The Changelings

by Rachel Ross

The Corrigan walked to the last marked house in the town. She moved much slower than she had that morning. Her pockets were almost empty, and she had used up too much energy for silly games, too tired for all the tricks the humans played when they saw her. Small crying sounds came from the basket she carried and she walked faster.

She stopped outside the door to listen, hoping this one was only a false alarm, that just once her watchers might have been mistaken. But they weren’t mistaken, and the Corrigan was just in time.

“Look at it, Brenna, it’ll never walk, and I’ll swear it’s eyes weren’t that color when it was born—” It was a woman’s voice, old, scratchy and shrieking.”

“All babies’ eyes change color.” Another female voice, but younger and more tired. “What can we do about him? If he’s not ours… and Fionn isn’t even home yet. Let me wait until then. Please?”

“I tell you, girl, it’s because you didn’t baptize him when I suggested it. I knew it would happen, and look at you now, holding a cast off elf brat instead of my beautiful grandson. I told Fionn he could have done better than you, but did he listen? Here, let me hold it, I know what to do.” The old woman snatched the child from his mother’s arms. “Yes, there we are, little beast. Into the fire with you.”

The Corrigan heard Brenna’s horrified scream and the infant’s cry, sighed, opened the sturdy oak door, stepped under the lopsided horseshoe hanging over it. Brenna was pushing the old woman away from the fireplace with one arm, the other arm reached for her child. The blanket wrapped around the baby caught fire and blazed, sending swirls of smoke toward the ceiling.

Shifting the weight of her basket, the Corrigan removed the last small, wooden token from her pocket and went to the fireplace. Both women started, saw her, shrank away. The old one crossed herself and muttered, “I told you, I did, I said I was right…”

The fire in the hearth died and the faerie knelt, picked up the child and lowered it into her basket with the others. She dropped the wooden token into Brenna’s lap. Brenna clutched it reflexively, her eyes glazing as she looked down at the flawless child now in her arms.

The old one smiled triumphantly as the Corrigan left the house. “They brought my grandson back, we made them do it. You just wait until Fionn gets home and sees his son, such a healthy, strong baby…”

The Corrigan’s basket was heavier now, though the crying had stopped. She walked, away from the town—away from all the families and their little wooden babies that would grow into wooden adults.

She walked until she was home and smiling, skinny, perfect children took her basket from her aching arms. A small boy with a hunched shoulder held the door, and the girl with the harelip limped as she took babies from the basket and put them to bed. Some of the perfect children were missing limbs, were blind or covered in rashes, but all of them called her Mother.

 

This story has been previously published in the small-press anthology Triangulation 2003: A Confluence of Speculative Fiction.

 

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