Gosh it’s been ages since I wrote flash fiction. But here’s a little thing, based on a prompt I made up for a challenge last year. Hope you like it.
When the first frost came, footprints appeared by the apple tree. They came out of the thicket, two sets walking alongside one another and stopping under the branches of the tree just yards from the back door, then turning and walking back the way they had come. One set was large, larger even than uncle Bernard’s big old shoes, and long and thin like giant rabbits feet. The other set of prints were exactly the same size as Eliza’s own feet. Of course.
She’d felt them coming for weeks now, felt that pull in the center of her chest whenever they passed by the house at a distance. Each time she had run to the window to peer outside, to see if she could spot them in among the trees, but the woods were too dense, the branches too many. Some days she wanted to run out there to find them, and other days she prayed that they would stay away just a little longer. She needed to feel ready, and now she did.
Eliza had always known that she didn’t quite belong, that there was a place for her some place far away. That someday she would leave. As she felt that leaving draw nearer, she’d taken care to cherish what she had. She stopped asking to be excused too quickly after finishing her meal. She listened to all of grandmother’s stories, even the ones she’d heard a dozen times before. She stopped quarreling with her parents about her clothing, her homework, a myriad other things. She played patiently with the children and whispered magical secrets into their ears when no one was listening. She read all her books, even the boring ones, one last time.She finished the last one the afternoon after the footprints appeared.
That night, while the house slept, Eliza put on her shoes, buttoned her coat all the way to the top and tucked one of the dolls from her dollhouse into her pocket. Just one, or they might know something was wrong. The air was chilly when she stepped outside and walked right up to the two figures standing under the apple tree. The guardian was tall, with golden buttons on his coat and a gold ring in his nose. The tips of his ears thinned to a point so fine they curled back and around like leaves, and when he stooped to take her hand in his, his eyes were warm with smiles.
The changeling, of course, looked just like Eliza, right down to the coat. Like her, she came from a place where she didn’t quite belong. The two met each other’s eyes with no trace of astonishment.
“Take care of the little ones for me,” Eliza said.
The other smiled and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “You too.”
When Eliza stopped at the edge of the woods and looked back toward the house, the guardian’s hand warm on her shoulder, she saw a single set of footprints leading from the apple tree and in through the back door. Eliza smiled, and followed the guardian home.