Healer's huts always were bleak places to visit, but even more so to work in. Evelyn knew that especially well. Her line of work was a noble one, but not meant for those with weak hearts and stomachs. And when she said weak hearts, she didn't mean people who couldn't take tragic backstories or those with medical conditions that literally made their hearts and/or stomachs weak. She meant hearts that didn't seem to work and made her question if there was still any humanity in this world. One particular case was a seven-year-old boy named Alfred Groves.
Alfred's case was a particularly sad story. He had a severe fever, couldn't keep anything down (not that he had much of an appetite when he did eat), and was lethargic, barely moving. Nobody knew what was wrong with him, but they knew he was definitely sick with something and he wasn't getting any better any time soon. He laid in bed in a feverish daze, talking to people that weren't there. His mother and father stopped visiting him after the fever started and he began to babble.
"The boy is a disciple of Satan," his father said, pacing around the room. Evelyn noticed his right leg dragged behind him a little as he walked. "He is no son of mine."
"He's feverish. It'll go away in a few days," Evelyn explained. The boy's parents weren't buying it.
"He's trying to summon the devil!" Alfred's mother snapped, as her son tried to talk.
"Baaaaaaagh," he groaned, pointing at his parents. They jumped back, alarmed, clasping the silver crosses around their necks as if it was a reflex.
"That's the devil talking through him! He is a mouthpiece for Satan!" his mother wailed.
"No, that's his fever!" Evelyn insisted. "No, don't leave him here alone! He needs his mother and father!"
"He needs a man of God to expel the demon. There's nowt we can do for him," Mr Groves snarled, as he led his crying wife out of her healing hut. Evelyn sighed as they left. She wanted to vent about how awful Alfred's parents were, but she didn't have time. She had a child to take care of it.
"Ugggh . . . my tummy . . . it hurts," Alfred groaned. "Mother? Father? Where did you go?" And it was now Evelyn's turn for her stomach to fill with an indescribable pain, only hers probably couldn't be cured with medicine.
Alfred woke up in the middle of the night with sharp, stabbing pain in his stomach, and a feeling like he had to vomit. It had happened again, and that meant he had to call for the healer. He didn't want to call for the healer. He wanted his parents.
He got them.
"It's OK, we're here, Mama and Papa love you so much," two voices whispered. They didn't sound like his parents.
"You sound different," Alfred whispered.
"We have made ourselves different so we can be better parents to you," the voices hissed. "Arms to hold you, ears to hear your voice, and mouths to kiss you. We love you, our sweet child."
"My mother and father never say that I'm their sweet child. They don't call me anything like that." A look of horror came across his pallid face. "You're not my parents! Help! Nurse!" Alfred's screams for help were in vain.
"They will not hear you. We have made sure of it. You are ours now," the two beings hissed. Arms Alfred couldn't see held him nice and tight and began to rub at the pain. The rubbing felt so good. "You'll get better soon," the voices hissed in unison.
"That feels . . . good," Alfred croaked, as he melted into the arms of whoever was being so amazing with him. That wasn't the only magic being worked on him. He noticed that the arms felt . . . rough. They had scales, glossy black ones. "Mama, Papa, what lovely scales your arms have," Alfred babbled.
"Thank you, my sweet boy," Mama cooed.
"So thoughtful," Papa rumbled.
"I love you, new Mama and Papa," Alfred smiled.
"We love you, too, precious," they chorused. Alfred snuggled closer to his new mother and father.
"Where are my old parents?" the boy asked. "Will they come back?"
"That depends, my dear. Do you want them to?" his new mother asked.
Alfred shook his head. "No."
"Then they won't," his new father promised. "One thing you need to know is that you will never need to worry about anything again. Especially not them." Alfred smiled as his eyes drooped downwards.
"Love you, Mama and Papa," Alfred sighed.
"We love you too," they chorused. Tucking their new son into bed, they decided to pay Alfred's former parents a visit.
Mr and Mrs Groves laid in bed, sleeping soundly. Their silver crosses were on the night stand, waiting for them when they stirred the next day.
That was when they got the visit.
It started off sounding like howling wind, or maybe a wolf howling at the moon. Mrs Groves woke up first. "Darling, what is that awful howling?" she asked. "It sounds like the devil himself screaming."
"It's just the wind, dear," her husband replied. "Go back to sleep." The wind began growling louder, and banging at the door.
"The wind does not bang at the window!" Alfred's ex-mother whimpered.
"That was a bird, or maybe an unruly tree branch controlled by the wind. Now, for God's sake, go to sleep."
"How dare you refer to us as an unruly tree branch?" Alfred's new mama roared, as she and his new papa let themselves in, half-floating and half creeping into the bedroom.
"What are you?" Mr Groves whimpered.
"That is none of your concern, puny mortal," Alfred's new papa said. He sneered at his human counterpart, if it could be called sneering. He had no real face.
"How dare you enter our home!" the former father roared. He tried to hit the being, but his hand burned, making an awful hissing sound. He recoiled, looking at them with confusion and horror. "What are you?"
"You won't need to worry about that," Alfred's new mama replied. "We'll be done shortly once we get what we need."
"And what will you monsters try to take?" the former mother whimpered.
She never got an answer.
Back at the healers' hut, Evelyn was nursing Alfred back to health. "You're doing so well," she cooed. "Now, I'll see if someone is coming to get you. She didn't have the heart to tell him that he would probably be waiting for ages. How do you tell a bright-eyed child who wants his parents that they would never be coming to get him and bring him home?
"Mother? Father?" Alfred was confused about their presence in the healer's hut, and so was Evelyn. They'd disowned him, claiming his feverish babbling was him communicating with Satan. Why would they come back for the boy that was apparently bound for Hell? And, as she studied their figures further, she noticed that they no longer had their silver cross necklaces.
"You can call us Mama and Papa now," their mother muttered. Alfred seemed to perked up even more.
"Yes! It's you!" Alfred whooped, suddenly extremely enthusiastic.
"We'll be taking our son back now," Alfred's mama replied.
"Can you two talk to me for a few seconds?" Evelyn asked. They nodded, walking over to a back room to talk in private. "I'm sorry, but this just makes no sense. Didn't you disown him when he first came in here?"
"Water under the bridge," his mama smiled, showing off a set of white teeth.
A set of teeth that looked a little sharper than typical human teeth . . .
"We were far too hasty in our decision," his papa replied. "All we can do now when we take him home is hope that our son forgives us for what we did to him in his desperate time of need." Alfred was playing with the other children. "Come on, Alfred, let's go home." He walked out of the healer's hut to get his son.
"Your leg's better," Evelyn replied. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow of confusion.
"What?" He looked down at the floor, his eyes containing a flash of fear for just a second before he masked it with a smile. "Oh, about that. I got a travelling healer to see to it, and if I'm honest, he works really fast. Years of limping finally gone." He flashed a winning smile at Evelyn, who wasn't buying it. Something was off about them. They'd been pretty determined to leave Alfred to rot in her hut at the start. Why did they suddenly want him back now? He left the hut to collect Alfred, who jumped into his arms.
"Papa!" Alfred giggled, as he was tossed into the air and placed onto his 'father's' shoulders.
"Hey, little man," his 'papa' replied. "How about we go home?" Evelyn wanted to protest, but her mouth felt like it was sewn shut by an invisible force. Besides, plenty of people changed their minds, right? And Alfred looked so happy with them, just like any other seven-year-old boy. It would be cruel of her to take him away from loving parents because of a stupid gut feeling.
"Yes! Home, here we come!" Alfred laughed. His parents smiled and took each of his hands and walked home with him.
"Are you going to always look like my old mama and papa?" he asked, once they were away from the healer's huts.
"Only when we are out of the house. Once we are home, we will be the mama and papa you know and love," Alfred's 'papa' replied, letting a sneaky tentacle poke and prod their son.
Alfred Groves smiled and laughed as he was taken home. He loved his new mama and papa.