Home from the Homer: Chapter One Excerpt

The shriek was so loud it woke Zoe up. It sounded like it was from another world, and she sat up in bed. Maybe she’d dreamed it. But she hadn’t, and the second call echoed through the small cabin. It made her shiver. Standing up meant the cold of the wooden floor on her bare feet, but she did it anyway. It was too strange a sound not to investigate. She crept towards the door, hoping that—

“Zoe? What was that noise?”

Great. Seth had woken up. And with his loud whisper, he’d probably wake Mum and Dad too.  Then she wouldn’t be allowed to go outside and see whatever was making that sound for herself. “I don’t know. I’m going outside to find out.”

“It’s a kiwi, Zoe. I thought you’d know that.” Dad was awake now. At least he wasn’t telling her to go back to bed.

“It’s so loud, Dad. And it sounds amazing, way different to the Internet.”

“Of course it does. It’s the real thing. Let’s go out and find him.”

“Can we take Chester?”

“No.”

“But he can wear his muzzle.”

“He could, yes. Not tonight, though.” Dad was out of his bunk, clicking the torch on and then blocking the stream of light with his hand as it hit Mum.

“Neil…”

“Allison. Did you hear the kiwi? We’re off to find him.”

Mum sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Sounds great. I think he’s woken us all up.”

“He sounds close.” Zoe slid into jandals.

She pulled open the cabin door, too impatient to wait for Seth. The summer night was cold, but she was already outside and didn’t want to go back inside for boots or a jumper. She kept still, waiting for her eyes to get used to the nighttime. The black became grey, and then she could see vague shapes. The other cabins, and then the glow of Dad’s ute. Chester was in there, and he’d woken up too. She couldn’t see him, but his tail thumped against the side of the ute, acknowledging her. She moved closer.

“Chester,” she whispered. More thumping. “I know you want to come with us.” Another shriek made her turn around. The night sky glittered, drawing her eye. Mum had explained that without the town lights it was easier to see the stars, and Zoe stared, fascinated. It was like a giant black blanket, with the bright pinpoints of stars filling her vision until the mountains blocked them out. She put her hand out, wishing she could touch them.

“A full moon, too.”

Mum was there, and Zoe almost didn’t see it. It was a shadow, and it came and went. She tried to follow it. It was in the forest on the edge of the camp, and too big for a kiwi. Too big for…anything. But Chester was in the ute, she’d heard him, so it wasn’t like he’d somehow escaped or anything. A strange flapping sound made her smile. “That must be a wood pigeon. Flying, to make that sound.” She focused on the sound, not on what she thought she’d seen.

“Must have been a possum. And with the moon like that, it would have made him look bigger.”

Mum had seen it too. “It looked really big, Mum. Almost as big as Chester.”

“Hardly, Zoe. You know we weighed him at the vets the other day, He’s already forty kilos. And there’s nothing in the New Zealand bush even close to his size.”

Zoe giggled. “I don’t know, Mum. We’re learning at school about the Fiordland moose.”

“Yeah, but the teacher said they died out ages ago.” Seth laughed, and so did Mum.

“I know it wasn’t a moose,” Zoe said quietly. She turned away from the forest, the old black and white photo of the hunter wading across the creek in her mind’s eye.

“You never know, Zoe. Could be something in those stories after all.” At least Dad was taking her seriously.

“Dad, the teacher said they were only old hunting stories.” Seth had told her at school he didn’t think moose were still in Fiordland.

“Ah, but there’re photographs! Did she tell you that?”

“Yeah, but still. That was ages ago.”

“Not really, Seth,” Dad said. “Only in your grandparents’ day. Or maybe your great-grandparents. They were hunted up until the 1950s.”

“So, ages ago.” Seth still had a grin on his face.