Vengeance is Mine
A short novel by Martha Stevens-David
Part 1: Introduction
It was July 2nd, 1963 and the small northern Maine town of Fort Kent was in a state of shock. Folks were gathered here and there in little knots along Main Street, discussing the shocking headlines in the Bangor Daily News. "Local Nunnery Demolished!" "Babies Found In Ruins!" "Investigation Underway."
|Martha Stevens-David holding a copy of her first published book "Autobiography of a Simple Soul"|
The Victorian mansion located on a side street in the south end of town had been donated to an obscure group of Nuns at the turn of the century. Since it was a small, cloistered community and they grew most of what they needed for food on the grounds surrounding the convent, the Nuns were seldom seen around town and when they were, they kept very much to themselves. Sometimes, after a large snow fall, one of the nearby farmers would go and plow them out but the local folks were never asked to visit or made to feel welcome at the old Nunnery.
The large brick building was completely enclosed by a rusting, black, wrought iron fence and every once in a while, the Nuns could be seen walking together around the immaculate grounds. As the years passed, it was reported in the paper from time to time that one of the Nuns had passed away. If they still had family, the Nuns were shipped back to their home towns for burial but if there were no known living relatives, they were buried on the grounds behind the brick building. Now, with the death of the Mother Superior, there was no one left at the convent and the building had been deeded back to the town. The town had decided that the decrepit building wasn't salable or habitable and a contractor had been hired to demolish the old white elephant.
The sun, already a bright lobster red, swung up over the tree line and the men, who were waiting for the foreman to arrive before they began the demolition, swore to themselves as the first rays of heat bore down on them. A flat bed truck, with a large bulldozer loaded on the back, drove slowly into the circular driveway and right behind it, a huge truck with a wrecking ball attached, drove into position near the old brick building. It didn't take too long for the team to set up the equipment and the wrecking ball to bring down the top structure. Dust, broken beams and shattered bricks flew everywhere. Birds, startled by the noise and destruction, flew screaming and scolding over what was left of the top of the black shingled roof.
Folks gathered here and there to watch as the old house met its demise. The brick walls wobbled and quickly toppled as the wrecking ball swung back and forth, finding its mark. Finally, all that was left of the three-story structure was the first floor. Since, it was getting late in the afternoon, the foreman decided that a bean sandwich and a cold brew was callin his name and he decided to wait until the next day to finish the job.
Early the next morning, after the others had arrived and the dump trucks were lined up, the crane operator began his job of scooping up the tangled mass of bricks and wood and dumping it into the waiting trucks. He dumped load after load into the first truck and as soon as the filled truck drove off, another one began backing into the loading place, when the crane operator suddenly motioned for the driver to stop.
The crane operator motioned that he was going to take a leak and that he'd be back in about ten minutes. Bored and somewhat frustrated at having to wait, the waiting truck driver jumped down out of his cab and started walking around the piles of debris. He'd only walked a short distance when he looked down and saw what looked like a small box under the edge of a large beam. Intrigued, he climbed over a huge pile of rubble and after pushing some of the debris aside; he managed to kick the faded blue box out from under the beam with the toe of his scarred work boot. The small box skittered sideways down the pile of rubble and settled at the bottom. "What do we have here?" the worker asked himself as he stooped and gingerly picked it up. The old shoe box had been tied with a ribbon that had faded with the years to a nondescript color and the top of the box had been sealed to the bottom with some kind of wax.
Looking quickly around, to see if anyone was watching, he slid the box under his arm inside his jacket. "There might be something really valuable in this box!" he thought and his heart beat quickened at the thought of finding a long lost treasure. He walked quickly to his truck, opened the door and tossed the box onto the passenger's seat. Then, he climbed back into the truck, slammed the door shut and turned back to the job at hand.
By the end of the long day, the truck driver had retrieved one more box nearly identical to the first one from the pile of rubble and he didn't tell anyone else about his find. "Finders, keepers!" he grinned to himself as he drove home in the waning light. He became very excited as thoughts of what might be inside the boxes slide through his mind. He stepped harder on the gas as he urged his vehicle down the Portage Road towards home.
As his truck slid to a stop in the driveway, he turned and gathered up his finds off the seat of his pickup and headed toward his house. He dropped the boxes on his kitchen table and headed for the bathroom. After a hurried shower, he made himself a quick supper of baloney and beans and then, sipping on a cold brew, he sat down to have a look at what he'd found.
He picked up the first box and hefted it for a moment in his work-scarred hand. "If it contains anything at all, then it's something really light." He thought to himself. He held the small box up to his ear and tilted it slightly and he could just barely hear the sound of something sliding inside. "Must be papers or some kind of documents." "Or, maybe it's money or a map or something really valuable!" He could barely contain himself and as he pulled on the faded ribbon, it disintegrated in his hand. He tried to pry off the top of the box but, it had been carefully sealed with some kind of wax and it wouldn't budge without tearing.
Not wanting to destroy whatever it was inside the box he hurried to the kitchen drawer and withdrew a paring knife and inserted the knife under the edge of the top. Ever so slowly and carefully he cut the wax seal that was holding the box together and with his heart pounding in his chest, he carefully lifted the top and peered inside.
The contents had been wrapped in several layers of plastic that had turned yellow with the years. He quickly slit the plastic and the next covering he encountered was some kind of red satin cloth and all the seams had been sewn shut with very tiny, neat stitches. Again, he took the paring knife and slit the thread along the seams. "Someone sure went to a lot of trouble," he said to himself. The aged cloth crumbled as the workman's dirt-stained fingers clumsily pushed the cloth aside and he was startled at what he saw.
Inside the stained and faded red material was a tiny doll and it was completely dressed in a Victorian, christening outfit. The doll had been lovingly dressed and wrapped in white satin shawl that with age had turned a soft, creamy color. The "doll's" eyes were closed and the truck driver paused for a moment to look at the soft halo of very, fine brown hair that covered its head. He cautiously lifted the bottom of the embroidered gown and the first thing he saw were the tiny feet which were encased in very fine hand-stitched, leather booties. Disappointed that his "find" wasn't a wad of money or jewelry, he laid the doll back in the box and placed it on the table and proceeded to open the other box.
Inside the second box was another doll, nearly identical to the first one but, this doll was slightly larger. It was also completely dressed in a christening outfit and a small gold cross had been placed around its neck. The man lifted the tiny cross and looked at it for a moment then he laid the second doll down in its box next to the first one. "Them friggin Nuns musta liked playin with dolls," he thought to himself as he laid the doll down on the table next to the other one. Perplexed, he sat back in his chair. "Well, well, well," he thought to himself. "What tha hell do I have here?" He gingerly reached over and picked up one of the tiny bundles.
He turned the doll over and lifted up the outfit in the back to examine it more closely. It was then that the realization of what he was holding hit him full in the face. The back of the doll's outfit was stained and had rotted with age and he could see inside the body. He brought the doll closer to his eyes and at first; his tired mind didn't believe what he was seeing. There seemed to be tiny bones still holding the rib cage together! In shock, he shoved the doll away from him so violently that he nearly dropped it on the floor.
"Holy friggin Christ!" He said to himself. "That ain't a doll! It's a baby! A real baby!" He laid the infant down and looked at the other bundle. Just like he'd done before, he removed the satin covering and lifted the outfit. He saw that this one wasn't a doll either. He hastily dumped the babies back in their boxes and replaced the covers. Then, he laid the boxes on his sofa and went to the fridge to get another beer. He paced back and forth in front of the sofa, drinking beer after beer, never once taking his eyes off the sofa and the tiny blue boxes that rested there. Finally, along about midnight, he stumbled off to bed to think about how he was going to get out of this mess.
It was as though he was haunted by what he knew. He tossed and turned, rehashing the day's events over and over again in his mind. He knew that if he took the boxes back and handed them over to the foreman, he'd be fired for stealing. "I'm not tha friggin guilty party!" He told himself over and over. "I only found tha boxes." He finally decided that the best thing to do was to go in extra early the next morning before the other workers had gotten to the site and return the two boxes. "Let some other friggin sucker find them." He said to himself.
With that, he got out of bed and hurried into the living room. He rewrapped the babies just as he's found them and put them back in their boxes and went back to bed. He set his alarm for four thirty, then he turned over on his side and fell into a fit-full sleep.
Hearing the alarm at four thirty, he staggered out of bed and hurriedly dressed and then he carried the boxes out to his truck and placed them carefully on the seat. The man scrabbled in his pocket for a Camel cigarette and as soon as he had it lit, he drug on it deeply a couple of times and felt the nicotine surge through his body. He drug his arm across his eyes and winced as he felt a searing pain shoot through his head. "You're getting too old to drink all them Blue Moose beers," he thought to himself as he backed his old truck out of his drive into the main road. Flooring the accelerator, he tore down the bumpy Portage Road towards Fort Kent.
He usually loved this forty-five minute drive into Fort Kent every morning because in some places, the land fell away on both sides and it was jist like driving into heaven he always told himself but this morning was different. Never before had he had two dead baby's bodies occupying the front seat of his truck and he held himself rigid in his seat to avoid looking at the boxes. He made the forty-five mile drive in record time and he heaved a sigh of relief as the Town of Fort Kent finally appeared in the mist before him. He turned off Main Street and it wasn't too long before the pile of rubble that once was the old Nunnery loomed up before him. He quickly cut the engine and coasted down into the circular drive.
He carefully opened the door, listened quietly for a couple of minutes and not hearing anyone else around, turned, grabbed the boxes and jumped down out of his truck. Scuttling over a big pile of debris, he knelt and scooped out some of the broken bricks and shoved the boxes under a pile of broken beams. He hastily covered the boxes with pieces of brick and crumbled wall board then he ran back to his truck and drove into town for some "Dunkin Doughnuts" coffee.
He ordered a large black coffee and two sugared doughnuts and he took his own sweet time about eating them too. He wanted to be sure that he was one of the last ones to arrive at work and he hoped like hell that the friggin boxes would already be found before he got there.
He drove slowly back to the worksite and parked his pickup next to the old black, wrought iron fence. He looked around the demolition site and then he smiled to himself when he saw the knot of men gathered around the pile of rubble where he'd left the boxes. Whistling, he jumped down out of his truck and walked over to where the group of men stood. Hearing his whistling, one of the men turned and gave him a dirty look, so he stopped. He sidled up to the man and quietly asked, "What tha hell's goin on?" "Did yah find somethin?" The truck driver turned and said, "Yass we did and it's not good!" "Well, what is it?" He asked. The other man pointed at the two boxes lying on top of a pile of rubble, then, shaking his head as though he couldn't quite believe what he'd just seen, he turned and walked away.
Mr. Martin, the demolition boss, told one of the men to go and get a tarp and bring it back to him. He took the blue piece of plastic and gently covered the boxes then he turned to the men and said. "We won't be doing any work today until I can get the right people down here to have a look at this," and he gestured at the tarp. "You guys can take the rest of the morning off and meet back here after lunch." The truck driver heaved a sigh of relief and headed for his truck to take a long nap. His problems were someone else's problems now.
Mr. Martin turned and strode towards his car and he opened the door and sat down heavily on the seat. He wiped his hand wearily across his face and after a moment's hesitation; he reached over and picked up his CB. Trying to be discreet, he made his first call to his friend, Judge Fongime, the second call was to Sheriff Baker and the third call was to Glidden's Funeral Home. All of their comments were the same. "What was it you said you found at the old Nunnery?" They were incredulous. Neither the sheriff nor the undertaker could quite believe what they'd just heard. "If they can't believe it, then wait till the rest of the folks around town hear the news." Mr. Martin thought to himself.
|Memories, Another Place - Another Time was the Authors 2nd book (check Amazon)|
Sheriff Baker and the undertaker, Jake Glidden, both pulled into the driveway at the same time. They talked with Mr. Martin for a few minutes and then they ambled over to where the two boxes lay covered by the tarp on the pile of rubble. The sheriff reached down, lifted a corner of the plastic, pulled one of the boxes towards him and then lifted the top. After a good long look, the sheriff turned to the other two men. "I don't know about you guys but I fail to see how it's going to do any good trying to determine the cause of death at this late date. All the Nuns are now dead and we have no idea where these babies came from. Who knows, they could have been buried in the walls before the building was even donated to the Nuns." With that, he replaced the top and reached down and withdrew the other box. Then he turned and handed them to the undertaker. "Jake, by law, I have to report this but, lets try and keep as much dignity about it as possible." The undertaker nodded his head in agreement. Then he carried the boxes over to his vehicle and tenderly laid them in the back. Covering them with a gray cloth, he carefully closed the door. "I'll give you a call as soon as I have any information from those assholes down to Augusta." he told the sheriff. "But you know how they are, might take as long as two weeks for them to get back to us."
By ten o'clock that morning, the town was abuzz with the news. The largely Catholic population couldn't believe their ears. Dead babies found out at the old Nunnery! That was unbelievable! It was like saying that a spaceship had landed on Main Street in Fort Kent and the aliens were handing out lollipops!
Those residents of the Protestant faith were quick to make strong and vocal statements. "Well, one of those Nuns wasn't too pure, now was she?" some said to others. Someone even went to the public library and took out the book, "The Black Nun" that had been written by an ex-Nun, Maria Monk. It was a detailed description of the impregnation and the killing of babies and Nuns by the evil priests in Montreal and of the Catholic Church in general. When details of this book made the rounds, it created as much of a furor as it had when it was first introduced back in eighteen-o-four. Those of the Catholic persuasion were quick to take offense and jumped to the defense of the Nuns. But, they too, were at a loss as to explain how the babies' bodies came to be there in shoe boxes in the walls of the old Nunnery.
Continued in Part 2
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City