The house had seemed so stunningly sophisticated when you first arrived, with its vast spaces, tall white walls and acres of black carpeting. But now, like everything else about this babysitting experience, the house is just so uncomfortably unfamiliar. And noisy! At first you blamed the scratching sounds on trees—it had to be branches scraping against the windows—but later you remember no trees surround this house on top of a bare hill.
And now the hum. A threatening hum, as if too much electricity coursed through the house. It’s beginning to drive you nuts. You need a TV on—any channel—or a stereo, but you don’t see either downstairs. They don’t watch TV, you think, but they must like to talk on the phone. In the living room sit four old-fashioned looking phones, red ones, with the dial on the base.
Thinking about a snack, you head for the kitchen. The refrigerator is stainless steel, huge, expensive, and empty. One small glass jar sits on a shelf, its contents black and forbidding. The rest of the fridge is bare. What do these people eat? you wonder. And how do they afford all this? What do they do?
You realize how little you know about the couple who hired you. When they called, you were grateful for something to do. Your parents were out at a Halloween party. They didn’t want you trick-or-treating because you were getting over a cold. Tonight’s temperature had dropped down to 22 degrees. The woman on the phone said her name was Eva somebody—Brown, maybe?—and her neighbor had given her your name. She didn’t say which neighbor. She didn’t mind that you had a cold.
An unwelcome thought takes root and grows. You didn’t pay attention to the route the couple took to get here, and you don’t even know what they look like. They picked you up wearing Halloween costumes. You thought it was odd they were both dressed as Death. You asked how they could see through those black hoods to drive, but they just chuckled. The man said his name was Dolph.
I can’t stand this place, you think. It’s so weird! You find yourself pacing the downstairs and searching the blank darkness outside the windows for a light, any kind of light. You left a note for your parents, letting them know you were babysitting, but you gave no names, no address. You can’t remember where your parents said they’d be. Your friends are probably all out trick-or-treating.
The baby. You decide to go check on the baby. You can’t remember if they told you if it’s a boy or a girl. Why is it getting hard to remember things? The hum is louder upstairs. Which room is the baby in? The first two doors open to empty darkness. You go on, clinging to the anticipation of baby warmth, little body curled in sleep, blanket-sleepered bottom in the air.
Finally, a room with a night light. A crib stands in the center, a little mound under the blanket. But the room is frigid, the crib rail like ice under your fingers. The hum is so loud you can feel it in your chest. You turn down the blanket to find a pillow underneath. And beneath the pillow . . . there is no baby. There is no body. Just bones.
You tear down the stairs, beginning to sob. A phone! You grab one of those red phones. You’ll call 911 and then run out the door as fast as you can. You put the receiver to your ear, but instead of a dial tone, a voice speaks, deeply pleased and chilling: “I’ve been waiting for you.”