The Sampling: Tūī Street Legends

By Anne Kayes

The Sapling is running a Summer Excerpt Series showcasing the junior and young adult titles from the 2023 Storylines Notable Book Awards. Next up is the third title in Anne Kaye’s Tūī Street series, Tūī Street Legends. You can read Sarah Forster’s review here.

A few days later, Harry, Gemma, Terri and Pesi took Kurī and Chelsea for a walk to the park after school. The other Tūī Street kids were doing an after-school programme to learn the guitar. Harry carried his skateboard under his arm, but Gemma didn’t have hers today. She’d promised to help Terri do some dog training.

It was a sunny afternoon, so the skateboard park was busy, unlike the last time they’d walked the dogs there in the pouring rain. Harry skateboarded ahead of them through the carpark. “Got to practise my fakies,” he said.

“What’s a fakie?” Pesi asked.

“It’s when you ride backwards on your skateboard,” Gemma explained.

Chelsea lifted her nose and sniffed the air. As if someone had flicked on a switch, she tore ahead, pulling the lead from Terri’s hand. Maybe she’d wanted to catch up with Harry, but he’d stopped beside the bumper of a large car, while Chelsea had disappeared around the side of it.

“Stupid dog,” Terri said. “No brain.”

When the others caught up to Harry, they came to an abrupt stop. In front of him, standing between the large car and her pink convertible was Lula. She didn’t move even as Chelsea sniffed her, emitting little cries of joy. Lula didn’t like dogs, and Kurī must have remembered how, in the past, Lula had treated her badly because she began to whimper. Pesi reached down to stroke Kurī’s neck as her dog squeezed into the side of her leg.

“What …?” Gemma stopped and started again. “Why are you here?” Gemma took a step back. Something smelled bad. She scanned the space between the cars to see if a dead bird or rat was nearby.

Lula ran her hands over her suit jacket as if smoothing out a ripple in the material. “I know I’m not meant to come near you. I just want a minute of your time because I need your help.”

Gemma glanced at Harry. He was blinking quickly as if to block out the image of Lula standing in front of them. “Why should we help you?” she asked.

Usually Lula wore red lipstick but today her lips were bare and white, stretching into a thin line. She ran her hand across her flat, blonde hair, then pointed at Chelsea, who was sniffing and licking the backs of her calves. Lula grimaced. “I saw this dog at the river. She has a good nose. She found that dead eel in the river and brought it to you. I lost my wetsuit at the river.”

Gemma’s eyes widened. “You were following us! I thought I was imagining things.” She turned to her friends and said, “She was at the river.”

Lula tried to shake Chelsea’s determined tongue from her legs. Chelsea’s nose quivered as she stared up at Lula’s hand in her suit jacket pocket. “She can smell my wetsuit,” Lula said. “I found a piece that had torn off on the branch when the old man took it.” She pulled a piece of grey-black, rubbery material out of her pocket. Its edges were uneven as if it had been ripped. “It has such a strong smell that I know this dog could help me find my wetsuit.”

“It smells disgusting.” Gemma was speaking bravely, but her hands were clammy, and she could feel a trickle of sweat on her back.

“You promised you’d never come near us,” Harry said quietly, looking away from Lula into the flax bushes. “You told the police you’d stay away.”

Lula’s lips stretched into a longer white line and her eyes narrowed. “You two have always been determined to make me into some kind of witch, but you know nothing about me.”

“We don’t want to know about you,” Gemma said. “Leave us alone!”

Lula opened her mouth and a dry barking cackle sawed through the silence. “I can make you help me.”

“Let’s go!” Gemma said.

“Wait!” Lula looked down at Chelsea. “She’s been such a good dog. I’ll give her a small treat.” She took a square-shaped dog biscuit out of her pocket and handed it to Chelsea. “I don’t usually like dogs, but she’s …”

“Keep away from her!” Terri strode forward, snatched up Chelsea’s lead and yanked her away.

“And don’t come near us again!” Gemma said.

As they hurried out of the carpark, Lula called to them, her voice grainy, like sandpaper. “I can’t give up! I need that dog!”

Keys jangled and a car door slammed.

“She’s getting in her car,” Pesi said.

A man who was strapping a toddler into her car seat looked over at them. “You kids okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” Gemma said, but the man’s eyes stayed fixed on them until they reached the gate. Maybe he’d heard Lula’s voice, loud and dry as a desert. Maybe now, he was watching Lula’s pink convertible reverse out of the parking space and accelerate out onto the road.

“We have to tell Dad,” Gemma said.

Harry nodded. “But he’s told her to leave us alone before. Makes no difference.”

“She’s scary,” Terri said.

Gemma didn’t answer. She was wondering how far Lula would go to get Chelsea to find her wetsuit. Gemma remembered everything: the way Lula had used a strange app on her phone to create a 3D eye that chased Harry; the way she’d used another app to create a massive drone to drain the lake on Awatiu Mountain, knowing that rare, endangered creatures lived in that lake; and the way she’d kidnapped and trapped Kurī up the mountain to carry out an illegal water-bottling project there. Lula was not to be trusted.

“There’s something she’s not telling us,” Pesi said. “No one gets that upset about losing a wetsuit. It’s just a piece of stinky clothing. Why wouldn’t she just buy a new one?”

Gemma nodded. “You’re right. She’s hiding something from us.” As she spoke, the pink convertible screeched to a stop beside them. Lula switched off the radio and leaned over the car door. “I’m going to be by that river on Saturday afternoon. Bring the dog. There’s a grove of trees …”

“Where you spied on us on Sunday,” Gemma snapped.

“Exactly,” Lula said. “You know the place.”

“We won’t be there ever,” Harry said.

Lula lifted her sunglasses and her blue eyes glued themselves to Harry. “It’s the only way you’ll ever get rid of me, Harry. Don’t you want to be rid of me forever? Imagine never having to see me again.” She lowered her sunglasses onto the ridge of her nose, turned back to the steering wheel, then sped off into the distance.

That night, Harry stood at Gemma’s bedroom door and called her name. She opened her eyes, immediately awake. “You okay?”

“Bad dream,” Harry said. “Nightmare.”

“Lula?” Gemma sat up.

Harry nodded. “She had a horse’s body, but her head was her own head. She was chasing me, galloping, and screaming ‘wetsuit’ over and over. I was running with Chelsea on her lead. We were by the river, and she caught up to us, then grabbed Chelsea’s lead and pulled her into the water, forcing her down under the surface. They never came up again.” Harry bit his lip. He sat on the old, yellow rug on the floor of Gemma’s room.

“A kelpie,” Gemma said.

“Yep,” Harry said. “I was thinking, Gem, if we do what she wants, she said we’d never have to see her again.”

The lights of a car driving down Tūī Street flickered through Gemma’s curtains and across her bedroom wall, like a searchlight crossing the sea. “But if Lula wants Chelsea to follow the scent of that stinky, disgusting wetsuit, it’s up to Terri. We’d have to ask her.”

Harry stood up. “We can ask her tomorrow.”

“And Pesi,” Gemma said. “We have to tell Pesi. She already knows …”

“Yep, and Pesi.” Harry went to the door.

“But no one else,” Gemma said. “I don’t want Mum to find out. She’s already upset about Lula being in our street. We just need to find that wetsuit and then we’ll never see Lula again.”

“How do we know she’ll keep her promise?” Harry said.

“We’ll just have to trust her.”

“That’s …” Harry turned away. “I’m going back to bed. Night.”

Gemma lay back down. Her pillow wasn’t straight. She manoeuvred it so that it nestled around her head. More car lights came through her bedroom window, except this time going in the other direction. She listened to the car’s engine fade as it disappeared up Tūī Street. What if …? The thought burned into her. What if that was Lula driving up and down the street? What if Lula was watching them or looking for Chelsea?

Gemma breathed out slowly. She was being ridiculous now. Dad and Lula were in their apartment, and her mum was asleep in the room next door. No more cars turned into Tūī Street. No more headlights flashed across her wall. Gemma closed her eyes. Go to sleep, she said to herself. Go to sleep.

Tūī Street Legends

By Anne Kayes

Published by Wildling Books

RRP: $22.99

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