Prompt: 571 - Nuptial
Word Count: 1191
St. Jude Thaddeus had been described as a rest home, but Kris knew enough to read between the lines. Any institution named for the patron saint of hospitals and hopeless cases would be more hospice or sanitarium. Without really thinking about it, she'd been expecting something almost Gothic, not quite cold gray stones guarded by gargoyles under a clouded sky, but certainly something dour and grim. She found stucco walls, almost blindingly white in the afternoon sun, and roofs of red tile made cheerful by the brightness of the day.
This far from the shore, she couldn't see the sea but beyond the facility the ever-present mountains loomed. The grounds were well maintained, free not only of cracks but of weeds. She had heard that the Mayor supported the facility but hadn't expected this level of generosity. As she walked from the parking lot, Kris mused on the different types of callings. Hers had been forced on her and unwelcome although, in the end, she hadn't been deserving enough to be called. She should be glad. Her life hadn't been her own but devoted to protecting others. A nun's life must be similar. She'd been told their vocation was chosen but still, to always be putting the needs of the world above their own. It couldn't be easy. It must set them apart, leave them feeling always isolated.
Sister Hyacinth Gilman - “please, call me Cindy” – didn't look as if she felt isolated. Kris had expected a dour old woman wearing a habit. Cindy was middle aged and wore khakis below a cute, if conservative, blouse. “Mrs. Madison's room is this way. I'll take you up.”
When the man grabbed her, Kris brushed his hand off her arm but didn't attack. Cindy looked more chagrined than shocked which meant he probably wasn't a threat. She took in his well-cut blue pinstripe suit, patterned tie, and balding head as his torrent of words flew through her. “Don't go out after dark. Stay home. Don't answer the doors. They come at night, the jaws that bite, the claws that catch.”
Kris hadn't seen Cindy page anyone, but a young man, dressed in scrubs, came around the corner. “That's enough, Dr. Sharp. No need to bother the lady.”
“Churches, churches are safe. Don't go out at night,” Dr. Sharp called back as he was led away.
Kris could see that Cindy expected her to ask. “That was … different. Who was he?”
“Dr. Sharp. He was a neurosurgeon, best in Sunnydale I've been told, until his wife died. I'm not sure what happened but heard something about an accident with a barbecue fork. He became paranoid, certain monsters lurked in the dark. His phobia took on an odd turn. We believe it's projected guilt. Having been unable to save his wife, in his fantasy he believes he can save others.”
“How long ago did this happen?”
“Four, or no, five years back.”
As Cindy continued to lead her through the facility, Kris breathed a sigh of relief. The attack – it must have been a vampire – had happened before she'd moved to Sunnydale. It wasn't her fault. This one, not her fault.
Catherine Madison's room held no personal effects, not even a photo of her daughter. Kris recalled the time she'd visited the woman in the hospital, after Mrs. Madison had been found, unconscious, in one of the high-school labs. Kris had brought flowers as a cover for her visit. She wished she'd thought to bring flowers again. The sparseness of the room was too painful, too strong a reminder of her own life when she'd been training as a Potential. She'd had little of her own. Her clothes had been chosen for her. Her food, studies, and training had been dictated by tradition. Only a small pin, a butterfly set out in shimmering stones, which she'd later learned were fake, had been her own, and she'd found that, had picked it up off the ground and kept it hidden.
The last time she'd seen Catherine Madison, the woman had seemed almost dead. Then she hadn't moved, hadn't made a sound. Now the woman's tongue reached out from her mouth, moving outward as far as she could reach and stretching out from side-to-side. “She's always like this around meal times,” Cindy said. “At first we thought it might be a sign of cognitive function, but it hasn't gone beyond these motions.”
“Will she understand me?”
Cindy shook her head. “There's no sign she will, but, well, if I were her, I'd want to be told.” Cindy's smile was full of compassion although it wasn't clear who that empathy was directed to: Kris or Mrs. Madison. “I'll be nearby if you need me.”
Kris reached out to take one of Catherine Madison's hands. At her touch, the woman jerked her hand back. Mrs. Madison's limbs started thrashing as if an unskilled puppet master were pulling her strings. Kris stood and stepped back, raising one hand to her mouth, and was about to call for help when she realized the thrashings, as uncoordinated as they looked, were purposeful. The woman was moving away from her.
The tongue stretched out again and the movements made Kris think she was searching, reaching out, trying to communicate in the only way she could. Kris sat again, moving slowly to avoid upsetting the woman. She didn't reach out. “Mrs. Madison,” she said softly. “I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. It's about your daughter and your husband, ex-husband. I'm afraid they've passed on.”
The woman's tongue pulled back, quick as a whip, and stretched out again. “I'm sorry,” Kris said. “Whatever happened to you, it's my fault. I told myself I was gathering information and learning the layout of the land, but I knew you see. I knew about the demons and you didn't and now you're …” Kris put her hands over her own face and sat there, breathing into them, and then, with a shudder, pulled her hands away. “Your daughter and your husband, their deaths are my fault. I was afraid and now their dead. If I'd acted, if I'd gone patrolling …”
Then what? a voice in Kris' head asked. You think you're the Slayer now? If she couldn't save them, what makes you think you could? “I'm better than her,” Kris muttered to herself. “She's not serious. She distracts herself with school and friends.”
Kris had never had friends. She'd had duty, as dry as dust, and in the end that duty had failed her. She hadn't been Called. And now, she didn't know how to live a life. She'd been trained only in death. Never expecting friendship, romance, a nuptial bed, and children, she didn't know how to claim her life and so she turned on the one who had a life when she should have been dealing in death alone. “She doesn't deserve it. She doesn't have the discipline. She abandons her duty.” Kris watched Catherine, seeing a woman lost in a nightmare. “I failed you. I failed your daughter. I won't fail again. I'll protect Sunnydale. I promise.”