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Werewolves of Northland
Whiro thought he was the only werewolf in his small Northland town. But as he pushed along the footpath in front of the dairy in his wheelchair, he knew he wasn’t alone. The Other tickled his nose hairs with a strange familiarity. Whiro stopped. He breathed long and deep as if he had just broke surface from the river that ran through his town and his very life depended on how much he gulped in. The heat from the meat pies he had bought for morning tea began to slowly burn through the brown paper bags and his boardies. He knew if he didn’t get back soon Uncle Pita would have his hide. But Whiro had to know. He had to see if he wasn’t truly alone. For almost nineteen years, that’d been the case. For almost nineteen years, Whiro had gotten used to his scent being the only one in Pawa.
He knew it was no trick. His nose never lied. His sense of smell was acute. There was smoke from a burn barrel somewhere down the street and off to his right. Petrol exhaust from Rangi’s ute belched a black chemical cloud on the next block. The bakery was taking out another batch of mince pies before the lunchtime rush. Whiro sniffed his own body odour, a mixture of spice and wood smoke, salt and spunk, as he turned his head from side to side, trying to locate the Other. He was used to all these everyday stinks and scents. This other smell in the crisp late summer air that drifted like morning mist down the pine-smudged hills that surrounded the town of Pawa was different. It was like a story written on the breeze that only Whiro was able to read. It was so much like him. And it was close. Very close.
Whiro had always known who he was. He was not like the other people in Pawa. He always felt out of sync. He had a family, who loved him and whom he loved but they were human. They didn’t really know him. If they did, if they knew what he was capable of when the moon was full, Whiro feared that whatever love they held for him would fade like fog burnt by sunlight. So he decided, then and there, to face the wrath of his Uncle Pita and go in search for the other werewolf.
Every Wolf had its own special scent. No two smelled the same. It was like the unique swirls of a fingerprint. Whiro liked his odour. After working at his Uncle’s garage where he did the filing and answered the phones in the stuffy office and, more and more frequently, changed oil and oil filters on the mechanic’s dolly under the cars and utes, he’d push himself hard down the footpath to work up a real sweat. At home, he’d close the bedroom door and transfer to his bed and just lie there as he took big whiffs of his stink. Whiro’s skin had a hint of smoke, edged with a cinnamon spiciness and the tang of salt from the sea. He’d get an immediate boner, every time, as he placed his nose deep into his hairy armpits and breathed. That was where the spunk part of his special scent came in. His little brother, Rōpata had once caught Whiro wanking to his smell. Almost wetting himself with laughter, his little brother had yelled to their Mum that Tipene was messing up the sheets again. Whiro had gotten looks from his sister, Hoana and sniggers from Rōpata at the kitchen table during tea. His Mum had flicked Rōpata’s ear, which settled him down some. His Dad had simply winked at Whiro while digging into the steak and chips on his plate.
Apples and blood. Whiro caught the sweet-metal whiff of apples and blood in the air. He took a right at the next corner and went behind JT’s Butchery. JT did homekills for farmers and hunters. He had come in the homekill van to the house to help butcher, dress and pack some of the wild pigs Whiro’s Dad and uncles and cousins had shot. Whiro had wished he could have gone hunting with the men, but his useless legs had denied him that pleasure. Now he had to wait for the full moon, which wasn’t often enough to his liking but since the accident Whiro had learned to suck it up and push down his hunger. Fortunately there was a full moon next week. He’d hunt in its white skeleton glow then.
It looked as if JT had hired on a new apprentice. The guy was leaning against the Dumpster eating an apple. Blood from the butchering hovered thickly around him like sweet incense. Whiro took another sniff. He thought he caught the scent of weed and an edge of danger. Whiro smelled hunger. It was the Other.
‘Care selling a pie, bro?’ The Wolf was tall and rangy and maybe only a year older than Whiro. His black hair was buzzed Number 1 short and a thin pencil-line of beard just as closely clipped traced along the sharp line of his jaw. He was in white gumboots and coveralls. He eyed the pies on Whiro’s lap as if he hadn’t eaten for days.
‘Here,’ Whiro said, handing him the pie he was going to have for morning tea. ‘It’s mince and cheese.’
‘My fave. Still warm, too. Cheers, mate. How much I owe you for?’
‘Wait there. It’s inside.’
When the Wolf went to get the three dollars, Whiro hightailed it out of there. He was breathing hard, but it wasn’t from pushing himself down the footpath to Uncle Pita’s garage. Whiro’s heart was pounding in his chest. He felt the rhythm all the way up to his ears. It made his scalp itch like it did when he had nits. Whiro had found him. He had found the other werewolf. He wasn’t alone any longer. Whiro tried to remember every smell, every gesture, every word during the brief encounter. Apples and blood and weed. Whiro was smitten.
* * *
Whiro didn’t see the other Wolf for another two days. He had wanted to return to JT’s the following morning but then he had thought better to wait. Which was silly. The Wolf would have known who Whiro was, too. He would have smelled the smoke and spice and salt and spunk that made up Whiro. The other Wolf was probably feeling lonely, also.
Whiro hadn’t seen the other Wolf before. In such a small town, new people stuck out like his ears after a bad haircut. He had asked his Dad about the new guy working for JT. They had been on the porch, looking at the summer constellations through his Dad’s telescope. His Dad knew everything about the stars. Since Whiro was a boy, his Dad had shown Whiro the heavens, giving them their Māori names, and explaining their history. It was his Dad who had first mentioned the Māori name for the planet Mercury: Whiro. When Whiro heard it, he knew it was the secret Wolf name that he had been waiting for. Though his family still called him Tipene, inside he was Whiro.
Adjusting the telescope to get the constellations, Canis Major or Pūtahi-nui-o-Rehua, into view, his Dad had said, ‘His name’s Junior. He’s from Te Puke. He’s staying with JT and Lara. Lara’s his Aunty.’
Whiro had mulled over what he had learned about the Other. Junior. Not a very inspirational name for a werewolf. But that might be what he went by when around humans. Whiro had wondered what his Wolf name was.
‘Come here. Take a look at this,’ his Dad had called him over.
Whiro had set the glass of Milo he’d been drinking between his legs. His Dad manoeuvred the telescope so that it was at the right height for Whiro. His Dad smelled like coffee and cigarettes and beer and petrol. All very human, but comforting, nonetheless. Whiro had taken a deep breath of his Dad’s scent and held it. His Dad leaned in closer. Whiro felt his Dad’s hand firmly rest on his shoulder. He had asked his Dad what he was looking at. They had spent the next hour searching the summer skies.
* * *
Whiro was under Mrs. Rata’s Honda Civic changing the oil and oil filter when he smelled apples and blood and weed. It was near quitting time, so Whiro was trying to hurry without getting too dirty. The scent drove him wild, but he told his hands to stay patient and stop their shaking as he finished. He heard Uncle Pita’s booming voice say that Whiro was over there. Whiro heard a single set of footsteps move closer to him. He finished putting in, then tightening, the oil plug before sliding out from under the car.
The Wolf came slowly into view. First a scuffed pair of black boots with worn heels on the inside then lean-legged jeans that hung low on the hips. A sleeveless hoodie with a dark red stain on the front that resembled dried blood. The Wolf’s arms were brown with stringy biceps. A koru tattoo swirled and spiralled round his right shoulder. The face when Whiro eventually glanced up was smiling. Whiro thought he would never breathe again as he stared back at the other Wolf. He wasn’t alone anymore. Before him was a kindred soul. Whiro smiled back.
‘Where’d you go, bro?’ The Wolf asked. ‘I came out and you were gone. Took me forever to find you.’ The Wolf glanced at Whiro’s wheelchair that was out of reach then back to Whiro. ‘Need a hand?’
‘I’m sweet,’ said Whiro as he scooted toward his Chair. ‘Junior, right?’ He asked, transferring from the floor quickly and with only a bit of embarrassment.
‘Small town,’ Junior the Wolf said, smirking with the corner of his mouth. A single yellow canine seemed to flash in the late afternoon light.
Uncle Pita stuck his head out from the office door. ‘Are you finished with Mrs. Rata’s car, yet? She’ll be here soon and I don’t want to tell her she has to wait because her mechanic is lazy.’
Whiro grinned and bit his tongue. He told his Uncle he was almost through.
‘I should go.’ Junior dug into his jeans and brought out the gold coins.
Whiro decided to take a leap of faith.
‘I’ll be done in a few minutes. You can repay me with a pie. I’m starving.’
Junior looked at Whiro and Whiro thought he had overdone it, that the Wolf would turn tail and run and Whiro would be on his own once again, smelling his own scent and living with humans. But Junior simply nodded, grinned and pocketed the three dollars.
‘Choice,’ Junior said, jerking his head back towards the large garage door. ‘I’ll wait for you outside so’s to keep your Uncle from chewing your arse.’
Whiro thought he’d died and gone to heaven.
* * *
They were eating meat pies on the dusty bank of the Pawa. The town shared its name with the river that ran through it. It was the end of summer and the stony bed could be seen in the thick sluggish eddies. There was only a metre of water in some places. Whiro had never seen it so low. Everyone in town was waiting for autumn and the rains that so often flooded Northland. Whiro took a quick bite from his mince and cheese pie and flinched. The scalding gravy was what he needed. It took his mind from what happened a few autumns back. He didn’t like to dwell on the stupidity that put him in the Chair.
‘So what’dya do here for fun?’ The other Wolf asked.
Junior had wolfed down his mince and cheese and was now licking the grease from his long brown fingers. He finished by wiping his hands on the front of his jeans then leaned back and stretched out on the stubby burnt grass. Hands behind his head, his hoodie rode up. Whiro tried not to look but it was useless. His eyes were drawn to Junior’s lean smooth belly. He quickly glanced back at the Pawa and its muddy brown water. He bit into his pie but he didn’t think he would be able to swallow it.
‘Usual things,’ he finally said after finding his voice. ‘Swimming, fishing, meeting mates. Work where you can get it. Occasional party. You know, the usual.’
‘Sounds like Te Puke.’
Whiro popped the last bite of pie into his mouth, wiping his lips on the back of his hand. He looked over at Junior. But he made sure to look only at his face. ‘What you doing here?’ He asked.
‘Got into some trouble back home.’
‘Weed?’ It just blurted out of Whiro’s mouth. He watched Junior twitch at the question. The other Wolf shaded his eyes as he glanced up at Whiro, suspicious and slightly guarded now. ‘I can smell it,’ Whiro said simply to say something but hoping he hadn’t fucked up and intruded too soon, too fast. He didn’t know why he couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut at times.
Junior took a whiff of his hoodie. Then he looked up at the big blue sky with its curl of clouds. There was a touch of peach to their edges as the sun slowly set. ‘Something like that. There were other things, too.’
Whiro tried not to let his excitement show. He wondered what those other things were. He tried not to get his hopes up.
‘Didn’t mean to pry,’ he said.
‘Fuck,’ Junior said, tracking a fast-travelling cloud as it raced into another, avoiding Whiro’s eyes as he did. ‘No worries.’
They stayed there on the banks of the Pawa quietly watching the sun sink behind the dark hills and the sky turn a deep paua blue. Whiro thought he mustn’t’ve fucked-up too badly. Junior was still here, sitting beside him.
‘See that bright white star over there?’ Whiro said. His voice was as hushed as the river’s.
‘Which one?’ Junior knelt and leaned closer, resting his arm on the back of Whiro’s Chair.
Whiro pointed like his Dad had for him. ‘That one next to those long line of stars.’ Whiro saw Junior nod. ‘That’s Takurua or Sirius. It’s the Dog Star. It’s in the constellation of Pūtahi-nui-o-Rehua.’
‘You into all this star stuff?’
Whiro felt Junior’s gaze as if he was a deer in headlights. It was unnerving and mesmerising all at the same time.
‘My Dad is. He’s got a telescope. He knows all this shit.’
Junior nodded again.
Still leaning against Whiro’s Chair, Junior was quiet for a while, then: ‘What happened?’ He nudged Whiro’s wheelchair. ‘Don’t mean to pry.’
Whiro heard the small dig, but he let it go. There was a flash of canine and a crooked smile that accompanied it. Besides, Whiro was used to people asking. It had even gotten easier with each telling, surprisingly. His Mum had said it would. At the time, though, Whiro didn’t want to believe her.
‘Jumped off that bridge over there.’ Whiro jerked his head in its direction. ‘Two years ago. Thought the river was fuller than it was. Came away with a busted back and dead legs.’
Junior was quiet. He was so close to Whiro that even in the descending dusk, Whiro could make out the fine wiry hairs in his pencil-thin beard. Junior’s breath smelled of mince and cheese. Whiro breathed in deeply. Apples and blood and weed.
‘It was dumb,’ Whiro continued. ‘I hated myself for a long time. Even thought ‘bout finishing what the river started.’ He didn’t know why he added that bit. He had never really told anybody that before. He hoped Junior didn’t think he was a total head case.
‘Well, that would’ve been dumb,’ Junior finally said. ‘I wouldn’t have learned about Takurua then.’
* * *
The full moon was tonight. Everyday after work, Whiro and Takurua had gotten together. After that first evening of stargazing, Junior so liked the name Takurua that he took to it. Whiro thought that that was a way better werewolf name than Junior. Whiro had shown Takurua the town, which wasn’t much and only took a few hours. They liked sitting by the river where they first had begun to learn about the other. They usually ended up there.
Whiro found out that there was a girlfriend as well as an older guy in Te Puke. The guy was another reason besides the weed Takurua was staying with his Aunty and Uncle in Pawa. Junior didn’t hear from either the girl or the guy, which, he admitted, wasn’t really a major hardship. They just didn’t smell right, he had said. Which almost made Whiro lose it and tell Takurua everything.
Whiro told Takurua about his family and brought him over for tea one night. Pork bones and puha and potatoes. Lots of slurping and sucking around the kitchen table. Hoana had kept avoiding Takurua’s eyes, an obvious crush developing. Rōpata had wanted a contest to see who could clean their bones the best. Whiro’s Mum had given his little brother a flick on the ear, but grinned while doing it. Later, on the porch, his Dad had shown Whiro and Takurua the constellation Gemini with its bright stars, Castor and Pollux or Whakaahu kerekere and Whakaahu rangi. While Whiro was looking through the telescope, Takurua was behind him, resting his hand on Whiro’s shoulder, waiting for his turn to look at the twin brothers in the night sky. Whiro could’ve stayed there until the sun rose.
Whiro had shared his human life with Takurua. But there was still one thing that Whiro was scared to tell. He didn’t know how Takurua would take it. He only knew he had to tell him. Whiro had to find out if Takurua was the same as he was. He wanted to run and hunt with his mate in the shine of the bold-faced moon tonight. Whiro couldn’t think of a better thing to do.
As usual, they were on the banks of the Pawa. There was the scent of rain in the air. Whiro was summing up his courage but before he could confess anything, Takurua said, ‘I like you.’
It was the words Whiro had hoped to hear for such a long time. He didn’t know what to say. He wanted to savour the taste of them on his tongue as he said them quietly to himself over and over.
‘Don’t leave me hanging here, mate. What do you say?’ Takurua continued, pulling out bone-bleached stalks of grass from the dry dirt with each sentence. ‘Am I wrong? I think you like me, too.’
‘I like everything about you,’ Whiro blurted out with a happiness that had been building pressure like a shaken bottle of fizzy drink. ‘Your smell drives me wild. I want to howl, I like you that much.’
Takurua broke into a wide grin. His yellow canines flashed and glowed. Apples, blood and weed mixed with spice and smoke and salt and spunk until Whiro couldn’t tell where one started and the other left off. Then Takurua, leaping to his feet, let out a piercing howl that made Whiro jump at its unexpectedness. Whiro watched as Takurua howled again. Whiro felt his heart beat so hard and fast against his chest that he thought it was trying to fight its way out from its bony cage and make itself truly known. So Whiro howled. Alongside his mate, Whiro let the Wolf run. And there wasn’t even the moon needed to change him. In the bright glare of day, Whiro became Wolf. And he wasn’t alone. He had Takurua, who was Wolf just like him. They howled again and again till it became more laughter than yell.
Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois, has travelled widely and currently calls New Zealand home. Recently, he has been published in Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction.