Authors: J A Graham
Prologue – The Outskirts of Auckland City
Christian glanced from left to right, his nervous green eyes shifting, as if searching for something. The buildings surrounding him sketched a jagged outline in the evening horizon, harsh against the grey of thunderstorm skies. A single tree pressed in on him, crying to be released into fresh, unpolluted air. A tall building they call the ‘Sky Tower’ made its impact on the several buildings in front of it, but at this distance, the height nearly didn’t compare to that of the air-starved tree in front of him. The streets were littered with rubbish and pot holes both. A car desolately drifted into view, and even though it was painted several different colours, it still seemed too technical for its surroundings. Homeless people settled down in lengthened alleyways, happy to have something to call a 'home'.
Christian kept on walking, his stride quickening. He seemed to be in a hurry, but anyone could tell that the only hurry he felt was the need to get out of this place. He looked up at the rickety buildings that lined the street; his house was no better than these. But at least it was rodent and waterproof. These didn’t seem to be even that. Some leaned slightly, holes gaping in their structure. It seemed like an endless ghost town, a nightmare. Any second now, Christian was sure he’d wake up and find himself back in his own warm, comfortable bed. After about ten minutes of walking, he wasn’t so sure, but he was hoping.
A bland silhouette caught his pitying eyes. Instinctively he turned his head. He jumped in shock automatically before hating himself for doing so. He watched as a small girl, one of about eight or nine approached him. Straggly mud-ridden bangs flicked over scared grey eyes. She had a strange loss of innocence and hopelessness in those eyes and it unnerved Christian. It almost seemed to him that this child had given up living. She held up her hand, palm up, and the corners of her mouth quivering in an attempt to smile. He could tell that beneath her forced smile, she was actually trying not to cry.
The little hand remained there, shaking. He eyed it, his mouth gaping at the fact that it seemed so skinny, the thin bones sticking out clearly. He passed her by, hating himself for doing so but knowing it was for the best. He had nothing to give her but needless to say, his heart went out to her. It looked like she was only just struggling to live.
A lone dog searched the streets, sniffing desperately at scrappy morsels of crumpled newspaper, searching for food. It caught and drew Christian’s gaze. The dog cowered as Christian approached and he noted the harsh angles of the ribs and crusted scabs caused by fleas and parasites. Christian’s face softened in sympathy and he knelt down before the dog. The canine cowered, as if expecting Christian to hit him. Christian noted then the deep gash pulsing blood freely. Surely such an animal in this state of agony could not live much longer. He placed a hand on the creature’s head, placating the poor dog. An unearthly shiver went down Christian’s spine as the dog convulsed, backing away. Another dog howled from a nearby window, giving Christian a fright, and causing him to draw away from the dog in front of him, rocking back onto his heels. Instantly on Christian's shock, the canine moved fluently forward. It was not a motion that a dog of his state could have achieved. That’s when it struck. His powerful jaws met Christian’s upper arm. Christian yelled out with pain, falling over slowly onto his side as his blood gushed over the pearl white canines of the dog. His eyes shone desperately with a plea for help at the little girl standing close by. The dog lapped at the blood seeping through his teeth with a smooth, curled tongue.
The Canine shuddered as its eyes glowed a deep green, burning with preternatural fire. Then, as quickly as this newfound strength had come, it was gone. The dog crumpled to the rough tiles of the street, meeting the cold cobbles with the last ebbing life of his body. The green light had died, mingling with the air and taking with it the fading spirit of the Canine. Christian lay beside it, unconscious to the fall of night.
And the little girl watched on, unblinking, before calmly walking away.
Tanitha awoke as the sun peeped over the rooftops of buildings. Sunlight glistened off the painted pink of her room. She poked her tongue out at the colour that greeted her. Her room had been decorated pink with purple edging when she had been but seven years old, almost eight years ago. Back then she thought it had been the best. Now she merely viewed it as pathetic.
She looked out the window and watched the busy street, cars whizzing by when just that night a few months ago, Christian had fallen alone. It was an amazing transformation from the nightlife.
She stumbled out of bed as the alarm refused to give up its constant beeping. The sleep that threatened to overcome her again was pushed momentarily to the back of her mind as she looked at the time. Surely she had set it for earlier? She slammed the off button and quickly searched for her uniform in the pile of clothes by the wardrobe. She finally located her uniform under her bed. On her way up, a thumping tail distracted her, and drew her gaze over to the corner of her room. Sorsa and Sadie rose to meet her, and she patted the Border Collies each appreciatively before continuing on getting ready for school. Sadie was restless, as she had been for the past few months, often keeping her up at night, sometimes with an eerie howling. Tanitha didn’t know what was wrong; she’d never been like that till just recently.
After pulling on the clothes, she pulled up the satin rose blankets to meet the matching pillows and took a quick glance in the mirror. She didn’t really appreciate what she saw. Since she hadn’t had the chance to have a shower, her usually curly red-brown hair had decided to frizz. Her unusual grey eyes were blotched red from another night without much sleep. She had stayed up studying for the major history test. She searched her memory for what she hoped would be answers, but found none. She got the sinking feeling she always got when she knew she was going to fail.
Racing down the hallway, she stopped by her mother’s room. The smell of alcohol hit her and she wrinkled her nose. Tiptoeing over the empty bottles that lay scattered over the floor, she plastered on a fake smile before shaking her mother awake.
Wha…?” The older female answered. She slowly sat up; swaying as the remnants of a hangover threatened to burst her brain. Tanitha took a good look at her, not for the first time. She would have been an incredible looker, maybe underneath all that make-up and fuzziness caused by one too many drinks. Her wavy blonde hair betrayed the fact that it was done by peroxide, looking so natural on her gaunt drawn face. But what the lipstick and mascara didn’t hide was the angular features and the delicate arch of arrogance in her nose. Many secrets and fantasies were held within the murky depths of the deep chocolate brown of her eyes. There were times when Tanitha would have given anything to look at least remotely like her mother. But from the single picture she had seen of her dad, he was where most of her inheritance came from. The stubborn forwardness of her chin, the boyish roundness of her face, the eyes that revealed every single emotion, all had once belonged to her father. According to stories she had heard, her father had walked out on her mother. He left her to care for a baby who was always hungry and crying. He left her to the drink. Though Tanitha wasn’t at all like that now, there were times when the mention of their father would bring tears to her mother’s eyes so Tanitha never brought it up, nor cared to. Tanitha always called her mother by her real name, as Dinah thought herself old when she was called “Mum” and thought of it as an insult.
It’s time to take me to school. I have a history test today.”
History? Is it really that important? Pass my ciggies, love.”
Tanitha passed her the blue-foiled packet of cigarettes that rested on the bedside table. Dinah dug out a lighter from beneath the heap of browning pillows, lit the smoke and took a drag. As she exhaled, the smoke drew tendrils in the stolid atmosphere of the barely aerated room. She swiped a hand through her mass of waves while Tanitha drew open the curtains. Dinah drew back as the sun touched her tired and aching eyes.
Tanitha glanced at the smaller cradle in the corner and knew that her sister, Tabitha, must still be asleep. Tanitha shook her head sadly. Poor thing. She was as sick as a dog. Tanitha and Dinah weren’t expecting the best for her. Tanitha turned her attention back to her mother.
No, I can’t stay home and it
important. Once I’ve passed school I can get a job and then we don’t have to stay
And then maybe I can afford to have the hospitals fix Tabby.”
Tanitha saw the familiar lurch of stubbornness flash across her mother’s face and she sighed, preparing herself for what followed.
“In this house…”
We grew up. Dinah cut the crap. I’ve heard this a thousand times or more!”
Dinah looked slightly hurt, as she always did, but she withdrew and bit her tongue against her thought-up retorting comment. Tanitha followed her mother’s gaze to the sleeping Tabitha. She knew that her mother wanted her to get better as much as she did.
“I’m sorry, hun.” Dinah spoke up, stubbing her cigarette out in the ashtray. “Let’s get you off to school.”
Tanitha was glad she had avoided another fight for today. She kicked an empty beer bottle aside, glaring at it as if it was at fault for her mother wanting to drink.
The air was brisk and cool outside as cars zoomed along the road, emitting exhaust fumes into the already polluted atmosphere. There was the usual collection of vehicles and Tanitha liked to imagine how each person came to own each and every one. The grey and white rusted Toyota Celica that was probably found in a junk yard and fixed up by some boy racer; the Volkswagen Beetle that was probably won in a magazine reader’s sweepstake; the Lotus Elise probably inherited to someone by a rich uncle they’d never seen before. It kept her busy thinking up new alternatives for the assortment of vehicles that hurried past her on the way to work. She glanced at their decaying Triumph and sighed. The first thing she’d do with the extra money was buy her mother a decent car. Then maybe they could move out of the country. Tanitha was fond of her mother and loved her dearly. She couldn’t dare to think of anything bad coming to her.
Tanitha opened the door with a loud creak and jumped onto the ragged leather seat. Dinah started up the car and it turned over a few times before actually catching and starting with a cough. The ancient Triumph lurched forward into the steady flow of the traffic, joining the millions who were eager to get to their job as soon as possible for no particular reason at all.
As Dinah pulled up to the gates of the school, she gave Tanitha the usual peck on the cheek.
Don’t study too hard.” Dinah smiled. Tanitha smiled back. She wished sometimes her mother were at least a little more serious about her schoolwork.
I’ll try not to.” She replied, hoisting her loaded bag over her shoulder. Her mother putted away and Tanitha waved before trying to blend in inconspicuously with the morning crowd, hoping not to be noticed. She wasn’t a troublemaker or attention seeker and if nobody noticed her, that was just fine. She actually loved school, not because of her friends but because of the plush carpet that lined the floor and the fresh smell of decently painted artefacts, not at all like her home life. She had arrived just after the bell rung, it seemed, and the crowd was already dispersing.
A lone dog caught her eye. The canine’s stare sent shivers down Tanitha’s spine. She shook it off. He was just a poor dog, looking for some food that the students might accidentally drop. But something about the dog’s gaze unnerved her. He seemed so…intelligent. She had no time to linger on this as the last bell shrilled through the air. When she looked back the dog had gone, and with it her worries.
As she entered the form room she looked around at the usual array of bright colours and paintings that aligned the painted walls. Tanitha had once tried the same style in her room but to no effect. She was no artist, and therefore her work looked like kindergarten scribbles.
The usual wave of black-and-blue uniform greeted her. A solitary figure stood out, though, due to a lack of the standard colours. Tanitha took a closer look, homing in on him with all the experience of looking without getting noticed. He was slouched over the desk with a match in his mouth, looking in need of a cigarette. He was dressed in faded denim jeans hoisted low over his hips to show a snatch of colourful boxers. His blonde hair hung ragged at either side of his head, framing slightly feminine features, the sort that girls swoon over. His green eyes, though, were of such sheer brilliance that they didn’t quite go with the look he was trying to achieve. Tanitha was sure he was one to be popular.
The teacher spoke up, her shrill voice holding a note slightly longer than the school bell.
Now, class, please make Christian Affleck feel welcome to our school. He has just been transferred here from…where?”
Taumarunui.” Christian drawled, a touch of an accent differentiating his voice from the others around here.
The schoolmistress clapped twice, pleased at the sound of her own voice, and Tanitha stole another glimpse in Christian’s direction. Sure enough, Seleena made her way over to him. Seleena seated herself on his desk so he could get a glimpse of her, all of her by the way she wore her skirt too high and her shirt unbuttoned. She was the most popular girl in school and usually what Seleena said went. Hell, she wasn’t even pretty. She just had this way about her. But Christian didn’t seem to be falling for her rather unsubtle charms, and Tanitha was glad for a change. She didn’t know why but there was just something about Christian that made her look twice. Sure, he was good looking, but there was just that little something extra…