Changeling’s Island – Snippet 15
Tim found himself cramming into the front of the ute with another plump man. “Mally, this is Tim,” said McKay. “Tim is coming along to show you how to fish.”
“Last time you tried to do that,” said the other man, offering a sideways hand to Tim, and grinning like an overexcited kid. “And I remember the score was ten: three, even if you don’t.”
“This time,” said McKay loftily, “it will be different.”
“Ha ha. We’ll see,” said Mally, with a wink to Tim.
“Seriously, this is Tim’s first fishing trip, and the first time he’s been to sea,” said McKay.
“I bet he still catches more than you do,” said Mally. “You’ll have to get the gate, Tim.”
Tim didn’t say much on the trip to West End, but McKay’s friend Mally made up for it. He made them all laugh quite a lot. They turned off the main road next to a lovely old colonial house, and bounced down to the coast on a bush track. In front of them lay the rocks and the crystal-clear, turquoise sea, and across the water stood an island that looked just like something out of Treasure Island. “Roydon. It’s pretty,” said McKay, turning the ute and reversing the boat toward the sheetrock at the end of the track.
“You live in paradise, mate,” said Mally reverently.
It did look like a travel brochure for some tropical island holiday.
“Yeah. But wait until you try it in winter with the westerly pumping, rain coming down, and you have an abalone order to fill. Come on, we need to take off the ties and get the bungs in. The fish are waiting and the tide doesn’t.”
So they got out, and Tim tasted the breeze off the sparkling water. He learned what bungs were, and Mally took great pleasure in telling him how his friend had, when they were at Uni in Melbourne together, omitted to put them in once.
Tim had mostly forgotten about being miserable for now. The mention of Melbourne brought it back, but then McKay was expertly reversing the boat down the curving rock into the water, and, two minutes later, Tim was out on the sea for the first time in his life, catching the spray from the bow in his face and heading away from land, and then seeing his first ever wild dolphins swimming past.
“There goes the fishing,” said McKay, as Mally tried to photograph them.
“Ah, but they’re a beaut sight. And I’ll swear I saw a seal too,” said Mally.
“They’re even worse for fish. We’ll run to the eighteen-fathom line. Leave them behind, with any luck.”
They did, and then McKay cut the outboard, and they were bobbing silently a long way out from the island. Tim looked around for fishing rods. He didn’t see any. He was handed a big plastic spool with a thick green cord wound on it, with two hooks and a heavy weight on the end. McKay had a bait-board and was cutting strips off what looked like thick, semi-see-through plastic. “Here, Tim, weave a strip of squid onto your hooks like this,” said McKay, “and then you let out the line until it hits the bottom.”
Tim joined in doing as the others were, and let the line down. The boat was drifting and the line didn’t go straight down, and he wondered how he’d ever know if the weight was on the bottom. He felt it bump, and then something began jerking the line. “Uh, what do I doâ€¦? Something’s pulling my line.”
“Wow! You’re in! Just pull the line up, hand-over-hand, like this.”
Tim hauled. He could feel the line thrum and wriggle, and he kept pulling. It was a lot of line, and a heavy weight to pull.
“Don’t slow down!” yelled Mally.
“Keep it coming. Keep it coming!” shouted McKay, looking down into the blue water at the white and brown shapes. “It’s a double hookup. Here, hold my line. Let me swing it over for you. If you bump the hull with the fish, they’ll get off.”
Moments later two enormous, ugly, mottled flat-headed fish, with eyes that looked to Tim like something out of a fantasy novel, were in the plastic bin, thrashing and flapping. McKay grabbed a cloth. “You got to watch it. They have big spines on their gill-covers. Ouch. Makes you bleed like a stuck pig, they’ve got some anticoagulant on them. You stick the knife through the head here, on this pattern that looks like a map of Tassie, to kill them, quick and clean.”
“I think I have a fish on yours too,” said Tim.
* * *
Ãed could see the selkie, down in the depths. He wondered if the seal-woman would tip the boat or stir up the sea. Or drive off the fish. But she was playing a long game. She was making sure that if he would wish to fish, he could catch fish, and come to the sea to do it. She’d get him that way, eventually. He’d go fishing aloneâ€¦and she would work her magic on him, get she wanted, or maybe hurt or kill him if she couldn’t.
Ãed would just have to see that it didn’t happen.
* * *
The fishing was fast and furious for a time, and all of them bled and laughed, and cheered and hauled fish into the bin, tangled lines, baited hooks, and got teased by Mally, who was always the one to have his fish tangle in the lines or miss the box and go slithering around the bottom of the boat, putting feet and the inflatable pontoons at risk with the spines. Tim got spiked getting his fifth fish off the hook, and it hurt and bled a lot. But no one else seemed to care about their wounds, and he didn’t want to make a fuss, so he went on fishing. He forgot about it when the next fish pulled like a train.
“I think we’ve just about bagged out,” said McKay a little later, looking at the fish bin.
“Last cast,” said Mally. “I’m still in the lead. Well, I would be if you hadn’t brought your secret weapon along.” He pointed at Tim. “And you told me he’d never been fishing before. Ha. He’s an islander, born and bred, I bet.”
“That’s because we had to untangle the mess you made dropping your fish in our lines,” said McKay. “Okay, last cast. Then we’ll go over to the island and clean fish and have some grub.”
“Hmm, division of labor!” said Mally cheerfully. “I’ll eat and you clean the fishâ€¦Whoaâ€¦Tim, that thing is pulling the boat!”
“Shark. Get your line up, Mally, or it’ll cross our lines and get off,” yelled McKay, pulling his own in hastily. Tim was too busy fighting the fish to pay attention. The cord cut at his hands, and it fought much harder than the flathead had. He could see the gray and white shape surging through the clear water.
* * *
Ãed could see the selkie coming up, pulling at the line, working her magics. Was this her plan? To get on the little boat, perhaps set them all to fighting? Or had she really been caught? Ãed doubted it. She was too old and too cunning and too used to fishermen for that. He prepared himself to break the line, just as what the humans saw as a fish surfaced.
And then she let go.
Hearing the cries and watching the master and the other two humans on the boat, Ãed realized that the selkie understood fishermen very well indeed.
* * *
It had been a bit of a letdown to not get the shark into the boat, but McKay had been adamant. “No more. We’ve got fish to clean, tide to make for getting the boat out easily. Besides, the sea is picking up. There’ll be another time. And we’ve got more than enough fish. Leave some for next time.”