Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Aug 7, 2021

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2021 #85


The old warrior’s mind was like an enclosed fishpond surrounded by a protective wall of silence and long hard stares into nothing.

The intoxicating numbness of ‘awa often carried him quickly into his blind slumber, but when the magic of its numbing effect wore off, the sluice gates of his protective pond were lifted, and the horrible memories of war would flood forward. The memories of many campaigns in the name of elevating whoever the ruling chief may have been at the time possessed his mind and spirit and seized his body. He was a youth once more, dashing across the plains of pili grass along with countless numbers of his warrior brothers as they went headlong into a waiting wall of enemy flesh. His lithe, muscular legs carried him effortlessly toward his mark. It would be a few minutes before he actually broke a sweat, his breathing was even and calm. He had established a breathing pattern to keep the oxygen running through his body to avoid fatiguing so easily. The even flow of air also aided him in keeping his mind clear once he engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Not every man in his first wave would return home alive no matter how rousing a speech the ruling chief gave. It was merely done to elicit a sense of bravery and to re-establish a belief in the fabled glory of war. The reality of war yielded no glory. This he knew. Some would be badly wounded and die slowly. Others would have their entire lower intestines hanging from where their stomach. Those poor few took a few days to die. The more who survived completely were the ones who were truly wounded. Whenever he was about to engage the enemy, he would put it out of his mind as quickly as it came and return to the task at hand. Shutting out the din of mindless shouting and high screeching war cries, he fixed his focus on one warrior amongst the many that stood between themselves and the enemy prize. This “ONE” had to be the example. His death had to come with such brutality that the act alone would steal away the breath of the thousand who witnessed it. He ran faster, faster. He had to be the first to get there, the first one ahead of the countless numbers of his brothers who ran beside him. Taking in a deeper breath, he increased his speed and began to pull away from the black mass of the Hawaiian army. Faster now, he ran until the sound of his comrades’ voices faded behind him, faster until he was within distance of his intended target.

There he was at the very front of the battle line, an Ali‘i ‘ai moku, a chief of a district, a lesser chief but a perfect sacrifice as the first given to the war god. Closing the distance now, his fixed gaze never left his target. He would reach him soon. Now all he had to do was will this chief to look back at him to see death coming. The chief did not see the approaching warrior at first, but the others who stood near him did. He was far enough ahead of his regiment that he had made himself an easy target for their spears. Only the most skilled were called forward to gift this brave or foolish warrior with the tips of their weapons. The spears were fashioned from a dense piece of wood known as kauila. The weapons were either of a singular sharp point or fashioned with reversed barbs with the bottom edges facing one another. When pierced with such a weapon, one could not remove it either way without the sharpened barbs causing severe internal damage. They did exactly as he had hoped; they threw their spears headlong toward him. A sinister smile came upon him and the hackles raised on the back of his neck. The hour of truth had arrived, he’d become possessed of the Ku element, and in full view of the enemy, he threw his own weapons away and continued his trek unarmed. Finally, he and the enemy chief locked eyes while more enemy spears came with the veracity of finding their target. He dodged one and parried the next with his hand; the other was intended for his head, which he bobbed to the other side, never once leaving his gaze from the enemy chiefs. He wanted him to see his end approaching. He wanted his comrades to see the horror of it as well. It was the few seconds of utter shock that would buy his own army the time they needed to obliterate the enemy’s first line of defense. And there it was, the opportunity he’d been waiting for. He was now close enough the see the red feathers on the cape of the chief ruffling in the wind. It was the distraction he needed. As he glanced toward the ruffling of the feather cape, so too did the enemy chief. In the same instant, two spears flew directly at him, and he plucked both right out of the air without any effort. He let the weight of the spears spin him around, and he cast the first toward the chief’s head, who dodged to the right. The second followed behind the first in the same direction, and the enemy chief repeated his first feint. The look on the enemy chief’s face was one of ridicule as if the fast-approaching warrior was an amateur at casting spears. Then, with one shoulder roll forward, the warrior sprang up from the dirt and, with his two fingers, plucked out the eyes of the enemy chief and ate them. Before the chief could react, the warrior then pierced the chief’s abdomen with his fingers, removed the liver, and consumed it for all witnesses to see. Horror struck the entire first line, but they had no time to react. The warrior’s army was upon them. Death had come in numbers that seemed to have no end.

The enemy chief was the first to die in battle, a valued prize indeed. His body was taken to the sacrificial altar as an offering to the god of war, Kū. The victory was theirs. The day was won. The effects of the ‘awa began to wear off, and the eyes of the old warrior could only see blurred images of the moon that shimmered over the ocean. He needed the seaweed that would help restore his sight; he knew the area around his home well enough to find his way back to the cave where he now lived. His body was old and broken due to all he had put himself through during the wars from times long past. It was all he knew. His family could not understand his bouts of anger whenever he drank the ‘awa, and in turn, he felt that he had outlived his usefulness and agreed to leave his home. With what little mercy his family had left for him, they sent their youngest son to stay with the old warrior to see him through his last years. Once the old man had passed, he would be allowed to return home. The boy slept on a pile of mats just at the foot of the cave. In the middle of his slumber, he felt the old warrior nudge him from his sleep. No words needed to be said; whenever the old man woke him, he understood that the blindness had come, and he needed the seaweed. The seaweed itself was of a black variety that needed to be administered in tiny doses. Too much of it would render the very same adverse effect that it was meant to cure. So on nights like these, at the behest of the old warrior, the boy rose from his sleep and made his way down the old path leading to a small cove. It was beyond this cove where the boy would have to slip into the dark waters only to retrieve just a handful of the black seaweed. A minuscule application of the seaweed would leave the old warrior with perfect sight for a month or so but now, as he indulged himself with more and more ‘awa, the blindness seemed to be returning with more frequency and the task of having to get more of the black seaweed became even more dangerous.

The waters just outside the cove belonged to a shark that had already gained a reputation for killing several swimmers and fishermen. So the boy had to be quick each time. Most certainly, he never dove into the water but simply immersed himself beneath its surface and kept his movements small and confined as he pulled his body along the walls of the submerged reef until he found what he needed. Although once, the boy suggested to the old warrior that it might be prudent to gather and store the seaweed so that it would be available whenever the blindness returned, the old man said that the remedy only worked immediately after it was gathered, when it’s potency was most effective. The sound of the crashing waves amplified into the long hollow depths of the cave where the old warrior slept. In his dreamless sleep, his subconscious heard the din of the thunderous ocean. Still, in the old warrior's mind, it may as well have been the war cries of his comrades fighting side by side in a sea of bodies so close together that it became difficult to distinguish the enemy from your own brother. Somewhere above the clamor, he thought he heard the faint call of his name. It was enough to rouse him from his slumber. War had taken a physical toll on his body. Where he could once rise to his feet without effort, he now had to roll himself onto his stomach and rise on his hands and knees until he could eventually stand. Standing straight up took a minute or two because the process was painful. A pinch of a nerve here and the cracking of cartilage there, and he was finally able to shuffle his way out of the cave. The waves just outside the cove drew themselves back and hit the reef like titanic hands beating on a pahu drum, releasing a deep cavernous sound that shook the warrior to his core. With each stroke, the old man’s body jumped and twitched, and his ears sharpened. In the distance, he could hear the call of his name. The sound was faint but unmistakable,

“E Lāwela! Eo mai!”


His voice was only a whisper in his dotage. Unlike the pe’a of a mighty double-hulled canoe, his lungs could no longer be filled with the quick blast of air that he needed to move him any quicker than he could travel. It hurt to breathe, and each breath had to be taken in slowly. Otherwise, he’d become dizzy and would start to lose his balance. The voices seemed to have a sense of urgency now as they echoed out to him, almost leading him somewhere. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, he stood without the cave walls and looked out into the pitch black. The air was filled with the putrid odor of seaweed and a combination of sea spray. The old warrior glanced back into the cave to make certain that it was not the young boy who called out to him from the cove; it was not. He could see that the boy was fast asleep. The blindness had not come upon him. Therefore, there was no cause to awaken the boy and send him out. Who was it then? Who called him?

The hackles raised on the back of his neck, and a chill went through his body. It had been many countless years since he’d felt that. It was his battle instinct. It told him that something was not right. Quickly as he could manage, he shuffled over to the boy and woke him up. Out of habit, the boy jumped up and began to make his way out of the cave. The old warrior grabbed the boy’s shoulder and said, “ ‘A’ole,” Pointing to the back of the cave where he slept, the old man continued, “lawe mai ta ‘ihe,”

The boy obeyed and quickly returned with the old warrior’s spear. The weapon was much like him. It had lost its luster, and the wood was old and faded, no longer smooth and sleek. Instead, it was fibrous and filled with small cracks here and there. Time had long passed since his mighty weapon drank its fill of enemy blood. It had withered into nothing. Much like him, it outlived its usefulness. Caressing the old spear like a long-lost friend; he said, “Imua pū kāua, kāua wale no,”

The boy watched as the night seemed to swallow the old warrior into its embrace while at the same time, the old warrior followed the din of voices eager to answer their call with the tip of his spear or a kind greeting, whichever came first. 

His comrades of the blood-spilling spears urged him forward, pointing behind them toward some campaign in which they all had yet to fight. They were all so young and glowing with the luster of youth and vigor. So filled with life, eager to test their mettle. Along with himself, only one other among the many would return home alive. He remembered that day when the families of those men who had perished in battle waited eagerly at the border of the ʻahupuaʻa. Their eyes brimming with tears, balancing on the precipice of hope and despair. He remembered seeing them and then stopping in his tracks. What was he to tell them and could he bear the questions, the tears, and the blame for not trying harder to keep their son, their father, or their husband alive? It had happened so often that he became numb to it all and simply made speeches about the glory of war when he had already seen for himself, that there was no glory to be had in death. He rushed forward now, realizing that he had to speak to his old comrades and urge them to forget about war and to return to their families and bring life to their land, for there was the true glory. They didnʻt hear him, instead, they smiled and cheered and urged him forward. Forward he went, calling them fools and idiots. Now his close enough that they opened their arms to him in a welcoming embrace. As he fell into their arms, knowing that he had to make them see reason, they all faded away like a mirage on the horizon and the old warrior fell headlong in the little cove where the boy went to retrieve his medicinal seaweed. The massive shark felt the vibration change in the water and immediately charged forward tearing the old warrior to pieces. The meat was tough and there was not much of it, but the shark made short work of his prize.

In those few moments before the sunrise, when the blackness of night is at its most pitched blindness, the boy heard the voice of his ʻohana calling him, beckoning. Telling him that the old warrior was dead and that he had fulfilled his oath. He could return home. Walking to the opening of the cave, he saw them. His mākua, his kuaʻana, his kuahine, and his kaikaina. Rubbing the sleep away from his eyes, he stood there unmoved while they called to him. He turned around and went back into the depths of the cave to reclaim his sleep. He would have gone to ʻohana willingly, had their hands and mouths not been covered with blood. The massive shark had gotten clever but heʻd still not been able to master the art of a full illusion. 

No comments:

Post a Comment