The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Inside the old, filigreed silver hand mirror, voices call out.
“They called me Mary, because it was easy. They called us all Mary because our skin wasn’t white enough.”
The woman has deep, mesmerizing eyes of gold, hair darker than night, her skin like glowing bronze, and her smile broad and full of secrets she’s anxious to tell.
“My grandfather was a captain in the British Navy, but ‘Grandmother Marie’ was a Spanish violinist and sculptor, and her name was really Isabella Catrione. He said her hair was too dark for her to have that name, so he called her Mary Elizabeth. But that was never who she was.”
A woman with black curls and large blue eyes works on something next to a lantern that lights her impassioned face up like the sun. Whatever she’s doing, she’s pouring her heart and soul into it with joy.
“Their son sailed to Barbados, where he met my mother, a native Taino and Carib dancer named Karayati. She was a tribal woman, related to local caciques, and was to become a priestess, a shaman, before she married. He called her Mary Alice. He said her dances were too strange for her to have a name of her own—people wouldn’t understand.”
A woman’s face appears, skin like burnished copper and cheekbones that could cut glass. Her eyes burn with dark fire. She dances, red-beaded dress and golden headband, hand-woven by her own mother, marking the rhythm of drums, ebony hair to her waist.
“They had me, and to my mother I was Catalina, but my father called me Mary Patience. My eyes were too deep, like the sea, for me to be my own person, my father would say, only half in jest. Bermuda was my home, and I loved it. The sea always called me, even more than my mariner father.”
There is longing in her eyes.
“I married a Frenchman and had two daughters. A small girl of bouncing curls who loved horses—Gabriela. She was always called Mary Margaret, seen as a spinster. She was so much more than the blank, cobwebbed shadows they made her into. Then there was Mary Juliet, and Juliet was a name I could live with, so she did not need another. But still they called her Mary.”
Her face shows anger now.
“Juliet was an artist, gifted with her watercolors and acrylics and charcoal. She moved with her husband, Rene, to a place called Bohemia Manor in the Carolinas. Her eldest, a dark-skinned girl, was Anahi, a writer and a dancer, but they called her Mary Anna. Otherwise she was too different to fit in. The boys were George and Isaac, and their white skin gave them legitimacy somehow.”
A young girl with olive skin, thick braids, golden-hazel eyes, and long eyelashes appears on her left with her green-eyed mother, both with waves of ebony hair and the same face.
“We are a mix of native Arawak, Spanish, Carib, and a few other things. All Marys to their world, but not on the inside.” Behind them is a tall, imposing matriarch with a gaze like a condor’s. Isabella Catrione.
Catalina gestured to her. “Isabella was a silver worker and musician in Spain, and it was she who made the mirror in its first rough form by the light of sparse candles in old, rusty lanterns as she sat in her workshop above cobblestoned streets. Her raw talent with her hands, from the wood of her violin to the silver of her craft, made the mirror come alive.
“Karayati was a dancer who could see beyond, and she polished the mirror until it shone like she did, and she used it to find the beauty in others, as is her way. Her tender care and spiritual power among her people helped its magic grow.
“As for myself, I am a lover of my ocean, and I etched the waves into the handle and put into it the spirits of the sea and sky.
“Juliet was an artist, and she carved the intricate designs into the backing, led only by instincts and visions in her head. She was a lonely Bermudan girl, alone in a magnificent mansion day after day. The mirror was her only friend here before her children were born, and she worked until it was perfect. The beauty she created made the magic begin to become real, somehow.
“Anahi was a ballerina and a writer, a weaver of ideas through both words and movement, and it was she who coordinated the right words in her mind with the right steps from our cultural dances to make the mirror’s true magic emerge.
“We have always used it to speak to the ones before and the ones yet to come. It was eventually gifted to descendants of fair hair and skin and the hearts of warriors, and now it comes to you, as it has always been meant to. Hasn’t it, Mary?”
There is silence. My name is something else, but only a handful of people know that I was called Mary as a child. Even I had forgotten, absently, until reminded.
“Were the others called Mary, too? Is the name itself magic?”
Karayati laughs, a glittering sound. “No, child. Some things are merely coincidence, even in a universe filled with magic. We will show you. And we will not call you Mary, because that is not who you are.”
The world alters; I’m in an old house. Juliet’s manor. A colonial-style mansion and plantation, white-painted wood accented by the vines and flowers climbing up the pillars and lining the halls. Most of the interior furniture looks to have exotic origins. Treasures from a traveler of worlds. I’m in an upstairs hallway. Open double doors lead into a magnificent bedroom, all white gauze and lace with bamboo and a dark, heavy wood. French doors lead to a balcony, shaded and private among the willows and dogwoods. Wisteria winds around the eaves. It’s peaceful here, breeze cutting through the Southern humidity.
There’s a noise behind me. A young woman in a long, white Edwardian dressing gown walks past the doors and down the hallway, shining black waves tumbling down her back, contrasting with the white lace ribbon that ties it half back from her face. Juliet. She’s barefoot. I yell for her to wait, but I have no voice. She carries a ceramic pitcher of water.
I enter a room behind her, this one all lace and satin. A little girl plays with teacups and dolls on the floor in a dress of white eyelet.
“Here’s your water, Anahi. Be careful not to spill it.”
The golden-eyed child nods. “Of course, Mummy.” She has an accent that’s almost British and almost French, and something else I can’t place. The girl asks me, “Miss, we’re having afternoon tea, and it’s ever so hot outside. Won’t you have a drink?” It startles me, but I can’t reply. Her mother playfully asks whom she is talking to, and the girl says, “It’s just the mirror lady, Mummy.”
“Ah, yes,” Juliet says, smiling, leaving the room. I’m expected to follow, though I don’t know how I know that. Juliet descends a staircase lined with embroidered blue carpeting. I glimpse a foyer below, but she turns left, then goes into a light-filled study and library and sits down at a writing desk. A rough letter on parchment sits by her, but she writes a new one with fine ink and expensive paper. I read over her shoulder.
“Dearest Mami and Gabriela: It is deep into summer and I have received your letter. Rene is on business in New York, so I am with the children. Anahi is a joy, and she adores your doll. She named it Karayati, after your mother, Mami. George is more trouble every day, and yet Rene is asking for another! Perhaps when he returns I will reveal my secret. I dream of animals and sunshine, like with George, not lakes and rivers under moonlight like with Anahi, so it must be another boy. The sickness has passed, and the midwife says I will have the baby in December. What a lovely Christmas present! I like the name Isaac. What do you think? If I’m wrong, I know Rene likes Abigail for a girl, though I’d like Gabriela, for my sister.”
I can barely tell that the girl is pregnant, so small she is. I continue reading.
“The staff have come to accept me more, especially since George is so fair. The cook will not speak to me in English, but the maids converse openly now. The midwife has always been my friend, and she says it will take time. The male houseworkers are cordial. Rene says I am too friendly with the slaves, but how am I expected to denigrate my own people? I will not, and I will see that the children do not, either. The governess is a problem still, so I will replace her with one of the maids—a mixed girl called Susannah. Rene has approved. Yesterday I checked on your flowers in the garden…”
I explore while she writes. The home and land are beautiful, like a castle in a lush jungle. There is enchantment here. When Juliet is done, she puts down her pen and calls for a maid, writing down instructions. The maid takes it and I follow Juliet out of the library. This time, we descend the grand staircase into the multi-story foyer.
She walks to her right, into a small parlor at the front of the house—a music room. She pauses in front of two items encased in glass on the wall. “Oh, how I miss you, Grandmother.” She kisses a painting of Karayati, which hangs next to a very old violin that surely belonged to Isabella Catrione. Juliet sits down at a piano and begins to play something soft, like a lullaby, and I drift.
Six women stand before me. Isabella Catrione, Spanish metalworker and violinist. Not Mary Elizabeth. Karayati, Taino dancer and priestess. Not Mary Alice. Catalina, Barbados ocean woman. Not Mary Patience. Gabriela, islander who spoke to horses. Not Mary Margaret. Juliet, Bermudan artist. Not Mary, either. Anahi, dancer from the wild manor. Not Mary Anna.
“We vanished, one by one,” says Isabella. “My death was swift, when my husband tired of me. A blade to the throat, another to the gut. My bones lay in a forgotten stone crypt in England, my murder never investigated. Not even my false name marks my resting place.”
“My death was painful,” Karayati says. “The settlers brought diseases to our islands. My remains were thrown into an unmarked hole, but at least it was near the land of my people.”
“My death looked natural, but it was not, and my grave has gone unvisited,” says Catalina. “After I succumbed to the poison in the tea his mistress made, I was buried near the ocean; at least I was given that. My tombstone says Mary Patience, and is worn with time and sea-salt winds.”
“My death was unnoticed. I died young, but no records of it exist, and my body lies in a mass grave in an overgrown churchyard,” Gabriela says.
Juliet continues, “Anahi and I were the end. My husband grew frustrated with us, and you will find no records past Anahi’s childhood. We disappeared, along with all the other Marys. Not just the women in our family, or the women with that name, but every woman who has ever played that part in life. The part of a Mary whom she is not.”
Anahi speaks. “Juliet is not in the grave marked Marie de St. Julian. She was burned long ago, after he killed her, the remnants thrown into the sea. My father never spoke my name after I disappeared. My bones were buried below what was once a dirt-floor basement in the manor, long since covered over.”
Anahi grasps my hand through the mirror.
“Never let them call you Mary when you are not. Be the woman you see—the woman inside your skin. If they refuse, remember that mirrors are made of metal and glass. If others refuse to see truth reflected, rain it down upon them with the heavy silver and sharp glass shards in your hands, and let the truth see them instead.”
Fiction © Copyright Ashley Davis
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
Poetry by Ashley Davis can be found featured in the fall 2017 issue of
The Horror Zine
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Women in Horror Month 10