I came to Tennessee, I taught at a tiny college in Alton, Georgia,
named St. Elizabeth, which was located on a farm owned by the
order of nuns whose large motherhouse was located there. As small
as the college was, and though we offered only day classes, still
we had outgrown our one modern building. So we used a couple of
classrooms and offices located in the old back wing of the motherhouse,
which had earlier housed an academy for local girls. Downstairs
on the ground level was the library shared by the college and
the nuns. This wing was the only area where we were allowed, because
of the sisters requirements for privacy. A large chapel
and storage room separated their quarters from the college wing,
further ensuring their privacy.
My office was in that back winglarge, with high ceilings
and tall windows which opened to a view of the farm and the corner
of the cemetery with its tiny, plain headstones all just alike,
reminding me of a national cemetery for soldiers. When on warm
days I left my office door open, from my desk I could see across
the big hall a larger-than-life painting of the Good Shepherd,
carrying a small lamb in his right arm. I liked this image so
much I think I memorized it.
Because St. Elizabeth didnt pay much, I often picked up
odd jobs, and on this one particular Wednesday eveningOctober
31, as I recall, I worked in my office to finish an article I
was writing for the local paper. To clarify a few points, I had
asked for an interview with one of the few young nuns, Sister
Micah, in my office, at 8:00 oclock. It must have been almost
that time when I heard from the hall the very loud noise of something
hitting the floor; then there was a bright flash of light and
footsteps. Immediately all the power went off.
I pulled the curtains all the way back to let in enough moonlight
so I could see to gather my coat and purse. As I did I saw someone
in a habit rounding the corner, as if to come up the steps, which
were on the same end of the hall as my office. I figured it must
have been Sister Micah, and thought if I hurried out I would at
least have a companion to walk with me around the building to
where my car was parked.
Without the moonlight, once in the hall I couldnt see anything
but knew where the door was and made straight for it. Though I
had come in that very door earlier, it was now locked, and there
was no way I could open it. The only thing to do was follow the
wall around to the chapel door and hope I could find a stairway.
Once inside the chapel I used my arm like a blind mans cane
but ran into a table anyway. A bit of good fortune hereor
maybe the patron saint of English teachersbecause the table
held little candles which people would light and place in front
of a stature of Mary. I felt around until I found a match, and
used the tiny light to locate the stairs.
The storage room was like a mausoleum, with trunks like caskets.
This was where women left their belongings when they took their
vows, because they would have no use for them in the convent.
Thank goodness I found the outside door before my candle burned
down. My eyes were so accustomed to the dark that, once outside,
I could see pretty well by the moonlight. Then I heard a scream,
I ran as hard as I could toward my car, and had just gotten in
when I saw a tall person in a long gown or robe pulling something
heavy toward me. I didnt stay around to find out who or
what but gunned the engine and flew home.
I was in such a state that I cancelled my classes for the rest
of the week, and it was Monday before I returned to the college.
As I parked my car I could see there was a fresh grave in the
cemetery. Before going up stairs, I stopped by the library to
find out which of the old sisters had died, but learned to my
distress that it was Sister Micah, whose body had been found on
Thursday morning. She had been beaten to death.
By this time I was doubly glad that my only job that day was to
stay with my classes while they wrote essays. I thought it might
help my nerves to spend a few quiet minutes looking at the Good
Shepherd, but the picture was not there. After classes when I
inquired, I learned that it had been damaged when it fell from
the wall. So at least that cleared up one matterthe source
of the loud noise I had heard on Wednesday night.
I went by the workshop to find out how badly the picture had been
damaged. Sister Velda had the painting spread on the floor, and
she was down on her arthritic knees rubbing one spot. Looks
like mud or rust or something here, she said, wiping hard
at the shepherds crook. I looked over her shoulder, and
right away felt a chill. The Shepherd now held his crook with
his right hand, the lamb in his left arm.
I turned and went back to my office, where I wrote out my letter
of resignation. Then I began to look for a job elsewhere.
K. Kretschmann's publishing credits include The Ledge Poetry
& Fiction Magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern
Literature, ByLine, Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream, Writer's
Journal, Fresh Boiled Peanuts, Artistry of Life, Right Hand Pointing,
Wavelength: Poetry in Prose and Verse, Common Threads, Sandcutters,
Ohio Poetry Day Best of 2003 and 2004, NFSPS Encore 2005,
The Farmer's Daughter anthology, the NPR program "Theme
and Variations," the Dayton Metro Library Web site, and the
Akron (Ohio) Art Museum Web site. She has also had articles in
Writer's Digest and Poet's Market 2008. Jane grew
up in Alabama and lives in Ohio, where she is an Associate Professor
of English and a member of the Edison Writers' Club.