Changeling’s Island – Snippet 27

Tim laughed until he had to sit down on the wet sand. It was neat to have someone like himself to talk to. He hadn’t realized he’d missed it so much.

* * *

He was a lot different from the miserable kid who had been kind to her on the flight over, thought Molly. That kid had been pale and a bit weedy, and had looked out of place. Tim was tanned to quite dark-skinned now, and his shirt looked too tight for him. And he looked more comfortable here even than he had been on the bus or at school. More confident. Telling her about how cool it was to go spearing flounder in the dark. Very full of his adventures on the boat with Jon McKay. Other than the fact that he was an ab diver, Molly didn’t know much about the guy. Tim plainly thought his word was law.

It was strange that Tim been here for so long during the holidays without showing up at the island’s functions and parties. But then, his grandmother never seemed to go out.

Talk went on to fishing. “I’m supposed to find nippers or pipis,” admitted Tim. “Gran seemed to think I’d know what they are, and how to find them. I have used squid and a hand line, but not this stuff.” He pointed at the rod.

“Dad fishes off the beach. But he mostly catches little flathead, too small to keep. I’ve helped him collect bait. If you want pipis, they’re just about wall-to-wall in the next bay. We’ve got a sort of pump for the sand-yabbies. I don’t think you can catch them with your hands.”

Soon they had their trousers rolled up and were collecting the little shellfish, “helped” by Bunce’s earnest digging, and then trying to work out how to put a shell on a hook. It was, Molly admitted to herself, more fun than she’d had so far that holiday. And fishing with Tim was more exciting, too, because it was not like with her dad, standing around waiting for something to happen, getting bored. Things happened, and fast. They had only managed — as a team effort — to cast out the broken shells on a hook on the third try, and that had barely had time to get wet before they had a fish on the hook, pulling the line, and jerking the rod around, bending it like a grass-stalk in the breeze.

“It’s a big one! What do I do now?” asked Tim, clinging onto the rod, as the reel screamed.

“Wind it in! Keep the rod pointed up,” said Molly. That was the extent of her knowledge.

The reel screamed again. “It’s heavy! It’s pulling like mad. I’ll keep the rod up, if you wind the reel. I need two hands.”

Bunce started barking and prancing around them with the excitement. Eventually they had to run backward up the beach — and fall over Bunce — and get up and run again, to pull the fish up onto the shining wet sand.

It was a mammoth-sized flathead, yellow with leopard-pattern brown spots and dots of red, and a huge, wide, flat mouth full of sharp teeth, and eyes with a golden iris that formed an odd crescent. It looked like a fantasy book’s dragon’s eye, staring at them.

“Watch it! The gill-covers have nasty spikes,” yelled Tim as she bent to try and pick it up. “Here, hold the rod. I’ll kill it.”

He did, stabbing it neatly through the head with the knife from his pocket. “Quick and clean, Jon says.”

Molly was glad he was there to do it. Bunce growled at the fish and sniffed it. “Don’t you dare eat it, you menace!” said Molly. “Boy, my dad would be green with envy!”

Tim laughed. “We’d better catch another then, so you can take this one home. Nan told me she was expecting fish for tea.”

“We’ll never catch two.”

But they did, the second not quite the size of the first, or quite so difficult or so mixed up in their efforts, but still a big fish. And then Tim…stopped. Put the reel down carefully on the bag. “I suppose we’d better fillet them and clean the guts out. Only I am not too sure how to do it…I was just doing the skinning with Mally. How can we carry the fillets? I haven’t got a plastic bag or anything.”

“Aren’t you going to try again?” asked Molly.

He shook his head, looking a little regretful. “That’s enough. Jon says you always leave fish in the sea for tomorrow, and we don’t have a freezer, and we’ve got a goose for tomorrow…” He colored. “Gran caught it. She thought the copper was on to her.”

“The copper?” asked Molly.

Tim looked uncomfortable. “He wanted to know where your place was. Something about a gun safe. He was lost.”

“But he came and had a cup of tea back in November. With that nice guy you went fishing with.”

Tim bit his lip and stood silent for a moment. Then he looked at the fish. “Well…I suppose I’d better try to deal with these.”

Molly wondered just what it was about the policeman that had made Tim so uncomfortable. She nearly asked, but then a tangle of blue baling twine and bits of dry seaweed, which had obviously been cast up by the tide, blew along the beach and nearly hit her in the face. It would have, if she hadn’t caught it. She held it out to him: “Boy, the wind is getting up. We could put the fish on some of this string and carry them home. My dad knows how to fillet fish.”

“I wish mine was around to show me,” said Tim, quietly.

What did you say to that? You could hear it hurt him. “We could at least take the guts out. I know how to do that from catching wrasse,” she said, changing the subject.

Tim grinned, obviously making an effort to pull himself away from whatever he’d been thinking of. “Here’s my knife,” he said, holding it out. “Just don’t tell Gran. She said I was never to let go of it.”

“She sounds, like, really weird,” said Molly.

“No!” he said defensively, and then pulled a face. “Yeah, I guess she is a bit. But she’s, well, I guess sort of living in the past or something. Like we don’t have TV, let alone the Internet. I didn’t think I could live without it.”

“I don’t think I could,” said Molly, cutting the fish’s belly open. “You can haul out the stuff inside. So, like, what do you do? I mean, no Internet, no TV…”

“Pull out fish guts,” he said, waving them around. “I’ve been working during the holidays, and Gran has always got jobs for me to do when I get home. I read. Play Starcraft. It’s a bit dead, but I’ve been so tired after being at sea. And I might be going to Melbourne later in the holidays. Or Jon said he was going to organize for me to take a motorboat handler’s ticket. That’d be cool. He’s a good guy, Jon.”

“I can lend you some books,” said Molly. It all sounded fairly dreary to her. Well, the motorboat part might be all right.

“That’d be great! I was wondering about the library, but it’s a long way to town.”

“We go in to fetch guests, and on Wednesdays when the ferry comes in, to shop.”

“Ah. I might scrounge a lift sometime. Nan gets Hailey’s dad, uh, Mr. Burke to collect our post and stuff.” He pushed a strand of the blue baling twine through the fish’s mouth. “There you go. Bunce will think you are carrying it for him.” The wolfhound lolled against Tim, panting affectionately.

“He likes you anyway. You can’t give it to me, though.”

“Why not? They’re too big for us to eat more than a fillet each,” said Tim, taking the guts out of the second fish.

It would be nice to shock her father with it. And, well, she felt she’d been part of catching it, and he really didn’t seem to be only being polite. “Um, like, if you’re sure? My dad will be green with envy.”

Tim nodded, waved at the sea. “Yeah. There are more fish out there, anyway.”

A little later Molly walked home with the flathead. The string was heavy and cut at her hand, but it was still going to be worth it, just to show her father. She found herself grinning at the thought of their method of catching fish. It had all been a lot more fun than just a walk down the beach with Bunce. It must be so strange for Tim. She didn’t really know a lot about him, about his family, or his weird grandmother. Why was he afraid of the cops? Why did he get miserable so easily? Maybe his grandmother was up to something. Or…were his parents really divorced? Maybe his father was in jail or something?

* * *

Áed was pleased with his work. He had made his peace with the Cu — the noble hound. It would seem the dog had the blood of the ancient hounds of the Irish chieftains in its veins, and was proof against most magics. Too, the steel studs in its collar had protected it from the sea-dog, and it had driven her off. And the dog’s mistress was helping to counter the selkie’s charms as well. Young humans had more in common than an old fae and young human, no matter what magics she used to make herself beautiful and seductive.

He’d flung the sea-wrack blue cord at the Cu’s mistress, set with the little charms that he had been able to add to it. She had taken his actions, as many humans did, for the wind, and “accepted” the gift by catching the tangle of twine before it hit her in the face. Such are the traps and gifts of Faerie. And she had taken a piece of it with her to string the fish onto. In way of such charms…she might try to throw it away, but it would fall into a pocket or end up being used for something in her home. The spells he’d placed on it would work, slowly, on her. He could summon her now. She would come and help to protect the master when Áed called.