Sister Zoe perceived with guilty sorrow, Sister Dana viewed with guilty happiness. Her
putting Melanie to bed the night before had stirred a sweet nostalgia. And beyond the
caring, the touching, the coddling intimacy un-rebuffed, the nun again experienced the joy
of being needed. That was what she had really missedMelanie's dependence on
Marcy's, rather. For in her heart she found herself returning to the former
name. It was Marcy she knew she had loved, still loved, in fact. Melanie was much too
independent, strong-willed, too complex. Her needs had long outrun the nun's ability to
fulfill them. Marcy's needs were simpler. How easy it would be to slip back into all her
fond routines, with Marcy.
But the young nun realized that this would not do. Her former love had
been impure. She must not let her baser self regain its domination. So Melanie was whom
she must address, Melanie. She must look upon this relapse as a God-sent second chance. It
would not last, but while it did, she knew the Lord was watching. Could her love be
fashioned into a form acceptable to Him, or would it once again revert to profanation?
Judgment (and temptation) lay in wait.
The girl was up, sitting in her robe and slippers, staring out the
window. The veil had not yet lifted. Sister Dana made the bed. The pillow was still warm.
A tiny hair lay atop its coverMelanie's hairanother sure reminder.
A soft knock signaled Sister Zoe's arrival.
"Good morning, Sister."
"Good morning, Sister Dana. Any change?"
She cast a glance at the silent girl and shook her head.
The elder nun approached.
She stooped beside her, studying the distant look now governing her
"Good morning, Melanie. Did you have a restful sleep?"
She did not answer. She did not hear.
A mouse had captured her attention as it scurried along a dusty shelf,
looking frantically among the books for a place to hide. It halted, its polished eyes
alert, trained on its pursuer, who took a step. The mouse darted off, then disappeared.
"Did she, Sister Dana?"
"She got up once to use the bathroom. That was all."
The tracks went in; none came out. The space was very dark. Melanie
gingerly removed a volume. It was very heavy; it took two hands. The mouse was there,
trembling in the corner. She tugged out another book to admit more light. The chase,
again, was on.
"Does she hear us, I wonder?"
"Sometimes, I think. She'll do things if you ask her: brush her
teeth, wash her face, put on or take off her clothes."
The mouse found shelter wedged behind a range of jagged mountains in a
moonlit world she had not seen before. Was Benjamin at work on something new? He had not
told her. Forgetting the mouse, she attended to the unfamiliar scene.
"Has she spoken?"
"She moves her lips at times as if she's speaking, but never makes
The cubicle was studded with varieties of cacti, in a landscape marked
by brittle rock and eerie dried-up creeks. Beneath a tree, a green-skinned tree with
spike-like thorns in place of leaves, a toy-sized van was parked, headlights beaming across
the sage. The van looked black, had racing stripes, spoked oversized wheels, and a convex
porthole that glowered like some iridescent eye. The doors in back, she noticed, were
ajar. She poked them open with her finger and stole a peek. Inside the van, a roof light
lit incredible detail: dashboard ornaments, high-tech gadgetry, speakers, tape deck,
bucket seats, then odds and ends strewn about on a plushly carpeted floor. She saw
scissors, tape, a high school backpack, a jar of Vaseline, a tube of heat rub, cigarettes,
matches, beer cans, a heap of shredded clothing, random clumps of matted hair, and, in the
middle of it all, a brownish stain, the sight of which provoked a twinge of nausea.
"Melanie? I have to go now. Sister Dana will stay with you. I'll
come back to visit later."
She stroked the fuzzy head then motioned Sister Dana to the door.
What was missing? The driver? Was that what Benjamin had left out?
Maybe there had been an accident. Apprehensive now, she strained to see beyond the van,
but was too short. She gathered some books from the shelves and stacked them in a pile on
which to stand.
"If there is any change, I want to know immediately."
Three men were now in view. Two were posed in active postures (climbing
down a wash). The lighting made their faces look grotesque. A third (ahead of them in
shadow) was perched above a spot discoloring the ground. The more Melanie stared, the more
disturbing grew the situationand yet she could not tear her eyes away. Something bad
was happening. Those facesthe lightsthe sickening smell of alcoholthe
taste of dirt and blood and fearthe pain! The pain was everywhere! And then that
awful, awful shrieking noise that
His hands upon her shoulders stopped the insect sounds completely.
Benjamin turned her wincing face aside.
And what do you think you're up to, eh? Snooping?
I was just
Snooping. Out of bounds.
There will be no buts.
What did I say?
She stuck out her lower lip reprovingly. He hoisted her up by her
doll-like arms and carried her away. Over her shoulder she watched the headlights fade
into the dusky gloom, then finally disappear.
She tickled his nose with a lock of her hair as he walked.
I'll sneeze you to smithereens.
Just North of Kingdom Come.
She was happy he was not really mad. He was never really mad,
ever. Besides, if there were something he did not want her to see, he should have hidden
She remembered the mouse.
I saw a mouse.
The one in tennis shoes, or the bowler hat?
I think he had on tennis shoes.
That would be Mort. Runs like the wind?
He was pretty fast.
They were back in the main work area, where Benjamin set her down.
He led me to that desert.
I'll have to have a talk with that rodent.
Isn't it ready?
It is. You aren't. The fools.
The penguin brigade. Ah well, it's been pleasant having you for such a
nice long visitthough it's time you got yourself back.
When do I get to see the
Next time, maybe. Whenever you want to.
She was about to insist that she wanted to now, but something held her
back. She had seen enough, and did not like it, and wondered why the Miniature Man had
made such ugly things
but when she turned to ask him, he was gone.
"How long have you been here?"
"Are you all right? Don't you remember? Are you really feeling
She felt finethough obviously there must have been something
wrong if saying so caused surprise. She thought a moment.
"Oh! Sister Deborah."
"You do remember."
"Is she angry?"
"No. I don't think angry, just very concerned. We've all been very
She felt a rush of foreboding.
"What day is it?"
"The date, I mean."
"Oh. Oh no, don't look so worried. It happened just last
She was relieved. This was unlike the times before, then. Granted she
had been away and could not account for much since attending Sister Deborah's class, but
that terrible hollow feeling she recalled from lapses past had, thankfully, not recurred.
And she did remember Benjamin, and the mouse. She must write everything down at once. She
looked at the clock.
"Oh no. I've missed English and Math already!"
"Calm down. Sister canceled all your classes. Your teachers have
"What about Julian?"
"I'm sure Sister told him, too."
The problem! She still had not solved it. How long did she have; three
hours? She hastened to the chessboard.
"You're not thinking of going to Chess today, I hope."
The Bishop. The Bishop? The Bishop! She tried the move, quickly testing
it for flaws. It worked! It was beautiful, pure poetry, just like Julian said.
"Well, are you?"
"I am now. Let's go have lunch. I'm starving."
"First, I must tell Sister. You go ahead and get dressed."
"And then what?"
"Wait for me."
"Why can't I meet you in the cafeteria?"
"Because you're not supposed to be alone."
"But Sister, I'm okay."
"Just wait. I won't be long."
The nun hurried out. Melanie got dressed.
Friday, November 7th,
at 11:08 in the A.M. Sister Dana just left. I think she spent the night in the chair
beside my bed. I'm not sure, though. Things haven't been too clear lately (sixteen hours I
guess it's been), like lots of different movies squashed together. The last one is the
clearest. I was a little girl again, visiting Benjamin. I was having fun. Except I saw
something I wasn't supposed to. I don't know what that was now. Ants? I do remember
watching these big red ants, and seeing a spot on the ground. No, on a carpet, in a van.
That was it. The spot was on the floor of this van that had all sorts of stuff lying
around inside. Outside, it was night. But I could see things, even in the dark. Faces,
tiny faces like the ones on Julian's chessmen. Only these were ugly, bad faces. They
scared me, but then Benjamin came and I wasn't frightened anymore. He took me away. I can
go back, though, whenever I want. Benjamin said so.
Before that, I don't remember much, except that what started everything
off was dreams. Sister Deborah said that they were nonsense. I said they weren't. That
started an argument and I got mad and bam!
So now I'm going to go have lunch with Sister Dana, and after, go to
Chess. I'm excited because this time I figured out the moves all by myself.
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