11:57, and in a small house in the suburbs of Los Angeles, a mother rocked a screaming newborn. The baby was fey and colicky, and now that it was out of its mother, it cried only when it knew it would upset its mother the most. It. She hadn't even been able to call the screaming thing in her arms he, or acknowledge the fact that the baby she and her husband longed for was finally in her arms. This wasn't a baby. It looked at her with knowing eyes. It was born knowing. It was evil, and no one knew but her.
Outside, an owl landed on a branch and stared into the nursery with knowing eyes. The mother didn't see him, a dark silhouette in the enveloping shadows, a flash of white in the storm. The owl saw and heard all. He knew the drama that unfolded within that little house with its perfect fence and swing set waiting to be used. He could see the desperation in her wild eyes, and hear her fear in the strains of the melody she sang to the child in her arms. It wouldn't be long now.
Far away, in the castle of the Goblin King, a nest of goblins stirred. One by one, they opened their eyes and yawned, some showing off bestial fangs. Others scratched curling goats' horns. Some tested the air with animal snouts. All struggled to their scaly, clawed feet and slowly realized what drew them from their sleep.
"Shhh. She's going to say it," a keen goblin said.
"Say what?" a dull goblin asked.
"Quiet!" an impatient goblin hissed. "Look!"
11:59, and the mother finally reached a snapping point. The greedy thing still managed to cry, even around the milk it pulled from her aching breasts. She pulled it from her in disgust and laid it in its crib, where it cried with even more fervor. Its face turned purple with its cries, and its mother screamed her fear and her rage into the uncaring storm. This wasn't a child! It was a monster! A goblin, a changeling child, sent to drive her mad with its demands! She screamed! She flung the child's blanket away and grabbed it by the throat, and when it only screamed louder, curling its tiny fists into balls of infant fury, and stared at her with its knowing eyes, she backed away, horrified.
Outside, the owl leaned closer to the window, peering inside with unabashed interest. It flared its wings at the mother's violence, flapped once, and settled back on its branch when she backed away from the screaming child. She was desperate. It was written all over her face. Like an expert chess player, the owl could see what was going to happen. She was going to say it.
Far away, in the Goblin King's castle, the horde of goblins could barely contain their excitement. They stood on taloned tip-toe, some on top of others, to observe the drama unfolding before them. They hushed each others' eager cries, but none could be distracted from the mother and her ill-fated child.
12:00, and the baby's wails reached a crescendo. The mother covered her ears and sobbed, and in a desperate bid to save herself from the keening thing in the crib, she cried, "Goblin! Creature! I wish they would come take you away!" In an afterthought, in the space between a flash of lightning and the crash of thunder, she whispered, "Right now."
That was it! Thunder crashed, louder than before, deafening, and the power went out in the little house. The owl flared his wings in triumph and launched himself from his perch. His wings battered the nursery window. Far away, in the Goblin King's castle, the goblins howled and roared in their excitement as they vanished one by one. And in the nursery, in the pitch black darkness, the baby grew silent mid-cry. The mother bit back a cry of panic and rushed to the crib.
The blanket laid where she flung it, curled at the bottom of the crib, but now something, several somethings, wriggled and writhed beneath it. It was an obscene slithering, like a particularly nasty bug under silk sheets. Her breath caught in her throat, and she couldn't help but to reach down and touch the squirming baby blanket. At her touch, it fell flat, empty. Thunder crashed outside, and the window shattered. She gasped and flung an arm over her eyes.
Then, all was still. Far too quiet. She looked around. Nothing had changed in the room, and yet she felt something watching her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement. A nightstand scurried away on scaly claws, before standing still once more. A dresser drawer opened, and glowing cats' eyes watched her from the darkness within. The closet opened, and little horned creatures poured forth, to hide under furniture, in drawers, and behind the glass-covered curtains. Glass...the window! She stared in horror at the owl that perched there, watching her with flat black eyes. Those are not eyes, she thought, they're Pits! The owl stared back, cocked his head inquisitively, and launched himself into the room. The mother screamed and closed her eyes.
The soft rustle of feathers gave way to the soft rustle of cloth, and slowly she opened her eyes, certain the owl had left and those inhuman things were gone. Instead, she found herself staring up at a man silhouetted in front of the window. His hair was shoulder length and blond, and he wore a golden chain around his neck. The rest of his features were hidden in the shadows. Her eyes grew wide and she took a step back, but she didn't scream. There was something...compelling about him. Something hypnotizing in those eyes she could feel burning on her.
"Is this what you're looking for?" Jareth stepped forward, into the light from the hallway, and indicated a bundle wrapped in the folds of his cape and tucked neatly into one arm. The baby slept peacefully in his arms, its crying forgotten and its knowing eyes closed. Jareth gave the mother a predatory smile. "Stephanie, think of this as a new beginning. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life as a slave to an ungrateful beast, one who tries at every turn to drive you to the depths of madness, or worse. It isn't a baby, you said so yourself. Forget about this little horror. Go back to your books and your soaps. Plan that romantic evening with your husband. Forget about the baby."
Stephanie stood horror-struck, unable to even gasp as the blond man conjured a small crystal ball in one gloved hand and tossed it to her. Out of instinct, she reached out to catch it, but it wasn't a crystal that she caught. It was a silver necklace with a diamond pendant, familiar and dear, and pawned weeks ago for the money to buy baby formula and diapers. She gave an involuntary, happy cry and looked up at the blond man holding her impostor-child.
Jareth could see it in her eyes. He'd won. He smiled. "Forget about the baby." He folded the cloak more tightly over the child, even over its head, and when he lowered his arms, the cloak swirled around him, empty.
"Where? Where'd it go?" Even seeing it disappear, she still couldn't call it a he. It was a changeling, a greedy intruder! But...where did it go?
"He will be taken care of. Raised as my own." Here, Jareth's lips curled in a small, private smirk. He raised a hand, and the goblins around the room emerged from under furniture and inside drawers. "He is mine, as you knew all along he was. And now, dear lady, I must take my leave." He smiled at her half-hearted nods and turned back to the window. Lightning split the sky, thunder crashed, and an owl glided silently away.
The goblins stayed. The mother looked around in fear at their bestial faces, their lizard-claw feet, the rapt attention they gave her. Lightning flashed. She screamed and fell to the floor as they moved as one toward her.
* * * * * * *
Three hours later, Stephanie Brooks' husband, Mark, returned from the graveyard shift at the local hospital. Nursing was a tough job, but it paid the bills, and it was nice to know his beautiful new wife and baby were waiting on him upstairs. Stephanie left the lights on for him, as she always did, and he turned them out as he made his way upstairs. Their bedroom was empty, but that was normal. His son had colic, and Stephanie often fell asleep in the chair in the nursery with him. He smiled and opened the nursery door.
What he saw stopped his heart. Glass from the shattered window was scattered about the room. His wife lay sprawled in the middle of the floor, her dead eyes fixed glassily on the ceiling and a shard of glass glittering like a ruby in her torn throat.
His son's crib was empty.