The wind whipped across the grounds of the church. The great doors slammed shut and their hinges strained. The winds rattled the stained glass windows and the lone nun knelt at the feet of jesus and with her head down she prayed for God to save her. Wind lashed the candles which fell from the candelabra, onto the alter coverings. The old woman covered her head. A stained glass window exploded. The fallen candles continued to burn and within seconds, the alter coverings had caught fire. With her forehead against the ground, she held her eyes tightly shut. The hellfire-like flames flashed behind her, pampered by the winds. The nun’s whimper was near silence and only a single tear ran down her face.
The air was cold in her room above the chapel. In her single bed, with only a few light blankets, her body trembled violently from the cold. Sister Mabel burst into life and tore at the air with desperation. For many minutes she sat bolt up right and stared into the darkness, her mind tormented by the reoccurring dream. Each night after she woke, she would reach back into her hazy mind and search methodically for the dream’s final moments. All of which dissipated the moment she opened her eyes and left behind only the fragments and sweat of a nightmare. Her feet landed softly on the cold wooden floor, which creaked as if she’d woken it from peaceful sleep.
“Oh hush, we do this every night” she grumbled as she crossed the small room. On the dresser at the other side there sat a bottle a chalice and a loaf of bread. She cut a slice from the bread and poured the dark liquid from the bottle into the chalice. The bread and wine had become a ritual and she was now able to preform in the dark. With great care, she balanced the bread on top of the chalice and smoothed out the blankets of her bed, then she sat and pulled them over her lap.
Mabel bit into her piece of bread her once young and imaginative mind slipped into monotony. If it weren’t for the dreams, she feared she’d had have died from boredom. There was a moment of great sadness as she lamented the life she had lost and chewed helplessly. She closed her eyes to the darkness with a long blink and when she opened them again, there were tears. The tears were new and she allowed them to roll down her cheek, as she finished the last of the wine and placed the chalice back onto the ground.
“A life of luxury, of decadence and of theatre, of Oscar Wilde, oh of Dorian! Of Shelly! Of Austen! Replaced by this, replaced by you silent walls and a dying congregation. And for what? The saving of my soul? It isn’t much likely!”
Rain came down on to the roof and as she finished her lecture to the walls, she huffed and stood from the bed.
“And even you! Rain, rain, rain! It always must rain.” She moved to the door of the room and took the pot from in front of it. Then, she walked back to her bed and placed the pot on half of her pillow, as the first few drops fell from the ceiling beams and echoed on the iron.
This night was different to the ones before and after she lay the pot on the pillow, instead of laying her head beside it, as she so often had done. She left the room and stood on the small balcony that over looked the thicket of pews. The church was small and from where she stood, only the faint out line of the near dozen pews could be made out through the filtered moonlight. The rain continued and as the clouds shifted across the sky, the sliver rays were lost to bondage. The nun made her way down to the alter, and she stood before it. The candelabra sat on the coverings, the candles needed replacing and she shuddered before she removed them and place them on the floor.
“Jesus Christ, my Lord and savior” the words were bitter on her tongue and she faltered. Each word stumbled and echoed in the empty halls and then, only for a moment, she considered a moment of defiance.
She began again “Jesus Christ, my Lord and savior” her resolve strong as she gave herself to him “I pray that for one night and one night only, I may be able to sleep uninterrupted by the demons of my mind. May you please, my Lord, purge me of such monsters. For I know I have sinned and every day I work toward your forgiveness.”
She rose from her knees and walked down the middle of the aisle. She allowed her hands to brush against the side of the pews. The moonlight was all but gone, and the sounds of her foot steps filled the church. Mabel was home in the darkness, she knew every corner of the small church and had no trouble finding her way back to her room.
As she walked she held her gaze toward the stained glass windows and said a prayer to the virgin. Since she had joined the church, the virgin Mary had been her solace and her light in the darkness more so than Jesus. There was hope and safety in the arms of the lord, but there was comfort and understanding in the arms of the Virgin Mary. The nun stepped back into her room and as she lay her head down beside the pot, she slowly began to resign herself to the feeling that she deserved the dreams, and the Lord, if and when he chose, would help her. But for now, she reasoned, she must be punished. And so she closed her eyes and listened to the dull thud of water on iron. Then allowed her mind to wander, unabated by her fears and desires or sacrifice to God, into the space the dreams originated, the torment and the horror.
Her breathing slowed to short shallow breaths. As the old woman lay with the blankets to her chin, she thought back twenty years, ten to when she entered the church, and ten for the years in the theatre and the years of her life for which she was most ashamed. Every night, for the past decade, she had experienced the same dream and every night, she woke at the same point, as the flames engulfed began to engulf her on her 65th birthday.
“What are you reading?”
“Gilbert’s Creatures of Impulse.”
“Yes, this is the third time, there is something about it, I feel as though I am connected to the ‘impulse’ if nothing else. Have you finished rehearsing?”
“I’m taking a break, then I have another two scenes to work through, read me some.”
“It won’t make sense, I’m part way through a page.”
“I don’t mind, just read a few lines from where you are.”
She smiled at her friend and her eyes shifted back to the beginning of the paragraph, then she began to read. Her voice filled the pit in front of the stage.
“Peter was getting hungry in his cock-loft, so he ventured to descend, squaring at nobody, with a great show of valour. His only hope was that he should not meet the Sergeant, and this hope was gratified, for the only person he met was Jenny, who had ventured down-stairs in order to consult her mother as to the best means of breaking the very compromising spell that the Old Lady had thrown over her. But the mother had gone out to consult the village schoolmaster, who was a celebrated witch-finder, and a great authority on all matters connected with the Powers of Darkness.”
“I am an actress, and while I know about the power and attraction of words, I am sorry to say that other than beauty, I don’t find much in Gilbert.”
“And that is why you are the actress and I am the critic!” She cried.
The nun opened her eyes and the pot was now an inch full with water. Every drop that fell splashed and the rain came down in relentless torrents.
“Oh Tabitha, if only you could see me now, in this withered old body and with only my own company.” The mindless statement shook her to the core as the memories of Tabitha’s scream replayed in her mind.
“Very well then, I must get back to the stage. Opening night is tomorrow, and we have a full rehearsal during the day.”
“How much longer do you plan on rehearsing.”
“As long as it takes.” Tabitha shot up an air of defiance and turned away from the sole member of the audience.
“The rest of the company left three hours ago!”
“And they will not be as good I! Now, quiet in the front please.”
As Tabitha rehearsed her soliloquy she moved across the stage with the majesty of a professional her personality in commanded that her role in ‘A woman of no importance’ shift and mould to her style and flair. She was one of very few women who could control the stage with such precision. She ended the performance to two sets of applause and perplexed, she met the eyes of her companion, who also turned her head to the back of the theatre.
In a black suit, with the jacket unbuttoned and a white shirt beneath, stood a man of six feet in height with thick black hair that curled as it fell down his face. His goatee was salted with grey hair and a light coat of stubble from his ears to his chin. He leant on a cane carved in the likeliness of a dragon with its head as the handle.
“Bravo, bravo a marvelous performance!” his accent was heavy, British Canadian.
“Thank you” Tabitha’s words carried themselves across the room and wrapped themselves around the head of the man.
He approached them slowly, and stood with an air of superiority at the stage while being the utmost gentleman. He extended his hand to Tabitha and she placed hers against his palm then cast a glance to her companion as the man kissed it.
For the second time that night Mabel sat bolt upright. This time, by her own doing, she attempted erase the thoughts from her mind, but could not succeeded. She whimpered, but her faith in the Lord held fast and she knew that for his forgiveness, she must be punished before she could transcend to heaven. He had provided her the strength to get this far and she knew He would help her to get further. She lay back down, the rain in the pot nearing the brim. Again she closed her eyes, this time Mabel clenched her fists.
“Come with us Tabitha, he’s rich, it’ll be fun, come with us.” She whispered into her friends ear as they stepped out of the theatre, her arm linked into the man’s. Tabitha tensed at the touch of her companion and with a moment of hesitation, she stepped back toward the theatre.
“One minute” Tabitha hesitated as she looked into the man’s eye what was his name?
“Darling, I just need to talk to Tabitha.” He smiled without a word, and continued to walk as Mabel unhooked her arm.
“What’s wrong? It’ll be better with three of us.” Mabel whispered.
“I don’t know, I don’t trust him.” Tabitha shifted her weight and took a step back toward the door.
“We don’t even know his name!”
“It doesn’t matter, he said it would be worth our while.”
“I’m an actress, not a whore and there is something I don’t trust about men in the WhiteChapel area, with all those murders going on and all. What do they call him? Jack?”
“Oh! Tabby! Come now, you’re being silly! I can assure you, he is not Jack The Ripper, you don’t need to say things like that, it’s unbecoming. Please.”
She stole a glance to the man standing beside the cab, and then back to Tabitha.
“Let’s go now.”
Tabitha tensed as her companion gripped her hand and pulled her reassuringly toward the man, who then followed them into the cab.
The drive was long and slow, Tabitha passed the time with her face turned to the streets, and the prostitutes that lined them. Gentlemen walked with ladies and no one was on their own in the peak of the WhiteChapel killings. She watched as a man staggered toward a woman and gasped as he drew a knife to her face. He then staggered drunken passed her and proceeded to plunge it into the back of a parked hansom. Mabel and Tabitha’s hansom turned a corner as the driver climbed down and approached the drunkard. All was lost to the night as their cab navigated the city streets, the way lit only by the two lanterns that swayed from the sides as the horse trod over the cobble.
Tabitha followed the other two as they staggered drunk on lust up the few steps to the house. The man took the key from his pocket and Mabel bit into his neck as he leaned forward and slipped it into the lock. Inside the house was a warm darkness. A fire blazed in the next room it’s light scattered off the walls, casting shadow. The man removed his jacket and the women removed their shoes, then he led them into the next room. He signalled to a chair in the corner of the room and Tabitha met his gaze, her eyes confused. With an authoritative nod he confirmed his previous motion and she did as she was told and sat in the chair. Mabel still hung on the man’s arm and he led her over to the divan, which sat on the side of the room opposite the arm chair and faced the fire.
He lay Mabel down on her back and kissed her hard. When he pulled away, her mouth followed his until he placed his hand on her chest and pushed her back down.
“Just one moment” he whispered and ran his fingers down her cheek.
With that, he turned his back on her and disappeared into the darkness of the house.
“Mabel, we should go, there is something wrong.”
Tabitha crept across the room, her whisper louder and more desperate than she had intended.
“Tabby, we don’t need to worry, isn’t he handsome?”
Mabel grinned from ear to ear and her voice was full of elation. Tabitha looked toward where he had vanished, and a flicker of light began to make its way down the staircase.
“He’s coming” Mabel sighed and threw her head back.
Tabitha darted across the room.
“You’re back.” She said seductively.
“I have returned.”
The candle light played theatrically on his face and strengthened his features.
He placed the lone candle onto the small table near the head of the divan. With his back to the fire he slowly removed his shirt, and Mabel, eager for her hands to be on his skin, ran her fingers across his stomach to the top of his trousers. She looked up at him and smiled, then began to slowly kiss his waist as she worked his trousers down to around his knees. He took her head in his hands and guided her mouth toward him. He could fell her hot breath, and she pushed her head up against his hands. He relented slightly and she bit gently into his stomach. His body tensed and he pushed her back down. She obliged.
Tabitha watched Mabel, hypnotised by her movements. Compelled by desire she rose from the arm chair and sauntered across the room. She ran her fingers through Mabel’s hair who looked up and her eyes smiled. Tabitha then stepped around the pair and wrapped her arms around the man’s torso, She drew her fingers across his chest and he placed his hand on top of hers as she traced down to his stomach. Tabitha moved her hands up to his shoulders and her fingers caressed his neck. The movement pricked his skin with goose pimples, the hairs stood firmly at attention. His body shook violently and he tensed his muscles against the feeling. Neither Tabitha nor Mabel noticed. She is the one, she is perfect. He thought to himself. He turned his head and kissed her, then drew back in a second. For all her beauty, she is revolting!. He grabbed a handful of Mabel’s hair and pulled her smiling to his lips. His mouth took her’s, then he pushed her onto the divan and followed her down.
“One more minute.” He mouthed as Tabitha’s fingers slid from his skin.
“Don’t leave” Mabel whispered.
“I’ll just be a minute, I know you can wait.”
He responded and kissed her forehead, then disappeared behind the light of the candle back up the stair.
“You did this! You should have stayed in your seat!” Mabel hissed, her voice guttural.
“You wanted me involved, I am not responsible.” Tabitha’s voice a loud whisper against Mabel’s feral growl.
Irate Mabel lashed at Tabitha, who stepped back and avoided the hit.
“Mabel, there is enough of him for us a both!”
“He. Is. Mine.” Her voice was stern.
“Mabel, please” Tabitha’s voice faltered “I have never you seen you this protective, this greedy. What is it about this one?” her voice penetrated the still air.
Without a word Mabel lashed again, her nails connected with the right side of Tabitha’s face and the force knocked her from her feet into the roaring flames of the fire.
Sweat dripped from Mabel’s forehead, as she sat hunched over on the edge of her bed in the small church. The old nun clasped her hands together in front of her face. Of all the nights she had relived her past mistakes none had been has traumatic as this one.
“Dear God,” she began, her impatience had begun to become her.
“I have suffered from my sins, and have relived the horrors of my past. Consumed, consumed, consumed I was by a demon! If you may pass your judgement on my greed prior, yes, for this I ask your forgiveness, I ask if it wasn’t the reason for your son Jesus Christ’s death, that our sins be removed.”
Mabel had her eyes tightly shut and her knuckles white, her arms had begun to shake,
“Lord, I beg for forgiveness, and that Tabitha might for give me for my actions. I was consumed, consumed, I pray you, I was consumed!”
She lifted her head and it sat awkwardly on her old, rusted neck. With her eyes still shut, she aimed them at the ceiling, then slowly opened them. As if she were to reveal herself to God and he were to see her deepest intentions through the shallow grey pupils. Behind her the dripping of the rain into the pot continued, but no longer echoed throughout the silence. Its water had spilled over the edges and she opened her mouth to curse, then stopped. With a quick flick of her head on the machine like neck, she was facing the ceiling. The drip had become bigger, and water now trailed along the wooden beams and dropped like a kamikaze pilot onto the bed sheets. Her eyes followed the drips to the large pool of water that had drenched sections of the mattress.
It were as if during the last few hours all the winter rain had come at once. Mabel stood by the window and watched it run down the glass. She unhooked the latch, and cast the contents of the pot onto the street below. Once she returned to her bed, she replaced the pot on the pillow and lay her head beside it. The droplets were dulled as they hit the iron, then splashed as they hit water and again the pot slowly began to fill.
“God, I know longer know if you are listening” each word slashed by the driving rain.
“There are things I have not told you. While I have told you, that I was consumed, by a demon that was other than my sin, there was another force, a much more compelling force. I acknowledge now that you as the creator of all that is good, see and know all. Yet, I feel as though I must confess more to you.”
Mabel stopped talking and pulled the sheets up around her neck. The rain had begun to ease and the drip, while steady, was far less frequent. Her old body shook and yet, she pulled herself from the bed’s edge and moved into the centre. The water was cold on her skin and the pressure on the mattress caused the water to ooze to the surface. She shivered as she lay, the sheets far more wet than she had anticipated.
“You know already that I was consumed by a demon. What I haven’t confessed is that, I have hurt before. I have allowed my greed to control my every movement, was the motivator of my life, to gain and to gain and to gain. Tabitha, and the fire, was a catalyst, she deserved it!” The nun’s voice turned feral and hot streams erupted from her tear ducts.
“Please, forgive me, forgive me. You have rid me of my greed, my anger, my lust. Now that I am almost saved, but if I confess this, then I will be saved, it will be the completion of my rebirth as a loving Christian. I have hurt before. In fact, I had hurt Tabitha before, you could say, I tormented her.” The nun shuddered as the trailed off. Her spirit felt it was though autonomous and she watched herself speak every thought she had contained, every secret.
“I must tell you” the old woman continued, her nerves dominating her speech patterns. “I have done terrible things to Tabitha. “There was another lover, a lady, and she was not there on the night of the fire, but another time. I fought Tabitha over her, and I,I tried to cut her. Like Jack does. The Ripper Jack, I wanted her to go away.”
The rain had stopped and the ceiling beam was soaked. Water dripped and landed into the pot. And still the pot filled. Mabel lay. In silence. Her breath timid. Her eyes grey. Her stare blank. She waited. And Waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. The first rays of the sun filtered through the windows and still Mabel lay. Her communication from God had not arrived. In a sodden night gown, she rose from her bed and took the pot to the window.
She stood for a while before she opened it. The priest had arrived, he was a handsome man and he was a decade younger than Mabel herself. She had admired him since she joined his church, on the outskirts of WhiteChapel. He turned his key in the lock in the front doors and pushed it open, then closed it behind him. A few minutes passed and she heard a knock at the door. She watched as it opened for the alter boy, whom stood holding a package. The priest let him into the church and he disappeared. Mabel opened her window and emptied the pot of water onto the pathway below her, just to the right of where the alter boy had been.
A moment later, there was a knock on the door.
“Good morning sister.”
“Good morning father, God bless you.”
“Same to you, how did you sleep are the dreams still occurring?”
“Father.” Mabel walked to the window and closed it, she then moved toward the bread on the table.
“They are getting worse, last night was particularly bad. I did not sleep.”
“It is all part of God’s plan. Did you say your prayers?”
“Yes, I spent the night praying.”
“Oh, you did? Please, sit”. The priest sat on the dry corner of the bed and motioned for Mabel to sit beside him.
“What did you tell him?” the priest continued.
“I told him everything father, I know that he sees and knows all. I still felt as though it was important that I tell him, myself.”
“Yes, Mabel, what you have done takes courage. And I don’t doubt that it was that kind of courage that the Lord has been waiting for. And you asked for his forgiveness?”
“I did father, but..”
“Continue Mabel, it’s ok.”
“I told him about the demons, about my being cursed, possessed, consumed by the children of Satan.”
“Oh dearest Mabel, the children of Satan are in all our thoughts, they tempt us with the sins of the flesh. What you have done, cannot be blamed on the children of the Devil. They may have tempted you, but the will and strength of God is present in all of us. It is what guides us through the darkness of temptation. You must realise your actions for God to be able to forgive you. And you must also seek forgiveness in yourself, then you can ask for it from those you have hurt.”
“I do not understand. What is that I must forgive myself for?”
“Deep inside you, in side your spirit, you know that you feel guilty for lying to the Lord. Remember, the Lord, our God, sees everything. He sees the evil and goodness in our hearts and he sees how we battle temptation. It isn’t until you can forgive yourself for the sin of lying, that you can ask for forgiveness from the Lord. Do you understand?”
“Yes, thank you father.”
“And you’ll be attending the service.”
“I will be.”
The day passed with shades of grey that illuminated the monotony. Mabel attended the service and her thoughts collided like particles in a galaxy. She searched deep within her soul as she walked the gardens of the church after the service. Even the sky was grey, as the headstones of the cemetery acted as other worldly warning signs for the boredom that followed life as it flashed into death, then death as it was buried soon to be forgotten. Mabel sat with the headstones, and a mist coat about her shoulders that turned into a light drizzle of rain and dampened her skin. The on set of winter had lifted her spirits, it would soon mean Christmas, and with that, Christmas service.
It was still not cold enough for it to begin snowing when she left the dead to their holes. The inside of the church was eerie, the last rays of sunlight scattered on the floor and dwelt there in small fading pools. As Mabel reached her bedroom, she had still not found forgiveness within herself. She had begun to question if she could forgive herself for lying to herself or if she would only trick herself again. The matter had plagued her throughout the day, and she had considered fooling herself again.
As Mabel lay in her bed, it became abundantly clear, that the day was not one of forgiveness, and she had received no sign from God. Mabel placed the pot on the pillow and changed into her night gown. There was a moment of recognition. The recognition of a new habit forming, the placement of the pot on the pillow, to add to her night time ritual. The old woman got onto her knees and placed her elbows on the mattress, with her hands clasped hard before her.
And so, tonight will begin like every night, therefore I will prayer for something new.
I am not asking for your forgiveness, but my Lord, for your mercy. May I not dream tonight of the fire in the church, and may I not revisit my sins for I have done that, and now must seek forgiveness within myself. Tomorrow I will begin my prayers anew, and trust that I will find my way guided by your light in the darkest places.
Please god, may I sleep for only one night.
With that Mabel climbed into bed and she pulled the three thin blankets up to her neck. For many minutes she lay, tired yet too terrified to close her eyes. Her mind had begun pulsing with theories on the dream’s meaning. Am I to burn in hell for all I have done? She tossed and turned and the thought tormented her. As the darkness grew heavier and the pot rhythmically filled, she gave herself to the Lord it is in his hands now she thought as she moved into the fetal position and pulled her legs into her chest.