Friday, 20 April 2012


So quiet is the night that her footsteps can be heard long before she appears.  As the girl makes her way out of the black woods, into the sheer white of the outside world, no footprints mark the snow behind her.  She is thin and pale, and her hair is so fair it is almost white.  If anybody were to see her, they might mistake her for   ghost, or something like it.  Something not quite of this world.
She carries a woolen bundle in her frail, skinny arms.  A soft breath coos up at her from its depths.  She attempts to ignore it.  If she avoids looking down at the tiny creature, she thinks this will be easier.
The white road brings her to a village.  Only a handful of houses, it would appear, all of which sit still and silent under their snowy blanket.  One house seems to beckon to her.  She moves towards it, pulled closer by instinct and a deeper knowledge. 
She stops at a ground floor window.  Her breath on the glass turns to a glittering frost.  Using her one free, frail hand, she opens the window and climbs inside.  A crib stands before her.  The walls are decorated with various birds and farmyard animals.  A colourful plaque hangs from the wall over the crib:
No noise comes from the cot.  The pale girl knows why.  Death took this child, took its breath and its soul, earlier this night.  She felt it from her home beyond the woods, and she sensed an opportunity. 
With her left arm she scoops up the still, cold babe, and with her right she leaves another child in his place.  He stirs as she lays him down, his tiny fists tighten, then he goes back to sleep.  The pale girl’s icy breath catches in her throat.  Her beautiful, forbidden child. 
This home will have a new Zachary.
She whispers words that would be inaudible to human ears; words that creep out into the stuffy bedroom air and settle on the infant in the cradle.  They are words to dull the brightness in his eyes and flatten the sharpness of his delicate features.  His pointed little ears become fatter, rounder, more human.  To this boy’s new parents, he will be the image of their own child.
The pale girl leans forward to kiss her baby’s warm brow, and his skin glistens for a moment in the darkness where her lips touched it.  She climbs through the window as silently as she entered, and slides it shut with one hand. 
"I will see you again,” she promises, although even she is unsure.  She turns away from the human house, holding their own lost boy to her chest, and she goes back the way she came.
Her wails can be heard for several hours after she vanishes back into the woods, but if anybody is woken by her unearthly cries, they will simply turn over in their beds and think it is the wind.
"Changeling" is taken from my Kindle anthology Sweet Tooth.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Nobody's Cub

 Once upon a time there was a young bear cub called Freddie. He belonged to nobody, and nobody belonged to him. He used to be very nonchalant and Holly Golightly about this, but if he's honest with himself (and he rarely is), he would like nothing more than to be able to point to somebody and say to a stranger "oh, they're with me", or "I'm with them", or some such lark.
He tries to get out there, to look for love as if a thing like love can be found on a map, X marks the spot and ever after, but for one reason or another his efforts are as empty and as fruitless as his cold, dinner-for-one lair. While others go on the prowl, Freddie stands by the wall, lonelier than a Smiths song, and when he eventually does pluck up the courage to follow the sign that says Bears Upstairs, all he can think is how much like a bedtime story it sounds, or a TV show for children. The Bears Upstairs.
Freddie's knees tremble as he ascends each step, anxiety creating blurry panic in his head and chest. What if his fur isn't as shiny as that of the other bears? Will they laugh at his small, non-aggressive growl? Are their eyes browner, their claws sharper?
As it turns out, the bears upstairs are no different to the other animals. When they laugh it is with no joy, all they care about is milk and honey. Freddie groans, a bear with a sore head, and once again heads out into the night alone.
Except something about tonight is different. On his way home, Freddie meets a man who calls himself Luke. His hair is flecked with silver and so are his eyes. Certainly not a bear, and Freddie doesn't know how he feels about having a daddy. But it is a bitterly cold night, so Freddie lets Luke take him by the hand and take him to his lair. His grip is firm, warm. It feels to Freddie like lying in a warm bed while a storm rages outside.
When they reach Luke's door, the man takes the young bear's coat like a gent and shows him inside. The man's house is cosy and warm, which is perhaps why Freddie allows himself to relax. A small fire entertains itself beneath the mantle, casting shadows that he doesn't notice straight away. It is only when he and Luke have sat down, when Freddie cracks a poor joke and Luke laughs, grinning widely in the process, that he realises.
"My," he finds himself saying, "what big teeth you have."
Then he sees the shadows of large, pointed ears cast by firelight against the wall, and he forces himself to look closer at Luke. At his pale eyes, and prominent nose... not Roman, but a snout maybe. Freddie has never had reason to keep track of these things, but he suddenly, strongly suspects that if one were to glance outside tonight, the moon would be full.
"Wolf!" He cries, and Luke flinches as if Freddie has sworn. Freddie throws himself off the sofa, grabs his coat with one hand and the doorknob with the other, but then something makes him turn around to look at the wolf in designer clothing.
Why, then, does the young cub not run?
Because when Luke laughed, Freddie heard the genuine mirth in it, the joy. Because his grip had been firm and warm, and because there is a fire in the hearth.
Freddie looks at Luke, but that joy is gone.
"I understand," says the wolf. "Go back to your people."
The coat slips from Freddie's fingers, and he returns to sit with Luke.
"We're all animals underneath," he says, and kisses him. Luke grins wolfishly, and this time his giant fangs do not fill Freddie with fear; rather, something akin to desire. And who is to judge? Everybody wants to be loved; it is the nature of the beast.
"Besides," Freddie adds between kisses, "I have spent enough time in the company of bears."
... And they lived happily ever after, if you like.