3 Creepy Hawai‘i Tales That Won HONOLULU’s 2017 Ghost Story Contest

All we asked was for a little chicken skin, but it turns out these talented local writers didn’t mind stirring an eye of newt and a chicken bone or two into the bubbling cauldron.


Our buckets were running over—and running red—thanks to all of those who contributed their short stories to HONOLULU’s Hawai‘i Ghost Story Contest. Congratulations to first-place winner Kanani Marcos for Bonfire Blues. While we’ll never feel the same again about a party on the beach, Marcos gets to spend that $150 gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris Steak House on red meat. Second-place winner Jessica Sneed truly creeped us out with Drip—thanks a lot for these neck twitches—and earned herself $50 to spend at Dave & Buster’s, before or after she uses those two tickets to Wet ’N’ Wild Hawai‘i. (Notice how “wet” goes with “drip?”—consider it payback.) In Dream Lover, third-place winner Tani Loo reminds us of the peril that comes of dreaming a little too insistently about beautiful wāhine. She gets a much happier outcome with her $20 gift certificate from Dave & Buster’s.


We won’t be getting much sleep these next few nights, but we thank all the talented writers who terrified us and hope to see your work again next year.




First Place

“Bonfire Blues”





Ash floats in the air like snow. The heat from the bonfire is winning against the fight with the ocean breeze, as my sweater sticks to my back and the aroma of salt and musk stings my nose. I wander to the edge of the fire’s glow, and the breeze rifles through my hair as the heat smothers my face. I dump the contents of my red cup into the beach grass and apologize to the plant.


The party goes on as I stare from the imaginary corner I created in the wide-open beach setting. Obsidian walls offered by the night tempt me to walk off into the darkness and escape the overheated room provided by the fire’s tendrils. The people’s red faces glow from more than the heat, and when someone breaks out the ‘ukulele and starts playing and singing out of tune I turn away and walk off into the night. I walk until I can’t hear the pluck of strings and their voices.


The full moon illuminates my surroundings in an eerie light, and the ocean hides whatever is beneath its surface as it reflects the sky. I sit down to watch the sand crabs scuttle across the beach and I burrow further into my sweater. The cold sand steals my body heat, as I lay back to stare at the stars. My breath and the waves crashing are the only sounds I hear, and I imagine I am the only one left in the universe.


“Hello,” says a raspy voice. I jerk into a sitting position, and an old woman with long wavy black and white hair stares at me. Her white dress reflects the moonlight into a haze around her and billows in the breeze. Her eyes are the color of coal and just as lifeless.


I grip the mace in my pocket ready to spray and run should she threaten me.


“Don’t be scared child. You look lonely, so I thought you needed company,” she says softly. Her voice is like a whisper, but for some reason it carries above the waves and burrows itself into my ears. She stands where the tide reaches, but her feet don’t sink into the wet sand and there are no footprints indicating where she came from.


“I’m fine, thanks,” I say. “I was just heading to a party, that one over there.” I point toward the bonfire in the distance. The bonfire blazes like a beacon of safety in the distance, but this woman’s gaze keeps me in my place.


“Oh, well,” she says. “Will you help me walk back to my house? It’s just up that little incline. My body isn’t what it used to be.” She takes a couple of hobbling steps forward. The sand where she walks doesn’t shift and there are no footprints where she just moved. My heart beats faster, and she cocks her head to the side as if she can hear the fear pumping blood through my veins. A grin creeps across her face and her eyes turn black.


“Sorry, auntie,” I blurt out, “but I have to get back before they miss me.” I turn to run to the bonfire, but she crouches and lunges at me. Her fingers brush my elbow, and even though there is fabric between our skin I feel the pressure of her fingertips like the burn of dry ice. I sprint toward the light of the fire, and don’t look back.


Once I can hear the strings of the ‘ukulele, the fear starts being eclipsed by hope. By the time I reach the fire, my legs are burning and I can’t get enough air into my lungs. People don’t notice my return or the fact that I am gasping for air, so I sit down by the cooler and grab a beer. I chug it down and relief starts sinking into my bones. Sweat soaks my sweater and I pull it off to feel the night air kiss my skin.


When I take it off something on my right arm catches my eye. A star shaped mark the size of a quarter is on the inside of my elbow. I swipe at it with my hand, but the moment I touch it I feel a chill emanate from it.


“You’ll never be lonely again,” a raspy voice whispers into my ear.





Second Place






Ithought it was rain. Rain just light enough so you don’t know whether to grab an umbrella. Faint and persistent, like the rotten food in the fridge you can’t find. Drizzles when I walked to the car. Sprinkles while I urged my trusty old Civic over H-1 on the drive into work. Trickles in the parking lot. Drops when I went out to grab lunch. And repeat it all going home.


Collecting the mail, I felt another droplet on my shoulder, yet the street was bone dry. Before I could wrap my head around that, another drop fell—on my head—followed by the stale whiff of plaque. I brushed it away, distracted, as I skimmed a senator’s flyer explaining why she was switching parties.


Two more drops squarely on my head and shoulder. Then the smell—moist moldy traces of sewer darting across my face. Sewer line must’ve broke.


Four more drops nailed me. Something sour, sharp, almost metallic, with a heavy side of ammonia sucker-punched my nostrils, sending me reeling to my car, hand to my nose. As the vomit rose in my throat, I noticed that the vehicle was dry. Not a single wet spot.


Ten more drops assaulted me. I looked up, and found teeth. Molars the size of bowling balls, incisors and canines as big and sharp as shovel blades. Between the teeth, fishbones here, pork, beef and chicken bones there, flecked with black and dark green tissue and plant matter. Drool coated everything, dripping on my face, tasting fermented. A pair of indigo eyes, the size of beach balls, gazed down at me from above the open jaws. The teeth opened wide, drenching me in saliva, as something hit my eye. I caught it: a human-sized tooth.


The stars twinkled through the jaws for a brief second, then nothing but darkness as it chomped me from head to knees, chewing and swallowing me whole. I didn’t stop screaming for hours. Not after the gnawing, squeezing, yanking and burning. Not after the stars glowed back to life. Not after I saw my body walk into my townhouse without me. I screamed and screamed as daylight bled into night, watching my body laugh at my favorite shows on TV, sleep in my bed, then grin up at me before driving away in my car. No one heard me.


Neighbors went to work, dogs crapped in my yard, day in, day out. My body ignored me after awhile. Screams streamed into tears, for days. Then I got hungry. After a week, I somehow rolled, tumbled and waddled to the loco moco place nearby. Managed to dip my head in the dumpster, foraging for leftovers. Chicken bone in my teeth. No way to remove it. So annoying. So painful. No one sees or hears me. Still hungry. I moved on to other dumpsters. Still no one sees me. Still hungry. Found others like me. Why can’t they hear me? Followed some. Their dumpsters no better. Followed others. Scary. Can’t be like them. Never stoop to their level. So hungry. Fish, pork, chicken, beef, poi, vegetables, fruits, bread, rice, booze, weeds, rocks, trees, excrement, pee. Fresh, live or trash food no good. So hungry. There’s a girl. So hungry. Pretty white dress. So hungry. Lots of papers. Secretary, lawyer? So hungry. So hungry. Cute blue car. So hungry, so hungry, hungry, Hungry, HUNGRY! HU-UNGRYY!!!!


A scream pierced the night sky. I looked down and saw a cute black bow on sleek heels peeking out from below a white dress. Found car keys in hand. I jingled them together, delighting in the sensation. A dog yipped at me from across the street, and its owner apologized as she pulled it along with her. Grinning ear to ear, I locked my sporty blue Fiat, walked into my gorgeous two-story house. I didn’t even notice the light rain just beginning to fall.





Third Place

“Dream Lover”

By Tani Loo

  Dream lover

Photo: Jeremy Bishop


The mo‘o that scampers over the man’s foot is moss green. It’s the same hue of seaweed that ‘ōpae feed on, and the same shade as the lush mountainside after bouts of rain. He watches it dash up the wall, its feet like suction cups, pausing only to stare at him with its unblinking eyes. Part of its tail is missing, but he dreams of it later that night whole, crawling over his body until he wakes with beads of sweat dotting his upper lip. That’s the only night he dreams of mo‘o.


After, he dreams of a young Hawaiian woman standing before the ocean. Her hair is chestnut, tumbling past her waist and partially shading her face when she bends toward the water. When she raises her chin, her hair falls away and she turns to look at him with pupils as black as coffee.


During the day, he conjures up images of her nestled against his shoulder or sewing lei at the beach with her delicate toes digging deep in the sand. His co-workers tell him that he seems distant, like he’s not really there, but he can hardly form an excuse, much less a response. All he knows is that the images are stronger at night, and he clings to them the way that ‘opihi cling to rock.


When night finally comes, he goes to her. She raises her hand to welcome him and crooks her finger to draw him closer. Then, her lips unfurl. Her mouth widens until he sees her teeth—sharp and jagged rows like that of a shark. He hesitates, almost steps back, but she grabs his hand. When she touches him, he thinks he’s home. And he knows that he’s no longer dreaming when she leads him to her own.


The journey through the valley takes hours, though the longer he remains in her presence, the more his sense of time and direction is lost. He’s too distracted by his hand in hers, leading him as if he’s her pet exploring a new park. She’s afraid he’ll get loose and lose his way among all the twists and turns. He only knows they have reached their destination when she yanks him hard.


Together, they enter the woman’s cave—and there are mo‘o. They are not only moss green but taupe and dirt brown. They all have tails, and she lets them caress her skin in the same way she caresses his. Her fingers leave a long, slimy trail that keeps him connected to her even when she’s no longer touching him. Sometimes, she chants. The lizards come to her then, shuffling, slithering and fusing into her skin. For a brief moment, she’s both human and reptile, but when he sees it, he thinks he’s only dreaming again.


It’s months before he turns cold, before she touches him and feels no body heat against her own. There’s no color in his face and his skin resembles prunes from the wet insistence of her embrace. She snickers, lifting his hand to her mouth. Her teeth sink into his forearm and through the skin. Then, she rips, pulling her mouth and his flesh away simultaneously. She keeps ripping until he’s nothing but bones. When she’s done with him, she rubs her distended belly. She’s satisfied with who she’s lured in. But soon, she’ll feed again.