Read Taniwha's Tear Online

Authors: David Hair

Taniwha's Tear

Acknowledgments and Dedication

A big thank you to the following…

My test readers and experts for their help and feedback, especially (but not exclusively) Arama, Becky, Craig, Mark, Paul and Ruth for their comments, suggestions and encouragement on
The Bone Tiki
and this book.

The wonderful people at HarperCollins New Zealand for their skills, expertise and judgement, especially Lorain, Eva and Bonnie.

Most of all, my lovely wife, Kerry—my sounding board, arbiter, continuity expert and greatest supporter. This wouldn’t happen without you, love, simple as that. Life with you is an adventure. Thank you so much.

This book is dedicated to Brendan and Melissa.

Christmas on the beach

hristmas on the beach had been a Douglas family tradition since before Matiu was born. It was the novelty of Christmas in summer that had prompted newly emigrated Colleen Douglas, her skin as white as her hair was red, to declare she wanted to greet Christmas with champagne on the beach. It was her first Christmas in New Zealand, and she and Tama Douglas, her young lawyer husband, newly returned from a working holiday in England, during which he had met and fallen in love with Colleen, had taken a picnic basket to Westshore Beach and toasted their new life together.

That was seventeen years ago. The tradition remained, but the cast of the play had changed. There were five of them this year, and Colleen Douglas was not one of them. Nevertheless, it promised to be the happiest Christmas since Tama and Colleen had separated, two years ago, though that wasn’t really saying much.

The sun was barely peeking through Mat’s curtains, when his father knocked on the door. ‘It’s time,’ Tama announced blearily, his burly frame just visible through the crack in the door. ‘You wake the others, and I’ll crank up the coffee machine.’

Mat was already awake, running his hands through the fur of Fitzy’s neck. Fitzy was a massive Labrador…today. He was also a turehu, a shape-shifting goblin, though he liked being a dog best. Lately he’d taken to using a small child’s form and wandering around the streets of Napier in Mat’s old clothes, peering at the Christmas lights.

‘Hey, Fitzy, merry Christmas,’ Mat whispered.

Fitzy licked his face, leaving wet slobber dripping down Mat’s chin.

‘Ugh!’ Mat shoved, and the turehu rolled and flopped onto the floor, protesting sleepily. ‘Now I’ll have to wash. You wake the others!’

Fitzy sniggered, just like Muttley from
Wacky Races
, and sauntered out of Mat’s bedroom. Mat wiped his face on his sleeve and sat up. He heard a burst of female laughter from down the hall, cutting through the walls like light through shadow.
I better grab the bathroom before Kelly does,
Mat decided, scurrying for the door.

He just got to the bathroom door before a garish figure in a vivid pink dressing gown with a mop of bright green hair exploded from the third bedroom, Fitzy bouncing at her feet. ‘Me! Me first!’ Kelly yelped. ‘Me first!’

‘Hi, Kel!’ he called as he slammed the door in her face. Kelly the Magic Clown was renowned for spending hours
in the bathroom, so it was unwise to let her get in before you. ‘Merry Christmas!’ he added smugly as he locked the door behind him.

‘Huh! Merry Christmas my arse! Let me in!’ She pounded on the door.

‘Wait your turn,’ Mat called, turning on the shower.

‘It is my turn!’ Kelly lowered her voice to a wheedling whisper. ‘I’ll give you a present if you let me go first.’

‘You’re giving me one anyway; I’ve seen it under the tree.’

‘I’ll let you have Wiri’s present too.’

‘Then what’ll he have?’

Kelly laughed slyly. ‘Oh, he’s already had his present.’

Mat’s face burned. He got into the shower, so that he wouldn’t be able to hear her. ‘Five minutes!’ he called.

He washed briskly, humming to himself. A Christmas carol, he realised after a while, one the music teacher at Napier Boys’ High School had been getting the boys to sing at assembly before school finished. They had boomed it out at the end-of-year assembly a few weeks ago, making the school hall thrum.

Drying in front of the foggy mirror, he caught a glimpse of himself that was uncannily like an old black-and-white photo of his father, when Tama had been a teenager. The same jaw and cheekbones, the same eyebrows. The Maori mouth, full-lipped and smiling. But Tama had been very brown, and Mat had inherited lighter skin and a reddish tinge to his dark hair from his mother, as well as her green eyes. When he tilted his head just so, though, he almost
was his father, just for a second. It made him feel old. He touched the koru-knot pendant he always wore at his throat and shivered; wrapping the towel about his middle, he opened the bathroom door.

‘Six minutes and forty-two seconds,’ Kelly growled, from where she was kneeling on the floor, cuddling Fitzy. She stood up and suddenly beamed. ‘Morning, Matty-Mat,’ she said, hugging him.

Mat, unused to being hugged by young women whilst wrapped only in a towel, fled.

It was three months since his life had changed for ever. Flight from Puarata, the tohunga makutu, had turned into a quest to save an immortal warrior from a life of servitude. It had ended at Cape Reinga, but in many ways that had just been a beginning. For Mat had discovered that he had abilities he never suspected, and still didn’t understand.

At the heart of that journey had been the discovery that alongside the world he knew, there was another world, made of ghosts and memories. Dead people dwelt there, amidst the creatures of myth and legend. Aotearoa, they called it. Others named it Te Ao Kihau—the Ghost World. It was still difficult to believe it was real, but Mat had been there and knew. There were pa, villages, towns and cities, all filled with solid ghosts living lives and half-lives in a place where belief was more important than logic, where superstition ruled reason. A frightening and thrilling and strangely sad place that made him tremble just to think about it.

In the three months since, normality had reasserted itself a little. He had had to go back to school, of course; NCEA Level One needed his attention. Whatever future he would have—and now that he had glimpsed Aotearoa, he was even less sure about where life would take him—he still needed some education. He’d thrown himself back into physical education too; all the very real dangers he had faced made being fit and fast seem as important as knowing how to read and write. His chest was deeper and shoulders bigger already, or so he liked to fancy when he was dressing in front of the mirror.

But this morning, he was in a hurry, flinging on clothes and racing downstairs to join the others. It was Christmas Day! The child inside him was more than a little excited, even though he was sixteen now and practically grown up.

Wiri was in the kitchen with Tama when Mat arrived downstairs. Mat saw him through the open door and paused to stare, as strangers and friends always did when they saw Wiri. He was an arresting sight—tall with lean muscular limbs, and an eye-catching face. His curly hair was trimmed, but long enough to partially cover his only blemish, an ugly scar on his left temple. He was clad in a plain grey T-shirt and trackpants, but Mat always thought of him clad in the traditional cloak and flax skirt of a Maori toa, a warrior. For that was what he was. His soul had been trapped by Puarata in the bone tiki Mat had stolen. But he was free of that now, a formerly immortal warrior learning to live in the real world.

He turned as Mat came in. ‘Kia ora, Mat,’ he smiled,
extending a hand. ‘You won the bathroom race this morning, did you?’

Mat grinned. ‘Third time this week.’

‘That’s because I’m distracting her for you,’ Wiri winked.

Mat blushed again. Wiri and Kelly were in love, and making no secret about it. It had begun when they had all met, on that chase to Reinga. Last week they had announced they were going to marry. Tama Douglas had been pulling some strings to get Wiri a few modern-life essentials, like a birth certificate and a tax number, so that the ex-immortal warrior legally existed. Tama had fixed it all, producing documentation from some ‘contacts’ claiming Wiri was from a Northland family that had been out of touch with the modern world and hadn’t registered their child. The civil servants in Wellington had been condescending and sneering, but had fallen for it. Tama said it was the best fun he’d had at work for years.

Kelly’s parents couldn’t be told the truth, of course—not yet—but they had met him and been charmed. The one cloud on the horizon was that Wiri and Kelly would be moving to Wellington to live.

Tama finished steaming milk for a round of coffee; he had a new coffee machine that was his pride and joy. He and Wiri sipped the rich brew, murmuring appreciatively. It was a ritual for Tama; Mat thought of it as his dad’s version of a Japanese tea ceremony.

The three of them chatted idly, about nothing much. The Christmas tradition dictated that there would be no
presents until after they got back from the beach, but they nibbled toast, and bantered good-naturedly. Fitzy arrived, and snuffled around a raw steak Tama gave him before wolfing it down. He seldom showed his true goblin form, but even so, Tama was uncomfortable around him, and quickly withdrew to dress.

Tama had still not fully accepted every thing that had befallen Mat three months ago. There was a good reason for that; initially Tama Douglas had been working for Puarata, who he believed to be a Maori of status, an elder or kaumatua, and had believed his son a thief. Only first-hand evidence of Puarata’s true nature had made him realise that his client was in fact a sinister underworld figure, and his only son was in grave danger. Deep down, Mat knew that Tama hadn’t forgiven himself, and some days, Mat hadn’t forgiven him either. Wiri told Mat to be patient, but it wasn’t easy.

It was almost an hour before Kelly emerged, her bright green hair teased into an electric shock of spikes, with a silky spotted dress wrapped about her well-rounded form. She slid into Wiri’s arms and nuzzled him. ‘Coffee,’ she moaned. ‘Must have coffee, or die.’

Wiri looked at Mat. ‘We better save her, I guess.’

‘She tried to bribe me with your present, earlier,’ Mat observed. ‘She’s untrustworthy.’

‘Mat!’ Kelly protested. ‘I might have said that, but I’d never have done it.’

‘See, untrustworthy!’ Mat raised a finger cheerily, chalking himself ‘one point’ in the air.

Kelly poked her tongue out at him, then returned to snuggling up to Wiri. ‘You’ll make me coffee, won’t you, darling? For your princess? With that big complicated machine that princesses don’t know how to use.’

Wiri kissed her forehead. ‘Of course, princess.’

Mat rolled his eyes in mock despair. ‘When I have a girlfriend, I won’t let her twist me round her finger like that,’ he declared.

Wiri raised an eyebrow. ‘That’s a lofty ambition, bro. Beyond most of us.’ He looked a trifle rueful.

‘Matty-Mat, we’ll remember that comment,’ Kelly laughed, ‘and use it against you at every opportunity.’

It was after ten by the time they hit the beach. The Hawke’s Bay skies were brilliant blue, and went on for ever, from the line of hills behind them to the oceanic horizon. Silver sunlight caught in the rippling seas and stung their eyes.

They were at their traditional spot, on the beach opposite their house on Marine Parade, just south of the Millennial Arch, a striking sculpture commemorating the new millennium. They were the only ones there, so early on Christmas Day. A kilometre inland, a church bell pealed from the Catholic church on Munro Street, the one that looked like a massive round concrete water tank. Mat had seen photos of the old one, the one like a wooden cathedral that had burned down before he was born. Tama had been christened there, but they didn’t do church these days. Some days he thought he might
be missing some thing; most of his friends were taken to church every Sunday, even Riki, but Tama had been having professional run-ins with church people in his criminal lawyer role for years, and now boycotted them. It was another thing he and the sentimentally Catholic Colleen had argued about.

They were laden down with hampers and chilly bins. There were bakery-bought savouries and cakes, and plastic flutes to sip champagne from. Tama had splurged on a French champagne that he’d been itching to open for weeks now. Mat thought it was almost tasteless, but the others all sighed as if sipping nectar, so he guessed it was just him. He switched to lemonade instead. They toasted each other, and enjoyed the food, staring out across the waters.

Gulls circled above, the bolder ones swooping close, looking for leavings. Fitzy growled at them lazily. The smell of fish and seaweed wafted about them, cool and crisp despite it being summer. The waves crunched in the shingle of the beach, and hissed as they sucked at the coast. The beach here wasn’t good for swimming, with too much of a rip, but the waters were peaceful and calm today, with views north to Napier Hill, and south to Cape Kidnappers.

They enjoyed a leisurely feast, taking their time and savouring the food and wine. It was several hours before they drifted home. Mat was in no hurry. He still felt some of his younger self’s longing for gifts and presents and chocolate, but it was tempered by the growing adult
within. Some of the innocence was gone, the everyday magic of Santa eclipsed by deeper magic.

He had recently heard his father tell Wiri that he no longer recognised Mat. ‘It’s like there is an adult in there, in a teenage body. I can’t get a handle on him,’ Tama Douglas had complained, unaware that Mat could overhear him. It had hurt him a little, but that was tinged with a little pride.

Mat even recognised how Tama was trying to compensate. His birthday presents from his father had been embarrassingly lavish, and when they all opened their Christmas presents on returning home, they were just as overpowering. An electronic game console and games, an iPod, a laptop, a new racing bicycle, a new surfboard, and many small things that cumulatively must have cost a fortune. It felt like he was being bribed. None of it had brought them closer together though, and he and his father still hadn’t really talked about what had happened at Reinga.

After lunch, Wiri and Kelly packed up Kelly’s Volkswagen, newly refurbished and now painted in vivid orange and pink with her ‘Kelly the Magic Clown’ logo on back and front. They were off to Wellington. They had to be there for dinner at Kelly’s parents, four hours’ drive away.

‘Take care, little brother,’ Wiri told him as they hugged goodbye. He clapped Mat on the shoulder, as if trying to jolt him into smiling. ‘Hey, I’ve got some news for you. Remember how I promised that once we were through
your school year, I’d get someone to visit you, and maybe give you some training?’ He waggled his fingers. ‘You know, on your “special abilities”? Well, there’s someone coming in the New Year. A man named Jones. I’ve spoken to him on the phone. Sounds like a cranky old bugger, but I’ve heard lots of good things about him.’

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