Excerpt of The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
(Page 3 of 4)
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That I had come this far undetected caused me no small satisfaction, but I was
not completely at ease. A half hour after I had gone to bed, the door to my room
swung open slowly. Framed against the hallway light, Mr. and Mrs. Day stuck
their heads through the opening. I shut my eyes to mere slits and pretended to
be sleeping. Softly, but persistently, she was sobbing. None could cry with such
dexterity as Ruth Day. "We have to mend our ways, Billy. You have to make sure
this never happens again."
"I know, I promise," he whispered. "Look at him sleeping, though. The innocent
sleep that knits up the ravelld sleeve of care."
He pulled shut the door and left me in the darkness. My fellow changelings and I
had been spying on the boy for months, so I knew the contours of my new home at
the edge of the forest. Henrys view of their few acres and the world beyond was
magical. Outside, the stars shone through the window above a jagged row of firs.
Through the open windows, a breeze blew across the top of the sheets, and moths
beat their wings in retreat from their perches on the window screen. The nearly
full moon reflected enough light into the space to reveal the dim pattern on the
wallpaper, the crucifix above my head, pages torn from magazines and newspapers
tacked along the wall. A baseball mitt and ball rested on top of the bureau, and
on the washstand a pitcher and bowl glowed as white as phosphorous. A short
stack of books lay propped against the bowl, and I could barely contain my
excitement at the prospect of reading come morning.
The twins began bawling at the break of day. I padded down the hallway, past my
new parents room, following the sound. The babies hushed the moment they saw
me, and I am sure that had they the gifts of reason and speech, Mary and
Elizabeth would have said "Youre not Henry" the moment I walked into the room.
But they were mere tots, with more teeth than sentences, and could not
articulate the mysteries of their young minds. With their clear wide eyes, they
regarded my every move with quiet attentiveness. I tried smiling, but no smiles
were returned. I tried making funny faces, tickling them under their fat chins,
dancing like a puppet, and whistling like a mockingbird, but they simply
watched, passive and inert as two dumb toads. Racking my brain to find a way to
get through to them, I recalled other occasions when I had encountered something
in the forest as helpless and dangerous as these two human children. Walking
along in a lonesome glen, I had come across a bear cub separated from its
mother. The frightened animal let out such a godforsaken scream that I half
expected to be surrounded by every bear in the mountains. Despite my powers with
animals, there was nothing to be done with a monster that could have ripped me
open with a single swat. By crooning to the beast, I soothed it, and remembering
this, I did so with my newfound sisters. They were enchanted by the sound of my
voice and began at once to coo and clap their chubby hands while long strings of
drool ran down their chins. "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "Bye, Baby Bunting" reassured
or convinced them that I was close enough to be their brother, or preferable to
their brother, but who knows for certain what thoughts flitted through their
simple minds. They gurgled, and they gooed. In between songs, for counterpoint,
I would talk to them in Henrys voice, and gradually they came to believe-or
abandon their sense of disbelief.
Mrs. Day bustled into the babies room, humming and tra--la--la--ing. Her
general girth and amplitude amazed me; I had seen her many times before, but not
quite at such close quarters. From the safety of the woods, she had seemed more
or less the same as all adult humans, but in person, she assumed a singular
tenderness, though she smelled faintly sour, a perfume of milk and yeast. She
danced across the floor, throwing open curtains, dazzling the room with golden
morning, and the girls, brightened by her presence, pulled themselves up by the
slats of their cribs. I smiled at her, too. It was all I could do to keep from
bursting into joyous laughter. She smiled back at me as if I were her only son.
Excerpted from The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, Copyright © 2006 by Keith Donohue. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.