The Changeling (or for adults, The Terrible Twos)

I am asking you to believe me because no one else will. 

It all began the night before my daughter’s second birthday. That night, like every night, I stayed up until midnight and read while having a glass of milk with cookies. Yes, I am forty and no; I am not too old for milk and cookies. Hey its good enough for Santa, isn’t it?

Well, this night I maybe stayed up a little later than most nights but I was really excited because my little girl was turning two the next day. Now, I need to give you a little background on little Olivia for some better understanding on what transpired that night and afterwards. See, Olivia is the daughter of my old age well, not really. I was thirty-eight but I thought I was done having children at that point in my life. And I say the following statements with absolutely no bias whatsoever:  She was the most beautiful and intelligent baby and most importantly she was good.

She has beautiful brown curls, pale skin and saucer sized blue eyes that she got from her daddy. Mommy has green eyes. She was extremely well behaved, always took her bottle without a fuss and never spits out her food as her daddy brought “the plane in for a landing” while making loud propeller sounds and her mommy ran around the kitchen spinning with her arms extended out like the wings of an airplane.

Olivia was the type of child that her older brothers loved to play with and all the other parents remarked on how well behaved she was, and oh how adorable she was and oh how we must be so proud and spoil her rotten, etcetera, etcetera. Priest and politician remarked on what an exemplary citizen she was, and of course we know that politicians do not lie especially when they are running for office.

At dinner she held our hands while we say grace. Even at her early age, she put her toys away and took her naps when she is supposed to. Remarkably she also went to bed at night at a good hour since she was six weeks old and slept through the night even sleeping in a little later so Mommy and Daddy can get some extra sleep on Saturday or Sunday morning after a rough week.

She absolutely never pulled on the cat’s or dogs’ hair and said “thank you” and “please” in two different languages. Olivia never tried to take her shoes or socks off while in the car seat and always wore her hat in the sun without a fuss. In short, she was a delightful baby.

Now I do not say this as a braggart but so when you hear the rest of my tale you truly believe and understand it to be the truth.

At the end of my reading that night like every night, I took the two dogs out; Tori on a leash because she does not behave and Belle without one because she does. Now, the pups are normally skittish at night when we go out and will jump at the slightest noise for we have all types of critters about, from armadillos, to opossum and rumor has it a bobcat.   I have gotten basically immune to all the night noises so when Tori jumped so high at the end of the leash that I thought I was about to fly her like a kite, I did not initially think much of it.

But then Belle growled, and Belle never growls. I turned to look at her and thought to look between the houses for a critter but saw that she was looking up towards the roof. I could not imagine what would be up there that would make her react the way she did but then I moved my eyes and saw it.

Even to this day, it is difficult to describe what I saw and to my ever lasting shame I stood there motionless and speechless. Climbing out of the window in Olivia’s room was a long thin creature, all arms and legs and in one of his arms was my precious baby girl. The dogs both started barking then and the large eyed beast with little hair and no clothes hissed down at the dogs. And then he saw me. Our eyes met and something in my mind finally clicked and I screamed. I screamed louder than I have ever before in my life screamed.

Then as quick as the blink of an eye, he was gone. Now, I am not saying he vanished, but he might as well have for I have never seen a living creature move with the speed of this monster. He simply jumped from rooftop to rooftop, not with a crashing thud upon each impact, but with the gentlest touch as if a feather was tickling the shingles and was quickly gone from sight.

My screaming and the dogs barking caused many a light in the houses around mine to light up but I was already sprinting to my front door. Every other step I had to adjust because the dogs were so afraid they were trying to hide underneath my legs. When they weren’t barking they were whimpering from fear. I opened the door just as my wife did and I went crashing into her.

Now, Gloria had that typical half closed eye and slouched over look, as if the upper half of her body was not awake enough to straighten out.   I did not knock her down but I did startle her mightily, and to be honest her language at that moment was not the most ladylike, but I did not wait for her to collect herself.

I screamed behind me at her as I was already on the stairs going up to the second floor, “Olivia is gone. She was stolen! Call 911!” I did not wait to hear her response as I hurtled myself up the stairs. But I heard it nonetheless. This unholy wailing came from below followed by the loud thudding on the stairs. This meant that my wife, not the lightest stepper in the world, was following me up the stairs.

I burst into Olivia’s room and stopped in the middle of the room, dead in my tracks. I had expected the window to be open and it was not. I expected for some reason that the room would look as if it was ransacked and it was in a tidy manner. I expected to look in the crib and see torn sheets or comforter and Gloria crashed into my back. I saw the room was unscathed.

She had her cell phone already open and must have put in those famous three numbers, because I heard her declare, “Yes, operator, our baby is…………..Michael, she is right there.” She had this look of disbelief tempered with a sullen look that I had dared to wake her up out of a rare good night sleep.

Now was not the time to argue with her so I just grabbed the phone from her with a frustrated yank and continued, “Yes operator! Our baby girl has been stolen.” There was a slight pause and Gloria did not hear what the operator asked me but I continued, “I know what my wife said but you need to get officers here as quickly as possible. It is even worse than I feared.” I then looked down and saw the baby sleeping peacefully in the crib.

“Michael, I do not understand. Why do you have the police coming? Have you lost your mind? Olivia is sleeping right there.” Gloria was now fully awake and was in no mood for anything other than the truth.

So the truth I tried to give to her. “That is not Olivia. That is a changeling baby.”

“That is a what?! Don’t you think I can recognize my own baby?” I think she wanted to shake me but instead she left the room exasperated. “Call the police back and come down to bed.”

“I will not. Even if I did they would still come to check matters out. Maybe they will listen to me if you don’t.” I followed her down the stairs leaving the baby behind in its crib. It was after midnight and so it was Olivia’s second birthday but I knew that she was somewhere else and not sleeping comfortably. I knew it because I saw it. I knew it because I could sense the wrongness in that room and I knew it because I was not going crazy.

It did not take long for the police to show up. They were obviously close by and not by a donut shop because those were all far away. Gloria feeling humiliated by my antics met them at the door so they did not feel the need to break it down. She had not talked to me in those couple of minutes. She just paced and muttered some stuff about the neighbors thinking the wrong thing, and other matters. I didn’t care because I was just thinking about where my baby could be right now.

“Sorry that you were called out here this late at night, officer.” My wife declared sheepishly.

The first of the two cops looked at Gloria and said, “We got a call about some guy saying his baby girl was stolen.”

Again my wife jumped in before I could get a word in, saying, “That was my husband.” With that both men looked at me. “But our baby is upstairs fast asleep.” They then looked at me as if I had three heads.

“That is not our baby. Our baby was stolen.” I interjected as they continued to look at me now as if I had four heads.

The older of the two officers, an overweight fellow in his late forties with a bald head, ordered his partner up to investigate, so the other cop, a young black fellow, in his late twenties at the most, ran up the stairs. The older cop then told my wife and me to sit down in our living room by the front doorway. I sat at one end of the couch and my wife, not surprisingly, sat at the other end. I think by this point she was a little embarrassed to know me.

The young fellow came down the stairs shaking his head and gave me a look as if I had taken him away from a far more important place to be; perhaps it was a donut shop. “Joe, the baby is okay. I checked on her and she is breathing fine. I checked the window while I was up there and there was no forced entry.” The older cop, Joe, gave me a look with one eye of complete disgust and with the other eye looked at my wife with complete sympathy. I do not know how he quite did that.

“Sir, perhaps you simply had a nightmare,” declared Joe.

“No, I was outside in the driveway.” I responded contemptuously.

“Well, maybe you were sleepwalking?” he grasped for straws.

“No, I have never sleepwalked and I hadn’t yet fallen asleep. Besides I have never heard of someone walking their dogs in their sleep.” I continued to explain.

“Well, there is a first time for everything and besides, clearly, no one stole your baby. She is upstairs!” The younger cop chimed in.

“As I said before I know there is something in my daughter’s crib, but it is not my Olivia. It is a changeling.” My voice started to rise.

“A what?!” Joe, the donut eating cop asked. At this point I heard a sob from the side of the couch where my wife was sitting.

“A changeling! Haven’t you ever read stories of fairies coming in and switching out real human babies and leaving changelings in their place?” I continued with a tone that reminded me of a frustrated educator trying to speak to a class full of dullards.

“Sir,” Joe scolded “The gay community has enough problems without you accusing them of stealing babies.”

I was puzzled for a moment, “Not gay, fairies as in fairy tales. But this was not a fairy tale. This was real.”

“So, let me get this straight. You are saying that Tinkerbell flew into your daughter’s window and stole your baby away and left another baby in its place.” Joe had clearly run out of even pretending to have patience with me.

“Well not Tinkerbell. This fairy was six to seven feet tall with long thin arms and legs and he did not fly, but could jump from house to house.” I tried to be calm.

Joe turned his attention from me to Gloria who had her head in her hands, “Miss, has your husband been in an auto accident, suffered any recent head trauma or been under psychiatric care?”

Gloria just continued to sob and shook her head in the negative.

Again, the younger cop piped in, “Well there is always a first time for the psychiatric visit. I strongly encourage you to take your husband in first thing Monday morning.” The cops tried to tell my wife it would work itself out and if I was any further of a problem to call them and they walked out my front door. The neighbors were peering out their windows and doors at this point and to avoid anyone coming over to inquire, my wife shut the outside lights immediately.

Gloria glanced over her shoulder as she walked to the bedroom almost daring me to say something and slammed the door closed behind her. Did I mention I own a very comfortable couch?

The next morning broke just like every other morning, well, with the exception of the morning rays hitting me on the couch instead of my bed. But, it was Sunday morning and while in the past I would have gotten some extra sleep, the creature sleeping in my daughter’s crib had a different idea. It cried, wanting up and out of the crib. Gloria obviously hearing the beast on the monitor came out of the bedroom, gave me a look implying I might be on that couch for a few nights, and went up to get it.

Gloria first tried to have the little thing drink a cup of milk and all it did was fling the cup across the room leaving a wide arc of shimmering milk on the walls. Then she tried to feed it while making her airplane motions. It would have none of it. It used its mouth to blow a raspberry that had the effect of a fifty millimeter cannon knocking my wife’s plane out of the sky. It also splashed assorted colors across Gloria’s white t-shirt.

Later that morning, we all went to church and while Olivia would have sat quietly listening to the sermon and clapping and singing to the music, this creature clapped and sang during the sermon and only listened during the music. It certainly wasn’t listening to us. We were no longer getting the looks from other parents that we had when we were with Olivia. Now I got the impression that they no longer thought of Olivia in such glowing terms. I did wise up enough not to explain the situation to them. It was bad enough my wife thought I was nuts, I didn’t need the whole congregation thinking the same.

On the way home, I finally spoke up, “Do you see what I mean? Olivia never behaves like that in church.”

Gloria looked at me the same way she had earlier. I was disappointed that the look was still there even after the healing powers of church. “Michael, are you still on about this? She did not behave because she needed a nap earlier than normal. She woke up early this morning and didn’t get one.”

I responded knowingly, “Exactly, it woke up early. When does Olivia ever do that?”

The lightning bolts from Gloria’s eyes could have a killed a lesser man and left him as nothing but ash but I met her gaze. Did I mention those pretty green eyes? “Maybe she was up early because she did not want to miss any minute of her birthday. And are you going to wish her a happy birthday?”

“Sure, as soon as I find her, I will.” With that statement I ended any communication for awhile between Gloria and myself. To me, the evidence was mounting but I just couldn’t get my wife to listen. This creature had woken up earlier than normal, had not taken its bottle, had not eaten its food, had not napped properly, did not behave in church and those in attendance did not look at us at that time as if we had the most beautiful and well behaved child ever born.

In the midst of compiling my evidence, silence was interrupted by something smashing in the back of my head as I drove home. I looked in the rearview mirror to see the face of Olivia smiling back at me, but I knew it wasn’t her because one of its shoes was off its foot and it had used it as a projectile against my head. I looked over to Gloria who was actually snickering as if she wished she could have thrown something at my head, herself.

Once we got home before our guests arrived, the miserable little creature began to play with my daughter’s toys and when finished it did not put them back in the proper place but instead left all the toys strewn about the floor. I finally spoke up again, pleading with my wife to listen, “See? It is not putting Olivia’s toys away. Where did it go off to anyway?”

But, before Gloria could answer me, the giggling, nay the cackling, reached our ears. The two dogs were running for their lives and the little monster was right behind them. It had tuffs of hair in each hand from where it had obviously pulled on the dogs. Gloria intervened as my dogs begged to go in their cages just to get away for awhile.

With the dogs out of harm’s way, the creature sought other prey. I heard the cat scream a minute later, but after several thudding noises, I heard the changeling begin to cry. We went to investigate. Gloria lifted her alleged child to comfort it and I picked up Stripes, the cat, who was licking his clawless front paws with a quiet satisfaction. The changeling was lucky Stripes did not have front claws and as I held my cat I expressed to him that he was my favorite pet ever.

Later, we had the birthday party and my wife threatened me with extreme cruelty if I mentioned any of my irrational thoughts. But as the party drew to its conclusion, and after the impersonator did not thank anyone in any language for presents of toys and clothes, I was given one last bit of evidence to solidify my case. The birthday cake arrived and as many of you are aware, rather recently in the timeline of civilization parents have decided to allow their birthday child to make a complete mess of an individual cake. The child, the highchair and the surrounding ten feet are all covered in frosting and little cake bits as the child rips into it and guests laughed as if it is a brilliant piece of comedy.

Well, this was attempted on Olivia’s first birthday and to her everlasting credit she wanted no part of it. My little girl was put in her highchair and everyone chanted for her to plunge her hands and face into the cake but she declined their requests. Cries of “maybe she doesn’t like the cake” came out and were rebutted when she with sophistication ate a bit of the frosting off the spoon. Then one of the ladies there thought it would be a good idea to put her hand into the cake covering all her fingers with frosting. She did not jump into the cake with glee nor did she start to cry. She merely gave the woman a contemptuous glance and held her hand up and gave us a look beseeching someone to step forward and clean her hand.

Not this day.

With hands raised high the little monster attacked the cake with arms swinging faster than a maestro in front of an orchestra. Cake went everywhere at the people cheering, at the walls, at the poor dogs that had been let out of their cages. Some of it stuck to the ceiling, a popcorn ceiling. That was not going to be easy to clean. I think a little of it went into the creature’s mouth. It was certainly all over Olivia’s pretty dress and was all over its face and hair.

The defense rests. If there was any doubt prior to the cake debacle I cannot see how reasoned minds could disagree that this creature, whatever it was, was not my daughter Olivia.

Later that night, when it was just Gloria and I downstairs, I brought up the subject one last time. The beast had not napped either in the morning or afternoon and was now up in Olivia’s crib screaming. I in a calm voice asked Gloria to listen to my arguments and to her credit she did not hurl anything at me or make a phone call for the padded bus with the straight jacket to come and pick me up. Besides the fact that I witnessed the actual abduction I explained each of the changes from our wonderful little girl Olivia to this monster just in the span of twenty four hours. I beseeched her to listen and hoped to enthrall her with the rationale of my argument but to no avail.

She smiled gently and said one last sentence before turning off the light, “That is why they call them the terrible twos.”

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