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Kiwi Sin Sneak Preview

Kiwi Sin Sneak Preview

Book 5: New Zealand Ever After

1 – Red Dawn


I knew that leaving Mount Zion meant walking into the world of the damned, and, if the Prophet was right, roasting in the burning fires of Hell. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon.

I didn’t quite leave by choice, or not by any choice I could recall making. I was slow to speak and slow to act, because I thought things out before I made a move. Except on that day.

It was barely six o’clock, the gray dawn streaked with red, but I was up and dressed, working on some calculations for the new processing shed, which would hold the many different machines necessary to turn alpaca fleece into knitting wool. We were expanding our herd of Suri alpacas, and expanding the operation, too, because the Prophet always looked ahead. Mount Zion was prospering when most ventures failed, he told us often enough, because God smiles on the worthy and blesses their ventures. And if I wondered whether it was really because nobody here earned a wage, and forty years of families of twelve or fourteen or sixteen had expanded that free labor force in exponential fashion, I’d learnt not to ask that kind of question. Or any question. I kept myself to myself.

That was the problem with being chosen to help my father on the community’s necessary  business Outside, though. I saw things. And on that day, when I heard the noise from outside the gate, put down my pencil, and went out to investigate along with everybody else, I saw more.

Nobody visited Mount Zion. It was a closed community. “Sufficient unto itself,” the Prophet liked to say. Not today.

The air was chilly and damp at dawn, and the kids were shivering as everyone stood silently to watch Fruitful Warrior, one of my almost-cousins, who’d run away from her husband but had been caught again, walk away from Mount Zion once more. Not in secret this time, and not without help. I held back Fruitful’s husband, Gilead, as my dad entered a combination into the gate’s locking mechanism that only he and the Prophet knew, and the steel frame slid slowly open with a grinding of metal. Fruitful, her face bruised from Gilead’s blows, untied her cap and apron, dropped them on the ground, took off her heavy white shoes, pulled the pins out of her hair, and walked through that gate barefoot with her head held high, and Gilead’s muscles tensed with violent effort under my hands.

I wanted him to break free. I wanted an excuse. Instead, I held him tighter, even though he was nearly fifteen years my senior and due my deference by every rule I’d ever learnt. I wished, with the hot rage of sin filling my chest, that I could hit him the same way he’d hit his seventeen-year-old wife. That I could hurt him. That I could use the strength I’d honed all my life and smash his face.

Violence is forbidden at Mount Zion. Violence between adult men, that is.

Anyway, Fruitful walked out, and the second she crossed the line, her sisters grabbed her and held on. That was Chastity, the eldest, who’d left long ago, plus the sister just younger than Fruitful, who’d run along with her weeks before. Obedience, that was, sixteen years old, with her hair cut to just below her shoulders now and falling loose. She was wearing trousers and a shirt, the way women dressed Outside. Like a man, but Obedience would never look like a man.

The fella beside my cousin Chastity on the other side of that gate, who’d told us his name was Gray Tamatoa as if that would mean something, lifted a loud-hailer and announced, into the frozen shock of sudden change, “The rest of you have a choice, too. You’re hard workers. Skilled laborers. There’s a world of work out there, and it’s waiting for people like you. I’m a builder in Dunedin, just down the road, but I was born in Wanaka, just like all of you. I’ve got good jobs going begging. Too much work, and not enough labor, so if any man here wants to give it a go, I’m willing to give him a try. All you have to do is step across the line. I’ve got people to help get you started, ready to hook you up with agencies and with churches that are waiting for you. They believe in God, too, just like you. They believe in goodness and compassion and service given from a willing heart, and they’re there for you.”

“Deceiver,” the Prophet shouted. “Serpent.” The voice we all had to listen to. The voice we all had to obey.

“Daisy has done it,” Gray answered, talking back to the Prophet as nobody dared to do. “So has her brother.” Oh. “Daisy” was Chastity, then. She’d changed her given name? You weren’t allowed to do that. Names were given by the Prophet, except for my family, because my father had refused to allow our given names to be changed when the Prophet had decided on that. We’d taken the surname of the rest of my father’s family, Worthy, but that was all. My brothers and I had been named for archangels, but those names had been my parents’ choice, not the Prophet’s.

Sometimes, rebellion sprouts from the smallest seed. Eventually, an acorn grows into an oak.

Gray went on, “There’s money in your pocket, a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. There’s a house of your own, eventually, and a good life for your daughters and your sons. All you have to do is step across the line.”

I’d have done it right then, because even as my mind struggled to take it all in, my booted feet wanted to move. My brother Raphael, his wife Radiance, and their baby went first, though, because I was still holding Gilead. I handed him off to Regnum Standfast, who was young, but the only man I trusted to hold Gilead back, and followed my younger brother. Walking with my boots, not my mind. My mind was still thinking, How can this be happening? Nobody left Mount Zion, or almost nobody. Chastity and Dutiful had, because Chastity’s twin was out there this morning, too, even though we’d been told they were both dead. That they’d left the community for Outside, all those years ago, and their sin had caught up with them, as the Lord would always smite the unworthy. Except that He hadn’t, because here they both were, and Fruitful and Obedience, too. All outside the gate.

My parents followed me, bringing my youngest sister, Harmony, the only one not old enough to choose for herself, and that was the biggest surprise of all. My father was the Prophet’s right hand. If he was leaving, could it be so wrong?

It felt wrong, and it didn’t, as the Prophet’s voice boomed out, sending us off to perdition to be devoured by snakes, tormented by demons with pitchforks, to spend eternity writhing in the fire the way he’d described at least once a week for as long as I could remember, the imagery so vivid I could feel my flesh blistering.

I walked out without a cent in my pockets, with nothing to offer except my willing hands. Not prepared a bit.

Did I walk away for myself? Probably. For my family? Possibly. For Obedience? No. That would be stupid, nothing but a dream.

When Gilead escaped Regnum Standfast’s hold and charged through the gate, though, I was ready to hit him. That’s how fast I descended into sin.

I was ready, but I didn’t get the chance. Gray hit him first.


* * *

I rode with a few blokes for the short journey down the hill into Wanaka. All of us who’d left today had made this trip before, to the doctor or the dentist. The world beyond Wanaka, though? My dad and I were the only ones who’d seen that, because I’d been helping him with his occasional trips to buy and sell and making arrangements, with me doing the driving and the loading and unloading, since I’d turned sixteen. I was clinging to that thought—that this wasn’t quite as new to me—because unlike the others, I wasn’t married, even though I was past the age for it, which meant I’d walked out alone.

Never mind. It’s what Gray said. You know how to work, he’s offering work, and he’s a builder. Outside is full of people, and they don’t get married for ages, so there has to be a way to live alone.

Driving up the hill, then, away from the center of the town, and stopping on a street of large buildings that had to be houses. “Single-family homes,” they were called, and only a few people lived in each, enormous as they were and odd as that seemed.

The three other men in the car got out, so I did, too. Two of them were as tall and broad as me, and the third was taller. Highlanders players, they’d told me. I didn’t have a clue what that was, but I didn’t ask. I’d learnt that if I kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open, I’d eventually understand. 

We were standing on the pavement, then, with about a hundred people, all milling about in an excited sort of way, talking about what had just happened, laughing or shocked or angry or all of those things together. Having emotions, and expressing them freely. They wore jackets against the chill, and I was in my shirtsleeves, my brown trousers, and the braces that held the trousers up. I was hungry, too, because I’d worked fourteen hours yesterday, taking advantage of the summer light, and it was time for breakfast.

I wasn’t sure how I’d get breakfast. I knew no rules for this, except that breakfast would cost money I didn’t have, and suddenly, I was nauseated. I breathed my way through it, telling myself, There has to be a way, and sure enough, within five minutes or so, Gray was taking charge again.

Parceling out the refugees, is the only way I can describe what happened next. Raphael and Radiance went with a couple who introduced themselves as Matiu and Poppy Te Mana and said they had an extra apartment in their house and would be glad of the company. My parents and Harmony went with Gray.

And me? So far, nothing, and the nausea was back again.

That was when a big, fit, tough-looking fella of forty-odd, who’d done some of his own talking through the loud-hailer back there and had an air of command I recognized, told me, “We have a granny flat. You’re welcome to stay in it.”

I didn’t ask, What’s a granny flat? I said, “Thank you. Until I get myself sorted.” One thing I knew about Outside was that you did it yourself. It was like the drop of pond water we’d looked at under a microscope when I’d been at school, full of individual tiny things of different types called “single-celled organisms,” moving around seemingly at random, intent on their own business, while I was used to being just one cell in a body.

“No rush,” the man said. “Need a chat with anybody, or would you rather go?”

“Ready to go,” I said, because I couldn’t think of what I’d say to anyone. The only person I needed to talk to was Gray, and he was heading into one of the houses, a block of glass and steel unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

The man saw me watching and said, “I’ll ring him later and ask him about you starting work, shall I?”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m Gabriel, by the way. Gabriel Worthy.”

He put out a hand. “Drew Callahan.” His eyes were gray, which was unusual, and he had some long-healed white scars on his forehead and around his eyes, and another one on his chin. He looked tough and felt quiet and calm, and I relaxed a bit. He asked, “You hungry?” and I relaxed a little more.

“Yeh,” I said. “But I don’t have money for food.”

“I’ll shout you food until you’re earning,” he said. “Let’s go, then.” And climbed up into the kind of car called an SUV. The seats seemed to be covered in leather, another thing I hadn’t seen before, the instrument panel gleamed with electronics, and it was about as far from Mount Zion’s small fleet of battered old farm utes as it was possible to be.

I climbed in, trying to scrape off my dirty boots along the way, but said, “I’ll keep an account.”

He set off down the hill, his movements assured and economical, and said, “No worries. I’m good for a few meals. Can’t be bothered to keep track of all that anyway.”

I had a little notebook and a stub of pencil in my pocket, as I always did. I pulled them out and said, “No need. I’ll do it.”

He braked to a stop at a sign, glanced over at the calculations I’d made this morning, and said, “Looks like heaps of maths. That what you do, then?”

“No,” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed. “Just working out lumber, electric, that sort of thing, and a bit about the design.”

“Hmm,” he said. “In your head,” and didn’t say anything else until we’d stopped in town. “Takeaway OK?”

“Yeh,” I said. “You’ll have been up all night, though, I’m thinking.” The Prophet had told us men outside were soft, but this man, though he was old enough to be a grandfather, didn’t seem that way.

“Nah,” he said. “I’m good. Hang on, then, and I’ll be back with breakfast. Coffee?”

“Uh …” I said. “I haven’t had it.” Coffee was an intoxicant, and a sin.

“Well,” he said, “reckon it’s time to try.” And got out of the car.

* * *

Some things were the same, I found. You felt better once you’d eaten, more settled. Drew didn’t talk much, other than saying, “Three and a half hours to Dunedin.”

“Fine,” I said, because I had to say something, then looked out the window at not much at all and tried not to be overwhelmed by what I’d done, the yawning expanse of the unknown.

One moment, I was staring absently at the intersection ahead as we drove along beside Lake Dunstan. The next, I was shouting, “On your right!” at the top of my lungs.

It couldn’t have taken Drew a half second to react, because even as I shouted it, as the car ahead made the right turn to the north toward Wanaka, swinging too wide, into the wrong lane, into our lane, Drew was slamming on the brake and driving straight off the road to the left, all the way onto the verge and nearly down the bank and into the water. I saw two horrified faces, mouths and eyes stretched, through the windscreen of the car as it flashed past, then heard the squeal of brakes as it slowed and swerved left, back into its own lane.

I hadn’t even started to breathe again when another car, headed north too fast, was past us as well. Almost at the same moment I registered it, I heard the noise behind me. Loud and sudden and brutal, the sound of metal crunching into metal.

Drew said, “Shit,” punched a button for his hazard lights, and was stopped and out of the car, but I was faster. I hadn’t had to hit the lights or turn off the car. I was sprinting, because the too-fast driver had hit the wrong-way driver from the rear. Even as the too-fast driver pulled to the side of the road, the wrong-way car was spinning down the highway in a sickening circle, then catching an edge of pavement and flipping. It rolled once, all the way around. Another half-roll, and it came to rest on its roof, rocking a little.

The other car had stopped, and somebody could be hurt in there, but I couldn’t pay attention to that. I was running toward the crumpled rear of the wrong-way car, because I was smelling gas, and gas plus the kind of sparks you got when a car rolled on pavement …

That meant fire.

Get in through the windows, I thought. The doors would be locked.

The driver, a youngish fella, was upside-down, still conscious, eyes wide. Drew was there, though. I could feel his presence behind me, so I kept running around the car to the other side.

A woman here. Dark hair, white face, upside down. I shouted, “Punch your seat belt! Punch it!” Drew wasn’t shouting, because he was already hauling. The driver must have unclipped, but the passenger hadn’t. She was fumbling for the latch, and I wasn’t just smelling gas anymore. I was smelling smoke.

I didn’t think. I crouched, and then I straightened. Right into the shattered window, grabbing for the shoulder harness and following it up, punching where the button would be.

The second it released, she fell straight down onto her head, but I wasn’t worrying about that. I had my hands around her hips and was turning her awkwardly and hauling her out, legs first. She was tangled in the belt, and I pulled harder, the steep bank beside me not giving me enough space for the leverage I needed.

The smell was stronger now. Leaking gas. And smoke. Something catching.

I pulled like it was life and death, because it was, and she came loose. Her abdomen hit the edge of the window hard as I pulled her out upside-down by the legs, and she cried out.

The back of the car was burning, the flames licking toward us, but I had her mostly out, grabbing her around the middle now. It was a long way around there, and she was heavy.

Because she was pregnant.

The heat was a scorching thing. I could feel it on my cheeks, my arms. I was dragging her away from the bank that trapped us, around the front of the car. Then I had her in my arms, and I was running.

The blast like a furnace as the fire reached the gas tank and blew. A bloom of heat on my back, my legs, stinging hard, but I was striding like my legs could cover the world.

We were out.

We were free.



2 – The Wages of Sin


By the time I lowered the woman to the grass, there were three more cars parked on the verge, and men running. One holding a handful of flares, running back toward Wanaka, the other waving his arms over his head at oncoming traffic in the other direction. Brave, but foolish. Drew, who had the driver of the burning car sitting propped against the bank, shouted to the arm-waving man, “Flares in the boot of my car, across the highway,” and pointed, and the man ran for them.

I registered all that in a sort of compartment in my mind, a dispassionate corner that was taking stock, and then I was setting the woman down gently, beside her husband. I was afraid to look, afraid of what I’d see, but that dispassionate corner had me looking anyway, because it was necessary.

She wasn’t crying. She was gasping, holding her belly, and I wanted to pray, but I didn’t really know how. I knew about a vengeful God who punished sinners for their wickedness, and would punish me, too, for my sins today. God was probably punishing her right now, but that didn’t feel right. What could she have done to deserve this? I didn’t know how you asked for mercy, so I just crouched beside her and asked, “What hurts?”

“Susannah,” the man said. “Susannah. Oh, my God. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I only forgot for a minute. How could it happen that fast?”

Drew said, “I’ve rung for the police and the ambos. They’ll be here soon to check her out.” He was still holding his phone, though, and now, he did some clicking around, waited a minute, then said, “Gray? Got the number of that doctor fella, Matiu? Read it out to me.” Some more clicking, then he was saying, “That Matiu Te Mana? Drew Callahan here. Still in Wanaka, or on your way?” Another few seconds, and he said, “Come on as fast as you can, then. There’s been an accident at the intersection with the Gibbston Highway. Got a pregnant woman here who needs attention, and some burns as well. Ambos on their way, but you’ll be faster, and I want you to look at this lady.” He rang off and told the woman, “There’s help coming. An emergency doc, and the ambos. They’ll take care of you, and the baby. What’s hurting? Are you having contractions?”

She said, “I … I don’t know. I don’t think so. I hit my belly hard on the window, though. It hurts. Is the baby … do you think she …”

Drew said, still calm as a glacial lake, “Pretty protected in there, with the amniotic fluid and all. Your body takes it in order to protect her, eh. I’ve got three kids myself, and I’m guessing you’re doing a pretty fair job of that protection right now. How far gone are you?”

“Thirty … thirty weeks,” the woman gasped.

“We’ve been traveling,” the man said. “Our honeymoon, before the baby. I’ve been driving on the left for two weeks! I wasn’t even going that fast. I realized as soon as I made the turn, as soon as I saw you. It was only a second. How could it happen in a second?” He had hold of the woman now, and I thought about how many things could happen in a second. You could turn your back on your home. You could hurt your family. You could burn down your life.

“American, are you, mate?” Drew asked. Still calm, but he was stepping behind me, checking out my back.

I said, “I’m fine. Stings a bit, that’s all. Got a little hot there, maybe.”

The woman focused on me, then. “You got me out,” she said, her voice still jerky with shock. “You pulled me out. When the car was burning. You saved my life. My baby’s life.”

Well, this was embarrassing. “No worries,” I said. “Anybody would’ve done the same.”

“What’s your name?” she asked. “Because I want to name the baby after you.”

“Gabriel,” I said. “But, ah …”

“An angel’s name,” she said. “Oh, my God. You’re an angel. That’s why you’re so beautiful. You’re an angel.”

“Archangel,” Drew said, the corner of his mouth tugging upward as if he thought this was funny. It wasn’t funny!

I said, “Pretty odd name, if the baby’s a girl. And I’m not an angel, no worries. It’s just a name.” Now, my face was as hot as my back.

“Gabrielle,” she said. “Sean, we’re naming her Gabrielle. If she’s all right. She has to be all right. He saved us. That has to mean something.”

Her husband looked even more miserable. In fact, he was nearly crying. Here he was, thinking he’d nearly killed his wife and baby, and she wanted to name the baby after another bloke? Yeh, not too good. I didn’t know much about naming babies—the Prophet did that, as I’ve mentioned—but I had a feeling this wasn’t the best way. I said, “You’ll want to name her after your husband, surely. What’s your name, mate?”

“Sean,” he said. “You’re not getting a girl’s name out of that. Her name’s supposed to be Scarlett.”

“Fire-wise,” Drew said, “possibly problematic.”

“What?” Sean stared at him. “And, yes, we’re American. We should’ve gotten a better car. I had an airbag, but why wasn’t there one on the passenger side? Who’d rent out a car without a passenger airbag? How is that even legal?”

Drew said, “My wife’s American, as it happens. She says it terrified her, learning to drive on the left. Where are you from, in the States?” Keeping them talking, keeping them calm, and possibly changing the subject. Good idea.

I said, “I’m going to check the other car.” I didn’t even know if anybody’d done that, and I didn’t want to hear any more about this poor bloke having his baby named after me.

I jogged down the road, the sting on my back increasing, and found him. The bonnet was smashed and steam was coming out of the radiator, but the man, barely more than a boy, was sitting in the driver’s seat, his hands still on the wheel, staring straight ahead as if he were about to drive it out of there. Shock, that would be. I crouched beside the window and asked, “All right, mate?”

He stared at me, his pupils dilated so far that his eyes looked black, and said, “Why the hell were they stopping in the road? What were they playing at? I couldn’t stop fast enough, by the time I realized.” The kind of bloke who hasn’t seen enough things go wrong, who still didn’t believe it had happened to him.

“American,” I said. “Pulled into the wrong lane.”

“Bloody Americans, Are they …” He stared at the two of them, sitting on the verge. “She isn’t pregnant, is she?”

“Yeh,” I said. “Got any water?”

“What? No. Oh, my God. Is she all right?”

“I think so,” I said. “Sit there until somebody comes, I guess.”

A voice from behind me. “Do you realize that your shirt’s scorched in back? And that half of it’s burned away?”

“What?” I asked, turning.

It was a woman. Older, wearing jeans, her hair close-cropped. It was hard for me even to register her, and harder to categorize her. Women out here just looked so … different. They spoke to you, for one thing, and stared at you. She said, “You’ve burned yourself. Hang on. I’m getting water.”

They gave you orders, too.

Up ahead, Drew had the woman passenger leaning back against the grassy bank and had taken off his jacket to put over her, even though the car was still merrily burning away, heating the morning air and giving off the stink of burning metal. Shock again, making her cold. I thought, We should put them into Drew’s car, and was about to go suggest it when the woman came back with a huge plastic bottle of water and said, “Take off your shirt.”

I gaped at her. I couldn’t comprehend this request. I said, “They need that water over there. That couple.”

“Already took them a bottle. Unbutton your shirt and take it off. We need some cloth to cool those burns, and if we don’t use your shirt, we’ll have to use mine. I don’t mind, but it might startle the animals and small children, eh. Come on, then. I don’t have all day.” She smiled cheerfully, and it was all, more and more, seeming like a dream.

I could never have imagined unbuttoning my shirt in front of a crowd, because there was a crowd here now, but I did it. I stripped off, and realized that it did indeed have some holes in it, or more like one big hole where the back had used to be, and that the singlet underneath was nothing but a rag. I watched the woman soak the pieces with the water from the bottle, after which she laid them over my back and tucked the edges under my braces. She said, “Good thing it was cotton. A synthetic would’ve melted, and you don’t want that. You need to be sitting down with that on you, though. Or lying down, even better. Which one’s your car? Let’s get you into it, unless it’s the burnt one.”

I said, “I’m all right. Those others …” I gestured at the couple up ahead, with Drew. “They’re the ones hurt. The woman, especially.”

“Looks like they’ve got somebody caring for them,” she said. “Show me your car, because you’re getting into it. Seems you were a hero, because I saw that happen. Time to sit down and let somebody else take a turn to be the hero for a while, and here I am, volunteering, if only with water. Besides, you’re going to draw a crowd of your own if we let you stand about here half-naked, looking like that. Like a film star, aren’t you.” And smiled again.

I breathed easier once the doctor turned up. He was the one who’d taken Raphael and Radiance, so there I was, with my brother again. Raphael looked bloody shocked to see me with my shirt off, as if I’d walked through the gates of Mount Zion and immediately descended into nakedness and sin, and for another confused moment, I wanted to laugh. My brain didn’t know what direction to go here, and that was the truth.

The doctor told us that the pregnant woman seemed OK, so that was the worst thing set to rights. He smeared some stuff on my back and put dressings on, and the sting lessened. Pity I still didn’t have a shirt, that people were still staring at me, and that I had to speak to the police like that when they arrived.  

Eventually, the ambos came, and they put Susannah on a stretcher. She took my hand and kissed it when I said goodbye, which was possibly the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to me, but then the ambulance doors closed behind her and the husband, the towies got to work on the wrecks, and it was over.

And Drew and I drove on to Dunedin.

So, you see, I left Mount Zion, and I burned.

The wages of sin, possibly.

* * *


It was late afternoon by the time we drove back to Dunedin. Honor, Gray’s mum, had wanted us to spend the night, but Frankie had said, “I can’t be this close to Mount Zion right now. I have to get out.” Her eyes looked sunken in her bruised face, and she was moving stiffly, because she’d been whipped with Gilead’s belt, so much harder than our dad did even in the worst of his anger. I’d seen the raised red wheals on her buttocks, her thighs, and they were awful.

I’d learnt things today that I’d never wanted to know, and I’d thought I knew all about Mount Zion. Maybe it was seeing it again after the contrast of being Outside all these weeks. Maybe it was seeing my dad again, the rage and contempt on his face, or, worse, seeing my mum, seeming to have shrunk even further into the tiny frame that declared her Indian heritage, all the expression wiped from her face, standing so small, holding Dove’s hand. Dove, who was the youngest of us, who got scared sometimes like me, and who was years away from being able to leave.

Or maybe it was seeing our sister Prudence, halfway to the gate, standing straight, her arms at her sides, watching Frankie go. Not even fifteen, which meant more than a year before she’d be able to walk through the gates herself, and she had to know she’d be punished tonight. She’d got Frankie out when she’d been locked into Gilead’s room, interfering between a husband and wife, and she’d pay the price for that. In the Punishment Hut, and worse.

Leaving them behind felt so bad.

I shivered, sitting in the warmth of the big ute behind Daisy and Gray, holding Frankie’s hand. She was asleep, her head on a pillow squashed against the side window, and wearing clothes Daisy had brought for her from Dunedin, because this time, we hadn’t burnt her cap and apron in Gray’s firepit. We’d burnt her dress.

The clothes were soft things, because she hurt. She’d been given pain tablets in hospital, and she said they helped, but I wasn’t sure what you did about the pain in your heart.

I wasn’t tough, not like my sisters. Would I have risked what Prudence had to get Frankie out? I longed to think the answer was yes, but I wasn’t one bit sure it was true.

A person could change, though, couldn’t she? I’d left Mount Zion, and if I’d thought sometimes, in the dark hours before dawn when I couldn’t sleep, that it would be easier just to go back there, not to have to make all these terrifying adjustments—well, today had shown me why that wasn’t possible. What had happened to Frankie, and to Daisy before her, with Gilead—that was evil. The Prophet said evil was Outside, but I thought it was in that room where Gilead had locked Frankie, where he’d hurt her. In the dark, cold, stinking Punishment Hut, where both Daisy and Frankie had spent too many days and nights.

It couldn’t be right to be treated like that just for wanting to be a person, and it couldn’t be right to hurt the person you’d promised to love and cherish, either.

And my name wasn’t Obedience anymore.

3 – Beefburgers


When Drew announced, not even two hours out from the accident site, “Cup of tea, I reckon,” then glanced at me, pulled to a stop outside a small, tidy building in a tiny settlement, and added, “and lunch,” I balked.

Yesterday, I’d worked fourteen hours. Today, I’d worked none. I didn’t need rest, I didn’t need food, and I especially didn’t need Drew paying for something else before I’d even got a chance to start work. When I did those runs with my dad, we took sandwiches and a thermos flask, but I’d seen the price lists in the windows of cafés. How many hours’ pay would two of those meals amount to? I had no idea how much you got paid Outside.

“I’m not wearing a shirt,” I pointed out. And I don’t know how to act, I didn’t say. That was the weakness talking, and the pain of those burns. Not too badly blistered, the doctor had said, so the pain shouldn’t be bothering me, except that it was my entire back, and I’d had to rest at least some part of it against the seat. That must be it, because I did know how to act. I had been out all those times with my dad, and nobody had stared.

They’d stare at me if I wasn’t wearing a shirt.

Drew said, “Easily fixed.” He pulled off his own shirt, a flimsy, short-sleeved gray thing that provided wholly inadequate cover. It had a small triangle printed on the chest. Adidas, the lettering below it read. What were Adidas? He handed it over. “We’re about the same size.”

“I can’t take your shirt,” I said. This was awkward. More than awkward. Also, without the shirt, I could see that he was even more fit than I’d thought. Men Outside definitely weren’t soft, or at least not all of them were, because Gray had looked this fit as well.

“Nah,” Drew said. “I’ve got a jacket. And a hat. Good anyway, as it’s started to rain. And that soft shirt will be easier on the burns.” He pulled on the jacket and zipped it up. The hat wasn’t much use for keeping rain off, because it had no brim at all other than in the front. Once he had it on, he climbed down from the car and said, “You coming, or planning to have a sook in the car? Nobody’s going to bite, mate. Better eat now, while you have the chance of it, because once we get home, we’ll be mobbed,” and grinned at me as if nothing out of the way had happened.

I climbed out and dashed through the rain with him. No choice, though I still felt half-naked. I was showing nearly all of my arms, and the shirt was much too snug across the chest and shoulders for modesty.

Inside the café, things got odd. Not odd in the way I’d thought they would. Odd in a way I couldn’t have imagined.

The place was bright, cheerful, and small, most of the tables occupied, and an older woman with a good-natured face standing behind a counter, the glass cabinets around her fairly bursting with food items, each individual thing prepared and ready for you to choose it. Whatever you liked.

Bacon and egg quiche with salad, one sign read, beneath a plate of fat pastry-clad wedges. Cheese roll, said another. Carrot cake, proclaimed a sign in a different cabinet. Fruit custard tart. That one looked like something you’d get on a feast day, rich pastry piled high with fruit and cream. You could buy that kind of thing anytime here?

I was still staring at it when the woman said, “Lovely to see you, Drew. Not with the family today?”

“No,” Drew said. “Here with my mate instead. He wants to try everything, I’m guessing, and small wonder, but we need to fill up fast. What d’you have that’s good today?”

“Got some lovely beefburgers with chips,” she said. “That should do the two of you pretty well.”

“That’ll definitely do,” Drew said. “Cheers.”

She spoke to a girl behind her, then turned around to ask, “Do you play rugby, then? Haven’t seen you before, I don’t think.”

Oh. She was talking to me. I said, “Uh … pardon?” Now that I was standing, I was getting a bit lightheaded. Shivering as well, which was awkward.

Because I was cold. I’d got wet despite the running, and I was barely wearing a shirt.

“Nah,” Drew said. “Though he looks it, eh. Just a mate.” He reached for a glass bottle filled with what looked like water from a different cabinet, handed it to me along with two glasses, and said, “Find us a table, would you, and pour us some water? Sit down. I’ll be there in a sec.”

He’d noticed the shivering, then. I was embarrassed, but I hadn’t been raised to argue, even though he’d pulled out his wallet and was paying again, and I didn’t even know how much it was, so I could write it down. I did sit down, with my back well away from the chair, poured my water, sipped at it slowly, and tried not to be sick.

It wasn’t even five minutes before the woman was at our table with two cups of tea and a pot, and I had to admit that the hot liquid felt good going down. I’d barely started drinking it, though, when a couple of boys of the littler sort came up to the table and the older one said, “’Scuse me.”

“Hi,” Drew said. “How’re ya goin’?”

“Good,” the older kid said. The younger one just stared at Drew, all round eyes and breathlessness. “But we wanted a selfie,” the older kid said, “and our mum said we couldn’t bother you when you’re eating. You’re not eating now, though, and she’s in the toilet, but she took her phone, so …”

“Ah,” Drew said. “Found a loophole, did you? Got a pen?”

“Uh …” The boys looked at each other, then back at him, and he said, “Tell you what. Go ask Janet, behind the counter there, to borrow one. Go quick, though, before your mum comes back.”

They did, and when they came back, Drew scribbled something onto two paper napkins and handed one to each boy. He’d no sooner done it than another woman, as bold as the serving-woman even though she was younger, came rushing up and said, looking Drew right in the face, “I’m so sorry. I told them not to disturb you.”

“No worries,” Drew said. “Cheers.” Then turned back to me as if nothing had happened and picked up his mug.

They wandered off, the boys practically jumping up and down with what looked like excitement, and I thought, What? “Is it a game?” I asked, despite my no-questions policy, maybe to distract myself from the shivering, and maybe because I didn’t think there was any amount of looking and listening that would answer this. “Do people collect …” I tried to think of a word. “Clues?” I finished.

“Something like that,” he said. “Ah. Beefburgers. Cheers, Janet. Also—your pen.” He handed it over, then told me, “Get that down you, and you’ll feel better.”

It was a sandwich. With some kind of beef in it, raw vegies, a fried egg, a couple of slabs of bacon, and a thick slice of pickled beetroot. Looked good, and mostly like things I recognized. Beside it was a pile of something else I knew about. Chips, those were, with tomato sauce. A treat I’d rarely had, and one that was making my mouth water now with the prospect of that crunchy/chewy potato taste, not to mention the salt.

Drew took a bite.

I froze.

He chewed, swallowed, then asked, “Problem? Is Mount Zion vegetarian, then? Never heard that. Sounds unlikely.”

I thought, Harden up. You know people Outside don’t do this. Doesn’t mean you can’t. Did I even want to? I didn’t know. Not doing it, though, felt as naked as … well, as standing about on the side of a roadway without my shirt on. I said, “Just a moment,” then folded my hands, bent my head, closed my eyes, and muttered the prayer under my breath.

When I looked up again, half-afraid of what I’d see, Drew wasn’t eating. He’d set his own sandwich down while I’d said the blessing, in fact. Now, he picked it up and took another bite, and didn’t say anything else.

I ate all the chips. I also ate all of the sandwich thing. It was delicious.

People in the cafe held up their phones while we walked out. They talked amongst themselves, too. Excitedly. I was wearing a regular shirt, though, the same kind most of them had on. Could they tell? How?

I needed to learn how to fit in. I’d ask later, when I could summon the energy for it.

* * *

When we were in the car again and driving, I said, “You stop there often, then. With your family.” I needed to make some kind of conversation, if only to distract myself from my back. It was against the seat no matter how I tried to position myself, and it was hurting more.

No, I needed to make conversation because he’d invited me to live with him. Or near him. In a “granny flat,” whatever that was. Did that mean it had a granny in it? His granny?

I didn’t know how to live Outside. What had I done?

I was breathing harder, so I focused. On the road, and on what he said next. “Yeh,” he said. “Three kids, like I said. And a wife, of course.”

“Oh,” I said. “You’re married? I thought people Outside just …”

He shot a look at me, then smiled in a crooked sort of way. “Nah, married before our families and God and all, I’m afraid. Sorry to disappoint in the sin department. Anyway, I work in Dunedin, but we’ve got a place in Wanaka as well, so we’re back and forth a fair bit. It’s my holidays now, though, such as they are, and once the kids are done with their school term, we’ll be up in Wanaka again for Christmas. The kids can never seem to make it all the way there without stopping for a wee and a feed, so hey presto—the café.”

I did my best to take all that in. “You have two houses?” I asked cautiously. “That are just yours?”

He glanced over at me, then back at the road. “Holiday house. Pretty common.”

I tried to digest that, but it wouldn’t go down. “Holidays are days off work,” I said, but after that, I had nothing.

“Let me guess,” Drew said. “You don’t have holidays—proper holidays—at Mount Zion. Don’t even get a few weeks around Christmas to recover from the year? Or in winter, maybe, as it’s farming? To go … someplace else?”

“No,” I said. “Who’d do the work? And where would we go?”

“Hmm,” Drew said. “What do the kids do, then, when they’re not in school?”

“Work,” I said.

“Ah,” he said, and that was all.

I didn’t hear anything after that. Not to put too fine a point on it, I fell asleep, or at least into a doze. It wasn’t what you’d call a comfortable sleep. More of a nightmarish one, to be honest. And when I woke up, that looked like a dream, too.

It was a house, I guessed. The Wanaka house we’d stood outside, the one that was Gray’s, had been a cube, and this was … a bigger cube, or a series of them, stacked in a sort of pattern. It was a towering structure, all white and windows, like nothing I’d ever imagined could be a residence for one family, or for four.

Drew said, “We’ll have a look at your back first, then get you sorted in the flat. Come on,” and climbed down.

I took a breath and followed him. My back was screaming now, but it wasn’t the first time I’d been hurt, and anyway, there was too much strangeness here to get distracted by pain.

We didn’t make it to the door before it opened and three kids came pelting out. Small, medium, and largish. The littler ones, who were girls, threw their arms around Drew’s legs, while the boy just came close, upon which Drew threw an arm around him, even though the kid had to be nine or ten.

Somebody else came out of the door, then, a pretty woman with white-blond hair coiled at the back of her neck in a way I recognized. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but I was already getting less shocked by women’s clothes. Either the Devil whispering in my ear, or God deciding I’d had as much shock as I could endure for one day.

Or not, because she ran to Drew, then grabbed him around the neck and kissed him. Passionately, I guess you’d call it. In front of their kids. In front of me.

I’d never seen a kiss like that in my life. The closest I’d come had been when my parents were in bed and I was trying not to look, and these two were doing it in front of a stranger! I didn’t know what to do, so I stared into the middle distance and tried harder not to notice. Not easy, when the people are a meter away.

The woman pulled back, finally, when I was wondering desperately if I should just get back into the car, and asked, “Where are you hurt?” Her eyes shadowed, worried. “You can still drive. How bad is it?”

“What?” he said. “I’m not hurt.”

“Drew.” She looked upset now, and she sounded upset. And, yeh—I’d also never seen a woman get upset at a man like this. “You asked me to get some large burn dressings. You told me that Gabriel was coming to stay, and to please get large burn dressings!”

“Did you get burned, Dad?” the boy asked.

“No,” Drew said. “It wasn’t for me, though. It was for Gabriel. Didn’t I say?”

She had a hand at her face. “Oh. I’m so sorry, Gabriel, but—Drew. Why didn’t you text me that?”

“Aw,” he said. “Sorry, sweetheart. I was driving,” and then kissed her again. When he pulled back, he was smiling. “I’m all good, see? Not getting myself hurt anymore, remember? Leaving that to the younger boys. Besides, I’d have thought you were immune from worry by now. And you got the dressings? Brilliant.”

“Yes,” she said. “Despite my worry, due to my husband deciding to assume I didn’t love him enough to worry.” She was smiling, though. “You’re off the hook this time, but watch it, mister. Don’t scare me like that.”

He laughed, then said, “Let’s go, Gabriel. We’ll get your kit off and have a look. Some Panadol probably wouldn’t come amiss, either. I’m guessing there’s no drinking at Mount Zion. Pity. I’d say a beer or two, otherwise.”

“Pardon?” I was starting to get a bit shaky again.

“Into the house,” he said, his demeanor changing completely. “Need an arm to lean on?”

“No,” I said, and then tried to make that be true.

A man was meant to be stoic and strong and in control of the situation. Unfortunately, none of that appeared to be happening.

Maybe tomorrow.


4 – Fish Out of Water



I’d known leaving would be a challenge. I just hadn’t realized how much of a challenge.

That first night, I ate dinner with the family, telling myself, They’re not your family. You live alone now, and went downstairs afterward. Ten minutes later, I was standing at a severely rectangular porcelain sink set into about a hectare of creamy stone benchtop and surrounded by more mirrors than I’d ever seen in my life, sponging myself off as best I could in an enormous bathroom that was just for one person. The shower would hurt too much on my back, was the reason for the sponging, not that I didn’t know how to turn on a tap. I knew how to use a shower!

The “granny flat,” it turned out, wasn’t a granny anything. It was another whole house that I had all to myself, stuck onto the back of the series of cubes, with a separate bathroom that was all shiny surfaces and not a bit of concrete, containing an endless number of drawers that would hold … what?

A razor and toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. Drew had found extras for me, and they’d about doubled my list of possessions. What else did people find to put in those drawers? What could there possibly be? I couldn’t even imagine. Besides that, there was a stacked washer and dryer in here—at least, I assumed that was what they were—that were also just for one person, plus enough towels for a crew, both big and small versions, all of them about four times as thick and fluffy as any towel I’d ever seen. They were also resolutely, pristinely white, as if they’d never been used before. I used one of the little towels to dry off, trying not to dirty anything more than I had to, then walked through the kitchen, full of more mysterious appliances I had no clue how to use, and dressed in another of Drew’s T-shirts and a pair of his undies, because I had nothing else to wear. I had no pajamas on, which was unthinkably immodest, but there was nobody here to see, so I guessed that was OK.

Not to mention that the undies themselves were shocking. They were short on the legs, low on the hips, and tight, so you could see all of me through them. I barely fit in them. They were also red. Drew had given me another pair, too, that were bright yellow and had palm trees and monkeys printed all over them. Both pairs had still been in their pack, and he’d said, “Don’t laugh. Hannah bought them. Forwards wear black, I told her. Black boots, and black undies. If she wanted a man who wears red undies, reckon she should’ve picked somebody else.”

He’d said it in front of her. That was the worst. I’d struggled for something to say and finally come up with, “Thanks,” and Hannah had laughed and said, “It was worth a try. You’ve got that body, Drew, and you won’t even decorate it this much for me? I’m a woman of few pleasures.”

“Oh?” he’d said. “Sounds like I’ve got work to do, then.” I didn’t want to know what that meant.

The undies were immodest, then, which was a relief to know. Even though I was wearing them.

Hannah had put a loaf of bread, a stick of butter, a jar of jam, and a carton of milk into the fridge when she’d brought me down here. She’d also handed me a packet of tea, which was good, then given me a dozen eggs in a carton and told me, “We’ll take you shopping tomorrow, but you’ll need these to fuel you up for it, I’m guessing.”

“I can’t come and help,” Jack had said, sounding disappointed. “Grace and I have school. Only Madeleine can go. It’s a pity, because I’m good at shopping. I know where everything is. Usually, Mum and Dad give me some of the list, so it goes faster.” All the kids had come down here with us, which made the place feel friendlier, not so shiny and empty.

“You are,” Hannah said, resting a hand on Jack’s head for a moment in a way that was, again, a little less alien. Also, having the kids here meant I wasn’t alone with a woman. With somebody’s wife. “Gabriel’s going to be staying with us, so you’ll have heaps of chances to help him.”

“Only until I get my feet under me,” I said. “It’s very kind of you.”

“It’s nothing,” she said. “Anybody would do the same.” Which wasn’t what I’d heard about Outside, but so far, nothing was.

I told myself that the pain from the burns would be better tomorrow, that I was just tired, and it would all get easier, and eventually tried to go to sleep on my stomach in an impossibly wide bed that should have held four or five kids, with the silence pressing on my ears and too much empty space around me. Totally exhausted, even though I’d worked not a bit today, and absolutely restless at the same time, as if my body was expecting to have to leap up again at any moment.

I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I hurt, and my thoughts were too big and too dark. I got up again and went into the lounge.

A big black glass screen sat on a low cabinet. That would be a TV. Hannah had held up two separate box-type things full of buttons to be pushed and said, “This remote to turn it on and off and for the volume, and the other one’s for Sky,” and I’d thought, What?

So far, I was safe from the corrupting influence of television, because the only thing I managed to do was turn the thing on. After that, I pushed buttons and ended up with a fuzzy gray-and-black screen that I couldn’t make go away, so I abandoned it for another day.

There were some books on a shelf near the TV—novels, I thought, because they seemed to be stories. I hadn’t read many novels, and no worldly ones, but reading was one thing I did know how to do, so I took a look.

Most of them had names like “Final Notice” and “Red Dawn” and “The Hot Zone,” and seemed to be, from the pictures on the covers and the first pages, about things exploding and people shooting each other. I’d had my fill of things exploding today, so I picked up a thinner book whose cover pictured a woman wearing jeans and boots. She was standing with her hip cocked and a thumb in her belt like a man, and the title was, Arrest Me, Officer. It looked like it might be funny, and possibly illustrative of actual real life Outside, beyond the wars and such. Homework, you could say.

I carried the book back to the bedroom, turned on the light that sat on the little table beside the bed, because you were apparently meant to lie about lazily here and would need light for it, lay on my stomach—yes, lazily—in my red undies, and started reading.

The book started out with a man riding a police horse at a gallop toward the woman, which seemed pretty reckless, and her tripping and nearly falling in a milling crowd, until he reached down and swung her up in front of him on the horse.

Huh. That seemed as improbable a scenario as the books about shooting and explosions. Also, if your job was working with animals, you’d surely know how to control your horse. The woman, whose name was Nikki, was quite rude to the bloke in a funny sort of way, though, and he didn’t mind, so that was useful.

I was going along pretty well like that, forgetting to think about how I’d knocked the pins out from under myself and had burned myself fairly well in the process, which meant I probably wasn’t going to be able to start work tomorrow the way I’d planned, when Nikki fell across the bloke’s unmarked police car—his name was Roarke, which seemed odd, but what did I know?—as he was pulling out of something called a “stakeout”—these two people were the clumsiest couple I’d ever heard of—upon which he pulled her into the car to hide from the bad guys, or the other cops, and they ended up kissing. In his police car, which, again, didn’t sound right, but …

His mouth slanted down over hers. His hand was in her hair, and that mouth was a hungry thing. Demanding, and taking. She forgot about the rip in her jeans, because her hand was on the rock-hard muscle of his upper back, and she was falling against the door with him following her.

His hand inside her T-shirt now, his mouth at her neck. His voice, dark as smoke, in her ear. “We can’t do this.” And his hands telling a different story. His hands, and his talented, terrible mouth. Biting now. Sucking at her, like he couldn’t get enough. And then his hand reached her breast, and the kiss changed to something else.

I tore my eyes from the book. What was this? I looked at the cover again. Same girl in her jeans and boots. The background was a big red heart, and the smaller print across the cover said, “A sexy, breezy, laugh-out-loud romp. Great fun!” – Alison Moriarty, author of Frankly Yours.

Great fun? It was pornography! I was reading pornography!

I read to the end of the chapter. Just to check.

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