Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea -- March, 2003
Kalindi hears the pack behind her.
She thinks there are fewer following her now, thinned out a little by the false trail she laid up the rough stairway to Airvos Avenue, but still there must be klostu twenty.
Veering off the paved road, she darts between the fancy diplomats' apartment blocks and plunges down a steep rascal track. Her legs are lashed by the lush vegetation as she pounds down the slope, and the mud from yesterday's downpour sucks at her trainers. No mistaking her trail here, marked by the shallow grooves her heels make as she slip-slides down Touaguba Hill. Twice she loses her balance, falling backwards on her seat to skid a ways before regaining her feet. Running down a storm ditch during the Lahara -- maybe not her best idea.
Kallie hears a shout of "on-back!" above, from a pursuer who's found her tru trail, and then dismayed shouts as the others see the steep track. She darts onto Brampton street a short way then angles down another well-worn path along the Chesterfield Apartments.
The wind picks up as she reaches the beach, whipping the stray hairs that escaped her ponytail against her face. Maybe another squall coming in. Maybe she'll make it insait before the rains hit, maybe not. Her skin could hardly be wetter.
She weaves her way through the okari trees near the shore, then runs through the blue gates into the ruins of the old SeaPark. The intense ocean blue often invades her dreams, even though she was not living in this place when the park was open. She dreams the days when a dolphin actually lived in the graffiti-scrawled pool she now curves around, her feet pounding, her breath rasping. The thick smell of frangipani washes over her as she exits the park and nears the pump station.
Kallie hears shouts: the front-runners are gaining on her, pounding through the park. She pours on the speed, her breath sawing harshly as she begins her scramble up the steep slope at Paga Point, sprayed by the seawater pounding on the rock below. Her knee scrapes a jutting point as she climbs, painting a red splash like buai on the stone.
She reaches the roadway, startling a woman and a young boy and girl, whose rust-colored hair betrays their poor diet. They're from the squatter settlement on the hillside below, she's sure.
The woman smiles and offers a greeting. "Apinun."
Kallie braces her hands on her knees, bent over trying to catch her breath. "Apinun," she huffs.
"On-on?" asks the boy.
She grins. "Ya." A shout rises up from the rocks below, and she resumes her run, both children running at her side until their mother calls them back. "Give me five," she says as they circle in front of her, and they slap her palm and scamper back to the place she emerged, to await the other runners.
She sees the big truck pulled off the road by the stone wall overlooking the burned-out Police Mess. Her father waits there, breaking into a grin as he sees her. "You made it!"
"They're close," she pants.
He pulls her close and ruffles her hair. She walks down toward the ruins to cool her jittering leg muscles, taking in the clouds piling over the inner harbor. Even in the gathering gloom, the bright blue of the dolphin pool below catches her eye. She turns and makes her way back to the carpark.
As the pack comes straggling down the road to the truck, the insults and grousing begin.
"That was bloody filthy!"
"You destroyed my favorite pair of trainers!"
"That child of yours may look sweet and innocent, Padre, but she's a right sadist."
Kallie's been to enough hashes to know this is part of the ritual -- the hare always comes in for a round of good-natured jibes, no matter what the run was like. Her father breaks out the first aid kit and the esky and begins questioning the tru Hashmen nature of the complainers. No one goes for the first aid kit until they've pulled a cold drink from the cooler.
Kallie climbs onto the tray-back of the truck to take a head count. Brian tells her they've lost three notorious short-cutters -- one near the beginning at the infamous 200 steps -- who've gone back to the Bakers' house.
"Let's head back, before they've eaten all the kai." A chant of "Kai! Kai!" is taken up by several of the harriers.
Bri raises his operatic voice to the tune of a song from an old musical: Kallie's kai is calling... and everyone laughs. This is her first run as the hare, but they've sampled her cooking before, whenever her father took his turn.
"Everyone's here but Kevin," she says.
"I'll go with you to sweep the trail," Bri says. He's the founder of the family club, a little younger than her dad. He and his wife Gemma seem to have take Kallie on as a special project. As her dad starts making the rounds with the first aid kit, Kallie and Bri head back the way they came, in search of Kevin.
They find him not far away, just making the last few metres up the slope. "You are a devil child," he says to Kallie as he huffs his way onto the road. He's one of the newer harriers; like Kallie and her father, he's an American. "See that?" He shows her a rip in his gaudy button-down shirt. "It was my favorite," he says mournfully.
"There's nothing wrong with that shirt that some petrol and a match won't fix," Bri says. As the trio walks back toward the gathering, he tugs at Kallie's ponytail. "Nice one, Roo," he says. Gemma gave her the nickname long ago, after the bashful tree kangaroos. She's not nearly that shy now.
"Absolutely. You did a fine job keeping the pack together." He shoots a look at Kevin: "Except for those who can't be arsed to run hard."
"I propose a rule change," Kevin says as they join the others. "No hares under the age of thirty."
"Try under the age of forty-seven," another hasher says. "Heart attacks aren't good for the sport."
"Sport?" Brian jeers. The jokes and catcalls continue as they pile onto the back of the truck to Kallie's house in Town. All through the evening as she balances her kokakola and her plate, laughs at the jokes and sings along with the songs, she basks in the glow of Bri's compliment and others that follow.
Though her sixteenth birthday isn't until next month, she feels she's already passed the real milestone -- the other is just a date.
After school Kallie and her best friend Betty walk to the Big Rooster for a snack. The pavement and outer walls of the buildings are stained red from the spit of buai chewers -- which is nearly everyone, except the expats. When she first came to Port Moresby eight years ago, she thought the streets ran red with blood. Now she barely notices, unless she has to dodge a crimson stream in flight. What she does register, however, is how many men take notice of Betty.
She can see why they stare. Betty's one of the most beautiful girls she's ever seen. Flawless dark skin, shapely mouth almost always smiling or laughing, eyes that sparkle with intelligence and humor. Betty's bright dresses make her think of the plumage of parrots, while the same hues make Kallie herself look pallid and sickly.
They take up their regular corner table in the Big Rooster, where they can watch people passing by on the street. As they pick at their fried chicken and chips, Kallie complains about her parents. "They treat me like I'm twelve. If I so much as mention a boy at school, my mother says, 'There's plenty of time to start thinking of that.' What does that even mean? And my father -- I'd have thought after my first time as the hare, he'd see me a little differently, but he's no better than her." She doesn't mention hashing that much in front of Betty, who thinks the whole lot of them are a little waia i lus -- crazy. "I'm almost glad he's off in the bush for a while."
The other thing she rarely mentions is her wish that her parents would let her go to school back in the States. It's not that Kallie wants to leave Betty and her other friends, both Papua New Guinean and expat, behind. She just wants her world to open up. Papua New Guinea is so remote from the west -- and Port Moresby itself is cut off from much of PNG. Her life here is church, school and home, and two of the three revolve around her parents. Even her harrier and harriette mates are her father's friends too.
Betty tries to commiserate, but Kallie can tell she's not impressed by her problem. Her brother is putting pressure on her to grow up: to drop out of school and find a job. More and more of their wantok come to Moresby to find work, but there's little to be had. It's Daniel's responsibility to feed and shelter them all, and he's feeling the strain. Betty has enough education to find a job, he believes; she's only shirking her obligations to pursue more.
By the time their friend Ikanau joins them, they welcome the break and turn the conversation to more frivolous topics: what's playing at the haus piksa, boys, classes, tomorrow's girl's basketball game. Betty pulls a battered paperback from her school satchel, so old half its pages are falling out: Valley of the Dolls. The girls huddle together over the table as Betty reads the sexy parts, both blushing furiously and then shrieking with laughter as Betty pokes fun at the characters and the writing. Kallie laughs so hard her head begins to hurt.
They race to catch a PMV home before dark, and by the time she hands her coins over to the driver's assistant, her head is pounding and she's a little chilled.
When she arrives on her doorstep, she knows she's ill, and it's going to be bad.
Things reach out toward her from the darkness.
They tell her it's the fiva, the malaria, that what she sees are shadows, nothing more.
People slip in and out of the room. Church people. Hashmen. They bring her limonad and mango juice when she can drink it. They come to help her mother, take care of things so she can sleep. Sometimes they pray, sometimes singsing. Most of them are real, she thinks.
Some people she dreams. She drifts into a room with a young man who also shivers violently, skin drenched in sweat. He's like her, waitman, his hair dark but straight. The dead girl hovers over him, crooning comforting words. Her hair is shiny and pretty. Bikpela mun also floats above him, huge and round inside the room. It's made of silver.
That's just crazy.
She hears her own cracked voice, weaving through the prayers and the songs. As much in Tok Pisin as in English, as she herself weaves in and out of dreams and waking. For once her mother doesn't scold.
That's how she knows she's going to die.
She surfaces, almost lucid. Her mother sleeps in the chair by her bed, Bible open on her lap; the others are gone.
How long this time?
Still dark in her room, only a lantern giving a soft flickering light. She turns to see the kilok on the nightstand and the movement makes her feel like there's broken glass in her head. The pale green hands show just after faiv. Her mother is usually up and busy in the haus kuk by now, trying to rouse her to get up and help. She's lazy, she should try to be better.
She wishes she could have some water, but she can't reach it. Let Mom slip.
It comes to her then.
It's nothing she can see, but she thinks it could be an angel. (Maybe because she's finally had one unselfish thought.)
It speaks to her heart and head without tok, just warmth and softness and pawa. Asks her a question, makes her an offer.
She says yes.
She says yes, and in that moment her body feels different.
She is weak and shaky, but she's taken the power inside herself.
She falls into her first true sleep in days, feeling this newfound strength take up the fight against her sickness.
By the time she awakens, the afternoon sun leaks around the edges of the blinds. Kallie asks her mother if she'd raise one of them, just a little bit. Mom asks, "Are you sure?" The slightest light has given her fierce headaches since the fever came on her. Kallie nods weakly.
She is malingering.
The moment she came awake, she knew she was well. Her limbs sang with energy, her head was clear. She longed to throw back the covers and move her body, revel in its wholeness. Kallie could go down to the market for her mother or go for the post, but --
It's a miracle.
She's spent a lifetime being an example in her father's sermons. Mostly the stories are benign enough -- silly things she did when she was small, sappy wisdom-of-a-child tales. The churchpeople laugh or offer her warm smiles. She hates the attention. To be a miracle -- she'd rather lie here for another day, until she's only an answer to prayers.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, she tells God, and the angel who came this morning. Please don't think I'm ungrateful. It's just too much.
Gold light filters in through the mosquito netting. "Is that too much?"
"No," she says. "It's good. Thanks." She has to work to keep her voice faint. It's just as wrong as lying, a part of her scolds. Don't kid yourself that it's not. She's just not ready, that's all.
Mom brings her some limeade, helps her drink. "Nana Grace brought the mail this morning. There's a letter from Daddy, do you want me to read it to you?" He's been in the hailens for four weeks now, taking medicine and preaching (and stories about little-girl-Kalindi) to the mountain villages.
Kallie's mind wanders a little as her mother reads. It's the usual, stories of the welcome he's had, the sick children who've been brought to him, the sermons he's preached. He always includes some funny story for her, and it's always aimed at some Kallie who's four or five years gone.
"--it'll be nice to have him home again, won't it?"
She's missed out on when he expects to be back, but Kallie knows it'll create a great flurry of activity. The date won't escape her notice for long. "It will," she says.
"There's also a letter from Ashley," Mom says. "Would you like me to read that too?" Ashley's her penpal, from her parents' home church in Ohio. She goes to church three or four times a week, but Kallie's parents would still think she was terribly worldly if they could read her letters, which are full of pop singers and movies. There's a haus piksa in her town that shows twenty movies at one time, and Ashley doesn't even think there's anything particularly miraculous in that. She seems to have a new boipren every time she writes. Her letters are shallow and chirpy and to Kallie they are like oxygen.
"No," Kallie says. She hates herself for the weak voice she affects. "I think I'd like to sleep." She reaches out for the letter. "Could I hold it, though?" Her mother slips the letter into her hand, the blue onionskin envelope so lightweight it's like holding nothing. She places it over her heart, presses her hand there. "Mom, why don't you lie down for a while? I'll be okay. You need some real sleep."
Her mother gives her another drink and caresses her hair, then goes to her own room. Kallie waits until she's sure her mother's asleep, then carefully opens the envelope and starts to read.
The dreams first come to her that night, and every night after.
Dreams of evil things.
Men and women with grotesque faces and sharp teeth, tearing the throats out of screaming victims. Men in robes with curved, gleaming knives and strange symbols carved where their eyes should be. Hideous demons boiling up from a huge pit in the ground, in numbers too great to count. A pale man with strange yelopela hair who laughs as he turns to flame and the world falls in.
Kallie wakes to find herself sitting bolt upright in bed, too frightened to call out to her parents.
She can never tell them what visits her in the night. They would know what she had done. How she had offered her soul to the false angel that came to her in the still-dark of morning. Kallie has heard all her life how Lucifer can cloak himself in beauty. That's how he deceives so many people. He tricked her with that sense of warmth and softness and peace, with the promise of her ravaged body recovering its strength.
How could she have been so stupid?
Late June, 2003
Everyone notices the change. How quiet she's become this past month, how she jitters around the house and classroom with useless energy. Betty and Ikanau still spend time with her every day, but she senses their confusion. Her mother's more concerned than happy that Kallie lends her help around the house without reluctance or enthusiasm and with very little comment. She overhears her on the phone with Kallie's kandere, Aunt Meg: I'm beginning to wonder if this last bout of fever cooked her brain.
But it's not the malaria. This is something she's called down on herself.
It began long before her relapse. She admits this to herself as she sits on her bed, almost in a trance, whittling a piece of wood she found in the shed. Kallie had let herself question too many things. Wonder what right the misinare have to go into the highlands and bring their god to people who already have beliefs of their own. To ask them to abandon the old ways and disrespect their tumbuna. It's a process that began long before her parents, she knows that, but still. What if things were reversed, she'd thought, and people here came to the States to ask people to give up Jisas? Sometimes her parents even work on converting Moresby's Catholics. When she'd wondered if this was right, she had proved she was no longer strong in her faith. She'd opened the door for Satan, given him the perfect opportunity to come and test her. By the time the false angel came, she'd already failed.
Kallie sees what her hands have been doing as her mind raced: taken the broken table leg she'd found and sharpened it to a needled point. What has she got in mind for this? Maybe use it on the creepy white man she's seen looking at her in the market, and near the school. She hasn't said anything to her parents, though she doesn't know why. Maybe she's forgotten how to confide in them, ask for their protection. Maybe she's stopped believing she deserves it. Kallie shoves the sharpened stick under her pillow, turns out the light and falls asleep among the wood shavings.
The fishmonger jokes with Kallie, trying to cheer her up, while his boy readies her order. Usually he can make her laugh, but today her thoughts are pulled in too many different directions.
She doesn't realize the waitman is there until she hears him singing. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine... Her heart begins to triphammer. Until now he's kept his distance, eying her speculatively from a stall across the way. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...
He's possibly the homeliest man -- in the American sense of the word, as her parents use it, plain, almost ugly -- she's ever seen. He wears a strange, battered hat and a kot let. He looks like a raskol, and surely he's crazy to be wearing leather in heat like this. Kallie's about to tell Mr. Ikupu that this man has been bothering her when she notices his eyes. They're not predatory at all, but somehow ancient and knowing and full of compassion. She closes her mouth. Mr. Ikupu hands over the package of fish and she counts out some kina, thanks him and leaves. She darts past the man. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine...
Kallie almost thinks she's going to make it past him, but he turns and falls into step beside her.
"The dreams are really whipping you, aren't they, kid?"
What does he know about the dreams? "Yu go," she tells him, but she knows she intimidates no one in her long skirt and ankle socks, her mouse-brown hair pulled into a girlish ponytail.
"You're looking at 'em all wrong, that's your problem."
"My problem is you," she says. "Disappear." Her voice shakes, undercutting her attempt to sound hard.
He offers her a picket-fence grin. "Some weapons are scary to look at," he tells her. "That's part of their effectiveness. That's what the dreams are. Weapons. Tools. Once you learn how to use them, they won't frighten you so much."
"Who are you?"
"Name's Whistler," he says.
She pushes past him into another stall, where she buys kabis, kukamba, anien, mango and melen. She places them in her bilum, carefully settling the fish on top, and steps out onto the street. He's still waiting.
"Whistler," she repeats. "That doesn't tell me a lot. Why are you following me?"
"Easier to talk to you that way."
He ignores this. "Balance, that's my gig. Everything got thrown out of whack when the witch did her thing. There's too many of you girls, not enough watchers."
Too many of you girls? What does he plan to do about it? Her fingers curl around the sharp stick she's tucked into her waistband beneath her blouse. "Stop following me or I'll get the polis. They know my family, and they--"
"You were closer to the mark at first," Whistler says calmly. "Not the angel part, but you were right to take the offer. You didn't sell your soul."
The bag slips from her shoulder as she jerks, the package of fish tumbling out into the dust. "What do you know about that?"
Whistler crouches to gather her purchases. "Hey, whoa, careful." He brushes the dirt off the paper packet. "Looks like it's okay." He rises and hands her the bilum, the fish tucked back inside. A PMV rumbles by with a full load of passengers. "I'm here to help. Nikki's boy got hung up, and there's too much that needs doing."
Nothing he says makes sense to her. "I never told anybody about that."
"Well, a lot of people know about it. The witch's sanguma changed the way the universe works. Not exactly low profile."
"Sorcery?" Her parents don't really believe in it, but they've told her it's something to stay away from. You start courting dark things, and before long you've got the author of evil pulling you into his orbit.
"Relax," he says, and there's something tired and kind about Whistler's voice. "You signed on with the right team. Sneak out of your room tonight and meet me by the gate. Ten o'clock. I'll show you what that pointy stick you're hiding is for."
She doesn't slip out to meet him, of course.
So he comes to Kallie, steps inside her dreams.
"Looks like I've got my work cut out for me," he says. "This is what happens, all this willy-nilly slayer-making."
She'd been in the middle of a dream about the man bilong matakiau wielding a sword against the robed men, a girl Kallie's age fighting at his side. But she's pulled out of the disjointed chaos typical of these nightmares, dropped into a lucid dream state, a visitation.
"Can't say I blame you, though. Streets aren't safe here. It's more than just the Raskol Problem. That's where you come in."
They are walking by the ruins of the old Parliament building, Kallie with the pointed stick in her hand. She's wearing dark pants and shirt, and short, hard-soled boots. She wonders where these came from.
"What do you know about vampires?"
"Just what you see in the movies?"
"I don't go to movies." A possum trundles out from its hiding place in the ruins, freezes as it spots them. Poor thing -- it'll probably be eaten sooner rather than later.
"Sure, but you must've read Dracula." As she shakes her head, he protests, "But it's a classic."
"I get to read the Bible and a rich assortment of uplifting literature," she says tartly. "And where, exactly, am I going to find other books to sneak-read?" Well, from Betty, but only if there are sexy parts.
"You're gonna be a challenge," Whistler says. He talks about her dreams, then. The grotesque people i gat tit -- with the teeth. They prey on people in the darkness, take their blood. Sometimes their victims die -- sometimes they become vampires themselves.
"That's tok bilong bipo yet," she says dismissively.
"Yeah, well, myths come from somewhere," he tells her. "This way." He gestures toward the shadows between Qantas Haus and ANG Haus.
"I'm not--" Kallie hears a scream, and something in her makes her break into a run -- toward the sound.
A man restrains a struggling woman, holding her in an obscene embrace as he drinks from her neck. Kallie lunges at him, slams her stick into his back. The vampire whirls, enraged, and hurls her into the side of a building. He grins at her, his lips and teeth stained red, as if he's been chewing buai.
"The heart, the heart!" Whistler cries.
She gropes for the stick, which she's dropped. A flash of pink cloth streaks past -- the woman has scrambled to her feet, a hand pressed to her bloody neck, and bolts down the path. The vampire grabs Kallie by the arm and wrenches her to her feet. She puts up a sloppy fight, but she gets room to maneuver, and jabs her stick into his chest. He explodes into a wild spray of dust and Kallie staggers back.
She blinks at Whistler stupidly, unable to form a question or remark. Despite the hot, dry Laurabada wind, she shivers.
"Not so pretty," he says, "but you got the job done."
"Where'd she go?"
"Gone. She took off."
"She just left?"
"If you're looking for thanks, you're in the wrong line of work."
"Hey, I didn't ask--" Kallie stops abruptly. She did ask -- at least, she took what was offered.
"This is your job now," Whistler says. "You're one of the slayers."
"Would he have eaten her?"
"Drained her, sure."
She shakes her head. "No, I mean taken her to eat. The way they used to in some of the villages."
"No. There are demons who eat people, though not here. Vampires are strictly drain 'em and drop 'em."
That makes no sense to her. She's been in the highlands, heard graphic stories of cannibalism -- even met people who'd been taken in raids as children and adopted and loved by the people who ate their parents. It's probably another sign of her damned state, but "drain 'em and drop 'em" seems like a terrible waste of protein.
As they walk toward the shore, he explains more about vampires and slaying. How it worked before, how it's all changed. "We'll have to get you some other weapons besides the stakes. Battle axes, swords, the usual starter package. And you're definitely gonna need a watcher. I don't know how much of this I can take."
"You said you were here to restore balance," Kallie says. "You said there are too many girls. How do I know you're not here to make sure I die?"
"You're a sharp one," he says. "Mi tok tru, all right? That's my job, balance. But I got mixed up with the last chosen one, the girl who set this whole slayer avalanche in motion, and, well, I find myself taking sides. It's a failing of mine."
Her knees are still shaking as they pass one of the rougher bars, popular with rascal gangs. Men are lounging outside, spitting buai and arguing loudly. They fall silent as the homely white man and gangly white girl pass. "Well, this looks like your stop," Whistler says.
"What are you--" The next instant it's morning, and she's awakening in her own bed.
Kallie finds the things in her closet the next morning as she gets ready for school. The black pants and top, the boots. There's no danger of her mother finding them -- the laundry is Kallie's job. On the shelf, piled on top of her schoolbooks, rests a battered hardcover of Dracula. She riffles through the pages, finds a few notes in the margins -- the penmanship looks flowery and old, the ink is faded. Inside the front cover, in the same faded handwriting, is Kalindi Baker and her address.
She shoves the book to the back of the closet. She is not going to do this.
There are lots of slayers, Whistler said. Too many of them. No one will miss her.
She puts on her flowered blouse and blue skirt, the ankle socks and tennis shoes and goes out front to meet her friends. Ikanau is already waiting, but Betty doesn't come. They wait for her until they have to run to make it to class before the bell rings.
She hears him outside her window that night after she's turned out her light.
Hide it under a bushel -- no! I'm gonna let it shine
Kallie draws her knees up to her chest, pulls the sheet over her head. It's not a bushel, but it gets the job done. Tonight he doesn't invade her dreams, just sings that song until she thinks she's going to scream -- let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.... She squinches her eyes shut and reviews math problems in her head until, after maybe half an hour, Whistler goes away. It takes at least another hour before she falls asleep, and the dreams are right there waiting for her.
The man bilong matakiau again. He's been haunting her for a month now. Unlike Whistler, he's taken no notice of her. He scared her at first, with the eyepatch and his dark, angry look. He wades into packs of vampires, swinging a short sword, jabbing with the stake. Kallie knows nothing about fighting, but the man goes into battle like someone who's trying to take as many foes as possible with him when he dies. (But -- Kallie thought the slayers were all girls.)
Tonight she sees him hurled into a cluster of dust bins, and as he sprawls there dazed she realizes for the first time he's the young man with the silver moon in his room. But then he's not. A shadow falls over him as a vampire approaches. When he reaches down and pulls his prey up by the collar, Kallie sees that it's Betty he's got. Then it's the man bilong matakiau who's the vampire. His face distorts as she watches, his teeth growing sharp and long.
He sinks his fangs into Betty's throat.
As Kallie does her morning chores, she tries to think of a way to tell Betty about the dream. She tries all kinds of ways to frame it: I had the silliest dream last night... But Kallie finds nothing funny about it. Betty will, she knows that. She'll laugh at the dream, and probably at Kallie for letting it upset her. She's the bravest person, girl or boy, that Kallie knows. While Ikanau is much more like Kallie, Betty can laugh off anything.
Kallie should have told her about the dreams before now. She'd have helped her take them in stride. Not that Kallie would be able to laugh them off, but Betty would poke holes in them, deflate them to a manageable size. She'd probably also tell her Whistler is a well-known bulsitman, and would even know what kind of con game he's running. Well, Kallie will tell her about everything today.
But Betty doesn't come to school today, either. When Ikanau comes by to pick Kallie up, she says she stopped by Betty's house, talked to Mrs. Lepani. "She didn't come home the last two nights," Ikanau says. "She thinks Betty ran off with a boipren." Ikanau believes everything she's told, if it's an adult who tells her. She speculates, naming men Betty might have run off with, suggesting places they might have gone. Deep into the bush, maybe, or Australia. Perhaps even America -- Ikanau herself has always wanted to go there. "What about James Kaupa? He's handsome, she said so."
"Ikanau, the only reason you thought of him is he's right there in the road. So he can't have run off with her."
"Maybe he's going later, so nobody will suspect. He's very clever."
"You're wrong. Mrs. Lepani's wrong. Betty's bold, but she's not wild. Besides, if she had a boyfriend, she would have told us."
"But if it's a scandal--"
"Then I know she would have told us. I don't think she ran away. Something's happened." And after what she's seen the last two nights, Kallie's especially uneasy about what it might be.
Won't let Satan blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine...
Kallie's tented under the sheet again when the singing starts up tonight, but this time she's letting her little light shine on the pages of Dracula. She shoves the book under her pillow, lifts the mosquito net and slips out of bed. She's already wearing the black pants and shirt; her boots are under the bed.
Kallie unlatches the shutters and climbs out her window, boots in hand. Whistler doesn't seem at all surprised to see her tonight. He repeats the line, substituting an audible puff of air for the word "blow": Won't let Satan (puff) it out, I'm gonna let it shine.... His singing voice is like his face -- beyond plain, rushing headlong toward unlovely, but somehow growing on her.
"So what's with this place?" he asks as she steadies herself against the wall to pull on the boots. "Where are the window bars and razor wire?"
"My father believes God will protect us."
"Practices what he preaches," Whistler says.
She shrugs. "We've been here eight years." Kallie draws in a breath. "Whistler, about last night--"
"Right on schedule," he says.
"What? I didn't show."
"I know. Right when I didn't expect you to show. Refusal of the call, the whole Joseph Campbell thing. You moved through that stage pretty quick."
"My friend Betty is missing. I want you to help me find her."
"I know that too," he says softly. Kallie doesn't like the sudden gentleness of his voice. It's a tone she associates with the breaking of bad news.
"You know where she is?"
"I have a good idea." He sets out in the direction of Paga Hill and Kallie falls into step beside him, her heart sinking. It's not a good place to be after dark. She's been warned about going there alone even in the day.
"I saw her. In a dream," she says.
"There was a one-eyed man. He's in my dreams a lot. He was fighting vampires. One knocked him to the ground and grabbed him. Then he turned into Betty, and then the vampire turned into him, but he was still a vampire. The man bilong matakiau bit her neck. Who is he?"
"He's the second banana. The wild card. The loose cannon."
"Stop it. Should I be scared of him, or not?" Another thing that would be useful to know that she's still not sure of: Should she be scared of Whistler?
"He made the first ripple in the Slayer mojo, seven years before this Slayerpalooza."
Kallie wishes he'd speak English -- or even Pidgin. Anything that made sense to her.
"He allied himself with the last slayer -- others did too, but he was the first. He set everything on a different course."
"So he helped her." Okay then, he's good. She'd thought so, after she got past the idea that the eyepatch made him look sinister. "Why do I keep dreaming about him?"
"He's moving into a new role, same as you. Not to mention there's some kind of psychic link between you two."
"Is he here? Does the slayer come from PNG?"
"You're the first, kid."
Before he can say more, a shadow moves into the roadway up ahead. "Lukluk long Kallie. Em i gat boipren." Betty's voice is insinuating, mocking -- a tone she's never turned on Kallie.
It doesn't matter. Her heart leaps to see her friend safe. "Betty, I thought--"
"And he's so good-looking. Too bad a demon's the best you can do. Your daddy must be pleased."
Demon? She casts a glance at Whistler, then back to Betty, stepping toward her. "I thought something happened to you."
"Kallie--" Whistler. But by now Betty has seized her arm, her grip surprisingly strong. She yanks Kallie into a tight embrace.
"Something did happen. You'll like it." Her face changes then, like the man's in Kallie's dream. She flicks a sharp fingernail on the soft skin of Kallie's neck, laps at the blood that runs down toward her collar. "It won't hurt long, little sister."
Kallie feels the sharp points of her teeth just piercing the skin. "No!" She shoves Betty back, gropes for the stake.
"Yu pret?" Her eyes are cold, her smile menacing. "You're always afraid. You'll never amount to anything, because you're too afraid." That's a phrase Betty has lifted from Kallie's mother, who is always assessing who'll amount to something and who never will. "You're even afraid that you'll never amount to anything."
"Kallie, that's not Betty," Whistler reminds her.
Oh, but it is. Who knows her like Betty? Who else could see the deepest secrets of her heart? She reaches up to her neck, feels the trickle of blood there. She sees Betty's nostrils flaring, the tongue tip that flicks at the corner of her mouth.
"Let me make you like me, susa, and you won't be afraid anymore. You can do anything you want."
She takes a step toward Betty.
"Slayer," she hears Whistler say behind her. "There's worse things than fear."
-- Slayer --
"Sarap, demon," Betty snarls. She lunges at Kallie, pulls her close again. "Larim mi dring." Once more, she sinks her teeth into Kallie's neck. Her head swims as if the malaria is back, as if she's drugged. She's heard of this, the daze that comes over an animal as a predator tears into its belly. The pain goes quickly, and a heavy contentment floods her limbs.
She wrenches herself out of Betty's grip. Swings the stake. First the blow meets resistance, then nothing as Betty explodes into dust. Kallie stumbles forward, then falls to her knees. Blood oozes between the fingers she presses to her neck. Tears spill just as freely.
"That wasn't your friend," Whistler says. "She was already gone."
"What she said about you," Kallie accuses, "it's true, isn't it? You are a demon."
"Technically," he says.
She staggers to her feet. "Stay away from me. I'll find my own way home."
On the long walk home, past the drunks and the brothel girls, she feels no fear. She's just done the worst thing she can imagine -- what is there left to fear, at least for tonight?
He follows her home, she's aware of that, but he keeps his distance. Twice she must stop to steady herself on a building as darkness threatens to engulf her. Twice she passes men and she sees interest flash in their eyes, but something passes between them and Whistler that makes them fade back into the shadows.
When she makes it back to the house, she's too woozy to hoist herself over the window. Without comment, Whistler laces his fingers together and bends to offer her a boost. As Kallie swings her leg into the window, he says, "Make sure you clean that wound. You've got the slayer healing, it'll be better in no time. But you want to be careful with that."
"Is it going to make me a vampire?" Maybe this was his whole purpose in getting her to come out at night. Why would a demon be helping her?
"No. You have to die for that. And it's not even that simple. You'd have had to drink from her, too."
Kallie shakes her head, instantly regretting it. She clutches the edge of the window. "Someone should be here to teach me this."
"Someone is," he says quietly.
"You're a demon."
"Betty i tok tru," he tells her. "At least about that. But everything I said was the truth too."
"You're a good demon," she says, sarcasm coloring her tone.
"I'm a neutral demon. Usually. Right now, I'm on your side."
"I don't want a demon on my side."
"You want someone there. Slayers are not a long-lived bunch, in general. You need all the help you can get to even out the odds."
"Balance," she says, remembering his introduction to her.
"Yeah." He touches his fingertips to his own neck, nods toward her. "Go. Take care of that."
Kallie closes the shutters, changes into her girlish nightgown, then goes to the bathroom to clean the wound. When she's finished, she climbs into bed, rearranging the netting. After she's settled in she cries, for Betty and for herself.
Her neck throbs through the night, several times pulling her out of a restless sleep. She hovers at the edge of a fever, her thoughts chasing round and round.
She is going to hell.
She has heard all her life how cleverly Satan tricks people, but she'd thought she was above that, being an missionary's kid. She'd thought she was too smart to fall for his lies. Kallie had never quite believed that it wasn't enough to love God and want to be His. She'd never quite believed that life as a Christian was a tightrope walk over a long, long drop. She'd been unbelievably stupid.
Of course the devil would give special attention to someone like her -- what a prize she must be, the too-smart MK who'd given away her soul.
Even damning herself hadn't wised her up. Kallie had let herself be lulled into believing everything was okay, that she had a special destiny. Who told her these things? A demon. A demon who was grooming her as a killer.
She wonders if killing things that are evil makes her any less evil, any less lost. Everything she has been taught tells her no.
Kallie is a lost girl who still loves God, who'll still go to church and help her parents do their work, even knowing she'll go to hell no matter what she does.
That must seem pretty funny down in hell. And Whistler, who arranged so much of it, must especially think it's a laugh.
Ikanau chatters all the way to school, ignoring the skinny dog that trails them as they walk. She wants to know if Kallie's heard from Betty. She's always known the two of them were closest in their threesome, but never seemed particularly jealous.
"No, I haven't," she answers. After all she's done, one small lie won't much matter. "Have you?"
"Not yet." She continues her speculation about Betty's whereabouts and possible companions -- or, more accurately, rehashes yesterday's list of places and men -- as Kallie wonders if she should tell her the truth.
She knows her likely response. Ikanau's answer to everything is, "It could be worse." Kallie's never entirely figured out if this is optimism or pessimism. Usually Ikanau follows up with an illustration -- these have only about a 40% rate of relevance to the topic at hand, and many of her stories are the kind Kallie used to hear at slumber parties back in the States. Book-smart as Ikanau is, she's the most gullible human being Kallie's ever known.
What if she told Ikanau about Whistler? Told her the truth about what walks in the twelve-hour Port Moresby nights. Showed her what's underneath the scarf she's wearing today, told her everything that happened in the past month -- that Kallie's supposedly a slayer of vampires, that she saw Betty last night, dead and sporting a set of teeth like a pukpuk, and that Kallie killed her a second time. What if she said she's befriended a demon and is going to wind up in hell?
It could be worse, she imagines Ikanau saying. It could be me." Kallie laughs, and even to her own ears it sounds half hysterical.
"What's funny?" Ikanau wants to know. "That man? Em i no naispela"
Kallie glances toward Ikanau's ugly man -- it's Whistler, leaning against a building across from the school, drinking a from a bottle of loliwara. "Stay away from him, Ikanau." He tips the pop bottle toward the girls, nods. "No matter what he tells you." A PMV rumbles past, and by the time it has moved on, Whistler has disappeared.
"Orait, oke," Ikanau says as they walk into the school. "Are you staying to play basketball after class?"
He's out there again tonight. Shine my light till Jesus comes, I'm gonna let it shine...
She wonders how the name of Jesus can fall from his lips without it burning him like lye.
Kallie moves to the window, still in her nightgown, opens the shutters just enough to tell Whistler to go away before she calls her father.
"I'm sorry, miss," he says in the polite tone of a bureaucrat, "but there's only one refusal of the call per customer."
"You think you're paniman."
"Oh, I'm the granddaddy of comedians," he says wryly, "but I'm serious as a heart attack. The pukpukman are out tonight." How does he do that? How does he read her thoughts, know that in her mind she'd compared Betty to a crocodile? "They're out every night. You really want to let them have the city, do to more girls what they did to Betty?"
She hates him right now, even though she knows hatred is a sin.
"You're wrong about yourself," Whistler says softly. "Don't give up."
But it's his first argument that gets her to close the shutter. "Wait." Kallie quickly dresses in the dark, in the black pants and shirt from last night. She hasn't had a chance to wash the blood from the shirt. Once she's standing beside him on the pavement, she says, "I don't want you with me."
Kallie knows he shadows her, but she sets out as if on her own, to areas she knows from the hashes. Vampires need to be around people to feed, and there aren't too many places to congregate at night that aren't fortresses. There are still carjackings that happen in Town when people get careless -- Kallie's now reading the news with a different eye, and criminal attacks now seem obviously not just about money or random violence on a pay Friday. Those attacks, she's sure, are happenstance, crimes of opportunity -- or sport. The people who are most vulnerable are the same ones who usually are in any given city -- the desperate ones who live in shanty towns and places the polis are reluctant to go.
There are a lot of them in Moresby. The capital city's peculiar geography makes it like fly paper. Few roads link it to other parts of the country, and boat traffic for passengers is surprisingly uncommon. Village men arrive in Moresby by plane to find work, and when they can't, they can't afford to leave or to live in the secure middle-class housing. There are a lot of people to prey on, a fresh supply nearly every day -- and no one to stop the vampires from hunting.
This is her mission, then. Though she's sure she's damned herself, she will save people from death or worse at the hands (teeth) of the vampires.
As she reappears the next few nights, they come to think she's crazy. No one who wasn't would be walking these streets -- or any -- in the long, humid nights. Tough boys chase her, but she darts away from them like a silvery fish in the warm coastal waters. If they persist, she drags them through the roughest terrain she knows. If they still come, she knows they're not merely bored young men, or even rascals. She finds a place to lie in wait and steps out with her stake and turns them into dust.
Whistler is always there. She doesn't always see him, she just knows. Whether as a witness or to help if he's needed, she's not sure. He certainly gives her every opportunity to battle her own way out of trouble and hasn't once intervened, even though a couple of times she was scared for her life. She almost talks to him after the second of these fights. It's so lonely, having no one to tell how she spends her nights, why her back is so stiff and sore in the morning, how the pukpukman almost got her this time. She draws breath to call out to Whistler, but then she turns away and limps home, tears slipping down her cheeks.
That night is when the dreams change.
The most noticeable difference is the young man she asked Whistler about -- the one he called the wild card. Now he has tupela ai, though she can tell by the way he carries himself in combat that he's still blind in his left.
He fights differently now. Like someone who has something to lose, a warrior who wants to make it back home. Kallie sees him sparring with a dark-haired woman who calls out instructions, encouragement or jibes. She's a better fighter than him.
And here's where the quality of the dreams have changed. No longer disjointed and dreamlike, they feel more like the lucid dream she had of Whistler initiating her into the Port Moresby night. Only they are not aware of her presence, as Whistler was in that dream.
Here she is an invisible auditor of the man bilong matakiau's lessons in slaying. She soaks up every detail, knowing she will never have this level of training herself. Kallie notes every critique, every demonstration of position for a foot, a fist, the grip of hands on a sword Kallie doesn't even own. When she can put her eavesdropped training to use on her rounds in Town, she does.
The matakiau collects a variety of bruises in his lessons, which don't fade as quickly as Kallie's. He accepts them -- not without complaint, but his grumbling is good natured, self-effacing -- and he gamely comes back for more. She recalls the flavor of admiration in Whistler's voice when he talked of the matakiau, and the same regard is growing in her. It's strange to spend so much time with these people in her dreams, never to see them in the light of day. It makes her a little less lonely in some ways, but there are times the desperation for someone she can talk with grows beyond bounds. But there's no one she can tell, and the one person who already knows her secret is a demon. And as she learns more from her dreams, the less certain she becomes that Whistler is even there anymore as she roams through Town.
She finds herself wishing one night as she walks home that she were a little clumsier, that Whistler still would feel the need to shadow her on her rounds and her way home. Maybe she could just talk to him this one time, ask how he thinks she's progressing.
She's tired of doing this all alone.
Kallie boosts herself through the window and tugs off her boots as she sits on the sill. She's about to rise and pull her shirt over her head when her mother switches on the light.
"Kalindi Baker, where have you been?"
Daddy is there too, both of them looking angry and sad in that way that tears at her. She believes his sermons about how sorrowful God is when he must punish his children, because she's seen it reflected in her own father's face.
"Tell me his name," her mother demands. "Who is it you're sneaking out to see?"
"There's no one. I just went out."
"Kallie, we're not stupid. No girl in her right mind goes out alone after dark in this city. Who is he?"
"I went out to walk. To look at the moon and the water and just think. Em tasol, tru." In her agitation Kallie's forgotten her parents' rule about speaking Pidgin when not communicating with the people who live here. She corrects herself. "That's all."
"You went out to think," her father repeats.
"Some things are bothering me," Kallie says. "The water--"
"What can you possibly be troubled by that you can't bring to us?" her father wants to know. He'd be surprised by the answer to that.
"That's obvious." Her mother's voice is bitter. "A boy. Tell us the truth now, Kallie. Lying is only going to make things worse."
"No," she protests. "I've been upset about Betty. I miss her. I -- I'm worried."
"It's your friendship with Betty that brought you to this," her mother says. "She let herself get swayed by her trashy novels, and now she's ruined her life. And you -- you've always let her lead you by the nose --"
"You're not being fair. She didn't run off. Something happened --"
"Don't lie for her. Her mother told me the kind of garbage she reads. She's filled her head with smut, and she thinks that has something to do with love. I thought you were smarter than that."
"She thought those books were stupid. She always laughed about them."
"It doesn't matter if she thinks she's above them. They've corrupted her just the same."
"Don't blame this on Betty!" She rubs at a tear that slides down her cheek.
"Make it easier on yourself," her father says. "Tell us who this boy is."
"There isn't anybody!"
This goes around and around until she's swaying with fatigue. They say they can't begin to trust her again until she's told them everything, and she insists there's nothing to tell.
The next morning marks the beginning of life without their trust. She's not allowed to wait for Ikanau to walk her to school, but instead she has to leave when her mother does, and help her prepare for her elementary school class. She comes home with her too. Kallie can't see Ikanau unless it's at school or at Kallie's house, she can't go to the market or the post office unless an adult goes with her. All her incoming and outgoing letters are read first by her parents. The atmosphere she'd found confining before now closes in to suffocate her.
Strangely, they haven't done anything to keep her in at night -- all their restrictions are on her daylight activities. But she's so desperate to regain their trust she doesn't even read by flashlight in bed, much less sneak out. Instead she lies in bed, praying into the dark that the vampires will stay quiet while she's unable to defend against them. She prays that the travelers and the naive keep out of the streets when dark falls just after six. Kallie fears, though, that her entreaties go no farther than the sheer mesh of the mosquito net. Why would God listen to her?
She gets her proof of that after a week of this strange probationary life. One morning the news travels through the city like wildfire -- three American backpackers foolish enough to camp on Ela beach were found at first light, slaughtered. One faction of gossips insist it was criminals, the other blames crocodiles, even though neither possibility makes complete sense. It was ol pukpuk, Kallie thinks, but not the kind everyone else means.
She's afraid to go, but she has to. She climbs out the window down the hall in her bare feet, finds the boots she left under a bush earlier in the day. Kallie stays out longer than she should, but she kills three vampires, her most for one night. On her return she collapses into a hard sleep, barely able to rouse herself when her mother calls her in the morning.
Kallie limits her rounds to twice a week, though she knows it should be every night. For two weeks she gets away with her late night excursions, but her luck finally runs out, as she'd known it would.
She drops to her feet in the garden, reaches for her boots. They're not in their usual hiding place. Kallie searches under the bush next to the first, then frantically looks under a third.
"Looking for these?"
She whirls, stake in hand, even as her mind recognizes her father's voice. He seizes her by the arm. "Inside."
The night is a repeat of the first time she got caught. They batter away at her -- not with hands or switches, never that, but with their soft voices and their disappointment -- demanding to know the boy's name.
She has nothing to offer but tears, which she gives them until hiccups spasm in her chest.
Finally they let her sleep, on a cot her father sets up in the pantry. She hears him sort through his tool chest, then fasten a small lock onto the outside of the door. Hears him shoot the bolt -- it's much too flimsy to keep her inside, really, but despair builds a prison that's more than enough to hold her. He flicks the lightswitch just outside the door, plunging her into a darkness so deep she may as well be blind.
She thinks maybe she manages an hour of sleep before her mother rouses her at first light. Neither of them goes to school, however. Kallie's sent to her bedroom to read her Bible. Her mother checks on her frequently, and when Kallie slips into sleep, she makes her wake up. Mom brings her milk with Milo stirred into it, tells her for the rest of the day she will fast. After this she refuses to speak to Kallie or touch her. Whenever she nods off, her mother strikes the floor with the stick her father uses for bushwalking. Shortly before dinner, Kallie's locked in the pantry again, lit by the bare lightbulb, and told to pray.
People start arriving at the house. She hears deep voices, the sound of chairs scraping across the floor, the noise of silverware on dishes. She knows it's wrong, but she can't stop herself. She falls asleep. The next thing she knows, her father is hauling her out, blinking and squinting, into the parlor. The elders of the church are sitting in a circle. A low chair waits for her in the middle. Once she's settled into it, her father tells her these men have come because they love her and want to see her turn back onto the right path. They've come to pray for her.
They start with Mr. Lepani. Grief at Betty's disappearance shadows his features, roughens his voice. He lifts his prayers to God saying again how much he cares for Kallie, how much he knows God loves her. She's heard him many times in church, and knows he's fully able to pray for more than an hour. Tonight he goes for twice that, easily. Tears stream down his face at times, and down Kallie's. Her father weeps and most of the other men, too. Her mother is not in the room.
When Betty's father finishes, Mr. Yali takes up the prayer. Each elder in turn adds his supplication, none shorter than half an hour, most longer than that. Eventually she goes to a place beyond hunger, beyond tiredness or the ache in her back, where she sees the purity of their affection, the depth of their disappointment in her, and all she wants to do is make things up to them, to God. Tears course down her face, unnoticed until they drip on her hands, folded in prayer in her lap.
An hour before dawn, when her father places his hands on her head and begins, "Our heavenly Father," Kallie whispers his name. "It's Whistler." She wants to make them not disappointed in her anymore. She wants to be worthy of all this love. "A man, not a boy, and his name is Whistler." For a time relief makes her cry so hard she can't speak. It'll be all right now. "He sang to me sometimes, and we talked. That's all, I promise. I promise." She cries in big whooping sobs, and when she can catch her breath, she repeats, "I promise." Her father gathers her into his arms and pats her hair.
The men melt away into the night, going to the guesthouse on the other side of the garden to rest. Her father carries her to her bed and tucks her in, where her mother comes to kiss her and sing her to sleep.
Her release from prison is brief.
Word goes out as people try to discover who this Whistler is, but no one anywhere has ever seen him or heard of him. By the time she comes home from her half-day at school, she once again has to face her father's disappointment. There's no prayer meeting this night, or the nights that follow. They no longer make her fast or badger her for a name, but make it clear she will be outside her parents' good graces until she tells the truth. Her mother turns her classes over to another teacher and stays home days with Kallie. She speaks to her only when giving her lessons or directing her in her housework. She takes the letter that arrives for Kallie and places it, unopened, into a box that she locks. At night Kallie's closed in the pantry to lie on her cot.
The only thing that saves her from going crazy is preparing for the big party they're having for the Dawsons, a missionary couple posted to Manus who'll be moving back to the States. Even if she didn't love them and miss them, she'd be happy for the intense activity their stay entails. Kallie and her mother scrub the floors in house and guesthouse, clean the baseboards, clear out every cupboard and closet, wash and hang out all the spare bedding, clean the windows, work in the garden, shop for supplies, begin cooking huge amounts of food. She's never loved hard work so much. It makes her tired enough to sleep. It makes her forget for moments at a time how constricted her life is, how separate she is from her family -- makes her forget briefly that she's a slayer. It makes her almost happy.
But the denial of her calling makes her restless -- more than restless. In the first moments when she's locked in at night, her limbs burn with the need to kick the door in and go do what she's meant to. The day her mother has errands Kallie can't tag along on is the worst. She locks her in the pantry, and all it takes is the sound of the bolt shooting home to send her right back to that sleep-deprived state of desperation that yielded up Whistler's name. Alone in her small cell, she weeps and prays and calls out to her father and Mr. Lepani and God to help her. She wishes she were stronger, but she's cracking up and she knows it. She sings to give herself courage: This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.... Somehow she falls asleep before her mother comes home, saving herself the indignity of babbling about vampires and demons when she's freed.
Then, three days before the Dawsons arrive, things go back to something like normal. She doesn't return to school, but she's allowed to sleep in her own bed again. Her mother smiles and hugs her again, and chats with her as they dice sweet potatoes, make coconut cream, make banana-leaf packets to cook in the mumu her father has dug outside. Initially Kallie barely remembers how to respond to such simple interactions. She's shaky and close to tears at first, but over the next couple of days she feels more and more like her old self -- the obedient self, before the false angel and Whistler. The dreams have finally let her go. Instead she dreams of blue, of seawater like silk against her skin.
The day the Dawsons are due, the kitchen is filled with women from their church and churches from surrounding villages. An hour before their arrival, Kallie and her mom leave the pot-watching to them and go change into their company clothes. Kallie puts on a long flowered skirt and a pink tee shirt. She brushes her hair until it shines. When she was a child she would have gone to the air field to watch her father's light plane touch down and greet their guests, but now she's one of the women of the household, so she stays.
But when Daddy's jeep pulls up in front of the house, she's a small girl again. She runs from the house and into Mrs. Dawson's arms, crying a little and saying how much she's missed her.
For the next several days people flow through her home. As one of the eldest of the children, she is entitled to sleep on the cot instead of the floor, while the Dawsons have her bed. There are children nestled each night like puppies on the floor of the parlor and the kitchen, while most of the adults sleep in the guesthouse.
There's music and dancing and stories and jokes. The Dawsons have brought their slide projector and several carousels of the pictures they've taken, which they'll show on their tour of churches when they return to the States. Grownups step into the garden to get some air and chew buai, spitting prodigious streams of red into the bushes as they gossip. And there are long meals -- the sheer quantity of food astonishes Kallie, even though she spent days preparing some of it. Some of the time she plays with the young children, other times she slips into the kitchen to hear the talk of the women.
It's not that she's invisible, not at all. Over these few days, many of the adults seek her out for private talks. They all know her story, of course, or think they do -- she's been on the prayer request list at church for weeks. They're so kind and affectionate to her, talking about things she used to do when she was a small girl, dishing out advice on how a young lady conducts herself, making promises about the special young man she'll meet some day and how she must seek God's guidance. All this instruction might have chafed before, but she's so starved for their company, so aware of their love. She smiles and thanks each of her elders for their loving concern, and receives a hug and kiss from each. Mrs. Dawson sits with her awhile, too, asking what she thinks about her future. So much is going on around her it's hard to focus on that, but she knows her time of enforced solitude has shaken some of her ideas about what she'd thought she wanted. Kallie promises Mrs. Dawson she'll think it all through and write her a letter, and there's something odd and hesitant in her manner for a moment before she smiles, pats Kallie on the knee, and rises.
As twilight falls Kallie goes into the garden to make sure all the children come inside before full dark. A man delicately spits under the aibika plant, then turns and she sees it's Whistler. He flashes red teeth at her. "Mossies are biting something fierce tonight."
She knows what he really means. "There's nothing I can do about them. Stay inside when the mosquitoes come out, and you won't get bit."
He steps toward her, and she backs up. "You've had it rough, kid." His voice is gentle. "It's gonna get harder. You've got to stay strong."
Her heart pounds. The scents of bougainvillea (God's razor wire, her dad calls it) and hibiscus mingle in the air. "I have people who watch out for me," she warns.
"You do. And there'll be more. You'll meet others like you."
"There isn't anyone like me on PNG, you said so."
"I did say that, didn't I?"
"I think you should leave."
He nods. "You're a tough one, Kalindi. Don't ever forget that." He melts into the dark.
Kallie shivers in the night heat, hurries inside. She joins some of the children in a game, but her mother takes her aside just a few minutes later and leads Kallie to the master bedroom. Her father waits there.
She sits on the edge of their bed while they loom over her, looking unhappy. She thought she'd been good enough these last few days. Her eyes prickle with the threat of tears. "Did I do something?"
"No, sweetie," her mother says, and touches her hair. "Mr. and Mrs. Dawson. You know they're leaving in the morning."
"You're going with them," her father says, his voice as soft as Whistler's.
"They're taking you back with them. You'll live with your Aunt Meg in Ohio."
"We've decided it's best. Your cousins go to a nice Christian school, and -- I think PNG just isn't healthy for you right now."
Shecan'tshecan'tshecan't. Her parents are her world. They've all pulled together through these troubles, become so close. She'll die. "Daddy, no."
"It's all been arranged."
"Mommy, please, don't let him send me away."
"Kallie, don't make this harder. We made this decision together."
"Noooooooo!" She screams -- actually screams like someone being torn apart by the pukpukman -- and throws herself onto the rug at their feet. Some part of her knows she's acting like a toddler. But she is a toddler -- her world has been narrowed down to these two people, her life pared down to the basics of eating and sleeping and pleasing her parents. She screams and she sobs in hopes that it will soften their hearts, but her father only shakes her and tells her to stop. But she can't stop -- the sobs have hijacked her diaphragm until she can barely breathe. He crosses the compound to the clinic to look through the medicines he uses there, and brings back a hypodermic. He jabs her with it, and it makes her slow and stupid, and finally she sleeps.
She's still drugged into docility when her parents rouse her in the morning. Her mother helps her bathe and dress, does her hair for her. Except for the Dawsons, all the guests have disappeared at the emergence of the sun. They knew, she thinks. All those conversations were goodbyes, but nobody had let her in on it.
Kallie doesn't have another tantrum left in her, but tears slip down her cheek. "Mommy, why don't you want me?"
"Sweetheart, it's never that," Mom says, but she can't say anymore and has to leave the room.
Kallie looks around her bedroom, checking to see if there's anything her mother forgot to pack. Her mind is too foggy to register much, but she shuffles to the closet. Her vampire-hunting pants and shirt are the only clothes left behind. She reaches up on the empty shelf and gropes along its length in case there's something unseen still there. She finds the copy of Dracula that Whistler gave her. Kallie's carry-on bag is in the jeep with the rest of her suitcases, secretly packed and stowed there while Kallie talked to the series of adults who sought her out. She tucks the book inside the cardigan she plans to take on the plane in case she gets cold, slips them both into her bilum.
Her breath has already started to hitch when her father comes in to tell her it's time to go, but he's brought the needle with him. It stings as it robs her of her feelings.
Kallie's mom is too distraught to accompany them to the airport, and there's no room in the jeep anyway. She hugs her daughter long and hard as Kallie's mind grows cotton wool like kudzu. As her daddy starts to help her into the jeep, a dark blue car skids to a stop in front of it. She knows it's familiar, but it doesn't register until Bri steps out. He's an easy-going man, always ready to laugh, but he looks furious as he approaches her father.
"Missed you at the hash last night," he says.
Kallie had lost track of the days. She hasn't been allowed to go the last several weeks anyway.
Bri flicks a glance at the suitcases wedged into the jeep, along with Mr. and Mrs. Dawson. "There was a crazy rumor making the rounds last night. I hope you're going to tell me it's not true, Mal."
"This is family business, Brian," her father says coldly.
"Gemma and I consider Kallie family. I'll admit I don't know the tru story or the full one, because what I've heard doesn't make much sense. You can't just ship her off like--"
"You're right," her father cuts in. "You don't know what you're talking about. And I don't have to justify myself to you or anybody. We've made a decision with Kallie's best interests at heart."
"If you weren't such a bloody wowser, maybe she wouldn't be rebelling. You have to give a kid room to breathe."
Kallie sees the muscle tic in her father's jaw. "We have a flight to make, and this really doesn't concern you."
"Oh, it concerns me, mate." Brian's conceded defeat, Kallie can sense it. "I have something for Kallie. In the car." Her father nods and he hurries to retrieve it, as Kallie slips down from the jeep.
"Maybe it's time for you to go pinis," he says when he returns, a carrier bag in hand. "It's a big world out there, Roo, be good for you to explore it."
"I don't want to go," she whispers.
"I know." He hands her the bag. "It's nothing much, just something to remember us all by. We finished the hash at Steamships, picked out something, in case it was true. Imagine we were a sight, klostu fifteen sweaty hashmen invading Steamships."
The image penetrates her mental fog, and she manages a giggle. Kallie peeks inside the bag. They've given her a stuffed tree kangaroo. She strokes its fake fur face.
"We picked one with a little extra personality," Bri tells her.
"Kallie--" her father says.
She hurls herself into Brian's arms and stays there until her father gently tugs at her elbow. She lets him lead her back to the jeep, and as he helps her back inside, she whispers, "Please, Daddy. Don't." He doesn't hug her until they call the flight to Melbourne, and by then her heart is completely numb.
Mr. Dawson takes her by the elbow as she shuffles down the aisle of the plane, a perfect sipsip in a slow-moving flock. Her father didn't give her enough to make her sleep this time, just sedate her. They are on the Qantas flight to America by the time it begins to wear off. She sees no reason not to continue being a sheep -- if hysterical tears would not move her parents, what good could they possibly do her now? She takes the stuffed roo out of the carrier bag and manages a smile at what the hashmen define as personality -- its features are sewn on a little crookedly, and he's a tiny bit cockeyed. Tumas homely, but just the way he should look -- like Whistler.
She stares out at the blank Pacific, clutching Little Whistler to her and letting tears run unchecked down her face.
Suburban Los Angeles, United States -- late August, 2003
America is completely overwhelming, from the moment they trail off the airplane at LAX. So many people in the long customs line, so many different people. It's actually the white people that strike her, though -- more than she's seen in a long time, except for the occasional trip to Australia. She still stands out, though, in her bright sarong. The waitman around her all wear jeans and t-shirts with slogans she doesn't get, or shorts and flip-flops. Everyone moves faster than she's used to, talks fast.
The thing she really can't get over is the cars. The freeway is a shining river of metal, rushing along at an unbelievable clip. The traffic creeps in Port Moresby, crawls at 10 km/hour outside the city. If the PMV drivers flew at these speeds, the first pothole they hit, half the passengers would be hurled off the back. But there aren't potholes here, at least not like the ones in PNG.
The first couple of weeks, they're scheduled to stay out in the suburbs of LA, with someone from the missionary board. The Dawsons sleep in the guest room, and she bunks on the lower level of a frilly trundle bed in a room choking with lace. Kallie hates it here -- this bedroom, this California suburb, the U.S. If she felt suffocated back in PNG, here she feels buried alive, under the noise and motion and speed, the constant chatter about stupid things that comes from the TV, the radio, the people around her.
Here everything about her is wrong. She has been judged by Beth, the fourteen-year-old occupant of the upper mattress, and found wanting. Kallie's accent is weird, her hair is horribly wrong, her wardrobe is tragic. Here she is the child her father's letters from the bush addressed -- she doesn't know anything about anything important, like what's on the radio or showing at the haus piksa (they're called multiplexes). Beth grills her on who she finds cute, poring over a month's worth of People at the library. Kallie thinks almost everyone in the magazines, except the real people they sometimes write about, looks plastic and stupid. Beth, the official page-turner, flips past any pages with brown faces. "Go back," Kallie tells her, and she points. "He's cute. Denzel Washington."
Beth smirks and repeats her pronunciation. "Denzle. It's Denzel. Where have you been, the moon?"
She would like to be there now, Kallie thinks.
"C'mon, be serious," Beth says, pointing at a group of pasty, blank-faced pop singers. "Which one of these guys do you like?"
There are faces she finds herself summoning up at night as she tries to distract herself from her homesickness. Betty's brother Daniel, whose face is as beautiful as his sister's was. The matakiau -- his dark eyes and broad smile, rare but luminous. Surprisingly, she misses the homely face of Whistler maybe the most. Whatever he is, he knows her and cares what happens to her, and that certainty has made him less ugly to her, the longer she's known him. She can't imagine herself showing their pictures to Beth in a magazine. Finally, to get Beth off her back, she begins pointing randomly at some of the plastic-and-stupid. That one, whose dark hair reminds her of the matakiau. This other one, with eyes like Whistler's, of a color she can't pin down. And she stands by her opinion of Denzel. "Em i naispela," she says without thinking, and when Beth scrunches her face and says, "What?" she repeats, "He's cute," then gets up and goes into the stacks for something real to read.
The Dawsons speak at the Sunday night service at Beth's church, showing one of the carousels of slides. They invite Kallie to stand in front of the churchpeople in her sarong, talking about the city and her life in school. But as she begins to greet the congregation in Tok Pisin, she starts to cry. She finds an empty Sunday school classroom, closes herself in and lets out all her homesickness for the first time since her exile.
They show their slides in other churches, but they don't ask her to speak again.
Kallie sneaks out at night only because she'll die if she doesn't. She doesn't expect to find any vampires out in this sprawling, sterile landscape where nobody walks even by day. Beth's mother has given her a few things to wear, directed by Beth herself -- clothes she won't be seen in herself, but are acceptable enough for Kallie to wear in her company in public. Kallie hides the black pants and a deep red shirt close at hand before she goes to bed, then rises in the dark to dress and slip outside.
The night air is different here. It doesn't envelop her in its humid embrace, warm, insinuating and vibrating with danger. It feels dead to Kallie. Or maybe it's just her. She's learned to retreat into a numbness like she'd felt on the flight from Australia, while still leaving a part of herself behind to interact with the world. Nobody has even noticed this partial death -- they just know she's easier to deal with. They think she's adjusting.
Kallie sets out for the park a couple of blocks from Beth's house. The usual swings and slides are there, but it also has a wooden fort for kids to play in, with a small log house on stilts. Maybe she can take refuge there, imagining in the dark that she's in one of the stilt houses of Hanuabada, crowded with the others like a flock of long-legged shore birds.
When she gets there she finds she's not the first to have the idea. She sees several figures in black perched on the picnic table like the dark birds massing in one of the rare movies she has seen, The Birds. Kallie approaches them warily, letting the stake hidden in her sleeve slip down into her hand.
They're kids, drinking from bottles and cans sheathed in paper sacks. Red cigarette glow winks on and off at different points, like the lightning bugs she used to see in Ohio when she was small. She misses those. "Who's that?" she hears one of them say. A boy.
"Dunno," says another.
"Hey, fuck off," one of them calls out. "This is our place."
Her heart hammers, but she summons up a response Betty might give. "It's a public place," Kallie says.
"Then maybe you should leave," she responds. She still hides the stake alongside her leg, waiting for the first of them to get the bumpy pukpuk face, but none of them does.
"Where are you from?" A girl with a snotty tone.
She waves in the direction of Beth's house. "Down that way."
"No you're not. I mean where you come from. You talk weird."
"At least I talk polite."
"I know who she is," says a boy. "She's staying with Beth. She's some kind of missionary."
Sure she's some kind of missionary. She brings the gospel of the stake to the pukpukman.
"Ooh, did you come to preach to us?" the snotty girl says.
"We're bigtime sinners," says another girl.
Kallie's tired beyond belief of this. She tries hard to emulate Betty again. "I just came out to see if there's anything interesting out here. I guess not." She turns her back on them, white-knuckling her stake in case one of them flies at her.
A third girl laughs. "She took care of you," she says to her friend.
"Hey, what's your name?" one of the boys calls after her.
"Kalindi," she says. She doesn't want to be plain old friendly Kallie anymore.
"Got a cigarette?" the third girl asks.
"I'm sorry, I don't." The girl shrugs and scoots over to give her room to sit, and Kallie realizes the question was actually an invitation. Tucking the stake back up her sleeve, she perches next to the girl, who says her name is Claire. A flurry of names follow, none of which stick with her.
"So where are you from?" She sounds like she might even be interested, so Kallie responds.
"Most of the last eight years, a place called Papua New Guinea."
"Papwanoo wha--?" a boy asks.
She repeats it again, slower. "It's near Australia."
"Good surfing there?" a boy asks.
"People go to Australia for that. They come to scuba dive mostly. Or trek around the mountains."
"You dive?" This is more interest than Beth has shown her since she arrived. Part of her feels a growing excitement to find kids who want to know about her, not just her opinions on who's a hottie (she makes it into a Pidgin word in her head: hati). The other part fears making a misstep.
"Just a little snorkeling, is all." It's not a productive activity; you can't take the gospel to a fish. "I've gone bushwalking, though, traveled into the jungle. And I go on hashes."
"Ooh, hash," one of the boys says.
"It's--" It's too complicated, is what it is. "It's like a running club."
"What's it like in the jungle?" Claire asks.
"It's beautiful, it's amazing. There's butterflies up in the highlands that are this big." She holds her hand a foot apart. "I saw them."
"Oh, get out," a boy (Erik, was it?) says.
Kallie freezes, caught mid-breath. She's ruined things already. "I just--"
"It's an expression," Claire says. "'Get out!' Like 'come on.' Or 'you're kidding.'"
"Or 'you're lying,'" says the snotty girl.
"The butterfly," Claire prompts.
"It's called the Queen Alexandra Birdwing -- the biggest one in the world. The first one ever collected by a scientist was taken with a shotgun."
"Shit!" says a boy. "That would freak me out."
"Typical white hunter behavior," says Claire. "Blast one for science."
Kallie marshals her bravery. "Do you ever hear any weird stories around here? About people disappearing, or people being killed in strange animal attacks?"
"How come?" Claire asks.
"I -- I started collecting odd local stories when I was in PNG. That's all."
"Not so much here," Eric says, "but the next town over sounds pretty freakadelic."
"Shit, the cops," hisses a girl, and the kids scatter. Claire grabs her arm and pulls her along a back path Kallie didn't know. She pauses to give her a boost over Beth's back fence, but Kallie clambers up on her own, well-practiced from the hash. "Be careful out at night, okay?" she whispers to Claire. "If you start hearing weird stories here."
"Yeah, go!" she says, and takes off running as Kallie drops into Beth's backyard.
Three minutes later, Kallie's settled into the trundle bed as if she'd never left it.
"I don't mean to sound insulting," Claire says the next day, "but your parents are pretty old." She and Kallie are wandering around the mall, after Claire showed up at Beth's, all scrubbed and looking much like a missionary daughter herself, saying she'd heard about the new arrival to the neighborhood and wanted to welcome her.
Sad as she's been, this draws a laugh from Kallie. "They're not my parents. Mom and Dad are back in PNG. They sent me with the Dawsons because they were coming back to the States. After they do some things they have to do, they're taking me to Ohio to live with my kandere. Sorry. My aunt. I sort of switch between languages in my head."
"So why are you going to live with her? Well, I guess you must have been dying to get out of the ass-end of nowhere."
"No, I wanted to stay. My friends are there, and --" She has to stop so she doesn't cry. That would be the end of Claire's interest in her. Kallie fingers a clump of black rubber bracelets just to have something else to do.
"They made you leave? That's terrible. Do you know why?"
"I got caught going out at night. They thought I was meeting a boy."
"But you weren't. What were you doing? Just hanging out, like we do?"
For a moment she's tempted to tell her. Keeping this secret has been like carrying a live coal in her pocket. But Claire will think she's stupid or crazy, and that will be the end of a friendship that's going to be short enough as it is.
"Not exactly," Kallie says. "I just went out, by myself."
"To clubs and that?"
"No. Just outside. I walked, went to the beach sometimes." This sounds unbelievably stupid.
"They kicked you out of the house for that?"
"It's really dangerous there at night. The city has a lot of rascals." Claire's hoot of laughter at the word makes her face flame. There's another word to strike from her vocabulary. "Criminals. That's what they call them over there."
"Sorry. I just think of that old kids show, The Little Rascals. Or this old jazz record my dad has. You should get those."
Conversations switch direction much too quickly here. "Get what?"
"Those bracelets. I was just thinking, with your features you'd make a really cute goth girl. You're way too tan, that's the only problem. But you could use makeup till you lose it. Just make sunblock your friend."
Kallie has no idea what she's talking about, but by now she trusts her enough to say so.
"I could show you." They leave the mall and head off to a vintage clothing store downtown. In the dressing room Claire pulls out her own makeup and gives Kallie a new face, her eyes ringed with kohl, her lips dark, dark red. Kallie looks bizarre to herself -- like a person from a faraway place. And somehow thrilling. "I'd even go for the black hair," Claire says, putting a black t-shirt over Kallie's hair to show her. "I have a friend who does really great cuts. You'd look amazing."
"I couldn't." She pulls the shirt off her head.
"I guess it would induce a heart attack or two. Too bad. Here, try this on." She holds out a black riding jacket and a shirt frothing with lace. Somehow with the eyes and lips, the lace manages not to look frilly and stupid, like Beth's room.
"What's the point? I can't have it."
"Sure you can. You can get things cheap here, and we'll get you some jeans and tees at Le Salveau, and you'll still have money left over from what Mr. Dawson gave you."
There's no problem with the jeans and tees concept -- Mrs. Dawson had in fact mentioned she'd probably want some. "Le Salveau? I can't afford--"
"That's what I call the Salvation Army thrift shop. I shop there all the time. Sometimes you find stuff that's like new."
She lets Claire supply her with things to try on, and she walks out of the store with a shopping bag of mostly black clothes and a pair of black boots. In the Salvation Army, Claire comes back to the subject of Kallie's exile. "They really threw you out because you left the house at night?"
"It's more complicated than that. Probably if I'd told them who I was seeing -- not that I was seeing anyone -- it would have been okay. A friend of mine disappeared, though, and they thought she ran off with someone, and it made them overreact."
"You got punished for what she did."
"Sort of." She doesn't want to go into the truth of it, even in a hazy way.
"That so sucks. What happened to your friend isn't your fault."
Tears spring to her eyes. She pretends it's the mascara.
"You'll get used to that. We should get you some, by the way."
"No -- in fact, I think I'd better take this stuff back--"
Claire turns to her abruptly. "What do you think would happen if they catch you going out here?"
"If they sent you to the States because you were staying out at night, and you still did the same thing... Well, what would be the point of keeping you here? They might as well have you at home where they can keep an eye on you, right? Especially if you scare the shit out of everyone by going all goth your first week in America."
Kallie stares at her.
"You're right," Claire says. "I have no idea what I'm talking about."
She thinks about black hair in moonlight. How much less visible it would be. "Do you think your friend would do my hair today?"
"My hair is horrible," Kallie apologizes. She's perched on a kitchen chair at Claire's, newspapers spread on the floor around her. "It's all fine and wispy and doesn't have the slightest wave."
"You have perfect hair," declares Claire's friend Natasha, "just way too much of it." Her scissors slice through a lock, and suddenly Kallie can't breathe very well. Natasha won't let her watch, not until it's all finished, but Claire keeps making noises of approval. When the cut is finished, they dunk Kallie's head in the sink and shampoo in the bottle of black dye they bought. Few things have scared her this much that didn't involve malaria or pukpukman.
While they wait for the dye to take, Claire puts on a cd from her father's collection. "This is the one I told you about." It's an old-timey song: "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal, You." Claire sings along and does a snake-hipped dance, and for a few moments Kallie laughs, forgetting her terror.
Once they've dried her hair and reapplied her makeup, Claire and Natasha lead her to the bathroom. Her stomach clutches when she sees herself. Her hair cut a little raggedly instead of straight across, bangs falling into her eyes, blue-black. She looks like a Japanese pop star. The Dawsons won't recognize this girl in the mirror, and she can't even imagine what her parents would think. "Ol bai i dai pinis," she breathes.
"They're going to die."
Claire laughs. "Who?"
She stares a while longer at her new face. She's a new person now. A vampire slayer. Kalindi, not Kallie. It seems right that she should look like a completely different girl. "No," she says. "I love it."
Claire accompanies her to Beth's house, for moral support. She's traded the wholesome look for one that matches Kallie's. Loaded down with an assortment of bags from the vintage shop, the Salvation Army and the drugstore, Kallie pauses at the front door, her stomach knotted.
Claire puts her arm around her shoulder. "Stop that. Goth girls can't show fear. It ruins the look. C'mon, what can they do?" She presses the doorbell before Kallie has time to think.
Beth's father answers the door, taken aback at the sight of them. "Are you here for Beth?" He hopes not, Kallie can tell. "She went out to the movies, girls."
"I'm just bringing Kalindi home," Claire says. She hoists one of the shopping bags she's carrying for Kallie. "We had pretty good luck. She's got a terrific eye for bargains." Her tone is breezy, as if there's nothing unusual about them or her host's reaction. She ushers Kallie inside as Beth's father steps back in something like alarm.
"The, uh, girls are back," Beth's dad calls out, as if begging for reinforcements.
"Have they eaten?" Beth's mom responds from the dining room. Her voice moves closer as she goes on: "We have plenty-- oh good Lord. Earl. Virginia. You'd better come and take a look."
"Kalindi figured a new place, a new look," Claire announces. "I think she's gorgeous."
"You look like a devil worshipper," Beth's mother says.
"Oh please," Claire says. "No one would confuse her for a metal kid."
The Dawsons appear in the dining room doorway.
"Look what she's done," Beth's mom says.
Jaws drop. "Are you sure you brought home the right kid?" Mr. Dawson asks Claire.
"Mi bin katim gras bilong het," Kallie offers as proof: I cut my hair.
"I'll say you did." There's a note of humor in his voice -- not at all what she'd expected.
Beth's father narrows his eyes. "Did they make you do a ritual?"
Kallie and Claire both blurt: "What?"
"I don't want her in my house," Beth's mom says. "Not with my daughter."
Claire rolls her eyes. "I can't believe this. It's just hair."
"Why don't you run along home," Beth's dad says. "This is family business."
"You're not her family," Claire says. "I'm here as her friend. And if she needs someplace to go tonight, she's going with me."
"Wait, let's all calm down," Mr. Dawson says. "She's right, it's just hair. No need to get excited about it. We'll just dye it back the way it was."
"No!" The forcefulness of Kallie's voice surprises her. "My parents troimweim mi, nating. And you helped them. Nobody cared what I wanted. Nobody even told me they were going to do it."
"Kallie, honey," Mrs. Dawson says, "your parents--"
"They threw me away! I didn't do anything to deserve what they did -- what you did. Now all I want is to look the way I want to, and I don't have anything to say about that, either? Mi hetim papamama bilong mi na mi hetim yutupela!" She stumbles over the bags piled at her feet and bolts for the front door.
Kallie considers running for the park, but tears blind her before she gets far. She sits under a tree at the edge of a neighbor's yard, sobbing, her head bent to her knees. After a moment someone sits beside her, silently putting an arm across her shoulders -- she recognizes Claire's spicy oriental perfume. She cries harder, and Claire says nothing, makes no demands. In a little while, she feels her fingers tighten on Kallie's shoulder.
"Kallie, sweetheart--" It's Mrs. Dawson.
"Leave her alone!" Claire says. "You've done enough."
Kallie's crying too hard to hear footsteps, but after a moment Claire's grip relaxes. She says nothing more until the neighbor comes out of her house as Kallie's tears begin to abate a little.
"Can I help?" asks a soft voice.
"We'll be okay," Claire says.
"If you're sure. Come to the door if you need anything."
When Kallie finally raises her head, Claire uses the hem of her own black shirt to wipe off the dark tracks of her eye makeup. "Can't walk back in there looking like a raccoon," Claire says. She digs in her purse for her eye crayon and sets to work repairing Kallie's face. "So we go back and get our stuff. If they won't let you sleep there, you can stay with me."
"Don't you have to ask--"
"My parents are cool if I have friends in trouble. I can't believe your folks did that to you. They honestly didn't tell you they were sending you ten thousand miles away?"
"Not 'til the night before."
"Don't cry! I just got you finished." She ruffles Kallie's hair -- it feels strange to have so much less. "It'll be okay. Somehow."
They rise and walk slowly back to Beth's house.
"If they let you stay, are you gonna keep your head down tonight?"
"No. I'm coming to the park. What time should I get there?"
Kallie's allowed to stay, but banished to the sofabed in the family computer room, which she would have preferred in the first place. Mrs. Dawson sits with her on the edge of the bed for a long time, talking things out, trying to comfort her. It just makes her feel worse, and she wishes she were alone, curled up reading Dracula or burrowed under the covers with her broken heart.
She's sick of how this is all for her own good and she'll understand it someday and realize it was all for the best. The goth girl face hiding her own makes her bolder: "I'll never think that, as long as I live," she says. "I'll look back and think about how everyone betrayed me." It makes tears spring to Mrs. Dawson's eyes, and she doesn't care. "I'd really like to sleep now."
She has a door she can lock now, and a window that faces the backyard. After the house settles in, she climbs out, careful not to catch the lace on anything. She walks to Claire's house first and taps a fingernail on her bedroom window, as arranged, and Claire climbs out.
"How are you feeling?" she asks as they walk toward the park.
Kallie shrugs. "I had to listen to Mrs. Dawson explain about how I was going to thank her someday."
"That old song. What a crock. What they did to you was unforgivable. I'm not just saying that because I'm an unruly teenager. I told my mom about you, and she couldn't believe them. We don't have to go to the park if you don't feel like it."
She's getting used to the sudden turns in Claire's conversation. "For awhile is okay, I don't care. Something I'd really like is to go to that town your friend was talking about last night -- the one he said was freaky."
"Derek? We could probably get him to drive us over--"
"No. I'd rather nobody else came. Just yumi -- um, the two of us."
"Ooh. I love a mystery. I'll see what we can manage."
After she promises Derek a fill-up and a couple packs of cigarettes, Claire's behind the wheel of his car, headed east on the highway. "Of course he's running on fumes," Claire complains. "I should have checked the gauge before we negotiated."
"I'm sorry. I'll pay for it."
"Hey, no, chica. This is my treat. So, you created quite the stir with your new self, didn't you?"
"I guess I did." Her looks have never caused so much comment, except when she'd gone into the highlands in PNG, where she was one of the few whites people there had seen. This is something different -- it's more about her. It was a little intense and hard to take at first, but she thinks she could start to like it.
"Where is it you want to go?"
"Just drive around a little. Wherever people might be hanging around, but nothing too well-lit." She lays out a strategy -- if she says stop, Claire should let her out, then circle the block once or twice. She shouldn't stop again for any reason, except to pick Kallie up again. And if Kallie's not alone, keep going.
"We're not going to get ourselves busted for a drug buy, are we? And I have to say, you had me fooled."
"No, it's not that." They cruise the main drags, where not much is going on. "Where is everyone?"
"Too late for the movies to let out. Too early for the bars. What've you got in the middle?"
"I can tell you what we've got in Moresby, but here? I'm at sea."
"What's it like there after dark?"
Kallie laughs. "Early. It's full dark by 6:30, pretty much year 'round."
"That's so weird. Even in summer?"
"Mm-hm. We're right near the equator, that's why -- What about that church up there?"
"AA meeting, wanna bet?"
There's something off about a pair of men leaving the meeting, though Kallie can't say just why. "Park up here, will you? But leave the motor running."
There's a diner up ahead, and people seem to be headed that way in groups and pairs. Kallie eases out of the car and attaches herself to one of the larger groups, then drifts off to the side. The pair she's been eyeing are standing at the mouth of an alley.
"I don't think I can deal with a crowd scene just now," says the taller of the two, a man in a plaid shirt and work pants. "I wonder if we could talk a minute. I'm looking for a sponsor."
"Sure, no problem," says the other one. He's in a suit, no tie.
The tall one bides his time, waits till the last knot of meeting-goers moves past. Then he yanks the smaller man back farther into the alley. "This drinking thing, I just can't beat it." He transforms then into the pukpuk face and pulls the frightened man toward him.
"Let him go!" Kallie shouts, and runs into the alley.
"Fuck off, girlie. Get your own dinner."
He thinks she's like him?
She charges him, stake in hand, and he has to let go of his prey. "Run!" she shouts. The man hesitates, and she screams "Go!" The vampire slams her against a dumpster, driving the breath from her lungs. She scrambles to remember what she's learned from the dreams, and begins to find her rhythm. She kicks, lunges, gets in a hit and dances back. The pukpukman gets in some solid blows himself. Kallie feels the trickle of blood from her nose. He gets her backed up against the brick wall, his huge hands clamped at the sides of her face.
"Yu bai dai pinis tru dispela taim."
The vampire's puzzlement at what she said distracts him just enough for Kallie to drive her knee upward into his groin and again into his face as he doubles over. He sprawls into a pile of restaurant garbage, and Kallie punches her stake through his heart.
She hears a scream as she runs for the car. A vampire looms over the driver's door, trying to pull Claire out through the window. It never sees her coming from behind and falls in a drift of dust as Claire watches, saucer-eyed. Kallie wrenches the door open and dives into the car over her legs, shouting, "Go!"
Claire doesn't need to hear it twice. As Kallie scrambles upright in the passenger seat, she slams the car in gear and shoots out into the street. "Oh my god, oh my god." Her voice vibrates. "What was that?"
"Where did it go?"
"It's dust, I killed it."
"Oh god oh god oh god."
"Slow down. We're okay."
"You killed it?"
"It's what I do. I'm a slayer."
"But it's dead."
"Finished. I got the one in the alley, too."
"There was one in the alley? Oh god." She starts to laugh, a note of hysteria bubbling close to the surface.
"I think you should stay out of this place, okay?"
"No problem. You killed them?"
"With this." She flashes her stake.
"Cool!" Her voice is full of adrenaline-soaked hilarity as she sings:
I'm gonna kill you just for fun, you rascal you
I'm gonna kill you just for fun, you rascal you
I'm gonna kill you just for fun,
The bugs can have you when I'm done
I'm gonna kill you just for fun, you rascal you...
Kallie, giddy, actually finds herself singing along by the last line. "So, do you want to go to a diner that's open, maybe talk a little about it?" Kallie asks.
"Is it safe?"
"You'd be with me."
As Kallie talks, Claire plows through the Farmer's Breakfast at the diner she's taken them to: ham, bacon, eggs, hash browns and pancakes. Kallie has sweet potato fries, which she can't touch after the first couple. She describes what happened in May, tells her about Whistler and the dreams, about her struggles with her parents and with herself.
"This is probably going to piss you off," says Claire, "but I think you're lucky your parents sent you here." Kallie knows anger flashes across her face, but Claire forges on. "They were trying to brainwash you, make you go back to being someone you can't be anymore."
"They just want what's--"
"Listen to you! You sound like Mrs. Dawson!"
"Yeah," Kallie says in a small voice. "I guess."
"And hello, you're about the last person I know who's headed for hell. What you're doing -- there must be something sacred about it."
"I don't know. I don't know anything anymore."
"Maybe that's a good thing. My dad's big in this Zen Buddhism thing right now. He likes to talk about beginner's mind. It's open. That's good."
"You're the most surprising person I've ever met," Kallie says. She tries the fries again, and finds she's no longer too nervous to eat.
"Ha -- while you're just more of the same." She asks the waitress if she can borrow her pen. "Give me your email address. We are not losing touch after they take you to Ohio."
"I don't have one."
"You are totally otherworldly sometimes. Make one up -- I'll set it up for you." Claire scrawls it all out on a napkin for her: how to find her mail on Yahoo, helps her pick a name: slayapukpuk. She writes down a password for her. "I'll set all this up when I get home. You can change the password when you log on the first time." She scribbles her own email address below. "You can check and send mail at the public library, and nobody you live with has to know."
"This is amazing." She looks down at the napkin in her hand, then back up at Claire. "I can't believe how different I feel now that somebody knows."
Claire passes another napkin to her. "None of that. Goth girls can't cry."
"I know." She carefully dabs at her eyes. "Ruins the look."
Later that night, for the first time in weeks, she dreams of the matakiau.
Two days later, Kallie will have to leave her new friend. This time, at least, she has a chance to prepare. The Dawsons, for reasons she doesn't understand, allow her to spend her days with Claire, and she creeps out at night after the house is dark. One night they hang out with the kids at the park. The next Claire persuades Derek to give over his car keys, saying he owes them another ride for their tank of gas. He shrugs and tells them to have it back by one.
"Yes, Daddy," Claire mocks.
For a while they just joy ride. Kallie teaches Claire Tok Pisin phrases for things: bensin for gasoline, glas bilong lukluk for mirror, ples nogut for dangerous place. And terms Kallie's not supposed to know, that she learned from Betty: a condom is gumi bilong kok, to fornicate with someone is sikrapim bel bilong em.
She hoots at Kallie's literal translation. "'Scraping bellies'? That is too good."
They cruise again to the ples nogut they'd heard about from Derek, and Kallie makes two kills before they have to return the car.
She has an ally, just like the previous slayer had the matakiau. That night as she scrubs the goth girl off her face, Kallie's confronted by the scared, lonely girl beneath. She'll die if she has to do this alone again.
When she awakens on the last morning, she feels her heart has turned to stone. Her new things are stuffed into suitcases along with her clothes from PNG, and stowed in Beth's family's car. Claire, red-eyed, comes to say goodbye, and Beth's dad offers her his seat in the car if she'd like to accompany Kallie to the airport. Beth's mom shoots him a nasty look, but pastes a smile on her face and repeats the offer.
"Another vocabulary word," Kallie whispers. "Hypocrite: man i gat tupela maus."
Both girls cry at the curbside check-in desk. "I sent you an email already," Claire says as they step back from a long, desperate hug. "Read it as soon as you can. And be careful of those pukpuk, okay?"
"You too." She lets the Dawsons pull her away and slips back into sheep mode for the long lines and boring waits ahead. Nothing in Chicago pulls her out of it during their two days there, not even when the missionary board hosts take her to the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. They try very hard and Kallie works at being polite, but nothing penetrates her shell.
Not until she sees him in the Cleveland airport -- the matakiau.
She is straggling behind the Dawsons, buffeted by people streaming around her from many different flights. The Dawsons are a little embarrassed by her, she thinks -- she's drawn some stares since her transformation. Shy as she is sometimes, stares don't bother her at all anymore. She searches the crowd ahead for the Dawsons, but he catches her eye instead, standing just behind the security barrier.
She's certain it's him. He anxiously eyes the passengers as they stream toward him. How did he know to come? Has he dreamed of her too? Or has Whistler made an appearance, told him to come and rescue her?
He lifts his arm and waves, and Kallie starts to raise her hand in return, but she's jostled by a dark-haired woman who breaks into a run. The woman surges past security and hurls herself into the matakiau's arms.
Kallie stands frozen, staring at them as they murmur frantic reassurances to one another. He has an ugly bruise blossoming on his right temple. The woman -- Kallie suddenly recognizes her as the brunette from her dreams, the one who has been teaching the matakiau how to fight.
A hand closes around Kallie's wrist. "Come on, sweetie. You don't want to get lost." Mrs. Dawson pulls her away like she's a four-year-old. She puts an arm around Kallie's shoulders. "I always have trouble remembering not to stare when I leave PNG, too. It's not polite here."
"But--" What is she going to say? There's the man I dream about? She turns her head to look back at him, but he's lost in the crowd.
"Come on," Mrs. Dawson urges. "I know your Auntie Meg is anxious to see you."
Her kandere waits near the baggage claim. Her eyes slide past the goth girl. When the Dawsons stop before her, Kallie in tow, she takes in the ragged black hair, black clothes and kohl-ringed eyes.
Aunt Meg starts to cry.
North-central Ohio, United States -- early September, 2003
There's a meeting going on about Kallie, but she's not included. She sits, knees pulled up to her chin, on the twin bed in the room she'll share with her nine-year-old cousin. All her cousins, and Meg's husband Joe, have gone out to have pizza and ice cream while her aunt and the Dawsons confer.
It's been several years since she's seen Aunt Meg. She'd always been Kallie's favorite -- funny, never condescending and always willing to settle in with a board game or play let's-pretend. But she's become like other Christian women Kallie has known: ones whose husbands aren't terribly interested in the church, whether they're just lukewarm or actively against the whole notion. There are women whose flame burns brighter and brighter, in hopes of lighting the way for a husband or children. Mostly, she's seen, all it does is burn the people they most want to save.
Meg has become all angles and planes, like the fire has melted away everything unnecessary, everything soft. Her dark skirt falls well below the knee, and even in this heat she wears long sleeves.
Her kandere doesn't want her here -- not unless she "cleans up her act." She hears most of the argument through the flimsy door.
The Dawsons make her case, repeating much of what Kallie had said about the control over her life that she'd had wrenched away from her. "Like her little friend said," Mr. Dawson points out, "it's just hair."
Aunt Meg disagrees. It's the first step on the path to hell, as far as she's concerned. And she has not promised to keep her sister's daughter only to let her continue her slide into the ways of the world. She's started the process of enrolling her in the Christian school her kids go to, and she knows Kallie would never be allowed to attend looking like she's about to conduct a Satanic ritual.
"She's just a girl," Mr. Dawson says, irritation making his voice carry.
"You're right. And I'm not going to let her make choices that are going to lead her to sin and sickness. I'm her guardian. You brought her to me, and now your part in this is finished. I appreciate your help getting her here."
Kallie closes her eyes. She's been taken from one prison to another, but here she doesn't have her parents to rely on. Here she's in a country that feels alien to her, where her nearest friend who will stand up for her is half a continent away. The matakiau is somewhere nearby, but she has no idea where -- and less idea how to find him. Her aunt's house is two hours from the airport -- who knows which way he and the dark-haired woman traveled, or how far.
A soft tap at her door makes her blot at the tears in the corners of her eyes. She doesn't want to say it, but she has no choice. "Come in."
Mrs. Dawson enters, shuts the door behind her. She looks sickened. She sits on the bed next to Kallie, who steels herself for another speech about her own good. Instead, what Mrs. Dawson says is, "I think we've all made a terrible mistake."
Things are worse than she can possibly imagine, if adults around her are admitting it.
"Earl and I are going to call your parents when we get to the hotel. This can't be what they intended."
"I'm not so sure," Kallie says. She looks up. "Why are you staying in a hotel? I thought you were going to be here tonight."
"Your aunt changed her mind." She pats Kallie's leg. "Come on out and say goodbye to Earl."
She clings to the two of them as if she'll never see them again. Right now she feels like that might be true. All three of them weep. Aunt Meg has at least had the grace to leave the room.
After the Dawsons leave, her kandere returns to the living room. "I had dinner ready -- it's in the Crock Pot. We can sit down to eat as soon as you wash that junk off your face."
Kallie thanks her and goes into the bathroom to repair her makeup, then comes into the kitchen.
"I didn't say trowel on more makeup. I said you can sit down when you've washed it off."
She turns and walks back down the hall, but she bypasses the bathroom and closes herself in the bedroom. No one comes for her -- Kallie doesn't see anyone until her cousin Jamie comes in at 9:00 to go to bed.
The next morning she rises, showers and applies her makeup before she appears at the breakfast table. Joe heaves a large sigh when he sees her coming.
"Hi Uncle Joe." She tentatively goes to him for a hug, which he allows. From what she's heard her mother say, he's barely religious at all, but lets Meg run things.
"Hi sweetie," he says. "Welcome to civilization."
She'd been hoping to have someone to like here, but his casual dismissal of her home makes her lose all respect for him.
"What would you--" Meg turns from the stove, spatula in hand. "You are not sitting at this table until you've removed that disgusting makeup. You look like a prostitute."
She turns and goes to her room, where she reads until she repeats the performance at lunchtime, and then dinner. At dinner Joe says, "Meggie, you have to feed the kid. We'll have the Child Protection Services on us if you don't cut it out."
"Fine," she says. "I'll make her something." She takes out a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of white bread, and busies herself. Kallie waits, still standing, while the kids all stare at her. After a moment Meg offers Kallie a plate with a sandwich along with a glass of milk.
Kallie's grown up the last eight years on Australian snack foods -- she prefers Marmite to peanut butter, which she loathes. But she's hungry enough to eat almost anything.
As she takes the plate and glass, Meg says, "In the family room."
"Aw, Meggie, for crying out loud--"
"She's challenging my authority, Joe. She has to live by the family rules, and I had hoped you'd support me in that."
"She just needs a little time--"
Kallie says nothing, just goes into the family room. The sandwich is gummy and hard to eat, and she runs out of milk before she's through. Jamie comes in and says, "Mom said to see if you want to play parcheesi."
It seems like a thawing in international relations, small but significant. "Sure, why not?"
Jamie's brothers drift in, Matthew and Jacob, and they join the game. At least the kids are allowed to interact with her. Maybe Meg is realizing that, makeup or not, she's not so bad.
The next morning after her shower, Kallie finds her little cosmetic bag is missing. She takes a look in the closet, just in case, and discovers all her black clothes are gone, too. She heads for the kitchen, still in her robe.
Aunt Meg gives her a sunny smile. "Morning, sleepyhead. Have a seat."
"Where are my clothes?"
"I looked over your wardrobe last night, to see what you need for school. We'll go today and get you some new things."
"I have new things."
"Which you won't be permitted to wear to school. Sit down. I'm making breakfast."
She's too hungry to disobey. Kallie hates herself for being weak, but she sits and has seconds on everything.
Once they're in the minivan, Meg tells her about their first stop, explains what she expects from Kallie. They pull up in front of the vintage clothes store, and her aunt hands her the grocery store sack with her things in it. "Let's go."
"Please. Just let me keep them. I won't wear them to school."
"You won't wear them, period. Go on inside."
The saleslady wears a lime green fuzzy cardigan and ridiculous cat's-eye glasses sparkling with rhinestones. She greets them and Meg says, "I hear you take things on consignment."
"Yes, we do. Depending on what we need. I'll have to take a look."
Kallie places the sack on the counter, fighting back tears.
The lady takes the first garment out of the bag. "Oh, this is wonderful."
"It's brand new. For an old thing, I mean. I haven't worn it."
The lady looks at her, frowning in puzzlement. She takes in her tears, now spilling, and glances at Meg, who says, "Tell her, Kallie."
"It's worldly. It symbolizes darkness and death. I'm -- I've renounced all that."
The saleslady gives her an intense look. The glasses don't look silly on her now. "Have you."
"Yes," she whispers, and a tear drips from her chin.
It's an excruciating process -- the lady has to take each piece of clothing from the sack and inspect it, then she writes it down on a receipt. Kallie relives the finding of each one with Claire, how they chattered about what would go together and what else they needed to get.
The lady pulls out a rust-colored t-shirt with sparkles and henna-like swirls all over the front.
"What's wrong with that?" Kallie protests. "It's got long sleeves like you said."
"It has writing in Hindu all over it," Meg says.
"There's nothing wrong with Hindi. My name is Hindi."
"I know," Meg says. She has an expression like she's bitten into something nasty. "How do we know these aren't some kind of religious symbols?"
How can someone Kallie had loved so much become so single-minded and stupid?
The girl pulls another black garment from the bag, holds it up and inspects it.
"Wait. Aunt Meg, that was mine in PNG. That's my funeral dress."
"We'll get you another if you need it. You shouldn't be wearing something with a neckline like that."
"It doesn't show anything!"
"You can stop taking that tone of voice with me. The Dawsons might have let you get away with murder, but I won't."
"My mom bought me that dress, not Mrs. Dawson."
"Keep arguing with me, and you can forget your trip to the library this afternoon."
"I'm sorry," she quickly says. She stands silently as the lime-sweatered lady finishes writing everything up. She starts taking Kallie's name and address and phone number, saying it's required by the state for tax purposes.
Jamie runs into the store, saying the boys are fighting in the van. "Hurry up, Kallie," Meg says, then follows Jamie outside.
"I'm not selling your clothes," the saleslady says abruptly. "I'll keep them here for you until you can get them, okay?"
"I'm not in the habit of forcing people to sell their things." She reaches under the counter, comes up with a business card. "This is a shelter for teens. They can help you. And take this, too." She hands her another card, this with the store's name and address. "I'll hold everything for you, as long as you need. And if I can do anything, call. I'm the owner. Xenia's my name. Here she comes."
Kallie hurriedly stuffs the cards in her jeans pocket, thanks her and goes.
Kallie has only twenty minutes to herself at the library when Aunt Meg drops her off. It takes her much of this time to figure out how to get on the internet and find her email. She prints out Claire's messages to read later and sends her a fast, desperate email, then goes into the stacks where the religious books are so Aunt Meg doesn't find her on the internet when she returns. She finds a fat novel about the apocalypse and shoves her emails inside before she goes to check it out.
"Oh, you'll like that one," Meg says when she catches up to Kallie near the front desk. "It's very exciting."
Kallie's sure it is.
"You'll feel better about yourself, now that you're putting wholesome things in your mind," she tells her on the drive home. "And when you look in the mirror and see a girl who has respect for herself."
She sees nothing in the mirror but a prisoner, reduced to crawling for her most basic needs. When she takes her school purchases into the house, she hates every single thing she hangs in the closet. Her kandere sits on her bed, watching, under the pretext of having a girl talk. Kallie brings up about her penpal Ashley, asks if she goes to her new school and whether maybe she can invite her over.
But it turns out Aunt Meg's church has split, and Ashley's family has gone with the liberal faction to start their own false church. She's the last sort of influence Kallie needs, according to Meg.
Finally, her aunt gets down to the tru topic. "What did you tell the Dawsons about me?"
"What, before they left? Nothing."
"I'm not stupid, Kallie. They called your parents about our arrangement here. Your mother called me. She's in agreement with every one of my decisions. So if you think you can play us against each other, you can put that out of your head right now."
Hope is what she's putting out of her head -- what little she had left. "Mom called? And she didn't want to talk to me?"
"We thought it was too difficult for you, being torn between two places. We decided until you're settled in, you should only talk on a fixed schedule. You're here now. You need to put your energies into getting along here."
"A fixed schedule -- what does that mean?" She's talked to her parents a few times since she left, but not since Claire turned her into a goth girl.
"We thought we'd try once every two weeks. But we'll see how you're adjusting. We might have to make it longer."
It feels like the floor is dropping from beneath her. We thought. We decided. We'll see. Her life has been pulled completely out of her hands.
"We" -- in English it's such a lie, as if she has been part of all these decisions. In Pidgin her aunt would have to tell the truth. She would have to say mipela -- "we, not including you."
Yumi has been stripped from Kallie's vocabulary. There is no "we" that includes her now. Everyone has abandoned her or been taken away from her.
She desperately tries that night to conjure dreams of the people who could help her, but they refuse to appear. Instead she dreams of the dolphin pool at SeaPark -- that she is the dolphin that used to swim within its bright blue walls, but now the water is gone and she flops gracelessly on the cracked concrete floor.
The next few days, Kallie shuffles through her good little prisoner routine. She shows up for meals, well-scrubbed and well-mannered. She helps with chores, plays board games with the kids, makes a good impression at church and the school she'll be attending.
After Jamie's bedtime, she reads the area newspaper and asks Joe and Meg questions about local issues. They think she's starting to settle into her new home, but there's a part of her that's assessing the terrain. The nights have started to call to her -- so far she's managed to resist the restlessness that surges through her. If she's good, she'll be allowed to talk to her parents. That's the only thing that matters to her.
Jamie's a timid little thing, desperate to please her mother, but occasionally she shows sparks of imagination and personality. At first she acted skittish, as if she'd been forced to share her bedroom with a wild animal, but gradually she warms to Kallie. She asks her what it's like in PNG, begs her for stories, says one day she'd like to go somewhere remote and beautiful, as long as it has TV. Her family has one, but all it does is play video tapes.
Kallie can't seem to stay out of trouble for long. As she's changing the sheets in the girls' room, Aunt Meg finds Jamie's Harry Potter book. Panicked, Jamie tells her mother it belongs to Kallie, who forced her to hide it for her. Kallie doesn't even bother to argue. Meg bans her from the library for two weeks as punishment, pushes back her call to her parents another two weeks.
That night Kallie starts sneaking out of the house.
She finds no vampires in her first couple days of wandering, but it's the only time she feels she can breathe, so she keeps going out. In her pocket she carries the two cards the shopgirl gave her, almost like a talisman, but she doesn't call.
She doesn't see how either can help her. What would she do, ask them to help her find a one-eyed man who looks no different from anybody else? Or a homely demon who calls himself Whistler? As she walks in the night, a stake hidden up her sleeve, she tries to remember everything Whistler told her. Mostly she remembers the last time she saw him: You've had it rough, kid. It's gonna get harder. You've got to stay strong. How much harder is it going to get? How much stronger does she have to be? Part of her wants to find a pukpukman out here in the dark, and let the stake drop at her feet as he takes her life. Just let it be over.
She pulls herself out of her despair as she approaches the convenience store a few blocks from Meg and Joe's house. She spots a wispy-looking girl in a dress too light for the cool evening, hovering by the phone booth. Her face is streaked with tears.
"Hey," she says as Kallie approaches. "Can I have thirty-five cents? I've gotta call for a ride."
"What happened? Are you all right?"
"I had a date with a friend of my brother's. I wouldn't put out, though, and he threw me out of the car. I don't even have enough to call home."
"I think I have it," Kallie says. She digs in her jeans pocket.
"I asked in the store. That guy wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire." She aims a stream of curses in his direction, laced with references to his Indian ancestry.
"Hey." Kallie raises her head. "I was born in India."
"Funny, you don't look it."
Kallie comes up with the little gold cross necklace she carries in her pocket and thrusts it at the girl, who backs up, hissing as her pukpuk face comes out.
"Funny, you don't look it either." She brings her other hand around, driving the stake home. "That might be more change than you wanted," she says to the scattering of dust at her feet.
When she climbs back in the bedroom window, she finds Aunt Meg sitting on her bed in the dark.
Meg switches on the light. Jamie isn't in the room -- Kallie wonders if she tattled on her this time, too. "Do you want to explain where you've been?"
"Out. That's all. I walked around."
"I'm terribly disappointed in you, Kallie."
"No you're not. You've expected bad things from me the moment you saw me. I think you're gratified whenever you can find something wrong with me."
"Sit down with me. I want to pray for you."
Kallie slips off her hooded jacket, careful to keep the stake concealed in its sleeve. "No. I just want to go to sleep. God can still hear you if you pray from your room." She starts to walk out into the hall, toward the bathroom.
Meg grabs her by the arm, pulls her around. "God will not be mocked."
"I wasn't mocking Him. I need to be left alone."
"What's that on your neck?"
Kallie lifts her hand, touches the velvet ribbon choker Claire gave her. She wears it whenever she goes out at night, for luck. "It's just a necklace."
"You should have gotten rid of it when you cleaned out the rest of your junk." Meg puts out her hand. "Let me have it."
"No. My friend Claire gave it to me."
"I don't care where you got it. I want it thrown away."
"Why can't I have one little thing?"
"You think the little things aren't important. But Satan doesn't need a big, wide barn door to find his way into your life. All he needs is a tiny sliver of an opening."
"It's just a ribbon! What does Satan want with a ribbon?"
"It's not what it is. It's that you let it become so important that you refuse to honor your mother and father--"
"This has nothing to do with them."
"They made me your guardian. If you disobey me, it's the same as disobeying them. Give me the necklace."
"No! It was from Claire." Tears are coursing down her face now.
Meg reaches for the choker to yank it off her neck. Her fingernails, cut short and straight across, scratch Kallie's throat.
Kallie's hand clamps around Meg's wrist, pulls. The snap of the delicate bones cuts through the sound of their struggle. Kallie's gasp mingles with Meg's. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Auntie Meg. It was an accident, I'm so sorry."
Cradling her arm, Meg goes into the living room to call the police and paramedics, then she rouses Joe. He locks Kallie in her room until they arrive. With her finger, Kallie works at a seam on Whistler the tree kangaroo. When the hole at the back of his neck is just big enough, she pokes her choker up inside. She wants to sit and clutch her roo and cry, but she knows they'd only take him away from her. She gives him a hug and puts him on a high shelf in the closet, then she sits on the bed to wait for the police.
She shivers violently in the cell.
Partly it's the cold -- she'd been too upset to think of grabbing her jacket when the police took her away.
Partly it's the shock of the night's events.
Not a small part of it is fear. Two other women share the cell, waiting for what happens next, the same as she does. One of them, an older lady, is drunk and terrifying, alternately trying to be friendly and ranting about the policemen and her lawyer. Kallie's not sure which of the lady's moods scares her more. The other is a girl not much older than her, dressed much like the vampire Kallie killed tonight. She doesn't seem to notice the cold, or much of anything else. If the drunk lady knows what she's talking about, the girl left her baby in the bus station bathroom.
Kallie's already talked to an officer in a small cinderblock box of a room. She gave Kallie a cup of bad coffee. "You want to tell me what happened with your mother?"
"She's not my mother, ma'am," Kallie said quickly. "She's my aunt. I'm living with her now."
"Where are your parents?"
"They live in Papua New Guinea, ma'am." She saw the officer's blank look. "It's near Australia. They're missionaries, ma'am."
The officer fingered the little gold cross on the table in front of her. They'd taken everything from her pockets -- which came to the two business cards, the cross and $2.37 -- along with the laces from her trainers. She smiled to soften her words. "Stop with the 'ma'am.' You're making me feel old."
"Yes, ma'a-- Okay."
"Why do you have a card for Hope House?" The teen shelter.
"A lady in a store gave it to me. I was there with my aunt."
"You have problems with your aunt?"
"I didn't mean to hurt her." The tears started flowing again. "She tried to take my necklace and it was a present. I tried to stop her. Sometimes I forget how strong I am. It was an accident."
The officer sifted the gold chain through her fingers again. "Your aunt tried to take your cross away?"
"No, it was another one."
"You're having problems with her, aren't you?" Her voice was sympathetic, but Kallie was afraid to trust her.
"She wants what's best for me." The lie tasted bitter in her mouth.
"I know." The officer's tone was curiously sour. "She wants us to hold you here. She believes if you understand where your behavior is leading, you might straighten out."
"Hold me here?"
"In a cell. She may or may not press charges, she wouldn't say. I imagine she'll decide when she's finished at the hospital." She picked up Kallie's things, put them back in the yellow envelope they'd been in. "If you're here in the morning we'll get a case worker in to see you."
Kallie's not sure how long she's been locked up. It's been hours since her talk with the policewoman. The girl with the baby's been taken away by another officer. The drunk lady has quieted some, though it's not much better. She weeps, telling Kallie her life story. All Kallie gets is that she's married a lot of cocksuckers. Ol i susuim kok, she translates in her head.
Finally the officer comes back for her. "Your aunt and uncle are here." She calls her Kayley. "They've decided not to press charges. You're free to go, and as soon as some papers are signed, you can have your things back." The officer hangs back as they approach the big lobby of the police station. "Hope House has a really good reputation, they don't stand for any trouble. You'd be safe if you went there."
There are a million reasons why she can't go, but she doesn't start enumerating them. "Thank you, ma'am. Oh. I'm sorry."
The officer grins. "You're a nice kid, Kayley. I hope I won't see you here again."
She ushers her into the lobby to where Joe and Meg are waiting. Her aunt's arm is encased in a fiberglass cast that goes to her elbow and cradled in a sling. Kallie gives her a careful hug, which Meg allows. "I'm so sorry, Auntie."
Joe pats her shoulder. "They said she'll be fine in a few weeks. They offered her a wild-looking purple cast, but she wouldn't go for that."
No, she wouldn't. "They said months, Joe," Meg says pointedly.
As they move through the paperwork, Kallie can tell there's something in the air, but she can't figure out what it is. The car ride home is filled with things that aren't being said, and she wonders if there are more mipela-we decisions in the wings.
Samting nating -- it doesn't matter. She'll do whatever they tell her.
Over the next few days the house hums with Aunt Meg's activity. Phone calls at weird hours, fat envelopes arriving by delivery trucks, an email folder that Meg locks away when she's not carrying it around. Whatever's going on is big.
Maybe Claire was right. Maybe they're sending her back to PNG.
Kallie tries not to hope, but she can't stop herself.
It gives her something to do with her last days of summer, since she's confined to the house unless she's with an adult. The kids don't talk to her, beyond Jamie's frequent assertion that Kallie's wicked and Jamie knows she's been in jail. Now and then the impulse rises in Kallie to tell Jamie she's going to hell for the lie about the Harry Potter book. She never does -- she knows it's punishment enough to live with Meg for the next nine or ten years.
At breakfast one morning Meg tells her to make sure her room is tidy and she's cleaned up by noon. "Under your nails, too. After lunch I want you to put on the pink jumper--"
"Pink jumper?" She doesn't have a pink one, and it's too hot --
"For heaven's sake, Kallie, the dress we bought the other day."
Oh, right. A dress. Jumpers are called sweaters here. She's more used to Australian words for things now.
"Wear the white top with it, the one with the pink around the neckline."
Kallie loathes that top. It chokes her. But she says nothing.
They're expecting visitors at one o'clock, Meg tells her, and Kallie had better be on her best behavior. "These people are very important, and they're going to be deciding what your next step is." Kallie's future has shifted again, from "we thought" to "they'll decide." Her stomach lurches.
Meg pushes her fingers into Kallie's hair, lifts it to inspect the roots, which are beginning to show. "I guess there's nothing we can do about this."
She ventures a question. "Who are these people?"
"I suppose I can tell you now. They're from a school for girls who are ... difficult. A detective at the police station said his niece had been to these people, and they did wonders with her." The ground shifts under Kallie's feet again, and she barely registers Meg's orders about how she's to present herself to their guests.
So she's to be sent away again -- this time to total strangers, up in Cleveland, Meg said.
She wonders if she'll ever see her parents again.
Meg sends the kids off with friends before the guests arrive, and Joe fidgets in the kitchen. Kallie knows he has no tru function in what's to come, beyond showing that Meg has provided a stable family home for her wayward niece.
Just before one, Meg makes Kallie kneel on the living room carpet as she prays. She'd pray too, but she doesn't know what to hope for. And why should God listen to her?
She lets Kallie up as they hear the car pull up out front. Joe shrugs into a sport jacket that makes him look less relevant, not more. They stand in a knot in the center of the room, pathetic supplicants, until the doorbell rings. Aunt Meg ushers their visitors inside.
A man of an age Kallie always finds hard to determine -- graying, but not old -- and a young woman in her twenties. Meg introduces Joe first, and then Kallie, and then tells them, "This is the director of the school, Mr. Giles."
He smiles, shakes their hands, and Kallie feels the force of his gaze, assessing her, for a brief moment before he turns to the blonde woman at his side and introduces her as Miss Summers.
Aunt Meg sends Kallie to the kitchen to get the coffee ready to serve, then she gets right down to it. Kallie can hear the laundry list of her sins: her willfulness, smart mouth, nighttime wanderings to meet boys, disgusting Satanist attire, and her shocking act of violence when confronted stealing into the house in the dead of night.
"We're at our wits' end. She used to be such a good girl."
Kallie returns to the living room, carefully balancing her tray with coffee, cream and sugar. She is already approaching the blonde woman on the sofa when Meg says, "Miss Summers first, Kallie," like she is some not-very-bright hausmeri. She has been serving her parents' guests for years, all kinds of missionaries and professors, members of parliament and big men. Hiding her flash of irritation, she offers a nervous smile as Miss Summers loads her coffee up with cream and sugar.
The visitor's blonde hair shines so brightly she'd cause a sensation in the highlands of PNG. It's been pulled back into a clasp at the back of her neck, to show off the gold hoops in her ears. But the big cross on a chain she wears is what captures Kallie's attention. In her experience, the larger the cross, the more its wearer seeks to use it to keep the world at bay. It makes her wary of this woman.
Miss Summers murmurs her thanks, and Kallie moves on to serve Mr. Giles. He's not what she expected. She'd thought he would be like the preachers she's seen since her return to the States: men who deliberately cultivate a sense of presence (as carefully tended as their hair), a voice trained to resonate, to make listeners feel it's the conduit of the very thoughts of God. He has a thoughtful air Kallie hasn't seen much here, and he dresses almost for invisibility. From what little he's said so far, Mr. Giles is more soft-spoken than she'd have guessed. His English accent doesn't have the broad vowels she's used to from the Australian expats in Moresby, but it's enough to trigger a pang of homesickness.
Kallie serves Meg and Joe, then returns the tray to the kitchen, as Mr. Giles asks, "Can you tell me approximately when this behavior began?"
"She was still living in New Guinea at the time, so I'm not completely sure."
Kallie hates the idea of sitting in the living room while her history is discussed as if she's not there, but she returns and sits in a chair in the corner.
"Sometime around the beginning of summer," Meg continues. "That's when Diane, Kallie's mother -- that's my sister -- told me she seemed different. She hadn't started causing trouble yet, but Diane said she'd become very moody and quiet. She thought maybe it was related to a malaria relapse she'd had. There were several days of high fever, and Diane says Kallie hasn't been the same since. When was that, Kallie?"
"I was sick in May."
"I hope you can place her in your school. We've tried everything we know, but nothing seems to get through to her. She was undermining her parents' ministry, so they sent her to me, but ... well, I have children, and their well-being has to come first."
Kallie fights back tears of outrage and hurt. All she had done in PNG was leave the house at night, and refuse to give her parents a name when they asked who she'd gone to meet. Meg made her sound like the leader of the 105 gang. And her parents--
Her parents had thrown her away, as if she'd been rabis. For nothing more than slipping out of the house.
It's Joe who hears her sharp gasp as Kallie loses the struggle not to cry. "Now, Kallie, I know it's--"
Meg cuts in. "Stop that. You're not going to fool these people. Leave the room until you're through."
She's closest to the kitchen, so that's where she bolts, running water in the sink to cover the sound of her tears. It also hides the sound of Miss Summers' entrance.
"I can't imagine what you're feeling right now."
Kallie whirls, her heart pounding.
"I'm sorry," Miss Summers says. "I didn't mean to startle you. And you probably wanted a minute alone, but-- I know you're scared."
This is a tactic Kallie knows well. Attempt to gain her trust with that old standby, I can't pretend to know how you feel, followed by pretending to know how she feels. It's a favorite among adults when they talk to kids Kallie's age.
She seems to sense her misstep. "At least I was scared when I went through this, and I didn't even have to move halfway around the world." She smiles. "It just seemed that way. Nobody knows who you are, and you can't possibly tell them."
This woman is not going to trick her into admitting anything. "I don't know what you mean."
"God, I'm sounding all guidancy. I swore it wouldn't happen, getting co-opted by the Man, but here I go spouting the same crap as every stupid adult I ever talked to."
Kallie doubts that.
"Which was not that long ago, you'd think I'd remember." She gestures toward the living room. "I think Giles is about ready for me to do my inspirational testimony." There's something vaguely off about the way she says "testimony," like it's not normally part of her vocabulary. Kallie's gaze flicks to the big cross around her neck, then back to her face. "You wouldn't want to miss it. Career arsonist to school counselor in a few short years."
Kallie feels completely at sea. The breezy, self-deflating tone doesn't match Miss Summers' look -- the cross and her conservative clothes. (Yet there's something undeniably stylish about her modest silk blouse and long, slim skirt, that makes Kallie feel like a lump in her stupid pink dress.) After a moment she nods, turns back to the sink to splash her face, then shuts off the water and dries her face. "All right."
She's not kidding about the arson. Miss Summers describes her "troubled teenage years," including brushes with the law, expulsions from school, even burning down the gym at her first high school. "I can't exactly say that all turned around the minute I met Gi-- Mr. Giles, but believe me when I tell you I wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for him."
Mr. Giles picks up his companion's story, outlining her recent work with at-risk youth in her hometown in California, leading to her decision to join him in establishing this new school for girls.
"Why Cleveland?" Joe asks. "I mean, if I lived in California, I sure wouldn't want to move out here."
"We felt we were being led there," Mr. Giles says simply, and Kallie knows that's enough of an answer for Meg. A calling from God is sufficient motivation for anything logic can't explain. Mr. Giles goes on to talk about the faculty, others who have gone from students to colleagues. "Each has grown in extraordinary ways in the past few years, into very capable adults. We're very much like a family, and our earliest students have responded remarkably well."
Meg scowls. "We're not looking for a place where Kallie's going to be coddled and told how special she is. She needs to be given discipline and order, a sense of boundaries, not fed a bunch of pap designed to build her self-esteem."
"Oh, I totally get where you're coming from," Miss Summers says. "And we're so not big on the self-esteem. I mean, that has to come from doing what's right. We make that perfectly clear to all our candidates."
"Yes, quite." Kallie notices for the first time that Mr. Giles has a bit of a stammer. Again, he's not the polished presence she'd been expecting. "Might we have some time alone with Miss Baker? We must interview each candidate before we come to our final decision."
"Oh," Meg says, flustered. "Certainly."
"Someplace private would be best."
"Of course." Meg leads them to the family room, a built-on section with glass sliding doors between it and the rest of the house. She ushers Mr. Giles and Miss Summers inside, catching Kallie's arm in her good hand before she slips inside. "Everything rests on how well you do here, Kallie. Don't slip up."
Kallie slides the door closed behind her. Should she play the hostess and offer them a seat, she wonders, or wait to be told she can sit? Uncertain, she stands with her arms folded, clutching her elbows. No one says anything for a moment, and suddenly she realizes she's not the only one who feels awkward.
Mr. Giles removes his glasses and wipes the lenses with his handkerchief. "Why don't we all have a seat," he suggests.
Kallie wedges herself into a corner of the sofa, clutching a throw pillow to her chest as if it's her stuffed tree roo. The Englishman sits on a ottoman across from her, replacing his glasses. As he gives her a reassuring smile, she hugs the pillow closer.
"What do you prefer to be called?" he asks.
Startled, Kallie blinks. "Kal--" she starts in a mouse-squeak. She clears her throat and begins again. "Kalindi."
His smile grows warmer. "That's a lovely name. It's the ancient name of one of the seven sacred rivers in India--"
She nods. "The Jumna. My parents were missionaries in India when I was born. Have you been?"
"Not for a very long time." His wistful tone makes her almost want to like him.
"Me too. I barely remember it, but I miss it." Her voice drops to a near-whisper. "And I miss PNG tru." She's squeezing the life out of the pillow, willing herself not to cry.
Miss Summers shifts in her chair. "And now here we are, coming to drag her away from another home. Honestly, Giles, sometimes I'm forced to think fondly of the Doublemeat Palace."
She reminds Kallie of Claire sometimes -- only about half of what Miss Summers says makes any sense to her.
"If we keep on being all avoidy, we'll be here the whole day," she continues. "Fine. I'll be the first to say the S-word. Kalindi, we're here because we have a pretty good idea you're a slayer."
"Buffy," Mr. Giles protests, but he strangles on the next word as he sees Kallie's reaction.
"I don't know what you mean," she whispers, knowing they can see the lie in her face.
"Vampire slayer is the title. But I seem to remember a lot of demons that were not in the job description. Don't let it get around, but we're thinking of getting this shop unionized. There should be a clothes allowance -- you do not want to know what demon ichor does to your fine silks--"
"What? I'm putting her at ease with my friendly babble."
"I could have sworn you were terrifying her."
Kallie breaks in. "Who told you? Aunt Meg doesn't know anything."
"We were alerted to your presence by a gentleman named Whistler."
A snort escapes her. "He's no gentleman. Em i sikibaga."
It takes a moment for this to filter through Mr. Giles's brand of English, but then he laughs. "I'd say he is at that."
"He's a demon. Do you know that?"
"Yes. But he's helped us before."
"You run a Christian school, but you accept help from demons?"
The two visitors exchange a look. "Ah. Well," Mr. Giles says. "Your aunt may have come away with that impression. Quite, um, erroneously."
"Not that we're heathens or anything. Exactly."
He pointedly ignores this, says to Kallie, "Tell us more about Whistler. Clearly you've actually spoken with him."
"He told me what I am. He taught me a little bit about how to fight. And I think he sent me dreams. To teach me more. But he said I need weapons, and a --" She struggles to remember the word.
"A watcher?" Miss Summers asks.
"That's it. He said there were too many girls and not enough watchers. What is that?"
"A who, not a what. Giles is a watcher -- my watcher. He trained me, provided me with the research I needed to fight whatever demons we were facing, kept records, ran interference between me and the Watcher's Council, which the word 'fussbudgets' was pretty much coined for. Except now he more or less is the Council, which is a long and painfully boring story."
"Buffy--" His glasses come off and he pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Right. Interviewing. Point-stickiness. I'm on it."
They ask her how the pawa came to her.
"You're not church people?" she asks again, and they say no. After a few hesitant phrases, suddenly the story is spilling out of her. Her sickness, the wordless offer and the power that came into her body. The terrible dreams, Whistler, Betty. The way she had almost fallen under Betty's spell and let herself be made a pukpukman.
"What do they call them?" asks Miss Summers.
"It's my word. Pukpuk means crocodile in Tok Pisin, the trade language people use in PNG. The teeth and the bumps on the face made me think of crocodiles. They still kill people along the rivers."
Miss Summers exchanges a look with her companion. "It's just beginning to hit me what we did, Giles. We made slayers all over the world -- places where there's malaria and people get killed by wild animals and the culture is so different and complex I'm not sure we'll ever understand it." She casts a wry glance at Kallie. "Here's where you get your first hint that I am occasionally known as Overlooks-the-Obvious Girl. But Giles -- how are we going to find these girls? How do we relate to them once we do? We're lucky this time, since Kalindi's got a foot in the door of American culture and English is her language, but -- well, it's a big world out there."
"I still believe we did what was necessary," Mr. Giles responds. "However, you raise several good points. We should get Xander and the others together once we return, explore this more thoroughly. But for the moment--"
"Right. I'm on it."
"What are you going to do?" Kallie asks. "Are you taking me away?"
"It is most practical to have the girls all living together," Mr. Giles says carefully. "I realize it's a very different atmosphere than you're accustomed to--"
A sob tears through Kallie with astonishing force, and the dam breaks. Relief floods through her in a torrent, crumbling her defenses. She cries so hard she can barely breathe.
Miss Summers moves next to her on the couch, puts a hand on her shoulder. "I don't know, Giles--"
"Would you like me to get your aunt?" he asks, his voice so gentle.
Her head snaps up. "No!" Kallie struggles to catch her breath. "Please. You have to get me out of here. You can't let her know. If she thinks you're not church people, she'll never let me leave, and I can't stay, I'll die tru." Her diaphragm diesels in dry sobs.
He blinks, clearly trying to assimilate a situation that's the opposite of what he'd thought. "Tell me, Kalindi."
She unleashes another torrent of words, this time describing her parents' reaction to her nighttime wanderings, and everything that's happened since she arrived here at Meg's home.
When she finishes, Mr. Giles pulls off his glasses, lets them dangle from his fingers, staring at them. He looks so sad that she's suddenly convinced he'll tell her he can't place her in his school after all. At last he looks up, and Kallie steels herself.
"Kalindi, you're a remarkably courageous young woman," he tells her.
She shakes her head. "Nogat," she says softly.
"How soon could you be ready to leave here?"
"I wish I could go now."
"I think I might be able to arrange that." He asks Miss Summers to go get her aunt and uncle, and tells Kallie if she feels moved to cry again, not to hesitate.
She nods as Meg and Joe enter the family room, and Mr. Giles gets to his feet. "I believe we can help your niece, Mrs. Henderson." His tone is crisp, authoritarian, more what Kallie had been expecting all along. "I've found the best way to go about this is to remove the child from the home immediately. Less histrionics that way, fewer opportunities for manipulative behavior."
Her kandere eyes her. "That makes sense to me. A clean cut heals best, doesn't it?"
Tears start flowing again.
"Miss Summers, why don't you help Kalindi pack her things. I have some matters to discuss with her family."
"I'm on it," she says, and takes Kallie's hand as if she's a child.
Miss Summers sits on the bed, absently stroking the tree roo as Kallie packs her suitcases full of clothes she hates and things from home that will never fit in here. She reminds Kallie even more of Claire now, which calms her some.
"My mom didn't find out I was the slayer for a few years," Miss Summers says. "I had some bad times with her -- even after she knew. So bad I ran away from home for an entire summer. Which felt a lot like being banished, actually. But it wasn't the same. I could go back, all it took was a bus ticket. I can't imagine what this is like."
"They won't even let me talk to my parents on the phone. Or anyone else -- I have a friend in California who's tried to call -- I'm sure it's her, but Meg just tells her I'm grounded."
"Well, that's going to change soon."
Kallie puts her copy of Dracula in the case and tries to fit her large bilum in on top.
"It's a bilum, a string bag. This one's plastic, though. A lot of them are now." She pulls it out, settles the wide strap onto her head. "Women carry things to the market this way. I could probably get at least a suitcase worth in here, plus room for a baby on top."
"I have a couple smaller ones." She takes up the one she'd left out of the suitcase. "I'll get my things out of the bathroom."
When she comes back in with her toothbrush and other stuff, Miss Summers holds out the tree roo, finger on the seam at his neck. "I noticed a little hole here. I'm not much with the sewing, but my sister could fix that for you."
"Oh, I can fix it." She takes Little Whistler, slipping her finger inside the seam, and teases out the ribbon necklace. "My aunt tried to take it from me. It's from my friend." Kallie slips it inside her jumper pocket and puts the roo in her bilum.
It takes the both of them to get the suitcase closed and the locks snapped shut.
Miss Summers looks around, peeks under the bed. "So that's all your stuff?"
"Everything but the clothes I actually want to wear." That earns her a perplexed look. "Aunt Meg made me take them to the vintage store."
Miss Summers points to her face. "I am visibly refraining from commenting on your aunt. You do see the refraining." She takes one of the suitcases. "We'll stop there, see what we can buy back."
"It's okay, the lady told me she wouldn't sell it. I can get it all back, as long as I'm allowed to wear it."
"It's a brave new world, Kalindi. You can pretty much wear whatever you want, once we make it back to Cleveland. Ready?"
Aunt Meg makes quite a show of being sad to see Kallie go. She cries and gives Kallie a brand-new Bible with a maroon leather cover and gold-edged onionskin pages.
Kallie tries to summon some tears for her, but her heart feels kolpela.
When Mr. Giles returns from loading her luggage in the trunk of his car, Meg asks him if he'd say a prayer before they go.
"Oh good lord," he says all in a rush, then recovers to stammer: "whose infinite mercy makes us all Thy children." He closes his eyes and adds a little oratory to his tone. "We come to You in recognition of the great distance this young woman has come to be here with us today, and the journey she has before her. We ask that You guide us with, ah, Thy wisdom as we teach Kalindi about the work You would have her do. May she learn to take Your message into the world, piercing the hearts of those who live in darkness. Bless her as You've blessed Your daughter Buffy, with the faithful hearts of friends and with the grace to endure difficult times. Bring them safely through all trials, back into the enfolding arms of those who love them." He stumbles to a halt. "Amen."
Meg adds her own prayer, self-aggrandizingly humble. When she thanks God for sending Detective Whistler to them in their time of crisis, Kallie's knees nearly give way. She stifles her reaction.
Handshakes and hugs follow, and finally Kallie is installed in the back seat of Mr. Giles's car. Meg is still in the house, too overcome to walk her to the car, and Joe has stayed behind to attend her.
Miss Summers buckles her seatbelt. "Giles, that was--"
He colors. "Dreadful." He starts the engine. "I bollixed the thous and yous completely, and it--"
"Was beautiful. Though I was starting to worry you were going to throw in Ptah of the two crocodiles."
He gives Miss Summers a look that's equal parts reproof and affection, and puts the car in gear. As the car glides away from the curb, Kallie begins to tremble. She reaches into her pocket and takes out the black velvet necklace, and her hands shake so violently it takes her several moments to get it hooked on.
As Miss Summers --"Please -- it's Buffy" -- promised, they make a detour to the vintage store. Xenia produces her bag of clothes and presents her with another outfit she thinks Kallie would like, as a gift. Buffy urges her to change out of the pink dress, if she wants.
She emerges from the dressing room to exclamations from Buffy and Xenia. "It goes better with the makeup, but Aunt Meg threw that away."
"There's a CVS about every five blocks around here," Buffy says. "We'll get you stocked up again."
"Let's find one closer to Cleveland, if we can," Kallie suggests. She's only been a hare the one time, but she hates to squander a head start.
She receives a hug from Xenia that's warmer than any she's had from Meg, and they pile back into the car. An hour down the road, they stop at a drugstore and Kallie and Buffy descend like locusts on the makeup aisle. Once she's paid for it all, Buffy sets to work in the back seat as Mr. Giles watches, non-plussed by the whole production.
She sits back and admires her handiwork. "Neat! It's like watching the last ten minutes of The Breakfast Club, with the video running backwards. What do you think, Giles?" He stutters and stammers. "He's appalled," Buffy interprets. "That means you look fantastic."
"I am not appalled," he says in an aggrieved tone. "You look most ... charmingly gothic."
The landscape becomes more urban as they keep driving north, and Kallie finds it more difficult to focus on the conversation between Buffy and Mr. Giles, even though they try to include her. She longs to hug her tree roo to her, but she thinks of Claire: It ruins the look. She clutches her bilum that conceals the roo instead.
She can be who she is here. But that doesn't mean she won't have to live up to expectations -- there's just a very different set she'll have to learn. What if she can't be who they want her to be, any more than she could please her parents? She wonders how long these people will give her to measure up before they think to throw her away.
Kallie's not sure she can meet anyone's expectations. There's nowhere she fits in: she doesn't really know how to be American anymore, she's not Papua New Guinean, and she wasn't like most of the other expats she knew in PNG. Nor was she especially successful as a missionary's daughter. And despite her clothes, she doesn't really know how to be a goth girl. Maybe she can learn to be a slayer -- maybe the thing that sets her apart everywhere else will make her part of the tribe of girls in this house. They can be wanlain, even though they come from very different places.
The car glides down unbelievably wide avenues, bustling with cars but not that many people on the sidewalks. Buffy points out some of the landmarks as they pass: the baseball park, the university. Just a few blocks from the campus, Mr. Giles slows the car outside a row of narrow brick buildings. Ivy twines up their facades and on the huge tree (she's forgotten the names of most American species) that stands before the one with a bright blue door, the exact shade of the SeaPark dolphin pool.
"There's the hacienda," Buffy announces. "We're home."
Home. It sounds like a foreign word to her. She thinks she understands its meaning, but can't be sure she's catching all the nuances.
The blue door opens, and a dark-haired man emerges. She recognizes him immediately -- the matakiau. He hurries down the front steps, but keeps one hand on the iron railing. The eye makes it less easy to judge depth, Kallie knows.
They all climb out of the car, Mr. Giles heading for the boot for her bags.
"Xander, this is Kalindi," Buffy says, but recognition was reflected in his face the moment he saw her. Has she threaded through the matakiau's dreams the way he's woven through her own?
He's taller than she'd thought from the dreams, and his smile is more brilliant than she'd remembered. The mata-- Xander -- extends a hand to her.
"You made it."
apinun -- afternoon. Also used as a greeting.
bikpela mun -- full moon. -pela is a suffix used with adjectives and numbers not related to money. (tupela ai -- two eyes)
bilum -- a string bag, sometimes now made of plastic.
boipren -- boyfriend.
buai -- betelnut. This is mixed with lime to produce a mild narcotic and then chewed.
bulsitman -- conman
hailens -- the highlands
haus -- house. An element in a lot of compound terms: haus kuk for kitchen, haus piksa for movie theater, haus pepa for office
hausmeri -- female servant
kaikai -- food. It's come into expatriate usage, shortened to kai.
kandere -- aunt (on the mother's side; the father's sister is smolmama)
larim mi dring -- let me drink
matakiau -- blind in one eye
mi hetim papamama bilong mi na mi hetem yutupela -- I hate my parents and I hate you
mumu -- a stone-lined pit for cooking; sometimes it's constructed as a pile of stones.
nating -- for no reason. Samting nating -- it doesn't matter
nogat -- no; don't
pinis -- finish. Used in a compound both times here: dai pinis for die; go pinis has come into expat usage to mean leaving PNG.
pukpuk -- crocodile. The usage of pukpuk or pukpukman to mean vampire is Kallie's usage.
rabis -- rubbish
sanguma -- sorcery
sarap -- shut up
sikibaga -- annoying person (which I read as a direct translation of cheeky bugger)
susa -- sister
troimweim mi -- threw me away
tumas -- very; too
tumbuna -- ancestors. Can also mean grandparent(s).
waitman -- white person
wantok -- friend; clansman; literally, a person who speaks the same language you do. (In a country the size of California where there are 700 or more languages, this isn't such a small thing!) Also refers to a system of clan responsibility -- wantok look out for one another, and a salary can be shared among many different clan members.
wanlain -- person or people of the same age or social group
yu bai dai pinis tru dispela taim -- you're going to die for real this time
End This Little Light by nwhepcat: email@example.com
See author and story notes above.