Chapter 10: Some Time Alone
“Chris, no!!” Liz cried, her arms wrapped around my stomach and desperately trying to keep me from leaping out the window.
“Digit’s in there!!” I argued, pulling against Liz’s grip. “God only knows what Bedford will do if she finds her!!”
“So you think bolting in there is gonna improve matters?!” Yelled Ray who, unlike me, was making every effort to stay out of view of the window.
I yelled in frustration. “I just need to coax her out of there! She’ll come if Mama calls!!” I paused for a moment, conflicted as to how naturally those words came out of my mouth.
“She’ll come back!” Liz assured me.
“I want her back before Bedford finds her!!” I yelled, struggling in Liz’s grip again.
(Mama?) I stopped and turned my head. Echo had perched herself on the windowsill and was looking at me expectantly. She looked between me and Bedford’s, as if asking me for…
I blinked. “You want to go in there?” I asked, confused. “You want to go find Digit?”
Echo nodded; I noted that changeling grubs were more intelligent, fresh out of their eggs.
“Wait, now you feel the solution is to send more of your children in there?” Ray asked, befuddled.
I furrowed my brow; Ray’s words rang true, but somehow sending Echo in felt like the right thing to do. Echo reared up to me and poked her front hooves at my eyes. Instinctively I closed them; when I made to open them again she just poked me again. Finally I sat on my haunches and kept my eyes shut. “Okay, what now?” I muttered.
“Chris, what are you doing…” Liz asked, but her voice faded out.
Suddenly I could see, yet my eyes were closed. I could suddenly see myself from an outer perspective; everything was wavy as though I was looking through the surface of water. The perspective moved and looked at Liz and Ray, like I was watching through a camera…
Or someone else’s eyes… I realized.
(Watch.) Echo’s voice repeated. She suddenly turned towards the outside and leapt out the window. Liz and Ray gave hushed orders for Echo to return.
“No, it’s okay…” I said aloud, trying my best not to break my concentration. “Let her go…”
Echo proceeded towards Bedford’s without fear. Fluttering her wings she leapt up into the open window and entered the house. Stay hidden, I urged. Find Digit and get out of there, okay?
(Digit.) Echo replied, creeping along the hall of Bedford’s house, ducking behind every bit of cover she saw. She snuck towards the living room, sniffing the air for the scent of her sibling.
“...don’t know what you got into…” Came a familiar voice from the bathroom down the hallway. Echo peeked down and noticed Bedford kneeling at the bathtub, scrubbing with all her might at Gwyneth, who was still covered in the goo from the previous night.
That stuff stains, apparently. I thought.
A chirp drew Echo’s attention. Glancing to the left she spotted Digit on the couch, happily gnawing on a ball of yarn. Echo gave an authoritative chirp that made Digit look up. Digit gave a delighted chirp of greeting, but Echo shook her head and beckoned with a hoof. Digit lowered her head in shame and pushed the ball of yarn away. She leapt down off the couch and hurried over to Echo.
“Looks like we’re going to have to shave you…” Bedford said with a sigh. Echo cast a panicked look towards the bathroom to see Bedford getting to her knees, her ascent slowed by her arthritis.
Go, go, go go go GO GO GO… I said urgently. Echo lead Digit down the hallway and back towards the window. Echo leapt to the windowsill and waited for Digit to join her. Digit was lagging a bit, casting a nervous glance behind her in the direction Bedford was in. Sadly she wasn’t watching where she was going and smashed painfully into a nightstand, sending the vase on top of it smashing to the floor.
“What was that?” Bedford asked, startled. Echo gave an urgent chirp to Digit, who was shaking her head from the impact and gathering herself. Digit hurried to the windowsill, and Echo leapt out into the yard.
I opened my eyes, took on my human form and stood up. I leaned against the window to meet the returning hatchlings. “Come on, come on!!” I said through gritted teeth. Echo was already halfway to the house, while Digit was just climbing onto Bedford’s windowsill. Digit cast one last look behind her; a panicked look in her eye told me Bedford was seconds away from discovering her. Digit leapt clumsily from the sill and sprinted headlong towards home. By now, Echo had leapt back into the relative safety of our home.
Digit got close to the window and leapt; she misjudged her jump, however, and bumped painfully against the wall just as Bedford came into view in her window. She turned to look across the yard, looked straight at Digit, still dizzy from the impact, then looked straight up at me. Our eyes met. Her jaw dropped in confusion and awe.
Slowly I reached down, picked Digit up and took her into the house. Let it go, I thought. Let it go, you imagined it, just forget about this whole thing, please don’t be bitchy, just this once, please-- oh no.
With a look of horror Bedford withdrew into her house. “This could be very bad,” I said, outwardly calm. I looked at Digit in my arms, then at her siblings on the sofa. “Get ‘em to the basement.” Liz nodded and hastily swung the door open. Echo and Shift immediately bolted down the stairs, but Digit gave me an anxious glance. I rubbed her head. “It’ll be okay, honey.”
While she didn’t look convinced, Digit hurried downstairs to join her siblings. I looked over at Ray. “You, too.”
“Why?” Ray asked. A pause. “...Right.” He hurried into the basement; I heard him trip on the last few stairs and land painfully on the floor below, but I didn’t spare a glance as I slammed the door.
“Chris?” Liz asked urgently. I looked back to see Bedford leaving the back door of her house and crossing our interconnecting yards.
“Shit!” I yelled. I considered barricading the house shut and calling the cops, but before I could make a decision Bedford was already banging on the back door.
“Open up!!” She yelled. I ran to the back door, grateful she didn’t think to open the unlocked door.
“Nah, I’m good, thanks!” I called through the door, eyes wide with panic as I slid the deadbolt closed.
“Chris…” Liz said. “What are we gonna do?”
“That question pretty much defines the past few days, doesn’t it?” I asked.
Bedford banged on the door again. “I want to know what those are, Barton!!”
“Nothing!” I yelled. “Figments of your imagination! Why don’t you just turn around and forget about it!!”
“If you don’t open up I’m gonna call the police!”
My face paled; she always threatened to call the cops on us, but this time she’d have a legit reason to do so. “Listen, please, just forget what you saw and…”
“Bedford, come on!!”
“ALL RIGHT!!” I yelled. I opened the deadbolt. The door immediately swung open and Bedford marched smartly into the house. This was clearly different; she didn’t carry that attitude of spreading misery just because she felt like it.
“Now, tell me, what was that thing in my house?” She asked, looking down her nose at me.
“Just my aunt’s cat,” I said; I had to try. “She got out the window and got into your house, then came back.”
“Don’t you lie to me!” Bedford yelled. “You think I’m so senile that I don’t know what is and isn’t a cat? Now what are you keeping here? Aliens? Demons?! Did you send it into my house to kill me?!”
“What?!” I yelled, dumbfounded. “NO! She got into your house by accident--” I slapped a hand over my mouth.
“‘She’?!” Bedford sputtered before taking a threatening step forward. “Where is it?!”
I stood my ground, removing my hand from my mouth. “None of your business. Get out.”
Bedford wasn’t deterred. “You will bring me that… thing… and tell me why it was in my house, or I will call the police!!”
“Last. Warning,” I said, teeth clenched. “Get. The FUCK. Out of my house, you goddamn crone.”
She slapped me across the face, causing me to stumble back. Recovering from the blow I slowly turned my head to look at her. Any thought of talking her down quickly gave way to the intense desire to put her in her place. Green overtook my vision. “Warned you.”
I dropped my human guise. Bedford stumbled back, startled by the green flames and the insectile equine that stood before her. Before she could even scream I fired a haze of magic at her mouth. The aura turned into a glob of goo and enveloped her mouth. I lifted her in my magic.
“Chris!!” Liz screamed, shaking me. “Chris, stop!!”
I didn’t listen, merely contemplating on what to do with the flailing old lady in my magic. She kicked and writhed, her screams muffled and eyes wide with terror.
“You think…” I said, my voice lined with a tone of righteous indignation I didn’t remember ever using. “That you can come into MY home, STRIKE me, and THREATEN MY CHILDREN?!?!”
“Chris!!” Liz shrieked, her voice filled with horror and pain as she continued to shake me.
“YOU WOULD CHALLENGE THE QUEEN?!?!”
Liz stepped in front of me and put her hands on either side of my face. “Chris, please, stop!!”
I took my eyes off of Bedford and looked at Liz. My anger was snuffed out instantly. Tears fell down Liz’s face, a look in her eyes that told me everything.
The person she’d just seen was not Chris Barton.
I looked up at Bedford and my heart dropped even further. She was clutching at her left arm.
“Oooohhh, no no no no no no…” I said, levitating Bedford close. “Noooo, no no no, she’s having a heart attack!!”
Liz spun around. “Oh god…”
“What’s going on up there?” Ray called from the basement. I ignored him and gently placed Bedford on the floor, leaned up against the wall.
I fell on my haunches and held my head in my hooves. “FUCK!!” I screamed, smacking both sides of my head. “FUCK FUCK FUUUUCK!!!” We were screwed. Bedford would die without medical attention, but if we sent her to the hospital she’d tell everyone what she’d seen here. Digit, Shift and Echo would be taken away, Ray and I would be sent to some government facility to be made the subjects of experiments straight out of a sci-fi movie, Liz would be taken god-knows where…
Maybe I could… haze her mind, or whatever? I thought. Just make the last minute… disappear in her mind? Do I even know how to do that?! What if I fuck up and make her a vegetable?! “God dammit!!” I yelled.
“What do we do, Chris?!” Liz cried, holding Bedford in her arms.
“Give me a minute to think!” I said.
“Chris, in a minute she’s gonna die!!” I looked up at them; Bedford had fearful tears streaming down her face, dripping into the goo around her mouth--
Somewhere in my mind I heard a soft ‘ding!’. I lifted Bedford in my magic. “Not the best solution, but it’s what I got.” I enveloped Bedford in a much larger haze of magic. The haze turned into a fully-encasing cocoon of goo. Bedford blinked in confusion once, and then was still.
“Chris, what’re you doing?!” Liz cried.
“It was the only way I could save her without completely fucking us over!” I said, swinging the basement door open and carrying Bedford down the stairs.
“But Bedford--” Liz argued.
“--is alive! It’s the best option we have, Liz.” I arrived in the basement. Ray poked out with the triplets from behind a large stack of boxes.
“What’s going on-- ...oh god, Chris, what’d you do?!”
“Not now!!” I said, looking around the cellar. My eyes fell on the space beneath the stairs. I placed Bedford beneath the staircase delicately, giving her unshifting gaze an apologetic look as I sticked her gooey prison on the underside of the stairs. I backed away from the stairs and sat down, rubbing my hooves nervously. “Not perfect, but better than the alternative…” I said.
The triplets approached the cocoon with curiosity. Echo looked at me, her face unreadable. Digit looked a little concerned for Bedford, nudging her cocoon with a hoof. Shift regarded Bedford hungrily, the first smile I’d seen from him dawning on his face. I carefully pulled the grubs from the cocoon. “Let’s leave her alone, kids, okay?” I said softly. “She’ll just be here until I get a better idea of what to do.”
“You could let her go?” Ray suggested. “Whatever she’s in seems to have put her in some kind of coma, she might think whatever happened upstairs was a freaky dream and we could get her to a hospital?”
“And what if she doesn’t think it was a dream?” I asked. “The cops might feel inclined to search the place if Bedford indicts me for her heart attack. I won’t put these three at risk.” I pulled the grubs closer, protectively.
“So you’re just gonna leave her like this?” Liz asked, gesturing towards Bedford.
“For now!” I clarified. “I… just need time to think, okay?”
“You’re holding a woman against her will!” Liz said.
I screwed my eyes shut; the adrenaline of the past few minutes was starting to pile up. “Please, please, be quiet for one second…”
“What’s happened to you, Chris?!”
Once again my vision flashed green as I looked up at Liz. “SILENCE!!”
Liz stumbled back, startled. My vision returned to normal; once again I found myself struggling to keep this suddenly volatile temper in check. I hadn’t had this problem until…
My insides froze, my breathing caught. I slowly moved away from Liz and Ray, both looking terrified at my outburst. “Please…” I whispered. “I need some time…” I scooted into the corner and curled up, my back to them. For a minute the pair were silent; then I heard them ascend the rickety staircase, and the door closed, shutting out what little light in the basement.
Tears stung in my eyes as I was left alone with my thoughts. I felt as though I was gonna be sick, if changelings even could.
Changing into Chrysalis over the course of twelve hours was one thing; at least I had some perks to have fun with, between transforming, magic and flight. Suddenly popping out three changeling grubs wasn’t exactly fun, but they seemed innocent enough, for the most part, that made me forgive being forced to endure the joy of motherhood.
But I never thought just how far this fucked up little rabbit hole went. It wasn’t enough that I’d look like Chrysalis on the outside. She was starting to overwrite… me. Whatever was happening, it could very well replace Chris Barton entirely, leaving me as a shapeshifting conqueror with a short fuse.
Seeing the look of fear on Liz’s face made me realize who I was becoming… and just how much that terrified me.
A nudge at my shoulder made me jump. I spun my head around to see the triplets, having never left my side. Digit looked particularly upset, her eyes flooded with tears. “My… fault?”
I wasn’t surprised at her somewhat limited speech; changeling grubs were clearly smarter, fresh out of the egg. I shook my head. “No, no, it’s okay…” Digit’s gaze fell to the ground, guilty. “Hey, hey… Come here.” I lifted Digit in my magic and placed her against my belly. I kissed her on the head. “We’ll work it out, okay?”
Digit sniffled, then curled up against me. I turned to see Echo and Shift staring at me. Echo tentatively took a step forward; smiling, I lifted her up and placed her alongside Digit. I looked back at Shift, who didn’t move.
I still didn’t quite get Shift. He seemed to be a bit more serious than his sisters, never really up for doing anything but cast disapproving glances their way. He always stared at me as though expecting me to do something, and acting confused when I didn’t do it. Did he maybe instinctively know something about changelings that I didn’t? Was I not living up to his expectations as queen? I mourned the fact that the show never quite delved into really talking about changeling culture; at least then I’d have more to work with other than what changelings did, and what they fed on.
Shift, his expression neutral, turned around and sat as though on guard duty. I gave a small smile; at least for now, he still seemed to hold loyalty to his queen. I turned back to Digit and Echo, who had curled up together and already fallen asleep. I laid my head down beside them, taking solace in what may be the only source of happiness I’d have in a while.
Because at the rate I was going, I began to wonder if Liz was regretting coming back.