When I was a kid growing up in Phoenix, Arizona we dealt with Monsoon season every year. Roughly from mid June to late September, storms would roll, in making the entire area look like something out of a natural disaster film. On one hand it was nice to get a break from the 100+ degree weather, on the other hand, with this extreme weather came blackouts that would leave us without any access to tv, computer games, or anything that requires power. To pass the time we would be relegated to conversation or board games or card games.
But at night, my sister and I liked to light several candles and tell each other spooky stories. Most of them were tales of ghosts or vampires. But there was one story that always stuck with me. One that I used to think was just something she made up to scare me. When I looked it up as an adult, I came to learn the truth behind The story of The Wandering Woman::::
Thirty-five years ago, on a hot summer night, Mary Barker was in her home cooking dinner. She worked with a gentle smile on her face, awaiting the return of her husband, Dennis, and her children, Michael and Loren. Dennis had taken the kids to the grocery store to pick up a special dessert in celebration of Michael’s 8th birthday.
On this particular summer night, the temperature continued to rise, climbing at a rapid rate for this time of the evening. And as the heat grew more intense, it began to put heavy strain on the local power grid.
As Mary placed her casserole into the waiting oven, there was suddenly one big POP! And the world fell into ebony silence.
Mary’s heart raced, her sudden blindness bringing with it a sense of panic. She fumbled her way to the nearby kitchen window only to find that the same blanket of darkness had fallen upon the entire neighborhood. Her thoughts began to spin as she imagined her children and their safety. They’d been gone for an hour already. And there was no telling exactly where they were when the power went out. They would be so scared.
“They’ll be back any minute… The cars and headlights will still work. I’m sure they’ll be pulling up any second.” Mary whispered to herself. She tried to keep herself calm, but found that she was sliding to the floor, clutching at her chest to remind herself to breathe.
So there Mary waited. She sat, enveloped in a cocoon of black, praying for their safe return. What felt like hours went by as she sat, the silence ringing in her ears, the darkness dancing before her. Mary tugged at her hair, clinging to any sensory stimulation she could.
After an eternity in the dark, Mary could not take it any longer. She scrambled to her feet, staring out into the void ahead. Mary stumbled through the house, her heart pounding so intensely that she could hear the blood pumping behind her eardrums.
She breathed a heavy sigh of relief as her shaking hands clasped onto a flashlight in her bathroom. Mary clicked it on and came face to face with the nightmarish image of her own reflection. She screamed in terror. Mary didn’t even recognize herself.
Her straight red hair was matted and wild towards the ends, framing her paper white face in a frizzy sea of crimson. Her green eyes were sunken in and bloodshot, her mascara running down her face in thick black tears which streamed down her cheeks like lightning strikes. She hadn’t realized that she had been crying until now. Her hand still shook so intensely that the flashlight mimicked a strobe.
Mary tore herself away from the mirror, not bothering to clean herself up. In the dark, it didn’t much matter. She gathered up her courage, putting on a pair of shoes and grabbing a metal bat they kept in the house for protection. And then, Mary stepped slowly out into the night to find her family.
The grocery store was only a few miles away. She could easily make it there on foot. The streets had to have been stopped up because of the blackout and the traffic lights were down.
Dennis probably can’t get out of the parking lot, Mary told herself, I just have to find them. Either way it didn’t matter, she could not sit in the darkened house alone anymore. She needed someone, she needed her family.
Mary wandered down the inky black sidewalk, a narrow beam of dim yellow light to guide her path. As she went, the sounds of footsteps, skateboards, and muttering voices passed by her ears in every direction. In the distance, sirens could be heard and the red and blue glow of nearby police cars cast any eerie glow up and down the street. Not quite bright enough to see very far ahead, but enough to provide the sense of placement in the dark. Bodies bumped into and rammed passed her, many of them not bothering to apologize.
The cacophony of sounds and vague shapes whirled around Mary as she went. All the while she kept moving, focusing her attention firmly on the light ahead of her, trying to keep her nerves at ease and failing. Her heart pounded in her chest so intensely that she felt a throbbing pain every time it beat. Cold sweat was forming on her brow and every time some random figure bumped into her, Mary had to fight the urge to jump. It felt like she’d been walking forever and still there was no sign of the grocery store or even the parking lot yet.
“Hey baby.” A deep, threatening voice breathed into her ear. His hot breath on her neck. Mary screamed. She made an attempt to shift out of the way, but a strong hand locked onto her wrist, yanking her closer to him. She could smell his strong body odor.
“I can guide you. Come on hun, I can take you somewhere safe.” His voice was rough and gravely, carrying with it the promise of ill will.
Mary gripped her bat tight, swinging through the darkness in the direction of the man. She felt her arm vibrate as she struck home. The gruff voice yelped in surprise and pain as he released her.
“Get the fuck away from me!” She shrieked, swinging into the dark a few more times only to hit air. Her flashlight whirled in a panic, giving horrifying flashes on the looming man and the empty scenery around her.
“You fucking bitch!” The voice shouted. “Better watch yer ass! You won’t see me coming bitch! Ya hear me?! You won’t see me coming!“ The man continued to scream as Mary took off at a sprint. His shouts faded away as she made distance.
She huffed and wheezed, fumbling with the flashlight before clicking it off as she continued to run. He can’t catch me if he can’t see me. He can’t catch me if he can’t see me. She thought over and over.
Mary ran until her lungs burned and her heart felt like it might burst. When she finally stopped, she began to violently cough and heave with each dry, shaking breath. She could feel the thick black tears of her mascara sliding farther down her face. She stood, folded in on herself, hiding in the dark, trying to settle.
As her breath began to slow, Mary almost felt calm again. She tried to allow herself to feel safe even though she was still extremely on edge.
After several more moments she peered up to get her barring. And saw the dim lights of the grocery store in the distance. She could even make out the headlights of cars backed up in both directions on the street parallel to hers. She almost laughed, they were still at the store. Of course they were. They were probably waiting out this traffic is the car.
“I’m coming.” She breathed out in self reassurance, turning her flashlight back on.
Mary took one step before feeling a strong hand clasp down on her shoulder. Her blood ran cold. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be that man. That man had followed her, he’d found her. How had he found her?! “You’ll never see me coming.” He had said. He’s followed her, somehow. He had found her.
“Baby?” A deep voice spoke. Mary dropped the flashlight, her fear overcoming her. She felt a flash of cold run down her spine and her skin grew hot. Mary grasped the bat tightly in her small white hands.
With a feral shriek, she spun, driving the bat with full force in the direction of his head. She heard a wet crunch and her arms went numb with the force of the impact.
But she didn’t stop there. She didn’t want to give him the chance to fight back. Mary brought down the bat again and again, feeling the warm spray of blood against her skin. It only served to feed her fury. She kept swinging. She felt other hands on her, trying to pull her away. He brought friends, Mary thought, the sick fuck thought bringing friends would give him the advantage. Mary felt a smirk spread across her lips. He was wrong. She had the advantage. She had her fear, she had the cover of night, she had her bat. Mary swung around her, she hit one, no, two more people. Their bodies crumpled to the ground faster than the first. Screams rang in Mary’s ears. She didn’t know if they were hers or theirs… she didn’t care. Mary continued swinging the bat, every crunch, every squelch fueling her. She didn’t stop until her arms gave out from fatigue.
And then she was left in the deafening silence once again.
She stood in exhausted victory before she began to come back to herself.
Mary looked around for her flashlight, spotting the dim beam as it reflected the deep red of blood and gore on the warm concrete. It kicked up a disgusting smell quickly in this heat.
She stepped across the squishy ground, picking up the flashlight weakly in her hand. She showed it upon the scene at her feet.
All at once the air went out of Mary’s lungs. She dropped to the floor with a dry, sobbing scream. Among all of the filth and flesh she spotted something that made her blood run cold.
A familiar wedding band. A pair of Elmo shoes. A blood soaked teddy bear. Mary sobbed…and sobbed. It felt like her soul had been ripped out of her body. She felt so empty.
“No. No. No. No. No…” she repeated over and over. She hadn’t, no she couldn’t. No. No. It wasn’t possible.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no…” Mary croaked. No, she thought, clicking off the flashlight. No I didn’t kill them. No, no they’re at the store. I’m so close. Yeah they’re waiting for me.
“No no no no no…” Mary heard a strained voice whisper. They’re fine. I just have to find them. It’s okay. I’m coming.
“No…no…no” Mary’s voice trailed off as she continued walking, letting the flashlight drop behind her as the woman wandered into the dark……..
No one ever found out what happened to Mary Barker. The current theory is that Dennis, Michael, and Loren Barker had gotten tired of waiting out the traffic at the store. They had started heading home on foot through the dark with the intention of getting back to Mary. Their bodies were discovered that morning. Mary’s bloody fingerprints were all over them. They had been beaten to death.
My sister would always end the story with a warning. Beware the glare of The Wandering Woman. She still makes her way up and down darkened roads at night looking for her family. If you spot her on the side of the road, do NOT stop to help her. She just might swing her bat at you.
Credit: Kody Forbes
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