"The Great Hoax at Bloody Convent"
By Celis T. Rono
His dark scornful eyes followed the figures of Sister Isabella and Sister Lucretia who were making their way to the third floor. He spat on the cold marble hall as he watched the two ascend the stairs. The stone building he inhabited was suffocating him. The heatless walls chilled his bones and the myriad statues that stared down at him with their painted glassy eyes disturbed him rather than provoke wonderfully benign thoughts.
"Bloody nuns!" he muttered as loudly as he could without being overheard by the handful of people who still roamed the second-floor hallway.
"James Dalton, why are you still here? You ought to be in the chapel praying with the others," reproached Miss Timball, a thick waisted Algebra teacher with coiled red hair.
"I left my books in Miss Ridge's room."
"You could have done that after prayers. Now get going." She glared at the insolent twelve-year-old boy who always had an excuse for everything.
The moment the teacher turned her back Jimmy scrunched up his face and muttered, "I'm not even Catholic."
Miss Timball, hearing such a blasphemous remark from her least favorite student, sharply faced the boy. "What did you say, James?"
"I said I'm not even Catholic."
"I see you're still as imaginative as ever. Of course, you're Catholic!"
"No, I'm not."
"You are truly vexing me, child. You were baptized a Catholic; you know that. Your parents are devout followers of the church."
He raised his dark eyebrow and smiled. His handsome but rather impudent face irked the teacher. "I didn't give them permission to baptize me. Therefore I have no religion."
She gritted her teeth to keep from losing her composure. Miss Timball tried to remember that this boy had just lost a family member.
"If you do not go to the chapel this instant like a good little boy, I will be forced to report you to Mother Superior."
James couldn't help but grin at the woman's flaring nostrils. "Yes, ma'am," he said as he walked in the direction of the chapel, leaving a trail of impish giggles behind him.
He was still tickled by Miss Timball's ridiculous attempt at keeping her composure when an idea struck him. It was a terrible and horrific idea but he rather liked it. Before entering the chapel he steeled himself and lost the sly sparkle in his eyes. He dropped his shoulders and his face became a mask of terror.
"Help! Help! Sisters, teachers, help me!" he cried. His cherubic face was inflamed with such violence and terror. His agitated voice echoed in the chapel.
The nuns, teachers, and students kneeling on the pews and reciting their Hail Marys turned toward James who continued with his tirade. They stopped their prayers. The children, glad of any diversion, watched with interest.
"What's the matter?" someone asked.
"I, I…I saw…" His voice faltered, tears brimming in his eyes. "The ceiling on the sixth floor. The music room. I, I saw…"
"You saw what?" a teacher asked, her voice fearful.
"It was bleeding!" he shrieked.
The children, ranging from grammar school to junior high age, made frightened noises, crossing themselves. James didn't miss the look of fear in their eyes. His gaze slowly rose to the bleeding man on the cross that dwarfed the chapel and smiled inwardly.
"What's bleeding?" two nuns asked in unison.
"The ceiling in the music room."
The children in their crisp blue and white uniforms were now astir with fright. Some faint-hearted whimpered. Some of the older boys listened quietly holding their breath to keep from looking scared.
One of the upper-classmen, a thirteen-year-old, said, "That's where James' brother killed himself." Some students gasped as they remembered hearing about the Dalton boy's suicide.
"Hush up, Benjamin. Don't give the children any ideas," reprimanded Sister Edwina. "This is not funny Mr. Dalton!"
"I'm not kidding. It's true. I sneaked up there so I wouldn't have to pray the rosary. I hid in the music room and then I saw blood dripping from the ceiling."
"Was it your brother's blood?" inquired a curious nine-year-old. His question put the hand of frost into everyone's heart – especially those of the adults. Disregarding Sister Edwina's command of silence, James told the boy that it was possible.
"Stop this charade this instance, Mr. Dalton, or I'm going to have to call your parents."
"But it's true!"
More afraid for the children than the ceiling on the sixth floor, Sister Edwina propelled the boy toward the door. "I'm getting sick of your lies, James! Wait outside!" When the troublesome boy did as he was told, the nun faced the frantic children.
"Hush up, Freddy. All of you! It's all a hoax. I thought by now you should have all been immune to James' lies. The ceiling is not bleeding on the sixth floor and it never shall."
"But Frankie hanged himself up there. My brother was the one who found him."
"Benjamin, I'm not going to warn you again! Don't you see, he made it up to scare all of you. Didn't he do that before when he deliberately ran over Sammy's dog with his bike?"
The nun could feel the children were not convinced of what she was saying. Worse, she felt they weren't even paying attention to her. She made sure she had everyone's attention by clapping her hands.
"Listen. Since you cannot be persuaded any other way, Sister Cecile and I will go up to the music room. If we do not see anything peculiar, will you all forget this nonsense?"
The children nodded their assent and started whispering amongst themselves.
"Sister Grace, would you continue where we left off? Sister Cecile, come along, please."
James heard everything that was said inside the chapel. He smiled to himself and thought, "He owes me!" He faced the two slim nuns with a shrug. The look of annoyance on their faces was plain to see.
"James, if you are lying, admit it now before you make a further fool of yourself."
"I wasn't lying, Sister Cecile."
"Suit yourself. Come along."
They climbed the stairs without uttering a word. The halls were quiet for everyone was either in the chapel praying or in study hall. James pointed at the room at the end of the corridor. The nuns nodded in acknowledgment and walked to the music room. Sister Edwina opened the Mission style door with metal studs that always reminded James of the entrance to a Spanish inquisition torture room. She switched on the lights. The three surveyed the classroom. It was a large severe place with instruments of all kinds arranged on the shelves.
"Sister Cecile, do you see any blood on the ceiling?"
"Not at all."
"It will bleed. Come inside," prodded James.
"I think you've wasted enough of our time. There's obviously nothing bloody in this room."
"Come inside!" persisted the boy. "Please!"
"I just hope you would give up this sham. It's quite embarrassing to your parents," Sister Edwina tiredly stated as she and Sister Cecile sat on the chair the boy had indicated.
"It's no trick, Sister." He took a deep breath and stood by the window. "Frankie, you owe me! You better make that ceiling bleed."
"What was that James?" asked Sister Cecile, her bony face looking pinched.
Ignoring the nun, the boy went on mumbling to himself. "Remember, Frankie, you said if I helped you, you would be my guardian angel. My genie! I order you, make it bleed!"
The women, quite unnerved by the boy's passionate plea, looked at each other.
"I think you've had enough fun for today, young man! Let's go downstairs."
"No. It will bleed!"
"Why don't you just admit it? You made it all up." Sister Edwina slowly approached the boy. "It's understandable you feel like this. After all, you just lost your only brother. But dear James, you must stop telling lies."
He pushed the woman's hands away and ignored her statement. "It will bleed. He owes me."
"Your parents will have to be told about this!"
"I don't care what you do, only stay a little longer."
"Stop this monstrosity, James! Your good parents–"
"They're not so good. They gave my brother that disease and they only pretend to be good. My parents are rotten inside. Their nice clothes hide their filth!"
"You mustn't blame–"
He looked darkly at Sister Edwina and yelled, "Shut up!" He stared at the ceiling. "Frankie, if you don't make the ceiling bleed, then you are a double-faced liar! I helped free you from your illness because you didn't have the guts to do it yourself. You're a coward! After I've done my job, I'm already nothing to you? I hate you! You're just like Mom, a liar and a cheat!"
Sister Edwina took hold of the boy's hand. He struggled fiercely to be free. "Sister Cecile, hold on to his legs!"
"No. Leave me alone! Frankie, I helped you, remember?" After several attempts, he succeeded in freeing his left hand and struck Sister Edwina on the mouth. She ignored the salty liquid trickling on her lips and continued to capture the boy's free hand.
"Stop it, James!"
"Sister Cecile screamed, "I can't hold on to his legs much longer!"
"Frankie, you coward! Help me! Show them. I helped you. I freed you when you asked me to." He lashed at Sister Cecile with his legs, throwing the nun off balance.
Sister Edwina had to let go of the boy, for Sister Cecile was winded and sprawled on the floor, unable to stand. James ran to the other side of the room and started pleading and cursing at his brother.
"I think I may have sprained my ankle," said Sister Cecile who was biting down on her lower lip.
Sister Edwina tried her best to comfort the injured nun, her wimple bobbing up and down. "For heaven's sake, James, call the nurse!"
"Remember the cello string? Remember when you couldn't drape it on the light beam because you were in pain? I helped you tie it up there. You begged me and I helped you!"
Sister Edwina stopped her ministration and looked up at James across the room.
"And what about when you couldn't kick the chair from under you because the string on your neck was so short and tight that you were on your tiptoes? Who did you ask to help you push it away? He ran his hand through his shaggy hair. "I did!" He laughed bitterly. "Mom and Dad wouldn't have helped you. Heck, they made you keep going to school even though you were throwing your guts out every five minutes! They were too busy boozing it up! But I helped you. I was always there for you. I did everything you asked of me. Guardian angel, my foot!"
"James, you don't know what you're saying!"
He didn't even hear Sister Edwina's quivering voice, who despite herself felt the hands of terror creeping coldly in her heart.
"I didn't take you down even though the cord cut into your neck. You made me promise," he cried. "I watched the cello string sever your head from your body because you asked me to."
"Sister Edwina, the boy is mad!"
"And all I ask from you is a little blood on the ceiling so these penguins and brats here will believe me!" He screamed hysterically, "Is that too much to ask after all I've done for you?"
Because her nerves couldn't handle any more strain, Sister Edwina ran to the boy and shook him. "Shut up, James. Stop all this! Stop–"
A piercing cry broke from the injured woman on the floor. Both the nun and the boy turned toward Sister Cecile whose white habit was getting splattered by dark red liquid. All three looked to where the liquid was coming from.
Sister Edwina's eyes bulged in terror. "The ceiling," she whispered in disbelief.
James grinned slyly. He was now able to scratch his head for the nun that had been shaking him a minute before had fainted. Triumphantly, he uttered, "Now we're even."
Celis T. Rono is the author of the vampire novel, That Which Bites.
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