I’m not a great film buff. Outside of Cats, which I’ve seen a few dozen times, I can’t see much point in staring at a screen. Every so often I’ll lie on the rug to keep Sam and Sam company while they watch some old rubbish where people talk for hours on end, only stopping occasionally to kill each other. Or kiss each other. I don’t think they ever do anything else. But I’m usually asleep by then so I can’t be entirely sure. Sam and Sam are definitely film buffs. Sam likes the ones where they kill, Sam prefers it when they kiss.
What got me thinking about films? Oh, yes – The Babysitter, Mzwandile Poncana’s story in Cat Tales, the anthology drawn from last year’s Book a Break short story competition. Now, I’ve noticed babysitting is a very dangerous occupation. There’s always a psychopath out to get you, because babysitters are a psychopath’s favourite prey. So far Vanessa, who babysits for Sam and Sam, has got out each time alive, but her luck is sure to run out soon. And not only due to a psychopath – in Mzwandile’s story, the danger comes from somewhere else entirely. ‘Phew!’ I said to Curtis, ‘I wasn’t expecting that! I think Mzwandile ought to pitch it to Hollywood.’ Curtis appeared dubious about pitching anything to Hollywood. But of course he’s a dreadful defeatist. If they make films about babysitters and psychopaths, I can’t see why they wouldn’t make one about Cole.
He’s the cat in The Babysitter, by the way. One of the cats. But I can’t say more because Curtis forbids spoilers. ‘The problem with you, Smith,’ he said, ‘is you get carried away. If you want people to read the stories, you can’t tell them what happened.’ In a way, I see what he means, but seriously? No spoilers? Spoilsport!
Anyway, since I can’t reveal the ending, here’s an extract, from the point where the door has just been opened to the babysitter:
Looking into the house and the person standing in front of me, the first thing that comes to mind is actually a Nietzsche quote: ‘When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.’ Standing here on this fresh occasion, the abyss happens to be a seventy-something blondie with dark roots and crisp blue eyes—glasses surrounding them, but still piercing through like insane headlights on a pitch black endless street. Behind the doorway, she is smiling aggressively—but the eyes behind the lenses look almost uncomfortable, as if they are trapped.
‘Oh, golly gosh, here already? I must have forgotten the time! Is it seven or…? Holy gosh, it is seven, isn’t it? Ugh, come in, come in! I’ll take off the record and put on some tea, ha ha!’ She almost squeals.
I rush inside, quickly freeing myself of the soaked, soggy coat, putting it on the coat-hanger right at the door. She looks at me with a sort of condescending admiration.
‘Claire, wasn’t it?’ she asks.
‘Close. Clarissa,’ I say.
‘Oh, Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with me? I’m so sorry. My memory isn’t what it used to be.’
‘Oh, it’s not a problem, don’t –’
‘I’ve had such a busy week, see. Tonight I just need to get away. The first time in so long.’
She looks at me like she’s about to tell me a hideous, disturbing secret.
What is the secret? What will happen when the blondie leaves and Clarissa is alone in the house? Well, all I can say is you’re in for a shock because Clarissa is not quite alone…
As you can see, Mzwandile knows his stuff when it comes to writing. Perhaps that’s because his teenage years were, as he puts it, ‘ filled with an overdose of Stephen King novels, old classic literature (Hemingway, Kafka, Poe, Wells etc.) and almost every genre of poetry.’ Curtis and I were delighted to get The Babysitter, all the way from Botswana, where Mzwandile lives. It’s his first published piece, but he’s shortly off to Concordia University, Montreal, to study English literature, so I’m sure it won’t be the last. Congratulations, Mzwandile – go for it!
The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. The revenue from sales so far stands at $80 – our target this month is to double that. So please don’t hesitate to spread the word and help us reach that target. And of course, if you click on the button yourself, you can find out what happens to the babysitter. Thank you!
In a special promotion deal, the price of Cat Tales is just $1.99 for the whole month of April. Available as a PDF (or epub / mobi) complete with colour illustrations directly from this site by clicking the button below. Also available in print (black & white, $9.50).