Mad Mary (Why We Love to Be Scared)

Children love to be scared. Heck, we all do. This Halloween, a colleague and plan to host a Scary Story night at our elementary school. In past years, I tried to read the classics, excerpts of Poe and Stoker. Mostly the kids were bored. I think they only stayed out of respect. And the candy. (Mostly the candy).

Then I got smart. I started asking kids what they liked in scary stories. Started recalling all those creepy stories I’d heard as a kid. I discovered two things: kids like gross plus a little bit of humor.

I dug up a story I hear while I was at a summer camp in the mountains (Camp Marston). The actual story had very little detail. At least that I can recall. I remember hearing about the cattle mutilations. There was mention of a wild girl with ultra long fingernails and crazed eyes. Of course I heard the story over a campfire under a night sky. Very spooky. The camp even had a tree with the manacles still bolted in. That was the best part. Scared the crap out of me.

Obviously, the camp had to take them down. None of the existing counselors remembered Mad Mary. I did a search for her, but came up with nothing.

I decided to write my own version of the story, taming it down a bit for the kids. Here’s what follows:

When I was in sixth grade, I went to Camp Marston, and the counselors there told me the story of Mad Mary.

It seemed there was a girl named Mary. As she grew up, she became more and more insane. Her parents were very old and didn’t want to send her to a mental hospital. They kept her at home away from any other people.

But Mary grew worse. She would growl like a wild animal and gnaw on the furniture like a dog. One day she attacked her mom. Bit her in the arm. Blood was everywhere.

Her father yanked Mary away, but didn’t have the heart to call the police. You see, he still loved her. But she was out of control.

He chained her arms to a tree. He brought her food and water every day, but never unchained her. There she stayed for a whole year.

Now, I told you that her parents were very old. They both passed away suddenly one night, leaving Mary totally alone. She cried all day and all night, calling their names. No one answered. They were dead.

But Mary was still chained to the tree. Unable to get food or water.

For several days she screamed for help, but the house was high up in the Julian hills. There was no one around for miles.

Finally, insane with hunger, she snatched a squirrel off a branch and ate it. Whole. The blood reminded her of when she bit her mother’s arm.

For the next few years, this was how Mary survived. She ate animals that strayed too close. She sucked the dew off grass. All that time she was chained to the tree. Her hair grew down below her bottom. Her fingernails grew long and sharp. She used them like knives to catch her food. And her eyes showed a growing madness.

Finally, the bolts that attached the chain to the tree pulled loose. Mad Mary was free. She scampered off into the woods, dragging the chains behind her.

Every few years after that, farmers would find a that a cow had been killed at night. The animal was sliced open along the gut. Mary had used her long sharp fingernails. And the insides were chewed up.

Now, Marston still had camp for sixth graders every year. One year, a little before I went to camp, a boy named Chris came up with his sixth grade class. Chris was a very forgetful little boy. He had his camp list, but seemed to forget everything.

He forgot his flashlight, his camera, his Chapstick, and his pillow. He remembered his shoes, thank goodness, but even the things he brought he would leave in his cabin.

One day, he was going on a day hike. He brought his jacket because it was chilly in the morning. By afternoon, it had warmed up, so he took it off. That evening it cooled down again, but he couldn’t remember where he left it. The weather turned cold and he shivered.

This was the skit night, and all the students were gathered in the main cabin with the stage for the show. There was a lot of noise with people laughing and clapping.

Chris needed to go to the bathroom. Now normally, he would go with a buddy. But he was embarrassed that he had lost his jacket. So he snuck out of the skit night and headed down to the bathrooms.

It was a clear night with the stars twinkling in the sky. The shadows seemed impossibly dark. By the time he reached the bathrooms his heart pounded hard inside his chest.

Then he heard a noise. It sounded like someone dragging something. The clinking of chains. It was Mad Mary.

Clink. Clink. Clink.

Chris froze. The sound was coming from the field between the bathrooms and the skit night. He couldn’t get back the main cabin.

He cried for help, but of course no one heard him. They were all enjoying the show. If he had brought a buddy, he might have been all right. But Chris was alone.

He dashed for his cabin. All along the way he heard the drag – clink, drag – clink of Mad Mary following him.

He made it to the door, rushed inside, and jumped into bed. He threw the covers over his head.

Outside her heard drag – clink, drag – clink.

Then, along the wall outside the cabin, Mary scraped her long fingernails.

Scraaaaatch. Scraaaaatch.

Then she reached the door. Chris heard the click, click, click of her fingernails on the wood. Then the handle turned and the door squeaked open.

The sounds of the chains drew closer—drag – clink, drag – clink—until they were right by his bed. Then Mad Mary spoke.

“I’ve been looking for you.”

She snatched the covers away. Chris saw two beady eyes peering through the long tangled hair. She held the sheet between her long sharp fingernails.

“You forgot…your…jacket!”

Earlier, on one of my first visits to Camp Marston as a sixth grade teacher, I dropped hints about Mad Mary to many of the kids. We arrived at camp on a Monday and left on a Friday. For several days I got little to no response. I had pointed out a tree that looked like it had been clawed by Mary. Everything changed on Wednesday.

At lunch recess, two contractors were repairing a door. I casually told the students that Mad Mary had ripped it off. They went to ask the contractors, who, going along with the gag, said that she had.

Within a few minutes, students were seeing Mad Mary everywhere. In the trees. In the shadows. I had to start backpedaling, saying that the story was made up. I did some damage control.

Usually on Wednesday, we teachers drive into town for dinner, skipping the meal with the kids. Big mistake. A student from a different school had been nervous about life at camp. For the past few days he had not defecated, scared of the walk to the bathroom outside his cabin. That night, the constipation had reached breaking point, so to speak, and he passed out. Immediately, students spread the rumor that somehow Mad Mary had done the deed.

I was reprimanded for spreading the story. The student recuperated at the hospital. Everything went pretty much back to normal. But I remembered the incident. I was amazed at how much a single story could affect people.

Tim Kane

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4 comments on “Mad Mary (Why We Love to Be Scared)

  1. Well, I hope you’re happy. Because that was so scary and GROSS that I had to stop reading it after she broke free from the tree. I don’t know what happened and I don’t care. I’m going to turn on Looney Tunes and try and laugh bad dreams away. Grrrr, Tim!! I hate you! (Just kidding, you know I love you, buddy!)

  2. Hey, the kids got through it. Plus, so did I when I was a tween. Read the end (after the italic) to see how I got in trouble with this one.

  3. M says:

    I remember that story too. I went to Marston a few times with the day camp at the YMCA weekend camping trips. Except, they called her Mad Molly. I too, was terrified of her! It kept us all from straying too far from camp, which just might have been the point…. 🙂

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