Read It and Weep!
The babysitter checked the clock again. Past eleven. They’d promised they’d be home by ten thirty. She shifted sleepily in the deep leather chair and glanced back at the TV. She had it turned down low, to an old black-and-white movie, which was quaintly spooky. Practically every scene included ominous music, sinister characters wearing hats and trench coats, and lots of fog and shadows. But she wasn’t the sort of girl that got scared easily.
Outside, the wind howled, rattling the old doors and window frames. The draft caused the heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes to billow, as though someone were hiding behind them. The rain streamed down the windows in rivulets.
Lightning flashed. For a brief instant, through the gap in the drapery, the girl could see the dark landscape illuminated outside—black trees bending, empty swings bobbing crazily in the wind. There was a loud crack of thunder.
And then the power went out.
With a blip the TV powered off. The reading lamp next to her went black. The girl was plunged into darkness, not complete blackness, but pretty close. With an exasperated sigh she stood up from the chair and groped her way toward the kitchen, shuffling with baby steps so as not to trip over any toys. Now she wished she’d done a better job of picking up after the twin girls, who’d been playing with their wooden food and plastic oven earlier that evening.
The kitchen was full of gray shadows and devoid of noise, except for the howling wind and pattering rain outside. There was no hum of the refrigerator. No whooshing of the dishwasher, which she’d actually remembered to turn on. Opening the drawer near the stove, she felt around for a flashlight. She came up with the next best thing—a candle, with a little holder attached. Luckily the gas stove worked, so she didn’t have to search for matches and could light the candle. The weak flame flickered, shedding a wan light around her. And then she saw them:
A pair of green, glowing eyes, staring at her from the shadowy corner of the kitchen.
She gasped. Took a step backward, almost dropping the candle.
Then she exhaled.
“Nero! You dumb cat. You scared the life out of me.”
She heard the orange-and-white tabby cat jump down from the counter and pad over to her, twining itself around her feet, purring.
Inside the pocket of her sweatshirt she felt her phone vibrate. She drew it out and checked the message. Another text.
I see you. You’re in the kitchen. You’re wearing a pink zip-up sweatshirt.
Her mouth went dry and her palms felt sweaty as she read the mysterious message. This was the third text she’d gotten tonight from that number. She scrolled back to reread the first two messages.
The second one was even creepier:
You thought you’d gotten rid of me. Well, you didn’t. Your luck has changed.
This third one was deeply unsettling. She couldn’t pass it off as a wrong number. She was wearing a pink sweatshirt. She was standing in the kitchen. How could someone possibly know that? She peered out of the window over the kitchen sink, straining her eyes to see past the streams of water running down. But all she could see was the blackness outside. All she could hear was the howling wind and the pattering rain. The kitchen faced the back of the house, where there was a small yard and then a grove of trees. No one in her right mind would be standing out there on a night like this. She set the candle down and texted back.
Whoever this is, cut it out. You’re starting to freak me out.
Almost immediately, there was another text.
They’re not coming home. Not anytime soon.
Fear eddied up and down her spine. Who was “they”? The twins’ parents? She decided not to ask. This entire thing was as ridiculous as it was scary. She tried to convince herself that someone was just playing a practical joke on her. Her brothers or maybe her best friend.
A full two minutes passed without another text. The babysitter busied herself around the kitchen, trying to tidy it up as best she could in the darkness. Where were the twins’ parents? Why hadn’t they called her to say they’d be late?
And then she got another text.
I am in the basement.
Her breath caught in her throat. This really wasn’t funny anymore. Suddenly she realized it wasn’t someone playing a practical joke on her. No one she knew would do something like this. Play such a mean trick. She’d call her mom. And then maybe even 911. But when she looked at her phone again, she saw the worst possible message of all:
Wait. What was that sound?
Clomp. Clomp. Clomp.
At first she thought the sound was only in her imagination. But as it got louder, there was no mistaking the sound of footsteps. Then they stopped. She whirled around toward the basement door, which was shrouded in shadow. The door rattled. But that was the wind, wasn’t it? Making it rattle?
She heard footsteps again, and a tiny, terrified whimper escaped from the back of her throat. Heavy footfalls continued making their way up the basement steps. And then slowly, ever so slowly, the knob on the basement door started to turn. When it opened, she saw what she’d been dreading—a figure covered in shadow. And then it started moving toward her.