Mary, Mary

By Danielle Eriksen

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Mary clutched the small skull to her emaciated chest, as she crawled in darkness across the gritty, stone floor.

Right arm first, inch it up the cold. Elbow on fire. Ragged fingers slip into the cracks, iron grip and claw. Left foot props up the knee, scrape and drag and slide it along. Then push Mary, push for all your goddamned worth, and pull, Mary, pull yourself together; you’re going to meet him at the Portal and you don’t want to be late!

Rest for a bit, then move; ebb and flow.

She knew the waves would not let her lie idle for long. For a moment, Mary lay on her good side, one knee tucked up against her chest, the other leg splayed out at right angles to her pelvis, skinny knees burning against the ice-cold of the floor. She could hear the dim roar of the storm outside. The rumble of the waves resonated with the wet rumble in her chest, her breathing reduced to ragged gasps by the physical trials of her journey.

Do not tarry long, dear Mary.

The steady beat and crash of the waves urged Mary on. “Soon, the storm will send its emissary to me.” The barely-conscious thought wrapped itself around the tatters. “He will come on the waves, up through the centre and together we will leave this place.” The thought strengthened itself round the tatters quite insistently until they resembled something whole.

Together, we will leave this place, echoed the darkness, gaining strength with every beat.

Her emissary was close, so close she could hear him. She must make haste. Mary stirred and slowly, painfully continued her trek across the floor. Its icy roughness now one of her closest companions, made slick in places with days of accumulated fluids. Some of them seeping from Mary, others dripping down the walls and welling up from damp corners of the foetid chamber. The dissonant crash and thunder of waves marked her progress towards the centre. Her black prison had never seemed that big; God knows she had paced it and measured it out countless times before, but it seemed now that she had been crawling forever since she heard his call.

Closer now, a deeper blackness up ahead…the doorway! Lurch and heave, almost there…crack; an unyielding surface.

Mary had come to the Cape by its stormy, tempestuous seas a scant year ago on the British ship Perseverance, hoping to earn a better living than what the overcrowded slums and factories of the East End had offered her back home. It was not long after she landed when she met him, a dashing young officer in service of the Queen. Her Charlie, oh how she loved him, his dimpled smile, strong arms, and the way his deep brown eyes had danced with joy and desire that first night. Once she had been with him, there was no one else. Even the small gold band she had spied on his left hand one night would not keep them apart. Poor Charlie was trapped in an arranged marriage suiting his father rather than him. Soon, very soon, he promised he would leave her, have the marriage annulled. Mary must wait patiently and quietly in the meantime, their love a closely-kept secret until the time was right. She had found gainful employment in a respectable household, near the Castle of Good Hope where Charlie was stationed, refusing to look at other men and working hard in her efforts at becoming a better woman for him. A woman that a man, an officer, could marry with pride…

The low, rhythmic call of the sea brought her back. Mary was momentarily confused to find herself up against a wall, forehead scraped and pounding. Despite the wetness in her lungs, her mouth was parched. She ran her tongue along a slimy rivulet running down the wall near her head. The corners were good for moisture, always a good drink to be found in the corners.

Lick until the wall is rough, then you’ll know you’ve had enough.

The sea! She remembered…soon, very soon, she would be leaving via the very same tempestuous seas she arrived on. And what an exit it would be! The Castle would shake with her fury; carefully-laid bricks and fortifications would crumble. “He promised, he promised!” Mary’s thoughts stirred with rage.

Reach on out, grip and claw with fingers slick, bony and raw. Push with the foot, skin and drag. Deadweight. Clutch the child, he comes with you. One more pull, almost there, a blackness darker than night.

One afternoon, she had felt it, a distinct movement in her belly. She had not been certain up until then and had reasoned out her weight gain to a better standard of living provided by the household she now served. Mary had merely laced herself tighter and tighter in response to her thickening middle. The fact that her monthly cycle had been absent for a number of months had also evaded her. It was only when she felt the kick that reality had set in. She was with child, Charlie’s child. She remembered the look on his face when she told him – wild-eyed excitement.

“I have something special in mind for us Mary,” he whispered in her ear during a midnight tryst at the Castle. “Bind this scarf around your eyes, so that it may be a surprise, and hold my hand tightly.” He produced a length of bright red silk from his coat pocket and gently helped her tie the knot. They walked for some minutes, Mary led expertly along by her officer. Cobbles, then bricks, some hard-packed soil, then more cobbles. The muted footfalls of careful boots and shallow breaths the only sound to mark their passage.

“Almost there, Mary, my dear,” he crooned reassuringly, one hand tight and warm around hers, the other firm at the small of her back, as he led her down a set of winding stairs, the air, more stagnant and salty the farther they descended. A rattle of keys, the click of a levered lock, followed by the low protest of a heavy door swinging on unused hinges.

Mary, Mary Higgins, you forget yourself woman!

Mary’s head jolted with a start, vivid colours and shapes swirling before her eyes. Like fireworks over the Thames: bright, beautiful flashes to mark the years’ passing. The insistent crash of waves on the outer walls echoed strangely in the chamber, calling to her, urging her, driving her to move.

It had been dry for some time now, how long, Mary could not say. After she used up the last candle stub, her reality had regressed into one, long, pitch-dark night of hell. No, utter darkness wasn’t quite right. Lately, her desperate eyes had begun to discern the boundaries of the room, as well as distinguish between the absolute blackness of the hole in the centre and the mundane darkness filling the rest of her prison.

For a while, he had brought her some food and fresh water, and the odd candle end and lucifer to keep the darkness at bay. He always came at the dead of night. Midnight, she assumed, that was when they had had their trysts, as Charlie was in charge of the pointed bastion named Buuren and the graveyard patrol of its walls. Not a soul had heard her cries for help when the heavy door creaked open and, after the initial shock of her imprisonment, she realised they never would. Even if she had shrieked during midday, when all of the Castle’s folk were up and about their business, no one would hear her. The walls were too thick. She remembered him boasting of the exceptional fortifications, which had been added to and strengthened since its initial construction by the Dutch back in 1666. The room where she was imprisoned was also isolated well below ground level and unused due to the damp and flooding. He beat her for her calls and cries, and raped her the first few times, but, after the sixth sporadic visit, he didn’t even look at her; her bruised, filthy body had ceased to provide him with satisfaction. After the baby miscarried, he stopped coming altogether, as the last thread linking them lay in a bloody mess between her legs. Now, all that was left was poor Mary Higgins, crooning wordlessly to herself and the remnants of her child clasped tightly to her withered bosom.

A wet cough rattled and rumbled from deep within her body, rousing Mary from unconsciousness. She was rubbing her cheek repeatedly against a smooth patch of bone that had been gnawed clean during the worst of her hunger. The smoothness was comforting. She liked smoothness. The corners were sometimes smooth with water, but they would always end up rasping her tongue. Everything else was so hard and rough; the chewed, splintery stalks of straw that poked into her ribs, the old blood and excrement cracking on her skin, the salt crystals that encrusted every surface of her prison.

But her child was smooth, smooth and perfect and soon, they would both bathe in the ocean and depart on its stormy currents. The water was rising; she could hear it roaring and beating its way up the hole.

The hope, nay, the promise of departure excited her fevered mind, and to be escorted by none other than the illustrious Emissary of the Seas, well, that certainly was a departure fit for a lady!

Lady and wife, mother of one, leaving soon with our precious son. Now, push, Mary, for all you’re worth, hips and torso, diminishing girth. Drag that dead leg, carry your child. Fingers into the cracks, and pull…he is here! The salty spray announces his coming; the Emissary, clothed in ice, white and blue. Son of the Sea and master of all currents.

The sea roared and gurgled its way up the drainage hole in the centre of the room, sighing at last as it reached the top and washed out over Mary’s outstretched arm and head. Mary had never imagined the exquisite heat the Emissary would bring. Her lungs burnt in his presence and, with each sucking pull and drag downwards, the fire grew greater. He covered every part of her now, his nimble fingers pulling away the straw and filth until she was clean and smooth and perfect.

Come, Mary, it is time for us to leave this place.

It was midnight outside Mary’s black prison and the storm had suddenly reached its peak. Thick clouds and heavy rain obscured both moon and starlight, leaving the Castle in near darkness, while gale force winds shrieked through the old coastal fort, whipping up the waves that beat mercilessly on the outer walls of Buuren bastion. The soldiers on patrol duty scrambled for cover, trying in vain to secure shutters and doors as they went. One officer, caught out during his routine midnight patrol of the walls, was not quick enough, though. His shiny black boots found no purchase on the slick cobbles, and his arms, as strong as they were, were no match for the grasping, pulling fingers of the sea. Crashing waves pounded the breath from him as he tried to call for help and salty white hands dragged him swiftly under.

Icy fingers down throat and lungs, drag the man that killed our son. Suck him down and deeper, still. Crushed. A blackness darker than night.


Danielle Eriksen lives in Cape Town, South Africa with her husband Kayle, twenty tropical fish and many, many plants. Despite a childhood full of sun and abundantly good weather, Danielle has grown up with a tendency towards the morbid, darker side of life and spends most of her free time crafting the suffering and general nonsense of life and living into dark and somewhat depressing tales.