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:
CUT BABY DEAD
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.