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Living Wild As Nature Intended

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It started when Viago announced that he’d never seen a kiwi.

“But they’re, like, nocturnal,” Stu said. “And you’re nocturnal.”

“I know!” said Viago, dejectedly. “But I came here after the war, you know, Wellington was already a big city. Well, not a big city really. Well, quite a small city. More like a town. But a smaller town than it is now. But there definitely weren’t any kiwi running around at night. And if you go out of town, which I don’t know why you would, because there aren’t any people, it was all sheep and things. Still no kiwi. It is very sad. I have always wanted to see one. They are your national symbol!”

Our national symbol,” said Katherine, who, like Stu’s grandmother, took New Zealand much more seriously due to not having been born there. “There’s a whole lot of them at the zoo, you know, I took the grandkids there all the time, we had a family pass. The new exhibit’s quite nice, you can get right up close to them.”

“They are not open at night,” said Viago.

“Psssh,” said Nick. “So what? We fly over the back fence, no big deal. You can practically hop over it from up the back of Newtown.”

“Mmmm, yes,” said Viago. “Except we tried that once. Not to see the kiwi, but because Vladislav, this was a few years ago and he’d just broken up with the Beast again, he thought it would be an amusing idea to get a pet lion. Or maybe a tiger. To keep around the house, you know? We could feed it the bodies when we were done. Very efficient. Very tidy.”

“Oh,” said Stu, who had spent enough time around the vampires to know where this was probably going. “But. No tiger?”

“Oh, man,” said Nick. “That would have been so cool. We should totally have a tiger.”

“Oh, no, dear,” said Katherine. “MAF wouldn’t like that. It might escape and breed.”

“They’re MPI now, actually,” Stu felt compelled to say, but only because they’d just finished a big database project for them at work and all the old guys had had to be corrected on it about fifty times a day.

“It was MAF when I was working there,” she said. “I’m going to have to start remembering things again, aren’t I? Before Viago found me -” she patted his hand, and they smiled soppily at each other, “it didn’t matter because I was going to die anyway and nobody expects old ladies to remember things. But now I’m going to live forever, so I suppose I shall have to start trying.”

“That way lies madness,” said Viago cheerfully. “Or at least more madness than is normal for vampires. There are too many things. Just try to remember the important ones.”

“Wait,” said Nick. “If it escaped, what would it breed with?”

“The point is,” Viago said with emphasis. “I would like to see a kiwi.”

“You should go to the Karori Sanctuary, then,” said Katherine. “They do night tours. It’s quite exciting. I couldn’t go, because of my hip, but my son – my eldest, you know, Graham – he went on one for his sixtieth and he said it was a lot of fun.”

Stu was still wondering what had happened with the tiger they hadn’t stolen from the zoo, but recognized that if he wanted to get home before midnight it was probably best to let the conversation stay on-topic. Hanging out with Nick and the vampires was kind of like product development meetings; if you wanted to survive, or leave less than five hours later, you had to keep your eye on the target.

“Night tours!” said Viago. “I like this. This sounds like our sort of thing.”

“Oh, yeah, here they are,” said Nick, who’d been poking at his phone. “There’s tickets for Thursday. Want me to get some?”

“Yes!” said Viago. “Will you come?”

“Sure, why not,” said Nick.

“I’ve got my knitting group that evening,” said Katherine, “but you boys have fun.”

Viago was already yelling upstairs. “Deacon! Vladislav! Want to go and see kiwis at the Sanctuary?”

“We can’t go to a sanctuary!” Vladislav yelled back. “It will be full of holy water and priests and probably crucifixes!”

“No, like an animal sanctuary!” said Viago. “For birds, and lizards, and things. Not priests.”

“Boring!” said Vladislav.

“I’m not risking it,” Deacon yelled. “It could be a trap!”

“He’s coming with me to knitting anyway,” said Katherine.

“It’s called Zealandia now,” said Nick, perking up at making a useful contribution to the conversation.

“What a strange name,” said Viago. “I am looking forward to this already.”

*

Stu was having drinks with some work mates at Goldings – not werewolves, just regular blokes, although actually two of them were ladies – so he got Nick and Viago to meet him in town. He wasn’t sure how he’d agreed to go along, but he had. His work friends had ordered pizza from Pomodoro and it was running late, like always, so when Nick and Viago texted him and said they were outside, he thought he was going to miss out; he’d have to go stop them getting bored and then getting into trouble. But then one of the bar staff heading out for a smoke said “Hey, guys, no need to wait for your friends out there, come on in!” and the trouble moved indoors instead.

Viago was really excited to see the inside of another bar. He’d been depressed ever since the Big K had closed down. Stu wasn’t sure where the vampire hangout was these days, but it probably didn’t matter, because the boys were all banned from it after what had happened at the Unholy Masquerade. And so was Stu, obviously, because of the werewolf thing.

“This is very quaint,” said Viago, looking around. “Are those jokes? I think some of those beer names are jokes. It is very dark in here, too. I like it.”

“I’m just gonna, uh,” said Stu. “We’re waiting on pizza, and then I’ll be ready to go. We’ve got time.”

Nick was at the bar ordering a drink, because of course he was – beer was one of the only things he could still drink that wasn’t blood, even if it didn’t really get him drunk anymore.

“Is this a friend of yours, Stu?” said Emma who did web applications, looking at Viago a bit suspiciously.

“Yeah, he’s a mate,” said Stu, and had to make introductions. Viago nodded and smiled and shook hands with the blokes and bowed to Emma and to Aroha from quality assessment, which made both of them giggle nervously. Stu wondered a bit gloomily if any of his work mates were going to end up eaten; he liked most of them and it would hold up the current project something chronic.

“But I’m just saying blood would really add something to stout,” Nick was saying at the bar. “You should tell the guys at the Garage Project that.”

“What’s he saying?” said Emma.

“Oh, dear,” said Viago.

Nick did get thrown out eventually, but not until after the pizza had arrived, and then it was time for them to catch the number 23 bus up to Karori anyway, so it didn’t matter. And Stu somehow got Emma’s mobile number, although he wasn’t sure if she wanted to go out for coffee for a date or to check on his mental well-being, since he was hanging out with Viago and Nick voluntarily. He’d find out one way or the other.

Nick sulked at the back of the bus all the way past Parliament and most of the way to the Northland Tunnel. “Blood in stout is a good idea.”

“Yeah, I mean, I get where you’re coming from,” Stu said. “But I don’t know if it’s going to catch on with the public.”

“I know!” said Viago. “We should make it ourselves! A, what is it, a craft brewery. Katherine was telling me everybody is doing it these days. Her niece works for one. And we have all that space in the basement, now Petyr is…gone.”

“Yeah,” muttered Nick. “Sorry.”

“Yeah,” said Stu, who’d always been a bit worried Petyr was going to eat him. “True, you do.”

Technically it was still before sunset, but it was such a shitty day weather-wise – not horizontal rain, just drizzle and a steady southerly – that it was dark enough for Nick and Viago to be okay. Well, that was Wellington in September, wasn’t it. They were getting all the weather they hadn’t had when it was actually winter.

“Who’s that on the back of the bus?” Nick asked when they got off and it was pulling away. “Is he running for Parliament? I didn’t know we had elections this year.”

“Nah, for Mayor,” said Stu. “Local body elections? I’ve kinda been helping with doorknocking, actually. Not for this bloke, for someone for the DHB.”

Why?” said Nick.

“A mayor!” said Viago. “I used to see mayors a lot, back in the old country. Usually they would lead the mobs. Do you think this one will lead a mob? Should we kill him first?”

Stu scratched the back of his head. “Probably not? And this guy isn’t the mayor yet. Well, he is, just in Porirua, not here. Ours is a woman right now. You know, the lady with the electric bicycle. I don’t think she’s really a mob kind of person.”

Nick said “But why, seriously.”

“One of the other werewolves is running for DHB,” said Stu as they walked down past the carpark and towards the sanctuary entrance. This time of day it was almost empty, just the night tour on and that only twelve people. “Connie Chen? Anyway, she wants us to help, and Anton said we should do the doorknocking thing. It’s not that bad. Nobody’s yelled at me yet.” Dogs did get a lot antsier around him than they had before, but they were also way easier to scare off, so really it was fifty-fifty. Sort of. Stu liked dogs.

“If they do yell, let me know who they are and I’ll go around and eat them for you,” Nick said loyally.

“But all the werewolves, they are men,” said Viago. “Who is this Connie?”

“Oh, nah, see,” said Stu. “There’s a bunch of women werewolves, they just, like, don’t believe in the whole pack thing? But don’t ask them about it. Connie’s a biology lecturer up at Vic, and she’ll try and make you read scientific papers and things about how pack structure is ‘an artificial construct of the patriarchy’ and ‘based on outdated research’ and it’s really not worth it.”

“But I thought it was, like, instinctual or whatever,” said Nick.

“Yeah, I dunno,” said Stu. “I think mostly Anton just gets really upset when he doesn’t get to be in charge, so it’s easier to let him. For us guys. The girls just laugh. And then he gets more upset. I don’t feel like I have to have to. You know?”

“Werewolves,” said Viago in fascination. “So many things I did not know.”

“Yeah,” said Stu. “Me too.”

*

The website had told them that they should dress warmly, wear sensible shoes, and have a rainproof coat. Stu had dug out his good sneakers and thrown on his Kathmandu waterproof. Nick was wearing a hoodie, because he said vampires didn’t get cold. He had his hands shoved in his pockets, so Stu thought that might not be true. Viago had knee-high leather boots like the British bad guys wore in movies set in the past and a full Sherlock Holmes-style greatcoat. Stu didn’t even know where you’d find something like that in Wellington.

“It used to be Katherine’s husband’s,” said Viago. “She said it shouldn’t go to waste.”

“Huh, okay,” said Stu. Because that wasn’t creepy.

“Getting dressed by the girlfriend already, you’re going all domesticated,” said Nick, and shook his head.

The tour guide, a Pākehā woman in her fifties with the same short haircut every Kiwi woman in her fifties that Stu knew had, looked at Nick and Viago with concern. Everybody else on this tour was a tourist, it looked like; a group of enthusiastic Japanese girls taking selfies next to the stuffed kererū and in front of the signs, two Brits instructing their teenage sons to behave themselves, and a very loud American. Or Stu thought he was American until he started telling one of the British teenagers about how much Wellington was like Vancouver.

“Are you sure you guys are going to be okay?” the tour guide asked Nick and Viago. “We’ve got some extra raincoats – I can grab them. It’s just gonna stay wet all evening, we reckon. Wouldn’t want you to have a miserable time of it.”

“Nah,” said Nick. “’m fine.”

“I want to see the kiwi!” said Viago. “And also the tuataras. And the wētās. But we get wētās in our house all the time, lots of trees right near the windows, you know how it is, so mostly the kiwi and the tuataras.”

“Well, we’ll cross our fingers,” said the tour guide. “You never know what you’re going to get. Are you visiting, then?”

“No, I live here,” said Viago.

“On your OE, I guess,” said the guide. “Okay, everybody; got your torches? Let’s get going.”

For the first half-hour it went okay; Viago was persuaded to keep his voice down, not his normal loud whisper, and they found the takahe asleep on the lawn at the top of the lake. The Japanese girls cooed over them, and the British teenagers dropped their air of sullen disinterest to have a look, too. The Canadian guy was unimpressed, but it seemed like he was determined to be. Stu wasn’t sure why he’d come. Maybe it had been a package deal with something else.

Then Nick somehow did a flip off the pontoon bridge into the lake, maybe accidentally and maybe not, and flew out of it yelping.

“What the hell?” said the tour guide, shining her red-dimmed torch in his direction. Across the lake the pied shags grumbled and flapped; the guide had said they were nesting, this time of year.

“It’s just me!” called Nick. “I’m fine.” He appeared out of the dark, his shoes squelching.

“Did you fall in the lake?” asked one of the British women, the black one.

“No!” said Nick reflexively. “Maybe. Kind of?”

The tour guide sighed. “Try not to fall off anything else. It’ll scare the birds.”

“Fucking idiot,” muttered the Canadian. Nick gave him the evils. Viago was too busy helping the Japanese girls take pictures to notice any of this.

Stu had a bad feeling about this.

*

“Well,” said Nick. “That went a bit poorly.”

“No shit,” said Stu. “Can you give me a hand, here? This bit’s slippery.”

“Here we go!” said Viago, and hauled Stu bodily over the top of the fence, floating serenely in mid-air. Stu had to flail and grab not to just fall over the other side. It was a good two metres, which wasn’t the sort of problem it would have been before he’d gotten bitten, but still no fun.

“Well, at least we’re out of the sanctuary,” said Nick. “Where are we, again?”

“Up by the windmill,” said Stu. “You know, in Brooklyn?”

“Really?” Nick wrinkled his nose. “Are you sure?”

“There’s quite a big windmill just over there, Nick,” said Viago. “I think he is sure.”

“Huh,” said Nick. “Whaddyaknow. There it is. I always thought this came out by the landfill.”

“Wait, what?” said Stu. “Your geography’s a bit munted, mate.”

“Shut up,” said Nick. “Just because you did better than me in School C. That was ages ago.”

Stu had entirely forgotten their fifth-form geography marks until just now, and wasn’t really sure he remembered them right anyway, but he didn’t think Nick wanted to hear that.

“Yeah, well,” he said. “Did you really have to eat that bloke?”

“I think he did,” said Viago thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Nick. “I really, really did.”

It had gone wrong just after they’d finally seen some kiwi. Viago was clapping his hands in excitement along with one of the Japanese girls – did you see that, they were saying to each other, yes I did! All Stu had seen was a moving brown lump, sort of thing, but that was all he’d ever seen at the kiwi house at the zoo anyway and all the tourists looked pleased, so that was okay. Nick just looked moody, but that was Nick.  

The Canadian guy was stomping at something on the ground.

“What are you doing?” said the guide. “Let me see. Jesus Christ! That was a giant wētā!”

“It was hissing at me!” the man spluttered. “I thought it might be poisonous.”

“THIS IS A SANCTUARY,” the guide hissed. “Alright. That’s it! Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid we’re going to have to end the tour now.”

Three minutes later, the Canadian disappeared behind a tree. Stu noticed, but didn’t really want to say anything, except then he noticed Nick was gone too, and then the screaming started. Nick hadn’t, as it turned out later, got a clean bite.

“And then you ate him!” said Viago. “Which is fine, but you could have shared. There was plenty of blood to go around.”

“Yeah, sorry,” said Nick. “He was just an American tourist anyway. Didn’t taste that great.”

“Actually I think he was Canadian,” said Stu.

“Whatever,” said Nick. “Do Canadians taste better?”

“I dunno,” Stu said. “I don’t really drink anybody’s blood, so, you know. I’m more about chips.”

“Fuck you, you know I can’t eat chips.” Nick scowled. He hated being reminded about that.

“Ah, but are they ghost chips?” said Viago unexpectedly, grinning like he was very pleased with himself. Nick groaned. Stu knew it had been a terrible idea to introduce the vampires to the internet.

The tour guide had gone back to see what the fuss was about. Stu had tried to stop her but he hadn’t managed, and then there’d been the inevitable screaming and running and somehow, Stu wasn’t quite sure how, the three of them – him and Stu and Viago – had ended up bush-bashing right up the hill, towards the ridge, away from the track. One of the British teenagers had got confused and followed them for a bit, but Stu had shooed him off and he’d gone. Or that might have been the sight of Nick’s bloodstained face in the torchlight. Nick’s face was a bit of a sight anytime in a dark forest, to be fair, but the blood didn’t help.

It had all been a bit unpleasantly reminiscent of the night he’d gotten bitten, except with fewer werewolves – except for him – and things had got, well, instinctual, even though it wasn’t full moon, and Stu didn’t actually remember very much until they’d hit the ridgeline. But he had feathers in his mouth, and that couldn’t be good. He tried to spit them out surreptitiously. They weren’t like normal bird feathers; they were small and furry and clung to his lips, like the feathers you got in feather pillows. And he could definitely taste blood. Bird blood; he could tell the difference now. It wasn’t a great mix.

“What were those things dive-bombing us when we were going through the pine trees?” Nick asked. “Just before we hit the fence.”

“They were very angry,” said Viago sadly, examining a rent in his coat.

“I think they were kākā,” Stu said. “The parrots?”

“Parrots are supposed to be brightly coloured,” Viago objected.

“Well, these ones are brown,” said Stu. “And angry.” He thought maybe he remembered something about them nesting on the ground, so probably they were just like magpies and being territorial or whatever, but that hadn’t made it any more fun to deal with.

“Dunno why we spend all that money trying to save them, really,” said Nick.

“This is quite a lovely view,” said Viago. “Almost worth the climb up here!”

“This is tall,” said Nick, squinting up at the windmill looming over them. “I don’t remember it being that tall.”

“It’s new,” said Stu. “They replaced it.”

“Oh,” said Nick. “Huh.”

“Can’t you guys just fly home from here?” Stu asked. The Miramar peninsula didn’t look far away at all from up here. The drizzle had cleared up and the wind had died down; the lights were reflected in the harbour. It was almost peaceful.  

“We’re not going to leave you,” said Viago. “That wouldn’t be very nice. And anyway, we would have to fly across the airport, and we can’t do that. Remember what happened with Marcus.” 

“What?” said Nick.

“I don’t, um, who’s Marcus?” asked Stu.

Viago looked around. “Of course! I forget, you two were not there. This was many years ago. Nineteen-ninety-five. Probably before you were born.”

“How old do you think I am?” said Nick.

“I don’t know, humans all look the same after all while,” said Viago. “Anyway. Marcus was a vampire, he ran into a plane that was landing at the airport, one of those little ones with propellers that go to Nelson or Palmerston North or those other tiny little towns, he got a bit – shredded. It was very sad. And there was a lot of blood. We had a little memorial at the Unholy Masquerade that year, lots of people came.”

“I don’t remember hearing about that,” said Stu. “You’d think it would have been in the papers.”

“They said it was seagulls,” said Viago. “Deacon still has the clipping somewhere. He collects things like that. I worry about him, it’s a bit, you know. Morbid. But we cannot fly home from here.”

Stu sighed, and got out his phone, and made a call.

*

Jackie showed up half an hour later in her child-friendly Honda Odyssey, which lurched a bit dangerously around some of the curves as they drove down the hill.

“You guys need to learn to drive,” she said. “I can’t always be picking you up from things. I’m not a minion anymore.”

“Thanks, Jacks,” said Stu. “We appreciate it, really. We got a bit stuck.”

“Stu can too drive,” said Nick. “But his car’s – where is your car?”

“Home,” said Stu. “I took the bus to work.”

“Katherine can drive,” said Viago. “They took her licence away when her eyesight got too bad, but now she is a vampire she says it is like she is twenty again. Maybe we should get a car. She could teach us.”

“That’s the spirit,” Jackie said. “Always be open to learning new things, I say. What were you doing up by the windmill, anyway? Taking in the view?”

“Oh, nah, we went to the sanctuary,” said Nick. “And then it got a bit…tricky.”

“You ate somebody, didn’t you,” said Jackie. “Nick. There’s a time and a place!”

“Maybe?” said Nick.

“I saw two kiwi!” said Viago loudly, trying to defuse things. “And a tuatara. And a giant wētā, before it got stepped on. They are great. We should have some as pets. They would give the house atmosphere. And I made friends with some tourists from Japan. It was fantastic.”

“Somebody stepped on a giant wētā?” said Jackie, whizzing through the Brooklyn thirty-K zone in the low forties, at least. “They’re endangered! I hope the guides told him off.”

“Nick ate him,” said Stu.

“Oh, well, he won’t do it again, then,” said Jackie, relenting. “What else have you been up to?”

Stu ended up telling her about the doorknocking, but only because Viago brought it up first.

“Bloody doorknockers,” Jackie said. “Although…I’ve had a thought. We could volunteer, get people to invite us in, and then come back and eat them later. Do you think that would work?”

“I like it,” said Nick, nodding. “Serves people right for caring about stupid local body elections anyway.”

“But maybe not until after the ballots are in?” said Stu. “I think Connie would be mad if you ate her voters before they voted for her. And for all the other people on the ticket.”

“What if we just eat the ones who aren’t voting for her,” said Viago. “I think she would like that. I would like that if it was me. It’s the sort of thing Vladislav would do, and he’s the only one of us who’s ever ruled things.”

“I dunno if that’s, like,” said Stu. “Very democratic.”

“Nah, Connie won’t mind that,” said Jackie. “Connie Chen, right? She was in my year at East. Nice girl. Bit of a terror on the netball court. How come you know her, Stu?”

“She’s a werewolf,” said Stu.

“Small world,” said Jackie. They made the sharp right turn onto Bidwill St a bit too fast; Stu winced, and prayed they didn’t meet anybody coming uphill. “Hey, what do you guys think about the cycleway, then?”

Viago and Nick ended up arguing with her about it all the way back to Miramar, once Jackie explained what it was, but Stu tuned it out and played on his phone instead. Another excursion down and everybody had survived it. Well, almost everybody. Everybody who really mattered. And Nick and Viago and Jackie were going to be home way before sunrise. Stu might even get a few hours sleep before he had to get up for work tomorrow.

As far as Stu was concerned, that was definitely a win.

As long as nobody found out about the kiwi.


 

Image of the front cover of the Dominion Post, reporting a dead kiwi found in the Karori Sanctuary, and in a much smaller headline, a missing tourist