The counselors decided that on the night we should camp out of doors, in the woods by the lake, that would be an excellent time to continue the story of Mad Mary.
They explained that she had long, needle-like fingernails and would rip open the stomachs of cows, gorging on the innards. They even added flourishes about missing cattle from nearby farms.
I don’t know why they chose to torment us poor kids. I guess they thought we would sleep better?
Not me. I lay awake all night, startled by even the slightest rustle in the woods.
Thus Mad Mary became a permanent part of my psyche.
When I was 12 or 13, my parents shipped me off to summer camp up in the San Diego mountains. I think they just wanted to get me out of their hair for a little while.
The whole experience. Dusty cabins with a trek through the dark just to go to the bathroom. Me not knowing a single person. Me, the quiet artistic type trapped in a situation designed to bring out the social.
I hated it.
Well, not all of it. You see the counselors (I assume it was them) had nailed up a pair of rusty manacles to a tree by the lake. And they told me the tale of how Mad Mary used to be chained up. Her hair and fingernails grew long. She munched on squirrels or birds. Anything that came too close. Until one day she got free.
I’ve been to this camp again. It’s run by the YMCA and is right outside of Julian. You see, as a sixth grade teacher, I busses whole groups of impressionable kids up into the mountains.
Yet the tree with manacles is gone. And not a single person up there recalled the tales of Mad Mary. Had I dreamt it all up. Not likely. The stories provided fertile soil for my budding imagination.
This is how the tale start. Next Teeny Haunts will continue the tale.