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, but what else could he do?
The Menskrs had lived in the apartment downstairs for years and had been trying to have a baby for as long as anyone could remember. So William's mother insisted they all pay a congratulatory visit that day 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 Menskrs talked 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 ("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, gurgled and tried to wave his stubby arms, which even William had to admit was pretty cute.
Then something 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 William could swear that the baby really was looking right at him and thinking, considering, pondering, in a way that was impossible.
He tried to tell himself it was all in his head and 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.
His first instinct was to scream. Instead he stood there, paralyzed. The baby watched him, its cold little eyes filled with sagacity, and then it repeated: "You have to go home."
And then William ran.
He was sure that if he called for his parents or the Menskrs 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 to the park down the street. There he found a small playground, empty of children in the early evening hours before dark, and sat on a swing, kicking the dirt and thinking about what he should do.
First, he would never go back to the Menskr's again. And he would never tell anyone what happened with the baby; 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. His mother, almost 40 weeks pregnant now after 18 years 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 wasn't that his parents didn't love him. But it was the kind of love you might feel for a distant relative with whom you occasionally correspond.
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 and semi-normal for everyone.
So, no telling his parents about the hallucination (if that's what it was), and certainly no telling the Menskrs. 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 off 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 sitting at the feet of one of the concourse statues and, over days and weeks, slowly petrifying into a bronze just like it.
Or maybe he could just wander off the path 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.
He'd gotten so lost in thought that he jumped when he heard his own name, spoken almost directly in his hear: "William?"
It was Nissa, he realized. She was standing at the playground gate, her eyes gauging him. He wondered how long she'd been there.
"I was walking by and I saw you sitting," she said. "Thought I'd say hello. You okay?" Nissa said. She came a few steps closer, peering at him.
He opened his mouth to say, "Yeah," but instead he said, "No. Not at all."
He always had trouble lying to Nissa. When his parents asked him how his day was, he would say fine and change the subject. But when Nissa asked, he really answered.
She was the same age as him and lived in the apartment upstairs. Her bedroom was even right over his, he knew, though he had never seen it. She had four younger brothers and they all lived with just their father.
Her father, William knew, lived off of disability and drank too much, though he never seemed to shout or hurt the kids. Mostly just sat and drank beer after beer all day long. Nissa minded her brothers. She'd never gone to school, as far as William knew. He saw her infrequently, but always wished he'd see her more.
"I'm going to hang out in the concourse for a while," she said. "Want to come?"
"You hang out in the park at night? 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. But this was his big chance to really spend time with her, just the two of them, no parents, no siblings...
They had to take the underpass beneath the hill. It wasn't that long, but at night it was so pitch black that it seemed endless. He wanted to take Nissa's hand but instead he shoved his own hands in his pockets. When he came out the other side he saw that Nissa was already clear on the other side of the plaza. How had she gotten so far ahead of him?
He ran to catch up, past the empty fountains and the blank-eyed statues of Beethoven and Father Serra. 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 they gave him the willies.
Nissa led him to a garden on a side path. It 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 cheek was pleasant. She read the last one twice:
"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 didn't understand what it meant. But he did understand that Nissa was standing very, very close to him, and even though it was dark and he couldn't 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 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, wondering what to say. He could not—would not—lie to Nissa, but he couldn't very well tell her the truth about the baby and whatever other crazy things were going on.
"Have you ever had a day where you weren't sure what was really happening?" he said.
"All the time. I call those weekdays. Also, weekends."
He wasn't sure if she was 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. "Do you think—?"
But he was already gone. He didn't run this time. He'd lived long enough to know that no matter how fast you run, you can never get away from yourself. But he walked as speedily as he could.
He made it to the underpass before realizing what had been bothering him all this time. Someone had followed them. He must have heard the trailing footsteps without really being aware of it. But now, just at the mouth of the tunnel, the stalker revealed himself.
William was grateful that it was too dark to really see, because the little he could make out was bad enough. It was a big man; no, a HUGE man, at least eight feet tall. The stranger's head was the size of a safe, and it seemed his jaw protruded underneath a bulbous, cartoonish nose.
It was a shaggy thing too, covered in hair except for its face and hands. Those 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. It's a monster, he thought, a real monster, standing in the mouth of the tunnel. It was looking right at him. And, just when William really thought things couldn't get any worse, the monster said his name:
And for the second time that day, he ran.
It was late. William was in bed, thinking. The 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 he hadn't left her today.
Of course, that had at least as much to do with what he saw when he was alone again as with his worry that he'd hurt her feelings. The tunnel monster had disappeared almost as soon as William started running, flickering out of sight so quickly that, like with the baby earlier, he couldn't be sure later whether it had really happened at all.
He'd kept running anyway, of course. Better safe than sorry.
Now he rolled over in the bed and pictured the scene in the garden again. He and Nissa were together, 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.
But he did imagine Nissa pushing him up against the brick wall, tugging his belt off, and sliding his pants down his legs. He tried to imagine what her hands would feel like, or her lips.
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 always 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 say? He knew what the women in those movies on the Internet said, but he couldn't imagine Nissa 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 wall 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 about 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. He imagined himself moving, pushing with his hips. 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.
But would she want him? Really want him? Would she want that part of him? Was that possible? Maybe he had it all wrong. 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 he was the one doing it. 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 crashed to a halt the same way it always did: with a spasm, a feeling like a firecracker going off, and then a mess that had to be cleaned up.
He blushed, quietly ashamed. The aftermath of his fantasies always seemed inadequate to him. William went to the hamper and found a pair of discarded briefs to wipe himself with.
When he finished he went to open the window and get some night air, but when he pulled the blinds up he screamed, then fell over, then scampered away.
There, in the window, as if waiting for him, was the monster from the park. And worse, it wasn't alone. The second creature looked very like the first, but was somewhat shorter and had finer features, and the hair that covered it had soft gold highlights.
The pair of them were so big that only their heads and the tops of their shoulders were visible through the window frame. How are they even looking in, thought William? We're on the seventh floor!
The male creature, the one William saw in the park, said, "Hello, William."
"Hello, William" said the female creature. "Can we come in?"
This was too much. He jumped up and ran for the door, meaning to scream for his parents, but stopped himself. He was sure the monsters would be gone by the time he brought anyone else in.
Besides, was this really happening or was he losing it again? He pressed his face against the cool wood of the door, feeling the texture of the paint, reassured by the tangibility of something solid. Just take a deep breath, he told himself. The world will start making sense again soon. I hope...
"We won't hurt you," said the female creature. "We just want to talk."
"Okay. So talk."
They paused. "It would be easier if you would let us in..." said the male one.
William wondered why they didn't just break in. Did they need to be invited in first, like vampires? Or maybe, he thought, they just don't want to scare me more than they already have...
"We need your help," the male monster added.
William almost laughed. What could they possibly need from him? Other than to be let in, and that sure as hell wasn't happening.
"We're desperate," said the woman, and William was surprised to hear her voice tremble. It almost looked like she had tears in her big eyes.
"Find someone else to help you," William said. "Just leave me alone."
"We can't do that," the woman said. "We need you."
"For what?" William said, almost shouting. He didn't wait for an answer but instead dashed across the room, seized the blinds, and pulled them down over the monster's faces. A ridiculous gesture, but it was all he could do.
His heart pounded as he waited to see how they would react. When the male monster spoke again, his voice was so soft it was barely audible over the wind:
"We need your help to get our son back."
And then they were gone.
William woke up the next morning and looked at the window in a panic, but of course there was nothing there. The blinds were up again, somehow, but there was nothing out there to see except morning sun and the face of the building across the street.
He rubbed his eyes, wondering if it had all been a dream. Maybe even the baby and the park and Nissa had been a dream too.
He went out to breakfast, but when he sat down the feeling of dread come back to him. He'd forgotten all about running away without explanation the other day, and how his parents had still not confronted him about it.
But to his surprise his mother only gave him a thin smile, and his father, busy in the kitchen, seemed downright cheerful. Neither mentioned his behavior at the Menskr's.
They ate in silence. Which is to say, William's parents were silent to him. Conversation between the two of them was lively enough, with talk about the Menskr baby, and about work, and about William's aunt's upcoming 50th birthday, and as always about the new baby.
William's mother was so big now that she barely fit at the table, and she rested her hands on her swollen belly, feeling for movement. William thought about how strange an unborn baby is: half in the world, half out of it.
It was Saturday and he was free to do whatever he wanted after breakfast. He thought about going upstairs to see Nissa. He didn't stop by her place very often, if for no other reason than to avoid her father's sad, disturbing eyes, but he wanted to see if she remembered their encounter from the previous night.
But of course, he was afraid to also. Instead he decided to go to the library. It was partly an excuse to get out of the house, but he also had a particular book in mind that he wanted to look up, one that, if it was still there after all these years, might confirm whether or not the things he was seeing lately were real...
He told his parents he was going out and his mother stopped to kiss him on the cheek. She had only ever kissed him on the cheek. His father told him to be home before it was dark, but that was all. He took the bus to the Western Addition branch and, feeling a bit sheepish about it, went to the children's section.
He was lucky enough to find the book he wanted, the book he'd liked so much as a child, and he sat down in a quiet corner with it. Inside were vivid illustrations of fairy tale creatures: wizened gnomes, shy, knowing fairies, shadowy dwarfs, and one image that had particularly frightened his as a child of a huge, lantern-jawed ogre, roasting meat over a fire.
He paused at the ogre illustration. It was similar, but not quite what he was looking for.
On the next page, he found it: a painting of a beautiful woman sitting on a tree stump, surrounded by huge, shaggy creatures with long faces and enormous noses. Three of them seemed to be men and the fourth was a stooped, old-woman monster. It was called, "The Princess and the Trolls", and the caption read: