I know it’s against the rules, but so long as no one figures out where the boy comes from nobody’ll care.
Gristle, leader of the red caps that snatched me from the cradle, stands by the portal glaring through the one yellow eye he’s got left.
“Where to this time?” he grunts.
“Heard twins was born three days ago to a pair on Maple.”
His eye narrows, greedy—there’s respect there too.
“Twins, huh? You got ten minutes.” Ten minutes? Even for me that’s not a lot of time. He shoves a Hand of Glory at me. He knows how much I hate them. I take the bloody wrist of the fresh hand whose five fingers’ve been dipped in fat that sizzles and smokes as fuel for its five flames. It smells awful!
I’ve been going on raids for ages now, but every time they hand me one of these I can’t help wondering if the day will come when it’ll be my hand lighting the way for someone else.
Without another look at Gristle, I run through the portal. It spits me out at the end of a long black street. Big brick houses line both sides. Ten minutes. Gotta’ make this fast!
The light’s on in the upstairs window of the house to my right. That’ll be the twins. Twins are hardest to snatch. You gotta be lightning quick swapping the changelings or else one kid starts wailing before you can get to the other. I’ll grab them on my way back.
The two-story on my left is completely dark. Without trying the door I know it’ll be locked and all the windows too. But that’s another trick for my little torch. The hand of a thief can open any door. I tap it against the red paint, and the lock clicks.
I see a set of stairs and I’m up ‘em fast as a flash. The last step creaks loud under my foot. I curse, accidentally blowing out two of the fingers. It’s alright. I only need three candles lit to keep the parents and the baby asleep. I can spare the other two for now.
Snores rumble from the end of the hall. That’ll be the parents. I resist the urge to take a peek. If I take too long Gristle will come looking for me, and then I’ll have hell to pay. Red caps are brutal to their enemies, but they’re not much better with their friends.
I tiptoe inside the nursery. A baby lays in the middle of a crib big enough to hold three more his size. Careful, I leave my light on the changing table and move in close. Something catches my eye on the wall above the crib. Photographs. I’m about to ignore them when I realize that the first is of a baby girl. It’s me. I swallow an emotion I’ve never had much cause to taste before—a soft feeling that makes my chest ache. I scrub my sleeve under my nose and reach for the boy.
“What you doin’?” asks a voice behind me. I nearly drop the baby. I know that voice.
Whirling around I see my mirror standing in the doorway. She’s me but not. Her ears are pointed and there are sparks of red glowing behind her brown eyes.
“You should know,” I say with more courage than I feel.
“You know the rules,” she hisses. “They’ll beat you if they catch you.”
“They’ll never know,” I say, edging away from the crib with my brother in my arms. “And ‘sides, what’ve you got to complain about? You get another of your own kind, and I’ll have one of mine. You can’t say it don’t get lonely.”
With my arms full of baby and blankets I’m one hand short for grabbing the torch. I try hooking it with my elbow, but it topples to the floor.
“You stupid ass!”
She dives for it, but she’s too slow. The fingers snub out on the thick, white carpet and my brother wails from the sudden jerk as I try to catch it too. From next door come thumps as the parents wake up. Wild-eyed I jerk open the window and look down, but I can’t make a jump like that with him in my arms. And none of it means anything if I don’t leave a changeling in his place before I go. For that I need time to pull one out of my hat.
Time I don’t have.
Two people skid into the room. He’s got my eyes, and she has my same black, wiry curls. She gasps when she sees me, and without blinking she snatches my double and shoves her out the window I just opened.
“Be gone!” she shouts, slamming it shut before the changeling even hits the ground. Then they’re all over me.
“Kendra! You found your way back to us!” They cover me in kisses. I’m stiff, not sure what to do or say. This did not go as planned. Without a word I hold the baby out to the woman. She can have him back. I don’t want him anymore. I want to go home.
But there’s no going back for me now. My time in Faerie’s run out. In my head I echo the scream that Mother makes when she sees the Hand of Glory on the floor.
If you’re interested in reading more about Kendra, you can read about one of her earlier missions here.