The Shadow Hand
Maui Mark and the Night Marchers
By Mark Andrew Carpenter
© 2019 by the author
Mark strolled through the Iao Valley State Park Botanical Gardens. He was a stocky Italian guy, whose wanderlust had lead him to live on Maui for the past six months. His olive skin was sunbaked to a dark mocha tan, the tips of his brown hair were bleached blonde. Mark was accompanied by his friend and local guide Kulani. Kulani was a native islander with dreadlocked hair who reeked of carnauba wax and body odor. He bathed maybe once a week and had probably never worn socks or long pants a day in his life. Mark had deep respect for this nomadic surfer because Kulani’s father was a revered healer, a genuine kahuna. Together, they explored the island spear fishing, surfing, and chasing females.
Mark was spellbound by the exotic flora of the lush gardens. Silversword flowers were everywhere, their spheres of silver-gray petals contrasted against black lava rock cinders. Every time the welcomed cool wind swept through the valley, the white and yellow ginger flowers spilled a sweet citrus aroma. Beyond the gardens, the volcanic valley was alive with Koa and Sandalwood trees bejeweled with purple hibiscus blossoms.
Kulani and Mark stood at the edge of the gardens, they shared a puff of pakalolo, gazing across the valley at the mysterious Iao Needle, the strange rock formation reflecting in the lenses of their sunglasses.
“It’s such a weird looking little mountain. I can see why the ancients thought this place was sacred. It’s amazing,” Mark said as he sparked his post pakalolo cigarette.
“It goes a lot deeper than that, brada,” Kulani replied.
“Oh nah, I’m sure it does, I just meant, like, I can sense its energy, you know? I can feel it. But please man, school me, you know I’m just a mainlander, break it down for me dude,” Mark said.
“The elders are scared of this place, bra, no joke. Lots of myths around this place, all of them dark, it ain’t just stories either.” Mark pulled a drag off his cig, tilted his head, and raised an eyebrow. Mark had seen Kulani hurl himself off a fifty-foot cliff, slaughter a wild boar, and drop in on massive ocean waves — all lethal activities. So Mark was having trouble processing the fearless Kulani afraid of this beautiful valley.
“Is this place legit dangerous, you think?” Mark asked. Kulani took off his shades then glared at Mark with his bloodshot eyes. After a long, awkward stare, Kulani pulled out his phone. He tapped on the keys, then handed Mark the device.
“See for yourself, bra,” Kulani said.
Mark looked at the screen displaying a news article from only four weeks prior. The signal was fading, but Mark was able to make out the headline that read: “Tourist Hiker Found Dead in Iao Valley.” Mark read on, learning that the backpacker was discovered with a broken neck, the result of tumbling down the slick, jagged rocks.
“They said he fell, but they say that so they don’t scare tourists off, you know? The rainforest can kill ya, bra, no doubt, but it happens in this valley all the time. Ancestor spirits rest in this valley, it’s their territory. A lotta blood been spilled in this place,” Kulani said.
Mark and Kulani sat down on a bench as the sun began to set, transforming the sky into an endless expanse of pink, amber clouds, like slivers of heavenly sherbet.
“You tell me this now, you sandbaggin savage? You might’ve mentioned this when I first floated the idea of camping overnight in this valley. Or are you just trying to freak me out? I know you get a kick out of that,” Mark said.
“Well, you said you’d do anything to see the hidden petroglyphs of Iao Needle, this is the price, my brada. It’s not too late to punk out if you want,” Kulani replied.
Mark took off his shades, then looked into Kulani’s eyes. “You know me better than that.”
The two stared at each other a moment, then burst into laughter. By this point in their adventures, they knew the other would not back down from a challenge of manhood.
“But since we’re about to spend the night in the rainforest of death, I want to know everything. Tell me along the way,” Mark said as the two strapped on their backpacks and checked their gear.
They tested their flashlights, double checked their blades, then refilled their water supplies. They squeezed through a gap in the fence along the paved path, and descended into the fog. It was dreamtime, not light, but not dark either, the witching hour. The sticky moisture swallowed them whole, the petrichor scent of soil, plants, and life was strong.
“My old man tells me this place is sacred to Kanaloa, the god of the underworld. His messengers are the squid and octopus, he taught our ancestors magic way back in the days. The chants say he was spit out by the other gods, and that him and his boys were locked in the underworld forever. They led a rebellion against the gods and got beat, so now they roam the world pissed off.” Kulani said as he hacked some brush with his machete.
“A lot like the Titans and Olympians in Greek myth, huh?” Mark asked.
“Whatever you say, haole boy. You want to know everything or not?”
“Ha, my bad, continue please.”
“So the needle we’re hiking to, some kahunas say that the rock is Kanaloa’s...you know...”
“You mean...his, uh, phallus?”
“Exactly, bra...exactly. But then other elders say somethin' else. Some say this ain’t no mountain at all. They say, that Maui had a daughter who this other demi god was trying to get with. Maui forbid them to hang out, but they hooked up anyways, so Maui turned him to stone."
Suddenly, Mark slipped on a wet stone, plunging his right knee into the serrated rock as he teetered over the cliff face. Kulani changed course, hopping back up the rocks with the skill of a mountain goat. He swiftly stretched his tattooed talon, and snatched Mark up to safety.
“I got you, bra. You alright now,” said Kulani.
“Thanks, man. Ah man, my knee is gushing blood, dude. Check out this gnarly gash. I could’ve died. Mahalo, brother, I owe you one,” said Mark.
“Nah, we’re ohana, you would’ve done the same for me. Yeah that knee don’t look so good. It ain’t too late to back out, no shame in it.” Mark gave Kulani that familiar stare and smirk for a second before they erupted into laughter once again.
“Look man, I’m gonna patch this up real quick. Let’s take a chill break for a few. Eh, you got that tequila?” Mark asked.
Kulani reached into his pack, pulled out a flask, took a swig, then tossed it to Mark. Mark took a shot, then poured another onto his wound.
“Ah man, that burns like hell,” Mark growled.
“Here you go, bra, have a bite.” Kulani whipped out a Tupperware filled with poké. They took turns scooping out handfuls of the oily fish salad, scarfing it down like wild animals.
“I’m good, man. Let’s do this.” Mark said as he secured a piece of Duct tape over his knee, fired up a smoke, and secured his backpack. They continued down deeper into the valley.
“So where was I?” Kulani asked.
“Uh, some elders say it’s not a mountain at all.”
“Right on, so back in the day, the island tribes used to fight wars in this valley.
Kamehameha fought a war here once. There were so many dead bodies, the stream ran red with blood and got damned up. That’s why they call this place Kepaniwai. That means the damning of the waters. I shouldn’t even tell you this since you’re a haole mainlander, but they used to bury kings here too, in secret caves near the needle. You see what I mean now, bra? This place gotta powerful mana, you know? No trespassin' allowed.”
“I sure am glad I opened my big mouth about camping here. After this, maybe we can check out the gates of hell,” Mark said.
“Too late, brada, that’s what we doin tonight, campin at the Hawaiian gate to hell, ha.”
Kulani said as the two chuckled a self-destructive giggle.
As the moon rose, they turned on their flashlights only to find bats swooping down, right into the beams of light, feasting on the bugs they attracted.
They reached the halfway point in the depths of the valley floor and decided to make camp for the night. They set up their tents, started a fire, then sat down for another puff of pakalolo.
Mark felt a slight tickle on his right leg. He looked down and saw a huge, black centipede creeping and crawling its way up his calf. He shrieked like an adolescent girl, jumped up, and danced as if he were on fire, while Kulani roared with laughter.
Mark spied the slithering creature in the fire’s glow, then stomped on its head, but it wouldn’t die. Mark stomped and scraped, harder and harder, finally ripping its head off spilling its guts.
Kulani shifted from laughter to harsh coughing, failing to get his words out in time.
“What’re you doin'? Don’t kill it! Is it dead? Ah, what’re you thinkin', haole? Bra, when you kill one, it lets out a death cry so that all its ohana will come at you for revenge, straight to our camp,” Kulani scolded.
“How was I supposed to know that? You see the size of that thing?” said Mark. Kulani just shook his head in silent disappointment.
In that instant, the soft sounds of the night were shattered by a loud, sharp owl screech.
Mark flinched and crouched down out of instinctual fear. Kulani’s eyes grew wide, his jaw dropped. He covered his face, shook his head, and paced around the fire.
“We’re in it deep now, bra, you have no idea. We trespassin' hard, bra. You shed blood, killed an aumakua, now the Pueo calls out to the spirits, that’s a trip bad omen. They comin' for us for sure now!” said Kulani
“Whoa there, island boy. First of all, all I did was kill a giant, demonic centipede. What the hell was I supposed to do? Those things are venomous. What do you mean, they’re coming for us? Who’s coming?”
“Nobody. Never mind. We just need to crash before we do anything else.” Kulani said as he quenched the fire and angrily retired into his tent. Mark sat down inside his tent, bandaging his likely infected knee with a tequila soaked t-shirt. He laid down exhausted, his legs throbbing, but the layers of dried sweat and thick humidity made it difficult to sleep.
Just as Mark started to drift off, he heard the sound of a horn off in the distance. He sat up, and heard it again, but this time, he also heard the faint sound of beating drums.
He threw on his board shorts, unzipped his tent, then called out to Kulani. “Kulani! Kulani! You hear that? Come on man, wake up. Wake up, someone is out here with us.” But there was no response.
Mark opened the tent to find all his gear, but Kulani was missing. A flash of panic set in as Mark armed himself with the machete. Mark followed a trail of footprints from Kulani’s tent into the clearing towards the stream. He spotted Kulani, wearing only boardshorts, motionless, facing the direction of the needle.
“Kulani! What the hell man? Didn’t you hear me? Dude, there’s someone out here with us — psycho pot farmers or boar hunters. Come on, man, we gotta mobilize,” Mark said. He grabbed Kulani’s arm, swinging him face to face. Mark’s stomach dropped, he saw tears streaming down Kulani’s face.
“They’re here. Forgive me, bra. I never should’ve brought you here. We gonna die here tonight,” said Kulani.
“What’s wrong with you? Who’s here? Whoever it is, I don’t know, let’s jet outta here. If they catch us, then we machete them to death. Come on man get with it. We gotta move now!”
But Kulani just shook his head, refusing to budge. “You can’t run from them, you can’t hide, you can’t fight. All you can do is embrace it. Forgive me. You need to get your spirit right. Everyone has to make their own choice.”
“Who’re they?” Mark asked.
Kulani slowly raised his finger, pointing straight at the needle. Mark saw what looked like a great worm of fire, an S-shaped line of blazing torches descending into the valley. He realized the sounds were war drums and conch shell blasts, the sounds of an ancient battle formation.
“Th-the night marchers.” Kulani struggled to say as he fell to his knees then laid flat on his face.
The drums beat louder and louder, coming closer and closer. Adrenaline surged through Mark’s veins. He stood frozen stiff, unable to look away from the approaching torches. An unnatural cold washed over the valley, revealing steam from Mark’s heavy breathing. Terror gripped him, all his body hair stood up, and his knees wobbled with pure fear.
From the tree line they emerged. The foul stench of putrid, rotting flesh engulfed the valley. Pale gray, large Hawaiian warriors wearing loin clothes and headdresses. They howled ancient chants of war. They were dismembered specters, missing arms, bloody spears protruding from them, their skulls collapsed, their faces deformed. Their foot stomps sounded like thunder, but they hovered just above the ground surface. The stream turned to black blood, the same vile liquid that dripped from their wounds. They encircled Mark and Kulani, beating their drums harder and harder, screaming primal chants of violence, until only feet away, then the two were completely surrounded by the horrific shades.
The largest, most fearsome of them all moved forward. His headdress made of bones, his eyes black, empty, piercing. His entire chest cavity was split open, exposing his organs, but no heart. Mark’s blood rushed to his core, an unholy chill crept up his spine as he shivered.
“HĀ’AWI!” The night marcher chief commanded.
Mark remained frozen with fright, his mind blank. Time slowed. In his mind’s eye, his life flashed. He thought of his adventures with Kulani, his family beach trips back home, and his girlfriend he might never see again. Mark’s heart swelled with love, he realized his life was full and righteous. A divine peace radiated through him, melting his fear, steadying his body. A tear drop ran down his face. He dropped the machete. He looked into the apparition’s eyes and smiled as he fell to his knees and laid on his stomach.
The night marchers resumed their primal howls, loud drums, and stomping. Mark’s resolve started to waiver, he thought for sure this was the end. At that moment, a centipede squirmed across the bare skin of Mark’s back, assaulting his energy. He thought he should flee for his life, but then, he remembered his love, his family, and his courage.
“To all those I love, I’ll always be with you. Please forgive me, God.” Mark thought to himself as he restored his mana, and accepted his fate. He could feel every single step the wriggling insect took across his torso, as it slunk up to his neck, then down to his face. He opened his eyes to see the creature’s fangs and antennae reaching out to his eyeball.
“I’m sorry. I understand. Go ahead...” Mark whispered. The centipede turned then crawled off into the darkness. The night marchers were fading further and further into the distance, until they vanished, leaving only silence.
The stream cleared, the odor of death passed, and the warm air returned. Mark and Kulani were shaken, after laying there for hours, they slowly stood up and faced each other. The two friends, covered in mud, clasped hands and hugged each other. They patted each other’s back with cathartic sobs of joy.
“Please forgive me. I’m so sorry. I never should’ve brought you here. I thought I lost you for sure,” Kulani said staring into Mark’s eyes. Their watery eyes locked for a long instant.
“Death smiles at us all, my brother. All we can do is smile back,” Mark replied.
“Shaka, bra! That’s why they call you, Maui Mark!”
A bolt of lightning lit up the sky and it began to rain hard. Kulani lifted his head, then looked back to Mark.
“By the way, bra, I forgot to mention, this valley floods quick style. Maybe we should head back now?” said Kulani.
The two glanced at each other for a moment, then broke out into laughter.