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Hell in the Pacific

Do the Funky Centipede: Most visitors to the Hawaiian Islands are unaware what lurks just behind the fun-and-games veneer.

A most intimate tale of getting really bugged in paradise

By Steve Church

IT IS A TALE OF SUCH horror, such unspeakable terror, that even now, years later, my skin crawls at the memory. It is a story of such nightmarish proportion that only readers of sound mind should continue past this point. Thus duly warned, let us start at the beginning, as all good stories must.

The Hawaiian Islands lie 2,400 miles west of Santa Cruz. Thrusting 11,000 feet above sea level, they seem to be a lost world in the center of the largest ocean on earth. Formed through violent upheavals and terrifying eruptions, the islands to this day tremble and spew molten rock from cavities that open to hell itself. The volcanoes of Mauna Loa and Kilauea have blown spectacular fountains of liquid lava thousands of feet in the air and at times, threaten to engulf entire populations in their fiery infernos.

But this is not a story of volcanoes.

The Islands were first inhabited by seafaring Polynesians who navigated thousands of miles in open canoes by following sea birds, tides and clouds. They basically smelled out the lush isles and contrived a culture of harmony with the land. The early Hawaiians were a fairly superstitious lot who believed the fiery volcano goddess Pele could only be satiated with an occasional human sacrifice, and as with other early cultures, a virgin seemed to work best of all.

The Hawaiians revered largeness. The bigger the better when it came to picking wives or queens or kings. Some of Hawaii's early royalty tipped the scales at 500 pounds. If a child was born deformed or puny, it was simply tossed to the sharks. Hence came a race of giants.

But this is not a story about giant virgins.

Early missionaries were horrified by the Hawaiian's nakedness and uninhibited practices of free love. Within several years, they were able to teach them the error of their ways. The missionaries were also able to convince the early kings of a thing called "land ownership." The land was divided among the kings and their people. Then, over the years, the land was bought back from them by the missionaries.

Even though a Hawaiian's size may well be suited for it, these people simply hate work. Which is not a bad thing in my book, unless you want to get something done--which the missionaries did. So Orientals were imported to do the work and soon took over practically every business on the islands.

So it now becomes apparent why just a tiny bit of animosity has become obvious in the Hawaiian people. We stopped free love, forced them into clothes, took their land, killed them with strange sicknesses, then brought in other people to control all the money.

But this story is not about a race of pissed-off giants.

Land of a Million Feet

A SCRAWNY HIPPIE in the early '70s, I moved to Hawaii to become a bronze surf god. It was one of the most terrifying six months of my life. The half-year of living dangerously. They hated me. I was everything the average 350-pound Hawaiian hated most in life--white, puny and there.

I was run over by surfboards and Hobie cats, had sand kicked in my face, was chased home at knife point, chased home at gunpoint. They tried to run me over, dropped potted plants from 10 stories above me, refused me service. No doubt, those big Kahunas would have killed me had they been able to catch me.

I swore it would be a cold day in Honolulu before I visited that place again. But this is neither here nor there.

About 15 years later, a good friend and lawyer (not that the two can't mix) moved from hereabouts to Maui. A couple years later, he called and invited me over. I explained about the Hawaiians' aversion to me. He told me how he now had a practice that defended only Hawaiians against DWI charges. He assured me he was revered as a White God. He also reminded me that I was about 50 pounds heavier than the old days. Placated, I decided to venture back.

Chris, that was his name, Chris Carrol, rented a nice beach-front house in the west coast town of Kihei on Maui. Tucked into thick jungle alongside his house was a tiny guest cottage in which I would reside. It was on my first night there as I rose to retire to the cottage that Chris warned me.

"Watch out for the centipedes!"


"Yeah, they come up through the shower drain sometimes. Some of them are a foot long and big around as a Ball Park frank."

And here, ladies and germs, is where the story begins.

Although Hawaii has no snakes, it is home to a horrifying 12-inch black and highly poisonous centipede that would make a snake seem cuddly as a kitten. So it was not without great care and some concern that I entered the frame shack.

By candlelight, it soon became apparent I was alone, and into a huge four-poster bed in the center of the room I crawled. Above the bed hung a Mombasa net that draped the entire mattress in mosquito protection. I certainly felt secure enough in that filmy tent. I blew out the light and watched the moon shadow of palms swaying gently on the walls. That moist, tropical air was like warm flannel sheets against exposed skin, and I soon was in a baby's slumber.

Then, suddenly, I was awake. It was much later now, as the moon had set and only total blackness greeted wide eyes.

Something was wrong ... very wrong ... some unspeakable terror had jerked me awake ... what could it ...

Then I felt it. As I lay there on the sheets naked to the world, something shoved between my legs. Something snake-like had curled into the dark warmth of my crotch and now squirmed against me. A million tiny feet walked on tender skin.

A centipede!!!

Night of Dark Horror

IT'S AT TIMES LIKE these in one's life, times of immediate tremendous fear, that everything seems to go into slow motion. I suppose that's nature's way of letting us enjoy every detail, every feeling.

At first, the thought to stay calm shot through my head without much consideration. Then a millisecond later, the idea to panic entered my mind and was met with great approval. I grabbed at my crotch with both hands and leapt into the air, twisting like a hooked tarpon and screaming with unbridled alarm.

I was met by the Mombasa net and returned to earth securely wrapped in its filmy folds.

That's when the creature bit--and he bit, mind you, in a place to deliver maximum pain. It was like having a branding iron dropped in your lap. Again, I launched into the pitch darkness by muscle spasm alone, landing this time on the floor, now tightly wrapped in the clinging netting. The beast bit again, infuriated at being wrapped up with this writhing human. Once more, the pain rode into my brain on the back of the horror of what was happening.

I was hopelessly entangled. My arms locked at my side, my legs bound together, the squirming, poisonous beast between them.

And it was dark, dark as only a tropical night can be. Pitch black and without a ghost's chance of finding a match and candle.

The thing bit again, searing yet another patch of flesh. Again I screamed and I struggled more violently against my wraps. It was a nightmare to surpass all imagination because it was real--too real.

I suppose it was the fifth or maybe the sixth injection of poison from the wriggling brute that knocked me out. Or perhaps simply the horror of the entire situation had become more than the brain could handle. At any rate, I mercifully blacked out while teetering on the yawning abyss of insanity.

It may have been minutes or even hours later when again I became conscious. There was a blinding light as patient hands cut and unwrapped the netting from my body. I was numb with fire from my chest down, drenched in sweat, my heart was beating in a poisoned frenzy.

Like in a dream, I watched the million-legged beast crawl from my crotch, across my leg and onto the floor. With detached interest I watched as Chris smashed the thing beneath his boot, then wrapped a towel about my throbbing torso. Like in a dream, I was being wheeled down the fluorescent halls of the Maui hospital.

Now the Hawaiian centipede's bite is generally not fatal to anyone over 3 years old, but I had been bitten with such ferocity that it was days before the poison cleared from my head, a week before the pain subsided and 10 days before the swelling had gone down enough to gingerly don a pair of pants.

It was five minutes after wriggling into those pants that I left Hawaii.

And you know something? I have never returned to those rocks.

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From the May 1-7, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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