by Andrew Kaye
Marisol and I had exchanged nervous glances when a woman announced a “Code Stalker” over the hospital intercom. “That means faerie folk have been spotted in the building,” the post-partum nurse explained. She poked her head out into the hall, then quickly ducked back inside. “Sounds like goblins down toward the NICU. Stay inside. I’ll be needed at the nursery.”
We later learned that the goblins had been frightened off and hadn’t kidnapped any babies. But it didn’t take long before we heard the staff speculating that the goblins had only been a distraction. And later that day, when little baby Michael was wheeled back into the room, Marisol insisted it wasn’t really him.
That spooked everyone. Then came blood samples. Urine samples. Tiny glass vials with big, bright labels. “For the specialist,” the nurses all explained. “He’ll know what to do.”
I was returning to Marisol’s room from the walk-in closet that passed as the floor’s “nutrition center,” my hands filled with what passed as “nutrition”—a foil-sealed cup of apple juice and a shrink-wrapped jelly sandwich. As I neared the nurse’s station I noticed a tall man in black scrubs leaning on the desk. He carried one of those oversized black umbrellas that resemble collapsible vampires, and an honest-to-god medical bag of the sort absolutely no one used anymore. The sight of him sounded alarms in my head.
“You still have goblins in the ventilation system,” the man said to the charge nurse. “I could hear them scurrying overhead when I passed through pediatrics.”
The nurse shrugged. “The hospital’s assured us they’re taking care of it.”
He laughed. “Yes. The same hospital that swears its patients are safe from faerie folk. And yet here I am. Again.”
The nurse saw me skulking in the hallway and waved me over as if glad for a break in the conversation. “How’s Marisol doing?” she asked. “Still having trouble standing on her own?”
“She’s getting the hang of it, but she’s still in a lot of pain.” We chatted briefly before she excused herself to attend to a beeping monitor in a nearby room.
I turned to the man. “You’re the specialist, aren’t you? You have Michael’s genetic screening results?”
“John Stiskell,” he said with a half-smile. “Mr. Calder, correct? I’d shake your hand but they appear to be occupied. And yes, I have the results.”
“Michael isn’t really Michael, is he? He’s a changeling.”
“I’m afraid so,” he said. “These sorts of screenings are 99.9% accurate. We check for RNA.”
“And what’s wrong with his RNA?”
“He doesn’t have any,” he said. “At least, not the right kind.” Dr. Stiskell opened his bag and produced a folded bundle of papers. “Faerie folk have a mutable genetic structure,” he explained, pointing to coded charts that meant nothing to me. “That’s how they’re able to mimic humans so well. A faerie can copy a person down to its DNA, making it nearly impossible to differentiate it from the human baby it’s replaced. But where humans have RNA that dictates how a DNA strand should be assembled, faeries have what we call ‘fae’ RNA that can assemble—and reassemble—DNA as needed.” He smiled uncomfortably. “I’m afraid I got a little professorial. I apologize.”
“But . . . but what happens now? What happens to Mi—the baby?”
“That will be up to your wife.”
“This was our first successful pregnancy,” I whispered. “The birth was . . . traumatic. Marisol wasn’t expecting a C-section, but by the time we had gotten to the hospital, Michael had shifted and . . . . Changeling or not, she’s not going to want to give it up.”
Marisol was feeding the baby when Dr. Stiskell and I entered her room. She knew on a deep, maternal level that the Michael she held was not the Michael she had given birth to, but she was caring for the changeling as if it were hers. It was hard for me to look at them. The real Michael was in some hidden enclave being treated like a plaything by his new faerie parents. They’d be kind enough at first, but they’d eventually tire of him. And abandon him. Or eat him. You never really knew, with faeries.
“Your test results will only confirm what I already know,” Marisol said, eying Dr. Stiskell suspiciously.
“You have good instincts,” he said. “But now a choice has to be made. You can keep the changeling and raise him as your own. Or you can have it terminated.”
“I’ll do it myself.” He opened his bag and pulled out an ornate, silver-handled knife. The changeling nuzzled closer to Marisol. “I’ll be quick about it. I admit to harboring little affection for faerie folk, but I’m not unnecessarily cruel. One quick stab to the neck and it will be over.”
“It’s your decision,” he said. “But I must warn you: the mutable genetic structure of the changeling lets it masquerade as a human, but it also prevents us from knowing what sort of creature it will grow up to be. It could be an elf and learn to love you. But it could also be a troll, and try to eat you once it comes of age.”
She looked at me, and I gave her a slow, uncertain nod. “I want to keep him,” she said.”
“But he might—”
“I’ll take that risk, doctor. Thank you.”
Dr. Stiskell didn’t argue. “As you wish,” he said. He motioned for me to follow him outside, and once in the hallway he said, “If she decides to change her mind—”
“Then prepare yourself,” he whispered. “When that child reaches puberty, you better hope to God it turns out to be one of the more benign faeries. Iron will be your friend. As will fire and religious iconography.” He passed me a business card. “Keep my number handy, Mr. Calder. If you decide the child needs to have an accident, give me a call.”
Andrew Kaye is a writer, editor, and cartoonist from the suburban wilderness of Northern Virginia, where he lives with his wife, his three children, and a large, empty space in his basement that should probably be filled with a robot or something. His fiction has appeared recently in Fantasy Scroll and Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things and is forthcoming in Unidentified Funny Objects 4. Andrew Kaye’s fiction has also appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Electric Velocipede.You can find him lurking in his usual haunt on Twitter @andrewkaye.