The Changeling (2013)

The following was another one of my early University submissions, written in 2013. TRIGGER WARNING. This story features themes of child abuse and may be disturbing for some readers.

The Changeling

I looked at the crying lump in the crib.  It was such an ugly thing with its face all scrunched up like that.  Why wouldn’t it stop crying?  That ear piercing, instant headache screeching.  It was infuriating.  I went to pick up the wailing infant.  I held it wearily away from me unsure what to do.  It carried on with its tuneless song, kicking and punching the air, trying to smack some sense into me.  I stared at it, my mind blank.  Wasn’t all this nurturing stuff meant to come naturally?  I gave the baby a half-hearted jiggle, muttering incoherent noises to its face. 

         “Coochie coochie coo.”  My voice screamed insecurity.

         “Please stop.”  The baby continued, not understanding, or simply ignoring, my simple plea.

         “Please…stop…c-c-crying.”  The infant continued, giving no sign of stopping.  The tears began flowing down my cheeks.  My breathing jagged.  I continued to jiggle the baby, trying to gently rock it at the same time.  The room was bursting with sounds of anguish.  It was a stalemate, the louder I got the louder the baby got.  The harder the baby screamed, the harder I screamed.  The noise was ricocheting off the walls.  Chaos.

         “What is going on in here?!”  John pushed through the door, his face dropped when he saw the scene in front of him.

         “Amy? AMY! What are you doing!?”  He grabbed the unfamiliar child from my arms and held it to his chest.  He did the jumpy rocking motion that I’d tried to achieve but he was calmer.  Gentler.  Kinder.  The baby’s crying stopped.

         “He w-wouldn’t stop c-crying.  I t-tried to s-settle him but it w-wouldn’t s-stop c-c-crying.”  I wailed at my partner.

         “Well I’m not surprised!  The poor child’s probably traumatised, what the hell do you think you were doing?  Why didn’t you try to feed the poor thing?  Or check his nappy!?  Honestly Amy you’re meant to be his mother!”  He turned his back on me,abandoning me in the empty room.  I could hear him cooing and comforting the baby whilst he moved down the hall, away from the chaos he’d witnessed.  Away from me.  What about me?  He should be comforting me!  He was right though.  I was meant to be the child’s mother.  I was meant to know exactly what was wrong with him and how to sooth him.  So why didn’t I?  During the pregnancy I had tried so hard to protect him, to give him what he needed.  I’d loved him, but it seems as soon as that umbilical cord was cut the bond that held us together was torn.  He didn’t feel like my child.  I didn’t even find him beautiful.  Aren’t mothers meant to find their children beautiful?

         I’d spoken to my parents about how I was feeling and they said I was just suffering from ‘postnatal depression’.  They advised me to visit my doctor to get some help. Some medication and some therapy.  It would help get that bond back.  Mother and son.  There was one issue though, John didn’t believe in mental illness.  He didn’t believe in depression, he saw it as being weak and that you should just ‘man up’ and get on with life.  He’d never allow me to visit the doctor about such matters; that would be considered shameful.  I’d just have to get on with it.  I went over to the bed and curled up in the foetal position and cried myself to sleep.

         I woke up to the baby crying.  I rolled over, trying to escape the sound.  Maybe if I ignored it, it would just go away.

         “It’s your turn to deal with him” John grunted in my face and rolled away from me.  I stared at him in the darkness, resentment bubbling up inside of me.  He didn’t understand.  He didn’t care.

         I stared at the squirming baby again.  I can do this, I told myself.  I picked the child up and checked its nappy.  The disgusting brown mush was smudged all up the infant’s back.  I grimaced and got to work, it continued to kick pushing the mush all over its feet.  It was purposely making this harder for me.  I was sure of it.  I cleaned up the shit then stared at the child again.  Its face twisting into that hideous scrunched up expression.  I picked it up before it started to bellow, what else could it want?  Food?  I took it downstairs and made a bottle of formula.  Checking the temperature like the mothers did on T.V.  Of course John hated the fact that I didn’t breastfeed the thing.  “No wonder he crys, you’re not giving him what he needs.”  He would tell me.  Going against nature, natural immunity, yadda yadda yadda.  I plunged the bottle into the baby’s mouth and it began greedily sucking.  I had tried breastfeeding but it hadn’t worked, like everything else I had failed.  He had refused to latch and although he had no teeth the pain had been unbearable.   Once the bottle was empty I held the baby in front of me again.  It looked reasonably happy, surely it was happy now.  Still its face began to twist and contort again, transforming into that all too familiar grimace and the screaming began.  I didn’t know what to do, I had done everything I was meant to.  There was nothing else left.  I started to shake the bundle in frustration, gently at first then harder and harder.  I couldn’t stop.  The tears were running down my face as I violently shook the child.  For just a second the baby stopped crying, but its face didn’t go back.  The grimace got worse.  The face was wrinkled and old.  The hair on its head was grey and thin.  Its mouth was pursed as if sucking a lemon.  I stopped shaking the child and stared at it in shock.  But it was no longer that old wrinkled face, instead it was fresh and plump.  A baby.  I was going mad; but I know what I’d seen and I also knew that shaking it that hard should have ended with tragedy.  Yet it hadn’t.  This thing wasn’t my baby.  

         I put the infant down on its play mat and stared at it as it kicked and pulled at the toys around it.  I remember my grandmother telling me stories of fairies and pixies and little people that lived in the hills.  I vaguely recalled a particular story that she had told me once.  Something about how the little people in the hills would steal a newborn born child from its mother and replace it with an old wrinkled gremlin-esque creature.  They’d get the fairies to cast a spell upon, so it resembled the original child; but this creature wasn’t a child.  It was old and grim.  It would cause mischief and bring trouble to the family.  There were only two ways to tell if your child was a changeling and that was to roast the infant or to stick a red hot iron poker down its throat, revealing its true form.  Both would kill the thing.  I had been plagued with nightmares for months after she’d told me that tale.  She’d never mentioned it ever again after that.

         Whether it was the lack of sleep or the confusion from what I’d just seen, I couldn’t explain what possessed me to do what I did.  I picked up the child and undressed it whilst it punched me with its small hammer like fists.  I went into the kitchen and placed the wriggling lump into a roasting dish.  It flinched from the change of temperature.  The cold hard dish coming into contact with its warm soft skin.  I opened the oven door and placed the dish inside.  I turned the heat up to high and watched through the glass, watching the small lump kick and squirm inside the oven.  Waiting for the thing to reveal its true form.  Watching and waiting…waiting….  There was a flash of bright white light.  Something hard and cold came in contact with my head and everything went dark.  I woke up to John nudging my shoulder.

         “Amy?  You okay?  What are you doing down here?  Did you try and cook something, the oven was left on high, that’s quite dangerous dear.  I’m glad you and little Daniel are finally getting along though, look how calm he looks in his mother’s arms.”  I lifted myself up.  I was laying on the sofa with the baby in my arms.  I looked down at him, terrified that the ugly wrinkled lump would be there, but instead there was a chubby little baby boy sleeping calmly.  My baby boy.  My Daniel.

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