There’s a story that’s been passed down by native Indians up near Preston about The Great Watcher.
It’s a revenant of sorts, a spirit which chases those who commit the vilest sins to their doom. It is said that, within those woods, The Great Watcher drives all murderers and thieves and arsons to madness. That anyone who dares commit a class of terror shall be punished, and that they will run, streaming with the tears of their own insanity and guilt, to those which they have victimized.
This all changed with Mary’s story.
For the first twenty-three years of her life, Mary was normal. There wasn’t really anything you could’ve gotten looking at her within those years that would make you think she was off. She was born to a lumberjack and a first-grade school teacher, both conservative, who had two other children besides her. She went to high school but not college. She had friends and worked at a restaurant near the lake. She seemed happy.
It was around August of ‘97 when she started dating Daniel Briggs. Daniel was the same age and worked at a movie store, while sculpting clay on the side. He lived with his mom, Mother Briggs, or ‘Mama Briggs’ as everyone in the family called her. They met at the movie store and bonded over some familiar films. They exchanged numbers and talked regularly for a few weeks before they made it all official.
Mother Briggs loved Mary. Mary was calm, but she had this passion for those she loved. Mother Briggs saw some of her younger self in the girl — an independent, enterprising woman who was still in the middle of figuring her life out but had this exuberance towards the self-discovery process. When Mary and Daniel moved in together at an apartment in downtown Preston, Mother Briggs knitted Mary a wool sweater as a housewarming gift. The girl wore it most winters after.
In ‘99, Mary got pregnant. Mama Briggs was ecstatic — she would call almost every day to see how the baby was doing. Daniel and Mary were happy, too — they were ready to settle down. Mary got a more stable, higher paying job as a librarian while Daniel began selling insurance. They had saved up enough to get a bigger apartment, complete with an extra room for their child, which they had decided to name Beau — after Mary’s now deceased father. Things were good, for a while.
In 2003, Mary began to change. It was subtle at first. A few days she wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, to the point that Daniel had to physically remove her. She also became more prone to fits of anger, seemingly for no good reason.
Her relationship with Beau changed as well. Many of her fits were directed at the boy. According to phone calls, Daniel claimed that they were often about small, seemingly innocuous behaviors of the child, such as sneezing during dinner or touching the windows of the car. It was clear that something was wrong with Mary, but Daniel didn’t know what.
The first person Daniel called about Mary’s behavior was not his mother, but rather his sibling — Samuel Briggs. Daniel claimed he was anxious about telling Mother Briggs due to how close she had become with Mary, and didn’t want to worry the now grandmother too much. In response, Samuel told his brother that Mary might be experiencing stress from her job, from parenting, or both. He implored him to discuss the issue with Mary personally, and to see what he could do to help. Daniel agreed.
This call was the last one Daniel Briggs would ever make.
Both Samuel and his mother found out the details later the next day. Early in the morning — around 4am — Mary had apparently gotten into the locked revolver box that Daniel had stashed away in case of emergencies. She walked into their bedroom and shot Daniel in the chest and head with all six bullets loaded into the chamber. She then picked up Beau from his crib, took the family SUV, and drove off.
The Briggs family felt what seemed like an endless torrent of sadness and anger. Sadness for the death of their family member, and anger over what had been done to him and his son. Within both Mama Briggs and Samuel there was an extinguishment for sympathy for Mary. All the times they had shared, the dinners they ate, the Christmases they celebrated. She was an enemy, regardless of how her state was now nor how she had acted before.
Word spread quickly in Preston. An outpouring of support came to the Briggs family from the community, and neighbors teamed together to create a lookout for the SUV and its license plate. The family of Mary, who still mostly lived in Preston, stayed starkly quiet by comparison. Neither Mother Briggs nor Samuel dared blame the family, for whom they had now known for many years, on their child’s horrendous and erratic behavior. The only message sent between the family of Daniel and the family of Mary during this period — the last message that would ever be exchanged between the two — was a call by Samuel to Mary’s sister, who asked her to please let them know if Mary had decided to come back home. The sister agreed.
But perhaps the most peculiar event that happened during this time was the candlelight vigil for Daniel Briggs, which occurred on the third day of Mary and Beau’s disappearance. The vigil contained many of Preston’s residents, and featured speeches from Samuel, Mother Briggs, and a few of Daniel’s friends. The vigil ended in a prayer. Not a prayer to God, but to The Great Watcher. You’d perhaps not understand this if you were not a resident of Preston, but it had been a relatively common occurrence since the town had been formed. The Prestonite version of the story is not quite the same as the natives’ vengeful revenant; rather, The Great Watcher serves as a distributor of justice, a finder of the lost, a spirit of making whole what had been shattered. Whenever there was a dog that had gone away from home, or a family member who was sick, or a bad storm which had caused some property damage, the citizens of Preston would pray to The Great Watcher for recompense. And usually, at least according to the tales, recompense would be given.
That night, people prayed for Daniel, and they prayed for his son Beau’s safe return. But perhaps more so — perhaps the prevailing idea in many’s minds, including that of Samuel and Mother Briggs — was that Mary receive the punishment she deserves for unjustly taking away a good family member and friend.
In unison, the townsfolk called out to the deep void. Approximately 36 hours later, something called back.
Samuel was the one the police had phoned first. They reported to him a crash that had occurred earlier that morning; a gray SUV had rammed itself through the bridge between the US-Canada border close to Preston, crashing into the lake below. As police arrived down unto the scene of the wreckage, they found that the license plate number matched that of Daniel and Mary’s car. Neither Mary nor Beau were found immediately on the scene.
For 13 hours that followed, Samuel, Mary, and a group of close friends and other concerned residents waited for any news from the Preston police. Those next 13 hours were the longest of any of their lives. Occasionally Samuel would slip away for a call, and Mother Briggs would get herself all worked up and think that they had found Beau alive. Then a couple of minutes later when Samuel came back in the room, she would stand up and ask him what happened. Samuel would say “It was nothing”. Mother Briggs would give a heavy sigh, one that everyone in the house could hear, before falling back down in the dining chair and twiddling her thumbs.
At the end of those 13 hours — around 10 o’clock that night — the sheriff of the town of Preston came knocking on the Briggs family door. He had news for Samuel and the mother that he felt was best said in person, and not over the phone.
Both Mary and Beau had been found. They were dead, and had been for hours, likely from the crash itself. In that time their bodies had floated out of the car, and landed on opposite ends of the lake’s shore.
When the sheriff finally told Mother Briggs that it was all over, that the boy was gone, she just sat at that dinner table and looked at him. She didn’t cry, but you could see the tears well in her eyes and shine off her iris like opals, with the whites around turning red. But nothing happened. She closed her eyes, and looked down at the table. “Alright, then,” she spoke. “That’s it, then.”
Some use the Mary Briggs case as an example of why The Great Watcher does not exist. They use it to explain that there is no higher moral justice keeping the structure of our lives intact. But I dare to disagree. I believe the Mary Briggs case is an example of The Great Watcher in action, doling out punishment not towards Mary, but towards the rest of us for allowing it all to happen.
The Old Testament taught us that God takes sacrifices. Perhaps he still does.
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