What Sleeps inside the Convent?

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by  Andrew Amistad

Photograph by Andrew Amistad

The old Convent looked over a small, craggy town below. It teetered on the edge of a grassy hill that had become overgrown and riddled with moss and splintered vines throughout many decades of isolation.

I pushed my palm onto the brittle surface of the convent's doors. It creaked open and I felt the heavy weight of the wood ease open. The sudden smell of dusty linen and ancient furniture bombarded my personal space like a musky-scented hobo, causing my face to crinkle as I tried to stop it from further entering my nose.

'This place is supposed to be what?' I said, turning to face Sean, '40, 50 years old?'

'Around that.' She replied.

I switched on my flashlight and briefly shone it over the rotting floorboards that surrounded our feet. As I stepped across them they would squeak annoyingly and I found myself tip-toeing over as many as I could.

'And why are we here again?' I asked.

'A dude came over to the flat and said his sister and a group of her friends came down here as a dare last month – you know, to try and stay the night. And well, you guessed it, none of them have been seen since.'

As my light passed the ripped, soggy wallpaper and exposed plastered boards, I could see an almost never ending abundance of dust floating in the stream of light emitting from my torch. I coughed suddenly, having the unpleasant thought of all the crap floating about the air entering my mouth as I breathed in.

'So?' I continued, dislodging the thought and covering my mouth with my sleeve.

'Well, the dude thinks something supernatural is afoot.'

'And how does this "dude" know to come to us?'

'Our boss forwarded the guy to me. Said the two of us'd be able to help his friends.'

As we were talking we wandered into an old dining area. A mouldy couch covered in dust and mouse droppings sat in the corner accompanied by a large stone fireplace. The fireplace itself looked quite out of place, all things considered. It fit the run-down, shoddy abandoned convent theme that everything else seemed to uphold, yet it gave me an uneasy, almost sickening feeling. As I looked at it I felt it had been used recently, unlike everything else which seemed as if it hadn't been touched in decades. There was no dust, no droppings, and a lot of soot.

'We take house-calls now, do we?' I said. 'We'd better be getting paid.'

'Oh, don't be like that, Mrs. Spoil Sport,' said Sean, leaning over to me to wrap her sword-clad arm around my shoulders. 'This is rather exciting isn't it? An adventure, I'd say!'

I rolled my eyes. 'We have far too many.'

'Not enough!' she added.

There was a soft scraping noise from the hallway we had just entered. Sean and I both jumped at the sound. Regrettably, her being the more composed one, while I assumed a position as if I were about to crap myself.

'What the fuck was that?' I whispered, swinging around to face the doorway. It sounded like someone running long, rigid nails along the sides of the plastered walls which encased each room.

Sean held up a finger and gave me the silent shh sign and begun to creep slowly towards the doorway. I followed quietly behind, making sure to step carefully passed the squeaky boards. I was about to whisper something to Sean about how ridiculous our job was, when I heard a loud scream. It was grossly high-pitched and echoed through the convent, disturbing the dust in the air as it vibrated off the walls.

'Sean!' I yelled, instinctively backing into the wall behind me.

There was no reply.

My fingers fondled the splintery wall behind my back and I flashed my light across the floor, slowly bringing it higher and higher. I called out to Sean again but to no avail. I was scared and alone with no one by my side to quip to. I heard a second scraping sound, this time to my right. I managed to control my breathing and scan my torch towards the sound.

A set of mouldy stairs hung under a blackened window leading up to the second story. Despite the cold air around me, my palms felt clammy around the stiff handle of my torch. I took a step forward, heard the floorboards creak discomfortingly with my weight and froze, trying to compose myself and prepare for a lighter gait.

Why does Sean always get to carry the sword? I thought. Oh, that's right, you're a weak-ass bitch and she's a badass. Now you're stick with this flimsy-ass torch.

Then I remembered something.

I kept my light steady on the stairway in front of me and attempted to search for the small dagger I had brought with me. I shifted the light from my right hand to my left, and continued to search. The cold surface of the handle stuck out from my coat pocket and, bringing it forward, gave it a disappointed eyeing. It was small and pathetic and provided little in the way of comfort or protection. I breathed silently and took another step.

A coldness gripped me and squeezed and my body started to tingle and shiver.

If I fucking die from this... my mind shouted at me.

The stairs were damp and almost mushy. The rotting weight of them bounced underneath my boots and made me want to choke as I imagined the disgusting mould lapping at my feet and legs. I closed my eyes for a moment and shook my head, knowing my imagination was starting to impeach my reality and generally just fuck with me.

The stairs took a turn and continued up and I continued to follow them, one damp step at a time. When I reached the end I scanned the area with my flashlight; it flickered for a moment and I tapped it gently against my thigh – praying the battery was still useful for at least a little while longer. In front of me was a long hallway, wide and soot-covered. Burnt and decaying doorways lined the path in front of me. My heart started to hammer in my chest and I hoped it wasn't as loud as it sounded in my ears.

My foot stepped out in front of me and I gazed around the hallway cautiously.

'Sean?' I whispered, though I'm not entirely sure why. I knew she wouldn't answer and I assumed it was just because hearing a voice, even if it was just my own, made me feel a little more safe and grounded.

The door to my left was slightly ajar and a pungent whiff of something old and dead oozed from the opening. My hand grabbed the dusty doorknob and, deciding it was a bad idea, pushed it open anyway. The back of my hand shot up to my nose and my eyes began to water. A stench as strong as hell exploded though my nostrils and sent a bad taste down my tongue. I gagged and choked, all the while trying to do so quietly and discretely.

I squinted and looked up, my light following my eyes. The room was dark and black and ashy, and part of my mind kept telling me to leave and find Sean, while another, more self-destructive part, told me to keep looking. There was a clump of dark objects piled up and discarded in the far corner of the room. As my eyes squinted further and strained to make out what they were seeing, I noticed a mangled hand jutting rigidly from the congealing form. My light flickered again and my eyes widened. A pile of bodies, old and new, young and old, all glued together with varying months of blood. It laid there like a chunk of withered garbage. I saw the face of a young teenage girl sticking out from a group of other assorted burnt body parts, her neck was broken and her eyes had exploded. She looked more recent than the others but was still stiff and rotting.

I stepped back into the hallway, closing the door softly in the process and stared blankly at the chipped wood. Nope. I thought. Nopety, nopety, nope. I then realised why the fireplace downstairs appeared so uncomfortable to me and like it had been used recently. Whoever was doing this – whoever had Sean – was burning people alive, cutting up their favourite pieces, and dumping them here like trash. I breathed in a deep lung-full of air and let it out slowly, turning back around and resuming my trek through the hallway.

There was a splattering of bones grouped together by my left and I gave it a wide birth. They looked old and bleached and far too small to belong to any adult. Another door to my right looked slightly ajar. I peeked through the sliver of opening. Thankfully there was no foul odour coming from this room, however the faint aroma of the last one still clung to my nose. As I peeked inside I tried to listen for noises. I could hear a faint shuffling and my mind conjured up images of monsters and grotesque Cronenbergy creatures riffling through sheets of leathery skin. But the sensible part of my brain assured me it was most likely rats.

All I could see were various issues of ancient newspapers, some scrunched up and others left to loosely cover the floor. Back into the hallway, my flashlight began to flicker again – more aggressively this time.

'No, no, no!' I whispered to myself. With a fizzled ping, the bulb went out and I was left in complete darkness, staring hopelessly into the hallway's abyss. I blinked hard for a few moments, believing that would help speed-up my eyes adjusting to the dark. Eventually they did and I continued down the hall.

As I took a large step over what appeared in the dark like a wet mound of tissues, I heard a series of muffled voices. My ears perked up and so did my heart. Quietly and precisely I sneaked over to the door where the voices came from: the last one on the right. There was a set of windows beside it, but they were all blackened out and although bits were broken off here and there and splintered in some spots, it wasn't enough for me to get a good look inside.

I swallowed the dry lump in my throat and crouched behind the door, placing my ear on the thick, cold surface and tried to disregard all the germs probably etched into the ancient wood. Or maybe it could be infested with maggots instead? Or termites? I closed my eyes and ignored my brain, focusing only on the voices from the other side of the room.

You're all sick!' I heard Sean scream. My heart jumped as I heard her and I couldn't decide whether to be relieved or concerned.

'We are not sick, my child,' said another voice. It was icy, high-pitched and had a very distinctive, authoritative tone about it that reminded me of a high school teacher. Calm but bitchy.

My jaw tightened and I noticed a large round keyhole positioned under the doorknob. I didn't want to risk opening the door in case it squeaked – which it most likely would – and give away my position and Sean's only hope of rescue. I leant down and scoped through the keyhole. It wasn't ideal and I couldn't see much, but what I could see, I didn't like. At the end of the room was an odd-looking contraption covered in rust and grease. It looked like a huge version of something you would thin pasta through, and Sean was tied to it with her sword leaning on the wall behind her, too far away for her to reach.

'So this is what you freaks spend eternity doing?' Sean continued, glancing down at her tied-up hands and back up at someone I couldn't see.

There was a loud group of cackles, thick and splintery. I thought I identified three people, but it was hard to say for certain with the unusual pitch of the voices. I wanted to cover my ears and run away, but my body stayed where it was.

'Deary, deary, deary,' said the authoritative voice from before. 'You make it sound like something's wrong with us.'

I saw Sean blink at them and knew the look she gave them well: a face to say 'bitch, please,' before they continued.

'You little whores always come in here with your gangs and groups, getting drunk and smoking God-only-knows-what, only to end up being sick in our halls an hour later, all in the name of “fun”. We all find it rather disgusting and sinful.' There were some grunts of agreement and this time I definitely placed two other people in that room besides Sean.

There was a set of windows on the back wall and a pale light streamed into the room. My eyes were thankful for it as it helped me to see some lanky shadows stretched along the brittle floor.

Someone sighed and I heard a chair creak coarsely along the noisy floorboards. 'Life was wonderful back in the day, wasn't it, Sister Jenkins?' someone said, sighing again. They sounded softer than the first person, but still had a scratching timbre to their voice.

'People respected us back then,' the authoritative one agreed. 'Not like you Jesus-loathing hippies nowadays.'

Sean's head shot back and she looked almost bewildered. 'I'm not a hippie,' she mumbled – confused and almost offended. 'Steampunk, if anything.'

'Shut it!' the second one spat. 'Or we'll mangle you faster.'

'Oh, please do!' Sean spat back. 'Listening to you lot babble on about eating fucking people is really starting to bore me, quite frankly!'

Someone let out a gross and phlegmy grumble.

My eyes started to strain as I peered through that keyhole and my toes were cramping against the grotty floor. I saw something move in front of the door and step up to Sean with a stiff gait. A long black cape stretched down to the ground and was covered in a hefty amount of dust. As the they kept walking up to Sean I noticed that whatever that person was wearing, it wasn't a cape at all. It actually looked more like a tunic.

'Sister Mary,' the tunic-wearing shape said, turning around, 'shall we put this Godless creature out of it's misery?' I gagged when I saw the thing's face and wanted desperately to vomit right there on the spot. A decomposed coil of skin clung loosely to a bony face and eyes that appeared bloodshot and mossy popped glassily from their sockets. A pair of cracked lips tightened as they attempted to form words and a tuft of grey hair stuck out from under their black habit.

Zombie nun! My mind screamed. Zombie nun! Zombie nun! ZOMBIE NUN!

I burrowed my head between my knees and somehow managed to hold down the uprising bubble of tingly barf clinging to my throat. I looked back up and through the keyhole and hoped they hadn't heard my gagging. If they had they didn't show it.

The softer one spoke. 'Dispose of her, Sister Jenkins.'

'Your vote, Sister Annabel?'

Sean and the nun leader both looked at someone out of my viewing range and I assumed so did Sister Mary, who was also out of range. I didn't hear a response, but something must have been agreed on because Sister Jenkins clapped her rotting hands together and turned back to face Sean.

'Wonderful,' she said.

There was a crank on the side of the machine and Sean flashed a worried look at it. A moment of silence hung stiffly in the air and I honestly believed Sean had some sort of cunning trick up her sleeve. I was wrong. Sister Jenkins brought one craggy hand up to the crank and wrapped her unnervingly thin, stick-like fingers around the wheel. As she began to turn it I saw a rare amount of fear in Sean's eyes as her body began to jerk closer to the flattening part of the machine.

Oh holy shit! I thought. She's really gonna get mangled!

I screamed as loud as I could, slamming open the door with more force than was probably needed as I quickly found out it was unlocked. I came crashing onto the dirty floor, head-first, and coughed as the dust entered my lungs. Sister Jenkins stared at me with her mossy eyes as my head darted around the room. Two other nuns occupied the area, one with long white hair spitting out from holes in her habit and her jaw ripped completely off, and another sitting on an unhealthy-looking chair with bits of her face collecting sadly in her lap.

'Mrs. Spoil Sport!' I heard Sean yell, half relieved to see me, half worried for my safety.

I grimaced at the nuns before looking back up at Sister Jenkins who blankly gave me a frown. Closer up she looked even worse – like a collection of wet newspapers stuck together with faeces and glue. Its now or never. I stood up and lunged at her with everything I had, spearing her in the chest with my tiny dagger. I heard the chair creak from behind me and crash against the floor while I grabbed onto the frail sleeves of Sister Jenkins outfit.

It was hard to tell because of her zombified face, but I was fairly certain she winced as I thrust the dagger in her chest. She pushed me to the floor with a mighty shove and glared down at the handle jutting from her torso. Sister Mary and Sister Annabel were quickly behind me and Sean yelled at them to leave me alone. With my dagger somewhat occupied, all I had left was my flashlight. I brought it up and swung around, smashing it into the side of Sister Mary's shins.

She kicked me back to the floor and I felt the air escape my lungs.

'Get away from her you undead son of a bitch!' Sean yelled. She pulled against her ropes and barred her teeth. She grunted and yelled and Sister Jenkins tutted at her.

'Language,' she warned and Sean spat on her. She stepped back, horrified, and I saw the small glob of spit trail down her grey, decaying face.

Taking this opportunity, I coughed, took a deep breath and began to quickly crawl my way over to Sean. Sister Annabel grabbed one of my legs and pulled me back. 'Get the fuck off me!' I screamed, kicking back at her with all my might. 'These shoes are new!' I managed to hit her in the stomach and she keeled over while gross jaw-less sounds gargled from her throat and Sister Mary gave me a terrifyingly vengeful look.    

My eyes widened and I made some embarrassing squeaky sounds as I frantically got to my feet and ran over to Sean and the mangle.

Sister Jenkins turned the crank hastily and Sean's head got pulled down, getting closer to the machine. I threw my flashlight at the nun and it bounced off her leathery face and smashed against the floor. She snarled at me and continued to crank. I grabbed the handle of my dagger still thrust deep into her chest and pulled it out. A spurt of gooey black blood oozed from the wound and dripped down her tunic. Grabbing her shoulder, I spun her around and threw her into Sister Mary who was hot on my heels.

They both stumbled back and landed stiffly on the floor.

'Untie me!' Sean ordered.

'I am, I am!' I clumsily cut through the furry rope tied around Sean's arms and legs and turned around, only to get bitch-slapped in the face by Sister Annabel. I wilted beneath the pain and the room began to spin. I shook my head and saw her hand coming back at me full-throttle. I screamed as I flung my dagger around and Sister Annabel's hand came clean off. It thudded on the floor and rolled for a bit. I stared at it for a moment, quite impressed with myself. The Sister clutched her bloody stump as her knees buckled beneath her.

'Awesome,' I heard Sean say.

'Thanks,' I replied.

She then ran over to the door and kicked Sister Mary in the face.

'Sean!' I said, picking up her sword. 'Here!' I threw it the best I could and she caught it with one hand like the badass she is. The tip of it was sharp and shiny and the moonlight from the windows beamed off of it and followed its movements like a dance. She lifted it high in the air and brought it down on Sister Mary, who dodged, preventing it from decapitating her, but still getting caught in the side of her shoulder. A shrill, piercing scream fired from her mouth and made me wince. I looked down at Sister Annabel clutching her stump in front of me.

'How do I kill them!?' I yelled.

Sean grunted as she pulled her sword out of Sister Mary's shoulder, using her foot for leverage. 'Remove the head or destroy the brain,' she answered with a few more grunts and snarls. 'Shaun of the Dead rules,' she added.

I nodded and gazed back down at Sister Annabel. She cried voicelessly over her missing hand and her habit hung misshapenly off her head and for a moment I almost felt sorry for her. Maybe she hadn't been like this when she was alive? Maybe she had been a good person. Maybe zombification had turned her bad? Her head tilted up and she punched me in the kneecap with her other hand. I fell to the floor, smacking my elbows harshly against the noisy floorboards in the process.

She stood over me, dripping slimy squirts of dead black stump blood over my coat and I realised I didn't care who she used to be. Sitting up, I slashed her throat with my dagger and kicked her to the ground. Sitting atop her, I stabbed her head so many timed I lost count. I panted as I stood up and saw a bundle of maggots slime their way out her jaw-less face (or what was left of it). I gagged again and screeched as I saw the mixture of oily blood, white hair and maggots, then looked up at Sean.

Sister Mary's bony fingers were clasped around Sean's blade as Sean tried to bring it closer to the nun's neck. Her fingers shook against the force and quickly began to give way. She tried to kick instead but her body couldn't control two things at once under the pressure and her arms gave out. The sword shot down and sliced through her decaying neck, quickly and efficiently, like it was nothing.

I smiled and Sean gave me the thumbs up. That's when I realised we were two nuns down, one to go. My eyes shot around the room and my heart somehow managed to beat even faster than it already was. Sister Jenkins ran up to me with a brick in her hand. I stepped back with my bloody dagger by my side – ready to thrust at any moment. Sean grabbed a tuft of hair poking out the back of her habit and slammed her head to the ground. Her eyes popped further out of their sockets and her baggy skin rippled like a pool of water. She ripped her head forward forcefully and left a chunk of scalp clutched in Sean's hands. Sean looked at it for a moment before flinging it away with a grossened shriek.

Sister Jenkins ran back at me, still holding her brick. I took a deep breath and threw my dagger at her like a carnival knife.

Please hit, please hit, please hit.

It pierced her shoulder and she stumbled backwards slightly. Sean spun her around and kicked her in the stomach. She keeled over and offered Sean the perfect opportunity to uppercut her straight in the face. An eyeball popped out and skimmed across the floorboards, leaving a trail of black goo behind it. I jumped forward and grabbed ahold of her head, keeping it held back so Sean could finish the job.

Sean looked up at me and winked before stabbing Sister Jenkins square in the forehead with the dagger freshly pulled from her shoulder joint.

There were a few last moment gurgles as Sister Jenkins finally died... again, I guess. And with her last breath she cursed the both of us to eternal damnation, which was fine by me as this whole experience had rather put me off religion for a while.

I collapsed back on the ground and flung my head towards the roof. I laughed, loudly and joyfully. 'We did it!' I sang. My bones ached and my muscles felt like they had been betrayed.

'We sure did.' Sean came and sat beside me. She let out a long hearty sigh and smiled. 'Well done, Mrs Spoil Sport,' she said. 'Well done indeed.'

My hand twitched and shook and Sean grabbed it with her own and gave it a squeeze and we sat there for a while, exhausted and allowing our bodies to calm down a bit.

'What was their deal anyway?' I asked.

Sean shrugged and shook her head sternly. 'Zombies be crazy,' she said.

I flashed her an unsatisfied glance and she sighed.

'They were the resident nuns here back in the 60s,' she continued. 'They didn't tell me how, but they came back to life and stared eating whoever came here. Mostly drug addicts and kids who wanted to prove they weren't scared of the place.'

My mouth pouted in disgust and my brow twitched. 'That is so gross,' I said.

Sean nodded.

'I think I found that guy's sister by the way,' I informed her – suddenly remembering the entire purpose of our visit.

'Oh?'

'Super dead. They're stacked up in one of the rooms all burnt and mangled.'

She nodded again. 'Sounds about right. I guess we'll have to tell him his friends were partially eaten by cannibal zombie nuns who cooked 'em up in a creepy fireplace and ate 'em for brunch before we could get here.'

'It's the right thing to do.'

There was another moment of silence. The moonlight from outside flooded the room and ghosted over the mutilated zombies with their bloodied faces and debris-covered costumes.

'Kebabs first?' Sean suggested.

'Yes,' I agreed. 'Yes indeed.'