Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret (4 page)

BOOK: Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret
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At half past three Tarkin – the only one with a watch – announced that it was safe to go home. Faint with hunger they slipped out of the cave and hurried over the beach, avoiding the frantically covered-up hole. Tarkin skirted the sea to take one more look in the water, but his mermaid, he reported sadly, must have gone.

“But she won’t be far,” he added, the old twinkle back in his blue eyes. “Like, if she made it all this way to see me, she’s not gonna take off again, is she?”

Magnus Fin shrugged.

Tarkin pulled at his sleeve. “Hey, Fin, you’re my best pal, and you don’t believe me. That hurts. I seriously saw her. And yeah, I know I’ve said that before, but this time it’s true. It was
her
. Your dad believes me.” Tarkin forced Fin to look at him. “And you don’t?”

Fin saw the intensity flash in Tarkin’s eyes. He knew that intensity. Didn’t he feel that way himself about the selkies? About King Neptune? About the so-called sea magic that was as real to him as bikes and skateboards are to other boys? He scuffed sand and kicked aside a Coke can. “I don’t know, Tark.”

“Well, at least say maybe.” Tarkin, in the middle of the beach, sunk to his knees and did his praying act. “Please?”

“OK – maybe. Maybe you really did see your mermaid. Maybe she really did cross the Atlantic ocean just to see you.”

Tarkin seemed satisfied. “Aquella, how about you?”

“I know a bit about mermaids. We call them the Merrow. When they want to they can out-swim a selkie, they can out-swim a shark. They often guide sailors through rough seas. Yes, I’ve known a few Merrow so I’ll say probably.”

Tarkin grinned, stood up and leapt over a boulder. “And I say definitely!”

They hurried the rest of the way and soon the cottage was in view. The sight of it, with its natural stone, its blue painted windows and little garden seemed to make everything better. They ran now and with every stride the buried thing in the sand seemed to drop deeper and deeper, like a dream does when you wake up – as though it had never happened.

At the garden gate they paused. “OK,” panted Tarkin, breathing fast, “from now on it’s Mission Act Normal. I won’t doodle mermaids on my jotter; you two try to act like other kids. Agreed?”

Fin and Aquella nodded.

“Oh, and Fin, I’ve been thinking…” Tarkin grinned and winked. “Maybe you should wear sunglasses.” With that he laughed and ran off down the track. Magnus Fin laughed too, picturing himself sitting in the classroom with dark glasses on.

“Sometimes,” muttered Aquella, “I really don’t know if he’s being serious or not.” Then she pushed open the front door of the cottage.

She and Magnus Fin stepped into the living room and had just opened their mouths to say “Hi” when they promptly shut them again, and gasped.

“Oh, Fin, Aquella, glad you’re back.” Barbara sat on the sofa, looking embarrassed. In the armchair opposite her sat Mr Sargent. He cleared his throat and drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair. “Your teacher,” she said, flashing them her what’s-this-all-about look, “has just arrived. It seems he wants to talk to me.”

“Yes, that’s right, it won’t take long. But it is – I’m afraid – rather,” he turned to glance at Magnus Fin, who with Aquella stood huddled by the living-room door, “serious.” Mr Sargent was obviously trying to get a good view of Magnus Fin’s hand. Fin shuffled backwards. “How’s the hand?” Mr Sargent called out.

Fin nodded. “Oh, fine. Yeah, turned out it was nothing. A wee sting.”

“Nothing at all,” chimed in Aquella.

Now Barbara was the one to clear her throat. She looked worried.

“I’m perfectly fine, Mum, really,” Fin said quickly, by this time halfway out of the room.

“Good. I’m glad about that. Anyway, children, why don’t you run off and do your homework? I won’t be long.”

In two seconds flat they were gone. But they didn’t go far. They shut the living-room door, then hunched down behind it. Fortunately it was an old cottage and the door had cracks in the wood; perfect for listening in to adult’s conversations. Mr Sargent’s voice though was deep and it was hard to catch everything.

“It was – size of football – dark patches – he – afraid – the American lad, Tarkin – hospitals… I just – is there any special – your son – not – doctor?”

Tarkin was right. He’s on to us,
Magnus Fin said to Aquella in selkie thought-speak.

No. He’s just concerned. Your hand was kind of strange looking.

“Religion perhaps – not my business – just – wondered? And – serious issue – truant. Always – the beach, I hear.”

Fortunately Magnus Fin’s mother had some acting skills. Mr Sargent had been droning on with Barbara saying little, when suddenly she jumped up, threw her hands to her face and declared, “Oh, heavens! Is that the time? Goodness! I’ll miss the appointment.”

“Appointment? What appointment?” Mr Sargent stumbled to his feet. The get-well cards fell from his lap and scattered onto the floor. “Oh! These are for your son.”

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr Sargent. Thank you so much for coming round. I’ll give these children a good telling off, and you can be sure they won’t miss school again. Oh, and don’t worry about my son’s health. He’s the healthiest boy I know. Now, oh dear, I can’t believe the time. So, if you don’t mind…” Barbara opened the door to usher him out. Fin and Aquella hurried up the stairs and stumbled into Fin’s room. “Goodbye, Mr Sargent.”

She closed the front door, leant back against it, and took a deep breath. Outside, the tyres of Mr Sargent’s big car crunched down the gravel track.

“Magnus!” Barbara shouted. “Come down here!”
Magnus Fin went downstairs and stood sheepishly by the living-room door. His mother marched forward and picked up his hands. “What was he talking about?”

Fin pulled his hands back, and shrugged. “It was just a scratch from something on the beach. But it’s better, honestly, it’s much better.”

Barbara slumped down onto the sofa and dropped her head into her hands. “Oh, Magnus,” she sighed, “I’m scared for what might happen to us. You running off like that. I’ve told you before – it draws attention to us. Promise me you’ll go to school, act like a normal boy, and stop messing about with stuff on the beach. Will you?” She turned to look at him, a pleading expression in her eyes. “Please?”

First Tarkin telling him to act normal and now his mother! Fin twisted his hair round his finger. Right then, he would. He would be so normal they wouldn’t recognise him. If that was what it took to guard the selkie secret he’d do anything. But he didn’t tell lies. A promise, he knew, was a promise. He couldn’t promise to stop beachcombing.

“I’ll go to school,” he agreed, “and I’ll act normal – I promise. And, Mum, don’t worry about my hand. Aquella said I’ve got sensitive skin. It was just a scrape. I’m perfectly fine.”

“That’s good.” She seemed relieved. “And I’m glad you’re fine.” She pointed to the cards scattered all over the floor. “They’re for you. The teacher might think you’re a bit odd, but I’d say you have lots of friends.”

Fin gazed down at the cards. There were blue ones, tartan ones, big ones, multi-coloured ones. One had a drawing of a crab on it. There was even one in the shape
of a whale. He felt a warm fuzzy feeling spread through his body. He bent down and scooped up the cards. He did have friends. Lots of them.

And in his Neptune’s Cave of a bedroom, in the cottage down by the sea, in the far north of Scotland, Magnus Fin took down his poster of a great white shark and in its place pinned up all 22 cards.

Meanwhile in southern England, on a housing estate far from the North Sea, lived Billy Mole. His bedroom was lined wall to wall with pictures of celebrities.

Billy Mole was seventeen, but told people he was “going on twenty”. He had three failed careers behind him: lead singer in a Take That tribute band, shelf stacker in a large supermarket and pet sitter. None of the careers had suited him. So mostly he stayed in bed.

Out of a sense of desperation Mr Mole found his teenage son a job – a real cracker of a job with great prospects. Mr Mole knew someone who knew someone. That was how these favours worked. And this someone knew someone who owned a magazine – not the best magazine in the world, but nonetheless, a magazine.
Inside Lives
it was called. Billy Mole was going to be a junior journalist. The Mole’s had great hopes for their only child.

“But I don’t even know how to spell right, Dad,” Billy protested the day his dad broke the news about his new job. Billy was at the fridge, downing a whole bottle of Coke.

“No prob, son,” beamed Mr Mole. “They got them spell checks, ain’t they? You don’t need to spell right.” Mr Mole winked and nudged his son in the ribs. “Think of all them celebs you’ll meet. Think of all them fancy
parties. You’re made, son. Nuffin to it. Just snoop after footballers’ wives and royalty, snap a few photos, and wham! We’re rich!”

Billy was beginning to like the idea. His dad was right – who needed to spell?

“I’ll need new clothes.” Billy knew how to make the most of his dad’s good moods.

“Anything you want, son. Just say the word. Anything at all. You’ll have to get rid of that white tracksuit. Study them magazines, son. See what them celebs are wearing, then copy them.” Mr Mole put his big tattooed arm around his son’s shoulders and gazed about the kitchen, as though imagining it all gleaming new. Lowering his voice he said, “Don’t forget us, son.”

Billy shook his head, and burped. “Course not, Dad.”

Mr Mole stood by the breakfast bar, staring at his son in admiration. Billy threw the empty Coke bottle into the bin. Then he fiddled with his phone. “So, the gear, Dad. I’ll need a stack of notes. A stack.” He continued fiddling with his phone, waiting for his dad to come up with the money.

Mr Mole frowned and eventually pulled a crisp
fifty-pound
note from his back pocket. “She’s a beauty,” he said, handing it over slowly, studying the Queen’s head as he did.

Billy had hoped for more. Lots more. But he knew enough to know that fifty quid was – in the
old-fashioned
world of his Dad – loads. He took it, said thanks, fiddled some more with his phone, then went off to find his mum. He managed to wheedle another fifty quid from her, then, with a hundred pounds in his tracksuit pocket, he took the bus all the way into Oxford
Street in central London. Billy Mole was going to kit himself out for the big, bright, rich and famous world of journalism. He snapped his fingers. He whistled. He was going to hit the big time. Billy Mole couldn’t wait!

 

It was dawn when a black seal lifted his head from the slack water. The seal called out – a long low call – but no one heard. Then he made for the shore, where, using his strong front flippers, he bounced, rocked and hauled up the stony beach.

A pale rose tinted the eastern horizon. The seal lay on the beach, looking like a smooth dark boulder, until he lifted his head and sniffed the cool air. Then he began to roll from side to side, popping fat seaweed pods beneath him.

As the seal rolled, he uttered a low sound, which grew louder as his movements became more vigorous – until the sound was no more the howling of an animal but of a boy singing. That wasn’t the only change. The dark folds of his seal skin fell away. The skin around his flippers peeled back and in their place human hands appeared, with long human fingers. The tail fins of the seal fell back and in their place emerged legs and feet. By this time a whole seal skin lay on the beach, and from it the figure of a boy rose unsteadily to his feet.

The seal-boy scooped up fronds of seaweed and wrapped them around his body. He bent to secure his seal skin under a stone then stood upright and took a few hesitant steps across the beach. He slipped, fell over, laughed, and shakily rose to his feet again. He walked like a boy, free from crutches, who quickly masters the art of walking. Confident now, he lifted his arms high
into the air then broke into a waddling run. He jumped over stones. He picked up a plastic bottle and threw it into the air. He hopped on one foot. He kicked his ankles together, and all the time he made whooping sounds, as though being a boy was the best thing in the world.

Only his strange outfit set him apart from any other teenage boy. He had slim, long limbs, a tall slim body, a face filled with enthusiasm and curiosity, bright green eyes and a fine sweep of black hair. But always as he ran, and jumped, and played, he kept a wary eye on his seal skin. Often he turned his head with a jerk, as though afraid of being discovered. And sometimes, tripping over the twisted body of a seagull or a pile of litter, he stopped, gazed downwards and sighed.

Then he ran up to the beach path, squatted down and looked along it, as though waiting for someone. Selkies, unlike humans, don’t have watches. For Ronan the seal-boy, morning had long since begun. The sky was streaked with red and soon the sun would be up. He didn’t dare stay on the beach long, but long enough, he hoped, to see his cousin, Magnus Fin, or his younger sister Aquella. Ronan knew enough about Magnus Fin to know he would be at the beach in the early morning hunting for finds washed ashore by the tide. After the recent storm, much had been flung from the angry mouth of the sea. Ronan plugged his nose. There was a stench of rotting fish that even for a selkie was terrible.

Ronan was desperate to see Magnus Fin and Aquella. He had news for them – good and bad. The sea hardly felt safe any more. Either it was a churning whirlpool or a stagnant grave. Magnus Fin had helped the selkies
before. Ronan had taken it upon himself to ask for his help again. And, of course, there was the good news. He was bursting with it.

But where were Fin and Aquella? The fact that it was six o’clock in the morning, and both Magnus Fin and Aquella were sound asleep in their beds, meant nothing to a selkie. Many times, from the safety of the sea, Ronan had lifted his seal’s head from the water and watched the little cottage on the shore, hoping to see Magnus Fin and Aquella. And sometimes he did see Aquella at the window, or Magnus Fin kicking a ball in the garden. Now here he was, on the land. Ronan had risked taking off his seal skin. It was morning, wasn’t it? So where were they?

Ronan ventured along the beach, sometimes ducking behind stones in case anyone might spot him. But there was still no sign of them. Ronan was growing impatient. He couldn’t risk straying far from his seal coat. And he’d never risk going up to the house. That was too close to the village. Too close to humans.

By this time the sun had well and truly risen. Ronan heard a barking noise. He glanced along the coast and could make out, in the distance, a woman with a dog. In her hand she held a long sharp stick, and she was heading his way. He had to go. He ran across the beach, found his seal skin and lay down. Like a boy slipping into a warm bathrobe, Ronan slipped into his seal skin. Down on his belly now, using his flippers to haul forward, he bounced and slithered over the stones, nosed silently into the flat sea, flicked back his tail fins and vanished under the water.

His news would have to wait.

BOOK: Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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