Incident at St. Laurita’s
by Kochava Greene
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
On the third day after Honey had arrived, five days after the deaths of the two travelers, the sheriff rode to the convent around midnight. He got down from his horse and tied her loosely to a post inside the thick outer walls of the courtyard. His hat in his hand, he entered the visitors’ area to speak with Mother Angelita, who flew from her rooms, sweeping down the adobe corridors, priming herself for news, good or bad.
The sheriff scratched his forehead. “Mother,” he said, dipping his head. “Jasper McJohns says he saw a Waja leaving the lake early this evening and headed this way. I wanted to let you know, I have a handful of men on the way to help protect you all.”
“This is the worst timing!” Mother Angelita stared at the sheriff.
“No, it’s perfect,” said Sister Amelia, who was on night watch and had followed the sheriff in. “It’s absolutely perfect.”
Sister Amelia told the Mother Superior and the sheriff to expect several Wajas, guessing that there would be three to five of them. Then she went to wake Honey and change.
In her cell, she removed her apron, dress, and underclothes. She stepped into a large metal box with holes for her legs and secured her legs to it. She tightened the metal box around her, using gears and locks to draw in webbing and strapping that circled her torso. She drew watertight covers down over the attachment points on her legs and slid her arms through long, articulated metal tubes that were capped at the ends with rotors.
At the end of each tube she grasped a rotor control to check that the weaponized rotors would spin easily. Awkwardly, she lifted up a round helmet with a piece of glass across the front and tucked it under one arm. She inserted her other arm tube into a tangle of webbing attached to yet another roughly welded box, and headed for the front of the convent.
Mother Angelita didn’t know what to think of the clanking box that emerged from the convent. Sister Amelia was entirely enveloped in metal, save for the glass rectangle in her helmet. Honey connected the breathing device, normally used in hospitals, to a set of pumps and tanks from the Yam, and checked all of the socket points on the suit.
Sister Amelia smiled at the Mother Superior who was watching them intently. “Mother,” she said, “will you bless me?”
Mother Angelita was startled, but covered it smoothly. “Of course,” she said. She cast about the room for a moment, then asked to borrow one of Honey’s screwdrivers. She stepped up to Sister Amelia and carefully, almost hesitantly, scratched the spiral of the All-Mother into the breastplate of the suit. She bowed her head for a moment, touched the spiral, and stepped back. “Go with the All-Mother,” she said. “Save the lake.”
With Sister Selina and three men newly arrived from the sheriff’s office, Sister Amelia, Honey, and the Zambian left the convent on a cart pulled by Sister Brayana. The moon was just past half, and the stars lit up the sands of the desert as they made their way to the lake, moving quietly to avoid the Wajas heading in the other direction.
At one point they all stopped, seeing a shadow move past. The group exhaled as one when it had gone, and reached the lake around three in the morning. Honey lifted Sister Amelia down from the cart and connected her helmet to the tanks from the Yam. Filled with oxygen, they would keep her alive for an hour underwater.
Honey also attached a balloon full of jelly inside Sister Amelia’s helmet and had the sister run her rotor blades one last time. As the moon traveled on its way towards the earth, Sister Amelia slipped into the lake. Honey climbed into the Zambian, and Sister Selina, monitoring both women’s oxygen, pushed the tiny submarine into the lake.
At St. Laurita’s, Sister Margaret took up a staff and joined her sisters in the courtyard. Mother Angelita, in a steel box suspended above the courtyard, gave directions. Six Wajas were trying to get up and over the walls, and they were largely succeeding.
Sisters Pippa, Penelope, and Carlita were ready for them to drop down into the courtyard, where they would be easier to fight. In the infirmary, Sister Monica readied supplies for wounded nuns, and Sister Cristina prepared jars in which to pickle the Wajas’ dismembered limbs.
Sister Amelia sank straight to the bottom of the lake and took several minutes to adjust to the darkness under its waters. Her helmet had a small light attached to the top of it, but the water was murky and thick, a definite sign of Waja presence.
She knew that Wajas usually nested in the center of lakes like this one, and, training her air supply line, began pushing through weeds and the choked water to get there. Honey, in the Zambian, whirred around the edges of the lake, searching for Wajas away from the nest.
Sister Pippa pinned the first Waja as it came down the wall, its claws reaching out and snapping even as its legs scrambled for a purchase on the adobe. Elated by the easy first defensive kill, the women threw the body to the side as three more creatures breached the courtyard.
“On your left, Sister Margaret!” yelled Mother Angelita. Sister Margaret was paralyzed for a long moment, and Mother Angelita stopped breathing; then the young woman swung her iron-pointed staff at the closest creature, solidly hitting it in the head.
To her right, Sister Penelope was fending off a second Waja that was soon joined by a third, and as a Sheriff’s deputy fenced with yet another, a final emissary from the lake slipped unseen over the wall behind them.
I’m getting close, Sister Amelia thought. To her left, she saw the unmistakable outline of a cow’s skeleton, ribbons of flesh rising up as she moved the water with her copper legs and thick suit.
And there was the nest: at least a dozen grown or mostly grown Wajas and a handful of egg sacs. She breathed deeply from her air line, prayed to the All-Mother, and stomped in, crushing egg sacs with her feet. The startled Wajas rose up around her, and she wound the clockwork gears that made the rotors on her suit begin to spin.
Honey found a single Waja near the east side of the lake and chased it down when it tried to maneuver away from her. As it zigged and zagged across the lake bottom, Honey released the catch on a long spring, and an enormous knife, like Sister Amelia’s dagger but much larger, sprang into action. It caught the Waja’s back legs and Honey quickly ran over its back, sharp rotors taking apart the creature in seconds.
In the courtyard of St. Laurita’s, Sister Carlita shot a downed and beaten Waja in Sister Amelia’s prescribed locations: head, throat, chest, knees.
Sister Pippa’s staff was grasped by one Waja’s set of claws, and it pulled itself up the staff towards her as another of the Sheriff’s men turned to help her.
On the edges, three nuns grabbed the killed Wajas and dragged them to the convent door, which was sealed tightly from the inside. The Waja on Sister Pippa’s staff let go with one claw and, faster than she could see it, closed hard onto her arm. Sister Margaret screamed, driving her staff into the back of the Waja’s head.
Sister Amelia spun, a whirling dervish in the service of the All-Mother, removing unnatural creatures from the lake. She spun, and spun, dizzying whirls in the nest, her eyes almost closed as she sliced through the creatures under the water.
On the shore, Sister Selina kept her eyes on the oxygen tank’s gauge, and three of the sheriff’s men stood ready with guns should more Wajas emerge.
A big Waja grabbed Sister Penelope at the waist from behind her; one of the men grabbed at the Waja’s back legs, which kicked him in the stomach. Sister Carlita bashed at the Waja’s middle with her staff as both creature and woman fell to the ground.
Mother Angelita called for the backup fighters. From the sidelines, Sister Michelle rushed into the fight, joining Sister Carlita in trying to remove the Waja from Sister Penelope, who thrashed and screamed on the ground. Sister Margaret helped Sister Pippa to the doorway of the convent, keeping her staff pointed on the wounded Waja that followed them.
Honey found two more Wajas on the edges of the lake, and destroyed them almost as easily as the first. Sister Amelia was caught up in the whirling and whirring of her body and the rotors when her right hand failed. The mechanism growled, tangled on pieces of Waja and weedy muck. She stopped spinning, losing her balance briefly in the process.
She reached out with her left arm and swung it at the Wajas still coming at her, circling her from their nest. She looked down quickly, and stepped on the remaining egg sacs. The floor of the lake began to rumble and shudder. Honey felt a faint vibration as well, and headed for the center of the lake.
Sister Margaret returned to the melee, nearly knocking over one of the sheriff’s men in the process. With staves, she and Sister Michelle and Sister Carlita killed the Waja on Sister Penelope. Sister Carlita administered the final shots, and Sister Margaret put her staff through a last twitching Waja body.
The nest was moving: the bones and flesh around it were being pushed away by some kind of force, a tide inside the lake. The floor under Sister Amelia’s feet shook and broke, sucking water under the ground and issuing forth a dark shadow.
Sister Amelia jumped back, away from the nest, and was jerked down; her legs were caught in weeds and the tangle of the nest. As she neared the center of the lake, Honey pushed the Zambian faster and faster. She caught a glimpse of copper, and saw Sister Amelia fighting to get free of the nest. She wound up the clockwork knife again.
Sister Monica applied preserved Waja jelly to Sister Pippa’s arm, where the Waja had ripped away muscle and ligaments. Sister Carlita and the sheriff’s men were dragging the Waja bodies to the infirmary. And in the courtyard, Sister Penelope’s eyes had been closed, and Mother Angelita knelt by her body.
Wajas hurled themselves at Sister Amelia, claws beating on her suit, legs seeking openings. But as the crevice in the lake floor opened, the last of the Wajas were sucked in by the shadow inside.
On the shore, Sister Selina began to look worried: the tanks had hit the halfway point, and there had been no tugs on the lines to indicate that she should pull Sister Amelia up or signal Honey in the submarine. The sheriff’s men shifted their weight uneasily, keeping their rifles ready.
Out of the crevice the shadow was growing. Sister Amelia struggled to release her legs from the nest. As the shadow emerged from the crevice, she began banging her arm tubes against the newly modified keyless socket mechanisms that kept the copper legs bolted in place to her natural ones.
She managed to release her right leg when an enormous Waja-like creature lunged at her. It was easily three times as large as a normal Waja, and had a wide mouth, fanged at the corners. Its legs were not the thin, insect-like legs of the smaller Wajas, but sturdy, thick limbs ending with hoof-like feet with sharp spurs on the ankles. Its mouth was open, and Sister Amelia felt it begin to suck her in. She frantically beat at the socket of her left leg as its jaws closed over her lower body just as she saw the Zambian’s flashing knife swoop in at it. The dark water and the giant Waja surrounded her, and she blacked out.
Sister Amelia came to just a second later. She grabbed at the lines supplying her with air, jerking them to signal Sister Selina that she needed to rise. As she felt the lines begin to tighten the webbing around her, she took a huge breath, grabbed the helmet from her head, ripped away the air lines, and shoved the helmet into the giant Waja’s mouth. Surprised, the creature swallowed, and as Sister Amelia rose towards the surface, it began to thrash and claw at her torso, disappearing out of its reach.
Honey steered the Zambian directly at the Waja, slamming into its throat and backing out as fast as she could go.
All Sister Selina could see was blood: blood from Sister Amelia’s legs, blood from the Wajas, blood in the eyes of the sheriff’s men as the nun broke through the surface, missing her helmet and legs. The Zambian surfaced just behind her, Honey throwing open the hatch on top and racing out.
Honey cradled her friend on the shore of the lake, laying her gently down as Sister Selina tied off Sister Amelia’s left leg above the Waja bite. Sister Amelia gasped and gobbled for air. In the center of the lake, the water rose in huge waves, and the giant Waja broke the surface and sunk again, its claws and legs beating the water. The men shot at it, hitting the body.
Sister Amelia panted, “It’s dead already. It’s dead.” The others stared at her. How could this behemoth creature be dead when it was flailing around the lake?
“I put the helmet in its mouth,” she gasped out.
“And I made it swallow,” Honey beamed. Sister Amelia nodded weakly. Sister Selina and the men looked at Honey for an explanation. “There’s a jelly packet of poison in the helmet,” she said. “It was for the Sister here in case she needed it for herself. It’ll easily kill the Waja, but it will dissipate quickly thereafter, leaving the lake water safe.”
* * *
Shortly after dawn, Sister Brayana appeared at St. Laurita’s main gate, pulling a cart carrying Honey, Sister Amelia, the sheriff’s men, and a good deal of battered equipment.
Sister Margaret ran from the convent gate to them. “Sister Margaret,” said Sister Amelia gently and with a smile, “what are you doing outside of the walls?” Sister Margaret collapsed onto Sister Amelia’s shoulders with relief and sorrow, crying and hugging her.
Inside, Honey and Sister Margaret took Sister Amelia to the infirmary, and Honey went to the Yam to retrieve her original plans for her friend’s legs. “We’ll just need to add more at the top of the left one,” she told Sister Monica later. “Plenty of room there for an extra device or two....”
As the sisters in the infirmary helped Sister Amelia sleep, she thought, I might never leave again. But deep in her mind, she knew more than ever that it wasn’t true. Her work here had changed things; she would become restless again. But I don’t have to worry about it now, she thought, drifting off into a soft sleep.
Sister Penelope’s ashes were scattered in the desert, returning her to the All-Mother. For the next several days, the sisters paddled around the lake in a borrowed canoe, pouring oils and herbs into its waters from large pottery vats.
Not long after, Mother Angelita called Sister Amelia to her office. Sister Amelia arrived in a small wind-up carriage base, a temporary device until her new legs were finished. She bowed to her Mother Superior.
“Is it true, Sister?” Mother Angelita asked. “We added the mixes to the lake and now... now it is a healing lake? An entire lake of salve?” Sister Amelia nodded, and the Mother Superior sat back in her chair, smiling. “We will reconsecrate St. Laurita’s. In addition to what we have been, we will become a place of healing. Sister Margaret is deeply desirous to work with victims of the creatures.”
Then Mother Angelita picked up an envelope from her desktop. “This is from a woman from your part of the world,” she said. “She wishes to join us, but is being held by a plantation master in Carolina. He is using some kind of creatures to keep people there. Do you — and Honey, if she will help us again — feel up for a trip?”
Copyright © 2015 by Kochava Greene