Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Aug 16, 2017

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down to Halloween 2017! #77


It goes without saying that the tattoo expo was packed to capacity with artists and fans of skin art in equal measure. Many tattooists pooled their money together and shared a booth while others were given their own singular space to work out of. Then there were those who were the featured artists that everyone came to see. Added to the spectacle were skull jewelry merchants as well as those who sold tattoo machinery, the expo was very busy. Off in a corner where there was not much foot traffic and where one would not even know this particular booth existed were it not for the hemp style shirts which were being sold, sat a wrinkled old Filipino man on a simple straw mat with a set of antiquated hand tap wooden tools with teeth like combs lashed to the ends.
The wood itself was dark and worn just as the tapping stick itself was fashioned with an aging piece of twisted wood that was decorated with a wooden male image at the tip. He was shirtless this old man and his body was covered with intricately detailed designs all over. More specifically, the designs on his chest came to a half circle on both sides and extended out to his shoulders and down his arms. He worked on a young girl who had just discovered her 'Ifugao' heritage from the Philippines and was now tapping on a design that was appropriate to her ancestral province without it being too overwhelming. It turned out to be a simple wrist piece that complimented the girl's demure stature, the girl was pleased and paid the old man and left. Close by was Michael Rossi who studied the old Filipino man's designs very closely by taking a fair amount of clandestine pictures with his iPhone. After getting all the shots he needed, he secreted himself away and disappeared through the expo crowd.

The old Filipino man didn’t notice Michael right away because he looked like everyone else. Although he was of European descent, Michael was one of those guys who got really dark after being out in the sun, because of this he could pass for any Asian or Polynesian race, especially Filipino. Michael was now hiding in the bathroom stall near the McKinley High School exit of the exhibition hall where he was swiping through the pics, Michael was amazed to see that the ink had not blurred into the old man’s skin the way other ink work does, especially on indigenous skin. He knew the exact tattoo artist to go to in order to scratch that unique Filipino design on to his own chest and arms. Getting up off the toilet, Michael pulled the stall door back and nearly dropped his phone when he saw the old Filipino man standing right there. He glared at Michael with bbloodshoteyes and slowly drew his thumb across his throat from ear to ear. For some reason the gesture made Michael’s skin crawl and he pushed his way pass the old man and burst out of the double doors from the exhibition hall and ran across the parking lot to his car.

An hour later, Michael Rossi was sitting in a tattoo shop on Kuhio avenue getting the old man’s designs scratched onto his chest, shoulders and arms. Luckily for Michael, the tattoo artist was talented and was able to repeat the design simply from looking at the pictures on Michael’s phone. The session took 6 hours and it was painful the whole time but afterward, the design stood out on his skin and he was proud of it. He paid the tattoo artist handsomely but the next day that same tattooist was found in the bathroom foaming at the mouth. He kept mumbling something about headhunters coming to get him and refused to go back to work. Two days later, he'd committed suicide by jumping from the top of the Royal Hawaiian parking structure. His body landed between a hedge and a railing but his head was never found. Within less than a day, Michael Rossi's tattoo was completely healed. So much so that by Wednesday Michael Rossi could be seen shirtless as he ambled through the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet where everyone could not help but notice the tattoos on his body.

By mid-day the sun was overhead and it was hot, Michael got himself a drink from the concession stand and decided to head over to the tent that sold audio system hook ups. It was run by a young local Filipino couple who always had the boyfriend’s grandmother come along so that she could watch the couple’s children while the two conducted business. While Michael didn’t see anything of interest, he couldn’t help but notice that the young proprietor was waving him over. Noticing that he was the only person in the area, he walked over to the young Filipino man and said, “Wassup? Howzit going?”

“My name is Jay, this is my girlfriend Jen,” Michael felt how pleasant the two were. “My grandmother is sitting back there in the car with our kids, she noticed your tattoos so she wanted to know if you’re Ifugao?”

“What is that?” Michael was confused and didn’t understand.

From somewhere within the van, he heard the older woman’s voice rattling off in Filipino. Jay looked back at Michael and said, “She’s say’s that only Ifugao men who took a life or took a head could wear the tattoo that you have on now. But she says you don’t have the look of someone who has taken heads, much less a life.”

The old Filipino woman fired off a command and now Jay looked sheepishly at Michael, “She wants you to go closer so she can see you.”

Michael hesitated for a second but eventually followed Jay and got as close as he could to the van. The vehicle being parked directly under the tent made it difficult to see who exactly it was that sat within. There were not that many words this time from the old woman, just a short smattering of a sentence. Jay took a step away from Michael and had a look of disgust on his face. “Brah, she said you not even Filipino!”

“No,” Michael had to think quick, “I’m Filipino on my mom’s side.”

“Uh, uh... my grandmother is never wrong about this kinda stuff. How can you wear a Filipino tattoo design that is not even yours to begin with? Are you that much of an asshole?” Jay was getting heated and his wife didn’t even bother to step in, “My grandmother said that the tattoo you wearing is cursed because you’re not a warrior. You going end up losing your mind at a young age, or even worse, you going lose your head! Get the fuck outta my tent brah before I kick your ass!”

Michael left without hesitation and ran back to his car as fast as his feet could carry him. It’s not the first time that Michael has been caught for misappropriating another culture, whether it was a food recipe, clothing items or traditional healing arts or dancing. He was even caught selling First Nations and Polynesian copyright material that was not his own but he collected the money anyway; that was a big mistake. One day a group of Hawaiian men walked into his office and proceeded to beat him within an inch of his life, if it wasn’t for the cleaning lady, Michael would be dead.

So what’s the big deal about a traditional Filipino tattoo copied from some old man? Who was going to miss that? He thought to himself, Who could possibly care?


Michael pulled his Mitsubishi convertible out of the stadium parking lot and headed east on the freeway. Without much traffic, it would only be a few minutes before he took the South King Street exit and made an illegal turn into parking lot of his condominium. It was a 38 story building that had a reputation for being haunted but Michael’s only concern was money.

As far as ghosts go, those things were only memories or a personal fear that people never properly deal with. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the elevator was empty, he inserted his pass key and pressed the button for the 26th floor. The elevator doors were closing slower than usual but Michael was not in a rush; the elevator seemed to be the perfect place to decompress. Just as the doors were finally going to meet, a hand inserted itself between the doors and reached forward grabbing Michael by the hair. Michael’s body followed as what seemed like a disembodied hand pulled his head between the elevator doors where it become lodged and stuck. The hand let go and Michael saw that it was the old Filipino man standing in the lobby. He was shirtless and only wore a pair of long jeans shorts, with nothing on his feet. Michael screamed at the old man to help him pry the door open, instead, the old man stood there and watched. Now Michael Rossi heard the ‘DING’ sound from inside the elevator cart which meant that it was now going to the intended floor, the 26th. Indeed the cart reached it’s intended destination, as did Michael’s body. His head however, belonged to the old Filipino man.

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Ua ho‘omaka ku‘u mo‘olelo i Hawai‘i
My story begins in Hawai‘i

Hawaii's history is passed from generation to generation through mo'olelo, storytelling. Everyone has a story, where does yours begin?

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