Beyond the Veil (1)
A Siren Song Serial
This is a prequel to the Siren Song Series
Content: Profanity. References to SA
On April 20th, 1999, the nation reeled from the Columbine school shooting. Horrified parents, traumatized children, and self-interested politicians were all too invested in the shooting to notice the kidnapping of two seventeen-year-old girls just one state over, in Kansas. The local news devoted only one segment to the kidnapping, squeezing it between weather and sports. They didn’t even mention the girls’ names, dubbing Katie Tahiri and Nirali Patel “the Piper girls,” even though neither of them went to Piper High School.
By April 22nd, all three kidnappers and Nirali had been found—dead. One day later, Katie was found alive.
But the deaths of the thirteen young people in Colorado, and the heretofore unseen level of violence of the shooters, did not permit any deviation of the national attention.
No one had time to wonder exactly what had happened that night. Or the strange happenings that allowed one of the girls to escape. One of them had lived. And that would have to be enough.
April 3, 2003
“Dere is a woman ‘ere to see you,” Reverend Mother said, her French accent thicker than normal. “She tells me she is a newspaper reporter and would like to speak to you about your journey to become a nun. Is dis some-ting you want?”
Sister Thomas Moore looked up, feeling her grip tighten on the pot she had been scrubbing. There was no reason for her to have a visitor.
Having just donned the white veil and blue habit of the novitiate, she wasn’t allowed to leave or to entertain guests. She needed time away from her earthly family to truly commune with Jesus, to find direction for her spiritual life. Her mother understood this need and stayed away. So who could have come to see her?
The sound of water dribbling on the floor brought Sister Thomas’s gaze down to the floor. She looked to see her hands clenching the soapy dishrag, spilling the bubbles and dirty dishwater onto the chipped linoleum.
Reverend Mother sighed, closing her eyes briefly, then patted her shoulder. “I tell her to go away.”
“No, Mother. I- I’ll speak to her. If she’s actually here to talk about my path to the Church, then that’s a message worth spreading. Especially to girls who are lost.”
Reverend Mother’s lips, already well lined, pursed into a tight pucker. Not impatience, but worry. Perhaps indecision. But ultimately, she nodded. “Yes,” Reverend Mother said quietly. “But she is not from a religious paper. It is the Kansas City paper. I will stay to listen, if you like. To make sure she has not deceived us.”
Sister Thomas Moore gave a tentative smile, not quite the imitation of confidence she’d hoped to project. Of course Reverend Mother should be present. Just in case something went wrong. So many reporters were liars.
Let’s hope this one isn’t.
Together, they left the cramped kitchen and walked briskly down the hall to the common area, their habits swishing and the massive five-decade rosary tied at Reverend Mother’s waist clattering. The reporter no doubt heard them coming from a long way off.
The middle-aged woman rose as they entered the common room, her eyes popping open in surprise in delight. “Oh, Katie I’m so glad to see you!” She enthused, clapping her hands as if she were a long-lost aunt.
“My name is Sister Thomas Moore,” she snapped, quick as a rattlesnake and just as full of venom.
The woman froze, her fake smile falling off her face to reveal an affronted frown.
Damn it! Sister Thomas swore to herself, embarrassed at her rudeness. This woman has done nothing to you. She’s not Catherine Sutterfield.
“I’m so sorry,” she blurted, holding her hand up in an apologetic gesture. “We leave our worldly names behind us when we begin our postulancy. It’s the first step in our journey to become brides of Christ.”
“Of course, dear. Of course.” The woman nodded, going to great effort to put some semblance of the smile back on her face. “It’s just in all my research and seeing your pretty face so many times, Katie is just how I think of you. I’ll do my best to change. Should I call you Thomas? Tommy?”
Sister Thomas felt her lips press together in irritated disappointment and she heard Reverend Mother’s equally irritated sigh from behind her. She had lied to get in here. The reporter had come to a convent and lied to the Reverend Mother. If this woman was reporting on Catholic vocations or had even a passing interest in the topic, she would know to call her Sister.
She wasn’t here about the convent. She was here about the incident. Of course she was. The four-year anniversary was approaching and with that poor Elizabeth Smart being all over the news, it made sense reporters would want to tie in another pretty blonde’s kidnapping story.
“Sister will be just fine. And you are?” she said, moving closer to the table where the reporter had made herself at home. It was one of the students’ lunch tables wheeled in here strictly for this occasion. The common room was used for so many things, including dance classes for underprivileged children. As such, the wall behind the reporter was lined with mirrors, allowing her to see the small recorder tucked in the woman’s belt, the record button no doubt already depressed.
“Meredith Bueller for the Kansas City Star. I’m so happy to meet you in person,” she enthused, holding out her hand.
Reverend Mother drew in a sharp breath—a reminder… or warning. One that was appreciated but not needed. Sister Thomas needed no reminders on the issue of handshakes.
“Forgive me if I don’t shake,” she smiled, perhaps too broadly. “Shall we?” She gestured at the chairs, sweeping her hand in a friendly invitation.
Darting her brow ever so slightly, Meredith withdrew her hand and took her seat while Sister Thomas sat across from her—and the bank of mirrors.
“I wanted to write a piece on the anniversary of your kidnapping. When we got sweet Elizabeth Smart back, it really made me think about your case. So many young girls are taken every year with barely a whisper said by anyone. It was such bad luck your case was overshadowed by Columbine.”
“It spared me the media circus,” she shrugged, hearing the bitterness in her voice and trying to get it under control. “And it was in the hospital I decided to become a nun. So there was a bright spot. For me anyway. Not so much for Nirali.”
Her voice cracked on Nirali’s name and Meredith’s eyes flashed in barely disguised triumph. Obviously, she thought she’d found her angle, the soft spot she’d use to weedle information out of her. For a reporter, she didn’t have a very good poker face, but that wasn’t surprising really.
Meredith had clearly been a looker in her youth. She was well into her forties now, her massive chest resting on a protruding belly and her rings biting into her fleshy fingers. Pretty girls don’t need to develop persuasive skills or even hide it when they’re lying. People give them what they want regardless. Sister Thomas knew that better than most.
When she’d been Katie Tahiri, one flip of her golden hair got her whatever she wanted, from both boys and girls. Even if she was shitty to them on a regular basis, all it took was a smile and they’d give her whatever she asked for. Help on her homework, the use of a graphing calculator, whatever.
But when Katie became Sister Thomas Moore, she’d shaved her pretty hair all off and tossed away her form-fitting clothes. Under the habit and veil, her body was no longer on display, ready to entice or inspire envy. And the way people treated her changed accordingly. People were still nice, of course. She was a nun after all. But Sister Thomas had to earn her way through life in a way Katie Tahiri never did.
It seemed in her middle age, Meredith hadn’t adapted to her new station in life.
“My article is to give hope, to show girls who have been through trauma that there’s life on the other side. I think your story could be such an inspiration. And maybe help people remember Nirali.”
Hot tears sprang into her eyes before she could stop them. A knot formed in her throat, the very thought of Nirali taking away her breath. Behind her, she heard Reverend Mother step closer.
“I’m so sorry, dear,” Meredith said, fishing a small pack of tissues from her oversize bag. “I know it must hurt to remember your friend… when so few people do.”
Sister Thomas nodded, reaching carefully for the tissues Meredith held out to her. But not carefully enough.
The overeager Meredith leaned forward, rubbing her fingers against her hand as she passed her the tissues.
At the moment their fingers touched, white-hot rage flooded Sister Thomas, a sour taste filled her mouth and a roaring sound flooded her ears. Voices and images hit her with the force of a speeding truck. She closed her eyes and yanked her hand back, breathing hard out of her nose.
“Sister?” Meredith and Reverend Mother asked simultaneously.
“Nothing sells like hot teenage ass. Isn’t that what you said to them?” Sister Thomas asked, her voice a low growl. She flicked her eyes open, staring in fury at the woman across from her.
“What?” Meredith squeaked out, her face going ashen.
“The Daily Mirror when you pitched this story,” she rose from her seat, leaning across the table. “You know, since your career in the US is circling the drain, you figured you’d get in the door in the British tabloids. So instead of talking about my dead friend or Elizabeth Smart or even the fucking West Memphis Three, you want to talk about the collective seventeen minutes where I had unwanted, uncircumcised penis inside me. That’ll get eyeballs on the website. Isn’t that what you said?” she snarled.
“Sister, it is time to go now.”
In the mirror, Sister Thomas saw Reverend Mother stepping forward carefully, her arms raised and her eyes wide. But she wasn’t done yet.
“You think I don't know about the people in the chat rooms trying to find footage from that missing camera? You think you’re the first asshole who thinks I have it? Not even close, bitch. And yes, that’s what you are. A bitch. A skeevy, pathetic bitch in heat so desperate for attention from some British newspaper editor that you’ll exploit anyone or anything that will get you a pat on the head, you fucking—”
“Sister!” The fear in Reverend Mother’s shout stopped her cold. Sister Thomas was able to tear her eyes from the terrified reporter’s face and see her own reflection—the flecks of spittle around her mouth, her knuckles gone white as she leaned into Meredith’s face. And her eyes shimmering a bright, electric blue.
At once, the fury left her. With a sob, she backed away from the table, unable to speak even one word of apology or explanation.
The sound of heavy footsteps approached from down the hallway and an Irishman’s shout demanded to know what all the bloody noise was.
With a final gasp, Sister Thomas fled the common room, running down the hall at top speed. Away from Reverend Mother. Away from the approaching Father Sheehan. And away from the lying reporter she’d just imagined murdering.