To 2015 - 2016

By Svetha Pulavarty

  1. Untitled
    By Leila Mohammadizadeh, 12
I’d been wandering down to the lake after Janine’s party. Mary had collapsed and, as the only sober member of the group, I’d driven her home and then spent the next few hours driving idly through the empty streets. Cobblestone, with old, rusted lampposts. The street went on and on, until the cobblestone gave way to dirt and the lampposts disappeared altogether.

I felt wide awake, restless, so I kept driving.

There was an old castle there, run-down and ancient, a rambling mass of stone and grout that fumbled along for a few hundred meters before drowning back into the earth. And beyond the castle was the lake. It was a beautiful lake, deep and blue, and I stepped into it up to my ankles, letting the sand rise between my toes, and then came to the uncomfortable realization that something out of the ordinary was nearby. My skin prickled, you see. It always does that, when strange things are near.

I tilted my head up to look for it. The sky first, to check for dragons and witches and elves. Then the ground, to search for trolls and goblins and dwarves. The lake, for a sea serpent or a kraken or a mer-creature -- and then I saw it. Far across the lake, the form of a faerie. He stared into the murky depths of the lake with a sneer and spat a breath of fire onto its surface. The fire clung to the water, pale blue and ferocious. It raced towards me. I stepped back onto land, where I felt much safer, and glanced back at the car, but the faerie shimmered into existence right in front of me, blocking my path to escape.

The faerie smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners with mirth, and I would have smiled back if I hadn’t noticed his teeth, sharp and pointed and narrow, designed for piercing into flesh and bone. The faerie looked as though someone had molded him out of a pile of ash -- his gray skin crumbled and reformed constantly, occasionally revealing glowing embers underneath.

“A human,” he said, with the same mirthful smile, and he opened his mouth wide. Wide, wider, wider, until it surpassed his height and approached mine, until he could swallow me whole. And then it snapped shut, millimeters away from my nose, and shrank again. He grinned again at me, and I was suddenly struck by how young he looked. By human standards, he could have passed for ten, or maybe eleven years old. Spindly fae fingers curled and uncurled, and the ashy gray skin crumbled and reformed, replaced by more ash, the remains of discarded embers.

“Human,” he said. “Do you know what I am?”

I knew what he was. “A changeling.” A fae-child, left in place of a human baby. A fae-child, left lonely and abandoned until its heart became fire and its skin became ash, burning from a hatred that could only arise from loneliness.

He bared his teeth at me. “Are you afraid?”

“No.” And I wasn’t. I had met a basilisk once, in Cairo. A chupacabra, in Panama. Those had terrified me. But this fae-child, this creature of hatred? I thought I could never be afraid of it.

“You should be,’ said the changeling. His voice was oddly gentle. “I could eat you right now, and you couldn’t resist.” His eyes were gentle, too. Innocent.

I considered him for a moment, already forgetting the scene of his gaping maw, his pointed teeth, the hot smell of his breath. The changeling seemed too childlike to harm me. As I watched, he grew younger, smaller. Ten years, nine, eight, seven, six. A six-year-old child stood in front of me, looking up at me with wide, beautiful eyes. They looked like coals, black and bright.

The changeling crouched slightly, eyes still on mine, still gentle. Then, he pounced, face twisting into a snarl, muscles coiling and releasing, mouth open. I instinctively held up an arm to block him, and this saved my life. His fangs pierced through my skin, through my flesh, into bone. I think I screamed as he tore my arm off my body, then again as I frantically clawed towards my car, as I slammed the door shut behind me. I’d left the car running, but I knew I’d run out of blood if I drove too far. It seeped everywhere. Onto the car seats, through my shirt, into the leather seats.

The basilisk in Cairo had scared me, but nothing terrified me more than that changeling. I turned back to look at him, but he faced the opposite direction. He stared at my arm. He tilted his head up to look at the sky, and I could feel his loneliness, shredding through him, burning through him. A drop of magma ran down his cheek, and he howled. Rage and pain and solitude. Then he turned back to the car, anger in his eyes and lips, and spat fire at me.

It blazed, brilliantly blue, and clung to the crevices of the car, feeding into the cracks and forcing its way to the leather of the seats until it covered every nook, then leaped onto me. Already dizzy from blood loss, I think I fainted from the pain.

When I woke, the car was charred. Covered in soot and ash. Somehow, I was alive. The skin had grown over my amputated arm, healing it perfectly. The ash covered me as well. It had stained by skin gray. I tried to brush it off, but there was just too much of it, and crumbled and reformed. With a sigh, I forced open the car door. The changeling was nowhere in sight, so I started down the road back home, somehow feeling unbearably lonely.