Catoptromancy


I’m posting this thingy I wrote for Non-Fiction because 1) I have nothing else to say today
and 2) looking back, this is freaking hilarious, even though at the time it was REALLY scary.

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When I was in fourth grade, several of my friends and I attempted to summon Bloody Mary in the basement of our church.

Of course, good Catholic girls would usually never dream of doing such a thing. Church was for worship, and worship was to be carried out sitting in the pews of the main hall. The basement was reserved for storing old candle holders, robes, and broken organ pipes. It certainly wasn’t a place to summon apparitions.

And though we were indeed good Catholic girls who attended church regularly, prayed before every meal, and were kind to the nuns in charge of our elementary school, we were also a clique of tweens looking to entertain ourselves one dreary Saturday afternoon. Thus, the prospect of going down to the basement and getting in a little trouble was something none of us particularly shied away from.

St. Mary’s Church was a familiar place to all of us. Every Friday entailed a mini field trip for our whole school to the church to begin the day with a service before resuming our usual education. But we had ended up there on a Saturday due to the Easter service planned for the following weekend. Our parents, avid Christians themselves, had volunteered to help our priest to prepare the church for the lavish event that was Easter. The collective lot of us kids—seven girls in total—had been dragged along to help as well.

However, it became clear rather quickly that we were too distracting to one another to add any degree of useful labor to the situation, so we were ushered away from the flowers and candles and banners and told to “go play.”

My father was the head trainer of altar servers. Due to his lack of foresight regarding hiring a babysitter to watch me while he went to train, I would often be dragged along with him and forced to entertain myself as he worked. As such, I knew the basement of the church well. I proposed it as an option to my friends, and as we descended the stairs carpeted in a mustard yellow and flecked with maroon like old splatters of blood, Mariah, always the troublemaker, proposed the idea of Bloody Mary.

We were all familiar with the ritual, of course—stand in a darkened room in front of a mirror, chant “Bloody Mary, we have your baby” three times, and wait for her ghost to appear. We were bored, none of us could think of anything else to do, so we agreed without much argument. To the left of the landing at the foot of the stairs was a single-occupant unisex bathroom. On one side was situated a long counter and on the wall above it stood a large mirror with a string of naked bulbs in a row above.

It was perfect for our purposes.

We funneled into the bathroom, giggling with that sort of reserved nervousness that only arises when you know you are doing something that is likely to lead to trouble. I shut the door behind us and instruct Kelly to turn off the lights.

We ceased giggling as the room snapped to darkness, only the faded glow of the extinguished bulbs above the mirror and the slightest sliver of light from the hallway spilling onto the floor from the crack under the door still illuminating us. But it was too dark to see anything else.

Mariah, the instigator of all this, was rendered silent. It was Lara who prompted us to speak.

“So?” she whispered, as if even the faintest sound above our collective breath would evoke Mary from her mirrored entombment.

“We have to start it together,” I whispered back, too afraid to begin the ritual alone. Meredith suggested a count-off and, with nervous breaths beating whisps of noise into the static that was the surrounding silence, we began our chant.

“Bloody Mary, I have your baby…”

You could hear our collective consternation in the wavering of our voices. Of course, none of us believed for a second that upon the third calling of her name, Bloody Mary would indeed rend herself from the reflective glass and murder us all. But we barely whispered the call anyway, just in case the rumors regarding the ritual were true.

Someone to the right of me reached down and grabbed hold of my hand. I jumped. It was only the sensation of the warm palm against mine and the fact that whoever the hand belonged to moved even closer to me that prevented me from screaming that our bloody apparition had arrived two calls early.

“Bloody Mary, I have your baby…”

The room was getting hot. The obvious reason for this—that the already-stuffy bathroom was full of 7 nervous fourth-graders all panting with anticipation and fear—never even occurred to us, or at least to me. I was convinced the heat was emanating from the mirror as we blindly faced it in the musty darkness in front of us.

“Bloody Mary…”

The person standing to my left grabbed my unoccupied hand and I grabbed hers back and we clung to each other as the final four words were sent from our lips and jettisoned into the receiving darkness and whatever other beings occupied it.

“…I have your baby.”

In the silence that followed, I realized I had shut my eyes despite the darkness and decided to reopen them in a sudden surge of bravery. Had all my senses not been occupied in my intense focus on the mirror, I would have been aware of the fact that my hands were in a death-grip with the two individuals who had sought similar comfort from me. My ears were like receivers, trying to filter through that odd din of static that so readily beats upon your ear drums in the absence of any real sound, listening for any indication that Bloody Mary was on her way.

Nothing. Not a sound, not a movement, not even a change in the hot air encapsulating us all, save for the quick, nervous breaths of a group of young girls prepared for horror but relieved to find no such thing awaiting them. My heart, though still pounding so severely I thought in my 11-year-old mind that I’d actually experienced a heart attack, slowed almost immediately to a more normal pulse.

Then there was a bang. Had we been in a safer situation, we would have attributed the bang to its rightful source: our priest knocking a ceramic bowl to the carpeted floor or maybe a parent dropping a heavy box. But to us, it was none other than Bloody Mary herself, the angered apparition awoken from her slumber, banging against the back of the mirror before breaking into our make-shift sychomanteum to murder us all.

The bathroom erupted into blind chaos. Screaming, pushing, jumping, flailing—the two hands I was holding broke free of mine in a flurried panic as their owners shrieked and thrashed and thought solely of protecting themselves from the murderous specter.

I pushed my way through the choir of terrified sopranos towards the door, the sliver of light emanating from between the bottom of the door and the floor projecting like a ray of hope for escape. I clawed at the doorknob, my fingers rendered numb and useless from fear, until I finally heard the click of the hinge and I throw the door wide to save us all.

We burst from the darkened room, still hollering, still flailing, still shaking our hands and arms as if to shed ourselves of any residual poltergeist that may have touched us in the turmoil. But the immediate danger being over, our shrieks soon dissolved into nervous giggles and tense smiles as we realized we’d survived the summoning with nothing more than racing hearts to show for it.

But in another instant I caught a glimpse of Mariah’s hand, a sharp streak of red standing out against the white of her skin.

“What’s that?” I asked her, pointing to the offending mark.

The giggling stopped as our attention was turned to Mariah. She inspected the mark, then ran the fingers of her opposite hand across it. She brought her stained fingers together, rubbed them to get an idea of the substance.

“It’s lipstick,” she whispered.

Our silence due to curiosity gave way to the silence of shock as all of us, our eyes wide, glanced at one another with astonishment over the new development that had just taken place. There was no doubt in any of our minds now that Bloody Mary had indeed paid us a visit, and it was only our panicking and swift exiting of the bathroom that had saved us from anything more severe than a streak of blood-red lipstick.

We said no more to each other; we simply clung together, a herd of spooked young girls who had just escaped a brush with death, and made our way back up out of the basement. It would be years before we felt comfortable discussing the encounter at all.

Now some may question whether our shock over this bit of cosmetic displacement was actually warranted. After all, being 11- and 12-year-olds, we were in the right demographic for makeup experimentation. It could easily be assumed that the lipstick, belonging to one of us, had ended up on Mariah’s hand in the chaos that had ensued in the bathroom. This is a perfectly valid theory, and one we had all considered before the obvious reason for its dismissal occurred to any of us: good Catholic girls don’t wear makeup.

One response

  1. I find it very strange and coincidental that every Bloody Mary story (including mine) ends with some random noise scaring the crap out of people.

    Like

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