Changeling’s Island – Snippet 12

“Hmm. I’ll take you out sometime. We’ll go and catch a few flathead. It’s a part of your heritage. I reckon you’ll see enough of the beach here. You can get down to Marshall Bay from Mary Ryan’s place. There’s a track through the scrub.”

They’d arrived at the old gate. “I can walk from here. Really. It’s not far.”

“Hop out and open it. It’ll be easier for me to turn around down at the house, if I remember it right. I came down with my uncle Giles when I was about your age to go netting off the beach.”

So Tim did as he was told. Letting the ute and the boat go past before he closed the gate, Tim got a really good look at the boat on the trailer for the first time. It was obviously rugged and cool looking, metal underneath, with long, sleek blown-up pontoons on the sides.

They bumped down to the farmhouse. “Stock looks in fair shape,” said McKay, sounding faintly surprised. “I don’t suppose you know much about sheep or cattle either.”

“No. I have to milk a cow this afternoon,” said Tim.

That got a snort of laughter. “You’re going to have some fun out here, youngster.”

Tim hadn’t quite thought of it as “fun.” They arrived at the house, and his grandmother was striding towards them, garden fork under one arm. McKay got out of the ute. “Mrs. Ryan. I’m Jon McKay. You probably don’t remember me, but I used to come along with my Uncle Giles to net garfish about, oh, fifteen years back.”

Something about the way the old woman walked changed. That might almost have been a smile on that severe face of hers. “You want to net some more fish?”

“No, I’m diving abalone these days. I just brought your boy home. I was stuck at the side of the road and he gave me a hand to fix the ute.”

“Ah. Not in trouble, is he?”

“No. He was a real help,” said McKay. “I said I’d take him to catch some flathead someday.”

“I haven’t had a good feed of flathead for a while,” said Tim’s grandmother. “If he’ll go, he can.”

“If we have some decent weather on the weekend, I’ll take him. He’s got some adventures ahead of him. I hear he’s learning to milk a cow this afternoon. And he says he’s never been to the beach or the sea.”

His grandmother snorted. “That’s the trouble with city people. They can’t do much.”

“Yes,” said McKay cheerfully. “I came from Lonnie for holidays. Best time of my life was learning stuff from Uncle Giles. Anyway, I have to get these fish packed and down to the airport, and my deckie has taken off again. Would you like a few abalone for your tea, Mrs. Ryan?”

That was almost definitely a smile. “That’d be good. Yer want some spuds?” asked Tim’s gran.

McKay nodded. “Please, if you can spare some. Mine aren’t doing as well as yours. I’ve got a place up towards Boat Harbour. The soil is pretty sandy.”

“This was too, but it’s had fifty years of manure in it. Here, Tim, run and get a carrier bag from behind the door in the kitchen, and you can take the fork and dig up some potatoes.”

Tim fetched the bag, was handed the fork — his grandmother and McKay having walked over to the vegetable garden, talking — and realized he had a problem. There were a lot of plants there. None of them had a sign on them that said “potatoes.”

* * *

Áed could see the fenodree, lurking among the broad beans, scowling. The woman of the place might regard this as her domain, but the fenodree regarded it as his. If he took offense, well, he could do mischief. Or worse, he could just lope off. Áed realized the little one did a lot of the farm work, and enjoyed it. “He’s still young. Like a new puppy. You will have to teach him.”

The fenodree blinked. “You teach him. The potatoes are nearly ready, but he’s about to stick the fork into the asparagus bed.”

Áed leapt and pushed the shaft of the fork, wooden and easy to push, so it swung down away from the thick feathery leaves.

The master looked puzzled, and narrowly missed his own foot.

But at least the fenodree laughed.

* * *

“Put it in the edge of the earthed up bit, that mound,” said McKay. “And then stand on the fork and lean it back. I bet you have never dug spuds before.”

Tim looked down at where he turned the earth up. It was quite loose and easy to lift. He could see the round shapes of potatoes in the dirt, and he reached down his hands to lift them out. The soil was slightly warm around them. It was kind of neat hauling them out. If only they came out as crisps, he could do this all day.

* * *

“The old ones like him,” said Áed, for he and the fenodree could see what the master could not, in the lines of force and strength that ran through this land and crackled with its lightnings into the boy. Ochre patterns that ran all the way to the mountain, had run the length of the land for always and always, still ran down into the water where the sea had tried to eat them away, from times when the land had been much wider.

The fenodree nodded. “We’d better see to the teaching of him. He will be good for this place.”

* * *

Feeling good about digging up potatoes had lasted a few minutes, until McKay took off and Tim found out that digging, and worse, was more or less what the afternoon held for him.

“Where’d yer think yer going?” his grandmother asked as Tim walked toward the house, and McKay and his boat bounced off up the road.

“To put my lunchbox and things away.”

She’d nodded, still not looking at him, but at the space to the right of him. It really felt creepy. “Yes. Put yer old clothes on, and yer’ll find a hat on the stand. We need to turn the compost.”

“I thought I might relax. I, I’ve had a hard day. I might watch some TV, and, and, I’ve got to check Facebook.” Somehow he hoped there might be a message from Hailey. Or something.

His grandmother gave a cackle of laughter. “Yer out of luck. No TV. And I don’t know what this face book thing is, but yer can keep your face out of a book while we’ve got light. This garden is what feeds us, boy.”

Tim swallowed. “You’ve got to have the Internet? I can’t not go online.”

“I’m not sure what line you’re talking about, but you can’t use the phone all the time. I can’t afford it. Yer can write letters.”

Tim felt as if his whole face was going to crumple up. He went in to his room, and plugged the laptop in to charge. He wasn’t going to garden. No way.

Only…it didn’t switch on. It kept starting up and shutting down.

He wanted to scream. And scream.

He could sit and look at the wall. But he wouldn’t bet she would give him any food if he didn’t go and work.

So he changed out of the school clothes, and went out, still angry. It would serve her right if poltergeist stuff happened to her!

Only it didn’t.