Changeling’s Island – Snippet 03

His mother shook her head, her face set in that surly-cross expression, like a bad-tempered tradesman’s dog, that she got when she was setting out to be really nasty. Her Irish accent came back strongly whenever she did that. “Not anymore, I don’t. You’re just like your father. And you’ve brought this on yourself. Pack your things, Tim. You’re only allowed fifteen kilos of luggage, and Tom has booked you on the plane at midday. I’ve had to take another day off work for this. And you can clean up this pigsty before you go!”

He could hear the sound of rush-hour cars in the street, and see that the sun shining through the window was sparkling on the dust motes dancing in the air. If it was that bright and noisy he should be on his way to school, to another miserable but predictable day.

So. It wasn’t all some kind of nightmare. He was leaving Melbourne. Leaving the life he knew, leaving everything and everyone. He hoped at least that that was true. He’d be leaving his friends, if he had any. At St. Dominic’s there was only Hailey, and then, he had to admit, only if she didn’t have an audience and if she wanted something. His heart still hurt thinking about her. She was drop-dead gorgeous, in spite of it all. He didn’t even want to think farther back in his life. He’d been sort of happy here, once. Had a few guys he played about with at junior school, but then they’d moved, and he’d gone to St. Dominic’s. Before his father left, before his unlucky thirteenth birthday, when the weird accidents had started happening around him.

He turned to his room, determined not to think about it all. It was like deciding not to think about pink elephants. So what did you pack when you could only take fifteen kilos of your life with you? Well. Not barbells. Not that he had any. He’d kind of wanted some, so he could get stronger and bigger…only, they were expensive and…Books? Some of them. Sabriel. Lord of the Rings. The Harry Potters could stay. Did his laptop count? It was old and heavy, a hand-me-down. The battery only did twenty minutes. He was still sitting there, trying to reach decisions, when his mother bustled back in carrying a suitcase. “Haven’t you done anything yet? Don’t just sit there, Tim!”

And on his desk, just behind her and across the room from him, a pile of books tilted, tipped, and the first fell, bang! to the floor.

They both stared as the next book tipped over the edge and fell to land on the next. And then the next…

“I suppose you think you’re incredibly funny with these tricks! Grow up!” shouted his mother, and stormed out of the room.

Tim sat and stared at the books. They didn’t move again. So he got up, and went to the kitchen and had a bowl of cornflakes. He didn’t really know what else to do, and he was past caring, and into the hopelessly resigned phase of coping. Books overbalanced, especially in tottery piles, when people stomped into the room. And actually, he didn’t really give a toss what he packed. Well. He had to take a couple of books and his “I love Ireland” T-shirt. It was way too small by now. But like the stamp in his passport, it proved he’d been there. Looking back, he could see the trip had been his father’s attempt to patch his failing marriage, taking Mum for that trip back “home” to Ireland that she’d always claimed she wanted. But at the time Tim had just enjoyed it. And there’d been something about that green and ancient place that had made him think it was sort of home-ish too. It wasn’t, of course. This was.

He slouched back to his room. Looked at the case his mother had dropped. Groaned. It had a Spiderman II logo on it. He’d thought that was really flash…when he was nine. It had been cheap, getting rid of old stock, but then he hadn’t cared. If anyone saw him with it now they’d crack up. He put it on the bed. Began putting things into it, more or less at random, after the books. He looked at the “I love Ireland” T-shirt. It was faded, the collar frayed, and it was way, way too small. He wasn’t big for his age, but that shirt was, like, not going to ever fit again. He blinked. He wasn’t going to let it get to him. He firmly put it back in the cupboard, walked out into the hall and dug in the top drawer of the cabinet. He fished out his passport. This was dumb, and he knew it. He’d never be able to afford the ticket, ever. But he still took the passport and put it into the zipper pouch of the case. And then picked up the T-shirt again anyway. He could always leave out something else. His deodorant was nearly empty. It had to weigh less like that, right?

Things went in. Came out. Went in again. It was…something to do.

“Tim! Are you finished? We’ve got to go. You’ll be late,” shouted his mother.

Like I should care, he thought, glumly. But he closed the case, slid out the handle — he had to sort of wrestle with it and it wouldn’t go all the way back in either, and squeaky-rattled his way to the door, trundling the case behind him. He walked out, not looking back.

* * *

Áed waited. His kind had a poor sense of time, or time as it was in these earthly realms, anyway. He was not so much patient, as unaware of not doing anything. When his master left the building he did too, perched on the bag as it trundled on its erratic wheels, and he slipped into the boot of the metal chariot with it. Creatures of air and darkness do not have much in the way of weight, and so — as usual — his presence was not noticed. Only those humans with a trace of Aos Sí blood who were gifted with the sight could see Áed or his brothers. And, mostly, they refused to believe what they saw. That was good too…which Áed could not say of the oil-smelly iron chariot he and his master were trapped inside, but that too could be endured, because it had to be.

* * *

Essenden Airport was almost exactly the opposite of what Tim thought defined “airport.” It wasn’t big. There were no queues, or moving walkways or announcements you could hear only half of. And the place wasn’t full of strangers. Well, they were all strangers to Tim, but they all seemed to know each other. It made sitting there in silence worse. At least nothing weird happened, except to the scale when they tried to weigh his bag. The airline official just shrugged, and picked it up and said with an easy smile, “Bit heavy. But the plane’s not full and he doesn’t weigh much.” That wasn’t quite how he remembered boarding at Tullamarine International when they’d flown to Ireland. But he’d been younger then and excited and eager.

At last someone came along and said, “Well, we’re all here. You can board now for Flinders.” Tim stood up. His mother kissed him, half missing, on the jaw and not the cheek. “Try to pull yourself right, Tim.”

There was an awkward pause as people filed past them through the open glass doors and onto the runway. Tim swallowed the lump in his throat. He wanted to hold onto her and beg her not to send him away, but all he did was nod. Anyway, he couldn’t find his voice to say anything right then.

His mother patted him on the shoulder, awkwardly, and turned him toward the door.

So he walked, not looking back, out into the sunlight and to the waiting Metroliner. A very little plane, Tim realized. It had propellers! And the man who had said they could go…was the pilot.

* * *

Áed loved flying in human flying-machines. They moved so much faster than creatures of air and darkness could fly on their own! He liked to sit on a wing and feel the rush of the wind blowing through him.

Besides, the air was cleaner up and away from the human habitations.