WEB EXCLUSIVES: Tita (a.k.a. Kathy Collins) recounts a close encounter of the spooky kind below. Video & audio available.
Things That Go Bump
Story by Paul Wood | Illustration by Matt Foster
When it comes to renting, possession is everything.
I should have known right from the start there was something strange about that house. The ad said, “Wailuku. 4 bdrm. Rural setting.”
Most Wailuku neighborhoods are built like plantation camps, miniature and close — so close that four bedrooms would require at least one person to share a mattress with the next-door-neighbor’s Pontiac.
Plus, the rent was cheap. That was weird.
I knew I was going to rent the place as soon as I saw the ad.
The “rural setting” proved to be a nearly hidden dirt track near the mouth of ‘Īao Stream. The sprawling, out-of-plumb old house sat on a dried-up wetland area right in the blast of the sea wind — incessant, scalding, and gritty.
The place was cavernous and dark, full of rooms and various floor heights, none of them level. One set of crusty windows looked seaward, where rank after rank of little combers constantly rattled a billion rocks. Another looked at the stream itself, once Maui’s greatest aquifer, now an arid concrete chute tagged with spray paint, with rusty shopping carts tossed into it.
My neighbors were all Hawaiians, including a blind man who walked past every day, led by a disobedient white dog.
The spooky stuff started happening almost immediately. Every night I would close the blinds in the bedroom; in the morning they would be open. Furniture would move around when no one was looking.
One night some friends and I were sitting in the kitchen when a pantry door swung open on its own. I don’t mean a little wiggle. I mean a long, slow, deliberate all-the-way opening. We stopped talking and just stared at the door and then, darn it, the door deliberately swung itself shut again.
The blind man, Frank, proved to be an amiable fellow who had lived his entire life in the neighborhood. One morning I invited him in for a visit. He came cane-tapping up the little wooden stoop while I held open the screen door. His dog almost refused to enter. Frank had to scold it into submitting, and it lay whining in a spot by the door.
“Tell me about this house, Frank,” I said as I made coffee.
He smiled. “The man who built it, his name was Kong. He lived here many years. Plenty kids.”
And he told me this: Kong had once been some sort of caretaker of ‘Īao Stream. He knew every inch of its banks, and would travel by foot every day from here up into ‘Īao Valley and back. Then water policies began to change, and they started diverting water from the stream. They didn’t need Kong anymore, so he lost his job.
As the stream started shrinking, Kong started drinking — an inverse-ratio sort of fate — and as the channel went dry, he became more and more mean and physically abusive. Things got so bad at home that his wife took revenge and killed him.
“In his sleep,” said Frank. “Cut off his head. Right in there.” He waved his arm vaguely in the direction of my bedroom.
I lived in that house for two years and never actually saw Kong. But he kept shifting the chairs, opening and closing doors, operating the light switches, and once locked me out of the house for an hour by jamming all the doors. I was never afraid of him. That’s just how it was.
You may think I’m talking about a time long ago, in the hippie days or something. Not at all. Very few years have passed. I don’t know who rents the house now, but I’m sure that Kong still resides there — waiting, no matter how long it takes, to once again hear the rumble of unrestrained river water.
Compiled by Rita Goldman | Illustration by Matt Foster
Paul Wood is not the only Mauian who has experienced the unexplainable. Here are some of the tales friends have shared — starting with Maui actress and quintessential storyteller Kathy Collins, a.k.a. the Pidgin-speaking Tita.
One time, after one of my performances as Tita, a kupuna [elder] told me about a time the volcano goddess, Pele, saved her life.
She and her husband were coming home from a party at Chang’s Beach in Mākena. The husband had had way too much to drink, but he insisted on driving, and weaved all over the road. The wife was not happy. Along the way, they see an old woman, holding what looked like a laundry basket, standing by the side of the road, and pull over to give her a ride. The woman climbs into the backseat, but when the wife turns around to ask where she wants to go, the woman has disappeared. The husband was so shaken up, he told his wife, “You better drive.” That kupuna told me, “[That’s how] Pele saved our lives.”
Editor’s note: Pele sometimes appears as a young woman or a crone standing beside the road, and drivers who stop to offer a ride are in for a shock when she vanishes. In this instance her disappearance was a blessing: It so rattled the drunken husband that he handed the wheel to his wife — likely saving them from a crash.
Professional storyteller Lopaka Kapanui lives on O‘ahu, but this spooky experience happened to him on Maui in 1971.
When I was 10 years old, my hānai [adopted] mother and I visited her relatives in Wailuku. While the adults were inside, we kids played outside. The grass at the end of the yard was so overgrown that at first I didn’t see the old, rusted Ford truck sitting there. I also hadn’t noticed the local Japanese girl, about my age, sitting on its hood. I walked over and asked her who she was. All she said was that she was stuck to the truck because it ran her over. Then she slowly dimmed out until she was gone. I found out later that the adults were meeting to discuss what Uncle Roland had done. He’d been speeding home to catch the boxing matches on TV and didn’t see the girl crossing the street. He ran her over, and ever since, the girl’s ghost has been stuck to his Ford F100.
Judy Edwards’s stories have often appeared in our pages, but she’d never told us this one before.
Once, in the mid-’90s, I walked down to the old King’s Highway, a little past La Pérouse Bay, to visit friends camping there overnight. Both were new to the island, and at that time, the area was still a peaceful place to spend a starlit night. I stayed for a few hours, walked back to my car and went home, leaving them to the silence, warmth and breezes.
The next time I saw one of those friends, she told me they’d had a great night, but that something strange had happened after I left: She’d seen a line of men in the distance, walking on the King’s Trail and carrying flickering torches. “I could almost see them, but not quite,” she said. “And they seemed to float along; I couldn’t see their feet at all.”
I told her then about Hawai‘i’s night marchers, and she got very big-eyed, realizing what she had seen.
Editor’s note: Legend says the night marchers are the spirits of ancient Native Hawaiian warriors heading to battle. Those encountering them are advised to get out of the way as quickly as possible, lie on the ground, close their eyes and be perfectly still.
Chief conservation officer of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, Scott Fisher, is a man of science, so you wouldn’t think he’d believe in ghosts. You’d be wrong.
In 2008, during a beach cleanup in Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes, a sharp-eyed student noticed that some iwi kupuna — human remains — had washed out of the bank from wave erosion. That happens often after storms, and our protocol is to contact a local archeologist to ensure the bones are treated with respect. When I followed up with the archeologist later, she delivered the sad news: the bones were those of a young child.
Later that week, my six-year-old daughter and I went camping in Waihe‘e. We set up our tent maybe 100 yards from where the iwi kupuna had been found, and around 10 p.m. we went to bed. When the moon was high, around 2 a.m., I heard the laughter of a child, circling around the tent. I thought it was my daughter, but she was fast asleep right next to me. But the laughter wasn’t scary — it was more like happiness, perhaps for the recovery of the bones.
In Hawaiian thought, the world is divided between the au, the world we live in, and the pō, the darkness, the realm of the gods. In certain moon phases, our world and theirs connect. This, I believe, was one of those times.
Several times a year, Scott Fisher leads a moonlight hike through Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, sharing stories about its history, ecology … and spooky occurrences. Go to hilt.org/talk-story-on-the-land for more information.