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.