Hi, I’m wearing my Trevor Forest, children’s author hat for this post. This is the prologue to a story I began but for some reason abandoned about this time last year. I’d forgotten all about it until I was editing my www.trevorforest.com website earlier today. So far there is only this prologue and chapter one, which I’ll post here. Could I be cheeky and ask for your thoughts on this? I’m really not sure whether to go on with it or do some other stuff.
Thanks for reading.
The following text has not been edited and is liable to change without further notice.
CLARISSA CRUMB CHANGELING
Do you believe in fairies? I don’t mean those itty-bitty things with tiny gossamer wings and sparkly wands that spend all their days sitting on toadstools looking cute. I mean proper fairies. The fairies that live in the forest, the fairies that can do real magic, like change themselves into a bird, a cat, or a hedgehog. The fairies that are able to disguise themselves as something innocent looking, like plant pots or buckets. The kind of fairy that doesn’t like humans much and disappear when we come clomping through the trees in our clompy boots. They probably don’t disappear to be honest; they probably just change themselves into a squirrel, or a nut, or something.
Proper fairies don’t use magic dust to sprinkle over things, they just think about what they want to do, and do it. They don’t live on a diet of berries and buttercup pollen either. They actually like carrots, peas and green beans, that sort of thing. They don’t like potatoes though, and they’re not too fond of Brussels Sprouts, so, if you ever come across a hungry fairy, don’t try to give it the sprouts you hid in your pocket at the Christmas dinner table, because they hate them just as much as you do and they’ll just throw them at you. You’ll find that fairies have a very good aim too. I know that fairies like carrots because we had a fairy, plant pilferer in our garden and our vegetable crop was disappearing at an alarming rate. I stopped its night time nibbling when I ran strands of thin, copper wire over the rows of carrots, peas and lettuce. Fairies can’t do magic if there is copper about and we would probably have seen them if they had turned up disguised as themselves. So, we did have fresh carrots for dinner, for a while at least. Unfortunately, not long after the fairies left, a few rabbits began to visit, and they aren’t put off by copper wire. I reckon the fairies got their own back by telling the rabbits where they could find a free night time feast.
Fairies are interesting creatures. They have their babies on the night of the changelings, which only happens once every nine years. Fairy mothers don’t make good parents. They are too busy looking after their patch of woodland to care for babies. Fairy fathers do look after children, but only when they get to nine years old. They have no idea how to change a baby’s nappy or play ring a roses with it and if you showed them a rattle they would probably think there should be a snake on the end of it, so they have developed a rather sneaky strategy. They get someone else to look after their babies for them.
On the night of the changelings, the fairy mothers kiss their babies goodbye and give them to a juvenile fairy, usually a female of about fourteen. Their job is to find a human house containing a new-ish human baby and swap it for the changeling. The human baby is taken back to the wood where it is wrapped in a warm blanket and placed inside a hollow tree. The fairy mothers cast a spell over it, and there is stays, fast asleep for nine years. The amazing thing is, it stays exactly the same. It doesn’t grow any bigger, it doesn’t wet its nappy, it doesn’t grow teeth and it doesn’t scream the house down at all hours of the day and night. It just lies there, fast asleep, until it’s time to take it back to its mother on the next night of the changelings. The clever thing about a fairy baby is, as soon as is placed in the human baby’s cot, its features will change so that it looks exactly like the baby it has replaced. It will have the same colour hair, (if it has any,) the same colour eyes, it can wet its nappy to order and it grows a pair of lungs that could out-scream a banshee with a sore toe. The fairy baby will grow up looking exactly like the human baby would have looked. It will go to school, it will make sandcastles at the beach, it will smile a smile so cute, that its foster grandmother will boast about it to anyone willing to listen. The changelings look, and act, so much like normal human children that no relative could ever tell that they had one lurking in their playpen. The changelings don’t know who they are either. You could be one yourself. You wouldn’t have any idea until you began to change, then you’d know all about it. Your mum and dad won’t know they have been tricked either, until you reach nine years old that is, then very strange things begin to happen.
On the stroke of midnight on your ninth birthday you will begin to change. Your nose will get a bit pointier, your chin will stick out just that little bit more, your hair will begin to turn silver and you will begin to shrink. (Fairies only grow to three feet tall and you are probably taller than that already.) By the time the sun comes up you will have gained all the magic power of a full-grown fairy and it will be time for you to make your way back home to the forest. This all sounds rather easy, but it isn’t, because as soon as the changelings begin to change, they become a target for the Hags.
‘What on earth is a Hag?’ I hear you ask. Well, if you’ll sit still for a few more minutes, I’ll tell you.
Hags are old witches, sort of. They are certainly old, a lot older than your granny, even if she’s really old and wrinkly. They don’t all look old though, and that’s because some of them managed to catch a fairy on the previous night of the changelings. If you’re a little sensitive you might want to put your hands over your eyes at this point because what I’m going to say next isn’t very nice.
If a Hag is lucky enough to capture you she will put you in her big black pot with lots of vegetables and the odd spider or mouse. She will boil you for a couple of hours until you turn into soup. She will ladle the soup into a large bowl and dribble some slobber into it from her drooling mouth. Some Hags will add a bit of salt and pepper to you and spread a slice of bread and butter, but the majority of them will hold the hot bowl to their black-toothed mouths and slurp you straight down. Once they have eaten the soup they immediately begin to look, and feel, young again. The makeover will last for eighteen years, that’s two changeling cycles. If they don’t manage to catch a changeling on the second cycle the Hag will revert to looking as old as she really is, and seeing as some of them are about two hundred years old…well, that’s a lot of wrinkles. A Hag who caught a changeling on the previous cycle, won’t bother to chase them on the next one, it could be quite dangerous. For instance, if they were silly enough to eat fairy soup when they didn’t need it, they could end up looking even younger than they do already, and another Hag might mistake them for a changeling and put them in their own pot. Hags have to be very careful what they eat. If you are a changeling you might find this story useful. Then again, if you are, then you obviously haven’t had your ninth birthday yet. If you had, you wouldn’t be wasting precious time reading this. You’d be running for your life through the forest, with hundreds of Hags in hot pursuit.
Right, that’s enough of that. I’ll get on with the story.
The Crumb family seemed, from the outside at least, to be a normal sort of family. They lived in a normal sized house on a normal sort of street. If you looked through the normal looking bay window you would see a normal looking lounge with a normal looking TV, a normal looking sofa and a normal looking goggle-eyed goldfish swimming around a normal looking plastic castle in a normal-looking fish tank. Indeed, everything about the Crumbs appeared to be normal; even their daughter, Clarissa. In reality though Clarissa was anything but normal; she was a changeling, a fairy child that had been swapped for a human baby in the middle of the night. Not that the Crumbs knew that. On the surface Clarissa seemed to be just like every other little girl on the street. She didn’t like Brussels sprouts, but then which little girl did? Clarissa was clever at school and was top of the class in art and PE. She would have got a glowing report from her teachers on parent’s night if her parents had ever turned up to hear it. At play school, when most parents were boasting to each other about how clever their children were, Mrs Crumb would just turn up, grab Clarissa by the hand, and hurry her out of the door as if they were late for an urgent appointment. The play group leader tried to tell Mrs Crumb how clever Clarissa was. ‘Oh, Mrs Crumb,’ she would say. ‘Your little Clarissa played the whole of the national anthem on a plastic trumpet today.’ Mrs Crumb just smiled a fixed smile, helped Clarissa on with her coat and hurried out of the building without a word.
It’s not fair to say that the Crumbs didn’t have any feelings for their daughter, they did, sort of. It was just that Mrs Crumb had this nagging feeling that things weren’t quite as they should be. She could never put a finger on what it was exactly, but she was convinced that something was wrong. She hadn’t always felt like that. When she first brought Clarissa home from the hospital she was as proud as any new mum could be. She rang everyone she knew to tell them how wonderfully fabulous her new, baby daughter was. ‘Ooh, Agatha, she’s so gorgeous. You could just eat her.’ (As things turned out, Mrs Crumb wasn’t the only one who would smack their lips when they looked at Clarissa, but more about that later.) On the day that Clarissa was bought home for the first time, Mr Crumb put up a banner on the gate saying ‘Welcome Home Mavis and Clarissa.’ A small group of Mr’s Crumb’s neighbours waited on the street for a first glimpse of the new baby. There were cries of ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ and, ‘doesn’t she look scrumptious.’ Inside, everything was ready. The nursery was decorated with teddy bear wallpaper; the cot was furnished with the snuggliest blankets that could be bought. The drawers were full of cute baby clothes and the window sill was covered in cards congratulating them on her new baby. The Crumbs couldn’t have been happier.
Things started to go downhill when Clarissa was just four weeks old. Mrs Crumb was feeding her one morning, singing ‘bye baby bunting, daddy’s gone a-hunting,’ when she happened to catch a look in her baby’s eye, a look that hadn’t been there the day before, it was a look that unmistakably said, ‘who is this mad woman with the squeaky, out of tune, voice?’ Things went from bad to worse after that. Mrs Crumb still looked after Clarissa, but not with the same enthusiasm as before. Mr Crumb noticed the change in her too. Clarissa began to play up when he tried to feed her at three o’clock in the morning. When he did finally get her to take some milk she sicked it back up all over his favourite silk pyjamas. She always seemed to smile just after she vomited too.
As she got older, it got worse. Mr Crumb loved potatoes and Brussels sprouts and tried to feed them to Clarissa at least three times a week. So, at least three times a week, Mr Crumb had to wipe mash and spouts from his face. Clarissa had a really good aim, even at three years old. When she was five Mrs Crumb decided that she really didn’t want the bother of looking after Clarissa anymore, so she got a nanny in.
Mrs Crumb hired the first person to apply. Mrs Rosebud turned up at the front door a mere five minutes after she had placed the advertisement in the post office window. She was a short woman with silver grey hair. She had a beautiful face without a single wrinkle, even though she must have been at least sixty years old. She offered to take the job even before she knew how much she would be paid. Mrs Crumb took advantage of that and knocked twenty pounds a week off the advertised wages. Mrs Rosebud settled in quickly and soon took over all aspects of Clarissa’s care. She bathed her and taught her how to clean her teeth. She took her to school and picked her up afterwards. She took her out for long walks in the summer and took her sledging and snowman building in the winter. She sat by her bed at night and told her wonderful stories about fairies and their arch enemies, the Hags. Clarissa had very little to do with her parents, Mr Crumb hired a local building firm to build an extension onto the back of the house and Clarissa and Mrs Rosebud spent the vast majority of their time in it. They had their own TV, their own shower and lavatory and their own little kitchen.
Mr Crumb still insisted on the family sitting together at the big table in the kitchen for the evening meal however and he still served up potatoes and sprouts three times a week. He was determined that Clarissa would grow to like his favourite meal. He was to be disappointed. Apart from the flying food at the dinner table, everything seemed to be going well. When Clarissa was seven, Mrs Crumb began to plan Clarissa’s future. She found (what she thought was,) a reasonably priced boarding school that would take Clarissa when she was eleven, and began to dream about the day that she would leave home for good. Mrs Crumb’s plans were to never to see the light of day. On Clarissa’s ninth birthday, things changed forever.