By Popular Demand: 9:15, as Paul Harvey used to say “And now, the rest of the story.”
“I WANNA WATCH MAX ‘N RUBY NOW!” the Monster of Sheffield Lane bellowed. I huffed and put my hands on my hips, assuming the “assertive” stance.
“It’s not on right now, so pick something else,” I said as evenly as I could manage. I think that I’m good with kids, but after five minutes of being Mindy’s sitter I was ready to throw in the towel. Shoes don’t buy themselves, however.
She dissolved into a temper tantrum just as phone rang. I picked up the cordless and walked out. “Hello, Lafayette Residence.”
“Nine – Fifteen,” a male voice intoned, then disconnected.
I stared at the dead phone in my hand for a moment and looked at the clock. It was 8:05, like I thought. I shrugged and hung the phone up, writing “9:15” down on a post-it note beside the wireless charger. As far as I knew, it might have been a message for Mindy’s parents, and I just didn’t get the memo to watch out for it.
“All right, munchkin, it’s time to take a bath and get ready for bed,” I said, turning back to the screaming three year old.
“No! No! Max ‘n Ruby!” she wailed. I sighed. At least bed time was in half an hour. I could last until then.
Within twenty minutes, I had Mindy clean and in her little bed. “I don’ wanna sleep,” she protested, holding back a yawn and rubbing her eyes.
“Well, too bad, kiddo. Rules say bed at 8:30,” I tucked her in. “Need anything before I turn out the lights?”
Mindy’s eyes widened like saucers. “No! Leave the light on!” she pleaded. “I wanna sleep with the light on.”
“You can’t sleep with the light on.”
“But I’ll be scared!”
I shook my head. “What is there to be scared of?”
She pointed to the corner of the room behind me, so I turned to look in that direction. All that was there was a very old porcelain doll slumped over on a side table. Its hair was missing, leaving only a few strands stuck to the hardened glue, and its eyes stared out over a vacant smile. It was a creepy doll.
“If I take the doll with me, will you go to sleep?”
She nodded enthusiastically. I sighed and picked up the ugly doll, tucked Mindy in, and turned off the light. She quickly fell asleep after that. My bet was that being a terror took a lot of energy. She looked cute and innocent when she slept, though. Just another reminder that looks can be deceiving.
I went back downstairs and threw the doll into the side chair in the living room. I pulled out my cell phone and thumbed through my apps. The Lafayette’s were due back by 10:30, so I had some time to kill while the munchkin slept. This was both my most and least favorite part about babysitting. On one hand, I didn’t actually have to watch anyone, but on the other, it was boring. In retaliation, I pulled up Angry Birds and had fun destroying some ugly pigs.
Forty five minutes later, I was still happily launching exploding birds at impervious obstacles when I heard a shuffling sound coming from across the room. I sat up and looked, but nothing seemed out of place. I walked over and peered through the blinds. Nothing. I stepped back and put my hands on my hips. I looked down at the side chair where I had thrown the doll. It was missing.
I frowned. Mindy must have gotten out of bed to get the doll. Why did she ask me to take it if she was just going to come back and get it anyway? I walked back upstairs and peeked into her room, ready to reinforce bed time. She was still asleep, though, comfortably twisted in her covers and lightly snoring. I gave a cursory glance around the room, no creepy doll in sight.
I carefully shut the door and went back downstairs.
I checked the chair again, just in case I had missed it. If anywhere, I expected it to be underneath. Imagine my surprise to see it sitting straight up, as if it had been carefully placed there.
I second guessed myself. Perhaps I just thought that it wasn’t there earlier. No, I was absolutely sure that it wasn’t there before. My heart felt like a cold rock in my chest as the other possibilities crossed my mind. I reached over to the umbrella stand and pulled out a walking cane that was probably just for show and brandished it as I walked from room to room. I found no one. I double checked the locks, and all were secure. I double checked Mindy’s room, and she was still fast asleep.
Comforted that there was no one in the house, I returned back down stairs. A chill ran from the top of my head to the toes on my feet in electric panic. The doll had moved again, and Mindy most definitely was not the culprit. It was now sitting on the couch, in the very spot where I previously had been, and it was holding my phone, as I had been.
I had seen this movie before. I squealed as I assaulted the porcelain doll with the cane. The old brittle doll was no match for the hard wood, and it cracked and splintered, the hollow face caving in with little effort. I’m not sure if I imagined the doll’s howl of terror. I hammered at it with the cane until the doll was little more than a silent pillowed torso.
I was still cleaning out the couch cushions when the Lafayette’s got home.
“So, how did things go?” Mrs. Lafayette asked with a smile, hanging her coat.
I returned her smile weakly. “Okay. I actually had an accident with Mindy’s porcelain doll. Sorry,”
The smile slipped from her face, her expression unreadable. Something was amiss. Her eyes cut to her husband. He smiled at me, but it wasn’t a very genuine smile. “Don’t worry about it. We weren’t attached to it anyway.”
It was an odd reaction but I counted myself lucky and didn’t press it. “Sure,” I replied. “Oh, someone called and left you a message. ‘9:15’.”
They shared look, and then Mr. Lafayette turned to me. “Our last babysitter was a family friend of ours, a young man. He vanished around 9:15, about three months ago. That porcelain doll had moved around the house ever since.”