A writer in some strange way knows his own future–his end is in his beginning…
I used to live in old Ka‘a‘awa on Windward Oahu near Lae o ka ‘O‘io, which, depending on Hawaiian pronunciation, translates either to “the point of the bone fish” or “the point of the night marchers.”
Many people, people who knew about such things, warned me about night marchers, the spirits of early Hawaiians who appear on ancient trails on certain moonlit nights. I doubted the existence of something so ridiculous until we found the perfect cottage by the sea.
A real estate salesperson would call it a surfer’s shack, I called it my writer’s retreat. It was small, 600-square-feet, perched on the very edge of the open Pacific on Oahu’s sunrise shore.
The cottage was simple and rustic, board-and-batten exterior with thick cedar shakes on a steep-pitched Polynesian roof, and a picture window framing blue sky and blue sea.
Any closer and the cottage would be in the tide pools. Built years before codes required ocean setbacks, the cottage stood a stone’s throw from a lava rock seawall facing turquoise waves that curled ashore endlessly.
The seawall kept most waves out of the yard and provided hidey-holes for the little “corpse-eating” black crabs Hawaiians call a‘ama and consider a delicacy.
All day, all night, the waves rolled in (they are rolling in now) and died just below the lip of the sea wall, splashing over the black crabs, and sometimes staining the green grass brown. The spray often wet my deck chairs. Some mornings after high tide when the onshore breeze was strong I awoke to find my picture window frosted with salt. It was like living on a land-locked yacht and I loved it.
The rent was cheap, neighbors interesting and creative (an architect, a local comedian, a marketing wizard and a writer), the isolation ideal, and sense of place complete.
When I looked out across the lagoon south down the palm-lined coast of Kaneohe Bay the coast reminded me of photographs of old Hawaii when men in malo held fish in clenched teeth.
Even now when I show people pictures of where I lived they can’t believe such a place exists, certainly not on Oahu. “You lived there?” they ask. Most don’t believe it is Hawaii; it looks so South Pacific, Moorea-like or Bora Bora.
We tried to buy the cottage but it was not for sale, not for a million dollars even then.
The cottage and main house where Michael and MaryLou lived stood under a honey almond tree at the foot of Kanehoalani, the knife-like promontory named for the father of Pele. The landmark point visible from the Pali Lookout is the gateway to Ka‘a‘awa Valley, one of Hawaii’s most sacred and scenic, on Oahu’s windward side.
With the Pacific Ocean in my front yard and the jagged cliffs of Kanehoalani in my backyard, the location combined two key elements of Hawaii-mauka and makai, the mountains and the sea. The sun and the moon rose out of the sea and set behind the coastal Ko‘olau range.
We had our own gold sand beach, a lagoon full of manini that attracted net fishermen, and a surf break worked by bronze local kids who arrived in rusty four-wheel-drive pickups with “Eddie Would Go” bumper stickers.
When friends from town (which on Oahu always means Honolulu) came to visit they never wanted to go home, “back to reality” they would say. “This is reality,” I would remind them. Only the search for food forced me to leave my seaside retreat.
It was the ideal place to write, and I did–two books in three years including IZ Voice of The People and Huahine Island of the Lost Canoe, with a good start on a novel set in the Sea of Cortez about a 11-year old Oregon boy and his grandfather, an underwater photographer paralyzed by polio, on a voyage of discovery aboard a La Paz shrimp boat.
There was only one problem–the neighborhood was haunted. At least, that’s what I have come to believe after all that happened.
Nobody knew it then, and if we had, we would have denied it, but strange things happened, not all at once or with any regularity to give fair warning, but now, years later, I can see how one thing led to another, how little episodes grew into something larger like brain coral on the reef, signs I now realize we ignored or were just too busy to notice.
Michael always said there are no coincidences but whatever set certain events in motion and influenced all our lives began the day Michael found the Ku statue in the backyard of Desu’s old house in Waimanalo and brought it home. I don’t really think the Ku statue had anything to do with what happened but I do know everything changed after it appeared on the property.
Michael laid the Ku statue face down in the front yard under the honey almond tree. I guess he thought by placing it face down none of the statue’s mana would ooze out at night. I’m not sure it worked.
Some nights the neighbor’s dogs would bark at nothing, nothing visible, anyway. Sometimes our house lights flickered on and off. The fruit rat quit the honey almond tree and moved under the tin roof of the Weber barbecue. My new car battery died. Little things, like that.
Kenny, an electrician who worked on the ranch, stopped by to check out the main fuse box, and saw the Ku statue laying there. “It’s all the Ku’s fault,” he said, half-joking. We laughed but didn’t believe him. You know how superstitious some Hawaiians are.
One night, we came back from a shrimp dinner at Ahi’s and found a Coast Guard helicopter hovering above the rocky shore. From the chopper, a searchlight probed the tidepools, scattering little black crabs, at the foot of James and Deborah’s seaside house.
There had been an accident. Deborah had fallen off her lanai and landed on her back 15 feet below.The Coast Guard helicopter crew plucked her out of the tidepools with a basket and a sling and flew her to Queens where x-rays showed cracked vertebrae.
MaryLou always sensed a sinister presence at that end of the beach. Now, she was convinced. She’d heard about the gay couple a few doors down who ran screaming from their house after something came through the house one night.
“Night marchers,” Michael said. “I don’t know what it is,” Lani said that night, “but something out there makes me nervous.”
Michael lighted candles in the night like Tahitians do to keep the tupupau (spirits) out of their houses.
MaryLou took Deborah flowers at Queens and tried to find out how the accident happened. Soon after, she moved to Waimanalo. Said she wanted to be closer to town. I know there were other reasons.
Michael gave the Ku statue to Ahi. Bula and Ahi blessed it, performed a proper Hawaiian rite of exorcism over the primitive wooden carving, and Ahi stood it upright behind his restaurant in Punalu‘u for tourists to see.
Nothing unusual happened for a long time after that. Life in Ka‘a‘awa settled back into a seamless continuum of endless waves defined only by sunrises, sunsets and tide changes. I kept an eye on the place and kept writing.
Michael made one of his frequent collecting trips to Bali and brought back Indonesian antiques (hand-carved armoires, stone gargoyles and tea planter’s chairs) for the Japanese tea shop he designed in Kaimuki-and a new, young girlfriend, named Tri, from Java, who caught fish with her bare hands in the lagoon, polished her English watching TV soap operas, and took a shine to Pringles.
One afternoon I came home to find Tri and Michael outside their house while men from Ka‘a‘awa Fire Department with long hoses doused a blaze in the power pole next to the bedroom.
The power pole had burst into flames that engulfed the main house while Tri watched soap operas and Michael drew house plans for a new client on Kauai.
We thought at first that Tri might have left the rice cooker on but the fire inspector blamed spontaneous combustion.
After the mysterious fire the incidents began to escalate. One afternoon Michael began babbling as if possessed by demons and was rushed by ambulance to Castle Hospital; the doctors said he suffered a stroke, but I never believed that. Marcie got bitten on the ankle by a stray dog at the beach. One night Billy fell asleep driving home, hit the power near his house, and broke a chest full of ribs. A fatal head-on car crash in broad daylight closed Kamehameha Highway, police diverted traffic along the horse trail through the ranch.
None of us could recall if any of those events occurred during a full moon or in the time of night marchers. We really didn’t believe in all that old Hawaiian stuff, anyway.
And then “Mr. Big,” as Michael always called the supernatural force, raised the ante. Deborah’s husband sat up in bed one night, lighted a joss stick and died of a heart attack, and soon after I was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Years later, I wonder if I should even tell this story.
This story is an excerpt of Mean High Tide: Surviving Paradise, a work in progress by Rick Carroll.
Photo of Ka‘a‘awa courtesy Rick Carroll