Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Oct 19, 2014


The soothing ocean breeze floats above the tops of the cresting waves just outside of Waikiki and filters past its sacred sands to make its way through the narrow alley that sits between the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and The Moana.  Visitors and locals alike find comfort from the heat of the unmerciful sun as the cooling wind embraces their perspiring forms, thus causing them to evoke a sigh of exasperated relief.  Skimming above the heated pavement of Kalākaua Avenue, the natural movement of the air dances through an open hotel lobby where a young Hawaiian girl sits at a grand piano and invokes the spirit of Debussy through her rendering of “Arabesque.”

Her fingers move effortlessly across the ivory keys while each note entreats her body to slowly inhale every cascading rise and fall of the sweet movement.  The pitch seems to appear from some unheard decibel and falls slowly like a fine mist of rain or an old yellowing leaf that has seen its last days.

With almost a life of its own, the wind raises itself to become a gently turning dust devil attempting to embrace the formless sound of that beautiful, lilting music.  It seemed to ascend to a height of unbreakable joy and then sadly descended again as if it were a waterfall, emptying itself of its last few teardrops.  The effort was fruitless and heartbreaking in the same instant; all the wind could do was float the sound through the hotel halls in the hope that someone would know her pain.  Indeed, someone did.

A lone security guard sitting at her station on the opposite end of the hotel contemplated the value of a life she was slowly rebuilding after losing everything.  Drug use gifted her with many incredible spiritual visions and gave her the strength to perform amazing athletic feats. It also gifted her with the stamina to experience the undying throes of ecstasy, as she was able to make love for a period of days.  However, drug use also cost her the loss of her job, her marriage, and her children.  The court deemed that she was an unfit mother, and after a yearlong stay in a women’s facility, she was released and was now making a concerted effort to piece her life together.  Her parole officer was merciful and paired her with a true friend, a security company supervisor.  The pay was minimal, but she needed it to live an honest life.  She remained humble and stayed punctual.  During times like these, when working the graveyard shift, she found that there was too much time to think, which is largely why she kept herself busy.  However, tonight, her tasks were completed early, and she hadn’t anything more to do except remain at her station.

The hotel was decorated with many period photographs from the 1800ʻs, specifically between the years 1874 and 1899.  The nostalgia of the property only served to rekindle old memories that the security guard would rather have put away like an old forgotten song.  However, each second that she’d spent alone with nothing to do was a second that her old heartaches seeped in through the pores of her skin.  Those heartaches made her feel flush and would cause her temples to throb; all she could do to remedy such an unforgiving emotion was to fight back her tears and will herself back to reality.  Once this task was achieved, everything would go back to normal.

Glancing up toward the lobby, the security guard noticed a light breeze billowing the curtains, which aligned the walkway.  The gentle wind was coming toward her.  That current of air lifted from the tiled floor and slowly wrapped its calming coolness around her.  She found it to be unnerving at first, but a second later, she felt as if she were a child again, sitting beneath the comfort of the old monkey pod trees at Puʻiwa Park where the Kiowao rain would marry with the Kukalahale wind and bring a soothing caress of air that lulled her into a deep slumber.  It was that same feeling again as she sat at her station, only now the wind carried a companion with it that exuded the most haunting music she had ever heard.  The pure sweetness of its lilting strain beckoned her from her seat and seemed to fade out ever so slightly but left enough of itself that, by pure curiosity, the hotel guard had no choice but to follow.

The sound led her across the lobby, where the intoxicating aroma of the evening buffet was wasted on her sense of smell; the small chatter of guests milling about the pool also failed to capture her attention.  All she could manage was an irritable glance at anyone who seemed to be in her way. She had to find the source of the music.  This was not at all like the addiction she’d previously suffered; she did not want to get away and forget matters that troubled her mind.  She wanted to be aware, to be cognizant, to be present.  Present for whatever it was that she was going to find.  There was an answer at the end of this music. Somehow, she instinctively knew this, and at the same time, she did not want the music to end.

At the end of the walkway is a vast open space with a single grand piano that sits on a floral red carpet.  A beautiful, young Hawaiian girl, tall and slender, sits there playing the music as if she and the piano were sharing some intimate secret that was only known between the two of them.  At that moment, the security guard was overwhelmed by a peacefulness she had never known.  There was no fear as she approached the piano, where the Hawaiian girl played, and took a seat beside her.  The Hawaiian girl smiles as if there is not a care in the world that either of them should be concerned about.  Her eyes smile, too, while her hair cascades about her shoulders.  Her dress is white and fits her figure perfectly; it gathers at her slender waist and flares out just above the ankles.

“That music is beautiful,” the security guard says, “I feel safe for some reason.”

The Hawaiian girl smiles again, and as she begins to speak, the hotel guard notices her refined British accent, “Do you know about the components of a piano?”

“No,” the security guard answers.

“There is the back check,” the Hawaiian girl began, “it is a suede, leather, or felt-covered catcher which is fastened to the end of the piano key by a wire post. The back check catches and holds the piano hammer just after it has rebounded from striking the string and while the action below the hammer is preparing for another repetition of the note.”

“Alright,” the hotel guard replied. She understood nothing about pianos, but the tone of the Hawaiian girl's voice was mesmerizing, and she could not help but listen.

“The belly,” the Hawaiian girl continued, “is where the pianoʻs soundboard is located.  Included are the bridges, belly rail, dampers, plate tuning pins, and pin block.”

The Hawaiian girl went on to explain in detail every single element of the piano until she finally ended with the wire piano treble.  A normal layman would have been exasperated even midway through the details of a piano’s workings, but the security guard hung on every single word.

“Therefore, what we see before us is an exquisite grand piano, and what we hear around us are all the many efforts of different components that form a singular sound which could cause someone to be melancholy or can lift someone to the heights of ecstatic happiness.” Leaning closer to the security guard, the Hawaiian girl whispered, “Do you know how I know that your components are functioning perfectly?”

“No,” the security guard answered, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“You’re still alive; that’s how I know!” the Hawaiian girl smiled.

The security guard could not help herself; she let out a hearty laugh that seemed to absolve her of all her sins, self-imposed and otherwise.  Her tears fell without effort now.

“I forgot to ask your name,” the security guard said.


“Thank you for your music.”

“Don’t thank me,” the girl said whimsically, “Thank Debussy, it’s his composition!  And also, thank your ʻaumakua!”

“My ʻaumakua?”

“The wind, it was he who brought me to you.”

“I see,” the security guard replied, not fully understanding the statement, “Will you be here tomorrow?”

“No,” the Hawaiian girl answered, “but I will be here.”

With that, the security guard felt herself slowly fading out of consciousness, while at the same time, the Hawaiian girl slowly faded into nothing as she continued to play the piano until the very last note.

It was the hotel front desk staff that found the security guard and helped to revive her.  Upon rising, she appeared to be someone different; the darkness that followed her was gone.  She seemed to be completely alive and vibrant.  She inquired as to the whereabouts of the Hawaiian girl who played the grand piano in the lobby; however, she was informed that there was never a grand piano in the lobby, much less a Hawaiian girl playing it.

When her shift was over, she left the hotel to catch her bus to Palolo Valley on Kuhio Avenue.  Only then did she notice the statue of a young Princess just near the bus shack.

Her name's inscription caught the hotel guard’s attention, “Princess Victoria Kaʻiulani Kalaninuiahilapalapa Kawekiu I Lunalilo Cleghorn.”


  1. I love stories about Princess Ka’iulani.

  2. I love this story. Well written & almost poetic. It brought out the melancholic in me. Thank you.

  3. I love the princess, walked by her statue every day last March and would leave any flowers I could find at her feet. I wish the little park around her had more flowers and plantings in her honor.

  4. Thank you for breathing life into history.