It began with a dare. A stupid, stupid, dare. We were all adults, but there I was locked in the bathroom. Three lit candles illuminating the room with just enough light to make the darkness visible. Water rushed from the faucet; the conduit that would guide my voice into the spirit realm. Everything was in place.
I could hear my roommates giggling just outside the door. We had all had a little too much to drink when we mused philosophically over childhood fears. Monsters under beds and in closets. The claustrophobic confines of absolute darkness. The silly urban legends that circulated elementary schoolyards.
Of course you can’t discuss schoolyard urban legends without discussing the infamous tale of Bloody Mary. John, Matthew, and Davis had all sworn to have performed the ritual; I remained inconspicuously quiet on the matter, nodding along with their tales. John noting my unusual silence asked if I had ever performed the ritual. After much prodding I confessed that I had not.
I wish I could tell you the conversation moved on after my confession, but no. It devolved into teasing, an explanation of how the ritual was incorrectly conveyed, vain attempts at dismissing the legend and the ritual as stupid, and finally resolving itself into a dare. A dare that I, in the heat of the moment and under the influence of alcohol, accepted in order to shut them up.
It was John who pulled out his smart phone and searched online for the proper way to summon Bloody Mary. Matthew located candles. Davis supplied the lighter. I was the dupe who would perform the ritual.
“We can’t hear you! Don’t bitch out on us!” John was banging at the door taunting while Matthew and Davis gave themselves over to fits of snickering.
“Give me a minute. I want to do this right.” I lied. I was stalling. My stomach was a swarm of butterflies in a flight of frenzy. The acidic taste of fear lingered in the back of my dry throat. Childhood anxieties replayed themselves through my adult self.
“Quit stalling!” Davis joined in the taunting.
“Alright! Shut the hell up, I’m doing it.”
One. Two. Three.
I spun around three times before reaching out to place two fingers on the mirror. I closed my eyes, felt the mirror quake beneath my touch, took a deep breath, and opened my eyes once more. In the dancing light of the candles my reflection looked foreign. It was as if I was looking into the eyes of a stranger pleading with me to back out. I couldn’t back out. Those guys wouldn’t let me hear the end of it if I backed out.
“Oh shit! He’s doing it.” A hushed excitement of whispers followed by shushing rose and fell outside the door.
“Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.” Thirteen times I uttered that dreadful name loudly, clearly, and with no shortage of trembling in my voice. I waited in silence holding a dreadful staring contest with my reflection.
After a moment or two I withdrew my hand from the mirror and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I had performed the awful ritual and survived. Maybe Bloody Mary was busy at a sleepover somewhere. Or, more likely, she simply didn’t exist.
“See, I told you it was bullshit.” I unlocked the door. The knob refused to yield. I locked and unlocked the door once more. Still it refused to turn.
“Very funny, assholes. Let go of the door.” Silence; only the jostling of doorknob. I pounded my fist against the door. A burning fear and anger rolled about my stomach.
“This isn’t funny anymore, fuckers! LET ME OUT!” I kicked the door twice to emphasize my disdain for their joke. Still only silence met my protests. Not even drunken giggles or snickering came through the door.
I stepped back and kicked the door once more. I ran a calloused hand over the sandpaper stubble atop my head.
“I fucking hate you guys!” That’s when I turned.
I meant to simply sit on the edge of the tub to wait my idiot roommates out – to wait for them to grow bored with their prank, open the door, and laugh at my disgust. They’d tease me for freaking out. Swear I was frightened. I would deny it, even though they were right.
Instead I came face to face with a woman standing in place of my reflection. Gore tangled raven hair fell past her shoulders onto a white nightgown covered in fresh blood. Her face had been mutilated. Deep gashes oozed with blood and puss; a section of her face, from her cheek to her chin, had been torn away. Her nose had been cut off entirely.
Her eyes looked as though they had been savagely scooped out of her skull as she bled to death from the deep angry wound cut across her throat – the cut which must have ended her last few tormented moments on earth. However she may have looked in life was completely unrecognizable now.
We stood staring at each other. I, unmoving. She, tilting her head from side to side like predator sizing up its prey. A wicked grin curled in the remaining corner of her lips. With the speed of a striking viper she slapped an open hand against the glass. The mirror shook against the impact.
She pressed her hand against the mirror. It vibrated violently as she opened her mouth and let out a paralyzing scream. I covered my ears and shut tight my eyes. I could feel the world shake uncontrollably around me. I wanted to scream. To yell. To call out, but my voice – my breath – was caught in my throat.
Everything went still. Her absent scream left the room heavy in silence. Two of the candles had extinguished themselves. She no longer appeared in the mirror. I lunged for the door desperately fighting with the knob which refused to give. With a free hand I pounded the door calling for help.
I stepped back and kicked the door over and over again. I slammed my body against it begging for it to give way under my weight. Every blow against the door became an increasingly difficult task. My breath escaped me.
Sweat trickled down my face. I caught my breath in the heavy stillness. Nothing. No sound beyond the rushing water flowing freely from the tap. Shadows danced in time with the remaining flickering candle, I closed my eyes, rested my head against the door, and allowed myself to feel grateful it was all over.
Hot breath wafted across my cheek. A putrid odor burned my nostrils. The breathing matched the tempo of my own. I opened my eyes, but dared not to turn to face the source of the foul breath directly. From my peripheral I could see her. Exaggerated motions as she sucked in breath and let it out through clenched teeth. She was mocking me. Reveling in the fear she stirred up within me.
I wept. Hysterical. Choked on whispered moans unable to find my voice. I sniffled and sobbed too overcome by terror to allow pride to hold back the tears. A cold bony hand rested upon my shoulder, clenching down with enough force to cause bones to audibly grind and splinter.
The pain drove me to my knees. Her iron grip holding me in place. With a sudden overpowering jerk my body was propelled through the air and into the wall behind me. Drywall smashed under the impact leaving a sizable hole in the wall. The floor raced to break my fall.
Sputtering, coughing, sucking deeply, I rose to my knees. In an instant she was upon me. Hand around my throat and holding me aloft like doll. Glaring. Snarling. She flung me against the ceiling as though I weighed nothing in her frail hands. Debris rained from overhead. Ribs cracked, air was forced from my lungs, my vision blurred, spun, and blackened, as my body landed against the toilet.
A terrifying calm settled about the bathroom. I pushed my body free from the toilet and rolled to my back. Dust and drywall crunched beneath me. The woman was nowhere to be found. I pushed myself across the floor sliding towards the door, desperate to escape.
As I laid with my head rested against the foot of the door, blood running from my mouth, gripped in the throes of agony, a scratching sound drew my eyes to the hole in the wall. Pale fingers, thin bony fingers, crept like spiders over the damaged wall. She pulled herself through the impossibly small space onto the floor.
On her belly she crawled towards me; hollow eye sockets drawing me into their fathomless depths, her lips curled in sadistic grin, death. I could hear it in her out breath -in every crunch and shuffle of debris- death. This was how I was going to die.
Her moist clammy skin dragged against my bare legs as she pulled herself on top of me. Drawing up, knees straddling my waist, her hands shot out gripping tightly around my neck. Over and over again my head crashed against the door. In one fluid motion she rose to her feet bringing me up with her.
She leapt wrapping her legs around my waist; her arms around my neck. Her mouth opened wide. Teeth bit down. Her jaw clamped around the base of my throat. Her grip tightened. I could feel my flesh tearing away in her mouth. I let out a shrill cry and fell back against the door. My arms shot out to brace for impact.
Blood sprayed across her face. In her mouth hung the ruined flesh of my throat which she spat upon my chest. Time seemed to slow as she rose to her feet.
Through eyeless sockets she stood over me admiring the carnage. The crooked grin growing as I gasped for breath only to swallow throat-full gulps of my own blood. She turned and climbed through the mirror; perhaps off to answer the summons of another fool playing games never meant to be played.
The dying light of the final candle dancing upon the ceiling was the last thing I saw before closing my eyes.