Demons will eat your flesh if you continue your ways. Mother Veronique said to Sister Tiziana, caught drinking sweet black wine in the cellar. Veronique threw a mop and bucket her way instead. When she grew restless, she misbehaved. Reading books used to help pass the time until King Barasa Crow ordered their removal from the convent. To prevent the sister’s minds from clouding with other influences, he said. A specific fate was coming for that cursed man—Tiz foreseen it.
In her boredom, she’d play a game and record her visions, wait and check the newspaper to confirm they happened. Each one did. That got old. Next, she made up visions that became stories. Daily recollections of this and that. Poems, unexplainable feelings, sad and pleasant moments, all in her diary. The one with the red ribbon.
“Where is your diary?” Veronique asks.
I’m a sister of Immaculate Soul, not demon food. Tiz thinks. She can still taste the wine—sweet darkness.
“Tiziana, where is your diary?”
“It’s here, my apologies.” She hands over a black book. A white ribbon bookmark pokes out between the pages.
“I hope there are no peculiar tales of horror or adventure this time. Your previous entries were troubling. Sisters of Immaculate Soul must keep a pure mind. Even the king says so.”
Tiziana sits opposite Mother Veronique at her plain wooden desk. The only light comes from a small desk lamp. The room is bare of personal effects. Nothing to give away who she was. On the surface, the twenty-something Veronique has a flawless face, maybe meant to be loved, one day. The beige head wrap she wears is so tight there’s no sign of hair beneath. Her well informed dark granite eyes are almond-shaped pools of mystery beneath well-groomed, symmetrical brows furrowed in frustration. She hardly smiles, speaks little, and is always right, even when she’s wrong.
“Mother Veronique, there are no such tales of horror or adventure inside, I assure you, I destroyed those.”
Last week, Tiz wrote a story, a poem, and a vision in the white ribbon book instead of the red. To her horror, Veronique read them during a room inspection… with a smile and instructed Tiz to burn the writings, but didn’t confirm or collect the ashes. So, Tiz copied the words into the red ribbon book, and burned the pages ripped from the white ribbon book. Since then, to ensure Tiz kept out of trouble Veronique read from her diary every other day. The monitoring helps curb her unruly behavior.
Following Veronique’s eyes, Tiziana recognizes the passage she’s reading and hopes she likes it:
I let Veronique down when I drank that wine. I understand her position. It’s a heavy burden for anyone to take, to be a mother of Immaculate Soul. That’s why she’s tough on us, to prepare us for our own vows and the continued protection of Aeterna’s souls. This is necessary for us all. It is appropriate, and it is right.
Mother Veronique sighs, giving the sister a look of disapproval. “Why do you write?”
Tiz wants to ask why Veronique reads her diary, but that was obvious: she’s nosey and vindictive.
“Writing brings clarity–”
“I remember the poem you wrote. The one about your moontime. I didn’t find clarity. It’s filth.”
“It’s just feelings, it’s our bodies!” Tiziana’s voice rises, an uncharacteristic trait given her usual calmness.
“No one cares. You are to spend time dedicated to meditation, study, and manual labor. Not pursuits to string along the cleverest words together, Sister Tiziana. When you do your job, it makes my own that much easier, and my duties are heavier in load than your own. Tend to the convent rather than reflections and rhyming words. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Mother Veronique.”
In the distance, bells ring as the sun sets. The moon emerges from slumber. Tiziana wanted to say more, use her words like she did on paper but Veronique tosses the diary at her and opens the good book.
“Go to bed.”
“Yes. Good night, Mother Veronique.”
Sleep refuses Tiz. Wandering thoughts about Veronique keep her company. They were a year apart age wise, Tiz discovered after peeking at convent records, Veronique being older, of course. How could someone so young be so stuffy? No fun. No words. No personal effects. Why remain at Immaculate Soul?
Sweet sounds of nature wrapped in a warm morning breeze welcomes Tiziana to a new day. She picks a cream-colored dress to wear, rather than the brown to accommodate the increase in temperature later. As soon as she stepped out, Veronique was in her head: While wonder surrounds us here, go any further, and you’ll find abyss draws near. We cannot allow the outside to penetrate the sacred walls of Immaculate Soul; nor should you believe everything you see. Tiz ignored it. She stopped at the library and read to her heart’s content. It was better to read books inside than check them out and risk Veronique finding them, or informing the king.
After her fix, she sees the words SURRENDER TO THE VOID posted on a brick building across the street. A new place. She inches closer, captured by a spell.
Tiziana hesitates at the heavy booming from inside, rumbling thunder. A collision of crashes and bangs come together in a smooth flow of synchronicity. She steps closer, up to the large picture windows. Inside, a young man raises and lowers his arms with sticks in hand, beating away at drums, his leg taps, his eyes are closed, mouth open wide, he’s yelling–no, singing.
He’s handsome, green skin, exotic. He makes Tiziana smile. Her head and hips follow the tune until the young man opens his black eyes, sees her and winks. Frightened, Tiz runs the entire way back to Immaculate Soul, where Veronique stands on the front steps, blocking her entrance.
“And what hijinks are you up to today, sister Tiziana? Have you completed your meditation? Your assigned chores?”
“No. I mean, yes. I — I went for a walk, to m—meditate. I completed my chores, Mother Veronique.”
“Where were you?”
“Just walking, I didn’t go far.”
Mother Veronique studies Tiziana’s wet brow and heavy breaths. Her skin is kissed with gold shimmers, her cheeks flush. Tiz knew. She remembered her sweaty reflection in the window watching that strange man make magic with sound. He made her hot. Or maybe it was the running. Tiz wasn’t sure. She needed to get to her room, cool off, and write it down. Veronique steps aside, Tiziana slips past.
“Tiz.” Veronique calls.
Tiziana’s halfway down the hall. Veronique closes the door, killing the light of day pouring in.
“Yes, Mother Veronique?”
“It’s time for your room inspection.”
“Oh. I—I, may I tidy up first?”
“If you completed your chores as you said, your room should already be tidy.”
There was nothing Tiziana could say to change her fate. She walks to her room. Mother Veronique is behind. These rules and intrusion were tiring.
Moments later, Tiziana watches Veronique’s eyes settle on the pile of laundry in the corner. She didn’t make her bed. Pillows lay on the floor, a lacy pink bra hangs off the side of a chair, scattered papers sit on her desk. Veronique shuffles through them, drawings of all sorts. She holds one up to the window, studying it in the natural light. It’s an amethyst, colored in different variations of violet.
“While it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, I remain steadfast in my skepticism of you.” She pauses, setting the amethyst drawing back down, staring at the bra. “You stated you completed your chores but your room is not clean. Also, Sister Margot informed me you had kitchen duties last night that were not completed, leading to a dish shortage and more work for your sisters.”
“I’m sorry Mother Veronique.”
“Yes, you are. You’ll have kitchen duties this evening. For your sake, you better remember to do them.”
“Yes, Mother Veronique.”
She stops her attention at Tiziana’s desk again, where under a piece of paper, a black book sits.
“Is this your diary?”
Tiziana nods. “Yes, it is.”
“I could’ve sworn when I read it the other day, your diary had a white ribbon. Did it not?”
Veronique removes the paper from the book, revealing the red ribbon. Tiz’s face drops.
“Uh. N—No, you’re right, it was white. The red is an extra book. After I fill up the white one.”
“Oh. I see.” Veronique smiles, she never smiled. “What brings you so much nervousness? It isn’t me, is it?”
“No, Mother Veronique. I think the heat got to me after my walk.”
“Understandable. Well, once you’re composed, you’ll join the rest of us for tea. We’re going to read from the good book.” Veronique glances at the red ribbon diary again, Tiziana notices. Her mind wanders, heart racing. It was only a matter of time…
Mother Veronique turns around, almost too fast. Her eyes narrow. “What did you say?”
“I said no. I don’t want any stupid tea, it’s boiling outside.”
“I said no!” Tiziana yells. No turning back now. She’d ready herself for the pain to come, the broken bones, blood, demon food. Tiz heard it all. Did she believe it? To a point, but it was silly. Like she was playing dress up for years and suddenly grew out of it.
Veronique grabs the diary.
“The diary with the white ribbon… that’s a decoy, isn’t it? This is the real one. You turned pale when I laid eyes on it. I wonder what’s inside…”
She turns to the first page, slowly, watching Tiziana as she does so.