My grandmother warned me when Aria was born. “Keep a wary eye,” she said. “The fairies will spirit away a beautiful baby if they get the chance.” It was superstitious nonsense, or so I thought at the time. Eleven years passed without a thought for her stories about fairies and changelings. Yet, ever since Aria started middle school…
It was absurd—I knew it was absurd—to even entertain the thought, but Aria… she wasn’t my daughter anymore. Not really. Gone were the days of playful giggles and lightning-quick hugs before she skipped from the car to the entrance of her school. Now she rolled her eyes when I asked if she wanted to make cupcakes and threw fits about coming to family dinner. It was as if one night my bubbly darling went to bed as the angel she’d always been and the next morning, a petulant, spoiled imposter emerged.
She looked the same—all curly red hair and freckles—but there was something in her eyes, a sinister glint behind the green that wasn’t there before.
I carried the basket of clothes up the stairs to her room. They had to be washed—had to— before she went to the movies with Christina. She needed her blue shirt, the one she insisted I buy for her because green was so last year.
The door to her room stood ajar, giving me a rare sliver view of the anti-Mom fortress that she had created. She sprawled on her bed, headphones blocking out the rest of the world and phone in her hands as it always was now, like it was surgically attached. She made faces at the screen, snapping selfies in her own private photoshoot. She straightened the hem of her tank top—the one that said “less math, more boys”, the one that bared her midriff, the one that I told her not to wear—and pulled the waistband of her jean shorts lower over her hips. She frowned, tugged at the end of an errant curl, and wrinkled her nose.
I was about to toe open the door, mouth full a lecture I’d repeated without end, when her form shimmered, like looking at her through hot air rising over pavement. Her body wavered, warped, then changed.
She stretched, even as she shrank. Her limbs grew spindly, the flesh sticking to her bones so that her joints protruded in bulbous relief. The skin greyed, then tinted green, turning the color of mint. Her hair grew and grew and grew, the curls unfurling as it did, until it pooled around her. The red drained from the strands, starting at the roots, as if an artery had been cut and all the color ran out leaving only a shimmering, silky lake of silver. Moss green spots replaced the dusting of freckles over her face and shoulders. The afternoon light that filtered through the gauzy curtains bounced off iridescent scales that had sprouted over her collar bones. Sharp cheekbones jutted from her face and her jaw and chin narrowed, giving her the triangular visage of a praying mantis. The fingers that held her phone in front of her face lengthened and her nails, once neatly trimmed, grew into wicked, curved claws.
She wiggled a little, sitting straighter in the bed, and two pairs of translucent wings sprang free from the pillows. They were narrow, like those on a dragonfly, with a pattern of veins twining like lace through the sheer material. The areas between each shone with a different color, like stained glass. She combed her fingers through her hair, arranging it, first over one shoulder, then the other, examining her face from a variety of angles in the screen of her phone, until seemingly pleased with the result. She puckered her thin lips to blow a kiss at the screen, lifting the point of her chin, and snapped another selfie.
The basket fell from my hands.
She jerked from the bed, tearing the headphones off and revealing long, pointed ears that sloped downwards from her hair. For a frozen moment, we stared at each other. Her eyes, now nearly twice as large, glowed a luminous blue. They sparkled, the colors shifting over each other like a kaleidoscope with only a thin, vertical slit of obsidian in the center.
The pupils widened as she blinked, like a cat recognizing prey. A shiver swept up my spine. She advanced toward me, one bare foot placed in front of the other in a silent stalk. Aria’s clothes hung off her skeletal frame, too large for the creature that wore them. My feet froze to the floor. A scream built inside my throat, but as the creature that had been my daughter prowled closer, the sound found no exit.
She stopped only a step away, close enough for me to smell the woodsy scent of rain and organic decay that wafted from her, too wild to be any perfume. The air stilled in my lungs. Her eyes, those swirling pools of blue, never left mine. The corners of her lips tugged upwards, like a curtain drawing back on a stage, baring dozens of interlocked needle-like teeth in a grotesque smile. Her tongue slithered out to stroke the point of each fang in turn.
“God, Mom,” she said, her voice tinkling as if accompanied by chimes. “Don’t you know how to knock?” She bent to the basket, snatched the blue shirt from the top of the pile, and whirled back into the room with the slam of the door.