It had been born in a chance encounter between fork lightning and a hillock already gravid with the old magics. Now all the changeling had to do was survive until adulthood, but that was easier said than done. A family had to be found – and fast.
Hovering outside a ground floor flat on Edinburgh’s Marchmont Road that it had been watching for weeks, it sensed the sleeping occupants – a young couple, Babs and Ricky Robertson and their two month old baby Ryan.
The perfect match.
Babs, a nurse at the Royal Edinburgh, was on maternity leave, struggling with the demands of a new-born baby. Ricky, a freelance graphic designer with too much time on his hands, busied himself with getting under her feet and huffing that he was no longer the sole focus of her attentions.
Neither of them had the slightest inkling that they had caught the attention of a malign being bent on replacing Ryan with itself, forcing them to care for it. It would be identical to their lost son down to the last eyelash – but the real Ryan would be dead, his body reduced to shadow and cobwebs. They would be too once the changeling reached maturity – a bloody rite of passage that was the hallmark of its kind.
A shadow without substance or form, it passed through the wall of Ryan’s bedroom. The baby slept on, unaware of his danger, dark lashes fanned out on each plump cheek, the blond wisps of his hair glimmering in the faint light from the hall.
Oh, how Babs and Ricky would wonder what had happened to their placid baby boy as time passed. Why was their precious little bundle of joy so cruel and vindictive, lashing out when anyone got too close? And why did the family pets keep disappearing without trace? Later still, his teachers would huddle in groups in the common room whispering about the incomprehensible horrors contained in his latest essay and what a troubled child he was. Endless referrals to an army of psychiatrists would reveal nothing but how the harassed, desperate parents were somehow to blame.
Somehow the changeling knew all of this, as though it had been imprinted on what passed for its soul. All it had to do was take that first, irrevocable step…
It drifted down onto the child’s face and still Ryan slept on. He would live until the replication process was complete, some time before Babs and Jamie woke to their new life and child.
Now, finally, a new beginning.