Release date: October 27, 2021
Publisher: AMR Publishing
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The 13th Room
You’ve heard the story. Who hasn’t? A sweet magical nanny, a talking umbrella, and an eccentric chimney sweep. But what if I told you it was all a lie? What if I told you her infamous carpet bag wasn’t filled with plants, tape measures, or mirrors, but instead was packed to the brim with horrors you couldn’t begin to imagine in your wildest nightmares?
My name is Janine Parks, and I’m here to tell my side of the story and what really happened with my sister Michelle, myself, and our hero Nanny Marianne.
“Michelle. You’ve got to wake up. Come on, sister. It’s almost light outside.”
I shook my sister a little harder, wanting to roll my eyes at the idiocy of the same routine she and I have shared for the past several weeks. Even though she’s three years younger than me, she’s old enough to know the consequences for not waking up when I attempt to do so. I’ve been getting up at five am every morning ever since Winnifred died. It seemed silly for a fifteen year old to get up this early, but I didn’t have a choice, and neither did Michelle.
“It’s so early, Janine,” she whined, rolling over and rubbing her dark brown eyes to rid themselves of the crust that built up over the past six hours.
“I know, Michelle, but you know what happens if our chores aren’t done before Wendy and Gage get up.”
We don’t call our parents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ anymore. They don’t deserve that title, and Gage hated it when we called them that anyways. Ever since I could remember, he demanded we call them Mr. and Mrs. Parks. Mommy and Daddy are titles encased in love, respect and admiration, and those two individuals don’t deserve those emotions, nor do they want them. ‘Emotions are for the weak,’ Gage always said, and while Michelle had held on to her innocence and loving heart, I can already feel mine turning to stone. Maybe there is something in Gages’ teachings. Or maybe I’m just as fucked up as he was. Genes are a bitch.
I watched as Michelle finally swung her legs off the side of the bed and heaved a sigh. She definitely needed more sleep, and if the opportunity arose, I’d cover her for a nap. Sometimes, if Gage and Wendy were out and about, I got the chance to let her sleep and I would pick up the extra household duties. I was the big sister and that was my job.
We used to have a protector of sorts in our old Nanny, Winnifred. Although she put on a cruel face in front of our parents for show, she was always so kind to both Michelle and me. She protected us for as long as she could before her sudden and mysterious disappearance. I was one hundred percent certain she had met her demise at the hands of Gage Parks, but I had no proof, and I certainly was not a junior Sherlock in any capacity.
I breathed a heavy sigh and handed Michelle her clothes for the day. I wished I could get her out of the horror that was the Parks family home, but until I got a little older, we were both just going to have to live in this hell. At least we were together, and for that I was thankful.
“I’ve already got the kitchen clean, and breakfast ready to be made, but I need your help with the carpets. If I could do it myself I would,” I said, helping Michelle put on the rags we wore while cleaning.
“I know, Janine,” she mumbled, yawning and stretching once more. “You can’t do everything by yourself and I wouldn’t let you. You already take half of my punishments.”
I nodded at her and made her bed while she ran to the bathroom to pee, and brush her teeth and hair. She wasn’t wrong. I tried to take as many punishments as I could so she didn’t have to face them. She was a stunning little girl and she didn’t deserve the environment she was born into. Neither of us do, truthfully, but I’ve had longer to get used to it and adapt.
It also meant, I hadn’t had a full meal in almost three days, and the exhaustion was starting to get to me. My only hope was that we could get through our chores before Gage and Wendy woke up, and we both would finally get breakfast. If they took away mine or Michelle’s food again, I feared my energy would be completely depleted, and that couldn’t happen if we want to survive another day.
In most stories, this would be the part where I told you that ‘It didn’t use to be this bad. Mom and Dad used to love us so much and we were their precious miracles.’ If you thought for a moment this is where our tale was going, you would be sorely mistaken. Life had never been fair to my sister and me, and although we were reminded on the daily that life would never be fair, a small sliver of hope remained in my entire being that one day things would get better. It was either that or death and truthfully, at this point, I would have been fine with either.
Michelle and I finished our cleaning in record time, even without food in our bellies. We both were fully aware that we needed sustenance if we were ever going to make it in this cruel world the Parks had created for us. I didn’t want to sneak into the kitchen again to scramble up food. The last time I had done that, my beating had been so severe that I couldn’t see out of my right eye for a week.
Of course, Wendy and Gage couldn’t be bothered to do any of their own dirty work, and that included punishing Michelle and me for our supposed faults and slights. No. They hired a chimney cleaning man who reveled in recreating the sadistic fantasies that lived in his soot covered head. As much as I despised the people who brought me into the world, Bart made our parents look like angels in disguise. Just the thought of him could send a shiver right through me.
“Come on, Michelle. We need to go get dressed. They will be down here any minute,” I pleaded with her.
My sister and I slowly drag our weary bodies up the stairs to the small room we shared. Both of us needed a proper shower, but there just wasn’t enough time. I wiped Michelle down with a wet rag to remove the grime from her, and while she still smelled of cleaning chemicals, at least there wasn’t any dust on her. I used the same rag to wipe my face and pat down my neck. It was the middle of August, and it was hot. Our room is on the top floor and it was even more humid up here.
I sighed and once again thought about Nanny Winnifred. She was such a kind woman, always making sure Michelle and I were taken care of. We didn’t deserve her, and she didn’t deserve whatever happened to her.
I said a little prayer and grabbed suitable dresses for the young ladies of the Parks home. If we came downstairs in rags, it was a guarantee we wouldn’t sit right for a week. I know I wouldn’t be able to handle it, and neither could my sister.
Putting my hair in a bun with a blue ribbon tied around, I helped Michelle with hers and held her at arm’s length. “This will have to do, sister. Let’s see if we’ll be deemed important enough for breakfast. I couldn’t stop my natural eye roll, but reminded myself to keep it in check when we got downstairs.
We made our way down the bannister, exhaustion and hunger seeping through our young bones. Wendy and Gage had to see that we couldn’t take much more of this, and while I truly hoped this would be the case, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if we were denied food yet again.
A little tune played in my head, and while I didn’t have much of an ear for singing, I started to make up words for the strange jingle. It wasn’t uncommon for me to do something like this as I tended to have a creative mind, but as you might have guessed, my birth parents couldn’t give a shit one way or another.
The song in my head took shape and a small grin crossed my face as I went through each word:
Wanted: A nanny for two exhausted children
If you want this horrid position.
Save us from this awful prison.
Secret smiles, no spanks.
We’ll love you, and give thanks.
You must be kind, you must be sneaky.
They can’t know you’re really cheeky.
Take us on outings, far away,
Don’t bring us back or make us stay.
Never be cruel or cross
Never hire the chimney sweep, his loss.
Love us as your only daughters
And never hold us under water.
If you aren’t like them, and don’t hate us
We will give you love for years and no fuss.
We won’t give you a hard time
So you don’t flee.
We want you to like us,
Oh this we beg of thee.
With our thanks completely,
Janine and Michelle Parks.
Now the only issue was, how was I going to get this ad into the paper without Gage Parks finding out? I sighed and stepped into the kitchen to be greeted by four very angry eyes.
“Daydreaming yet again child? Sit,” Wendy commanded, a disgruntled look on her face and her finger pointing to our chairs.
I heaved an internal sigh and sat next to Michelle. It looked like today would be another day of no food as the plates I had set out for my sister and I had been removed. I only hoped we would be able to last another twenty four hours.
“Today should be a fun day children,” Gage said, a wicked gleam in his eye.
I wanted to ask what that meant, but one of the first lessons Michelle and I had ever learned was not to speak unless we were spoken to directly, and currently with the lack of food in my belly, I was sure to come off snarky, and that was not a great way to start out the day. It wasn’t a good way to end the day either.
“Don’t you want to know, children?” He asked. “Don’t you want to know what has me so excited?” There was a weird glint in our parent’s eyes that had me unnerved.
Part of me was curious, and I could tell by the way Michelle was bent over in her chair in the direction of our father, she was as well. We both knew better than to say anything, but I always worried about her. Michelle was still young and held hope in her heart that one day Wendy and Gage would love us as parents should. It was useless, but I wasn’t going to tell her. She would find out for herself, of that I was sure, and I would be there to pick up the pieces.
“Well, since you asked so nicely,” Gage sneered at us. “Today we have an interview with a new Nanny and she comes highly recommended.”
Bile rose up in my throat. As much as we needed a new Nanny, I had my doubts. If she came highly recommended, it was possible she would have the same views as the Parks, and neither I nor Michelle could handle another tyrant in the house. My other worry stemmed from the unknown. If she was kind, as my song suggested, would she feel the need to address her concerns with my parents? Would that also get her killed? Could my heart handle loving another Nanny only for her to be ripped from our lives once again?
The conflicting thoughts left my head feeling woozy and I could feel the vertigo hitting me like a ton of bricks. This wasn’t going to be good, and if the past was anything to go off of, there was a good chance, my lack of medical care and food would get me punished.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Wendy asked, her disgusted tone almost bringing a tear to my eye.
Falling off the chair, I tried to stand, but it was no use. My energy had been depleted and I was now feeling the after effects of malnutrition. If I didn’t get something inside of my stomach soon, I didn’t know what was going to happen.
I tried to stop her, but Michelle cried out and flung to the ground on top of me. “She needs food! We both do. You’re starving us!”
I could feel the tears on Michelle’s face as she wept over me. It was possible I wasn’t going to be able to protect her from her punishments this time. She had made a public display of backtalk, and that wasn’t going to go over well with the Parks’.
When immediate screaming didn’t happen, the look of shock on my face could have been seen from space. There was obviously a catch of some kind, and while I didn’t have the brain power to worry about it at the moment, I knew eventually I would feel the cruel backlash of my fainting and Michelle’s rant.
One of the cooks helped me to my feet and gave me a soft smile. I knew underneath, she meant well, but she was a frightened little mouse who Gage abused for fun. The one time I asked for a scrap of anything, she shook her head and shooed me out of the kitchen. I couldn’t say that I blamed her, but deep down I hated her just as much as Wendy and Gage.
When I sat back down at the table, a plate of eggs and bacon sat in front of me, like a magic food fairy had arrived. My mouth watered and my eyes sprouted tears I hadn’t shed in months. The ravenous beast inside of me wanted to pick up the entire plate and swallow it down whole, but my logical side warned that I needed to eat slowly, and like a lady. Gage would rip the plate from my hands so fast if he saw even a hint of rudeness at his table.
As much as it pained me, and I could feel the bile rise in my throat, I looked up into the face of my birth parents.
“Thank you for this food,” I said, in the nicest, most sincere voice I could muster. It wasn’t a lot, but I knew it might help a tiny amount when it came to the rest of our treatment for the afternoon.
“No need to thank us, dear Janine,” Wendy cooed in a voice I had never heard used towards me or my sister.
Out of curiosity, and a prickling on the back of my neck, I turned my head to find an older woman wearing a beautiful hat, and holding a very large bag with a clasp at the top, along with a younger, quite attractive woman with a clipboard standing at the dining room entrance. I didn’t know who they were, but something inside of me, something I hadn’t felt in a very long time began to blossom. I hated to use the word hope, but it was the only thing I could muster.
I was also confused. I hadn’t heard a knock at the front door, or anyone open it for that matter. Had I blacked out completely when I fell off the chair? I shook my head and tried to pay attention.
“Janine, Michelle. This is Ms. Isabella from the Nanny Temp Agency,” Gage introduced us, his voice sweeter than sugar on a donut. I could hear the undertones of irritation and venom lacing each word, but I doubted it was perceivable by the two women he greeted. It was something that was only obvious to those who had been around him for a long period of time and someone who had witnessed the absolute cruelty within him.
I stood from my seat and gave them each a nod.
“Are you our new Nanny?” Michelle piped up from beside me, addressing the older woman. She nodded but didn’t speak. I wanted to shake my head at Michelle for talking out of turn, but it seemed as if the warning wasn’t currently needed. Strange.
Why were Gage and Wendy being kind for the first time in our lives, and why had someone else come with the Nanny from the Temp Agency? This had never happened before. The entire encounter unnerved me in a way I didn’t particularly like. Was this all a ruse? Would I be getting my hopes up about something that was unlikely to happen?
My knees wobbled once more and I sat back down before I had the opportunity to fall over again. The older woman carrying the bag raised her eyebrows but continued to say nothing. Her eyes said more than her lips did and she asked me silently if I was alright. I blinked and returned to my food.
Picking up the fork, I cut into my eggs without another thought. If these women were here to watch over us for now, but would be gone soon, I needed my strength back, and that involved eating. I looked over at Michelle to see her following my lead. Michelle was no dummy, but sometimes I questioned her unconditional and unwavering love to the woman who had birthed us.
For five solid minutes, Michelle and I ate our breakfast while the two women watched. Wendy and Gage sat and ate their breakfast as well, while their worrisome eyes scanned the room and table. When we had finished, I stood and grabbed Michelle's hand.
“May we be excused?” I asked sincerely. If for some reason these women were not here to stay, the last thing I needed was a stack of misdeeds eight miles long for them to punish us for later.
“You may, children,” Wendy cooed, her voice having me roll my eyes as soon as I turned away, but that was nothing compared to the way I felt when the next voice spoke.
“I will meet you upstairs in five minutes, children. Please be seated on your bed and I’ll be there shortly.”
The old woman’s voice slithered through my ears and crawled into my brain. Her tone was deep, and matter of fact, and her words made my blood run cold. Could this woman truly be there to help us as Wendy and Gage’s demeanor foretold, or was she there to add to our nightmare, making us crawl even further into hell with the devil himself?
While I relived every second of breakfast in my head, Michelle seemed content and rejuvenated for the first time in days. It really was a wonder what a couple bites of food could do for those that were near starving. Michelle didn’t seem to have a care in the world which made me happy, and I wished I could have had the same jovality.
Something was off, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it a good off or a bad off? I had no clue, but I had a feeling we were going to find out very soon. I took a few calming breaths and prepared myself for what was to come. While living in this home had been a nightmare unto itself, I was never blinded to what happened under its roof. Having this new woman here meant there was a modicum of unknown, and that wasn’t something I liked at all.
As requested, Michelle and I sat on our respective beds and waited for the new Nanny to arrive. I didn’t know her name, so to calm my nerves, I spent the next several minutes making up names that she looked like.
“Hey Michelle. What do you think the new Nanny’s name is?” I asked.
“Ummm, I don’t know,” she replied, scrunching up her face to think, causing a short giggle to come out of my mouth. It had been quite a while since I had chuckled and it felt nice, but I had no intentions of getting used to it.
“Maybe Patricia?” I asked, throwing out a random name.
Michelle crunched her face again and shook her head.
“No, I think it’s Barbara!”
“It’s Marianne,” the deep baritone of the woman chuckled, opening our bedroom door and stepping in. Her rosy cheeks gave her the appearance of being much younger than her wrinkles let on. More confusion swirled through my brain.
Both Michelle and I quieted down, our nerves running rampant between us. This was it. We would now find out who this stranger was and how things would look for our future. For Michelle’s sake, I hoped she was like Winnifred. I could handle what Wendy and Gage did to us, but I didn’t know how much longer my darling and loveable sister could deal with it.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I mumbled, trying to remember my manners.
“Speak up dear,” Marianne blurted, cutting me off.
“My apologies ma’am. It’s nice to meet you,” I repeated, clearing my throat.
“That’s better. Now, you’re Janine?” She asked, looking me directly in the eyes.
“Yes ma’am,” I nodded.
“You can call me Ms. Marianne,” she smiled, and I returned the gesture. “And you,” she said, focusing on my sister, “You’re Michelle?”
My sister smiled wide and nodded, “Yes, Ms. Marianne!”
“Excellent. Well, now that we have introductions out of the way, let’s get unpacked, shall we?”
We both watched in fascination as Ms. Marianne opened the large clasp on her bag and pulled the two pieces away from each other.
“From what I can tell, we are going to need a lot of the items in my bag for my stay here children.”
“You’re staying here with us?” Michelle asked, perplexed.
“Why yes, of course, Michelle. How can I be a proper nanny to you if I’m not here with you at all times?”
The question, in and of itself, was valid, but it was a concept neither of us were familiar with. Not even Nanny Winnifred had stayed with us, but instead showed up early in the morning and left late in the evening.
“What’s in your bag?” Michelle asked, jumping off the bed to try and peek.
“Patience little one,” Ms. Marianne cooed, slightly closing her bag. “You will see.”
My eyebrows raised in question and our new nanny caught it. She was highly observant, and I was going to need to remember that for the future.
“There’s always one, it seems,” she laughed, walking over to me and bending down in front of my knees.
“You don’t have to fear me child. I am here to help.”
Her words were like a hot knife through soft butter. They glided over my senses and provided a sense of peace I had never felt in fifteen years.
“I’m not scared of you, Ms. Marianne. I’m scared for you,” I whispered.
“Pish Posh, little one. I don’t frighten easily.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, confusion lacing my brow.
“It means that I know what you’ve been through, and I promise. I’m here to help.”
“I don’t know how you can,” I responded, unable to believe this strange and angelic woman in front of me. How exactly was this woman going to get us out of this nightmare if she was living here? I could understand if she meant to take us away from this nightmare, ...
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