Keola, his dog and I had hiked for about six days down the coast of
the Big Island starting at Punalu'u on the King's trail. We were good friends
and experienced hikers so we carried only light suppies and mostly
fished for food and drank water from the cool, brackish springs. We
spent most of our days exploring the lava
tubes and caves we came across.
One night we camped in an old fisherman's stone hut. We were tired
from hiking all day, so we ate and then crashed out early. In the dead
of that night, I began to hear the terrifying crunch of countless
footsteps pounding toward us on the broken a'a lava field. I was
really never so afraid in my entire life, as they just kept coming,
closer and closer, those frightening footsteps getting louder and
louder. My logical mind was screaming that this was impossible, there
was not a soul around for miles... was I having some kind of mental
breakdown? The brackish water?
Yet still the footsteps advanced as each moment became louder and more
intensely frightening then the one before. Keola whispered in a voice
cracking and dry, "Don't look up, don't move, and don't scream". Time
seemed somehow distorted as they trampled by endlessly, mere inches from
the opening of the enclosure.
Even after the ghost brigade had passed, I lay face down,
with my heart pounding, my mouth parched and trembling. I really and
truly thought that we were going to die. (And I could not understand
why the damn dog hadn't even made a sound.) Keola told me later that
Hawaiians call them "huaka'i po"- the night marchers. They were the
spirits of dead warriors perhaps fallen in some battlefield near to our
camp. These restless souls knew no peace as they marched off again and
again to some strange and deadly unfinished battle. He
said that he had been told as a boy, that had we looked directly at
them, they would have stopped briefly to kill us and then continued on
Years later now, whenever I hear the crunch of footsteps on
a gravel path, I am taken by the memory of that night. Immediately my
hands get clammy and I feel a major chill on the back of my neck. The
brief flicker of insanity flies across my mind like some wretched bird.
And I am once again on the lava field in that dark, hopeless night.
Pressing my face into the black void of my sleeping bag, I can hear them
as they begin to advance. The rough lava crackles underneath their
feet. And with each ghostly step, they are coming closer and closer.
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