Changeling’s Island – Snippet 02

The scene, when he’d arrived at the flat with the two police officers, just as his mother got in, just having received a call from the school…was something Tim would rather forget forever.

She’d been silent. That wasn’t like her. He hadn’t said anything either.

They stood silent for what seemed like forever, until in desperation he’d said he was sorry.

And then the yelling started…but not at him.

Instead she was shouting it down the phone line to his father in Oman. And she normally wouldn’t even speak to the man. Kept communication to snarky e-mails about money. Tim knew. He’d looked. Her password was so lame.

Accidents happen. Just more of them happen around me than anyone else in the world, Tim thought.

“I just can’t cope anymore!” His mother had stormed.

Tim Ryan was used to that. She said it at least twice a day.

Usually about him.

Huh. He couldn’t cope with himself either, and he had no escape. He was stuck in his life; she could duck out of it. She didn’t always have to be the one who didn’t fit in, who didn’t belong anywhere. But that was situation normal, making like it was her who had a problem that she couldn’t cope with, not him.

“He’s a changeling, Tom! He’s not normal!” his mother yelled, as if Tim wasn’t even in Melbourne, let alone the same room.

Like I can help the weird stuff that happens around me, Tim thought bitterly, looking out at the dirty sky beyond the high-rises of Williamstown. This poltergeist rubbish they accuse me of causing is all bull. I wish I could do it. I really do. Only he really didn’t. All he wanted right then was for it all to go away.

Tim couldn’t hear his dad’s answer. But he was ready to bet his mother didn’t even know what a changeling was. He kind of wished that he was one. It had to beat “loser.” Maybe Faerie glamour let you look taller, cooler, like you had an iPhone. Maybe it let you get away with shoplifting without getting busted, he thought. He was sort of dead-man-walking resigned to the consequences by now. It could only get worse, but at least he wouldn’t be at St. Dominic’s anymore. At least he wouldn’t be the new kid in the secondhand blazer, who didn’t know any cool people or do any cool stuff. The kid whose friends from middle school were all in ordinary state schools. The kid everyone, even the losers, kicked.

“That won’t work,” said his mother, angrily. “The school has asked me to remove him. I don’t know what to do, Tom!”

That must be the first time she’s ever admitted that, thought Tim, sourly. He wasn’t too good at it himself, but this time the truth was he didn’t know either. He wished he was dead. Only that would please some people, he muttered to himself. Not Mum — it would upset her, he supposed. And she’d stop getting money from Dad then too, and that would upset her more. But Hailey — she’d said that he was a creep and a loser, and stalking her. She’d looked at him like she wanted him to drop dead. Well, he didn’t feel like making her day. Not after she’d lied and left him to take all the heat. Put on that sweet, pretty, innocent little-girl look and fluttered her eyelashes at the store security guy and walked out, scot-free. His heart still ached anyway. She was…gorgeous. And, yeah, she was wild in a scary but still fascinating way.

“I can’t,” said his mother. “I can’t afford it, Tom. The flights cost a fortune.”

For a moment, just a heart-lifting moment, at the end of that day of shame and despair, Tim thought his dad was going to have him in Oman.

Yeah. Likely.

Not, his mind said.

But his heart was still beating faster when his mother said: “All right. But only if you pay for the flights. And only if you call the old bat to arrange it. She always gives me hell because you never call. Like it’s my fault.”

When she got to the part about “if you call the old bat and arrange it,” Tim knew that his dad had slithered out again. Dad’s a champion slither-outer, thought Tim, glumly. And everyone always says that I look just like him.

Tim knew then that he was off to the end of the earth. Being sent into exile. Transported. Being got rid of. Being dumped on his grandmother. Being sent to the worst and most boring place in the world.

Well. Flinders Island, anyway.

Then she put down the phone and there was more yelling.

* * *

Áed sat, as was his right, at his sleeping master’s feet. Those few who could see him, and his kind, tended to take him for twisted bits of shadow and angle, which looked oddly like a sharp-faced little manikin, a tiny little man with black shards of eyes. There was no flesh or blood or true bone about him, but Áed was stirred by the boy’s anger and fear, and numbed by his resignation. He didn’t understand his master. Of course, as one of the lesser spirits of air and darkness, he didn’t have to understand. His kind of Fae were bound to the bloodline, and only had to obey. Áed was loyal to this one, even if the child carried only a little of the old blood of the Faerie kings of the Aos Sí, and neither commanded his sprite, nor gave the traditional rewards and honours to Áed. The sprite knew the old ways and understandings were lost among modern men. That was the way of it, but he regretted their passing.

This day he’d served his master well. He’d woken the need-fire in an air-conditioning unit. Fortunately it was mostly plastic, aluminum and copper wire, with little cold iron. Even the iron bones in these buildings caused Áed discomfort. It had been hard to do. Raising fire was an achievement deserving of reward, uisge beatha or at least a bowl of old mellow mead…

It wouldn’t be forthcoming, Áed knew.

Still, he was loyal.

* * *

When he woke, Tim wasn’t too sure how he’d gotten to his bedroom. He hadn’t changed or anything, or even gotten into the bed that he’d fallen asleep on. He was still wearing the same school clothes with the smell of smoke from the burned-out store clinging to them.

He tried not to wake up. Tried to bury himself safe in sleep. It couldn’t have been real. It must have been a really bad dream. Please? He closed his eyes again, determined to ignore the school uniform and the smell of smoke.

And then his mother was yelling at him lying there. That, at least, was normal.

“Get up! I don’t know what is wrong with you, Tim! Have you been smoking that filthy weed again? I’ve begged you to stay away from that stuff. But would you listen to me? No!”

Tim sat, blinking, on the edge of the bed. “I told you, I only ever did that once. But you never believe me, do you?” he muttered, sullenly. It was true. He’d been scared to try it, but Hailey told him not to be a nob. And that the tagging that he’d done on the train had been so cool. He’d wanted to be cool, not a nob, so he’d taken the joint from her. And then he’d been really, really sick. Couldn’t breathe, and saw weird things, which wasn’t what happened to other people, from what he’d heard. Hailey had panicked, and had run away and left him. Some passerby had found him and called the ambos. The doctor at emergency said that he had an allergic reaction. The doctor hadn’t been very sympathetic, but it was nothing, absolutely nothing, to the fit his mother had thrown — nearly as bad as last night. She didn’t believe him, and she was at him all the time about it. It had been after the fight about the bill for breakages at Harvey Norman. She hadn’t believed him then, either. Well, no one did. There had been a few other things when it had been him, he had to admit. But he didn’t ever want to touch cannabis again.