Oh, I killed her! I had to! What would you have done? I knew what she had done to Mary! Yes, I knew! I knew Gertrude had gone mad, had drowned her young daughter as she dipped the bucket into the stream to draw out the water!
“Gertrude,” I asked my sister later that day, “Where is Mary?”
“I killed her,” she said. “I drowned her in the stream this morning.”
Oh, the horror! The inexpressible and incomprehensible horror I felt at learning that my dear sister was capable of such a senseless and evil act! It was almost too much for my soul to bear.
“Gertrude!” I said, glaring into her eyes and shaking her roughly. “You tell me what you’ve done! Where is my niece?”
Gertrude stared at me as if unable to comprehend how I had misunderstood her.
“I killed her this morning,” she said with a look of confusion in her eyes. “I drowned her in the stream.”
I know what I should have done, and I know what you will say I should have done, but what would you have done? Gertrude was my last living family member, and I thought that she had certainly gone mad. Turn her in? It was the furthest thing from my mind! Of course I mourned for my dear, sweet niece, Mary, but how could turning in the deranged Gertrude atone for what had been done?
No, it could not atone for it. I knew how Mary had died, but I would not lose my sister too! It was an accident. That’s what we said! It was an accident, and we buried her body in the church yard. Gertrude slept easy nearly every night thereafter, but she would sometimes awaken in the dark and pierce the silence with a wailing cry of “what have I done?” I moved in with her, being a widow myself, and cared for the lifeless shell that had once been my sister.
Then, one night, I discovered what woke Gertrude sometimes in the darkness.
I stared into my mirror, thinking of all I had done as I got ready for sleep when I saw a the reflection of a figure standing behind me. I turned around and saw nothing.
“Aunty?” a voice spoke.
My eyes grew wide with fright, and my skin prickled up in goose pimples. No one who hasn’t heard – or thought they heard – a voice in the darkness can possibly understand what it does to you! I froze in my bed and couldn’t move.
“Aunty?” the voice said again, and it was unmistakably the voice of my departed niece, Mary!
“Aunty? Where’s my mommy?”
I screamed and bolted from my chair. I grabbed a fire poker and put my back to the hearth.
“What do you want, demon?” I shrieked, tears filling my eyes.
There was no answer. I shook with fright and felt faint. I looked around the room and found nothing. After checking under my bed I stood up and saw, standing in the doorway, the pale and translucent spirit of Mary, holding the very bucket with which she had gone with Gertrude to fetch the water. Fair Mary, with her golden curls and perfect little face. Gertrude’s fair Mary!
I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe! I have never been so horrified in my life! Here was the beloved niece my sister had murdered! Here was the victim of the murder that I had called an accident! Here was Mary, back from the dead to exact her vengeance on my well-meaning soul!
The fire poker fell to the ground, and I gathered my wits to meet death with dignity. I started when the apparition spoke again.
“Aunty, where’s my mommy? She did a bad thing. You did a bad thing,” she said, stepping toward me.
“I’m sorry, Mary, please! Please, I’m sorry,” I blubbered, hardly knowing what I was saying. “Your mother is all I have left – your mother -”
“No,” the child interjected sweetly. “No, you’ve got me, Aunty.”
Thus it began! For weeks Mary was there, in mirrors, in shadows, in the doorway at night! I couldn’t sleep! I couldn’t eat! I couldn’t live like that! Dear, dear Mary, returning from the grave each night to torment and haunt the aunt that had kept her murderous mother from being brought to justice! What would you have done if you had woken from a fitful and brief slumber each night to find the bucket – Mary’s Bucket – placed on the foot of your bed? What would you have done if you had heard the voice that whispered every time you went to pick it up “Where’s my mommy?”
I told her Gertrude was in the other room! I told her she had gone insane, I told her to move on to that world which belongs to the dead, but Mary would not. She grew more frantic in her entreaties that I bring her her mother. I began to feel the effects of the haunting and of the lack of sleep. I began to feel irritable and tired. Tired of life, tired of Mary – tired of Gertrude.
“Where’s my mommy!” the child yelled one night in a voice so loud it cracked the mirror in my room.
“I’ll bring you your mommy!” I cried, getting out of bed and stepping toward the doorway. Mary held the bucket out to me and I took it. I rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a knife, then made my way to Gertrude’s room. I found her sitting on a chair facing the door.
“I knew you’d come for me,” she said, looking past me.
“Oh, I’ve come for you!” I yelled, and sprang upon her.
I placed the bucket behind the chair and grabbed a fistful of Gertrude’s hair. I tilted her neck back and sliced and sawed and hacked her head off into the bucket. When I was done I lifted the bucket and held it out to Mary, who stood smiling in the hallway.
“Here’s your mommy!” I shrieked.
Mary took the bucket and looked inside.
“There you are!” she said happily.
She laughed and curtsied, then skipped out of the house, leaving me panting in the room with Gertrude’s lifeless and headless body still sitting in the chair.
What would you have done? You say I’m mad – I tell you I am not! Where is Gertrude’s head? You haven’t found it! Your dogs haven’t found it! No one will ever find it, for Mary has it! The child hasn’t bothered me since. She hasn’t visited my cell, and I’ve slept soundly knowing that Gertrude and Mary are together now! I’m not a murderer! I don’t deserve to die… and yet, I already know your verdict, jury. I already know that my pleas are in vain, for I see her now! I see Mary standing there in the doorway! There! Right there, with the empty bucket in her hands! Don’t you see her? Don’t you hear her? Listen! Oh, dear God! Listen!
“Where’s my aunty?”