Changeling’s Island – Snippet 26

His grandmother nodded. “My little helper caught him.”

“Some people do shoot them. They were talking about it at school.”

“Yes, but yer got to have a permit for that, an’ that costs money, which we ain’t got. I’ll claim it’s Aboriginal hunting if they asked me.”

“But you’re not Aboriginal,” said Tim.

She snorted. “They say I am. So, so are you. Now drink yer tea, we got some cows to shift.”

Tim was left to puzzle this out, as his grandmother was plainly not going to tell him any more about it. Her tone — and he’d gotten quite good at reading that — said he shouldn’t ask. They moved cows, patched a piece of broken, rusty fence, and went back to the house. It was hot, but windy. “Pity about the wind. I’d love to go for flounder again,” said Tim.

“It’ll settle in a few days. Yer could try for flathead off the beach. There’s an old rod of mine in the back of the shed yer could take. Call it an early present.”

Once, not even that long ago, that would have not raised much excitement. Now it was different. “Really?”

“Yer looked after yer grandfather’s flask well enough, and yer seem to have bit of common sense, when you’re not driving,” said his grandmother, dryly.

“I will look after it. I promise. I’ve never done any fishing, except on the boat with a hand-line. I don’t really know what to do.”

“Yer put a bait on and cast…oh, get it out. There’s a canvas bag next to it with sinkers and stuff. I’ll show yer quickly, and you can go and try. I’ve got to do some baking. You keep your knife by you, stay away from seals, and don’t talk to any strange women.”

So she showed him, and soon Tim was walking down through the paddocks and bush to the sea, a long rod on his shoulder, wondering just how many strange women his nutty grandmother thought he’d find down there.

The sea was a far call from the calm of his flounder-spearing night, but not as rough as on some days he’d been working for Jon out on it. He looked at the low-tide-exposed gleaming sand where his grandmother assured him there’d be pipis and nippers for bait. She obviously thought anyone who could breathe would know what those were, and Tim hadn’t wanted to ask any more questions in case she changed her mind. It was good to be down here, with the wind and salt in his face, the beach under his bare feet. His toes would have to dig into the sand like roots to keep him from blowing away if the wind got up any more, thought Tim, burrowing them into the wet sand anyway, and feeling, somehow, like a tall tree, firm against the wind. He stood there for a while leaning into the wind, before walking toward the low rock that jutted into the water, that he’d been told to fish off.

And there was a strange woman…riding a surfboard, so it was kind of logical for her to be here. She was hot, and not just for her wave riding. Tim had fantasies about a girl that looked like Lorde, and this girl looked very like her. The black wetsuit didn’t leave that much to his imagination. She waved. He waved back, more than just a little surprised.

There was obviously a deeper patch of water, there near the rock, because the waves were not breaking there. The surfer girl paddled into that and sat up on her board to talk to him: “Hello. You must be Tim Ryan.”

She had a beautiful smile and long, dark wavy hair that hung down over her breasts. The wetsuit was unzipped enough to let Tim wonder what, if anything, she was wearing under it. He was trying not to stare, and failing. “Uh. Yes.”

“I’m Maeve,” she said, giving him a little wave.

Her smile made Hailey’s best try to be charming look like a candle to a searchlight. Tim swallowed, trying to find something not stupid to say, and to stop staring. She had a rich lilting voice…and his mother’s Irish accent.

* * *

Áed had been afraid that the selkie would be in ambush. He’d been sure she would be waiting and watching, but Áed had hoped that he’d made her wary. Instead it seemed to have made the seal-woman determined to use her powers to the fullest. Because seals looked graceful and their little ones soft, because men and sharks had hunted them…men seemed to forget that seals too were relentless hunters. She was drawing on the human side of Áed’s master, letting Áed master’s own idea of beauty provide the magical glamour. She looked like the woman of his dreams, because she was what he dreamed, rather than her own more voluptuous self.

Áed searched desperately for some way to distract his master. But she was easily able to counter his small magics. She could probably kill him, if she chose, or get the master to banish him, he was that enthralled. Yet…Áed’s poor master should have just rushed into the water after her…blinded by the charm and magic, not even aware that he was drowning. And he hadn’t. She was trying to talk him away from the land that gave him strength. The land touched the master’s bare feet, and he was a part of it, and it seemed its spirits, even if they would not help him fight men, protected him, at least from magics and enchantments. That…and maybe the Aos Sí blood that allowed him to look at her glamour, and perhaps see through it.

But would it be enough? She was clever, she watched humans and understood them all too well, and there was nothing a little creature of air and darkness could do against her power, drawn from the vastness of the sea.

Her look told him that he would suffer if he even tried.

Áed fled…

To find help.

Fortunately, it was on the beach, and it had very long legs. Four of them, and when taunted by Áed, the huge wolfhound could run faster than a stag.

The human girl who had been with the dog was left far behind, even if she too had long legs and could run well for her kind.

* * *

“I’d love to try it! But I haven’t got any bathers,” said Tim. “Anyway, I’ve never surfed, and really I wouldn’t know what to do.” A cautious part of his mind said he would only make a complete fool of himself if he took her up on her offer of having a go at riding the board.

“Oh, it’s easy enough. I’ll show you,” she said.

There was an enormous splash. Tim turned and saw what he first took for a sea monster, and then realized that it was merely a huge brown coarse-haired whiskery dog’s head above the water — with the rest of the dog submerged, but swimming, and barking.

Looking back along the beach, Tim could see Molly pelting along the beach.

The surfer girl looked at the dog, at Tim, at the runner…and said: “I see you have friends. Another time.” And she paddled the board away, far faster than the swimming Bunce, who did a deep-throated woof at her and it, before he turned shoreward.

“Bunce!” gasped Molly. “Come here,”…pant…”bad dog!”

The bad dog in question surged and bounced out of the shallows with a vast doggy grin, hurtled out of the water to Tim, and leaned against his legs, wet and hairy. Bunce looked adoringly up at Tim, tongue lolling, as if he was best thing he’d ever seen. He didn’t have to look that far up, either. He was a huge dog. It was a hard look to resist. Tim patted the big head, a bit warily. He hadn’t had much to do with dogs, let alone ones quite this size. He got a big, sloppy lick of appreciation.

“Don’t think you can hide behind Tim, you…you faithless ratbag,” said Molly, grabbing him by the studded collar. The collar was more imposing than the dog, who was pretending to be very small, and succeeding quite well, for a cart-horse. “Sorry, Tim. He just took off. I don’t know what got” — she panted — “into him.” She stared crossly at the large dog thumping his tail at her and panting back. “He always comes when I call him.”

“He just can’t resist surfboards,” said Tim, mildly irritated that the gorgeous woman had paddled off, but still pleased to see Molly and her daft dog.

Molly wrinkled her brow. “What surfboard?” she asked.

“That woman on a surfboard. She was here when Bunce came to show off his moustache.” Tim pointed out at the sea. And then blinked because neither the woman nor the surfboard was visible. “Hello. Where has she gone?”

Molly looked at the sea. Dug into the magazine pocket of her camo trousers, and came out with a book and a small pair of binoculars. She stared at the water, searching. “There’s a seal. Did you think that was a surfboard? Maybe Bunce thought the seal was another dog. He’s not very fond of other dogs.”

Before Tim could tell her that he wasn’t blind, didn’t need glasses and did know the difference between a woman and a seal, the Irish wolfhound curved his back.

Molly let go of his collar and backed off, but not quite fast enough, as he shook himself, sending what seemed like half the ocean spraying over the two of them. “Oh, Bunce! If you’ve damaged the binocs I’ll kill you, and Dad’ll kill me!” shrieked Molly.

By the time the binoculars had been carefully dried of the few droplets, inspected and the end result greeted with some relief, with an apologetic dog trying to lick them, the surfer had been momentarily forgotten. The two of them were talking with the ease that bus journeys together had brought, about how the holidays had been so far, and that had led into books, and the folly of parents, or in Tim’s case, a grandparent. “She says I am to take this old knife with me everywhere. And not talk to strange women.”

Molly stuck her tongue out at him. “I’m not that strange.”