Confessions of a Fearphile

Bloody Mary Lived in a House That Lived in My Dreams

Since reaching adulthood, I’ve only had my nigthmare about being lost in Bloody Mary’s house once.

I had it several times when I was a kid.

A classmate of mine named David told me in second grade that Bloody Mary lived in a big wreck of a house behind a restaurant near my neighborhood. He also said she was quite tall. Twice as tall as the tallest person ever. So tall she’d have to stoop a bit to look through a second floor window. He also said there were newspaper articles written about sightings of her, including one about an alligator biting off her finger. How this could have happened, why she would encounter and presumably fight with an alligator at all, I have no clue, but that’s the story he told me while we were on a bus headed to a field trip. And, as I established in the previous post, I was primed to believe any-damn-thing about the supernatural from about five to ten-years-old.

None of this matches the most common characteristic of the Bloody Mary legend: that if you look in a mirror and say her name x-number of times (five times, as it was told to me) she will appear to you. From there she might crawl out of the mirror, violently kill you, or just scare you to death, or just give you a fright, or curse you.

I’ve heard and read many variations on the myth. Even the summoning process isn’t as simple as I’ve made it seem, depending on where you’re from and what version of the legend you might have grown up with. You’re supposed to turn the lights off at minimum, which is probably pretty standard, but some people say you need to hold a candle, or light multiple candles, place them on the floor, and stand among them. Some say you need to spin around as you call her name. At a certain point the scariest thing about summoning Bloody Mary is that you’ve got kids spinning around in dim lighting with lit candles near their feet. Maybe all this time Mary’s just showing up to try to warn the youth about fire safety.

As I heard it, there were no candles involved, no spinning around, and turning the lights off wasn’t absolutely required. You just needed a mirror, a voice, and the nerve to say her name the requisite consecutive number of times.

Bloody Mary.

Bloody Mary.

Bloody…

Eh, I’ve read in some places that it only takes three utterances. Granted, I’m writing this instead of saying it aloud, but what if that still counts and I just haven’t read about that variation on the legend yet? Or what if I decide to record this for a podcast later? Why risk it?

Bloody Mary might be my original scary obsession. The idea of a ghost that could come to you through any mirror on Earth, no matter where you were, just because you called out to her, was fascinating to me. Borderline mind-blowing. And, of course, terrifying.

My extremely limited understanding of ghosts at the time led me to believe they were confined to places they once inhabited, places where they died, and places where they were buried. A vanishing hitchiker might roam the road where they were killed in an accident, for instance, but they couldn’t just jump to any street in the world as long as someone wrote their name in chalk four times on the asphalt or something. Mary was a freer spirit, in a much more literal and menacing sense of the term.

I spent a good chunk of my childhood worrying that just thinking Mary’s name five times while looking into any reflective surface could potentially summon her. I don’t know how this idea got stuck in my head, but once it was in there it wedged itself in and refused to be pried out. This made her even scarier to me because, of course, it’s a lot easier to quickly think the words “Bloody Mary” several times in a row than it is to say them aloud. You could damn near do it on accident.

I didn’t entirely understand how much Mary was on my mind, however, until I started to dream of her.

In the dream, I knew I was inside Bloody Mary’s house, and I knew that she was there as well, potentially lurking behind a door, or standing at the top of a spiral staircase, or waiting at the far end of a long hallway. I knew she was there, and I was sure that she knew I was there as well. I had to get out, but her house may as well have been a maze.

As I remember it, in real life, it was a two story house with boarded windows, and flaking paint. The last holdout of a dead and forgotten neighborhood, it looked destined to be demolished and replaced by a parking lot for a strip mall at some point. In the dream, it was larger, a three-story, Gothic mansion that I could visualize even though I always started the recurring nightmare trapped in one of the inner rooms of the building.

In classic “haunted places have impossible interior dimensions” fashion, her house felt virtually endless and nonsensically constructed on the inside. I could walk through a kitchen (one of several) and right into a bedroom, from a bedroom into the middle of a stairway, and the bottom of the stairs might take me to the top floor.

Mary knew I was there, and didn’t want me in her house, but wasn’t going to let me leave, either. Evil can be strange that way.

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The point in the dream where I would feel truly lost—not in the sense of being unable to find my way, but in the sense of being forsaken—was when I would come to a window that allowed me to see outside.

I would see my friends and classmates from the Catholic school I went to outside. The restaurants, stores, and other buildings that should have surrounded the house were all gone. Mary’s house apparently stood alone in an open field, and my friends were gathered for some kind of outdoor activity, on an overcast day, on a hill within sight of the house. Teachers and nuns from the school were there with them. As was a priest, who I did not recognize, but I can still picture him, because he was floating, and I can’t explain why that disturbed me so much, but it did. He was hovering several feet above everyone, drifting back and forth over them, and even though this unsettled me, I knew I’d be better off out there, among them, even with the bizarre, gravity-defying priest, than in Mary’s house.

But they didn’t look like they were missing me at all. No one was looking for me, or even thinking about me. They couldn’t hear me shouting, never looked up toward the house as I banged on the window until I was exhausted and gave up.

Maybe my dream-self should have just stayed where I was, near the window, and waited for someone to hopefully look my way, notice me. That probably would have been the smarter thing to do. Instead I resumed wandering the house in search of an exit.

Not long after, instead of finding a way out, I would find her room.

It was a large chamber, mostly empty, save for a big chair that was almost a throne in the center. I would enter the room, approach the chair from the side, knowing who was in it, but unable to stop myself from approaching her. She wasn’t quite as tall as David said she was, but even seated she looked taller than any adult I knew.

She had a red veil over her face that matched her red robes, and her long, red, sharp fingernails. Her bony fingers drooped like moss down the armrests of her chair.

I tiptoed toward her, too scared by then to turn my back on her. Her head was bowed, like she was praying. Maybe I was wrong about her being aware that I was there. Maybe I could sneak past and find a door on the other side of the room without her noticing me.

Before I could even get halfway across the room, her head would pop up, alerted to an intruder in her space. Thankfully I always woke up before she could turn to look at me.

It’s weird for me to think back on it now, how mirrors played no role in that nightmare. It feels like I should have come to a hall of mirrors, a room that was actually just one huge mirror, wall-to-wall, floor-to-cieling. The secret portal through which she could travel into every reflective surface in the world, whenever she heard her name.

Dreams don’t work that way, though, at least in my experience. They don’t give you tidy, expected plots beats and settings. Instead they briefly interrupt your nightmare about being lost in the house of a urban legend with the disquieting sight of a slowly flying priest backdropped by a gray sky.

The picture I had of Bloody Mary when I was awake didn’t match the version of her in my nightmares. When I was awake I imagined her more along the lines of the tall “white ladies” (white as in their garments and ghostliness, but often the other way as well, I suppose) from traditional ghostlore.

One I remember reading about many years ago was a woman who was supposed to walk through a village at a certain hour of the night (maybe even a certain night of the year? It’s been a while, certain details escape me). Anyone who saw her was doomed to die soon. There was an accompanying illustration in the book that shared this story—a woodcut image, if I remember correctly—and it depicted the woman being taller than the houses she walked past.

That lady made me think of Mary. As eerie as she appeared to be as a “white lady” spirit, howev er, that version of her was less frightening to me than the one I saw in the dream:

Mary on her throne, under the veil, feigning sleep and stillness, waiting to spring to life when you get too close;

Mary with her long nails and long fingers;

Mary who didn’t need a mirror when she knew I’d keep coming back to the house that lived in my nightmares.

That version of Mary unnerves me, still.

I hope writing her name so often for this post doesn’t work as some secret way to summon her.

My luck, it probably does.