Changeling’s Island – Snippet 18


Being woken up the next day was hard enough. He’d have slept until midday if he’d been allowed to. He really didn’t care if the cow needed milking.

Unfortunately, the cow did, by its bellowing. And his grandmother had decided he had to do it.

He resented that. He resented her holding his money a lot more. “Where did you come by this?” she asked.

“It’s mine!” She must have gone through his pockets while he was asleep!

“And how did you come by it?” she asked, not showing any signs of giving it to him.

“Mr. McKay gave it to me for working on the boat. I told you I did that. Anyway, it’s got nothing to do with you,” he said crossly.

“You’re in my care. It’s got everything to do with me,” she said grimly. “Well, follower, does he speak true?”

She wasn’t even talking to him, daft old bat.

And then she handed it back to him. “See you put it safe. That’s a lot of money to be taking from a man who did you a kindness. And the cow needs milking.”

“I don’t want to milk the cow.”

“It’s not what you want. She needs to be milked and her udder is sore. You’re hurting her, and the calf, with her crying. What has she done to you? I don’t want to make your breakfast but it needs doing. And breakfast needs milk.”

So Tim had gotten up and put the money in his pocket again. He wasn’t leaving it here. How could she go through his stuff? What did she think he was? A thief? A shamed part of himself said “probably” and knew that he had been one. He had just been lucky. He looked at the room, the non-working laptop, at his island prison outside the window, where the cow was bellowing. Sort of lucky. He was sore and his hands were stiff. But the cow was glad to see him. She had big soft eyes, with long eyelashes.

He was still resentful. Still angry, even if he had to be calm and gentle with the cow; you had to be, milking. He didn’t want to be here, milking a cow. He couldn’t hate the cow. The bull-calf was another matter, maybe, if it didn’t shut up. McKay had said there were always jobs to be done. Well, he’d do them. Do the jobs, earn money that he’d have to find some way of keeping his crazy grandmother from knowing about, giving him a rough time about. He’d worked really hard for that money. If he got enough he could use it to buy a plane ticket out of here. His mother wouldn’t actually turn him out again if he showed up at home, would she? And there were plenty of schools that weren’t St. Dominic’s. Otherwise, well, he could get a job…on a boat or something. He knew he couldn’t really until he was sixteen. But he could tell them he was. Deep down he knew that wouldn’t actually work. It was just a cool dream. But he wanted to have that escape possible, the minute that he could. Or…if the story of what happened in Melbourne all came out at school, or something. Anyway, it might take him until he was sixteen to save the money up. He didn’t know what the flights off the island cost. He just knew it was a lot. He’d have to find out. Meanwhile, he’d just have to pretend to be cooperating. Being good.

He didn’t feel good.

Still, he worked on the farm that day and went meekly off to school on Monday. He had to admit it wasn’t actually bad at school among the zombies-of-the-island. He could almost have been enjoying it a lot more than St. Dominic’s, if it hadn’t been for the worry that they’d find out about why he’d left there. It was just such a different world here. They would never understand why he’d done…stuff. Tagging. And the shoplifting thing. They were all just so…good. Well, not really good, but not the same kind of not-good. The sort of dangerous side to Hailey that had attracted him just wasn’t there, in any of them.

At first he kept the money in his pocket. But he was worried about losing it, as he didn’t have a wallet, and he wasn’t going to spend any of the money on buying that. Mum could have sent him pocket money at least. It wasn’t fair.

He found a little Ziploc bag at school. It had probably had had some kid’s lunch treat in it. He didn’t care. It was clean and was better than nothing. He kept it under his pillow at night, and in his pocket during the daytime.

He was getting along better with Molly, too. They shared the bus trip, and they were the oldest ones, on for the longest. Only two of the littlies came from farther out than they did. Molly read on the bus when they’d let her. She was popular with the two kids from Killiekrankie, and with Troy and Samantha Burke. She had looked after most of them. “Babysitting is my pocket money. The B&B doesn’t make as much as Dad thought it would, and there is only so much computer work going. Mum’s been cleaning holiday houses to help. I felt bad after I heard them talking about it. It was awful. Besides, like, I want a new computer. I was collecting nautilus shells to sell before, but I’ve only found three, and no perfect ones.”

They ended up talking about computers because it was easier than talking about money. “My laptop is on the blue screen of death,” said Tim gloomily.

“Let me give it to my dad,” she’d offered. “He fixes them. Well, he swears at them a lot.”

So he’d brought it in and given it to her.

It came back the next day, which was Thursday. “My dad says how anyone had so many things unplugged in a laptop that still had all its seals intact is a mystery to him. He reconnected your power supply. There was nothing else wrong with it, besides an old battery.”

“Wow. Thanks! Yeah, it doesn’t hold a charge for long,” admitted Tim. “But now I can at least plug it in and play a game on the weekend. My gran doesn’t even have TV. She listens to ABC on this old radio.”

“We get really bad TV reception anyway. So are you going to the show tomorrow?” she asked.

“No. What show?”

She stared at him like he’d turned green. “You really mean you don’t know? It’s the Flinders Island Show. Everyone goes. There are, like, art competitions and veggies and wool, and there are a load of stalls from off-island selling things.” She colored slightly. “I’ve got a painting entered in the landscape section. Mum bought me the painting stuff out of her cleaning money.” She giggled. “Dad wanted to enter his broccoli, but it all started flowering. He’s not much good at gardening really. Great with computers, but he wants to grow veggies.” She bit her lip. “I could ask my parents if they could give you a lift. You can’t miss it. It only happens once a year.”

“I could ask my grandmother. But she’ll probably say no.”

“Well, if she doesn’t…look, I’ll phone if they say it’s okay. Or get my mum to call. That might be easier. They always like to interfere anyway.”

“Well, she’ll say no. But thanks. Have you finished the Wheel of Time books?”

She nodded. “It’s just brilliant how he put it all together. He must have planned it all before he even started.”

“I kind of lost it at book six…”

And they got involved in talking about books, until they arrived at school.

Tim wondered, that day, how he’d missed knowing about the Island Show. No one did much work, and he heard quite a lot about it.

And to his surprise, Molly’s father phoned Nan. And she said he could go. She even gave him five dollars from the tin box under her bed. Tim saw her pulling it out as he walked past.