The Ashcroft family adopted me when I was seven years old. After being in the foster care system for four years it was heaven. I loved playing with Avery, they felt more like a little brother than the sister their parents claimed them to be, I enjoyed playing with them and making them smile. Avery used to borrow my clothes until they moved out four years ago and got their own wardrobe.
I was sad when they left but it was for their own good and Jethro had demanded it. I wanted to believe they had their reasons but Avery was their kid and rejecting them because they didn’t want to wear dresses and be called by a different name was stupid in the grand scheme of things.
There were monsters that could have killed Avery, and Jethro kicked them out on their own.
All of this seemed so small and insignificant when there were monsters out in the world.
I liked boys and girls, so what? What did it do to them? Sure, they had to adjust to Avery’s name but they weren’t even willing to try.
Avery told me one dark night when they were sick of being alone and no one understanding. They thought I’d accept them and I shared my darkest secret with them at the time, too.
Avery introduced me to the world of people who weren’t straight or gender-conforming.
I learned so much in the year before Avery was kicked out. Avery had called and texted me at first to ask if their parents had come around or realized their mistake but when they didn’t Avery stopped, I lost contact with them for a good year before they showed up on our doorstep with Rave.
Avery and I were oddly close for siblings, I realize, but I think it came from not having any friends in school, our willingness to be open with each other and share our lives as well as our wardrobe.
I barely remembered my parents, Clover and Nash Soulton, they were killed by vampires, I didn’t blame Avery’s kind because being a vampire had nothing to do with it, it was the type of people they were or thought they had to be. Blood-thirsty monsters.
I wanted to know more about my biological family but I wouldn’t know where to start.
What would I find if I went looking? Why did those vampires kill them? Why was I left alive?
“Matt, mommy said it’s time for bed,” Mason interrupts my thoughts.
Mason looked like a smaller version of Avery the first time I met them.
“Okay,” I reply picking him up.
I carry him to the bathroom so I can give him a bath and brush his teeth. I start the water and fill the tub as Mason undresses, he climbs in and I give him a bath.
When he’s done I dry him and he dresses in his pajamas, I set him on the bathroom counter and give him his toothbrush with toothpaste on it. He starts brushing.
I look up at Mason’s reflection in the mirror and see a monster with a lamprey-like mouth.
A Changeling? When had it taken Mason? I looked away before it noticed and tried to act normal.
I had to call Avery.
We had to find out where Mason was.
Changelings were replica children of fairies, they often impersonated and looked exactly like the children they took except their reflections revealed their true identities.
Fairies were often attracted to blonde or grey hair and blue eyes, Mason was a perfect candidate.
If we didn’t find Mason soon we’d probably never see him again. Did this fairy child have ill-intent or was it their parents who placed them here?
There were many myths behind why fairies took human children, either to serve as slaves or because fairy children were believed to need mother’s breast milk to survive, but Mason was too old to be breastfed. Some stories also told of parents exchanging their sickly children for healthy ones but Mason was healthy as far as I knew, unless Jethro saw Mason’s gender-nonconformity as a sickness.
Would he really go as far as to replace Mason? Why was it necessary for him to have a perfect child?
“Matt,” the changeling called.
I looked up at him.
“Let’s get you to bed,” I replied and gave a half-hearted smile.
I carried him to bed and pulled the covers up to his chin.
“Goodnight, Mason,” I whispered.
“Night, Matt,” Mason replied.
I left and closed the door.
If Jethro did trade Mason for a fairy child, did Jocelyn know?
I couldn’t trust either of them, I had to go to Avery with this.
Jethro and Jocelyn were in their bedroom preparing to sleep. I went downstairs and stepped out into the backyard. I went around the side of the house to the furthest points from either of their windows so neither of them could hear my phone call.
“Avery,” I called when they picked up.
“What is it, Matt?” they reply yawning.
“A fairy took Mason and replaced him with a changeling, do you think Jethro would trade Mason for a perfect child?” I informed and questioned.
“Wait, when? We were with him for the majority of the day,” Avery replies suddenly sounding panicked.
“I don’t know, would Jethro be desperate enough for perfection?” I insist again.
“Did you see its reflection? Are you sure?” Avery asks.
“I saw it in the mirror, he’s a changeling, we need to find Mason,” I plead.
“We do need to find him, I’ll be there soon, okay? Stay calm, Matt,” they reason. “Bye.”
“Bye,” I hang up and go around the front to wait. I stay out of sight of the upstairs bedroom windows.
I hide outside the line of bushes in the shadows.
Hopefully, Jethro and Jocelyn don’t go looking for me.
I heard a car on the road soon. I step out onto the sidewalk in sight. Rave drives up and Avery jumps out.
“Matt, are you sure he’s a changeling?” Avery asks.
“I swear on my life, I saw his reflection, do you really think your dad would trade Mason?” I plead.
“He apologized to me, I don’t think we should jump to that conclusion, yet,” Avery replies.
What were we going to do if they had?
“How do we figure out where the fairy has taken Mason?” Rave asks.
“I’m not hurting that child, even if they took Mason. I’m not harming any monster kid, that would be like torturing Rave. He hasn’t done anything,” Avery exclaimed. “It’s a kid.”
Avery was right, we had no idea if the changeling had ill-intent or if its family had placed it there or if Jethro had exchanged the real Mason for it.
“If we mistreat the changeling we might not see Mason again, either,” Avery adds.
Some lore said ill-treatment of the fairy child would mean the human child wouldn’t be returned. But who’s to say the fairy wanted to return Mason?
How were we supposed to question the changeling with Jethro and Jocelyn around?
“Go get the changeling and sneak them out of the house, be careful and do it quietly,” Avery continues. “We can question it without harming it.”
“Okay,” I answer nervously.
I sneak back inside, hopefully, the changeling hadn’t fallen asleep, yet. I make my way quietly through the dark house and stop at Jethro and Jocelyn’s door, I hear them snoring inside.
I continue to Mason’s room and open the door. The hinges squeak. I wince.
“Mason,” I call softly, approaching the bed.
“Matt?” he calls in return.
“Come on,” I say picking him up. “We have to go somewhere.”
“Where?” Mason asks.
“Quiet, we don’t want to wake mom and dad,” I reply.
We sneak past our parents’ room and back down out the back door. I lock it behind us.
I meet Rave and Avery out front.
“Why are you here?” I ask Mason.
Mason looks at me.
“I thought you knew I wasn’t the real Mason,” he acknowledges.
I set the changeling down. He transforms into a guy about my age and height.
“My name’s Connor, Jethro traded Mason for me, he pleaded and my parents agreed,” the changeling states.
“Dad traded Mason?” Avery asks shocked.
“I didn’t want to go, I thought I’d escaped the human trading when I survived and turned ten but my parents still traded me for a human. Why did they have me if they didn’t want me?” Connor curses.
“Sometimes what monsters and humans do makes no sense,” Rave comments.
“They wanted perfection, Mason wouldn’t let them cut his hair so they traded him for someone who was supposed to follow their orders and go on to live a normal human life, nobody would know what they had done except them, me and my fairy parents. Mason would forget eventually because of his youth,” Connor adds.
“Do you know where Mason is?” Avery asks calmly.
“Back in my home,” Connor answers.
“Can we get him back?” Rave follows.
“I can try but won’t your parents know?” Connor replies.
“You don’t trade your child for another when they’re not what you wanted or expected,” I answer gravely looking at Avery.
Jethro and Jocelyn had replaced Avery and pretended to apologize for being cruel. Then they traded Mason for a changeling, they were conspiring with monsters, monsters who kidnapped children. They were worse than Avery or Rave could ever be. They were actual monsters.
“How did they ever get approved to adopt you?” Rave questions looking at me.
“The social workers didn’t know about their unrealistic expectations of their biological children,” Avery answers, quietly.
“Let’s go get Mason back,” Rave adds making his way to Avery’s car.
Connor looked at me, he looked apologetic.
Rave and Avery sat in the front with me and Connor in the back.
After transforming, he had hazel eyes and wavy, brown hair, he looked nothing like Mason or Avery now.
“I’m sorry my parents took your brother,” he apologized hiding his eyes behind his hair.
“It’s not your fault, it’s our parents who offered and your parents that made the trade,” I reminded him.
“What am I supposed to do once we rescue your brother?” he questions. “They don’t want me, clearly.”
“You can stay in the human realm and live a normal life, no one said you had to go back to your world. You’re not harming anyone by staying here or being in human form,” I reply.
“Where am I gonna stay though? Who’s going to welcome a monster?” he continues.
“Lots of people, Avery and Rave are vampires, Avery’s still part of my family. We’re not going to just kick you out on the street either, Connor, you can live with us for a while till you get things sorted,” I answer.
He looks up at me, grateful for my kindness. He freezes and it suddenly turns to shame.
“What?” I ask.
“It’s nothing,” he mumbles.
“What is it, Connor?” I try again.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing,” he repeats.
He goes silent and turns his head away to stare out the window.
I want to know what is bothering him but I don’t want to pry so I leave it. But I caught him watching me out of the corner of my eye.
Connor gave Rave an address outside of town in the surrounding area. The fairies lived out in the forest, it suits them, like the cartoon characters from Tinkerbell that Avery was forced to watch when they were younger.
We came upon an old farmland surrounded by trees, it looked abandoned.
“I’ll go get him,” Connor offered.
“I’m going,” I add.
He glances at me but doesn’t argue.
“Be careful,” Avery bids. “We’ll be ready to go. Be quick.”
“We will,” I reply.
I and Connor get out of the car and Rave cuts the engine so the car blends in with the darkness.
We make our way to the side of the barn. Connor is in front of me.
“You sure you want to come?” Connor asks peaking around the corner.
“Mason’s my brother, why should you be the only one risking your life to get him back?” I question.
“I wish I had siblings willing to rescue me,” he mumbled.
“Who’s to say you didn’t have siblings? Your parents could have traded them for humans,” I add.
“No, I was their first, if they have any more, I can only imagine what they’ll do with them. Your first-born child is supposed to be precious and valuable and they traded me,” he answers.
Connor reminds me of Avery. The first child of the Ashcrofts’ and they kicked them out at fourteen years old. Never bothered to attempt to contact or understand them. But Connor hadn’t done anything except be born a changeling, how had fairies survived this long if they traded their children and allowed them to grow up as humans and forget what they were originally?
Some had to want their own children, their own flesh and blood more than a human child or slave but the same could be said of the Ashcrofts.
Maybe humans and monsters weren’t meant to be completely understood. Maybe part of the other was left behind and drove them to do such things but honestly, I didn’t know if we’d ever find out the true reasoning behind all the things, both human and monster.
“Wait, if we kill your parents, won’t you die, too?” I question.
That was the changeling lore, if you killed the mother, the children died, too.
“Even if the lore is true, it’s worth getting your brother back,” he replies looking at me sincerely.
Connor seems to be listening for voices or noises, I can’t hear anything.
Connor hadn’t done anything, I hoped the lore wasn’t true.
Then I heard it, the faint voices, I recognized Mason’s even though I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I also heard a female voice.
“You grab Mason, I’ll set the barn ablaze,” Connor whispers.
The only way to kill a fairy was fire.
“Be careful,” I whisper.
He looks back at me surprised, I look away embarrassed. He looks to the ground and then back in the direction of the barn’s entrance.
“Come on,” he nods in the direction of the entrance.
I follow him. The inside of the entrance is full of old hay bales and firewood.
Connor disappears for a split second into the second half of the barn through another sliding door. He reappears quickly carrying Mason, he hands him off to me.
“Go,” he says pushing me.
“What about you?” I ask.
“I’ll be fine, go,” he says pushing again.
“Connor,” says a booming female voice.
A woman with copper hair and green eyes enters the second half of the barn.
“Go,” Connor pleads again.
I finally do glancing behind me, worried.
I race back outside to the car waiting in the darkness. I open the door and hand Mason over to Avery.
“Where are you going?” Avery asks.
“Connor’s still in there,” I reason.
Rave and Avery looked at me knowingly. They’d go back for the changeling, too.
I grab some molotovs and a lighter from the back of the car and head back to the barn.
I can hear Connor and the woman shouting from outside.
“What were you thinking, helping the human brother take the child back, his family didn’t want him, you could’ve lived a human life,” the woman shouts.
“Is that all I am to you? An object to trade?” he curses back.
“I grew up in a human household, it was great. It is what fairies do with their children,” the mother reminds.
“You have no consideration for bonds, do you?” Connor questions. “That boy’s siblings love him, they want him.”
I quietly sneak through the barn entrance.
“I see your human friend has come back to kill us, don’t you see? You’re nothing but another monster to them now,” the mother reasons.
“Actually, I only kill monsters who have committed crimes, you kidnapped a child and traded your own sonfor him. I think you’re the only one who deserves to die,” I reply.
She hadn’t said anything about how killing her would kill Connor.
I look at Connor with the molotov in hand lit.
“Do it,” he shouts.
I launch the molotov at the woman and she begins to scream and burn up, in a last moment’s effort she charges at Connor. I dive and push him out of the way, changelings were just as vulnerable to fire as fairies.
The woman trips over my ankle and it catches fire. I wince and try to roll my foot around on the barn’s dusty floor to put the fire out.
“Matt,” Connor yells concerned.
He takes off his sweater and starts trying to put the fire out with it. The fire finally diminishes, the woman is dead and my leg has bad burn marks on it. It’ll heal though and still be useable but scarred.
“I told you to go,” Connor whispers looking at my injured leg.
“And leave you to die?” I question. “What have you done to deserve to die?”
“I’m a monster, Matt,” he reasons.
“So, I should just go kill Avery and Rave?” I question.
“They’re family, I’m just a monster,” Connor continues.
“No offense but I’ve seen humans do worse and they deserve the title of a monstermore than you do,” I reason.
He looks surprised.