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Authors: Tamara Thorne

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Part Three


September, 1996





I must have been nuts to come back to this place.

Sara Hawthorne, a flight bag over her shoulder and a suitcase
in her hand, shivered as she walked along the poorly lit stone
orridor of the St. Gruesome's dormitory. It was colder here
than she remembered, damp and chill, with cobwebs in the
ceiling corn
ers and chipped paint on the doors. When she was
a girl, perhaps she'd paid less attention to such things, or maybe
here on the third floor, where most of the teachers lived
I'm going to live-
upkeep and heating weren't priorities.
After all, most of the other teachers were nuns, and didn't
they believe in austerity, in self-sacrifice and denial?

The corridor, lit only by dim, fly-specked bulbs and trembling
prismatic rainbows cast by the afternoon sun through small
stained-glass windows in the left-hand wall, seemed to tele
before her. The windows did not depict religious scenes,
but were simple diamond patterns, the dark colors made darker
by a layer of grime, completely hiding the view of the garages
and outbuildings, and the big stone kitchen, where the nuns
made cider and prepared apples and mincemeat for Apple

Sara's eyes followed a reddish reflection across the stone
floor and up the wall, and almost against her will, she paused
to study one of the portraits that studded the corridor. The
paintings, all of saints, were hung throughout the halls, and
Sara remembered that a nun, Sister Elizabeth-Sister
that's what we called her back then-was
the artist. This was
one of the tamer pictures. Labeled "Saint Wolfgang," it
depicted a lean, bloodied man, quite naked, shielding his head
from a horde of descending demons that reminded Sara of the
flying monkeys in
The Wizard of Oz. Sister Elizabeth wasn't
so talented, after all.
She wondered if the nun was still in
residence, still creating her gruesome pictures. Recalling the
sister's intense, oddly asymmetrical features, the pursed full
lips and grim set of her piggy mouth, she hoped not.

"Somethin' wrong?"

Startled by the high-pitched male voice, Sara turned to see
a grizzled old man approaching, her garment bag and other
suitcase in hand. Scrawny from the top of his bald head to the
toes of his surprisingly white Reeboks, he grinned at her with
big, tobacco-stained teeth.

"Nothing's wrong," she stammered, thinking he looked
vaguely familiar. "I was just ... the doors aren't numbered,
and I don't know which room is mine."

''Two doors down," he said, joining her before the painting.
He glanced at it and whistled through his teeth. "Sister Liz,
she likes to keep her saints naked." Shaking his head, he gazed
at Sara with his dark little rodent eyes. "Too bad she don't do
more of the women." He cocked his head like a chicken. ''You
look kinda familiar."

"I lived here about ten years ago," she told him as they
began walking.

He nodded. "Most girls leave here, they never come back."
He stopped in front of a yellowed door. "Here 'tis."

Sara hesitated, realizing that the nun who'd greeted her downstairs
hadn't given her a key.

Evidently, the old man could read minds. ''No locks on these
old doors," he told her, gripping the knob. He turned it and
the door creaked open. "Ladies first."

''I think I remember you, too," she said as they entered the

"Basil-Bob Boullan," he told her. "Been the caretaker here
for almost forty years." He flipped the light switch.

Setting her luggage down, Sara stared around the room, relief
flooding her. Though windowless, the room was reasonably
sized, light and airy, and freshly painted, the oak floor gleaming
around a large braided rug, old and worn, but clean. At one
end was a twin bed, neatly made with a light blue quilted
bedspread. A simple pine nightstand with a hurricane lamp sat
beside it. There was also a very old vanity, dark wood, ornate,
but scarred, that cradled a dented copper basin. Sara glanced
around, half expecting to see a
chamber pot
, but the only other
furnishings were a small pine table and two matching chairs,
a chest of drawers, a faded easy chair with a side table and
lamp, and a half-filled bookcase. A narrow door hid a dinky

''There's a fridge in the corner, there." Basil-Bob pointed
at a squat white refrigerator behind the table. "And you've got
a hot plate and a few dishes there, in the bureau." He glanced
behind him. ''And that's a real nice bed. Got a new mattress
and everything. Old one got spoilt."

She nodded uncomfortably as Boullan crossed to the bed
and placed her luggage beside it. "There's no bathroom?" she
asked, glancing around in hopes of seeing a door she'd missed.

Boullan cackled. ''That'll be last door at the end of the hall."

If I were smart,
d leave right now.
Even though she knew the
students had communal baths, she'd assumed that the teachers'
rooms had private facilities. Wondering if she could afford a
room in town, she smiled at the caretaker. "Thank you, Mr.

"Basil-Bob'll do." His eyes crawled over her body. "You
got yerself any more questions?"

Only about a million of them, but I won't be asking you
"I'm supposed to meet with the Mother Superior in half an
hour. I'm sure she'll tell me everything I need to know." She
tried to smile, but her discomfort at having this man in her
room was growing by the second.

''You want me to show you to her office?"

"Urn, no thanks. Unless it's moved, I know the way."

He showed no signs of leaving, so she went to the door and
held it open for him. ''Thanks for your help. I need to freshen
up now."

He shambled over to her and stood in the doorway. He looked
like he ought to be dirty and malodorous, but his dark green
work clothes were as immaculate as his jo
ingly white running
shoes. "You need anything, you come and see me."


He started out the door, then paused, turning to face her
again. "Don't let the funny noises at night bother you none."

"Funny noises?"

"At night. It's just the ghost."

''The ghost? I never heard any ghost stories concerning the
dormitory." Despite her immediate skepticism, the hairs on the
back of her neck prickled up.

Boullan nodded. ''Got us another lady in white. She wanders
all over the place and likes
to walk along this here hallway
sometimes. Why, the last teacher who had this room, Miss
Tynan, she was so afraid to go out to the bathroom at night,
she got herself a piss infection, laid her up for a couple weeks."

''Did she leave because of the ghost?" Sara asked, trying
not to smile.

Boullan 's expression turned somber. ''Maybe she did. Maybe
she just did, now." His beady eyes bored into hers, raising real
goosebumps this time. "Killed herself, she did. That means
you get to go straight to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect
two hundred dollars." He leaned in conspiratorially. "Slit her
wrists, you know. Did it right here in this room-that's why I
had to paint the place and getcha the new mattress. That's
where she done it, on the bed
. Squirted the walls, yes, rna'
And the floors and the bed."

He went on, spouting details, but Sara barely heard him. She
was thinking about Jenny Blaine, her best friend and roommate
when she'd lived here in the mid-eighties. She'd died the same
way, and Sara was the one who had found her. "Basil
she began.

He stopped talking and
at her. "Yup?"

"I really can't talk any longer right now." She tried to keep
her voice steady. "We'll speak later, if you like."

''Sure thing." He turned on his heel
and strode silently down
the shadowed corridor. She watched him until he reached the
where his Reeboks squeaked as he turned.

Back in her room, Sara pulled the door closed behind her.
She decided that after her meeting, she'd go into town and at
least buy some sort of lock for her room.
The bed where her predecessor had sat to slit her wrists was
as pristine as the white walls. She wondered how many coats
of paint it had taken to cover the bloodstains. When Jenny had
died, she'd scrubbed and painted over the stains herself, five
coats, but when the light was just right, she'd thought she could
still see them, dim red shadows across the walls.

Jenny Blaine was the reason Sara Hawthorne had returned
to St. Gertrude
's Home for Girls. Jenny hadn’t
herself; she
was murdered, of that Sara was sure. Her death, along with other
foggy memories of other girls' disappearances
runaways, the
nuns said-still haunted her. At sixteen, three months after
Jenny's death, she'd run away herself, unable to sleep another
night in the room where Jenny had died. She'd hitchhiked to
San Francisco and had herself legally emancipated, so that she
could work and attend school. Her new freedom should have
been wonderful, despite the hard work, but she'd taken the
horror with her.

Sara's insides felt hot and liquid as she quickly brushed her
dark brown hair and reapplied lipstick. Despite the therapists,
despite her attempts to write down her memories, they all eluded
her, except for the vision of that bloody room, of Jenny. She
was haunted, not by ghosts, but by the past, and now it was
time to see justice done for Jenny Blaine and to exorcise her
own demons, the ones that caused the nightmares and the nervousness
with which she met each day.

After she received her teaching degree, she worked in Marin
County, California, for a middle-grade school, thinking that
now that she had her career, she would finally forget. But it
didn't happen. Finally, she sent a resume to St. Gertrude's,
hoping that giving herself a chance to solve the mystery of
Jenny's death would soothe her nerves. She never really
expected to hear back from the home, but a few months later,
Mother Superior Lucy Bartholomew
the selfsame nun she'd
so feared when she was a student
wrote to her. Shortly after,
they interviewed by phone and Sara was offered the position.
And here I am, only slightly in shock. What the hell am I doing
It had all happened so fast she'd barely had time to think
about her actions.

Shaking her head, she took her briefcase from her flight bag,
glanced in the small, round mirror over the chest of drawers,
then squared her shoulders and walked out the door to make
her appointment. Coming back here was the hardest thing she'd
ever done, but now that she was here, she decided, nothing
stop her from finding out what had really
happened to Jenny Blaine.




Mother Superior Lucy Bartholomew's office was the same
dark and depressing chamber it had been when Sara was a girl.
Both the office and Mother Lucy appeared to be untouched by

The office and outer room, where Mother Lucy had kept her
waiting for forty-five minutes before admitting her to the inner
, were also the same. Sara suspected that the nun, whom
she remembered as being compulsive about punctuality, had
kept her there for the sole purpose of producing feelings of
awe and anxiety before the meeting. But all it did was make
Sara remember how much she had hated the woman.

Six wooden straight-backed chairs designed to become
unbearably uncomfortable within five minutes of use were the
only furnishings in the waiting room. There were no tables, no
magazines; it was a claustrophobic room meant for frightening
young girls who were sent to see the Mother Superior. Some
of Sister Elizabeth's most vile saintly effigies adorned the dark
walls as further insurance against any future misbehavior.

Each portrait bore a small bronze plaque identifying its saint.
During the long wait, drowsy from boredom. Sara had examined
all four paintings several times. One depicted a naked St. Pelegia
falling from a roof. Another portrayed St. Genevieve, also nude,
trying in vain to shield a burning candle as the devil 's fingers
reached out to extinguish the flame
The other two were of St.
Denis, a headless man unclad except for a cross, carrying his
own mitered head on top of a book, and St. Margaret of Cortona,
contemplating a rotting corpse that lay at her feet while a dog
nipped her thigh. The paintings were of poor to mediocre quality
and reminded Sara of the ones from Rod Serling's old

Now, in the inner office, sitting on another hard, straight
chair facing Mother Lucy at her massive scrolled desk, Sara
tried to keep her eyes off the two paintings that framed the
Mother Superior. They were the worst of all. The largest, in a
gilded frame, was of Lucy's namesake, St. Lucille, and with
each furtive glance, Sara became more convinced that the
Mother Superior had actually posed for the nude portrait, which
showed the martyred St Lucille, gashed throat and dark eye
sockets as prominent as her breasts, proffering a platter. On
the platter were her own eyes, which seemed to follow you
around the room. To Lucy's left was a smaller painting in a
matching frame. It depicted St. Gertrude, the school's namesake.
Unlike saints in the other paintings, St. Gertrude was
dressed; she wore the robes of an abbess. Her face was somber
and gaunt, and in her outstretched hand she held a flaming
heart. At her feet were a dozen gray rodents that were supposed
to be mice, but looked to Sara more like rats, with their long
pink tails and protuberant teeth.

After opening the door and waiting silently for Sara to enter,
Mother Lucy returned immediately to her large crimson leather
desk chair. Ignoring Sara's outstretched hand, she told her to
be seated, then wasted no time on pleasantries. "Why did you
apply for work here, Miss Hawthorne, when you were so eager
to leave us before?"

Sara stared at the woman, at a loss for words. Even though
she had a story prepared, Lucy's bluntness stunned her.

"Well?" Lucy demanded.

"I've spent many many hours in church, praying about this
decision," Sara began. This was an out-and-out lie
she had
never been a believer, and any leanings she might have had
had been destroyed by the acrimonious nuns of St. Gertrude's,
with their grim stories of devils and demons and the endless
hours of indecipherable Latin recitations. There had been no
warmth here, only chill judgment and disapproval; St
was truly a little piece of Hell on Earth.

"Miss Hawthorne? Continue, please."

Lucy was buying it, and that gave Sara more confidence.
"I've felt guilt and great remorse since the time I ran away. I
knew I was a coward, and no matter what I achieved, the
feelings wouldn't go away. I thought they would disappear after
I began my career, but they didn't; instead, the feelings grew
stronger. I had to come back." She paused, keeping her gaze
on Mother Lucy's beady little eyes, half believing her own tale,
she'd rehearsed it so often. She took a deep breath. "I was
called here, Mother, to serve you and St. Gertrude's and to
help the soul of Jenny Blaine."

''Blaine . . . your roommate who committed the ultimate

"Suicide," Sara murmured. "I didn't do my duty to her as
I should have, and I feel that if I had, she might not be ...
gone now."


"She was depressed, and she needed me to listen to her. I
't take her seriously."

''She told you she was going to kill herself?"

Of course she hadn't-Jenny had been the only bright spot
in Sara's life. She was the one who had listened to and consoled
Sara, reassuring her that they'd both be free soon. They'd
made plans. Jenny, due to graduate that year, would go to San
Francisco, find a job, and go to college, and Sara would join
her the following year. Jenny had even said she might be able
to pretend to be a long-lost aunt and free her right away. Instead
she'd died, horribly and alone, and Sara had gone north by
herself. "Yes," she finally told the Mother Superior. "Jenny
told me she was thinking about it, and I didn't believe her. I
even teased her, and I doubt that God will ever forgive me.
That's why I must spend my life in service. That's why I carne
back. To face my demons." Literally, she thought, looking at
Lucy's long, tight face.

"You've changed," the Mother Superior said, after a long

"I hope so."

"You were a very quiet girl, good at your studies, but very
nervous, as I recall. It was a shock to us when you disappeared.
I hope you know how worried we were about your welfare."

About as worried as I was about yours.
"I'm very sorry I
worried you," she said humbly. "I was a selfish child."

"I'm glad you've realized that." Lucy fitted a pair of reading
glasses over her narrow nose, looked at the papers on her
Sara's resume and cover letter
then removed the little
half-glasses. "I'm impressed by what you've accomplished on
your own."

''Thank you."

"We're glad to have you here with us at St. Gertrude's Home
for Girls. We have a handbook," the nun said, opening a drawer
and pulling out a blue booklet. "It outlines the basic rules and
regulations for our students and teachers, our expectations for
the behavior of both, and our policies on disciplinary actions."
She passed the book across to Sara. ''Please read it before you
begin work Monday morning."

"Thank you. I will. May I ask a question?"

Mother Lucy attempted a smile. ''Of course."

"Your caretaker, Mr. Boullan, told me that the teacher I'm
replacing committed suicide."

"That's true."

"In the room I've been assigned?"

"Yes. What of it? Does it frighten you?"

It did, but Sara shook her h
ead. ''No. I was just curious."

"We don't have any other rooms available."

"It's fine. Really. I was wondering, though, why there's no
lock on the door."

Mother Lucy cocked her bead like a chicken, one way, then
the other, her squinty eyes narrowing until they were barely
visible. "There are no locks on
doors at St. Gertrude's."

I'll bet there's one on yours.
"Why not?"

''Policy. It's in the handbook. Do you have any other questions?"

"Today's only Thursday. Why don't you want me to begin
work tomorrow instead of Monday?"

''Tomorrow, you have to complete some tests. The weeken
is yours, although after that, you'll be working half-days on
Saturdays with the girls in some of their extracurricular activities.
I'll have a schedule for you next week."

''Tests? What kind of tests?"

''The usual. Psychological evaluations, and a physical."
Lucy paused, then added, with another fake smile, ''It's nothing
to concern yourself with. Our Dr.
, as you may recall,
has his offices in the basement of this building, and he will
conduct the entire procedure. Be at his office at one o'clock
sharp. You'll be done by suppertime. That's six P.M., in the
cafeteria at the far end of this building. Or, if you like, as long
as you're not on cafeteria duty, you may eat in your room. You
must supply your own food, though."

Sara nodded impatiently. "Why do you have tests? I've been
certified by the state, and I had a complete physical a few
months ago. It's in my records."


"It's in the handbook," Sara finished, barely containing her
anger. "Is there anything else?" she asked, rising.

''Always be respectful, Miss Hawthorne. Our teachers are
role models for our students."

"I'll remember that.
May I leave?"

"Of course. Please close the door on your way out."

Sara took the handbook and moved to the door. "I will.
Thank you for your time."

A bell rang as she let herself out of Lucy's inner sanc
She crossed the lobby and opened that door-which had a
locking knob-and walked out into a sea of girls clad in blue
and white. Classes were out for the day.

There were all ages here, though most of the girls were at
least twelve or thirteen. One group, junior or senior, she thought,
stopped in their tracks and scrutinized her from her sensible,
low-heeled shoes to the top of her head. The girls had a look
she knew well, a certain perfection of hair and shortness of
skirt that identified them as the reigning clique. At public
schools, they were often cheerleaders who spent time flirting
with boys and gossiping. She forced herself to smile at them.
"Hello, girls."

They stared at her.

"I'm Ms. Hawthorne. I'll be teaching history beginning

''Oh," said the one who seemed to be the leader of the pack.
She had long, wavy blond hair and cornflower blue eyes. ''What

"High school."

The blonde finally smiled. "Then we're all in your classes.
Since Miss Tynan offed, I mean died, Sister Elizabeth has been
substituting. She's kind of a pain."

Several of the other girls nodded.

"I might be a pain, too," Sara told them.

Another blonde, a tiny girl with short, curly hair haloing her
face, giggled. "At least you're not a nun."

"No, I'm not." The girls were loosening up.
Maybe this
won't be so bad, after all.
''What are your names?"

"I'm Marcia Crowley," said the one with the long, wavy

"Cindy Speck," said a pink-faced girl with straight, shoulder-
length black hair. "And this is Marybeth Tingler." She
punched the girl next to her, a fragile redhead with limpid green
eyes, gently in the arm. "She's shy."

Sara smiled. "Hi, Marybeth." She looked at the remaining
three. "And who are you?" she asked the little curly-haired

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