W.I.P.

Okay so I got back late from sea, after a nightmare extraction (AKA getting the boat out of the water and off the beach) so here merely a piece of raw prose. Pre-first draft even. You can all have fun telling me how terrible it is.

CHANGELING’S ISLAND

Dave Freer

CHAPTER 1

“I just can’t cope any more!” she said.
Josh Ryan was used to that. His mother said it at least twice a day.
Usually about him.
Huh. He couldn’t cope with himself either, and he had no escape. He was stuck in his life, she could kinda duck out of it. She didn’t have to be the one who didn’t fit in, didn’t belong anywhere. Situation normal, making like it was her who had a problem that she couldn’t cope with.
But this time she was shouting it down the ‘phone line to his father in Oman. And she normally wouldn’t even speak to him. Kept it to snarky e-mails about money. Josh knew. He’d looked. Her password was so lame.
“He’s a changeling, Tom! He’s not normal!” his mother yelled, as if he wasn’t even in Melbourne, let alone the same room.
Like I can help the weird stuff that happens around me, Josh thought, bitterly, looking out at the dirty sky beyond the high-rise flatland of Williamstown. This poltergeist rubbish they accuse me of causing is all BS. Accidents happen. Just more of them happen around me than anyone else in the whole world.
Josh couldn’t hear his Dad’s answer. But he was ready to bet his mother didn’t even know what a changeling was. He kind of wished he was one. It had to beat ‘loser’. Maybe Faerie glamour let you look taller, cooler, like you had an I-phone. Maybe it let you get away with shoplifting without getting busted, he thought. He was sort of resigned to the consequences now. It could only get worse, but at least he wouldn’t be at St. Dominics. At least he wouldn’t be the new kid in the second hand blazer, that didn’t know any cool people or do any cool stuff.
“That won’t work,” said his mother, angrily. “The school has asked me to remove him. I don’t know what to do, Tom!”
That must be the first time she’s ever admitted that, thought Josh, sourly. He wasn’t too good at it himself, but this time the truth was he didn’t know either. He wished he was dead. Only that would please some people, he muttered to himself. Not mum–it would have upset her, he supposed. And she’d stop getting money from Dad then too, and that would upset her more. But Tiffany. She’d said she’d be delighted if he just dropped dead, along with a whole lot of other stuff. Well, he didn’t feel like making her day. Not after she’d lied and left him to take all the heat. Put on that pretty, innocent little girl look and fluttered her eyelashes at the store security guy and walked out, Scott free.
“I can’t,” said his mother. “I can’t afford it, Tom. The flights cost a fortune.”
For a moment, just a heart-lifting moment, Josh thought his Dad was going to have him in Oman.
Yeah. Likely.
Not. His mind said.
But his heart was still beating faster when his mother said: “All right. But only if you pay for the flights. And only if you call the Old Bat and arrange it. She always gives me hell because you never call. Like it’s my fault.”
When she got to the part about ‘if you call the Old Bat and arrange it’, Josh knew that his Dad had slithered out again. His dad was a champion slitherer-outer, thought Josh, glumly. And everyone always says that I look just like him.
Josh knew then that he was off to the end of the earth. Exile. Transportation. Being got rid of. Being dumped on his grandmother. Being sent to the worst and most boring place on Earth.
Well. Flinders Island, anyway.
***
Áed sat, as was his right, at his master’s feet. Those few who could see him and his kind tended to take them for twisted bits of shadow and angle, which looked oddly like a sharp-faced little manikin with black shards of eyes. There was no flesh or blood or true bone about him, but Áed was stirred by the boy’s anger and fear, and numbed by his resignation. He didn’t understand his master. As one of the lesser spirits of air and darkness he didn’t have to understand. His kind of fae were bound by the blood-line, and only had to obey. Áed was loyal to this one, even if the child carried only little of the old blood of the faerie kings of the aos sí, and neither commanded his sprite, nor gave the traditional rewards and honours to Áed. The sprite knew the old ways and understandings were lost among modern men. That was the way of it, but regretted their passing.
This day he’d served his master well. He’d woken the need-fire in an airconditioning unit. Fortunately it was mostly plastic, aluminium and copper wire, and with little cold iron. Even the iron bones in these buildings caused Áed discomfort. It had been hard to do. Raising fire was an achievement deserving of reward, uisge beatha or at least an bowl of old mellow mead…
It wasn’t going to be forthcoming, Áed knew.
Still, he was loyal.

20 comments

  1. Oh, Dave, you flirt! Getting your readers all excited, then suddenly it’s “Oh not so fast! It isn’t even done yet. What kind of writer do you think I am?”

    Um, Excellent. I don’t suppose we could talk you into a Story Teller’s Bowl serialization on this one?

    1. Antic….

      No, not at this stage. Life is too chaotic right now for me to say ‘oh that piece written by tomorrow’. Sorry and all that :-).

  2. Yes, more please!!! Loved what you wrote, pre first draft or not! Though (can I say this??) you say/write Josh’s name a lot…other than that though, love it so far :^D

    1. If I repeat it enough I’ll remember it. Not like my own kids. “You, yes you. Don’t think you can get away with this. I know where you live and I’ll find your name sooner or later.” 🙂
      Point taken. The editorial management – AKA Barbara will probably tear into me about that too. Thanks.

      1. LOL, I can actually relate to that. Though I end of up doing that to my husband as well, calling him the kids name. Which is actually quite appropiate most times 🙂

        Totally loving it so far 🙂 I just think I have OCD or something for things like that.

    1. Outside the human flying machine, where the air was cold and delightfully sharp, Áed danced on the wing, enjoying himself. Far below the sea, hungry and restless, moved and surged about isolated islands, drowned mountains of a long-ago that Áed could dimly sense, like an echo that you could see, with the old magics still walking there, deep and strong. There were traces too, far more recent traces, mere hundreds of years old, of Fae-work and the creatures from hidden realms, in the shipwrecks and the buildings on the islands.
      Áed saw there was at least one of the Fae, an old, strong one, swimming far below. It was almost as if she was chasing the flying-machine he perched on. The little spirit of air and darkness did not see as humans saw. If they could have seen her from such a height at all, they would have seen a gray seal, arching through the waves. To Áed, her true form was obvious, and her long wavy auburn hair washed across her naked breasts as she half-turned in the swell, looking up at the aeroplane.
      What did the seal-woman seek here, so far from the cold coasts of Ireland or Scotland?

  3. Well, “shards of eyes” is sort of an odd phrase, but it probably only stood out to me because I recently had a conversation with my husband about, “What are “ju-ju eyeballs” anyway?”

    But seriously… drew me right in and it was fun when it turned out his crazy grandma lives on Flinder’s Island.

    1. Wasn’t that the song that you had to play backwards on your record player to hear the encoded message about one of the Beatles being dead? I remember us taking the record and carefully turning it backwards on a turntable to try to hear it… Come together, right now, over me…

    2. It’s odd finding yourself living in a place that suits a story that you’ve been dancing around for years :-). It’s a haunted place and holy one and a refuge, with the longest current line of inhabitants descended from Scots (primarily and Irish) sealers and their tasmanian Aboriginal wives.

      Eyes like little black splinters of glass?

    1. Josh’s bag was the last one left on the trolley, so he took it. Everyone was heading for cars, and he really didn’t know what to do now. He didn’t want to go back into the airport building and look spare. There an aluminum bench outside the door. He’d sit there. She couldn’t miss him surely? There was no way to walk in without walking past him. He still had a few minutes battery life in the laptop.
      So he sat. Cars and utes left. Silence came down over the little airport. A kookaburra laughed at him sitting there, but no-one else did, because there was no-one out there. He couldn’t even see any buildings from here, just stark forested hills spiked with rock, and the mountain looking at him, over the trees. He took out the laptop, started on Starcraft 2. But the battery died before he did. So he just sat. Sat and felt hungry.
      There was a vending machine inside, and a Lions’ mints honesty box on the counter. But he realised that he literally didn’t have any money at all. He’d spent almost the last of it on buying the two of them milkshakes before his venture into being a shoplifter. The store security guy had taken Josh’s wallet out of his pocket… and hadn’t given it back. So it had probably burned with the store.
      Time did not pass quickly or easily, or without everything coming back to plague his mind, while he was just sitting.
      It was too easy to play ‘if only I had…’
      ***
      Áed saw the place they had come to as it was, not mere geography. It was a place of power. A place of sorrows and a place of gladness. A place of refuge. A place that had once been very much part of the magic of this ancient land. Forgotten magic now, but still as strong as ever it was. The creature of air and darkness was a little afraid of it. Of the big green mountain to the South, of the spirit voices in the rocks themselves, singing songs in their own tongue. But he was strengthened by it too. This was his master’s place, and therefore Áed had a place here too. They were owned by this land, a part of its slow dance, just as it was a part of them.
      It accepted them. But Áed could see that his young master did not accept it. Not yet. He might never. Humans were like that, sometimes. His master’s ancestor had had the key to Faerie in his hand, and had still turned his back on a life of endless plenty and feasting, dancing, riding and womanizing with Finvarra’s host, for the hardships and privations of this distant land.
      Áed sat at his master feet and kicked his heels, drinking in the strangeness, the beauty and the power of the place he found himself in. Time meant little to him.

  4. I’ve already fallen in love with Josh. Not so sure about Aed yet. Does either parent have a hidden companion or only Josh? BTW – I’m hooked.

    1. I suspect Granny has one but *knows* about it and can “tell it what’s what”.

      1. Heh, Drak, you obviously know me too well. I am beginning to feel predictable 🙂 – at least by those who know my books. Granny has macular degeneration – she can’t see much, but she can see fae. And she has tradition on her side in knowing how to deal with them.

    2. LOL, never give a biologist the excuse to get going on the genetics of their stories. My internal logic on this one – all Aos si blood children have one, which joins them at the onset of puberty, but, as faerie is extremely hierarchical the order (hierarchy/strength/intelligence) depends on the proportion of of their genome. Think of it in a way as a genetic disease (as much a curse as a blessing), the severity of which depends on the Aos si share. Josh has hybrid vigor in that he inherited from an Islander (long ago escapee from Ireland,) and an Irish mother – with a different descent. Thus Aed is brighter and stronger than average – around the intelligence of a bright border collie (which is quite substantial), with much the same loyalty, need for work, and mischief if not set to it. The Aos si themselves know how to command, to punish and banish the lesser spirits. The banish part is easy – and this is what most children thus afflicted tell it to go and never return. And it does. Ergo the poltergeist phase also does, going before the child develops a full rapport with what is part of themselves. Josh has managed to fool himself that Aed isn’t real. His grandmother however knows they are. She banished her own as a child, but she has one of the ‘little people’ – another non-human refugee on the farm, but the fenodree loves the farm, and to it, she is merely part of the farm. Josh himself is part of the land – he is part Tasmanian aboriginal (the straitsmen all are to some degree) and the belief there is that you are tied to the place where your mother reached the start of the third trimester. So Fenodree also regards Josh as his, as do the land-spirits. There is some conflict :-). There is another genetic/nature-nurture component to the story. I also get to exercise my theory that natural selection has made people who are hunter gatherers very keen observers of detail and good at interpreting these, and very intense in chase – in a way much closer and in more of a bond with the food they seek. In societies that have long been removed from hunter-gather lifestyles these traits still exist, but as they are not advantageous, they’re rarer. In Josh’s inner city lifestyle – which as it is familiar he thinks he likes, he’s not particularly naturally good at anything (we all have our strengths). In the wild country, where he has to do things much as his recent ancestors did, he’s very good, without even knowing how he does it, at picking up those detail cues and interpreting them. If you have ever been tracking (as I have) with one of San (AKA Bushman) you’ll know what I mean. I’ve heard the same said of Aboriginal trackers and native Americans, and read of the same with tribes living in PNG. Whether it is nature or nurture and lots of practice, it is uncanny. So Josh finds himself again conflicted between old world and new, between what he’s been brought up to regard as good, and what he’s been brought up to despise, and finding he doesn’t really fit into the boxes they want to put him into, and having to learn to be himself… I told you you shouldn’t start me on this.

      1. But we like starting you on things like this, your replies are so fascinating. I’m looking forward to more of the story – and so is my 14 year old daughter, who read the first bit over my shoulder and expressed interest in it.

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