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     By Rachel Ward

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Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
            --William Butler Yeats
The autumn air was crisp, tugging at the ends of Brenna’s curls, making them swirl about her face. She had long ago given up trying to keep them in place. Instead of reaching up to push them out of her eyes, like her fingers were itching to do, she pulled the shawl she wore tighter around her shoulders. She had a sense that rain was coming her way.
Brenna had lived in the small village of Mullagh in County Clare her whole life. Her year across the country in Dublin had cured her of any desire to permanently leave. She couldn’t stand the congested city with all the noise from the cars and the planes always going to and from the airport. She missed the endless sea of green grass in her hometown; missed knowing everyone that she came into contact with.
Long ago, as a child, she had learned to recognize the smell of rain, it being so common in their little costal town. She knew before the clouds converged and the sky turned grey. She inhaled deeply, filling herself with the fresh, clean scent of the oncoming storm.
Others also knew that the rain was on its way. Windows and shutters were thrown open to let in the breeze, women pulled down clean linens from the lines, and many, like herself, were strolling along the streets to stretch their legs before being forced inside for the evening.
“Brenna!” she heard from behind her.
She turned to face the person who called her. “Hey, Molly. How’s thing?”
Her old schoolmate waddled forward, pushing a stroller before her. Her recent pregnancy had left the young woman more plump than normal. Her cheeks were flushed pink and her bright blue eyes were moist from the biting wind. She had pulled her hair up into a tight bun, but tendrils snaked out and floated in the air around her head.
“I can’ complain,” Molly said, now walking beside Brenna. “Baby’s fin’ly sleepin’ through the night.”
Brenna leaned forward to look at the child. She had heard tales of the little baby’s nighttime screeching, but she couldn’t picture the bairn tormenting her mother so. The small child slept peacefully, her tiny hands curled into fists beside her head. As if sensing Brenna’s scrutiny, she turned her head and smacked her lips.
A smile had begun to form on Brenna’s lips but it died when she heard, “Momma,” from behind her.
She froze and forced herself to breath evenly. Closing her eyes to make her expression void of any emotion, she straightened, and then turned.
The child stood in the middle of the sidewalk behind her and Molly.
“Well, ‘ello there, Colm,” Molly said.
He moved his gaze from Brenna to Molly. “Hello, Miss Molly.” His eyes slowly moved back to Brenna. “Momma, it’s time to go home now.”
She swallowed and softly said, “Yes, Colm. Let’s go home.” She took a few halting steps forward then turned back to Molly. “G’bye, Molly.”
They began the trek back to their tiny house on the far outskirts of the village. Brenna walked a few paces behind the boy and watched him. His pale skin was ghostly in the sunlight; the bright rays brought out the green blue veins beneath his skin. It made the shadows beneath his brown eyes more prominent, like bruises. His normally dark hair, in the light of the clouded sky, looked a dull ashen color.
Her lip curled in disgust.
Colm turned around and looked at her. His dark eyes were almost black. Filled with something that was not normal for a six-year-old. They were old eyes. “Come, Momma, I’m hungry.”
She forced her feet to move faster until she was walking beside Colm, matching his brisk pace. She kept her eyes straight ahead, so when he reached up to take her hand in his, she flinched away in surprise.
“Momma,” he said.
She put her hand back down by her side and allowed Colm to lace his ice-cold fingers with hers.
When they finally reached the house, after what had felt like the longest walk to Brenna, Colm dropped her hand and ran to the kitchen table and jumped up onto a chair. Brenna took a few deep breaths in the doorway, finding that she could breathe easier with the distance from Colm. She removed her shoes then closed the door, taking one last look at the emerald green landscape. The clouds had made their appearance on the horizon.
“Momma, my milk,” Colm called from the kitchen.
She went to the kitchen and, without looking at the boy at the table, she walked to the fridge and pulled out the milk. She filled two glasses and then reached into the cabinet for the jar of honey. She poured some into one of the glasses and mixed it with a spoon. Brenna put the one with honey in front of Colm, who was seated at the head of the table. He immediately picked it up and started gulping it down.
She stood, hovering over the table for a moment before Colm pulled the glass away from his mouth and said, “Sit down, Momma.”
She sank slowly into the chair to his left. She sat perfectly straight, her shoulders back and her head up. She looked out the window and nowhere else.
He eyed her for a moment, his brows furrowed together. “Drink.” It was not a suggestion.
As he set back into his drink, Brenna raised the glass to her mouth and drank, swallowing as much as she could in each gulp without making herself sick.
Colm finished his drink and held out the glass to Brenna, saying, “More.”
When they had both finished, Brenna said, “Why don’ you go play in your room, Colm.”
“Okay, Momma.”
She heard his footsteps moving up the stairs and then above her as he moved around in his room.
Brenna collapsed against the table.

She finally got up to start dinner. Brenna went to the sink and turned on the faucet, using her cupped palms to splash water on her face. She used her shirtsleeve to wipe away the water droplets that slid from her temples down to her beck. She closed her eyes for a moment and waited for the slight stinging sensation to pass before opening them and walking to the pantry.
It was mostly empty. Brenna sighed and moved a few things around. A half-empty box of pasta, a few cans of fruits and vegetable, some flour, a few loaves of bread, a couple potatoes, and the large jar of honey. She moved on to the refrigerator. Of course milk and cream, both for Colm. Other than that there were only a few tomatoes, some cabbage, and a small piece of beef. She didn’t think she could afford to get more the next time they went to the market, but they hadn’t had meat in a meal for a while. She pulled it out and the other vegetables, then threw them all in a pot. They were too tight on money for anything more luxurious. What she wouldn’t give for more meat. Bacon. Fresh fruits. Candies.
She put the pot onto one of the stove burners. She put her hand on the dial to star the flame but froze as she did every time.
Brenna took a few deep breaths, willing herself to just turn her wrist to cook the stew. But the memory always paralyzed her.
She turns on the stove. The flames leap out, higher than they should be. Sparks fly everywhere. One lands on her sleeve. No normal spark blazes out of control that quickly.
She pulled up her sleeve and looked at the burn mark that marred her forearm. Colm had been there, calmly drinking his milk, while she screamed and tried to put out the fire that licked her skin.
She ground her teeth together until her jaw ached and then wrenched her wrist to one side and the flame started up under the pot. She stumbled back, running her hands over herself. Checking.
The front door suddenly slammed open, hitting the wall behind it, and then it slammed shut.
“Declan?” Brenna called. She tried to slow her racing heart.
Her husband stormed into the room. He yanked open one of the cabinets and pulled out a glass and a bottle of Jameson. Then he pulled out one of the chairs, scraping the legs across the hardwood floor and flung himself into it. He ripped the lid off the bottle and went to pour the liquor into the glass but just brought it directly to his lips.
“Declan, what’s wrong?”
“Fecking bullshite, that’s what’s wrong.” He set into the bottle again.
Brenna ripped it out of his hands. “What. Happened?”
He looked up at her, his dark green eyes moving over her face, then put his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. “I lost my fecking job.”
She set the bottle on the table. “Oh, Declan, I’m sorry.” The child had cursed them.
He shook his head, picked up the bottle and took another swig.
“What ‘appened?” she sat down in the chair next to him and moved one of her hands over his broad shoulders. She felt the tension there, the same knot in his muscles that was in her own.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m no’ gettin’ it back.”
She covered her face with her hands and said, “How much more proof are you gonna be needin’ then?”
He turned to face her. “What the hell are you talkin’ ‘bout, Brenna?”
She pointed to the room above them and said in a hushed voice, “That that thing is no’ our son.”
“Brenna,” he said with a sigh, leaning back in his chair. “What are you sayin’? What is he if no’ our son?”
She stood and began pacing. “Changelin’,” she said in a whisper.
“God, no’ this again. That’s just some fecking maid’s tale. Meant to scare the little ones.” He stood and went to her, blocking her path. He pulled at the chain around her neck. “Is this why you wear this damned iron cross?” He reached into one of her pickets and let the grains of salt that he found there fall to the floor. “An’ the salt?”
She tugged the cross out of his fingers and tucked it back beneath her shirt. “The fair folk don’t have a liking for iron and salt.” She looked up at him. “You heard the same tales I did growin’ up. You know about changelin’s. They bring bad luck upon the house. We barely get by since he was born. It’s the only explanation for you no’ bein’ able to hold a job.”
Declan grabbed her arms and said, “You ever think that maybe it’s me? Something wrong with me for no’ bein’ able to keep--”
“Momma? Papa? What’s wrong?”
They both turned to face Colm who was standing in the entrance to the kitchen.
“Nothin’’s wrong, boyo,” Declan said, moving over to the boy. He knelt down and covered Colm’s shoulder with his large hand. “Why don’ you go back upstairs and keep playin’ in your room. Mom and Pop are goin’ to talk a bit before we eat.”
Seeing Declan with Colm like this had Brenna struggling not to cry. They had been so excited when they found out that she was pregnant. The day their son had been born was the happiest in her life.
But that was not her son.
Her son had been taken. Stolen from his cradle.

The pitter-patter of the rain on their roof should have lulled Brenna to sleep. The sounds of Declan’s soft snores and the warmth from his body beside hers should have comforted her. But whatever she did, whatever position she arranged her body in, no matter how high she counted in her head, nothing could calm her racing thoughts.
She quietly rose from the bed and padded down the stairs to the small living room. She lit a candle that cast a warm glow about the room. Her mother had taught her how to knit, and Brenna picked it up whenever she felt restless. The steady rhythm had started to lull her to sleep, clearing her thoughts.
She heard footsteps on the stairs. Not Declan’s-his weight made more of a sound. Her chest rapidly rose and fell as her breathing quickened. The sound of her heart pumping blood filled her ears and she felt lightheaded.
And Colm came around the corner.
“What’s bothering you, Momma?”
Brenna winced at the strange lilt of his words, so unlike her own. She swallowed and said, “Nothin’, Colm. I just couldn’ sleep tonight.”
He cocked his head to one side and assessed her. Then he walked over and sat next to her on the couch. She moved away until she was pressed against the arm, but Colm scooted closer so that his thigh was touching hers.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his tin whistle. It had once been Declan’s father’s instrument. Brenna remembered the day, when Colm was only three, when he had been picking through a few old boxes and found it. He had put it to his lips and started to play. Brenna had been amazed at first, but then she realized how unnatural it was. When she confided her apprehension to Declan he had just said, “Don’ be silly, Brenna. We go’ ourselves a regular Mozart here!”
“Would you like me to play, Momma?”
“It might wake your father, Colm. Maybe tomorrow.”
He turned to look at her, his eyes dark with fury. “I want to play now.”
She released a shuddering breath. “Please, Colm, it’s very late.”
“Now!” His voice had lowered to a deep octave.
Brenna swallowed the bile that had risen in her throat and resisted the urge to scream. It was a long time before she was able to say, “Okay.”
The rage receded from his eyes and a huge grin lit up his face. “Thank you, Momma.” He put the whistle to his lips and blew air through it, moving his fingers on the holes so that a soft tune began to fill the air.
Brenna tried to resist, tried to keep herself awake, but the song filled her mind. Her eyes grew heavy, and her head felt fuzzy. Was it an enchantment? His fairy magic? The song stopped and she still felt tired.
“Let’s go to bed, Momma.”
“Aye, Colm.”
She stretched her body out along the couch. Colm climbed up onto the couch and wedged his smaller body between hers and the back of the couch. He put his head on her shoulder and one arm across her chest. She felt the iron cross around her neck slip out of the top of her nightshirt.
Colm screeched.
Brenna’s eyes flew open and she looked at Colm who had sat up. His eye was swollen, a red, puckered mark crossing from one temple to his cheekbone. A burn.
His eyes flickered back. “Take it off.” He pointed to cross around her neck.
“Take it off!” He reached toward her and grabbed the chain. He ripped it off her neck and flung it across the room. When it settled in the corner, Colm settled back in to her, snuggling against her side. “Goodnight, Momma.” The candle sputtered and went out behind them.
Before the room was plunged into darkness, Brenna caught a glimpse of his palm, which had a burn in the shape of the cross.

Declan walked Colm to school in the morning. When he came back to the house, Brenna was in the living room, back on the couch, sipping some tea laced with a few shots of whiskey.
Declan sat down next to her, stretching his long legs out in front of him. Brenna curled into his side and buried her face against his neck.
“I guess, bein’ out of work ain’ that bad,” he said, turning his head to press his lips to her forehead.
“We have to do something about him, Declan,” Brenna whispered.
He pulled away and Brenna sat up to meet his eyes.
“Brenna, you have to stop this--”
“Don’ tell me to stop, Declan. You weren’ there last night. You didn’ see what he did. The iron cross burned him!” She pulled it out of her shirt and turned it over in her hands. “I can’t live with that changelin’ anymore.”
Declan leaned back against the couch cushions, “The tales of changelin’s were just created to explain why crazy mothers killed their bairns. Thinkin’ that they’re the fair folks’ spawn.”
Brenna stared at him. Her mouth floundered open and closed before she said, “Declan, what do I have to do to prove to you that--”
Declan slammed his hand down on the table next to the couch. “Brenna, you’re soundin’ crazy. You have to stop this nonsense--”
“You know that he is not normal!” She was practically shrieking. “He doesn’ play with other kids, he acts like he’s an old man half of the time--talks like one too--an’ the tin whistle. Declan, that’s no’ normal.”
He stood and crossed his arms over his chest. The muscles in his arms bulged and he pulled himself up to his full height. “Brenna, stop talkin’ like this, or I’m goin’ to take Colm away.”
Brenna threw up her hands, “Aye. That’d be grand, Declan, take the little monster away from me. I’ll find a way to get rid of ‘im if you don’t.”
“Are you threatenin’ to kill my son?”
“He’s no’ your son! Don’ you realize that you’re always on the receivin’ end of his cursed luck? I’m threatenin’ to kill the devil--”
Declan grabbed her arms and shook her. Brenna shouted and flailed and then, as if coming to his senses, Declan released her and pusher her away. He stood in the middle of the living room for a moment, his chest heaving and his fists clenching, before grabbing his coat and storming to the door. He pointed a finger at Brenna who had collapsed onto the couch. “Get yourself together, Brenna. I’ll pick Colm up from school, an’ by the time we get back tonight, you’d better be actin’ normal.”
He slammed the door shut before Brenna began to sob.

When they returned home that evening, Declan and Colm stood dripping in the doorway. They shook out their umbrellas and removed their soaked coats.
Brenna peered tentatively around the corner and caught Declan’s eye. She tried to smile, but the corners of her mouth barely moved upwards. She took a few faltering steps toward them and when Colm bent over to remove his rubber rain boots, she said, “Let me do that.”
She knelt down before him and Colm placed one hand on her shoulder to steady himself. She nearly burst into tears again, longing for her own child--the one she had never even known. She would have to learn to accept this one.
When Declan knelt down to unlace his own boots, he placed a swift kiss on her cheek, and then strode into the kitchen asking, “What’s for dinner, love?”
“I went to the store an’ bought things to make boxty with beef.”
She heard Declan open the oven and then groan in pleasure. She met Colm’s eyes and they both started to giggle at Declan’s response. Brenna removed the second boot and then released Colm to join his father in mooning over the food. She lined up all fo the boots and hung the coats on the wall hooks. Was she making all of this up in her head?” Was Colm really just a normal six-year-old boy? Was there something wrong with her? Did she need to go to a hospital? She tried to stop all of the thoughts running around in her head as she joined her boys in the kitchen.
Dinner was more normal that night than it had been for a long time. Brenna just sat and soaked it all in. Declan and Colm talked about the football game the boys at school had played during recess. She tried to forget her racing thoughts, but she couldn’t help watching Colm. She couldn’t help assessing him and judging his every action. in the dim light of the room, his skin was less visibly pale, but his eyes were still that unnatural obsidian color. Maybe it was just a unique pigmentation and he was--
A drop of water fell onto her face. She flinched and wiped it away then looked up.
“The roof is leakin’,” she said and stood to go get a pot.
“Why don’ Colm and I just go and fix it ourselves.”
Brenna looked up again at the ceiling. “If you want to.” The constant plink, plink, plink of the water hitting the metal would drive her insane anyway.
“C’mon, boyo,” Declan said, rising.
“I’ll clean up the kitchen,” Brenna said. “Be careful, love.”
They redressed in their rain boots and coats and then went out to the shed. Declan pulled the long ladder out and had Colm hold the other end, while they walked it over to the house. They steadied it against the side of the house and Declan said, “Now, Colm, I’m gonna climb up and your job is to stand at the bottom and hold the ladder steady.”
“Okay, Papa.”
Declan began scaling the ladder. The kitchen was the only room on the first floor that was below the roof instead of another room. It was about ten feet up and he reached the top, grateful that where the leak was coming from was close to the edge, an easy fix. He had all of the materials he had needed in the worker’s belt tied around his waist. He had been doing odd jobs for people in the area for as long as he could remember; even when he was younger he would go with his father and do work for neighbors. He used a hammer to pound lightly on the area to find exactly where the damage was and when he hit a weak spot he investigated. The shingles were just out of place, probably from the wind.
He was using both hands to straighten them, when the ladder shuddered beneath him. He slapped his hands back onto the bars and looked down. Colm was looking up at him.
“Hold ‘er steady, boyo,” he called down.
Colm didn’t respond and just stared up at him.
Declan frowned but turned back to his work. When he took his hands off the ladder, it began to shake again. “Colm!” He looked down again, and Colm stared back. His hands were on both sides of the ladder.
And he began to use all of his strength to shake it back and forth.
“Colm? What--” He gripped the rungs with both hands and started to climb down. His foot slipped on the wet rung and he held on tighter. Then he regained his footing. “Colm! Stop!”
But the boy just shook the ladder harder.
A gust of wind pulled at his body, and Declan squeezed his eyes shut and held on with all of his might. His heart was racing in his chest, and he could barely hear himself from the blood pounding in his ears and from the ladder banging against the side of the house. The wind ripped the hat off of his head and rain dripped into his eyes, blinding him. He yelled, “Bren--”
But began to fall when Colm gave the ladder a powerful heave.
The breath was ripped out of his lungs as he fell freely to the ground. He couldn’t help but notice a streak of lightning as it crossed the sky, just before he hit the ground.

Brenna heard Colm come in and take off his boots then go up to his bedroom. Brenna put the las of the dishes into the washer. She then brought tea into the living room for her and Declan. She settled into the couch, a blanket around her shoulders and a book in her lap.
She figured that Declan had just been putting things away and had sent Colm in early, but the tea had grown cold and he still was not inside.
Brenna rose and slid her feet into her own boots and opened the door to peer out.
The ladder still rested against the side of the hose.
“Declan?” she called, stepping out into the rain. She walked through the soggy grass, her feet sinking in to the muddy earth. She held one hand over her eyes to shield them from the torrent of water that pelted her body. She pulled the blanket, still wrapped around her shoulders, tighter against herself, but it did nothing to keep her dry or warm.
She moved to the bottom of the ladder and called again. “Declan?” An edge of panic had crept into the word.
A soft gasping sound caught her attention and she looked to her right.
Declan’s body lay crumpled, half obscured by one of the bushes in the garden.
The blanket fell from her shoulders as she ran to him. “Declan! Declan!” Dirt and mud flew up as she flung herself beside him. She went to run her hands over his body but pulled away with a sob. One of his arms was bent and underneath his body; the shoulder had popped out of the socket. His head was bloodied from where it had connected with something, and the sticky red liquid mixed with the rain and ran down his face. Its metallic smell reached her nose and nearly suffocated her. Declan’s legs were also bent at unnatural angles and the bone of his shin could be seen through the rip in his jeans.
Brenna turned her head and emptied the contents of her stomach. She retched until she was gagging from the acid that burned her throat.
“Declan,” she said with a sob. “Oh, God.”
He opened and closed his mouth and somehow managed to gasp, “Brenna.”
She moved closer to him and ran her fingers over his face. “I’m here, love.” Her entire body violently convulsed from her crying.
It took a while for him to get out the next words. He struggled to take in air. “Colm . . . it was…” Blood welled up out of his mouth.
Brenna fit her hand over her mouth, trying to hold in more sobs and a scream that was wedged in her throat and fighting to get out.
Declan’s eyes, which had been wandering wildly around, suddenly fixed on her. “Kill . . . him . . . Brenna . . .” he said.
“Declan,” she whimpered. She placed her forehead against his, willing him to get up. Willing this all to be a horrible, horrible dream.
But Declan choked again on the blood in his throat and took one last shuddering breath, leaving Brenna in the rain, cradling his lifeless body.

Brenna walked up the stairs. Her soaked boots left little puddles of water and mud in the path that she took to Colm’s room. She remained stoic as she lifted her hand to knock on the closed door, but it opened before she could do so. Colm looked up at her. His head was turned to one side and his eyes moved over her, taking in her sopping wet appearance. Her hair hung in limp knots over her shoulders and her cotton blouse clung to her skin. She couldn’t stop the shivers that periodically raked her body.
“Sweetheart,” she said, reaching out ot run her fingers through his hair, “Would you like some milk?”
His gaze, filled with scrutiny, snapped to one of interest at her proposal. “Yes, Momma.”
She held out her hand and Colm placed his smaller one in hers. They walked down the stairs and to the kitchen, where a glass of milk sat on the table in front of his chair. Brenna took the chair opposite him and placed both of her hands flat on the table.
“Don’t you want some, Momma?”
“No’ now, Colm.”
Brenna watched him drain the glass, swallowing all of the white liquid. He placed it back on the table when it was empty and asked, “Can I have more, Momma?”
“Aye, Colm.”
She took the empty glass to the counter and filled it with milk, then the honey. Making sure that her body concealed her actions, she put the last ingredient in. Using a spoon, she added the rest of the ground up sedative. They were old, something she found in the back of the medicine cabinet. She prayed they would work. She stirred it all together and brought it back to Colm. The dose from the first cup was already getting to him. He was slumped in his chair and his eyes looked blurry. But he set into the fresh glass, his fairy blood compelling him to drink.
Before he could finish, he collapsed against the table. The milk glass slid from his hand and crashed to the floor.
Brenna stood and maneuvered around the shards to pull out Colm’s chair and lift him into her arms. His head lolled against her shoulder as she climbed the stairs again. Once in his room, she placed him gently on his bed. She removed the chain from her neck and hooked it around his. When it touched him, his skin began to burn and pucker. Tendrils of smoke rose from the area.
Colm flinched in his sleep but did not awaken.
Brenna then went to her bed and pulled the larger iron cross out from underneath her pillow. When she returned, she placed it right on his chest. He began to thrash, but in his drug induced state, he did not rouse.
Brenna took her time walking to the shed. The lights flickered when she flipped on the switch. Declan’s old motorcycle was covered by a dusty white tarp and on the floor were two gallons of gasoline. She took one in each hand and started back to the house.
The first one she poured out on the top floor, soaking the old wooden floorboards, the drapes, and finally Colm’s bed. He recoiled when the droplets hit his face, but he remained docile in his sleep.
She used the second gallon to cover the bottom floor. When it was empty, the last drop dumped onto the couch, Brenna went to the kitchen and washed her hands. She took her time, using soap to rinse away the gasoline that had dampened her hands. She dried them off on a cloth that she had not touched with gasoline then threw it on the floor. The matches had also remained untouched, resting in the center of the table. She picked them up and put the box into the back pocket of her pants.
Brenna finally pulled on her coat and hat. Standing in the doorway, she lit the match and then held it in front of her face. She looked at the flame. The oranges, yellows, and reds palyed together, flicking back and forth. She never knew there were so many shades of the three colors, so she stared until the match had burned down almost to her fingers.
“Go ta hell, devil,” she said. Then she flicked it across the room.
Brenna turned and walked out of the house, taking great pains to keep her eyes straight forward and away from the body of her husband.
The fire began to spread.
Outside, the night air nipped at her nose, cheeks, and ears. She pulled her hat down further. Their house was built next to a large hill and she began to climb the steep incline. She remembered when she and Declan rolled down the hill when they had first moved in, how their clothes had been stained by the grass. She remembered all the times they had gone sledding in the snow.
When she reached the top, she inhaled deeply, trying to regain her breath. She sat down on the soft, damp grass and watched her house burn. The thick smell of the smoke filled the air, and clogged her senses. But as she took a deep breath in, she picked up on a scent that didn’t match. She closed her eyes and breathed it in again. Her eyes flew open. Milk and honey.

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