Her first three months at the Morning Light Monastery were worse than Questa had ever imagined. It was not that she was physically mistreated but the psychological pressures and sheer loneliness left her crying to sleep in her cubical almost every night. There was no understanding, no sympathy and no friends. The other postulant nuns seldom spoke to her and anyway she had nothing in common with them for they had entered the monastery voluntarily and were as fanatical as the nuns themselves.

She had to live by chastity and remorsefulness so all personal items were banned. Her clothes were issued by the monastery and consisted of two light blue gowns, two sets of coarse underwear, one cardigan; ankle socks sandals and horrible wimple to cover her hair. She was expected to wash her own clothes everyday and all showers were under cold water with one bar of soap, a facecloth and a towel issued once a week. Pads but not tampons were available if needed, along with a hairbrush, comb and two white handkerchiefs.

At night after evening prayers, the door at the end of the corridor was locked and she was expected to meditate in her cubical that had no door or even a curtain.

She awoke in the middle of yet another night and turned on the small sidelight. It was impossible to tell what the time was for all watches and clocks were banned. She felt terrible with pains in her stomach and diarrhoea. Clutching her coarse nightgown that felt as if it was made of sacking and didn’t look much better, she staggered along the dimly lit corridor and into the bathroom. Like her cubical it had no doors, just four alcoves, two for toilets and two showers, one basin and a bucket for rubbish. Not even a mirror was provided for vanity was one of many sins that needed to be erased from her body,

She felt a little better after she used the facilities, splashed cold water over her face and made her way back. She climbed back on the slab that served as a bed and was about to switch off the light when she saw a sort of vibration across the cubical.

“Who is it?” she whispered.

A woman stood there, dressed in casual clothes of a top and jeans that showed she wasn’t a nun. She had short blonde hair and a slight smile across her face.

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman said. “My name is Zorell and I have come here to guide you.”

“Guide me?” Questa felt her heart flutter but she wasn’t really scared. That was before she saw the woman touch the wall and her hand went right through the bricks.

“Oops,” Zorell muttered. “I’m not used to being in physical form.”

“Are you a guardian spirit?” Spending three months in the monastery made Questa almost believe that the apparition was one that the nuns lectured about. But no! Their sermons were all about being sinful and being punished for everything from vanity to sinful desires. If a spirit did arrive it would be to punish her for thinking about Landon every night but this Zorell seemed to be sympathetic.

“No. I am perhaps a guiding spirit, nothing sinister.”

“So why are you here?”

“I will help you escape from this monastery and meet Landon.” Zorell reached out and touched the slate. Again her hand went right through it. “As you can see I cannot hold or touch anything. You can see me, hear my voice and hold a conversation but I am not really here. Think of me as a television announcer without the television. Understand?”

Questa didn’t really but nodded and listened as Zorell told her what they were about to do.

*

Questa was terrified and shaking when, dressed in her day clothes except for the horrible wimple that nuns always wore to cover their hair, she walked along the corridor.  Without Zorell who was beside her she would never have been brave enough to go through with the plan.

She could hear the other nuns snoring or, in one case, moaning in their cubicles. None came out or noticed her. On the right just before the locked door was another interior door, the only one in the entire dormitory. This was the Prioress Lynette’s bedroom and a place banned to everyone under threat of the water treatment. Questa had no idea what this punishment was but the only nun who received it was ill for weeks.

“Go in Questa,” Zorell whispered. “The keys to the door are sitting on a small table beside her bed. I’ve already checked that out but as you know, I can’t hold touch myself. Just walk in and take them.”

A small electric light lit up the corridor just outside the room and Questa feared that the light from it would awaken the prioress when she opened the door. She bit on her bottom lip, grabbed the round knob and turned. The door swung open with a tiny squeak that was like a banshee from hell in her ears. However, it remained dark inside and a faint snoring sound reassured her. She stepped forward and  moved straight ahead towards the table that she could see beside a gigantic double bed where the prioress’s sleeping form lay.

Two steps later, for a bell rang and the bedroom lights came on. Questa froze!

Prioress Lynette woke up, flung her blankets aside and swung her legs to the floor. She wiped sleep from her eyes and glared straight into Questa’s eyes.

“You!” she almost screamed. Her eyes turned from surprise to anger as she stood up. “You dare to come into my bedroom?”

Questa swung around but Zorell had gone! She broke out in sweat of sheer terror, her hands shook and her throat seemed to dry so quickly she gave a wheezing cough and forced herself to stand still. “I’m sorry, Prioress Lynette,” she muttered. “I must have been walking in my sleep.”

“In your habit, Girl?” The woman’s voice was like steel. “I knew you were evil from the day you arrived. You’ll pay for this,” she sneered. “We don’t usually need to use physical punishment for discipline but by the time I’ve finished with you …” She reached out to where a small cane lay beside the key ring. However, the woman’s sadistic expression change to that of horror as her eyes stared beyond Questa. “Who are you?” she whispered with a quiver in her voice.

Questa turned and realised Zorell was back but she appeared different for the open door behind her could be seen through her body. Her companion was almost transparent!

“I am your worse nightmare,” Zorell said in a soft but chilling voice. “I know everything about you, underling. Everything!”

Zorell raised her arm and even Questa felt afraid. However, she realised it was an act and glanced back at the prioress. The woman looked petrified as she clasped the diamond shaped symbol at the  base of her necklace and sank to her knees.

“Please,” Prioress Lynette begged. “I never realised this girl was merely guiding you to my room Great Angel of Woden. Everything I said to her was in haste.” She attempted to laugh but the sound came out as a trembling squawk. “Child Questa here is well on her way back to the guided light and within a month will be blessed with the chance to take her full vows. I have every faith in her.”

“You lie!” Zorell whispered. “You are a vindictive masochistic woman who is about to answer for you own misdemeanours.”

“Please!’ Lynette was now bent right forward almost touching the floor with her chin as terrified eyes looked up. “I know my body is weak but…”

“Get up!” Zorell ordered. “Climb back in your bed and say not one more word. You have mistreated Questa and I am removing her from this monastery. Be relieved that I am not really interested in you at the moment.” She raised her  right arm with fingers spread like a claw.  “I am watching over you, though and if your attitude does not improve I shall return. Understand?”

“Yes, Great Angel.” The woman stood, crawled back into the bed and pulled the sheets up to her neck. Her eyes were staring  out in dread and white fingers trembled around the sheet.

Questa reached forward, snatched the keys and walked to the door. If the prioress realised  Zorell wasn’t really there everything could still be lost. She reached the corridor, ran to the outer door and inserted the largest key. Damn, it didn’t fit! Neither did the second or third key. With rising despair she wiggled the fourth one in and turned it. There was a distinct clink and she pushed the door open. The main corridor out the door was lit by three dull lights dangling from the ceiling. It led to the kitchen, chapel and other rooms. At the far end was the entrance foyer and front door, where she headed.

Everything was over within two minutes. The largest key fitted the  main door, she was outside and turned to see a smiling Zorell beside her.

“Landon is waiting down at the wharf. Just relax and walk, don’t run. There are several policemen around but they’re used to party patrons returning home. If you’re stopped, act slightly drunk. Any young women out at this hour would be in that condition.”

They walked along in silence for a few moments before Questa turned to Zorell. “How did you know Prioress Lynette had done something in her life that she didn’t want anyone to know about?”

Zorell laughed. “I didn’t but bullies like her usually have a reason that made them that way.”

Ebook coming in August at our major retailers. $US2.99

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About Ross

Ross Richdale is a New Zealand author of over 40 novels, both science fiction and contemporary that are sold as ebooks at all the major outlets.

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