Changeling : Chapter Nineteen ( 2006 ) unpublished
there were flowers. Small singing birds circled their heads. Her
eyes had become accustomed to the pale light. The blister on her
heel stung, but wasn’t painful. She tried to make sense of
what was happening.
thing was certain, he wasn’t just some weirdo. This was real.
Even if she’d imagined the massive hound, even if the baby
was just teething, even if she herself was losing it in the confusion
of her feelings about Kate and the awfulness of dad’s accident,
this place was real. It couldn’t even be that he’d slipped
her some drug. Since they’d met that morning in the dunes,
she’d eaten and drunk nothing that hadn’t come packaged
or bottled from the village shop. There was nothing left but hypnotism.
For a moment she considered it. But she knew it wasn’t possible.
This was real. The pale mist above her. The pleasant sound of running
water. The flowers and the circling birds. Or maybe they weren’t
real. Maybe they weren’t what they seemed. Perhaps they were
just illusions, like the flowering briar on the stump that had turned
to stinking fungus. But what was happening was really happening.
in this place, or state, through which she walked was Kate’s
baby, as lost and lonely as the changeling that whined and puked
in dad’s house. Sarah remembered the overpowering smells of
milk and baby oil in the loft bedroom. But even there, with the
windows closed, the air had been touched by the smell of the sea.
Everywhere on the peninsula its sharpness edged the softest breeze.
Here, the air was heavy with the scent of honeysuckle and no wind
blew; but all around them pale jewelled berries rustled in the rowan
of her, Oisín stopped suddenly. Intent on her thoughts, Sarah
almost stumbled into him. He turned his head, reminding her of an
animal laying back its ears. “What? What is it?”
It was Blái.
had only a moment in which to speak. “Stay here. If I do not
come back, your best hope is the baby. Trust nothing and no-one
you find here.”
“What do you mean if you don’t come back …?”
“If you have a god, you might pray. He may be stronger than
watched him go towards his mother; they met at a bend in the stream.
She found herself moving for cover to where three trees grew together
giving the illusion of protection. Their slim, ribbed trunks were
solid under her hands, the bark peeling in silver scales, the roots
firm in the turf. She could see, but not hear, what was happening.
Sweat trickled down her backbone, soaking into the waistband of
that distance they seemed matched in height; the lift of their heads
and the grace of their bodies were identical. Sarah began to shake.
What if he’d lied to her? What if they both turned on her?
What if they’d needed her as well as the baby and she’d
walked into a trap? The two figures stood face-to-face by the stream,
poised like wrestlers before a bout. Watching from among the trees,
Sarah saw them like silver shadows in a pale landscape.
with the eyes of the Sídhe, saw Blái in a blaze of
light, her hair like copper spilling over her dappled garment, the
amber beads at her throat bright as the berries on the rowan trees.
Their eyes met and she laughed.
“Have you come against me with a sword and a spear?”
“I have not come against you.”
“You are here to turn me back.”
“If I must.”
She laughed again. “If you can!”
“You had no right to take that baby.”
“I had the power. And now I have more power because I took
“What do you want?”
“More power still.”
Then she moved past him towards Sarah like a hawk stooping to a
a hare frozen in headlights, Sarah felt the dazzle of her coming.
Clutching the slender trunk of a rowan tree, she was helpless in
the pale beam of light that pierced her illusion of protection.
The bark of the trunk was slime under her hands.
Blái, who had stood at the bend of the stream fifty paces
away, was beside her, silver hair framed by grey branches, close
enough to feel the breath of her ragged breathing. Pale stones gleamed
at her throat; her eyes were Oisín’s but they were
not Oisín’s; they were the eyes of the changeling,
ageless, fathomless, inhuman. Sarah tried to speak but the air was
too thin to draw into her lungs. There was no moisture in her mouth.
The dark rod struck her.
dreamed of the house in London. In her dream she held dad’s
photo in her hands, tearing it over and over, making shreds of his
face and flushing the pieces down the loo. A terrifying weight of
water fell, swirled, then drained and resumed its constant level;
first hiding, then revealing, the shredded pieces of photo, still
floating on its surface . Dreaming, she re-lived her feelings. Anger,
misery, embarrassment, deflation. Anger. Tears streamed down her
face. Her hair fell forward, dripping with tears. Her hands scrabbled
in the porcelain bowl, closing on scraps of the photo. Then the
picture was whole again in her hands, and she tore it again. Her
head was full of the sound of the cistern filling and draining;
torrents of water rose and fell, and she felt the drops thrown back
into her face as she crouched over it, sobbing.