the tripod. Martin!
Kenny sighed as he crawled forward. "Martin, where the hell have you been?" he hissed underneath his breath. His tongue felt heavy, and he couldn't help but slur a few of his words.
The shadow seemed to stir a bit, and for a moment he thought he heard an amused chortle. Kenny neared his friend and reached out his hand to touch his side. What he felt sent a shiver up his spine. The skin, or whatever it was, was rough like sandpaper. Kenny gave out a start and fumbled backwards. The air brightened about him subtly, and he could not help but look up at the top of the tripod where the first of the rising moon's rays struck. The tern egg was gone.
His breath caught in his throat, and Kenny scrambled over to the generator. Thankfully it was not on the opposite side of the shadow that leaned against the tripod. Beneath him, he heard the sound of rocks scraping together, and the surf crashing madly, as if trying to swallow the very earth itself. And in his mind a scream was beginning to echo.
Somehow, Kenny's hands found the projector. He looked back at the tripod, and the shadow that was slowly stirring beside it. His hands were shaking, but he scoured the surface of the projector until he found the switch. All his hope was bound into it, to bring forth the moai to frighten away all that which might harm him. He turned the switch.
The face loomed above them like some monolithic demon. Its cold grey eyes filled him with a dread that reduced his scream to incoherent babble. And his voice was not the only one. The shadow that had been by the tripod leaped up at that moment, standing before the image in its own peal of freakish terror. Kenny could see no detail on its form as it stood before the light. Instead, he saw its monstrous outline. A vaguely humanoid form, with long neck and two arms. There were three legs, or two legs and a tail, he could not tell which. From its back was a triangular protrusion. It seemed to turn its head towards him, and there was a faint curling at its upper lip.
Kenny could not stand it any longer, turned, and ran away form the creature. Heedless, he bolted down the hillside, feeling that heavy face behind him, looming and staring, boring its eyes into his back. His mind was mad, he could not even think clearly, he just needed to get somewhere where he did not need to see such things.
And then the inevitable happened. His foot caught on a stone and he tumbled down the hillside once more. The world spun around him, the cold grey face shone, and so did the sliver of silvery moon. And then he felt the waves rush up to meet him and he was lifted aloft by unseen hands. Kenny gasped and felt the salt water pour into his parched throat and across his face and neck. It was strangely calming; though his heart still raced, he could think now.
His body was sore and felt distorted and bruised from his fall. The water was soothing and he could almost feel his injuries melting away. Kenny lay in the water, feeling as the undertow slowly drew him away from the shore. He knew he should be worried about floating out to sea, but it just didn't matter to him at that moment. He glanced back at the shore, and shuddered at the unnatural pillar of grey light. The shadow that had been in front of it was also gone, and he could hear several things moving in the water around him.
Kenny closed his eyes and lay in the water unmoving. What had happened? The tern egg was gone, but where? It was meant as an offering to the sea creatures, Martin had said. Had the offering been accepted?
Suddenly, Kenny opened his eyes in understanding, and pushed himself beneath the surface of the water. He let the water glide down his throat, and yet he could still breathe, the tingle of each breath rushing across either side of his neck. He ran his fingers across his chest, and felt something rough like sandpaper there, and shuddered. Opening his eyes, Kenny saw several narrow snouts peering at him with dark eyes. Webbed arms stretched out from their sides, and triangular fins stood from their backs. One in particular caught his eye. It was smiling and showing off its new sharp teeth, beneath what remained of a dark mustache.
For the first time in his life, Martin Burney had been right about something.