Changeling’s Island – Snippet 11

“Would you like a lift?” asked Molly’s father. He couldn’t be anyone else. He looked just like her when he held his head like that and had that half-smile on his face.

“Thank you, but I’d like to walk,” said Tim, lying, but embarrassed. “It’s not far, and, um, I need the exercise.” It was better than facing any more curiosity.

“Well, we’re going past,” said Molly’s father.

“No, really,” said Tim digging deep in memories of things people said about the country. “It’s…it’s just nice to enjoy the fresh air. And, um, the sounds of nature.”

His parroting of this load of bull seemed to go down well with the guy though. “Exactly what I’d do on a day like today. Too nice to be stuck in a car. Come on, Molly…Unless you want to walk too?”

“It’s about five kays along the road, Daddy. And I’ve got a ton of homework to do,” said Molly, shaking her head at him. “See you tomorrow, Tim.”

And with that, she got into the car, and they left, and Tim looked into the dust-trail at the walk ahead of him for a while. Well. He couldn’t just stand here, so he started walking. It was a lot farther on foot than it was by car, and the “fresh air” was hot and the “sounds of nature” could have been made a lot better with an iPod. It was hot and still and the only sounds were the flies. The roadkill was buzzing with it.

He trudged on. A car came past. It was Hailey’s father, but he didn’t stop. Probably heard all about me, thought Tim, gloomily. He wondered what Hailey had said. “Loser,” probably. It still hurt, thinking about her.

He was so deep in thought about this, so hot, and tired of walking, that he didn’t actually notice the white Land Rover ute with the inflatable boat on a trailer behind it. The pickup truck’s bonnet was up, and it was parked at the side of the road as he walked around the corner. It took the man working on it to swear before Tim suddenly became aware of it.

The guy under the bonnet must have heard something, because he turned. He was a lean, suntanned-to-old-leather-faced guy, with a neat little clipped beard, no moustache, and very blue eyes. “g’day,” he said, like he hadn’t been swearing ten seconds before.

“Hi. Can I help?” said Tim, knowing he couldn’t. He didn’t know much about cars, and didn’t even have a working mobile. That still galled him. How could the place be so…basic?

The stranger looked Tim up and down, thoughtfully. And nodded. “Maybe you can, sonny. My hands just don’t fit down there. It’s pretty hot though. I just burned myself.”

“I could try, I suppose,” said Tim, looking at the gap that the man was pointing down into.

“That pipe there has to go onto that flange on the other side. But be careful, it’s hot.”

Gingerly, because he could feel the heat, Tim reached down, trying not to touch anything, and got hold of the pipe. The problem was there was just no space. While trying to be careful not to touch anything, it was very hard to push sideways at near-full stretch. It was the sort of job someone with strong hands and arms could do in ten seconds…if the engine was cool.

“I just, ouch, can’t push it on,” admitted Tim after a minute or two.

* * *

Heat meant little to Áed as he clambered down his master’s sleeve to avoid the nasty iron in the steel. That could and would burn him in a different way. He was quite strong, and, once the Master let go, it took all the time of the blinking of an eye to push the rubber pipe in place and slip the clip back on.

* * *

“Oh, well. Don’t burn yourself trying. I’ll walk up the road and see if I get mobile reception,” said the man in a resigned tone of voice. “I’ve got a load of fish and it won’t do them any good sitting in this heat. Hello…” he said, looking down and then having a closer look. “You’ve done it, youngster! Well done. You even got the circlip on. Good lad!”

Tim looked down into the heat of the engine. The pipe was on, and a little brass clip around it. He’d swear he hadn’t done that. “I didn’t think I had gotten it on,” he said, doubtfully.

“It looks pretty solidly on to me,” said the man, looking at it, then grinning at Tim. He wiped his oily hand on his jeans and stuck out the hand. “Didn’t introduce myself. I’m Jonno. Jon McKay. One of the local ab divers. You must be the new kid at the school. Ryan, I think.”

“Uh. Yes, I’m Tim Ryan. How do you know who I am?” he blurted out.

The diver laughed. “This is Flinders, mate. Get used to it. You can’t keep anything a secret here. My deckie’s girlfriend works up at the school. The headmistress was celebrating having a new student. Now, can I give you a lift? It’s a scorcher for walking, and old Mary Ryan’s place is a good couple of kilometers still. I imagine that’s where you’re going.”

“I’ll be fine. Really,” said Tim, wondering just how much of his past had already not been kept secret.

Obviously his voice betrayed him. “Don’t be such a martyr,” said McKay. “It won’t take me five minutes, and you just saved me a long walk, and my fish from getting too hot. I owe you.”

“It’s not the way you’re going.”

“Even towing a boat, I can turn around,” said McKay cheerfully. “Get in, will you? I’ll go up to the corner and turn around. It’ll be easier.”

So Tim got into the truck with him. It was obviously a working ute, with the foot-well full of spare parts and jumper cables. More to make conversation than anything else, because he knew nothing about boats or fish, Tim asked, “So what kind of fish have you been catching?”

McKay chuckled again. “Muttonfish. Or that’s what they call them here. I dive for abalone. Have you ever dived?”

“No. I’ve never actually been into the sea.”

The diver looked at him, his mouth open, and then hastily back at the road as the tires bit the soft gravel on the road margin. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“No. I guess…my dad didn’t like the beach. He hated the sea, I remember him telling me when I asked him to take me.”

“But you were in Melbourne. Didn’t your mother like it either, then?”

“I think my mom only likes shopping malls and theaters and stuff. She used to take me to the pool quite often. I can swim pretty well, just not in the sea. I might have gone to the beach to play in the sand when I was, like, really little, I think. I suppose we were quite close to the sea really, but, well, we never went. But I used to go swimming quite a lot. I can swim well,” he said defensively, feeling, somehow, that he’d moved down in McKay’s estimation of him.

“I suppose you’ve never been on a boat either?” asked the man, a smile twitching his lips.

“No, I haven’t,” admitted Tim, feeling like he was saying he hadn’t done his homework, and thinking just how unfair that was. Something about this man made Tim want to be liked by him, want to be respected.