I spoke to God but it was too late. He was sympathetic, but ultimately, there was nothing he could do. I don’t know what I expected, but there was nothing else left to do but to find him. There was barely anything left, you see.
It all started with the secrets. We all had our secrets, until we didn’t, and once they were done with our secrets, they wanted something more.
God asked me when it all began… how long it had been, but all I could do was point behind me, strangled by choked sobs, and let him see my situation for himself.
He was aghast, his jaw dropped as his eyes widened in terror. I tried to explain but I couldn’t get the words out, and even if I could, there was nothing that God could do. It was too late.
It all started with the secrets. They were hungry for secrets, ravenous. Their minds lost to their aching hunger, if they ever had minds to begin with, but they wouldn’t leave you alone after they had consumed your darkest moments. They wanted more. They’d developed a taste. They had needs and you were expected to fulfil them. I was holding out on them, and they knew it.
I’d hear it all night as I tried to sleep. Just beyond reach. Just out of sight. Always whispering, always waiting, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before we had nothing left to give.
I thought God would keep me safe. I had never felt safe. My big sister vanished when I was a kid, and I suppose I never got over it. She went out to the shop one day and just never came back. My parents just seemed to move on. It never made any sense to me, and I’d go out looking myself, once I got old enough to reach the lock on the front door, in the woods, down by the river, but I never saw a sign of her. I’d call out to Chelsea everywhere I went, scolded by my parents who just wanted to forget, but when she left us, something left me, and I was never the same.
I’d like to tell you that I came to God with a humble open heart, but the truth is, none of us here really has that wholesome story. I wanted to feel safe, and God seemed like he could do that. If all it took was swearing off men, vices and the outside world, I was willing to try.
The abbey was a beautiful place, full of song, friendship and worship, and I’d never felt safer anywhere else. I thought that things would always feel that way, until Sister Frances went mad. It happened all at once, that was when they came to us, and since then, we have never known peace.
She collapsed into insanity, wandering the halls, wailing and screaming, her words, a jumbled storm of nonsense as she thrashed and lashed out at everyone that tried to comfort her. I can remember so clearly. She cornered me in the dining room one night, pulling me close with a tear stained face, screaming about secrets. As the other girls pulled her away and back to her room, I was heartbroken. She was so lost, and there was nothing that we could do. We didn’t know what to do, captured in fear as our leader fell apart. Nobody heard our prayers and no help came, but we never stopped believing that she’d be okay.
Every night, she’d keep us all awake, moaning and crying, calling out to unseen horrors and begging for relief. It broke our hearts that we could not help her, but we tried. We’d take turns holding vigil at her bedside, mopping her soaked brow and praying as the night’s hours slowly slipped by, always believing, always faithful, but lost in a way that we’d never felt before.
We began to hear it too. It was just mumbled whispers at first, something we could barely make out, but as Sister Frances lost her mind, the voices found a way to get closer, and clearer.
“Unburden yourself my sisters.” They would whisper, all through the night, and as I met the tired eyes of the other girls every morning, I knew that we were all being tormented by the same presence that was stealing Sister Frances from us, and so, I prayed.
Faith is hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have it, and maybe, to those who don’t believe, we seemed delusional, childish and naive, but each of us believed that our prayers would eventually be answered and that Sister Frances would be saved.
I stopped believing when Sister Frances was found in the lake, and our sister who was watching over her was found in the basement.
Sister Edith was supposed to be watching her, and she swears that she did. Things had been quiet, with Sister Frances finally falling into a soft sleep, until the clock struck three and the older woman awoke with a start, letting out a long, pained scream.
Sister Edith says that the windows flew open, the wind flying through the room as Sister Frances was carried from the bed towards the window, begging someone to leave her in peace… Edith tried to tell us more, but she broke down, sobbing in our arms as we tried to console her.
She would never explain how she came to be in the basement, or what had taken Sister Frances, but I knew that I had to find out.
The police came by a few hours later, informing us that Sister Frances had been found in the lake, and we grieved, praying for peace and relief from the strange and unsettling events. I played along, but part of me was unable to truly believe anymore. It made no sense.
Sister Frances was a good woman, God’s loyal servant, and yet, her life had been taken, in such a cruel way, and all we had were questions with no answers, fears that would not go away, and prayers that never seemed to be heard.
I began looking for answers. I bothered Sister Edith for details until she grew sick of me, spent hours in Sister Frances’ room looking for a sign, but there was nothing, until they paid me a visit.
It was late, and a storm had surrounded us. I was in Sister Frances’ room again, staring out the window wondering what to make of everything we’d been through, but I couldn’t. None of it made sense, until they began whispering in my ear, closer than they’d ever been before.
I couldn’t see them, but I could feel them, everywhere all at once. The room was suddenly suffocating, their fingertips all over my body, and their voices, swirling together into one, whirling around the room, inescapable and intolerable.
“Unburden yourself Sister Allison.” I tried to shut them out, convinced it was a dream, but they were persistent. They picked and prodded at my flesh, their whispers, warm like flames against the back of my neck, burning hotter with every second, red eyes flashing in and out of view around the room as I ran towards the door, my legs heavy as they clung to me. “You’ll feel so much better.” The whispers became a wail, tall and terrifying. “We just want to know what happened to her Allison…” I fell towards the door, watching it slam shut as my fingernails dug into the carpet before me, my heart racing.
The room fell into darkness, and the voices fell silent. All I could hear was my panicked, frantic breath as the seconds slipped by. I closed my eyes, trying to steady my breathing, hoping it was all just a horrible nightmare, but as I opened them, red eyes lit up ahead of me, curious, staring into my own. I gripped the carpet, struggling to stand but falling back down as the eyes watched without a word.
“What did you do to her?” I whispered, a weight I could not see holding me down on the floor as the fingers found me again, gently brushing my ruffled hair from my eyes and tracing down my eyelids as a sigh surrounded the room.
“What did you do to her?” They mimicked, sick, mocking tones filling the room. “Your God cannot save you.” The eyes came closer, my skin burning under the touch of the phantom that surrounded me and I cried out in fear and agony. “Sister Frances believed right to the end, even though she knew she was going to hell.” I wept, watching the eyes narrow, their cruel words invading every inch of the air. “She did sinful things and thought she could hide them under a habit.” I shook my head, placing my hands over my ears but they still broke through and made their voices heard. “All those unclean things with all those unclean girls… God saw it all.” The floor burned beneath me, and I howled in pain, writhing in agony and falling back to the ground every time I tried to stand. I sobbed, the sound of my anguish finally towering above their torment, and within a moment, the room was flooded with sunlight, and I was blissfully bereft.
I didn’t know what they were or how they came to be, but that night, Sister Edith cornered me at dinner, shooing away the other girls and sitting across from me at the table.
“Why won’t you tell her, Sister?” She seemed panicked, nervous and like she hadn’t slept in days, and in that moment, I realised that I’d been so wrapped up in looking for answers that I hadn’t checked in with her at all. I opened my mouth to ask who she was referring to but she raised a finger to silence me, shaking her head. “It feels like there’s loads of them, but it’s just May.” She picked up a spare fork and plunged it onto my plate, dragging a generous helping of pasta up to her mouth and barely letting it pass her lips before she continued. “I only noticed, because she can’t ask me, if she’s asking you.” Her eyes softened, overpowered with sadness as she glanced over my shoulder. I turned to look at where her eyes had landed but she raised her hand to my face, gently holding it in place with a sorrowful smile. “She’s whispering to all of us, all of the time, but right now, she wants your secret, so…” Sister Edith trailed off as she rose from the table, taking one last look at me and running.
It made little sense, but it was all I had to go on. I continued to eat, trying not to think about what Sister Edith had looked at, and what everyone else in the dining hall was now doing their best not to stare at, just over my shoulder. Each of my sisters passed by the table, tender hands on my shoulder, awkward, apologetic smiles, but never any words, and never looking me in the eye. They were always looking at them, or her, or it, whatever lay behind me. Whatever had sent Sister Edith screaming down to the basement. Whatever had forced Sister Francis down to the bottom of the lake. I had her attention.
It was right behind me, just a glance away, but I didn’t dare look. As time went on, I began to feel it, or them, or her. Whatever it was. I could feel it behind me. Hands running up and down my back, slinking around my waist and up and down my legs, all hours of the day, no matter where I was, I could feel them. I would hear their whispers, all the time, so much louder than before. So insistent. So many voices. So many questions and demands. They wanted my secrets, but I had nothing to give. They’d laugh, showing off the secrets of everyone around me, cackling and cooing as I began to realise that these things, this beast, May, it, or she had always been stalking the halls of our abbey, but had only just got round to me.
I looked back in the archives, finding the diaries of all our abbey’s past occupants, and just as I’d suspected, that thing had always been there. You had to really look to see it, but there’d be scratched out entries, barely visible but just about there, panicked logs about whispers, shadows. Every now and again, a nun would go mad and it would stop, except… this time, it didn’t stop. May wasn’t satisfied. She thought she could find a bigger secret, so she wasn’t giving up.
All of a sudden, I knew everything about everyone. Sisters from the past and sisters that I shared my home with suddenly had no secrets from me. Sister Francis found her faith in the end, but only ended up here because she was a lesbian. Sister Edith had her vices too. Cigarettes, roulette and liqueur. She’d never been touched by a man or a woman, but she was a fiend for the wheel and a good whisky. As for me? I had no secrets. That’s what I’d tell May, again and again, over and over, all night and all day. Nothing was a secret. I had no secrets. I belonged to God and I shared all I was with him. All the usual. She got nothing from me, and it infuriated her, or it, or them…
There was something about me that May couldn’t quite let go of, and as time wore on, and she whispered to my sisters, their sympathy for my plight seemed to fade, replaced by frustration. May wanted my secret, and they wanted me to give it too, seeming to believe that our suffering would end, but I repeated again and again that there was nothing to tell, and nothing for me to give.
I’d lie awake at night, listening to all the secrets May had gathered. I still knew nothing about May, but I knew more than I cared to about everyone else. As strange as it sounds, I grew used to May and all her hands, poking, prodding and troubling my body as the night wore on. The whispers began to fade in and out too, it was like I could push her away. I’d focus on one corner of the room, right over by the window.
I fixed my eyes on the nothingness, and something about it soothed me. May was still all around me, but I had a little peace, just a sliver of sanity that she, or it could not reach.
She found a way. May always finds a way, that’s what I’ve learned.
She found her way into my empty little corner. I was staring at it one night, my eyes heavy as the long night lingered, and for a moment, just one moment, I let them fall, my head sinking into the pillow as my eyes fluttered open again, May’s big red eyes were in the corner, but not hanging in the air as they usually were. They were fixed to a small face, pale skin, blood clashing with the snowy, soft cheeks of the child, dripping slowly down from the straggly, stringy red hair that hung in pigtails. May’s eyes glared from the child’s body, forcing a wicked smile onto her lips, and I was suddenly wide awake, watching the child totter towards me, my body full of dread.
“What did you do to her Allison?” The voices began to fill the room, all over me, everywhere, excruciating. “Why don’t you confess?”
Blood was all over the child. Her hands, her face, her dress, under her nails and baked onto the soles of her shoes. She was filthy, dirty, her pale skin made a show of the bruises on her arms and legs, and her little hands reached out towards me, her fingers extending ever closer as I dived under the covers.
May took the one, small sliver of solace I had left, filling it with horrific, hazy visions and all I could do was wait out the night, hiding under my duvet with tears in my eyes. I waited for the morning. Sometimes, I thought it would never come. I waited, watching the girl with May’s eyes through a crack in the blankets, lost in a whirlwind of the whispers, praying, even though I could not believe.
It lasted long after the night. May was always with me, and with her was the girl. My sisters would look past me, never meeting my eye, and I began to fade away, as if I only existed for the spectre that stayed by my side. I prayed, out of habit, my beads shaking in my hands as I hid under the covers, waiting for God to wake me from my nightmares, but he never came, it was just me, May, and the little girl who sat by my bedside, ancient eyes burning into me.
“Kayleigh was a nice little girl, wasn’t she Allison?” The blankets were torn from the bed, and Kayleigh stared down, her stony stare freezing me in place. I knew who she was. I’d known since May showed her to me, and yes, it was true that I had my secret, but I’d kept it for Kayleigh’s sake. “How did she get this way?” May’s voice was right in my ear as Kayleigh crawled onto the bed, her blood soaked fingertips clutching my nightdress as she stared with an anger that I knew I deserved. “You can tell me, Allison, I won’t tell a soul.” I couldn’t take anymore. I held Kayleigh close to my chest, weeping into her hair as she struggled against my grip. “Why did you do it, Kayleigh?” May whispered as Kayleigh sank into my embrace, quiet and still at last.
“I wanted to play with my sister.” I was surrounded by my words, feeling the small girl disappear from my arms, the two of us, finally as one again. I hadn’t heard my name in such a long time. It had been everywhere at the time. Little Kayleigh Fisher, the devil child of Dartford. Oh, she’s done such dreadful things. Such a sweet looking girl, with such a stain on her soul.
Why did she do it? How did she do it? A little baby, brutalising all those boys like that? Body parts turning up in the park and down by the river? How did she do it? How could she do it?
I never had an answer that I was willing to share.
I didn’t crave power, and it gave me no thrill. It just felt like a game, I suppose. I’d call out to Chelsea and she’d call back, and the boys were just a game that we’d play. I’d wake up, by the shore of the river or out in the woods, soaked in blood and surrounded by a body. Chelsea would be gone. I’ve never known if she was really there, but I’d clean myself up, get rid of them and go back to my life.
I never confessed, but they had enough to put me away anyway. Caged like a circus animal. The world’s new fascination. I went from young offender’s institute to young offender’s institute, and then off to a women’s prison, where I stayed until they decided I’d been rehabilitated.
I could never be sure if I had been, that’s why I’d always kept to myself in prison, just in case, but when I was out, with a new name and a second chance at life, it was harder and harder to keep my secret, and to keep myself in check, so I threw myself at God’s mercy.
God can only do so much.
The abbey was the first place I found myself after prison. The outside world was too overwhelming, and there was something inside of me begging to get out. I could feel it, knocking on my head at night, whispering and screaming, pointing out everybody that passed me by, pointing at the blood that pumped through their bodies.
I found peace at the abbey. It was safe, and I was safe, for the first time in my life, until May.
“It wasn’t me, you know.” She hissed, as if answering the swirling thoughts that plagued my mind. “There was always something bad inside you, and that sister of yours, that’s why we like you so much.” Tears fell from my eyes as she stared, unblinking and unwavering with her big red eyes. “There was something bad inside me too.” I ran, and I kept running, all through the abbey, my eyes, blinded by the truth and my heartbreak, my fingernails finding new blood, and the screams finally releasing me from the torment of May’s whispering.
Had she been with me all along? Or had the darkness in me drawn her from some faraway place to walk by my side? I couldn’t say. All I knew was that I was made this way. Allison. Kayleigh. It didn’t matter.
I was just the way God made me.
And so, I went to God, a trail of his children in my wake, and May, with her bright red eyes right behind me, staring at him as he stared back in horror.
“Why did I do this?” I asked, but all he could do was cry.