Another chapter, my peeps!
Our teenage uncle has met his charges and been left to his babysitting duties. After losing the pad of paper with general instructions on it, let’s see how he fares.
If you’re new/forgetful:
It was at least nice that Cecily had left dinner made. Even a cooking moron like myself could heat up the oven and throw in a casserole. If I could even call whatever that thing was a “casserole.”
It looked like it was made from seaweed and some weird hairy little grains and it had some gross fake-cheese sprinkled on top.
Seriously, just looking at that pan full of sog when I pulled it out of the oven made me want to gag. Even made me miss the endless fishsticks I’d been getting back at home.
But the kids ate it, at least. They even acted like this was one of the better meals they’d gotten. I wondered what organic slugs or grass clippings Cecily’d had on the menu for them.
Well, I’d never know, now. The notepad was a wet mess and it was impossible to make out anything. I’d just have to wing throwing together my own “all natural” things for the kids. Which would probably be a disaster, anyway . . .
I was beginning to wonder why I’d even agreed to do this. If this was just the first few hours, I really didn’t see anything getting much better.
Thankfully, they found other things to do after dinner, for the most part. Playing with toy cars and tracks or something. I enjoyed a quiet moment to myself, for not as long as I expected, because Penrod came up and tapped on my shoulder.
“Hmm?” I looked up from my phone for a second.
Penrod clasped his hands behind his back. “It’s bedtime.” He pointed to the clock on the wall for a second. “Little hand on the eight and big hand on the twelve means bedtime.”
I looked between the clock and him for a second, raising my eyebrows. “Eight o’clock is your bedtime?”
I knew Cecily kept an early bedtime, but eight?
Penrod bobbed his head. “It’s bedtime. We need sleep so we’re rested for school tomorrow. But no one else is listening.” He twisted his body back and forth a little, while he talked, making his too-big t-shirt flop around his legs. “Can you put us to bed?”
I really just remembered putting myself to bed when I was younger, but . . . whatever floats the family boat, I guess.
“I . . . yeah, sure.” I shoved my phone back in my pocket and pushed up off the couch. “Anybody upstairs already?”
“Tiny and Charley are,” he replied. “And I’ll go into my room. But Rudy’s still playing games in the basement.” He frowned at that.
What an evil child. Playing games in the basement obviously condemns his soul to eternal fire. I started for the basement door. “Okay, just get in your room. I’ll grab Rudy and haul his butt up here.”
I headed down the basement stairs, where a few faint noises of bouncy music and bad sound effects drifted up. I didn’t try to soften my footsteps on the noisy wooden stairs.
“Hey, Rudy. Bedtime.”
I hit the bottom of the stairs and swung around to see the other end of the room not stacked with storage bins.
Rudy sat in front of a small TV set with a very old video game system hooked up to it. Looked almost like . . . I squinted. Man, that was really an old set. Like a Nintendo ’64 level of ancient relic. He was playing Donkey Kong – and completely ignoring me.
I whistled a little, coming up to rap my knuckles on the back of his head. “Time for bed, dude.”
Rudy didn’t look at me, squinting his eyes through his glasses at the screen and pushing his tongue to one side of his mouth in concentration. “Almost . . . done with this lev- . . . aw, come on!” he groaned as he fell off a vine he was supposed to be swinging on. “So close! Hold on . . .”
I watched him try again. He wasn’t doing badly – even if I could have probably beaten this whole thing in my sleep. But after another couple minutes of grace time, I pulled the controller away from him.
“Aw, no!” Rudy tried to grab it back, getting to his feet.
I held it just out of reach. “Nope, you’re done. Come on.” I flicked off the system, set down the controller and herded him upstairs.
When we got upstairs, Penrod had done just like he’d said and gotten into his own room. It was pretty quiet, except for Rudy grumbling to me about how I was no fun at all and a horrible uncle.
I already knew from the beginning that I was going to make that impression, so I ignored him.
“Now whose room is . . .” I trailed off in my question as I noticed the little names printed by the doors in the hallway. That made things a little easier, then.
“Okay, you can finish your virtual monkey-questing later.”
“It’s Sundayy . . .” groaned Rudy. “Mom lets us stay up late on Sunday.”
“Tomorrow’s a school day, boy wonder. That’s . . . ridiculous.” I barely caught myself from letting another unsavory word slip in front of him, as I shoved him towards his room. His parents were never going to forgive me for every single new word I let into their household. I’d have to find myself some decent substitutes, here.
Rudy dragged his feet against the carpet and drooped his head, but shoved his door open anyway. It caught when it was only part way open, like there was junk behind it holding it up. He slipped inside.
I followed, turning sideways to get through the narrow opening. My eyebrows went up as I saw the interior of the room.
It hit an interesting middle ground between organized and filthy.
It was absolutely piled with junk. Boxes full of junk. Rocks. Jars full of colored water, and who knew what else, but they all seemed to have their particular sections and places. There was just so much of it, it took a while to take in. And most of it wasn’t even toys. This seemed like just random stuff that he’d picked up.
I propped my hands on my hips and looked around, nodding as Rudy slouched his way into his pajamas.
“Lotta stuff you got, here.”
“Mm,” he grumbled out something else and flopped into his bed, yanking his space patterned blanket up over his head.
“Where do you get it all? Henry take you to the junkyard once a week, so you can get your fix?”
I blew out my breath and drummed my fingers on the edge of his dresser. “Well, I guess you don’t want any tucking in or extra services included with your bedtime?”
“I wanna sleep with Gerald,” Rudy’s muffled voice came from under the covers.
I frowned at my lump of a nephew. “You’re not sleeping with a snake.”
“He’s just right next to my dresser.”
I sucked in my breath and jumped back, looking over the dresser. Sure enough, right on the other side of the dresser sat a big, glass case with a white and orange snake coiled up quietly inside. He watched me with beady black demon eyes.
I’d seen more than I wanted to see, here.
I took a few steps further back towards the door, rubbing my hands on my jeans.
“Okay. Well. Goodnight.” I slipped back out the door and closed it behind me. I took a few seconds in the hallway, waiting for my breathing and heart rate to go down before deciding on the next room to go into.
Tiny’s was at one end of the hall, right near her parents’ room. Penrod’s was right next to Rudy’s, and Charlotte’s was at the other end, right after that.
Since Penrod had been so hyped about going to bed in the first place, I decided to check on him first.
I took another deep breath, hoping he didn’t have some sort of stupid reptile pet in his room, too. What sort of parents let their kids keep snakes, anyway?
I shook my head and pushed my hair back out of my eyes, then turned the doorknob of Penrod’s room.
He was already in his pajamas. His whole room was as clean as a catalog picture, and a lamp was on in the corner. He knelt by the side of his bed and I poked in just in time to hear him say: “Amen.”
Penrod looked up as I looked in and gave me a gap-toothed grin. He hopped up and wiggled himself under the covers.
“Good night, Uncle Micah. Could you turn out the lamp?”
I wondered why this guy had to be the adopted one.
“Sure thing.” I reached over and flicked the lamp off, throwing the room into dark, except for the shaft of light peeking in through the doorframe, obscured by my shadow. “That everything you need?”
“Yup. I got a glass of water already and brushed my teeth.” His shadowy form wiggled further down, turning sideways on the pillow. “See you in the morning!”
“I . . . yeah, I guess. G’night.”
I closed the door again, leaving Penrod the Perfect to his sleep. I could only hope that the other kids would be half as easy as that.
Shuffling sideways, I moved on to Charlotte’s door. I hadn’t really seen much of her, other than at dinner. She had her own thing going on that didn’t involve me, and I was just fine with that.
I stopped for a second and listened, not hearing anything coming from the other side of the door. Going off the info that she “didn’t talk much,” I wasn’t sure if that should be concerning.
“Hey, Charley? You in there?” I knocked on the door.
I waited another few seconds. “Okay, I’m coming in.” I turned the doorknob and looked around to see inside.
Charley was in there. Just ignoring me. She was wearing an oversized hoodie and leggings, and was sitting on the floor, sorting out a jar of gummy bears by color, in neat rows of three. They were all laid out on a red handkerchief.
I slipped the rest of the way inside and looked around the room. It wasn’t the crowded mess that Rudy’s was, or the IKEA display that Penrod’s was. Sorta messy, with some socks and books in the corners. A blanket folded by the giant window on one side of the room,
In spite of the strange way Charley acted, it looked like a normal kid’s bedroom.
Well, except for . . . the window. I squinted.
It looked like someone had strapped some sort of baby gate to the big window that looked out of Charley’s room and into the front yard.
There was a moment where I was stuck wondering if Henry had done that. And why. What, does he think -she’s two, and she’s gonna fall out the window, or something?
And it was stuffy in here, seriously. It would benefit from having a window cracked open a little.
I shook my head and looked down at Charlotte again. “So, you ready for bed?”
Charlotte placed her last gummy bear and sat back on her heels to admire her assembly of colorful gummies. The layout looked almost like a schoolbook diagram of Roman legions in a giant army.
The pink section was uneven by one gummy bear. Charley reached over, methodically picking it up and popping it in her mouth. She sucked on it silently.
“Are those your PJs?”
She still didn’t look like she’d even heard me.
I cleared my throat loudly. “Hey. It’s bedtime. Not the time for eating holy gummy bears.”
That got her attention, if nothing else did. Her dark gaze shifted up to glare at me.
I spread my hands, raising my eyebrows at her. “House rules still apply with a babysitter, dude. Get in bed. Lights out.”
She scowled at me for another few seconds, then turned her attention to scooping her gummies off the kerchief and back into their jar. That took her longer than it could have, and I watched impatiently until she’d gotten her treasures put back on her dresser.
Still staying mute, she went over to her bed and sat down on the covers, looking over to the window.
I started over to go turn out the light, then looked over to the window, as well. I gave the baby gate another frown.
I mean . . . seriously. That thing was ridiculous. And the room could use some air anyway. There wasn’t even a fan in here.
I sighed, stepping back from the lightswitch and going to the window. The gate was propped up and barely tied in place around the window frame. I had it loose in under ten seconds and brought it down, then reached over to unlatch the window and crank it open a little.
Well, now my niece had a clearer view out into the dark and a little bit of air in her room. Who said I was a bad babysitter?
I looked back and Charley’s glare had disappeared, shifting into more of a blank surprised expression.
“Yeah, open window.” I brushed the dust off my hands onto my jeans. “You didn’t tick me off earlier and you get nice things.” I walked back over to the lightswitch and flicked it off. “Goodnight.”
Charley quietly lay down on the bed just as I closed the door.
That was three down, and Clementine to go. Hopefully, she’d forgiven me for nearly poisoning her with a piece of gum earlier.
I walked down to the other end of the hall and to Tiny’s door. It was already partway opened, and I just nudged it a little more to get in.
She sat bolt upright from her bed as the door creaked, clutching two or three dolls to her chest in shock. Seeing it was me didn’t do too much to take the alarm away.
I pressed my lips in a tight, weird smile and raised my eyebrows. “Hey.”
I glanced around the room for a second, getting a read on how things ran in here. Just a little messier than Charlotte’s. And totally decked out in ballerina pink stuff. Tutus and other dress-up stuff covered the floor.
“It’s bedtime?” Tiny asked, before I could say the same words, but not in a question.
I nodded, looking back to her. “Yep. And you’re already in your PJs and in bed, so we’re pretty set.”
She hugged her dolls closer and looked nervously over at the lamp near the door.
I hesitated for a second, then nodded again. “Right. Well. Have a good sleep.” I reached over to turn the lamp off.
She let out a shrill squeal, looking about ready to burst into tears for the fifty-sixth time since I’d stepped through the front door. “No!”
I jumped so hard I nearly smacked the lampshade off as I yanked my hand back. I blew out my breath through my teeth, shaking out my hand. “Holy . . . fritters, kid! What?”
“The dark . . .”
The time it took for her voice to go from a scream to a whisper was testing the limit of my eardrums.
I followed her teary gaze over to the corner of the room. There sat a big, fancy, forest scene themed night light.
Right. The nightlight. That was one of like, the four things that Cecily told you, moron. Of course, just go and forget it.
I rolled my eyes a little and went over to flick it on. “There. You won’t be in the dark.” I turned back to see that she’d gotten herself under the blankets, with a doll settled on each side of her.
She watched me like she was still scared I might try and poison her again, but she swallowed, and another whisper came out. “Could you tuck me in and . . . um . . .” Tiny trailed off, looking down to pick at one doll’s hair.
Tucking kids in bed. No one else had wanted this, I thought I was off the hook. I had more experience training elephants than I did tucking people in.
I rubbed a hand over my face. “ . . .Yeah, I’ll tuck you in.” I stepped over to the side of her bed, thought about it for a few seconds, then leaned over and started awkwardly poking the blanket in around her legs until she looked like some partly wrapped burrito on the bed.
Tiny watched me and seemed okay with my job. At least she didn’t complain, when I was done.
“Okay. Goodnight, then.” I moved back to the door and turned out the lamp. Now I could just go downstairs and call Fnu to talk about the usual junk before getting myself to bed at a more reasonable time than eight . . .
“Um!” Tiny’s voice squeaked again as I started out the door. I stopped at the obvious exclamation point.
“What?”More like “what now?”
She fiddled with her blanket before answering, even quieter than before. “I need a song to sleep . . .”
Oh, singing. Singing to kids.
Yes, I’d have a lot to tell Fnu.
I’m pretty sure that was the first time Clementine had heard any Twenty One Pilots songs, but “Ode To Sleep” seemed to do the trick – even if I had a distinctly different singing style than her usual.
It was eight thirty when I finally flopped back down on the couch and dialed Fnu’s number. I rolled my shoulders a little as the call went through and started ringing. Man, how did my muscles get more tense from a day of babysitting than from a day of drumming my arms off?
The phone rang in my ear a couple of times before there was a small click and a familiar, easy voice answered on the other end.
“Hey earthling, what up?”
I blew out my breath as I leaned back. “Well, babysitting, like I’ve been telling you.” I rubbed at the back of my neck. “I finally got ‘em all to bed. And I had to singto one of them, so that was interesting . . .”
“Siiiinging, that’s cool,” I could hear the grin in Fnu’s voice. “So what’d you sing?”
“Twenty One Pilots stuff.”
“Ode to Sleep, okay? That’s at least something of a lullaby. It’s in the name.”
A groan came over the speaker. “This just isn’t your groove. Rap has never put any kid to sleep . . .”
“I’m learning on the job. And it seemed to work just fine, for tonight.” I shook my head, running a hand up through my hair. “Anyway. Rather get my mind off it while I can. What are you up to?”
I knew by now that Fnu didn’t like saying where he was at. And by proxy, didn’t like me saying where I was at. The government was always listening. Even the ears on the walls had ears of their own, for my friend. I never even got his real name, from knowing him in real life.
Literally, since Fnu had moved back out of my town a few years back, I’d had no idea where he’d gone. All I knew was that it changed a lot. And tended to follow after any reports of alien sightings. (Though he’d go for Bigfoot in a pinch, and had actually managed to catch a fuzzy video, once.)
“Well, actually . . .” Fnu drew out his last word and I could almost see him leaning back and stretching out his long limbs. “See, I’m back to an old haunt right now. Y’know that one I was telling you about, with the repeated UFO sightings every other weekend, after sundown?”
I squinted, mentally sorting back through all the updates he’d given me over text and phone call. “A few months back, yeah?”
“That’s the one,” he replied. “Anyway. I’m back there right now. Trying to get to the bottom of it and get the triangle on the location they’re coming from, because seriously, this has to be some big martian hotspot or something, y’know? I’m hyped.”
“Of course you are,” I laughed a little, in spite of myself.
It was nearing midnight by the time Fnu and I had exhausted all routes of conversation.
I turned out the lights and crashed myself on the couch.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. I mean, the next day wasn’t a school day for me, anyway, right?
Ah well. Nothing could possibly go wrong. No cliffhangers here.
We’ll see how it plays out…. next week. Tune back in next Thursday, folks!