By Megan Kakimoto
Here is how to keep the night marchers away:
- Once the moon has washed the night sky in light, go home. Avoid spending time outdoors in the evenings. Shutter all windows and ensure screens are affixed in place.
- Avoid frequenting sacred spaces, including Kalama Valley, Kaʻena Point, Mokulēʻia, Kaniakapūpū, Haleakalā, Mauna Kea, Waialua, or anywhere else where one may encounter bones of kānaka maoli.
- Pay close attention to the lunar cycle: you will most often find them during Pō Kāne*.
- *The final days of the Hawaiian moon cycle, traditionally the 27th of the month.
- Note: You don’t want to find them.
- Beware of torches, drumbeats, and the dissonant blow of the conch shell.
- Ke māʻau nei nā ʻeʻepa o ka pō
- “The strange and wondrous creatures of the night now roam.”
- If sighted by a night marcher, be prepared to remove all of your clothes and lie face-down.
- A rumored theory to surviving the night marchers based entirely on anecdotal evidence. Nothing really to hold on to when you’re in the throes of an encounter, but it’s worth a shot.
- Consider peeing on yourself as a last resort.
- Again, anecdotal. You will find no written account of its effectiveness, not here or anywhere else.
- If you get that flopping-fish, stomach-as-a-fist, grit-in-the-teeth, tongue-like-a-rough-stone sort of feeling—run.
I spent all summer making the list and now I’ll be famous. It’s thrilling, really, to be the kid with the answers.
I carry the list around with me like a loose appendage. Sure I should be more careful with it, but the thing is, it’s not finished. Not quite yet. So I can’t waste time considering the fame and popularity, the friends who will swathe their little arms around me like a clinging ʻopihi because you see I have a job to do. I have sketches to finish.
But of course, I get distracted. I think of the children with their stringy Poly hair and thirsty hands combing the island for a practical guide our own parents had neglected to drop in our laps, see them clawing the sky for a rainbow band, something veiled and intangible to light their path.
Now more than ever, with the night marchers paring our dream world open and raw.
One kid in particular has proved a mighty distraction.
Of all the girls in Kumu Knoble’s eighth grade class, Mahinahokukauikamoana holds the title for most laborious Hawaiian name, and though she insists on mindful pronunciation through every, single, slogging, syllable, I choose to call her Mahina.
Mahina the lousy, gorgeous, too-good-for-this-school-and-especially-too-good-for-me girl. Like me, she’s just a girl. It’s important to note Mahina is not my friend, yet.
The problem is we’ve known each other for far too long, all nine years of grade school and supposedly two years prior, when we shared a ball pit and sandbox and plastic potty-training ring at the valley preschool. Back when we didn’t pronounce her last name because none of us knew anyone’s last names because we were three. She was just someone small my parents called my friend, though even then she was snatching animal crackers from my hand and proclaiming them hers.
The problem is, she knows exactly how best to exclude me.
See me now, rifling through my locker for no particular reason except to wait for Mahina. There she is. Plodding along with a damp face and dark eyes boiled by tears. I wonder what she’s crying about but by now most everyone knows the answer, we’re all crying over the same thing and anyway there are so many people around her, a human barricade of flimsy arms and stiff knots of knees, adolescent bodies at their most grotesque. They brush hair from her dewy skin and they do not consider the consequences of their questions, mild as they may seem. They don’t know enough to stare the questions straight in the face and laugh.
Of course they won’t make a space for me. I stand just on the periphery of the crowd, and I don’t blend in.
What’s wrong? What is wrong?
What’s happened to you?
Why won’t you stop crying? Don’t cry, you’ll smudge your foundation.
What’s happened to you?
The nightmare reports have been occupying the adults’ time all summer. Now that school’s started and sports are back in session, they’re hoping they’ll get a break from us, that our libidos teetering on the falls of adolescence will distract us from the terrors that plague our dreams. I can see it in my father’s body, the way he bolts frantically around the house with my school files pressed to his chest, making a big show of fussing over my bus schedule when really he’s just prowling around for an escape from me and the night marchers stomping through my sleep.
My father was not some award-winning parental exception. In the months preceding the start of the school year, guardians around Oʻahu were torn from their pau hana drinks, work meetings and busy schedules and forced to explore the oddities of our minds. Some prescribed talk therapy, others went straight to pills. Emilia Wong’s mother pulled her out of the academy entirely, citing our liberal freedoms to explore the Internet during study hall as an expression of what was going wrong in our brains. My parents were less reactive. Like most locals, they’d heard tales of the night marchers their entire lives. It was only our generation who’d committed ourselves to seeing them in our sleep.
Late one night my father met me in bed and asked what I dream about. “Mostly I dream about colors,” I’d said, and this was almost entirely the truth.
As with most things, I waited until someone else called attention to the nightmares before daring to disclose my truth. It was Shelley Tam who stepped first into the fire, insisting through a face wilted like a plumeria petal that the dreams she was having of the night marchers weren’t in fact dreams but they were real, they were a sliver of her real, waking life that just so happened to take place behind the screen of her eyelids. It was hard to explain, and Shelley did such a shit job of it that most of the parents dismissed us as untrustworthy and attention seeking, diagnosed the vocal few with an overactive brainstem and a penchant for screening horror movies late into the night.
After Shelley, there was the timid, pensive Kirkus Reed. He tried well enough, except his parents worked double and occasionally triple shifts at Costco scanning customer receipts, so really they rarely saw him. Then came Hanna Le, except her father was dead, and her mother, an overworked nurse at Kapiʻolani, was preoccupied by the sweeping flu season. Sure Jones and Kamea tried, so I heard, but they were kolohe kids, reasoned away as flaunting their rascal tendencies. That left Mahina, previously untouched, a renowned heavy sleeper.
I still have not seen the night marchers but you’d better believe I’ve smelled the smolder of kindled torches, heard the measured cadence of drums and the long, hollow call of the conch shell. You don’t have to see things with your eyes to feel them stirring low and alive in your gut.
I suppose it’s easier now, knowing I’m not entirely alone. But only easier in the way that an injection hurts slightly less when you watch the needle slip into your skin.
And anyway alone is still the alias scribbled on my nametag. Nine years at this bullshit academy and all I’ve to show for them are piles of graffitied textbooks and a professional diagnosis of severe social anxiety. No pills, my mom won’t allow it. Doesn’t believe in it. Instead she takes me to her office where she is a secretary at a law firm and I play Agar.io on my phone and answer the adults’ obligatory inquiries into the night marcher terrors. Do I see them, how do they manifest for me. I swallow luminous cell after luminous cell on the iPhone screen and I don’t have the heart to admit to them I’m not a chosen one, that the night marchers do not visit me in any real, corporeal form. That, months later, and still I dream exclusively in color, sounds, smells.
When the first bell rings, the students scatter like sand swept over tile, and then Mahina is bowing her head between her knees and gathering all of her kinky dark hair into a tita bun that sits like a nest foraged from twigs atop her head. “What’re you looking at?” She fixes me squarely in a way that makes my stomach flop on its side.
For so long I haven’t made a friend. This isn’t some exceptional personality trait. Some keiki inherit their companions at birth and some have hānai comrads and others have no one. It’s only natural. Friendlessness for some is a result of awkward breeding and poor social skills but that’s not my problem because I’ve got pale skin, you see. Skin the color of stirred buttermilk, of a pasty bleached bathtub. The academy only accepts kids with native Hawaiian ancestry and it’s not the only one of its kind but it is the most prestigious, which means every inch of your bones and blood should seep with kānaka maoli.
I have light hair. My last name is Stevens. Never have I learned to swim. I’m Japanese and Korean too, by the way, but no one tries to pillar me in that way.
Every week Kumu Knoble assigns classroom chores and this week Mahina is in charge of blowing the conch shell. It is a ribbed old shell twisted like a spring, a pū peeled from the back of some large gastropod with a fine-tipped spire where the sound tumbles out. My grandfather says people study the blowing of the pū for years and sometimes decades, learning from kahuna and kumu the delicate art of vibrato, how to alter tone and pitch simply by holding your lips taut to the mouthpiece. But Mahina receives no formal training, and I watch her cheat the process by plunging her fist into the open cavity to alter the vibrations.
She blows the pū to rally our class, and it is my weekly task to usher everyone into a straight line flushed against the classroom wall. To make note of who is missing, and to ensure we’re arranged alphabetically by last name. I’m supposed to indicate to Mahina when we’re all in order, ready to begin the chant, but she never waits for any sort of signal so I’ve stopped trying.
Then Mahina blows the pū: a shallow, throbbing whir. Kirkus leads the ʻoli while I snag a hangnail on the scab on my left elbow.
Kūnihi i ka mauna i ka laʻi ē
I sleep woozy into Kirkus’s chanting voice.
ʻO Waiʻaleʻale la i Wailua
That gravelly, loose warble, like a jowly ʻamakihi bird sailing through forest canopies.
Huki aʻela i ka lani
I wonder if I am the only girl attracted to nerdy Kirkus Reed though I doubt it. We are a petri dish of a native community, and there is always someone for somebody.
Ka papa ʻauwai o Kawaikini
Someone for somebody except for me, maybe.
ʻAlae ʻia aʻela e Nounou, nalo Kaipuhaʻa
Don’t feel sorry for me.
Ka laula ma ka o Kapaʻa lā ē
I have the list.
Mai paʻa i ka leo
The list will make me famous. Make me friends, maybe.
He ʻole kahea mai ē
This chant is very long.
Then Kumu Knoble ʻolis his response and we all file in, one by one, Mahina fronting the class.
We take our seats and open Hawaiian Mythology so that the pages fan out the width of our tiny desks, bending the books’ spines. Kumu Knoble is a fan of reading out loud. He’s also fond of the “popcorn method,” which means Shelley Tam reads the first page of Chapter 23 titled “Mu and Menehune People” before drafting Kirkus Reed for the next page, who assigns the page after that to Kaʻala Aquino, who hands off the following page to Mahina, who stares at me from all the way across the room as she calls on Kamea Contrades to read the final section.
Kamea’s reading voice is bleak, an inky dark slur that snags on words with several syllables. Rarely am I able to keep the text straight when he’s steering the popcorn method, so I save the reading for study hall and busy myself with the night marcher sketches I’ve been tackling all summer, my exhausted attempt to render sound and scent into something I can see.
I’m not the only kānaka who doesn’t see the night marchers, though this deficiency is not widely publicized by those who bear it. Those who see them in their nightmares are deemed the special ones, because even when threaded amongst demons and death, the weary and the ghoulish and everything else accompanying one’s journey through night terrors, an ancestor visit means you must be doing something right.
(It’s tough to acknowledge there are bullies with entire worlds ripening in their minds while I sleep a symphony for the deaf.)
I’m shading in the flimsy malo, the downy fabric of which I imagine bunches between the thighs of a migrating night marcher as he stomps through the valley of my head, when a scream splits me in two and my pencil tumbles to the floor. I look up, and everyone is looking down, down at Mahina, a trembling bug folded into herself on the classroom tile, her beautiful hands spasming in front of her chest, clots of foam blooming from her lips.
“Oh my god.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Why won’t she stop moving?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
Then Kumu Knoble is sweeping into the chaos, rolling Mahina on her side while he positions her quavering skull in his lap. “Call 9-1-1, call the principal,” he orders, but all we do is stare at one another, waiting to see who will lead the class, now that Mahina is indisposed.
It takes a few minutes for the principal to show and another half-hour for the ambulance to come barreling through the academy yard lot, the tires kicking up gravel and dirt, all sorts of nasty stuff as the rig reverses its cabin inches from the lobby’s double doors. Men in khakis and gray uniforms lift Mahina, who hasn’t stopped shaking, onto the flat of a rolling gurney, and as they roll her down the sterile hall under those awful blinking fluorescence, I wonder who called 9-1-1, who called the principal, because I sure as hell did not.
Tough to resume class, after that. Mahina’s mad, sleepless ravings have nestled into our brains, and now we’re a tin of worms squirming for release. Before study hall Kumu Knoble throws up his hands and frees us for internet time, traditionally restricted to one hour a day but for today’s exception, which feels like some gross, unearned gift.
I use my time as I always do, browsing the internet for images of night marchers. To the curious passerby I might explain away the Google results as investigative research for the list, but really I am hoping one of these images might stick, slip into my head and gummy my nightmares the way they have with the chosen ones.
The problem is, no one has captured visual evidence of their encounters with the night marchers, since they’re always sticky with slumber, buried three layers deep by their REM cycles. Besides, cameras don’t work in dreams and even if they did, how would one go about processing the film in the real world? Instead, I scan artistic rendering after rendering, see night marchers depicted as championed Hawaiian warriors, their fists raised to the murky sky, malo stained a dazzling red not unlike the blood that licks the tips of the wooden spears they bear. I see illustrations of night marchers more apparition than of this (dream) world, zombie-esque creatures simply wandering around, a translucent shell of themselves. In some search results, all I see are torches, a whole waking row of them kindling the dark sky with streaks of madness.
Sometimes the internet can be so exhausting. I close my laptop and my hands melt clammy with desire for the tactility of pen and paper. My darling, perfect little list. You must be more careful with your things, my mother says. So now instead of wrinkling the paper in a wet fist I’ve crimped it in the spine of my algebra textbook, utilitarian if only for this purpose. I open the book to page twenty-three except now the only list I find is an impenetrable one stitched into the binding, detailing forms of linear equations and the distinctions between variables and their neighboring coefficients.
I forage through my backpack, running my hand over the velvety surface and all of the barbed stitching while the kids behind me pull fistfuls of conspiracy theories about Mahina from the sky.
“Dude that was nuts, she’s haunted for sure.”
“It could be the pū. Can you imagine if that was your classroom chore? I’ve heard enough of the pū in my nightmares, thankyouverymuch.”
“She’s just tired. No sleep in two months, only nightmares.”
“We’re all tired, you don’t see me going foamy at the mouth.”
“I think she’s toast. See ya on the other side, hopefully not anytime soon.”
“What are you looking at, Stevens?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Lucky ‘lil haole princess.”
I ask, “Has anyone seen a, my list?”
Kumu Knoble whistles a warning from the back of the classroom, tapping the surface of his desk three times with his mottled old knuckles. He doesn’t explain what’s happened to Mahina, doesn’t even try, he lowers his head so his chin rests on his sternum and we can’t see his face, we don’t know where he’s gone, how long he’ll be away, if he like Mahina is gone for good. No matter, by now we know better than to seek answers from the grownups.
Without the list to work on, the rest of the day passes like a swollen thumb pressed into a wall. I dawdle to the restroom and hear more talk of Mahina, of the EMTs who took her away and how handsome Kumu Knoble looked, cradling her head like a newborn. I bypass Kumus Farias and Thompson to wash my face in the sink, cupping tepid water in my palms and flushing my eyes and skin with it. I peel a paper towel from the dispenser, and I don’t know where the list could’ve gone, how I could’ve fucked this up, why I am the most careless kid in school when I’m also the only one with the answers. I press the crumpled paper towel to my face, breathing slowly.
I press the paper towel to my face until I see bright, speckled stars blinking back at me. Still the night marchers don’t show.
When the final bell rings, I scan all of the students slumped over their desks and I don’t know what to do. Like Shelley and Hanna, Kamea and Jones, Nguyen and the sweet, mālie Kirkus, I shove notebooks and pencils with blunted tips into my backpack, and I think about Mahina and her shivering, the foam spewing from her mouth like saliva coated in sleep. I think about how many of us have seen the night marchers in our sleep, have felt the vibrations of the earth as the marchers paraded through the valley, while others have only heard the rapping drumbeat, the low ringing of the pū, the chanting. The ringing of the pū, and I know exactly where I need to be.
There are many reasons to despise Mahina, but none more so than her two houses. After her parents split at the end of sixth grade, Mahina got two of everything—two televisions, two surfboards, two queen mattresses with two distinct floral bedspreads, two heirloom Hawaiian bracelets, two dogs, two houses. When staying with her father, Mahina lives in a cheap condo at the edge of Waikīkī, their miniature balcony overlooking the sludge and debris sweeping over the Ala Wai. But her time with her mother, that’s when we all roll over with envy.
I’d only been to that house once—a beachside craftsman cottage flanked by exposed beams and a wide, covered lānai—for Mahina’s thirteenth birthday, and even then I knew I was an unwelcomed guest. I took one reluctant step onto the bamboo flooring while the rest of our class gazed up from their phones and bowls of party mix, inquiring after my presence without saying a word. Then Mahina emerged from the kitchen, holding to her lips a plastic cup filled with a murky liquid, demanding, “What are you looking at?”
All of you, I could’ve said. I am looking at all of you all the time.
But Mahina doesn’t find me, and this time when I knock on the door I am greeted by Mahina’s mother. A pouchy woman haloed by flurries of dark hair and a generous figure. She guides me through the wide entryway and under the coffered white ceilings into a breathy, glass-gilded room that tapers into a hall, at the end of which I know without knowing for sure is where I’ll find Mahina’s bedroom.
“It’s so nice of you to check up on her,” Mahina’s mother says, one hand wrapped around the doorknob. She is short like my mother, with a soft belly, heavy cream voice; very maternal. “You and all of her friends, such good kids. Parents raised you right, I’m telling you.”
Without bothering to knock, she opens the door to Mahina lying on a lumpy mattress, cocooned by an ʻulu-printed Hawaiian quilt with a damp towel draped over her forehead.
“Sweetheart, your friend’s here to visit.”
Mahina tilts her head to look at me, turns back to the window, readjusts the towel on her forehead. “Not in the mood, thanks though.”
“Please be pleasant.” Her mother squeezes my shoulder, shrugs slightly. She closes the door behind her and I wait to hear a sharp click before I approach Mahina’s bed, the slumbering little princess herself rotting away in her castle.
Walking toward Mahina feels like approaching lava rock still billowing with smoke. I take a step, she doesn’t move, I take another step, another one, I step further and then Mahina jolts forward, the floor clamping down on my bare feet. I open my mouth, waiting to say something—
“What exactly do you want?” she asks, but I can’t scramble together the words to ask her how many times she’s seen the night marchers, what they look like, what they’ve done to her.
“Just checking up, I guess? Wanted to see how you’re doing.” I wander around the room. I run my hands over hardcovers, a mahogany dresser, a koa wood nightstand, a handful of silver bangles lumped together in a coral jewelry box, and I think about how she has two of everything while I barely have one. She sees the night marchers, battles them and flees from them each evening in her sleep, and she is the only person I can think of who might help to elucidate my drawings, so I rustle through my backpack, wrestle the thing to the floor, looking for my sketchbook. Just suck it up and do it, I think, peeling at the bag’s zipper. But asking someone like Mahina for a favor is no simple act (social anxiety, and all), and even if she does agree to help with my drawings, then what? How long will I wait until the night marchers finally trample their way through all of the brush and the thickets, to find me?
I surface my sketchbook, give it some air. A pile of textbooks, algebra and Hawaiian history and biology and a pink composition notebook, sits on the plush ombré rug beside her bedframe. Cushioned between the covers of Elements of Style and a women’s health pamphlet is a piece of paper I recognize—my list, folded like origami.
“That’s mine,” I say.
I hold the list in my hands, examining its creases and curls, the streak where the pad of my hand smeared it black. It’s my list, I know it’s my list, and still the way Mahina is looking at me—those smoldered, projectile eyes and nostrils flaring like a rodeoed bull—a sliver of my gut feels as though the paper doesn’t belong to me but to Mahina. I point to the curlicue in the letter C that I recognize as my own ornamental handwriting, and then she snatches it back.
“It’s my list,” I say.
“You’re insane.” She nods toward a simple pedestal desk locked in the ewa corner of the room under a foggy transom window. “It’s my list, I wrote it right over there. I read a bunch of books and spent all summer researching. You realize I’m the one who had the seizure, right?”
A seizure. The word was a tickle on my tongue, the vibration, the madness. Mahina has stolen my list, and worse than the theft is the physical clamoring of her arms and legs and that enormous head, the brute corporeal evidence of the answers she holds beneath the hood of her skin.
“Look, you know you can’t share that with anyone. It’s not finished…I haven’t finished it yet. And the night marchers, I mean they probably don’t want us sharing their secrets. They’re not even supposed to be seen—”
“You are such a lolo,” she says. “This list is gonna make me famous. No one has the answers except me. I will save the world.”
Mahina’s pastel walls bend around me like elastic. Always in the halls, in homeroom, Mahina is this monstrous, looming presence, but seeing her lying in the bed like that, convinced of her own fragile heroism, it’s all very sad. Her delusion is a sticky syrup that coats her throat, and she coughs, coughs again, closes her eyes. And what was I planning on doing with the list, anyway? Who exactly was I preparing to save?
“Will you at least tell me what they look like? Can you draw it for me? I need to finish my sketches—”
“Oh no one cares about your stupid sketches. You think you’re fooling us? We all know you’ve never seen them.”
I feel the plush resistance of carpet against my heel, and then I am moving backward, shrinking into the doorway, drifting off. My sketchbook is a warm animal climbing on my chest.
“Look if that’s it, I’d like to go back to sleep. Sleep as much as I can, you lucky haole wouldn’t get it.” Mahina folds the towel over her face so that it swallows her eyes, her splayed, flattened nose, her furry brows. She slips the list between her knuckles, creasing the paper further. It’s a wonder I don’t try to kill her. Instead I nudge the tower of books beside her bed with my left foot, until the titles tumble to the floor and you’d better believe each one taunts me, reminds me exactly of all the things I don’t say.
Quietly I close the door and leave.
The ER swells with little bodies within the week. My classmates, sure, but also keiki from the hills of Hālawa, the ones who live in tiny homes with high-pitched roofs and scuffs in the clapboards. Smart kids, and kids who wade through the sludge of the Ala Wai despite warning signs of high bacteria levels stitched across the canal. Kids who dream of their teeth crumbling from their gums, down their throats like dirt, and kids who dream of ponies. Still I only dream in taunts of colors, sounds and smells, which is probably why a seizure hasn’t sent me to the hospital, yet.
The rooms are all mimetic imitations of hygiene. Purely artificial. Beige walls brushed with scuff marks and white boards detailing fluctuations in patient conditions. Each room stinks of antiseptic and paste. Sterilizer bottles clutter the countertops. Shitty TV screens are affixed to the walls. Steel sinks have incised the counters, dropped in like Tetris cubes. The faucets drip frequently, in monosyllabic patterns. One-two-drip-four-drip-drip-seven-drip-drip-ten. The steady sound chokes my throat as I slink through the halls mostly unnoticed, looking for my “friends.”
What else I see in the hospitals: anethesia machines, defibrillators, patient monitors, fluid warmers, spherical autoclaves, stretchers. Nguyen Phan, Shelley Tam, Kaʻala Aquino, Hanna Le, sweet Kirkus Reed.
I am so jealous, the sensation is a husk around my skin.
All of the patients have exhibited the same symptoms. Recurring seizures, going soapy at the mouth, loss of taste and smell, gripping fever sweats, hallucinations, night terrors in which the night marchers storm through the gluey film of REM sleep. Their throats atrophy, blister. They trip and falter over their words. I weave through the halls undetected, medicinal A/C rippling over my skin. My “friends” are scattered throughout the giant complex, splayed out over wrinkled hospital bedsheets, looking as lonely as me.
We all know you’ve never seen them before, and sure I’m the whitest kid in the hospital, but exceptions must be made, right? It isn’t right to leave a kid out of the fold so deliberately. I don’t want to foam at the mouth but maybe I’d like to have the option.
Maybe I’d like someone to ask.
Or for someone to ask for me, but of course my “friends” are a bit preoccupied by dehydration, the plucky drip-drip of their IVs. I spend some time pressed against the glass divider to Kirkus Reed’s private room and let needles of guilt jab at my chest. Poor little Kirkus, how different things may have been for you had I managed to finish the list sooner, if I’d been less careless with the things that mattered.
I press my nose to the glass and think about that one time in middle school when Mahina pranced around the dining hall, calling me a fat pig with hairy legs, and how even then Kirkus sat down beside me, unlatched his Kikaida lunchbox, ate his sandwich, stayed. I stay outside of his private room for a long time, until a nurse asks that I please don’t press my whole face to the glass, it isn’t sanitary.
Those poor wilted nurses, and the doctors! All of the them have pleats gathering in their skin. Their eyes recede in the sheaths of flesh, exhausted, bemused. None of the kids have died but the intermittent seizures don’t exactly make for a fulfilling life. I watch the doctors and the nurses juggle patient beds as if they should be wearing top hats and balancing batons. They squeeze their graying temples, scrawl non-updates on patient charts. I can only watch so long and then visiting hours are over and none of the patients have requested to see me, anyway. I slip out the fire exit undetected. I say something like a prayer for Kirkus Reed, for my friends.
Two weeks pass, and I have concocted a foolproof plan to get my list back from Mahina. Too precious is the plan to share in great detail here. Just know that I will stop at no—
Then I’m sitting on the sofa, hunched over a bowl of chicken stew and watching the news while my parents whisper away in the kitchen, and my handwriting flashes on the television screen. “It’s my list,” I say to the spoon, to the chicken stew, the closed blinds and the scuffed clapboard walls. A pang of embarrassment quakes through me. Our old TV doesn’t do the list justice; when it’s played back to me, the scrawl looks like that of a grade-school girl, not at all someone who will become famous or save anyone.
Doctors nor researchers are in any way legitimizing this list; however, it’s certainly a testament to the pain and anguish our keiki must be experiencing at the hands of their collective night terrors.
Maybe I want to hurl the bowl of stew at the television. Maybe I do. Maybe my parents scream, gesticulate, exile me to my room, whisper more. Maybe I am becoming a problem.
That night I lie in bed for so long, not sleeping. I close my eyes and watch sparks of light flare behind my eyelids, sporadic bursts of color and sheen blinking through the black wash. The list screens intermittently in the black of my mind, and I spend the rest of the evening slipping in and out of sleep, considering the practical guide I have made, the one Mahina has snatched, forged, delivered into the world…
…Once the moon has washed the night sky, go home…
…Avoid the sacred spaces…
…Something something the lunar cycle…
The nightmare person I am is a tender silhouette of a girl who has never learned to walk right. Instead she crawls on all fours, tripping over upturned roots and worn weeds, the sensation of dirt and forestry scraping against her knees so palpable that in the morning when her consciousness is restored, the first thing I do is examine my legs for scuffs and bruises, evidence of the world I’ve slipped out of.
She is me, and when I become myself again, that next morning after the list has been relinquished to the world at large, only then do I sit up in bed and see the night marchers.
And I see I was wrong.
The night marchers who come for me are severed of arms and legs, just inscrutable heads and truncated torsos floating through the night sky, more slinky apparition than anything that might threaten my life. I see limp penises, all pinked and bent toward the breeze. They’ve assembled in phalanx formation and maneuver through the air like gallons of water, toying with gravity in an obvious, showy way. They smell of lukewarm acid, singed skin. They are armed with spears and lit torches, nothing more. No need for a malo in this dreamscape. No need for advanced weaponry when eye contact alone will whisk their victims off into the spirit world. Ouch. My toe snags on something bristly and cold. I stare down at the carapace of a giant centipede shorn in two. Suddenly I feel chilled, very far away.
I withdraw behind the curtain of a spindy ʻilima shrub and watch the night marchers forage through the valley. The valley I’ve forged in my own mind. I breathe. I peel my fingers through the barbed branches and scribble notes in my head on their migration patterns, the shape of their floating outlines and how they march without moving their feet. Without having feet. None of it makes any sense but I pay attention, and then I see Mahina crawling on all fours like me, trying to escape.
I call her name, but the word dissolves like salt on my tongue.
She turns, spies me through the ʻilima. “What are you looking at?” she asks.
But the stiff modulation of the night marchers and their ʻoli drowns out Mahina. Drowns out the thump-thump-thump of my chest and all of the organs throbbing inside of me. They’re closer, I see that now. Kicking up dirt and tufts of grass as their shadows accelerate over the landscape. They don’t see me. Mahina too looks past me. I watch their surging shadows in the blinking white light of her eyes. The breeze they respire as they move through the forest goosepimples my skeleton. The pū snares in my direction, it is the final sound I’m prepared to hear. Then I watch the orbs of their shadows pivot, leave me, surge forward as their death chant fixes on Mahina.
I try to say something, to warn her, but then I am toppling over, seized by a flopping-fish, stomach-as-fist, grit-in-the-teeth, tongue-like-a-rough-stone sort of feeling and I don’t run, I stay very still and let the chaos of the blown pū and the thump-thump of the drums lap at my ears and I am grateful Mahina has stolen the list, so grateful that I am not the one staring into the effulgent crimson blades of the night marchers’ eyes and seeing them stare back at me.
About the Author: I am an APIA writer based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2015 and am currently a Fiction Fellow at the Michener Center for Writers. My work has been featured or is forthcoming in Ramblr Magazine, Qu Literary Magazine, Bayou Magazine, and elsewhere. My story forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. megankakimoto.com
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