Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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Testing The Babysitter

by Gary J. Beharry

Derek parted the curtains once again and peeked through the window. A red compact pulled into the driveway. He tensed, clutching the novel he held in his right hand tighter.

Movement from his far left forced him to release the curtain. "Take it easy, Derek," Mr. Johnson said. "You're acting like this is the first babysitter I left you with."

"Yes, sir. I'll do my best to be good, sir," Derek said, easing his grip on the book. Mr. Johnson grimaced. Derek quickly recovered. "I mean, yes, Dad."

The doorbell rang.

"Good evening, Mr. Johnson. I'm Judy from the agency." A slim, freckled arm reached into the foyer from the doorway and clutched Mr. Johnson's hand.

"Thank you for coming over on such short notice. I was beginning to think my son's reputation at your agency had ruined my chances of finding someone tonight. Please come in."

Derek observed her as she walked in. Her glasses made her eyes look way too big, he thought to himself. He didn't mind her freckles though, because they reminded him of his mother. He ran his hands through his hair and then used the back of the same hand to rub his runny nose.

"Pardon the clutter, we're still getting moved in, even after a month," Mr. Johnson said.

"That's okay, you should see my room," Judy said. "Derek, right? I'm Judy, nice to meet you." She easily dodged the two boxes labeled "Kitchen Two" and "Derek's Room" as she approached him with her hand outstretched. Derek extended his own skinny, red-speckled hand in her direction.

"Nice to meet you, Miss."

"Actually, Judy is fine. Miss is a little formal," she said, winking at him. She smelled of strawberries, he noted. She kept staring at him and her emerald green eyes sparkled under the bright lights of the foyer chandelier. Derek held her gaze but felt thankful when Mr. Johnson interrupted, "Judy, would you like a grand tour of our humble, unfinished abode? I've got a few minutes before I have to leave."

"Sure," Judy said, winking at Derek for they all knew what this was - the private talk every parent gives to the babysitter before they go on their way. "Actually, getting back to what you were saying earlier, Mr. Johnson, the reason the agency picked me to come was because of the problems you've been having with the other babysitters..."

Derek pounded a fist into his thigh as the two disappeared from the foyer. He needed to hear more of the conversation to carry out his plan. He sighed and sat on the staircase. His legs opened and closed and his knees bounced together as he thought of the other babysitters. All had been false positives. And that only made the guilt he felt worse. He felt guilty for testing them and guilty for letting his superiors down. He had to succeed. He had screwed up so many times in his short life.

After all, his mom had not meant to hurt him. But he had squealed anyway, and they had come for them. He buried his face in his hands. What was he doing? He should have never told. He had been torn between doing the right thing for his family, for society, and for himself. When she died, The P.I.T. had taken him in. They trained him for over a year. Only a year 'cause they were running out of time. He would not fail again. For once in his life, he would do the right thing.

"Well, that's the whole tour of downstairs. It's getting late and I have a house to show at six," his father said as he and Judy entered the foyer once again. Derek wiped his eyes and took a deep breath, once again releasing his grip on the book. He saw an annoyed expression on his father's face as he looked up. Derek turned away and heard his father say, "Judy, he's to be in bed no later than ten. Good-bye, kiddo." Derek turned just in time to see him dash out the door. He hoped she didn't find it strange that they didn't hug.

Judy took her jacket off and placed it on the coat rack next to the front door. She was pipe cleaner thin. For Derek, that was a good sign 'cause that was one of the symptoms. She may have it after all. She turned toward him and said, "So."

"Sew buttons," he said.

Judy smiled, her huge eyes seeming to drink him in.

"Have you eaten yet?" she asked.

"No. We've got frozen pizza," he said with a smile.

"Sounds good. I'll see if I can do some damage in the kitchen. You wanna help?"

"Not really, I think I'll stick to reading."

"Oh, what are you reading?"

"A book."

"That's a good one. I'm beginning to see what the other babysitters were saying about you."

"What were the other babysitters saying about me?" Derek asked, but she had already advanced toward the kitchen.

He tiptoed toward the kitchen, stopping to the side of the entryway. He heard Judy humming and chanced a peek as she opened the freezer and took out the pizza. The ice settling into the glass on the kitchen table caught his attention. Yes, that would do perfectly. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the glass. He imagined it sliding to the edge of the table. He opened his eyes just in time to see the glass shatter into pieces on the floor.

Judy turned around and furrowed her brow. She yanked the dishtowel wrapped around the refrigerator door handle and began wiping up the broken glass.

As if she could sense him there, she looked up and stared into his eyes. "Derek, don't come in here. There's glass all over. I must have knocked it over while I was preparing the pizza. Why don't you go back to your book and I'll call you when it's ready."

"Okay," he said, perplexed.

He wandered into the living room and pondered on the event that just took place. Could this be it? He had made the mistake before, becoming too eager without having all the facts. He was only eleven after all. He needed to calm down. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out several times. He would not make that mistake again. "Small steps," they had taught him. It would manifest on its own. He opened his book and tapped the tassel of the bookmark back and forth with his forefinger. He thought of the last days of mom's life. She had built up a resistance to the drugs and had gotten worse. She had full-blown PS and in her delirium she had lashed out at him. He shuddered at the memory and felt thankful when he heard his name being called from the kitchen. "Coming," he said, placing his bookmark between the open pages of his book.

Judy was seated at the end of the kitchen table, the pizza for two already in slices in the middle, and a place setting for him opposite her. He sat down and he couldn't be sure, but her eyes seemed to twinkle again in the fluorescent kitchen light. Even though he had a job to do, that pizza did smell pretty good. He grabbed a slice and bit into it.

"Yikes," he said, as he waved his hand up and down in front of his mouth. Judy sprang from her seat and ran to the fridge.

"Coke or water," she said, bent over, peering into the fridge.

"Water," he said, still flapping his hand over his tongue. Before she turned from the fridge, he imagined pushing her plate with the pizza slice to the edge of the table. As it slid closer to the edge, knots formed in his stomach. One quarter of the plate passed the edge, then one-third ... Sweat beaded his forehead. He closed his eyes and in his mind, he let go.

Silence. Maybe he didn't "push" it far enough. He opened his eyes and contained a yelp from escaping. The plate now hovered completely off the table.

She was infected.

Judy calmly placed a glass of soda next to Derek's plate. She walked over to her side of the table and pushed her plate forward so that it now rested all the way on the table. She sat down, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.

"Don't drop your glass this time," she said, not even looking at him.

"You," Derek began, but Judy raised her forefinger to her lips.

"Don't talk with your mouth full." The meal was completed in silence as Derek tried to figure out what to do next. It had never advanced this far before. But he had to continue. He knew the epidemic was getting worse. He knew people counted on him, and the scariest thing of all: he knew they had to find a cure before he reached puberty. Why else would the government put a prepubescent child in danger?

"If you're done, I'll do the dishes," she said, breaking his train of thought. "You can go back to reading and I'll join you in a few. Maybe we could play some cards or something."

"Sure," Derek said. He backed out of the kitchen, keeping his eyes on her the entire time.

He found himself once again sitting on the couch and flicking the tassel back and forth on his bookmark. Even though he had been trained intensively to do his job, he was still only a child. Would they have enough to take her? He was told they needed enough evidence to show she was a danger and then they would have another subject -- to do more experiments. However, he thought this was turning into a dangerous duel. No, he had to continue. He was so wrapped up in his thoughts he didn't notice Judy had seated herself across from him.

"Great Expectations. That's a pretty big book for someone your age. Do you like it?"

"It's all right," he said as he glanced toward the foyer and noticed her coat hanging on the rack. His eyes squinted a little and he imagined an invisible hand behaving mischievously. The rack tipped to one side. He turned toward Judy and waited for the crash. After a few seconds of silence, he turned his head toward the foyer and his mouth fell open. The coat rack remained tipped to the side, hanging in midair. As if it were just waiting for him to witness the feat, the coat rack easily righted itself and wobbled on its three legs for a few seconds before leveling itself on the floor.

Judy spread her arms out on the back of the couch, put her head back and sighed. "So Derek, how about that game of cards?" she asked, staring at the ceiling.

"All right," Derek said resigning himself to see this thing through. Why hadn't they come in yet? Was he mistaken? Perhaps they were testing him. "They're in the kitchen utility drawer, I'll get them," he finally said.

On his way back from the kitchen, he had another brilliant idea. It was always harder dealing with water, or dealing with any liquid for that matter. He didn't know exactly why for they never covered that in his training. He just knew the feeling. If this didn't work, if she did something and they didn't come in...

He sat on the "Kitchen Two" box, hoping she wouldn't turn her head, and concentrated on the vase on the end table next to her. The water began to rise out in a thin column, like a hollow rope, and flow towards Judy. She didn't even move. Yet instead of his intended target, her face, the water rose above and over her head, crossed over itself and backtracked until it dripped right back in the vase.

This was impossible. No one had ever bested him like this. No one could manipulate water without straining themselves, he thought, doubling over and panting. Yet, when he looked her way again, she was tapping her fingers on the armrest of the couch, humming to herself.

No. Derek had lost too many times, too many friends, and too much of his life.

"I thought you got lost," Judy said. "What game do you want to play?"

"Forget the cards!" he screamed as he tossed the cards at the couch. All fifty-two cards hung in mid air in a random position and slowly began to move, as if invisible hands were manipulating them. The ace of spades separated itself from the random configuration and hovered right in front of Derek. The two of spades followed, pushing itself against the back of the ace. The rest of the cards in the spades suit joined their brethren in sequence. Then the ace of diamonds rubbed up against the back of the spades suit and all the diamonds joined their ace in numerical order. The clubs and hearts obediently followed. Judy stood up, grasped the deck of cards and placed them on the end table next to the vase.

"That's impossible!" Derek screamed.

"All it takes is a little practice," Judy said, advancing on him. "Does your father know?" Derek tensed at the mention of Mr. Johnson, but his training quickly took over and he let her go on. "You shouldn't tell him. They'll take you. That's why most of us go into hiding once we test positive. Some of us, like myself, use certain avenues, like the babysitting agency, to find children who have the disease. Don't be frightened of the disease Derek. I can show you the power that you can have."

Derek began to back away from her, forgetting his task, forgetting everything for the moment. He fell backwards over the "Kitchen Two" box and lashed out with his mind. The box opened and a sterling silver fork and knife arose, floating unsteadily towards Judy.

Judy smirked and at the same time the box rumbled. At least a dozen forks and knives rose from the box and circled Derek. Some were spinning laterally, some were spinning vertically, but they were all approaching the frightened child.

"Derek, this is just a taste of my power. I just want to give you a taste of what you could become. But they want to stop us. They want to cure us. They are the ones that need curing. It's nature, Derek. Natural selection. Make your choice." She continued advancing upon him. One of the knives nicked his ear and a rivulet of blood dripped onto his shoulder. Judy giggled.

The front door burst open and Mr. Johnson, followed by a man and woman, both wearing black jackets, rushed through the entrance. The letters "PIT" were written in white on the left front breast of their black jackets. Mr. Johnson rushed toward Derek. The flying cutlery seemed to sense the intruders and they changed direction. Knives and forks flew towards each of the three intruders now.

Mr. Johnson dove toward Derek and tackled him, expertly dodging a knife headed for Derek's throat. Mr. Johnson pulled out a walkie-talkie and said, "This is Agent Johnson. We need backup, now! Bring a tranq gun! Hurry!"

Judy advanced on the two agents by the door. The forks had been forgotten and the knives had regrouped, spinning in midair and forming a barrier between her and the two agents. One of the agents, a tall, blonde haired woman, reached into her suit and pulled out a gun.

Mr. Johnson tried to turn Derek's face away from the scene but Derek resisted. Mr. Johnson shouted, "No, we need her alive!" The blonde haired agent pointed the gun at Judy and fired. The knives parted and the bullet slowed just before it was about to enter Judy's chest. It dropped to the ground. Judy clenched her fists and screamed. The knives whirled faster now, getting ready to fling themselves at the two shaking agents.

Derek pushed Mr. Johnson's hands away from his face and concentrated on the box labeled "Derek's Room." With all his energy, he focused on the box and closed his eyes. He opened them just in time to see the box slide across the foyer floor and slam into Judy's backside. She fell backwards and toppled over the box, her glasses slipping off her nose and crashing to the ground. The knives missed their targets and slammed into the wall.

Judy, shaking with rage, now faced Mr. Johnson and Derek. She got off the floor and lifted her gaze toward the ceiling. Derek followed her eyes - the chandelier. Derek looked at her and shook his head. She smiled at him. Something in the ceiling popped and bits of plaster snowed on them. The chandelier began to shake. Another pop and then it fell. Derek was weak. He did not have the power Judy had. He knew he could not stop it as gravity and her will were working against him. He closed his eyes and his training took over once again. He clutched Mr. Johnson and as the chandelier was about to hit its targets Derek used his disease to push them along the floor until his head hit the bottom of the staircase. Groggily, he looked towards Judy.

Her face turned red. She stomped her feet, clenched her teeth, and screamed. Derek rubbed the back of his head with his palm as if this would make the hurt go away. He saw a red dot on Judy's chest and thought she had been shot by one of the agents, but then the spot moved and dust in the air from the broken piece of plaster revealed a red beam of light coming from the window. The window glass shattered and then Judy dropped to the ground, a long, silver dart embedded in her neck. Derek willed himself up and staggered towards her.

She moaned and felt for her neck. "Derek, don't go near her," Mr. Johnson said. The female agent had already come between Derek and Judy. The agent pulled out an Inhibitor, a device used by the Psychokinetic Investigative Team to restrain those in advanced stages of the disease. It was in the shape of a cross that had been bent so the top curved down and the sides curved in. The agent placed it on Judy's head and she immediately went rigid. "She can't hurt anyone now," the agent said, sounding unsure to Derek.

Derek looked into Judy's eyes. They no longer sparkled, yet he noticed something he had not noticed before. They now looked sick and wild. They looked like his mother's when she had reached the final stages of the disease. Derek leaned over Judy and said, "I don't want to turn into you."

Mr. Johnson placed his hand on Derek's shoulder. "You won't Derek. We've talked about this. You have a few years before puberty. You have time before it reaches the final stages. We're on the brink of a cure. We just need more test subjects that are in advanced stages of the disease. The Babysitter Program was just the thing to help us bring more of them out of hiding."

Though Mr. Johnson had given him reassurance in the past, this time, it seemed like he really meant it and Derek smiled.

Mr. Johnson gripped his shoulder tighter and then bent down to look at him. "Derek, I'm sorry I didn't come in sooner. I was watching the video and I didn't think we would have enough evidence. I didn't mean for it to go this far. But listen, you did great. I knew you had it in you."

Again, Derek felt the sincerity in the man's voice. He looked at Judy again. Her eyes remained glazed over and her body twitched. "I've made my choice," Derek said.


© 2008 Gary J. Beharry

Bio: Gary's work has been featured in print in Tabloid Purposes IV: Something Macabre this Way Comes and Sybil's Garage. Online he has been featured in AlienSkin Magazine, Crimson Highways, and Kidvisions.

During his existence in the realm of the Mundane, he works in the adult education field, volunteer tutors, and rents a room owned by two cats. He treasures his free time for he travels to other worlds, or is welcomed into the known but hidden magical realm of Earth, where he documents his journeys and happenstances, hoping to share his adventures with the Mundanes.

Visit him on the web at Mallikai's Crypt.

E-mail: Gary J. Beharry

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