This flash fiction is based on the nursery rhyme; Mary, Mary quite contrary. It’s hard not to make a children’s rhyme sound creepy, although I tried!
With a start, Victor woke. He looked around for the child who had spoken but only saw the bright flowers covering every surface of the garden. The only things free of the flowers were the path and the spot under the willow tree.
The only other living creature in the garden was the old woman. She sat in her favorite chair under the willow. At the sound of the child’s voice singing, she rose.
Anxiety squeezed Victor’s stomach. Which child would be fool enough to come right by Mary’s garden, singing and taunting her?
Jumping up from where he’d been napping, Victor hurried after Mary. The old woman reached the garden gate. Made of steel bars, it was perfect to look through.
Victor peered through the gate and waited for the child.
And there she was, still singing. “Mary, Mary, quite contrary!”
Victor cringed. Mary hated that word.
The girl sang the next verse, “How does your garden grow?”
The child came to a skidding halt as she spotted Victor and Mary waiting at the gate. Her face went pale. Eyes flicking from Victor to Mary, her mouth gaped open in shock.
“How does my garden grow?” Mary asked in a soft voice.
The girl fled, her pigtails streaming out behind her.
Relief swept through Victor. The girl had enough sense to run. He glanced at Mary, gauging her reaction, but Mary only huffed and made her way back through the garden to her seat.
As she walked, she finished the rhyme, pointing to each flower as she went. “Silver bells,” these were drooping white flowers that reminded Victor of sad little milkmaids.
“And cockle shells,” there was a whole section of cockle shells. Blue, purple, and white flowers in neat rows.
Mary reached her chair under the willow and sank into it. “Victor, come here.”
He immediately hurried to her side. She patted her lap and he sprang up to nestle against her. She stroked his back.
“I’m surprised you’re still with me. Most creatures avoid my garden, yet you’ve been here for years now. What is it about you?” Then, she mumbled as if he wouldn’t hear, “Strange cat.”
Victor didn’t mind being called strange. He was sure that he was the only reason Mary wasn’t at this moment chasing after that child. Now that she had a living creature, even a stray like him, Mary seemed less keen on inciting violence. Perhaps all she had lacked was affection. Well, he was determined to provide all the attention he could if it would keep the village children safe.
“How does that rhyme finish?” Mary murmured, rubbing behind his ears now. An involuntary purr escaped Victor.
“Ah yes. And pretty maids all in a row.”
His eyes couldn’t help it. Victor looked to where a neat row of headstones stood at attention under the willow tree and next to Mary’s chair.
“Yes,” Mary cackled softly. “And pretty maids all in a row.”