A new mother wakes up to find a fairy holding two identical babies.
The fervent sounds of combat filled the autumn air, as the two young women clashed. Sudden thrusts and elegant sweeps followed one another in almost flawless harmony. The ringing of steel set itself up as music; every twirl, lunge and swing another piece of a beautiful puzzle. It was like watching a ballet. The middle aged woman smiled at her daughters from the patio, she was so proud of their progress. Their instructor didn't feel the same way, his thick Irish accent only seeming to further underline his distain.
"No, no, no! Did I nae teach you a thing? Stop tryin' ta swing that staff like a bat, ye look like a drunkard. And you! Hold it firmly and do nae let your wrists go slack. Ye can nae treat the Guan Dao like a fucking broomstick.... I do nae no why I even try with you two."
Shoulders sagging from exhaustion, the girls looked up at him in disgust, twin sets of orange eyes glaring at him as though he was the fly in their soup. Their mother watched them adjust their grips and square off again, intent on taking their displeasure out on each other. She looked upon her daughters, their deep dark green hair matted with sweat, piercing orange eyes; one set wide and wild, the other narrowed in concentration, their small forms quivering with anticipation. Her girls were physically identical in every way 17 years had done nothing to make telling them apart any easier for her... and she was their mother.
Suddenly both girls came to a grinding halt, turning their attention to their mother instead.
Their instructor looked her way as well.
"I think dinner may be a wee bit later than expected, Talitha. How 'bout some take out instead?"
Talitha looked at the three of them in confusion until the smell of burning food reached her nose. Her eyes widened and she turned on her heels frantically running to the kitchen.
After watching her retreating form disappear into the house the twins turned back to one another, worry reflecting in their eyes.
"She was giving us that look again."
"The one where she's afraid I might take your head off?" The younger one questioned.
"No the other one; like she's afraid that someone is going to hope the fence and whisk us away."
They both scoffed at the very idea of someone spiriting them away.
"Still it would be nice to know which one of us it was they wanted. Learning what they know-"
Their cousin's voice cut through their musings.
"If you ladies are done speaking your gibberish, I would like to get back to watching the two of you butcher the art of combat."
Muttering profanities under their breath, the twins went back to practicing.
In the kitchen, bitterness clung to the air as she entered suffocating with its heavy odor. Cursing, Talitha hurried around the room, dashing this way and that, trying to find what she'd burned this time. When she pulled the top off of her casserole she knew her cousin was right. Dinner was going to be very late. She sighed, she hated these new pans; they were absolute shit when it came to retaining heat and worse at cooking things evenly. She salvaged what she could and then threw the offending pan in the garbage with enough force to hear the tell-tale ringing of the metal that meant she'd broken it.
She knew she needed better cookware, but she just couldn't risk it. Not when it would mean that one of her daughters would get hurt. She grabbed up her knife and began viciously hacking away at vegetables trying and failing miserably to focus her mind on something else. Her mind wandered, as it often did, back to that night.
Even with the wind howling and the thunder crashing outside, she'd slept peacefully. Giving birth had been far harder than anyone had warned her it would be and sleep had taken her soon after they'd handed her babe to her. No it had been the tiniest droplets of rain that found their way through the open window that finally woke Talitha. Groggily she opened her eyes, now that she was awake she was eager to see her baby again. She sat up and looked over at the crib only for it to be empty. Panic welled up inside of her and she whirled around to her right ready to pull the IV from her arm when she saw it.
At first she was startled by its presence then she was disturbed by its alien beauty, intense even for her imaginings. Then her eyes zeroed in on the bundle in her arms. Her baby struggled and fussed, little fists clenching and unclenching in discomfort. Her baby... Babies? The odd woman held two infants in her arms; they were indistinguishable from one another. Confusion seeped in past the haze that staring at the creature gave her.
"Put my child down now!"
The creature just stared at her completely still. Not even the rise and fall of her breast to show that she was breathing. Talitha clenched her fists and steeled her nerves.
"I can still you. Put my baby down and leave!"
As if brought to life by her yelling; the creature glared at her and hissed, barring an almost endless collection of razor sharp teeth at her.
"I will return to collect what is rightfully mine."
It dropped both children onto the bed and disappeared, leaving no trace that she'd ever stood there. Talitha scrambled to the end of the bed where the babies lay screaming, completely unamused by the rough handling. She frantically examined both children, but she couldn't find anything that she could use to tell them apart. They were mirrors of one another. Their wails called the nurses into the room. When they arrived they were just as confused as her. Then they tried accusing her of stealing another baby. So she told them about what she had seen. Now they thought she was crazy and a thief. They took both children from the room and called the orderlies in to sedate her.
Days later the hospital director himself came to offer her an apology for the mix up. They'd run DNA tests on both children and they'd both come back saying the babies were hers. She told him what she'd told the nurses; she'd only given birth to one child. He fitted her with a sympathetic smile and told her that sometimes stressful events changed the way we remembered things. Her turbulent delivery and then the altercation with the nurse was a lot to handle. She left his office completely enraged, storming through the halls. The whispers of nosy hospital staff followed behind her, half of them believing that she was crazy and the other half thought she was trying to weasel her way out of mother hood. By the time she reached her room she was livid. She flung herself on to the bed and screamed her frustrations into a pillow.
Hours later they finally allowed her to see her baby again. Well hers and the other one. She didn't know what that thing was. But the longer she was with them, the more unable she was to tell them apart. What was worse was their cooing and crying. In the end she couldn't ignore either of them and she could no longer convince herself that either of them could be evil, instead she vowed to love them both no matter what came of it.
The afternoon before her release, a man entered her room. He was grizzled in a way no one should be in this day and age, deep frown lines and dark circles under his only eye only added to his frightening vestige. He greeted her with a gruff, husky voice, it was like concrete in a metal grinder.
"Hello Miss Locke, I heard you've been the victim of a terrible event. I think I can help you."
She rolled her eyes and kissed her teeth.
"You here to mock me as well? Here to see the crazy woman in room 704?"
He pulled a seat up to the side of her bed, making himself comfortable before removing his eye patch. A sparkling swirl of colors greeted her, not scarred socket or a false eye. She screamed and shimmed as far away from him as the bed allowed.
"W-what the fuck are you! What do you want?"
He smiled at her, his scarred lips not at all friendly.
"I mean you no harm Miss Locke. I simply want to help you understand what happened."
She glared at him but listened intently, she had no other choice.
"Thank you. The creature you met was a fairy."
"Excuse me? You're telling me that Tinkerbell tried to steal my baby?"
"Why is it that when I say fairy all you people seem to hear Disney? No child, I mean cold, ruthless immortal monsters with no love in their hearts for humanity. But I saw the security tapes and unlike the rest of this mindless sheep I can see those damned-able fey. The one you met was a Seelie Sidhe (Shee) by the name of Eibhleann (Ayv-len). She has nasty habit of making people disappear whenever she feels like it. So you should count yourself lucky."
Shivers ran down her spine as she looked for some sign of a joke on his face. She found none.
"What am I supposed to do?"
He shifted in his seat and leaned in close, the atmosphere around him quickly becoming menacing.
"Give me the changeling she left behind and I can promise she won't come after you."
He words shook the fear and uncertainty from her mind. She sat straight up and leaned towards him.
Malice dripped from her voice like a virulent poison. The man sat back visibly startled.
"You will only find regret in your future if you go through with this. Let me take the creature, it's isn't even your real child."
"I said leave! Before I call for nurses."
She held the emergency cord tightly in her hands and glared at him. After an intense staring contest, the man sighed and rose from the seat. He shook his head at her and left the room.
"You will regret this Miss Locke, and when you do, I come find you." He whispered ominously before disappearing out the door and down the hall.
She was gone only a few hours later, demanding that they let her leave early. She wielded the twin weapons of pure belligerence and threats of lawsuits until they released her and her newborns. She'd been running ever since, dodging both the terrifying stranger and Eibhleann. Moving from house to house, finding other people more than understanding of her plight and just as welcoming. But no one could tell her which of her daughters the changeling was. Both of her children had been fey-touched that night. In her travels she met many different types of fey but none of them would risk Eibhleann wrath, not even to tell her which of the children was theirs.
The ringing of the timer brought her back to the present. She turned off all of the oven and the stove she began plating dinner. Just as she was putting the finishing touches on the last plate her daughters came running into the room.
"Whoot! Mom saved dinner!"
"Good, I wasn't really feeling take out tonight."
Over taken by a sudden urge, Talitha rushed over to her daughters and gathered them into a crushing hug.
"You know I love you both dearly, yes?"
Behind their mother's head they looked at each other, exasperation clear on their faces.
"Yes mom, we know. And we love you too. You don't ever have to worry that. Now, what's for eating?"
Talitha laughed at their eagerness, and then she cried, holding them close to her heart. They wiped away her tears and lead her to the table where their cousin sat half asleep. They ran back to the kitchen and grabbed dinner, serving everyone at the table. After dinner the helped their mom into bed and then split up, each one taking a different side of the house. They made sure that all of the windows, doors and other entrances were properly salted before meeting back in their room, snuggling up with one another and falling into a deep slumber.
Across the street a barefooted woman stepped out of the shadows, cruel but triumphant smile on her face.