August 10, 2019

Clarissa Crumb. Changeling

Chapter One

The Crumb family seemed, from the outside at least, to be a normal sort of family. They lived in a normal sized house on a normal sort of street. If you looked through the normal looking bay window you would see a normal looking lounge with a normal looking TV, a normal looking sofa and a normal looking goggle-eyed goldfish swimming around a normal looking plastic castle in a normal-looking fish tank.
Indeed, everything about the Crumbs appeared to be normal; even their daughter, Clarissa. In reality, Clarissa was anything but normal; she was a changeling, a fairy child that had been swapped for a human baby in the middle of the night.
Not that the Crumbs, or even Clarissa, knew that. On the surface she seemed to be just like every other little girl on the street. She didn’t like Brussels sprouts, but then which little girl did?
It’s not fair to say that the Crumbs didn’t have any feelings for their daughter, they did, sort of. It was just that Mrs Crumb had this nagging feeling that things weren’t quite as they should be.

She hadn’t always felt like that. When she first brought Clarissa home from the hospital she was as proud as any new mum could be. She rang everyone she knew to tell them how wonderfully fabulous her new, baby daughter was.
‘Ooh, Agatha, she’s so gorgeous. You could just eat her.’
(As things turned out, Mrs Crumb wasn’t the only one who would smack their lips when they looked at Clarissa, but more about that later.)

On the day that Clarissa was bought home for the first time, Mr Crumb put up a banner over the front door, saying, ‘Welcome Home Mavis and Clarissa.’ A small group of Mrs Crumb’s neighbours waited on the street for a first glimpse of the new baby.
‘Ooh, isn’t she gorgeous,’ said Agatha
‘Ahh, she looks just like her dad, look at the cute little nose,’ said Mrs Blower from next door.
‘Doesn’t she look scrumptious?’ said a wrinkled, old lady that no one had ever seen before.

Things started to go downhill when Clarissa was just four weeks old. Mrs Crumb complained about her to Agatha when she called in for coffee one day. Agatha knew all about babies, she had six children of her own.
‘I was singing to her while I changed her nappy this morning,’ said Mrs Crumb. ‘Bye baby bunting, it was. Well, she looked up at me and this little voice suddenly appeared in my head. “Ow, my ears hurt,” it said. Did you ever hear anything like that, Agatha?’
Agatha shook her head. ‘You imagined it, dear.’
‘I thought that,’ said Mrs Crumb. ‘So, I sang, daddy’s gone a hunting, and the voice came straight back. “I’m not listening I’m not listening,” it screamed.’
Agatha scratched her head.
‘That does seem a little odd.’
‘Do you think I’m going mad?’ asked Mrs Crumb. ‘I hear the voice all the time.’
Agatha looked like she was about to say, ‘yes,’ but she didn’t. Instead she thought about it for a few seconds.
‘You’re probably just tired, dear. Let Arthur feed her now and then while you have a rest.’
‘Arthur won’t feed her anymore, Agatha. He used to give her the early morning bottle, but she started being sick on his best silk pyjamas.’
‘All babies sick up a bit of milk, that’s normal,’ said Agatha.
‘Yes, I know, but Clarissa laughs like a gurgling, drain after she’s done it.’
‘Laughs? She can’t laugh yet, surely.’
Arthur says she does. She laughs in his head.’
‘In his head?’
That’s what Arthur says. Do you think I should see a doctor?’
Agatha nodded. ‘I think you should both see a doctor.’
‘About Clarissa I mean,’ said Mrs Crumb, hurriedly. ‘She shouldn’t be practicing telepathy at her age should she?’
Agatha put down her coffee cup, looked at her watch and backed away towards the door.
‘’Is that the time? Doesn’t time fly? Sorry, Mavis, got to rush. I’ll erm, see you around.’

Agatha didn’t come around for coffee again after that and Mrs Crumb decided not to tell anyone else about the voice in her head. Instead she began to spend as little time as she possibly could with her baby. She knew when it needed something. The little voice in her head told her.
‘Nappy change.’
‘Bedtime… no singing.’

When she was two Clarissa was enrolled in a playgroup. The playgroup leader was amazed when Clarissa picked up a plastic trumpet on her first day and played the national anthem on it.’
‘Incredible,’ she said. ‘She’s very forward for her age, isn’t she?’
‘You don’t know the half of it,’ muttered Mrs Crumb.

Mr Crumb’s favourite meal was mash and sprouts and he insisted on the whole family having it at least once a week. When Clarissa was old enough to sit at the table Mrs Crumb decided that in future, she would eat her meals from a tray in the lounge. Mr Crumb wanted to do the same, but someone had to sit with Clarissa while she ate. He placed a plate of steaming vegetables in front of her and took his seat opposite
‘No sprouts,’ said the voice in his head.
‘They’re good for you,’ he replied.
‘Hate potatoes,’ said the voice.
‘Eat it up,’ said Mr Crumb and shovelled a big forkful into his mouth. ‘Mmm, lovely.’
Splat! A handful of mashed potato hit Mr Crumb squarely on the nose.’
Splat! Splat! Handfuls of mashed sprouts splattered over his eyes.
‘Nasty sprouts,’ said the voice.
Mr Crumb picked up a serviette, wiped his face and continued with his meal. Clarissa scowled and waited for pudding.

When she was four Mrs Crumb decided that she really didn’t want the bother of looking after Clarissa anymore, so she got a nanny in.
‘You can play games in someone else’s head,’ she said.
‘I won’t miss you, ‘came the reply.

Mrs Crumb hired the first person to apply. Mrs Rosebud turned up at the front door a mere five minutes after she had placed the advertisement in the post office window. She was a small, slender, woman with silver grey hair. She had a beautiful face without a single wrinkle, even though she must have been at least sixty years old. She offered to take the job even before she knew how much she would be paid. Mrs Crumb took advantage of that and knocked twenty pounds a week off the advertised wages.
‘Clarissa is in the nursery,’ said Mrs Crumb. I’ll show you where it is.’
Mrs Rosebud cocked her head to one side, held her hand to her ear and smiled to herself. ‘No need,’ she replied. ‘I can hear her calling me. What a lovely, musical voice.’
‘You’re welcome to it,’ muttered Mrs Crumb.

Mrs Rosebud settled in quickly and soon took over all aspects of Clarissa’s care. She bathed her and taught her to read. She took her to school and picked her up afterwards. She sat by her bed at night and told her wonderful stories about fairies and their arch enemies, the Hags.
‘But how can a changeling spot a Hag?’ asked Clarissa, after one particularly exciting story.
‘They can’t, not really,’ said Mrs Rosebud. ‘Hags only show themselves as they really are when they are chasing changelings. The rest of the time they look like everyone else.’
‘If I was a changeling, I’d ask a question in their head,’ said Clarissa, ‘then I’d know.’
‘A changeling should never do that,’ said Mrs Rosebud. ‘They would give themselves away in an instant if they did and the Hag would have them in the pot in no time. Hags can read minds too.’
‘That’s so unfair,’ said Clarissa.
Mrs Rosebud patted Clarissa’s hand and smiled.
‘It’s only a story, dear; still, it’s a good thing to know, just in case.’

A few months after the arrival of the nanny, Mr Crumb hired a local building firm to build an extension onto the back of the house and Clarissa and Mrs Rosebud spent the majority of their time in it. They had their own TV, their own shower and lavatory and their own little kitchen.
Mr Crumb still insisted that Clarissa sat with him at the dining table for their evening meal and still served up potatoes and sprouts twice a week. On those nights Mrs Rosebud secretly prepared a second meal of carrots and green beans so that Clarissa didn’t go hungry.

Apart from the flying food at the dinner table, everything seemed to go well. When Clarissa was seven, Mrs Crumb began to plan Clarissa’s future. She found, (what she thought was,) a reasonably priced boarding school that would take Clarissa when she was eleven, and began to dream about the day that she would leave home good.
Mrs Crumb’s plans were to never to see the light of day. On Clarissa’s ninth birthday, things changed forever.

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