Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Good Shepherd

Jane Kretschmann


Before 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 wing—large, 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 didn’t pay much, I often picked up odd jobs, and on this one particular Wednesday evening—October 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 o’clock. 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 couldn’t 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 man’s cane but ran into a table anyway. A bit of good fortune here—or maybe the patron saint of English teachers—because 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, cut short.

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 didn’t 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 matter—the 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 shepherd’s 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.

***

Jane 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.

© Jane Kretschmann

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012