The March Featured Writer is Bill Rasmussen
Please feel free to contact Bill at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE LITTLE PEOPLE
by Bill Rasmussen
Early on the first morning of his Hawaiian getaway, Forrest Hughes discovered the tiny, child-like footprints marching, as if in formation, down the beach fronting his hotel.
He had awakened at the crack of dawn and been unable to sleep any longer due to the four-hour time difference between Hawaii and Nashville. Throwing on a T-shirt, a pair of swim trunks and flip-flops, he trudged outside for a quiet walk on the beach and to watch the sunrise. As far as he could tell, he was the only one on the sand at this hour. About seventy-five yards into his stroll, he’d noticed the tracks.
He paused in mid-stride, crouching down in the sand for a closer look. They were definitely human footprints, he decided, although they were so small, maybe only three or four inches long. He really couldn’t tell how many kids had trekked through here due to the meandering profusion of prints, but it bothered him somewhat that parents would let their children out by themselves so early in the morning. Or maybe they had trudged through here sometime last night. Either way, the absence of larger, adult footprints bugged him.
Hughes stood up, stretching out the kinks in his legs before tracing the origin of the footprints to the lush bushes and native coconut trees nearer his low-rise hotel. He followed the twisty path of prints for about twenty-five or thirty yards, until midway between the tree line and the murmuring Pacific, they suddenly stopped. Disappeared. As if the children had simply been plucked off the face of the earth.
He gazed up and down the stretch of sand in either direction, reluctantly sweeping away his uneasiness over the footprints lining the beach like stepping stones. Then he looked east at the ocean, which was scarred by small waves and chop from the traditional northeast trades, the smell of salt and seaweed strong. The sun was now a full hand’s- width above the horizon, and silently chased the fleeing night. He wished he could chase away the darkness in his life as easily.
Just thirty-nine years old, his life was currently and inexplicably in shambles. His marriage of three years to the clichéd “woman of his dreams” had dissolved a few months earlier like cotton candy on your tongue, after his wife had served him with divorce papers. Despite their recent cooling ardor, it had been completely unexpected on his part; also unexpected was the quickness by which the divorce was final, even if they’d had no children. As a matter of fact, just two weeks ago, to his chagrin, he’d become a free man. And he had no idea what he’d done wrong.
Within a couple days after his divorce was final, Hughes went online and made plans for his Hawaiian getaway. He had traveled to the islands before on a number of occasions, relishing his visits to the fullest, enjoying immensely the islands’ consuming mystique.
And now he was up early, strolling on the beach in Kauai, alone with his thoughts. He kicked off his flip-flops, dug his toes into the cool, granular sand, let the breeze caress his face, and continued on down the beach.
After his walk, it was time to go back to the hotel, but not before pausing again at the spot where the mysterious footprints stopped. The riddle of their abrupt termination had begun to eat into his brain like an unseen, insidious disease.
He wished he knew the answer. Maybe he should ask a native. Back at the hotel, he made his way through the small, cozy lobby, and stepped over to the registration counter to catch the attention of the aloha shirt-garbed desk clerk.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes, I hope so,” Hughes said with a smile. “You’re probably gonna think this is a little strange, but…uh…there’s a bunch of footprints in the sand just a little ways down the beach”---he pointed outside toward the ocean---“and they’re really small. They just kinda stop in the middle of the sand, like whoever made them just vanished. Do you…”
The desk clerk frowned like an indulgent, disbelieving parent. Hughes hesitated at that frown, but continued, “…have any idea who could’ve made them? Perhaps kids in the area, or maybe some parents checked in who brought along their children…?”
He stopped again, self-conscious, realizing the clerk was probably entertaining serious doubts about his sanity. But he couldn't seem to control himself. “I mean, it’s just kinda weird, you know, how the footprints track down the beach in a line then…just stop. Doesn’t make any sense.” Probably what he’s thinking about me, he thought, backing away from the counter.
“I don’t really know what you’re talking about,” the clerk said in moderate Pidgin English, the prevalent dialect in the islands. He chuckled and turned away, and Hughes felt rudely dismissed.
He turned away also, knowing he’d made a fool of himself. But just as he was going to walk away, the clerk said to his back, “Maybe it’s just the Menehune. They like to do stuff like that.”
Hughes paused and pivoted around. He’d never heard of the Menehune before. He stared at the dark-skinned clerk, a smile curling his lips. “I hadn’t thought of that. Uhh…what exactly is a Menehune?”
“Never mind,” the clerk said, turning away again. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s nothing.”
“Whatever,” Hughes said, feeling angry.
He strolled back across the lobby, and caught the tail end of a “Breaking News” story on the big screen TV placed there for guests. An anchor for KGMB TV, one of the biggest local stations, had broken into their regularly scheduled programming to report that a tourist on Kauai had gone missing overnight. He indicated that details would follow as they became available.
Hughes shook his head, perplexed, then continued down the hallway. When he got to his room, he called his parents before he forgot about it, letting them know he had arrived and was all right.
A bit later, after he had showered, shaved, dressed for the day, and helped himself to the hotel’s complimentary breakfast, Hughes grabbed a seat at one of the two computers offering free internet service for guests. He logged in and checked his email inbox, quickly responding to a couple of messages.
Then, on a whim, he googled “Menehune,” and came up with an astonishing 131,000 results! After skimming over several hits, and getting a general feel for the subject matter, he settled on Wikipedia.
He learned that in Hawaiian mythology, the Menehune, or “Little People,” were said to be chubby, long-haired and dwarf-like, ranging in size from six inches to two feet. They were supposed to be gifted with incredible strength and a penchant for mischief one day and extreme malice the next. They were believed to live deep in the forests and valleys of the Hawaiian Islands, far from the prying eyes of humans, and exist on a diet of fish and bananas.
They were also believed to be superb craftsmen, having built heiaus (sacred grounds), fishponds, roads, canals and houses in an extremely quick fashion, sometimes, literally, overnight. Hawaiian legend further said that the Menehune were probably the first inhabitants of the islands, but were later forced to flee to Kauai when the physically larger Tahitians settled in the Hawaiian chain around 1100 A.D.
This is fascinating, Hughes thought, pausing for a moment. Could they actually be real? Mentioning their name was the only worthwhile bit of information the clerk gave me. Was he just kidding? Or is there something more to this legend?
He spent another ten minutes or so expanding his research on the “Little People” before relinquishing his seat to a waiting hotel guest who was antsy as a child who needed to use the bathroom. Then, on the off-chance that the same desk clerk who’d talked to him (actually, put up with him was more like it, he thought) more than an hour ago was still around, he headed over in that direction to find out. As luck would have it, he caught the clerk just as he was in the process of clocking out.
“You again,” the clerk said with a sigh. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I, uh… talked to you a little while ago, about the tiny footprints I found on the beach, and you mentioned something about the Menehune. What did you mean by that?”
The clerk chuckled. “Just that it sounds like something they would do.”
“So you believe in the Menehune then?” Hughes said.
“The Menehune are merely a myth, a legend,” he said with a snicker, “that the Hawaiians have passed down over time. A lot of people here believe in them, but”---he shrugged his shoulders---“who really knows…unless you’ve actually seen them?”
“Well no, oh…okay,” Hughes said, frustrated by the man’s cryptic response.
“If you’ll excuse me, I gotta get going.”
And as the clerk departed, Hughes thought he detected the hint of a sneer on the man’s face.
Over the next few days, Hughes busied himself by traveling around Kauai in his rental car, sightseeing and playing the role of tourist to perfection. He knew his vacation was only a week long, and he wanted to make the most of his time in the fiftieth state. He took a cruise up the Waialua River to the Fern Grotto, where he oohed and aahed along with the other tourists at the lush profusion of greenery on display near the earth’s wettest location; he drove up north to Hanalei Plantation and visited the wet and dry caves, where he discovered ironically that, again according to legend, the Menehune themselves had dug the dry cave in search of the monster that had been stealing all their fish; and he also used up the better part of a day to summit Waimea Canyon by car and experience the unparalleled visual beauty of its almost five-thousand foot elevation. By coincidence, his earlier research into the Menehune had revealed that the steep cliffs and valleys of the rich, forested canyon may have been one of their last strongholds against the steadily-advancing Tahitians.
Despite his growing obsession over the Menehune and their tenuous connection to the footprints on the beach, he could not refute the fact that the “Little People” had left their figurative footprints throughout the islands, especially on Kauai. If you could believe the islanders, they seemed to have had their hands quite literally into a lot of things, including buildings, ponds, caves and the like. That their legend had continued for almost a millennium spoke volumes about their enduring influence on the culture and traditions of the islands.
At the same time that he was exploring the sights and sounds of Kauai, Hughes made it a point every morning to stroll down the beach in front of his hotel both for relaxation and also to check for any further sign of the strange footprints he’d spotted on the first morning of his vacation. Unfortunately, his hope for a repeat of the incident had thus far been dashed, as the brisk trades and a multitude of other beachgoers had apparently swept the area clean of the tiny tracks that had so captivated him just days before. He had no way of knowing if whoever made the footprints had even returned.
But his preoccupation with the footprints and his Menehune research had been far from a waste of time; since embarking on his current passion, he’d barely had time to think about his recent divorce, much less wallow in self-pity. Perhaps, he considered, this “little” trip was just what the doctor ordered.
But there was one thing about his Hawaiian getaway that bothered Hughes, burrowing into his core like a parasite: it was the puzzling disappearance of another tourist on Kauai. Just this morning, the largest Hawaii newspaper, the Honolulu Star Advertiser, reported that yet another tourist vacationing on Kauai had gone missing in the last twenty-four hours. Even the authorities were baffled at this point, citing the general absence of clues or other evidence that was stymieing their investigations. Hughes could only feel bewildered over the lack of progress by local law enforcement; he made a mental note to exercise extra caution during the last couple days of his, thus far, enjoyable vacation.
On the last night of his stay in Kauai, Hughes found himself at Okole Maluna (Hawaiian for “Bottom’s Up”); a small, local bar/restaurant squatting less than a mile down the street from his hotel in Kapaa. He had seated himself at the bar, ordered and was drinking a Mai Tai while staring at the muted but “closed-captioned” news on a smallish, flat-screen TV mounted on the wall behind the bartender. His return flight tomorrow didn’t leave Oahu until 1:30 PM, so he had decided to really unwind this evening, maybe even break his rule of a two-drink maximum.
“Shit!” the bartender muttered. “Where did I put that--?”
Hughes looked on in quiet amusement as the barkeep, a heavy-set local guy in his late forties or early fifties, boasting long hair tied back in a ponytail, scoured his workspace for a missing object of some sort.
“Maybe the Menehune took it,” Hughes said.
The bartender stopped and stared at him for a second, glanced at the only other customer over at the far end of the bar, then returned his gaze to Hughes. “What makes you say that?”
“Well…I heard that they can be a…mischievous sort.” Hughes was nervous now, warm sweat trickling down his back. It wasn’t like him to be so outspoken.
“It’s true,” the bartender said, his air of hostility evaporating. “They can do all kinds of mischief.” He looked into Hughes’ eyes. “How do you know that?”
“Been doing some research while I’ve been here,” Hughes said, after downing the rest of his drink.
“Are you some sort of book writer?”
“No, just a regular tourist.”
The bartender nodded. “Where you from?”
“Tennessee…Just outside of Nashville.”
“Ha, Elvis Presley, right?”
“Nope, that’s Memphis. Nashville is pure country.”
“Ahh, I hate country music.”
“Actually,” Hughes said, “so do I.”
“Ha ha, you all right, man. What’s your name?”
“Forrest Hughes,” he said, extending his palm.
“Danny Kalima,” the bartender replied as they shook hands. “Forrest, like Run, Forrest, run? You run a lot?”
“Don't say that; it reminds me of my ex-wife. Walking’s good enough.”
The two unlikely friends chatted for a minute or two while Danny refreshed his drink. Then Danny got to the point. “You know the Menehune could be real violent at times, even kill people. Maybe they got those missing tourists.”
“Or maybe the tourists got lost in the rain forest,” Hughes said. “You believe the Menehune are real?”
Danny sighed. “I don’t know for sure, but I heard that there are stories passed down by some Hawaiians from generation to generation that say the Menehune have killed others in defense of their land or their property. It’s like some deep, dark secret that people don't talk about. We need the tourists for our livelihood and we don't want them scared away.”
“Interesting…” Hughes replied, sipping his drink and mulling over the implications.
On the TV behind them, the programming had just come back from commercial break, and the news anchor, in “closed-caption,” had launched into the mystery of the two missing Kauai tourists.
“What do you make of that? So, do you really think the Menehume were involved?” Hughes asked, indicating the TV behind Danny.
The bartender turned around and watched the screen for several seconds, before returning his attention to Hughes.
“That’s fuckin’ crazy,” he said. He pointed his finger at Hughes, became serious, and said, “You better be careful, my friend. I’m just tellin’ you. There are some local people who hate tourists. Gotta be them behind this craziness, not the Menehume. They all love the tourist dollar, but they can’t stand the tourist.” He shook his head. “I dunno what’s gonna happen.”
“Well,” Hughes said, “I’ve enjoyed my vacation a lot. But, in a way, I’ll be glad to get out of here tomorrow while the getting’s good. Missing tourists makes it kind of scary.”
“Like I said before, we don't want tourists scared away,” Danny said. “Some locals may not like them, but we all need them.”
Hughes ordered another drink and they talked for about twenty minutes longer before he said “Aloha,” pushed himself away from the bar, and drove the rental car carefully back to his hotel.
Getting out of the car, Hughes realized it wasn’t that late. Plus, the warmth of the drinks had made him feel brave and restless.
Reversing direction, he headed back through the lobby and out to the beach, where an almost cloudless sky and near full moon bathed the area. Slightly buzzed and feeling emboldened by the fact that he had disregarded his two drink maximum, he trudged across the sand in his Penny Loafers in the hope of finding one last time the tiny footprints he had discovered just seven days ago.
About forty or fifty yards into his stumbling gait, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he spotted the familiar tracks in the sand. Apparently, they began once again from the nearby tree line. He followed the tiny prints for maybe thirty yards or so until they simply stopped, as before.
He scanned the area quickly, but could see no one around. Despite his numbed state, a sense of unease caressed his spine. He peered again at the footprints in the sand, tracing them back some twenty or thirty yards. Then he stared again at where they terminated in front of him. A light bulb went on in his head. They looked like stepping stones to---
Oh shit, he thought, as he finally made out the faint lines in the sand where the prints ended, looking so much like a large, square gate or door---
…they are believed to be superb craftsmen…
As he tensed to flee, a line that his ex-wife used to throw at him in sarcasm surfaced through the fog in his head, Run, Forrest, run…
But in his confusion and haste, he set off in the wrong direction, churning up the sand behind him in his ragged, mindless flight away from his hotel. His alcohol-numbed mind tripped him up almost immediately, knocking him off his feet and to his hands and knees. He clawed ineffectually at the sand and felt as if he were wallowing in a sinkhole.
Thirty feet behind him he was able to discern the grating sounds of fingernails---claws?---scrabbling on something solid. Oh my God, it's the Menehene! he thought. Losing his shoes and finally staggering to his feet, he once again lumbered off as fast as the quicksand-like beach would allow.
The sand-covered trapdoor flew open and dozens of the Little People, like spiders, exploded out of their underground lair amid a chorus of high-pitched shrieks. They swarmed over him, tackling his legs, bringing him down like prey, before pouring sand down his throat to muffle his screams. Gagging and choking, he was powerless over their incredible strength and numbers. Fiery bolts of pain coursed up first one leg and then the other as they needlessly sliced through his Achilles’ tendons.
And as they effortlessly dragged him into their yawning hidden burrow, Hughes realized two things: He now knew what had happened to the missing tourists, and he also knew that Danny the bartender had been wrong about the Menehune’s deep, dark secret.
Because not only were some of them vicious killers, but when he came to rest at the bottom of their nest and their sharp, pointed teeth began to tear chunks of flesh from his body, he also learned they were cannibals.
After a twenty-year hiatus, William "Bill" Rasmussen returned to the keyboard in March of 2010. Since then, he's seen his collection of short horror fiction, CLAW MARKS & OTHER DISTURBING DIVERSIONS, released in all digital formats by Crossroad Press. It is also available at Amazon.
He has also had several stories accepted/published by Sounds of the Night, Fantastique Unfettered, The Absent Willow Review, ParABnormal Digest, Midnight Street, Black Ink Horror and Bete Noire. His novella, INFINITY TWICE REMOVED, co-written with Michael McBride, is a hardcover release by Delirium Books as part of their Hardcover Novella Line.
Bill is a retired FBI agent, who resides just outside of Memphis, Tennessee with his loving wife.