Friday, June 13, 2008

Short Story: Mother Superior Jumps the Gun

My Dear Reader,

I'm generally awful at coming up with titles, but this time the title came first, and it was so good that I wrote a story around it. It deals with Catholicism, something I actually know very little about, and though I tried to do my homework, I won't be surprised if it turns out that I got something wrong. I hope you enjoy it, regardless. Kudos if you can get the reference.

“Mother Superior Jumps the Gun”

“Just take it, Helena. I won’t be able to sleep tonight unless I’m sure you and the other sisters are safe.”

“What makes you think that the abbey is any safer with an armed seventy-year-old?”

“I’m serious, Helena.” His eyes grew wide and his large, bare forehead wrinkled. “Take it.”

“I’ve never handled one of these before. I’m going to end up hurting someone.” Mother Abbess Helena held the gun between her index finger and thumb and away from her body as if it carried the plague. “I’m a nun, John. I’m not going to go around shooting people.”

“You don’t have to; that’s the great thing about guns,” Brother John said, though Mother Helena was very certain that there was no such thing. “You don’t ever have to use it. You don’t even have to keep it loaded. You just have to put on a show. Anyone in their right mind who sees another human being with a gun has to believe that the gun is loaded and that the owner knows how to wield it. They’ll be too scared to harm you.”

“Even if that human being happens to be a walking skeleton that wears a habit?” She shook her head and tried to hand the gun back to him. “No one will think that a person like me will actually shoot someone. And then he’ll just get angry and be more violent than he has to be, or worse, I’ll make a mistake and I actually will shoot him. There’s just nothing good about this.”

“There’s also nothing good about that monster being out there and on the loose. Trust me, Helena. If that guy shows up, you’ll be glad to have that little piece of machinery to back you up.” Brother John looked up through his large-rimmed glasses at the large ceiling that towered above them and grew quiet for a moment. It was dark outside, and the chapel stood majestically as if it guarded its inhabitants from the darkness of the world. Brother John looked Mother Helena squarely in the eyes. “You need to protect this place, and the people who live here. You have to.”

Before she could respond, Brother John raised a hand to tell her that there would be no further discussion on the matter, then turned and slowly walked away. She watched him go, feeling the weight of the steel in her hands as she wondered how much pain his arthritic knees were giving him. John was a silly man; he had always been. She should know, after all, they had played together as children in that very same abbey many years ago. Things were different then, but not John. Most people grew older and wiser, but John just grew bigger, having been born wise beyond his years. He had only recently closed the gap between his wisdom and his age, but he still thought with his heart instead of his head, and he still acted first and consulted guidelines later. No one else would insist on giving a gun to an abbess; no one who knew what taking orders meant would even think of such a thing. But John had. He had probably been spending too much time reading the news and was overly concerned. It was true, though. That monster was out there, but handing her a gun? That was why he would never become an abbot, despite his seniority. Abbots had to be an embodiment of strict obedience; John liked even the smallest sliver of elbowroom. He was impossible.

As she stood in the chapel and stared at the door that Brother John had exited, the pectoral cross that dangled below her shoulders felt heavy on her neck, as if it was trying to pull her attention to the stone floor below her. She sat down on a pew and let her bones rest a little. How old was that floor? It was one of the few things in the world that was older than she was, and that realization gave her comfort somehow. The floor, the large pointed ceiling, and even the stained glass windows were exactly the same as they has been when she was a little girl, going to the school run by the abbey. Back then, the Mother Superior had been a staunch, harsh old woman who spoke more with her eyebrows and her forefinger than she did with her tongue. It seemed strange the Helena was now in her place, and she hoped that her students thought of her on better terms than she had thought of Mother Abbess Julian in her time.

Things were different now. It was hard to count the wars that had rumbled through the world since then, some of which had called upon her friends as a sacrifice. Her father was one of those sacrifices; he had died fighting in Europe when she was very young. It was his idea for her to go to school here, and she wondered what he would have thought if he knew that she had spent her entire life in the abbey. She would tell him that she still had more to learn.

Her father knew those stained glass windows very well, for it was he who first taught Helena who all of the people were and what they meant. He told her about Daniel, who had clung to his faith even when he was surrounded by man-eating lions; and Judas, who had given up on God because he was weak and selfish. Her favorite, though, was the depiction of Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine, whom she had been named after. Saint Helena was honored for her humility and piety, living modestly even though her son was the ruler of the world. Although she was meek, she had changed the course of Christianity in the world. Helena hoped that one day she would be able to live up to the example that went before her.

The pectoral cross felt heavy again, as if to remind her that the abbey she had lived in for so long, stained glass and all, was now her responsibility. She hadn’t sought out the position of abbess, in fact, she had almost refused when she found out that her sisters had elected her into the position, but the other nuns had insisted, telling Helena that her cool head and years of experience made her the perfect choice. As she sat alone in one of a hundred pews, she felt the insecurity wash over her again, and she tried to shake it off. She loved this place, and everything that it stood for. She loved the people that came there, no matter if they went home at night or if they had made the abbey their home, as she had. There was so much to love; so much to protect. She would do anything to keep this place safe. She would even sacrifice herself.

Mother Helena had been buried in her thoughts for too long, and it was getting late. She was starting to get tired, and she knew that she still had much to do before she went to bed. In fact, she was surprised that she had already wasted so much time. She smiled a little as she got up to leave the chapel, when a sound from behind her froze her in place. Her heart stopped beating for a split second. Had she imagined it?

The noise came again, a small creak that was getting louder. She knew that sound: the outside door was opening. She suddenly felt very cold and very scared. Should she turn around? Should she run? No, she was the abbess, the mother superior. She had to take care of this.

She felt her hands shake as she slowly turned to face the intruder, and something hard hit against her thigh. The gun! She had forgotten all about it. Now was not the time. The door was about fifty feet away, and in the dim light of the ancient chapel she could only see an outline. It was coming towards her.

“Hello?” she said, trying to stop her voice from trembling the way her hands were. There was no response. She called out again, but she received no answer. Her hands started to shake even more.

“I’m Mother Abbess Helena Timothy. Can I help you?” she said again to the shadow, who continued his pace towards her, creeping along the ancient floor past the window that contained Saint Helena. Before she knew it, she had raised her arms and pointed the large metal weapon at him.

She tried to warn him, but it did no good. The figure kept coming. She told him she would use the gun, but there was no response, and the chills that were running down Helena’s spine were too much to bear. Why was her finger on the trigger? Was the gun even loaded? She wanted to check, but the inching outline kept coming, and she was trapped. What would he do to her?

She didn’t mean to pull the trigger; she didn’t want to. She was surprised when a deafening thunderclap came from her hands, and the gun pushed her back a step as it fired at the figure. Helena was horrified. She couldn’t believe herself. She looked at the gun like it was an incarnation of evil, as a blanket of regret covered her. What could she do now? She looked up to see that the shadow was still coming.

It was now time to scream, for Helena had run out of options. If this was the man the police were after, if this was the monster, the gun in her hand would make little difference. He had seen it, she had even fired, and he was unaffected. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t reason with him. She could only pray.

She quickly touched each shoulder as she started to plead, getting the words out as quickly and as solemnly as possible. The prayer would probably be her last. As she finished and opened her eyes to face her end, nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.


Tanner stopped in the light, looking at Mother Helena with a confused face. He pointed to her gun and signed a question. The shame that she felt inside of her became heavy as she motioned for him to sit down with her. With the few signs she knew, she tried to explain to Tanner what had just happened, realizing that he hadn’t heard the explosion of the bullet as it escaped from the gift that John had insisted upon. Tanner looked okay, and she definitely hadn’t hurt him, but as her eyes made a quick sweep of the chapel, she gasped quietly.

Saint Helena was completely gone.

-Cecily Jane


Molly&Charles said...

what a cool story! I love it! Her coolheadedness was gone, just like Saint Helena.

Anonymous said...

Wow, guns and nuns. spooky MJH