“It was incredible – and yet the most incredible thing about it is how hazy my memory is. I was about to go on my break when this customer walked in – and even now I can’t remember that much about her. We all have to wear this white dress with crimson trim and heels, and my colleague Jenna had just gone in the back of the salon to check supplies.
“Anyway – I was talking to the customer, and all of a sudden I felt light headed. The last thing I remember seeing was her eyes – yellow, they were, and then…
“Well, when I came to I was sitting in the store room, along with Jenna. We both had our wrists tied tightly together behind our backs, and out ankles were tied together, while a cloth band pulled between our lips was tied round our heads. Whoever did it had pushed a roll of bandage into our mouths as well, so we had no way of calling out and warning anyone who came in.”
“And then I saw her – well, I saw me. Same height, same build, same long light black hair down my back. Jenna had her brown hair trapped – and she smiled at me as she closed the door.
“I know – it sounds crazy, but you found both of us when you broke the door open. There’s no way we can be held responsible for anything to do with the kidnapping of that woman – honestly.”
Anne Hopper looked at the young shop assistant and nodded. “I believe you,” she finally said, “it’s not the first case like this we’ve had reported this month. The officer will take your details, and we’ll be in touch.”
She walked out of the store and took a deep breath of the October air. This was the third kidnapping of this type in three weeks – and she still had no leads, except for the yellow eyes.
Back at the station, she opened the case file from the first kidnapping and reviewed the statement of Dr Hope Channing…
“It has been a typical day at the surgery – nothing out of the ordinary. I was there as always, wearing my white coat over a pink coat dress and sandals. My two assistants were also there – Carina and Elaine. They have their own uniform – a peach coloured dress and cap, white tights and sandals.
“It was my eleven o’clock appointment – I remember that much – and Carina showed the dark haired woman into the treatment room. I had been held up with a complicated extraction, and asked her to prepare the patient.
“As I was coming out of the other room, I saw Carina beckon to Elaine to come in, but thought nothing of it as I went to get a drink of water and wash my hands. When I went into the room Carina was there, her mask over her face, but there was no sign of Elaine, or the patient.
“I clearly remember asking Carina where they were, and then she looked at me. As I looked back, I could have sworn her eyes turned yellow, just yellow, and then – I fainted.
“When I came to, I could feel someone pulling ropes around my body, trapping my arms against my sides. It took me a few moments to realise my wrists were already tied behind my back, and as the ropes pressed down above and below my chest I felt whoever was tying me up pulling them up and securing them more as well.
“That was when I heard the moans beside me, and turning my head I saw dark haired carina and red headed Elaine looking at me. They had ropes around their chests and their ankles, and the surgical masks over their faces were covering some sort of cleave gag.
“If it was like mine, then it was a knotted cloth tier tightly round the head – I could feel the knot with my tongue, and I guessed I also has a surgical mask on given the pressure behind my ears. Looking down my legs, I saw whoever it was had removed my sandals and tide my ankles together, the dark hose I was wearing compressed under the ropes.
“I snapped my head round and saw – me, complete with the red hair clip holding my brown hair back, and the mask over her face. She reached over, took my glasses off and put them over her own eyes, and then she walked off. We were sitting around the corner from the waiting room, but when I looked round I saw her showing the model into the treatment room. I caught a glimpse of her blonde hair over the back of her black silk blouse, heard the commotion – and then nothing.
“We were stuck there until your officers arrived – and that’s all I can tell you. Sorry.”
Anne closed the file and sat back. The model was eventually released after the payment of a large ransom, but the way one person overpowered three women – and then made herself look like the dentist? It didn’t sound right – and Anne wasn’t sure why.
She picked up the book and looked at the cover “Changeling – I need to talk to you, Katie Colhurn, and see what you know…”
Anne stood at the front door of the cottage, unsure of why she was here – but with the third kidnapping now, she was ready to grasp at any straw.
The door was opened by a blonde haired woman, wearing a white peasant blouse and gypsy skirt. “Can I help you,” she said as she looked at the smartly dressed woman.
“Katie Colhurn? I’m Anne Hopper – Berkshire CID. I wonder if I could have a few minutes of your time?”
“Sure – come on in,” Katie said as she closed the door behind them. “How can I help you?”
“Well, this is going to sound strange, but…”
“Believe me, Anne, I know strange, what can I help you with?”
“We have a series of kidnappings, and the witnesses all say someone disguised themselves to be a perfect copy of them.”
Katie looked at her, and then said “yellow eyes?”
“Yeah – and your book…”
“Come in, sit down,” Katie said. “I’m just finishing some notes from a chat I had with a young woman up in North Yorkshire. Why don’t you have a look while I sort some coffee out?”
“Thanks,” Anne said as she sat and looked at the transcript.
“I have a job that earns me some extra money, see – handing out leaflets in the street. It’s peanuts, but it buys a few drinks down at the student’s union. Anyway, this particular day I reported for work, wearing a white jacket with purple cuffs and collar, a purple leather skirt and black knee length boots.
“Why leather? This particular client felt it improved the image of the club they were paying for us to advertise. And I have to admit – I liked the way it made me feel. Anyway, as I say, I reported for work, and I was shown this large box of leaflets that I was supposed to hand out – and nobody to help me lift it.
“So there I was – trying to drag this box along, when I heard this voice behind me say ‘Can I help you with that?’ I turned round to say thanks, but all I saw were these yellow eyes – and then nothing.”
Anne looked up as Katie brought in two mugs of coffee, sitting one down next to her. “You got to the bit about the yellow eyes, didn’t you,” she said as she sat opposite her.
“I did – but I don’t understand what the significance of this is.”
“That’s all right,” Katie said, “keep reading…”
Anne nodded as she looked at the report again.
“When I came to, I was surprised to find myself sitting in that box, a number of the leaflets scattered on top of me. In fact, the more I came to, the more I realised I only had my head above the leaflets, and something – rope, by what little I could tell using my fingers – was holding my wrists and ankles together. At the same time, a knotted scarf had been tied into my mouth.
“It took me a little longer to realise I was in some sort of van, and I could hear someone talking to people outside. The strange thing was, it sounded just like me – and then I was shocked when the back door to the van opened, and I got in.
“Literally – it was me, dressed in my clothes, with my long black hair, and she smiled at me as she grabbed another handful of leaflets from the box. She looked at me, smiled and said in my voice ‘having a nice rest?’ Then she closed the van doors and left me in there.
“I struggled like mad to get free, but the weight of the leaflets actually made it more difficult. She came in two more times, and then I thought I heard a car or something leaving at speed. It must have been a good hour after that before I managed to tip the box and get myself out of it, then raise the alarm by kicking on the side of the van. A passer-by eventually freed me, and that’s when a policeman told me what had happened.
“I still don’t know who that was, or what happened…”
Anne stopped and looked at Katie.
“Yeah – everyone gives that look,” Katie said, “but it happened to me as well. I was talking to a friend – as far as I can recall – and the next thing I knew, I had been bound and gagged in a chair, while my exact duplicate robbed me, and then robbed my workplace. When I was finally freed, my friend said she had left, and knew nothing of what had happened.”
“I can understand that, but your book suggested some theory as to what was going on – the Changeling theory?”
“Yeah – it’s based on an old Eastern story, of a mischievous spirit who somehow grants whoever it possesses the ability to take on the form of anyone else. Pure speculation on my part, of course – but still, the other alternative is a disguise artist on a par with those guys from the old spy series on television.
“So why have you come to talk to me?”
“This girl,” Anne said, “was the second of three kidnapping in as many weeks. I recognise her now – this was in Sheffield, and it was the daughter of the owner of a local jeweller who was…”
The ring on the doorbell made Anne stop as Katie went to answer it. “Come away in,” she said as Anne saw a tall dark haired woman come in, wearing a grey dress coat and knee length suede boots. Veronica, this is DI Anne Hopper. Anne, Veronica Backhurst, the friend I just mentioned.”
“Pleasure,” Veronica said as she shook Anne’s hand, “so what brings the police to your door?”
“There’s been a spate of kidnappings recently, where the victim had been duped by someone pretending to be someone else – and somehow becoming their exact double. I have to admit, it was clutching at straws, but…”
“Katie’s book? I can understand – but why that?”
“Yellow eyes – all the victims who were replaced by seem to remember are yellow eyes.”
For a moment, Anne could have sworn Veronica knew what she was talking about, but then she said “sounds awful. Anyway, I came to collect that book from you Katie.”
“Sure – one minute,” Katie said as she left them alone in the room. Anne was starting to feel a little uncomfortable as her mobile phone rang.
“Right – I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Problem DI Hooper?”
“Another kidnapping – will you excuse me please?”
“Of course,” Veronica said as Anne left, and Katie returned.
“She was called away – thanks again,” Veronica said as she put the book in her bag, and then left the house. As she walked down the street, she took out her own mobile phone and dialled a number.
“We need to have a gathering – the inn by the village green, seven tonight.”
Anne walked into the interview room where an eighteen year old girl sat, wearing a grey sweatshirt and joggers. The cup in her hands was shaking as she stared at the contents inside.
“Hello Jean,” she said as she sat down, “I’m Anne Hopper. I know it’s been a long and difficult day, but we need you to tell us what happened.”
“What about Alexis,” she said as she looked up.
“We’re trying to find her now – but we need to hear your story as well. What happened?”
“So I have to? It still…”
“I know it’s difficult, but please – it may help us find your friend.”
She nodded as she said “It was this lunchtime – we’d gone into town to buy some dresses for the autumn prom. I had on a purple jumper and a white pleated skirt, with white pumps and a denim jacket, while Alexis was wearing a polo shirt, jeans and boots.
“Anyway, I took a couple of dresses into the changing room to try on, and put them on the rack while I started to change. Then the door to the room opened, and I turned round to say the room was occupied. All I saw were these yellow eyes, and then…”
She stopped for a moment, Anne taking some notes as she said “it’s all right. What happened next?”
“I don’t know how long I was out – but when I came to, I was lying face down on the floor, my arms behind my back At first, I only knew I couldn’t move them, but I soon realised they had been tied together with rope – and there was also rope holding my arms to my side, and my ankles and knees together.
“Some sort of tape had been stuck over my mouth, and then I heard her say ‘You could do with losing a couple of pounds.’
“Do you know, I didn’t even realise I was in my bra and panties until I saw my double standing in front of the mirror, smiling as she looked at herself.
“’Yes, a few pounds, but not many,’ she said as she turned and looked at me. ‘Sorry, but I need to take your friend for a little trip. Have fun.’ She blew a kiss at me, and left me, closing the door behind.
“It was a good hour before an assistant found me – and by then…”
Anne nodded as the girl started crying. “It’s all right – we’ll get an officer to take you home now, and don’t worry. We’ll find your friend.”
Stepping out, she found her commanding officer waiting. “The demand came to her parents fifteen minutes ago.”
“Who on earth is doing this, sir?”
“We’ve no real leads, save this report of the eyes. What did that writer say?”
“Not much – but her book said it tends to happen up until November, and then nothing. I still want this person caught though.”
Anne grimaced as she walked to her car. The girl – Alexis – had been safely returned, but no sign of the kidnappers.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, she was about to set off when she suddenly saw Veronica sitting behind her.
“Please, forgive the intrusion DI Hopper, but some friends of mine and I need you to see something. You will not be harmed.”
There was something different about her voice, as Anne said “Who are you? You’re not Veronica Backhurst.”
“I am, and I’m not – please, drive where I tell you. We will explain all.”
Anne looked at the slight yellow glow in Veronica’s eyes, and turned the engine over. Something was compelling her, but she didn’t know what.
“What’s going on? How are you doing this?”
“We mean no harm, DI Hopper,” Veronica said, “we are few, and we use this time of year to – well cause mischief.”
“Who are we?”
“We call ourselves the Changelings – but one of us has gone too far, and we wish to end this. Pull in at this restaurant please, and we will find a table together.”
Anne pulled in at the bistro, and stepped out, Veronica behind her as they went in. A waitress came over, wearing a pink and white scarf tied as a bow over a white blouse, blue waistcoat and skirt, and black heels.
“A table for two please,” Veronica said, Anne following her as they sat near the rear wall.
“We have a few moments – ask the questions,” Veronica said.
“Who – what are you?”
“We are what Katie said we are – spirits, who inhabit other bodies.”
“Oh no – I don’t believe…”
“Don’t you? When you were a girl, Anne Hopper, did you read a comic called Misty?”
Anne nodded as Veronica smiled. “There was a story in a particular issue, of a witch who used a spell to take the form of others. The spell went something like this: -
form, changer of shape,
Trickster and thief and jackanape.
Come now and visit this human form,
Make your home here, nevermore to roam!'
“Well, we used that spell, and over the years a number of us have inhabited hosts. The incantation has appeared elsewhere, and we are mostly harmless – seeking instead the thrill, the excitement this time of year brings.
“It would appear, however, that one of us has come with more evil intent, and – ah, look there.”
Anne looked over to where their waitress walked past a young girl with short blonde hair. She stood up and left the two men with her, and followed the girl into the rear of the restaurant.
“We can tell she is one of us – the one you seek.”
“Not important,” Veronica said as two other women walked to the booth and looked at the two men for a moment, then left, the two men asleep at the table.
“Come with me please,” Veronica said as she stood up, Anne following as they made their way to the rear of the restaurant as well Slipping through the staff doors, they waited for a moment as Anne said “what’s happening?”
“We can tell when one of us is at work. This way.”
They walked along to a toilet block, and as they entered the waitress came back out, with an “out of order” sign in her hand. Hanging it on the door, she turned, smiling until she saw Anne and Veronica standing there.
“I’m sorry, this is a restricted area,” she said as she looked at them, and then looked closely at Veronica.
“Yes, I am – and so are these ladies,” she said as the two other women walked in. Anne went to the booth and opened it, standing back as she saw the waitress sitting on the toilet in her bra and panties. She had her arms bound to her side, and her hands behind her back, and looked at Anne over the red tape that was smoothed over her mouth.
Turning, she saw the other two women holding the same woman who was sitting behind her, as Veronica out her hands to her head.
“You are one of us, but you have broken the rules,” she said, “it is time for you to return to face judgement.”
Anne watched, horrified as a yellow light enveloped the young waitress, and her feathers and hair started to shimmer. Her hair shortened and went from light brown to blonde, while her face changed to that of the girl who had walked in from the restaurant.
“It is done,” Veronica said as the yellow light seemed to separate from the girl and disappear, and then she collapsed on the floor. “There will be no more kidnappings When she wakes, she will tell you everything, DI Hopper.”
“Wait a minute,” Anne said as the three women went to leave, “what about you lot?”
Veronica smiled as she turned round. “They will remember nothing, and all you will remember is you prevented this girl from kidnapping a customer with her associates outside. She,” she said as she looked at the frightened captive, “will back up your story.”
“I don’t think…”
“Yes,” Veronica said as hers and the eyes of the other three women glowed yellow, “you will…”
Two minutes later, Anne shook her head and looked at the unconscious blonde on the floor, as well as the brown haired woman in the booth.
“Are you all right,” she said as she removed the tape gag.
“Yes – you stopped her. She was going to kidnap someone – but why is she wearing my clothes?”
“No idea,” Anne said as she took out her mobile phone,” but hold on. I’m calling for back up and an ambulance, and then I’ll cuff her and secure you. I must have knocked her out.”
“Yes, you must have,” the girl said as Anne made the call, and then untied her.