I loved Maraehakao as a child. It was my second favourite place to go camping, and it was somehow always magical and strange, as the location would suggest. It is also my topic for day twenty one, given to me by my dad, Charles.
(If you are joining Emmeline’s story today, welcome! It might help for you to begin here.)
Maraehakao. J R Manawa.
Emmeline grew up in the shadow of a volcano. Maraehakao was the name of the bay nearest to the secluded farmstead on the edge of the pohutukawa cliffs that Emmeline called home. Some evenings her father and her mother would take her for a walk through the bush and down to the bay. They would play in the caves at the foot of the cliff, and walk along the edge of the ocean, collecting pebbles and strange shells.
In the centre of the bay, far out across the open waters, the volcanic island never ceased it’s smouldering. White Island they called her, for she remained hidden most of the time beneath a plume of white smoke and steam. But Whakaari was her true name, and she was the largest and most active of all volcanoes in New Zealand. Above sea level she raised her head a mere one thousand and fifty three feet, but her appearance was misleading. From the deep floor of the ocean to her highest peek she climbed a staggering five thousand, two hundred and forty nine feet in total. Emmeline knew this from her geography studies at the tiny country school she attended.
“A gateway?” Emmeline repeated Charon now, as she got off the bus with him close behind her.
“Yes, the white island is one of the biggest gateways between your world and mine.” They were discussing this as they walked up Emmeline’s street toward her house. But all of a sudden, Charon put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Emmeline,” he said, calling her attention softly, and pointing ahead of them with dismay.
In front of the house were several sets of flashing blue and red lights, clear as day against the dark night sky.
“They didn’t!” Emmeline whispered in shock.
Charon didn’t let go of her shoulder, “It’s just like you said. They care about you, and they have done what they understood was right to do to keep you safe.”
“Idiots,” Emmeline frowned, hurt that her friends would have called the police and betrayed her, the very thing they had been asked not to do.
“You would have done the same,” Charon said. “In all truth, at least this keeps them safe from the things to come.”
“But where do we go now?” Emmeline asked. She knew she was tired, and guessed that she was whining, but she was almost beyond caring.
“Come, it’s fine, I know someone who will let us stay,”
Emmeline shot him a wary look, “Who?”
“You don’t know her, She was a friend of your grandfather.” He knew his mention of her grandfather would capture her interest, and when he turned to walk back the way they had come, he expected her to follow.
“What about the hat?” Emmeline asked suddenly, still looking down the road toward her house.
“The hat they left on my bed when they trashed the house? We shouldn’t let the police find it.” She remembered the urgency with which her grandfather had burned the little bonnet she’d found when she was eleven.
“Oh that?” Charon said, surprised she had remembered, “I burned it while you were sleeping yesterday, otherwise the changelings could have found a way back in.”
Emmeline nodded and finally walked away in defeat.
By the time they had trudged through the snow back down to the main road and hailed a cab, it was close to 4am.
“You’ve mentioned changelings several times now,” Emmeline pointed out, after enduring silence in the cab for plenty long enough. Once she had given Charon ample chance to respond, she continued. “So it was Changelings who found my parents in New Zealand?”
He shifted in his seat so he could face her. “They know what a child smells like, and thanks to your real father, they would have known what you smelt like. They aren’t particularly clever though, it took them eleven years of searching the planet to find you, despite actually knowing what they were looking for.”
“But how did they get to my parents? My father – I mean your father – he was strong. Wasn’t he?”
Charon’s face was stricken with sadness as he replied, “You do know what a changeling does, don’t you?”
Emmeline nodded, “The fairy tales I’ve heard say they replace children in their beds and deceive the parents into believ–” her sentence ended short. “That’s what happened to my parents? To your father?”
He nodded, his voice bitter as he said, “They both must have loved you very much to be tricked by a changeling,”
“And that’s why you hate me,” Emmeline finished. She sighed, “I know your father loved me as his own child, Charon. I don’t need you to tell me that because I knew it. But I am confident that he loved you too. If he could love me, not even his own flesh and blood, then think how much more he must have loved you.”