Allie slumped into the couch, exhausted. She’d only been at the Barker house for three hours, but she’d had a day’s worth of workout in that time.
The landline rang. Again.
She couldn’t ignore it—might be Mr. & Mrs. Barker calling to check on their precious angels. With a groan, she leaned forward, picked up the receiver from the antique rotary, and cleared her throat. “Hello?”
Dead air—no, wait; there was the heavy breathing. Again.
She hung up. Where’s the liquor cabinet? Surely with those two rotten children, the Barkers hit the bottle regularly. Allie couldn’t imagine any other way the hapless parents could possibly make it through the day.
Since arriving at six p.m., Allie’d had to remove nail polish from the wall (taking a little paint with it, but she’d done the best she could), locked the cat in the basement to keep it safe from Tommy—wielding his dad’s electric razor (losing an even swath of arm hair in the process, but she’d finally wrested the damn thing away from the pint-sized demon without sacrificing anything more serious, like an eyebrow), wrangled the kids to the dinner table to choke down some chicken nuggets, then gave up and let Tommy and Jenny have a water balloon fight with the condoms Jenny had found in her parents’ nightstand. Mr. and Mrs. B ought to both get snipped, Allie figured. Only way to guarantee no more hellions spawn from this family.
It was well known among the teens in the neighborhood that the Barker kids were the worst children in town to babysit. But the Barkers, not entirely unaware of their kids’ reputations, paid $25 an hour, and Allie needed the money. The new iPhone was expected to launch in Octo—
Brrrrrrrrriiiing! The hollow ring of the phone made Allie cringe. “Hello?”
She hung up.
“God damn it! Hello?”
“Allison? Everything okay?” Mrs. Barker sounded anxious.
“Fine.” Bedsprings squeaked upstairs. The little shits were jumping on their mattresses. She plugged the ear not pressed against the receiver with a finger. “There’s been a lot of crank calls to the house tonight. Nothing major, just someone panting into the phone when I pick up.”
“What? Did you call the cops?”
“Gee, Mrs. B, do you really think I should? It’s probably just some dumb kid with asthma.”
“Call the cops. We’re on our way home.” Mrs. B hung up without saying goodbye. Her reaction startled Allie. Honestly, after having to trick the kids into going to bed by hiding bags of Skittles in their rooms and slamming the doors shut once they’d starting tearing through sheets and toys, the breather was the least of Allie’s worries. She had to make sure those trolls stayed in their rooms, at least until the Barkers got home.
“Hello!” Now there was thumping upstairs. Were those brats moving furniture?
“Allison Crandall? This is Sergeant Steven Cahill. We just received a call from Pamela Barker about some crank calls you’ve been receiving tonight. What can you tell me about them? How many have you gotten, and what’s the nature of these calls?”
“Jesus, are you kidding?” More banging. “Listen, officer, I’ve got two monsters upstairs who sound hell-bent on breaking through the ceiling to this floor. I gotta go scream at them. If you’re that worried about the breather, put a trace on the line or something.”
“Already working on it,” the officer replied solemnly.
Allie hung up and stomped halfway up the staircase. “You two settle down right now! Don’t make me call my friend Sammy the Serial Killer to deal with you two!” She added the moniker of the town’s spookiest urban legend as an afterthought, but it did the trick—the thumping immediately cut off.
“Finally,” she murmured. She picked up the television remote. Time to Netflix and chill—Brrrrrrrrriiiing!
“What?” Allie was done with niceties.
Low, wet breathing.
“Bye.” She slammed the receiver down.
“Miss Crandall? Sergeant Cahill again. “We’ve traced the calls. They’re coming from inside the house. You need to collect the kids and get out—now!”
Allie sighed and hung up. Sure she did. In a minute.
“Damn it! What?”
The now-familiar panting tickled her eardrums.
“Listen, pal. The kids are upstairs, first and third doors on the left. Second door is a bathroom if you need it. Good luck—they’re a handful.” Allie hung up, moving to the front door to wait for the police and the Barkers. She expected a hazard pay bonus tonight.
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Most recently, her novella “Brando and Bad Choices” appeared in Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.