Authors: Linda Cargill
Bianca sat on the
living-room sofa watching TV. She turned the sound way up. The
murderer was sneaking up on his victim who was lying in bed with the
window open. The killer was climbing a tree. He inched his way across
a branch. He had almost made it to the window.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
She spun around.
A branch from the
biggest live oak tree in the front yard hit the window. The gnarled
limb blew in the breeze. For a ghostly second the limb resembled a
person with long hair because of all that Spanish moss hanging from
Bianca switched to a
different channel. It was the same old thing: reruns, reruns and more
reruns of old murder-mystery and horror movies.
On one channel she
was watching The Mummy, on the next Dracula, and then Frankenstein.
Her nerves were too on end to be entertained by this sort of thing
tonight. She pushed the "off "button on the remote.
She searched through
her purse for the paperback novel, The Werewolf Cop, that she'd
stuffed into it before rushing out to baby-sit. Her mind wandered
off. The novel couldn't keep her attention.
She didn't know
what was wrong. She kept on looking nervously toward the window as if
the tapping sound might return.
She tossed the book
aside and looked down at her math homework with a shudder. She gaped
at her English essay on the coffee table. She'd been playing at
doing homework all night. She hadn't been able to concentrate.
Bianca stared at the
dinner cart that she'd wheeled in from the kitchen. Her
half-finished TV dinner, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, was
getting cold. The chicken grease had congealed into a wad. The gravy
had puddled. The peach cobbler had managed to change color. It didn't
look like the sort of thing that someone would want to eat. Even her
Coke had fizzed out. She pushed the cart away.
shifted to the phone. It hadn't rung all evening. She thought of
calling everybody she knew to tell them that she was going nuts.
Dong! Dong! Dong!
Bianca dropped the
receiver. The big grandfather clock in the living room was starting
to chime midnight. She couldn't call anybody this late.
She heard a car and
spun around. It wasn't the Shipleys arriving home early. It looked
like a police car going past in the dark. The Shipleys had mentioned
something about a new police patrol around the neighborhood late in
Before they'd left
for the dinner dance at the Cloister Hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Shipley had
tried to explain their new system of locks to Bianca. The locks had
been installed during the past week. They hadn't been here when
she'd come to baby-sit Little Katie last Friday.
Mr. Shipley had given
Bianca the keys and told her to lock up as soon as it got dark. Mrs.
Ingersoll, the live-in maid, had been complaining lately. She'd
thought that she'd seen someone lurking about the yard during the
past few weeks. The Shipleys had a lot of valuable antiques, silver,
china, paintings and furs.
Mr. Shipley had told
Bianca not to worry. It had probably been Mrs. Ingersoll's
imagination. The blackwater swamps on this barrier island off the
coast of southeast Georgia generated gases and miasmas. Thick fogs
blew in from the sea. The combination was often conducive to people
thinking they saw things that weren't there, especially in the
dark. Sometimes, of course, all they saw were the weird shapes of the
live oak trees, which had an uncanny way of looking human. They were
gnarled, twisted, bent over, and had many limbs going in every
direction. The Spanish moss that clung to them in gray-green clumps
had the texture of an old person's hair.
After all, this was
St. Simons Island, a little coastal island, not New York City! Crime
was hardly a big thing here.
Bianca had been
worrying about the locks ever since. The Shipleys owned an enormous
house with lots of doors and windows. She was afraid that she might
have forgotten to lock one. She kept on reviewing the list in her
mind and ticking them off on her fingers: the front door, the kitchen
door, the pantry door, the garage door, the back porch door, the
sliding glass doors in the dining room, the French doors into the
living room, the windows upstairs. . .
remembered. She hadn't locked the sliding glass door on to the
balcony just off Mr. and Mrs. Shipley's upstairs bedroom!
Bianca leaped up.
Just as she did, the lights blinked out and she was left in pitch
darkness. She stood stock still. She heard floorboards creaking
overhead. It sounded like footsteps.
newborn baby, Little Katie, was sleeping in her crib upstairs. Bianca
had put Little Katie to bed five hours ago, as soon as Mr. and Mrs.
Shipley had left the house for the dinner dance. The baby couldn't
walk yet. She couldn't even crawl. When she was awake, she always
made burbling noises.
The maid had retired
an hour ago, groaning about her aching feet. She had started snoring
right away. Besides, Mrs. Ingersoll had short, light steps. These
steps had force behind them.
The sound of
footsteps got louder until it drowned out the whine of the cicadas
from the marshes.
knocked together as she headed for the stairway in the dark. It was a
gray, cloudy night outside. Even the gas street lamps were obscured
by the huge live oaks in the front yard.
Ingersoll suddenly wailed at the top of her lungs. The baby was
bawling her eyes out, making the little choking sounds that she
always made when she was upset.
Little Katie, what's wrong?" Bianca tried to make herself heard.
The steps got louder.
They were getting closer. Was someone coming out into the upstairs
hallway from one of the bedrooms?
"Help me!" Mrs.
Ingersoll sounded hysterical. "I don't want to die!"
are you ill? What's happened?" Bianca shouted up the stairs in
squealed. She made more noise than Bianca had imagined that a baby
could make. The newborn must be flailing about wildly in her crib,
knocking against the wooden railings.
murdering the child? Bianca forced herself to visualize the layout of
the inside of the house where she baby-sat on Friday nights. Katie's
room was up the stairs to the right, next to the portrait gallery.
Mrs. Ingersoll's room was all the way down the hall to the left,
the very last door.
Bianca raced upstairs
as fast as her legs would carry her. She was trying not to think
about the footsteps, though they sounded as if they were almost upon
her. She crouched down closer to the floor to protect herself as she
crept along the upstairs hallway. Somehow she made it to Katie's
room despite the fact that she couldn't see anything.
The baby was still in
her crib, though her flailing about with her little fists had knocked
down some of the toys on the mobile suspended overhead. Bianca
snatched the baby up in her arms. The child's tiny hands slapped at
her. She turned and raced back in the other direction, trying to
remember where the stairs were so she wouldn't trip and fall in the
wailed. The child cried. In a panic Bianca wondered if she should go
to Mrs. Ingersoll's room and see how the maid was. Some instinct
told her she didn't have time. She had to keep her arms around
Little Katie. She had to get her out of the house before anything
else happened. She had to call the police.
continued to roam around the upstairs hallway doing something that he
shouldn't. It sounded as if he might be checking out the bedrooms.
At the top of the
stairs Bianca ran smack into that very intruder. Arms went out and
tried to grab Little Katie. Bianca kicked and fought, not even
thinking of her own safety. She wouldn't let Little Katie go, no
The hands felt big
and strong. It was almost impossible to fight back, they were so
powerful. She summoned the strength from somewhere deep inside
herself, where she had never before realized that it existed.
The creep hissed
something in a low voice close to her ear. She could hardly make out
his words over the pounding of her own heart, thundering in her ears.
Bianca heard other
footsteps rapidly approaching. Mrs. Ingersoll screamed near Bianca's
other ear. "Bianca, where are you? Bianca! Bian—"
tripped and fell heavily against the wooden banister. A whooshing
sound shot through the air. She gasped as if struck. The maid lost
her balance in the dark and tumbled down the stairs. Bianca didn't
think. She raced down the stairs after her. She tripped and fell over
something lying at the bottom. She rolled so that she could shield
Katie with her body.
Bianca was living
only to make it through that front door. The closer she got, the
farther away the door seemed. She kept on running into things that
she could barely identify. They were objects from another life: the
coffee table with her school books; her dinner tray; the TV set.
She wouldn't have
been able to see where she was going except that there was a thin
thread of silver light coming from the slit at the bottom of the
door. It illuminated the whole door in a pale sort of way.
Bianca reached the
front door and threw it wide open as she looked back over her
shoulder. A single ray of moonlight shot out from behind the clouds.
It streamed through the open door and hit the body at the bottom of
the stairs. On her stomach lay Mrs. Ingersoll in her nightgown and
big, black slippers. Her crooked nose was sticking out. She was
staring straight at Bianca. She wasn't moving. She wasn't
breathing. She was dead.
There was a bullet
hole in the middle of the maid's back. She was lying in a puddle of
The light illuminated
someone else on the stairs. It was the killer. Bianca was looking
directly into his face.
screamed as she raced out into the front yard with Little Katie still
clutched in her arms. "Help! Help! Murder! Help!"
moaned faintly once again.
Bianca opened her
eyes. She was in a darkened room. It was so dark that she couldn't
see who these people sitting around her were supposed to be. For a
minute she couldn't even remember where she was. She broke out into
a cold sweat and trembled.
Was somebody chasing
her? Was somebody going to murder her? Should she run? Bianca was
gripping her seat, ready to flee.
"Here, have a sip
of my Coke!" Rick shoved a super-sized, red-and-white paper cup
jangling with ice cubes into her face. When Bianca acted as if she
didn't know what to do with it, he raised it to her lips and made
The cold Coke hit her
like a brick. It perked her up. She looked up at the wide silver
screen and blinked. A larger than life-size lady was screaming as a
man shot her with a gun. She fell to the floor dead.
It was Friday night.
But it was two years later, in late May. Bianca was now almost
eighteen, about to graduate from St. Simons High School in a few
weeks. She wasn't baby-sitting. She was at the Island Theater with
Rick Roscoe, her date, and his friends. They were watching a murder
thriller, The Black Widow Strikes Again.
Rick had asked her to
go to the movies just yesterday in school. She hardly knew him.
Certainly she didn't run with his crowd. His invitation had amazed
her. Rick was one of the most popular boys in the senior class. She
was a loner. She had stuttered her acceptance.
Now here she was.
Bianca couldn't help it. It was always like this. She was terrified
of the dark.
Her fear gave her
cold sweats and panicky feelings. It muddled her thoughts, making it
impossible to think straight. It made her feel closed in, as if she'd
been forced down into a tiny little black box. The darkness reached
out like hands creeping along her neck, making it hard to breathe.
She must have dozed
off in her seat in this warm, musty, humid place. The horrible
nightmare she'd just had seemed like a memory of what had happened
that awful night two years ago, when Mrs. Ingersoll had been
murdered. Bianca hadn't been able to remember a thing until now.
Her first thought was that she had to hurry up and tell Doc about it.
He would be thrilled.