Gavin and Grandad were fishing for mackerel from the harbor wall when the seal popped its head out of the water. For a moment Gavin thought it was a loose net-float bobbing about. Then he saw the two eyes, large, round, and glistening black, staring straight at him. The thing rose a bit more and he saw the whiskery muzzle and knew what he was looking at.
He'd never seen a seal that close. They often came to Stonehaven but usually stayed farther out. What's more, though it must have seen Gavin, it didn't duck out of sight but stayed where it was, staring. Gavin stared straight back.
"It looks like Dodgem begging for handouts," he said.
(Dodgem was Gran's dog, a sort-of-bulldog. He looked tough, but was really a total wimp, and lazy and greedy with it. You couldn't imagine him dodging anything. Gavin's elder brother, Donald, swore he'd once seen him collide with an old woman with a walker, though he'd been moving slower than she had. Grandad and Gavin didn't pay much attention to him. He was just there.)
Grandad hadn't seen the seal because he was putting his tackle away. The harbor wasn't the best place to fish, but there wasn't time to go anywhere else between Gavin coming out of school and getting home to cook tea. Still, they'd been lucky that afternoon. Gavin had hooked into a half-size mackerel almost at once. Perhaps he should have thrown it back, but he'd kept it because they mightn't get anything else, and by the time they'd caught five more good ones it was dead.
Now Grandad looked up, grunted, and picked the half-size fish out of his creel. Gavin took it and tossed it to the seal.
The seal wasn't a trained seal in an aquarium, so it didn't reach up and catch the fish in midair but snapped it up just as it hit the water, and dived out of sight.
Tacky Steward, fishing twenty yards off along the wall, shouted at Grandad for encouraging seals to come to the harbor. They scared the fish off, he said.
"Plenty to go round," said Grandad mildly. Nothing fazed Grandad. That made Tacky even madder. He hadn't caught much. He never did, and it was always someone else's fault. He shouted some more and the seal popped its head out of the water as if it wanted to see what the fuss was about. The mackerel's tail was sticking out of the corner of its mouth until the seal threw its head back and sort of gargled it down.
"You're welcome," said Gavin.
The seal blinked, as if it hadn't expected to be spoken to like that.
"See you soon," said Gavin. The seal seemed to nod before it dived out of sight.
"Mr. Steward's right, though, isn't he?" Gavin said as they trudged up the hill. "If you feed the seals they'll come for more."
"Maybe," said Grandad. "But Tacky's got no cause to go yelling at me like that. There's ways of making your point, and ways of not."
"I liked the seal," said Gavin. "It looked like it knew what I was saying to it."
"Could be," said Grandad.
"What do you mean?"
"There's more to seals than they show you on the telly. Know what a selkie is, boy?"
"They're seal-people, selkies. See them in the water, and they're seals all right. But come ashore, and you wouldn't know them from people. There's stories of selkie women falling in love with farmers, and marrying them, and living on land for a while and raising a family, until the pull of the sea got too strong for them and they went back and turned themselves into seals again."
"You don't really believe that."
"Tacky doesn't. No imagination."
You didn't always get a straight answer out of Grandad. Gavin tried somewhere else.
Excerpted from Inside Grandad by Peter Dickinson Copyright© 2004 by Peter Dickinson. Excerpted by permission of Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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