Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Ada, Ohio, there was a man, kneeling before a healer, with a baby in his arms, and tears of grief on his face. The doctor, a man by the name of Walter Jacobs, looked down, and said, “It’s not your fault. There’s nothing you could have done. Sometimes, God needs another angel.” He said this, for you see, the baby was dead, blue skinned and cold. “It’s not your fault. There’s nothing you could have done. Sometimes, God needs another angel,” over and over again, he uttered his grim mantra. “It’s not your fault. There’s nothing...” When the man finally looked up from the baby, the doctor placed one hand on the man’s shoulder, and the other on the infant’s forehead as a penitent priest delivering benediction. ”Let me tell you a story,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be of some small comfort. Stop me if this tale is familiar to you.”
And this is the story he told:
“Once a year, on Winters Solstice, the boundaries between this world and the other become weaker, more permeable, and things that should be banned from this reality are allowed to cross-over for a short time. That which is not real, becomes real, and these otherworldly visitors want nothing more than to stay real. But there are ancient rules, rules far older than man, rules that govern these beings. For a few short hours they are allowed to wreak havoc and sow discord. From midnight to sunup, these mischievous creatures steal jewels and gold, spoil milk, frighten horses, make men impotent, and seek out virginal girls to defile and deflower, but when dawn comes, they must go back. That is, unless they have found another to take their place. These are the children stealers. The changelings.
“This is not your baby. This is not your son. This is a monster. A cold cold monster. Your baby is warm. Your baby is happy. This is not your baby. This is not your son.
“There is only one way to tell the difference between your own offspring and the creature that has stolen your child’s place. A changling is greedy at the teat, and will always have a singular fully formed tooth. Did you not tell me this was so? Did you not say your baby suckled his mother dry? Did you not tell me your wife complained of pain from a sharp tooth? After the production of milk ceases to sustain this vile minion of chaos, only blood will do.
“But I warned you.
“To free a child from the other takes brave guardians. A changeling forced to ingest its own tooth cannot live for long. Without milk and blood it will die. Once you struck the tooth from this thing’s mouth, once you forced it to swallow the tooth, it was over. Death inevitable! You did what you must. Now, though the ground is frozen, you must bury this imitation babe, by daylight, on Christmas morning. Only then will your child’s soul be free! Without a living replacement, ancient laws demand there be no hold over your son, but as you have killed this wretched monster, so too will your child be slain. But no longer will he be prisoner.
“If you do not return this dead thing to the earth before the sun sets on Christmas, then, for all of eternity, your son will be held on the other side.”
There was obvious sympathy on the doctor’s face. His every word and movement showed his empathy for his patient. He shared in sorrow and grief. If there was more to be done, he would do so. There was nothing more to be done. He’d seen this same scene play out so many times before. So many children taken.
“But it wasn’t a tooth we forced him to swallow,” the man said, “It was a pill. A pill you gave us. Medicine to make him better. A cure for a colicky baby you said. We trusted you.” There were tears running down his face as he spoke. These fell onto the face of the cold baby. Or is it a changeling? he wondered. It must be. We could have never killed our own son. But he only thought these things. He was not yet ready to say them aloud.
“It was a tooth! Not a pill, a tooth. A changeling tooth,” the doctor whispered. He’s said this before.
Still on his knees, a man defeated, unable to rise, to stand, he asked, “What do I tell my wife?”
The doctor paused, but then spoke, “You tell her it’s not her fault, there’s nothing she could have done, and sometimes God needs another angel. You tell her a tale, a familiar tale, and you tell it again and again, until it becomes her own. Once a year, on Winters Solstice, the boundaries between this world and...”
And no one lived happily ever after.