I have seen unspeakable things in my life but the sight of an Anglican minister wearing a Hawaiian shirt capped with a clerical collar really takes the cake. Well, that and the stonewashed, denim jeans. Yet, here he is in my office. I wonder if this young, open faced man with blue-green eyes will fit into my secluded convent of sisters who still don the traditional black and white habit.
‘Well, Father James,’ I say, ‘we are not like any other order. We spend a lot of our time baking altar-breads, making vestments and altering linen.’
‘That sounds like very Godly work Mother Abbess Mary Magdalene,’ Father says with a smile. He looks me up and down and his grin turns into a big, dumb smirk.
‘Thank you Father,’ I reply, ignoring him, although I have to admit that he’s not bad himself. ‘And now, Sister Mary Agnes will take you to your residence.’
As if on cue, my eldest sister appears. Time has not been kind to her wrinkled face. At eighty-nine, she is the oldest member of the Community. Yet, she is beloved by all and even though she owns nothing, she always seems to be giving things away. Her role in welcoming new members into the fold is greatly valued although we have not had any new novices or postulants for many years.
At Sunday Mass, Father James reads the story of Adam and Eve from the Book of Genesis. He preaches to the entire Community but his eyes are fixed on me. At twenty-nine, I am only a few years younger than him. How I became Abbess so young is beyond me.
Speaking of which, I am to meet two young postulants by the names of Sister Mary Robert and Sister Mary Catherine. They have both been seeking a cloistered order since joining a nunnery at eighteen. As always, after our meeting, Sister Mary Agnes will take the young women and show them to their cells. I just wonder if they know what they are getting themselves into.
The next morning begins as it usually does with the Blessed Sacrament before everyone begins their daily work. As I sit down in my office I hear a scream. I get up immediately and run outside to the garden.
I gasp at the sight in front of me. Sister Mary Robert has been nailed to a makeshift cross! Her face and hair is a mattered mess of blood and her night gown a bloodied mess from a gaping wound to her side. I look around. By now everyone else has arrived.
Everyone except for Father James.
I shake my head and ask one of the nuns to get the horse and cart ready to summons the police since we don’t have a telephone or e-mail. We don’t even have a car.
When the police finally arrive, they question everyone before searching the convent. Nothing is found. Not even a murder weapon.
The police instruct me to keep in touch and to let them know if I see anything suspicious. But I simply can’t believe that any of my sisters would do such a thing. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
I decide to keep a watch on our new parson. I even go as far as to share his bed.
‘I love you,’ he says afterwards.
‘We have sinned in thought, word and deed,’ I say.
‘I don’t care.’
‘We’ll burn in hell because of this!’
‘Fine. Let’s get married then. You’ll be saved through childbirth and I through endless toiling,’ he jokes before taking me in his arms and falling asleep.
Even though I am very tired, fatigue does not hit me. I stay awake in his arms until the dark sky turns into pale, amber rose. I release myself from his embrace, get up and get back into my habit. It is then I hear a scream in the distance. I yank my veil over my head and run out towards the garden.
It is then I see nailed to another makeshift cross, Sister Mary Catherine. Blood oozes from her hands, feet and side. Standing by the cross weeping is Sister Mary Paul. I put my arm around her before I ring the bell and all the sisters quickly make their way to the meeting room. Even Father James makes it this time.
The police are summoned and again everyone is questioned and the convent is searched but nothing is found. Having spent the entire previous night with our new pastor, I know it can’t be him. But I simply cannot believe that anyone in the community would be capable of committing murder!
I spend the night alone in my cell. Again, I cannot succumb to sleep. Instead, I read the story of Cain and Abel, the first ever murder. After a while, I turn off the light and lie back in my bed. Presently, I hear a creaking sound as my bedroom door is opened. I smile. I wonder if it is Father James coming back for more.
I quickly switch on my light and scream at the sight of Sister Mary Agnes holding a knife, rope and nails. I jump out of bed and grab my lamp. It burns in my hands. I throw it at her and she falls to the floor.
I run over to her and hold her down. ‘It was you? Why? Why did you do it?’
‘Because I hate you and I hate all the young postulants! I have been here for over sixty years and not once have I been nominated to be Abbess! And here you are, this bright, young thing and my superior! And when you resign it will be one of the other young ones who will replace you!’
Suddenly, I feel the presence of another. I look up and see Father James. Looks like he’d come back for more after all. ‘It was her?’ he demands.
‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘Isn’t it always the person you least expect?’