A/N So this was originally going to be an entry into the IWTS contest, but I don't think it's a good fit for that. I'm going to go ahead and post it anyway, and see what everyone else thinks. It's a bit different for me and definitely not connected to my other stories.
It's based around the song 'Hole in the River' by Crowded House. Go and check it out, it's a great song. And this was my first time using a beta, so thanks go to Merick, for making that a special experience for me. I keep fiddling with it though, so put my hand up to any mistakes that are still there.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters from the SVM novels, True Blood or the music and lyrics of Neil Finn and Eddie Rayner.
Hole in the River
The day is long and boring already. All the days are long and boring in January. Aunt Sookie is making me go to church, and that will be long and boring too.
Dad isn't going. Aunt Sookie says that he lost his faith somewhere along the line. She doesn't say that to me, she says to other people when she thinks I'm not listening. But I'm always listening. I'm practicing to be a spy. People say a lot in front of me, because they think I'm a kid. But I'm nearly 10 now and that's not a child anymore. That's what Dad says. He says "Hunter, you'll be grown soon. Time to put the childish things away."
One day I'm going to be a real spy. I'll spy on the Germans, and maybe the Japs. We hate Japs. Dad fought Japs in the war. Dad says that they're slippery buggers, although he only says that when he thinks I can't hear. Mr Compton agrees, although he fought in a different war. He fought Germans, not Japs.
But the Japs made it as far as Auckland harbour once. In a submarine. I heard Mr Hennessey tell Mr Dearborn that. He said it'll be the Russians next, and then where we will be?
Bad things happen in Auckland. Here in the Waikato bad things don't happen, because nothing happens. Only boring things like church. I have to wear the scratchy wool shorts to church, too. They're hot and I hate them. I hate my shoes and socks. I don't hate Aunt Sookie, but she's not my favourite person right now. That's what she says when she's mad with someone, she says that they're not her favourite person right now, and then she frowns a bit, and bangs some things in the kitchen, and then she gets on with it.
But she doesn't have to wear the scratchy shorts.
Dad drives us to church because Aunt Sookie's car isn't working again. It's old, nearly as old as Aunt Sookie is herself. She's twenty-eight and on the shelf. That's what she says when she's talking to Miss Ravenscroft. She laughs after she says it, but she's not really laughing. She's just pretending. I can tell.
I'm good at telling when someone's pretending. I think it'll help me be a better spy.
Aunt Sookie had a fiancé, but he didn't come home from the war. For a long time I thought the people who didn't come home from the war just liked it there better, because no one ever said died. Sometimes they said they'd been lost, like they always told me my mother had been lost and I didn't know why we weren't going to look for her, and I felt bad about it. Aunt Sookie had to tell me that she was in heaven, and that we couldn't go too. I was sad about that, even if Aunt Sookie said it's much nicer there.
Miss Ravenscroft lost a fiancé as well, but she doesn't seem too sad about it. She told Aunt Sookie that men aren't that reliable anyway, and she doesn't need another one. That's good, because she's my teacher and I wouldn't want her not to be my teacher because she had to go and live somewhere else. Our old teacher was Miss O'Fallon and she was horrible and gave the strap all the time, especially to Maudette when she wrote with her left hand, or to the Maori kids when they talked in their own language.
Miss Ravenscroft only tells them to be polite and include the other members of the class. They're not polite though, they talk about her behind their hands. I wish I knew what they were saying, but they use their own language and I don't know it. They just giggle a lot and look stupid.
One of them is my friend. Sometimes. His name is Calvin Norris and he lives out on the marae with the rest of them. Sometimes we play war together and I make him be the Jap soldier and I kill him with my bayonet, which is really just a stick. I wish I had a real bayonet. I have a tomahawk, and I'm getting a hunting knife for my next birthday, when I turn 10. Dad says I have to be older to have a gun though. I wish I was older now.
Calvin's alright, but it's not like having a real friend. The other kids are all stupid anyway. Mostly I like being by myself. Or with Aunt Sookie. She's fun. Sometimes we sing, or we make up stories. Aunt Sookie says that when she was a girl her gran used to tell her that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden, and then she tells me what those fairies would be like. "So pretty, Hunter" she says. "So pretty to look at that your eyes hurt, and they'd fly! They'd fly all the way through the sky, and nothing would stop them!"
And then I say, "Are they pretty like my mother?", and Aunt Sookie gets the funny look people do when I mention my mother.
"Come on!" she says. "Let's take off our shoes and pretend we're fairies flying through the sky!"
So we do, and I like it, nearly as much as I like playing war.
Mr Compton's my friend too, even though he's really old and can't play war. He talks about the war though. About the Great War, that's the one he was in. He doesn't think it was so great. I guess he talks to me because he has no one else to talk to. His wife died. No one really liked her. That's what Aunt Sookie said to Miss Ravenscroft, anyway. No one really liked her because she was mean and she drove their daughter Judith away. She lives in Tokoroa now. So Mr Compton only has me to talk to. Me and Aunt Sookie and Jessica, who comes from the marae to look after his house sometimes. Aunt Sookie says you can understand why Lorena Compton was so bitter when you see Jessica, because no one wants to have their noses rubbed in someone else's mistakes. I don't know why she says that. I think Jessica's nice. And Mr Compton says that she's not bad either. For a Maori.
Mr Compton is at church today, but Jessica isn't, so he has no one to lean on, only the stick he uses. He fought in a trench in Europe and now he doesn't have any toes on one foot. He showed me once. It looks horrible, but he says that's the price you pay for war and making sure none of those bloody Germans get a foot-hold into the Empire.
I don't know. I still think Japs are worse.
Although right now I wouldn't mind if the Japs turned up because church is boring and I don't want to be here. I want to be outside.
The best part of going to church is at the end when you get to eat something in the hall. There's a big urn for hot water and everyone stands around having cups of tea. The women have to bring food. Miss Ravenscroft didn't know that when she first got here, she just brought a plate, because they told her to. Aunt Sookie had to tell her that bringing a plate meant bringing something on it. Luckily Miss Ravenscroft laughed. She laughs a lot, which I like because she makes Aunt Sookie laugh too. Miss Ravenscroft is English and sometimes she talks about what it was like when the bombs fell, but not often. She says it's best not to dwell on unpleasant things.
But standing here, in the church hall, hot and in the horrible scratchy shorts Aunt Sookie made me wear, all I can hear are people talking about unpleasant things. I eat a slice of Mrs Tooten's fruit cake and listen to Mrs Fowler talk about her bunions and the fact that her niece just had a baby. With some difficulty. She says that last part heavily, like it means something.
Aunt Sookie looks uncomfortable. She doesn't know what it's like to have a baby. She would have had one with Sam Merlotte, but he didn't come back from the war. She lived with his mother for a while, during the war, on their farm, which is over near Te Kauwhata, but she said that it got too crowded there when his brother came back from the war and his sister married someone and had a baby. So she came home, which was good because it was just Dad and me and it was nice to have someone else there. I like it when Aunt Sookie is around. She probably doesn't need a baby anyway.
Today isn't a very good day to practice being a spy. I look out the window of the hall and I can see Calvin out there, but he's with a bunch of the other kids from the marae, so he probably wouldn't want to talk to me even if I did go out there. There's a lot of kids from school who don't talk to me. But I'm used to it.
Aunt Sookie says they don't know what they're missing out on, because I'm great company. She says that when we drive into town and we sing at the top of our voices. Aunt Sookie likes to sing Mairzy Doates, or maybe Swinging on a Star. Aunt Sookie can't really sing, but it's still fun. And I join in because she likes it.
I walk over to the food table again and take another slice of fruit cake. It's not that good. I think Aunt Sookie makes better. Maybe she'll bake something later on today when she makes dinner. It'll be roast. It's always roast on Sunday. Aunt Sookie gets really annoyed making dinner, and she mutters to herself a lot. It's best to stay out of the kitchen when she's like that.
Dad says we have to appreciate what Aunt Sookie is doing for us, because without her, we'd be eating toast all the time. I wouldn't mind. I like toast. But I wouldn't like it if Aunt Sookie wasn't there.
We used to live with Granny Stackhouse, and my other gran, who was Aunt Linda to Aunt Sookie, but they both passed on, and then it was just Dad and me for a while. Aunt Sookie's brother, Jason, was supposed to have the farm, but he didn't come back from the war either.
And my mother was gone by then, although I don't really remember her. I think she was nice. Aunt Sookie says she was nice, and lots of fun to be around. I think that was before I was born, because the only memories I have of her are ones of her crying. She cried so much she couldn't get out of bed. I think she was sad that all the people didn't come back from war.
But Dad came back. And Aunt Sookie came back from living with the Merlotte's, so I don't have to be alone.
The fruitcake tastes like cardboard in my mouth now and I wish I had something to drink. The adults all have tea, but I don't get any. I wish they had some orange cordial, like I had once in a cinema in Hamilton. Aunt Sookie took me. It was the best day of my life.
So I look around the hall and then I notice him. I don't know why I didn't see him before because he's so tall, much taller than anyone else here. He's holding one of the china cups and it looks far too tiny for his hands, like he might break the handle off at any minute. He doesn't seem to be having any fun. He's talking to Mr Compton, so maybe Mr Compton is talking about his toes again. That isn't fun and I know that because Mr Compton talks about them to me a lot. They probably aren't talking about the war, because the grown-up men never do that. They talk about the calving, or the price of milk, or how much rain we have or haven't had. The war is what Aunt Sookie calls an elephant in the room.
I don't think there were elephants in the war. But if there were, no one would tell me anyway. Or maybe it's just another code. The grown-ups speak in code a lot, and you have to figure out what they all mean. Like if Mrs Fowler says something is lovely, she means the opposite, because she pulls a face that makes her look like she's sucking on a lemon. Or if Mr Compton says that he can't complain, it means he is complaining. Or if Mrs Fortenberry says it was a shame to lose my mother so young and they were all shocked…I don't know that one. But she doesn't seem shocked. And she likes bringing it up to Aunt Sookie.
I wonder why this new man is here, because stock agents and salesmen don't usually show up on a Sunday. And go to church. And he's not dressed up fancy enough. When Mr Quinn comes to town he looks like he's never been on a farm before. That's what Dad says. His shoes are really shiny and he smiles a lot at Aunt Sookie. This man has a jacket on, but you can see it's worn almost through in patches, and he has a battered hat, but no tie. He's very blond, like Aunt Sookie is, I think. His hat hides most of his hair.
I try to sneak around the edge of the hall to get closer, but I run into two of the girls from school, Holly and Dawn. I don't like Holly and Dawn. I don't like most of the kids at school.
"Oh, look!" Dawn says. "It's Hunter!" She says it in an odd way, like my name is meant to be funny. Or that it's funny that I'm here. Most people are here. The town isn't that big.
I check, but Aunt Sookie can't hear me, so I don't say hello back. Aunt Sookie would make me be polite, but what she doesn't know won't hurt her. Dawn keeps looking at me though, and I can't really get past her either. Between the chairs lined up against the wall and the table that they put the food on, there isn't a lot of room.
"Has the cat got your tongue, Hunter?" Dawn demands, and Holly giggles next to her. I hate Dawn and Holly right now. They're not nice people. Aunt Sookie says we should always try to be the bigger person and turn the other cheek, but sometimes it's hard. When people are mean it's really hard. It might be easier if they were Japs and I had a bayonet.
When I don't say anything, Dawn sighs. "I guess that's all you can get from him. He's crazy. They all are." They walk off. I carry on towards Mr Compton and the new man. They're talking to Mrs Fowler now, and I can hear what Mr Compton is saying. "This is Eric Northman. He's going to help me with the hay-making."
Mrs Fowler spends a long time looking at Mr Northman as she's shaking his hand. Maybe she's trying to work out where he's from? He has some kind of an accent, but I don't know what one. I realise I'll have to find out, because that's what a spy would do.
But Aunt Sookie finds me. "What are you doing skulking over here?" she asks. It's very disheartening to realise even my aunt can sneak up on me.
"Just looking around" I say.
"Well, come on. Your dad'll be here soon. We'd better go and wait out front."
"Don't you want to say hello to Mr Compton?" I ask, and Aunt Sookie pauses. I can almost hear what she's thinking. She really should say something; it would be the polite thing to do. But he might talk her ear off again about the fact the bloody Maoris have been using his land to dump their rubbish, or about how his daughter Judith wants him to come and live with her, but he's not going to go without a fight. We've heard it all before.
Then she sees the other man with Mr Compton, and she looks thoughtful, but I can't tell what she's thinking about. These are new thoughts, and I don't think I like that she's having them.
"I suppose we should" Aunt Sookie says, and she takes my hand and pulls me over to where the little group is standing. "So this year" Mr Compton is saying "I don't have to go cap in hand to those rascals down at the marae, because I've found someone to help. Hasn't been this much labour around since the Depression, when there were doctors out there digging ditches."
Mrs Fowler nods politely, and that Mr Northman person doesn't say anything. He's too busy looking at Aunt Sookie. "My dear Sookie" Mr Compton says. "And Hunter. These are my neighbours, on the other side of the farm. This is Mr Northman; he's my new farm-hand." Aunt Sookie shakes Mr Northman's hand, and he glances at me, but looks straight back at Aunt Sookie. That's alright; I'm used to being invisible. It helps me with my spying, and I want to spy on Mr Northman. He's interesting.
Aunt Sookie isn't all that interesting anymore. I know all her secrets. Like the fact she's sometimes still doing the washing when I get home from school on a Monday because she spent too long listening to her stories on the radio, or that she bought red shoes, even though they weren't practical and they cost a lot of money and she sold some of the linen from her hope chest to Halleigh Robinson to pay for them, or that she sometimes visits with Miss Ravenscroft and has a glass of sherry. Or that she is very fond of Dad and me. Very fond is what grown-ups say when they mean they love someone. Miss Ravenscroft was very fond of her fiancé, the one that got lost in the war on D-Day.
I'm glad Aunt Sookie loves us. We love her too.
"It's very nice to meet you, Mr Northman" Aunt Sookie says, and then no one talks for a while, although Mr Northman and Aunt Sookie keep looking at each other. Mrs Fowler starts up again about her niece who had the baby, and no one else seems interested in that. This isn't good material for spying on. I can see Calvin and some of the other Maori kids pulling faces at us through the window. They think they're funny, but they're not. Everyone pretends they aren't there, so I do too.
I'm bored now and I think that I might go and get a third piece of cake, even though that would be greedy and even though it isn't very good cake, when Aunt Sookie suddenly grabs my hand. "Goodness!" she says. "Remy will be waiting!"
We say goodbye to everyone and hurry out the door. Calvin sees me and I give him a nod which he doesn't return. He only wants to be my friend sometimes, when no one else is around. He's just a stupid Maori anyway.
Dad is standing beside his car, which is parked over by the store. He's leaning on the door, having a smoke. Dad loves his smokes. He says it calms his nerves. You can tell how he feels by the way he smokes too; if he's not happy then he smokes quickly, with lots of puffs. If he's feeling better he takes lots of long drags. Today it's somewhere in the middle, probably because Aunt Sookie and I were running late.
"Hop in" he says, when we get near the car, and he throws his cigarette on the ground and grinds it out with his foot. I climb into the back seat and Aunt Sookie sits in the front. I like it when I go out with Aunt Sookie in her car, then I get to sit in the front. The front is better.
"So, feeling closer to God now?" Dad asks Aunt Sookie. She gives him a look, one which is meant to suggest to she's mad with him, but she's not really mad. I know that. Aunt Sookie says that I'm like her, that I'm good at picking up what people are feeling, but I don't know if that's true. I don't feel like I'm different. I don't want to be different. I don't want to be like my mother, that's for sure.
"I don't know about that, Remy" Aunt Sookie says, as she winds down the window so she can get a breeze into the car. "But I do think that this year…well. It's a new decade, isn't it? I think things are getting better. No, I know they're going to be better now."
Aunt Sookie's been saying this a lot recently. She's wrong; it's not a new decade. The new decade starts next year, when it's 1951. That's what Miss Ravenscroft told us at school. But Miss Ravenscroft didn't correct Aunt Sookie so I don't either. Miss Ravenscroft and Aunt Sookie are friends, which is good, because Aunt Sookie needs a friend. That's what Dad said, he says it does her good to get out of the house. He doesn't leave the house much himself unless he's going to work on the farm, so maybe he needs a friend too? Or maybe he's happy just having Aunt Sookie and me? I don't know, and I can't figure it out. I'd like a new friend. Maybe the new Mr Northman will be my friend?
I don't think about him much that afternoon though, because I go for a walk through the farm and along the road and I run into Calvin. He's by himself, which is good, because when he's with the other kids from the marae he sometimes yells things at me like they do. Things I don't understand because they're in their own language, but I know they're not nice things.
But today it's just Calvin. "What are you doing?" I ask him.
"Nothing" he says, with a shrug. "Just looking around."
"You want to play?"
Calvin shrugs again. "Dunno" he says. "I gotta get back soon, milk the cow."
"We could play war?" I suggest. I don't want Calvin to go. It's boring without him and I don't have anything else to do. Aunt Sookie is busy with dinner and the kitchen will be too hot to sit in. Dad's busy with farm things and won't want me around anyway. So Calvin's better than nothing.
"You always make me be the dirty Jap" Calvin says. "Just because I'm Maori."
"No" I say. "You could be a jerry. If you want."
"I wanta be on your side" Calvin says, and I know this is a really dumb idea, because if he's on my side, who are we going to fight? And if there's no one to fight, you can't really play war, can you?
But I want to play with Calvin, so I agree, and we spend a lot of time hiding behind the gorse pretending we're hiding from Germans after we've parachuted into France. That's what Miss Ravenscroft's fiancé did. He probably wasn't very good at hiding.
"You spend a lot of time with the teacher, eh?" Calvin says, when I tell him this.
"She's nice" I say to him. She's nice and Aunt Sookie likes her too.
"She's alright. For a pakeha" Calvin says. He thinks for a bit. "D'you reckon he's a German? Her new bloke?"
"Mr Northman isn't stepping out with Miss Ravenscroft" I say. "And he's not German." Calvin looks at me in a way that makes me think he thinks I don't know anything. I know lots of things; I just don't tell him all my secrets.
After a while lying in the scrub gets boring. No one is likely to come past anyway. "Let's go down to the river" I say. "And see if we can see any eels. There's normally some in that twisty bit, right where it goes past the Compton farm."
"Can't go near the river there" Calvin says. "It's tapu."
"You know. Sacred. That part of the river, that's where the taniwha lives."
"What's a taniwha?" I say, as I try out the word. Tarn-ee-far
"Like a monster, but not. Sometimes he does good things, like fighting your enemies. Sometimes he does bad things, like snatching your women to be his wives. Better not to go there, and break the tapu. It's better to stay away. Old Compton, he goes fishing down there all the time, eh? And look at him. Where's his women? That's what dad says."
I think about that. Mr Compton's daughter moved and his wife was…she died. I thought. Maybe she was with the taniwha? And Calvin's dad worked for Mr Compton, sometimes anyway. Maybe not now he had Mr Northman. So Calvin's dad might know if anyone did.
"But how come he's never seen it? If it's there?" Mr Compton had never mentioned it to me, and he'd told me all about the time he stuck his bayonet in a Hun and it took five minutes for the Hun to die and all the while he gurgled blood onto Mr Compton, Mr Compton couldn't do anything because he didn't want to let the other Huns know he was there.
"Maybe he forgot? Or maybe he was too scared to mention it? Or maybe the taniwha was hiding? There's a hole there, and he hides in that."
It was deep in that part of that river. Mr Compton had told me that. He said I should never go swimming there, because I'd never get out again. Maybe he did know?
"Alright" I say. "What do you want to do then?"
"Gotta get home" Calvin says, and he starts to walk off. "See you at school tomorrow!" I call out after him, but he doesn't say anything back to me. He just keeps walking.
At bedtime, I tell Aunt Sookie about the taniwha. It would be no good telling Dad. He'd say it's rot, which is what he says about the fairies when Aunt Sookie talks about them. He doesn't like anything that's rot. Stuff and nonsense is another thing he doesn't like. He says I shouldn't be bothering with kid stuff anymore, and Aunt Sookie should stop filling my head with a bunch of rot. I need to be thinking about better things. Things like calving and hay-making and the price of milk.
But Aunt Sookie isn't all that interested in the taniwha. "Oh, Hunter" she says, tucking me in. "You don't have to worry about that. And you shouldn't believe everything everyone tells you. 'Night." And then she's gone, and I wonder what else I'm not supposed to believe. Maybe Aunt Sookie doesn't really know all about the fairies? Aren't I special, like she said I was? Like my mother was too?
I try telling Miss Ravenscroft, after school. She's always interested in what she calls local colour. That means what's different in New Zealand to what's different in England. Supposedly it isn't much, because we're all part of the same empire, but she says here in the Waikato, it isn't a thing like being back in London. And she likes it like that.
But I tell her, and she just frowns at me. "Be careful which stories you listen to, Hunter" she says. "I know you think Calvin's your friend, but he may not have your best interests at heart." And then she says she has to start marking everyone's work and I have to walk home anyway, so I can help Dad with the milking like I promised.
I don't know why Miss Ravenscroft thinks Calvin's not my friend. Maybe she just likes it better if I'm only friends with her and Aunt Sookie.
It's hot walking home in the middle of the afternoon, and I wish I didn't have to wear my shoes and socks. I think about taking them off, like Aunt Sookie does sometimes when we're running around in the garden. She says it's lovely to wiggle your toes in the grass. I don't think it would be so lovely on the hot, dusty roads. There's lots of stones.
I think about the taniwha. I wonder how long it's been there, and whether it ever comes out of its hole. I wonder if there are other taniwha in the Waikato River or the little rivers that feed into it, like ours does. The taniwha is interesting, because it's new. Everything else is the same. Monday is still washing day, and there will be sausages for dinner because Aunt Sookie has spent all day struggling with the copper and the mangle. Sure enough, at home Aunt Sookie looks hot and bothered, her dress is damp and her hair is up in a headscarf.
"It's another hot one" she says to me, as I walk into the shade of the house where she's standing. "But it is good for the washing. I've got this lot dry in no time at all." She nods at the washing line. Aunt Sookie is good at looking on the bright side. That's what she says. Her favourite book is Pollyanna, and she read that to me once. I thought it was boring, but I didn't tell her. I liked it when she sat beside my bed every night. She read me Anne of Green Gables too. Miss Ravenscroft has better books. She's lent me Treasure Island and it's taking me a long time, but I'm reading it myself. Dad doesn't read anything, other than the newspaper, but I bet he'd be proud of me if he knew how well I could read now.
"Want to help me get them off the line?" Aunt Sookie asks, and she nods at the sheets that are hanging up. I don't really want to, but you can't say no to your elders. Dad says that to me all the time, most of the things he says seem to be about what I should do, or shouldn't do. That's alright; it's just how Dad is. Aunt Sookie and I are still very fond of him.
We're folding sheets and laughing, because Aunt Sookie has wrapped me up in one like a mummy. "Don't you love the smell of washing when it's been in the sun?" Aunt Sookie asks, taking a big sniff of the sheet. I try smelling it too. I don't know if I do love it. But I say yes.
A truck is coming up the driveway. I look over and it's not Dad. It's Mr Compton's truck, but it's not him in it either. It's the new man, Mr Northman, the one who's over there helping Mr Compton. I watch the truck, and am surprised when Aunt Sookie snatches the sheet out of my hand. "What's he doing here?" she mutters, as she tosses the sheet into the washing basket. Her hands fly to her hair, where they pat her headscarf. "Oh hell" she mutters, which is a surprise. She doesn't normally say that even when it is Mr Compton in the truck. He likes Aunt Sookie and if he comes to see Dad she knows she'll be stuck giving him endless cups of tea in the kitchen. That's what she says anyway.
Maybe because Mr Northman is bigger she thinks he'll drink even more tea. He might eat the biscuits too. She said she'd made some melting moments earlier in the day. If he eats all of those I'll be annoyed.
We watch as Mr Northman gets out of the car and comes towards us, slowly, like he's not sure if we're friendly. "Is, uh…is your husband here?" he says to Aunt Sookie. He says the words slowly, like he's trying to get them right. I still don't know what kind of an accent he has. Miss Ravenscroft has an accent, but that just means she sounds like the people on the radio. Mr Northman doesn't sound like anyone I've ever heard before.
Aunt Sookie shakes her head. Mr Northman waits for her to say something. I just stand there watching them. It's hard to spy on people when they won't talk. "I don't have a husband" Aunt Sookie says in the end. I wonder if she's going to tell him about Sam Merlotte, the fiancé who didn't come back from the war, but she doesn't. "Remy's my, uh…cousin's husband. He was." Aunt Sookie blushes. I know why that is, because I heard Mrs Fowler and Mrs Fortenberry once, saying that it wasn't quite right Aunt Sookie was living out here with a man she wasn't married to, related by marriage or not. It wasn't the same as actually related, was it? Maybe there was something going on there.
I wasn't sure what Mrs Fortenberry meant by something going on there. Sometimes I think it means that one day Dad will marry Aunt Sookie and she'll be my mother then. I would quite like that, I think. It's not easy not having a mother and Aunt Sookie knows. She says there's a reason she likes books about orphan girls made good, but I don't know what that means either.
"You lost your cousin" Mr Northman says. It's not a question. "I'm very sorry." Aunt Sookie nods, and doesn't reply. "I need his help. Your cousin's husband. Mr Compton said he might have a replacement part for this." He holds up a piece of machinery, it might be off a mower or something. I don't know.
"Oh. Um, well Remy will be back soon, if you want to wait?" Aunt Sookie says. She pats her headscarf again.
But just then we can see that Dad's coming around the side of the shed on the tractor and Mr Northman turns away to go and speak to him. He doesn't come back to the house again, but gets in the truck and drives off when he's finished talking to Dad in the shed.
Dad comes inside when Aunt Sookie is dishing up the sausages, peas and mashed potatoes for dinner. "Did you help him out?" Aunt Sookie asks.
"Who? The new bloke?" Dad asks, and Aunt Sookie nods. "Yes, although Compton really needs to get rid of some of that equipment he's got. Some of it's as old as he is. He's an odd bird." I don't know whether that last statement is about Mr Compton or Mr Northman, but it isn't a good time to ask. Dad likes it to be quiet when we eat, and he's hardly likely to wait for his dinner just so I can ask him lots of questions.
We don't see Mr Northman until church again the following Sunday. By now everyone is talking about him, when he's not around that is. "I heard he's Dutch" Miss Ravenscroft says to Aunt Sookie. "They had a hard war." She says that like it's something to proud of. She had a very hard war herself, of course, with the bombs falling on her while she had to sit in an underground railway station. She says the spirit of the people was wonderful to see, but that they were hard times for everyone. When she says things like this, everyone just nods and looks respectful. We didn't have a hard war, not here in the Waikato, in New Zealand. We know that. They look at Mr Northman with a lot of pity. He must have lost a lot of people.
"I thought he was Danish." Mrs Fortenberry says. "But I don't know what the difference is." She shrugs.
"That sounds better" Mrs Fowler adds. "There's a sister of his. In Dannevirke. He was visiting her and he's on his way to Auckland."
"He's come from Wellington" Mrs Dearborn interjects. "Not from Dannevirke. I don't think he has any family left. He must have lost them." The women all look sad for a moment. Maybe they're thinking about the people they lost in the war. Maybe Aunt Sookie is thinking about Sam.
"Do you wish it were different?" I ask Aunt Sookie, on the way home from church. We're driving because Dad fixed her car, but we're not singing today. Aunt Sookie seems sad for some reason.
"That what was different?" Aunt Sookie asks me.
"That there hadn't been a war. That you'd married Sam Merlotte. That you didn't live with Dad and me?"
Aunt Sookie gives me a sad smile. "No good wishing for things when you can't change what you have, Hunter" she says. "And you can't bring people back from the dead. No, I'm thankful for what I do have. I have you, and I have your Dad, and I have a roof over my head. Lots of people have it worse. "
"Yes" I say. "They do." She's told me that before, when I've said that I wished I still had a mother. Aunt Sookie lost her own mother when she was seven. She lost her dad too. People don't only get lost when there's a war.
I lost my mother during the war, but not because of any bombs or Jap soldiers or because she wasn't good at hiding. She went to Auckland and she didn't come back. The doctors were going to stop her being sad, but she got hit by a tram and she died. I don't know how they stop you being sad though. I'd give anything to stop Aunt Sookie looking sad right now.
"I'm glad we have you" I tell Aunt Sookie. "I know Dad is too."
"Thanks, Hunter" Aunt Sookie says.
Aunt Sookie gets a letter though, the next day, and that seems to make her happier. The letter is from her friend Tara who lives in Auckland. I don't know what it says, but I'm glad to see Aunt Sookie happy even if it does mean she sings. The letter came with a package; in it is some material for making a dress. The material is white with lots of red cherries on it. There's a Butterick pattern as well, showing a dress with a collar and a belt.
Tara and her husband own a haberdashery shop and she often sends Aunt Sookie packages like this. Aunt Sookie seems especially pleased to get this one. Maybe because there's a dance coming up. There's one every month, at the church hall, but Aunt Sookie seems more excited than usual. "New year, new me" she says, as she pins the pieces of fabric she's cut out on the dining room table. Dad doesn't say anything; he just goes outside for a smoke.
We all go to the dance; Dad, Aunt Sookie and me. Dad doesn't really go inside though; he stays outside with the other men and smokes and drinks beer that comes out of big brown bottles in crates. I sit with them for a while, but I've heard all of Mr Compton's stories before, so there's not much useful information to be gathered. "And they think the world owes them a living" he says, when the subject of the Maoris on the marae comes up. "Well, I'm not bloody looking after them anymore. That Felton, he took it for granted I'd hire him again. Lazy sod he is, with all his dirty children running about all over the place."
"Your new bloke working out?" Dad asks him, taking a drag of his cigarette.
"He's not bad" Mr Compton says. "Has a very European way of doing things and you know what they're like." There's laughter from the other men. "But he's keen enough, and God knows, he's lost more than most people."
I wonder who Mr Northman lost in the war. Everyone seems to have lost someone. But they go on to talk about when the rain is due, so I drift inside to see what the women are up to. Most of them are in the kitchen, putting the food out. There's not much dancing at these dances, mostly there's just kids running around the hall. I see Hoyt Fortenberry and Coby Fowler and I hope they don't see me. They're mean and the last time they got me alone I got a split lip. I tried to fight back because they were calling me crazy. They said I was crazy like my mother, and my aunt, and no wonder only the Maori kids would talk to me.
Aunt Sookie fixed my lip. Dad didn't say anything. He just went outside and smoked a cigarette in short, rapid puffs.
I look around for Aunt Sookie, but I can't see her anywhere. I can see Miss Ravenscroft though, she's standing talking to Mrs Fortenberry, but she's not really listening. She's busy looking at something else. I look in the same direction and then I see Aunt Sookie. She's dancing. With Mr Northman. They're in the middle of the floor and the band is playing and they're smiling at each other and it looks like a scene from that movie we saw at the cinema in Hamilton when I let Aunt Sookie pick because I really wanted to see a war film, but I knew she'd want to see the film about the people who love each other.
But she doesn't love Mr Northman. She's not very fond of him. She's very fond of me, and of my dad.
I don't want to watch the dancing anymore. I go outside again and sit by myself until it's time to go home. I don't even practice spying on anyone, I feel angry and I don't know why.
The weather is hot and getting hotter. It's too hot to spend much time inside. I walk around the paddocks by myself a lot. I think about going down to the river to look at the taniwha, but I'm too scared. What if it knows I've been there and it comes out of its hole and eats me? What it if takes away someone I love? I don't want to lose anyone else.
Aunt Sookie isn't at home much to keep me company or play the fairy game with me. Even though it's not a good game, I miss playing it. Now that Dad's fixed her car she's out a lot, doing errands. Catching up, she says.
I help Dad out on the farm, and with the milking. He says that now I'm not a little bloke any longer I should be out with him and not in the house with the sheilas. It's nice, being with Dad and being useful.
But I still try to be useful to Aunt Sookie. She makes some fruit loaf and I take some to school for Miss Ravenscroft, who, I know, will eat slices of it spread with a thick layer of butter. I've seen her do this when I visit her with Aunt Sookie and she says that we have no idea what rationing is like. But Aunt Sookie doesn't visit this time, and Miss Ravenscroft looks sad when I give her the loaf.
I take another loaf to Mr Compton. On the way out to his place I make myself be as brave as I can and I go down to the river and look at the dark water there. I look and look but I can't see the taniwha. Maybe it's hiding? I'm scared now, scared that it might come after me, so I run away, down the road and away from the river.
When I'm almost to the Compton's place I see Jessica coming in the opposite direction. "You taking that to the old man?" she asks, and I nod. She looks at me, and I'm sure she knows what I've been doing. "You weren't near the river, were you?" she asks me. She does know. I'm really scared now. "You shouldn't be there."
"Because of the taniwha?" I ask, and her eyes get really narrow, until they're just dark slits in her face. "What do you know about the taniwha?" she asks, and I don't want to get Calvin in trouble, I just say "Doesn't everyone know about the taniwha?"
She looks at me again, but this time she's really looking, not just trying to scare me. "You're like your mother, aren't you? One of the people who feel things. Your auntie, she's like that too. But don't break the tapu again; you don't want to wake up a sleeping taniwha. He'll want something from you." She starts to walk off. I don't know what she means saying I'm like my mother. When people say that, usually it's a bad thing. It didn't feel so bad when Jessica said it.
"Did he send you?" I call out. "The taniwha? To look after Mr Compton because he took his wife?" I don't know why I thought that, but I did. Jessica stopped and turned around. "Be careful where you look, little man" she says. "Lift up too many rocks and something's bound to bite. Don't go down to the river." And then she leaves and I am none the wiser.
Mr Compton is grateful for the fruit loaf. "How's your aunt?" he asks me. "I haven't seen her for a while now."
"She's good" I reply. I hope he might offer me a slice, but he doesn't. He puts the tin away in the cupboard and pours himself another cup of tea. Mr Northman comes into the kitchen and sees me. "Boy" he says, and he nods slightly. He and Mr Compton have a conversation about hay. It's very boring. In the end he leaves, and, after Mr Compton has told me about his toes again, I head out into the bright sunshine too.
Mr Northman is standing outside. I feel like he's been waiting for me, but I don't know why. "Here" he says, handing over a piece of paper. It's dirty like his hands. "Give this to your aunt." He says the word aunt funny. I wish I knew where he was from. I want to ask him, but I don't think he'd tell me.
"Alright" I say. I don't say sir or Mr Northman though. I just walk off. I walk all the way to the river and I hold the piece of paper over it, over the dark place where the taniwha lives. I know Jessica told me not to come here, but I can't help it. The taniwha will keep my secret. I let the piece of paper fall from my hand, and then I carry on to home. I hope that's enough. I hope that he likes what I gave him, and he doesn't want anything else.
I wake up one night and hear voices in the front room. It's not the radio, though; it's Dad and Aunt Sookie. I creep out to the hall to listen.
"I think it's a risk, Sookie" Dad says. "I think you're betting on the wrong horse."
"You think I have anything left to lose, Remy?" she replies. "There's nothing left for me here. I've got to make my own way. It'll be fine, in Auckland. I'll work for Tara and JB in the shop, Eric has a friend who can get him a job on the railways. It's a chance, a good chance. Don't ruin it for me."
"He know? About Sam? About the baby?"
"He doesn't care. Says we all did things in the war. Says we can't change anything about the past, just move forward, and he's right."
"If the baby'd lived, you'd have been ruined."
"It would have been worth it. But it didn't happen that way. And the past is full of could've beens. If Sam'd lived, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But we are. And I've made my decision."
There's a long silence. I can tell Dad is thinking. "But what about the boy?" he says in the end.
"He has you" Aunt Sookie says. "It's not like he'd be here alone. And he's growing up. He needs his dad."
"You say that but…" Dad doesn't get to finish, because Aunt Sookie talks over him. "Don't Remy! Don't you say that! Hadley was a lot of things and had a lot of problems, God rest her soul, but she was never untrue. You weren't here, but I saw her. She loved you and she loved Hunter and it wasn't her fault that she just couldn't cope with it all."
"The war ruined everything, didn't it?" Dad asks, but I don't think he stayed for an answer, because I hear the back door open and shut. He's gone outside for a smoke.
I creep back to bed. I'm not sure about being a spy anymore. I don't like knowing secrets, not secrets like that, and I especially don't like keeping my own secret. I think that Aunt Sookie must know I didn't give her the note, but she doesn't say anything.
The days pass and the knots in my stomach slowly unravel. At least those caused by worrying about the note. I'm still worried about the fact Aunt Sookie wants to go to Auckland. But she didn't get the note so she's probably not going to leave now. I don't see Mr Northman around. Maybe he left already?
Aunt Sookie isn't doing so many errands now. She's busy at home. She spends a lot of time going through the things she keeps in the hope chest in her room. Maybe she's going to sell some more linen?
She sends me into town to go to the butcher's. I like going there, I like the smell. On the way out I pass Mrs Fortenberry and Mrs Tooten. "She's making a fool of herself, with that man" Mrs Tooten whispers.
"She's done it before, of course" Mrs Fortenberry says. "But it was different in the war. People followed their hearts and a lot of girls got caught out. She had a lucky escape. There won't be another one. He's that type. He'll go and she'll be left holding the baby. And Remy would have taken her on too. Not many men around here would."
"Adele tried with those girls, God rest her soul" Mrs Tooten says. "But they're all a bit doolally in that family."
I walk quickly past them. I don't want to hear anymore. They're wrong anyway. Aunt Sookie's staying here with me. There's no baby. She has me. She loves me.
I see Mr Northman loading sacks onto a truck outside Wrightson's. He's still here. So he must know she didn't get the note. Maybe he thinks Aunt Sookie doesn't want him. He's smiling at Miss Broadway. Probably he'll take her to Auckland instead.
It's Friday and I am still at school even though everyone else has gone home. I'm cleaning the dusters Miss Ravenscroft uses on the blackboard. As I walk up onto the porch at the front of the school room, I hear Miss Ravenscroft talking. I stop to listen, like a good spy would.
"I think you're being terribly naïve, Sookie." That's Miss Ravenscroft. The next voice is Aunt Sookie's
"I don't think it's any of your business, Pam."
"Everyone's talking about it, Sookie. They say he's been going to Hamilton all along, that there's some woman there he's visiting. He's bringing her food from the farm."
"I think you'll find that's Mr Compton's sister. She's a widow and it saves Mr Compton the drive." It's quiet for a moment. "Pam, you've been a good friend to me, but a good friend knows when her advice isn't needed."
"I am your friend Sookie…I could be more than your friend, too." I don't know what that means. Maybe Miss Ravenscroft is going to be Aunt Sookie's teacher, even though Aunt Sookie finished school when she was 14. She always wished she'd gone to secretarial school though. Maybe Miss Ravenscroft can type?
"Pam, I've said my piece on that…that, private matter between the two of us. I can't, and I won't. Not in this place. It's time for me to move on and live my life somewhere else." When Aunt Sookie says those words, I get a funny pain in my chest. She still wants to go, even though she never got the note. There must have been another note. They must have been planning this all along. She's going to leave and she's not even going to say anything to me.
"I worry about the boy" Miss Ravenscroft says, and I'm relieved. She cares about me. She won't let Aunt Sookie just leave me. "He's listening to that nonsense about taniwha and goodness knows what else. He's impressionable Sookie. Without you here I don't know…I worry about him. Especially after that business with his mother."
"I don't think Hunter or his mother are any of your concern, Pam" Aunt Sookie says. Her voice sounds odd, like she's talking to a stranger. "You weren't even here, and it's yesterday's news now."
"Not for everybody" Miss Ravenscroft says, and I try to peer further around the door to see what their faces look like, because faces tell you a lot, but Miss Ravenscroft sees me and she says "Look, Hunter. Your Aunt Sookie is here to walk you home" and I have to leave with Aunt Sookie then. Aunt Sookie doesn't talk much on the way home. Something is on her mind, but I don't know what.
"Want to go and see where the taniwha lives?" I suggest, even though I know we shouldn't go there. I don't say that to Aunt Sookie though. I want this to be our special secret, that we saw the taniwha and no one else did. Then she won't leave.
"Maybe another time" she says. She's not really listening to me. She's off with the fairies again, as Miss Ravenscroft would say. She says that all the time to me, when I'm busy thinking about other things in class.
The taniwha isn't our special secret though, because the next time I go to the river to look if I can see the taniwha other people are there. It's Mr Northman and Aunt Sookie and I can see the corner of our picnic rug, the black watch tartan one that we take out when we go to see Dad in the paddocks.
I can't hear what they're saying, so I lay down on my stomach and crawl closer, like I'm sneaking up on the enemy. It feels bad to be doing this to Aunt Sookie, but I don't trust Mr Northman. I know I said no more spying, but I think it's for her own good. She needs to know his secrets before he takes her away forever and we lose her. She doesn't seem to realise that he's dangerous, I can feel it. And Jessica said that I know things. I know this; he needs to leave my aunt alone.
I can just make out what he's saying in that odd accent of his. "Who wants a bag of bones? I don't want to hurt myself on the sharp edges of the woman I'm bedding." Aunt Sookie giggles at this, and I feel very odd. This is something very private, more private even than when Mrs Fortenberry told Aunt Sookie she'd had to see a doctor in Hamilton for 'women's troubles'.
Mr Northman says something about this being a wonderful country to live in because of all the food, and Aunt Sookie promises she'll let him have butter with everything from now on. I force myself to listen to more, even though they're not really talking, just breathing. Loudly. There's some movement, but I daren't lift my head to see what's happening. After a while Aunt Sookie says "I wish I had your confidence it will all work out." I can smell the cigarette Mr Northman has lit. The scrub is so dry here; I hope he didn't throw his match away.
"You do" he says. "You just don't know it yet."
I creep away and run all the way home and when Aunt Sookie comes in I tell her I don't feel well, and I don't eat dinner. I'm scared, and I don't know of what anymore. I feel ashamed and I want to tell Dad what I heard, that she's really going, going to pick him, but I can't do that without letting him know that I was spying.
I think about telling Miss Ravenscroft, but I chicken out. I chicken out of a lot of things. Hoyt likes to call me chicken and make clucking noises at me. Hoyt's not a nice person. Maybe I'm not either? Maybe that's why Aunt Sookie likes Mr Northman better than me?
In the end I just ask Dad "Do you think it will all work out?"
"What, Hunter?" He's distracted because the cows are jostling each other on the way to the shed. You have to be careful they don't step on you.
"Everything. Do you think we'll all be happy? You and me and Aunt Sookie?"
Dad looks at me with narrowed eyes. "We just have to take what comes to us" he says. "There's no good guessing what the future will be. Things don't stay the same forever." He turns back to the cows and slaps one on the rump.
I watch Aunt Sookie closely to see if she's going to change, and she does. At first she's happy all the time. She sings a lot, but songs I don't know, so I can't sing with her. These songs are all about love and lovers and moonlight.
And then she's sad again, and I'm confused about that. I don't like it when people get sad, but I'm glad Aunt Sookie's sad this time. And then I'm scared. I'm scared that something bad will happen because I was glad. I'm scared of the taniwha coming to take something from me. I'm scared that I'm more than just a not very nice person; I'm scared I'm a very bad person.
The rain comes, and it comes hard and fast. Dad's glad he's got most of the hay done and goes over to Mr Compton's to give Mr Northman a hand with their bales. I sit inside and watch the rain falling on the windows.
"I'm just going out" Aunt Sookie says to me, after dinner. "I'll be back later on."
"But it's your favourite serial tonight" I say. She never misses her stories on the radio. She doesn't answer, she runs out the door and I hear her car going down the driveway.
I go to bed, but I haven't heard her come back yet. I wake up and there's the sound of someone banging on our front door. I walk down the hall and hear Dad open the door. "Is she here?" Mr Northman asks. "Sookie?"
Dad gets dressed in a hurry and so do I. "Was she with you?" Dad asks Mr Northman, as we get into Mr Compton's truck with him.
"Supposed to be" Mr Northman says. "She never showed. Maybe her car broke down again?" No one answers that question. It's possible. It's an old car. But she would have walked home by now.
"I wish I'd brought my smokes" Dad mutters.
We see her car beside the river. "There!" Dad says, pointing. It's near the spot with the taniwha and I have a bad feeling. Mr Northman pulls the truck over to the side and runs to Aunt Sookie's car. He calls her name, but there's no reply and he opens the door, but she's not there.
He runs down to the river, through the gorse that tears at his arms and his trousers. The ground isn't so dry after the rain, and there's mud there now. "Sookie!" he calls. "Sookie!" And then I see her shoes. Her red shoes that she loved so much are placed neatly beside the car.
"Look!" I say to Dad, and I point at the shoes. He doesn't say anything, I don't say anything. I just put my hand in his and he doesn't say anything about me being a little bit too old for that.
Mr Northman is still standing on the side of the river calling Aunt Sookie's name. "Leave it, Eric" Dad calls out, but he doesn't. He sounds really odd, like he's trying not to cry. He turns to look at us, and I point to the shoes again. Mr Northman's gaze follows my finger. "She didn't want them to get wet" I say, and his eyes get really wide.
"What did you do?" he asks, and the way he speaks is scary. It's menacing, that's what they'd call it if this was a book. I squeeze Dad's hand tighter. "No…no…nothing" I stammer.
"She knows you were spying on her. I know about the note" Mr Northman says, walking back through the gorse to us. "What did you do?" he's not yelling, if anything he's barely whispering. It's the most frightening thing ever.
"Leave the boy alone!" Dad says. "You know as well as I do the family history. It was bound to happen." He looks at me, and he looks worried. I'm worried too. Worried Mr Northman might kill me. Miss Ravenscroft was right. We don't know anything about him. Maybe he's really a German, sent here to kill us all?
"No" Mr Northman says. "No, she wasn't like that. Not my Sookie. Not her." And then he sits down on the riverbank. I'm not sure what to do, and I don't think Dad knows either. In the end Dad says, "I'll stay here, you run on to the Compton's and tell him to send Constable Bellefleur out here."
The constable spends a long time looking at the car, and especially at Aunt Sookie's shoes which still sit there neatly by the front tyre. He keeps glancing at me and Dad though. He ignores Mr Northman who keeps asking if we shouldn't be dredging the river. "Too deep there" Constable Bellefleur says.
"It's where the taniwha lives" I add. That gets me an odd look from all the men who are here. Dad's taken up Mr Compton's offer of a cigarette and he's smoking as fast as he can now. Things are not good.
"Where were you, last night?" Constable Bellefleur asks Mr Northman.
"In my room." He's been living in a lean-to attached to the Compton's house. He looks to Mr Compton for confirmation. Mr Compton shrugs. "I was asleep" he said. "I took some whisky. My foot gives me gyp when it rains, you know."
"And you?" Constable Bellefleur asks Dad. "At home. With the boy" Dad says. He doesn't look at me. No one asks where I was. That's a good thing.
The questions go on for a while longer, but Constable Bellefleur seems to know what happened, but not why. "Something changed her mind" he says, but he doesn't sound particularly curious about what it might have been. I feel sick. It's all my fault after all; the taniwha only took her because I woke him up.
No one looks at Mr Northman with pity anymore. They look at him like he did something wrong. Some people start saying he's really a German here under false pretences. They say he led a young girl on and look what happened. She wasn't stable and he should have known. They say they tried to tell him, tried to tell her, but neither of them would listen.
Mr Northman leaves town. People talk a lot about it and about him. They speculate about where he's gone and what he's doing now. I don't listen. I don't want to be a spy anymore. They talk about Aunt Sookie too. They say it ran in the family, that wild streak. No one can tame them and then they burn out young. It's such a shame. Such a waste of a life.
Miss Ravenscroft is especially nice to me at school. "Oh, Hunter" she says, patting my hand. "You must miss her dreadfully. I miss her too. She was such a bright light in this little town."
I nod and murmur that she was and I miss her. I do miss her. But I still have Miss Ravenscroft. She's lent me Last of the Mohicans and I'm really enjoying it.
When I'm not in school I'm with Dad on the farm. We're in a paddock down the back chopping up a tree which got blown down. It will make decent firewood for the winter, Dad says. He doesn't talk much, but he never did. I haven't noticed any change since Aunt Sookie got lost.
I'm helping by chopping up the kindling with my tomahawk. I'm helping out a lot more on the farm now. I think that's a good thing. It'll be my farm one day, this is my home and I'm never leaving it. I don't want to go to Auckland or anywhere else. I wouldn't want to leave Aunt Sookie all alone.
All of a sudden the wind changes. The clouds come in and it gets darker and darker. The bush at the edge of the paddock almost looks alive, like it might walk towards us and suck us into the thick, dark undergrowth. Dad looks up from where he's wielding the axe, cigarette in his mouth, and frowns at the sky. "Better get this done" he says. "Before the rain comes."
The wind is cold, and I can hear it through the trees. It's blowing really hard. And then it doesn't sound like wind anymore. It's her. I can hear her. It's her heart beating so fast that she thinks it's going to burst out of her chest. She's breathing, hard. It's so loud.
"It's Aunt Sookie" I say to Dad, and he stops, his axe still in the air. "She's scared."
"Stop" Dad says, lowering the axe. "Just stop."
"I can't" I say, and it's not a lie. I don't know why I can suddenly feel her, hear her so strongly. She's right there. And she wants me. "She's scared. And she's lonely. And she misses us. She misses me. She wishes I was with her."
"No!" Dad says, and he grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me. "No, she doesn't. She's dead Hunter. She died. Like your mother. But you're not like them."
"So cold" I say, and I'm shivering in the wind. "She's so cold." Dad picks me up and puts me in his truck. He drives straight home and he puts me to bed. The doctor comes and says I have a fever.
I dream about the taniwha, and Aunt Sookie. They're not happy dreams. It's cold where she is, and the taniwha is scary and has big teeth. She's lonely there with the taniwha. She wishes I was with her. She didn't want to leave me, but the taniwha made her and she's sorry for that, sorry we'll be apart for ever. Sorry she got lost in the dark and the cold and couldn't find her way home to me.
And then I wake up and Dad says I was out for three days. "Do you remember anything?" he asks me, and I shake my head for no, although I do. I remember it all. I just don't want to remember anymore.
"Did you get my tomahawk?" I ask Dad, and he laughs. It's the kind of laugh someone laughs when they're relieved.
Miss Ravenscroft comes to visit me. "We've missed you at school, Hunter" she says, as she sits on the end of my bed.
"I missed you, too" I say. I am very fond of Miss Ravenscroft.
"I brought you both some supper" she says to Dad. "I hope you don't mind."
"That's very thoughtful" Dad says, frowning like he's trying to remember the words to use. "You should stay and eat. With us."
"Well, how could I turn down an invitation from two such handsome men?" Miss Ravenscroft says, in a voice I haven't heard her use before. I decide that I won't lose Miss Ravenscroft.
I stop thinking about Aunt Sookie. I hope she's happy. I hope she doesn't mind being the taniwha's wife. I hope she forgives me.
So taniwha are the stuff of myth and legend - most of the time. In 2002 they re-routed a section of State Highway 1 (our main highway) which they had planned to extend as the local Maori pointed out it would desecrate the homes of three taniwha. No one wants to anger a taniwha. They had dual roles as both guardians and terrorisers and have been attributed many roles; everything from escorting the canoes which brought Maori to New Zealand from their ancestral home, to creating Wellington harbour by trying to get out of the lake they lived in. They can be both ferocious and caring (there's a story of a female taniwha who saved a tribe and married a human). But even though they would look after the people who respected and looked after them, I maybe wouldn't go poking around too many rivers down here :)
And thank you all, for reading this!