Longform

Myths Over Miami

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"Whenever you ask children where they first heard one of their myths, you get answers that are impossible clues: 'A friend's friend read it in a paper; a third cousin told me,'" says Ellis, an authority on children's folklore, particularly that concerning the supernatural. As president of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research, he's become an expert on polygenesis. "When a child says he got the story from the spirit world, as homeless children do, you've hit the ultimate non sequitur."

Folklorists have not discovered a detailed explanation for Bloody Mary's ravenous hatred of children, or her true identity. Today, however, shelter children say they've discovered her secret mission, as well as her true name. All of the secret stories about her enclose hints.

In Chicago shelters, children tell of her role in the death of eleven-year-old Robert Sandifer, who shot an innocent fourteen-year-old schoolgirl he mistook for an enemy. Cops combed the streets, shaking down gangbangers. In desperation Sandifer's gang turned to the one who could save them from justice. They sat in a dark room before a mirror and chanted, "Bloody Mary." The wall glowed like flames. A female demon weeping black tears appeared. Without speaking, she communicated a strategy.

That night, realizing his gang was going to kill him, Sandifer ran through his neighborhood, knocking on doors. "Like baby Jesus in Bethlehem -- except he was bad," explained an eleven-year-old at a Chicago homeless shelter. The next morning police found Sandifer's body, shot through the head, in a tunnel. According to the eleven-year-old, the boy was "lying on a bed of broken glass."

Bloody Mary commands legions. She can insinuate herself into the heart of whomever children trust most: a parent or a best friend. Miami shelter children say they learned about that from television. Salvation Army shelters offer parlors with couches, magazines, and a television. While their mothers play cards and do each other's hair, the children carefully study the TV news. They know how four-year-old Kendia Lockhart died in North Dade, allegedly beaten to death and burned by her father. Bloody Mary was hunting Kendia, shelter children agree. "Gangsters say that God stories are like Chinese fairy tales," observes twelve-year-old Deion at a downtown Miami Salvation Army shelter. "But even gangs think Bloody Mary is real."

This is the secret story shelter children will tell only in hushed voices, for it reveals Bloody Mary's mystery: God's final days before his disappearance were a waking dream. There were so many crises on Earth that he never slept. Angels reported rumors of Bloody Mary's pact with Satan: She had killed her own child and had made a secret vow to kill all human children. All night God listened as frantic prayers bombarded him. Images of earthly lives flowed across his palace wall like shadows while he heard gunfire, music, laughing, crying from all over Earth. And then one night Bloody Mary roared over the walls of Heaven with an army from Hell. God didn't just flee from the demons, he went crazy with grief over who led them. Bloody Mary, some homeless children say the spirits have told them, was Jesus Christ's mother.

"No one believe us! But it's true! It's true!" cries Andre at the Salvation Army shelter on NW 38th Street. "It mean there's no one left in the sky watching us but demons." His friends sitting on the shelter patio chime in with Bloody Mary sightings: She flew shrieking over Charles Drew Elementary School. She stalks through Little Haiti, invisible to police cars. "I know a boy who learned to sleep with his eyes open, but she burned through a shelter wall to get him!" a seven-year-old boy says. "When the people found him, he was all red with blood. Don't matter if you're good, don't matter if you're smart. You got to be careful! If she see you, she can hunt you forever. She's in Miami! And she knows our face.

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Lynda Edwards