stories that nobody tells in the daytime

Changeling— noun.

  1. there are stories that nobody tells in the daytime, names that nobody will say. the villains are not villains, and we must never speak ill of them under their own name. they come when called, and they do terrible things. the Neighbors, we say. be good to your Neighbors.

  2. there are rules for both sides. ours are: the woods are not safe after dark. carry iron. speak with caution. beware of mushroom rings. a thanks is an admission of debt. do not give your name.

  3. belief is only as powerful as you give it credit for being.

  4. it is a misconception that the Neighbors have no children. the stories they tell on the edges of deep, dark forests say this: young Neighbors are too much for even the grown-up Neighbors to handle. there is no love between sire and spawn, for, as the stories say, the Neighbors have no hearts; it matters not who rears their young, only that the seedling return to the soil from which it was torn.

  5. there are stories that nobody tells without a horseshoe above the doorway. in these stories there is no sun, and the villains are not villains. milk on the doorstep, honey and wine on every stoop, children inside. they have no hearts, but the silver-blade of their brains finds little ones amusing, like tigers with a tiny toy mouse. in those stories, sometimes, there is a hero with a rusted axe who slays a unicorn.

  6. sometimes, the hero wields a blade that burns their hands.

  7. Come away, o human child!

    To the waters and the wild,

    With a faery, hand in hand…1

  8. some are taken. some are given. some are persuaded.

  9. it is the ones who make it back, be they Neighbor or one of our own, who are the most of interest. they both have the same name. if they meet, most often there is blood. it is hard to live with your mirror-self.

  10. the monsters who sing like the sun are the ones that are the most to be feared. the things that look like bears and hide under the bed are all themselves, no artifice, no glamour. the ones who usurp sunlight are far more dangerous; they make us think we need them, hide the stars under a tarp and murmur them instead into our ears until we sleep with their hands upon our throats.

  11. they will live forever—

    and so will you if you go with them, go with them, drink the sun from their goblets and let them make you drowned and drowsy, once they eat your heart you’ll never die, you’ll never die

    —all they have to do is wait until the songs are all undone, until the last old woman has no tongue with which to speak the tales that nobody tells in the daytime.

  12. Why did they bring me here to make me

    Not quite bad and not quite good,

    Why, unless They're wicked, do They want, in spite, to take me

    Back to Their wet, wild wood?2

  13. once upon a time a tanner built his cottage too close to the edge of a deep, dark forest, and he had a wife, and together they had a child and they were very happy, and then the tanner’s wife was pregnant again, and they were very happy, and so was the baby when she was born, except that one day the tanner forgot it was his turn to watch the baby and when he woke up from his post-lunch nap the baby was quieter than she had ever been before, but that was better for him to sleep, and until his wife came home and screamed What in the hell are you and where is my baby? he thought nothing of it.

1. W. B. Yeats, “The Stolen Child”

2. Charlotte Mew, “The Changeling”