Talking Story

The following is a true ghost story I wrote for Sick Pilgrim, a blog on Patheos.com. Happy October!

moonlight_windowAlone in our girls’ dorm rooms in the 1980s, high school summer band camp at Kamehameha was nothing like a slasher-teen movie. Lights went out at 10:30 pm and stayed out until 6 am reveille. Worn out, and with the axe of immediate expulsion looming over our heads, in our practical cotton t-shirts and jogging shorts, we were more interested in sleep than high jinx.

I know that slays a lot of male sleep-away camp fantasies, but it’s the truth.

When I woke, the first thing I noticed was the light.

The moon was full or nearly so; it flooded my second story window and dripped down the walls. No wonder I couldn’t sleep.

As the upperclassman on duty, I’d gone to bed with my door cracked just enough to hear if a girl on my floor needed help in the middle of the night. The second night of camp was always the worst. The excitement of being away has worn off, and the real work of marching and music’s begun. It’s the night freshmen start counting the days and wonder if they can make it through the week.

Drenched in moonlight, I lay there for a moment, breathing in jasmine and hibiscus from the hedge outside. Hot and humid as only Hawaii can get, I kicked off the bed sheet, wishing for my ceiling fan at home. A glance at my watch told me it was 1:23 am.

I sighed.

I’m never going back to sleep.

But then I heard the unmistakable sounds of a door opening and the slap, slap, slap of rubber slippahs flip-flopping down the hall.

Wonderful. Sunburn, heat stroke, or homesick? My money was on a dehydration headache. Tylenol and Gatorade to the rescue.

I grabbed my glasses, rolled out of bed, and pulled my door wide.

Through windows set above each dorm room door, moonlight fell like water, cascading through the inky darkness to puddle on polished cement like God’s own spotlight. From the far end of the hall to my right, someone approached.

Slap, slap, slap.

The door on my left swung open; a senior rubbed her eyes and scowled. “Somebody sick?”

I shrugged. “Headed this way. Not fast. Probably not a puker.”

We glanced toward the communal bathroom door across the hall from us.

Slap, slap, slap.

The steps grew heavier, closer, and we could see a dark shadow breaking the beams of light as it traveled down the hallway.

Slap, slap, slap.

“Stupid freshmen. They never drink enough.” She craned around me. “Hey,” she hiss-whispered. “Are you sick or do you just have to pee?”

Slap, slap, slap.

It was only one doorway, one beam of light away.

All of the hair, fine and downy-soft, rose along my arms. My scalp prickled.

“Eh, who’s there?” I called.

Slap, slap, slap.

Right in front of us.

But no one was there.

Unwavering, the footsteps passed, stomping down the stairs to the main floor. We heard the crash bar on the main door collapse, the door swish open, and felt the night rush in, running like fingertips through our hair, caressing our bare legs as the building breathed. We didn’t hear the footsteps continue down the sidewalk, just the sound of the heavy metal door resettling in its frame. Once again, the building held its breath.

In the stillness, the taste of fresh coconut burned in the back of my throat.

She and I exchanged just one look, then turned back into our rooms. This time I shut my door tight and said a little prayer for those who walk the night.

Later, I heard stories from boarders who called that dorm home all school year long. It’s the ghost of a pregnant student who hung herself; it’s an ‘aumakua of a girl from Hilo, from Lihue, from Kahului; it’s a prank; it’s a dream; it’s the haunting of an ancient kahu priest bound to stones stolen from his heiau altar—everyone knows unscrupulous foreigners reused finished stones after the Hawaiian gods fell.

None of those stories feels right.

I once dared to ask our kahu, the resident campus chaplain. He smiled and fiddled with his rosary as he told me that over the years, many people had seen unusual things in that dorm. When called, he’d come to them in the middle of the night with prayers and ti leaves, saltwater and aloha. He believed whatever walks these halls is harmless, and like all souls deserves our kindness. E ho‘okikaha me ka maluhia, he said. Let it wander in peace.

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