WARNING

By: Katie Levin (friend of The Course of Horror)

Okay, so I was babysitting the maybe 8-month-old child of some family friends, Beth and Alec (not their real names). They lived in a big Victorian house in kind of a borderline-safe area of Burlington, Vermont. On this cold and dark October evening, I’d been trying to keep this baby (and myself) amused; I’d somehow discovered that I could get him to stop crying if I whistled the Andy Griffith theme song. (I wasn’t generally an especially baby-enjoying person, but this game had made me fond of him, or at least feel like we’d reached a mutually agreeable way of coexisting.) Anyway, I’d put him to bed in his crib upstairs and had been settled in the living room doing my Spanish homework when I heard someone knocking at the kitchen door.

I made my way to the kitchen and there, in the window of the door, I saw a sort of flabby, moon-faced guy smiling and waving at me. I tentatively smiled and waved back. Still smiling, he gave me a kind of “wait a minute” gesture by holding up his index finger, and then he bent down out of view. I waited.

When he popped back up, he sort of slapped a piece of paper up against the window with the palm of his hand. It was clear that whatever he was showing me was the back of some Halloween promotional flyer for a local radio station; I can remember light coming through the edges of the paper, highlighting the orange and black jack-o-lantern image on the other side. On the side facing me, there were several mysterious doodles and images that had been drawn with a felt-tip pen: squiggles, something that looked like large intestines, and other small shapes. In the middle of all the doodles were the following words, written in all caps:

WARNING:
CUT BABY DEAD

Um, yeah.

So, I gave him my own little “wait a minute” gesture, then, quickly rejecting the idea of calling the police from the very visible-to-him kitchen phone, I ran upstairs to check on the baby: had he already Cut the Baby Dead, or was he about to come in and start doing it?

The baby was totally fine, sleeping in his crib. I heard the guy banging on the door downstairs as I scrambled to find an upstairs phone to call 911. As I dialed and he pounded, I realized that I had no idea what address to tell the police to come to. (Although at a population of 40,000, Burlington was the biggest city in Vermont, it still didn’t have the technology to summon 911 by phone number. Maybe that technology didn’t exist yet? Anyway, I had to figure out where I was.) I ruffled through the phone book, trying to figure out how to spell the long and consonant-rich Slavic name of the family (“Ptscyzinski? Pczycynski? Pczynynynczczczski?!?”) all the while hearing insistent pounding coming from downstairs.

Okay, so this story has no big dramatic ending. The 911 operator was great; she kept me on the phone through all the pounding until the police arrived. Spelling challenges aside, I was strangely calm the whole time this was happening; only when the police had taken the guy away did I go downstairs and sort of collapse, shaking and crying. I don’t remember the rest of the evening. The P’skis must have come home and driven me back to South Burlington; I know I slept in my mother’s bed that night. The next day, we learned that there were two versions of what was happening with the moon-faced guy: he was a patient at nearby Howard Mental Health, and he claimed to the police that he was warning Beth and Alec that bad people were coming to Burlington to cut the baby dead. Beth and Alec were skeptical, though; they knew who the man was, and he’d often walked by their house and said hello when they were on the porch. Since the baby had been born, they’d had less time for chatting; they thought maybe he was jealous of the kid and was either making a real threat or trying to scare them as a sort of retaliation. Either way, holy crap.

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13 thoughts on “WARNING

  1. This story is so creepy! It has the makings of an awesome urban legend (even though in this case it’s true). It has all the classic elements: a babysitter, stranger danger, and a struggle to call the police. Did you ever learn more about why the an was there? Or why he was in the mental institution, or how he escaped? I’m so curious!

  2. This story is absolutely terrifying. I’m glad nothing happened and that you and the baby survived the ordeal. I am wondering if you ever found out what the man was in the mental institution and for how long he had been there. You mentioned the family had often seen him walking by their house before, so I am assuming he used to live in or around their neighborhood. It just goes to show you never really know who your neighbors are!

  3. This reminds me of that babysitting movie – “When a Stranger Calls.” For some reason, the idea of terrifying experiences while babysitting seems to really frighten people. Perhaps it’s because you have no company other than children who are usually significantly younger than you – and are therefore relying on you to protect them. Perhaps it’s because you’re in a strange and unfamiliar environment. It could also be a combination of both. Either way, babysitting stories always manage to terrify me. This experience would have shocked me and would probably have turned me away from babysitting for a long time, if not forever.

  4. Thank god nothing bad happened! I’ve had a similar situation while babysitting. When I was in 8th grade I babysat two girls who were 8 and 9 years old. One night we were upstairs when we saw a white jeep pull up in front of the house. The car stayed on while the driver just stared at the house. The car was there for a long, and really started to freak us out. I had to remain calm, though, to make sure the girls wouldn’t lose it. Coincidentally, this was right after I heard an urban legend about a girl who was babysitting and heard noises coming from the laundry room, which turned out to be someone crawling in through the dryer, or something like that. I tried not to panic and called the parents I was babysitting for. Thankfully the car left as I was calling and they came home soon. It was really scary back then, and I am starting to get uncomfortable writing this now.

  5. That is a terrifying story. As Bailey mentioned, it does remind me of When A Stranger Call, which is just peachy because that movie was enough to make sure I didn’t stay home alone for days. I never babysat much when I was younger and I cannot imagine what I do would do in your situation. I would have totally called the cops from the very visible kitchen phone. I learned from this that I should always know the address of wherever I am at because I will never know when it will come in handy.

  6. That is really creepy! I don’t know what I would’ve done but there is no way I could’ve remained calm. It sounds exactly like something that would happen in a movie. I always freak myself out when I’m babysitting so I have a feeling if anything actually happened to me, I would have an extreme panic attack and not know how to react. I think it was really smart that you ran upstairs to check on the baby and use the phone because I think I would’ve been so freaked out that I would’ve just ran to the nearest phone, which then the guy would’ve seen. It’s interesting to me that the parents knew the man. I wonder if they ever considered him a threat previously?

  7. Wow, this is very creepy. I wonder what the man really intended. You were smart to have called the police and the fact that the man stuck around for so long shows he was not thinking clearly or is clearly insane. This is the reason I keep protection in my house, because evil or crazy, I’d never let anyone try and hurt my family. They would have to literally dispose of me first. The thought is even scarier if I was in an unfamiliar house with no protection.

  8. This is really, really scary – and considering I am a regular babysitter I kind of wish I hadn’t read this. The next time I’m babysitting I will probably do everything in my power to avoid the kitchen, and I will close the blinds on any kitchen windows or doors. Like Bailey already mentioned, this story reminds me of the movie “When a Stranger Calls,” which reminds me of my shining moment of babysitter stupidity: I was babysitting for a new family in a house I had never been in and “When a Stranger Calls” was on television, and I watched it. The whole thing. Luckily the parents came home not too long after and nothing out of the ordinary occurred, but that wait for the parents to get home was one of the most terrifying hours of my life. I now try to avoid scary babysitter stories at all costs.

  9. This story is really scary. Several people that I know have told me scary “babysitting stories” that often makes me feel uneasy when its actually my time to babysit a friend of the family or one of my little cousins at night. For some reason I always tend to hear strange noises when I’m babysitting at night but never during the day. I don’t think I would be as calm as you in anyway. This story makes me think of the movie “When A Stranger Calls” especially the part when you said the guy was at the window and then started to beat on the door.

  10. Oh, my goodness! I’m so sorry I scared you all! (Or maybe you dig that, being in this course, in which case: you’re welcome.) Yes, serenasana, my Moral of the Story after that was always to know the address, too. I haven’t seen “When A Stranger Calls,” but I will now CERTAINLY avoid it. (And watching it while babysitting? EEEK!) I never learned more about what sort of mental illness he had, or what happened to him after that night. I never did babysit alone again, either: I’m not sure that was a result of that incident, but I can’t imagine it was a coincidence. Alana, I started to feel uncomfortable writing that story, too—but it’s also one that I’ve told so many times (I told it to Gina when we were in grad school together) that I also think it feels more distant. I wonder if part of the purpose of telling scary stories is not to scare others but to manage our fear, and/or to have others validate that YES, THAT IS REALLY SCARY.

    I can still VIVIDLY picture that flyer and the felt-tip squiggles and message against the window.

  11. This story is terrifying. I think being alone at night at someone else’s house alone would have made me too weary to even want to see who was knocking at the door. Then, to have the guy put cryptic messages would be terrifying. I’m glad you were able to call 911 and no real harm was done, but it definitely sounds like the makings of a terrible story. Maybe he can see the future and would be right about the attackers, or maybe he’d be the one’s in charge of them. Who knows, if it were a movie. But the fact that it really happened makes it all the more terrifying.

  12. That is a dope story. I would have freaked out immediately when I saw the man, and definitely would not have been brave enough to wait for him to put up a sign. I’ve never had something like this happen to me, but I would have immediately grabbed the heaviest blunt object I could find, then run upstairs and checked on the kids. And I would have slept in my parents bed for a year after experiencing that, not just one night.

  13. This story is so creepy! I know I wouldn’t have been as calm and collected as you described yourself. Instead of looking through the yellow book to find the address, I would have just freaked out and called the police screaming for them to find us and help us now. There do seem to be a lot of horror stories revolving around babysitting. I can’t remember many right now, but the one that comes to mind is When A Stranger Calls. That movie just made babysitting seem like such a potentially dangerous job where anything could go wrong and I’ve never babysat alone thanks to that movie.

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