Therianthrope

I was standing under a long archway, with bright lights at either side. I was staring down at the ground, my head feeling heavy and my eyes tired. Vaguely aware that I was dreaming, I forced myself to look up. I saw a woman walking away from me. I knew I had to speak to her for some reason so I called out. She stopped, half turned to look at me. She shook her head and waved, as if to tell me I could go. Then she walked away.

When I woke up I was standing in the middle of a nearly empty shopping centre. A tinny voice came over the speaker system, announcing closing time in ten minutes. I must have been sleepwalking again. It was a regular occurance, although I had never wandered quite so far before. I would have had to get on a bus, which was a slightly alarming thought. I looked down at myself, relieved to see that I was at least properly dressed and not in my dressing gown and slippers. I remembered now; I had fallen asleep on the couch listening to the radio. And that was precisely where I planned to return.

I had just located the exit when a distressed looking woman appeared in front of me, blocking my path. She was clutching a sleeping baby in one hand and pushing a pram with the other, looking anxiously from side to side.

‘Are you all right?’ I asked kindly, but taking a step back at the same time. ‘Do you want me to get someone for you?’

‘My husband. I can’t find him.’

‘Oh. Well, he can’t be far. Where did you see him last?’ I looked around for a security guard.

‘You have to help me look for him.’

I started to say something about putting a call out but she had let go of the pram and grabbed my arm, forcing me to walk with her. By now we were the only people left and the shops were putting their shutters down.

‘Perhaps he’s waiting for you outside,’ I suggested. ‘Have you tried phoning him?’

She turned and stared at me. ‘Tried what?’

I was just about to offer her my mobile when she pushed the baby into my arms and ran off sobbing. I called after her to stop but she disappeared down an escalator and out of sight. I followed as quickly as I could – mercifully the baby slept on peacefully, despite my shouting – but there was no sign of her. I hurried out onto the street, hoping I could find her there, but there were only a few last shoppers making their way outside. I asked if anyone had seen the woman but no one had. The shops were all locked up now and it was at that moment the baby decided to wake up. It opened its eyes, looked up at me and immediately began to howl. I rocked it gently and made soothing noises, looking around desperately for its mother. About twenty minutes later I had managed to get the baby back to sleep, but it was cold outside and starting to rain heavily. I decided to go and see my friend, Adam. He was performing in Gaslight at a nearby theatre, the only place in the area I was familiar with.

I arrived at the stage door within a few minutes and Adam came down to meet me. He took one look at me – soaking wet and trembling, with a crying child in my arms – and quickly ushered me inside. I followed him to his dressing room, where he wrapped a blanket around me and the baby and made me a cup of tea.

‘What happened to you?’ he asked, pulling up a chair next to mine. I sipped my tea, then started to explain. All the while I was talking I was aware of the baby moving in an odd way under the blanket. I looked down and saw that it had curled up tightly into a ball.

‘We’ll have to go to the police,’ Adam was saying. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes. I think so. Is that normal?’

‘Is was normal?’ he asked, adjusting his wig.

‘The baby. It’s all…’ I touched the baby’s hands, only they weren’t hands. They had changed. ‘What’s happened to you?’ I whispered fearfully.

I picked the baby up and tried to uncurl it. When I saw its little face I gasped and let go in shock. It bounced off my knee and onto the floor. What was it? What was this creature? I had never seen anything like it before. It was still wearing the little blue baby grow, but it was nothing like a baby. It was a good sight furrier for a start. I stared at it, trying to work out what it was, but I hadn’t a clue. It scurried across the floor, nose twitching, then back to me, where it cowered behind my leg. My hands shaking, I picked it up and held it on my lap, where it curled up happily and went back to sleep.

I looked at Adam, but he was busy examining his costume in the mirror, his back to me. I wrapped the blanket securely around the sleeping creature and started to move towards the door. ‘I’d better get going.’

‘Are you coming back to watch the show after you’ve been to the police station?’

‘Oh. I, er, I’m not sure. I’m really tired, it’s been a long day. Have a good night.’

‘Wish me luck,’ he shouted, waving at me in the mirror.

‘Yes, of course,’ I called back. ‘Break your legs!’ I slammed the door shut and hurried back downstairs and out onto the street. I walked along in the rain, wondering what I was supposed to do now. Where could I go? I couldn’t take the…the…whatever it was, to a police station. Maybe to a pet shop. After dithering around for a few minutes, I decided it would be best to leave the creature somewhere a lot of people would be passing through, somewhere it would be quickly found. I headed for the train station, wondering madly for a moment whether I should leave it in a handbag.

When I got to the arches in front of the station I slowed my pace, hesitating for a moment. I had never liked the arches, especially at night. They seemed to go on a lot longer then. I took a deep breath and stepped into the darkness. I walked quickly, eager to reach the other side, my footsteps echoing softly. But there was no echo there. I stopped abruptly in the middle of the bridge. There was someone behind me. I immediately thought of trolls and a shiver ran down my spine. I turned around.

‘I’m sorry I ran off like that.’ The woman smiled. She didn’t look particularly sorry. In fact, she looked rather pleased with herself. ‘I’ll take him now.’

‘Him?’ I said faintly.

‘My baby.’ She reached out for the bundle in my arms. Instinctively, I took a step away from her. ‘I’ll be good, I promise.’ She reached out again and, reluctantly, I placed the creature in her arms. She had a strange look on her face, sort of gleeful, as though she had tricked me. Perhaps she had.

‘Look after him,’ I told the woman. ‘He’s yours,’ I added, without knowing why. I turned away from them and looked towards the street. I yawned widely. I really was exhausted. I should probably just go home, get some sleep. There was nothing more I could do here. I looked back one last time, saw a flash of light in the woman’s dark eyes, heard a child’s cry. Then I walked away.

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