The Changeling BabybyTamLin01©
"Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."
-WB Yeats, "The Stolen Child"
William didn't tell anyone that the baby spoke to him. Who would believe it? Instead he ran away. His parents would probably be angry with him, but what else could he do? Not stay, certainly, not with...whatever it was, still in the room.
The Mercers had lived in the apartment downstairs for years and had been trying to have a baby for as long as William or his parents could remember, so his mother insisted the whole family pay a congratulatory visit and see the new arrival. William hadn't much been interested, but going along was easier than arguing. He lingered over the crib while his parents and the Mercers chatted and laughed too loudly in the living room. He had never really watched a baby for any length of time before. It was kind of ugly, but he guessed newborns always were.
The little tyke (what was his name, Foster? What kind of name is that for a kid?) had been asleep most of the time, but now he opened his scrunched-up little eyes and looked at William. He gurgled and tried to wave his stubby arms, which even William had to admit was pretty cute. Then something strange happened; the baby's expression changed. Most of the time a newborn doesn't have any real expression at all unless it's smiling, crying, or about to cry. But something about the baby's face was different now. William could swear that the baby really was looking right at him and really seeing him and, somehow, he sensed that it was thinking, considering, pondering, in a way that was utterly impossible for a child only a few days old.
He tried to tell himself it was all in his head and he was just about ready to believe it when, plain as day, the baby opened its mouth and spoke, in a voice that was strong and clear and nothing at all like the voice of a child.
"You have to go home, William," it said.
William's first instinct was to scream. Instead he stood there, paralyzed, and the baby watched him, its cold little eyes scrutinizing him with sagacity and even alacrity, and then it repeated: "You have to go home, William."
So William ran. He was sure that, if he called for his parents or the Mercers, the baby would not speak to them, for surely it had waited until they were alone on purpose? And what could he tell them? How could he explain? Even he didn't understand what had just happened. He ran from the apartment and from the building and all the way down 10th Avenue and into Golden Gate Park. He found a small playground, empty of children in the early evening hours before dark, and he sat on a swing, kicking the dirt and wondering if he was losing his mind.
William considered what to do. He would never go back to the Mercer's again, of that he was certain. And he would never tell anyone what happened with the baby; not a soul, and especially not his parents. It would be the last straw. He knew what they thought of him. They never said anything but he knew that they, like almost everyone else, had never been comfortable around him. It had always been that way. It was never anything he did, it just seemed to be something in his nature. His mother, almost forty weeks pregnant now after nearly two decades of trying to have a second child, would often smile at her friends and say, "We always wanted...another one." There was always a pause before "another one," as if she had to remind herself she had one son already.
It was not that his parents didn't love him. They did. But it was the kind of love you might feel for a stranger rather than your own child, or for a distant relative with whom you occasionally correspond but never see. William often thought of it as the reflection of love. Not long after the new baby was due, William would leave for college, and he imagined it would be like he'd never been there at all. He just wanted to keep things together until then, to make his last weeks at home semi-pleasant, semi-normal. So no, no telling his parents about the hallucination (if that's what it was), and certainly no telling the Mercers. He'd keep it to himself, like everything else. It was better that way.
It was getting darker. He thought he should go home, but the dread of explaining to his parents why he'd run made his feet drag. The creaking of the swing set's chains seemed louder now, so he stopped moving. Maybe I can just stay here, he thought, just never move from this spot and become part of the landscape. He'd always liked the park. He imagined going and sitting at the feet of one of the concourse statues and, over days and weeks, slowly petrifying into a bronze figure just like it. Or maybe he could just wander off the path and into one of those thick glens of trees with the spidery limbs and keep walking and walking in it until it swallowed him up and he disappeared forever. It was not a pleasant thought. But it was not unpleasant either. It just was.
When there was just a sliver of light left in the sky William sighed, stuck his hands in his pockets and got up to leave, but then something stopped him. At first he wasn't sure what he'd seen; shadows on top of other shadows obscured his sight. But there it was again, something moving at the mouth of the underpass, the one that burrowed straight through the hill and connected this playground and walking path to the concourse plaza beyond. Someone was lurking around in the tunnel, and maybe had been for some time? William started a little, alarmed, but he did not become truly scared or think to run until the stranger came into view.
It was a big man, no a huge man, too big to be real: at least eight feet tall, so that he had to duck in the tunnel. The stranger's head was enormous, the size of a safe, and his jaw protruded underneath a cartoonish, bulbous nose. Two great, pointed teeth, like tusks, stuck out from the creature's rubbery bottom lip. It was a shaggy thing, covered in hair except for its face and hands. Its wore clothes made from animal hides, but it wore no shoes, its gigantic feet cracking the earth under it. Its hands looked big enough to close over William's entire head. But its eyes were small, out of proportion with the rest of it, just little flecks of green set beneath an ape-like brow, eyes so bright that they showed up even in the dark.
William froze, his body suddenly soaked in cold sweat. This can't be happening, he thought. It's a monster. It's a real monster, and it's looking right at me. But it can't be real, it can't be. And then, just when he thought that this day could grow no more bizarre, the monster spoke. It said his name.
And again, William ran.
He got only a few steps before he saw that someone was there, on the other side of the playground, standing by the fence and staring. It's Nissa, he realized, and he opened his mouth to shout for her to run, but his throat seemed to have closed up. He dared a look back, expecting the monster to be right behind him, but instead he saw—
Nothing. The creature was gone. William gaped, astonished, and squinted against the dark, trying to see if the enormous silhouette was hiding in the tunnel again. But there was nothing there.
He turned to Nissa. She lingered at the gate, her eyes gauging him. She did not seem frightened or surprised, only curious. He hesitated for a moment, unsure what to say, and then decided on "Hi."
"Hey," she said. "I was walking by and I saw you sitting here. Thought I'd say hello."
She didn't see it, he realized. If she saw me then she would have had to see it, but she didn't run away, and she's saying nothing about it now. She didn't see it. So it must not have been real. Another hallucination then? He really was losing his mind...
"William?" Nissa said. She came a few steps closer, peering at him. "You okay?"
He opened his mouth to say, "Yeah," but instead he said, "No. Not at all."
It often happened that way. He always had trouble lying to Nissa. She was a year older than him and lived in the apartment right above his. Her bedroom was even right over his, he knew, though he had never seen it. She had a big family, a father and four younger brothers, but he rarely saw any of the rest of them. Her father, William knew, lived off of disability and drank too much, though he never seemed to shout or hurt the kids at all, mostly just sat and drank beer after beer all day long. Nissa minded her brothers, so it was unusual to see her out of the apartment alone, though she often stopped and knocked on his door while passing by, to say hello to him and have small conversations about nothing before moving on. She'd never gone to school, as far as William knew, and never graduated. There was nothing remarkable about Nissa at all, except for William's marked and singular inability to equivocate around her. When his parents asked him how his day was, he would say fine and change the subject, but when Nissa asked, he really told her. It was impossible not to.
Nissa was still looking at him curiously. William squirmed. Finally she broke her stare and nodded her head, gesturing to the tunnel. "I'm going to hang out in the concourse for a while, want to come?" she said.
"You hang out in the park at night?" said William. "Isn't that dangerous?"
Nissa shrugged. "It's one of the only times I get to leave the house. Dad is passed out, the little ones are asleep, and the older kids can watch TV for an hour before bed on their own without burning the place down. So I took a walk. Join me?"
William hesitated. He was afraid of going through the underpass, afraid that he would brush up against some huge, hulking shape in the dark. But then he thought about Nissa going in alone, with no idea what was waiting there, and he just standing here, not even warning her. And besides, he really did want to spend time with her, just the two of them, alone together, no parents, no siblings...
"Okay," he grunted.
William held his breath as they went into the tunnel. He wanted to take Nissa's hand, but instead he shoved his hands in his pockets. He waited for something to emerge and block the bare illumination at the tunnel opening, but nothing came. They passed into the concourse and William looked behind him, wondering again if there had ever been anything there at all. He turned to say something to Nissa, but blinked when he found she was gone. Panicked, he swiveled left and right, searching, and then he saw her, clear on the other side of the plaza. How had she gotten so far ahead of him? And where was she going?
He ran to catch up, past the empty fountains and the blank-eyed statues of Beethoven and Father Serra. So many statues. When he was a kid he used to imagine he heard the statues talking. It scared the shit out of him. His mother convinced him he was just hearing echoes, and he guessed she was right. But even now the statues gave him the willies.
A bronze gladiator holding a dagger reared up over its pedestal in front of the Academy of Science, opposite the De Young Museum, and Nissa waited at its foot. She gestured for him to follow her, and William caught a flash of her smiling white teeth in the gloom as she ran off. It was some time before he caught up with her again. She was waiting at a place where a low wall and elaborate gate sat by the side of one the park's many winding roads. William had to think for a minute to realize where they were: the Shakespeare Garden. "What are we doing here?" he said.
"Come on," was all the answer he got. Nissa slipped her hand into his and his heart jumped up a little. Although he was eighteen years old, he'd never held a girl's hand before.
The garden was a simple, pretty little space, mostly used for weddings. A bust of Shakespeare sat at one end, and a few plaques with quotes from plays decorated the walls. It was too dark to read them, but Nissa seemed to know the quotations by heart, and she whispered the words to him as they stood side by side, going from each to each. He didn't really understand what the lines meant, but the feeling of Nissa's warm breath on his ear was pleasant. The last spot was empty, and it seemed someone had pried the plaque off the wall with a knife. The vandalism made William angry, but Nissa knew the quote anyway:
"As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
William did not understand, but he understood that Nissa was standing very, very close to him, and even though it was almost pitch black now and he could not see her face he knew all he would have to do is lean forward a few inches and her lips would be touching his...
"What happened to you today, William?" Nissa said. William blinked, and the spell of the moment was broken. He shuffled his feet in the dirt and looked away, letting go of her hand.
"What do you mean?" he said.
"I asked before if you were okay and you said no. And you looked scared when I ran into you. So I thought something might be wrong."
William scratched the back of his head and shuffled his feet again, wondering what to say. He could not—would not—lie to Nissa, but he couldn't very well tell her the truth either, about the baby and the monster and whatever other crazy things were going on. He felt dizzy and disoriented; why had she brought him here? He'd thought for a second he knew why, thought it might even be the amazing, exhilarating reason he dared to dream about in quiet, private moments in his bed, late at night, but now he wasn't sure.
"Have you ever had a day where you weren't sure what was really happening?" he said.
Nissa paused for only half a second. "Oh sure," she said. "All the time. I call those weekdays. Also, weekends."
William wasn't sure if she was joking with him or making fun of him. In the dark her face was a big black spot, impossible to read. Maybe he shouldn't have said anything at all? In fact, what was he even doing out here? It was the middle of the night, and his parents would be worried sick.
"William?" Nissa said, "Do you ever—"
"I have to go," he said, backing away. For a second he thought he felt her fingertips brush his, as if she'd reached for his hand in the moment he started to leave.
"Yeah. It's late. My mom and dad will be looking for me."
"Okay," she said. Her tone was, as usual, impossible to decipher. "William," she said as he left, "do you think we—"
But he was already gone. At first he just walked swiftly, but soon he was running. His feet slapped the hard earth over and over again, and the echoes seemed like a second set of footsteps, following right on his heels, an invisible pursuer that went everywhere with him and lived in the space just over his shoulder, as he ran, crying and alone and afraid.
It was late. William was in bed, thinking. The bedside lamp was on and he was supposed to be reading, but the book lay open on his lap, unseen. His parents were already asleep when he got home, which surprised him, and there was no note for him, which surprised him even more. Now he lay awake and looked at the ceiling. He guessed Nissa must be there, right over his head in the little apartment she lived in with five other people. Was she thinking about him too? He wished now he had not run from her. Had he hurt her feelings? He rolled over in the bed and pictured the scene again. They were in the garden, they were all alone, her hand was reaching out for his, he leaned in toward her lips and—
But no. He stopped himself there. Even in his fantasies he never dared dream of being kissed. It seemed like too much to hope for. Instead he pictured Nissa pushing him up against the brick wall and tugging his belt off, sliding his pants down his legs. He always felt guilty thinking about her this way, but it almost seemed like he had no choice. For some bizarre reason, sex seemed less taboo than just a kiss, perhaps because it was such a foreign concept to him that it barely seemed like a real thing. He tried to imagine what Nissa's hands would feel like on his naked skin, or her lips, or her hair. These things were totally foreign to him, but he could guess, at least. He imagined running his fingers through her hair, and the sting of the evening air on his exposed body as she pulled his pants down lower and reached into the flap of his underwear. Would her hands be cold, he wondered? Would his body warm them up?
He reached for his cock and held it the way he guessed she would. He was even careful to use his left hand; she was left handed, and so was he, the only left-handed person in his family. It pleased him to know they had this little thing in common. What would she do, he wondered, what would she say? He knew what the women in those movies on the internet did and said, but he couldn't imagine Nissa being that way. Unless of course she watched those same movies? The thought sent a surge through his body and he closed his eyes, trying to imagine all the sensory details that he could, from the feeling of the rough brick against his back and shoulders to the brush of her blouse against his naked thighs, the slippery feeling of her lip gloss as she put her mouth against him (he was particularly proud of thinking of the lip gloss), and the delicious tension as she ran the tip of her tongue around and around the head of his—
He could barely even think the word "cock."
He thought about how her mouth would feel; warm and wet, obviously, and soft, but what about her tongue? How would it move? How would he feel when it did? How hard would she actually suck? And what would she look like? Would her eyes be open or closed? He pictured himself brushing the hair back off of her forehead; this seemed like an important gesture, because it would show that he was not just thinking about himself in that moment. He imagined himself moving, pushing with his hips. It seemed obscene, somehow, to do that to Nissa, but he thought about doing it anyway. He thought about her mouth, and his (cock) and the movement of his hips, and the thrill of knowing that they were together, finally together in the ultimate way that could brook no rejection of any kind.
Would she want him, really want him? Would she want that part of him? What if she reached up and grabbed him? What if she actually pulled him in? What if she wanted him, really, really wanted him? Was that possible? What would that feel like? It was too good; it was too much to think about. Did she want him the way he wanted her? Did she feel what he was feeling right now? Did her pussy get wet ("pussy" was a word he was more comfortable with, particularly in regards to Nissa) dreaming about him?
Maybe he had it all wrong. Maybe they should be the other way around. Maybe he should have her lie down on the soft grass in the garden and pull her panties down so he could put his mouth and tongue between them, then lick her until she was wet all over? Would she moan? Would she say his name? He wanted that acknowledgement. He wanted to feel those things happen to her and know that it was him doing it, and more importantly, to know that she knew that it was him. And he wanted her to want him to come inside her, to hold her against him and slide his, his (cock) into her wet pussy, and, oh God, he wanted to fuck—
His train of thought came crashing to a halt the same way it always did: with a spasm that ran through his body, a feeling like a firework going off, and then a mess that had to be cleaned up. He blushed, quietly ashamed. The aftermath of his fantasies always seemed curiously inadequate to him. In the first few seconds after it he always pictured Nissa's disgust if she could see him like this, see him wiping himself up. He sighed. Sex was a like a foreign country to him. He knew all about it, but it was hard to imagine that it was real. Was it actually something people did? Did they enjoy it? It was baffling to think about. His virginity made him feel inadequate, like he was only half a person, cut off from the wider world.