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Tim had been…well, terrified, when he went to the headmistress’s office. Almost inevitably, just as he went in, a whole pile of paper sprayed across the room, and the lightbulb exploded with a loud pop.

“Goodness! What an entrance.” The woman shifted her glasses back on her nose, and smiled at him. She didn’t blame him! That was different. “You must be Timothy Ryan. I’m so glad to see you. Give me a hand to pick these up, will you?”

It was said in such a calm, easygoing way, and she really did seem happy to have him here. She talked while they picked up papers. She spoke so quickly that it was hard to get a word in edgeways, but she was also very good at asking the right sort of questions. And she wasn’t in the least troubled by his lack of uniform. “I’ll get you a shirt from the lost property box for now. Come to me at break and I’ll take you down to town.”

She never mentioned knowing anything about why he’d come. Neither did anyone else. The day, like any first day, rushed around him in a confused welter of newness. He was introduced to a lot of people. He couldn’t remember any of them. He was ahead in some areas, far behind in others. As for the place, he felt as if everything was moving around him, just as soon as he got his bearings. He was whisked away to a small shop in the little town, and paid over his grandmother’s money, and left with a carrier bag and what passed for a uniform here. St. Dominic’s would have sneered, but then he’d hated those clothes anyway.

And no one said, right out to his face, “Why are you here?”

Somebody had to know. Someone had to tell. And then…yeah, well. Shoplifting wasn’t that big a deal, was it? But he’d worked out pretty quickly that here it probably was a very big deal. The kids had left lunchboxes, some transparent with chocolates visible, sticking out of their bags. You couldn’t have done that at his junior school back in Melbourne without someone nicking something. St. Dominic’s had been, if anything, worse. Here…they didn’t even lock their cars. Or have burglar bars or security guys at the shop. Someone told a story in class about some stupid visitor locking a guest cottage, and the owner having to break a window to get in because of it. Tim had asked if the owner had lost his key. He’d got one of those looks, a look that said “gee, you’re dumb.” “No one has keys. We don’t lock things up here. Why would you?”

Tim knew why. And from that he could figure exactly how they’d feel about a thief. He’d been in a school where he’d been the kicking-boy before. He didn’t want to be there again, even if these country hicks weren’t his kind of people.

Tim’s mother had often used the expression “waiting for the other shoe to drop” and never quite explained why one was waiting, or just what shoes had to do with it. When he was much younger, he’d asked why you didn’t just run away when you heard the first shoe.

“Because you can’t. And you don’t know if it will.”

Tim understood the feeling now. His stomach was in a bit of a knot all day, just waiting. And he couldn’t run away. He was stuck out on an island with no way off that didn’t cost a lot. And he had no money, nothing, not even a working phone. It was just like a prison, really. He might as well have been charged and been sent to jail, as to this place. It would take hours and hours to walk to this town from his grandmother’s house, if you could call the town a “town.” It was more like a pub, a little supermarket, and a post office, and a few houses. No mall. No movies, no…no nothing. Nothing for a guy to do. No place to hang out.

Just a granite mountain that seemed to be looking at him.

* * *

Áed liked the school-place. He liked laughter and noise, and he liked the opportunity the place gave him to serve. He liked to work with things like wood and paper, rather than metals, and there was plenty of that here.

There were little twists of hot air rising above the road, and Áed swirled with one. He was not strong enough to make it into a true whirlwind, to tear roofs and break walls, but he could spin it faster and direct it. His master was upset and worried about these humans. Best to distract them from him. Give them something else to think about. He headed the spinning vortex of air toward a group of children who were talking about his master.

* * *

“Look!” yelled someone as Tim mooched along towards the bus, thinking. Trying to ignore everyone. Look like he wasn’t there. They were talking about him, he was sure.

He looked up as a column of dust whirled towards the other kids. He was not in its way…

Not again! It would be his fault. It always ended up being his fault.

This time he got angry. He just had half a chance to start again, even in this dump! Instead of running away like the rest of the kids, Tim turned and faced down the willy-willy. “Stop it, now. I don’t need any more of this here!” he screamed at it.

“Tim!” shouted someone. “Come away. You can’t just yell at a whirlwind.”

The air was full of grit, dust, sticks and leaves. The wind raged, lifting his hair.

“I won’t give you any beer!” Tim had no idea why he said that. Just his crazy grandmother and her beer story last night had been playing with his mind all day.

“Tim!” Two of the others had reached him. Grabbing his arms…It was Molly and the big, rather slow-seeming Henry. “Come…”

“It’s stopping.” Henry said, as the dust tower turned abruptly and collapsed, bits of leaf and stick falling. Seconds later it was gone, and there was just a little dust in the warm spring air.

“That was lucky!” said Molly.

“It listened to him, see,” said Henry, cheerfully. “Next time Dad wants to set cray pots and it’s blowing, I’m going to tell him to offer the Beastly-Easterly wind a beer to make it go away, instead of drinking it himself.” Quite a few of the kids laughed.

“Where did you get that idea from, Tim?” asked someone.

“Um. Something my nan said.”

“My nan only ever says ‘have you washed yer hands?’” said someone else.

“Come on,” said Molly. “Killiecrankie bus has to go. That’s us, Tim.”

Tim found he’d accidentally broken a few of the rules that morning. The older ones were supposed to sit at the back, and there were a few extra littlies for the trip back who told him so. Not very politely, in the case of one little boy.

“Oh, shut up, Troy. He’s new. He doesn’t know yet,” said Molly.

Several people asked how his first day had been. Tim didn’t say anything about being trapped with zombies on the island of the living dead, but made polite “yeah, great” noises.

They all seemed to be happy with that, and he had survived all the way out to the lonely turnoff. Only it wasn’t so lonely now. A new Subaru whisked two of the kids away—Troy and a younger one who had to be his sister—in a spurt of gravel and cloud of dust. The elderly Nissan SUV didn’t have a dog with a moustache, but did have a smiling man with a retreating hairline and a ponytail leaning on it.

“Would you like a lift?” asked Molly’s father. He couldn’t be anyone else. He looked just like her when he held his head like that and had that half-smile on his face.

“Thank you, but I’d like to walk,” said Tim, lying, but embarrassed. “It’s not far, and, um, I need the exercise.” It was better than facing any more curiosity.

“Well, we’re going past,” said Molly’s father.

“No, really,” said Tim digging deep in memories of things people said about the country. “It’s…it’s just nice to enjoy the fresh air. And, um, the sounds of nature.”

His parroting of this load of bull seemed to go down well with the guy though. “Exactly what I’d do on a day like today. Too nice to be stuck in a car. Come on, Molly…Unless you want to walk too?”

“It’s about five kays along the road, Daddy. And I’ve got a ton of homework to do,” said Molly, shaking her head at him. “See you tomorrow, Tim.”

And with that, she got into the car, and they left, and Tim looked into the dust-trail at the walk ahead of him for a while. Well. He couldn’t just stand here, so he started walking. It was a lot farther on foot than it was by car, and the “fresh air” was hot and the “sounds of nature” could have been made a lot better with an iPod. It was hot and still and the only sounds were the flies. The roadkill was buzzing with it.

He trudged on. A car came past. It was Hailey’s father, but he didn’t stop. Probably heard all about me, thought Tim, gloomily. He wondered what Hailey had said. “Loser,” probably. It still hurt, thinking about her.

He was so deep in thought about this, so hot, and tired of walking, that he didn’t actually notice the white Land Rover ute with the inflatable boat on a trailer behind it. The pickup truck’s bonnet was up, and it was parked at the side of the road as he walked around the corner. It took the man working on it to swear before Tim suddenly became aware of it.

The guy under the bonnet must have heard something, because he turned. He was a lean, suntanned-to-old-leather-faced guy, with a neat little clipped beard, no moustache, and very blue eyes. “g’day,” he said, like he hadn’t been swearing ten seconds before.

“Hi. Can I help?” said Tim, knowing he couldn’t. He didn’t know much about cars, and didn’t even have a working mobile. That still galled him. How could the place be so…basic?

The stranger looked Tim up and down, thoughtfully. And nodded. “Maybe you can, sonny. My hands just don’t fit down there. It’s pretty hot though. I just burned myself.”

“I could try, I suppose,” said Tim, looking at the gap that the man was pointing down into.

“That pipe there has to go onto that flange on the other side. But be careful, it’s hot.”

Gingerly, because he could feel the heat, Tim reached down, trying not to touch anything, and got hold of the pipe. The problem was there was just no space. While trying to be careful not to touch anything, it was very hard to push sideways at near-full stretch. It was the sort of job someone with strong hands and arms could do in ten seconds…if the engine was cool.

“I just, ouch, can’t push it on,” admitted Tim after a minute or two.

* * *

Heat meant little to Áed as he clambered down his master’s sleeve to avoid the nasty iron in the steel. That could and would burn him in a different way. He was quite strong, and, once the Master let go, it took all the time of the blinking of an eye to push the rubber pipe in place and slip the clip back on.

* * *

“Oh, well. Don’t burn yourself trying. I’ll walk up the road and see if I get mobile reception,” said the man in a resigned tone. “I’ve got a load of fish and it won’t do them any good sitting in this heat. Hello…” he said, looking down and then having a closer look. “You’ve done it, youngster! Well done. You even got the circlip on. Good lad!”

Tim looked down into the heat of the engine. The pipe was on, and a little brass clip around it. He’d swear he hadn’t done that. “I didn’t think I had gotten it on,” he said, doubtfully.

“It looks pretty solidly on to me,” said the man, looking at it, then grinning at Tim. He wiped his oily hand on his jeans and stuck out the hand. “Didn’t introduce myself. I’m Jonno. Jon McKay. One of the local ab divers. You must be the new kid at the school. Ryan, I think.”

“Uh. Yes, I’m Tim Ryan. How do you know who I am?” he blurted out.

The diver laughed. “This is Flinders, mate. Get used to it. You can’t keep anything a secret here. My deckie’s girlfriend works up at the school. The headmistress was celebrating having a new student. Now, can I give you a lift? It’s a scorcher for walking, and old Mary Ryan’s place is a good couple of kilometers still. I imagine that’s where you’re going.”

“I’ll be fine. Really,” said Tim, wondering just how much of his past had already not been kept secret.

Obviously his voice betrayed him. “Don’t be such a martyr,” said McKay. “It won’t take me five minutes, and you just saved me a long walk, and my fish from getting too hot. I owe you.”

“It’s not the way you’re going.”

“Even towing a boat, I can turn around,” said McKay cheerfully. “Get in, will you? I’ll go up to the corner and turn around. It’ll be easier.”

So Tim got into the truck with him. It was obviously a working ute, with the foot-well full of spare parts and jumper cables. More to make conversation than anything else, because he knew nothing about boats or fish, Tim asked, “So what kind of fish have you been catching?”

McKay chuckled again. “Muttonfish. Or that’s what they call them here. I dive for abalone. Have you ever dived?”

“No. I’ve never actually been into the sea.”

The diver looked at him, his mouth open, and then hastily back at the road as the tires bit the soft gravel on the road margin. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“No. I guess…my dad didn’t like the beach. He hated the sea, I remember him telling me when I asked him to take me.”

“But you were in Melbourne. Didn’t your mother like it either, then?”

“I think my mom only likes shopping malls and theaters and stuff. She used to take me to the pool quite often. I can swim pretty well, just not in the sea. I might have gone to the beach to play in the sand when I was, like, really little, I think. I suppose we were quite close to the sea really, but, well, we never went. But I used to go swimming quite a lot. I can swim well,” he said defensively, feeling, somehow, that he’d moved down in McKay’s estimation of him.

“I suppose you’ve never been on a boat either?” asked the man, a smile twitching his lips.

“No, I haven’t,” admitted Tim, feeling like he was saying he hadn’t done his homework, and thinking just how unfair that was. Something about this man made Tim want to be liked by him, want to be respected.

“Hmm. I’ll take you out sometime. We’ll go and catch a few flathead. It’s a part of your heritage. I reckon you’ll see enough of the beach here. You can get down to Marshall Bay from Mary Ryan’s place. There’s a track through the scrub.”

They’d arrived at the old gate. “I can walk from here. Really. It’s not far.”

“Hop out and open it. It’ll be easier for me to turn around down at the house, if I remember it right. I came down with my uncle Giles when I was about your age to go netting off the beach.”

So Tim did as he was told. Letting the ute and the boat go past before he closed the gate, Tim got a really good look at the boat on the trailer for the first time. It was obviously rugged and cool looking, metal underneath, with long, sleek blown-up pontoons on the sides.

They bumped down to the farmhouse. “Stock looks in fair shape,” said McKay, sounding faintly surprised. “I don’t suppose you know much about sheep or cattle either.”

“No. I have to milk a cow this afternoon,” said Tim.

That got a snort of laughter. “You’re going to have some fun out here, youngster.”

Tim hadn’t quite thought of it as “fun.”

They arrived at the house, and his grandmother was striding towards them, garden fork under one arm. McKay got out of the ute. “Mrs. Ryan. I’m Jon McKay. You probably don’t remember me, but I used to come along with my Uncle Giles to net garfish about, oh, fifteen years back.”

Something about the way the old woman walked changed. That might almost have been a smile on that severe face of hers. “You want to net some more fish?”

“No, I’m diving abalone these days. I just brought your boy home. I was stuck at the side of the road and he gave me a hand to fix the ute.”

“Ah. Not in trouble, is he?”

“No. He was a real help,” said McKay. “I said I’d take him to catch some flathead someday.”

“I haven’t had a good feed of flathead for a while,” said Tim’s grandmother. “If he’ll go, he can.”

“If we have some decent weather on the weekend, I’ll take him. He’s got some adventures ahead of him. I hear he’s learning to milk a cow this afternoon. And he says he’s never been to the beach or the sea.”

His grandmother snorted. “That’s the trouble with city people. They can’t do much.”

“Yes,” said McKay cheerfully. “I came from Lonnie for holidays. Best time of my life was learning stuff from Uncle Giles. Anyway, I have to get these fish packed and down to the airport, and my deckie has taken off again. Would you like a few abalone for your tea, Mrs. Ryan?”

That was almost definitely a smile. “That’d be good. Yer want some spuds?” asked Tim’s gran.

McKay nodded. “Please, if you can spare some. Mine aren’t doing as well as yours. I’ve got a place up towards Boat Harbour. The soil is pretty sandy.”

“This was too, but it’s had fifty years of manure in it. Here, Tim, run and get a carrier bag from behind the door in the kitchen, and you can take the fork and dig up some potatoes.”

Tim fetched the bag, was handed the fork—his grandmother and McKay having walked over to the vegetable garden, talking—and realized he had a problem. There were a lot of plants there. None of them had a sign on them that said “potatoes.”

* * *

Áed could see the fenodree, lurking among the broad beans, scowling. The woman of the place might regard this as her domain, but the fenodree regarded it as his. If he took offense, well, he could do mischief. Or worse, he could just lope off. Áed realized the little one did a lot of the farm work, and enjoyed it. “He’s still young. Like a new puppy. You will have to teach him.”

The fenodree blinked. “You teach him. The potatoes are nearly ready, but he’s about to stick the fork into the asparagus bed.”

Áed leapt and pushed the shaft of the fork, wooden and easy to push, so it swung down away from the thick feathery leaves.

The master looked puzzled, and narrowly missed his own foot.

But at least the fenodree laughed.

* * *

“Put it in the edge of the earthed up bit, that mound,” said McKay. “And then stand on the fork and lean it back. I bet you have never dug spuds before.”

Tim looked down at where he turned the earth up. It was quite loose and easy to lift. He could see the round shapes of potatoes in the dirt, and he reached down his hands to lift them out. The soil was slightly warm around them. It was kind of neat hauling them out. If only they came out as crisps, he could do this all day.

* * *

“The old ones like him,” said Áed, for he and the fenodree could see what the master could not, in the lines of force and strength that ran through this land and crackled with its lightnings into the boy. Ochre patterns that ran all the way to the mountain, had run the length of the land for always and always, still ran down into the water where the sea had tried to eat them away, from times when the land had been much wider.

The fenodree nodded. “We’d better see to the teaching of him. He will be good for this place.”

* * *

Feeling good about digging up potatoes had lasted a few minutes, until McKay took off and Tim found out that digging, and worse, was more or less what the afternoon held for him.

“Where’d yer think yer going?” his grandmother asked as Tim walked toward the house, and McKay and his boat bounced off up the road.

“To put my lunchbox and things away.”

She’d nodded, still not looking at him, but at the space to the right of him. It really felt creepy. “Yes. Put yer old clothes on, and yer’ll find a hat on the stand. We need to turn the compost.”

“I thought I might relax. I, I’ve had a hard day. I might watch some TV, and, and, I’ve got to check Facebook.” Somehow he hoped there might be a message from Hailey. Or something.

His grandmother gave a cackle of laughter. “Yer out of luck. No TV. And I don’t know what this face book thing is, but yer can keep your face out of a book while we’ve got light. This garden is what feeds us, boy.”

Tim swallowed. “You’ve got to have the Internet? I can’t not go online.”

“I’m not sure what line you’re talking about, but you can’t use the phone all the time. I can’t afford it. Yer can write letters.”

Tim felt as if his whole face was going to crumple up. He went in to his room, and plugged the laptop in to charge. He wasn’t going to garden. No way.

Only…it didn’t switch on. It kept starting up and shutting down.

He wanted to scream. And scream.

He could sit and look at the wall. But he wouldn’t bet she would give him any food if he didn’t go and work.

So he changed out of the school clothes, and went out, still angry. It would serve her right if poltergeist stuff happened to her!

Only it didn’t.

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