It hurts when I change shape, but the pain is delicious. I revel in it as my limbs extend, contract, contort … until I’m a giant or a mouse or a sweet little babe by the side of the canal on the edge of town, waiting for the clip -clop of the washerwoman’s wooden soles. When she finds me, she bends over me and coos, and then she puts me on top of the fresh linen in her basket and carries me home.
Later she tries to suckle me, because she lost her own babe to the plague recently. The moment I latch on I morph into an animal guise, growing large sharp teeth and I bite down hard! The washerwoman dies of fright; pops her clogs, you might say!
They came to the woods, the townsfolk and their priest, with bell, book and candle. Casting out all my demonic brothers and ghoulish sisters. Silly; that won’t work on me! Then they came with painted wooden placards called icons. Ha, the Virgin Mary! I hid from the purifying presence, submerged myself in the brook, peering through film-covered eyes, through the filth on the water’s surface, waiting until they thought they were done.
‘Lange Wapper’ I hear them call me, because I can stretch my legs so tall that I can pear into the windows of the houses all along the canal, my flat webbed feet shaped to float and slide over the surface tension. Time for revenge. Oh my … dear, you forgot to draw the drapes!
[Lange Wapper is a figure from Flemish medieval folklore. The legend centres around the city of Antwerp.]