Changeling’s Island – Snippet 10


Tim had been…well, terrified, when he went to the headmistress’s office. Almost inevitably, just as he went in, a whole pile of paper sprayed across the room, and the lightbulb exploded with a loud pop.

“Goodness! What an entrance.” The woman shifted her glasses back on her nose, and smiled at him. She didn’t blame him! That was different. “You must be Timothy Ryan. I’m so glad to see you. Give me a hand to pick these up, will you?”

It was said in such a calm, easygoing way, and she really did seem happy to have him here. She talked while they picked up papers. She spoke so quickly that it was hard to get a word in edgeways, but she was also very good at asking the right sort of questions. And she wasn’t in the least troubled by his lack of uniform. “I’ll get you a shirt from the lost property box for now. Come to me at break and I’ll take you down to town.

She never mentioned knowing anything about why he’d come. Neither did anyone else. The day, like any first day, rushed around him in a confused welter of newness. He was introduced to a lot of people. He couldn’t remember any of them. He was ahead in some areas, far behind in others. As for the place, he felt as if everything was moving around him, just as soon as he got his bearings. He was whisked away to a small shop in the little town, and paid over his grandmother’s money, and left with a carrier bag and what passed for a uniform here. St. Dominic’s would have sneered, but then he’d hated those clothes anyway.

And no one said, right out to his face, “Why are you here?”

Somebody had to know. Someone had to tell. And then…yeah, well. Shoplifting wasn’t that big a deal, was it? But he’d worked out pretty quickly that here it probably was a very big deal. The kids had left lunchboxes, some transparent with chocolates visible sticking out of their bags. You couldn’t have done that at his junior school back in Melbourne without someone nicking something. St. Dominic’s had been, if anything, worse. Here…they didn’t even lock their cars. Or have burglar bars or security guys at the shop. Someone told a story in class about some stupid visitor locking a guest cottage, and the owner having to break a window to get in because of it. Tim had asked if the owner had lost his key. He’d got one of those looks, a look that said “gee, you’re dumb.” “No one’s keys. We don’t lock things up here. Why would you?”

Tim knew why. And from that he could figure exactly how they’d feel about a thief. He’d been in a school where he’d been the kicking-boy before. He didn’t want to be there again, even if these country hicks weren’t his kind of people.

Tim’s mother had often used the expression “waiting for the other shoe to drop” and never quite explained why one was waiting, or just what shoes had to do with it. When he was much younger, he’d asked why you didn’t just run away when you heard the first shoe.

“Because you can’t. And you don’t know if it will.”

Tim’s understood the feeling now. His stomach was in a bit of a knot all day, just waiting. And he couldn’t run away. He was stuck out on an island with no way off that didn’t cost a lot. And he had no money, nothing, not even a working phone. It was just like a prison, really. He might as well have been charged and been sent to jail, as to this place. It would take hours and hours to walk to this town from his grandmother’s house, if you could call the town a “town.” It was more like a pub, a little supermarket, and a post office, and a few houses. No mall. No movies, no…no nothing. Nothing for a guy to do. No place to hang out.

Just a granite mountain that seemed to be looking at him.

* * *

Áed liked the school-place. He liked laughter and noise, and he liked the opportunity the place gave him to serve. He liked to work with things like wood and paper, rather than metals, and there was plenty of that here.

There were little twists of hot air rising above the road, and Áed swirled with one. He was not strong enough to make it into a true whirlwind, to tear roofs and break walls, but he could spin it faster and direct it. His master was upset and worried about these humans. Best to distract them from him. Give them something else to think about. He headed the spinning vortex of air toward a group of children who were talking about his master.

* * *

“Look!” yelled someone as Tim mooched along towards the bus, thinking. Trying to ignore everyone. Look like he wasn’t there. They were talking about him, he was sure.

He looked up as a column of dust whirled towards the other kids. He was not in its way…

Not again! It would be his fault. It always ended up being his fault.

This time he got angry. He just had half a chance to start again, even in this dump! Instead of running away like the rest of the kids, Tim turned and faced down the willy-willy. “Stop it, now. I don’t need any more of this here!” he screamed at it.

“Tim!” shouted someone. “Come away. You can’t just yell at a whirlwind.”

The air was full of grit, dust, sticks and leaves. The wind raged, lifting his hair.

“I won’t give you any beer!” Tim had no idea why he said that. Just his crazy grandmother and her beer story last night had been playing with his mind all day.

“Tim!” Two of the others had reached him. Grabbing his arms…It was Molly and the big, rather slow-seeming Henry. “Come…”

“It’s stopping.” Henry said, as the dust tower turned abruptly and collapsed, bits of leaf and stick falling. Seconds later it was gone, and there was just a little dust in the warm spring air.

“That was lucky!” said Molly.

“It listened to him, see,” said Henry, cheerfully. “Next time Dad wants to set cray pots and it’s blowing, I’m going to tell him to offer the Beastly-Easterly wind a beer to make it go away, instead of drinking it himself.” Quite a few of the kids laughed.

“Where did you get that idea from, Tim?” asked someone.

“Um. Something my nan said.”

“My nan only ever says ‘have you washed yer hands?'” said someone else.

“Come on,” said Molly. “Killikrankie bus has to go. That’s us, Tim.”

Tim found he’d accidentally broken a few of the rules that morning. The older ones were supposed to sit at the back, and there were a few extra littlies for the trip back who told him so. Not very politely, in the case of one little boy.

“Oh, shut up, Troy. He’s new. He doesn’t know yet,” said Molly.

Several people asked how his first day had been. Tim didn’t say anything about being trapped with zombies on the island of the living dead, but made polite “yeah, great” noises.

They all seemed to be happy with that, and he had survived all the way out to the lonely turnoff. Only it wasn’t so lonely now. A new Subaru whisked two of the kids away — Troy and a younger one who had to be his sister — in a spurt of gravel and cloud of dust. The elderly Nissan SUV didn’t have a dog with a moustache, but did have a smiling man with a retreating hairline and a ponytail leaning on it.