A Nun and the Afterlife
by Adam Natali
Nothing scares me more than a church, and I’ve been a paranormal investigator for over thirty years. I can handle floating clouds of mist enveloping my head and dizzying my senses. Nothing fazes me about old, invisible fingers wrapping around my throat in the middle of the night, and I’ve seen enough murders re-enacted by semi-transparent entities than I can count. But when I see a dimly lit statue of an emaciated guy nailed up to some wooden beams, sweat starts leaking out of places that I didn’t know had pores.
It’s just the whole environment. The endless echoes off of walls, columns, and floors made of marble. The indiscernible shapes painted on stained glass when there’s nothing but the night sky outside to light them up. It’s the lingering smell of incense. The image of screaming babies being water-boarded over the baptismal font, and the terrified looks of young men and women as they promise their souls to forever without any concept of how long that really is.
So you can imagine how nervous I was taking a job at one. Apparently a nun who used to teach at the nearby school never stopped showing up on Thursday night to pray the rosary. When I first got the call I wanted to just tell them that a harmless old spirit saying her prayers wasn’t worth the effort. I really would’ve said anything to avoid going there, but business had been slow and I needed the cash.
What made things even worse was that it was going to be my first case since my brother passed away. He was younger than I, just a couple years past forty, and I had been dragging him along on ghost hunts since he could walk. He was not only my brother, but my friend and business partner. Now I was on my own.
I wanted to find some comfort in knowing that I would see him again someday on the other side. The irony is that I’m not sure I really believe there is one. You’d think a guy in my line of work would have no problem believing in life after death, but I wasn’t buying it. I’ve helped hundreds of ghosts find peace, and you know what happens? They just vanish. No angels, no blinding white light, just poof. It’s as if they had one last hiccup to belch out before kicking the bucket once and for all.
But that’s besides the point. I had a praying nun to deal with.
My brother had been the technologically gifted branch of our investigations; hooking up the gear took way longer than usual. I had my laptop on one of the pews with a thermal imaging device and sonar receiver clipped to the top of the wooden seat back. I was midway down the aisle of the expansive cathedral with my sensors aimed towards the front row of seats, because they told me that’s where the lady liked to show up.
The screen of my laptop was split down the middle. One side was a psychedelic blob of color that highlighted the temperature differences in the church: dull purple pews accented by the flickering white specks of candle flames. The other half of the screen was a smoky gray cloud that served as a visual interpretation of the subsonic noises my audio device was picking up.
The only thing left to do was wait.
At 8 o’clock on the dot, just as my employers said, an icy blue speck of cold energy made its way down the aisle, raising the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck as it passed. It stopped, probably to kneel, next to the pews at the front, and then took a seat. The gray side of my computer screen began to pulse, and I put on some headphones. The faint sound of a woman’s voice whispered in my ears in that unmistakable monotone that everyone uses when they pray.
I put down the headphones and made my way toward the front of the church.
My footsteps echoed like a team of horses as I approached a snowy cloud of mist in the shape of a hunched woman. She was kneeling on the padded rest attached to the front row of pews, and I knelt beside her, my arms brushing against the frigid mist that used to be a nun.
The next step was to get her attention. Fortunately my talent was talking.
“Praying, huh?” I asked. Maybe the environment was getting to me. I’m usually more eloquent than that.
Deep inside the mist I could make out the profile of a long straight nose and clenched lips, but it was still staring down and ignoring me.
I decided to keep talking. “My grandma used to pray the rosary every year at Christmas Eve. We’d all kneel around the nativity scene holding candles. When she was done she’d hand out cookies. That was my favorite part as a kid.”
The woman finally turned to me and smiled. In a way she almost reminded me of my grandmother, which made it easier to continue the story.
“When grandma was done with the rosary, but before the cookies, she’d pray for everybody in the family who was sick. Then she’d say a prayer for everyone who had died.”
The nun continued to smile at me. Her face was still pale and translucent, but it was becoming clearer. I could see the sagging skin below her eyes and her wrinkled cheeks as they struggled to stay upright.
“Whenever she got to the part about my dead relatives, it made me wonder where they were at.”
“I’m sure it was some place beautiful,” she finally whispered. The sound of her voice was clear in my ears, but it made absolutely no echo in the vacuous space of the church. It was one of those weird sensations you never completely get used to.
“Do you think someone could get lost on the way there?” I asked.
“Maybe, but I’m sure an angel would guide them onward,” she replied in a shaky, but warm voice. Well, warm for a ghost.
“I think I’m your angel then,” I said. Her smile faded for a moment, and a confused frown took its place.
“You’re no longer among the living,” I continued, “but I’m sure that a beautiful place is waiting for you.”
“Will you say a prayer for me then, angel?” she asked.
I wasn’t expecting that. Up until then I had never prayed for anything other than a toy or a sports team. Now I was being asked to pray for someone’s eternal rest.
But I was too far into it to stop, so I closed my eyes, clasped my hands, lowered my head and began to pray. “Um... God... um... please help this faithful servant of yours find her way to peace. The peace you promised us all when we entered this world. Watch over her soul as she makes her final journey, and please take care of her upon her arrival.”
That last part made me think about my brother, and I finally remembered to look up. It was too late. The nun was gone.
I wanted to stare at her as she faded away, and ask if she could see anything. I hoped she would tell me that it was as beautiful as she thought it would be, and anyone she had ever lost was there waiting to greet her.
I wanted to believe that, but I didn’t. But I hoped. I’ve never stopped hoping.
Copyright © 2013 by Adam Natali