Mary felt snakes slithering under her brown skin. Long, black, but very thin snakes. She reached to touch them but couldn’t move her hands.
“Nothing’s there,” she said over and over. But the movement of snakes continued.
She looked down. She was trussed up in a canvas suit. The kind of straightjacket crazy people were forced to wear. “I’m not crazy!” she shouted. But there was no echo. The room was padded too. At least it wasn’t too bright. In fact, it was actually dim because the padding was dark green.
Her whole body ached. Her right knee was on fire. She itched but couldn’t scratch. Something stank but she couldn’t place the smell, maybe dog shit. She had to pee, but then didn’t have to pee. Her hair moved wrong. She tried to catch a glimpse of her hair out of the corner of her eye, but couldn’t.
Her name was Mary because her parents named her Barbara, but she hated that name. “I‘m Mary,” she yelled at them over dinner. They were both alcoholics. They were both fans of LSD and Meth. But her name Barbara was the same as her dead sister. The sister that died at birth. She never wanted that name, not anymore. Not during the shooting and not later at the funeral, when she screamed and couldn’t stop. Not for hours until she finally lost her voice.
Both her parents had been killed when six, white dudes invaded the house. Those stinking men in black hoodies, shot and killed her parents with a pump shotgun while making her watch. Then they took turns snorting coke and raping her, over and over, all night. Those pale jerks only left when the sun began to rise. They cut her face deeply with a paring knife, telling her, “No one else will ever want to love you. And no one will ever believe you.”
Mary lay on the living room floor between her dead parents, all her muscles ached. Her face and vagina were on fire.
Later in the ambulance, blood dripping down her face, she was told, “Your body is covered with amazing bruises.” The attendant actually sounded impressed.
She swore to herself that she would never forget the faces of the men that raped her.
Sadly, she had screamed for hours at the funeral, and so had ended up in this loony bin.
A woman silently appeared before Mary in the padded room. The woman had short cut blond hair and much too blue eyes, almost spooky eyes, and purple lipstick. Her skin was so pale it looked like she had never seen the sun. She carried a bowl of something, tomato soup maybe. She crouched holding it in both hands like an offering, and said, “You need to eat some soup to stay healthy.” The soup smelled off, like it maybe it had burned in the pot.
The woman wore a blue nurses uniform and had a serious, but sad expression. Wrinkles around nurse’s eyes, and at the corners of her mouth, reminded Mary of her dead mother.
Mary clamped her mouth shut and refused to open it no matter how often the nurse poked it with a spoon. The nurse wiped Mary’s mouth with a soft cloth, then gave up and dropped the spoon back into the soup bowl.
Mary said, “You’re not my mother.”
“You have to eat something. If you don’t, we’ll have to force feed you.”
Mary closed her eyes and clamped her mouth tight again. She waited. Soon she heard the door shut and lock. So she opened her eyes and looked down. Snakes were eating their way under the canvas. She watched them chewing slowly at the cloth and stitching. “This can’t be real,” she said. The snakes no longer felt uncomfortable. First her right hand, then the other popped free. She flexed her fingers and smiled. Oddly she felt hungry for soup. Not tomato soup, but revenge soup, for those six dudes who killed her parents.
Mary released a few of her snakes to attack the door, while she struggled to shed the straight jacket. It took her longer than she expected, and left her dressed, in what looked and felt like thin grey pyjamas. The cloth was soft but scratchy like it had been washed too often in hot water.
Up close she could see her snakes were really a dark grey with thin yellow stripes that ran the full length of their scaled bodies. Garter snakes? she wondered. Like on Grandma’s farm with all those walnut trees? Mary remembered how much darker her hands turned after pealing so many walnuts and dropping them into a long drying tray made from 2×4’s and chicken wire.
He snakes at the door were slow but never gave up. Eventually the door clicked open.
The corridor was empty. The air felt cooler now that the straight jacket was off. To her left, she saw more rooms, but to her right she found herself facing a serious white-barred steel gate in a steel wall. “I can’t be in prison,” she said. “I didn’t kill anyone.”
Mary stood and waited while her snakes attacked the lock. She realized that she now thought her snakes were real. “What’s happening to me?”
Evidently her snakes liked metal more than wood. The gate swung free with a squeak. On the other side of the gate was another corridor forming a T with her corridor. Mary was surprised how cold the metal gate felt as she eased it open.
Mary looked right and saw two uniformed men twenty paces away talking just behind another white steel gate. She looked left and saw a fire exit at the other end of the corridor. Her hair felt funny again. She reached up and discovered that the snakes had replaced her hair. “How weird,” she said. She must have said it too loudly, because the two uniformed men looked up and spotted her.
“Hey stop!” one of them shouted. She heard the jingle of keys in the distance. She smiled at them and waved. They stopped moving and stood absolutely still.
Mary hurried as fast as she could toward the fire exit. Behind her she heard a woman scream. Her voice sounded like the woman that tried to feed her soup. But then the scream was suddenly cut off.
Mary reached the fire exit and read the sign posted in bright yellow and black. It said, “Emergency Exit Only. Alarm will sound.”
She pushed on the door but it was locked. She paused and turned her snakes loose on it. Her snakes were getting stronger, thicker, and more impressive. The door popped open almost at once. An alarm sounded loudly, like a freight truck’s air-horn had blasted too near her ears.
Mary slapped hands over her ears and hustled down seven flights of stairs. She held her hands over her ears all the way down because the alarms were so damned loud at every landing
She burst through the door at street level and felt warmer air. The door shut behind her cutting off the loudness of the alarms A couple dozen police stood there all pointing guns at her. All two dozen of them stopped moving and appeared to turn into stone. “What the hell,” she said. She approached the youngest police officer. A woman a little over Mary’s height. She felt the woman’s face. If felt just like concrete. Cold and hard.
She looked at the other police statues. A few of them looked familiar. She walked slowly up to a group of three. “It can’t be,” she said. “These are the dudes that raped me.”
Mary felt her own hair again. It was still snakes. “I learned this,” she said. “It’s a myth.” But she couldn’t place it. “I should have paid more attention in school.”
She looked around and saw she was in an alley. Other police cars were there, a few with police behind the steering wheel. Also turned to stone. The spotted another group of three officers. They resembled the others that killed her parents. “No wonder,” she said. “So that’s why I was locked up in the loony bin. Because the police killed them.”
Mary walked toward the end of the alley. “Madea,” she said. “Nope that’s not it.” She saw that someone had dressed statues like pedestrians at the end of the alley all frozen in mid step. “Oh I remember this. Medusa,” she said. “Yeah. That’s it. Snake hair.” She smiled. High school hadn’t been a waste of time after all.
She emerged from the alley. The sidewalk smelled like those roaming carts that sold hot dogs with mustard and onions. She remembered rejecting the soup. The thought of hot dogs reminded her how hungry she still was.
She looked right. A tall policeman had his back to her. He was watching her using his cell phone as a mirror. He tried to aim a pistol upside down over his shoulder at her. He didn’t turn to stone.
The pistol slowly found her head. She tried to spin and duck. The gun fired loud, as loudly as the shotguns that killed her parents.
Mary felt a part of her neck torn away. She screamed and clamped her hand over the wound. She stumbled forward and into the street. She tripped over her own feet. fell, and slid painfully to stop on her side. She found herself facing a white painted curb just a step away. Her knee hurt like hell.
She watched her blood drain across the asphalt. A narrow creek of red on black. She licked her own blood and said, “Soup.”
Good-bye, she thought. You terrible parents, I’ll be seeing you soon.
Her snakes began to escape. They swam down her blood creek and into the gutter, and then down into a drain that opened in the curb. She watched the last snake slither down into blackness of the drain and felt woozy. Am I losing too much blood?
Above, she heard a girl sob and say. “Mom. You’re not stone anymore.”
Another man’s voice said, “Look at that face. So many scars. What happened?”
She heard another man shout into a radio. “Yes. They’re all back. Except for six just outside the hospital exit. For some reason, just those six men are still stone.”
Mary smiled. “Good,” she whispered. And then, she passed out.