The Unfortunate Tale of Little Mary Jenkins (short story), p.1F.W. Adams
The Unfortunate Tale of Little Mary Jenkins
Text copyright 2012 F.W. Adams
Original cover image copyright Mel Brackstone, 2012, used under license from Shutterstock.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s vivid imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons (living, dead or something in between) is entirely, completely and unequivocally coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
Many thanks to wife,
Kids, and things unseen that go
Bump in the dark night.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Living
Part II: The Dead
About the Author
I met Sam some time ago. At the time, I was standing on the side of a desolate, dusty rural road, scratching my sweat-soaked head and pretending to myself that I knew how to fix my overheated car. Sam pulled up next to me on his bike as I outwardly affected a knowing stare at the steaming engine, but inwardly contemplated the futility of my effort.
We talked small talk at first, but eventually Sam started telling me a pretty amazing story as we stood on the sun-softened asphalt by the side of my car. Why did he open up to me, a complete stranger? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was my intelligent, kind, courteous, attentive and generally fabulous demeanor. Or perhaps it was my “I ♥ Area 51” bumper sticker. Perhaps both?
Either way, the story continued over a long, hot walk into town and eventually ended over ice cold mugs of root beer and a plateful of assorted donuts. I was dumbfounded at what he told me, but I still believed him. It wasn’t even because of the strange, almost imperceptible scars on his arms that he showed me as proof, but rather the detail and earnestness with which he recounted those strange events. His story simply rang true to me, clear as cathedral bells tolling the arrival of Christmas morning.
In the end, Sam enlisted my help in getting his story out. He seemed worried about what he had learned and I, of course, agreed. But why, you may ask, was getting his story out so important to him? Simple. Sam was very concerned. Scared, I’d say, but I know he wouldn’t like me to say that. But he wanted to protect his friends and family. He wanted to protect people. He wanted to protect you.
However, I am still documenting that story. To meet Sam and his friends and learn about poor little Mary Jenkins, read on. Afterwards, visit www.stormdrainchronicles.com to follow the development of the other story, the account of a blistering hot desert summer, a crotchety neighbor and Sam and his three best friends. Most of all, it is the story of their clandestine exploration of a storm drain and the otherworldly horrors they found waiting for them that changed their summer in ways they never could have imagined.
Part I: The Living
The tiny kitchen was deserted. Drops of chilled condensation clung desperately to the outside of a half-empty glass of soda sitting next to an old, avocado green telephone. With the exception of the tick-tock of the plastic clock hanging on the wall over the old couch, a heavy silence draped the room.
A shrill ringing shattered the silence. The telephone handset jumped in the cradle with each harsh peal. It rang and rang, a tinny echo painfully ricocheting like a bullet off the thin wood-paneled walls of the single-wide mobile home.
Sam answered the phone mid-ring. “Hey. Sure. Yeah, root beer, of course. Yep, definitely ice. Okay, see ya, Jeff.”
Sam hung up and wiped his damp brow on the sleeve of his faded blue t-shirt. He was glad the red ribbons on the window-mounted air conditioner were blowing horizontally, indicating wafts of cool air cutting through the stifling heat. The unit was temperamental, though, even cranky sometimes, so Sam never took the cool air flow for granted. Grabbing his latest graphic novel, John Q. Alien, he plopped down on the couch in front of the air conditioner and started reading, waiting for his friends to show up.
Jeff showed up first. “Hey, Sam, where should I put my bike?” he hollered through the screen door.
“Just put it in back.”
“Not an option—no lock.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure it’ll be okay, unless, of course, you know about a gang of thieves casing our trailer park looking to commit Grand Theft Bicycle,” Sam replied, returning to his reading.
“You’d better hope not,” Jeff muttered, wheeling his bike behind the trailer, his guitar slung across his back like Robin Hood’s quiver.
Scout, the lone girl of the group, and Nick showed up shortly after Jeff and walked their bikes around back too, apparently less concerned about roving bands of bike thieves. They ran into Jeff as they walked around the far corner of the trailer.
“Got the gee-tar, huh?” commented Nick.
“Nope, just the case filled with potato chips today—the case keeps them from getting smashed.”
“Uh-huh,” said Nick. “Crinkle or regular?”
“Right. Well, if that case is filled with potato chips, then I’m a tippy toe ballerina and you can shave my legs and put me in a tutu.”
“Dude. Sounds like we both got lucky. It's my guitar; no chips.”
“Thought so. Are you still calling your little rock band Law Abiding Citizen?”
“I got a better name for you. You should change it to 8-Track Mind.”
“8-Track Mind? Seriously, where do you come up with these names? www.lamebandnames.com?”
“Nope, it’s 100% certified Grade-A Nick O’Grady. My well of creativity literally knows no bounds. You really should tap into it.”
“Oh, I’ll tap something if you keep dishing out those bad band names.”
“If you boys are done already, let’s go find Sam and get this party started, okay?” said Scout.
“Yes ma’am,” snapped Jeff, giving her a sloppy salute.
A few days before, Sam had suggested that they needed a break from their increasingly boring summer routine. So he’d proposed a backwoods bonfire at a secluded fire pit not far from his home that would be a perfect way to have some fun. It seemed a bit counterintuitive in the record-breaking heat, but they agreed to it anyway. A cooler full of cold drinks would hopefully offset the heat. What Sam hadn’t told everyone was that he’d only been to the fire pit once and the location was pretty obscure. He hoped he could find it again.
Back in Sam’s trailer, they loaded the cooler with cold drinks and ice and then headed out to catch the faint trail that looped past Sam’s backyard at the edge of the trailer park. They stood for a moment on one side of a short wooden fence that valiantly fought to hold back the encroaching desert flora. Sporadic junipers, small copses of mesquite and endless amounts of creosote bushes, lechuguilla and other desert vegetation peppered the landscape far into the distance.
Sam gripped his end of the cooler with a sweat-slicked palm and climbed awkwardly over the dilapidated fence. He led the foursome down a twisty trail that felt like it had been made by a flock of blindfolded roadrunners. Scout had the other end of the cooler and followed carefully behind as Sam dragged her down the trail.
Though ninety-three million miles above the convoluted trail, the sun appeared close by, just setting over the western horizon. Sam watched the impressive sunset as he walked d
Scout managed to hold on to her end of the cooler—despite the herky-jerkiness of the trail and the pesky bees that buzzed around her. Her real name was Maria, not Scout, but her birth name was never used by anyone averse to pain. She tromped down the trail with the others, her bright pink “Don’t Be a Strange Her” t-shirt starkly standing out against the muted earth tones surrounding her.
Jeff and Nick had lagged farther behind. Jeff gingerly pushed away lethal overhanging branches as they followed the twisty trail. Nick poked at plants and rocks with a stick he had picked up as they walked along, startling the occasional small bird or lizard. As they walked, they argued, which was not unusual—probably about who was sweating more or who could walk the farthest on the trail with his eyes closed.
Jeff, who usually started the argument, was best described as charmingly obnoxious. He had an innate ability to step near, but not quite over, the proverbial line, which meant he had a talent for getting under everyone's skin, but they seemed to come away laughing or smiling—or at least not strangling him.
When he was nine, Jeff had dumped both of the family goldfish into a fortunately clean toilet and threatened to flush them if he didn’t get to stay up past his bedtime. Jeff’s hand hovered on the silver flush handle while his parents glared sternly at him from the doorway and his younger brothers hovered anxiously behind them. His parents didn’t cave to his demands. Jeff saw the handwriting forming on the wall. He defused the ichthyological hostage crisis with a toothy grin and said he was just joking and taking the fish for a “walk.” His punishment? Nothing.
“Hey, watch it, Nick! That branch almost took my head off.”
“Sorry, Jeff. This trail was made for, like, really tiny lizards or something,” Nick replied, pushing back a spiky bush with his stick. “We should have brought machetes for all the bushwhacking we’re doing.”
“I’d take a machete,” Jeff responded.
“Stop whining—it’s not that bad,” Sam said from up front, gingerly stepping around a large cactus plant sticking out across the trail.
“Yeah, not too bad until one of these super death needle cactuses perforates you like a colander,” responded Nick. “I’m not looking to be Swiss-cheesed by a prickly pear.”
“Cacti,” corrected Jeff.
“Actually, both work: cacti, cactuses,” said Scout, barely paying attention.
“Whatever. You know, Nick, for being our fearless goalie, you sure worry a lot about lame stuff. It’s not like those cacti-uses are going to jump out at you like a bunch of rabid porcupines.”
“Well, you never know,” was Nick’s less than witty response.
“So, how much farther is this super-secret fire pit of yours?” asked Scout.
“I don’t know. Not far. It only took about five or ten minutes when I rode my bike out there.”
“Uh, what?!” said Nick, stopping in the middle of the trail. “Maybe right here is good enough,” he added, looking around. “I’m not sure I want to spend all night stumbling down this death trap of a trail.”
“Sam, we are walking, not riding. How dense are you? We’ve already been hiking for fifteen minutes. Unless you ride your bike like my grandma—” exclaimed an exasperated Scout.
“Oh, he does,” jeered Jeff.
“Well, assuming he really doesn’t, walking there is going to take us a lot longer than it took him to ride there,” said Scout. “It’s pretty simple math, genius boy.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Still, hang in there. It’s worth it and I think it’s right around here,” responded Sam, feeling less certain than he sounded.
“Better be,” grumbled Jeff, grabbing a handful of ice out of the cooler.
Dusk was setting in and several twisty turns in the trail later, Sam stopped. “Here we are,” he said.
“Here we are?” asked Nick.
“Yeah, here we are.”
“Where?” asked Jeff.
“Right through here,” Sam said, ducking under the twisted trunk of a gnarled juniper tree and pushing back the branches of a large bush that obscured a faint side trail. “I think,” he added quietly. The pungent smell of creosote was strong as Sam pushed carefully through the dense thicket of bushes and trees, cautiously dodging those of the more prickly variety. Scout followed closely, careful to not get whipped by branches that Sam had pushed out of the way as he moved along the tiny trail. Jeff and Nick followed a few paces behind, now carrying the cooler, grousing to each other the whole time.
After barely a minute of trailblazing, they broke into a small clearing.
“Hot diggity! How cool is this!” said Nick, setting down his end of the cooler and looking around the small clearing.
“Whoa,” said Jeff, looking around. “Definitely worth it. We’re probably the first ones to find this.”
“You think?” said Sam, pointing at the fire pit in the middle of the clearing.
“And you didn’t tell us about this before, because why?” asked Scout, in an unusual lapse of grammatical correctness.
Bushes, cactuses and a few scraggly trees enclosed them on all sides. The hedge-like thicket resembled an African thorn-bush kraal, dense enough to thwart even the most determined savannah predator. Overhead, a small murder of black, beady eyed crows was spread out among the branches of the taller trees. Cawing and rustling, they cocked their heads quizzically, carefully watching Sam and his friends below.
In the middle of the clearing was a small pit, surrounded by fire-blackened stones and filled with old ash. A small log and a few tree stumps had been dragged around the pit to provide seating and the tip of a large stone protruded from the ground nearby, making the perfect, if a bit inflexible, recliner. Stacked nearby was a modest amount of scavenged branches, broken to fit nicely into the fire pit.
“This place is a perfect hangout!” exclaimed Scout. “Thanks for finally sharing it,” she said to Sam, punching him on the arm. “We should have brought some sleeping bags and stayed overnight.”
“Okay, so let’s burn some stuff!” said Jeff, rubbing his hands together as he eyed the fire pit with an impish gleam in his eye.
“Yeah!” agreed Nick.
Jeff and Nick set the cooler by the stone recliner and started stacking small branches in the fire pit, arguing over whether a teepee or log cabin would work better for starting the fire.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Sam, pulling a small container out of his backpack. “Stand back,” he said, opening it up and pouring a generous helping of lighter fluid on the wood, small puddles forming in the sand beneath.
Nick and Jeff jumped back as the flammable fluid splashed all over. “Hey, watch it there,” said Jeff, trying to avoid getting it on his clothes.
“You watch it. I gave you fair warning.” Sam then bent to the ground and scratched a match across a rock, the rough surface sparking a small flame into life as it dragged across the red sandstone. He cupped it briefly in his hand until the flame took and then flicked the burning match into the lighter fluid soaked wood, each bounce of the spinning match releasing hordes of imprisoned flames that leapt into the sky, roaring with joy at their newfound freedom.
They passed the time telling jokes and stories—some true, some not so true, laughing like crazed hyenas most of the time. After a few hours the firewood had been reduced to sooty ash and the fire had died down to a few waltzing flames dancing across a floor of glowing red coals. Dusk had been descending when they had first piled broken branches and sticks in the fire pit, but now it was dark and the twinkling stars provided little light. Wispy clouds obscured the slender crescent moon, allowing the inky night to creep up on them, barely kept at bay by the dying fire.
The darkness loomed all around them, like g
Swallowing the last of his drink, he crumpled the can and looked across the dying fire at his three friends—his best friends, in fact, if he were forced to admit it. Jeff was laughing at something that Scout had said and Nick leaned against the recliner stone, looking as if he were falling asleep. The flames flickered back and forth, casting strange shadows that fluttered across their faces like troubled spirits performing an eerie danse macabre.
Time to make things interesting, thought Sam, chuckling to himself.
Part II: The Dead
Jeff reached for his guitar. “No, wait, Jeff—not yet,” Sam said earnestly, leaning closer to the fire, the heat pushing back on him. “I have something I want to tell you. All of you.”
Nick sat up, intrigued, the half-empty bag of black licorice slipping out of his lap to the ground.
“I want to tell you a story. It’s a ghost story and it’s a true ghost story.”
“Uh huh,” said Jeff, not sounding convinced, but still listening, leaving his guitar in its case.
Nick gulped quietly, as if thinking perhaps sitting alone on a dark, cloudy night in a small grove of twisted desert trees on the outskirts of Sam’s trailer park was not the best place for a ghost story.
“I’m game,” said Scout.
“Do you mean ‘gamey’?” asked Jeff, thumping her lightly on the side of the head. “Smells like you’ve been crawling around the jungle again.”
“Shut up,” she replied, swinging at him with a closed fist, but he dodged, too smart to be close by when purposefully provoking her. She barely missed, but didn’t try again, turning back to Sam who waited patiently on the other side of the glowing fire.
“Okay,” Sam said, looking around and lowering his voice just a bit. “Like I said, it’s a true story about a girl named Mary Jenkins, but the story is always called 'Scary Mary'.” As he said “Scary Mary” in his best creepy voice, Sam quickly flicked his flashlight on, shining it up under his chin, casting eerie shadows across his face as the light was swallowed up by the murky sky above.
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