Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Story 225: Changelings

Stacey froze, no longer concerned that she might be late for Calculus.  She was certain the figure in front of her wasn't human.

It was too beautiful at first glance, and too hideous on the second.  Like a life-sized Barbie doll, it fell right into the Uncanny Valley - nobody had a waist that thin, eyes that large.  The longer she stared the more predatory the thing's smile looked.  Something about the... woman... reminded her very much of a praying mantis.  It was watching Stacey watching it, waiting to see her reaction.  So she gave a small bow.
"Do you know what I am, little one?"  Stacey thought about being offended at 'little one' - she was nineteen - but figured the thing in front of her was potentially hundreds of years old so she let it slide.  Lying, Stacey shook her head.

"I am a fey, child.  I have come to bring you home with me.  Where you belong."  The voice was musical.
"I... actually belong in math class right now."
The thing looked confused.  It hadn't liked that reaction.  "You have no need for math.  You are not of this world.  You are a changeling, a fey who gains strength by being raised with the humans.  Surely you have felt that you are different, that you do not belong here?"
Half right, Stacey thought.  Certainly she had been painfully aware at times that she didn't fit in.

She struggled sometimes.  She didn't have as much empathy as she was supposed to, she was sure of it, and that meant she had to just pretend to feel sorry for people and resist the urge to do little spiteful things like trip someone that was walking by with their arms full.  She told her mother once, "I don't know if I love you like I'm supposed to.  I don't know if I feel anything like I'm supposed to." but rather than hurt or horror there was a long hug and an even longer talk, about just how many people in the world felt the same way and by the end of it her face was damp and a tightness in her chest she hadn't been aware of had released and she thought, if I can feel this right now then it's not all fake.  She didn't pretend around her mom after that; if she didn't care about something she would say so and if her mother said 'I love you' she would sometimes say it back and mean it and sometimes just say 'I know'.

Today was an 'I love you' day, though.  "Would I be able to return?"
Once again the fey looked confused.  This wasn't how the conversation was supposed to go.  "You should not want to return.  You should feel only relief at meeting your true family.  Perhaps we left you too long."
"Yeah, maybe," she said.  That wasn't it at all, of course.  Oh, sure, there had been a phase she went through when she was six where she couldn't wait for the fairies to come and take her away and angrily told her family as much whenever she felt the least bit slighted - but that hadn't lasted long.  She thought about explaining, but decided that could wait.  She had an important question to ask.  "So, if I'm a changeling, what happened to the human child?"
"The...?  Oh.  Given to Elven royalty, I believe.  Though they tire of the humans once they begin to grow older, so it may have been gifted elsewhere by now.  It doesn't matter."
It didn't know, or care.  That wasn't a total surprise.  Stacey could feel her heart beating as she thought about what had to happen next.  She reached into her purse, for the special box she carried with her at all times.
"You're so beautiful, let me give you a gift."  Vain and greedy, the stories had said, and sure enough the fey leaned down to allow Stacey to clasp a golden chain around its impossibly thin neck.  It started screaming as soon as the latch closed.

"No!  This is not gold!"
"It's gold plated," Stacey said, "and you need to quiet down or you're going to draw too much attention to us."  In fact, there were already some looks from the other kids heading to class or back to their dorm rooms.
Looking less beautiful already, the thing reached up repeatedly to claw at the thin chain - and then pulled its hand away like something had stung it.  "You would do this to your own kind?  You would bind us in iron?"
"Yeah.  Sorry," she lied.  She was having a really hard time feeling any empathy for the thing.  Mainly she was just glad the iron worked - it seemed to be dependent on intent more than anything.  A horseshoe hung over a door for luck could be ignored, one hung up specifically to keep fairies out would give her a migraine if she tried to pass it.  Her little brother had once placed a railroad spike in the hallway to keep her from getting to the bathroom, and she had retaliated by making his teeth fall out.  By accident, mostly - she hadn't thought it would actually work.  They formed an uneasy truce after that, under threat of mom's wrath.

"You have been corrupted by the humans!" the fey cried, as if she - it - knew Stacey was thinking of her family. "We are your true kin!"
"No."  Enough of that, Stacey decided.  "Not 'true' family.  You're just my biological family.  And you're neglectful and abusive."  She could feel an angry heat inside her, and took a deep breath to calm down.  She hadn't expected to feel so strongly about it.  "You didn't trick my mom - she figured it out after just a month or so, okay?  I suppose in the old days she would have left me in the woods or something, but it's not the middle ages anymore.  She just... Googled it and did her best.  Never lied to me about it, either.  So no, I'm not a changeling.  I'm adopted."
The thing paced back and forth, glaring at Stacey while she took her phone out.  "Speaking of... Mom?  Hey!  It happened, just like you said it would!  Yes, the fey!  No mom, I'm fine.  I promise.  Yes, I would tell you.  It's okay.  No, it's wearing the necklace.  Listen, can you call the school and tell them I had to go home for a family emergency or something?  I'm going to do it.  Yes, mom.  I'm sure.  No, I know it's dangerous.  I know mom.  I love you too.  I'll be back soon, you'll see."

Hanging up, Stacey smiled her own predatory grin at the fey.  "You're going to take me back to where you came from," she said, "but I'm not going to stay.  You took something from my family, my real family, and we want it back.  You're going to help me find my twin sister."