The rules of Bloody Mary are very simple when you’re a twelve-year-old girl. Just follow these five steps:
1. You must pick the darkest room with the biggest mirror — location is important. You go to the upstairs bathroom of your best friend Tara’s house and together you face the mirror. Tara switches off the light. Your reflections, gangly and wide-eyed with lingering sunburns from afternoons at the public pool, vanish as the room is plunged into darkness. For a moment you can still see your mirror selves, the impressions left on your vision. It’s like you’re the ghosts, bright leftover images looming behind your eyelids as you blink.
2. You must have the proper tools — after you summon Bloody Mary, you’ll need to light a candle to see her. A tea light candle stolen from Tara’s older sister, and the matchbook from the junk drawer in the kitchen. Tara takes other things from her sister these days too, like teen magazines with quizzes about who your future boyfriend will be. She makes you fill them out with her, and she takes the answers very seriously. Afterwards, you read all the options quietly to yourself and feel nothing. Now, in the dark, Tara takes your hand. You close your eyes; you focus on the feeling of Tara’s hand, the quiet of her breathing. The cold bathroom tile on your bare feet.
3. You must call her forth three times: Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. There is power in the ritual of repetition. How many times have you and Tara pretended you were witches, sitting your stuffed animals in a circle and making up chants? Even if that was just make-believe, you were doing it together, and that thrilled you. You feel goosebumps rise on your arm. It’s like you’re the only two girls in the whole universe, just a vast darkness and your hands and peeling, sunburned arms touching. Tara’s palm is sweaty. Her fingernails are bitten short. You notice these details and your pulse kicks; maybe Tara’s nervousness is catching. You think if you opened your eyes and you really were in an endless black expanse, that would be okay. As long as you got to keep holding Tara’s hand.
4. You must believe, and maybe this is why you’ve had no luck so far. Because Tara is certain that when she lights the candle, she will see a blood-soaked figure in the mirror. Tara believes in Bloody Mary with the same certainty that she believes in the ability of a teen magazine to tell her future. But not you. You don’t think a magazine can make you love a boy and you don’t think a chant will make a ghost appear in a mirror. When you open your eyes, you know there will be nothing there, and Tara will let go of your hand because she won’t be afraid anymore.
5. So for now, you must keep your eyes closed. Imagine you can feel the presence of a third girl in the room with you, maybe phantom breath on your neck. And then hold Tara’s hand tight. Just a little longer. Just until you hear the match strike.
Audrey Hawkes is a desert rat living and writing in Arizona, and can often be found watching bad horror movies or on Twitter @audrey_hawkes. Audrey’s work has been featured in Ample Remains and Not Deer Magazine.