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Free excerpt: The Ghost of Matter, Octavia Cade

We hope you enjoy this short excerpt from The Ghost of Matter by Octavia Cade, the last in our inaugural SHORTCUTS series of short science fiction and fantasy novellas from Aotearoa New Zealand.

1886. Two young boys disappear in the Sounds. Their mother grieves, all the music cut out of her heart; their father wanders the coast for a year, wanting and not wanting to find any part of them left behind. And their brother Ern, faced with a problem to which no solution can be found, returns to his laboratory – and to the smell of salt, soft voices in his ear, wet footprints welling seawater in the darkness.


The gold was beaten very thin, into leaf. It shimmered even as the room went dark around it, shimmered like the sea surface under sunset and Ernest held his breath, hoped for the absence of salt.

It was dark in the laboratory cellar, with pipes above and below. Whenever he heard voices on the stair, at the door, he’d have to warn them to duck their heads for the hot-water pipe, to take care when stepping over the other two water pipes just beyond. If they slipped in puddles and injured themselves, the experiment would have to be put off while they patched themselves up. Then the readjustment would have to start all over again, for it took half an hour in the dark to be able to see the scintillations, to not miss their presence with eyes too used to light. The worst of it was if they slipped, Ernest couldn’t even be certain what it was they’d slipped in. The puddles might have come from leaky pipes, but he’d gone over them all himself and never found a single leak. Those puddles that appeared in the dark, smelling of salt, would magically vanish when the lights turned on. It made the cellar floor untrustworthy.

Ernest was so careful, stepping down there himself. His knee had never been the same since those first days in London, when he’d fallen and damaged it. On a banana skin, too, and that made it worse. Such a ridiculous accident. He didn’t quite trust it to hold him if he skidded in water, if one leg shot out from under him and bent awkwardly. He always watched out for water, and the presence of gold always reminded him.

‘Half an hour, lads,’ he said. Adjusting to the darkness enough to see the scintillations, the scattered particles, could be tedious, a forced delay but a necessary one in a method that strained sight and patience both. They worked in relays, searching by turns and in single minutes for particles that wandered off-track, that rebounded in directions they were not supposed to go.

Ernest hunched over the microscope, blind and squeezed into position. He had to move slowly – they all did – to avoid stumbling, to keep the experiment from knocking over. He was looking for the little flashes that indicated radioactive particles shot through the leaf had hit the target: a phosphorescent plate, painted with zinc sulphide. Radon particles that by all rights should have hit dead on, like a boat headed straight for home.

The line wasn’t straight. Instead, a fuzziness, as if the particles had lost their way, and Ernest ordered the experiment reconfigured to search further, to see if the scattering was wider than they thought.

‘Do you see that?’ said Geiger, said Marsden, pressed up against him like brothers and the three of them crammed together in a little space and wondering. ‘I think some of them are coming back.’

One in eight thousand, they were: the little particles that hit the gold foil and rebounded back to where they came, as if returning to the source. Some scattered off to the sides, as much as ninety degrees off, but for Ernest it was the rebounders that caught him about the throat, that made his eyes squint and smart in the dark.

(Sitting in the church with Martha, with his father and his brothers and sisters, those that remained, sitting in front of an empty space where the coffins would be if they’d ever found bodies to put in them, listening to the priest talk as gently as he could of souls returned to God, and watching his mother twist a loose ring on fingers grown thin from grief.)

‘Professor!’ said Geiger (said Marsden and Charlie and Herbert). ‘Do you see that?’

‘I see it,’ said Ernest, of the strange, hard scatter that could only come if the foil was solid somehow and at the same time not, as if the gold united and fragmented at once. ‘I see it!’ he said again, and the thrill in his voice was from more than science, more than scatter – for while there had been no puddles on the floor, no salt water and no scent, the sight of scattering had come with a cold small hand, brief and damp on the back of his neck.

‘Don’t jump,’ said Geiger, laughing. ‘You don’t want to tip it all over.’

‘I’ll jump if I want to,’ said Ernest, quick and gruff and absolutely prepared to have his chilly, goose-bump flesh excused by a more tangible mystery, by results and equipment he could reach out and touch.

‘They’re punching through,’ said Marsden, and his breath in the dark was excited, as if he had run a race and come home first. ‘Most of them, anyway.’

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Free Excerpt: Landfall, Tim Jones

The penultimate novella in our SHORTCUTS series is Landfall, by Tim Jones.

Tim is a Wellington-based poet, author, editor and anthologist. His latest book is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry (IP, 2014), co-edited with PS Cottier. You can find him online at

Desperation and betrayal on the border of a new life.

When the New Zealand Navy torpedoes a Bangladeshi river ferry full of refugees fleeing their drowning country, Nasimul Rahman is one of the few survivors. But even if he can reach the shore alive, he has to make it past the trigger-happy Shore Patrol, set up to keep the world’s poor and desperate at bay.

Donna is a new recruit to the Shore Patrol. She’s signed on mainly because of her friend Mere, but also because it’s good to feel she’s doing something for her country. When word comes through that the Navy has sunk a ship full of infiltrators, and survivors may be trying to make their way ashore, it sounds like she might finally see some action.

The twin torpedoes that ended the long journey of the Jamalpur-2 from Bangladesh to the Tasman Sea were scarcely necessary. The old river ferry had been held together by little more than wire and faith ever since they were chased out of Australian territorial waters. Strong winds and heavy waves had put paid to their backup plan of landing the vessel in some isolated cove in southern New Zealand; looking at those forbidding mountains half-choked by clouds, Nasimul Rahman had been relieved.

So they had run north, north before the wind, the ship juddering and groaning with every new onslaught from the sea. Each day there were a few more deaths – not many, for those most vulnerable had died long before. Fewer than half of those who had been aboard the vessel when it made the imperceptible transition from the Mouths of the Ganges into the Bay of Bengal were alive to greet the Fiordland coast, but that had still left over 150 souls aboard.

Nasimul’s wife Hasina was no longer among them. She had lasted through the tropics, kept alive by her hope that she would see land again, even if it was the unmitigated harshness of the Australian continent, where it was said whole groups of people could disappear into the interior without ever being noticed or pursued, if only they could find a way ashore through the frigates and the proximity mines and the thickets of razor wire. When Nasimul had slipped into desperation within a fortnight of the journey beginning, it had been Hasina’s belief that kept him going. But, already weakened by dysentery, the plunge into colder climates had been too much for her. She had died somewhere in the long, hopeless reaches of the southern Indian Ocean.

Wife gone, son lost to cholera back in the camps before he had lived out his first year, Nasimul shivered and heaved up his food and crawled into a nest of damp clothing night after night, and somehow survived. The ship drove forward. The temperature warmed fractionally. The sky flamed red at dawn and dusk: ash and smoke from Australia, someone said. Perhaps the whole continent was burning.

And then, on another night of storm and cloud, the New Zealand Navy came, destroyers surging over the eastern horizon. There was no point in running, and nowhere to run. The Jamalpur-2 wallowed in the waves and waited for the end, while the people aboard made for the last slender hope, the lifeboats.

No self-respecting Bangladeshi river ferry sailed without at least twice the number of passengers it was rated for. But death, nipping at their heels the whole way, had achieved what no government functionary had ever been able to and reduced the number of passengers on the ferry to almost exactly the number it was allowed to carry. So there were almost enough lifeboat places for them all: if they had been fit, if they had been healthy, if the ferry had run into trouble on the flat reaches of the Lakhya or the Meghna or the Ganges. Now, it was the sick carrying the sicker, the injured carrying the half-dead, and the grey wolves of the sea bearing down on their prey.

The davits won’t work, thought Nasimul, eyeing up the rusted metal winches and the rusted chains that held the lifeboats high above the water. Yet all but one worked, each casting its freight of lives upon the waters. It was Nasimul’s good fortune that he was in the lifeboat that failed to deploy. He was working to free it, precariously perched on the lifeboat davit itself, when he glanced downwards and saw the straight track through the curving waters. Before he could nerve himself to jump, the Jamalpur-2 took matters out of his hands, throwing him into the water as it shuddered and began to break up from the force of the first and then the second explosion as the New Zealand Navy’s torpedoes did their deadly work.

Nasimul was a strong swimmer. He was born over water in his family’s tiny hut, perched on stilts above the banks of the mighty Lakhya, and he had been around and in water all his life. But this was like nothing he had ever experienced, and the first shock of cold and salt as he went under was almost too much for him. He struggled his way back to the surface and found himself clutching at something: a body. It was missing a leg. Floating beside the body was a curving length of wood from a lifeboat – perhaps the lifeboat he had been trying to launch. It was about two metres long and a little less than half as wide.

Nasimul managed to turn it over so that the concave side was upwards. It floated like the world’s smallest and least safe canoe. He clambered aboard his impromptu vessel and, despite how cold and damp he was, despite his left hand and right leg trailing in the water, despite the cries that drifted across the water from the boats and the machine-gun fire that silenced them, boat after boat after boat, he fell asleep. The cries grew fewer and the bursts of machine-gun fire less frequent, until both stopped altogether. The Navy returned to base. Night fell. Wind and tide and current took Nasimul Rahman and swept him towards shore.

Subscribe to SHORTCUTS for NZ $3.33/month to receive Landfall at the special subscriber’s price, along with the final SHORTCUTS novella in September | Purchase at Amazon | Purchase at Kobo 

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Free excerpt: POCKET WIFE, IK Paterson-Harkness

The fourth novella in our SHORTCUTS series is Pocket Wife, by IK Paterson-Harkness.

IK Paterson-Harkness is a currently Auckland-based, previously Dunedin-resident writer of prose and poetry who can be found online at and @IKPatersonHark.

Carl’s work requires him to travel extensively, but he and his wife Jenny stay connected through their Tinys – four-inch-tall replicas of themselves which, when turned on, transmit whatever sensory information they are receiving directly into their living counterparts’ minds. Through his Tiny, which Jenny keeps close beside her in Auckland, Carl can see his wife, speak to her, even feel her touch. But when Jenny’s Tiny malfunctions and she can’t turn herself off, Carl has a major problem. He’s having an affair, and he’d rather his wife wasn’t around.

I felt behind my ear, found the little switch and turned it on. Jenny hadn’t activated my Tiny yet, but I figured I’d lie back and wait. It pays to sit still until it happens. I leaned back against the V-shaped pillow and stared at the light shade. I couldn’t help toying with the switch, and poking at the outline of the plastic disc, which lay flat beneath my skin. I’d been worried they’d have to drill through bone but when I’d expressed my concern to the technician he’d laughed. ‘The sensors are highly tuned,’ he’d said. ‘They pick it all up from outside the skull.’

The light shade was white, round, and smooth as a pickled onion. Seems everything’s getting smoother and rounder. Gone are the good old days when you could retire to your hotel after a long day at work and sink into a decent, squishy sofa. These days you sit down and slide right off. I glanced at the fridge – thought about the Indian Pale I had in there, the condensation misting the cold glass, the sound of released pressure as I popped open the top.

I felt the usual added strain on my mind as Jenny switched on my Tiny, and immediately closed my eyes and tried to focus on whatever it was I was supposed to be looking at. The little bugger’s eyes aren’t the best; the cameras don’t swivel properly. Ah, there we go. Jenny was holding my Tiny up in front of Nico.

‘Say hello to Grandpa,’ she said. The image rotated back and forth vigorously.

Nico gurgled something; it was hard to tell over the sound of whooshing air.

‘It’s your Grandpa!’ Jenny squealed. ‘Your Grandpa!’

‘Stop waggling me around!’ I called. I could hear my own voice coming from my Tiny’s speakers – the same, but not quite.

‘Sorry,’ she said, and the room suddenly stabilised. A monstrous baby’s hand reached towards my face and I braced against the hotel pillows.

‘That’s right,’ Jenny cooed. ‘He’s far, far away.’

Nico slapped the highchair tray with his palms, and Jenny pushed me right up into his snotty face.

‘Christ, that’s enough,’ I said, opening my eyes. The onion-shaped light shade was clearly visible through the now semi-opaque image of Nico. It looked like he had a third eye, right in the middle of his forehead. I stood up and inched towards the fridge, trying to concentrate on the hard lines of the hotel room. By the time I got back to the bed my head ached. I used a pillow to stifle the sound of the beer being opened, then lay back, closed my eyes again, and took a sip.

Jenny had propped my Tiny up on top of the kitchen bench back home, facing the sink, a chopping board, and a knife the length of a cricket pitch. Outside the window the sky was a deep blue. Sparrows and wax-eyes of pterodactyl proportions flew in and out of my vision. Jenny had bought the bird feeder a few years previously, had insisted I nail it to the fence. They made a hell of a mess, those birds, but Jenny loved to watch them. I could just make out the sound of cicadas. But I was cold. Damned cold, actually, like I was lying on snow.

‘Jenny, where on earth did you put my Tiny?’ I called.

She came back into view, carrying a bag of potatoes.

‘I’ve switched myself on,’ she said.

‘You’ve got to be joking.’

‘I told Rach I’d prepare some meals for Nico, which she can take home.’

‘Don’t be stupid. You’ll chop off one of your fingers. We don’t need to both be on. And why am I freezing here?’

I had a brief glimpse of the ceiling before she repositioned my Tiny.

‘Sorry. Frozen peas,’ she said. I presumed she’d pressed her hand against my Tiny’s back, since the cold became less.

‘Turn me on, Carl. You know I like to see where you are. I feel disconnected…’

I grumbled as I leaned over to the bedside drawer and pulled out her Tiny. About four inches tall, the thing had been made in her exact likeness. The brown eyes stared blankly. I carefully gripped the tiny left ankle between thumb and forefinger, starting to make the twist, then remembered the beer and quickly placed it on the floor where it couldn’t be spotted. I twisted the ankle and her Tiny’s eyes swivelled to look at my face.

‘You haven’t shaved today,’ Jenny said. Twice. The voice in my mind – heard by my Tiny on the other side of the world – and the voice coming from the speaker inside her Tiny’s chest. Sometimes the voices were in sync.

Her Tiny began to feel warm, and I placed it on the pillow, facing me.

‘I’ll shave tomorrow.’

‘You know it makes a difference.’

I had the usual dilemma. Did I close my eyes and watch what Jenny was doing back home, or did I keep them open and look at her Tiny? If I closed them, I’d have the relief of only one image to focus on, but her Tiny would be staring at my closed eyes, and Jenny didn’t like that. Really the whole system was flawed.

‘Rach is at a job interview.’

Her Tiny was looking at me so intently. The lips didn’t move, but the voice came out all the same.

‘What job?’

‘At the high school down the road from where she lives. They want someone to look after the plants. It’s a gardening job, really. It might involve a bit of heavy lifting, which I’m worried about, but it’s only fifteen hours. She wants to start Nico at day care a couple of days per week. She says she needs to get out of the house. I told her I’d look after him, but she’s dead set on day care.’

I became aware of a knocking noise and closed my eyes. Jenny was chopping the potatoes with her own eyes closed.

‘She’s not built for heavy lifting,’ she continued. Her grey-auburn hair was tied in a loose plait, her cuffs rolled up. ‘I told her she should do a course. She was so good at science when she was at school. She could do pharmacology, or study to be a radiologist.’

‘A radiologist?’

‘Sue’s niece did some courses at university, and she’s a radiologist now. Rach could do so much better than gardening.’

‘Let her work it out for herself.’

I opened my eyes and the thing was still looking at me. It didn’t smile. Didn’t move at all – no muscles, I suppose. I never properly learned the science of it. All I knew was that there were sensors on my Tiny’s body, and cameras in the eyes and what-have-you, and that somehow, through satellites I suppose, the information was sent to my brain. When Jenny touched my Tiny it was like being poked through a thick blanket. The newer models can smell, and have a better sense of physical touch – or so the pop-ups claim. It’s probably only a matter of time before they’re walking around, creating havoc of their own.

The Tinys arrived from the manufacturers in their boxes, naked. We hadn’t expected that. There’s nothing more sobering that seeing your silver pubic hairs copied in minute detail. Jenny immediately took to dressing them like little dolls. You can buy accessories from the company page. Last November she dressed my Tiny in a Halloween costume and surprised me by holding it up in front of the mirror. There I was, dressed like an English schoolboy, and there was nothing much I could do about it.

‘Jenny love,’ I cut in. She was still complaining about Rachel. ‘I’m meeting Michel soon – the Chief Financial Officer. He wants me to go over some figures with him.’

‘So late?’

‘He’s a very busy man. I should shower.’

‘Okay…’ She sighed, the noise at my end coming out like static. ‘Make sure you shave. And dress warmly, dear. You don’t want to catch another cold.’

‘I will. See you the same time tomorrow.’ I switched off the switch behind my ear and reached for her Tiny. I rubbed its back with my finger. I knew Jenny would still be in there, would be switched on right to the last second, but I couldn’t speak to the thing. As soon as I’d twisted its ankle I chucked it back in the drawer, and slammed the drawer shut.

Subscribe to SHORTCUTS for NZ $3.33/month to receive Pocket Wife at the special subscriber’s price, along with the final two SHORTCUTS novellas for 2015 | Purchase at Amazon | Purchase at Kobo 

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Free excerpt: BREE’S DINOSAUR, AC Buchanan

The third novella in our SHORTCUTS series is Bree’s Dinosaur, by A.C. Buchanan.

A.C. Buchanan is a writer of mostly speculative fiction who lives near Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Their most recent release, Liquid City, is a science fiction novella about survival and belonging featuring a grumpy cephalopod. Other fiction has been published in a variety of venues, including anthologies from Crossed Genres Publications and The Future Fire. They have also written an MA thesis on disability in science fiction and co-edited three anthologies of speculative fiction, two of which won Sir Julius Vogel awards for Best Collected Work, and are the co-chair of LexiCon – The 38th New Zealand National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. Their website is at

Cam’s ambitions are straightforward: study Business English in Wellington for six months, then return to Vietnam to build a promising career. She doesn’t need any complications, least of all those created by Bree, her host-family’s secretive, troubled, teenage daughter. But when a dinosaur is being (very noisily) built in the bedroom next to yours, and a meteor-strike is threatening, it’s not always possible to avoid being sucked in – especially when there’s an extinct animal in your own history. And one winter night in Karori, Bree’s past resurfaces as well.


There’s a phrase in English: the elephant in the room. As far as I can tell, the only reason for it being an elephant is that it’s big enough that no one can avoid seeing it. Perhaps what’s happening here is something even bigger than an elephant. A dinosaur in the room.

I broach the dinosaur in the room to Sue and Martin. Why is Bree building a dinosaur? Is it for school?

They look at each other, Martin in the armchair and Sue on the couch, a cup of tea in his hand and a phone in hers, conversation flickering between their eyes. Simultaneously, they return their gaze to me.

“It’s just something she enjoys doing, that’s all,” says Sue. “A hobby.”

“So it’s art?” I run through my mental dictionary for the correct word. “Sculpture?”

“Have you seen the dinosaur?” Martin asks me.  He’s wearing a polo shirt with the logo of his sailing club on the pocket, and it’s quite apparent where he’d rather be.

I shake my head. “She doesn’t let me in her room.”

More eye conversation. “We were hoping …” Sue says. “Bree’s always been a very shy girl. She doesn’t have any friends, really. We were hoping that having you in the house would encourage her to talk to people a bit more.”

Bree does have friends, though. I’ve seen her with them from the bus with their tartan skirts hitched up, passing headphones between each other, laughing, taking up the whole width of the footpath, drinking Coke. I saw her in McDonald’s once, with a group of boys and one other girl, flicking fries at each other’s faces. She’s not shy, but a veil descends around her in this house. She is not, to use another phrase, at home when she’s at home.

“I’ll try and talk with her,” I say, smiling, but there’s a hint of anger creeping up inside me. I want to help, but I pay them two hundred and forty dollars a week, and I’m here to study to further my career and I have my own family who need me. Bree – Bree cannot be my responsibility. I swallow the anger. Sue and Martin have not picked up on it, and I think that is for the best. It is important to me that I’m a good guest in their home.

“What’s a good recipe?” I ask Sue, moving on. “I’d like to bake something new.”

“Edmonds,” replies Sue, pulling a spiral-bound book from the shelves and handing it to me. “Real Kiwi icon.”

I’ve noticed how people emphasise things as cultural pointers but don’t explain them, only serving to mystify them further. Still, I’m sure it’s meant to be helpful; I take the book and thank her and she smiles in return and says it’s no problem at all, that she’s pleased I’m interested. Martin turns on the news and I stretch back on the sofa to flick through the recipes.

I make chocolate-coconut brownies. The recipe is easy, almost soothing – one saucepan and then into a tray, the oven. I take some time to myself while it’s cooking; headphones in, idle internet browsing.

On my way back, alerted by the oven timer, I almost trip over something large and white, about the size of a soccer ball, sitting halfway down the stairs. Bree runs out, grabs it and cradles it to her chest, mouths an apology and runs back to her bedroom. I only catch a glimpse of it, so I tell myself it was most probably a rugby ball. Except one end was considerably thinner than the other. Like a giant egg.

A few minutes later she follows me down. When I cut the brownies she takes one from the rack before it’s cooled, bites a chunk out of it hungrily. I think I see the hint of a smile on her face. I ask what’s your dinosaur, Bree? and panic clutches at my chest. I want to hear her say a sculpture, and at the same time, I’m not sure I do.

To my surprise, her face breaks into a clear smile. She perches on a stool, talks semi-incoherently as she forces the rest of the brownie into her mouth.

“It’s a Titanosaur,” she says, “A sauropod, like the Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus, only they came a bit later.”

I struggle to process the words, cycling between the known and unknown, a repeating translation running through my head as I scrub the saucepan and wipe the silicon baking pan.

“Long neck.” It’s the over-enunciation people tend to do when they underestimate my English, but it don’t sound like she’s being unkind – more that she’s lost in her own world with the dinosaur and is unsure how to communicate with people from outside it. “Eats plants.”

She grabs an envelope from the table behind her and starts to draw on the back of it. The outline of a dinosaur quickly emerges, a blue, long-necked creature. She finishes by drawing grass around its feet and labelling it in large, rounded capitals: TITANOSAUR.


Subscribe to SHORTCUTS for NZ $3.33/month to receive an early copy of Bree’s Dinosaur, direct to your inbox this Friday | Purchase at Amazon | Purchase at Kobo (Available June 2015)

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Free excerpt: THE LAST | Grant Stone

Grant Stone’s The Last is the second in our SHORTCUTS series of science fiction and fantasy novellas from Aotearoa New Zealand. Grant’s stories have appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Semaphore and have twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award. He’s also one-third of the Cerberus Writing Band, along with Dan Rabarts and Matthew Sanborn Smith.

Forty years ago, Katherine St. John disappeared – briefly. Thirty years ago, she enacted a disappearance of another sort, stepping not just away from her music career but across the ocean to the other side of the world.

Yesterday, Rachel Mackenzie’s flight touched down in Auckland. She’s travelled to New Zealand to interview the reclusive musician Katherine St. John about her first album in nearly thirty years. But strange things are happening at St. John’s farm and soon Rachel finds herself caught up in something far larger than the world of music.


The Toyota blew a tyre somewhere not far north of Huntly.

Rachel twisted the steering wheel and swore, squeezing the brake and aiming for the side of the road. The car stumbled to a stop in foot-high grass, barely missing a fencepost many degrees from straight.

She was not surprised to learn the rental company had not included a spare tyre. Simon had told her to expect that sort of thing. ‘It’s like travelling back to the seventies, especially when you get out of Auckland. Maybe that’s why she picked it.’

She leaned against the cooling car and listened to the cicadas buzzing their arses off.

Her phone still had a signal, which at this point Rachel was prepared to consider a bona fide miracle. She had already dialled Simon’s number before she remembered it was still three in the morning back in London. She killed the call. Simon couldn’t find his reading glasses on his desk half the time. There was no chance of him finding a mechanic on the other side of the world.

Rachel reached through the window for the map Simon had printed for her. She’d just gone over a short bridge with a long name and it didn’t look too far from there to where Simon had marked an X in blue ballpoint and written KSJ next to it. She grabbed her suitcase from the back and started walking.

The Toyota’s tyres might have been shot but its air conditioning had been top notch. The humidity was jungle-strength. Five minutes walking and she was covered in sweat. Biggest interview of her career and she’d go into it soaked. Figured.


Rachel had been at her desk in Sounding‘s tiny Earl’s Court office when the call had come in. Maria, the receptionist, had looked over the top of her magazine at the ringing phone as if it were an alien. First time it had rung in a month.

‘Who was it?’ Rachel asked once Maria had passed the call through to Simon’s office.

Maria shrugged and mumbled something. She only enunciated on the phone.

Rachel frowned. That couldn’t be right. ‘Sorry? Did you say Katherine St. John?’

Simon burst out of his office so fast he nearly took the door off. ‘You. Pub. Now.’


‘Wait, I don’t – what?’

Simon sipped his pint. He was loving this, being the one with a scoop for the first time in a decade or more, having Rachel hang on his every word.

‘That was Katherine St. John on the phone. She’s about to release a new album and she’s going to give exactly one interview. To us. Or more specifically, to you.’

‘To me?’

‘And only you.’


‘I know.’


Eleven-year-old Katherine St. John had come to the attention of the public in 1965. She had been camping with her parents on the edge of Bedgebury Forest in Kent when she went missing. The story held the front page for over a week. Black-and-white pictures of St. John’s parents, arms around each other, stricken looks on their faces. Long lines of volunteers marching between the trees, trying to cover every square foot of a forest whose heart had been untroubled since the days of Hadrian. Then, as the days went on, rumours that the police were taking a particular interest in St. John’s father. One telephoto shot of him being led up the stairs to the Maidstone police station for further questioning was published on Monday morning, a thin civil servant with a comb-over and a permanently crooked tie. The Sunday Mirror published a picture of a child’s blue canvas shoe lying beneath a holly bush. In the opinion of the majority of the paper’s readers, the man was clearly guilty, a trial just a formality on his way to the gallows.

A base of operations was established at the campsite, now deserted except for the St. John family’s tent and their grey Hillman Minx, already starting to sink into the mud. On the Monday of the second week of the search, Detective Harlan Smith was eating lunch at his temporary desk in the prefab office when Katherine St. John walked in, looking as unruffled as if she had just been out for a brief stroll. No injuries, no malnutrition. Still wearing both her black leather shoes which, even scuffed and covered with mud, looked nothing like the one on the front page of the Mirror.

The papers printed full-page photos of the newly reunited family under headlines such as MIRACLE CHILD, but could find no more explanation for what had happened than the girl herself. In the few minutes after she reappeared she mentioned that she had been to see the ‘dancing man’. But she was unable to clarify who she had meant and, as the days went on, seemed to recant even that, claiming she had no memory of her time in the forest.

Nobody remembered the lost girl who had been to see the dancing man in 1978, when Katherine St. John’s first album was released. It was a revelation. Her voice rose above her own sparse piano playing, then swooped low. People compared her to Joni Mitchell, to Laura Nyro, but that wasn’t quite it. She more ethereal than her contemporaries, more otherworldly. Nothing about her songs should have worked: the surreal lyrics, the unorthodox keys and time signatures – none of it suggested commercial success. And yet there she was, barely sixteen, topping album charts all over the world. Her time as a lost girl was mentioned, of course, in the initial coverage, but faded away. The music obliterated her history as it propelled her on the way to inevitable superstardom.

St. John’s follow-up album two years later met middling reviews. Punk was on the rise and it seemed that St. John’s unique sound was going to be consigned to the same dustbin of history as Prog Rock. She had never toured, and with the poor reception of her sophomore effort she became even more reclusive.

Rachel couldn’t remember the third album at all. Her own attempt at an English degree was already in flames at that point. She had spiked her hair to look like Siouxsie Sioux and spent every weekend going to see The Damned and The Clash.

‘It’s a wind-up, surely. Every music magazine from here to New York would have got that call.’

Simon’s hands were trembling slightly. Did they always do that? Why hadn’t she noticed before? ‘I don’t think you’re hearing me. That wasn’t St. John’s agent on the phone. That was her.’


I know.’


There was no gate, just a break in the fence. No mailbox. The number 257 had been scratched into a piece of tin and nailed to the fencepost. Rachel checked the map again and shrugged. This was the place.

The bare dirt driveway ran along a stand of trees before turning right around the side of a shed. One of the suitcase’s tiny wheels had already crumbled from being dragged along the side of the road instead of a smooth airport floor, so she had to carry it. She heard a buzzing as she approached the shed. Then a smell that made her step back.

The corpse of a rabbit was balanced on the top of a fencepost, attended by a cloud of flies. It lay on its back, head lolling towards the ground, one dead eye looking at Rachel. The rabbit’s belly was bloated, the blue mottled skin under its grey fur writhing with maggots.

Rachel backed away, holding a hand over her mouth and nose until she was around the corner of the shed. She leaned over, hands on knees, for a few moments, sucking in lungfuls of fresh air. The grass on the side of the driveway was long and ragged. She could see small patches of green in the middle of the bare dirt. Rachel wondered how long it would take for the grass to claim back the whole driveway.

When she picked up the suitcase again her arms were trembling.

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Free excerpt: MIKA | Lee Murray & Piper Mejia

We hope you enjoy this free excerpt from Mika, by Lee Murray and Piper Mejia, the first in our SHORTCUTS series of novellas.


New York, 2058

The rain is coming down hard now, pummelling the windscreen in grey, almost horizontal sheets. Mika frowns. Taking one hand from the wheel, she rubs at her eyes. It’s been a long trip and she’s tired. She can barely see ten metres in front of her.

The waka rolls violently. Mika purses her lips and shifts the vehicle to a lower gear, struggling to control the vessel in the surging waters. A vehicle bumps her from behind, the waka lurches, and Mika is thrown forward.

‘Tangaroa!’ she whispers under her breath, calling on the sea god of her ancestors for protection. The waka pitches again. Mika yanks at the steering, pulling hard to the left to get out of the queue. In the choppy water, the waka is slow to respond. Mika can do nothing more. She holds her breath, her eyes straining to penetrate the wall of rain. Another jolt. The larger transport crowding her from behind. She’s in danger of being sandwiched in, her waka crushed between two hulls.

Come on!

She didn’t travel first the Pacific, and then the Atlantic, to be shipwrecked arriving on the dock. She has a meeting to make. Biting back her frustration, Mika guns the accelerator. The prow of her waka touches the transport in front, the way a bull might caress the bullfighter’s cape as it thunders past. Mika exhales as the waka pulls clear. The manoeuvre has prevented a goring, but she’s going to have to head straight to the ramp now. Determined, she squeezes her prow through the traffic, pushing to the front like the smallest kid at a tuck shop queue.

Coming through, people.

At last, the waka’s hull touches home. Quickly, Mika changes transmission, and drives the little transport up the ramp onto the land.

The Ellis Island entry point is in chaos. What Mika can see of it, in any case. Gale-force winds and driving rain have reduced visibility to next to nil.

Is this the immigration point? Mika opens the window and is immediately soaked.

A man in a flapping yellow raincoat peers in, his face ruddy from the rain. Even with the wet, Mika can smell the engine fumes. She shivers in her wet clothes, but only partly from the cold. She waits for the officer to scan her pupil.

Please don’t make me go back.

The man shakes his head. ‘The bio-scanner is down. Cybernetic reader, too. The console was hit by flying metal. We’re back to working like cavemen. Where are you from?’

‘New Zealand.’

Someone behind sounds a horn. Raincoat man pulls away from the window and roars into the wind. ‘Hold your damn horses, why don’t you? I’ll get to you when I get to you.’ He turns back to Mika. ‘Where did you say?’

‘New Zealand. It’s an island—’

‘Staten Island? You’re a local? You do know you’ve landed at Ellis? Day like today, you should’ve taken the expressway, not the shortcut across the Bay. What kind of idiot are you? I suppose you wanted to see how your home-made transport handled a storm.’ He shakes his head in disgust.

‘No, no, you misheard me. I’m from—’

But huddled deep in the hood of his plastic raincoat, the official either doesn’t hear, or doesn’t care to hear. ‘All we need. Locals wasting our time, coming through the immigration line. Drive on,’ he grumbles, gesturing impatiently. ‘You’re holding everyone up.’

‘I—’ But raincoat man has already turned his attention to the next vehicle in the line. Mika shrugs. If he’s going to make it this easy to get in, who’s she to argue? Sliding up the window, she shifts the waka into gear.

He shouldn’t have called her an idiot.

‘For your information, mate,’ Mika mumbles to herself, ‘this isn’t just any old home-made transport. It’s a waka. And her name is Torua, if you care to know.’ Mika revs the engine, giving the man a good whiff of Torua’s engine fumes, and speeds into the gloom.

The rain hasn’t abated any as Mika takes the bridge to the mainland. On the road, the visibility is even worse. There are transports everywhere. Their lights glare, the milky beams multiplying in the gloom. Mika slows, getting an earful of honking and tooting from the traffic backing up behind her.

Keep your hair on.

She turns on Torua’s GPS system and, doing her best to keep her eyes on the road, punches in the rendezvous point.


The message had said it wasn’t too far from the bridge. Mika doesn’t want to miss the turn-off, or she could end up miles out of her way. She can’t afford to miss the guide.

‘Left turn approaching.’

Mika peers ahead, but can’t make out the intersection through the fog of lights.

‘Left turn approaching in … twenty yards.’

‘But I can’t see anything!’ she wails.

Finally, the intersection fades into view. Hang on, there are two lefts. Which one is she supposed to take: the hard left or veer left?

‘Left turn approaching…’

‘Which lane?!’

The middle, take the middle.

The lights change.

Mika guns the engine to get across the gap.

A vehicle screams towards her.

Oh my god, oh my god.

She stomps on the brakes, but already she knows it’s too late. As the two vehicles plunge towards each other, like jousters in a medieval battle, Mika stretches her mind across the ocean to Aotearoa, to her sister.



The voice is weak and thready. Mika’s heart clenches. Huia needs her. Needs her to get to Vegas. She has to—

There’s an agonising crunch, followed by a whine that starts in Mika’s teeth and settles in her bones. Torua spirals out of control. Mika is flung sideways, her head glancing off the side of the waka, before she’s thrust upright again in a brutal whiplash. Soundless now, torque and momentum carry the vehicle through the intersection in a slow-motion blur, the front left corner trailing something with it. Obligingly, the object allows itself to be dragged along, throwing up silent sparks and shedding debris. Resisting the urge to cover her face, Mika grips the steering wheel and gently turns Torua into the curve. But the waka has power yet. It hurtles through a barrier, barely slowing. Losing the foreign object, it slides another twenty metres before coming to a stop on a huge traffic island.

‘Right turn approaching in twenty yards—’ Mika switches off the GPS, and hunches over the steering wheel, panting. When her pulse has slowed, she takes a deep breath and checks herself over. A few bruises. A bump the size of a small kūmara on her elbow, but otherwise all intact.

I’m okay. Alive.

Mika’s heart leaps again. But what about the other driver? The other vehicle?

Flicking the compression, Mika flings open the hatch, pushing hard against howling wind. She climbs out of the waka, the hatch slamming shut as soon as she lets go. Mika squints through the rain. The bull bars, two rows of thick bars that encircle the waka, have been scraped back to the metal, the barnacles and rust of the ocean voyage sloughed off like dead skin. But, not built to withstand playful whales and floating garbage, the other vehicle hasn’t been so fortunate. Glancing off Torua’s bull-bars, it has struck a tree, and is a mess of broken branches, twisted steel, and glass, the driver door buckled inwards where the two vehicles collided. Instinctively, Mika knows it can’t open. Boots crunching on broken glass, she clambers onto the hood. The windscreen’s gone, leaving a glass-encrusted frame. The driver is slumped forward over the dashboard, oblivious to the rain thwacking at his back. Probably concussed when his head hit the windscreen.

‘Hey! Hey there! Can you hear me?’ she screams over the sound of the storm. She pushes her hair out of her face. ‘I’m coming. Hold on.’

Using her boot, she breaks a branch underfoot, clearing the way so she can skirt around to the other side of the vehicle, then yanks on the passenger door, which, to her surprise, opens easily.

Oh thank god.

Climbing into the cab, she brushes away the glass on the seat with a dripping sleeve, then scoots over and gently pulls the man backwards by his sweatshirt.

‘Can you hear me?’ But he can’t hear her because he’s dead, a branch buried deep in his eye socket. Mika jumps back, relieved when the man slumps forward again, the grisly eye no longer looking at her blankly.

What have I done?

Leaning back in the passenger seat, Mika lets the rain wash down her face. Then she bursts into tears.

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Introducing SHORTCUTS

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Paper Road Press aims to bring you ‘books from beyond the beaten track’, but just for now we’d like to lead you down one path in particular. Take a shortcut to strange worlds past, present and future with our new series of science fiction and fantasy novellas inspired by Aotearoa New Zealand.

Interdimensional forests, atomic ghosts and future tech gone horribly wrong abound in SHORTCUTS | Track 1, the first story of which will be launched this Easter. Keep an eye out on Amazon and Kobo, or subscribe now to receive the ebook direct to your inbox when it goes live.

The first book in the SHORTCUTS series is Mika, by Lee Murray and Piper Mejia. Tomorrow we’ll be posting an excerpt from the start of Lee and Piper’s story of one woman’s strange American odyssey.

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