Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Widow of Frankenstein, part the sixth

“My sorrow increased with the burial of each dear friend. I attempted to suppress my pain by working longer hours than all the rest, but it was of no avail. The ache in my heart continued to gnaw away within me. I surrounded myself with the afflicted, shutting myself in with them in their houses of death, breathing the air they breathed, and taking the burial duties upon myself. All this I did to assuage my guilt at surviving, in hopes that I would finally succumb to the plague myself. It was no use. I was immune, somehow.
“I found solace in the fact that those who did not perish of the plague would still surrender to the ravages of a more widespread epidemic: old age. Even the healthiest and strongest among us would one day find final peace in the grave. No one escapes death, after all. However, some fifty years after I had entered into the convent, I was distraught at the realization that this, too, seemed to be eluding me. Fifty years of toil and sorrow had utterly failed to etch one line in my face or change a single hair to gray! My body had stubbornly refused to age! My greatest fear at that time was not that I would never die–I assumed that I was simply aging at a much slower rate, due to the odd circumstances of my “birth”–but that the other sisters would take notice, and begin to suspect that dear Sister Martha was not what she appeared.
“My fears of being found out were short-lived, though. I had spent the whole day in the village, as was my routine, ministering to victims of a new pestilence that had struck Europe. (This new disease had no effect on me, either.) Night had fallen, and I was making my way home through the forest. As I drew nearer, I began to smell smoke. Running the rest of the way, I found the place fully engulfed in great orange flames! Since there had been no cry of alarm sounded in the village, and I found none of the sisters standing outside or in the forest, I knew the solemn truth. Ignoring the heat of the blaze, I seized a shovel from our garden and hurried to the grave of the recently-departed Sister Joanne. Those who sifted through the ashes later would find enough charred remains to account for all the nuns–including Sister Martha.
“When the numbness of shock finally wore off, I found myself in unfamiliar country. By my calculations, I had been on the move for about three days! I found a stream, and slaking my thirst, I collapsed into a deep sleep. When I awoke, I gathered together some roots and berries that I remembered to be edible. However, such a meager meal only served to remind my stomach that I’d had nothing to eat in the past few days.
“I was miserable! Though the sun shone brightly upon me, thick clouds of darkness had already descended upon my heart. In my depressed state, I plucked some stones from the stream bed and smashed them against one another until I had a broken piece with a sharp edge. With that sharp edge, I did this.” She unbuttoned her cuffs and pushed her sleeves up to show me her wrists. Black stitches encircled them, but intersecting those stitches were multiple long, white scars. Each one was around four or five inches long.
“I lost a lost of blood, and passed out, but even this failed to end my life–obviously,” she smiled bitterly. “I suspect that whatever was done to infuse me with life and make me immortal–so far–also causes me to heal at a greatly accelerated pace. I don’t know if I can die, short of immolating myself, like Adam.
“Though it may seem odd, surviving my suicide attempt strengthened my resolve to live. My first idea was to return to what I knew–find another convent and again enter into a life of service and prayer. The longer I thought upon this, the more painful it became. I knew that the memories of those I had lost would have haunted me constantly if I had tried to return to that way of life.

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