Changeling’s Island – Snippet 25


The holidays were Molly’s parents’ busiest time of the year and Molly had her bit to do too. Of course there was more spare time, and there was quite a lot happening on the island, from cricket matches to concerts, but as she couldn’t drive alone yet, it meant someone had to take her, and she felt guilty asking. Still, with the long daylight of summer, and the water warming up, there was time to run Bunce on the beach and to swim afterward. The endless beaches and coves to yourself were something you took for granted, until there was someone else on the beach. Then it felt like they were intruders.

She ran into a sulky-faced Hailey Burke wandering around in the little supermarket in town when they’d gone in for their weekly shop. “Hello,” said Hailey. “Are you stuck in this dead boring place too? Are there any parties I don’t know about?”

“New Year’s…”

“Oh, I’ll be gone by then. We’re going skiing in Chamonix. I hate this place. I wish I could have stayed in Melbourne. My stepmother thinks I’m nothing but a babysitter.”

Molly had to laugh to herself translating “Chamonix” back into the place Hailey was boastfully referring to. Cham as in “Charles” and nix as in “Nicks” — not “Shamonee,” as Dad’s climbing friend called it. It was going to be funny when Hailey tried that on the first bunch of other skiers.

“I wondered why I hadn’t been asked to sit over there for a while,” Molly said. “Oh, look, my dad’s at the checkout. I have to go. He’s waiting for the lettuce.”

Molly made her escape. There were times when she thought the island boring too. But that girl made her want to defend it. And what on earth had a nice guy like Tim seen in her? Hailey was, Molly admitted to herself, what most guys would think was beautiful. And she was good at makeup, and at choosing clothes to make her breasts look like they were going to pop out the top of them. And she had enough to pop, not like Molly. But Tim could have found someone with boobs, looks and brains, or at least a nice personality surely? Thinking of Tim, Molly wondered what he was up to. She hadn’t seen him since school broke up. Maybe he’d gone back to Melbourne for the holidays. Just as well. She could see a bored Hailey using him for a toy to run after her, until she left again, or found something better.

* * *

Tim wondered for a moment if he should run. Naked panic nearly took him headlong into the bush.

Then there was a loud bang behind him. And he really did dive into the bush, squirming into its thickness, dropping the parcel Jon had given him.

They couldn’t just shoot him! Couldn’t! It wasn’t allowed! He peeped back from the cover of the ti-tree to see which way to worm in its dense thicket. The vehicle had stopped; the driver was out of it. But the driver wasn’t looking at him. Rather at his ute, and scratching his head. There was no gun in sight.

Tim put his head up a little more, just as the cop turned to look at him, his hands empty, and a rueful look on his face. “I really am sorry about that, son,” called the big policeman. “Didn’t mean to give you a fright. My tire just burst.”

Tim stood up, too angry to be frightened anymore. “I thought you were shooting at me! If you broke my present, I’ll…I’ll…”

“Tell the coppers?” said the policeman with a smile. “Look, I really must apologize. If it is broken, well, I’ll replace it. Can’t say fairer than that, can I?” He walked forward, picked the box up, and handed it to Tim. “Tamar Marine, eh? What is it?”

“I don’t know. I just got given it. It’s my Christmas present.”

“Well, if it is broken, really, I’ll replace it. That tire-burst nearly gave me heart failure. It must have been even louder out here. I am sorry. Good thing it happened here, though. If I’d been on the road, driving faster, it could have been serious. I’m looking for the Symons place. I am supposed to inspect a gun safe there.”

Relief washed through Tim, and without meaning to, he started to laugh. And laugh. He laughed so much he couldn’t breathe, and had to sit down. The cop looked a little worried. “Sorry,” he said when he could breathe again. “I don’t know what came over me. I just got such a fright with the bang. Molly, uh, their place is about two kilometers further along the road. There’s a sign.”

“Ah. This’ll be the Ryan place then,” said cop, in a questioning tone.

Tim nodded, unease returning. A sudden angry gust of wind blew in the police ute’s open door and scattered papers out of it, into the bush. “Oh, my word! I need those. Give me a hand to catch them,” said the policeman.

By the time they’d gathered the forms, and Tim had helped to change the tire, he was no longer quite so terrified of the big policeman. He wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him, but he seemed more interested in fishing and boats than in Tim’s past.

He put the ruined tire in the back and said: “Well, thank you. I’ll give you a lift for your fright.”

“I can walk,” said Tim.

“Well, I can’t turn around here, and I don’t want to reverse back to the gate. So I am going your way.”

So Tim got his second ride in a police vehicle. It was more pleasant than the first, but he still wouldn’t have minded missing it. The policeman said he was new here and asked questions about the island, casually, but Tim would bet he was doing more than just being curious, by the too-casual questions about the neighboring farms and people. “I don’t really know. I haven’t been here long. I’m just staying with my grandmother,” said Tim, quite relieved to give a true answer. He got the feeling that lying to this cop wouldn’t work well.

“And there I thought you were an islander,” said the copper.

“I’m from Melbourne.”

The cop smiled and said, as if he was giving a compliment, “You look more like the son of a local fisherman than a city boy.”

Tim’s first take was to be a bit offended. But he was in his oldest jeans, and they were quite salt-stained. And he did like fishing. They’d talked about flathead, earlier. “Well, um, I’m not.”

* * *

Áed had not felt such a burst of fear and rage from his young master for many days now. This place had had a calming influence. He could have burned the vehicle, but Áed had worked out that the last fire he’d started had…caused complications. The ways of humans were strange to incomprehensible. So he merely settled for making the wheel lose its trapped air. Air did not like being trapped, and Áed was quite good at exerting his power over it. At the same time…well, this was the master’s place and the land spirits welcomed him. They were powerful even if very, very old. “Help him!”

The answer was not quite in words, not even in the tongue of creatures of the air and darkness. But Áed understood it anyway.

The land would lend him strength. But this child-of-the-land would have to use that strength and be a man and deal with his enemy all by himself. The land would not do it for him. He would never be a man then.

This was alien to the little creature of air and darkness. They existed to do their master’s will, to defend. Perhaps that was why Fae were not men.

He’d raised a little wind to help anyway.

* * *

They arrived at the farmhouse. Tim saw his grandmother come out. And with that odd sideways look…turn white and sit down on the step, clutching the rail. They both bailed out of the ute and ran to her.

“Tim? Is he…” she quavered.

“I’m here, Nan. I’m here,” said Tim, taking her arm.

His grandmother pulled herself upright on his arm, and then to her feet. “He’s a good boy,” she said belligerently, as if she was going to take the big cop’s head off. She held on to his arm, tightly.

“Yes, Ma’am. He’s a very good youngster,” said the policeman. “He helped me out. I was lost and gave him a bit of a fright.”

“Yer gave me one too. Now get out of here. You ain’t welcome.” Her voice would have frozen a volcano.

“I really must apologize,” said the policeman calmly. Tim was surprised he could be so calm-faced with Nan like this. “It was an accidental thing, and I didn’t mean to give anyone a shock, let alone both of you. I’ll be off now. Tim, don’t forget your parcel. If it is damaged, I’ll replace it.”

Tim went to collect it and the policeman drove off.

“Make some tea and tell me what’s going on,” said his grandmother, looking after the departing vehicle with grim satisfaction.

So Tim did, explaining about the burst tire. “He probably thinks we’re criminals, shouting at him. He was just lost.”

“Hmph!” snorted his grandmother. “Him. He ain’t lost. He’s just nosing about. Looking for clues about who is growing cannabis. Looking for signs of money.”

Well, he wouldn’t see it here, Tim thought to himself.

“And what’s the parcel?” His grandmother asked.

“Jon…Mr. McKay gave it to me. He said it was a Christmas present. I dropped it when I thought I was being shot at.”

“I haven’t got much for yer myself,” said his grandmother. “I ain’t got a tree or anything.” She sounded faintly guilty. “Good thing that copper didn’t look in the fridge though, because I did get us a goose for our Christmas dinner.”

Tim blinked. “A Cape Barren goose?” There were quite a few around the farm, big gray birds with pale green upper beaks. They fouled up the drinking pools on the lower paddock, and his grandmother did a fair job of cursing them for it. They were protected birds in Australia, but very common on the island.