Tess moved into the living room casually and plopped down on the sofa. Leaning over, she grabbed the remote and turned on the television. She checked the Guide first, to see if anything of interest was on. When it was clear that nothing was, she began flipping through the channels absently, hoping something would catch her eye.
“It’s going on ten o’clock. Surely something’s on,” she muttered.
She flipped through a few more channels, but stopped briefly when she felt her phone vibrating in her pocket. She entered her password automatically and glanced at the screen. Kelli. Part of her didn’t want to answer her “friend,” but she was bored and thought a little texting conversation might kill some time.
Kelli – How’s everything going?
Tess – Fine
Kelli – How’s the house? Big?
Tess – It’s huge. Like a mansion.
Kelli – How’s the little girl? Nice or demon spawn?
Tess – She’s nice. We played princess for a while. She was asleep before nine. Easy.
Kelli – I should have just gone. My big date with Mario was a bust. He picked me up at 7:30 and we hung out for a couple hours. Then he made up some excuse to drop me off at Vera’s. I had to get a ride home.
Tess – I thought you guys were going to the movies?
Kelli – So did I.
Tess – I’m sorry. I know you’re bummed.
Kelli – Yeah.
There was a pause as Tess considered what to write next. She didn’t especially want the conversation to be over. She stared at Kelli’s text. Yeah. What could she say next to propel the conversation forward?
Tess was on the verge of asking about Vera, but then she heard a thud somewhere upstairs. Lillian probably fell off that little couch, she mused. She knew she’d better head upstairs to check on her.
She jogged up the steps easily and trotted down the long hallway until she was just outside of Lillian’s room. Ever so carefully, she opened the door a little wider and peered in. The hall light illuminated Lillian’s bedroom in a soft glow of warm, yellow light. Lillian still lay sleeping on her child-sized fainting couch. So, what was that noise?
Tess pulled the door partially closed behind her softly before turning to make her way down the hallway toward the stairs. From the top of the steps she could see the entirety of the front half of the house. The foyer was quiet and empty, as was the living room area where she’d been sitting in front of the television.
“Must have been something on TV,” she decided before heading down the stairs. A moment later she was sitting in front of the television once again. On a whim, she texted Kelli.
Tess – Big houses are kind of creepy.
Kelli – Why? Is it old?
Tess – No. There are just a lot of rooms and stairs. And this guy’s art collection is crazy.
Kelli – I’ve heard he’s got some strange stuff.
Tess – The sculptures are the worst.
Kelli – Why?
Tess – Some of it’s okay. Swirls and weird shapes. But he’s got this clown thing. Ugh. Gross.
Kelli – I hate clowns.
Tess – You’d despise this thing. I swear it’s life-sized.
Kelli – I’d scream.
Tess – Yeah.
Tess almost had to laugh. Yeah. She’d been trying to keep the conversation going, but she’d basically just ended it… unless Kelli continued it, of course.
A good five minutes passed before Tess admitted defeat and shoved her phone back into her pocket. She sighed with boredom, but she wasn’t disinterested for long. The television station she’d been only half-watching was clearly local. She recognized the courthouse on the screen; it was the one located at the very center of town. Tess leaned forward unconsciously as she listened to the anchor’s report.
“… Local law enforcement officials claim that Gary Lee Shipman, the man thought to be responsible for as many as fifteen home invasions and seven murders in the Lake Harbor area over the past six years, escaped police custody during a routine transportation exercise earlier today. Shipman, also known as “The Bedside Killer,” was evidently being moved to nearby Clark Detention Center to await trial. Sheriff Brody Johnson claims that Shipman was being moved to provide greater security to Lake Harbor Residents. However, such intentions quickly unraveled when Shipman managed to outmaneuver law enforcement officials this afternoon in what many have described as a Houdini-like escape.
“Residents of Lake Harbor, especially those residing in more remote areas, are urged to secure all doors and windows and be on the look-out for anyone suspicious. Police are out in force tonight as the manhunt continues, but citizens are encouraged to use extra caution whenever possible.
“Gary Lee Shipman is described as a clean-shaven white male, aged 36, with dark hair and pale blue eyes. He is approximately 5’9” and of medium build. This is the most recent photograph taken of Shipman. If you have any information that might lead to his recapture, contact local law enforcement officials immediately. Back to you Ken.”
Tess fought the urge to shiver. The Bedside Killer had escaped police custody and was on the loose somewhere in or around Lake Harbor. Almost immediately, Tess thought back to the open window in the sunroom. She hated to think that her nosiness may have saved the Edwards family, but she couldn’t help herself. What would have happened to poor little Lillian if she hadn’t gone to check out Katherine’s favorite coastal artwork? It was too horrible to consider.
But, in spite of her keen sense of self-satisfaction, Tess couldn’t shake a growing uneasiness within her. Perhaps it was the silence of the house or its remote location? Perhaps it was the strange artwork on display, or the unexplained thud she’d heard earlier? She couldn’t be sure. She just knew that, slowly, she began to feel afraid.
She considered calling the neighbor, Mr. Walters, and asking him to swing by, just to be sure, but Tess discarded this idea almost immediately. It was after 10 pm. If Mr. Walters was anything like her parents, he was probably already asleep. And, what were her other options? Should she call the police? That idea seemed even more ludicrous than the first. What would she tell them? That someone (probably Katherine Edwards) had forgotten to shut a window on the main floor of the house? What did that prove? That she was a solitary girl with an over-active imagination? The police were busy trying to apprehend a killer. They certainly didn’t have time for the nervous twitterings of a teenage babysitter.
Still… still… the business with the sunroom window was unsettling. Tess hated to admit it, even to herself, but the whole thing bothered her. She knew, at least on some level, that the window being left ajar was probably nothing more than a run-of-the-mill oversight… but what if it wasn’t? That was the gnawing doubt that Tess couldn’t quite shake.
Without thinking more, she picked up her cell phone and called Kelli. It might calm her to hear the sound of her friend’s voice. Besides, Kelli might have some usable advice to offer her.
“Hello?” Kelli answered.
“Hey. Did you see that report on TV about the Bedside Killer?” Tess asked.
“Yeah,” Kelli exploded, “I just watched it. It’s so creepy.”
“Yeah, I’m totally freaking out. I mean, you know a nut-job like that is probably going to go somewhere remote if he’s trying to avoid the cops.”
“No doubt,” Kelli agreed, “thank God the Edwards’ will be home soon.”
“It’s still over an hour,” Tess sighed, “I just wanna go upstairs, grab Lillian and drive around for an hour.”
“Maybe you could call them and tell them you’re freaking out and you want them to come home early? I’m sure they’d understand.”
“Yeah, but I hate to make them come home early from their date just because I’m a spaz.”
“Well, why don’t you walk around the house and check all the doors and windows and stuff while you’ve got me on the phone?” Kelli suggested, “Then, if something weird happens, I can call the cops for you.”
“You’re not helping right now,” Tess only half teased.
“No, but seriously. What’s the address out there?”
“1066 Barrington Hollow. It’s out by the lake,” Tess explained, “It looks like one of those old English manor houses, ya know? Kind of like that picture of Shakespeare’s house that Mrs. Hanson showed us in English class last year.”
“Like I can remember that,” she answered sarcastically.
“Anyway,” Tess sighed, “it’s huge.”
“Yeah, you said it was like a mansion,” Kelli commented, “what’s it like?”
“It’s amazing,” Tess began as she rose from the sofa and started moving through the house, “it’s got this huge front door made of wood and glass. And all of the windows look antique. The kitchen has an island and the flat screen is enormous.”
“I can’t see into the backyard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a pool. I mean, they have a sunroom. Why not?” Tess shrugged.
She began absently checking the windows as she walked along, making sure they were all locked. She also scanned each room and hallway to get a sense of the layout of the house so, worst case scenario, she could make a quick escape if she needed to.
“Have you checked out the basement?” Kelli asked, “I hear they’ve got a billiards room… whatever that is.”
“No, I’ve been kind of sticking to the main floor. Trust me, there’s enough to look at without seeing the whole house.”
Tess moved through the dining room, the kitchen, the den, and the sunroom once more, scanning the perimeter of each location as she moved through. Then she walked down an adjoining hallway that terminated in a large, wooden door. Tess was immediately curious. She knew she hadn’t seen the basement, but until that moment she’d been under the false impression that she’d seen every room on the main floor. Now, she wasn’t sure.
“There are all these balconies and side rooms,” Tess continued absently, putting her hand on the doorknob in front of her, “You wouldn’t believe it.”
The door opened into a large, dark room. Instinctively, Tess ran her hand along the wall just to the right of her, finding the switch almost immediately.
“Wow,” she sighed automatically, as light flooded the area.
“What is it?” asked Kelli excitedly.
“I just found another room. It’s gotta be a library or a study or something. There’s this huge desk and all kinds of books. The walls are all made out of wood and the windows look like they might be stained glass. It’s incredible.”
“Sounds pretty epic,” Kelli mused, “it’s too bad I’m not there. We could explore it together.”
Tess moved through the space slowly, taking it all in. She fell silent as she ran her fingertips over the leather binding of the books. Her eyes scanned the wooden walls and the painted ceiling before dropping to the stained glass of the windows, trying to determine the image they contained. Tess wasn’t sure, but it looked as though it might be a tree of some sort.
“UGH!” Tess exploded suddenly.
“What? What is it?” Kelli demanded.
“God… that scared the heck out of me,” she exhaled.
“It’s not bad enough the guy’s got ONE of these ugly things,” Tess explained. “But to get a PAIR is just sadistic, honestly.”
“What are you looking at? Is it really that awful?”
“It’s pretty bad,” Tess half-chuckled.
“Get a picture. I wanna see it.”
“I dunno,” Tess warned, “you may not want to.”
“Come on,” Kelli begged, “I wanna see it.”
“Alright, but you’ve been warned. Just wait a second. I wanna be sure I get the whole thing. I want you to get the full effect.”
Tess stepped away from the clown statue. It appeared to be an exact replica of the one on the other side of the house; the one in the room containing Paul Edwards’ bizarre art collection. Tess centered the strange sculpture in the photo and snapped a picture.
“There,” Tess announced, “get ready for the nastiness.”
“Sounds hideous,” Kelli chuckled as she waited for the picture to come through.
“Oh, it is.”
“Ugh! Why didn’t you tell me it was a clown?” Kelli groaned as she gazed at the image on her phone.
“What? And spoil the surprise?”
“Thank God I’m not there. I would seriously DESTROY that thing.”
“I know, right?” Tess began, “Can you believe the guy’s got TWO of them?”
“Is this the statue you were texting me about earlier?”
“Yeah,” Tess nodded, “there’s one in that art room and one in here. All I can say is, why?”
“Who knows?” Kelli replied, “The rich have always been a quirky people, Tess.”
“I wonder if they’re totally identical,” Tess mused aloud as she took in the eerie statue.
“What do you mean?”
“Ya know? The statues,” Tess continued, “I wonder if they’re exactly alike? I mean, they look the same.”
“Well, you’ve got a picture of the one,” Kelli suggested, “why don’t you just go back upstairs and look at the other one and compare them side-by-side?”
“That’s actually a really good idea.”
“Why do you always sound so surprised when I come up with good stuff?” Kelli teased, “It’s kind of insulting.”
“Don’t be redic. You know I love ya.”
Tess moved out of the library, closing the door behind her. She knew the Edwards wouldn’t mind her looking around, but she still felt as though she was doing something somewhat invasive. In her mind, the least she could do was not make it too obvious that she’d been snooping.
Tess made her way through the kitchen and glanced at the clock nonchalantly as she moved passed the marble-covered island at the center of the room. It was a quarter to 11pm. One more hour to go, she mused as she made her way toward the stairs leading up to Paul’s unusual art collection.
“Almost there,” Tess sighed, as she began climbing the steps.
“God, moving through that house is like a workout,” Kelli smiled, “I’ll bet you’ve walked five miles tonight.”
“No doubt. And all these stairs… ugh. They need an elevator or something.”
“Can we get any lazier?”
“I doubt it,” Tess exhaled tiredly as she paused near the top of the steps.
Tess hit the light switch on the wall as she reached the landing. Instinctively, her eyes traveled from painting to sculpture as they circled the room. She moved from one thing to another and back again before repeating the process once more.
“Huh,” she groaned softly, moving further into the room.
“What is it?”
“It’s weird,” Tess murmured, “I don’t see it.”
“Well, you can’t miss it. If it looks like that thing you sent me earlier, it should be easy to spot,” she teased.
“I know, right?”
Tess walked all the way to the back wall, taking in each piece of artwork as she moved along. There was the painting of a house done in bright orange and red, and there was the wire sculpture that resembled a giant praying mantis. There was the squiggly line sculpture, and the giant comic book collage. She remembered these pieces quite vividly from her first visit to Paul’s art room. She also recalled that she’d been able to spot that hideous clown sculpture from halfway across the room. Now, no matter which direction she looked, she couldn’t find it anywhere. Was it possible that Paul had TWO art collections? But, even as she considered this possibility, she knew it was an irrelevant argument. If Paul Edwards did have a second art collection, the pieces it contained wouldn’t be exactly the same as those in this one… would they? Then again, maybe that wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. After all, he did have two crazy looking clown sculptures… didn’t he?
“Tess?” Kelli asked, tentatively, when her friend didn’t speak for some time, “You alright?”
“I dunno,” Tess answered softly, as she moved out of the room toward the top of the stairs.
Tess couldn’t answer her. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t want to talk about the bizarre statue anymore. Indeed, she was growing increasingly cognizant of the fact that the only thing she really wanted to do was get out of the Edwards’ house. She couldn’t articulate why she felt this growing need. Indeed, she was loath to utter the words, mostly because to utter the words was to make every suspicion taking root inside of her horrifyingly real.
“Tess?” Kelli muttered again, “Tess, answer me. You’re starting to freak me out.”
“Well, that makes two of us,” she whispered finally.
“Why? What’s going on? Why are you whispering?”
“I gotta let you go, alright?” Tess answered softly, “I need to call Katherine.”
“Tess,” Kelli stalled, “Tess, I swear if you don’t tell me what the heck is going on.”
“If I don’t call you back in five minutes, I want you to call the cops and give them that address I gave you earlier.”
“Tess!” Kelli exploded, “What is going on over there?”
“I’m starting to think maybe that clown isn’t a statue.”
Kelli was going to say more, but Tess had already hung up. Kelli stared at the phone in her hand, feeling helpless. She kept thinking about her friend’s directive: call the police if she didn’t hear from her in five minutes. Five minutes. Five minutes. Lives were won and lost in less time.
“I’m sorry, Tess,” Kelli croaked, shaking her head decisively, “but I can’t do that.”
A second later she was picking up her phone again and dialing 9-1-1.
Tess couldn’t help noticing that Katherine’s voice was strangely agitated when she answered the phone.
“Tess we’re on our way,” Katherine volunteered, “we should be there–”
“Kathy,” Tess interrupted, “Kathy, I need to ask you a question about that clown statue we were talking about earlier.”
“Tess, listen to me,” Katherine’s voice carried within it a tone of command and Tess found herself unable to say more even though she wanted to, “Tess, there is no clown statue. Do you understand me?”
“What…?” Tess stepped backward, allowing herself to partially collapse against the cold metal of the refrigerator behind her, “What do you mean?”
“Tess, listen to me,” Katherine’s voice quivered slightly in spite of her efforts to keep her composure, “I need to you go upstairs and get Lillian. Do you understand me? I need you to go get her. I don’t care if she’d asleep. Bring her outside and sit with her on the steps. We’re less than ten minutes from the house.”
“What’s going on, Kathy?” Tess’s voice cracked somewhat as she choked out the question, even though her mind had already processed her situation.
“You need to get out of that house, Tess. You need to get out of there right now.”
As if pushed by some strange need for answers, Tess stepped forward woodenly and moved through the kitchen so that she could look all the way down the long hallway toward the library. And there, where the long corridor should have terminated in a closed, wooden door, there was a tall, dark, vertical rectangle. The door to the library was open.
Tears formed at the corners of Tess’s eyes almost immediately as the reality of her situation hit her like a steel fist to the stomach. That statue… the one that she’d investigated not once, but twice… the one she’d photographed… was not a statue. Suddenly, the whole train of events unfolded in her mind. The open window in the sunroom, the news report, all of it. And now, that madman, that escaped killer, that thing, was loose somewhere in the house… and Lillian lay sleeping upstairs completely unaware that danger was lurking so close beside her.
“He’s in the house,” Tess whispered finally, “he’s in the house… I dunno where he is, but he’s in the house.”
“You need to go upstairs and get our little girl, Tess,” Katherine whimpered, her voice revealing plainly that she was teetering dangerously close to hysterics, “you need to get Lillian… you need to get her out of the house.”
Tess knew that she could not linger. If she hesitated for more than a moment, she knew she’d run from the house and never look back. In truth, her first instinct was to get herself to safety. She had no interest in climbing the stairs and moving down the long hallway to Lillian’s room. She had no interest in spending another second within the walls of the Edwards’ house, let alone the precious moments it would take to make her way upstairs to rescue a child she hardly knew. Suddenly she felt her whole body seethe with resentment. After all, she wasn’t even supposed to be there. This was Kelli’s job. Kelli’s. This is what I get for being nice, she mused. My father was right: no good deed goes unpunished.
Anger pulsed within her. Well, if this was what she had to do, she wasn’t going to make it easy for anyone. She eyed the butcher block automatically. All the knives were in place. She reached over and grabbed the largest of them, gripping it tightly in her right hand. She was about to leave the kitchen, when it occurred to her that he might decide to use them as well. Without thinking more, she grabbed the whole block and shoved them into a nearby cabinet. At least she would know where they were if she needed them.
“I’m going upstairs now,” Tess muttered into the receiver without emotion. Tess could hear Katherine saying something, but she wasn’t listening. She was trying to steel herself against her own terror. Then, without even saying goodbye, Tess hung up the phone.
Tess moved out into the living room and opened the front door as wide as she could. Then she made sure every outside light was burning brightly in the driveway. She turned her back to the door and moved to face the staircase. Taking a deep breath, she focused her attention on her objective. She was going to run up those stairs and down that hallway with the speed of a gazelle, grab Lillian, and run out of there like her tail was on fire. She knew it wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all she had.
A second later she was sprinting up the steps. She took them two by two, pausing only briefly to catch her breath at the top of the stairs. She was slightly relieved to see that the hall light was still burning brightly. Surely, if that creep had come this way he would have shrouded the area in darkness? She did not linger to contemplate the mind of a psychopath, she merely steadied herself before running full speed down the hallway. When she reached Lillian’s door, she kicked it open wide. She hoped this move would scare the girl awake so that she wouldn’t have to carry her down the hallway. But, it wasn’t Lillian who got the scare. There, standing in the muted glow of the hall light, half-leaning over Lillian’s fainting couch, was the statue of the clown come to life.
Tess wasn’t able to process his presence there for an instant. She took in the cracked white paint on his face, the sloppy make-up on his eyes and lips, the tattered clothes, the nappy wig… and the dirty right hand clutching the little, plastic princess crown that Lillian had worn to bed that night.
The scream tore from Tess’s lips with such ferocity that her throat hurt almost immediately. Blinded by terror, she stumbled backwards down the hallway. Her knuckles showed white as she clutched the butcher knife in her right hand, its substance strangely heavy. A moment later, she’d reached the stairs.
She wanted to jump the railing, but she knew her legs would collapse under her if she attempted such a stunt. Instead, she clung to the banister as she ran madly toward the open door just beyond the foyer. The rush of the glass door sent waves of wind through her hair as the chill of the outside filled her nostrils. She didn’t know where to run or what to do, but she was out of the house. At least she’d achieved that much.
Tess’s attention was captured suddenly by the sound of a car screeching up the long laneway. She ran toward the sound as though her salvation lay in the beam of the approaching car’s muted headlights. Her breath burned in her lungs, but she dared not stop running. She’d just reached the edge of the cul-de-sac when she saw Paul and Katherine’s car come into view. Jumping sideways off the pavement, she felt the wind as the car whisked by, screeching to a halt in front of the door.
Katherine was out of the car before the wheels were done moving. She glided up the steps in her full length gown, oblivious to what might be waiting just inside.
“WAIT!” Tess screamed, “Don’t go in there!”
Katherine paused for only a moment, taking in Tess’s disheveled appearance, the drawn butcher knife… and the absence of Lillian.
“Where is she?!” Katherine screeched helplessly, “Where’s my little girl? Where is she?!”
Tess’s face revealed her fears all too plainly. Katherine, unable to process this news, stepped toward the door first, and then hung back as though she didn’t know what to do with herself. She finally decided, moving forward once more, her hand reaching for the door as she made her way inside.
She got as far as throwing open the glass door when her movement was arrested by the sound of her husband’s voice.
“Kathy, wait!” he hollered, exiting the car in one swift motion. He mounted the steps with ease, shoving his wife aside as he entered the house in front of her. Tess could see him standing in the foyer, motionless. What did he see?
She couldn’t consider this question for long. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of distant sirens piercing the nighttime stillness. The droning groan of police cars was quite a ways off, but it was clear that they were moving rapidly. Indeed, within minutes, the cul-de-sac was ablaze with spinning red and blue lights.
Several cars came to a swift halt, and streaks of blue seemed to glide across the pavement in a rush as the police officers entered the house one right after the other. Several other officers remained outside. Some waited, pistols drawn, at the front of the house, while several others made their way around the perimeter of the property.
Tess waited in the backseat of one of the police cars, her breath still shaky and her body numb. The shiny blade of the butcher knife lay dormant on the front seat. Dry tears clung to her cheeks. The kind officer in the front made several attempts to calm her nerves, but it was no use. Finally, Tess allowed her head to collapse against the door of the police car, but her reverie was short-lived. The silence was broken by the sound of the policeman’s radio.
“The house is clear,” a man’s voice announced, “we found the garage door open. He must have heard the cars coming and decided to make a run for it. I’ve already sent several officers into the woods near the house. The dogs are being brought in. Should be here in a few minutes.”
“Roger that,” the policeman in the car responded.
“Did they find the girl?” Tess asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
“What’s that?” the policeman asked, tilting his head away from the radio momentarily.
“The little girl. Lillian… is she… okay?” Tess couldn’t go on.
“Hey Jepson,” he began, his radio to his lips once more, “was the girl located?”
“Not yet,” came the reply, “we’re looking for her now.”
“She’s not in her room?” Tess asked, sitting up suddenly.
“Did you check the girl’s bedroom?” the officer asked, speaking into the radio once more.
“Yes, the father led us upstairs almost immediately. We didn’t find anything. There was no trace of her,” was the reply.
“Then she’s still alive,” Tess choked excitedly.
“Just what did you see in there?” the officer asked pointedly, setting his radio on his knee.
“When I called Katherine, she told me to go get Lillian and come outside onto the steps and wait for her to get here. I didn’t want to, but I knew I couldn’t leave Lillian upstairs alone. So, I ran upstairs as fast as I could and kicked open her bedroom door, and there he was. He was just standing there, grinning at me,” she shivered involuntarily, “he was holding her plastic tiara in his hand. I assumed he’d already killed her. But if she’s not there… maybe she got away.”
“Jepson, I need you to go back upstairs. Check all the bedrooms. Look under the beds, in the closets…anywhere you think a child might hide.”
“I have to help them find her,” Tess announced, opening the back door suddenly and bolting from the car. She could hear the officer calling behind her, but she ignored his pleas. If Lillian was still inside the house somewhere, she needed to be found.
Tess moved through the living room at lightning speed. In seconds, she was climbing the stairs, and a moment later, she was making her way down the hallway. She almost started calling the girl’s name, but knew such action would be fruitless, no matter what the situation. If Lillian was still in the house, she was probably hiding somewhere, scared. It was unlikely she’d respond to a stranger’s voice. If she had been kidnapped, calling for her would be just as pointless.
Instead, Tess moved into the little girl’s bedroom. If I was Lillian, where would I hide? she wondered silently. Under the bed? Too cliché. In the closet? Just as obvious. Tess glanced at the fainting couch. The blankets had been tossed onto the floor. Had Lillian done that during a hasty escape or had that creep flung them aside with malicious intent? Tess couldn’t consider the question for long.
Tess found herself moving around the room in circles. There was an aimless quality about her movements, as though she couldn’t think where to go next. And then she remembered the adjoining playroom.
Tess pushed aside a pair of gossamer curtains and entered Lillian’s playroom. Although the room was attached to her bedroom, it was strangely separate. The walls were painted pink, and thick carpeting covered the floor. In one corner there was a three foot wooden dollhouse complete with miniature family. Nearby sat a small table and chairs. Just a few hours earlier, Tess had been seated in one of the chairs playing princess tea party. Lillian had been wearing the little sparkling tiara she’d seen clutched in the hands of the madman less than a half hour before. Along one wall sat a collection of oversized stuffed animals. Many were teddy bears and dogs, but others were lavender tigers, dolls, and even a mime… a mime wearing a pink princess gown.
Tess gave a little cry before rushing over to the collection of animals, splaying teddy bears and tigers in her haste. Finally, she reached the little mime. She paused for only a moment, a moment during which she considered the unthinkable. But, she pushed the thought away from her as quickly as it came. Then, grabbing the little plastic chin, she lifted the mask upward. It took Tess only a second to ascertain that Lillian was sleeping. She’d clearly hidden herself among the stuffed animals hoping that the strange clown wouldn’t notice her.
“Lillian,” Tess whispered tearfully, “wake up.”
Slowly, dreamily, Lillian’s eyes opened a little. Tess waited as the little girl’s gaze fixed on her.
“Why are you crying?” Lillian asked finally.
“Because you’re okay and I thought you weren’t.”
“Is the ugly clown gone?” she inquired, looking around, suddenly fearful.
“Yes. He’s gone away. The police are looking for him right now.”
“Good,” she replied resolutely, “I didn’t like him.”
“Me neither,” Tess smiled, embracing the little girl, “let’s go find your mother.”
Lillian’s reunion with her parents was poignant and emotional. Tears mixed with laughter as Katherine hugged her little girl. Again and again, Paul and Katherine thanked Tess for her bravery. The police theorized that, had Tess not gone upstairs to get Lillian, the killer likely would have done away with the child there in the dark. They suspected that Tess’s abrupt entrance into Lillian’s room interrupted the killer’s activities just long enough to allow Lillian the chance to escape and hide herself in the adjoining room.
Indeed, everyone on the police force hailed Tess a hero, but she never saw herself as such. Katherine and Paul even offered Tess a reward for her actions, but Tess refused. She wanted no reminders of that night. If she never heard another word about The Bedside Killer, it would be too soon for her.
As for Kelli? After that fateful night, she made a point of never asking Tess for any favors again, and Tess has made a point of never, ever, ever accepting any babysitting jobs, no matter how much they pay. In her mind, there a million other (better) ways to earn a dollar.
Credit: Brenda Ader
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