Pueo Calls

          You can hear voices there, among the tangle of branches, the overgrown grass teasing the chicken skin up and down your legs. The Pali’s distant, the sound of cars mute, and all you can see as you stare into the blackness of this jungle is the afterimage of headlights streaking past you, desperately trying to pull you back. But you continued on, deep into the brush, hoping to find her there, as I had all those years before.
          It was fall, if there is such a thing in Hawaiʻi, and my girlfriend and I were at a party for a friend who had just survived his second week of teaching at the University. Lawrence decided since it was his party, and because he taught history, we should dress in the attire of our favorite decade. He didn’t hesitate to don his jacket and powdered wig, playing up President Washington as if Williamsburg had come to Kahalu`u.
          My girl on the other hand, had just started a fashion course and decided to raid every thrift store in search of the perfect 40’s look. She ended up with a black Chanel dress that evoked the sense of wasted time as only an hourglass could. At home, I had found my grandfather’s only suit; you could still smell the pineapple fields in the seams.
          We were almost too tired to make the drive back to town, but I insisted. Heading up Kahekili, she started to tell me about her grandmother. How when she was little she used to talk to her before she went to bed, and about how when she woke up at night she could hear her whistling the lullabies she used to sing when she was alive.
          “You’re freaking me out.”
          “It’s true,” She said. “My mom’s seen her.”
          I was pretty sure it was the alcohol clouding her judgment, but I decided to ask anyway. “You’re kidding right?”
          “Once,” She said, “my mother was sleeping and she heard something, a shriek. She got out of bed and turned on all the lights.”
          “The kitchen window was open like someone had tried to break in, and on the fence my mom saw a pueo.”
          “I don’t understand.”
          “My aumakua,” She told me, “my grandmother.”
          I didn’t say anything to her, but I could feel her glaring at me.
          “You don’t believe?”
          “It’s not that, it’s just—.”
          “All that hocus-pocus, y’know?”
          “Turn up here,” She said.
          We were on the Pali, passing the road to the lookout. I smelled jasmine and what must’ve been rain, and in the other lane, all I saw was car after car speeding by, a trail of lights that stretched for miles towards Honolulu.
          “Here,” She said again.
          I did it without looking, a truck beeping its horn, almost T-boning my hatchback. I stopped in the middle of the street, my headlights lost in the darkness. “Where are we going?”
          “I’ll show you.”
          “Show me what?”
          But she was out of the car before I could say another word. I pressed on the clutch and tried to shift, but the gears kept grinding me to a halt. A couple more tries, and I finally got it into first, making it only a few feet before I died out again. I got out of the car and ran after her, hoping that I’d find her sitting on the side of the road laughing.
          I don’t know how far I went, blind, following the sound of branches breaking. There were shrieks echoing through the valley, calls, and when I think about it, I had heard them earlier, mistaking them for the sound of a truck horn.
          “Therese?” I called out, but the only thing that returned my call was a single hoot from above.
          The valley was filled with that sound, and I searched for hours, until the sun rose and fell again, but she was never found. It wasn’t until years later, talking with her family, that I found out her grandmother used to gather flowers with her as a child there, and that perhaps the jasmine and fresh rain reminded her of those times; despair washing over her, beckoning her to come. Sometimes, on nights like that one, I drive up there, windows down, and shut off my car. I call out to her, hoping that she might hear me and find her way back, but the only sounds that come are the calls of the pueo, echoing back.

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