Have you ever known one of those people who made you feel truly unsettled? For me, it was Mary Marble. She was a pretty girl, all things considered. She had long, straight jet black hair, a fair complexion and spoke in a cute, squeaky voice. She was neither bigger nor smaller than any of the other kids at Grady junior high, but she was always quiet and somber. Some would call her simple or slow as she seemed very withdrawn and never went out of her way to talk to anyone, but her grades were above average and she was always quick to correctly answer any question the teacher would send her way.
By all accounts, there was nothing off putting about the girl, at first, but there was something in her eyes that would always send a shiver down my spine. At times, while kids loudly yelled and stomped through the halls of the school, Mary would just lean with her back against the wall and stare. A lot of times she would just gaze off into space, seemingly lost in her thoughts, but other times she would lock eyes with one of us fellow students. There was something unnerving about the way her dark eyes seemed to cut into us so deep that we couldn’t look away. It was as though she had us in a trance and was somehow feeding on our subconscious minds.
That’s what we’d tell each other anyway, in a much more crude and childlike fashion. I’m not sure if I bought into such silly theories, but it was a defense mechanism of the insecure teenager to go out of our way to point a finger at someone else before one could be turned to us. Regardless of what the reasons were, her stare would cause me to feel incredibly uncomfortable to the point I would even become queasy. I wasn’t sure what it was, but something was off with that girl.
I remember when she first appeared in our home room on the especially chilly morning in October. I can’t remember the actual date, but I think it was around the middle of the month, if memory serves. I was only eleven years old and was still quite shyly getting used to the sixth grade in an American school. I was born in a little town in Scotland named Clackmannan, but had been forced to move to the states after my father received a job offer he couldn’t refuse. I was ten when we entered the country and the school year was at its midway point, so I had a lot of trouble fitting in at first. It didn’t take long for the novelty of a foreign kid earned me a handful of friends and fortunately they would be attending the same junior high as I in the fall.
I was short and skinny and quite the nerd, but my friends were of similarly dorky tastes so it worked out. Mary was escorted into the class by the school counselor. He was a dodgy and short, balding man whose hair wrapped around the back and sides of his head like a pair of earphones that had slipped off the top. He had a thick caterpillar mustache that fluttered from his breath as he introduced her to the class. He seemed to be abnormally stuttering as he pronounced the girls name to us and he quickly turned around and darted out the door as soon as the information was relayed.
Mary stood in front of the room wearing a black ruffled dress that came down to her black and white striped knee high socks. She wore a similarly striped long sleeved shirt under her dress and her long dark hair flowed over her shoulders like a stream of black ink. I had just started really appreciating looking at girls and I was instantly struck by how pretty she looked. She didn’t seem uncomfortable or awkward as she stood before us in silence, but I stared into her face and I noticed that she had not blinked since I began looking at her. I quickly averted my gaze when she turned her eyes to meet mine and I suddenly felt sweat form on my brow.
I glanced back up for a moment and found her still glaring at me, wide eyed and expressionless. I had fully intended to just take a quick peek before turning my gaze back down to my closed notebook, but I couldn’t look away. As I started to feel a chill across my spine, the teacher broke the silence in the room and asked Mary to take the open seat at the back of the room. Every head in the room followed the little girl as she paced gingerly to the rear of the classroom and they darted back forward when she turned to sit down. It became quickly clear that the new girl would be the primary topic for the gossiping children of Grady Junior High for the next few days.
I was a shy kid in general, but almost paralyzingly so when attempting to talk to girls. “H-hi,” I said, nervously, to the wide eyed girl leaning up against the lockers after a sufficient amount of dares from my friends forced me to do so. She just stared at me as though I had attacked her with a slew of insults rather than just offer her a simple greeting. Feeling my face flush I continued, “I-I’m Jacob, um, everyone just calls me Jake though,” I giggled feeling more awkward than jovial. Her dark eyes still just glared at me and I was feeling incredibly uncomfortable as my friends chuckled from somewhere behind me.
“O-ok then,” I stuttered and turned to walk away. “Do you wanna know when you’re gonna die?” The little girl asked in her squeaky yet monotone voice. I turned back to face her, genuinely freaked out by her question. “Huh?” I replied. “I can show you,” she continued, “if you want.” I was stunned and wanted nothing more than to get as far away from her as I could. As I looked at her, the pale face that had previously seemed quite lovely to me now looked more sinister and malicious. There was something behind her eyes that sought to drill into my soul and I felt a sudden panic grow from within me. I shook my head aggressively and said, “N-no,” my eyes were fixed with hers as my head waved from side to side, “No thank you.”
As soon as my words left my lips, I turned on the spot and walked quickly away. I got back to my friends and told them what had happened, to which they laughed and jeered and started making fun of her from a distance. Word spread quickly about the child’s strange ways. Even more so after a variety of other kids attempted to socialize with her. Regardless of the mockery and her complete lack of anything resembling friends, Mary never seemed brought down by things. Well, not that we could tell anyway. She seemed neither troubled nor content, really. Just neutral and blank.
During the summer before our seventh grade began, Cindy Baxter, who I had also shared class with the previous year, was killed in a horrific accident. She had been riding her bicycle down the sidewalk only yards from her home where she lived with her younger sister and mother. Her father, according to rumor, had been killed while serving overseas in the military. I only knew the girl in passing, and wasn’t familiar with her family at all, so take all of that with a grain of salt. There was a long, ironwork fence that ran the length of the section of sidewalk she was coasting her bike along, so when the small sedan that was speeding down the road that paralleled the path unexpectedly blew a tire, she did not have the slightest chance to get out of the way.
As witnesses would report, the car instantly skidded to the side of the road causing it to careen into the strong, metal railing, with little Cindy Baxter caught between the two. By the time the story made it through all the exaggerated channels of the preteen gossip circuit, it told that the poor girl had been severed in two by the impact. By the time we returned to school in the fall, the story had grown far more morbid and grotesque, but the undeniable point remained. The poor little girl had died an untimely death, and that tragedy would only be the first of many to come over the following year.
The room fell silent with the exception of a few kids crying when our home room teacher made the announcement about Cindy’s death. We had all heard the news already, as it had happened some weeks before school began again, but the pain was still fresh to a lot of the kids who had known her. This, of course, set off the gossip chain once more, and the stories would be rehashed in vivid detail through the rest of the week. Tasha Holmes, one of Cindy’s best friends, mentioned that Cindy had made the effort to speak to Mary Marble several times in the days before school let out for the summer.
She told us that the wide eyed girl had apparently asked Cindy the same question she presented to me in our first and only meeting. When Tasha asked her friend if she had accepted Mary’s offer of prediction, Cindy just looked off to one side and shook her head. She had been distant and dreamy over the days that followed, according to Tasha. Johnny Roma, a quick witted and outspoken member of my little group became convinced that Mary was a witch and swore he would confront her about the whole thing. The rest of us laughed at him and told him he should stop staying up late to watch horror movies with his older brother. He mumbled a slew of words that I would never be allowed to say, without fear of the back of my father’s hand, and stormed off down the crowded hall.
As the days progressed, more kids had started to hold Mary responsible for little Cindy’s death. They were convinced she was anything from a murderous little psychopath to the antichrist herself. I found the whole thing to be blown out of proportion. The accident was tragic and sad, but nothing that would appear to have been supernaturally encouraged. Tony and Charles, the other two members of my dorky friends circle, shared my mindset on the topic and were tired of hearing about it. Even at our ages, we knew that dwelling on something such as this would not allow anyone to move on from it.
Charles did feel a little bad after he barked at Johnny for spilling his silly theories one day. We had just arrived at lunch and Johnny was just staring at Mary from across the room while going on and on about what a monster she was. Charles just lost it. I can’t recall how the dialogue between them went, but it ended with many eyes in the room transfixed on the two of them until Johnny yelled at everyone to leave him alone. His words were more colorful than mine, but you get the idea.
Later that same day, I saw Johnny talking to Mary from a distance. His demeanor was confrontational at first, but gave way to something very different as the conversation went on. I noticed his shoulders droop as his head hung low, while she still stared in her normal blank expression. My friend turned on his heels and ran up the hallway while she watched his exit. He was out of my sight before he escaped hers, but as I turned to look at her, she turned again to face me. We locked eyes as other kids walked back and forth between us. Even when our line of vision was blocked, I could still feel her gaze.
It felt as though we were the only two people in a deserted room and I felt cold and lost the longer we stared at each other. We finally broke eye contact when a bigger kid charged down the hall, knocking me almost to the floor. He seemed on a mission of sorts and paid no attention to my stumbling and grasping for anything to prevent my fall. I finally composed myself and looked across the hall to see that Mary no longer stood there. Though the experience had been less than comfortable, I went on about my day as any other, though I would never see Johnny again.
The news of his death greeted me early the following morning after my mother received a phone call that caused her to gasp and place a hand over her heart. Johnny had been walking along a nearby train track late the previous night, apparently very distracted as he did not notice the sounds of the approaching train. There was little left of his body, which made his identification no easy task, but word leaked out quickly once the information was discovered and had reached across the little town of Grady before we could lay foot on school grounds. My mother had given me the option of staying out of school for a few days, as Johnny and I had grown close over the last year, but even at my young age, I knew staying at home would only lead to brooding about the loss of my friend.
Children and teachers alike shed tears for Johnny when school began that day, and many would leave to make their way to their respective homes over the following hour or two. Charles, Tony and I sat in silence at lunch as we could not seem to find the words to break the suffocating quiet. Other kids still cried at nearby tables, while others hung their heads and attempted to eat their food. Johnny had been a fairly popular kid, which had always puzzled me, along with the others of our dorky little group, to why he would spend his time with us. He said he could be himself around us, but always felt like he had to put on a show with others. Though he enjoyed his popularity, he would often remark on his envy for the rest of us and how we could blend into the background and go unnoticed. It had seemed insulting at first, but his sincerity could not be denied.
Over the course of the school year, another three children would meet their end, each in a more gruesome fashion than the last. Bridget Morgan, an eighth grader who had always been athletic and lively, dropped to her death from a nearby cliff surrounding a quarry. She had struck sharp rocks and pointed tree roots during her descent which had torn her poor body to shreds by the time her fall came to it’s grisly end. Billy Jordan, a sixth year student was torn apart by wildlife in the woods that surrounded our town, presumably bears or wolves. Finally Andrew Barnes, an eleventh grader and friend to many, had fallen into the wood chipper on his grandfather’s farm. Many believed that a curse had befallen the town of Grady, and my little group of friends had grown convinced that the curse was named Mary Marble.
By the time our seventh grade came to a close, we had added three new friends to our growing club. Sara and Veronica Burgess were twin sisters who shared the same grade as us. They were both really pretty with matching long, red hair. Sara was more freckled than her sister who was far more outgoing than her, but they were equally as sassy. I had developed something of a crush on Sara, though I would not freely admit that to anyone until some years later. They were both a little nerdy, like the rest of us, but it only served to make Sara more appealing to me, with her thick rimmed glasses and slight lisp when she spoke.
Josh Holden, who would suffer the wrath of many a ‘Holden me groin’ joke over the years, was a quiet kid, but could be quick with a joke once you got him talking. He had shaggy, brown hair that was parted in the center and sported a fairly stocky build for his age. They filled out our group quite well, and they shared our belief that Marble was the root of all of the evil that had befallen our school. We made plans to find out everything we could about her before school resumed the following year, but we could not have predicted where our investigation would take us.
It was rare for anyone to see Mary outside of school, and nobody had the slightest clue where she lived. She had no friends to speak of, nor did she seem intent on making any. The fact that many kids had become terrified at the thought of opening up a conversation with her, had given her quite the status as the school’s biggest outcast. Every now and then, I would feel bad for her sitting alone at a corner table in the lunchroom, but then I would recall the discomfort I felt whenever our eyes would meet. It was something of a conundrum, since I knew all too well the feeling of being rejected because of my differences. Even so, she was a pariah, and I knew behind that cute little face lay pure evil.
So, my motley crew would spend the weeks after school let out investigating the town’s history for any circumstances in it’s past that resembled our current situation, or pacing the town’s streets seeking any evidence of Mary, herself. Maybe we had seen too many movies or read too many stories of recurring atrocities in the smaller cities of the nation, or perhaps we just had no clue where to look for answers to the events that had brought this town to a seven O’clock curfew. Sure, older teenagers would still party into the wee hours of the night and groups of kids could still be seen spending time in the parks and playgrounds after the sun went down, but the police only seemed primarily focused on children who were alone after hours.
As it turned out, Grady did harbor some mystery in its history, which Sara and I agreed sounded like an excellent title to a Scooby Doo episode. She had the cutest giggle and the way she would cover her mouth with the tip of her fingers when she laughed would make me smile like an idiot every time. Charles would often nudge Tony and they would both silently chuckle when I would stare at Sara with my cheesy grin, but I would just flip them off when nobody was looking which would only serve to make them laugh harder. Though our research gave us some grim history, it did not provide us with any answers to the town’s current dilemma.
It seems there had been a woman, some hundred or so years before, named Daphne Clayton, who had committed a rash of brutal homicides of the children of Grady. When she was finally captured and interrogated on the motivations behind her horrible crimes, she confessed that the death of her own children had driven her to such deplorable acts. Regardless of her claims, there was no evidence that she had ever been a mother, to which she would insist it was many years before she found herself in this town. She was hanged for her crimes after a very short trial. It came out after some years of concealment of the true depravity of her actions, that she had, in fact, fed on the children she had murdered.
I lay the half eaten Twinkie, I had been chewing on, to rest when Josh narrated this particular except from the ancient newspaper reel he had jotted down during his trip to the library. Veronica looked as though she were close to spewing her own snack across the floor of our shoddy treehouse, while her sister slapped her on the back to help control her spluttering cough. Aside from the gagging Roni, as we had nicknamed her, nobody else was saying a word.
Though we had plenty of outrageous theories about Mary Marble being the reincarnation of the cannibalistic Daphne Clayton, we had nothing rational or realistic to go on. We had begun to lose hope in our short career as budding sleuths until we heard the news that a child had gone missing. Gregory Banks and his family had only recently moved into town, and he had not yet attended school in the area. Nobody knew much about them, but they had apparently migrated here from the big city to live in a less crime ridden environment. Bad idea, Banks family.
A search party was set up quickly, though it bore no results and the mystery of the missing Banks child would be just another log on the fire for us. We couldn’t give up on our quest for answers, even though the police department seemed as dumbstruck by everything as the rest of us. Accidents can be chalked up to chance, but a missing child could mean so much more.
As August was approaching, we had almost given up hope in finding answers before a new school year began. Though we had grown close, we weren’t spending as much time in a group of late since our investigation had become an obsession that had started to wear on us as a whole. We would still gather together a few days a week, but we had started spending more time apart than we had at the beginning of the summer. Not to mention, our parents had grown more restless since the Banks boy vanished, and were wary about letting us leave our respective homes. It was a rainy Tuesday, only two weeks before the beginning of the school year, when I received a frantic phone call from Tony.
He claimed he had found where Mary Marble lived. The reception was terrible on the glossy brown, rotary house phone my parents had owned since we moved into this country, so I could only make out so much of what he was saying. I asked him to repeat what he said multiple times, but that only served to frustrate his already frenzied state. He was in the middle of hysterically attempting to convey the information when he suddenly fell silent. “Tony?” I barked into the phone. “I gotta go.” He replied in a very subdued voice. “Tony? Are you ok?” I asked. The line went dead and I assumed he had hung up the phone.
His body was found the next day at the treeline of the same woods in which Billy Jordan was found. Tony was found with both legs and his left arm missing along with a giant hole in his chest where his heart used to reside. In reports I would not have access to until many years later, his limbs had appeared to be pulled from their sockets. That part still leaves a threatening lump in my throat to this day. For a few weeks, the woods were closed to the public while the police investigated the area since two children had brutally lost their lives behind those trees. After finding nothing they considered dangerous, it was once more opened back up to the public, though nobody seemed remotely interested in spending time there.
By the time our eighth grade began, many families had moved away from our little slice of hell on earth. Sara and Roni had been moved to Florida with their parents, but Sara vowed to keep in touch. We would write back and forth and occasionally talk on the phone, but eventually lost touch as many long distance friendships do. Charles and Josh were still around, but Tony’s death had taken a toll on Charles as they had been tight since kindergarten. He wouldn’t talk much anymore and remained distant no matter how hard Josh and I tried to break him free from the depression which consumed him.
It looked as though it was down to Josh and I to carry on alone after another month passed to find Charles and his family heading for another state. I wished him well and asked him to keep in touch, but he never did. I would find him again some years later when social networking allowed easy access to relationships gone by, but he had long since moved on from the events that shattered his youth, and I chose to leave it at that. Perhaps my face reminded him of memories that still haunted his dreams. Maybe he just had no care for friends of old. Regardless, he seemed to have a happy life now, and I wished him the best.
Josh and I had determined that we would follow Mary home from school the day after Charles left. Our first few days of attempting pursuit of the wide eyed little girl proved fruitless. We made the mistake of following too closely the first day which caused her to run after she saw us. We tried to catch up to her, but she was so much faster than us. By the time we buckled and held our splitting sides, she was far from view. We gave it a couple of days before trying again as we felt we had blown out cover, so to speak. As we neared the weekend, we tried again, but she easily slipped away from us since we followed from way too far behind, seemingly overcompensating after being spotted the first time.
We realized we would have to practice far more stealth to be able to track her to where she lived. On the Wednesday of the following week we ducked out of school early to make our way to the farthest point we had managed to follow her to. We ducked behind the trees until she came strolling by, swinging her bag back and forth while she walked. She appeared so cute and harmless in the way she carried herself, but we just knew something sinister lay below the surface. Once we were sure she had not seen us, we began our pursuit again from a safe distance.
We were doing our best to keep our footfalls silent, and would duck out of sight when she would, on occasion, stop and turn around. We lost her again after stalking her for a solid twenty minutes or so, but we had earned a new starting location for our hunt. We commenced our quest again the next day after ditching school at an even more premature hour than the last, only to lose her once more at the tree line of the woods on the edge of town. These were the same woods that Billy Jordan and Tony had found themselves torn apart in, though we had never had reason to believe that any hostile wildlife resided inside, especially after the sheriff saw fit to strip the caution tape from the trees. Even with that in mind, the knowledge that we lost Mary at the edge of the very same woods in which two of her victims had met their end, we thought it best if we armed ourselves before entering.
The weekend arrived and we would likely not have an opportunity to track our prey again until the next school day, so we chose to work on gathering supplies for a final showdown, should it occur. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous or apprehensive at the thought. I was fucking terrified, to be completely honest, but I felt a lot safer with Josh by my side. He was way stronger than me, but I had never been much of the athletic type. He was already bench pressing a hundred and eighty pounds in our weight training class. I managed to push a hundred and fifteen one day, but that was with him spotting me and doing most of the work. He would insist that it was ‘all me’ but I knew he was just being kind.
We had grown to be close friends since the rest of our group had separated, and I knew he would have my back if things got out of hand when we crossed into those woods. We spent that Saturday gathering together what we could. I managed to snatch the axe my dad used to cut wood, though it was way too heavy to swing, a baseball bat from when I had attempted (pitifully) to learn American sports and a couple of torches. Josh laughed and corrected my terminology to ‘flashlights’ when I presented them to him.
He had gathered two machetes, one of them pretty rusty but still sharp, and some football pads for protection for both of us. He also had some knee and elbow pads along with some really cool fingerless leather gloves that he swiped from his older brother’s room. He only had the one pair of those, and I can’t say I wasn’t a little jealous. He looked really cool suited up, but I felt a little awkward when I slipped the pads on as they felt huge on me. He said it didn’t matter how they looked, only that they kept me safe. He was right, but I still felt a bit silly. I suggested we try to locate some sort of protection for our heads too, and Josh slapped his hand to his face as he hadn’t even thought of that. We chose to abandon the axe when Josh agreed that it felt clumsy and awkward to swing, so I would return that to my dad’s shed later that day. We still had Sunday to make final preparations for Monday, so we packed up our ‘battle gear’ in the treehouse, and tried to spend the rest of the day having fun.
Sunday did not go as planned thanks to a horrendous storm that destroyed any plans for an excursion outdoors, so Josh suggested that we just lay out of school entirely on Monday to be able to be ready and waiting in the woods when Mary arrived on her journey home. It seemed a logical suggestion and I just spent the day relaxing in my bedroom while MTV provided music videos to serve as my soundtrack for the rainy Sunday. Monday came and I left for school, as far as my parents knew. I boarded the bus like any other week day, but darted off of school grounds as soon as the bus rode off.
I met Josh at the treehouse, where I found him waiting with two football helmets. Just like the, now soaking wet, football pads, it was too big for my head, but my friend had already thought of that and handed me a knit cap to wear under it. Not only did it provide enough padding to stop the headgear from rattling around on my head, but it made it a great deal more comfortable. We hung the pads on one of the tree branches to the side of our little club house and hoped they would dry off at least somewhat before we would make our way to the woods. After visiting a nearby convenience store to stock up on snacks, that would be our lunch for the day, using our mutually saved up allowance, we spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon waiting in our treehouse, snacking and talking, until we would make our way to the forest. It was a good walk to get there, and we were slightly concerned that passing drivers would alert our parents to our playing hooky from school, but those were inherent problems for rule breaking kids of small towns. Worst case is we would get a good chewing out from our folks if we survived whatever may unfold behind the treeline. It wouldn’t be the worst possible scenario to come out of this.
At around one O’clock, we loaded up our bags and began our stroll to the woods at the edge of the town. We had considered riding our bikes with our bags of supplies strapped to our backs, but they would be hard to hide from the approaching Mary Marble. Josh suggested that we at least take them halfway and stash them somewhere, to which I replied that I was worried they would get stolen, or even worse, that our parents would notice they were gone and know we had skipped school. So, we walked and tried our best to hide when cars would approach from either direction.
We weren’t the most effective with our attempts at stealthy maneuvering, and inadvertently drew more attention to ourselves with our leaps behind fences and trees while loaded up with bulging backpacks. In the long run, nobody seemed to care what we were up to while they were consumed with their own day’s activities. After a little under an hour and a half worth of exhausting travelling, we finally arrived at the treeline. We hesitantly crossed through the trees to find the woods not as dense as we expected. This would make it hard for us to keep our presence hidden from our target, not to mention that we had not taken into account how uneasy it is to remain silent in the woods, especially in the fall and winter as dried and dead leaves lined the forest floor. We decided to climb into the trees and attempt to remain hidden in the leaves above. It may not be an effective plan when it came to following behind our mark, but we’d jump off that bridge when we got to it.
My feet had already gone to sleep by the time Mary passed through from where the outside world met the forest. She hesitated for a moment and looked from side to side. Luckily for us, she did not look up, as the trees weren’t nearly as full as they were in the summer and we would likely be as obvious as a bright red and throbbing thumb sprouting from the tree’s bark were she to glance our way. We were able to watch her as she strolled forward in as straight a line as she could traverse over the bumpy terrain. Josh had the idea to toss a pinecone off into the distance to hopefully mask our descent from our trees. This only served to cause our mark to quicken her pace, though it also inspired the scurrying of a variety of the woods inhabitants. I could see a deer sprinting far ahead as well as some squirrels that had apparently been spooked by the assaulting pinecone. This would help camouflage the crunching leaves beneath our feet, which was a much more aggravated sound due to the pins and needles that shot through my legs as blood flowed freely once more.
As if brought to life by the combination of footsteps provided by Marble and ourselves, the forest had come to life with a cacophony of woodland creatures bounding between, up and across the trees. It was unsettling how silent and still it had been before the wide eyed girl entered, but it did allow us to remain unnoticed, or so we hoped. We would regularly hide behind trees in hopes of remaining out of sight should she glance to her rear, but all was working in our favor for the time being.
I was struck, suddenly, with the weight of how deep these woods appeared to run. We had been following from a distance for around twenty minutes, according to the digital watch on my wrist. Though it should not have been late enough for the sun to set, the world around us began to fall into darkness. My feet had been hurting for a few minutes now and I was starting to regret this whole thing. Josh looked equally as tired as I and our ability to remain stealthy had worn thin. We looked at each other while Mary walked on far ahead of us. Josh shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. I nodded in agreement. As exhausted as we were at this point, we would be hard pressed to put up much of a fight, should one occur.
I turned my attention back to the woods ahead and felt like a complete fool when I could no longer see any sign of Mary. Josh had just noticed, too, and he looked back at me with panic and frustration in his eyes. “Goddamnit!’ my friend swore in a little more than a whisper. We jogged ahead to the last point we had seen our target. It had become as dark as if it was the middle of the night, but we were uncertain about using our torches. We didn’t know if Mary had noticed us and was only hiding somewhere now, or if we had simply missed her making a turn. The last thing we wanted was to alert her to our presence if she was not already aware of it. That being said, we could not see anything. Josh pulled out his flashlight and turned it on while keeping his off hand shielding the light from spreading too far.
To add to our dilemma, we had been too busy paying attention to our pursuit, we had no idea how to get back out of these woods. Sure, it felt like we were going straight, but the terrain was uneven and bumpy and we were being guided by someone who appears to know this forest well. It had been a solid ten minutes since we had last seen Mary and we were basically running around in no particular direction now. This only served to make us even more lost as we no longer knew which direction we had come from. I was beginning to panic when I heard a sudden scream coming from where Josh had been standing. I looked around in the direction of the panicked yell to find my friend gone.
I ran to the last spot I had seen him, but saw no trace of where he had disappeared to. I was darting my eyes from side to side, looking for any trace of Josh. My heart was racing and I had begun to hyperventilate. I just knew she had gotten to him. Maybe she had been aware of us following behind her this whole time. Perhaps she was just waiting for the right moment to pounce. I started calling out for my friend, still attempting to keep my voice low just in case she had not already spotted us. It was at this moment I realized how quiet everything had grown. No birds chirping or animals running between the trees or up them. The dead leaves in the ground didn’t even seem to split and crack the way they had only minutes before.
My hands shook violently as I reached into my backpack to retrieve my torch. I clicked it on and shone the light around me taking no care to who might spot the glare through the darkness. I felt my bladder attempting to give way, but I fought against it. I was starting to feel quite sure that I would never see outside these woods again. “Jake!” I heard my name called out from somewhere far away. It didn’t sound as though it was coming from ahead or behind, but below.
I directed the light from my torch to the ground beneath my feet. I tried to follow the sound, to seek out where it was coming from. I felt my feet slip out from under me and I fell to the ground. I gathered myself together and pointed the beam of my light to the ground ahead of me. There was a deep ditch that sloped down to meet a hole In the forest floor. It was then that I noticed how wet the ground was here. That would seem to be why the leaves no longer crunched under my footsteps. Likely the reason I almost slid feet first into the hole, also. I gently crawled to where the circle of apparent nothingness lay in the middle of the woods and pointed my flashlight through the opening.
I could hear Josh calling my name from somewhere below and felt a huge weight lift itself from me when I saw him through the torchlight. He looked to be around twenty to thirty feet below, and I couldn’t help but wonder how he had survived the fall that found him there. He waved and pointed his finger towards the opening, which seemed unnecessary since I was well aware of what I was looking through. I finally noticed what he was getting at when I saw the vine-like rope that disguised itself between the wet leaves that lined the circumference of the gaping maw in the ground. I nodded to Josh and reached for the rope. I was nervous about scaling such a distance as the weight of the bag of supplies I carried on my back would surely surpass the capacity of my grip strength and muscles, but I had to get down there. The mouth on the forest floor was more than wide enough for me to fit through with my backpack in place, but my heartbeat sped again when I found myself hanging above the wide open space below. My descent was slow, but I felt a head rush of delight when my feet felt ground beneath them once more. My friend slapped me on the back when I landed and I noticed his palms were a fiery red after he winced from the enthusiastic greeting.
Josh explained to me how he had slipped through the hole, just as I almost had. He found himself falling through the air to face a certain death when he managed to wrap his hands around the hanging rope. The threads tore through his skin as he had a lot of momentum built up from his fall, but he managed to slow himself enough that when he landed, he remained in one piece. His palms were inflamed and the skin was shredded in places, so we wrapped them up as best we could with some loose fabric from his baggy and torn shirt. He joked about how he didn’t want to look like he was wearing a midriff if we got out of here, so we clumsily used one of the machetes to cut the cloth from his sleeves. Josh had very muscled arms for his age, and was not against the way his shirt appeared now, claiming he looked ‘buff’. We chuckled a bit, though we were still reeling from this whole experience.
Finally taking the opportunity to look around our newfound surroundings, we were both shocked to look upon the wide open space that lay before us. It appeared to go on for quite some distance, both in front and behind us. We could see walls formed from rocks and dirt on either side of us, but the cavern was easily some sixty or seventy feet wide, though we were no experts on measurements of distance. Being still confused about which direction we had come from, we were unsure about which way to go. Given the fact that Mary had vanished before us in a matter of seconds in a similar fashion to how my friend had disappeared, we had to assume that her location was also down here somewhere. Josh suggested that we follow the path we were facing, to which I shrugged my approval. His guess was as good as mine, afterall.
This cavern we found ourselves in was not as dark as the forest above us had become, so we felt no need to shine our torchlight ahead of us. We couldn’t tell where the light generated from, but it was as easy to see as it would be on a cloudless night with the full moon glowing from above. I’m not entirely sure why we didn’t question our situation a lot more than we did. Perhaps it’s because we were still children and still believed in the fantasies that our books and movies revealed to us. Maybe it was just that we were already too scared to seek rationality. Of course, it could be that we were just incredibly stupid for letting things go this far.
We followed the cave for maybe ten minutes before we reached a dead end. The path had become narrow as the walls on either side slowly closed themselves in front of us. Josh sighed heavily and we shrugged to each other before we turned around and headed back the way we came. Our pace had slowed dramatically, so it would be closer to twenty minutes before we strolled past the rope that dangled from the forest floor above.
We were growing increasingly tired from the amount of walking we had already done today and I was silently regretting skipping school in favor of this ridiculous quest. Another thirty minutes or so later, we finally reached what surely had to be our destination, though it thoroughly perplexed us to look upon what was before us. Off in the distance ahead, where the ground lowered to grow far deeper below the woods we had traversed what felt like hours ago, stood a quaint log cabin.
It was a very nice looking house, which we appreciated more the closer we got. It had green vines that appeared to weave around the cabin like a protective cage. The structure looked like it would be more fitting on the ledge of a mountain somewhere, overlooking the world below. It was the last thing we expected to see buried deep under the ground, but it strangely made things feel less threatening. Perhaps we were wrong about Mary. Maybe she was just a normal kid, who never blinked and lived in a cottage miles into and under the forest. Yeah. Totally normal.
We approached the building and took note of the warm light glowing from behind one of the second story windows. The curtains were drawn and we could make out no signs of life behind them. I glanced at my watch for the first time, since we reached the edge of town where the treeline stood, to see that it was close to seven O’clock. I knew that my parents would be panicking by now, especially considering the ongoing curse that had befallen our little town. I only hoped that they would be understanding when we explained that we had successfully put an end to plague once and for all. Maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself. Unsure what our next move should be, I suggested that we wait until all of the lights were out in the house before we tried to enter. We were already surely grounded at the very least. No sense in rushing it now. Josh agreed, and we hid ourselves below the railing of the front deck that wrapped around the cottage in the cave. We would take turns looking up to check on the lights, on occasion, but it would be sometime before the house fell into darkness.
It was nearing ten O’clock when the whole cavern around us fell dark. Somehow, the lights from inside the house had generated the glow through the entire underground, though it made little sense to entertain such a thought. We started to climb the steps that led to the patio when Josh gave a slight jump when the second stepped squealed beneath his foot. We stood as deer in headlights for a moment before feeling safe that we were still unnoticed. My friend looked from side to side as my outstretched arm attempted to turn the doorknob. Of course, that would be too easy, I thought to myself when the knob wouldn’t turn.
We worked our way around the deck, checking all of the windows until we found one unlatched at the far left towards the rear of the house. Josh lifted it slowly and peeked his head inside. He held a hand out for me to hand him one of the torches since the inside of the cabin was as pitch dark as the cavern that surrounded us. Assured everything was clear, Josh slid through the window and I followed in behind him. It struck me how perfectly normal this place looked. Average furniture you would expect to see in an average home.
The pictures that hung on the walls had a similar motif as those I had seen in the various hotel rooms that my family had stayed in during the occasional holidays. There was a lighthouse overlooking an unspecified ocean in one. Another had a pretty landscape of a mountainside, not indifferent from one that may have a cabin such as this one perched upon one of its ledges. No pictures of the family that lives here, though. Only impersonal images of other places, each unique in its own way.
We inspected the perfectly normal rooms as we stalked our way through the cabin, but found nothing that would imply this place held nothing more sinister than a very average family. The kitchen held all of the average foods and utensils any other kitchen would. I halfway expected to find human organs wrapped in transparent plastic when we opened the freezer door, but no. Only very generic frozen dinners with a healthy amount of frost built up on the boxes. Though everything looked right in its place, everything in here felt unused.
The dishwasher was empty, the canned goods in the pantry had dust gathered on top and around, and the condiments were all far beyond their expiration dates. It seemed all of this was a facade to fool prying eyes, but why go to such lengths when this house sat in a location that nobody would easily stumble across? Regardless of how the kitchen appeared, we had found nothing that convinced us this house held anything malicious. That was; however, until we found the basement door.
We had a good idea that Mary would be in the room on the second from which light shone through earlier. Perhaps we were stalling our ascent up the stairway, but we assured ourselves that we only sought to be thorough. Having inspected all of the rooms on the ground floor, the only door we had left to rule out was the one at the end of the hallway. Judging by how long the house had appeared from the outside, that one final door should have logically led back outside. This was why we made no effort to investigate it at first. We may have chosen to check it out in spite of that fact because we were still in no rush to reach the second floor.
Josh swung the door open with little care, being that we expected it to find the rear deck before our eyes. What lay before us was a concrete staircase that led downwards. Any basement to the house should have led back under the building, but this stretched ahead of us. Assuming that we simply misjudged the length of the cabin, we headed down into the black. Our flashlights only carved the slightest circle of visibility through the thick darkness, which was an eerie thing in itself. Josh shook his torch as if to force the presumably weakened batteries back to life to no avail. I handed him my light, but it performed no better than his. Feeling more hesitant, we continued on.
The flight of stairs carried on for far longer than we had expected, covering the distance of maybe three times the height of the house above us. We reached the bumpy concrete floor below and saw the cave that stretched out in front of us. The further we got in, we began to notice a warm glow of light in the distance. Josh clicked the button on the torch, effectively snuffing our own light out. We arrived at the mouth of a large, circular cave which was slightly lit with two candles on either side. In the center lay a large bed with a small table on its right. There was someone under the mossy, green blanket that was sprawled across the mattress, and they looked to be sound asleep.
The closer we got, the less human the shape under the blanket appeared. The shape that formed beneath the sheets was almost snake-like, but lay the length of a tall person. I covered my mouth when I gasped upon seeing what the table beside the bed held. It was a glass bowl, possibly crystal, that contained two human eyes which seemed to gaze up at us. The mass under the blanket shifted and we heard a scuffling sound behind us. “You don’t belong here!” The squealing voice of Mary Marble chanted from the darkness.
I whipped around to see her charging at us. She had an expression on her face, far wilder than the blank stare she normally wore. Her brow wrinkled and contorted into a violent sneer. I pulled out my baseball bat and Josh grabbed for his machete. I was terrified but prepared to stand my ground. She was almost on top of us when her clothes just dropped to the floor as her body evaporated from inside them. I darted my eyes around the room as the thing on the mattress looked to be attempting to wrestle itself out from beneath the blanket. Josh and I spread out as we cut our eyes from the bed to the open room and back again.
I heard a sound as if somebody was raising the volume on the tv as one of the characters on the screen began to wail. The sound belted from right beside me until I found myself pushed to the ground. The force behind the shove was strong. It felt as if a heavily muscled grown man pushed me to the floor. I saw Josh hit the ground while I picked myself back up. I was swinging the bat back and forth against the air around me as though the wind itself was my enemy. I felt a slap across my face, followed by a punch to my gut. It knocked the wind out of me, and I struggled to stay on my feet. That was when I saw the hand reaching out from the blanket.
The hand looked human in shape, but scaled like a lizard. The long fingers wrapped around the eyes that lay in the glass bowl. I watched the hand as it raised up to place them into the open sockets of the scaly face that raised from the bed to meet them. In all honesty, the face was not unattractive, which was the last thing I needed my mind to latch onto right now. It was equally as lizard-like as the hands, but the shapes and contours of the face were soft and lady-like. My legs were knocked out from under me and I found myself on the cave floor, once again.
I noticed I could actually make out the misty form of our assailant when she came close. It was as if Mary was made of smoke or fog when she struck, but she hit like a truck when she made contact. As I battled the ground to release me again, I saw the lizard woman on the bed whip out from under the sheets. She was fast. Crazy fast. While Mary knocked me down once more, causing my helmet to fly off of my head and roll across the floor, the scaled woman charged at Josh after repelling off of the wall that circled the cave. She was a female for sure. Her upper body wore the undeniable attributes of her gender, though her lower body formed the shape of a giant snake. She was scaled from head to tail, and her open, screaming mouth revealed long and pointed teeth within. The lengthy, flowing blonde hair that blew behind her as she sped towards my friend appeared incredibly out of place and I found myself momentarily distracted by that.
The sharp claws on the lizard woman’s three fingered hands swiped at Josh, tearing through the flesh on his right shoulder. He yelled and swung with his machete. He only swatted the air as she struck again, this time, across his midsection. He winced and buckled to his knees. Mary bore down on me with great force. She punched me in the face and pounded my chest. I tried to fight back, but she was only solid when her blows landed. I momentarily grabbed her fist when it pounded at the same place on my chest multiple times, but it dissolved into smoke before I could return any sort of attack. Josh and I were both bleeding and bruised and showed little hope of surviving this.
What were these things? I asked myself, my mind grasping at straws to make sense of it all. The lizard creature bore down on Josh once more, and everything seemed to move in slow motion before my eyes. She reached back with her clawed left arm and held her right out in front of her. She leapt at the roof of the cave and launched herself back towards my friend. My senses blurred momentarily as another punch landed me across the jaw, causing my head to spin. I looked up in time to see the scaled fingers bury themselves into my friend’s chest. He screamed as she rared back and prepared to bury her left hand beside her right when Josh sank the blade of his machete deep into her throat.
A guttural and gargled scream echoed the wall of the cave as the misty form of my attacker became solid again. I grabbed for my baseball bat and tried to swing, but she jumped off of me and sprinted in long strides to the creature who was spewing thick, dark blood onto my friend. The wailing scream made my ears burn and I clutched my hands around them, dropping my bat to the ground. Mary, now fully solid and seemingly human in appearance, pulled the scaled woman off of Josh and pleaded for her not to leave her.
The creature’s wails finally faded into spluttering coughs and she fell silent. Mary released a frantic yell filled with rage and jumped on to Josh, who had been clutching at the holes on his chest and writhing on the ground. She wrapped her solid human hands around his throat and screamed and bellowed in his face, saliva dripping from her mouth. He tried to fight against her, but she was proving so much stronger than she was before, now that the fury consumed her.
My baseball bat broke in half across the back of Mary Marble’s head after I swung it with every single ounce of strength I had left. Her naked body crashed to the ground and stopped moving while bright red blood leaked from where the now splintered wood had made contact. I crawled over the ground to where Josh lay, showing no sign of movement. I shook him wildly as though he were just sleeping soundly. It wasn’t until I slapped his face that his eyes flew open and he grabbed my hand to stop me from finishing the next swing of my wrist. He coughed and shifted on the ground, attempting to pick himself back up. I was relieved to see that the blood leaking from the right side of his chest had already begun to slow. It seems the wound was a lot more shallow than I had feared.
Thankfully, the football pads had prevented the claws from reaching too deep. The cuts across his midsection were shallow, but the ripped wound across his shoulder looked bad. He was having trouble lifting his arm, leaving me to assume some tendons or ligaments may have been severed. As we sat side by side trying to collect ourselves, I let out a long sigh. “You look like shit.” Josh said, pointing at my face with his good arm. I rubbed my hand across my face and winced from the pain of the swollen flesh beneath my finger tips. “You think she’s dead,” he asked, nodding towards where Mary lay still. “God, I hope so.” I replied with a chuckle.
Some minutes passed while we sat, before convincing our weary bodies to raise up from the floor. We grunted and moaned with shared agony as we lifted ourselves to our feet. We slowly staggered in the direction of the mouth of the cave, when we heard another scream filled with primal rage from behind us. Before I knew it, I was knocked back down to the ground. I spun in place to see Mary swat her hand at Josh causing him to fly across the room and slam into the concrete wall. She turned back to face me and I watched her face distort into something barely human. Her mouth fell open and unhinged in a way that splayed it wide open like the mouth of a shark. Her brow folded into a scowl that formed a mass of wrinkles where it met her nose and her eyes had turned a shimmering black. Dark tears flowed from them and they pulsed as though throbbing, black hearts beat behind her sockets.
She jumped on me and wrapped her fingers around my neck. Her fingernails pierced my flesh and I could feel blood leak out around them. She squeezed my throat and pounded my head against the ground. I felt my body growing weaker with every thrust and my head was becoming light. My vision faltered and I could feel the life draining from within me. I was on the verge of allowing the darkness to take me in, when I saw the rusted tip of a machete sliding towards me through Mary’s throat.
The contorted face before me softly formed back into the image of a cute and wide eyed young girl. As her eyes morphed back into human, though dark, eyes, she shifted her gaze to meet mine for the last time. Reality seemed to split before me, and I found myself sitting at a table outside an elegant little cafe on the side of a city street. I didn’t recognize the city, nor did I understand why I was holding a strange, reflective black rectangle in my hand. I noticed there were buttons on the side, so I pressed one with my forefinger. The thing I held was apparently some sort of device which had a screen which showed me the time and date. August forth, twenty twenty one. I looked around me to see the bustling streets filled with people coming and going as extravagant looking vehicles sped by on the road. The voice of a pretty, brunette waitress asked me if I’d like a refill, to which I absentmindedly nodded. I watched her fill up my tea cup and wander back into the pleasant cafe.
I caught my reflection on the window and found that I appeared dramatically older than I knew myself to be. I was balding and what hair remained was grey. I had a thick beard and wore rimless glasses. I was mesmerized by my foreign reflection, but was brought back to my senses when I noticed two cars slam into each other behind me. I spun my head around in time to see a red sports car careening toward me. Everything went black for a second until I found myself back in that cave. My body was numb and a depression began to wake inside of me. I felt like I would never be happy again, as if the preview of my own death, though many years from now, awoke something hollow within.
Maybe I had harbored a sort of disillusioned idea that I would live forever and feeling my own inevitable end for one brief moment was enough for some sort of darkness to take hold of me. I raised my eyes to see the last glimmers of life leaving the cute, wide eyed girl in front of me. Her hands slid down my neck and she fell against me, resting her head on my shoulder. I shook my head, momentarily losing the memory of the vision Mary’s gaze had shown me. The darkness had released its grip on me when I looked up to see Josh standing before me, still wearing a very cracked helmet and holding a bloody machete in front of him. He was panting heavily and wearily asked, “Are you ok, man?”
It would be way past midnight by the time we found ourselves back in the forest above. After leaving the cave and climbing back up the stairs to the pleasant underground cottage, we took the time to look around the rest of the house to ensure there would be no more surprising visitors on our return trip home. Once we had inspected all of the rooms, we cleaned our wounds in the second floor bathroom before going any further. Mary’s bedroom was surprisingly typical of any teenage girl and the cute, stuffed unicorn laying beside her pillow sent a pang of guilt through my chest. All of her clothes were neatly folded or hanging in the closet. Her bedspread and clothes all shared the same dark colors, as did the curtains on the window we had previously seen light shine through.
Even though we had no doubt that she had, indeed, been responsible for the awful events that had consumed Grady these past months, I still felt the weight of having taken part in ending her life. This experience would surely take a toll on my psyche in the years to come. We cleaned our wounds in the upstairs bathroom, before starting our trek towards the rope that hung from the hole in the forest floor. We left the light on in Mary’s room to light our path, as we had forgotten our torches and backpacks in the cave below. We briefly considered going back for them, but I had no desire to return to that place, and Josh showed no signs of disagreeing. Climbing the rope was no easy task as we were both fatigued and Josh only had one fully functioning arm at the moment.
I went up first and tried to pull my friend up as well as I could while he locked the rope between his feet and shuffled himself up while holding on one-handed. It took some time, but we found ourselves back between the darkened trees. Though we had little idea which direction to go, we didn’t spend long trying to find our footing and after walking for what felt like hours, we were surprised by darting lights ahead.
The search party that had apparently been formed sometime before midnight, found us bloody and beaten some time around four am. As it turned out that we had not remotely been walking in the right direction and likely would have come across them some hours before had we chosen the correct path. Clearly, directions were not our strongest attribute. My parents rushed to me and wrapped their arms around me as Jim Crawford, the resident sheriff of the city of Grady, led us out of the woods. Josh was greeted by his mother and older brother, Richard. They excitedly embraced him until he winced and grabbed his shoulder. His father was apparently still inside the forest, but had not allowed his wife and son to enter out of fear of what they could be facing given the tragedies of late.
We were taken to the hospital in one of the neighboring towns and were patched up while officers questioned us on the night’s events. We told them everything as we remembered it, though they did not appear to believe a word. A thorough investigation of our claims was conducted over the following days and, upon finding the quaint cabin that lay beneath the forest above, they could not deny our story to be, at least, mostly factual. Some government officials came into town in the weeks ahead and roped off the woods to conduct their own investigation. We would never hear the results of what they may or may not have found, though. Even if we hadn’t moved away from Grady before the month came to a close, it was quite certain they’d never share their findings with the public.
Josh and I still stay in touch to this day. He became obsessed with researching supernatural phenomena, and even hooked up with a group of people who shared his shared interest, each with equally as mind boggling personal experiences as ours. I’ve been to some of their meetings, and with their permission, I have used their experiences in my writings. Malcolm, an especially nervous and paranoid, but well meaning associate of Josh, claims that what we saw in the woods that day was something named Lamia, and that Mary was possibly some sort of wraith who was perhaps raised by the scaled creature. These were only theories, of course, but it was something to give us some semblance of closure.
Josh and I took a road trip a couple of years back. We returned to Grady to find that the tragedies had, indeed, ended the day we walked out of those woods under the crescent moon. It made me proud of what we did that night, looking at the happy and carefree children running through the park and laughing in the playground, though I still bear the burden of the lives we took that night. I still visit my therapist regularly, though she is convinced that my memories are no more than a manifestation of some underlying mental suffering that my subconscious created. Though I still battle with the memories of my childhood in Grady, life has been good, and I have made a happy life with good friends and a loving wife.
I’m supposed to meet with a new publisher in the city tomorrow at a cafe named Blue Moon. It has a good reputation and is known for serving quite the delicious cup of hot tea. I do believe I’m going to cancel that meeting, though. I pay little attention to the date as my work is done from my office at home, and I don’t always have a strict schedule I have to meet, but according to my cell phone, it’s August third today. Perhaps I can reschedule.
Credit : William Rayne
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