The Family Ruin
By Craig Steven
“These nights still drag me down, but you will learn your place
when I climb out of this hell.″
“Is the fucking coast clear or not?” Hannah asked impatiently. Robert had told her that he would call as soon as the brat’s parents left, but that didn’t stop her from hiding out in the back alley for a half hour, calling him repeatedly. He didn’t know what her problem was; the alley wasn’t going anywhere.
The Sedan finally backed out into the street, and with one last pause (Mrs. James was always forgetting vital things at the last minute, but what woman didn’t?), they pulled off into the night.
“Alright, come on, hurry up,” Robert said into the phone, hanging up before she could utter the witty retort she’d no doubt thought up. He walked to the kitchen of the enormous house, greeted by the sound of obnoxious teenagers as they burst through the backdoor, being as loud as they possibly could.
“Could you guys be any fucking louder?” he said as he walked into the kitchen. They were taking bottles of vodka and sandwich baggies of marijuana out of their backpacks, laughing, shoving, and cursing as if there wasn’t a sleeping baby just upstairs. They knew he was taking a big chance bringing them here; in the eight months he’d been babysitting for the James’, he’d never had the nerve to invite his friends over.
“Oh, calm down, grandpa,” Hannah said, throwing her arms around Robert’s neck before planting a sloppy kiss on his unsuspecting lips. It was clear that she’d already been drinking, and as irritated as Robert was, he was happy that getting her to spread her legs later on would be even less difficult. Her reputation as the easiest girl at Bellevue High School was the reason he’d feigned interest in the first place.
“Yeah, man, we’re just having fun,” Jimmy said, taking a swig of Burnett’s. “I mean, it’s not going to hear us all the way down here, is it?”
“Stop calling him an it, you twat,” Stephanie spoke up. She was Jimmy’s girlfriend, and unlike Hannah, was not known for giving up the goods, no matter how much she drank. Jimmy was a good kid, though, worried more about his grades and going to college than getting into his girlfriend’s tightly secured pants. She’d brought her friend Christine along, a girl who’d graduated a year prior to them. Jimmy’s older brother Ryan was not so subtly trying to seduce her, and judging from the cold shoulder she’d been giving him since they invaded the kitchen, he’d had no luck just yet.
“Let’s move this party to the basement, Ryan spoke up, leading the way downstairs. Everyone grabbed their backpack of goodies except for Robert; the best part about supplying the spot for the get-together was that you weren’t expected to bring anything. The James’ furnished basement was the most luxurious room in their large suburban home. A flat screen TV as wide as Robert was tall sat against one wall with a Wii hookup and close to every game ever made for it. It also housed an old Star Wars pinball machine, several arcade machines that used to collect dust in laundromats, and a foosball table. Mrs. James didn’t care for Mr. James’ knack for buying such useless items, but since he was the breadwinner, and she was the stay-at-home mother of their son, he didn’t often let her have a say in what he spent his money on.
“Goddamn, I would give anything in the world just to live in this house,” Jimmy said as he sat on the sofa in front of the television and began rolling a joint.
“I’d give anything just to live in this basement,” Ryan said, sitting next to his brother before divvying rum and cola into several solo cups.
“Well, you already live in your mom’s basement, so you’re halfway there,” Christine piped up. She was in the corner by herself, dark, brooding eyes surveying everything around her. Robert couldn’t understand why Stephanie followed the girl around as much as she did. His first impression of her several months earlier was that she was a major buzz-kill, and she’d done nothing to change the perception since then. “I don’t like it here, Stephanie.”
“Why not?” Hannah asked, unconcerned that the statement wasn’t directed at her. “What is there not to like? Awesome basement, weed, friends, booze. What’s your deal?”
“I don’t have a deal. I’m just getting bad vibes from this place. I don’t like it.”
“No one’s making you stay,” Robert said, impressing Hannah by showing her that he could be just as much of a jerk as her.
“You know, you’re right,” Christine said, and walked back upstairs. “You guys have fun in this creepy fucking place, but I’m out.”
“Christine, wait!” Ryan chased after her, oblivious to her obvious non-interest.
“How in God’s name is this house creepy?” Hannah asked the room, gesturing towards the whole house. “There’s no crime whatsoever in Fort Thomas, we’re in the middle of the suburbs, and this place probably has tighter security than the White House. If she wants creepy, she should go to that house in Newport that’s been abandoned for a hundred years where all those kids died.”
“Oh, yeah, I heard about that,” Jimmy said. “Stupid kids. Who just goes and breaks into abandoned houses for fun?”
“Well, not everyone gets to babysit for millionaires,” Hannah said, ruffling Robert’s hair. “How did you get lucky enough to land this gig, anyway, babe?”
“My dad works for Mr. James at the bank. A while back, he was stressing because their usual babysitter quit for no reason, and my dad told him about me. Told him I was a responsible, polite, honor roll student, and that I would be more than willing to help him out. I get paid a hundred bucks a night, usually two nights a week. Can’t beat it.”
“You sure can’t. Now come hit this shit.” Robert turned the baby monitor on, turning up the volume until he could hear the baby’s light breathing. He sat it on the table and hit the joint that Jimmy handed him twice, quickly following it up with a shot of one of the many vodka bottles on the table. The smoke took him to another dimension, and he barely noticed when Hannah sat on his lap and began laying kissing on his neck. Jimmy walked away from the awkward moment to avoid cock-blocking his buddy, the last one to walk up to the kitchen.
“You’re so cute, babe,” she whispered into his ear, nibbling on the lobe. He laughed at the tickling sensation, listening closely to the baby monitor, afraid that his buzz was going to make him miss something important. The infant sounded fine, however, so Robert sat back and let Hannah do what she did best.
Six minutes later, he was sliding his jeans on quickly as Jimmy yelled down the steps asking if the coast was clear. Hannah laughed, slipping her flannel shirt over her black bra and shaking her hair out.
“First time?” she asked as if it was the most common conversation starter in the world.
He gaped at her in response. “How could you tell? Was it bad?”
“For your first time? No, not at all. But practice makes perfect, champ.” She squeezed his left buttcheek and poured herself another shot.
“I’m going to go check on the baby,” Robert said, buttoning his jeans and spraying air freshener on himself. The last thing he needed was for the James’s to ask why their baby smelled like hard liquor and hemp. “I’ll be back. Don’t let anyone break anything.”
He walked upstairs, passing Jimmy and Stephanie on the way, giggling and poking him all the while. Smiling, he pushed them away and continued, happy that the nerve-wracking first time was out of the way. Christine had apparently never left the house, having also gotten past her reservations about Ryan. The two of them were leaning against the marble-top counter in the kitchen, snogging like there was no tomorrow. He snuck slowly up the stairs to avoid the creaky spots that he knew well by then. Nudging the door open, he walked into the nursery only to discover that the baby’s protector was already hovering over the crib.
It raised a finger to the lips of its mask, as if Robert didn’t already know to be quiet around a sleeping baby. Robert stared into the crib, just to make sure everything was okay for himself. His chest rose and fell rhythmically in time to the music from the mobile that the phantom had restarted. Nodding his approval at it, he turned and walked back to the hallway. The ghost followed, gliding, its long, black robe sweeping elegantly across the floor. Robert shut the door behind them and gestured to the basement.
“Friends,” he said, accentuating the word as if he were speaking to someone who didn’t know the English language. “No worries.”
The phantom stared down at Robert, a full foot taller than him, with its blank stare. The mask, Robert always believed, was the most unnatural thing about the demon. Pure gold, probably a relic from Europe’s Renaissance era, engraved with a floral pattern that adorned its cheeks. The most stressing part of it was the fact that it was wearing it in the first place. And when you looked closely at it, to see what might be lying beneath it, you could only see darkness, as if the mask was suspended by nothing beneath the hood of its executioner’s robe.
It nodded its head, faintly, before disappearing through the bedroom door once again. Robert walked back down to the basement and resumed his partying with the gang, all of them sitting in a circle and passing yet another joint around.
“And then the bear wiped his ass with the rabbit!” Stephanie yelled with tears in her eyes, evoking an eruption of laughter from the crowd. Robert laughed with the rest of them and mixed himself another drink, vodka and Sprite, before laying back onto Hannah’s lap, hoping the phantom didn’t ruin the night by scaring the shit out of any party-goers.
He’d known about the ghost before he even started the job. Once the James’ former babysitter caught wind that someone else had accepted the position, she needed to make known the fact that the baby wasn’t alone. She hadn’t known what it looked like, however; only that her and the baby weren’t the only ones in the house during those quiet, lonely nights. She’d heard the ghost humming soft, eerie melodies over the baby monitor, had felt someone standing behind her, watching her, breathing down her neck until she turned around and came face to face with nothing. But when he asked her if the ghost was violent (he was joking at the time, of course; no way was he going to believe this babbling psycho bitch about some ghost that protected the James’ baby, no matter how rich they were), she said no, it never laid a finger on her, nor did it ever threaten to.
Robert remembered her answer when he asked her why she’d quit if this ghost meant her or the baby no harm. She’d said, “Because, Robert, one day, something, somewhere will mean to harm that baby. I don’t know when, or how, but things happen. Maybe there will be a break in. Regardless of when, it will happen. That baby… Robert, that kid is special. And when there’s danger involved around him, that thing will go batshit crazy and kill everything around them that poses a threat. I’m not going to be there when it happens. And neither should you.”
He wanted to ask how the girl knew so much about the ghost, but she walked away before he could finish interviewing her. Regardless, the first night he babysat, once the James’ left, he walked into the bedroom, and sure enough, there it was, hovering over the crib, it’s black robes whipping at its unseen feet from the air vent, its emotionless mask staring at the new babysitter. He remembered the strong urge to shit his pants, but courage he didn’t know he’d had took over. Standing his ground, concreting himself as the authority figure in their future partnership, that was the strategy he needed to invoke. Pulling the phantom into the hallway with a gesture, he told it, “Look, you might look out for that little guy, but I’m the one getting paid for babysitting it. You don’t mess with me, I won’t mess with you. Understand?” The phantom nodded its understanding, and now, nearly a year later, everything was peachy in the James residence.
“So, you two,” Hannah said, pointing at Jimmy and Stephanie with her pointer finger before moving it up. “When are you going to have one of those?”
Jimmy looked up, and looked back at Hannah. “What? A ceiling?” They all laughed at his stupidity before Stephanie spoke up.
“Not any time soon, Hannah, that’s for sure. What about you?”
“Nope. Never. No kids for me. That would really put a damper on my lifestyle, and I can’t have that.” She took another shot of vodka, adding to her substantial lead in the popular game high-schoolers played, called Who Drank The Most That Night? “What about you, Christine? You’re awfully quiet over there.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not? What’s wrong now?”
“It’s this house. I’m telling you. Something’s not right here. This place is… off. There’s an evil here. And it’s that fucking baby. I don’t want to ruin your job for you, Robert, not that they couldn’t find a 12 year-old girl to replace you, anyway, but I’m half-tempted to go up there and take a good, long look at that fucking thing your employers call an infant.”
Robert nearly spat out his drink as the phantom descended the stairs at breakneck speed, scythe held in both skeletal hands, ready to decapitate Christine for her blasphemy. “No!” he screamed, sitting upright, staring down the ghost. Everyone, including it, stopped what they were doing and looked right back, eyes wide, breath halted. “I just… uhh, I… I thought I saw a rat. In the corner. Over there.” He pointed, and when only the phantom’s stare became the only one remaining on him, he gestured with his index finger and a snarl to just hold on one Goddamn minute. “Christine, can you take a walk with me? I wanted to ask you something.”
“Uhh, sure thing,” Christine said, shooting an awkward glance at everyone else. Why, she thought, did Robert want to speak to her specifically? Had she gone too far in her criticism of the family he worked for? She stood up and followed him upstairs into the kitchen. The phantom followed behind them while Robert counted his lucky stars that no one else could see it. He wished he knew what had made him so special; why couldn’t the old babysitter or any of his friends see the phantom, but he saw it plain as day? Pushing the question to the back of his mind, he resolved to take care of the Christine problem before the phantom decided to just murder the entire party and get it over with.
“So, what’s up?” he asked as nonchalant as he could under the circumstances, drinking beer out of a glass. Luckily, he’d drank less than anyone there, for which he was grateful; he needed a clear head more than he needed a buzz right now. The phantom watched for a moment before gesturing up the stairs with its head, heading up soon after. The message was clear. How the fuck am I going to lure her upstairs, though?
“You know, just… drinking, having a good time. Trying to, anyway. I just can’t shake this feeling that something’s… wrong. Just wrong.”
And then it hit him. The idea was cruel, almost soulless, and had the chance to weigh on him for the rest of his life. But, he must sacrifice the life of one for the lives of many. “What you said before. About wanting to look at the baby.” He leaned closer and flashed her his most devious smile. “Do you really want to? I always thought there was something weird about that little fucker.” He hoped to God that the phantom wasn’t listening, and if it was, that it knew he was only leading the girl on. Should the demon not understand the art of deception, however, he could be in deep trouble.
“Seriously? You too? I knew I couldn’t have been the only one! Where’s his room? Upstairs?” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the usually glum Christine so happy, and upon further thinking, he realized he never had.
“It sure is! Let’s go!” He led the way, hoping the infant would stay asleep lest he possibly witness a slaughtering. Robert didn’t know for sure that the phantom planned on killing the girl. Only that it came after her with a scythe after she’d threatened action against its ward and was now summoning Robert to bring her up the stairs, alone. The chances obviously weren’t in her favor.
Robert pushed the door open, expecting the phantom to be standing just on the other side, ready to strike. Surprisingly, the nursery was empty save for its usual inhabitants; the baby, his crib, his changing table, a few toys, a dresser, so on and so forth, all painted sky-blue and yellow so he’d grow up to be the good boy they all knew he would become. The only tainted place in the room, probably in the entire house, was the closet to the left where the phantom was stationed.
“Looks like a normal kid’s room,” Christine said, having the decency at least to whisper. She examined everything closely, everything besides the baby himself. She crept up to the crib, peering over the top, and just as Robert inwardly questioned what kind of protector the phantom was to let someone out to get the kid get so close to it, the scythe appeared, followed by the demon’s face.
Robert wished he could have went the rest of his life without seeing what lie beneath the golden mask, and he would have preferred that. Even knowing that the phantom would likely never turn its rage on him, the all-encompassing fear that the face alone struck into his soul would cause many sleepless nights over the following months. Gaping mouth lined with a single row of razor sharp teeth, pearly white skull, perfect in its shape and luminescence as if it’d been sculpted by Michaelangelo himself. The fiery pits of its eyes served as a window into what Hell did to a demon’s soul. There was no going back now, no saving Christine. There was no saving anyone who dared throw themselves in the path of the beast.
A long, skeletal arm, reached slowly for the back of Christine’s head. The scythe, gleaming in the Thomas the Train nightlight, wrapped around Christine’s throat like a tight scarf. The phantom pulled the girl into its arms, the girl who had no time to react before the skinless hand covered her gaping mouth as she began to scream, the girl whose arms outstretched for Robert’s help, but had made the terrible mistake of threatening the baby of the house. She’d been ready to remark what a cute baby he was, but just as quickly, she was in the closet, the home of the beast, being quickly disintegrated by the beast behind the mask.
Robert washed his hands of Christine. Was he to believe that he was in the wrong, doing what he did? He’d potentially saved the boy’s life, the lives of his friends (most of them, anyway), and almost as important, his job. Had the James’s come home to a murdered baby, he surely wouldn’t be able to get his hands on any kind of salary. Taking a quick inventory, he deemed the room exactly as it was when he’d entered it, save for the dead twenty year old girl in the closet. Robert quietly shut the door to the nursery, entering the long, second floor hallway, almost walking into Ryan, who’d been stationed outside of the door almost sentry-like.
“Hey, man, what’s going on?” he asked, apparently assuming that he was allowed to roam free in any part of the house he wanted to, regardless of whether it was under his ownership or not. He looked expectantly at the door for a moment before returning his suspicious eyes to Robert’s. “Where’s Christine?”
“She went home,” Robert answered, joyous of his quick thinking.
“No she didn’t. I heard you two talking. You said you’d bring her up here to look at the kid. You’re here. Where is she?” Robert didn’t answer immediately, and Ryan tried for the doorknob. “Say, let me in there and have a look myself.”
Robert wasn’t thinking things through when he slammed his best friend’s brother to the floor, straddling his chest to block his arms from moving, not caring whether the baby woke up at that point. “I told you, Ryan. She. Went. Home. Go chase her down. If you don’t find her, go to her house. If you don’t find her then, oh, fucking well. Not my problem. Now, you can either leave this fucking house and go look for your depressing fucking girlfriend, or I’ll-”
The phantom didn’t let him finish that thought. With lightning quick movement, Ryan’s head tilted off the ground and his neck snapped at a 240 degree angle, setting it back down to let Robert enjoy the view of most of the back of Ryan’s head. He stared up at the phantom, sighing and rolling his eyes.
“Really? Two in one night? What the fuck ever. Get his body out of here, and hurry up before anyone else gets the idea to follow me up here.” The phantom would have shrugged if it knew the idea behind the gesture, as if to say, “Say, why you gotta be such a jerk,” choosing instead to simply hoist Ryan into the air and walk through the bedroom door. The body knocked into the top of the door frame as the phantom disappeared through the closed door, and the corpse fell to the ground with a comical thud. Had he not been in such an angry panic, Robert would have stopped and taken the time to laugh his ass off.
As it was, he had no time to waste, kicking the door open and dragging the body into the nursery himself, where the baby was now well and truly awake. He cried only for a few seconds before the phantom swept him into its robes, wrapping them around him, comforting him with the fabric. The baby cooed and fell back to sleep immediately.
Robert swung the closet open, dragging Ryan into it to spend the rest of eternity with what remained of the girl that didn’t deserve him. No evidence existed that Christine had been horribly mutilated in the closet only a minute and half prior. He shut the door before looking over at the phantom and the infant it held in its emaciated arms.
Though she meant much more dead to Robert than alive, he knew that Christine, and even the former babysitter, had been onto something when they said something wasn’t right about that baby.
“Make sure everything is cleaned up and there’s no evidence that those two even fucking thought about coming here tonight.” Robert took a deep breath, trying to relax and come to terms with the fact that he was a murderer at the age of seventeen. “Thanks for your help.” The phantom nodded its head before putting the baby back in its crib.
He walked to the basement, and when everyone asked where Ryan and Christine had went off to, he told them they left, walked off into the night holding hands, kissing like the star-crossed lovers they were. Everyone accepted this as the perfectly acceptable answer that it was, though when neither boyfriend or girlfriend showed up to their respective homes the next day, everyone would be wondering what had happened to them. Maybe they ran off together? Maybe they were kidnapped and subsequently murdered? No one would know, and Robert felt bad that he had to go and have Jimmy’s brother killed, but it was necessary. The baby could never be harmed. Never.
When the James’s called to let Robert know they were on their way home, he made his friends clean up and scram. Hannah kissed him on the nose and told him that they needed to hang out again, and soon. Not likely, Robert thought with an inward sneer. Already got what I needed. Onto the next one. He shut the door behind them and waited for his employers in the living room, double and triple checking to be absolutely positive that all traces of the night he, his friends, and the phantom had shared were wiped out completely.
The rich couple walked in, Mr. James tall, broad, with black hair and graying temples, Mrs. James lean, perky, and ageless. He greeted them as he usually did, with the expected hello, asking how dinner was, how movie was, whether or not he should see it. They answered each question as usual, yet when the time came for business, or at least, when it usually did, Mr. James threw Robert a curve ball.
“Say, Robert, why don’t you go on up and say goodnight to the baby?” Mr. James suggested, lightly tapping his babysitter on the shoulder. “I feel like he should get to know you at least a little bit. I feel like he’s always sleeping when you’re here.”
“Not that he’s complaining about that, right, Robert?” Mrs. James asked, her red lipstick framing her perfect teeth in a flawless smile.
“Oh, no, Mr. James,” Robert stuttered, trying unsuccessfully to suppress the panic he felt in his voice. “He’s passed out, and I’d hate to wake him up on accident.”
“Nonsense. I insist.” Turning his body around with the help of the father’s guiding hand, Robert once again climbed the steps to the nursery. The nightlight shined on little baby James through the bars of his crib, snoring away just like his father. Mrs. James, as always, had to fight the urge to run and pick up the little bastard. They looked proudly on their son, never wanting him to grow old and resent them as all children eventually did.
“Say, what’s this?” Mr. James said, kneeling down in his slacks, touching a spot on the carpet that Robert hadn’t noticed before. He poked his index finger into Christine’s blood, a solitary splatter that fell from a scratch the scythe had made in her neck. Mr. James smelled the blood before he licked it off of his finger. He sat in that spot for a moment, Robert staring at the floor, terrified, Mrs. James simply curious, before he rose and turned to face his babysitter.
“You had friends here tonight?” he asked, straight-faced.
“Yes. In the basement.” No point in lying. Mr. James had him dead to rights.
“And did any of them come up here?”
He gulped, not sure if he was going to leave the nursery that night or share the same fate as Ryan and Christine. “Yeah. Two of them.”
“And did all of your friends make it home tonight, Robert?”
“No.” He gulped and stared at the closet. “Two of them didn’t.”
Mr. James nodded, pondering how best to handle the complicated situation. Finally, he took a wad of bills out from his jacket pocket, counting out a stack of twenties, and handed it all to Robert.
“See you next Friday, my boy,” he said, putting his arm around his wife and kissing her forehead. “Let’s say around seven. We’re going to go see the new American Pie movie. And maybe you could tell your friends to be a bit more careful when they come up here. In fact, I don’t think they need to come upstairs at all.” He smiled kindly, but the message got through. “For everyone’s sake.”
“Mr. James, this is…” he couldn’t find the words to describe the wad of bills in his hand. Too much just didn’t seem to cover it.
“You’re part of the family now, Robert. You have nothing to worry about. Now, take your money, go home, and tell your father I said hello and that I’ll see him on Monday. Be safe.” Robert turned around and left the room without another word, leaving the little family to themselves; mother, father, son, and demonic closet-dwelling bodyguard. He smiled to himself in spite of the growing realization that he’d murdered two of his friends for a child that could very well grow up to be the most evil bastard on the planet. And me, apparently. The babysitter. A part of the family now.
Robert left the house $600 richer. Ryan and Christine really did do much better dead than they ever had alive. Touching his wallet to make sure the money was safe and sound, he set off down the street to his family’s home three blocks away. He pondered Hannah’s question from earlier; “How did you get lucky enough to land this gig, anyway, babe?” There was no answer to that question, not that he could figure, anyway; he had no idea how he’d gotten so lucky.
Biography; “Craig’s been writing since he was old enough to pick up a pen and do so. Though his interests lie mainly in horror, he never shies away from writing a good fantasy or mystery story. When he’s not writing or spending time with his wife, he’s also the editor for Beyond Imagination Magazine and Beyond Science Fiction Magazine. You can connect with Craig easily at http://www.writercraig.com.″