Changeling’s Island – Snippet 19

* * *

Tim’s first take on the Island Show had been dismay. Five dollars to get in! He hadn’t known there was going to be an entry charge, and all the money he could get was for getting off the island…and then Molly’s mum had paid it for him so casually, while he was still feeling the blood rush to his face.

He gritted his teeth. Dug in his pocket. Nan obviously hadn’t been anywhere for so long that she still thought five dollars was a fortune. He’d planned to put it with the rest of his money. Just look around. He held out the note. “Here’s mine.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Mrs. Symons said.

Like he didn’t know they were scratching the bottom of the barrel a bit to survive. “No. I must. Really.”

“Call it payback for…for keeping me calm on the plane,” said Molly.

Tim had been getting quite good at reading her voice. She understood his embarrassment, and that was worse. “Thank you,” he said, awkward and gruff.

It was odd walking across to the buildings from the car park. Tim realized he wasn’t used to…the sound of so many people. Yeah, the kids made a noise on the playground at school. But other than the teachers and Nan, and Mally and McKay, he hadn’t really heard a bunch of adults talking since he left Melbourne. Noisy mob, he thought, smiling to himself at his own reaction. Compared to Sandring Mall, which he’d never even thought of as noisy.

“Hi, Tim!”

It was one of the younger kids from school. He thought Tim was smiling at him. Huh. Tim started to scowl, and then changed his mind. “Er. Hi.”

The kid didn’t notice. “Have you seen those big ball thingies you can get into? They’re so cool! Yeah, Mom. I’m coming.”

The last part wasn’t addressed to Tim, and the kid ran off. But it was just the start. Everyone greeted them. And half of them stopped to talk. They all seemed to know who he was, and several of them asked after his nan. They hadn’t even gotten halfway to the big old sheds that everyone was heading for. Their familiarity left Tim feeling even more uncomfortable. And yet…no one treated him like dog mess under their shoes. “Takes a long time to get anywhere,” he said, after the fourth stop.

“It’s strange, knowing everyone,” nodded Molly, understanding. “I felt like I was getting inspected at Customs at first. I didn’t like it much, but you get used to it.”

“I guess.” He’d realized that in two weeks he’d gotten used to quiet, to the noises of the bush on the farm. He’d never thought that would happen.

“And then when you go back to Melbourne and greet people and they look at you like you’re about to mug them,” she giggled. “Daddy nearly caused a couple of crashes, waving at cars over there.”

They’d arrived at the door to the first big shed. The Lions Club — so the sign read, were frying donuts. And the smell of hot oil, the hiss and pop of frying, and the prickle of cinnamon took him back. He blinked. He hadn’t realized how sharply smells could poke your memories out from where they were hiding. He hadn’t even liked the movies, but Hailey had.

And as if it had all been some kind of magic spell, there she was. Looking bored, with that expression that Tim had learned meant he should avoid her…if he could. But he’d never been able to. “Uh. Hi, Hailey.”

Her expression changed. She smiled. The same teasing smile that had made him take that DVD and hide it under his jacket. That had made him try that spiff. And, just then, he’d have done it all again.

Except…she wasn’t smiling at him. She was smiling at the big guy with the tattoo on his shoulder and the earring who was sauntering through the door, his jeans fashionably low. She walked past Tim, as if he wasn’t there. “Hi, Justin. Daddy flew me over for the show…” They walked off.

Tim knew then that it wasn’t enough just to get together the money to leave the island. He needed to do more. He just wasn’t sure what.

* * *

In the vast and misty halls under Cnoc Meadha, where the rules of time and space are quite different, King Finvarra’s host feast, drink, dance. Sometimes they will ride and sometimes they will hunt. Sometimes they will fight too. To the high ones of the Aos Sí, this is life. Sometimes in their timelessness it palls a little. They will intrude on the human world. Humans are amusing to them, in the way humans find pet monkeys amusing. Monkeys that could be enchanted.

It is a rare human that finds the charms of the hollow lands of the Aos Sí pall on them. But then, their lives are short.

Áed did not miss it much. But then the feasting, womanizing and finery were not for the lesser spirits such as Áed. They were bred to work, much as sheepdogs are, and while the great ones could weave glamour and work spells of power in the underworld, Áed liked the change and the challenge out here, and even the weakness of his master. Given a choice, Áed would remain in the wind and wild of the world above.

Few humans, though, once the magic of Faerie had touched them, were strong enough to make that choice.

* * *

Molly had met Hailey Burke before, introduced by the delusion that some adults had that because you were both girls who were not too far apart in age, and who lived near to each other out in the Whoop-Whoop, you’d naturally be the best of friends. It had been dislike at first sight from Molly’s point of view. They had almost nothing in common. Molly had decided Hailey was a horrible little airhead who had never read a book in her life, but was a faithful follower of fashion and celebrities. By the way they’d never met up again, it seemed Hailey hadn’t liked her either.

Watching Tim’s reaction to meeting her here, and Hailey ignoring him, just made her feel sorry for Tim and want to slap Hailey. He just looked like such a hurt puppy. But he had seriously bad taste.

They’d walked around the photographs and painting and embroidery. He’d emerged from his dismals enough to tell her that he really loved her sea picture, and his gran’s veg would lick anything they had here.

But she could see that his mind, and his heart, was elsewhere.

It was pretty irritating, really.

* * *

When Tim got back to the house, his grandmother was out somewhere. He was glad of that. He was glad of the silence of the farm. He didn’t want anyone. He didn’t want to talk either. He’d done that. Made polite conversation. Molly’s parents were okay. A bit weird, and asking far too many questions about his family. He didn’t have a clue how long there had been Ryans on the island. What did it matter, really?

At least they’d stayed off questions about his mother and father. Or too much about Melbourne.

He sat disconsolately on his bed for a bit. Then thought he might as well play some computer games. His head was too all over the place to read. What he really wanted to do was to go fishing or to do something exciting…but he’d play a game or two. Starcraft just didn’t grab him right now. He had a CD of stupid old first-person shooter games in his bag that he’d been given for his birthday by his mother, who didn’t understand games and had found these really cheap. A couple of them were quite good, even if they weren’t new. That might do.

He took the old Spiderman II bag down from on top of the cupboard. Feeling for the CD, he found his passport instead.