Tuesday, October 28, 2008

OZARK HORROR: Mary & The Thing

"Mary," called Mr. Calhoun, "could you fetch my walking stick?"

"Of course, papa," said Mary, coming into the front room. "Are you going out so late?"

"No," replied her father. "I just came back. I forgot to pick it up."

"Where did you leave it?" she asked, wrapping her kerchief around her shoulders.

"In that fallow ground down the hill."

Mary nodded and headed out. It was just getting dark when she reached the fallow ground. She found her father's walking stick, but as she began to lift it, it cracked into the ground. Mary quickly thought of two explanations: someone or something had been buried there, either in a hurry, or it was a grave no one cared about.

Suddenly, something grabbed the stick from below her. She looked down. A withered, shrunken hand reached out of the ground and began pulling on the stick. She would have ran, but something had taken over her will. The strange thing climbed out of the ground. It looked kind of human, but it was shrunken and looked all dried up, like it was made of corn husks. It resembled a monkey more than anything else. But whatever it was, it was horrid.

The thing sat on Mary's shoulders. It was light, but it felt so heavy.

"Walk," it said, and Mary did. She did not want to, but her will was not her own.

"I hunger," said the thing. "I've had naught to eat for many a year."

At the first house they came to, the thing had Mary turn in. When Mary reached the house, though, the thing pulled her back.

"No!" it shrieked. "'Tis a God-fearing home."

Mary left the yard and went on to another house, but again the thing pulled her back.

"'Tis another holy home," it said.

Mary went on to another house. She recognized this one: it was the home of three old friends of hers, the three McClaren boys.

"Oh no," she thought, "Please, don't make me go in here!"

"Go in," said the thing. "There's none that serve the Lord in this home!"

The family was asleep. Mary saw the sky out of a window she was nearby. It was pitch black.

"It must be midnight," she thought. "But it was only about eight when Papa sent me to the fallow."

She began to wonder if she would ever see her father again, when the thing said, "Into the kitchen with ye."

It still held Mary's will, so she had no choice.

In the kitchen, the thing made her take a bowl and a sharp knife.

"Go upstairs," it commanded.

Mary went upstairs, the thing still astride her shoulders. She dreaded whatever the thing would make her do, but what could be done about it?

She went up, and found all three of the McClaren boys, asleep.

"Take their blood," said the thing.

Against her will, Mary slit each of the boy's throats, tears dripping from her eyes. She thought of all the wonderful times she had spent with them, and now she would never see them alive again. She caught the blood into the bowl.

After this harrowing ordeal, the thing made her go back into the kitchen.

"Make gruel!" it commanded.

And Mary did so. She boiled water, and poured in oats. Then she realized what the thing wanted the blood for. Against her will, she added the blood to the gruel, making a disgusting concoction in the pot.

"Serve us!" the thing commanded.

Mary took out two bowls and spoons and set places at the table. She divided the gruel into the two bowls. She began to wonder why there were two bowls, when the thing said:

"Now, eat a morsel!"

Mary felt she would vomit. With her hand trembling, she took up a spoon, dipped it into the gruel, and brought out a spoonful of it. She began to lift it towards her lips, but her hand shook so! All at once, the mess fell into her kerchief! But the thing still commanded her will, and she put the empty spoon in her mouth. Her jaws chewed on nothing, and her throat swallowed.

"Now ye be one of us!" said the thing.

Mary wondered at this, then she realized that the thing thought she had eaten it! It could not see below her chin!

The thing crawled off of Mary, and as it did, it's spell on her faded away.

It got up into the other chair, and began io eat it's own bowl of gruel. Mary pretended to eat, but when the thing was not looking, she dropped it into her kerchief.

Eventually, the meal was finished.

"Now, let's be off!" said the thing.

"Let me clean up first," replied Mary. She put the dishes into a sink. She looked down at her kerchief, filled with the bloody gruel. Did she want to carry that with her? She took it off and put it in the sink.

She turned to the thing. It grabbed her and crawled up her shoulders again. Once again, her will was taken over.

"Back to my grave," it said.

Mary began walking outside. She saw streaks of dawn against the sky.

"Now that ye be one of the dead," said the thing, "ye can know what we do. That gruel made you dead, but if any had been left and fed to those dead boys, they'd arise."

Mary felt her heart leap! She could save her old friends! But if only the thing would get off!

As they came back to the fallow, the thing pointed at a pile of stones.

"Under yonder cairn," it said, "lies my ill-gotten gold. Little good it did me in life."

The thing now got off her shoulders. Mary was free! She watched it climb into the grave.

"Come with me, Mary," it said, "to your new home."

"Nothing doing!" cried Mary. "I ate none of your hideous gruel!"

The thing began to swear, but the sun then rose, and sent a beam of light straight into the eyes of the thing! Mary grabbed the walking-stick and hit the thing with it. It broke into countless pieces, like strings, but soon collapsed into dust and was carried away by the wind.

On her way home, Mary stopped at the McClaren's. The boys' parents were upstairs, bewailing the loss of their sons.

"I think they caught fever," consoled Mary. "Maybe they've swooned."

"You're a crazy girl, Mary Calhoun," said Mr. McClaren. "I know how dead men look."

"Maybe I can help," replied Mary, holding out a bowl of water and her kerchief, which she had picked up downstairs.

"Let her," said Mrs. McClaren. The two parents left the room, leaving Mary to discover that her friends had perished.

Or so they thought.

The boy's mouths were all open to some extent when Mary had cut their throats, and she put some of the gruel inside each of their mouths. The boys began to move. Then, they opened their eyes and awoke. Then, they began to talk about terrible nightmares they had had.

The McClarens were glad to have their sons alive, but little did they know of the price Mary had paid for it.

Poor Mary never married. Throughout her long life, she never had the joy of having a child. But she did live comfortably. She bought the fallow ground where the thing had been buried. After that, she became mysteriously wealthy.

And, no matter who died, she never went back into the graveyard.

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