Rosalyn Dean quickened her pace as she walked down the dark suburban streets, lit only dimly by the occasional glow of a streetlight on sidewalk corners. She was anxious to get back to her apartment, to finally be able to let go of the hard, tight knots of fear in her stomach.

I should have taken a bus, a taxi- something... she thought futilely as she speed-walked down the concrete sidewalk. If it wasn't so late, I could... but no one's out now, I couldn't get a ride if I tried. Damn, it's so quiet out. Why in the world did I agree to this?

Normally, of course, Rosalyn would not be out walking the streets at 1:00 am, particularly in this part of town, but it had been unavoidable tonight. Her job as a nurse in a free clinic only seven blocks away from her apartment had had several people come in with emergencies, and when she'd been asked to work overtime, Rosalyn had agreed, knowing they'd need her. She hadn't realized until she was preparing to walk home how much worse it was to walk home at 1:00 rather than her usual 9:00. At 9, even though it was beginning to get dark, there were still people around, cars driving through, people walking home, as she was, lights blazing in buildings- signs of life, signs that Rosalyn wasn't the only person in the whole world that was awake. Signs that should she scream, somone would hear and help her...

It only made it worse that she'd been hearing lately on the radio and reading in newspapers about four women who were found dead in the same area she was now walking through. Each had been lying in an area that opened up into an alley, with multiple stab wounds mutilating their bodies and faces so terribly none of the women had been identified yet. The first woman had been found two weeks ago, the latest, two days. Rosalyn tried not to think about it, but that was proved to be an exercise that was impossible.

I am sooo stupid, she berated herself as she walked. Do you see any other people walking through here- the scene of four murders- at this time of night? No, you do not, because if other people are even out at all this time of night, they find some other way to get home than walking! They get a friend to give them a ride, or they get a taxi, or if they have a husband or boyfriend, which you don't, you loser, they call them. They do something, anything, besides walking home alone, without so much as a can of pepper spray for protection. Rosalyn, you are going to buy a car and USE IT, even if you don't have anywhere to put it and gas is so expensive!

She tried to calm herself down; getting even more anxious wouldn't help anything. Ok, almost there, she thought. Just two more blocks. No one's hurt you- you haven't even seen anyone. And if you do, don't say anything- just run away!

No sooner had she thought that then the small, lone figure of a child stepped into her view. She was a little girl, around six years old, with long, straggly brown hair. She was wearing a faded blue sundress with no coat- an outfit too cool for the chilly night. As Rosalyn paused to regard her, seh realized the child was alone- there was no parent or grandparent, or sibling , to watch her. The little girl gazed at her, forlorn and bewildered, tears welling in her sad dark eyes. She looked frightened and panicked. What was she doing out so late, in this area, and dressed so inappropriately too? Rosalyn wondered. Where was this child's mother? What kind of person would allow her to be out like this?

She took a step toward the little girl, her anxiety to be home momentarily forgotten.

" What are you doing out here, sweetie?" she asked softly. " Where is you mother?"

The child's lips quivered, and she seemed to be struggling against tears.

" I can't find her!" she cried. " I can't find my mommy! She's gone- I don't know where she is!'

Rosalyn heistated, unsure what she should do. She REALLY didn't want to stay outside any longer than she had to. Looking for a child's mother wasn't high on her priority list. But it wasn't safe for her to be out alone- especially with a killer on the loose. Rosalyn knew if she left the little girl, she'd feel horribly guilty later- especially if she read in the paper the next day about the child's body being found.

Making up her mind and steeling herself, she squatted before the girl and wiped her tears from her cheeks.

" don't worry, honey. I'll help you find your mommy. What's your name?"

" Tyler," the little girl whispered.

" Tyler. My name is Rosalyn. Now, do you know your mommy's name, Tyler? I need to know who Im looking for. And what does she look like?"

" Tall and pretty. She has long black hair and she's skinny like you. uh... I think her name's Alessandra? That's what my daddy used to call her."

Okay, that's helpful, Tyler. Now where exactly were you when you realized you were lost?"1

Tyler turned and pointed vaguely down the street- the area that Rosalyn had just come from. Her heart sank. She really didn't want to back track and get further away from her apartment- but she didn't see that she had a choice. She couldn't leave a little girl out alone under the circumstances.2

"Okay, why don't you come show me exactly where?" Rosalyn said. 3

" Okay," Tyler said. Taking Rosalyn's hand heistantly, she looked at her questioningly. When Rosalyn smiled at her reassuringly, Tyler began to lead her down the dark street.4

They had gone perhaps a block with Tyler showing no signs of stopping. Rosalyn was just beginning to wonder whether Tyler was sure of what she was doing when Tyler stopped suddenly, pointing to an alley between two buildings.5

" Here," she said softly, pointing. " We were in there..."6

Rosalyn looked at the shadowy alley uneasily. She could not see into it, to see if anyone was in there, unless she herself went in- something she did NOT want to do. If there was a person in there, she doubted it would be Tyler's mother. It would be a bum, mugger, rapist... or the person who'd killed those women. No, she didn't want to go into that alley- but on the other hand, she didn't want to search the streets all night for Tyler's mother. The sooner she found her, the sooner she could go home to bed.7

I'll just peek into the alley quickly, and if her mother- this Alessandra- isn't there, I'll take Tyler home with me and call the police to deal with her, Rosalyn decided. That way we're both safe, and someone else can have responsibility for her.8

Decision made, Rosalyn steeled her courage and followed Tyler into the black alley. The moment she entered it, she felt a sense of doom inside her that grew stronger and more overwhelming with each step. She almost gasped and ran away, but restrained herself, forcing herself to follow Tyler. It was a few moments before she noticed the figure of an adult standing against the graffitied wall. Rosalyn jumped, almost screaming,and instinctively drew Tyler close to her. Tyler, however, showed no such fear. If anything, she was delighted. Her small face lit up, and she called out excitedly, " Hi, Mommy!"9

As Tyler pulled Rosalyn forward enthusiastically toward the figure, and it came closer as well, Rosalyn saw to her considerable relief that it was not a man, as she'd assumed, but a woman, a pretty woman with long dark hair. Tyler's mother, Rosalyn thought gratefully. Alessandra. I'll just hand her over and leave...10

She tried to let go of Tyler's hand, but she was still tugging her forward, and her grip was startlingly strong for a child. 11

" Look mommy, I did like you said!" Tyler chirped. " I brought her to you- just like the others!"12

The others? What? Rosalyn frowned in confusion at those words. What was the child talking about? She tried to disentangle herself from Tyler, but to her dismay, she couldn't get her to relinquish her hold. Against her will, she was pulled forward until she was standing right in front of Alessandra. 13

" Why thank you, Tyler baby," Alessandra said in a low, throaty murmur. " You're such a good little girl."14

Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, there was a knife in Alessandra's hand, and she was holding it high in the air, bringing it down fast on Rosalyn... Rosalyn tried to scream, but her voice was frozen with fear and panic. She tried desperately to move away from the plunging knife, but little Tyler was holding her fast by the hand, laughing, her face beaming as the knife plunged into Rosalyn again and again, and her blood began to flow..15

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Alessandra smiled as she gazed down at the bloodstained body of the woman at her feet. This was the fifth one, and the most satisfying yet. The girl had been too scared to make a sound- definitely not expecting such a brutal end.17

Alessandra was slightly out of breath from her exertion, her hair sweaty and clinging to her cheeks and neck. Despite this, and the blood spattered across her arm, face, and clothes, she looked beautiful in a savage way. She smiled over at her daughter, whose eyes glowed with excitement as she too grinned down at the dead woman. Tyler was only six, and already Alessandra could see she was her mother's daughter.18

" That was fun!" Tyler said, cheeks flushed with joy. " Can we do it again soon?"19

" Of course," Alessandra assured her. " Thanks for helping. You're such a good girl, helping mommy like this. I couldn't do it without you."20

Tyler glowed at her mother's praise. " You're welcome mommy,' she said happily. Alessandra noticed smears of blood on the child's cheek and bent to wipe it off. Straightening up, she reached for her daughter's hand.21

" Come along, Tyler, we've had enough fun for one night. It's time to be getting home," she said gently. Mother and daughter turned, and hand in hand, walked from the alley and onto the city streets.22