The Blood Avenger

By Atom Mudman Bezecny

Reprinted from Odd Tales of Wonder #1

Luxton, Tennessee, 1941

 

It can be said by many living souls today that there is no worse time in one's life than when one is in school. There are worse times, of course—times when loved ones die or money runs dry, or dreams pass away. But school is an awful, miserable hell that even Milton couldn't match. It is social warfare and it leaves behind battered veterans. Perhaps the trauma makes the child into an adult, and every living American is in fact merely a fractured shell of the god they once were. Or maybe sometimes the youthful brain does forget that there are worse things, not merely in real life, but also in the realm of the fantastic and supernatural.

By the time the student reaches college, they may at least fix the pain of social conflict by way of mind-numbing substances, namely and usually drink. By facilitating the process of social maneuvering in this way, they stand a better chance of emerging from their chrysali as those ostensibly more complete individuals. And of course alcohol helps break down a lot of the brain's barriers, leading one to suggest or act on ideas that are indecent, impossible, illegal, or stupid. If one's personality is right, one has a sizable chance of becoming a bully. Or more properly, more of one.

Francine Rainsford hated that Heidi was always picking on her. It was true that Francine focused on her studies more intently than most of the students, and seemed fascinated by the mundane aspects of her studies, both things that tended to make a person seem a pretentious outcast. She wasn't without fault—she resented that Heidi was also an American history major. But that was because Heidi didn't have the same passion for the field. Or for school in general. Instead it was parties like this that had brought her to Lamb University. She'd joined Phi Omega Kappa in the second week, around the same time Francine had heard about that organization's reputation. At badminton practice some of her friends told her about the pranks first, before describing some of the group's more unsavory practices.

Francine knew then that she would have to be extra careful to hide that she was black.

 

She was fair-skinned, it was true, and most people didn't notice it in her. She “passed.” But some could sense it. None of the administrators, thankfully—and she was already getting good enough grades for them to run into difficulty expelling her if they did find out and changed their minds about her qualifications. Besides, there was a war on, and it sure as Hell wasn't going to stop by the end of '41, so they'd soon be needing soldiers of color. That would certainly help change people's minds for the better when it came to these subjects. But Francine knew that Heidi Smithers could almost certainly detect her race. And that led into the “unsavory bits” about Phi Omega Kappa.

Francine had no idea why she'd gone to the party. She knew that Heidi was going to be there, and she knew that poking her with pencils and stepping on her feet in class was only the tip of the iceberg. Now, Heidi was drunk, and because so many of her sorority sisters were there, she was the center of attention. She was about to direct that attention to Francine, in the worst way possible.

“I bet Francine couldn't do that!” she yelled suddenly. Francine had overheard their conversation, and thus knew that this sentence didn't have any buildup leading to it—Heidi had just changed the subject to that declaration on a malicious whim. She probably didn't have an idea of what “that” was when she said it.

But Francine decided to play along. She had no choice—the room had become silent. Clearing her throat, she asked, “What exactly can't I do, Heidi?” She pretended to be dumb about the whole thing. It was passive-aggression, but there would be consequences if she went for aggressive-aggression.

Heidi took her time marching up to her enemy. But she stopped mere inches away from her, and leaned her face in to kissing distance. Francine could smell cheap wine on her breath and that repulsed her more than anything.

“I bet you anything that you can't win a round of Bloody Mary.”

The silence was broken with the cheers of the whites around her—though some stayed quiet, and looked at the ground anxiously. Francine clenched her fists but stood her ground.

“What the hell is Bloody Mary?”

“It's a game, Franny. You stand in front of a mirror and say the name 'Bloody Mary' three times.”

“And, what, the face of your future husband shows up? That's a game I had back home, where you did something similar...”

 

“Pffft. That sounds dull. Now, are you playing or not?”

 

“Well, what happens if I do say the name three times?”

 

“Oh, yes, I forgot! Basically, Bloody Mary is the name of the ghost that will show up in the mirror. If you're unlucky, she comes out of the mirror and tears you to shreds.”

 

One of Heidi's lieutenants came up close to them. “It's true, you know. It happened to one of my friends. Do you remember Sara Ducamp?”

 

Francine had wondered what'd happened to Louise—everyone wondered, in fact. It was assumed she'd dropped out, but being surrounded by a Halloween party was doing quaint things to her head. She almost found herself believing that maybe Louise's disappearance was the work of a malevolent spirit.

 

But at the same time, she began to realize her unique peril. If she didn't play this game, it would be the end of her social life here at Lamb. If she lost her social life, she lost the chance to make any friends who would be her allies if it was discovered she was an intruder on this whites-only campus.

 

Plus, there was a stereotype she'd seen in a dozen-and-a-half films and comic books that black people were scared of ghosts. She couldn't let Heidi have the satisfaction of “proving” that “joke.”

 

All the same, there was a chance of being torn apart by a ghost.

 

Francine was skeptical of anything that couldn't be proven scientifically—and to date, ghosts had proven to be unprovable. But there were enough stories around the world that there had to be some truth to it. Every culture had independently come upon the idea of ghosts. That was enough to keep a student of history up at night.

 

Heidi spoke again. “If you're not going to play, I would understand...I mean, I would understand that you're a coward, but...”

 

“No. I will play.”

 

There was a gasp from the crowd—probably faked, out of a desire for mockery. It was that gasp that almost made Francine go over the edge. The words just slipped out: “I do happen to think, though, that this is pretty childish.”

 

But she hadn't accounted for Heidi being on an edge of her own, as well. Even though Francine had spoken quietly, Heidi shoved her suddenly. “Hey! Who's the kid here if you're joining in? Don't say such stupid stuff.” Her voice was legitimately angry.

 

Francine clenched her fist tighter.

 

“Just get to the bathroom,” Heidi barked. “And turn off the damn lights.”

 

Francine couldn't read the crowd—her mind was too fuzzy now, fuzzy from embarrassment. She felt like a wimp backing down like this, and she felt dumb for worrying about something supernatural happening to her. It was just the fact that there was no right answer. She was stuck in an unfair world, and she felt like she couldn't change it by herself.

 

By the time she flipped the lights out in the bathroom, her embarrassment had changed entirely to anger. She ignored the fact that she was angry, trying to feel brave instead. Bravery doesn't come from anger, though, and so she was full of brashness as she spat aggressively at the mirror: “Bloody Mary...”

 

She stared straight into the mirror, pouring her will out into it.

 

Bloody Mary...

 

She could feel their ears at the door, their faint giggles. She gulped, but only deepened her frown.

 

Bloody Mary.”

 

This all happened so fast for her, and indeed, it was because she was impulsive. But such drive didn't come from fear. Right before she spoke those words her anger had eaten up the rest of her fear. And with humiliation long dead, that anger was all that was left.

 

She closed her eyes. She awaited the screaming dead woman lunging out and ripping her to pieces, but worse yet would be the hateful laughter outside the door. All she had to do was not scream. She could not scream.

 

Three seconds passed, seeming like three years. It was enough for Francine's welling shriek to fade away, and slowly she opened her eyes. There was no sound at the door, now, no sound of laughter or even whispering. The room was still dark, but the room was empty.

 

Francine wanted to call out to them, to see if they were there. But instead, she planned to have a triumphant march out—a dignified one. Being “cool” would break any lines of race she had transgressed tonight, and it would turn up the social structure. This was going to be her debut...!

 

When she opened the door, the darkness didn't cease to be. Rage flared up again and that pushed her out in the hallway. “Okay, you little fools!” she cried out. “Turn those lights back on! I think I proved you wrong...and it didn't even take thirty seconds!”

 

But there was again no sound. No immature snickers, no thumping revealing hidden hiding places. There wasn't even the sound of wind. There was nothing by an icy silence.

 

Francine wondered if maybe she had passed out, and the party had ended without her. Maybe this wasn't a gag. Maybe she'd just humiliated herself even further. But that suspicion was once again devoured by a greater feeling. She once more squeezed her fists tight, and began to walk back to the living room, where the party had been.

 

But when she did so, she was taken aback. Already she could tell something was wrong—though her vision was still limited by the darkness, it was clear that this wasn't the same room that she had just been standing in. The walls were painted a different color, the carpet was different, and all the furniture was shifted around. Particularly, the many chairs that had been set out for necking lovers to sit in were gone, all save one, which sat in the center. And there was someone sitting in it...

 

She wasn't scared. She knew that the girl in the chair was Heidi, intending to intimidate her. Brashness returned, and once again, she charged into the fray.

 

“Well, what the hell do you want now?” she asked.

 

For a long time, the girl in the chair didn't answer. But then...

 

“I want to go home.”

The voice was an eerie croak. Even if Francine thought Heidi capable of reaching such a low pitch, the harsh dryness to it was odd.

 

“What did you say?”

 

“I want to go home.”

 

“Heidi...this...this isn't...”

 

And then the girl stood up. She wasn't Heidi's height at all—the bully was a solid foot shorter than Francine. This woman may have been a foot taller. Plus, Heidi was a blonde, and even in the dark Francine could see that the ratty black hair was not a wig. She also didn't believe the blood oozing from the girl's nose and mouth was fake.

 

“I am not Heidi. I am Mary.”

 

Francine didn't pause before speaking. “Bloody Mary?”

 

“Of course.” The eyes were hard to make out, as the shadow of her hair was cast across them, but Francine could see that they were completely blank—there were no pupils, no irises. “Are you afraid to die?”

 

“Afraid to die? I...can't say if I am.”

 

Suddenly, Francine didn't want her vision to get more accustomed to the dark, though it was mostly out of disgust. Whatever made her bleed from her facial orifices had drained the color from her face—and the cheekbones were pinched tight around the skull. She was wearing what seemed to be dark rags, and the hands that emerged from the long sleeves were just as skinny as her face. The nails were long and dark with dirt.

 

For a long moment the empty eyes stared down into Francine's. Even without pupils she could feel the chill of the gaze. But then, slowly, a smile crept across the blood-encrusted lips.

 

“I can tell you are not. And so, I will get my wish, in exchange for you getting yours.”

 

Now, something snapped within Francine, and true surprise bloomed in her. “What—what does that mean?”

 

“You have come here with vengeance in your heart. If you had carried fear instead, you would have died in the bathroom in the world of mortals. I can grant you the vengeance you seek, and because of that, I'll be released.”

 

“If you mean I want revenge on Heidi Smithers,” Francine said, “I don't mean to do too much to her. I-if this is some sort of ghostly vengeance...”

 

“And it is.”

 

“...then it is probably too cruel for her. Spirits, I'm sure, can do terrible things.”

 

“Francine Rainsford, your anger comes from another source, albeit a related one. Surely you remember that your mother was killed by white men?”

 

Now Francine couldn't speak if she tried. Indeed, she remembered. Her mother had found work at the local general store run by Mr. Robbins, who had obtained a minor legend via his tolerance of blacks. Eventually Robbins had liked Maria Rainsford well enough that he had made her assistant manager of that store. Naturally, this didn't fly in the Hospitality State, and while they hadn't put her in a tree—they still turned their rifles on her...

 

Francine was crying now, but it was a dignified cry, devoid of sobbing. And she saw through her tears that Bloody Mary's face appeared to be soft with sympathy. “I can't know your pain the same as you do,” she said, “but I became Bloody Mary by way of rage. I never want that rage to infect another soul—even if it leads you here, where you can release it.”

 

Francine found her tongue again. “What do you mean? You 'became' Bloody Mary? And...how I can release this anger?”

 

“It is a long story.”

 

“I...have no idea where I am or what's going on, so I'm going to assume that I have time to hear it.”

“You are brave for making the steps you have, Francine. The story of Bloody Mary stretches back before the Game reached its modern form, when they first started calling us that.”

 

“They? Us?”

 

“Be patient. Let me begin by saying that there have been many Marys throughout history—and I should clarify that. While indeed 'Mary' has always been a common name, there have been many women who have been Bloody Mary. My 19th Century mouth can't pronounce the ancient names she had. The Game only became a Game when ritual magic lost favor with the world of mortals. Games and rituals both have rules, only one is more serious than another. Originally, the Game was the ritual that women used to take revenge for the crimes of man. Through a spell, women filled with anger over masculine evil could take on a shadowy avatar of the night. One name I heard for her was Lilith, which means 'the screech owl.' A creature which, at the time, was considered one of the most fearful things to come across in the dark.

 

“Over time, as more rules appeared, we changed. We became less concerned with gender lines and we instead became foes of all evil. And so the anger at the core of our being was directed against the world's dictators, warmongers, and criminals. Those who have been wronged by proponents of cruelty have someone to turn to. They only need to speak her name three times in the dark.”

“That doesn't make any sense. The story is that Mary kills people who go looking for her.”

 

“That is one of the weaknesses we've carried throughout time. We are bound by the rules of the Game to attack those who conjure us. If they are full of anger, they are taken here, to a mirror-world of the last place they stood in, and given the chance to take on the mantle. But most of history's Marys have recognized that the consequences of this weakness are evil, and so we merely scare or lightly injure our victims. For indeed, many of them are children.

 

“There are some who have used illicit methods to force themselves into the role. Mary, Queen of Scots, who gave us our modern name, and also Elizabeth Bathory...”

 

Francine was forced to cut her off. “Slow down, I need to take all this in. I was angry at the criminals who...who murdered my mom when I chanted Bloody Mary in the mirror, because I was...subconsciously reminded of that by a white girl being cruel to me for being black. And so because of that, because I secretly, deep down, hate criminals—I can become Bloody Mary? And I have to scare people while also fighting criminals?!”

 

“Yes—when I said 'they' and 'us,' earlier, I meant mankind and the bearers of Mary's mantle, respectively.”

 

“But I don't like scaring people, and I don't know how to fight armed goons!”

 

“Bloody Mary is armed with a variety of tools that make her a force to be reckoned with,” the ghost explained. “She can't be killed by mortal weapons, though some mystical ones can harm her. And her tears are poisonous.”

 

She raised a skeletal hand to her face, and Francine observed that the tears she alluded to were now dripping down her face—and made of the same blood coming from her nose and mouth.

 

“And fear's the second weapon, right? Scaring them into a damn heart attack?”

 

“Partially. Also, as Bloody Mary, one can appear anywhere in the world where there's a reflection. That was the power I relished the most, as I have seen almost corner of the world now.”

 

“'Relished'? Why the past tense?”

“Because I can already see what your answer to my offer is, Francine. I am preparing myself to leave the role so another may take it up.”

 

Francine said nothing.

 

“When Bloody Mary enters the material world she may take on her spirit form, her horror form. Or she may appear as her ordinary self, as she was before she played the Game. But she can only remain outside the mirror for twenty-four hours, or a terrible fate awaits her!”

 

“So, two weaknesses. Magic weapons—and if there could be such a thing as magic!—and staying outside the mirror. Wait!” And her voice was frantic. “I don't want this at all! If I can't stay out for long, how can I maintain my life as a student? If you're dedicated to stopping evil, you can't overlook the evil of denying me my life.”

 

“I wouldn't dream of it, Francine. Remember that you don't spend all twenty-four hours of the day in the waking world! Eight of those hours you are asleep. You can return to the mirror-world to rest just as easily as you would go to bed after a hard day.” And she pursed her bloody lips. “It would be wrong for me to avoid warning that one's life as Bloody Mary can end up consuming one's life on the physical plane. I poured my energy into hunting down the man and woman who wronged me before I played the Game, but after nearly twenty years, I have to stop. This rage will destroy me, and it will destroy my eternal soul. If you can be brave, and good, and just, then we will thus both have something to gain by your becoming Mary.”

Francine paused to consider the idea of being consumed with tracking down the people in Mississippi who had destroyed her family. She didn't know if she could find them—even if she could jump out of mirrors like Mary said she could. Lord, what a weird idea! Maybe Heidi had simply spiked her beer with something, or she was coming down with ergotism. But she could truly believe that the woman before her was from the realm of the supernatural, and that she wasn't merely a product of superstition, or the Halloween spirit. And she knew that was a unique opportunity to learn the secrets of the supernatural—to become the supernatural. To get back some of the power that society had taken away from her.

 

Her voice was solemn. “I will accept your deal.”

 

“You can pass the mantle on if you can find someone with your forceful anger,” Mary said. “But that means you may be Mary for many years.”

 

What did she have to lose? Just twenty years of feeling helpless in a broken world was bad enough.

 

“My acceptance stands.”

 

“Then prepare yourself, Francine Rainsford. You will drink the Mary's blood, and be transformed.”

 

“Um...didn't you say the blood was poisoned?”

 

“That is the first lesson, Francine—rage will keep you safe.” Then suddenly, the wraith's lips were at her ear. “Even if it's also the source of the poison.”

 

Pulling away, Bloody Mary produced a small grail or chalice from the folds of the ratty black tatters she wore, and raised it to her face. Once again the dark tears flowed, but when Francine blinked the tip of the cup was in her mouth. As the rich blood filled her mouth, all went dark for her, and the floor came up on her.

 

#

 

When she woke up she was in the bathroom again—knowing at once that she was on what Bloody Mary had called the “physical plane.” Notably, she could hear the sounds of the party continuing, the dancing footsteps and the phonograph music. It seemed like the party went on without her. Maybe she'd been gone for awhile, or maybe the attention spans of the party-goers wandered quickly.

 

She stepped out into the hallway, and instantly took a glimpse into the living room. All the people were back, and the furniture had returned to its original configuration. And it was infinitely brighter than the dark room in which she'd met Bloody Mary.

 

If she'd met Bloody Mary—it all seemed to be nothing more than a dream, like Dorothy's return from Oz. Yet she still had the iron taste of blood in her mouth, and her tongue and throat ached as though she had been poisoned. Out of all the macabre things she'd just seen, she remembered clearly the gleam of the grail Mary had her drink from.

 

On the off-chance that she hadn't imagined it all, though, she faintly remembered that she couldn't stay outside a mirror for more than twenty-four hours. But she didn't even know how to get into a mirror to begin with—as if one could get “into” a mirror to begin with!

 

At the same time, now, one of the friendlier girls, a science major of some kind named Anne, walked up to her. “Hey, since no one else is gonna say anything—there's a telephone call for you in the kitchen, Francine.”

 

“Hm? I didn't tell anyone in particular I was coming here...” But she paused. She had a feeling about who it could be. “I'll get it in a second. Thanks, Anne!”

 

There was no one in the kitchen—thankfully. She had the notion that she was probably about to seem crazy to outside observers.

 

The 'phone off the hook on the counter. She lifted it and put it to her ear. “Hello?”

 

“Hello, Francine.”

 

And that confirmed it for her. The spectral harshness of the voice was gone, but Bloody Mary was on the other end of that line.

 

“Hello, Mary.”

 

A faint chuckle could be heard. “I believe the passing ritual worked—I've been restored to the material world. I'd like to find out for sure by having you come visit me.”

 

Francine considered this her chance to get to the bottom of everything. “Let's do that. How can I find you?”

 

“You'll have to use Mary's powers, Francine. You'll have to go through the mirror. It's easy, trust me—just press your hand against the glass, and the rest will sort itself out.”

 

And then the 'phone clicked.

 

As Francine hung it back up, she said: “I didn't want to stay at this party anyway.”

 

She returned to the bathroom, likely eliciting a few weird looks. She was just glad that Heidi wasn't there to heckle her—maybe, if there was no leg-pulling in this, she would never have to see Heidi again.

 

She wouldn't take her revenge on Heidi—that wouldn't be fair. She had her chance to be fairer than Heidi, and she intended to take it.

 

Now, she was alone with the mirror in the bathroom again. Almost at once, it was as though magnetism was being worked on her. Her giddiness deprived her of feeling in her arms aside from an excited tingling—she watched as her reflection reached for her even as she reached for it...until at last she felt their fingertips come together.

 

From the glass, she could feel body heat. Ten small points. That wasn't glass anymore, it was human skin. She closed her eyes.

 

And she pushed into the glass.

 

It was like falling into water, and for a second Francine wondered if her body was about to be pulped, like someone diving into the shallow end of a pool. But it was just vertigo, and while she kept her eyes closed her body regained comfort—in fact, she felt as though she was at home.

 

Slowly, she allowed her eyes to open, when she freed herself of all expectations. And so when her eyes were met with a black void, she was not surprised. All the same, the darkness was just the beginning—meant to lull her, maybe. In the depths of the shadows, she could see small points of light coming towards her, and as they got closer, she raised a curious eyebrow. These glittering dots were actually various reflective surfaces—disembodied mirrors. Yet the things shown in these mirrors weren't reflections of what was in front of them. They showed what was reflected on the mirrors they were linked on the material plane.

 

Then, suddenly: “Francine!”

 

She flinched. “Mary?”

 

“Yes, it's me. After all my years as Mary, I learned how to throw my mental voice into the mirror-realm. I can speak to while you're in it. Now, listen carefully—there's a particular mirror you have to dive into. It will take you to Ingomar Manor.”

“Ingomar Manor?”

 

“My home. Fortunately, it's been well-preserved these last twenty years...as you'll soon see! I'll highlight the proper mirror for you...”

 

Indeed, Francine was concerned about where exactly she was going. There were...quite a few of the mirrors now, to say the least. Probably hundreds. She couldn't help but once again be overwhelmed with vertigo, until again, an innate sense of the feel of the realm asserted itself. One of the mirrors dancing before her was now outlined with a yellow light, like sunlight. Within the light of the glass, she could see the faint curves of furniture much more expensive than that at the party house. “A Manor, huh?” she said to herself. “Looks fancy enough.”

 

And she swam down through the blackness, until she reached the glowing panel. The yellow grew brighter and brighter as she slipped her fingers through it. And before she knew it, she was standing once more on the material plane.

At once she could see she was standing in the parlor of some sort of Victorian mansion. The dull green wallpaper was curled and withered with age, and the scattered bits of furniture she'd seen were now notably dusty. She had come through the mirror of an antique dresser, which sat exactly opposite a fireplace and mantle. There was an inestimable age to the place, and it tickled the fancy of the history student within Francine.

 

Sitting in one of the ancient chairs was a figure, and Francine had seen her sit in a chair before. She was Bloody Mary—but she was bloody no more. Her dark green dress was pristine and beautiful, and she was alive. Her hair was combed (now a light brown) and her face was happy and aged. She immediately rose to greet her guest.

“Welcome, Bloody Mary,” the green-garbed woman said. “My name is Nadine Ingomar, and this is my estate.”

“Nadine Ingomar? So that's the name of...”

“The name of your predecessor as Bloody Mary. Look at yourself, Ms. Rainsford. You fit the role wonderfully.”

 

Francine turned around to face the mirror that had brought her to the fabulously ornate house. This time, she knew what to expect, though it was going to be a gristly sight. She resisted the urge to once more close her eyes.

She was Bloody Mary. The party dress she'd worn, as simple as it was, was now weathered and slashed—the wear had made it as dark as soot. Blood was pooled around her nose and mouth, and her eyes were white and empty. Her hand was unkempt and yet stayed clear of obstructing those lifeless phantom eyes. Her skin tone was the same, but the color in the brown of her skin was now an equivalently-dark gray. Even in this form it was clear that compared to Ingomar, she had more melanin in her skin.

 

“Already I am proud of you, Francine.”

“Uh. Thank you. Can I become...my usual self now?”

 

And as she said that—her features returned. Again, she was beyond rattling at this point.

“This is going to take some getting used to.”

“It is indeed rather tough at first. But I think it will suit you like water suits a duck.” Francine turned to face her predecessor, who was looking at the ground. She seemed suddenly distracted.

“What's wrong?” Francine asked.

“Already I feel selfish. I didn't expect to feel like this when I first saw my successor.” She turned and looked Francine in the eye. “I'm envious—a small part of me wants the role back. That fragment of my mind keeps telling me I could have fulfilled my goal, had my revenge...but I fought too hard, and I am tired now.”

She returned to her chair, and gestured to an identical one opposite, for Francine to sit in.

“Who were the man and woman you mentioned?” Francine asked. “The ones who wronged you?”

“They are a father and daughter pair. One of them I know as Dr. Sean, but that is just an alias he uses to pose as a respectable physician. I don't know his real name, his criminal name, but it is said to be terrible. I heard that in Tibet he was called Dr. Su-Domsa, but also ruled the forces of evil as the sinister Natas. Those names—both as false as 'Sean,' by the way—yield the names Asmodus and Satan, when turned backwards. That is why he's referred to as the Devil, or Devil Doctor. His daughter uses the name Coreani Sean when she doesn't insist on posing as me, under the name Madame Ingomar.”

“I imagine there's a story behind that. It's a big deal to steal someone's identity.”

“In 1920, Sean and his daughter seized the Ingomar family fortune to fund a large scale criminal enterprise. They wiped out my family in a massive purge, which nearly included me. But my leisurely life had been more vigorous than Sean anticipated—I had trained as an athlete for my entire life, and was in the best shape of that life at 34. I survived the attack on Ingomar Manor and faked my death, replacing my body with that of one of Sean's female minions. I haven't been able to return to this house until now, as Sean has controlled it for most of the last twenty years. In 1921 I played the Game and became Mary. But I used the mirrors to watch this place, trying to find clues as to Sean's whereabouts, to no avail. If his servants did hold it for this long, however, it must have been urgent business that called them away—but once they left Manor I couldn't track them. An entire year of my life as Bloody Mary was spent just in the mirror-realm, searching for any reflection that contained Sean or Coreani's faces.” She sighed heavily. “But there was nothing. I can't avenge the ghosts of my parents, my siblings.”

“So you do understand what it's like, then,” Francine replied. “You know that unfairness. You have that anger.”

 

“And I thought after awhile that letting Mary go would relieve me of it. But now, I can't help but feel as though I've forced myself into impotence as well as unending rage. It hasn't died in me, and I don't have the power to...”

 

But at once, Francine held a finger to the older woman's mouth.

 

“I am Bloody Mary now. I believe it, and know it—I traveled through a mirror, I could cry that poison blood if I want to. We will both have our revenge—I swear it! I hate that you had done to you what they did to me, and so wherever there's a mirror, they can't hide.”

Nadine Ingomar smiled.

“You're quite correct. I already place faith in you. Come with me, Ms. Rainsford.”

She led her through several dark hallways. Through the windows, for the first time, Francine saw the dawn's sun coming up. Knowing what she did about time-zones led her to believe this was Europe, England specifically. If it was late at night in Tennessee, then it was the start of a new day for London. What was weird was that Madame Ingomar didn't have an English accent—in fact, for the first time, Francine noticed she didn't have a noticeable accent at all. Maybe, for someone of her perspective, that meant she was Midwestern or East Coast American, which complicated the fact that she had English holdings. But it was safe to say simply that Madame Ingomar had a past to her, one that extended far past a career as a lifelong athlete able to survive massacres.

Eventually they reached the remains of a kitchen, and there was a dusty antique telephone mounted on the wall. Ingomar took it from the wall, and began to dial. Francine didn't believe that it would work, but sure enough, she could hear that the receiver was playing a ring on the other end of the line. In the stillness of the house she could hear a man's voice speak to Ingomar.

“H-hello?” The voice was timid and aged, and it definitely had the British accent Ingomar lacked.

“Hello, Tyler,” the older woman said. “I'm calling from the Manor.”

 

There was a lengthy pause. “Dear God,” was the whisper from the other side. “It's you! They—Madame—they told me you were dead. They always made a point of telling me whenever they'd visit me, to warn me to say nothing. They knew how terribly it would—it would...”

“Tyler, you did not fail—I am alive. And while I did not allow myself to meet with you in person, I was with you always. I stopped them from killing you—do you remember what happened to those men in the car during that 'accident' in '29?”

 

Franine didn't know what that meant, but she figured she would find out at a later date.

“Lord, Madame, I could never forget. You were involved in...in that horror? Evidently you've gone beyond the activities you and I used to train together in.”

“I was a different person, Tyler, until very recently. I am glad you maintained this line, for I'll need your help in an approaching conflict.”

“O-of course, Madame. I will send you a telegram with my address—they a

re surely monitoring my telephone line. Be sure to intercept the telegram swiftly. I've suspected all this time that there is a reason why H-He has kept me alive.”

“He” had to be Sean. Indeed, it was weird to Francine that someone so obviously close to an assassination target would merely be threatened into silence, instead of being taken out of the way entirely.

 

“We will be as careful as we were when we were side-by-side. I haven't lost my edge, and I doubt you've lost yours.”

 

“You are trying to make me laugh, Madame.”

 

Ingomar chuckled. “Goodbye, Tyler.”

“Goodbye, Madame.”

 

When she hung up she was grinning.

“I was afraid that that wouldn't be his voice,” she said. “That a stranger would answer. He's survived impossible odds. Allan Tyler is my butler and trainer...but also my childhood friend. A handful of hours spent away from him, without the powers of Mary, could have meant that the unthinkable could pass.”

Francine nodded. “So we're going to meet with him, then. And he'll have a clue that will lead us to Sean.”

“No. Any clues he could have picked up from Sean's servants will only lead us to his daughter—the false Madame Ingomar. Sean himself is too clever, and in his wickedness he's willing to use his own daughter as a shield. To fight Sean will be another battle.” She looked the ground. “In any case, there's a reason why I didn't visit Tyler in person in the last two decades, and if I'm right, it's the same reason as to why Sean's forces have left him alive.”

 

Francine Rainsford now saw the seriousness in her host's face. “I believe he's a double-agent, and if he stands in our way, he'll have to face Bloody Mary.”

A frown came over Francine's face, and now, more than ever, the world seemed to have become entirely alien.

 

But greater than the isolation she felt was the anger that fueled her in her new identity. Once this immediate threat was stopped...the bastards who killed her mother were next!

 

Continued in The Violet Scorpion in Odd Tales of Wonder #2...!

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