Sister Bernadette's Reverse Exorcisms

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: Write a story starring an octogenarian who’s more than meets the eye.... view prompt

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Fantasy

Sister Bernadette was not particularly brave or strong like a bear, despite her namesake. She was, however, clever like a fox, which served her much better in a place where power marked you as prey worse than any weakness ever could. 


She flexed her stiff hands around the polished wooden handles of her armchair, considering when the right time was to make her move. Her back was straight and her gaze steady, the very picture of poise and grace. Inside, however, she trembled like a leaf clinging to a branch in a thunderstorm. 


“Can you say that again, but slower?” She cocked her head at the creature before her, tucking a wisp of gray hair back underneath her habit. 


The creature’s form seemed to undulate and shift, never quite settling into a shape that the human eye could comfortably grasp. Its own bulbous eyes lacked traditional lids, instead periodically rolling back to be replaced by a variety of new pupils of all shapes and sizes. It was utterly monolithic in the small library, slopping out of its armchair in undulating appendages that simultaneously seemed solid and vapor. The overall effect was altogether totally at odds with the cozy interior of soft pillows spilling over overstuffed chairs and well-loved, tiny tchotchkes filling every square inch of space that didn’t hold books. 


But despite its very unusual and inhuman form, the creature’s irritation was palpable. 


“Human speech is tiresome,” it grumbled, its voice a growling sound like cogs striking against each other in an aged machine. “I have told you thrice what I am searching for.”


The unlikely companions sat across from each other in a cloistered library filled with whispering books and quiet nooks. An old fireplace sat between them, a silent but inquisitive third party to their conversation. It hissed and sputtered merrily, sending out puffs of soot that almost seemed like smoke signals.


Tendrils of ivy, dotted with the last blushing blooms of summer, crept through the window frames. The leaves rustled softly, their verdant green tinged with the first hints of autumn gold. Sister Bernadette held a finger to her lips in a silent shushing gesture.


“Just once more, dear, I want to make sure I’ve got it down. Usually, I read lips, but unfortunately, you don’t have any.” A black curl of smoke twisted around her ankle, and she subtly toed it away, pulling her skirts to cover it.


Flames flickered and danced in the fireplace between them, casting long shadows throughout the library. Though it was technically still summer, a cool northern wind had blown in a reminder that fall was on its way. Or perhaps, it was another symptom of this creature finding its way to her doorstep. The cool breeze mingled with the fragrance of old parchment, wax candles, and a hint of wild berries that grew in the courtyard.


“I. Need. A. Pool. Of. Endless. Moonlight.”


“A pool of endless moonlight,” Sister Bernadette repeated slowly. “And where, dear creature, would one find such a thing in this mortal realm?”


“I was told you would know.” The creature snapped at her. “I was told to come to you.” It slithered out of its seat in agitation, reforming in an even more menacing form. The books seemed to whisper to one another in the stillness of the room, their covers pulsating with hues of amethyst, sapphire, and deep azure. A few books loosed themselves from the shelves and dropped to the floor, the entire room seeming to mirror the creature’s uneasiness. One of the books hopped a few steps before being stilled by a stern look from Sister Bernadette.


“What was that? Did you hear that?” The creature barked. 


Despite its bluster, the Sister’s discerning gaze caught a desperation that was almost pitiable in its visage. 


“Very well,” Sister Bernadette said calmly, the gears of her mind turning. She hid a smile through a sip of tea. “Let’s assume that such a pool exists or can be created. What do you intend to do with it?”


“That is not your concern.” The creature huffed.


“Ah, but it must be my concern,” Sister Bernadette replied, setting her teacup down on the matching saucer with a gentle clink. Her eyes twinkled above rosy wrinkled cheeks. “I cannot help you find something without knowing its purpose. Knowledge is a sword, dear creature, and I must know to what end it will be wielded.”


The creature’s form writhed and shifted, its unease growing. Its eyes, now like bottomless pits, seemed to search the room, perhaps looking for an escape or a weakness in the Sister’s resolve.


“I... I am lost,” it finally admitted, its voice softer, like the distant rumbling of thunder. “I have heard that the pool of endless moonlight is a gateway to my home. I am trapped in your world. Time runs differently here, and with every passing moment, I become less... less myself.”


Sister Bernadette’s stern expression softened, and she reached out, her hand hovering just above the ever-changing surface of the creature. “I see your suffering,” she said, her voice filled with compassion. “But know that meddling with such cosmic forces requires caution, understanding. There are paths that should not be tread, doors that should not be opened. But if your cause is just, I will help you find your way.”


The creature seemed to relax, its form settling into something less chaotic. The room’s temperature, which had dropped noticeably during their conversation, began to warm again. Sister Bernadette rubbed her hands together in front of the flames, which stretched up to meet them. She rolled up the sleeves of her habit so they wouldn’t get singed.


“And what will the trade be?”


The creature’s eyes, now shimmering with a thousand colors, seemed to widen momentarily. Its form shifted, becoming more solid and more focused. The abstract nature of its body condensed into something resembling a face, though more like one you imagined while gazing at storm clouds.


“The trade?” It asked, a hint of uncertainty in its tone.


“Yes, the trade,” Sister Bernadette repeated, her eyes never leaving the creature. “Nothing comes without a price. There’s always a balance to be struck. You want my help, my knowledge. What will you offer in return? What will be our bargain?”


The room grew still, the only sound the crackling of the fireplace and the distant echo of the wind howling outside. Sister Bernadette could feel the weight of the question.


“I can offer knowledge,” the creature said finally, its voice deep and resonating, like the sound of a gong. “Knowledge beyond your world, beyond your understanding. Secrets of the cosmos, the nature of existence, the fabric of reality itself.”


Sister Bernadette’s voice carried a tone of both amusement and wisdom as she continued, “Knowledge I have sought, and knowledge I have found. What you offer is a path I have already trodden.”


“Then what do you seek, wise Sister?” it asked, its voice tinged with grudging respect and no small amount of desperation. “What can I offer that would tempt you to aid me?”


“Deliver us not into temptation!” The Sister laughed at her joke, coughing dryly, and then stopped, her face growing cunning. She crossed her legs, almost knocking down the walking stick that lay propped against the side of the chair. 


“Did you not have an idea of what my price would be from those who sent you to this place?” She settled herself, steeling against the eagerness that threatened to overtake her calm façade. 


The creature hesitated, choosing its words carefully. “They said you were wise, learned beyond most in your world. They said you could guide me, assist me. But they did not mention a price.”


“Ah, the folly of those who do not understand the ways of humans.” Sister Bernadette’s voice was tinged with understanding and a hint of mischief. “In our world, dear creature, nothing of value comes without cost. Everything must be earned, traded, or paid for.”


“Not taken?” The creature’s tone was a growl of warning. Tendrils erupted from it with a life of their own, writhing and twisting, their tips sharpened like the claws of some predatory bird. Sister Bernadette, who was not notably brave, swallowed deeply and blinked, trying to maintain her placid demeanor.


“What would you take?” Sister Bernadette asked quietly. The creature seemed to slump.


“So what is the cost, then?”


“Let us first see if I have what you need.” She held her walking stick and lifted herself from her chair with a groan of effort.


Together, they moved through the library, the creature’s form now calm, its eyes fixed on the elderly nun with a mixture of curiosity and anxiety. Unbeknownst to them both, a tendril of smoke followed, twirling closely behind Sister Bernadette’s legs, and a few escaped pages of books flapped quietly in the air above them.


A small, unassuming door stood at the far end of the library, hidden behind ancient tapestries and dusty shelves. Sister Bernadette unlocked it, revealing a narrow closet filled with overstuffed shelves. Among the objects lay a simple bowl cast in a dark wood, carved with a moon at the bottom. It was unassuming, yet it caught the creature’s eyes, and it felt a pull, a connection, a recognition.


“This,” Sister Bernadette said, her voice soft, her eyes fixed on the bowl, “is what you seek. A gateway, a connection to your home. Gaze into it, and you will see how to get there.” She lifted the bowl with some difficulty, trying not to spill the water within, and placed it on a table in front of one of the library’s vaulted stained glass windows.


“So it was as easy as that.” The creature said, punctuating its sentence with a disgruntled sigh. With four or so of its eyes, it peeked over the brim.


“But I only see my reflection in this room.”


“Ah.” Was all that Sister Bernadette said.


The creature’s eyes were transfixed on the bowl.


“So perhaps, then, this might be your home.” Sister Bernadette's voice was barely audible. The creature tore its eyes away from the moon carving, looking at the nun.


“What do you mean?” The creature's tone was a surprised hiss.


“Perhaps, instead of trying to claw your way through the cosmos and back to where you came, you might stay here. With me.” A tiny two-page book excerpt landed on Sister Bernadette's shoulder, flapping its pages like butterfly wings. “With us.” Smoke twirled around her head, tugging free a few gray curls from her cowl that she hastily tucked back in.


“This nunnery is filled with creatures like you. Your brethren grow our garden, stoke our fires, and keep this place running.” She continued, lovingly tapping the pages on her shoulder. The creatures’ many eyes seemed to widen.


“You said you were changing!” Sister Bernadette rushed on. “Perhaps it is not because you have lost connection with your home. Perhaps, you have come to like this world. Or even love it.” The creature’s aura was skeptical, dark appendages stretching wider as it seemed to prepare to argue. Sister Bernadette swallowed again, looking for her voice.


“Perhaps…Perhaps there is something else you feel a connection to in this room?” The creature paused. 


“Other than the pool…” It trailed off, its eyes scanning the room in every direction at once. Suddenly they stopped, all pointing towards the same thing. 


Sister Bernadette followed the creature’s multifaceted gaze, her eyes twinkling with a blend of compassion and mischief. “I sense a longing within you, creature. A hunger that can’t be sated merely by returning to where you came from. There’s something else, something in this world that calls to you.”


The creature’s countless eyes, now fixed on an object propped in the corner of the room, began to shimmer with various shades of excitement and curiosity. Its form began to undulate more rapidly as if resonating with something unknown.


“That thing,” it whispered, its voice a blend of awe and fascination, “what is it? I feel it calling to me. It’s... It’s hungry, like me.”


“That is something quite special, dear creature. An object that might indeed mirror your nature.”


The creature moved closer, its form stretching toward the silvery object. The reflection in the chrome seemed to dance and twist, echoing the creature’s fluid movement.


“It’s just like me,” It said, its voice trembling with emotion. “It wants to consume, to devour. It’s never satisfied.”


“The choice, of course, is up to you.” The creature considered Sister Bernadette, the wooden bowl, and the prize that so tempted it. 


There was the sound of a pop! And then a dull roar.


A moment later, a soft shuffle of footsteps sounded, and a short figure dressed in a black habit just like Sister Bernadette’s but adorned with a simple rope belt ambled into the room. Her eyes were sharp and snapping as she leaned against the armchair, somewhat breathless with the effort of crossing the expanse of the rug-covered wooden floor.


“Well, well, well. Who is my vacuum now, Sister?” The vacuum buzzed and flickered its lights in response, cycling through the buttons in a way not unlike its many eyes once worked. 


Sister Bernadette walked back to the wooden bowl on the table, lifting it to pull off the circular mirror taped to the bottom. She flicked her hand to dry off the water droplets and set the mirror on the sill to dry. She would need it later when she brushed her hair before bed. 


“Greetings, Sister Theodora. This would be the Demon Bro…Broililzthgigh. Broililzgurgh. Hmm… Perhaps Broil for short.” Sister Theodora chuckled, and Sister Bernadette found herself laughing along with her.


“Alright then. Come now, Broil, let us go forth and bring tidings of tidiness.”


And with a sound that was half growl and half purr, the once-terrifying demon, now a gleaming, proudly refurbished vacuum named Broil, set forth with its new mistress, ready to devour the dust of the world.


Sister Bernadette walked to the windowsill and sipped her now-cold tea, looking out on the garden below beyond the “pool of endless moonlight.” The window was open to let in the air, and outside, the garden was now becoming bathed in real moonlight. The stars seemed to stretch on forever in the dusky sky. A sprig of ivy wrapped itself around her wrist like a bracelet. 


A mop had marched itself into the room to clean up the small pool of water left by her hands on the floor. It bumped back and forth between the wall and the nearest rug.


“Are you happy here?” Sister Bernadette asked.


The mop twirled in response, tiny droplets of water hitting her skirts and sizzling onto the fire, which made a snapping sound of irritation. 


Sister Bernadette considered the spinning mop. It couldn’t do much else, to be fair. But it certainly seemed peppy enough. 


She shrugged her shoulders, picked up her walking stick, and made her way to the hallway to call for the teapot. It always took a while for it to get up the stairs.


August 18, 2023 11:05

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2 comments

Hana Lang
02:29 Aug 24, 2023

This story was so much fun to read! I really enjoyed the pacing and the world building, and in particular how all the details you included (for example, the whispering books! at first it seemed like a lovely atmospheric detail, but then a couple sentences later it started to sink in that no, they’re actually sentient) slowly unveiled the details of the world you created. Thank you for sharing!

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Emilie Ocean
16:17 Aug 21, 2023

I loved Sister Bernadette's Reverse Exorcisms! Your world-building is on point and I reveled in the suspense. Sister Bernadette is a bad-ass haha

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