The sun was just about to retire for the night and here we were in an off-road picnic area, with no idea what to do. Tania was in a grumpy mood and I wasn’t much better. I thought about walking back to the Carvers, and if Tania didn’t follow, then that was too bad. Come to think of it--- where the hell were those social workers or Mick? ---surely they would have followed us. I guess they were playing the ‘tough love game.’
‘Hey you two--- what you doin here?’ the guy from the truck asked. ‘You should be home with your parents.’
Tania’s face did a flip. I thought she was going to have a real little hissy fit, but no--- sometimes I wonder at the bullshit she can spin.
‘That’s where we were heading Mister. We didn’t know the bus stopped down the road in that town. We thought it went to New Plymouth.’
‘Tania--- that not---‘
‘This is my big brother Tom,’ she continued. ‘He’s supposed to be looking after me and he shouda known about the bus. He’s such a dumb ass sometimes. You wanna give us a lift?’
The guy seemed to think for ages before he replied. ‘Can’t you see I’m going the other way? I’m heading to Auckland with a load of furniture. Don’t you have a cell phone to ring your parents?’
‘Nah--- stupid ass here dropped it back at the bus stop somewhere and when we tried to find it, it had gone. Some bugger must have took it eh. ---Oh I meant to say we were going to Auckland--- I don’t know why I said new Plymouth--- that’s where we came from.’
‘Tania--- don’t you think you should----fuck--- that hurt you little bitch!’ She had kicked me. It had the desired affect I guess. I looked at her. What was her game? So many thoughts raced around my head. Should I just grab her and take her back to Waitara or should I go along with her crazy little game plan? Part of me wanted to head the hell out of the town and try Auckland. It was so far away and we didn’t know anyone there. What the hell was I going to do? --- I mean----me at fourteen and her just a kid--- we’d soon get picked up by the same lot who were trying to make us live somewhere down here. I don’t know what came over me--- but it certainly wasn’t common sense.
The guy pulled a cell; phone from his jeans. They had seen better days---mind you that ripped look was supposed to be fashionable, but he didn’t quite make that grade somehow. His hair was a mousy, no colour look and his white T-shirt wasn’t. To top it all off, he stank of stale cigarettes and a hint of booze. I know that odour from my old man; not a nice combination.
‘Do you want to use my phone then? I reckon you should let your parents know where you are.’
Tania was having none of it. ‘Look mister—why don’t you give us a ride. The sooner we get to Auckland the better and Mum and Dad won’t worry. They let us hitch all the time.’
I don’t think the guy believed her but he didn’t push any further. ‘Look, I’ll take you to Te Kuiti and you can stop at the police station there—they’ll help you--- looks like there’s no coverage here for my phone anyway--- that always pisses me off in this area--- sort of half way to nowhere.’
Before I could stop her, Tania had climbed into the truck, sending me a withering look as she propped herself up next the driver’s seat. I followed her. The guy spat something he was chewing into the long grass and followed suit.
‘My names Ted--- who might you two be then?’
‘I’m Tom and this is my sister, Tania.’ I had a thought that I should have given false names but everything was happening so fast I wasn’t thinking straight. As we pulled out onto the road, a car sped past us--- I was sure it was the social workers, but I didn’t say anything.
‘Mad bastards,’ Ted said. ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have seen that and then--- hey pronto--- up the road, they are in a ditch.’
‘Mum doesn’t let me swear,’ Tania said disapprovingly as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. I chose to ignore both her comment and my thoughts about the two social workers.
A few minutes later, we saw the car heading back towards Waitara. Tania looked at me sideways as if to say---‘shut the f—up.’ I shrugged, hoping that Ted hadn’t seen the little interchange. We needn’t have worried.
‘You two hungry? ---- You seem to just have the clothes you’re standing up in.’
‘We’re sitting actually,’ Tania said with a smugness that sometimes drove nuts, but this wants the time to air family washing.
Ted just chuckled like he had a dopey sister or two. ‘How about I stop at this place coming up--- there’s a take away that I know does some real mean fish and chips. I know I could do with a bit of a fill up.’
For a moment or two I thought that ted would hear my stomach grumbling. It had been just over an hour since I had been stuffing my face at the Carvers, but, anytime was good enough for me, if it was free.’
As if to back me up Tania said, ‘Yeah, we left all our stuff with Mum and Dad. I bet he’s gonna be in the sh’--- she stopped herself---‘anyway, thanks Ted.’
‘You’re a real swinger aren’t you luv,’ Ted said. He glanced at the side mirror and veered slightly to the left as a police car came screaming past, siren bellowing out for the benefit of no one but the cows munching away at their supper. Ted turned on his lights. ‘Don’t want a ticket now do we----OK---- here’s the place.’
The sun was well and truly gone and the lighting in the little seaside village wasn’t the best, so he left his parkers on.
‘Right follow me then. Are you happy with a couple of pieces of fish and some chips each--- and a drink of course?’
‘That’s real nice of you Ted,’ Tania gushed.
Sometimes Tania can be a real greaser. What the hell--- a feed is a feed. There were some seats outside on a grassy verge, so Tania and I sat there while Ted placed the order. I kept an eye out on the passing cars, thinking that things were happening too damn fast. Part of me like the adventure, but with most things on the shady, I expected a bite on the bum real soon.
‘Ah---- don’t ya love that smell? You can’t beat it I reckon---- nothing like the good old greasy fish and chips lark.’ Ted sat down and opened up the steaming package. It was getting a bot cold sitting outside and neither Tania nor I had real warm clothing on. Ted must have noticed.
‘Do you two want to eat tis in the truck--- you look a bit cold.’
‘It’s alright ted,’ I said. ‘We don’t want to go mucking up your truck. That was a bit rich because Ted’s truck looked like a rubbish dump just behind the driver’s seat.
‘OK then, we’ll eat this and we should be in Te Kuiti in a few hours. I don’t really like driving this rig over Mount messenger at night--- but I don’t have much choice. The owner of that stuff in the back says he needs it first thing in the morning.’
Tania actually shut up for about ten minutes. I think she was hungry. I didn’t remember her eating much back at the Carvers. She was probably hatching out the plans for this latest escapade. Finally Ted rolled up the rubbish and threw it in the bin. ‘Bring your drinks with you and we’ll be off then.’
‘Thanks ted--- that was cool. We haven’t had Fish and chips for ages. Mum didn’t have much money after Dad le---I mean, you know--- times are tough.’
‘I looked at Ted, wondering if he noticed Tania’s little give away. He didn’t show any sign so I nudged Tania under the table and she got the point. For someone so young she was getting a damn sight too wordy. Where the hell she got her ideas from, I don’t know.
‘If you two want to sleep, that’s fine with me. I don’t particularly like this part of the trip,’ Ted said, making me feel a little nervous. Was he a truck driver or not? Come to think of it, he looked a bit fazed when the police car shot past us too.
Ted put the heater on once we were underway. The cabin soon became a tad stuffy, so Tania was the first to drop off. Ted prattled on about the trip north and I was soon bored with the conversation. I decided to pretend to sleep. He was going on about his sister been like Tania when I actually dropped off. I dreamed of police cars chasing us and being arrested for stealing money from the take away place. I even vividly saw a cell door crashing shut as we were shoved in. The crash was real, but not a cell door.
I must have passed out and my head felt like I’d been bashing it against the proverbial brick wall. I could hear someone moaning nearby. What the hell had happened? The last thing I remember was being in a truck with Tania. Where was she--? We must have crashed, but where was the truck and that guy--- Ted? Tania was few metres away from me, close to a stream flowing through----WHAT!
The trees were a funny colour. Jesus--- the crash really did bugger up my head. God---‘Tania--- are you OK?’ She was barely moving. I tried to stand--- it took a moment or two, but once I was on my feet, the pain in my head subsided a little. ‘Tania, answer me--- look at those trees. Have you seen anything like it?’
Kabooom! ---a sound like I had never heard before interrupted my attempts to check out Tania. A flash of emerald green, only on a scale that I put down to some sort of brain damage accompanied the sound and then---Mick emerged from the green light. ‘Oh shit--- I’m in Lula land.’
‘Don’t think so son, but I’d rather you didn’t ask me too many questions right now.’ He had a look on his face that mirrored my thoughts. He seemed pretty stuffed up too. Not only were trees a funny colour, they also moved---well I thought they did. I could have sworn that the gnarly looking specimen nearest to me just got a little closer.
‘Come on Mick--- we should get Tania out of here. Hey where the--- the truck? Didn’t we just crash and where the crap did you come from? This is one mean dream.’
‘Didn’t I just say--- questions--- let me get my head right.’ Mick moved over to Tania and knelt down. ‘She’s a tad dazed, then—what’s that make us?’ Tania opened her eyes.
‘What happened Uncle---ah--- Mick?’ Tania sat up. She looked quite a bit better than I felt. ‘Oooh--- what a lovely colour and look at the water.’ The stream gurgles away like any other but the colour was from one of my old comic books--- a dark red--- blood red. ‘Oh my God--- is that blood—is it from the other guy--- Ted? --- where is he--- the truck!’ Tania searched desperately for Ted and his truck; they were nowhere to be seen.
I slapped my face--- hard. It didn’t help and only brought a rude comment from Mick. ‘Don’t do that boy--- I can do a much better job, but it won’t make any difference and it won’t answer your questions. The last thing I remember was following you guys out of that rest area and then a mist came over the road--- now--- well you know as much as I do.’
‘Are we dead then, Mick?’ I asked. I felt stupid asking that, but how else could I explain these unworldly sights? Red rivers and evil looking trees--- come on. To make matters even more baffling, it started to rain, just a few drops at first, and then a torrential, sweeping downpour. What made that worse was that it itched when it hit my skin. The other two scrambled for cover under a large tree. It didn’t matter anymore if the damn thing was strange, even when it opened up and enveloped all three of us.
‘Now what?!’ shouted Mick. ‘This is getting crazier by the minute.’ That was outing it lightly. We were in a dark place, but gradually our eyes adapted to an eerie glow. I could see the faces of my sister and Mick. They were either scared shitless or the effects of the light made them look that way. I started banging on the inside of the tree--- what the hell were we doing in there? It wasn’t as small place; it was quite deceptive, given the dimension of the tree from outside.
‘Hey! --- bashing that won’t get you anywhere,’ a voice said from above us. ‘Shut up for a minute you lot and you’ll get some answers.’ A figure slowly emerged from a rope that dropped in front of us.
‘Perhaps you can tell us where the hell we are for a start,’ Mick replied. He was way past being surprized anymore--- or so he must have thought.
‘I think you better sit---over there on those logs. That serves as our reception area,’ the owner of the voice replied. He was young, about twenty- something and his clothing was like nothing any of us had ever seen before. Not only that, he also carried a weapon that could only have come from some film studio.
‘So you survived the ‘rift? I can tell you now that quite a lot come through a bit less intact than you. I won’t frighten you with the details’ He smiled—only he thought it was funny. ‘I guess I better let you down slowly.’
‘Actually, any information you give us might go down better than you think. Either I’m pissed or deluded, but please--- just get on with it,’ Mick implored. At that moment, we were joined by another person, this time an older woman. It was hard to tell in the weird light, but I thought she was Maori.
‘Stop teasing them Jed. I think they have been through enough without you making it worse. We better start with the rift.’ Her eyes took us all in, finally settling on Tania. ‘Poor girl--- come here.’ Without waiting for a reply the lady reached out and took Tania in her arms. Tania reacted by setting up a wail that would have awoke the dead--- us, in my view.
‘Let it out girl. Hell, I know that when I came through the rift, I was pretty miffed too, but somehow I think you brought sadness with you. Anyways, it’s from those further up the line you need to hear from now. By the way, I’m Rangi.’
I was beginning to get weary of the mystery of our whereabouts. ‘Look where the bloody hell are we. Damn, a few minutes ago we were in a truck heading to Te Kuiti and now----well, spill it.’
‘Right, just hang in there and we’ll take you upstairs. Up the ladder---all of you; but try not to slip on the rungs. I think you have more enough tumbling for the day.’
I shrugged. The lady was right. I encouraged Tania to put her left foot into the first rung. If she was out of sorts, that soon vanished as she concentrated on her task. After Tania had gone up about three metres, she almost got lost in the gloom. I followed her while the others waited on the floor of whatever the hell we had entered. Tania pulled herself through a trapdoor while I tried not to swing with the rope. A few seconds later, I joined Tania I a room like none other I had ever seen. Something told me that I was going to be thinking along those lines for quite some time.
‘Welcome,’ a deep almost musical voice intoned. ‘I am Luden, leader of this community.’ I couldn’t help noticing his dark green eyes, even in the poor light. He looked right through me. Damn--- can he read my thoughts? I was reaching that point where ‘surprise’ didn’t come with a capital ‘S.’ I take it you want some answers.’
‘Mate---- I don’t even know how to ask anymore,’ I replied, as Mick and the others followed us into the room. .How about you tell us how this room is bigger than the one below—you know the tree should get thinner as it goes up, not fatter----bigger--- whatever?’
‘Yes, you are correct. It must feel like your eyes are playing tricks on you. Suffice it to say that the word mutation should cover you question nicely.’
‘MIck chirped in. He had been quiet for the last few minutes as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. ‘Where the fuc---? Oops sorry Tania----Where are we? I almost feel like I should have said---when?’
Luden smiled, his face crinkling up like a frog’s butt. ‘You got the second part right. No doubt this all seems strange to you all. Do you remember Rangi mentioning a ‘rift’ a little while ago? I’ll keep this simple and say two words--- time travel.’
‘Bullshit!’ I exploded. ‘What have you been smoking you old git? Damn--- you lot should be locked up.’ I was on a roll. ‘Somebody punch me will ya--- I want to wake up!’
‘Steady on young man,’ Rangi said kindly. ‘You are not the first to feel like that on arriving here. Tyr to keep our voices down--- we don’t want the ‘searchers’ discovering our hideaway.’ Luden nodded and indicated four wooden seats, all uneven as if carded in one piece by several different artisans.
I sat down along with the others. Time travel my ass!
‘That’s the reaction we always get,’ Luden said. His expression backed that up. It reminded me of one of my teachers back in--- wherever the hell we had come from. ‘I think you need some proof then Tom---come with me--- I’ll take you all on a little escapade that will put you in the picture. Firstly some explanation about ‘when,’ rather than where you are. You have all jumped twenty years into the future.’
He let us take that in. Tania didn’t react; she appeared to be nodding off, leaning against Rangi, who took her in her arms and laid her down on a couch. Mick had this look that said—you’re crazy man. ‘So that makes the year---ah let me think--- 2033--- you gotta be on something mate.’
‘Come with me--- Rangi--- you and Jed better stay here and message me if you pick up any ‘searcher’ activity in the area. It’s been unerringly quite of late. They have to be up to something. Look after this young lady. I don’t think she will understand what I am about to show the others.’
We scrambled back down the rickety rope ladder and waited behind Luden. He seemed to be waiting for a signal of some sort. He used the time to masker us even more confused. ‘I’m afraid you have arrived in a very different world to the one you came from. New Zealand is not the place you left. We are part of the resistance movement, hiding all over the place--- anywhere but in the cities although we do have our contacts sending us information.’
‘So who the hell are you resisting then, even if I did believe the crap about time travel?’ I said. ‘And as for these trees that swallow us up--- this has to be a dream and I’m gonna wake up any minute.’
‘Patience my friend--- all will be revealed. Oh--- this isn’t a tree and the colours you saw out there--- well they are the result of the great ‘shrug’ the earth gave us a few years ago. If you think New Zealand is strange or crazy, I won’t even attempt to tell you what most of the remainder of the planet looks like,’ Luden said with a sad look on his face. ‘That made new Zealand a place that everyone wanted to come to. The ‘falling out’ was about three and a half years ago. Let’s just say that there are no super powers now--- they are all pretty equal and some sort of a balance has been reached.’
My head was dizzy with images of burnt out, nuked landscapes. Luden must have read my thoughts. ‘Forget those old movies you lot used to watch on your funny old screens--- it was not like that. The world had long given up on nuking one another--- they had something much worse--- their own inability to come to terms with the fact that the earth’s resources were not a bottomless well. We ran out of raw materials and by then, the earth was one huge mess, apart from a few countries—us for instance and for a while, Australia.’
By now we had left the ‘tree’ and were following a path through a vision from a science fiction movie. There were no sounds of birds, just a whistling high above us.
‘What’s that weird noise?’ I asked.
Jed shrugged. ‘You’ll get used to it. After a while you don’t even notice it. Some reckon it is the fragments flying around high above the earth. There were massive fires after the wars and the smoke only recently started to break up. That is where the colours come from--- the water and the tress, reflecting off the Ionosphere-----.’
‘But you said there were no nukes,’ Mick interrupted.
‘Didn’t need them--- the weapons of mass destruction took on a whole new form, with all of those drones flying around. The ‘searchers still use them and that’s what we are trying to hide from now.’
Alter a few minutes we emerged into a clearing and I could see that we were high up in a range of hills. That didn’t make sense. When the truck left the road we were not far from the town. ‘Luden, why are we up here---? You said we had time hopped or something. Shouldn’t we have arrived at the same place?’
Luden just smiled. ‘You really have seen too many films. I don’t know how to why it works---it just does--- and before you ask--- how many of us came through---? Well over the years there has been at least a thousand and then there are those who escaped when the invasion happened. There are many thousands of us hiding in all parts of New Zealand and we are connected by our sat phones. I can tell you that really pisses off the ‘searchers.’
‘Look, who are these ‘searchers’ and where do they come from? You just mentioned an invasion. I’m bloody confused,’ Mick said.
Luden motioned to a large trunk beside the pathway we were following. ‘Sit for a while. I don’t think I can tell you everything in few minutes, but I think you better understand a bit more, before we get to the look-out. ‘I’ll have to give you run down of ‘recent history.’ We settled a little uncomfortable on the trunk, our eyes continually looking upward as if there was an unseen threat. Luden noticed this too.
‘It is good that you stay vigilant, because that is where the main danger lies at these altitudes,’ Luden said soberly. ‘Luckily for us, the drones the ‘searchers’ use are becoming less of a threat as they gradually wear out or crash. They don’t seem to have the technology to replace them. I’ll go back in time for you.’
‘If you’re thinking that the invasion I referred to was one that consisted of armies and bombings, well you’d be wrong. It wasn’t one nation either as such that arrived on our shores. I’m sure you would have been aware of the debate about the ‘Global Economy’ and how it reached into every country on earth and how it threatened the very existence of many countries. Remember all of those protests against the move? They were correct, but not quite in the way they portrayed their opposition.’ Luden stopped, waiting for us to take it all in.
For me, that wasn’t so easy. I had spent a good deal of time watching the news and at school, my favourite subject had always been Social Studies and when the teacher talked about the ‘Global Economy, I was interested, quite unlike most of my mates. They teased me, calling me ‘teacher’s little boy.’ Well--- they did that only once---- a quick whack on the way home cured that pretty quickly.
Luden continued. ‘The global connection was one of people--- rich people, those who controlled most of the earth’s resources and leaders of the big conglomerates. When you think about it, isn’t that the way it has always been? Well--- these individuals formalized their relationships, beyond the back corridors of political power. They secretly schemed and set about moving key players into positions of power. Some would say that the ‘Templars’ of old did something similar, but they lacked the technology to reach out and bring their plans into being.’
‘How did they get control of everything---I mean, did they do it everywhere?’ Mick asked. It was all getting too complicated for me, but I tried to stay tuned in to the discussion. Luden continued.
‘It didn’t happen overnight. They had been planning the Great Takeover for many years before anyone started noticing and by then it was too late. Most of the voices in opposition were painted as loony lefties or Green extremists. One thing for sure was that the environment played a part in the final days. To put it simply, the earth rebelled and by then, the wars had started. The USA tried to play the role of world police and the voice of reason. They convinced the Russians and Chinese to help knock out all the rogue states’ nuclear capabilities, including those of the Israelis and South Africa. Iran and North Korea virtually folded overnight once the worst of the environmental kickback started. Their people had suffered long enough.’
‘Didn’t China have something to say about all of this war going on around them? Mick asked. I hadn’t picked him for a Mr clever ass. I guess you can’t judge someone by their hippy looks.
‘Actually, China imploded a good ten years before the wars started. It broke up into about twenty different mini-states, none of which was strong enough to influence world opinion or economy like they had in the early part of the century. When the environment finally fought to right the wrongs it had suffered for so long, China and India suffered more than anyone. As for Europe; for a while they started to rebound, but once they couldn’t feed themselves, they joined the plunge to hell.’ Luden grimaced as if he was reliving some of the memories. Mick wasn’t finished but I kept my questions to myself. I didn’t want to prove my naivety.
‘So was New Zealand like an arc, sort of damaged but not completely stuffed?’
‘You could say that. Certainly, the group calling themselves the Reclaimers, set about gathering their resources and heading for New Zealand. Initially the Government of the day welcomed these friendly and ‘helpful’ newcomers. They’d been trying for years to attract capital and here they were being offered it on a plate. It wasn’t long before the Reclaimers used their influence to take over. Hell--- they even won an election as the war raged around the world. Then the worm turned. Harsh new laws were introduced and people started to disappear in the night. Riots broke out in Auckland and Wellington. The ‘New Police,’ who later became the ‘Searchers,’ hit back viscously and New Zealand became a ‘police state,’ almost overnight. To cut a long story short--- some of us literally headed for the hills and there you have it. We’re fighting to restore some sort of decency, but even we are now using methods we have only recently criticised the Reclaimers for.’
‘But what about that time rift or whatever you call it?’ I asked. Luden look at me strangely. Something about him was quite unnerving.
‘Well Tom, let’s just say that it came about after my people arrived here a hundred years ago.’
‘Oh no--- so you are claiming to be an alien then? I said incredulously. ‘You do look a bit funny though.’
Mick laughed--- the first I had heard in a while. ‘Come on kid--- how about we try to keep some normality, eh?’
‘Actually,’ Luden offered, ‘He’s not totally wrong.’