Melody answered the phone. “Hello?” she said, her voice, as always, so soft it was just audible. In school she didn’t like being called on because, although she almost always knew the answers to questions, teachers always told her to speak louder. She had once auditioned for the part of a dryad in a school play, but although she could act fairly well and looked exactly like a picture of a dryad that was in her English book, tall, with long wavy red hair, she couldn’t speak loudly enough to be heard by the audience.
“Hello, may I speak to Melody Radin?” asked a pleasant male voice. Melody didn’t recognize the voice, so she prepared to hang up if it was a telemarketer.
“This is me.”
“I’m looking for a babysitter for my six year old daughter and a friend of mine recommended you. I know this is short notice, but are you free tonight?”
Melody considered. She didn’t normally babysit for people she didn’t know, but if someone she did babysit for had recommended her surely it was all right. And she was free, in fact she was bored to death at having nothing to do, and the money would be nice. “At what time?” she asked.
“Well, I need to be there by six, so from about five thirty to… I should be back by eleven. At your house, preferably, we’re remodeling….”
“Sure,” agreed Melody. “That sounds great. What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Kelsey,” said the man. “So, I’ll bring her by at five thirty. How much do you charge?”
“Um, five dollars an hour?”
“I’ll make it six. Kelsey can be rather… difficult. She likes to make up… stories, and will try to get you to believe them.”
“That’s no problem,” said Melody, smiling. “Difficult is when they run around the house climbing on the furniture and peaking things.”
The man laughed. “Well, I can’t promise how Kelsey will behave. I’ve never left her with a stranger before. I think she’ll like you though. I’ll see you at five thirty.”
“Okay, bye.” They hung up.
Melody’s doorbell rang at five thirty exactly. She opened it to a tall man with black hair and striking lapis-blue eyes tightly gripping the hand of a little girl. She was dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeved pink sweater that was really too hot for August. Her brown hair was somewhat tangled and she had a band-aid on her cheek. The fear in her brown eyes made her face look older than that of a six year old, but unlike most scared children she did not cling closely to her father but stood as far away from him as his grip on her hand would allow.
Melody remembered how shy she had been at that age, always clinging to one of her parents or her big sister Alexia. She smiled at Kelsey. Kelsey attempted to smile back, but the quick upward curve of the little girl’s lips was not really a smile.
Kelsey’s father bent down and whispered something in her ear, but whatever he’d said most emphatically did not comfort her. She looked more scared than ever, her small body almost trembling.
“This is Kelsey,” the man told Melody. “Kelsey, this is Melody, your babysitter. You’ll be a good girl while I’m gone?” Kelsey nodded quickly, and he told her, “I’m running late. I’ll see you at eleven, Kelsey.” He released his daughter’s arm and left.
“What do you want to do?” Melody asked Kelsey. Kelsey looked around nervously. “Um, could we… would you mind going for a walk?” the little girl asked timidly.
“Sure!” agreed Melody. “It’s great weather, isn’t it?” Kelsey nodded. “That sweater seems hot though; do you want to borrow a cooler shirt? I don’t have anything your size, but if you could wear one of my shirts and even if it’s too big it would be cooler than that.”
The six-year-old hesitated, then nodded, so Melody led Kelsey to her room. Melody loved her room. The walls and ceiling were painted in swirls of the beautiful blues and greens of the ocean, Melody’s favorite colors, except for one wall which had an enormous window, framed by turquoise curtains pulled back to each side. Her desk was at the wall adjacent to the window so when she was doing her homework Melody could pause and gaze out at the ocean.
Melody led Kelsey into the room and went over to her closet. Kelsey was entranced by the window, and stood staring out of it, mouth agape. Melody looked through her closet and pulled out a sleeveless t-shirt. She showed it to Kelsey. “Do you want to wear this?”
“No!” It was almost a shout. “It has to have sleeves!”
Melody was puzzled, but she said, “Why don’t you come over here and pick something out?”
Kelsey approached the closet tentatively. Staying as far back as she could, she eventually selected a long sleeved silk shirt that hung down to her knees. Kelsey put the shirt on over her sweater, slipped the sweater out from under the shirt, and put her arms through the sleeves, which she rolled up to her wrists. “Are you ready to go?” she asked, her voice sounding half eager, half scared.
“Sure,” said Melody, so Kelsey eagerly ran out the door.
“Do you want to go to the tidepools?” Melody suggested once they were outside.
“Okay!” Kelsey agreed enthusiastically.
They stayed at the tidepools for several hours. Each time Melody suggested they leave Kelsey begged to stay just a little longer and Melody didn’t have the heart to refuse. Besides, she loved being at the tidepools and was having fun. Kelsey ran around as if she hadn’t been outside for months, hopping from rock to rock and splashing in the water.
It was almost dark, so Melody finally dragged Kelsey away from the tidepools, although actually when Melody insisted that they were going to leave, Kelsey was much more agreeable than Melody would have expected of a little girl whose father had called difficult.
They got home and Melody heated up some leftover pasta. When they finished eating, Kelsey asked if she could go on the computer.
“Sure, do you know how to use it or do you want me to help you?”
“I can do it myself,” said Kelsey. Her voice was tense.
Kelsey sat down in front of the computer, which was already on, and double-clicked on Internet Explorer. While she waited almost anxiously for it to load, she checked to make sure that Melody was not looking over her shoulder. The babysitter was sitting on her bed gazing out the window, so Kelsey turned back to the computer.
Although Kelsey was just learning to read, she could read and write her own name. Checking once again that Melody was not looking, she typed her full name in the search box and pressed enter.
A long list of websites loaded and Kelsey clicked on the first one. It was a newspaper article. Kelsey studied it carefully, but didn’t recognize enough of the words to be able to tell what it said. She went back and clicked on the next article, but she couldn’t read that one either. The third page she looked at was no more legible to her than the first two, but there was something different about it. At the top of the page was a picture of her parents.
Kelsey glanced back at her babysitter, then continued to stare at the article. She needed to know what it said. Hoping, praying, that it didn’t reveal too much, she turned to Melody and asked softly, a tremor in her voice, “What does this say?”
Melody came over and looked over Kelsey’s shoulder. “Oh,” she said. “It’s an article about a couple who killed themselves because their daughter was murdered. I don’t think your dad would want you to read that.”
Kelsey abruptly burst into hysterical, maniacal laughter. She laughed until tears flowed down her face, and at some point, it was impossible to tell exactly when, her laughter changed to sobbing.
Melody stared at the little girl, wondering frantically if she was having a mental breakdown and if she should call Alexia, or Kelsey’s dad, except that strangely enough he hadn’t given her a contact number, or 911.
“Are you okay?” Melody asked Kelsey tentatively, then felt like a complete idiot. Obviously Kelsey was not okay.
However, the question seemed to snap Kelsey out of her hysteria. She stopped crying, and simply stared blankly at the computer. After a moment, she said, “Read me the article.”
After Kelsey’s reaction to just hearing about it, Melody was not about to give her the gory details. “I’m sorry Kelsey, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Read it,” Kelsey insisted so imperatively that, against her better judgment, Melody did.
The short article, dated in May, was about a couple, Carolyn and Bill Anderson, whose five year old daughter had been kidnapped several months earlier. The police had found a decomposed body that they believed to be the Andersons’ daughter, and Carolyn and Bill had jumped off a cliff.
Without a word, Kelsey got up, walked over to the window, and gazed out into the night. “Why?” she asked softly, and Melody knew the question was not addressed to her.
“Kelsey, what is it?” she asked.
After a moment of silence Kelsey looked at her, her eyes filled with fear, sorrow, and the blankness of bereavement, but she merely shook her head. A six year old should never look like that, Melody thought, and repeated, “Kelsey, what is it?”
Kelsey shook her head again, whispered, “I can’t,” and turned again to gaze out the window.
Melody wanted to go over and hug her, but she didn’t think Kelsey would allow her to. After a moment she went over to the computer.
The article she had read to Kelsey had not contained the name of the Andersons’ murdered daughter, but Melody went back to the list of results of Kelsey’s search and clicked on another news article, written in February. It was written before the body was discovered and was about the kidnapping of Kelsey Anderson. It asked readers to call the police if they saw Kelsey, and had a photograph of a smiling five year old.
Besides for the smile, it was the same face as that of the Kelsey gazing out of the window.
“You’re Kelsey Anderson,” Melody said. “The man who left you here isn’t your father, he’s your kidnapper.”
Kelsey spun around to face Melody. “He said he’d kill me if I told you. He didn’t want to leave me alone because I’d been making noise, so he had you babysit me and he said if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me and he’d kill me!” she said in a small, panicky voice.
“It’s going to be okay,” said Melody, although racing through her mind was the thought that a kidnapper knew where she lived and was supposed to arrive to pick up his victim by eleven. She picked up the phone and dialed 911.
“911, please state the nature of you emergency.”
“I’m babysitting and the little girl I’m babysitting for was kidnapped. I mean, she wasn’t just kidnapped now, but the man who hired me to babysit her, I thought he was her dad, but he actually kidnapped her a few months ago and he’s going to be back at eleven and he’s a kidnapper!”
“Ma’am, calm down. Can you give me your name and address?”
“I’m Melody Radin and my address is 1432 Seashell Blvd.”
“Okay, the police are on their way. Will you be okay until then?”
“Okay. They’ll be there soon. Goodbye.”
Melody hung up the phone, then realized her sister would be worried if she came home and saw police cars in front of their house, and immediately picked up the phone again and called Alexia.
“Alexia? It’s Melody. Um, well, the thing is, I’m babysitting, and um….”
“That’s fine,” said Alexia.
“No! I mean, that’s not why I’m calling. I already am babysitting and the girl I’m babysitting for, Kelsey, is at our house, and she’s actually Kelsey Anderson, remember she was kidnapped, it was in the newspaper, and the man who hired me to babysit her, I thought was her dad, is actually her kidnapper.”
There was a loud thud then some scuffling noises, then Alexia’s voice came back on the phone and said, “I’m sorry, I just dropped the phone. A kidnapper hired you to babysit his victim?”
“Uh-huh. Can you come home?”
“Of course, I’ll leave right now. Have you called the police?”
“Good. I’ll see you in- wait, does the kidnapper know where you live?”
“Uh-huh. But the police are on their way now.”
“Maybe you should go over to a neighbor’s?”
Melody was nervous about waiting at home, but she said, “Don’t worry, the police are on their way here now, and he’s not supposed to be back until eleven.”
There was a silence, and Melody knew Alexia was deciding whether to argue. Finally, she said, “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Bye.”
“Bye,” said Melody, and hung up.
Kelsey was staring at her in horror. “The police are coming?” she whimpered. “He’ll kill me! He’ll kill you too, and the police, and the rest of your family, and… He told me he would!”
Although Kelsey’s words filled Melody with fear, she told the little girl, “It’ll be okay. The police are going to come and they’ll arrest the kidnapper and then he won’t be able to kill anyone.”
Kelsey looked at her dubiously. “What if they can’t find him? Or if they arrest him and he gets out of jail? Then he’ll kill us!”
“They will get him,” Melody assured Kelsey firmly, hoping that it was true.
It was not.
The police came. They questioned Melody and Kelsey, staked out the house, examined Kelsey for evidence… They did everything they could to find the kidnapper. It wasn’t enough.
A social worker came as well. Her intent was to take Kelsey to social services. Alexia, who by now knew the whole story from questioning Melody and Kelsey as intensely as the police, had other ideas. She sent Melody and Kelsey upstairs while she discussed things with the social worker. When Melody came down half an hour later, the social worker was gone. “Kelsey is staying with us,” Alexia proclaimed.
The next day Alexia signed Kelsey up for karate classes. Kelsey loved them, and was a natural at karate. Alexia also made an appointment for her to see a psychologist. Kelsey loved that a bit less, but she went. The therapy did help Kelsey’s feelings of self-blame over her parents’ death, a little, but it did nothing to stop her nightmares.
Two days after Kelsey’s rescue came a peak in the case. The small family had just gotten home from Kelsey’s therapy session when the phone rang. Melody answered it.
“You know, you might be a good babysitter, but you’re not very smart,” said the kidnapper. “To believe the fairytales of a little girl not known for her truthfulness. And to call in the police because of them. You have no proof I’m not the girl’s father. I could have you arrested for kidnapping.” He chuckled.
Melody had frozen, but she managed to find her voice. “I hope you do go to the police, because then they‘ll arrest you!”
“Exactly. And do you know what people do when the police can’t help them?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “The take the law into their own hands.”
“I will get Kelsey back.”
“The night I was supposed to pick her up the police were there, of course, and last night, I had some… business to attend to, relating to the reason I found it necessary to leave Kelsey with you in the first place. But tonight….” He hung up.
Melody was frozen in place, the phone still in her hand, when Kelsey came into the kitchen a few minutes later.
“What’s wrong Melody?” she asked.
Melody started to cry.
Kelsey went over and gave Melody a hug, but it did nothing to stop the older girl’s sobs, so Kelsey went to get Alexia.
Alexia promptly went to Melody, took the phone from her hand, and hung it up. Then she looked into her sister’s eyes and demanded, “What was it?”
Melody took a shuddering breath and managed, “It was him.”
Alexia took out a glass and filled it with cold water. She put in two ice cubes and a slice of lemon, then handed it to Melody, who took a sip.
After a few minutes, once Melody had regained control of herself, Alexia asked, “What did he say?”
“He said… he said that I don’t have any proof he’s not Kelsey’s father and he could- he could have us arrested for kidnapping. I told him that he couldn’t go to- that if he went to the police they’d arrest him. Then he said that he was going to take the law into his own hands, and that the night he left Kelsey with me the police were there and last night he had to do, um, whatever it was that was the reason he left Kelsey with me in the first place, and then he said, he said, like a warning, a threat, ominously, ‘But tonight…’ and then he hung up.”
Alexia picked up the phone, then thought better, put it back down, and took out her cell phone.
“Are you calling the police?” asked Kelsey.
“He won’t come if the police are here.” She dialed a number into her phone.
It rang three times before a young woman answered. “Yes?”
“Alala? This is Alexia. Are you busy tonight?”
“I have my Criminology final tomorrow. So do you, actually, remember? I have to study.”
Alexia ignored the fact that her reply was negative. “Do you want to help with a stakeout?”
There was a pause before Alala said, “What do you mean?”
“I’ll tell you when you get here.”
“Fine. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
The doorbell rang almost exactly ten minutes later. Kelsey, who was sitting on the couch looking at a picture book, froze. The doorbell rang again a few seconds later, and then there were three sharp taps on the door. Kelsey told herself that it was not her kidnapper, but she was still too terrified to answer the door. A few seconds later Alexia strode into the room, looked through the peephole, unlocked the lock, and swung the door open.
It was not the kidnapper, but Kelsey had known that as soon as Alexia had begun to unlock the door. The woman standing at the door appeared to be a few years older than Alexia. Her long ebony hair stood out against her pale skin and the large red bag hanging on her shoulder. Her eyes were nearly as haunted as Kelsey’s, and because of this, Kelsey immediately liked her.
Alexia made the introductions. “Kelsey, this is my friend Alala. We go to school together, and we used to be roommates. Alala, this is Kelsey, who I told you about.”
Alala flashed Kelsey a small smile as she entered the room, then turned back to Alexia. “So are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Yeah.” Alexia sat down on the couch next to Kelsey, and Alala sat down in an armchair and looked at Alexia pointedly.
“Well, like I told you yesterday, Kelsey’s kidnappers still on the loose,” Alexia began, then paused.
“Yes?” prodded Alala.
“Well, today we got- well, Melody actually got the call. It was him, the kidnapper.” She gave a detailed summary of the phone call, then concluded, “If the police are here he won’t come. So I thought that instead of calling them, you and me could keep watch.”
Alala nodded, started to say something, then glanced at Kelsey and remained quiet. After a moment she asked, “Have you locked the place up yet?”
“Of course. You can check if you want though.”
Alala got up and walked through the house. After a few minutes she was back. “It’s secure, but the only problem is Melody’s room. That window could be broken easily, and with the proper equipment it wouldn’t be impossible to climb in.”
Alexia nodded. “Melody and Kelsey can sleep in the guestroom tonight. The only door is to the living room, and you saw the windowpanes; nobody could get through them. And that way we can stay in here and study for our final while we keep watch.”
“Alexia, can I go in Melody’s room for now and go on the computer?” Kelsey asked.
“It should be fine for now,” Alala told her friend. “He wouldn’t be stupid enough to try to climb up in broad daylight.”
Alexia hesitated, but she knew her friend was paranoid enough that if she said it was safe, it was. “Okay, Kelsey, but only until it gets dark.”
Once Kelsey left, Alala said, “I didn’t want to tell you with Kelsey around, but I brought this.” She pulled a handgun out of her bag. “Just in case.”
Alexia nodded. “Is it loaded?”
“Yes, but the safety’s on.”
Alala put the gun on the couch cushion between them, then pulled out a textbook, and they began to study.
The sun was just beginning to set when Kelsey appeared on the stairs.
“Good, I was just about to get you,” Alexia said to her.
Kelsey appeared not to have heard her. She was pale, and there was fear in her eyes. She started to walk down the stairs, slowly, but she stopped about halfway. “We found out why,” she said quietly.
“It was another news article, on the computer. I thought of it because of what he said to Melody on the phone.”
“What was it?” Alexia asked, her voice troubled.
“It has to be him. His eyes- and who else would…. And I knew there had to be some kind of reason, I mean, it really was a risk….”
“Why he left you with a babysitter,” suggested Alala. Alexia looked at her in surprise, but she agreed that it made sense.
Kelsey nodded mournfully. “He… it was in the news. It had a police sketch, it wasn’t very good, not like mine, that I told them, but the eyes…. It was him.”
“What did he do?” asked Alala.
“He- he killed someone!” cried Kelsey. “Her name was Crystal. It said she was walking home from school with her friend and he shot her from the roof of a grocery store, that’s how they got the police sketch, someone saw him coming down from the roof. I know it was him.”
“I’m sure it was,” said Alala solemnly, as Alexia, noticing that it was beginning to get dark out, blurted, “Where’s Melody?”
“In the bathroom, throwing up.” Kelsey added in a small voice, “I told her it wasn’t her fault….”
Alexia started to get up when the phone rang, jarring the solemn mood. Alexia answered it automatically. “Hello?”
“Hello,” said a pleasant yet ominous voice. “Do you know who this is?” he inquired.
“I can guess,” Alexia said. “What do you want?”
“I want to speak to Melody. Would you please put her on?”
“It’s the only way you’ll find out what I have to say….”
Alexia considered, then said, “Hold on.” She covered the receiver with her hand and said, “It’s him. He wants to talk to Melody.”
“Don’t let him,” advised Alala.
“No. I’ll do it,” said Melody as she appeared on the stairs next to Kelsey. Slowly, she made her way to the phone and took the receiver from her sister. Against her better judgment, Alexia let her.
“I know what you did!” Melody accused before he could say anything. She stepped away from Alexia and stood staring at her, until Alexia reluctantly sat back down on the couch. Alexia glanced at the gun next to her, and was glad of it.
“Which thing that I did do you know about?” came the voice from the other end of the phone.
“That you-” Melody couldn’t bring herself to say the words. “Why you needed a babysitter!”
“Ah. How nice for you. Anyway, I’m just calling to let you know that I lied to you yesterday. I’m no longer in the country. If you have caller ID, you can see that the number I’m calling you from is in Australia.”
“We don’t have caller ID,” Melody said automatically, then felt stupid for telling him.
“Oh, well you’ll be able to see it on your next phone bill. But I’m calling to let you know that you may keep Kelsey, at least for now. I do owe you something, after all, I never did pay you for babysitting.” He laughed, an evil laugh, and hung up.
Melody turned to face Alexia, and was struck by the image of Alexia and Alala sitting on the couch, textbooks still on their laps, with the gun on the cushion between them, and Kelsey, standing on the stairs above them, tears running down her pale face. She managed to say, “He says he lied, that he left the country and isn’t coming to get Kelsey.”
None of them moved, at all. There was complete stillness in the room until Alala said, “You don’t know if it’s true.”
Alexia took out her cell phone and called the phone company. She explained what she wanted, and was told that the last number that had called her home phone was, indeed, from Australia. “It seems true then,” she said once she hung up.
“So he’s gone?” Kelsey asked. She did not sound happy; her question was almost a wail.
“Aren’t you glad?” Melody asked her. It was not a suggestion that she should be, just a question.
Alexia said, “If he’s gone, there won’t be justice.”
“At least you’re safe from him now,” said Alala, her voice revealing that she, of all people, knew it wasn’t enough.
Kelsey, Melody, and Alexia are characters in Hey Cool, I've Never Seen a Teacher With His Head Cut Off Before!