Flash Fiction Friday: Old Rituals

They sent people west to die.
Oh, the doctor’s would recommend getting to a warmer climate or away from the city for the patients health but what it really meant was that they had no way to help them and didn’t want to be responsible for the patients death. Mostly, it was the nuns who took in the patients who were supposed to die.

It was quite a shock to the doctor’s back east when their hopeless cases recovered. The sisters claimed prayer and a change of scenery as the cause for their recovery. Doctors in the area claimed it was the dry air. It didn’t work in all cases but it worked in enough that towns began attracting a specific type of doctor.

If people with consumption could make it out to Denver, some of the best doctors in the country would be there to study and take care of them. They had to pass through some very scary country to get there, though, and there was a certain type of predator that came to follow the stage lines and railroads to prey on their hope.

He wore priestly vestments and met the trains at the little towns along the way to Denver. If there was somebody on the train who wasn’t going to make it, he offered to take them in at the sanitarium run by the local convent that it was his blessed duty to watch over. Often enough, there was somebody on the train who was grateful for the respite or who was too ill to protest being put off the train days early.

All concern for the patients comfort was shown until the patient was taken to the sanitarium. The sisters lived in a city that was abandoned by the natives centuries earlier. Rumored to be haunted by the spirits of the people who had lived there, the nuns had made the ruins useful to their purposes and set it up as a convent until they could begin to build their own. All they were waiting for was the priest who would be coming with the supplies to build a more permanent place.

When the priest showed up, he’d only brought enough to build a single one-room house. The sisters went to work and sent word to their communities back east of their need. It was the priest who took the missives to be sent on the trains when they stopped in the town that had sprung up.

The stream of patients that came to them was slow but steady. They were a community dedicated to taking care of the sick and the hopeless and they knew their patients had been sent to them to die.

It was Sister Teresa who discovered that things were not what they seemed. A seasoned nun, long past her novitiate, Sister Teresa had felt called to go with her sisters to the west to help where she was needed. Many of the towns didn’t have a regular doctor and homesteaders could go for years without seeing one. It struck her as a very lonely, dangerous existence. When the call for sisters to found a new community in Colorado called, Sister Teresa joined with a sense of excitement and joy.

When they were forced to use the native ruins, something felt off to many of the sisters. The evidence that the ruins had been used for ancient, evil rituals surrounded them. From paintings on the walls to some of the instruments that were cleaned out of the dwellings, everything they found pointed to the natives using this as a place for ritual sacrifice.

The sisters had asked the priest to consecrate the land and the homes but he simply shushed them and had them get to work on the business he’d been sent to do. The single room house for their patients was in use almost constantly and the sisters took it in turns to care for the people in their care, riding out in pairs to visit the people on farms and see to people in the area who were ill.

The patients in the house were always too far gone for the sisters to do much for them aside from comfort them in their last days. Most of them died coughing on their own blood, screaming from the hallucinations that plagued them in their last days.

It was while she was holding a patient during a particularly awful vision that she saw the symbols on the underside of the wooden ledge of the window. Symbols that were eerily reminiscent of the ones found in the darkest of the rooms in the ruins. Once the patient was calmed enough to lay down, Sister Teresa began looking for more of the troubling marks.

She found them. On the undersides of tables and chairs, etched into the very foundation of the house, were the symbols of sacrifice and power that had adorned the ruins. When she touched the carved symbols, it was as though scales fell from her eyes. When she turned around, the priest who was supposed to be their spiritual guide was behind her, except he no longer looked like a Catholic priest.

Standing before her was a priest from the wall paintings, glowing with his power, blood dripping from his hands.

“You cannot have this man,” she told him.

“He’s dead anyway,” the priest told her. “You can’t possibly hope to keep me from my due. I’ve kept my priestesses safe while you live in my rooms of power.”

“You cannot have him,” she said again.
“Any power you claim is but an illusion.”

“Then you will be the next sacrifice. Unpleasant and unattractive as you are, your blood will bathe my hands and fill me with power.” The priest grabbed at the nun but she began to glow. Everywhere he touched, he began to burn. Screaming with an impotent rage, the priest used all of his power to try to break through her glow until he burned himself up.

A storm began to gather above the sick house. Sister Teresa heard a voice tell her “Get the others and run to the town. There’s a storm coming.”

Sister Teresa ran to the rest of the nuns and told them to run, leave their things and get to the town before the storm hit. She went to the patient in the sick house and carried him on her back with a strength she’d never before known. A tornado hit the house and the ruins moments after they left. While the sisters were buffeted by the winds, they made it to the town unharmed.

They sent word to their communities back east, only to discover their priest had died en route. A new one was being sent immediately, along with more supplies for building a proper convent. By the time the new priest arrived, the townspeople had already started the foundation for the convent as a gesture of thanks for the care the sisters had given them.

fin

I’ve been told that my brain is a bit of a scary place to visit. That’s a compliment, I think. Either way, I am what I am and there’s really no sense in apologizing for it. Today’s story was inspired by a lot of things, least of which is visiting an old castle, with attached convent and tuberculosis shack… that was built on an indian burial ground. I really love Colorado. If you enjoyed today’s story, please hit the tip jar if you’re able or share it with your friends so they can enjoy it to.

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