Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Apr 12, 2020


I remember how guilty I felt when I went to see the devastation at Leilani estates a couple of years ago. All the curiosity went right out of me the second I witnessed the reality of what the volcanic eruption did to the everyday life of the people who lived there.

I cried because I felt filthy for being yet one more idiot who should have come to offer any help I could give, rather than view this real tragedy like it was a display behind a glass case in a museum. I submitted a prayer and then got into my rent-a-car to leave. The GPS came to life, and soon I received directions from a disembodied voice of no particular gender. I reached the end of the road and signaled a right turn when I heard a knock on the passenger's side window. It was a ranger from the volcanoes national park, a middle-aged Hawaiian woman with graying roots, and only a slight trace of crows feet around her eyes. The lines didn't seem harsh, I guess that's what happens when one has a natural tendency to smile. The name on her badge read, " ʻŌhelo."

The window rolled down, and her greeting of aloha beat mine before I could give it.

"Aloha! How are you this afternoon?" She smiled.

"Aloha, I'm fine! Am I not supposed to be here? If not, I apologize, I'll leave. Or if there's a fine, no problem," I offered.

"No," she chuckled. "I saw you drop your cell phone back there!"

"Oh dammit," I replied. I got out of the car and apologized again. Quickly, I walked back to the spot where I was standing before, but I couldn't find my phone. A second later, I felt a vibration and heard a ping in my left pant pocket. I reached in, and there was my cell phone. Looking up and down the road, there was no park ranger at all. She was gone. Right then, the air was suddenly filled with a loud moaning sound followed by the booming echo of something cracking. Sort of like breaking a potato chip but tenfold. It was coming from where I parked the rent-a-car. A 15-foot tall tree, devastated and blackened by the volcanic fires, fell in the middle of the vehicle and crushed it completely.

Holy shit, that was supposed to be me.


Once the police arrived I gave them my statement, and I was, later on, able to figure out the insurance with the rent-a-car company. I insisted to both parties that if park ranger ʻŌhelo hadn't told me that I'd dropped my cell phone, I would have been killed by that falling tree. After, I called a cousin of mine in Hilo and asked him if I could borrow one of his cars for the weekend. He brought his 4 Runner over, and I treated him to breakfast at Uncle Billy's as a thank you. Soon, I was driving around the volcanos national park bugging all the park rangers about one of their own, a middle-aged Hawaiian woman named ʻŌhelo. No one heard of her, and most of them looked at me like I was a cracked nut. 

I stopped at the little general store at the KMC campgrounds for a drink and snacks for the drive back to Hilo. Seeing the disappointment on my face, the cashier sweetly asked if everything was alright? She had a kind disposition, which put me at ease, so I told her about my experience at Leilani estates from the day before. A knowing smile came over her face, and she shook her head.

"What? What's wrong?" I asked.

"Leilani estates is not a part of the volcanos national park; have you thought about that?" She asked.

"No, that never occurred to me?" I thought.

"So, what is a park ranger doing out there in full uniform?" She posed the question quite logically.

"What does that mean?" I was still clueless.

"She told you that you dropped your cell phone, but then you find out that it was in your pocket the whole time? And a tree falls on your rent-a-car, the park ranger saves your life but is nowhere to be found, and the other park rangers have never heard of her?" She's nodding at me now, wide-eyed, and smiling.

It finally dawned on me, " ʻŌhelo."

The cashier nodded and bagged my purchase. 


In many oral traditions, the ʻōhelo berry that grows at the volcano area is edible and delicious. According to Kawena Pukuʻi before consuming the ʻōhelo, her family members would offer a part of the fruit to be dedicated to their appetite, but not without first committing its essence to the person to whom it belongs, Pele. 

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