She shivered on the couch, the bowl of popcorn resting across her crossed legs.
"We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin: a maniac has escaped from the Cravenshurst Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The man, who is described as extremely dangerous, has been locked down since the Sixties, when he was found unfit to stand trial for the murder of his mother, a priest, and a trio of Eagle Scouts. He is described as being large, burly, and having a menacing hook for a right hand..."
She smiled to herself. This movie was so stupid, so low budget, it seemed more like a comedy than anything else. Some masked maniac skulking around a lonely, Midwestern neighborhood; she'd seen it all a thousand cheap movies ago. She got up to get herself a Coke.
She was babysitting ("babysquatting," her mother always called it) on Halloween night. Well, it showed just what sort of social life she had, didn't it? No parties for her; she was plump and homely and looked a lot like Amy Farah Fowler on that show The Big Bang Theory. Well, at least she was making money.
What was that? She thought she heard rustling in the bushes outside. Probably just some kids playing spooky games on Halloween night, but maybe she should go investigate. Maybe.
No, probably not a good idea. The kids were asleep upstairs. She needed to go check on them in a minute. Their parents would probably not be home for another hour, hour-and-a-half.
She sat back down on the couch. The sound was down on the television (one of those newfangled flatscreen jobbies her own parents could not afford), but the movie looked as if it were just about to get good. The masked killer was skulking through the bushes, breathing heavily, holding his hooked hand out in front of him. The camera shot was such that it made the audience share the killer's point of view. Ahead of him, a spooky house glowed with a single light in the bedroom upstairs.
"That's where the stupid teens are," she giggled to herself. "Screwing their brains out! Boy, are they going to be in for a surprise."
She yawned just as the phone (a suspicious landline) began to ring. She hopped off the couch, went over to the end table, and picked it up on the third ring.
"Hello? This is the Johnson residence. May I ask who's calling?"
Nothing on the other end.
Then, what sounded like some pervert heavy breathing...
Oh man, she thought to herself. Not this kind of creep again!
But, after all she reflected, it was Halloween night. What else did she expect?
She angrily slammed the phone down, got up, went into the kitchen for another cup of tea. Just as she was about to open the refrigerator door...
Bleep! Bleep! Bleep!
The damn phone was ringing again. She thought about just letting the machine get it, then thought that that would be silly. What if it was the Johnsons calling, worried about the kids? How would it look if she let the machine pick it up? (The reader will be forgiven for thinking the girl a little dense. After all, she was still a young teenager who had never held a real job.)
She went back out into the living room, picked up the phone, angrily said, "Hello? Hello? Who is this?"
After a moment of silence, she was surprised when a voice on the other end said, "Wait! Don't hang up. I know you've heard that old story..."
"Who is this?"
"Who I am is not important. Or, maybe it is the most important thing in the world right now, at least to you. Anyway, that's not the question that I asked you. I asked you if you've ever heard the old story. The one about the babysitter."
She started to breathe heavily, her eyes going wide. She was getting really scared now.
"Well," continued the voice, which was curiously flat and robot-like (at first she found herself wondering if it was a male), "it goes a little something like this. Once upon a time, a friend of a friend's cousin's girlfriend was babysitting some brats. The rich parents were out living it up, and the hardworking young girl was glued to old horror movies on the old-fashioned boob tube. It was Halloween.
"She suddenly gets a call. Heavy breather. She figures it's a Halloween prank, hangs up in anger. Heavy Breather calls back, and this time, she really starts freaking out. She hangs up; the third time he calls, she gets really freaked out, and then calls the police. The police trace the call... and find that the maniac is calling from the phone in the bedroom upstairs! The cops tell her to get the heck out of there quick, but, like a hero I guess, she goes to try and rescue the kids. Maybe he throws them down the stairs at the end, I don't know. However, I know you know this story. Heard it in the hallways at school, right? From a friend of a friend, right?"
She had no idea what to say. The blood seemed to turn cold in her veins, and her hands were trembling. The voice on the other end seemed to grow more excited, less monotone.
"What you don't know Missy, is that the story is TRUE! He's out there, waiting; lurking. It happens every Halloween night, somewhere. The cops don't like to talk about it. Society and the media, they cover it up. But there it is. I can't tell you how I know these things, I just do."
"You, you're lying." she said, her voice quivering as tears sprang to her eyes. "This is all some sort of a joke!"
"No," the voice shot back. "No joke! I can see it all right now, as I'm sitting here in my room, waiting. Right now, the maniac is lurking on the sidewalk just outside your house, waiting in the darkness. Fantasizing. Watching YOU!"
She gasped, her head swiveling around to look at the curtained living room window. Could she see someone lurking out on the sidewalk? No. She could not. She tried to reassure herself that this whole thing was ridiculous.
"This whole thing is ridiculous! I'm hanging up now!" she spat angrily at the receiver.
"No!" exclaimed the voice on the other end. "Don't you dare do that! I may be the only hope you have of survival, because I can see his every move. Now, he's snuck in back of the house, is examining the rose trellis. It looks as if he's going to climb the rose trellis and sneak in through the window... that window opens up into the childrens' bedroom, does it not? WELL, DOES IT NOT?"
She sniffled, fighting back tears, "Y-yes..."
"Okay, well, I suggest you get up there immediately and rescue the little brats before that maniac has time to slip in and slit their..."
She suddenly felt her courage well up, fight against her growing panic.
"Oh, this is stupid! Maggie," she told herself, "you're just being a big baby. This is just a Halloween prank, and there's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing up there that can hurt me. Nothing up there, nothing up there..."
The voice on the other end grew still.
She was reminded of the scene, suddenly, at the end of the movie The Believer. The teacher at the Yeshiva had told a dead Danny Balint the same thing
(Nothing up there...nothing up there...)
as he trudged fruitlessly up one flight of stairs, caught in an endless loop. Of course, it was the end of the movie, and Danny was in some sort of private Hell...she pushed the thought out of her mind, went boldly up the staircase to the children's bedroom.
She paused before she got to the door; She still had the phone in her hand. She suddenly raised it to her ear, was surprised to catch the voice speaking in mid-sentence.
"...through the window. The little ones are all snuggled up in their wittle beds, visions of sugraplums and such. He's standing over them, creeping slowly, stealthily around in the dark. Oh! He just tripped on something, sent it crashing over, a toy maybe..."
Indeed, she thought that she could hear something rattle around beyond the door. Maybe the girl was sleepwalking again. She didn't know. She suddenly realized the phone was still in her hand. She thrust it angrily up to her ear.
"Look creep," she said defiantly, "I don't know what sort of sick, twisted game you're trying to play, but it hasn't worked! Epic FAIL! Now, I'm going in there to make sure everything is okay with those kids, and, you know what? I KNOW it will be, because this is just a Halloween prank, and you're just some sick, lonely creep who gets his jollies calling teenage girls on the phone and trying to freak them out! Now, I'm going to go do my duty because I'm the BABYSITTER, and that's just how we roll!"
And with that, she swung open the door with a warrior's cry.
She blinked for a moment, her eyes adjusting to the gloom.
The kids were snuggled up in their beds. The television was turned to old monster movies. The girl, Veronica, shot around, her mouth full of chocolates. The boy, Billy, barely turned his head at all.
"Oh, oh thank God," she said, breathlessly. "I actually thought, for a moment, that this creep on the other end of the line was telling the truth. I thought you guys might be in trouble."
Suddenly, a voice behind her said:
"They... I mean, YOU are."
The lights went out.
And then someone, somewhere heard a scream.