Time froze as Mira’s gaze zeroed in on a boy-shaped patch of shadow in the center of her room. He looked to be only slightly shorter than she was, and he stood squarely in the center of the rag rug Nana had tied for her the year before.
She narrowed her eyes, but anything more detailed than boy-shaped swam strangely through her vision. Like she was trying to read a book underwater with the sun shining directly overhead.
“Who are you?” she squeaked, trying to calculate how fast she could get down to the kitchen. Her mom would know what to do, and even if she didn’t, at least Mira wouldn’t be alone in the craziness that was intent on intruding in her life.
The boy-shaped shadow paused as though deep in thought. “I’m really not quite sure,” he said apologetically.
“How can you not know who you are?” Curiosity and the pale shade of the boy’s voice gave Mira the courage to take a tiny step forward.
“It’s simpler than you might think.” The boy-shaped shadow stared at her, even though she couldn’t quite make out his eyes.
Mira took another step forward. She’d run from the other two creatures, but this was her room. Her place. She wasn’t going to be afraid here.
“Are you a ghost?”
“No.” The boy-shaped shadow shook his head.
“I can see through you,” Mira pointed out.
“It’s because I’m neither one thing nor the other. I don’t properly belong anywhere, so I’m not completely real.”
Mira hugged her book of tales against her as though it had the power to make everything right. The princesses in the stories never ran away from an adventure, and she’d be a fool not to recognize adventure staring her in the face in the form of a boy who was real, but wasn’t. No, princesses stood their ground and either fought or were enchanted.
“If you aren’t real, then what are you?”
The boy-shaped shadow sighed, his shoulders slumping. “I’m a changeling.”
“A changeling?” Mira blinked and took another step forward. That was unexpected.
The shadow held out its hands, palms up, in a half shrug. “Yes. You know, stolen from the cradle and taken to an Otherwhere.”
“I know what a changeling is,” Mira said, setting her book on her bed as she stepped up to the changeling. “I just always thought they were a little more, I don’t know, solid.” She frowned as she studied the boy-shaped shadow, wondering if it would be too terribly rude to see if she could stick her hand through his arm. She made a face and shook her head. No, her mom would probably frown on experimenting on guests and, invited or not, the changeling was a guest.
It raised its brow—now that Mira was standing closer, she could make out faint outlines of the changeling’s—the boy’s—features. “And yet you had no idea what I was when you entered the room.”
“Mira,” her mom called. “Auntie Flora is going to be here any minute. I need you down here. Now.”
Mira narrowed her eyes at the changeling. A thousand questions were pinging around her brain, but she didn’t have time for more than one. Not when her mom used that tone of voice. The world could have been ending, but if the Pink Lemonade Brigade was convening, her mom would expect her to be there.
Happy. Clean. And prompt.
“What are you doing here? Don’t you need an invitation to enter or something?” She grabbed her brush from her nightstand and dragged it through her hair. Her mom wasn’t going to be happy about her hands or her torn jeans, but she had bigger things to worry about at the moment.
The changeling cocked its head to the side as though listening to something only it could hear. “I’m not quite real, remember?”
She glanced at her door. Her mom’s tone was more than a little frayed, and she only had a few more seconds before her mom would come for her herself.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Mira! Down here. Now!”
Compelled by the iron in her mom’s voice, Mira opened her door. “Stay here,” she whispered, hoping the changeling would stay put. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She waited for the changeling to nod before she took a deep breath and ran down the stairs. It was even more urgent now that she figure out how to get out of High Tea with the Pink Lemonade Brigade as soon as possible. She didn’t want to risk the mystery standing on Nana’s rug disappearing before she’d figured it out.
But as she hit the bottom of the stairs and swung around the banister, Mira stopped short, frozen.
Her mother, she’d expected. Maybe even Auntie Flora. But there, crammed together in the living room and staring at her, was the entirety of the Pink Lemonade Brigade all at once.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2014 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved. Originally published in Curiosities of the Moon.
Author Confession: Changelings don’t necessarily work exactly the same in this world as they do in other worlds. There are some similarities (more on changelings in the third episode), but also some rather glaring differences. In this world, being a changeling directly affects the poor creature physically along with all the other fun stuff being a perpetual stranger to a people who don’t happen to have the highest opinion of mortals in general, and you in specifics. This character intrigued me, because what would you do with that if you were a changeling? The answer to that question–at least partially. My characters are big on withholding interesting information until the right moment–surprised me.
And yet it is because of that that I believe there is a little bit of the changeling in all of us. 👾
Come back next Wednesday. I have it on good authority that the main antagonist is about to make another appearance. Kinda. 😉