The Convent stretched along Avery drive and turned the corner at Priory Road. It was high, as most boundary walls of monastic residences were. Crafted out of blocks of fine stone two centuries past, the years had weathered it and ivy clung to parts so that its veneer had a more rounded look now.
The lights were few and far between along Priory Road. Cherry trees had been planted years ago by the local Borough Council, then in between they put lampposts. The trees had grown in the intervening years so that their summer laden branches swarmed around narrow trunks dappling the light from each lamp.
Tonight it was raining. The wind blew and the branches swayed and bunches of leaves at branch ends fluttered like demented birds at a feeding table. The lamplight, a dull orange, was broken up by the dancing leaves that clattered against each other like beads from a broken necklace.
Rain left little puddles on the uneven pavement. Fresh raindrops pattered into the pools causing the reflected light to fracture into myriad shapes that seemed akin to bright star-like prisms, changing with each droplet and wind ruffle.
It was a rough night for the time of year, spring, and Leita pulled her coat tighter around her body, tucking her scarf closer around her neck. As she walked quickly along Priory Road holding her umbrella above her head, shoulders hunched to keep the umbrella between her face and the blown rain, she felt shivers run down her back. Raindrops pelted her clothing.
A sudden gust caught the umbrella and blew it inside out. Leita turned sharply holding the ‘witch’s hat’ shape behind her, a groan escaping her lips. As she turned, she caught a glimpse of a shadow two lampposts behind her, but then it was gone. Probably a cat, she thought.
Wrestling with the handle, she turned her umbrella right side out noticing a dent in one of the spokes. It would wear the material, eventually causing a leak. She sighed! It had been new. Not a brac in it. She doubted it would withstand another onslaught.
Reaching the Convent gate, Leita searched for the large key and inserted it in the lock. The gate opened with a creak. That will need oiling, she thought. Entering the courtyard, she locked the gate behind her then hurriedly walked around to the back of the imposing building.
Unlocking the rear door, Leita stepped inside. She shook her coat and hung it on the peg beside the door. It would soon dry off in the warmth of the kitchen.
She gathered up the black habits waiting to be laundered. Taking them into the little room off the kitchen, she put them into one of the three washing machines and set it to ‘ON’. Next were the whites and they occupied another machine. The third she filled with linen, sheets, tablecloths, all the accoutréments that filled the home of the nuns within the Convent. Conventionally, the nuns would rotate ther task. But recently, some had been sent to other convents to teaching posts so this job became vacant.
There was silver to polish tonight. Leita got out the polish and cloths and started the task whilst the machines did their work with a reassuring background hum. She liked working at night, left alone to work in peace. The Convent was silent for a few hours, she could reflect on her life.
Tonight she thought about that perceived shadow. It seemed to slide back behind the lamppost, the height of a person, so it could not have been a cat. The thought worried her a little. Then she became too busy to think about what she may or may not have seen.
The laundry, when dry, had to be ironed and put away in cupboards in the room along the hall. The big clock struck three thirty. Time was disappearing fast. The breakfast table was to be laid in the large dining hall further along the passageway. That meant linen and silver arranged in proper order.
Once this was done, she heard the faint sound of singing. How could an hour go so fast? Back in the kitchen she got out the large copper saucepan half filling it with water. Tipping a bag of oatmeal into the saucepan she added one cup of milk to make it more palatable. Lighting the gas, she stirred the oatmeal in, leaving it to simmer on a low heat. Next, the bread, bought in this time as the sister who baked had been sent to another Convent. In fact, several of the Sisters were absent for one thing or another so there were less to cook for than usual. All was ready for Sister Margaret John who took care of feeding the nuns their first meal of the day at five a.m.
Leita was putting her coat on when Sister Margaret John entered the kitchen from the hallway. “Everything ready, child?” she asked.
“Yes Sister Margaret John, all done.”
“Thank you and Bless you child,” the Sister replied and began to settle to her morning tasks. Leita heard the other nuns coming out of Devotion. Her time was up. Picking up her handbag and bent umbrella, she left by the rear door, walking across the yeard, avoiding the deeper puddles. The rain had made the lock harder to open. Tomorrow night she must bring oil to make it turn easier.
The rain had ceased. She was glad she did not have to struggle with her umbrella again. Making her way back down priory Road, she turned the corner to walk to the bus stop just a bit further along. Dawn had broken and the birds were madly singing, each their own special song. It lifted Leita’s heart and the fears of the previous night left her.
Once home, she made herself some toast which this morning unaccountably, she burnt a little and had to open a window to let out the acrid smell. She buttered it anyway and spread a little jam on top as a treat. After her light breakfast, the window seat called to her and with pencil and pad in hand, she sat and began to sketch.
What appeared on the pad was not what she intended but a sketch of the rain-soaked road, whipping trees and a shadow. Looking at the picture she had drawn, she shivered. A cold pain shot down her spine causing her to clasp her arms around her body, drawing her knees up to her chin in foetal guise.
A trip out in the bright sunshine was what she needed and putting on her cardigan, she left her rented flat and got the bus into town and entered the local museum. A couple of hours perusing the paintings and artifacts was just what she needed. Like the silence of the Comvent, the museum held few people and it was comforting, being alone with many famous works of art. Paintings, statues, moderns pieces as well as old.
Sleep that afternoon was slow in coming. Tossing and turning, she had dreams of shadows and lightning and a strange figure trying to grasp her.
That evening was dry and warm. Her journey to the Convent was uneventful. As it was the following day. Leita began to relax and enjoy her work. She had moved to the town a year ago and needing employment, she found the post at the Convent convenient and suitable. Ever since she was sixteen, or when her foster parents deemed her to be of an age, she had worked, then had to move. This fear of someone following her. Stalking her. She had been more of a gypsy moving from place to place, finding work where she could. This town had held promise, now it seemed she would have to move again.
The following night the rain returned. Not the heavy bluster as before but a light drizzle. Again it made puddles and the refracted light caused her to have doubts. Leita kept looking over her shoulder thinking she saw something more than trees but could see nothing extraordinary.
Then she heard it. That shuffle, shuffle of feet in soft shoes dragging along the pavement.
She spun around, her heart in her mouth. Nothing there!
Leita raced for the gate, fumbled with the key and jumbled it into the wet wrought iron lock. Barely scraping through the gate, she locked it from inside, her hands trembling, scare noticing that the lock was easier to manipulate since she had set the oil to work.
Running across the courtyard she looked up and uttered a silent ’forgive me’ plea and raced for the kitchen door.
Again Leita fumbled with the key. Once inside, the door firmly locked she rushed to the far door that opened onto the Hall, leaning against it as she fought to catch her breath. What can I do, she thought?
After half an hour, her fears subsided and she was able to begin her work. She was comfortable here. The work was not overly hard or tiring and she had the morning to go out, enjoy the various museums and art galleries, the parks and woodland. She did not want to move again.
Sister Margaret John appeared at her usual time and saw she was disturbed but said nothing as she had her own problems. Competent nuns were being replaced by Novitiates, and she had the teaching of them. Dear, dear!
Sunshine washed away the rain clouds and for the next few days all was serene in Leita’s world. Summery days dispelled the gloom that had settled over Leita. She enjoyed walks through the park to feed the ducks on the pond. Ducks quacked and geese honked as they dived for pieces of bread, squabbling for the choicest bits. A few strays were gobbled up by brave fish as ripples carried the bread further out and away from the birds.
Each night Leita walked to work down Priory Road, wary of shadows. No wind tussled the branches and the succulent warmth in the evening air seeped into her being. All was well.
A week later the rain returned. Leita had almost forgotten her earlier fears when she heard the shuffle, shuffle once more. She turned and this time caught the sight of a figure following her. As she passed by a lamppost, she could see nothing. Moving into the shadow of a tree trunk, she caught sight of the mysterious and threatening dark figure two lamps down behind her. She ran as fast as she could, opening the gate and running for the kitchen door.
Heaving, she got the door open, locked it and slid to the floor, her back to the kitchen wall. She took great gulps of air. A shadow appeared through the glass of the door and the handle twisted.
She held her hand in front of her mouth and became silent. The door jangled, the shadow leaned heavily on the glass as if to break it. Leita did not breathe. Her heart pounded in her chest, she felt it could be heard, it seemed so loud. Then the shadow was gone.
For a few seconds Leita sat immovable, then she jumped up and ran for the inner door leading to the Hall. A crash of glass cracked then tinkled and splintered all over the entrance to the kitchen. Her voice let go a little squeak. And she ran into the Hall. The Sisters were chanting a late Devotion but someone heard the crash and they started to stream out of the Chapel as she ran down the corridor towards them.
“What is it, child?” called the nun running towards her.
Leita screamed. Pointing towards the kitchen, “there is someone following me. I think he just broke in.” tears streamed down her face as she took hold of Sister John Paul’s outstretched hand.
Suddenly a blue flash, like lightning, appeared on the bare wall of the hallway. Some of the Novitiates fell to the floor, paralysed with fear. From the centre of the flash a strange shape appeared like a monster. There were blue and red sparks, white light and yellow flashes. The shape seemed to come out of the wall, then it leapt to the floor and straightened up. Not a monster but the shape of a man.
More nuns emerged from the Chapel holding rosaries up to their lips and praying audibly. Others fled to niches where statues of The Virgin and Christ stood serene, prostrating themselves in terror.
The man ran to Leita, touched her arm and ran on into the kitchen. It did not seem to frighten her. Leita, together with some of the nuns, heard sounds of a scuffle, pans being knocked to the floor, ladles and cutlery rattling over the flagstones. They all heard the back door crash shut, then silence.
The door to the Hall opened and the man came through and spoke to Leita. “He’s gone. I lost him. Are you alright?” His touch was gentle as he stroked her trembling hand. She tried to withdraw it but he held her firm.
The lightning continued to rage against the wall. Sister Gabriel stood firm, gazing at the phenomenon. Daring someone else to come through. A strong independent woman, nothing frightened her. “This isn’t going to hurt you!” she called to the others, but they ignored her fortitude and trembled still where they knelt or lay.
The man ushered Leita into the open doorway of the dining room. Sitting her down, he talked gently to her. “Leita, I have been searching for you for so long. Now finally I have found you and can take you home.” He looked kindly into her eyes.
Something stirred within Leita‘s heart. For some unaccountable reason, she trusted him.
“But…but..who are you,” she stammered.
“I am your father. You were stolen away as a child. Each time I tried to reach you, HE frightened you away.” Though his violet eyes bore into her soul, she was no longer afraid. It was as if she had ‘come home’.
“But I don’t understand… .” Though her fear was gone, she needed answers.
“Shush, my daughter. I must be quick for we have only a few minutes before the rupture closes. He stole you and opened a rift into this world. He could not look after you and left you where you would be found. Then he disappeared. We have tried to reach him, and you, but only now has it been possible. It was he who followed you. Only recently have I been able to open a portal into this world to see where he was, what he had done with you. Only now have I been able to cause a time rupture. He took the secret with him.” Her hand was in his and it felt right.
“I still don’t understand,” Leita said, feeling less fraught.
There will be more explanations later, I promise. We must hurry. You are coming, aren’t you?” His face echoed the pleading.
“I…I….,” she was on the brink of something, a happening she felt she had been waiting for all her life. With no idea of how or why this was happening, she had to think fast. Seconds to decide. Finally she said, “Yes,“ firmly. Decidedly.
The man took her hand and they returned to the hallway. The crackling and fire of the lightning was softer. “This way,” he said, “it’s losing cohesion.” Holding her hand tightly, he turned and nodded and the both jumped into the rupture.
Ahron gazed at his daughter asleep on the bed. Oh so much time had passed. So much lost. He sighed, wishing he had found her sooner. He looked lovingly at his wife Rhonea who was silently weeping as she clung limp to his arm.
“She is unhurt?” Rhonea asked quietly.
“I think so. She is more afraid than anything else. Let time heal her, and our love.” Ahron turned to his wife, gathered her into his arms then turned them both away to let their daughter rest.
Orhrona, for that was Leita’s real name, woke feeling wary of where she was. But a sense of well being overcame her senses. The room was bathed in a rosy tint from the rising sun. Filmy hangings of pastel hues were draped from the high ceiling, falling to the floor in swathes. From the open doors leading onto a balcony a soft warm scented zepher played with the drapery. She rose, walking to the open doors and gazed out on breathtaking scenery of rolling grassland, blue-green hills, blossoming trees and in the distance, pink-topped mountains, and felt so happy.
After a few days she began to feel at ease in her new home. The grass was just a little bluer, the flowers smelled sweeter and the food was delicious. Her new life was peaceful and serene in this world of her birth, a world so beautiful that it enfolded her being so that the suffering of her other life seemed to vanish in this magical land.
Orhrona became accustomed to her new name, to the visitors who welcomed her so profusely. She painted delightful picturesss of the natural beauty that surrounded their home. She felt so loved, she could hardly bear it.
Ahron came into breakfast one morning saying” They have caught him. At last he will pay for what he did to us. Outcast is what he will be.” A satisfied look graced his countenance.
“Oh no,” gasped Rhonea. “We cannot be so cruel.
“But he stole our daughter,” stated Ahron. His stance was a little belligerent.
”And we have her back. It would be too much to bear.” Rhonea was more forgiving than Ahron. After a few moments thought, Ahron melted at his wife’s temperate attitude.
“He will be punished by the Council, you know.”
“I expect he will,” she replied. “But not by us.”
Orhona forgot Leita’s life, over time, as if it had never happened. She learned how to be a caring, loving daughter to the parents who always knew they would find her in the end. Ever hopeful that their one and only child would be returned to them, safe and sound. She became a great designer, took a husband and mothered four children, all with wonderful gifts. The human world was forgotten except on rare occasions, when the wind blew and the rain drummed down outside her beautiful new home.
© Copyright Evelyn J. Steward. November 2011
(Edited and amended September, 2012)
Word Count 3105