A short story written as part of the Summer Prose Competition 2011 Challenges 1 and 2
Deep in the jungles of Peru lay a secret city, hidden in mystery on a ridge among the Andes mountains. Occasional animal sounds from the jungle below broke the eerie silence surrounding the ruin of Machu Picchu. The late night darkness was lessened somewhat by a three quarters full moon, which cast its silver light on the city. The stone structures of a bygone civilization were singled out in shadowy relief, when a sudden CRAAAAAAAACK of lightening illuminated the Temple of the Sun.
The strike sent a deep boom of thunder echoing through the tropical valleys that surrounded the mountain, along with a thick smell of ozone. That smell was unusual so close to the ground, since lightening typically only produces ozone several miles up in the troposphere.
A small travel platform came to rest on the huge rock in the centre of the temple. Incan high priests had once sacrificed animals on the rock during sacred rituals. A female traveller coughed and sneezed from the ozone, as her male companion checked his wristband. His expression showed that he was more than a little annoyed to see that all the bright little dials had gone dark. He shook his wrist violently, but couldn't even get a little spark of life.
"That won't help, Manfred. I already tried it," she remarked. He ignored her and fiddled with the dials, tapping them lightly.
She shrugged, then stepped out onto the rock. A bit of moonlight penetrated the darkness of the roofless structure, but there were still deep shadows from the surrounding walls.
"Uuuhh!!" A sudden gasp of air was forced from her lungs as she slid haphazardly down the rock's sloped side.
Manfred trained his small travel beacon toward the sound of her voice. She sat in a disgruntled heap at the bottom of the rock.
"What are you doing down there, Hazel?"
"Plotting world dominance, you dunce, what do you think I'm doing? I fell."
"Oh. Well ... are you hurt?"
"No, just my dignity. It's a good thing I'm thick skinned." Hazel grumbled.
Manfred joined her at the bottom, and trained his beacon upwards.
"What an odd place to put a landing pad. Did the booking agent say anything about it, when you made arrangements for this overnight rest stop on the way home?"
"No, she just said that we would be comfortable. So far I'm not comfortable." Her voice had a cranky tone to it. She was usually better tempered. She hadn't been all that well for the past few weeks.
He walked toward the door opening, with the beacon trained on the floor. Any sudden drop offs would be revealed in the beam. Hazel followed Manfred outside, and stood beside him as he increased the beam of his travel beacon to illuminate the surrounding area. They followed a well marked path until they reached the main plaza. A low whistle escaped him as he saw the terraces and stone structures which were all that remained of the once great city of the Incas.
"Something is wrong, Hazel. There's nothing here. The structures don't have roofs. There are no signs of habitation, no communication tower for incoming and outgoing traffic. This does not look like a place that's open for business. I don't like the look of this at all. Let's go back to the platform and see if we can get it functioning again."
"We can't do much in the dark, Manfred. Besides, our accommodations have already been arranged. Someone will be expecting us. Maybe our landing coordinates were put off course when you jostled me. I was entering our destination on the location grid, so who knows what indicators were hit when I fell forward onto the system. The platform took off before I could readjust anything. If we're lost, it's because you're so clumsy." Irritation crept into her voice.
"If we're lost, it's because you left our gear right where I could fall over it!"
Her sudden silence, when she would normally give him a quick comeback indicated her change in mood. He lessened the beam on the beacon and trained it on her face, where he could see a few tears trickling down. He went over and put his arm around her.
"I'm sorry, my dear. I didn't mean to upset you. You're right, we could just be off course a bit. You have your own beacon, so you can keep it on low beam to pin point your position. I'm going to seek higher ground to get a better look at our situation."
"Alright, I'll sit down on this nice patch of grass and rest. Don't take too long, or I might stretch out right here and go to sleep."
When he returned twenty minutes later he found her curled up on the grass fast asleep, with her beacon propped between two stones. The beam shot straight up, for Manfred to find her.
Smiling, he sat down beside her and watched for predators as she slept. In a couple of hours, she yawned and stretched, just as the early light of dawn rose over the mountain peaks which surrounded them. She opened her eyes and sat up.
"Thanks for letting me sleep, dear. I was exhausted. Did you find anything
"Yes, there's a large lodge just outside the city, and a settlement of some sort a short way further down.”
"Oh good. I'm starving."
They followed the pathways and found the lodge quite easily. The tantalizing aroma of cooking meat drew them to the back of the lodge, where several steaks were sizzling on a large outdoor stone fireplace, complete with grill.
A covered platter of cooked steaks sat on a serving table beside the fireplace. The travellers approached the table, just as a man in a white apron and chef's hat came out the back entrance to the kitchens. He carried an empty ceramic platter, presumably for the steaks still on the grill. Hazel was lifting the cloth cover of the platter on the table, when she heard the door slam behind the cook.
"Aaaaaaaah!" She squealed in alarm when she saw him.
" Aaaaaaaah!" He screamed in terror when he saw her, dropped the platter, and ran back into the kitchen.
A great deal of yelling in Spanish drifted out through the screen door. Several voices could be heard approaching, so Hazel grabbed the platter of meat and beat a hasty retreat, with Manfred right behind her. They hid in the highest branches of a well leafed tree on the furthest border of the back lawn, and watched the buzz of activity behind the lodge.
"Those are humans down there ... and they're wearing clothing!" Hazel gasped in amazement as she scarfed down another succulent steak.
"Did your booking agent sound human when you spoke to her?" Manfred asked.
"How would I know what a human sounds like? The ones at home can barely grunt. Well, we do know one thing for sure now ... they weren't expecting us, by the shock on the human's face when it saw us."
"Oh, look at that one, Manfred. Most of its legs are bare, and there's no fur on them. Its knees are sticking out. Knees are ugly; I don't care what kind of creature is wearing them."
Manfred smiled. "I'm pleased to see you feeling better. Maybe all you needed was a good feed of meat."
Down at the lodge, the manager shouted at the chef for somehow losing a whole platter of very expensive porter house steaks. The remaining steaks would have to be cut in half. The wealthy guests were going to have smaller steaks with their eggs for breakfast that morning.
"What happened to the steaks, Pedro? Don't give me that ridiculous story that something grabbed them and ran."
"It's true, boss. There were two of them, and they were this big!" Pedro indicated a spot an arm's length above his head.
The manager leaned forward and smelled the chef's breath. "Well, you haven't been drinking, anyway. Have you been chewing that hallucinogenic cactus that grows in this area? If you ask me, all the rumours around here of unexplained sightings are more to do with that particular strain of wacky cacti than anything else."
"No boss, I swear. I wouldn't do that while I was working. I can prove to you that something was here. They ran through the flower bed that I just planted. Their tracks should be in the fresh earth."
Pedro ran toward the flower bed, the manager in hot pursuit. When they got there, they knelt down in the grass beside the fresh earth. There were indeed two sets of very big, very strange footprints, deep in the soil. The manager grabbed Pedro by the shirtfront and yelled in his face.
"Did you plant these prints along with the flowers? Are you trying to pull off some sort of hoax?"
"No sir. I swear on my dear mother's grave that I'm telling the truth."
"Your mother's not dead."
"She will be if you fire me, sir. She'll have a stroke and die. I wouldn't risk my job by telling a whopper like that. I really, truly, honest to God saw what I told you I saw."
The manager looked long and hard at the man. "Alright Pedro, I believe you. I've always known you to be an honest man. When we return to the lodge, the staff will be instructed to keep strict silence. This incident must absolutely not go any further. The last thing we need is for a lot of thrill seekers and tabloid journalists swarming the ruins, and frightening the guests."
Hazel and Manfred watched all of this from the security of their perch in a tree that was a part of the dense subtropical forest in the area. They would have to wait til nightfall to return to their travel platform. With any luck it wouldn't be discovered before they reached it.
Hazel made a rudimentary nest of branches to make herself comfortable throughout the long day's wait. As she sat there she felt a little dizzy, so she hung onto a thick branch for support. She was feeling ill again. As soon as they returned home, she would have to visit their healer, to find out what was wrong with her.