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Bedtime

The horrors and rewards of child minding.

If I do fail my exams I could get a job in a nursery looking after little kids, I'd like that and it's one of the few things I'm good at. My neighborhood child minding services are in demand, and now I'm receiving requests from mothers I haven't even met. You can't beat word of mouth as a recommendation and it's by far the best form of advertising.

Mind you, it's definitely toddlers I prefer to care for, the nine year olds twins I've been left with tonight are giving me the creeps. You'd expect two identical little girls in Victorian style nightdresses to look really sweet, but their cold eyes and blank expressions are really quite unsettling. The twins look like two little banshees with their pale complexions and long straight black hair. What's particularly creepy is the constant whispering between them as they play with their antiquated china dolls in the corner of the living room.

Florence and Elizabeth the twins are called, no abbreviations allowed, and these two monsters have already made it clear I'm not welcome. They don't think they need a child minder, least of all a sixteen year old girl like me. It's only for a few hours though, come midnight I'll be free of my responsibility and I'll never have to come back here again.

"What are your dolls called?" I ask them, trying to join in and win the twins over.

"Go away. We don't like you. You're indecent." The twins reply, in disturbing unison.

"Don't be so rude. I'm not indecent."

"Yes you are," they say, and they both point at my short pleated skirt.

"It's my school skirt, all the girls wear one like this."

"No they don't. Only the indecent ones."

What on earth has their mother been teaching them? I'm shocked by the twins' attitude, all the more so because their mother showed no concern whatsoever about my appearance, she was only too happy to leave me in charge of her daughters. In fact she acted as if she couldn't wait to get out of the house quick enough.

From first impressions, the twins appear to have adopted Victorian values for themselves, but when I take a good look around at my surroundings, it's pretty clear where their influence is coming from. There's no TV in the house, and now I'm aware of it I can't see anything modern at all, even the electrics look prehistoric. There's nothing but old classic books for entertainment, and I must admit I'm feeling very out of place. I've only been here for a few minutes, and I've already concluded there's something very weird going on in this house.

I'm happy to accept other peoples lifestyles, but being open minded hasn't helped me much so far tonight. I've already been rejected, and now I've been rudely insulted by the twins ridiculous verdict on my morality. I'm not immoral, I'm just your typical English schoolgirl and I'm not letting these two get the better of me by calling me indecent. I ask for an apology, I don't get one but they do relent a little by changing the subject and revealing their dolls' names, which I suppose is some sort of minor victory.

"This is Ethel, and this is Gertrude."

I wish I hadn't asked. Yet more disturbing and obsolete behaviour, what kind of dolls' names are those in this day and age? I don't give a negative response, but I'm backing out of their game as quickly as I can. From now on I'll be doing nothing but praying for the old mantel clock to hurry up and reach eight thirty, when a single chime will announce the merciful arrival of bedtime for Florence and Elizabeth.

When the time comes they refuse to go. Both of them remain stubbornly in place on the floor with their dolls, they ignore everything I say in my efforts to control them. Their behavior isn't that unusual, most kids play me up a bit when it comes to bedtime and my usual response is to allow them an extra half hour. Which is what I do now, although my gesture receives no appreciation.

The twins carry on with their game, which still consists of little more than whispers and the occasional icy look in my direction. The clock goes slower than ever and I've mixed feelings about nine o'clock arriving, because this time I'm going to have to put my foot down and insist the twins go to bed. I'm dreading the inevitable confrontation.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. The atmosphere in the room is almost unbearable, I'm trying to read a book but I haven't managed one single page. I keep looking up at the clock, and although I'm expecting it, I still jump out of my skin when it commences a full set of chimes to signal the hour.

The twins stop their game, put down their dolls, and both turn to stare at me with those intense, judgmental eyes. Their expressions are chilling and goading me into challenging them. I do as I planned and take a firm line with them, make it clear I'm not taking no for an answer. I'm anticipating some kind of resistance, but nothing compared to what happens next.

They start screaming. One long, high pitched scream that forces me to put my hands to my ears to block it out. They don't stop, not even to take a breath. The blood curdling sound goes straight through me and I'm rolling my head in pain.

"Stop it, stop it," I shout at them.

The screaming continues at an even higher pitch, the whole room is resonating with the torturesome sound, even the lighting is flickering in distress. I'm scared to death but I spot my chance to gain control, I grab their dolls and now it's my turn to scream.

"Right. Game over. Get to bed. Now."

"Give us our dolls back."

"Not until you're in bed. Now move. Both of you."

They look at each other with sinister smiles and nod. I've no doubt there's some kind of psychic connection going on between them. They're hatching a plan, but to my relief the first part of their plot is to do as they're told. I lead the way and slowly they get to their feet and reluctantly follow.

"I'm sorry," I tell them. "But you both know you should be in bed by now."

My feeble attempt at peace making is met with silence, and I'm holding my breath that their reluctant cooperation will continue. It does, they shuffle quietly along behind me with no further trouble... until we reach the hall. I know straight away they've stopped walking, when I turn to see why I find them standing before a full length mirror. It's a ghastly looking thing in a black Gothic frame.

"Now what is it?" I ask them.

"We have to say goodnight to Mary," they reply, both pointing at the mirror.

A wind up no doubt, and although it's quite a good one, I've lost all patience now. I don't want to hear their creepy explanation, I want these two little devils in their beds as quickly as possible. I march up to them, intent on pushing them along, but I stop dead in my tracks when a movement in the mirror catches my eye. The twins are still motionless, but I could have sworn something moved in the reflection, a shadow seemed to step out of view when I approached.

"You saw her, didn't you?" they both ask.

"Sure I did. Now if you want your dolls back, follow me."

I'm on the verge of freaking out, but I've enough composure left to realise it must have been my reflection I saw move, although the direction the shadow took doesn't make any sense.

"Goodnight Mary," I say, calling what I sincerely hope is their bluff.

I'm winning. The twins follow me like good little girls up the gloomy staircase, the light bulb illuminating it is completely inadequate, dark shadows follow us on the walls as we make our way silently up the stairs. The macabre feeling increases, but it won't be long now until this bedtime nightmare is over.

The girls carry on being good, as soon as we enter their bedroom they slip under their sheets without being told. I try and make friends again, I hand back their dolls, then sit on the edge of Elizabeth's bed and ask if they would like me to read them a bedtime story.

"We're not babies. We want to go back downstairs."

"Well I'm sorry, but it's bedtime."

"You're horrible. We hate you."

"Well you're not so..."

Oh God, what is it with their eyes? Their cold stare is more chilling than ever and Florence seems to have me locked in her gaze. I stand up and back off, but I can't seem to evade her unblinking glare, I think she's hypnotizing me and filling my thoughts with all kinds of dark horrors. I shake my head and break free, but then they start chanting.

"Mary," they loudly chorus. "Mary, Mary."

They're beyond constraint, screaming Mary and holding their dolls out at me as if they're cursing me, summoning the specter from the mirror to come and vanquish me. It's horrible. I've heard many tales of witchcraft and the legend of Bloody Mary springs to mind, chant her name and the medieval witch will return from the grave and come looking for blood.

Except they've got the old legend wrong, you're supposed to do the chant in front of a mirror surrounded by candles. Not only that, it's whoever makes the curse Blood Mary comes after to slaughter, you can't summon her to murder someone else at your bidding. Or can you? How would I know? And besides, it might be some other ghastly Mary they're attempting to summon.

"How dare you..." I try to admonish them, but I can't finish what I want to say.

"Steffanie." They chant now, "Steffanie, Steffanie." And their curse is complete with the third chant of my name.

Total, eerie, spine chilling silence. What have they just done to me? I can feel it. I'm not safe in this house anymore. They start laughing, and my God their awful laughing sounds like it's coming from another dimension, the darkest dimension of all.

"Take that back," I scream at them.

No response. The twins look as if they're waiting. Who or what for? My imagination gives me the answer. A mad eyed witch is coming for me with wild black hair, pointed teeth and talons, not nails on the tips of her fingers. She's going to rip me to shreds and I won't stand a chance. There's no escape, I remember the rest of the legend now. Bloody Mary won't stop until she finds her appointed victim. She can use any mirror she chooses to step into our world and track down her target...

What complete nonsense I'm allowing my head to be filled with. At last I feel myself returning to my senses, whatever hypnotic trick those two just pulled is wearing off. I've got my mind back in focus and I'm going to show those two little witches that I'm not scared of their gruesome curses. I'm the one in charge here and I'll march down those stairs and prove it to them right here and now.

Except... except I can't see around the corner of the staircase. Shadows are still moving in the gloom and I think I can hear a strange rustling sound coming from below. Then something else, something...

Oh Mother of Jesus, what in heavens name was that? Bloody Mary stepping through the mirror, her tortured, rotten body in agony as she steps into another world? I swear I can smell her stinking flesh now, I'm convinced I can hear her labored breathing as she begins her slow ascent of the stairs...

Come on Steffanie, pull yourself together, just stride down there and put all this hocus pocus to rest. But I can't do it, I'm too scared I'll meet Bloody Mary halfway down in the gloom on the staircase. I'm shaking with fear.

"She's coming, can you hear her?" the twins taunt me by asking.

Yes I can hear her, that awful breathing sounds closer and the stairs are creaking under her feet. There's no doubt in my mind, the twins witchcraft is real and I've nowhere to run to or hide. I've only one hope, I drop to my knees and I don't ask them, I beg them to lift their curse off me.

"Call her off. Please, please call her off." I plead, now with tears in my eyes.

"But we hate you. You're indecent and horrible."

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please, please call her off."

"Can we play downstairs again?"

"Oh God yes, do anything you like, play for as long as you want to."

"See Elizabeth, I told you she was weak."

~

I'm not going to move or say a word. I'm going to sit watching the clock and wait for the twins' mother to arrive home and release me from this dark bondage. Florence and Elizabeth have resumed their game in the living room, only now they're not bothering to whisper as they play with their dolls.

"Are we going to let Steffanie go?"

"Why not? She can't harm us. She's too frightened."

"And she's stupid."

"She would be, she's blonde."

They're laughing at me now, I've no idea which one of them is saying what, but it doesn't make much difference I suppose. They're as evil as each other and they obviously want me to hear them humiliating me, and as they continue it sounds like two other voices have joined their discussion.

"What about mother? Shall we punish her for leaving us?"

"Better not. Not after what happened to father."

I don't want to know what happened to father. Whatever it was, all I care about is the same thing doesn't happen to me.

"Mother might leave us again."

"Then we'll get Steffanie back."

"She wouldn't come. She'd be too scared."

"Then we'll send Mary to fetch her."

The cackling laughter from the corner confirms the twins power over me. I turn to look at them and they wave those awful dolls at me again. They think I'm helpless now, but their arrogant display is their first big mistake. At least I think it is, I'm praying to God that my hunch about their power source is going to be my salvation.

"I bet your dolls' heads would smash really easily," I tell them.

"You wouldn't dare," they reply, but now it's their turn to have horror on their faces.

"Try me," I challenge them.

Now it's a stand off. It seems I was right and I've guessed the keys to their magic. Florence stares into my eyes like before, only this time it's her mind that doesn't like what she sees. The twins hug their dolls to protect them and a secret conference ensues, the whispering returns and I sense that a truce is about to be offered by the two little witches.

"We want to go to bed now," they say as one voice.

"Good, but no more mind games or curses eh?"

"No, not with you. Will you read us a story?"

"It's far too late for that now."

"Oh. Next time then?"

"What next time?"

"The next time you look after us. You will come back won't you?"

They're offering a lot more than a truce, we seem to have reached an understanding and I don't feel at all threatened anymore. In fact I feel empowered and rather honored, I bet they've never invited any other child minder back to their house.

I wonder if I've passed some kind of test and proven myself to be worthy. Whatever the reason, I know I'm trusted now because the girls have just placed their dolls on my lap. Another honor and another test maybe, if it is I can think of only one answer.

"Sure I'll come back. I'll bring The Worst Witch with me, you'll love that story."

I get my first smiles of the evening and even two cuddles. We all say goodnight and then off the little darlings go with their dolls, I stay where I am and let them put themselves to bed. As soon as they've gone I sigh with relief, I can sit back and relax now and stop worrying about Bloody Mary and all the rest of the weird goings on. The twins' mother will be home soon and when she returns I'll tell her the girls were just fine.

I could be onto a good thing here, I'll be back soon for sure and maybe I could do daytimes at weekends now and then. I can think of all sorts of places we could go, there's the woods with the derelict church and I'm sure the girls would have a high time exploring the graveyard. On another day I'd love to take them to a good hairdresser, get something done with their hair, it's far too long and needs a bit of styling and shape...

Oh well, not long to go now and another job well done. Child minding is easy provided you have control, and once you've gained it and earned some respect, then everything falls into place. With the children on your side you get far fewer confrontations, you can start to have fun and things like bedtime and witchcraft are no longer a problem.

Sweet dreams.

steffanie +++

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