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It was not as Janey had supposed, the traditional habit of the young nun and the beautiful architecture were harshly contradicted by a group of denim clad men seated around a foldaway table. The entrance hall held colourful yet mawkish paintings devoted to Christ.
“These are....done by children?”
“No the Thursday morning group worked together to create this one here,” She said pointing to the most repulsive one of all. ”And this one was a donation by a former sister”
The first painting was done in a series of blues and pinks. In thick black outline, someone had painted a Jesus figure on the cross with his eyes looking at the heavens, around the thorny crown, great dobs of red paint covered Jesus head, and neck. His flesh was a poster paint pink which clashed horribly with the scarlet red blood around the wounds of Christ. The 'artists' had written the slogans 'peace, live and let live, He died for us, He is our king' around Jesus, yet the formation of the letters was infantile. Finger prints dotted white parts which had been left presumably in error. Paint drips had run and then hardened giving the painting a depressing feel.
“The Thursday morning group?”
“You will meet them and perhaps work along side them. It is intensely rewarding to see the happiness these people experience from such physical acts of praising God.”
“They aren't children then?”
“No, although they have the innocence of children. You will see that when we pass through their recreation room now”
They left the men and their table to walk through a set of school-like double doors. A corridor followed with a distinct stench of gym shoes. A cork board of leaflets flapped as they passed, Janice managing to catch sight of just a few headings..'Chanting, adoration, choir practice, recreation, prayer, weekday groups '
They passed several shut doors with prominent keyholes and darkened windows. A few child-like drawings hung crookedly on noticeboards. One door had a rather impressive gold plaque with “Sir E Stramford” carved into the bronze.
Suddenly Sister Bernadine slowed and looking at Janey with slight apprehension she whispered.
“I feel I should warn...no no I...” She blushed and looked away. “God forgive me, but the appearance of these people is somewhat....... distressing......”She winced as if saying these words was so sinful it created physical pain.
“The Thursday morning group?” Janey offered, feeling sorry for her companion.
“Yes, but they...... they have souls of …..purest” She tailed off and unable to compose herself she mouthed what could only be a silent prayer and opened the door
Gargling and hissing stung Janey's ears as she stepped into the room. A whining, moaning creature writhed in a chair. Eyes bulged, goggling out of their sockets and raised to the ceiling without warning. Faces masked by tumours, grotesquely deformed. Horrifying disfigurements covered faces that emitted sounds only devils and banshees could gargle from their bile filled lungs. A downs syndrome man was being restrained by two large men as he screamed and shrieked sexual obscenities. Spotting the two females he stopped abruptly and peered intensely at Janice.
Her eyes met his and to her horror he proceeded to unleash his disproportionately large tongue which flicked up to his nose and under his chin like some sort of reddish serpent determined to escape from its lair.
Within minutes, the initial horror began to ebb away, Janey saw that in fact dotted around the room were people in red polo shirts, they were guiding these invalidsinto various activities such as music or dance. A red haired man of about 30 was stationed by a Nintendo Wii, fully absorbed in helping a hugely inflated girl tackle guitar hero. She would blurt out sporadic screams of pleasure as the animated crowd clapped and cheered at her guitar solos.
Over by the window. An older man sat opposite a wizened looking figure deeply absorbed in a game of snakes and ladders. To the left of the pair sat a circle of seven souls on plastic chairs. A lady in the distinctive red polo shirt had a tambourine and was tapping a rhythm “Tum taah tum tum taah” The creatures snapped and jolted against their chairs. “That's it Marcus! Gosh you are talented!” Came the sickeningly genuine praise from their leader. Janice tried hard to concentrate on Marcus's tambourine and right enough 'tum taah tum tum taah” He had got it perfectly. Janey felt slightly ashamed that she had been so surprised.
An inhuman barking caused Janey to whisk herself round only to see a thin boy of no more than 10 dabbing his paint heavy brush on an enlarged outline of the rainbow from Noah's Ark.
“He's only a boy” Janey managed to whisper to her companion
“No, Michael is actually in his early twenties, but he has a degenerate disease which stops him growing to adult size and causes progressively severe learning difficulties as he ages. He will not pass forty.”
Janey could not explain what stopped her marching out of the building to catch the first available taxi and get back into civilisation. Perhaps it was guilt or a strong curiosity to see what could follow. Either way, she gladly followed sister Bernadine out of the room and back into the corridor.
The doors became less frequent and the corridor lengthened. The faded flooring became rich carpet and light fittings became stylish.
“Where are we going?”Asked Janey baffled by the oddness of this place
“We are going to see Mother Pascal”
“Yes of course”