Sunday 19 January 2020

The Changeling

By Paul Stansbury

CafFae Au Lait  (made by mixing dark roasted coffee with the sap of the milkweed plant, served in a bowl or a large coffee cup)

      “Don’t talk to me like I’m crazy!” Fiona barked. Her eyes flashed at her husband. “I tell you that’s not Brandon.”
      “But honey, can’t you hear what you are saying? You want me to believe the fairies have taken Brandon. If they did, who is in the nursery? He sure looks like the baby we brought home from the hospital three days ago. If you said the nurses screwed up and somehow switched our baby with another, I might find that plausible.  But fairies: how do you imagine that sounds?
      “Like the truth. I don’t know why you won’t believe me. A mother knows her baby, and that thing is not my baby.”
      “Fi, I don’t mean to be disrespectful,” David said, “but just because your Mamó is from Ireland and casts herself a neo-pagan, it doesn’t mean all those fairy stories she filled your head with are true. I’m sure she convinced herself she had the facility to feel the presence of fairies. No doubt so convincing, she got you believing you could do it too.  But you’re a grown woman now and should realize all her malarkey was just old wives’ tales. Honey, I love you and you know I support you. And that’s why I must tell you you’re letting your imagination run out of control. Besides I thought fairies were little bitty things. How could they carry off a baby? Why would they even do such a thing?”
      “Cause they need a real baby to inject a dwindling and weak stock with a fresh, healthy human strain,” Fiona shot back. 
      “Do you hear yourself?” asked David. “Change the boogeymen from ‘fairies’ to ‘greys’ and you have the classic alien abduction story. I got news for you, that’s not real either. Fi, you’ve got to stop this. Our beautiful blonde, blue eyed baby is sleeping in the nursery. He needs, I need, his mother to come back to reality.”
      “I never left it and I’ll thank you to leave Mamó out of it. She could sense the Fae and so can I.”
      “If the fairies took Brandon, who is in the nursery?”
      “It’s called a changeling. When the Fae steal a baby, they leave a changeling in its place. This changeling can be an ugly old elf or maybe a simulacrum they fashioned of wood or clay but, under a proper spell, it appears to be an exact replica of the stolen child. Later it seems to die and is so buried while the real baby is raised by the Fae.”
      “Oh brother! Listen, Janie at work said that sometimes new mothers get this thing called postpartum depression. She says it really does a number on new moms. Maybe that is what’s going on with you. Think maybe you should go see Dr. Winslow? Maybe she can prescribe something.”
      Abruptly, Fiona rose from her chair. She glared at David. “And just who are you to be discussing me with some bimbo from the office pool? You got no right to be talking behind my back. And I don’t need a prescription from Dr. Winslow.”
      “It’s not like that,” David said. “Janie just asked how everything was going with the new baby and one thing led to another. She’s experienced the depression thing and really had a bad time until she saw her doctor. She was only trying to offer a suggestion.”  
      “Well, I suggest she mind her own business and not speak of that of which she has no knowledge. And as for you, I’ll appreciate if you keep your big mouth shut when it comes to my affairs.”
      “But, they’re my affairs too! However, you don’t seem to be able to see that. You forget Brandon is my child also, and I would like to think I have some say in the matter.”
      “Then say it to me and not the office gossip!”
      “It’s just that I’m worried about you.”
      “You don’t have to worry about me. I know what’s real and not real. You best be worrying about that thing in the other room.” 
      As if on cue, a wail blared from the baby monitor. 
      David flipped the lever on his recliner and started to stand up. “Probably needs to be changed,” he said softly. “I’ll go.”
      “Oh no, stay where you are. I’ll take care of it. After all isn’t that what a good mother is supposed to do?”
      “I didn’t say you weren’t a good mother. Having your first baby can be overwhelming for anyone. I was thinking maybe I should do a little more and let you rest up.”
      “Shut up David. Every time you open your mouth you sink deeper in your own stupidity. Don’t worry, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of the situation.”
      Fiona stood motionless while the wailing continued to flow from the baby monitor. She waited for David to sink back into his recliner before she strode out of the room into the kitchen.
      The wailing continued as David picked up the controller for the baby monitor to view the nursery on its LED screen. He could see Brandon’s tiny arms and legs twitching as he cried. Fiona appeared. Reaching the crib, she raised a fist above her head.  Before he could make out what she was holding, she swung her arm down toward Brandon.
      The wailing stopped.
      David jumped up from his recliner and tore down the hall. He lurched into the nursery. “Fiona! What have you done?” he screamed, shoving Fiona aside. He peered into Brandon’s crib. The chef’s knife Fiona had brought from the kitchen protruded from the infant’s torso. David gasped in anguish as a crimson Rorschach blotch wicked out into the sheets. In the next moment, the bloody stain evaporated, and the lifeless body melted into a lump of clay resembling a clumsily formed gingerbread man. 
      Fiona smiled. “Don't worry, David” she said, “I killed the changeling. Now all we have to do is find Brandon.” 

About the author 

Paul Stansbury is a life long native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion - Not Your Ordinary Stories; Inversion II - Creatures, Fairies, and Haints, Oh My!; Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections, as well as a novelette: Little Green Men? His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky.

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