The dead leaves danced in the icy wind. The old Nun stumbled. Her left arm tingled. The shock of what she’d seen quickened her heartbeat and shattered everything she’d believed in. The crumpled and tarnished silver cross fell from her hand and landed in a pile of brown leaves. The light from the windows of the pub beckoned her. There she would be warm and safe. It wouldn’t be able to follow her inside. The Firelight would keep it at bay. She hoped.
The Nun and Dragon, the village pub, was just a few steps away. Sister Mary Margaret had never set foot inside it or any other pub. Pubs were not the sort of places that good Christian women frequented, especially not Nuns or women in their eighties. The irony that the pub was called The Nun and Dragon did not escape her. She knew the village Vicar, Father Peter, often crossed its threshold and threw back a few pints with some of the parishioners. She hoped that tonight was one of the nights he could be found building bridges between the church and the villagers. Sister Mary Margaret needed him to tell her that she wasn’t cursed, that everything they’d been taught to believe hadn’t all been a lie, that her faith wasn’t just a foolish superstition.
She was panting from exhaustion when she reached the door. It took all her strength to push it open. Warm air enveloped her as she fell to her arthritic knees. She heard a collective gasp coming from the shocked patrons. She must have looked quite the fright on her knees, with her habit half falling off. She didn’t even want to think about what her face looked like. Getting up off her knees without the aid of a bench or a pew was difficult, to say the least. She shouldn’t have left her walking stick at the convent. Father Peter and Gregory, the bartender, were the first to reach her and help her to her feet.
Gregory set one of his more comfortable chairs in front of the fire and brought her a pint of his homebrew. It seemed to be the only beverage they served in the establishment. She’d never been a beer drinker; she was more of a red wine person. She’d always felt that if wine was good enough for Jesus, then it was good enough for her, but she had to admit the Nun and Dragon’s homebrew was soothing on her palate and went down easily enough. It tasted of honey and cinnamon and something else, something she couldn’t quite identify. She smacked her lips together in satisfaction and sighed. Her heart rate slowed down as the beer and the fire did their work. Life returned to her limbs and the tingling sensation in her left arm ebbed away.
“What happened to you?” Father Peter asked as he pulled a chair closer to her.
“Oh Father,” she said. “It was just so frightening.”
The memory of her encounter caused her heart rate to jump once more. Her hands shook and tears threatened at the corners of her eyes and her breath caught in her lungs. Taking another glug of beer with shaky hands, she tried to compose herself.
“Are you alright,” Father Peter asked.
She could only manage a shake of her head and then the dam wall of her emotions burst. Tears flooded down her cheeks. Father Peter handed her his blue and white checked hanky. He always had one in his pocket. During confessions the hanky was often used to stem the tide of tears.
“When you’re ready,” Father Peter said. “Take your time. There’s no hurry.”
The fire cast a warm, protective glow around them. She felt safe. The fear she’d felt for the last few hours started to fall away. Her clenched jaw relaxed. She knew she could tell Father Peter the story without worry. He wouldn’t judge her. Taking a deep breath, she prepared herself for the tale. Once she started talking she couldn’t stop. It burst out of her.
“I was walking home from Ashley Morgan’s home. She’s been very ill. I took her some soup and a few groceries. I think her husband’s been having a rough time keeping up with things. So I thought if I took them some food, it would be at least one night where the poor man wouldn’t have to try and cook. The little ones were very grateful that they didn’t have to have a microwave meal again.”
“That was very kind of you,” Father Peter said. “Very Christian”.
“Thank you! Anyway … I left just after five. It was already getting dark. I’ve never been afraid of walking in the dark, but tonight … I don’t know why, but the moment I left the Morgan’s I felt like I was being watched. I’ve never felt my hair prickle at the back of my neck. I’ve heard other people talk about it, but I’ve never actually felt it, until tonight.” She took a deep breath and breathed out slowly. The beer made her head feel a little fuzzy and also a little nauseous. The room started to spin slowly. Father Peter covered her hand with his big flat hand which would have suited a labourer better than a priest. The room stopped spinning. She drank some more beer and her stomach stopped churning.
“Where was I?” She asked Father Peter, a look of confusion haunted her eyes.
“You felt that you were being watched …” Father Peter’s voice was anxious.
“Oh yes … The Morgan’s live on the outskirts of the Village, as you know, and there’s a short cut through the forest to get to the convent. I’ve walked that footpath on many an occasion over the years. When I was a young girl I’d imagine I was Red Riding Hood walking along that path. Silly, I know. I never imagined that, like her, I’d meet an evil creature along the way.” She shivered. Father Peter patted her hand.
“It’s alright. You’re safe now,” he said.
A gust of wind smacked against the windows, making them shudder in their antique wooden frames. Another sip of beer and she was ready to continue with her story.
“I didn’t hear him approach. He was so quiet. I walked right past him. It was only when he called to me that I noticed him leaning against a tree. It was one of the old oak trees. The protected ones … Anyway … He just stood there leering at me with his jaundiced, yellow eyes. And then he smiled. Oh God preserve me. That smile. I’ll never forget it.” Her hands shook as she took another sip. “His teeth were pointy. They looked like they’d all been filed into razor sharp points. His smile, well, it was more of an evil grin, made me believe that he would tear me limb from limb and he would just keep on smiling.” Another sip. “But the strange thing was the way he was dressed. His clothes were immaculate, but his suit looked to date back to the seventeen hundreds. He even wore those ridiculous white stockings that men wore in those days. My heart raced at the sight of him, much like it is now. I’ve never been the sort of woman who was easily frightened, but I was afraid, more afraid than I’ve ever been in my life. And then he spoke. His voice sent shivers down my spine.” Mary Margaret paused to take another sip but her glass was empty. She gestured to Gregory that she needed a refill.
“What did he say?” Father Peter leaned forward in his seat.
“I can’t repeat it. It’s too vulgar,” She said looking around to see where Gregory was with her beer.
“Please tell me,” Father Peter said. “What did he say?”
“He said that he’d always wanted to … I can’t say the word he used … that he’d always wanted to fornicate with a Nun.” Her cheeks turned scarlet. “That he wanted a holy … a holy … fu … fu … fuck,” she choked the word out and instantly clamped a hand over her mouth, shocked that she’d uttered it. The word felt dirty on her tongue. Thankfully Gregory brought her another glass of beer and she could wash the word away. The beer travelled down to her toes and made them feel warm and fuzzy. Stretching out in her seat, she placed her feet closer to the fire and wiggled her toes inside her shoes. The fire warmed the tip of her cold nose, turning it pink. A contented sigh escaped her mouth.
“Sister Mary Margaret.” Father Peter’s indignant voice reminded her that she’d just said that word. “I’m shocked and appalled.”
“I’m so sorry Father, but you did ask me what he said and that was the word he used,” she said, taking another sip of the delicious brew.
“I did, didn’t I? My apologies. What happened next?” Father Peter asked.
“I froze. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. I was shocked. No one has ever said something so disgusting to me before and coupled with his horrendous appearance I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run, but my legs haven’t been equipped for speed for quite some time now. And then he was right in front of me. I didn’t even see him move. His breath reeked of blood and sulphur. The most abhorrent stench that’s ever wafted up my nostrils. He smelt worse than mother superiors rude noises after bean soup. I brandished my crucifix as though it were King George’s sword. He simply laughed in my face. His spittle smacked my left eye. It stung like the devil, which is probably what he was. Can you see if my eye is still red?” She blinked her left eye a couple times.
“It looks a little red, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“I hope you’re right. It really is rather scratchy.” She sniffed, and rubbed her eye.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine. What happened next?”
“He yanked the crucifix from around my neck and dangled it in front of my nose. And then he had the audacity to tell me that my God has no power here. Dropping the cross in the palm of his large claw like hand, he crumpled my crucifix as though it were made of tinfoil. My mother gave me that crucifix the day I took my vows.” A tear trickled down her cheek as she remembered her mother fastening the chain around her neck on that special day. Using the hanky she dabbed her eyes and then had another sip of beer. “Then as though that wasn’t bad enough, he breathes on it and set’s it on fire! I couldn’t believe it. After he blew the fire out he handed it back to me as though it were the most normal thing in the world. I tell you, if I’d had my umbrella or my walking stick with me, I’d have bludgeoned him over the head with it. I was so angry. Humph.” She stomped her foot.
“I’m so sorry,” Father Peter said and patted her hand. “It must have been a terrible ordeal.”
“That wasn’t the end of it,” Sister Mary Margaret said. “He slowly walked around me, circling me with his stench. He trailed his hot fingers along my back. His hands were so hot; I thought he would scorch me dress and that my skin would blister. Grabbing my hair, he yanked my head back and thrust his forked tongue into my mouth. His tongue slithered down my throat. I gagged on it and his foul breath almost made me faint. And then he just disappeared. His laughter and his stench hung in the air after he’d left. His laughter followed me all the way here. I’m sure he’s still out there waiting, lulling me into a false sense of security. I know he’s out there waiting for me. He wants to do bad things to me.”
The old wooden doors to the pub flew open and Sister Mary Margaret’s devil waltzed in.
“Hello Greg,” he greeted the barman. “How about a pint of that magic ale of yours for a weary traveller?”
Gregory stared; slack jawed, at the new comer. The beer glass tap tapped against the metal arm of the beer tap as he poured the drink. A hush fell over the busy pub, and twenty pairs of eyes watched as Sister Mary Margaret’s devil picked up his glass and sauntered over to the fire, where Sister Mary Margaret sat in shocked silence.
“Oh that does feel good,” He said as he stood with his back to the fire and warmed his backside. “’Ello Ducks. Fancy another kiss?” The devil winked and Sister Mary Margaret fainted.
This story was originally published in Tales of the Nun and Dragon
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