Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Sep 28, 2019

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2019 #35


In the days of old, whenever our people traveled, be it from one village to another, they were sure to bring those necessary items with them that would provide for their basic needs for sustenance and comfort.  Whether it was a water gourd or a sleeping mat or even a pillow made of lauhala, these items were a personal, everyday part of the ordinary Hawaiian person's life.
Some of these items were given names and were treated as if they were actually traveling companions.  For sleeping mats that were given names, no one but the owner was allowed to use them.  When he or she had passed, the sleeping mat was burned so that no one else would be able to use it.  This is the same practice in hula.  The pahu drums that we make ourselves are given names just as are other handmade hula implements, and no one was allowed to use them unless you gave them specific permission.

Such was the case as I was growing up.  I say this because I cannot speak for the experience of other Hawaiians because everyone has had their own unique experience.  However, during my youth, one of the things that were stressed continuously to us as children were that, if something did not belong to you, you had no right to touch it unless you had permission from the person to whom it belonged.

Otherwise, "Waiho."

The following story is true.  It happened during a time when life was simpler, and our parents worked hard so that we could have better lives.  Mom and pop stores had not yet been wiped out by more giant corporate superstores that gave us an overabundance of what they thought we needed.  Marriages lasted for a lifetime, and holidays were family oriented in a way that they maintained their pure sanctity and reverence.


Kekaha is a sleepy, idyllic town on the west end of Kaua'i that seems to have been suspended in time.  Many of the old houses from its heyday as a bustling plantation community still remain.  Many of its residents came from Ni'ihau in order to make a better life for themselves and their families.  

This was Marissa Tilton's first time on the island of Kaua'i. Looking at the Kekaha neighborhood along the highway from the back seat of her cousin’s Chevy van, she couldn’t help but think that, whatever it was that affected the rest of the world at this very moment, it had left Kekaha out of the loop.  Her parents recommended that she go to Kaua’i to spend some time with her mother’s side of the family and get to know them a bit better.  She had only met her cousins, the Balasans, at weddings and funerals.

Marissa's mother began to see how overworked her daughter had become and thought that a short vacation on Kaua‘i would prove to be an excellent time to relax and re-energize. For someone who went to an all-girls Catholic school, her mother was quite the modern-aged free spirit.

The Balasans were very accommodating and made sure that Marissa was well taken care of.  Each day became an opportunity to visit a new site on the island of Kaua‘i or to visit other extended families.  Finally, in the middle of the second week of her stay, Marissa decided that she was comfortable enough with the area that she could take a quiet morning stroll on the beach by herself.  The time read 9:03am as she strolled along a pretty stretch of sand with a few wisps of long grass here and there.  The wind that came in off of the water was soothing, and it helped to relieve the bit of heat that came from the sun.

Suddenly, everything went silent.  The wind stopped.  There was no heat.  Marissa looked around and could see fronds of the coconut trees across the street blowing in the wind.  She turned to face the ocean and could see the waves breaking just before the shore.  She watched the wind carry the salt spray above the water, but she could hear and feel none of it.  It was as if she were suddenly encapsulated.  For a moment, the only sound she could hear was that of her breathing becoming more rapid.  Then, somewhere behind her, she listened to the voice of a woman humming a tune to herself, which she did not recognize.  She turned to her left and saw, not more than fifteen feet away from where she stood, a Hawaiian woman sitting on a large rock that was hidden just beneath the water.

Her back was facing Marissa, and her hair was long and black. Her skin was tanned to an almost coconut-brown color. She was topless from what Marissa could see, and she was combing her hair back with a short hand-held hair comb. Marissa watched as the woman now put her hair over the left side of her shoulder and began to pull it forward. That’s when the woman noticed her. Marissa smiled and gave a short wave. The woman looked startled and angry at the same time. In a quick second, the Hawaiian woman leaped from the rock and disappeared into the water with one smooth motion.

Just as suddenly as the feeling of being encapsulated happened, it quickly dissipated. Then suddenly, the heat and wind blasted against her. Mari stood, staring in disbelief until the wind brought tears to her eyes. 

Did I really see that? Mari wondered. The young woman struggled to understand what she saw. The Hawaiian looking woman had no legs, not like people anyway. From her waist down was simply... a tail!

Marissa got closer to the rock where the woman was sitting and saw that she had left her hair comb behind. It was made of a turtle shell. She decided that she would hold on to it until she saw the Hawaiian woman again.

Marissa returned every morning of her vacation after that but to no avail. The strange woman with the long tail never returned. Since the day she saw the woman on the beach and found the beautiful turtle shell hair comb, Marissa became more and more ill. She had little to no appetite to eat, and at night she couldn’t sleep because of the horrible nightmares. Dark, frightening images of being pulled down into an underwater sea cave and being eaten alive by a terrible, black-colored creature with claws that ripped at her flesh. It would call her name in the dream. Whenever Marissa would answer, the creature would only repeat one word.


Finally, she had no energy left to get out of bed, much less walk to the shore. She stopped coming out of her room and, despite the concern of her family, she refused to see a doctor. After she missed dinner yet again, Mari’s cousin tried to wake her up.


When he opened Mari’s door, he gagged at the overpowering smell of rotting fish. He glanced around the dark room and saw Mari lying on her bed, hardly breathing. Her skin was pale and peeling, her hair was wet and matted about her face. In her hand, she clutched the turtle shell comb. Although she was clearly sick, the stench of rotting fish told Mari’s cousin that this was no mere illness. He believed she was suffering from a curse.

Her cousins called in a kahuna who as well-known in their community. The first thing the kahuna noticed was the small brown comb in Mari’s hand. Deadly serious, the man tried to pry the comb from her hand several times but he could not get her fingers to release their grip.


Following the kahuna’s urgent orders, Mari’s cousin put her in his car and they raced the short distance to the shore. There, the cousin carried Mari to the beach near the rocks, attempting place her on the sand. Mari’s hand slipped off her chest and landed on the same rock where she found the comb. Once her hand touched the pohaku, her grip relaxed and the comb gently tumbled onto the rock.


Instantly, the color returned to Mari’s cheeks and her breathing became steady. The kahuna nodded and motioned Mari’s cousin to return to the car. 


As they walked away, they heard a splash behind them. They turned to see that the comb was gone and in the water just a few yards away, in the channel between the coral reefs a Hawaiian woman was watching them. Mari’s cousin dropped to the sand while still holding her in his arms and began praying. The kahuna also dropped to his knees and bowed in head in deference to the akua of his ancestors. The woman then dove down into the water and never resurfaced.


Mari’s cousin asked if they’d just seen a mermaid, to which the kahuna replied, “No, this was no mermaid. This was not kananaka. This was a mo‘o wahine.”


The nightmares stopped, Mari’s headaches went away and her appetite returned. She had no memory of what her cousin and the kahuna saw but for some reason, the turtle shell combs at the swap meet and the International Marketplace gave her an uneasy feeling.

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