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—Saki (H. H. Munro), “The Unbearable Bassington”



Prologue


C.J. Osborn was ten years old when the boogeyman came for her.

Some months earlier she had decided she was old enough to be left without a baby-sitter. A baby-sitter was for babies, by definition, and she was no baby. She rode horses—well, ponies—and climbed steep trails in the Big Maria Mountains and explored the shadowed canyons near her home. She shot rifles and pitched horseshoes. She was too much of a tomboy to be satisfied with her given name, Caitlin Jean, and so she had become C.J., a name that suited her better. Certainly at the advanced age of ten, she could be left alone for an evening, even if home was a ranch house in a remote outpost of the Mojave Desert, and the nearest neighbors were a half mile away.

“If there’s any problem,” C.J. explained to her mom and dad in her calmest, most adult tone of voice, “I can call you. Or the Gregsons. Or the police. I know what to do.”

Despite her arguments, for the first half of 1985 her parents continued to hire Liddie Wilcox to sit for them when they went out, even though Liddie, presently sixteen, had begun baby-sitting at the age of twelve, only two years older than C.J. was now.

Finally, in August, after months of sustained prodding on C.J.’s part, her parents relented. They were attending a birthday party at a restaurant in Blythe, the nearest big town, twenty miles down Midland Road. They would not call Liddie. “You’ll be on your own,” C.J.’s dad warned. “You sure about this?”

“I’m sure,” C.J. said with no trace of doubt. What was there to be worried about? What could possibly go wrong?

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