Changeling’s Island – Snippet 04


He must have been running on autopilot, getting onto that plane, Tim realized later. He hadn’t walked out the door when he had a chance at home. He hadn’t gone to the gents’ at the airport and not come back. He’d walked across the runway, and hadn’t run off among the other planes. Just walked like a sheep, following all the other sheep.

The plane was tiny inside. Just two rows of seats, A and C. He had to duck his head to walk down the corridor between them.

There was someone in the seat he’d been allocated.

The girl gave him a nervous smile. She had braces on her teeth, and freckles, so many freckles that her skin was just about one big freckle. It might have been a bit more obvious than usual, because her face was very white between them. “I’m supposed to be sitting there.” She pointed to the seat in front of her. “But, do you mind, I…I’d rather sit over the wing. Do…do you mind sitting one forward instead? I asked them to give me a seat over the wing, but I guess, like, they thought everyone wants one with a view. But I hate sitting next to such a long way down.”

She was speaking too fast. And she was plainly even more afraid than he was. That was kind of a shock to Tim. He wondered what sort of trouble she was in. “No worries. I don’t mind.” She’d stood up to talk to him. She was taller than he was. Skinny. But those were designer label jeans she was wearing. That brought back to Tim the misery of being an outcast in among posh kids, and made him feel awkward. She didn’t seem to see it that way, though, as she leaned over his seat to talk to him. He looked about, trying to figure out where the overhead lockers were.

“I hate flying. But I had to go for my teeth. And Auntie Helen is paying, so it has to be Melbourne.” She saw him looking about for a place to store the elderly laptop. “You have to put it at your feet. I’m sorry…some of my stuff is in there. Can you fit your bag in? My aunt bought half of Melbourne for me. She didn’t think much of my clothes. I don’t know anything about clothes. But I couldn’t really tell her I don’t care. I mean, she wants me to wear white trousers. Bunce, he’s my dog, he’d just cover them in mud, like, instantly. He’s a cross Irish wolfhound-Great Dane.”

* * *

Molly knew she was babbling. At any other time, she would have been embarrassed. She didn’t really know how to talk to people she didn’t know, let alone strange guys. But right now she was too scared to care. She really was scared of flying. And she was scared of flying in small planes even more. So what made her parents go and live on an island? At the moment, talking was better than thinking. “Mom and Dad and I moved to the island a few years ago. And you can only really get on and off by flying. Well, it’s that or a boat, and the ferry only runs once a week, and it doesn’t take passengers unless you’ve got a car, and I’ve only got my P-plates. And I hate flying, but I had to. And we had a bumpy trip over. Do you fly often? I suppose you know all this, and you come from Flinders?”

He shook his head. “I’ve never been there. Well, not since I can remember. But I’ve flown overseas. To Ireland.”

“Wow. I’ve never been overseas.”

That got the first sign of a real smile from him. He’d looked like a bit of scary storm a few moments before, when she’d seen him looking at the seat number. He had very black hair, and his dark eyes had been all crinkled up. She’d seen that look before. She did a lot of babysitting, not that he was exactly a baby. When he smiled, and it wasn’t much of a smile, you could see his eyes were blue, actually. “It’s kinda different from this.”

“Everything is different about Flinders. My dad says it’s like going back fifty years. We’ve got a B&B over there. We only moved a couple of years ago, and I’m still getting used to it. Are you going on holiday?”

* * *

Tim was saved from having to answer by the captain giving them a talk about the life jackets, now sharing the space under his seat with his laptop. If he had to jump into the sea he’d better make sure to take the right thing. Not the life jacket! He could swim pretty well. Dad had liked taking him to the pool, back before he’d left. It was probably so he could look at the girls in bikinis, or that was what his mother said, but Tim got to go swimming.

Then it was seat belts and taxiing out onto the runway, taking off and flying above the city and out to sea. At any other time and place he would have been loving it. Now…his thoughts were interrupted by a little whimpery noise behind him. He looked back, twisting himself around in the seat to kneel on it. She was staring blindly at the book in front of her. Tim knew she wasn’t reading it, because she had it upside down. He could read it: George R.R. Martin…she read good books. He managed not to say anything stupid like “is something wrong?” Instead he said, “Do you want to talk to me? Keep your mind off it.”

She nodded. Didn’t say anything.

Tim had zero skilz at talking to girls at the best of times, but she needed his help. He groped around for something intelligent to say. The best he could manage was “So, what’s your name?” It was noisy in the plane. She was leaning forward to hear. They were all of ten centimeters apart.

“Molly. Molly Symons. And yours?”

“Tim Ryan.”

There was a moment of awkward silence. Grasping at straws, Tim said, “So…you said you had a dog called Bonce?”

It was an inspired, or at least a lucky choice. She smiled. “My Bunce. ‘Cause he’s, like, halfway between a bounce and dunce, my dad said. I love him to bits. He’s got a moustache.”

“A moustache? Way cool! You mean like Adolf Hitler? Or one of those long ones with curly ends?” The image was enough to make Tim smile, and to make the girl start giggling, in little snorts of the sort of laughing you do when it’s laugh or panic, but that was better than straight panic. “And a beard?” asked Tim, following up while he was winning. “Like one of those goatees, maybe? Or a Lord of the Rings type plaited dwarf one? Maybe with a bone in it?”

That got still more laughter. “Poor Bunce. He’d be, like, trying to eat his own chin, and when he couldn’t eat it, he’d try and bury it.”

The talk flowed easily from there, with the Irish wolfhound-Great Dane cross getting more ridiculous costumes and hairdos, and curlers, and gel and bows on his tail. They drifted on to other things — books, the smell of dead wallaby, the school. Panic had been beaten, and so had some of Tim’s own misery. It was still there, of course, but it had been pushed away to be resentful and nag in the background.

* * *

Outside the human flying machine, where the air was cold and delightfully sharp, Áed danced on the wing, enjoying himself. Far below, the sea, hungry and restless, moved and surged about isolated islands, drowned mountains of a long-ago that Áed could dimly sense, like an echo that one could see, with the old magics still walking there, deep and strong. There were traces too, far more recent traces, mere hundreds of years old, of Fae-work and the creatures from hidden realms, in the shipwrecks and the buildings on the islands.

Áed saw there was at least one of the Fae, an old, strong one, swimming far below him. It was almost as if she were chasing the flying-machine he perched on.

The little spirit of air and darkness did not see as humans saw. If they could have seen her from such a height at all, they would have seen a gray seal arching through the waves. To Áed, her true form was obvious, and her long wavy auburn hair washed across her naked breasts as she half-turned in the swell, looking up at the airplane.

What did the seal-woman seek here, so far from the cold coasts of Ireland or Scotland?