Fiction / December 2014 (Issue 26)

Kehena Beach

by Thaddeus Rutkowski

I went to an artists' retreat and was given a room in a large, airy house. My room had a bed and a small desk. In the window frames were screens, not glass panes. The screens didn't keep out mosquitos. I could hear them whining around my head at night. They were louder than the coqui frogs that chirped from all directions.

In the shared kitchen, I found lizards living behind the appliances. They were geckos of some sort. They clung to the walls when I made coffee. Maybe they liked the heat radiating from the stove coils, or maybe they just liked clinging to walls.

* * *

While I was in the common room, I heard what sounded like a bird flapping in the hallway. I went to look and saw it was an insect, huge by my standards. It resembled a large cockroach; maybe it was a water bug.

I'd seen a movie about cockroaches that grew to the size of people and lived in subway tunnels. These were evil insects, intent on killing people. To disguise themselves, they wore trench coats and top hats, and stood in the shadows of subway platforms. When unsuspecting riders approached, the mutant roaches threw off their costumes and attacked.

I wondered if I would have the same experience. I might walk past the closet, unaware that a six-foot insect was standing on its hind legs inside, wearing human clothes. When I got past, it would jump me.

* * *

During the day, I visited the pool, where the dress code was "top optional." There weren't many people next to the water—just me, a young man and a topless young woman. I watched while the young man picked a coconut from the ground and split it with a machete. He broke through the husk and shell with one blow.

Gently, he offered the coconut to the woman. She held it and drank the milk straight, then discarded the rest of the coconut.

* * *

After dark, the pool was "clothing optional." I went there at night and saw a couple of naked men heading for a hot tub, but I didn't follow them. I did, however, strip to my birthday suit. As I sat on a chair in my natural state, I saw what might have been a large bug strolling across the cement. But I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I couldn't tell. I couldn't even determine its size. It might have been two inches long or two feet long. It might have been a mutant bug, intent on stealing my discarded clothes to disguise itself as a human.

* * *

At night, I could hear rain hitting the roof of my temporary home. I imagined that the water encouraged growth, especially among insects. Mud helped, too. The mutants were frolicking in the mud, getting ready to emerge as human-sized bugs. The exo-plates on their heads would look like human faces. I wouldn't be able to distinguish them from people, when the insects were wearing clothes.

* * *

I went to a black-sand beach. People were swimming, but they were on another part of the beach, a short distance from me.

I went into the surf, and when I reached the deeper water, I noticed I couldn't swim in the direction I wanted. The current was pulling me out to the open ocean. I looked toward the beach and saw people there. I waved my arms and called for help.

The people saw me but didn't respond. Maybe they didn't understand, or maybe they didn't know how to take action.

I had a last thought, or what could have been a last thought: The people who knew me would be alone without me. That's how they would be for the rest of their lives.

Suddenly a man appeared beside me and shoved me toward the shore; then he swam away. I paddled and floated, and soon became tired. I almost gave up. Then a teenager arrived on a boogie board. "Don't stop yet," he said.

I kept paddling and reached the shore. I steadied myself, then found the teenager and thanked him.

"I tried to swim out there once," he said, "out by those rocks. But it was like swimming in a washing machine."

* * *

I went to a kava bar for a drink. The place was a thatched stand with a couple of large containers in the middle. I had one bowl of muddy water and didn't feel anything, so I had another. I noticed a tingling in my fingertips and a rush of energy to my brain.

"Where are you staying?" the bartender asked.

I told him about the artists' retreat. "It's called Harmony," I said.

"We call it Harmony Iki," he said. "That means Harmony the Pit. It's built over our burial grounds. We want to tear it down."

I started another bowl of kava, but the taste was so unpleasant I couldn't finish it.

"I almost drowned today," I told the kava man.

"Where?" he asked.

"Kehena Beach."

"Kehena Beach!" he said. "A couple of tourists went there once and jumped into the ocean. They were never seen again."

* * *

As I lay in bed, I thought I hadn't made it back. My spirit, I believed, had returned to visit. I could see myself in the room that was temporarily mine.

I got up, or saw myself get up, and went to the closet. I expected to see a human-sized insect standing there but saw nothing but clothes. The articles were damp.

Sounds of partying came from outside. A stereo was playing in a cabin decorated with colored lights.

I walked outside, or saw myself walk outside, and noticed a pink glow in the sky. The red fire of lava was reflecting off the mist. Was it a good sign to see that? A bad sign? I didn't know what the fire glow meant, in terms of good or bad magic.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.