Cast of Wonders 51: Off Button
Today we present Off Button by Shannon M Wendt. Shannon has had recent writing credits in The Washington Pastime, Cygnus, and Nine, among others. When she isn’t working at one of her two day jobs, Shannon spends her time writing fiction and taking photographs. She lives in wind-blown, sun-blasted New Mexico with her husband and five rescued dogs. She dreams of verdant forests and rain. You can find out more about Shannon and her work her website.
Theme music is “Appeal To Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.
by Shannon M Wendt
Serious, fourteen-year-old Becky Brown, with her over-large glasses and unruly brown hair, is considered the best babysitter in town and has a reputation of being able to tame even the most difficult brat. She is so popular and in-demand that parents bring their kids to Becky’s place instead of the other way around. On any given night, she has anywhere from three to a maximum of fifteen children in her care.
Becky is such a prolific sitter that she keeps an accounting ledger of her booming, little business. She can tell at a glance who her best clients are and who owes her money (although she rarely agrees to babysit “on account”). She makes between $600 and $1,200 per week, and has even been known to give her parents a loan from time to time (with interest, of course).
She also keeps an address book of her babysitting contacts that is locked with a tiny, brass key that she wears on a thin ribbon around her neck. No one besides Becky has ever seen the contents. She guards her little, leather-bound book jealously, locking it up even if she’s only leaving the room for a minute to get a glass of water or to go to the bathroom.
Becky’s parents agreed with her scheme to turn the upstairs of their house into the ideal babysitting arrangement. Three rooms are now given to Becky’s exclusive domain: her tidy bedroom, which is strictly off-limits to the kids; the room that used to be the game room but now contains a dozen, fold-away cots with white sheets and blue, satin-trimmed blankets; and a reading and crafts room that’s so perfectly cozy, it looks like it could only exist in a previous century, or nursery rhyme, or gingerbread house.
Tonight, she has only four children expected. Before they arrive, she looks them up in her address book and memorizes the entries, down to the emergency telephone numbers:
– Amos, Troy : 555-0293; allergic to peanuts, obsessed with baseball, dad is unemployed (50% discount). Second toe on left foot.
— Corr, Sarah: 555-7834; Skyler’s twin sister, likes fairy tales. Behind right knee.
— Corr, Skyler: 555-7834 ; Sarah’s twin brother, likes to draw. Behind right knee.
— McInnis, Bobby: 555-9384; bullies the other kids (always do him first). Bridge of nose
Troy, the Corr twins, and Bobby all arrive between 5:30 and 6:00PM. Becky answers the door and asks their parents whether the kids have medicine to take or homework assignments, and when to expect pick-up.
She’s always all-business with the parents. She also knows better than to let Troy’s dad, Mr. Amos, know that she’s giving him a discount due to his circumstances–that would hurt his pride. Mr. McInnis is just like Bobby, a bit of a donkey’s hind, but she’s polite to him just the same. She gets along really well with Mr. and Mrs. Corr, but she tries not to let it show that she likes them and the twins more than most of her clients–preferential treatment does not make for a good business practice.
After talking to the parents, she sends the Corr twins and Troy up to the cozy room and Bobby straight to the dormitory. This will be an inconvenience later, but she knows from experience it’s the best way to handle this particular group of children.
Only Troy, who’s eleven, and Bobby, who’s nine, have homework tonight–the Corr twins, both five-years-old, are still too young. Becky has already prepped the smaller table in the cozy room with crayons, paper, safety scissors, and paste for the two young twins. Without prompting, they dig in and get started on their next modern art masterpieces. She promises story time later.
Troy sits at the table for bigger kids and settles in to do his homework–he’s good at math but struggles with reading and writing–Becky suspects he’s dyslexic but knows better than to mention this to his dad. Both father and son suffer too easily from wounded pride.
She finds Bobby sitting on one of the cots in the dormitory, arms crossed defensively, prepping for a fight.
“If you won’t let me do my homework, I’ll tell my dad!”
Quickly, before he can even notice what’s happening, she strokes the bridge of his nose. He falls back on the cot, instantly asleep, and he will remain in this state of stasis until she wakes him. She wonders if his parents have ever accidentally pressed his “off button,” or whether only she has this special ability. It’s not the first time she’s thought about this, of course–but protecting the secret of the success of her babysitting business is paramount, and she’s not willing to chance it through experimentation.
Now that the problem child has been dealt with, Becky spends the next few hours alternately reading to the twins from her collection of rare fairy tales and helping Troy with his homework.
“Sarah, Skyler, it’s eight o’clock. Time for bed!”
As they sit on their cots–far away from Bobby even though he’s not capable of hurting them in his current state–she surreptitiously strokes behind their right knees, and they both slumber like enchanted Snow White.
At nine o’clock, she puts Troy to sleep and revives Bobby–with another swipe down his nose. She patiently helps him with his homework–he still struggles with long division. He has learned not to mess with Becky–one too many evenings with no memories at all, perhaps?
By midnight, all four kids are safe at home in their own beds. As Becky gets herself ready for bed, she reflects on her productive night. She takes pride in a job well done–her gentle nurturing of the good kids and her careful treatment of the bad ones. Perhaps tomorrow night she’ll take a well-deserved break and just put them all to sleep.
About the Author
Shannon M. Wendt
Shannon has had recent writing credits in The Washington Pastime, Cygnus, and Nine, among others. When she isn’t working at one of her two day jobs, Shannon spends her time writing fiction and taking photographs. She lives in wind-blown, sun-blasted New Mexico with her husband and five rescued dogs. She dreams of verdant forests and rain. You can find out more about Shannon and her work her website.
About the Narrator
Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.