“Here we are!”
David Jeraldine hustled Tizzy up the driveway, yanking her through the door and slamming it behind him. Tizzy stumbled to a halt, regarding him warily. She wondered, and not for the first time since he'd picked her up, whether there was something wrong here. She'd heard stories of girls being picked up and never seen again, heard so many she'd assumed they were urban myth. Until now. Now one hand thrust into her sweatshirt pocket, fingers tightening reassuringly about the small cylinder of her mace.
An angry blush crept up her cheeks. He glanced at the door behind him, replaying, she suspected, his recent actions from memory. He turned back to Tizzy, a smile broadening his face.
“Sorry, Teresa, I didn't mean to make you nervous. It's just that, well, even in a nice neighborhood like this you can't be too careful. Infected have been popping up all over town, and you wouldn't want one of them to spot you, now would you?”
Tizzy relaxed a bit, but her hand stayed in her pocket. Just in case.
“I figured you were virus-conscious,” she said. “That's what most Agency calls are about. 'Every Agency girl is medically tested, guaranteed Virus free.' It says so right on the brochure, right?”
“Yes,” he said, smile in place. “Exactly.”
He gestured for her to follow as he led her further into the big house.
“Can we sort out the money afterward? I'm not sure how long we'll be, and I know you charge by the half-hour.”
She followed him into the living room, all leather couches and wall-to-wall carpeting, still wondering whether she was in danger, when a voice from deeper within the house.
“Yes, dear,” he called back. “I brought the babysitter.”
“I'm just checking Todd. I'll be right out.”
Tizzy's grip on the mace relaxed. Up to now she had worried Jeraldine might be some psycho who used The Sitting Agency as a kind of 'take-out', but if his wife and child were real...
“So sorry about the delay,” he said, adjusting his tie. “She has trouble letting go. “
Reassured, Tizzy smiled.
“That's alright. That's pretty common, actually. Todd is your first?”
He adjusted his tie again, blinking rapidly. He turned away and Tizzy realized he was fighting tears.
“We had another son, but we … . It was … Virus related. That's why we're so careful, and why Annie is having such a hard time right now.”
“Oh, I'm so sorry,” Tizzy said, covering her mouth in horror. “I had no idea!”
“No, you had no way of knowing. But please, don't mention it to Annie.”
Annie Jeraldine bustled into the room adjusting an earring. The strong scent of recently sprayed perfume filled the air.
“Sorry, I was just putting Todd down for the night.”
The Jeraldines showed Tizzy the refrigerator, television and the Post-it next to the phone with Annie's mobile number in case of emergency. In fact, the only thing they did not show Tizzy was Todd.
“Oh, he's sound asleep,” Annie said. “He should sleep straight through. Just remember to call me if anything's amiss.”
Then Tizzy was closing the door behind them.
She tried the television, surfing through channels, but put the remote down after a while. She snooped the well-stocked fridge, but nothing there caught
her fancy either.
I can't get over the fact that they didn't even show me the room he's in, she thought. Never mind the baby.
She picked up the remote again, but put it down a minute later.
Watch a child and never even see him? It just doesn't feel right!
Staring at the closed nursery door, Tizzy became aware of a foul odor.
Oh, my! I think somebody has a full diaper! I can't just leave him alone now!
Opening the door revealed a room appointed with bureau, changing table and crib. Nemo and Dori swam across the walls, visible by the night-light. The smell also hit her like a fist.
Oh wow! That's like no diaper I've ever smelled! It's more like...
Motion caught her eye, something in the crib. A tiny figure, lying supine, grey in the dim light, with thick lines, black against the sheet, almost as if –
Oh my God! Is that baby strapped down?
She thought about the smell.
It smells like rotting meat... like the Infected smell, after... after they die. After they come back!
She moved closer. The figure in the crib writhed, arms and legs restrained by nylon straps. The small face turned toward her, gray-skinned head thrusting upward, mouth snapping with mechanical regularity, lips skinned back to reveal just two teeth in blackened gums. She reeled back, but something struck the back of her head. Hands held her up as she slumped, dazed. Something was stuffed in her mouth, tied tight behind her head.
“I knew it,” came the voice of Annie Jeraldine. “I told you she couldn't leave my precious boy alone!”
“You were right,” replied David. “But still, Annie, can't we just let her go?”
“Of course not! Poor little Todd, she's made him hungry again!”
“But Annie – ”
Tizzy's head spun as strong hands gripped her shoulder and hair, holding her tight by the back of her head. She screamed against the gag as she was pushed forward, forced down into the crib. Annie's voice cut through all the noise.
“There, there, Todd. Eat up while it's still fresh.”
The reek of decay nearly overpowering her, Tizzy felt her hair pulled tight, her head yanked back as she was shoved deeper into the crib. A cold, wet mouth fastened to her throat, the sensation blossoming into gnawing pain.
With only two teeth to get the job done, Tizzy screamed for a long, long time.
~ ~ * * ~ ~