Daycare

I recently put my daughter in daycare.  I didn’t want to do it, but being that I’m a single parent, I don’t have much of a choice.

After dubious research, I found a daycare center that seemed like a good fit.  It was run by a girl named Wendy and seemed fairly popular in the neighborhood, as there were a number of kids there when I went to investigate.  One of the things I particularly liked about it was the fact that they had security cameras set up around the center so that parents can get access to them and check on their kids.

It quickly became an obsession of mine.  All the kids wore jackets that they daycare provided, because the air conditioner had been on the fritz so it was quite cold there, but it was easy to tell which little girl was mine.  I loved being able to watch my daughter play with other kids as I worked and it gave me the peace of mind knowing that she was doing all right. 

I couldn’t keep my eyes glued to the screen the entire time, but in passing I saw that she had made a friend she played with almost every day, and even had a favorite toy.  It was a little medicine ball that she and her friend would toss back and forth.  They played with it every day.

After about a week, things seemed to be going quite well.  My little girl had started really grasping potty-training and was more well-behaved than I’d ever known her to be.  Needless to say, I was impressed with the daycare.

That was when she started singing the song.

She hummed it at first, and when I asked her what it was, she told me it was a song they taught her at daycare.  Eventually she learned all the words and began to sing.

We eat their teeth

And eat their bones

And slit their throats inside their homes

We sing this song

And when we’re done

We’ll go to hell and have more fun.

She sang it all the time, no matter how many times I had to ask her to stop.  It made my skin crawl.  Why would they teach a song like that to children?

The next day, with the song stuck in my head, I resolved to call Wendy.  I wanted to tell her that I disapproved of that song and I didn’t want that or anything else like it taught to my daughter.  If it continued, I would be forced to find a new daycare.

As I watched the children play on my computer screen, my little girl playing with the ball like she always did, I picked up my phone and called the daycare.

When Wendy answered, I told her about my concern.  She was incredibly polite about it and said that one of the other children had been going around singing it – she said she thought it was from a movie or something - but she was working on putting a stop to it because that song was definitely not for children.  She said it disturbed her just as much as it did me.

I’d been pacing around my office as I spoke to her, and just as we were saying goodbye, I looked back down at the screen and noticed something peculiar.

The Wendy on the screen was not on the phone, but was helping a child with his juice box.

She said goodbye and hung up the phone, and I watched the cameras, not reciprocating her farewell, but transfixed on the screen in front of me.  I stared at my daughter and her playing with her ball and tried to think of how many time’s I’d seen her drop it as they tossed it back and forth.  I didn’t think I’d seen that happen very much.

And the kid in the corner was always in the corner, working on the same puzzle.  How long had he been working on that puzzle?

That’s when I began to suspect that instead of watching a live feed, I’d been watching a recording.

 ***

I took my daughter out of daycare immediately.  I couldn’t allow her to keep going to that daycare until I found out what was going on, and even then, I still doubted I’d ever let her go back.  My boss, being a single parent herself, allowed me a week to work from home so I could watch my daughter and find another daycare center.

She wouldn’t stop singing that song though.

Every morning before I even went into her room to wake her up, I could hear her singing it.  And at night, after I put her to bed and I thought she was asleep, I could hear that song coming from her room.

It played back over and over again in my dreams and in my head.  I found it hard to focus on my job and on the search for the new daycare center.  So, when she finally stopped singing, and it was finally out of my head, my relief was immeasurable.

Silence filled the house, and for several minutes, I couldn’t imagine anything more peaceful.  It was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders for the first time in days and I could finally suck in a full breath of air.

When the silence broke, however, my stomach knotted even tighter.  A feral, terrified scream tore through the house like a freight train.  I’d never heard anything like it.  It was a growling, screeching sound and immediately my mind leapt back into the verses of the song. 

We eat their teeth.

We eat their bones.

I leapt from my desk and followed the noise instantly.  It stopped before I entered my daughter’s room, which is where I was lead, and in that split second, my heart also stopped.  The suddenness by which the sound ceased was almost as unsettling as the sound itself.

When I stepped in, I didn’t see anything at first, not even my daughter.  Then I found her crouched in the corner with her back to me.  She looked like she was busy with something and I could hear a strange sound that even now I can’t describe.

I rushed toward her and picked her up and my hands felt a sticky wetness on her clothes.  It was warm and thick and reminded me of Caro syrup.  I turned her around and saw that what I was touching was the blood that covered the front of her shirt, and I immediately panicked.  I didn’t think of anything else other than to find out where she was bleeding.  I carried her to the bathroom and ripped her shirt off and scrubbed quickly with a washcloth to find the cut.  I found a few scratches on her arms and scrubbed harder, looking for the source of so much blood, but I found nothing else. 

In my panic to clean her up, I hadn’t noticed until that moment that she wasn’t crying or even making a sound at all.  I looked up to her face and, aside from the blood that was smeared across her chin, she looked completely fine.  Her jaw worked up and down, chewing on something, and with shaky fingers I fished it out of her mouth.  It looked like a thin piece of leather.

I threw it in the trash and wiped my fingers on my jeans, and picked up my daughter to carry her to her bedroom to investigate the origin of the blood.

In the corner of her bedroom where I’d originally seen her crouched, was a dead, bloody tangle of fur and tendons that I immediately recognized as the cat I’d adopted from the shelter only a year ago.

It was missing an ear.

I screamed at her.  I screamed out of fear and anger and panic at my daughter who just stood there next to me with blood drying on her hands, arms, and face while her blue eyes stared back at me like blank pools of water.

I put her in the bathtub while I cleaned up the mess in her bedroom.  I scrubbed with hydrogen peroxide and carpet detergent until my arms were sore, but by the end of it there was still a small brownish stain that would serve as a reminder of what had happened to my cat.

In the bathroom, I heard the echoes of my daughter’s voice as she sang the song again.

I didn’t sleep much that night.  Whenever I closed my eyes, I saw the corpse of the cat lying in the corner, and my stomach knotted up even tighter.

When I did finally fall asleep, it was only for a few hours.  I awoke at 3 to the muffled voice of my daughter through the wall.  She was praying.  She said the following prayer three times without pause:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

And when I die before I wake

I pray the lord my soul to take

We’ll play and sing among the dead

And He shall feed us blood and bread

I’ll do His work until sunrise

And love him forever, The Prince of All Lies

When she was done, she said “Amen” and I heard her crawl back into bed.  I got intermittent sleep after that, but not much.  Just like the song, that prayer was stuck in my head and it made me sick.

The next morning, I found her sleeping deeply in bed, covered in a pool of her own urine.  She hadn’t wet the bed at all since I started her in that daycare, and even before that I thought we had overcome that particular hurdle, but when I stepped in her room, the sickly-sweet scent of urine and ammonia mixed with the rotten stench of feces filled the room and made my eyes water.  I found that she’d not only wet the bed, but had also had diarrhea as well.

I gagged and picked her up and carried her, half asleep still, to the shower.

As I cleaned her and she became more conscious, she looked at me with tired eyes.  She didn’t look like she’d slept much at all.

When she spoke, her voice was dry and hoarse, but more sincere than anything she’d said over the past few days.

“You’re going to burn.”

***

I asked around to see if I could find anyone else whose kids went to that daycare.  It took a few days, but I finally found a friend of a friend’s cousin whose son was enrolled.

I contacted him via Facebook and set up a meeting with him at his house.  I brought my daughter so she could play with his son while we talked in private.

He and his wife both worked full-time, and seemed shocked when I first suggested that something in the daycare was amiss.  They said that their son, Brian, had never been better behaved than since he started going to that daycare.  He went to bed without being told, cleaned up his toys, and hadn’t thrown a tantrum in the three weeks since he was first enrolled.

I asked if they regularly checked the cameras.  They admitted that although they did a few times, they didn’t really sign in to watch on a regular basis.  When I suggested the possibility of the cameras being pre-recorded, they said they honestly hadn’t noticed.

I told them about the strange song I’d heard my daughter sing, and the strange way she’d been acting.  I didn’t mention the cat, however, because I didn’t want to be accused of being a negligent parent.  They said they’d heard Brian humming something, but the words never came up.

Hesitantly, I asked if they had a pet.  For a fraction of a second, I thought I saw a flicker of concern in their eyes, then Brian’s father spoke and said they didn’t - but I’d seen that look in their eyes that spoke volumes more than anything else they had said.

When we were done, I took my daughter and left.

That was the last time I or anyone else spoke to either of Brian’s parents.  The following morning, I saw on the news that both parents had been killed in their bed, and their son was now missing.

When I put my daughter to bed the following evening, I decided to try to talk to her about it.  I’d deliberated over my questions all day, and had finally decided on what specifically I wanted to ask her.

I’ve transcribed the questions and answers to the best of my ability below.

Q: What sort of games did you play at the daycare with Miss Wendy?

A: We played imagination games.

Q: Who taught you the song that you sing?

A: Miss Terri.

Q: Who’s Miss Terri?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Is she friends with Miss Wendy?

A: No.  She plays the imagination games with us.

Q: Did she teach you to say that prayer at night?

A: What prayer?

Q: The one I heard you saying the other night.  (I repeated the prayer)

A: I don’t know.  I just know it.

Q: Why did you kill Tony (the name of the cat)

A: I had to.

Q: Why?

A: He wasn’t going to let them in.

Q: Let who in?

A: I don’t know.

I asked if anyone had abused her at all.  She didn’t understand and I had to explain.  I won’t go into detail here, but when she understood my question, she confirmed that she had not been abused whatsoever.

Q: What did you mean when you said I was going to burn?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Why did you say it?

A: She told me to.

Q: Who?

A: Miss Terri.

Q: When did she tell you that?

A: Just before I said it.

Q: Does talk to you often?

A: Sometimes.

Q: Is she talking to you now?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: She’s waiting for you to leave.

Those six words hung between us amidst the silence that was almost palatable.   Her eyes drifted upward and fixed on a space behind me.  I turned slowly, and saw nothing but an empty room.

I shook my head, then kissed her on the cheek and clicked off the light, but not before checking to make sure the window was locked.  I needed a drink, and I needed to think.  Something was going on, but how could I draw the line in the sand between the supernatural, if that’s really what it was, and the imagination of a child?

As I sat in the living room, sipping at a glass of whiskey and contemplating these things, I felt a chill in the air, like the AC had kicked on, except no the house remained as silent as the grave.

That was when I saw her standing at the end of the hall. 

I thought she must be sleepwalking.  Given the circumstances, I honestly half-expected it.  I drained the glass, savoring the spicy wooden flavor of the whiskey, and stood from my seat.  I called out to her, but she didn’t answer.  She simply stood there, limply, at the end of the hall.

I began to walk toward her, and it was then that I saw the metallic glimmer in her hands – she was holding a kitchen knife.

I hurried toward her now, calling her name and trying to wake her up before she hurt herself, but when she looked up at me, I froze.  Her eyes were black and her lips were pulled taught in a grin so wide that I could count her teeth if I had a mind to.

Tears ran down her cheeks and splashed against the carpet.

I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

She didn’t do anything.  I wasn’t sure what I expected her to do – perhaps I’d seen too many movies or perhaps my hopes for salvation were too high – but she did nothing but stand there, listening to my recitation of the scripture.  Eventually, I fell silent.

When she took a step forward, it was rigid, like her limbs were wrapped in splints and she was being controlled by a puppeteer. 

I backed away slowly and pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and dialed nine-one-one.  The woman answered the line, but I couldn’t hear much more than static on the other end when she tried to speak.  I told her I needed help and that my daughter needed an ambulance, but I wasn’t sure she heard me, because right afterword the phone ended the connection and the battery, which had been at 50% only twenty minutes before, was drained.

She continued to step forward, and with each step, she repeated her song.

“We eat their teeth”

Step.

“We eat their bones.”

Step.

I felt even colder then, and the room seemed to get darker.  I thought I saw then, the faint figure of a woman and a little girl standing at the end of the hallway just before the lightbulb went out.

“We slit their throats inside their homes.”

Step.

I rushed toward my daughter then.  I lunged for the knife in her hand and it came up in an arc that glinted from the light behind me.  I felt the warm pain in my forearm as it cut through my skin, but I snatched at the blade.  I caught it just above the handle and the metal tore at my palm as I wrenched it away from her.  I threw the knife behind me and heard it clatter to the floor.

I picked my little girl up in a bear hug and held her as she fought to scratch and bite at me.  When I felt the tugging against me, my blood turned to ice.

I couldn’t see anything, but I felt something in the dark working against my embrace, pulling at my daughter’s feet.  I pulled harder and screamed in exertion, but one of my daughter’s fingers found its way to the slit in my forearms and dug deeply into my flesh.  I dropped her from the pain and knew then that I’d made a dire error.

Like a limp doll, I saw my daughter pulled into the end of the dark hallway and disappear into the shadow.  I ran after her and clicked the light on in her bedroom to illuminate the rest of the hall from the ambience, but the hallway was empty – my daughter was gone.

The police came in shortly after, and I told them that someone had taken her – I didn’t think they’d believe my story otherwise.  They launched a full investigation, but I don’t think they’ll ever find her.

I went back to the daycare the next morning, but the building where I’d once dropped my daughter off was nothing more than an empty warehouse with a pink notice of condemnation taped on the inside window.

The website I once logged onto to check the cameras no longer exists either, not even in my internet history.

I still wake up at night.  It’s usually around three in the morning, and I can feel that same coolness that I felt that night she disappeared.  Once, I thought I could even hear a whisper come through the silence.  It wasn’t her voice, but I could make out three words.  Pi I Ozien.  I don’t know what language it is, but it’s stuck with me ever since.

If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of my little girl, please let me know.  Her name is Dorothy.  She’s three years old, has blonde hair and blue eyes and was last seen wearing pink pajamas. 

 

 

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