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Authors: Elizabeth Knox

Wake

BOOK: Wake
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ALSO BY ELIZABETH KNOX

After Z-Hour (1987)

Treasure (1992)

Glamour and the Sea (1996)

The Vintner's Luck (1998)

The High Jump: A New Zealand Childhood (2000)
(Pomare (1994), Paremata (1989), Tawa (1998))

Black Oxen (2001)

Billie's Kiss (2002)

Daylight (2003)

The Love School: Personal Essays (2008)

The Angel's Cut (2009)

for young adults

Dreamhunter (2005)

Dreamquake (2007)

Mortal Fire (2013)

Visit the author at
www.elizabethknox.com

VICTORIA UNIVERSITY PRESS

Victoria University of Wellington

PO Box 600 Wellington

vup.victoria.ac.nz

Copyright © Elizabeth Knox 2013

First published 2013

This book is copyright. Apart from

any fair dealing for the purpose of private study,

research, criticism or review, as permitted under the

Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any

process without the permission of

the publishers

ISBN 978-0-86473-770-0 (print)

ISBN 978-0-86473-958-2 (EPUB)

ISBN 978-0-86473-959-9 (Kindle)

National Library of New Zealand Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

Knox, Elizabeth.

Wake / Elizabeth Knox.

ISBN 978-0-86473-770-0

I. Title.

NZ823.2—dc 23

Published with the assistance of a grant from

Ebook production 2013 by
meBooks

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-

Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back

A huge and birdless silence. In her wake

No waters breed or break.

Philip Larkin

Part One

L
ater, when people talked about the fourteen, they called them survivors. It wasn't strictly true. All but one arrived after the deadly moment. They came alone or in pairs, some with their heads up and their eyes on the smoke.

Constable Theresa Grey had spent the morning helping break some bad news to a woman in Motueka about her teenaged daughter. It had been Theresa's job to hold the woman's hand, which she did, leaning forward, knee to knee, for over an hour. Then the woman's brother arrived, and the detectives thanked Theresa for her support, and sent her off.

As she drove, her grip on the steering wheel gradually erased the ghostly sensation of that stricken woman's hands. She began to feel better, to come alive to the drive and the sunny weather.

Then she got a call from the dispatcher at Nelson Central police station. ‘We've a mayday from a helicopter flying out of Kahukura Spa,' said the dispatcher. ‘Four on board. I'll give the spa a call and get back to you.'

Theresa pulled out, and accelerated. She passed a milk tanker and a Holden Captiva and glided back into her lane. She hit her siren and—because she was looking for it—spotted the smudge of smoke while still on the straight before the cutting that crossed the bluff west of Kahukura Bay. Theresa reached the cutting, and the smudge vanished behind the frothy white screen of apple blossom along the ridge of Cotley's orchard.

She picked up her radio again and tried to raise the community constable in Kahukura. Then she tried the dispatcher. No one responded.

Theresa was a young police officer, but she had initiative. She figured that if a helicopter got into trouble shortly after leaving the spa, it might try to put down in the clearing around Stanislaw's Reserve—300 hectares of old-growth forest enclosed in a state-of-the-art predator-proof fence. Sixteen of the world's 140 remaining kakapo nested in Stanislaw's Reserve—the rest were on an offshore island in the far south. Theresa's friend, Belle Greenbrook, was a ranger at the reserve, and rangers carried radios.

Theresa got lucky; Belle answered right away. ‘Belle? We've a helicopter down. I'm at the turn to Cotley's Road and I can see smoke. I'm pretty sure it's coming from the field above the spa. Over.'

Belle said that she was by the east gate, with her chainsaw, clearing a fallen branch from the fence. She reckoned that, if she cut up over the ridge and ran to the main gate where she'd left her quad bike, she could be at the wreck in twenty minutes.

Theresa dropped the radio and put both hands on the wheel to take the long horseshoe bend. She was aiming for the bypass, which would take her straight to Kahukura Spa. The spa's driveway would offer the quickest route to the crashed helicopter.

But when she reached the bypass, Theresa saw fire in the far perspective of Kahukura's main road. She ignored the turnoff and floored the gas. Houses, hedges, churches all poured past her windows while she peered into the seething knot of oily, orange flame.

A woman ran out into the street in front of the car. Theresa braked, and her seatbelt clutched her so forcefully that she was grateful for the padding of her stab-proof vest.

The woman didn't swerve, or cringe, as the car bore down on her, slid to a halt, and was overtaken by a drift of smoke from its own tyres. She didn't seem to see the car. She wasn't screaming, or crying, only fleeing. She was naked from the waist up, and her arms were marked by red notches.

Theresa jumped out and raced after the woman. She caught hold of her. The woman's skin was cold with shock, and slippery with blood. The V-shaped wounds on her shoulders and upper arms were as much bruised as bloody, and identical, as if inflicted by the same weapon. It looked like they'd been made with one of those can piercers from a standard bottle opener.

Theresa looked about for an assailant, but the only people in view were a couple in the driveway of a house back down the road. They were locked in a passionate kiss, holding each other's heads. It wasn't an open-air, mid-morning kiss, and Theresa felt faintly embarrassed. In a moment she'd have to go interrupt them to ask if they'd seen anything. But first she must look after the injured woman.

The woman let Theresa lead her back to the patrol car. Theresa popped her trunk, grabbed a bagged rescue blanket, and used her teeth to tear the bag open. ‘It's okay,' she said, ‘I've got you. You'll be fine.'

A dog ran from a property down the road, stopped beside the lip-locked couple, and barked at them. Then it flattened its ears and backed away, trembling.

Theresa wrapped the woman, and ducked her head to meet her eyes. ‘You're safe now.'

There was a sharp concussion of an explosion in the fire up the road. Theresa flinched, but the woman didn't react at all. She just stared at Theresa, apparently intent. Only she wasn't meeting Theresa's eyes. Her gaze seemed to focus on the air millimetres from Theresa's skin, as if caught on the tip of each hair—the hair lifting all over Theresa's body.

Theresa became aware then of sounds below the roar of the fire, and the skirling alarms of trapped and wounded cars. Unaccountable, frightening noises were coming from behind her, on both sides of the street. She heard a hissing, as if someone were busy spraying weeds, followed by a deep flutter, like a wind-baffled bonfire. There were thumps, smashes, a squealing noise, and the sound of someone gasping for breath. But there were no screams, no cries for help.

Theresa glanced again at the couple. Their heads were still pressed together, grinding and working. Theresa saw that their cheeks and necks were smeared and dark.

In the house nearest Theresa a scuffle broke out. Two men tumbled from an open screen door and commenced belting each other, neither of them making any attempt to block the other's blows.

Theresa told the injured woman to stay where she was. Then she went to the secure box in her car, punched in the code, and removed her pistol. She clipped its holster to her belt. Never before in her professional life had Theresa had to get out her gun.

She hurried into the yard, and tried to grapple the brawling men apart, using her hands and her baton. It wasn't clear which of the two was the aggressor, but one was taking a real beating, and was bleeding from both ears. He continued to fight, fearlessly and insensitively.

Theresa yelled at them to stop. She tried to haul the stronger man away. His arms were as hard as wood, his body solid, hot, clenched all over and slick with blood—far too much to have come from just his own injuries. Theresa's hands slithered off him. She lost her balance, and came down hard on one knee.

Once she was down, both men turned on her. Without exchanging a look, they simultaneously ceased hitting each other and began pummelling Theresa instead.

She scrambled away, dropped her baton, and drew her gun. She pointed it, swinging the barrel back and forth between them. ‘That's enough! Don't come any closer!'

But they didn't even glance at the gun. They looked through her, as if she were an obstacle they meant to trample over to get at something promising that lay beyond her, something more worthy of their pitched savagery.

Theresa risked a backward glance. The injured woman was standing right behind her. She had followed Theresa, trailing the rescue blanket like a queenly mantle.

Theresa gasped. ‘Jesus!' She scrambled to her feet and lunged at the woman, meaning to haul her off, throw her in the patrol car, and flee. That's what Theresa was thinking: she had to pull back somewhere safe and call for help.
Lots
of help.

But she only managed a few steps before one of the men barged her. Theresa sprawled on the grass, and the men began to kick her. She pushed the injured woman away from her, and flipped over onto her back. Her boots connected with someone's legs, and the kicking stopped. Theresa raised her head and held the gun out before her again. From the corner of her eye she saw the empty rescue blanket floating away over the lawn, bundling up the sunlight. The weaker of the two men was in flight, pushing his way through a hedge. But the other had got hold of the injured woman. And they were both giggling—sly, silly giggles. Then the man began to shake the injured woman, violently.

Theresa clambered up. She shouted, ‘Stop that or I
will
shoot you!' She issued her warning. She followed her training. But no one had ever told her about the blank bit of human hesitation, of unwillingness, that appeared before her then. A gap between procedure familiar to her, and procedure she hadn't yet had to follow. She had to act to save the woman. But the idea of hurting the man filled her with a terrible queasiness. It was as if she were about to shoot
herself
.

Theresa stepped towards the man. Again she shouted her warning.

The shaking continued, and the injured woman's sweat-soaked hair bounced around her smirking face. Theresa tried one-handed to snatch her free, but the man kept moving like a machine, his limbs greasy and as inexorable as pistons.

In the pause where Theresa ran out of bearable options, she glanced once more at the other man, who was crawling away across the neighbours' lawn. He was on his hands and knees. But he wasn't walking on his palms. Instead his wrists were bent inward, and he was moving forward pressing the backs of his hands to the grass.

Theresa stopped shouting. Her breath left her in a grunt. Her arms sagged. Her body was in shock, but a small voice in her mind made itself heard. It said, ‘
Who does that?'
Behind her shock a deeply rational and analytical part of her was trying to make her attend to something more important than simply what she should do next. It was telling her that she was in lethal danger, and that her own death wouldn't be the worst of it. And of course she sought confirmation for her feeling. She glanced at the kissing couple.

They weren't kissing. Their lips and noses were in red strings and tatters, and still they kept pushing mouth to mouth, their bared teeth biting.

Theresa's arms came up. She stepped forward, jabbed her gun against the man's shoulder, and pulled the trigger.

He staggered back, but he didn't release the injured woman. Instead he used his good arm to grapple her closer, opened his mouth and sank his teeth into her scalp, like someone taking a big bite of an apple.

Theresa leapt at him. She pressed the muzzle of her pistol to his temple, and pulled the trigger.

He was at her feet, his head served on a bed of his own brains. The woman rolled free.

Theresa holstered her gun. She thought, ‘He didn't look at me. He didn't even see me coming.' She picked up the woman, who immediately began to struggle.

‘It's all right,' Theresa said. She half-carried the woman to her car, and laid her on the back seat. She leaned on the woman while fumbling at the buttons of the radio. But there was only empty static as she cycled through the frequencies looking for people she knew must be there—Kahukura's community constable, the dispatcher in Nelson, other emergency services.

The only open channel was to Belle. ‘Tre? What's happening?' Belle said, then, ‘There are fires on Haven Road. Over.' She sounded desperate.

‘Where is everyone?' Theresa said.

The woman stopped thrashing and began to claw at her own face. Theresa had to drop the radio to catch her hands.

For the next minute Theresa fought to keep the woman still. She spoke to her softly. The woman was making vacant, inarticulate sounds. Blood glistened in the join of her lips. She was gnawing her own tongue.

Theresa cast about for something to slip between her teeth. A sunglasses case might do. She popped the glove box, found the case, and, holding the woman tightly with one arm, she tried to slip the soft plastic between her chomping jaws.

In a nearby house a window shattered. An old man slumped through it, skewering his throat on the shards left in the frame. He moved only feebly while his blood unfolded like a concertinaed red banner down the weatherboard wall.

Theresa reached for her radio again. She held it to her lips and depressed the talk button, but she couldn't speak. It was as if she were taking a sip of static—putting a pump bottle to her lips and tasting only air. She had ducked down below the level of her car windows. The only people she could see were those near her—the man she'd shot, and that one across the way, still gasping on his hook of glass, and the couple, head to head, slow-dancing on their patch of blood-soaked grass. No one else. Nothing new was happening in Theresa's ambit, but she was still desperate for things to stop, to pause. She wanted to find
herself
and figure out what she should do—what she could do.

Theresa dropped her radio and concentrated on the woman. She held the sunglasses case in place, pressing down her tongue. She kept up her quiet reassurances, staring into the woman's eyes. Those eyes were mad and spiteful; the woman's nostrils vibrated with fury. Then, all at once, her eyes flicked sideways, and froze. She stopped struggling. Her face went stark, her body stiff.

Theresa pulled her straight, and began CPR. The woman's mouth was clamped shut, so Theresa breathed into her nose. But the woman seemed to be holding her breath. Her lungs were full, her chest taut. Theresa shouted, ‘Please!'

The woman's chest suddenly collapsed, and she went limp.

Theresa pumped at her sternum. She breathed into her bloody mouth. But nothing worked. The woman was gone. Theresa gathered her, held her tight, and looked over her bowed head, out the car windows, and through its open door. Looking didn't help. She wasn't able to check for danger. Everything was melting. For long minutes everything was melting.

Theresa was startled back into the moment by an explosion. She flung herself off the body and out of her car. She took off, striding away along the centre line, leaving her car with its doors open and lights flashing. She scanned the road for danger as she went. She felt like a nervy animal, rather than an upholder of public order.

BOOK: Wake
12.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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