Chris Therien, former Philadelphia Flyer defenseman and on-ice liability, stood outside a small English farmhouse as the first strong winds of a storm blew through the night sky. As lightning began to crack and thunder rumbled nearby, he knocked on the door. The Philadelphia Flyers had lent him their time machine so he could take on odd jobs. Therien had recently branched out to baby-sitting, having tired of raking leaves.
The door of the farmhouse let out a long, groaning creak as it was opened, and there stood a small girl. A small girl who shrieked at the sight of 6-foot-5-inch Therien, as soon as she realized that the darkness that encompassed the entire doorway was a person.
“Mary Shelby?” Therien asked, which caused the little girl to stop screaming and stare blankly up at him. Therien looked at the words scratched into his palm by a ballpoint pen. “I’m sorry—Shelley.”
The little girl’s fingers curled up as she began to scream again.
“What’s the matter?” Therien asked, lurching into the Shelley house. His shoulders bashed against the doorjamb, causing the building to shudder. Therien, with the flexibility of a hard pretzel, raised his arm to little Mary Shelley and patted her head gently, which nearly knocked her out. “I brought Jenga.”
Mary turned and scampered up the stairs on her hands and feet.
“OK, you hide, I’ll seek,” Therien said as he began to wander up the stairs, each step cracking the plaster walls of the tiny house and making the foundation groan.
“Are you in … here?” Therien asked as he accidentally shoved his hand through the door to Mary’s parents’ bedroom. They had gone out for the night to do whatever 19th-century people did, which probably involved being amazed by gunpowder or participating in a stoning. It was Mary Shelley’s father, a heavy drinker, who had hired Chris Therien.
Therien peeked into Mary’s bedroom, which was simply appointed with a dresser and a small bed. Propped up against the pillow was a small blond porcelain doll that strongly resembled little Mary Shelley. Enchanted, Chris Therien picked it up.
“Pretty,” he whispered as he accidentally ripped off and then crushed the doll’s head. He turned to see a silent Mary Shelley standing in the doorway. Stunned, she turned and ran. Chris Therien followed and found her curled up in the family’s bathtub.
“Is it bath time?” Therien asked, unsure if he should charge more for bathing children.
Mary screeched, the sonic power of the sound cracking the thin panes of glass in the bathroom.
“How about we have some popcorn and watch The Goonies?” Therien asked, completely unaware that the early 19th century had neither microwave ovens nor DVD players.
Mary, finding courage, shook her head petulantly.
“No, huh? Oh, I forgot to tell you—I brought a friend,” Therien said, with an exaggerated wink.
Little Mary Shelley’s eyes widened in terror.
“The TICKLE MONSTER!” Therien yelled, reaching toward the suddenly pale child, who ducked his advance and ran through his legs. Therien’s problem was that he attempted to look through his legs, something he hadn’t been able to do since third grade. Third grade was also the last time he did a somersault, which was what he did now, into the bathtub, crushing it just as he’d crushed the doll head.
“Arrr-irrr!” roared Therien as he struggled to get to his feet and, with both arms stuck straight out, roamed mindlessly through the small bathroom, knocking down tinctures, balms, liniments, and salves. Which was quite reminiscent of his performance in the 2002 National Hockey League playoffs.
“Stop it!” yelled Mary Shelley from the safety of the hallway.
“Arrr-irrr!” continued Therien as he jumped up awkwardly, slammed his head into the doorjamb, and pinballed back toward the breakable parts of the bathroom. Slipping on an ointment, he collapsed on the floor, howling.
“What’s wrong?” Mary Shelley asked carefully.
Chris Therien held up his massive hand and, tears welling in his dull, lifeless eyes, pointed to a small sliver of porcelain embedded in his palm.
“It’s just a splinter,” Mary said. “I can get it out.”
And with her tiny English girl hands, she quite easily got the splinter out of the behemoth’s hand. She watched one final tear of gratitude roll down his face.
“Mmmmm.” Therien made a yummy noise as he stroked Mary’s face heavily with his hand. She sat down on the floor next to him and patted his back.
“You know, I’ve never baby-sat before,” Therien confessed as he absent-mindedly licked his hand.
“Really?” Mary asked politely, picking up her parents’ shattered toiletries.
“You know what people have always told me? That I’m a trier, not a doer,” pouted Therien. “That and ‘Next time remember your skates.’”
“You haven’t been the worst baby-sitter I’ve ever had,” Mary said, trying to cheer up the man who for many years was usually directly responsible for most of the goals scored against the Flyers.
“I know what’ll make us feel better—let’s make s’mores!” he exclaimed.
Buoyed by Mary Shelley’s praise, he rocketed to his feet, slamming his head into an oil-filled lantern hanging from the wall and knocking its fiery contents to the floor.
“Quick, get the sand bucket,” Mary yelled as the flames spread rapidly.
“No, fire hates water. I know exactly what to do,” Therien countered. He grabbed Mary’s hand and pulled her out of the bathroom.
Minutes later, Mary watched as her family’s home, defying the first drops of a rainstorm, burned to the ground while Therien tried to call 911, not cognizant of the fact that the nearest cellular tower was a couple hundred years away.
“It’s still ringing,” he told her, his hand over the phone.
Mary’s neighbors, intrigued by the flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air, ran up carrying torches and pitchforks, as they were wont to do.
“What ’appened ’ere?” demanded a man with a charming cockney accent and a jaunty cap.
“Fire,” Therien said as one lone tear ran down the front of his monstrously blocky head. “Bad.”