Here’s something I don’t advertise on my SitterCity profile: I hate children. But I do love video games and easy money, so that makes for a pretty smooth operation when it comes to taking care of other people’s kids for a few hours.
“No video games and no candy,” is the most common creed of today’s parents.
So I wait until they are completely gone before hauling my Xbox out of the car and hooking it up in the living room. Sometimes I get lucky and sit for a family whose kids have never played video games before. Those are the real winners. Put a game controller in the hands of an adolescent for the first time and you might as well be giving them crack.
No quality time, no need for interacting and imposing authority. The games do all of the work for me. The candy, too, is vital. You may not know this, but candy is a ubiquitous incentive to keep kids from ratting you out. Money hasn’t yet taken up that all-important significance in their mind. Candy is what they know and love.
One time I snuck my nephew a king-size snickers bar after his mom told him he couldn’t have any chocolate. I pressed my finger to my lips; he nodded. He went secretly into a walk-in closet and came out with nothing but a smile on his face. That kid still loves me for that to this day.
Only once did my scheme hit a snag. But it was enough to make me never want to babysit again. Also, I’m pretty sure I never even want to have children anymore. I know some kids can be a little “off,” but I could never have imagined those three little manifestations from hell.
I should have seen it coming by the way they were dressed up like old Victorian dolls. They lived in a plain looking two-story house set in front of 10 acres of property. I saw horses corralled in the back, and a sty for pigs. When I got out of my car, Ms. Whitley had her three girls lined up tallest to shortest underneath the portico. She looked alarmed as I approached.
“Who are you?” she croaked.
“James?” My reply came out as more of a question than an answer. I too was wondering if there had been some kind of a mistake. “From the website, SitterCity. Are you Georgia Whitley?”
“Georgia is my sister,” she said, a little haughtily. “We don’t have internet or electricity here. She arranged this for me…only because it’s an emergency.”
“Oh, good. Then you were expecting me.”
“I was expecting a woman.”
“I’ve heard I can be a little feminine sometimes.”
“Okay, well you’re here.” She evaluated me with a keen eye. “I guess you will have to do.” She stepped down from the porch and gestured towards her girls. “From tallest to shortest – that is, oldest to youngest too – this is Holly, Jennifer, and Lilly.”
I gave a little awkward kind of bow. I wasn’t really sure what else to do, because I would have felt weird shaking hands with a 13-year-old girl. Still, this was the strangest introduction I had ever been a part of, so I felt like some kind of formality was necessary.
“They are very capable of cooking and cleaning and washing themselves up. I was hoping you could help with the latter because they can get a little bit wily when they are showering together, but seeing as how you are not a female, I would rather you not. I left the money on the counter. I know it’s a lot, but I won’t be home until very late so I left extra for compensation.”
She shook my hand, thanked me in return and started walking down the road. It took me a second before I realized what she was doing. I had driven over 20 miles through nothing but bare farm country to get there. Yet I didn’t see a car in sight.
“Ms Whitley,” I called. She turned around. “I can fit you and your girls in my car if you need a ride into town? I wouldn’t mind picking you up later, either. Really, it’s pretty far to… well to anything. Where are you headed?”
“That’s none of your business, James. Just do your job and I’ll see you later tonight.”
Shit. That’s weird. I turned back to the porch and everything really sunk in at that point. No electricity, no internet. Shit. I was going to have to actually babysit three girls for over 10 hours. As I came close to the porch, the youngest one, Lilly, reached out her little hand. I smiled and reached out to shake. Suddenly, Jennifer grabbed a hold of my hand and bit as hard as she could.
I yelled and yanked it back and cradled it against my chest. She had drawn blood. All three girls gave little giggles and fled to safety inside, slamming the door behind them. I turned to see Ms. Whitley looking back at me. She must have heard me yell. I waved to her with my good hand to let her know everything was okay, and she turned to keep walking down that poorly graveled road.
I went to let myself in, but the door was locked. Their three little faces were piled up against the window pane, glaring at me from inside. I knew at that moment that this was going to be the worst babysitting experience I had ever had.
By the time I had made my way around the back, they had locked all of the doors leading in. Luckily I was able to shimmy through a window that was left open. I found myself in the most literal definition of the word “bedroom.” It was exactly that. Three beds made up to perfection and white walls and carpet and a closet. Nothing else.
The hallways opened up into a living room where I found the three of them seated on a large couch. In front of it was a coffee table, and on the other side of the table was a single wicker chair.
“Did you get that for me?” I asked. “Is this your way of saying sorry for biting me?”
“That’s Bradly’s chair,” Lilly said sweetly.
“I’m not sorry,” Jennifer chimed in. “You deserve it because you are a bad man. Momma said you shouldn’t be here. She said if grandma wasn’t-”
She broke off as Holly nudged her. She must have been treading towards unmentionable territory. By the look of things, I figured there must have been a lot of repressed, unmentionable territory there. I let the subject drop.
“Is Bradly your imaginary friend?” I addressed Lilly, assuming that I could at least endeavor to survive through her innocence.
“He’s real,” Jennifer said.
I looked at Holly, expecting the older sister kind of knowing look. She only nodded in approval. They were all in on it then. The blood on my hand wasn’t coagulating yet, so I had to suck on it as I made my way to the bathroom.
“He can smell fresh blood, you know,” Holly called after me. “That’s why she did it. Bradly doesn’t get to eat too much, because he loves us too much to do anything. He asked Jennifer to get you ready for him.”
“That’s cute,” I called back.
I couldn’t find any Band-Aids in the bathroom so I wrapped some toilet paper around my finger and held it in place with my other fingers. Once back in the living room, I sat down on the floor next to the chair and we all just stared at each other in silence. No one spoke, smiled or twitched. It was the most solemn, boring thing ever.
Lilly got off the couch and came up next to me. She was short enough to whisper into my ear without needing to bend down to where I sat.
“We should play a game,” she whispered. “That will make things funner.”
Returning to her place on the couch, she fell back to staring at me along with the others. I let a little time pass before asking them all together if they would like to play a game of some sort. Smiles broke over all of their faces, all except Holly.
“We are not allowed to play games,” she said sternly. “Lilly, did you whisper that to him?”
“No, she didn’t,” I said.
“Bradly says you’re a liar,” Holly replied.
“He’s here now?” I looked up at the chair. “Oh, yes, there he is. Hello, Bradly. I love your hair, but you do have something showing in your teeth when you smile.”
Jennifer gave me a quizzical look and said, “Bradly doesn’t have a mouth anymore, mister. Momma sewed it shut on account of his yelling.”
“Well that’s a little morbid,” I said without thinking. “You don’t have television, where did you get such a creepy idea?”
“Mom has a camera,” she said. “Sometimes we-” she stopped short, looking furtively from Holly to Lilly to me. Like her little sister before, she slid from the couch and came closer to me. “Sometimes me and Lilly sneak in her bedroom and look at her pictures,” she whispered. “That’s where Bradly goes when he isn’t visiting with us. Other bad boys are in there too, but they are afraid of us.”
I looked up at Lilly and found her nodding silently, as though she had heard it all and was corroborating the story. Holly, however, was fuming.
“What did she tell you,” she demanded. “What do they do?” She snatched a handful of Lilly’s blonde hair and yanked hard on it. “What did she whisper to him, Lilly?”
Without thinking, I rushed upon them and yanked Holly’s hand away. Lilly crawled away from the couch and ran off, crying. Jennifer followed her. Holly pulled her hand away and gave me a weird look.
“What do you want to do with me now?” something in her voice made my stomach turn.
It almost seemed like she was batting her eyes at me. I scrambled away as fast as I could, suddenly conscious of the situation. Or was I? Surely this little girl wasn’t implying what I thought she was implying.
“Go to your room,” I said. “Don’t come out until your mom returns.”
“I’ll be waiting for you,” she said sweetly before rising and leaving the living room.
I could hear Jennifer consoling Lilly from a place under the staircase nearby. It looked like a little cabinet door that opened into a broom closet. Inside, it seemed almost like a human sized bird’s nest. Instead of twigs, there were blankets lumped into a circle. In the middle was Jennifer with Lilly’s head tucked into her lap.
“I’m sorry I bit you,” Jennifer said now as I approached. “You seem like a nice man. You were alone with Holly, but you still came back to us. The other guys don’t usually do that. The other guys usually go stay with her until mom comes back.”
“What other guys?” I asked, feeling a little alarmed. “What do they do?”
“I don’t know, but it must be bad. Momma comes back and she punishes them in her room upstairs and takes pictures and then they stay up there. Only Bradly comes down. He was a good boy too. We tried to tell her, Bradly didn’t go into Holly’s room neither. But she took him up there anyways and now he can’t leave the house.”
“Stay here with Lilly,” I said.
I can’t explain what came over me at that moment. It was like something was tugging at my coat-tails, urging me towards the staircase. I suddenly felt the need to go into their mother’s bedroom. Did I think I would find Bradly there? If I were being completely honest, then yes, a little part of me did think that. I would say I feel ashamed, but in a way, I really did find him there.
I found him in the photo album sitting on their mother’s dresser, next to her bed. The camera was next to it. It did not have a brand or a label or anything, it was just a really old looking camera.
Maybe you’re wondering how I knew which one was Bradly. That’s easy, he was the boy with his lips sewn shut and his ears cut off. They didn’t mention that last part. There were several other young men in that album too. All of them in their early 20s or teenage years. All of them with the most grotesque set of circumstances befallen them.
I will spare you all of the gruesome details, but it was enough to make me really fucking sick to my stomach. Still carrying the photo album, I was guided by some invisible hand to the open window looking down onto the backyard. It was there that I found discolored patches in the dirt yard. They were large, oval shapes of misplaced dirt. And there were a lot of them.
I had made up my mind to call the police. I didn’t care if I looked like a crazy person, I needed someone else ot know. But my phone wasn’t in my pocket. I left it in my car. Just as I was about to return the photo album to the dresser, I heard a voice calling from below.
“Girls, I’m home early!” their mother’s voice rang shrill.
I felt numb. It’s okay, I thought, I would just play it cool like I was looking for toys or something. I would just saunter down like normal, say hello and thank you and have a nice evening and leave.
Someone cried out below. It was not the tiny shrill crying of Lilly, it was clearly from Holly. She was sobbing and approaching her mother.
“What is it?” her mother shrieked. “Did it happen again, Holly? Holly, tell me. Holly, tell me what happened to you! Did that man make you…?”
“I didn’t want to,” came her crying voice. “He made me do bad things, momma. Really bad things.”
Footsteps were pounding up the stairs now. She was coming. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I had the photo album tucked under my arm still. There was only one way down the stairs, which was surely blocked now. I had no where to run to. Their mother was in the doorway, glaring at me. She was holding a cattle-prod, approaching me with it outstretched.
“You sick, sick man,” she spat. “She’s only 12.”
I saw a band of blue lightning link between the two fork-tips of the cattle-prod. She was careful to bar my exit while still coming closer. I had no choice. I knew it wouldn’t end well, but I had only one choice.
I put one foot out the open window and thrust myself out onto the slanting roof. My foothold gave way almost instantly. I was sliding out of control towards the ledge, and my body crumpled under me like a rag doll as I struck the ground.
Maybe it was because of the mud, or maybe it was just dumb luck, but I was able to raise myself up with nothing more than a twisted ankle. I limped as fast as I could to my car, turned the ignition over and drove away. I called the police as I drove and gave them the address. Just then I remembered the photo album. It was still stuck in the mud where I fell.
Cursing, I hit the steering wheel. But I couldn’t be too mad, so long as I didn’t have stitches running through my lips. I drove all the way to the hospital and was admitted fairly quickly. While I was lying in the cot, I received a call.
“James,” came a stern voice. “It’s lieutenant Goetz. Look, son, we don’t much appreciate being jerked around with crazy calls like this.”
Damn, I thought. She must have hid the photo album. There was no catching her so long as I didn’t have any proof. But still I had to try.
“Okay, so the pictures aren’t there any more. But just ask the little girl. Ask Lilly, she will tell you.”
“What little girl?” he said, sounding more irritable now. “Son, the house is empty. There’s no electricity or running water. No one would live here. Your tire marks are the only sign of people I see here, and I’m beginning to wonder what the hell you were doing here.”
“I was-” I thought better of it.
I couldn’t tell him that I was babysitting. It was then that I wondered, who had called me? Who sent me to that house in the first place?
“I’m sorry officer. It was just a crazy mistake.”
The lieutenant grunted something else then hung up. Was I crazy? One doesn’t simply imagine something like that with no history of psychological problems, do they? The curtains into my little room opened up and a nurse walked in. She was soft spoken and had a trembling kind of grin.
“My name is Georgia,” she said. Her voice sounded vaguely familiar. “It seems like someone has been a very busy boy.”