In a harried rush, I pulled my sister along with me through the masses of black-clad men and women on the Kingsbury Street. I needed to buy breakfast, needed to tie my sister’s hair, needed to drop her at the day care, and then I needed to get to work – and I was already late. Clarah, my sister, was sobbing onto her teddy bear as we got into the bus that would take us to Gaunt Street. Whilst we passed the grey blurs of the buildings and streets, I dried her tears with my coat and gave her some of my donut – a sad excuse of a breakfast. I thought, mom would be so mad! But then I remembered that she was farther away than I could go.
The rusting board for Ms. Pinche’s Day Care for Little Children gave a low moan as I passed underneath it with my sister. Ms. Pinche was standing in the doorway, a round-faced overweight lady with a bit too much foundation and lipstick on her face. She smiled toothily at me, with a glint in her eyes. “Oh, a bit later than usual, but that’s quite alright. Come, Clarah, don’t burden your sister anymore.”
I gave her a smile of gratitude before kissing my sister goodbye and running down the street for the next bus like Usain Bolt would run for his 100 m race.
When I got to work, my mentor, Gary, was intensely reading his screen, “…horror and trauma, the reports say that there is no other explanation as to how exactly she got there except…” He stopped reading and sat upright, glassy-eyed and pale.
“Gary?” I went over to his desk after dumping my things on my desk. He looked like he had been caught murdering someone. After a few minutes, I put my hand on his shoulder, and he jumped in surprise. “You okay?” I asked.
“F-fine,” he stuttered, wiping his forehead. I gave him a look of confusion and he replied by turning back to his screen and crossing out what he had been reading.
At lunchtime, Gary left his desk for coffee, and I stayed back as usual – I couldn’t afford to waste money on a meal that I could skip. However, what he had been reading had consumed my head gradually like a swimming pool being filled. Sliding onto his chair, I typed in his password, having seen him do it so conspicuously every day. Fortunately for my thirsty curiosity, he had not forgotten to delete the browsing history, and so the tab was open for me to read on the screen:
THE REAL HORRORS OF RHYMES
One may think that “Rock-a-bye baby” is a sweet lullaby, and indeed it is. Yet, like the West African fruit Acknee, it’s horrors lie in their true meaning – the death of a child, who had fallen from a tree.
What is more, certain experts of literature and ghost studies say that listening to these rhymes can lead children to their own horrors. Ashley Kingsley, a 3-year-old girl, was taught this very song by her nanny and had been found hanging by the neck from a mulberry tree. The reports say that there is no other explanation as to how exactly she got there could be except that some sort of apparition had appeared on the family cameras. It is interesting to note that the nanny herself had been reported missing, and had never been seen again, despite the intensive search by the Scotland Yard.
I shook my head. This was rubbish. After deleting my history on the computer, I went back to my desk and continued my work.
…had been found hanging by the neck from a mulberry tree…
The thought kept hovering in my conscious mind like a fly over food. These weren’t real, I convinced myself. Stupid stories written by stupid authors to be read only by stupid people.
When I got back to the day care, there were clouds looming over me, pregnant with rain, and I rushed inside. Ms. Pinche was ironing a white piece of cloth, singing a song as Clarah watched her on the sofa. “This is the way we iron our clothes, iron our clothes, iron our clothes, this is the way we iron our clothes before Tuesday morning. Oh, Eve, a bit late of course, but that’s quite alright. I was just teaching Clarah a lovely little rhyme,” she said, stroking Clarah’s hair.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Pinche, I have a project to finish at work, and…” I began.
“Oh no, don’t worry. Clarah is a wonderful little girl,” she interrupted, smiling down at my sister with a glint in her eyes.
The next day, I managed to drop Clarah at the day care early, even though I was a bit irked by Ms. Pinche teaching her a nursery rhyme. But there was nothing to fear, everything was going to be okay, and I was just being stupid about the website I read.
When I went to work, I found that Gary had called in sick, and that I had to do all his work on top of mine. My life was as great as it could get. Right now, it was teetering on the edge of everything, and I didn’t know if I could hold up. I was out here, in the middle of the Central City, and I only had my sister.
I tried drying my tears before I went to pick up my sister from Ms. Pinche’s. When I went in, my sister sat on Ms. Pinche’s large tree-trunk size lap, and Ms. Pinche had her arms around her, sewing a white cloth. “This is the way we sew our clothes, sew our clothes, sew our clothes, this is the way we sew our clothes before Wednesday morning. Oh, hello Eve. We completely forgot you’d be coming. I was sewing this little dress for Clarah, since tomorrow is her birthday. Here,” she said, toothily smiling at me and handing me the bright white dress, almost blinding in its glare.
Cautiously, I took it, and forced a smile. I felt slightly guilty about forgetting Clarah’s birthday, but there was something else that freaked me out. Like a persistent toothache, something was piercing my conscious. Maybe it was just the guilt.
That night I googled the nursery rhyme Ms. Pinche was singing. It was called “Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
Mulberry. I didn’t like Clarah wearing a seething white dress, but she insisted on wearing it, crying whilst I tried putting something else on her.
At work, Gary had not appeared for the last two days. While I tried telling myself that he was probably down with the flu, another part of me couldn’t help thinking about the website he had been reading. Could it have possibly affected him that much?
Conveniently enough for me, him being absent meant I had overtime work – the boss remained completely insouciant when I told him it was my sister’s birthday and that I needed to be there for her.
Hoping my sister would forgive me, I stayed late and finished all the work for the project.
The moon was hidden away by dark blue clouds, and Gaunt Street looked particularly dead tonight. Dead. Why did I say that? I was just being paranoid. Gosh, soon I would be needing a psychiatrist .
The lights in the day care were unusually dim tonight, and as I walked in, I heard Ms. Pinche’s humming. She was humming that rhyme again. The ‘mulberry bush’ one.
“Ms. Pinche?” I said, my eyes darting around the room, trying to get a good view. All I saw were the dark silhouettes of the furniture, cast on the walls.
The board outside the day care groaned even louder outside.
I turned on the flashlight apps on my phone. Although I got a slightly better view of things, I still couldn’t find my sister. On the floorboards, there was a thick black streak that led to a doorway in front of me. My eyes fixed on the black line, I walked until I bumped into something wide and icy cold. It was Ms. Pinche, her smile plastered on her face, a smudge of lipstick on her teeth, her face ghostly white. She was wearing a black dress – a nun’s outfit.
She had a broomstick in her hands, its end covered in the black, glistening liquid. “This is the way we sweep the floor, sweep the floor, sweep the floor, this is the way we sweep the floor, before Thursday morning.” She kept singing, looking at me with her smile.
“Where’s Clarah? Where is she?” I yelled.
When she replied with only the singing, I ran past her, screaming my little sister’s name, until I found an open door leading to an empty bedroom save for a large and unwelcoming king size bed. And my sister, her white dress washed in red, was balled up in a corner of the room in a pool of the same black liquid in the lounge, her little figure limp, her hair curtaining her face. She dropped sideways with a thud on the floorboard when I touched her bloodied hand.
When I turned, Ms Pinche was still singing that song, sweeping away at the blood on the floor. She stood in the doorway, large and grotesque, her eyes completely black and her smile, her teeth glistening red when I shined my flashlight on her face.
“Oh, Eve,” she whispered, “you are a bit too late this time.”