“Settle down, settle down!” I laughed. My parents had gone to Portugal and I had the isolated farm to myself for a month, save for a couple of men who were employed to come occasionally to do fencing work and odd jobs. Right now, there was no cattle, just arable land.
Feeling bored with sitting on my own in the large silent lounge night after night, and to take my mind off something pretty unpleasant that’d happened that day, I’d invited three girlfriends round, Mary, Ruby and Bethany, all in my class at school. Mary’s family were rich and she had her own car, though she was only seventeen. She’d driven them all out here.
Now, the girls were running down corridors, up the stairs, opening doors and cupboards, giggling, calling out to one another, excited to explore the rambling farmhouse.
“Laura, this place is amazing,” said Mary, as we finally gathered in the spacious kitchen where I’d put a selection of drinks and nibbles out on the huge wooden table. Above us was a high open space and wooden beams where there used to be a loft.
“It’s OK,” I said, “there’s only so much you can do with … space. I’d rather have people to be honest.”
“What you need is a dog,” said Bethany
I sighed. “Yes, I want a poodle but y’know, mum’s allergic to animal hair.”
“I know what,” said Bethany, “you could borrow one for a month, while they’re abroad!”
Ruby poured herself a generous glass of pinot noir, took a large gulp and let out a wine-scented belch. We all laughed.
“Listen,” said Ruby, her face flushed with the alcohol, “d’you ever hear the story of Bloody Mary?”
“No,” we said in unison.
“Well, listen up. See, they say there was this woman down in Todford, Mary someone. She got diphtheria and died, this’d be like a hundred years ago. Well, they thought she’d died, but she hadn’t. She was in some kind of coma.”
I sipped some coke, listening with interest.
“Anyway, they buried her, but at night people heard screaming from the churchyard. A kind of muffled screaming. Eventually she was dug up and her fingernails were all broken and bloody so they could tell she’d been buried alive.”
“Ooh, that’s horrible,” said Bethany.
“Wait,” said Ruby, “they say you can see her if you go out on a moonlit night with a mirror. You turn around five times, looking in the mirror, saying her name, ‘Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,’ and she’ll appear in it!”
“Rubbish,” laughed Mary.
“Well there’s one way to find out,” I said. “There’s a full moon out there tonight.”
So, we stood on a small lawn. In the centre was a sundial with a plinth on which female water-bearers carried their jars to the endless turn of the sun across the sky. But tonight, it was the brilliant moon that cast a distinct shadow on the dial.
All around us were pale-flowering azaleas and white roses, glowing in the silver moonlight and filling the air with a subtle musk, whilst the moon itself rode high and proud above scudding indigo clouds. To one side of the garden was a fence, and beyond, a few feet lower, was a field with horses. The animals had settled for the night but occasionally we heard them snorting.
“Are you OK, Laura?” asked Mary, “you don’t seem your usual self.”
I held mum’s long-handled mirror up. My face looked pretty gaunt in the glass, I had to admit. “Look, something happened today. You know that guy, Roderick, he hangs out down at the village shop.”
“What, he always wears a duffle coat with a hood, got a head like a bird’s nest? He gives me the creeps.”
“That’s the one,” I said. “Well, I went to get some bread and eggs this morning. When I came out he had his, well, … his cock out.”
“What!” exclaimed Ruby, “you mean, flashing?”
“Was it, like … stiff?”
“Yes, and there was a horrible smell, like … like fish.”
“Look, he didn’t try to touch me or anything. But, well, it shook me up. I wasn’t expecting anything like that, y’know.”
“Come on,” said, Bethany, “let’s start while the moon’s still out, it’ll take your mind off old Rodders, the dirty pervert!”
“Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary,” intoned Ruby, turning around in the moonlight, looking into mum’s gilded mirror held out in front of her. “There, that’s five times, nothing.”
Then my turn. To be honest I felt quite spooked out there in the quiet garden, no one around for miles, just the horses moving in their shelter. “Bloody Mary.” I watched my face as I slowly revolved. “Bloody Mary.” But it didn’t change.
Then Bethany’s turn. We watched as she turned around and around, chanting “Bloody Mary” in a low, spooky voice. To be honest, I just wanted to get back to the light and warmth of the farmhouse. Then, on the final turn she looked up and we all gasped. Bethany’s face had changed completely. She looked ten years older, her eyes were wide and staring, and her face had no colour at all, paler even than the moon above. And her hair had changed. It was no longer wavy and blonde, but black and matted, like it was wet.
“Oh my god,” said Mary. “Beth, Beth!”
Bethany let out an unearthly groan, a sound that made me feel like maggots were writhing around under my skin, then she lunged towards Mary. There was a flash of silver and Mary collapsed. As she lay on the ground, a black stain began to form and spread out over her breasts. She made a gurgling sound, her eyes flickered, then she lay still.
Bethany let a knife fall onto the grass. The blood-covered blade shone in the moonlight, then, right before our eyes, it became translucent, then was simply no longer there. Just as suddenly, Bethany’s appearance returned to normal and she began to sob. I held her tightly. “Beth, don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault.”
Back in the kitchen, the three of us sat around the table. I gave Bethany some wine and wiped her tear-streaked face with some tissues.
“Look, what the hell are we going to do?” asked Ruby.
“Well, Mary’s dead, there’s nothing we can do about that,” I said. “We’d better call the police. Look, let’s say she went out into the garden alone. We heard a scream and went out to find she’d been stabbed.”
“They’ll want to know if we saw anything,” said Ruby.
“I know what,” I said, “we’ll say we saw a man running away, down the drive. We’ll say he had a heavy coat, like a duffle coat with a hood, and a load of messy hair, OK?”
“What, like Roderick you mean?” asked Bethany.
I nodded. It’d serve him right. “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye,” I intoned, making the motions. Bethany and Ruby repeated the phrase. We spat into our left hands, then clasped them together, shaking three times. That was our solemn vow that we’d stick to the story, no matter what. I picked up the phone. “Here goes.”
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