£25 an hour to look after two little children, I wasn’t going to turn that down. It was Halloween night and I had grown out of it, but it didn’t stop their parents from going to a Halloween party of their own.
I followed Janet upstairs. She whispered as she opened the door to Bobbie’s room.
“That’s Bobbie, he won’t cause you any trouble. He sleeps through the night.”
I squinted to see the boy who lay in almost darkness in the bed.
She closed the door quietly, the only sound the click of the barrel engaging with the lock.
“This is Alice,” she said as we entered her room.
She was still awake.
“This is Helen, she’s going to look after you tonight.”
I knelt down next to her, the sheets were pulled up to her face.
“Hey, Alice,” I soothed, stroking her hair gently.
I looked around the room.
“Wow, you really like your dolls.”
The whole room was decorated with them, at least one hundred. I didn’t want to tell her they freaked me out.
“They look amazing.”
Alice’s mum gestured for us to leave.
“Goodnight, Alice,” I said as the door was closed behind us.
“Thank you so much for doing this at such short notice. You came to us with such a good recommendation. I must say Alice is a little clingy. We don’t get out that often.”
“That’s okay. I had a younger sister myself, she was a real pain, too. Have you tried leaving her with family?”
“We don’t have much, just my mother, and she’s a little senile now. It’s too much of a risk to leave Alice alone with her.”
“We need to get going,” I heard Alice’s father shout from the bottom of the stairs.
“Coming,” Janet said quietly.
“We will see you around 1 am. I hope that’s still okay?”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
I sat in the living room as Alice’s parents raced around the downstairs putting the finishing touches to their costumes.
“See you later,” Janet said.
The dad hovered for a moment, as if conflicted.
“Alice…” he said before stopping, “she’s a little different. She likes to make things up.”
“We’re going to be late,” Janet hollered from outside.
“Be careful,” he said, closing the door behind him.
I flinched as I heard the key turn in the lock. I pulled the deadbolt shut.
The house was suddenly silent. I waited for the sounds of the car door closing and the vehicle leaving, but it didn’t. An unease filled me.
I sat on the couch in the living room, dimly lit by a small lamp that stood in the corner. It sent elongated shadows that projected onto the surfaces of the furniture.
I checked my Twitter feed for a bit, feeling at a loose end.
There was a knock at the door. It startled me.
I got up and checked the spy hole, expecting one of the parents had forgotten something. Instead, a small boy stood there.
I placed my phone on the table in the entryway and picked up the bowl of sweets, then unlocked the door.
I squatted down.
“Hello there, would you like some candy?”
I thrust the bowl out in front of him. He took a second to look down and then his gaze returned to mine. He violently shook his head.
“Okay… Where are your parents?”
He stood in silence.
In a whisper, he asked, “Can I come in?”
“I don’t know who you are, sorry. Do you need me to call someone?”
I turned to pick up my phone.
“Do you know your parents’ number?” I asked.
When I turned back, the boy was gone.
I swiftly shut the door and scanned the house. I wondered if the child had rushed inside when I wasn’t looking.
I returned to the couch, wary that an intruder might be in the house. Before I could get back to my phone, I heard footsteps on the stairs. Alice emerged.
“I’m scared,” she said.
I saw the growing dark patch in her pajamas.
“Oh, honey, it’s okay,” I said, jumping out of my seat and running over to hug her.
“Bobbie,” she said.
I stepped back.
“Did he come into your room?”
“Let’s get you cleaned up.”
I took her hand and led her upstairs. Her door was ajar.
“Where are your clean clothes?” I asked.
She pointed to the dresser, barely lit by the landing light.
I opened the drawers, one at a time, until I found some clean pajamas.
“Where are the towels?”
She pointed to the bathroom. I entered and picked up a clean towel that rested on a radiator. The fabric was warm to the touch.
I cleaned her off and she got into her fresh clothes. Her bedsheets were dry, so I put her back to bed.
“Are you okay now?”
I stayed for a moment, stroking her hair. My eyes drifted to the dolls. All of them were facing the walls.
“Alice, why are the dolls facing the other way?”
“They were scared too.”
I noticed my pulse had increased and a slight clammy wetness had gathered on my brow. I pretended I was fine.
“Are they scared now?”
She shook her head.
“Can I turn them back round?”
She nodded again.
One by one I turned the dolls.
“Not by their heads,” Alice said, slightly annoyed.
I don’t know if it was her tone or the fact she saw them as other than inanimate objects, but I relented. I picked them up by their dresses, carefully putting them back into place. When I finished, Alice spoke.
“Can I have Jilly?” she asked.
“Which one’s Jilly?”
She pointed to one in the corner. Its dress was threadbare and the hair was falling out.
“Are you sure you want that one and not this one?”
I picked up a really nice looking one in a pink dress.
She shook her head.
I gave her the dolly. She held it tight and before I knew it, she was sleeping again.
I picked up the soiled clothes, smelling the familiar scent of ammonia, the pajamas were damp.
I closed the door and then peeked into Bobbie’s room. He was fast asleep, just like when I saw him earlier.
I jumped as I heard the door to Alice’s room violently shake. I dropped the clothes and opened the door. Alice was fast asleep. My heart was racing. An ice-cold chill tingled down my spine as I saw all the dolls were facing the wall again. Jilly now sat on top of Alice’s tall chest of drawers, peering into the room, way too high for Alice to have put there.
“Alice,” I said in a hushed tone. All I heard was an ever so slight snore.
I contemplated turning the dolls back again, but didn’t. They scared me.
On edge, I closed the door, feeling all the more alone. As I descended the stairs I heard another knock at the door. I picked up the candy bowl and unlocked.
An old woman stood there.
“Who are you?” she asked politely.
“What are you doing in my house?”
“I’m sorry?” I questioned, “Who are you?”
“I’m Eunice, Alice’s grandmother.”
I remembered what Janet told me.
“Could you let me in?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Do her parents know you’re visiting?”
“I’m not visiting,” she said, upset.
“I really cannot let you in.”
“Alice is in trouble,” she said.
“She’s fine. She’s sleeping upstairs.”
“No, her brother will try and hurt her.”
“I think I’ve got this.”
She moved towards the door and I slammed it in her face. As soon as I did, I felt a pang of remorse.
I double-locked the door and peered through the spy hole, she still stood there.
I picked up my phone and dialed Janet’s number.
I jumped as I heard a ringtone from inside the house. I kept the call open, searching the house for the ringing phone. I saw the bright phone lit up in the kitchen as it went to answerphone. I hung up.
I checked Janet’s phone to see many missed called from Mother.
A large bang reverberated through the house. It came from upstairs. I dropped the phone and ran. Alice’s door was open. I rushed inside to see her eyes wide open. Her bed was covered in dolls.
“Bobbie,” she said between gasps.
“What about him?”
“He came into my room.”
“It’s okay, he’s your brother. What’s wrong?”
“He’s under my bed.”
All the dolls were sat facing Alice. She couldn’t have done this herself and gotten into bed.
I knelt down and peered under. I jumped when I saw a pair of eyes stare back at me. It was Jilly.
“It’s only Jilly,” I said, picking her up and giving her to Alice. She shook her head before hugging it tightly.
Apprehensively I returned my gaze. There was something else under there, breathing heavily.
“Bobbie?” I asked.
Another set of eyes opened. My body went numb.
Petrified I asked again, “Bobbie, is that you?”
“Why is she scared of me?”
“I don’t know,” I said, lifting my head up, “Why are you scared of Bobbie?”
She began to cry. I looked under again.
“Will you come out…”
He wasn’t there.
I ran into his room and turned on his light. He was still asleep in his bed.
“Bobbie?” I asked, knowing I didn’t want to know the answer.
Gently I pulled back the sheets. He didn’t move. I placed my hand on his shoulder and turned him onto his back.
I heard footsteps rush up the stairs.
“You saw him, didn’t you?” Janet asked from the landing, her eyes pregnant with tears.
I stood there, my lip quivering.
“She saw him, Harold.”
“You did?” the father asked.
Janet held her hands together in delight.
I stole a final look at the mummified body in the bed.
“What did he say?”
I said nothing.
“Helen, please tell us.”
“Why is… why is Alice scared of him?”
“Alice saw him?”
They rushed into her room.
I didn’t know what to do. Why were they here? What the fuck was in the bed.
As if pulled out of a daze, I ran into Alice’s room. The dolls were gone and so was Alice.
“WHERE IS SHE?!” Janet shouted at me.
“I don’t know, she was here a minute ago. I was just in here.”
“WHAT DID YOU DO TO HER?! WHY ARE HER PAJAMAS ON THE FLOOR?!” Harold blasted.
“She wet herself,” I said in defense.
I ran down the stairs and stopped as I looked in the living room. Eunice was sitting on the couch, stroking Alice’s hair. All the dolls were spread out around the living room, all pointing to look at Alice.
“Don’t run away from me!” Harold said, plunging down the stairs. He stopped too.
“Janet, she’s here!”
He pushed past me and into the living room.
“Stop!” Eunice said, putting her arm around Alice.
“What are you doing here?”
“Protecting her from Bobbie.”
Janet arrived and her anger subsided.
“Hello, honey,” she said, creeping into the living room.
“You have to get rid of that thing up there.”
“Mother, he’s only sleeping.”
“No, he isn’t,” Eunice said. “He’s dead. You have to move past this.”
My gaze was drawn to the corner of the room. I saw a scared little boy shake.
“Do you see him now?” Janet asked me expectantly.
Bobbie began to cry and shook his head violently. I copied him.
“I think it’s best you leave,” Harold said.
I picked up my coat, my hand shaking trying to unlock the door.
Calmly he placed his hand on mine, taking the key. He opened the door.
“Here,” he said, handing me a large wad of cash. It was at last £500.
“Please, don’t mention what happened tonight.”
I nodded and ran for my car.
I locked the doors as soon as I got in. I jumped when I saw a little boy stand next to the window. I opened it.
“Hi, Bobbie,” I said.
In a whisper, he asked, “Can I come in?”
I shook my head, as a single tear rolled down my cheek.
“Be a good boy, will you?”
I pulled away, looking in the rearview, to see an empty street.
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