You approach the door. In place of a security guard there is a sphinx. She asks you a riddle. You answer it correctly, but she pretends she cannot hear you.

The receptionist asks for your name. She asks for your client number. She asks for your most painful childhood memory. She asks for a sliver of your soul.

You wait. Your name will be called. Hours pass. Days. Years. When they call your name you no longer recognise it.

In the waiting area you see a man drinking a beer. You see a man drinking a can of Woodstock. You see a man drinking the blood of the damned. He has very clean fingernails.

A poster states “The only disability is a bad attitude”. A man using a wheelchair touches the poster. Immediately, he levitates out of his chair, then begins to glow with a pulsing, white light.

Your case worker asks if you are in a relationship. You start to say no. Before you can, you are suddenly in a relationship. You are the bride of an eldritch monstrosity whose name cannot be uttered by the human mouth.

A bell rings. A column of flame erupts and engulfs the person next to you. The staff applaud in unison.

You sign a form stating you understand your rights. You sign a form stating you understand your responsibilities. You sign a form stating you understand how the universe will destroy itself. And then you do understand. You begin to scream.

Taken with kind permission from the new collection Hiwa: Contemporary Māori Short Stories, edited by Paula Morris, with consulting editor Darryn Joseph (Auckland University Press, $45), available in bookstores nationwide. ReadingRoom is running three stories from this excellent anthology. Next week: “Isn’t It” by Paula Morris.

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