Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jun 21, 2020


 I have a plate full of Salami sandwiches with mayo in front of me and a can of Coke on the side. If you put too much mayo on a salami sandwich, it defeats the purpose of the presentation, and somewhere along the line, you lose the taste of the Salami altogether.
However, a dressed-up salami sandwich is still a salami sandwich at the end of the day. In the long run, Salami is no good for you because over the years, if you eat it too much, it will probably clog your arteries and you'll die. Honestly, it's the next best thing to Rocky Road ice cream, but Salami doesn't melt. Because of that, you have time to appreciate the art that we now know as the perfect salami sandwich. For myself, that perfection includes lettuce, provolone cheese, mayonnaise, sliced black olives, and sweet mustard. Sliced tomatoes kill the combination entirely, and so does a wheat bun; I like my Salami and its accompanying decorations on taro buns slider style. But I digress, this story is not about the perfect salami sandwich, its about life and death. The salami sandwich is my way of decompressing after a case; unfortunately, the consumption of the sandwich and the decompression usually happens at two or three in the morning. Not good, not good at all.


The older sister's name was Kekela. Her younger sister Kaomi is named for a northeast trade wind in Hana, Maui. Kekela reached me by phone and with great concern in her voice, urged me to come and help her younger sibling. When I inquired as to what the matter might be, Kekela intimated that her sister began to speak incoherently and incessantly almost without taking a breath. She would jump from subject to subject and never finish whatever was she was saying. Kekela shared that it was as if the real motivation for her thoughts were purposely cut off before it could reach its conclusion.

"But it's her eyes," Kekela pleaded. "My sister's eyes are filled with a plea for help, but her mouth will not let her express it! Please help her!"

After the call hung up, I took a moment to think deeply about the waters I was about to tread. I asked myself, as I had done a thousand times before, am I prepared to shoulder the kuleana that will come with helping this person? Was I prepared to give yet again, another part of myself for the sake someone else's well being? Someone who is a completer stranger and of no blood relation to me whatsoever? Was I again going to follow the edict passed down to me by my mother to never ask for compensation in these matters?


The winter months in our fair tropical paradise are filled with rain or the promise of it as the skies are dark and gray during this time of year. It's almost as if the heavens are teasing us, mortals who are preparing for the deluge, only give it to us when we are ill-prepared. An hour later, I pulled into the drive-way of the Hau'ula home, where my car was welcomed by a pack of barking dogs who nipped at my bumpers and tires. In her mid-forties, a tall, thin Hawaiian woman exited the front door and corralled the animals into a large gated off kennel. She greeted me as I exited the car and introduced herself as Kekela. "My sister is inside the kitchen, please don't be alarmed, as I said, she can't stop talking."

The two-bedroom home sat on a small acreage of land just fronting the beach, the street name itself caught me off guard for a second because it looked as if it said, 'Kupapa'u' when what it really said was, 'Kaipapa'u.' Two different words entirely, one means coffin, and the other means shallow sea.

Why were my nerves on edge all of a sudden?

An off-yellow hue on the exterior of the home was weathered away by sea salt and winds that come off the ocean. It resembled an old plantation house that I once saw in Wainaku, whose paint was worn right down to the wood. That old place was woefully haunted by the ghost of a Portuguese plantation worker who died as a result of a curse set upon him by an old Kure dejru or Feiticeiro. He refused the advances of the witch doctor's young daughter, who took it as a personal slight. The Cubrant was set forward, and the poor man was neither seen nor heard from again. A short time later, his neighbors saw the apparition of his former self wandering about in his home in broad daylight. Even as the memory revisits me, I realize that there is a detail to the story I cannot recall. I'm having the same feeling about this Hau'ula house whose yard bears a mango tree filled with fruit. I had the unnerving sensation that the houses engulfed me as I passed into its portal. Kekela walked me over to the quaint kitchen table where her sister Kaomi sat; she rattled off under her breath while simultaneously acknowledging me with widened eyes and a raise of her eyebrows. She took my hand and hugged me, and returned to her seat at the table. She appeared to be perfectly healthy, save for the words which ran back to back with no pause or lilt, it was just a continuous run-on of a sentence after unending sentence. The words were inaudible as she kept a low tone of voice and uttered not a syllable above her breath.

"Did you need to know when all of this started or anything?" Kekela asked.

"No, no. In a second, I'm going to ask Kaomi to begin speaking in her natural voice, but before I do that, would you mind if I ask you a few questions? These questions might seem strange or off-putting, they're not intended to be that way, but it's for how I might be able to help you," I said.

"Sure, of course, yes," Kekela replied.

"Okay, so what is your religious affiliation?" I began.

"As in what church we attend?" She inquired.

"Yes," I nodded.

"We were raised Mormon, my sister and I," she confirmed.

"What was your childhood like?" I queried.

"Well, aside from school, a lot of it involved planting, pulling, and preparing taro from the taro patch that we owned and still do. My brother's children work it now." She nodded to herself.

"What was that work like?" I asked.

"Oh, waking up sometimes at two in the morning to plant an acre of taro before we get ready for school or during the time for 'ohi, we would have to peel the taro and get it ready to steam so that it could be made for Poi. All those crystals made our hands and arms very itchy, it was backbreaking work, but that was our life growing up." Her eyes were far off as she reminisced about her childhood. I glanced over at Kaomi, who nodded to acknowledge her sister's story.

"What about cultural things, like hula and stuff like that?" I inquired.

"Oh, you mean like Hawaiian legends and things of that sort?" She asked calmly.

"Yes," I nodded.

"We never involved ourselves in those things; we were taught that it was demonic, so we stayed away from it," her reply was a matter of fact and not at all demeaning. I had to think for a second if I was going to tell her about the legend of Haloa. How it is in keeping with the planting and harvesting of taro. If I did that, I'd also be imposing my own beliefs on her and her sister. I wasn't there to engage in a battle of ideologies. I was there to help. In the next second, my throat began to feel a bit dry,

"May I trouble you for a glass of water before we begin?" I asked.

"Oh sure, I'm such a terrible hostess! I didn't even bother to offer you anything; I'm so sorry!" Kekela replied. As she opened the cabinet door to fetch a glass cup, I noticed several glass jars that filled the two higher shelves; they were filled with different types of herbs. Angelica root, bindweed, chicory, hemlock, vervain, for some reason, I suddenly remembered the missing detail of the fate that befell that poor Portuguese man in Wainaku all those years ago. The mango tree that grew mangoes in his yard bore its fruit out of season, just like the mango tree in the yard of this Hau'ula house. It was the sign that the Portuguese witch who cast the curse on him was powerful and more than likely, according to the lore, was in league with the devil. Witches commonly used the collection of herbs in Kekela's cupboard for casting vile curses, that's what these two women were, Witches.

By the time Kekela turned to hand me the glass of water, Kaomi had gotten out of her chair and inserted herself between the two of us.

"Never mind, Kekela, he knows," Kaomi warned her.

Without a word, Kekela returned the glass of water to the sink and nervously wiped her hands on her pants. Both sisters moved cautiously and placed themselves on the other side of the kitchen table as if to create a secure space between us.

"Kekela is a funny name for someone considering its meaning; boastful, showing off, you know, stuff like that?" I said. "So is Kaomi, is a wind in Hana, Maui, but what kind of wind is it exactly? You never mentioned the function of the wind at all, or where it came from? Is it a sweeping wind coming inland from the ocean, or did it come over the mountains? And if so, what was the name of the mountain? What were the vegetation forms and kino lau that represented the gods in that place? You didn't mention any of that now that I think about it: both of you aren't even Hawaiian, are you?"

"We meant no harm," Kaomi began. "It's just that.…" I didn't let her finish; otherwise, the ensuing conversation would have reduced itself to begging on their behalf, and that would have eventually led to some kind of compromise. No middle ground tonight.

"I don't care about your reasons," I removed two small pu'olo from my jacket pocket, both bundles were filled with salt from the Hanapepe farms along with the first dew which filled the middle of a Kalo plant, both made in their purest forms by the hand of nature.

"Look at this place!" Kekela pleaded. "Even YOU can tell that we haven't conjured anything!"

"We KNOW who you are; we know you can't be trifled with!" More placating from Kaomi.

"And yet, here you are, trifling. You have a tree in your yard that is giving fruit out of season, every herb you have in your jars are meant to harm people in one form or another," I said. "All of these things give the both of you away as being in league with Satan."

"What do you expect?!" Kekela was now done with the facade; she showed the true form of her name. "He is our God!"

The two pu'olo spread out and opened as I cast it at them. Even in the attempt to run and avoid it, the arc was too broad. The sisters crumbled beneath its intent as the sound of sizzling flesh emanated from their frames.


I messed up; my actions were too hasty. I reacted instead of trying to find out what their real purpose was. Why the whole act just to get me there? What was their plan going to be if I hadn't noticed all the signs? I'll never know, I'll just have to drown my foolishness in a taro bun salami sandwich slider.

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