Changeling’s Island – Snippet 16

So they’d gone across to a small cove on the nearest little island. Here there’d been a bit of tricky work getting them, and the fish bin, and their lunch off, and the boat safely moored so it wouldn’t ground and wouldn’t swing into the rocks. “Food!” said Mally. “I’m starving. And I’ve only got dried fruit and nuts. My wife thinks I’m a monkey.”

“A fat monkey,” said McKay. “It’s all the exercise you do, sitting at that heavy desk every day.”

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it,” said Mally cheerfully. “But I’ve been smelling something fresh-baked since young Tim got into the ute. And it’s not him. He must smell of something the fish like. I hear you blokes use squid essence for hand soap.”

“It’s all we can get in the bush,” said McKay. “I brought a spare sandwich, because last time you only had fruit and nuts, and you ate most of mine.”

“Nan made me some cinnamon buns,” said Tim, opening the bag, hoping that he wouldn’t be embarrassed by them, like he was about the homemade bread sandwiches at school. His grandmother either thought he was going to be stuck at sea for a week or that the others would share. There were eight of the buns, sticky with sugar and trailed with spice and popping raisins.

“You beauty!” said Mally, diving in, not waiting for an invitation. “You can keep your sandwich, Jonno. And you can come again, Tim, as long as you bring the baked goods.”

“It’s my boat,” said McKay.

“Then you better have a bun. Just one, mind. Oh man, they’re just a little warm still. They must have been baked this morning. You’re one lucky kid. If she was my nan, I’d be fatter than a house.”

“You’re working on it already, Mally,” said McKay, having a bun too.

* * *

Áed left them eating and moved watchfully to the rocky point where he’d spotted her in the water. Maybe the selkie could come ashore here, even if the main island was off-limits.

Her teeth were sharp and he could see each tooth had three points to it. Humans might see her as beautiful woman, but Áed saw past the glamour. “Still watching and guarding, little fae?” she asked, from in among the kelp fronds.

“It is what I am,” said Áed. “And I watch you.”

“All I want is the key,” she said, smiling. “I won’t hurt him if I have that.”

“It’s his birthright. His to decide to use, give to you, or his to pass on to his firstborn child.”

She said nothing. Just smiled again, all sharp teeth.

* * *

“Hey! That flask looks like one of the original Colemans! My uncle had one,” said McKay. “But it looks brand new.”

“Nan said it was my grandfather’s.”

“They don’t make them like that anymore. That’s quite something. You better look after it.”

“Is it worth a lot of money?” asked Tim, grasping an idea. Not a nice idea, but…

McKay shook his head. “Probably not, unless, like me, you remember having picnics on the beach when you were a kid. But it’s such a neat thing to have. A lot of memories attached to it, I’d guess.”

Thinking of his grandmother’s voice when she’d told him to take the flask made Tim feel a bit guilty to have even thought about selling it.

“I seem to recall my Uncle Giles saying your grandfather was killed in Vietnam,” said McKay. “It looks like she kept it without using it since then. You should be proud, son. Look after it.”

But she didn’t even like him much! Tim was still thinking about this when they got up and gutted and filleted the fish on a low rock, putting the skins and heads and guts back into the sea to “feed the sharks so they can eat me when I’m working here,” according to McKay.

Then they had to get back into the boat and head for shore. The wind had picked up while they’d been on the little island, and so had the swell.

“I’ll be lucky if I don’t lose my lunch,” said Mally uneasily.

And he was rather quiet and a bit of an odd color on the way back. It was quite a wet, bumpy ride until they got into the channel. Tim had briefly wondered if he would feel seasick. He’d heard about people throwing up, but actually he didn’t even feel queasy. It was like a really cool roller coaster ride, and you could imagine you saw things in the waves too. Mermaids, sharks, ichthyosaurs…

He was rather sorry to have come to the end of it. The minute the water calmed and they were back to the shoreline, Mally recovered and made up for his silence with a great performance of leaping ashore: “Land, land! We’re saved,” he yelled, and kneeled, and artistically kissed the rock, and then slipped on some seaweed as he stood up, and slithered down the slip and into the water. “It’s out to get me!” he said, shaking his fist at the sea, as he stood up from it, dripping.

“I can’t blame it,” said McKay, laughing with Tim. “I suppose now that you’re all wet I’ll have to reverse the ute and trailer down.”

Mally shuddered. “Anything to avoid that. I can’t do it.”

“Watching you try is a great comedy number though,” said his friend, cheerfully.

They hauled the boat up onto the trailer with the winch, unscrewed the bungs, and watched half the ocean run out from under the boat’s floorboards. “A wet ride,” commented McKay. “She handles it well, though.” He patted the boat affectionately. “Okay, Mally. There’s a towel behind the seat. I’ll drop you off first, if your missus will be back by now. Or you can come up to my place. I’ve got a boat to scrub.”

“She should be back. Personally, I think photographing the dawn is overrated. She’s a prizewinning photographer,” he explained to Tim. “Learn by my mistakes. Marry a prizewinning cook instead, like your nan.”

“She’s a prizewinning gardener too,” said McKay. “You should see her spuds.”

“Unlike the poor bloke we’re staying with,” said Mally. “He’s one of those sea-changers and he’s trying so hard. I reckon he’s getting at least half a kilo of potatoes for every kilo of seed potato. Nice guy though.”

They drove on, and then down a long hill back to the sea, to a beautiful decked house, and a slightly harassed-looking balding man with a ponytail, a muddy shirt, and an armful of tools. Tim recognized him as Molly’s dad. “Hello. I’ve just got that tap fixed. How did the fishing go?”

“Fantastic!” said Mally. “And Tim here got a shark, but we lost it at the boat.”

* * *

Molly looked out of the window on the stairs, on her way down, seeing the white ute and boat coming up to the house. It would probably be that Mr. Harrison back from fishing. At least he was a nice guest, not like some.

She was surprised to see Tim tumble out of the ute. He was smiling and looking a lot happier than he did at school, or on the bus, where he was like a little mouse. He and the other two were in animated conversation with her dad, which involved lots of gestures. Big gestures. She grinned, hiding her mouth with her hand out of habit, even if no one could see her. She hated people looking at her braces. Fishing stories. Like her dad, and the flathead that got away, when he went angling on the beach. It was always the big ones…

“Molly. Can you get us a bowl?” called her dad. “We’ve been given some fish. I’m a bit muddy for the kitchen.”

So she brought one out to them. “Hi, Tim. Hello, Mr. Harrison. Did you have a good time?”

“Fantastic! This is my mate Jon McKay. I see you know our champion fisherman.”

Tim looked slightly embarrassed, but pleased. He nodded. “Hi, Molly. I was lucky today.”