Her Child

Her hands trembled violently as she smoothed the well handled paper. The results of her test screamed in a cold, formal black. Blotches marred some of the words, round patches of pain. Her eyes stung and another was added.

Her eyelids rested for a moment and she folded the paper along creases she had memorized. Steady breaths did not come for many minutes. She placed the letter in the desk drawer, and pushed it forward. It jammed at an awkward angle, and she pushed harder, drawing it out, and slamming it forward, once, twice, three times, until she was cursing loudly.

“Love…” a large hand rested her own and she stiffened as her husband removed her hands from the drawer. His eyes landed on the paper, and understanding sorrowed his eyes. “Come,” he led her away from the small study. “Let’s go for a walk. Clear your mind. It is a beautiful day. The sun is smiling down on us today.” He coaxed her into her jacket and out the door.

The air was crisp with fresh Spring air. She found herself relaxing as they walked along the forest pathways behind the house. The dirt was well worn, originally a deer trail that they had followed on a whim and had soon become a regular path.

The sun filtered through the leaves, warming their faces on every possible occasion. She squeezed her husband’s hand gently, a smile working its way upwards. His lips curved in response, and she felt the constant threat of tears begin to retreat. Still, though, something had hollowed part of her heart. A part that she feared would remain this way forever.

A flash of yellow distracted her and she glanced to the side. There, off the path, she could see peonies blooming under the sun’s loving gaze. “Oh, they’re beautiful,” she exclaimed as she tugged her husband after her. She knelt down and cupped one, entranced at the feel of such soft petals, of such a bright colour. The flowers were spread over the small clearing, all glowing a golden yellow. “How marvelous,” she breathed.

It was the gentle whining of a child that caught her attention. She glanced up, her heart thumping as a figure came into view. A lithe body, so androgynous that she was unsure as to whether they were male or female. Bare feet and a body barely covered by the sheer cloth that gleamed like a spider’s web covered in morning dew.

From within the masses of cloth held against the chest came another cry, this one needier. But strangely echoing, resonating in a way she had never heard before. The flowers rippled at the sound, colours distressing at each whimper.

She waited, motionless as the stranger approached. Beside her, her husband, too, seemed frozen. Her eyes were focused on the small hand that emerged and flailed helplessly. Tiny, chubby, there was no mistaking the baby for anything else. Her heart clenched and she felt jealousy well up, dark, black, within her mind.

The figure stopped mere feet away, and as she looked closer, she realized that it was not cloth, but hair, an ethereal silver, that was woven so finely and wrapped around the slim figure.

“You long for something with all your heart,” a voice that sounded like wind and rustling leaves emerged from lips that barely moved. Eyes, a mesmerizing swirl of green and brown, stared unblinkingly. Inhuman, the iris was expanded, leaving no white to mar the colours of the forest.

“Wh-who are you,” she whispered. Her husband beside her was gripping her hand tightly. She chanced a quick glance and saw his tense muscles and grim, suspicious face. But still she turned back, caught by the hook that had found its way into the empty cavern of her heart.

“I can give you what you want,” the being replied, its expression unchanging. It shifted its arms and the baby’s face came into view. Its face was scrunched up in discomfort, toothless mouth agape mid cry.

Her heart stuttered and for a moment she was unable to breathe, unable to form words.

“Love…” her husband’s voice was full of uncertainty and suspicion.

And it allowed clear thoughts to regain control. First caution, then anger. “You would- you would give up your child?” She croaked out, fist clenching at her side. “How could you-”

“He is too weak,” the figure replied.

She expelled a breath of disbelieving laughter. “Because he’s weak, you would abandon him?” She began to shake her head.

“He will die if I keep him. With you, he can grow strong. He will live, he will thrive. He is the runt, he will not survive the season with me.” The creature moved forward until they were face to face. “Take him, and raise him well. And when he is strong enough, I will be back.”

“You would give me a son to raise,” the words almost refused to emerge, “and then take him away again? What makes you think I would return him to you?”

“You will, because he is not yours. He does not belong with you. One day, whether you wish it or not, he will return home, on his own if he must. If you wish happiness for him, you will bring him back to his true home.” The creature’s eyes did not move from her face. They swirled slowly, emotionless.

“I-” she cut off and glanced at her husband. He stared back, then gave a helpless smile and shrug. His hand remained firmly in her grasp. “He will be my son in all but blood,” she replied softly. Then she let go of her husband’s hand and accepted the child with both, cradling it gently against her bosom.

The stranger’s arms retreated slowly. Then it bent forward, and placed a kiss on the child’s forehead. The baby’s eyes opened, revealing golden irises that shone like the sun. And then slowly, white began to crawl forward, and the colour dulled until stormy grey eyes peered back at them both. Small arms reached up for both their faces, and for a moment she swore she saw the creature’s lips turn upwards.

Then they were alone, she and her husband, and their child. She cradled him to her chest, pressing kisses to his cheeks, his nose, his forehead. Her husband wrapped his arms around them, no words needed.

Within her chest, her heart thumped fully.

Set before Changeling Child and Changeling Child II.

Changeling Child II

He stood slowly at the sound of pattering feet and giggling. A faint tinkling sound that flitted past his ears.  He removed his gardening gloves and let them fall next to the plant he had been tending.

He gazed into the woods behind the house. The yard faded into tall trees and engulfing foliage. The wind whispered words through the straining branches. Dense, the canopy allowed no light to shine through.

Shadows writhed beneath trembling leaves. Occasionally a bird would wing its way between the trees, quickly disappearing from view within the darkness. Sounds muffled from between thick trunks, strange and distorted as they emerged.

His fingers clenched into fists, his muscles tense, but he made his way closer. When he was a child, he had never paid much attention to the woods. The low fence that separated the yard from the forest had held all authority, and he had never questioned its statement.

Recently, though, he had found himself staring into its depths with a scarily strong intensity. Sometimes he would blink back to awareness, his body stiff from remaining still for so long. He would glance at his watch and realize that he had spent hours gazing into the crooning darkness.

A shiver raced along his spine and he paused just shy of the white picket fence that now barely reached his waist. Again he heard the giggling, and for a moment he swore he saw something glimmer within the depths of the trees. He squinted, leaning forward, balancing himself with his hands braced against the wooden fence.

Something danced within the woods. Something that glowed brightly. A familiar light. One he had seen time and again. One that he had used in the garden his whole life.

He raised his hand in front of his face, and breathed. Golden swirls answered his call, sparking across his fingers, curling around his thumb. Slowly, his breath catching as he saw the other light pause, he reached his hand forward.

The light in the forest stilled, and for a moment he feared it would disappear. But instead it began to draw nearer. It was slow, like a mouse that knew the cat could not be far off. Or perhaps a predator that did not wish to scare off its prey. It walked a path that was almost invisible. Giant tree roots and shrubs concealed most of it, but he could see the small stones that lined the way.

The sun above encouraged the beads of sweat that crawled down his neck and past the neck of his shirt. His mother’s warnings echoed inside his head, urging him to back away, to return home. This was not safe. Whatever was in that forest was dangerous. It was no place for him to be playing. But his hand did not retract.

Closer it wove, hesitating at every inch. And at one point, it almost disappeared when his arm had begun to tire and he had allowed it to drop slightly. He hadn’t moved it since, despite the burning felt in his muscles.

His breaths came quicker as it approached the edge of the trees. He could almost make out a shape hidden in the shadows of the light. Lithe, delicate, it made no sound as it moved. It paused in the last of the shadows, wavering as it contemplated.

He stopped breathing momentarily, did not even blink as he waited. His heart fluttered like a startled bird’s frantic wings. He felt like he had waited for ages for this. What it was, he had no idea, but he knew that he needed to know. He needed to understand what it was that had him gazing for hours into the woods. What it was that had captured his mind so easily.

“Honey?” His mother’s voice had him jerking around, the light in his hand sputtering out.

He glanced back, and saw to his dismay that whatever it was, was now gone. He felt disappointment push his shoulders downwards, and for a brief moment, something ugly and dark, something resentful reigned as he glanced at his approaching mother. If she had not called his name, if she had not come, he could have gotten his answers. If she had not-

He saw the concern that she could not hide, the fear that lingered at the back of her eyes. Her gaze darted between him and the forest.

“Are you alright? You’ve been standing there for a while now…” Her voice was as unsteady as the hand that reached out, hesitating to cup his cheek, as if fearing it would disappear if she moved too quickly. In that moment, she seemed so frail. So noticeably mortal that it hurt. The lines on her face were prominent, highlighted by the white glow of her aged hair in the sunlight.

He felt his face soften as he held her hand in his. “I was simply lost in thought,” he replied with a smile. “Shall I help you prepare lunch?” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and guided her back towards the house.

She nodded. “If you please. These old hands of mine are not quite as good at dicing as they used to be.”

“Nonsense,” he laughed as he held one of her wrinkled appendages in his own. “You are young as ever!”

“Such a dear you have always been,” she chuckled, though it lacked the confidence she used to have. Her eyes drifted to the side as they climbed the stairs to the house. She saw the forest sway, the wind pull. She heard the promise she had made so many years ago, and she felt its weight tug at her. Soon, she knew, she would be unable to deny it. The day would come when she would have to let go.

But for now, she smiled at her son, she would hold on. Because she wanted to be selfish. Just a bit longer.

—-

Others in the series:

Her Child
Changeling Child
In the Sun
Her Child II
Longing
Return
Torn