She opens the door to the nursery and thinks, oh my god.
The wall behind Caleb's crib is purple. Crayon as far as a one year old could reach (and some, farther than Natalie would have believed). He's still standing on his mattress, hugging his crayon in one fat palm. His diaper hangs soggy to his knees.
“Caleb!” she says, automatically scolding, but her son doesn't move.
Her eyes come dragging back to that diaper. The diaper upsets Natalie more than the wall; the wall can be scrubbed clean. Months of babysitting, and Celeste has never left him so much as damp. She makes twenty dollars a day that Natalie has always considered well spent.
Then Natalie steps closer, and the diaper's forgotten.
These aren't the familiar scribbles that litter their refrigerator, the gleeful wandering of a child's mind onto paper. There's geometry to it, even if it's messy. Natalie can see the swoops where he's made circles – and more than that, he's attached the circles to deliberate lines.
“They're people,” she says. Testing the sound of it. She thinks she's right. Her son, too young to speak clearly, has drawn a row of people, stick figures with their hands connected. Their mouths are overturned slashes.
Natalie rubs her fingers over the drawings, smudging the wax beneath her fingertips. Half a dozen figures. None of them have eyes.
He shrugs one shoulder.
Natalie lifts him out of the crib. Caleb doesn't resist, but he also doesn't look at her. He only has eyes for the wall. He's not feverish, but he's slick with sweat. His scalp smells sour where Natalie rests her cheek.
She takes a step into the hallway.
The house swallows her voice with patient silence. Caleb reaches his crayon toward the fresh wall and Natalie catches his hand. Holds him still as they make their way down the hallway. The back of her throat is coppery with fear.
The door to Celeste's room is closed, but light trickles under the door in a thin line. Caleb squirms.
Natalie pushes the door open with her foot.
Her daughter is sitting at her desk, humming busily. Relief softens Natalie's shoulders: if Celeste is this focused on her homework, Natalie will owe her an apology. Caleb arches his back and Natalie sets him down so she can lean over Celeste's shoulder.
Her breath catches painfully in her throat. Celeste doesn't flinch when Natalie snatches the notebook.
Page after page of drawings in smeared black ink.
Men without eyes.
Natalie drops it like she's been burned.
Celeste sighs patiently and clears a space on her desk. Her pen shapes a square jaw, etches an unsmiling mouth into the wood. Behind them, Caleb's crayon scrapes against the door.
In Natalie's pocket, her cell phone trills, and she jumps. Neither child reacts.
She holds the phone to her ear with cold fingers and listens to her best friend's hysterical voice.
“Yes. They're drawing too,” she says, and starts to cry.