Clarissa Crumb, Changeling

Now that Halloween Hattie is in the latter stages of production I’ve begun to think about what, if anything, to do next. So I started looking in my abandoned project folder and found this. I started this almost two years ago now, it looks okay too. Some of you might remember it.

CLARISSA CRUMB

CHANGELING

Prologue

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 be about three feet ten inches tal and you are probably taller than that already.) By the time the sun comes up you will have gained a little magic power but not enough to do much damage with, 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 and a lot wrinklier than your granny, even if your granny is really old and really 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 even older than they really are, and when they are already two hundred years old, that wouldn’t be a good look. The only cure for this condition is to empty out their cauldron of the changeling soup they just sampled and catch themselves a fresh one. That wouldn’t be easy though, not when they’re two hundred years old and about to turn to dust. So you see, Hags don’t have it easy either. The big problem is, changelings are very moreish and therefore very tempting, so Hags have to be extremely disciplined or their next changeling might be their last.

If you are a changeling you might find this story useful, one day. Then again, if you are a changeling, then it obviously isn’t your ninth birthday today. If it was, you wouldn’t be wasting precious time reading this. You’d be running for your life through the forest, with a hundred Hags in hot pursuit.

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