by Caroline Geary
pumpkin spice latte
‘Hi Claire.’ Marcus draped himself round Claire’s skinny jean clad legs, his mop of unruly hair just level with her hip
‘Hi you,’ she said, ruffling his hair. He only came up to her waist, but he was certainly growing. She was sixteen now, and she had baby sat six year old Marcus for the last two years. She had lived next door to the Johnson family for the last ten, and her parents were great friends with Mr and Mrs Johnson. Claire found Marcus a slightly odd child; he could actually be a bit creepy. He was pale, and sombre in character. Something behind his eyes made him seem older that his years. Claire found it hard to make eye contact with him and he had a habit of making her feel uneasy, but ultimately, he was no trouble and it was a bit of easy money. Money that she pretended to her parents she would be saving for University, but actually she spent on cigarettes and the odd can of cider that she shared with Barry at their clandestine meetings in the park.
Mrs Johnson greeted Claire with an overbearing perfume scented hug and a heavily lipsticked grin. Knowing Mrs Johnson it was probably some super expensive designer brand but its cloying odour reminded Claire of a mixture of rotting roses and stale air. Claire stiffened in the embrace.
‘You know our number,’ Mrs Johnson said turning towards the hall mirror and patting at her heavily sprayed hair. Claire noticed that it barely moved. ‘As always, please call if you need anything. Anything at all’ she said.
‘Sure,’ said Claire, dropping her bag to the floor as Mr and Mrs Johnson shrugged on winter coats and headed to the back door.
‘He’s had dinner,’ said Mrs Johnson over her shoulder ‘But there are plenty of snacks in the fridge and a nice pizza you can pop in the oven if you like’.
‘Thanks’, Claire nodded.
‘We’ll be back around midnight; that is okay isn’t it? said Mrs Johnson.
‘It’s fine.’ Claire smiled. ‘I’ve bought some college work to do.‘
The Johnsons nodded and left, the hall door swinging shut behind them. The house feeling somehow colder in their absence.
However, college work was the last thing on Claire’s mind. She had planned for her boyfriend Barry to come over. The Johnsons would not allow this; they had a strict no friends policy that was more than likely aimed towards boys.
She reached into her handbag and pulled out a huge bar of chocolate. The Johnsons weren’t a fan of unhealthy food and this was a sure-fire way to get Marcus on side.
‘Marcus’. She called. She jumped as he appeared in front of her out of nowhere. He looked up at her. She noticed he was now sporting some pyjamas. ‘This is for you,' she said waving the chocolate in front of his face.
‘Wow,’ he said. ‘My mum hardly ever lets me eat chocolate. Is that really all for me?’
‘Yes,’said Claire. ‘On one condition.’ Marcus looked up at her with huge dark eyes. ‘You have to keep a secret’.
Claire leant over towards him and said in a lowered voice.
‘I’ve got a friend coming over later, but you mustn’t tell Mummy and Daddy.' Marcus’ eyes darkened.
‘You’re not allowed boys round here,’ said Marcus pouting.
‘I know,’ said Claire doing her best to sound sincere ‘So I didn’t want to tell your mummy and daddy as it would only annoy them. But it just to study and studying is very important, isn’t it?’
Marcus’ face looked oddly pale. He could be a real creepy kid at times.
‘Oh, come on,’ said Claire trying to lighten the mood by waving the chocolate bar. In his face.
The small boy folded his arms.
‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘No way. You're here to babysit me. And that means playing with me and not sending me to bed early cos you have a friend round. I don’t want a stranger in my house.’
‘Fine’ said Claire spitefully, breaking off a chunk of chocolate and popping it in her mouth. ‘No chocolate then?’
‘I don’t care’ said Marcus stamping a foot and running off upstairs.
Claire threw herself onto the lounge sofa with a sigh. She clicked on the television and munched the chocolate bar, devouring the whole lot. She shivered; the Johnsons’ house was always so cold. She texted Barry. ‘Sorry babe. Kid being a brat and says he’ll tell parents if you come over.’
She shivered again. She did not fancy being here on her own until midnight. The house was very old fashioned. Dark wood doors and unusual paintings. Eerie portraits whose eyes seemed to follow you. One was of a lady with flowing long hair and a dark cloak. It reminded Claire of a witch and she made a point of never looking at it as she walked by. The house had a long dark hallway too that gave her the creeps and a winding staircase which made you feel exposed, there were too many hiding spaces. Eyes watching you between banisters.
She had made herself feel slightly nauseous eating the chocolate and stood up to go and get a glass of water. Despite the television being on the house felt very silent. She wondered what that little brat Marcus was doing. She walked out into the dark hallway and jumped. A small pale face looked out from between the banisters above and down at her.
‘Jeez Marcus’ she said ‘You gave me a heart attack’.
‘I’ve got a wobbly tooth,'' said Marcus not smiling just giving it a wiggle. ‘If it falls out tonight, I’ll get money from the tooth fairy.’
Claire scoffed.‘The tooth fairy isn’t real Marcus; you know that at your age, you're not a baby’
Marcus’ small mouth formed a surprised ‘o’ shape.
‘Don’t give me that look,’ said Claire. ‘If you're old enough to tell me what I can and can't do then you can take a home truth like that!! Suck it up.'
Marcus stood up then. The shock turning to anger. The dim light of the hallway giving his face an unearthly pallor
‘You shouldn’t have said that,’ he said raising a shaky finger and pointing at Claire. ‘You will wish you never said that.' He looked so angry it took Claire's breath away. She could see the whites of his eyes and for a fleeting second, he reminded her of a wild animal. He then turned and fled up the stairs
Claire shuddered and rolled her eyes although by the time she had poured herself a coke she was feeling a bit guilty about things. And also, she had realised he would tell his parents what she had said about the tooth fairy and how it all happened. She cursed herself, she was going to end up in trouble and she had not seen Barry either. She would have to talk Marcus round.
She turned on the hall light and went up to Marcus’ room. The light was off and the room was silent. She wondered if he was already asleep.
‘Marcus?’ Claire said softly not wanting to turn on the main bedroom light in case he was asleep. ‘Marcus?’ She stepped further into the room and tried to make out if the lumpy shape on the bed was Marcus’ sleeping body or a bundled-up heap of duvet and pillow. Claire felt the hairs on her arms prickle and her mouth became dry. She was just about to take a step nearer then,
She spun around and Marcus was standing right behind her. She let out a gasp as she noticed a trickle of blood journey down his chin. He then held up something in his fingers and smiled a wide grin that didn’t meet his eyes, revealing a gap in the row of small front teeth.
‘Oh you lost a tooth!’ Claire couldn’t help smiling in relief, although why the relief, she wasn’t quite sure. ‘Rinse it off and we’ll leave it for the tooth fairy’ she said kneeling down to Marcus’s height spotting an opportunity to put things right.
‘Sorry I teased you it was a silly joke, just a joke. Of course the tooth fairy is real’.
‘I know,’ said Marcus, his small jaw set in a serious manner.
‘You do?’ asked Claire ‘And yes, you’re right’.
‘I am right. I saw her even though you’re not supposed to see her.'
‘Saw who?’ asked Claire
‘The tooth fairy,’ said Marcus solemnly.
Claire smiled - slightly unnerved by Marcus’ odd behaviour but also quite pleased the tooth fairy issue seemed to have been resolved. She nodded encouragingly.
‘ ‘Well, that’s great, it was just all a silly joke wasn’t it? And now it’s sorted. All we need to do is put the tooth under your pillow and ta da!’
Marcus did not mirror her excitement. Instead, she heard him say. ‘You’ll be sorry’ under his breath, so low it was barely audible.
‘Sorry?’ asked Claire. Marcus looked her directly in the eye.
‘She said you’d be sorry for what you said.’
Claire shuddered god this kid could be creepy.
‘Well, I am sorry’ she said ‘I’m really sorry. Would you like a story before bed?’
‘Yes please,’ said Marcus. So they had two stories but the atmosphere remained tight and tense. The tooth went under the pillow and Claire went downstairs.
She found an old TV comedy to lift her mood and lay down on the sofa to watch. Soon she found herself drifting off into a fitful sleep then jerking awake again, clutching her teeth, her mouth feeling raw and sore and full of blood, and then the sweet relief of realising it was a dream.
When her eyes snapped open at just after 11.00 pm, she became aware that she needed a pound coin to sleep under Marcus’ pillow. She looked in her wallet and was relieved to see there was one there. She stood up and gasped. She was certain a dark figure had moved past the door.
‘Marcus?’ she asked. She stuck her head round the door but there was no one there. She started to make her way up the stairs. The air felt cold and still. She listened outside Marcus’ door but there was no tell-tale rustle of covers, just the rhythmic breathing of a child sleeping.
Walking into the room, being careful to be silent. She slipped a hand under Marcus’ pillow. At first she couldn’t find the tooth. she deftly slipped a hand further under the pillow, so far that is was almost under Marcus’ head, then she found the tooth, small and sharp, but as she deposited the pound coin, and went to smoothly withdraw her hand, her fingers felt another tooth. As she felt around and tried to make sense of what was under the pillow her fingers found another tooth then another, and another, and then another. Confused, she grabbed them all and moved out into the light of the hall to see just what she had in her hand. Not wanting to wake Marcus by putting the hall light on she moved to the bathroom and pulled on the light. The room flooded in harsh fluorescent light and Claire was confronted by the ashen gaze of her own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Her lips were covered in blood. She hadn’t noticed before but now she could taste the thick salty liquid. She looked down in her hands to see what she was holding. It was a handful of bloody teeth and almost certainly adult teeth. She looked back in the mirror and raised a trembling finger to her lips. She parted them slowly and stared in the mirror. She saw then, which her tongue had already suggested. All her teeth were missing.
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