Mary, Mary

by Rin Willis

The monster doesn’t know how long she’s been in the earth when the summons comes. It doesn’t matter. She goes where she’s called. Takes what she’s due.

Where she’s called is a small house with broken shutters. A screen door off its hinges. Strips of paint hang from the wood like dead skin. It has been a long time since the house has seen a fresh coat of paint; a fresh coat of anything.

The sun is long gone over the horizon, and the moon holds court over her dominion, a single white eye keeping watch in the sky. The shadows of long-fingered trees reach out across the dying lawn. It is the witching hour, or it would be if there was anyone left that believed in such things.

She finds the boy awake and trembling at the center of his bed, knees tucked up under his chin, eyes wide and staring. But not frightened, not surprised.

“Are you the monster from under my bed?” he asks.

She pulls an earthworm from the knots of her hair and plops it into her mouth. Chews while she thinks.

“Sure, kid,” she says. It’s close enough. Under the ground, under the earth, under the bed. What’s the difference?

He nods, solemn. Maybe he knows why she’s come, maybe he doesn’t. That too, doesn’t matter. They still teach little children to pray, though the world has largely forgotten the dangers of asking. Not all helpful hands come from the sky.

She finds her quarry in the only other bedroom, where a woman and a man lie snoring in bed. She tracks mud on the carpet wherever she steps, leaves a trail of beetles crawling in her wake.

The woman lies on her back, mouth open. The monster leans in close, her long, dirty hair tickling the woman’s face. The woman’s nose scrunches, but she doesn’t wake. With two fingers, the monster presses on the woman’s tongue until she gags.

The woman will never sleep again without dreaming of retching; of grave dirt in her nostrils, of spiders crawling up the back of her throat.

She plants a sharp-toothed kiss at the center of the man’s forehead, scraping at the skin. Thinks about flowers wilting, of fruits with rot at the core.

He will never father another child.

She leaves the same way she entered, but the boy is waiting for her in the hallway, little hands pulling at his pajamas.

“Can I come with you? To the land under the bed?”

She stops. Studies the boy. He is very young—and stupid.

She is going to give him a chance to grow out of it.

“No,” she says.


She has barely settled back into her bones when the next summons wakes her from slumber. Nevertheless, she goes where she’s called.

This time, the boy is waiting for her on the front steps. He’s covered in dirt, as if he has been digging up graves with his bare hands.

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” she says.

“Take me with you.”

She says no. And says it again. Every time he calls. No and no and no again. When he’s eleven, and smart enough to know there is no land under the bed. When he’s sixteen and angry, throwing up vodka out by the little stream behind the house. When he’s twenty-seven and living in the city, in a tiny studio apartment that barely has enough room for a bed. After a while he stops asking, though he never stops calling.

At forty-three, newly divorced and surrounded by boxes, he stares at her like she is the only certain thing in the universe.

He moves again, and she follows. Visits him at campfires, in vacation homes, across the ocean. His children grow, have children themselves. He retires. Buys himself a mobile home, gets a tiny dog that barks at her until she threatens to eat it.

The last time, there is no call. There is no need. She hears him anyway.

She finds him down a long hallway of doors, each the same as the last. He’s lying in bed, eyes closed, gnarled hands resting at his side. He doesn’t move when she sits herself down in the single armchair pulled close to the head of the bed. It is long past visiting hours, and he is alone.

“Mary,” he breathes, smiling. “Finally come to take me to the land under the bed?”

She reaches out. Takes his hand.

“Sure, kid.”

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