The Halloween Project 2021 - Story 6: My Cross to Bear
Who do you trust? What's the criteria for believing in someone? How are people lost?
Bobby Wilcox, even as an eleven year old, knew about love. He loved his mom and dad and his family and his brother, sort of, and his dog, of course, but he really loved his teacher. Her name was Sister Sabina Marie, a Dominican nun. In fourth grade she graced the front of his large classroom, 20 boys and 22 girls. She floated about the room in long white robes, her face framed by a black and white cowling that covered everything but her mouth, nose and eyes. Her smile radiated across every student in the room. She never lost her temper, so different from the other nuns that the boys had nicknamed “The Frog” and “The Warden”. She was kind, always kind. And her voice was warm. When she spoke, whether it was about homework or an upcoming test, it reminded Bobby of butterscotch toffee candy. She always seemed young and happy, like she never had a bad day or a cold or a sad thought. When spelling bees came every Friday, he tried his hardest and often won. When she leaned close to him to pin on the first prize ribbon he puffed his chest and smelled her smell of clean soap and nothing more.
Now he was entering sixth grade and somehow, if God had plans for him, Sister Sabina was re-assigned to his class. His grades, always good, soared even higher. Being a constant talker, one marking period in fifth grade he had received C in Courtesy and C in Conduct from “The Warden”. His parents were beyond angry. But now, Sister Sabina smiled and glowed and raised the spirits of everyone she touched. His class had grown even larger, 23 boys and 26 girls. Occasionally, she actually touched him, a soft hand on a shoulder as she glided up or down an aisle of desks. His heart would stop as she said softly, “Excellent work, Bobby, simply excellent,” and a flush would rise to his face.
It was late October, nearing Halloween, and Saint Joseph’s School was sponsoring a harvest fair. Hundreds of parents, relatives, siblings and students crowded the large field adjacent to the school. There were games and activities, pie carving, and scarecrow making. Hot dogs and hamburgers, pumpkin pie with ice cream and apple pie with a slice of cheese on top. Three-legged races and booths of autumn fare. A band played and someone brought out a bagpipe. Beer kegs were overlooked and in the far end of the field the priests of the parish rolled up their sleeves and played poker with the dads.
Sister Sabrina clapped her hands and a dozen young heads turned. “Can I get some help carrying out some things from the church basement?” They ran, none faster than Bobby. The church basement, a dark cavern, well below ground, housed boxes and crates, down crooked stone pathways. They carted and hauled, paper plates and cups, big bottles of Coca-Cola, packages of potato chips and an assortment of boxes of no apparent contents.
When all was taken, Sister Sabina said, “Bobby, could you come here for a minute?”
He walked behind her as she snaked through the labyrinth of hallways lit by dim overhead bulbs. Longer still, they descended steps into an area that was cold, dampened by the moist walls. She reached back and gently took his hand. An electric chill ran up his arm. She continued on.
When they reached the farthest edge of a curled and twisted corridor she unlocked a heavy door with a key from a belt hung from her waist. They entered together and she turned re-locking the door behind them. A single wall sconce armed with a candle lit the room. Sister Sabina motioned for him to sit in the farthest of two chairs and she sat across from him.
“Bobby,” she began, “You are an exceptional boy in every respect. Smart, polite, friendly, perceptive, kind…just amazing.” Her smile somehow brightened and warmed even more. “The top, the best of your class. You are so filled with life and vigor.”
Bobby wasn’t so sure exactly what vigor was, but if Sister Sabina said it, it must be good. And then Sister asked a very strange question.
“Bobby, How old do you think I am?”
He knew that politeness suggested he should not even guess. His eyes reflected his reticence.
“Come on, take a guess,” she prompted.
After a few seconds he relented, “25? Or 30 maybe? I guess 30.”
“Oh, I wish, I truly do,” she answered and looked down at the backs of her smooth white hands. She looked at him squarely and said, “I am 186 years old.”
Bobby simply stared back at her. No words passed. He began to worry and looked beyond her to the locked door. Then he chuckled and with a forced lilt said, drawn out and slowly, “Sister Sabina…”
And she began.
“I am 186. And I am happy and content. You see that in class every day. It began a long time ago. Over the years I have moved from place to place, country to country. It has been a good, very long life, except for one thing.”
She rose and walked behind her chair.
“Every 30 or 40 years I need something. Occasionally a bit longer or shorter. Once I lasted 52 years. Incredible. And I can feel it coming now. What I need is life. Fresh life. New life. Innocent life. And that’s why I’ve chosen you. Because you are exceptional.”
Sitting, watching her move around behind the chair, Bobby thought that Sister Sabina had maybe gone crazy or was very sick or something. He started to rise and she commanded, “Sit!”
“It won’t hurt, at least not for very long. I’ll see to that. I owe you that. A nice boy like you,” she hesitated, “But I need what you have.”
She gave him one last beatific smile, moved to the candle and blew it out.
Bobby’s screams only lasted a minute.