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THE TOMBSTONE LEI
On the island of Mau’i in Hawai’i
By Rick Carroll

Her mother, pale and wheezing, looked about ready to die.
“Can I help you?”
“There's nothing we can do,” her daughter said.
We were waiting at Kahului Airport for the Honolulu plane one windy day in March or maybe April (one month seems like the other on Maui) when I noticed the older woman's distress.
“What happened?” I asked.
“It's so strange,” her daughter said. “We stopped at that little Hawaiian church by the sea, the one with cats playing in the graveyard.”

“Near Makena Landing?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “that's the one, on the coast, past Wailea. We went for a drive. My mother wanted to stop at the church because the tombstones were strung with flower leis.”
“What happened?”
“I touched one,” the daughter said, “and the lei I was wearing around my neck, a plumeria lei, just died; it shriveled up and fell in dust to the ground. We should have left right then, but my mother took a lei from a tombstone—the flowers were so beautiful—and put it around her neck. It happened immediately—her face turned white, pale white. Something was strangling her. She couldn't breathe.”
“What did you do?”
“I took the lei off her and put it back on the tombstone, and we left right away for the airport.”
“How long ago?” I asked.
“About an hour,” her daughter said.
Her mother fanned her face with her plane ticket.
I got her a cup of water, told her that she'd either had an allergic reaction to the flowers or encountered a spirit in the graveyard. In case it was a spirit, I told her to tell the island she was sorry, and that she probably would be all right. It was all I could do.
“Thank you,” mother and daughter said. “Thank you.”
After we deplaned in Honolulu I saw them again. Mother was breathing easier. Daughter looked less anxious. I bid them Aloha, they smiled and waved good-bye.
Later, when I told my Hawaiian pal Sam Henderson about the incident he shook his head.
“She's lucky.” he said. “Never take someone's lei, especially if they're dead.”

Weird Hawaii

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